A Map of the World: An Exercise in Dramatic Rhetoric

Nicholas Pagan

Eastern Mediterranean University

The term "dramatic" comes from the Greek word drama which the Oxford English Dictionary translates as "deed, action, play" and from the Greek word dran which means "to do, act, perform." The term "rhetoric" is defined by Aristotle as "an ability, in each (particular case], to see the available means of persuasion" (Kennedy 36). The Greek word for "to see," theoresat, could also be translated as "to discover" or "to find." If we combine these two terms, this gives us the concept "dramatic rhetoric." "Dramatic rhetoric," then, depends on someone's ability (a playwright's? an audience member's? a reader1s?) to see, discover, or find "the means of persuasion" and these "means" must somehow be dependent on doing, acting, or performing.

In The Semiotics of Theatre and Drama, Keir Elam argues that "In the past the rhetorical analysis of plays has been principally devoted to the study of imagery, tropes, and schemes - that it has been limited to the largely literary approach concerned with those semantic and syntactic patterns which, typically characterised poetic discourse in general. But while tropes and schemes unquestionably abound in much drama, it is arguable that dramatic rhetoric [my emphasis] is carried less by imagery patterns than by figurative acts defined as such within the speaking situation and involving the speaker, the addressee and their 'world' directly" (His emphasis; 177). This idea draws on two more key concepts: the concept of metadrama and the related concept of deixis.

Like all texts that employ language, plays may be thought of as meta-linguistic. This is most apparent when the language spoken by characters draws attention to itself as language; for example, in Hamlet when Horatio says to Hamlet, "These are but wild and whirling words, my lord" (1.5.133), he draws attention to the language employed by the young prince. Plays though are not merely meta-linguistic but meta-theatrical or meta-dramatic as well, for the language of plays not only draws attention to itself as language but to the dramatic or theatrical nature of the proceedings as well. An example of this occurs when the Player King in Hamlet says,

But orderly to end where I begun,

Our wills and fates do so contrary run,

That our devices still are overthrown,

Our thoughts are ours, their ends none of their own (3.2.191 - 194)

Here the words may be regarded as referring to the dramatic situation of the play itself - that is, of both the inner and the outer play. The "I" in this passage could be taken to refer to the playwright himself "our wills and fates" could be those of the characters in the outer play, and "their ends none of their own" could refer to the idea of the act of interpretation and in a sense creation itself as being dependent, like it or not, on the audience.

Elam spells out the relation between the terms meta-language and meta-drama quite clearly: "In the drama," he says, "the meta-linguistic function often has the effect of foregrounding language as object or event by bringing it explicitly to the audience's attention ... At an extreme of linguistic self-consciousness, such commentary serves to 'frame' the very process of character-to-character or actor-to-audience verbal communication, and so becomes part of a broader meta-drarnatic or meta-theatrical superstructure" (I 56). The real key to an understanding of dramatic rhetoric, then, is that it takes us beyond verbal language (the subject of the literary approach) and into the dramatic (or meta-dramatic) situation that never lets the audience forget that they are watching a play being acted out on stage. This is reinforced by deixis which refers to the dramatic context already in progress, drawing our attention to the context of the speaker's present situation and the shifting relations between the speaker and the addressee.

Our understanding of this phenomenon is indebted to the semiotician, Alessandro Serpieri who argues that rhetoric in the theatre is dependent on the deixis. "Dramatic rhetoric," he says, "must be considered in situation: so-called figures of word or thought possess only a relative, not an absolute autonomy in the drama, since they are produced so as to function within the speech exchange "(123). Typically, for semioticians, the speech exchange involves two speakers and this points to another key figure characterising dramatic rhetoric discussed by both Elam and Serpieri, the figure of antithesis which "in the drama, typically, carries the conflicting propositional, illocutionary and ethical commitments of the speakers" (Elam 177).

Adopting what could be called a semiotic approach, I intend to examine David Hare's A Map of the World (1982) in relation to dramatic rhetoric. This play seems like a particularly appropriate vehicle for this kind of analysis for the following reasons:

1. for large sections of the play characters are involved in performing in front of cameras for the production of a film. In their deliberate role-playing they draw attention to the play as a play; actors and actresses are playing characters who act out events that have supposedly already taken place. There is, if you will, a kind of play within the play; A Map of the World is Pirandelloesque in its intensely meta-dramatic nature and the pervasive emphasis on deixis.

