The Scenographic Sublime
: An Aesthetic Analysis of Howard Barker's Work 1998-2011

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis is set out to explore the scenography of contemporary British playwright Howard Barker through in-depth textual analysis of select dramatic texts and archival materials. It engages in detailed semiotic, poetic and phenomenological analytical approaches to Barker’s scenographic work in order to derive some of his fundamental working principles; the engagement with this specific example is undertaken with a view to continue the development of an appropriate, coherent discourse for the field of scenography more generally. Despite a recent proliferation of academic literature (at the time of writing) the subject area of scenography is still underrepresented in the larger field of drama, theatre and performance studies and remains subject to wide-ranging developments, particularly in terms of widely accepted forms of discourse and critical academic analysis.
Though much of Barker’s work – dramatic and otherwise – has been studied in great detail, his scenography has yet to receive sustained attention; the study at hand addresses this lack. Furthermore, in developing an approach to detailed, rigorous scenographic analysis, it evaluates the efficacy of the philosophical discourse of the sublime regarding the particularities of Barker’s scenography. It proposes the concept of the scenographic sublime to address the necessary incompatibility between discourse’s efficacy in description and analysis, and scenography’s expressiveness of that which is in excess of description and complete analysis. This thesis offers the first in-depth study of the scenographic work of one of the most notable contemporary theatre makers, whose positioning as playwright-director-scenographer presents an exceptional example for analysis in terms of a unified theatrical imagination. As such, the thesis presents a possible example of the continued development of scenographic discourse and its attempt to become more generalizable without becoming reductive, whilst acknowledging its necessary limitations in terms of individual perception, researcher’s bias and cultural context.
Date of Award2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Aberystwyth University
SupervisorKaroline Gritzner (Supervisor) & David Ian Rabey (Supervisor)

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