2. one of the events that is being acted out consists of a debate between two characters, Stephen Andrews and Victor Mehta. These characters can be compared to the orators or rhetors of ancient Athenian culture. They are making speeches as public demonstration (epideixis). The combatants are contentious (erstikon); their objective is victory. Indeed the word "victory" is suggested by Victor Mehta's name and the second part of his name fits in very nicely with what we have been saying about metalanguage and meta-drama - it is a particularly appropriate name for one involved in a rhetorical contest in a dramatic situation.

3. the contest between the two speakers that lies at the heart of the play suggests binary oppositions related to oppositional politics and (not surprisingly, bearing in mind the prize), sexual politics in particular. The rhetorical figure of antithesis, then, is clearly visible both inside and outside the rhetorical contest--the antitheses include male/female, reason/emotion, and of course, West/East.

The play is divided into two acts. Act 1, scene I is full of deictic markers making it clear that although Hare's stage directions indicate, "the scene must only be sketched in, not realistically complete," (1575 until the shouts of the film crew with their huge lights and 35rnm camera (171), attention is frequently drawn to the present context of the utterances. Thus, the characters playing Stephen and Elaine meet and talk about the on-going conference (saying, for example, "The Senegalese delegate is just about to start"); they draw attention to what is happening in the present: Elaine, looking at a magazine, asks Stephen, "Is that Newsweek?" Stephen reads out loud a story about an exceptionally gifted child who has an IQ of 175 and is at present at age 5 writing her third novel: "Subject of the novel will be the life of Mary Tyler Moore -." (157).

The beginning of the play also immediately draws attention to a world already in progress through the use of deictic markers: the first words of the play are "The heat" and the response "1 know." The "heat" refers to the present climate' "I" to the speaker, Stephen. Attention is drawn to a physical object on stage - the magazine; "There's nothing about us" (157), says Stephen - "us" refers to the two speakers (are they famous?). When Stephen seems to criticise the writing, Elaine says, "Is it any worse than ours?" (158), suggesting that they are writers/journalists. The description of the girl in the Newsweek article followed by Elaine's exclamation, "America!" also of course sets up the West/East antithesis, especially as this is juxtaposed with references to the Senegalese gentleman at the conference who is now "raising his third point of order" (158). The absence of a waiter to serve drinks leads Stephen to lament "the perpetuation of poverty" in India and the fact that "people sleep on the pavement ... just lying there with rats running all over them" (158). Following on quickly from the Newsweek article, is America to be linked to intelligence and to success (the five year old genius, the admired movie and TV star, Mary Tyler Moore) and the East to inefficiency and poverty? Others will later contribute to this dichotomy; Peggy Whitton, for example, when she will describe her overnight move from being a philosophy major working in publicity to becoming an actress, she talks about "Easy America. The easiest place in the world" (174). At the beginning of the play, Elaine, an African-American working for CBS proceeds to criticise Stephen, an English journalist, for his prejudice:

Because you come from the West You come absolutely determined in advance to find India shocking, and so you can't see that underneath it all there is a great deal about life here which isn't too bad ... At least if you'd covered Vietnam, that's how you'd feel. (my emphasis, 159-160)
The dramatic rhetoric here is particularly effective not just because of the profusion of deictic markers anchoring the speech in the present context but also because the West/East antithesis set in motion from the beginning is gaining momentum. Can a Westerner like Stephen shake off his stereotypical conceptions of the East or will he always look at the world as Peggy says, 'in terms of this is 'This is like the West. This is not like the West" (160)? Will Stephen ever be able to see the East, the other's point of view? Will he ever be able "to see the world the other way up" (192), as he will have it described to him by M'Bengue in Act 2? M'Bengue will also describe in detail how the West misrepresents the Other - it provides aid to the East and, in exchange, the East allows the West to misrepresent it (184). In fact, the East cannot prevent the West from misrepresenting it, for as M'Bengue points out, "those who control the money will control the information" (186). Furthermore, critical theorists have posed the question, why should we always claim that the East is the Other when from the East's perspective, it may be the West that is the Other. Stephen and M'Bengue's points of view, then, may be regarded as the Other's point of view. It is possible to deconstruct the privileging of the Western perspective and overturn this hierarchy.

In Act I, Victor Mehta talks about people in India dying in the streets, but he contrasts that with what's happening inside people's homes: "When I think of my home [i.e. India]," he says, "it is of men in rooms arguing. And in the streets, the dying" (169). Again, this is the opposite of "Easy America" but notice the absence of women from the arguing in rooms. The language here helps us to appreciate Foucault's claim that "Power is exercised in society not by the literal control of one group by another but through discursive practices (qtd in Brantlinger 112). The flow of information through discursive practices, then, precedes and pre-empts the flow of money.

Mehta's excluding women from arguing in rooms is in keeping with women's lack (particularly in the East) of political voice. Furthermore, the use in the play of woman as prize for the winner of a (rhetorical) contest reinforces the age-old stereotype of women as prizes for those victorious in war - women as objects to be fought over, not listened to. The prize, Peggy herself, is described by Mehta synechdochically as "thighs and hair that falls across the face" (182). The stereotype is reinforced by Peggy herself, for she frequently draws attention to herself as object: "By soaking my T-shirt in water I make my living ... Little to do with the life of the mind" (207-208), and she describes herself just before the contest as belonging "to the winner of an argument" (208).

The portrayal of women, though, in A Map of the World is not as one-sided as one may think at first glance. When Mehta reacts with anger to the preliminary statement that the organisers of the conference want him to read to the delegates, Peggy tries to get him to discuss the statement dispassionately. "It is a serious proposition," she says, "to which we may listen rationally and calmly as adults and say, 'Yes, mmm, this is so, this is not so"' (181). In fact, she sounds almost like a teacher of rhetoric or composition when she asks, "Are these good arguments on this piece of paper or are they bad?" (181). Here, the portrayal of Peggy as a woman counters Western culture's traditional positing of male as rational and female as irrational. The other central female character, Elaine, may also be entrusted with rationality for she is selected to adjudicate. She may also stand for reason against Stephen's emotive outbursts when she tells him, "There's so much passion in you, so much emotion all the time ... Well tonight you will get a chance to direct that emotion, and in a good cause" (193).

During the contest, Mehta purports to have reason on his side. "The setting of things in order," he says, "that has always been my aim" (213). He decries the fact that certain people in the West - for example, hippies, Marxists, ecologists, Zen Buddhists - renounce the materialism in the West and claim the superiority of the life-style of the East as sheer hypocrisy and indicative of "Reason overthrown."

He concludes by claiming that "Mankind has one enemy only and it is not poverty. It is self-deception" (215). Although he is originally from the East, Mehta has become almost completely Westernised. Although he describes in detail his growing up in small villages in India and can imply that he has an insider's knowledge of the East, his confidence in his own unequivocal embrace of rational speech may make him even more of a Westerner than his opponent, the Englishman, Stephen.

The contemporary rhetorician, philosopher, Ernesto Grassi, has pointed to "the attitude of rational superiority [that] is inherent in our dealings with non-Western cultures that do not share this attitude" and that "our attitude of calculating rationality makes nearly impossible our genuine understanding of other cultures and hinders our interactions with them" (Foss 161-62). It is no wonder, then, that Stephen accuses Mehta of "speaking from a position of superiority and hopelessness" (216). "[He gestures into the air]. From way up there you claim to see things clearly" (My emphasis; 217).

This gesture may remind us of the ever-present dramatic context - the illocutionary situation of the speakers performing a play in the here and now. The context of the speakers' present situation has been apparent since Stephen and Mehta first met. No matter how intense the expression of the issues involved (the epistemic - attempts to understand the world), Stephen and Mehta's interaction has always been rigorously rooted in the here and now. Stephen says, "Why do you come? Why do you come here if ifs such torture to you?" to which Mehta replies, "Yes, and why are you here?" (my emphasis, 167).

During the debate as it comes to his turn to speak, Stephen frequently draws attention to the illocutionary situation of speaker "I" and addressee "You" and also makes no bones of the fact that he is attacking Mehta personally: "If I am to win, I must attack the man" declares Stephen (my emphasis, 216). He uses the "you" pronoun over and over again: "Because you do a job that is lonely and hard, because you spend all day locked in a room, so you project your loneliness onto the world" (217). One can easily imagine the actor's pointing index fmger - a combination of physical and verbal deixis.

In Act 1, Mehta himself employed similar dramatic rhetoric. when Stephen tried to express his sympathy for the poor, Mehta responded that "the poor are a convenience only, a prop you use to express your own discontent" (My emphasis; 166). The deixis in these examples reinforces the idea that one cannot draw attention to the "you" without at the same time drawing attention to the "I": criticisms of the "you" (the addressee) reflect on the "I" (the speaker), concern for the Other, as Mehta suggests, assuming the East as the Other, merely masks concern for the self - the West's concern, as everybody knows is ultimately for itself, its own welfare.

Toward the end of his speech, in addition to the opposition between East and West, Stephen draws attention to the opposition between young and old: "the world [is] now full of young countries who are trying imperfect, unwieldy new systems of ordering their affairs, who are watched by the old who are praying that they will not succeed" (219). Of course, in a sense Stephen represents the young and Mehta the old, that is Stephen is trying to speak for countries that are just developing, Mehta for the already developed, for the West. In spite of all the wide-ranging issues involved in their debate, in terms of their representation in the play (or the film that is being made based on Mehta's novel) the essence of the whole thing according to Mehta (that is the "real" Mehta who arrives on the film set following the filming of the debate scene and Stephen's withdrawal from the contest) is the representation or misrepresentation of character (Stephen's character in particular). The real Mehta objects to the "meaning" evinced by Angelis's film version of his story. ("It is in the matter of meaning I have come" [221]). Although he recognises that narratives are amenable to multiple interpretations depending on individual readers and that film has to some extent to be an interpretation or reinterpretation of its source material, he complains to Angelis, "your film is a betrayal unless at the heart it is clear: for all the bitterness, for all the stupidity... you must see, we admired this young man" (my emphasis, 222). The verbal deixis here (with "this" pointing to Stephen and "you" pointing to Angelis and beyond him to film viewers, theatregoers, and ultimately you and I) helps to make this a particularly poignant moment. The crucial point here is the emotional response to a particular character, the emotion evoked by a particular character. For Aristotle, this is the question of ethos and here we can see an opposition between ethos (emotion) and logos (reason). The latter has to find a way to provide a vehicle for the former. Mehta finds the vehicle (the play, the acting, in short the dramatic rhetoric) inadequate; his and other's real feelings of fondness for Stephen have not come across. At the end of the play, as Stephen or the actor playing Stephen prepares to drive Mehta and the Peggy actress back to London, Mehta talks about the feeling that "we may change things." "This," he says, "is at the centre of everything we are" (228). This belief was surely a driving force behind Stephen's youthful idealism and is in marked contrast to the Stephen-actor's embrace of materialism as manifested in his description of his "beautiful" car which with his last words he describes as his "whole life" (229).

We have not been able to force a consistent opposition between reason and emotion or East and West on to this play - sometimes one character may stand for reason, at other times, another, and so on. Given the collapse of communism in the former Soviet Union the model of "the dialectical structure of oppositional politics" that stems from Hegel and has been embraced by many of his successors has lost some of its power (c£ Young 5). In A Map of the World, the American, Elaine, suggests the difficulties involved in thinking of the East as a unified entity. She urges one to compare different parts of the East (here India versus Vietnam; Victor Mehta in his books contrasts China and India [163]), suggesting then that there are differences within the Fast itself; one can compare East and East and not always East and West.

As we come to appreciate the limitations of some of the antitheses in the play, we can come to understand that the play's power derives both from its embrace of and critique of them. In fact the play's power (or dare we say, drama's power) may ultimately depend less on the oppositions or their articulation in particular speeches and more on the shifting relations between speaker and addressee in particular dramatic contexts. In any event, the key to a play's power is not the language spoken by the characters or the ideas articulated but how effectively the play uses dramatic rhetoric. This will vary, of course, depending on particular performances by particular casts in particular settings. The written version of A Map of the World seems to contain the elements in abundance awaiting transformation into a lively and successful exercise in dramatic rhetoric.


Aristotle. On Rhetoric: A Theory of Civic Discourse. Trans. Ed. George A. Kennedy. New York: Oxford UP, 1991

Brantlinger, Patrick. Crusoe's Footprints: Cultural Studies in Britain and America. New York: Routledge, 1990.

Elam, Keir. The Semiotics of Theatre and Drama. London: Methuen, 1980.

Hare, David. The Asian Plays: Fanshen, Saigon. A Map of the World. London: Faber, 1986.

Serpieri, Alessandro. "Reading the Signs: Towards a Semiotics of Shakespearean Drama." In Alternative Shakespeares. ed. John Drakakis. London: Routledge, 1985.

Young, Robert. White Mythologies: Writing History and the West. London: Routledge, 1990.