Sustainable Canons: Gadamer's Hermeneutics and Theatre


  • Charles Gillespie Department of Catholic Studies, Sacred Heart University



Hans-Georg Gadamer, canon, play, theatre, interpretation, performance, history


This essay investigates Gadamer's hermeneutic theory and its application to theatre. Attention to Gadamer's views of theatre and performative interpretation provides a foundation to theorize a more sustainable canon. Classics that constitute a sustainable canon operate within a tradition through a community of interpretation that continually returns to interpret them anew. This structure also describes the theatrical repertoire. Several of Gadamer's central themes find easy analogues on stage: play, the history of effect (Wirkungsgeschichte), the participation of an audience in the fusion of horizons, and art's making present continuity the past. Gadamer provides a framework for understanding the work of interpretation of a dramatic text as a shared participatory event. In particular, Gadamer's hermeneutic theory can make sense of the how performance history makes discoveries that "sticks" to a script, particularly as when and how it enters and influences the canon. Gadamer's hermeneutics help to interpret how innovative performance choices and stage spectacle are part of a play's meaning; these interpretive interventions in drama's reception history are significant and not simply ornamentation to some "truth of the play" accessed only via the reenactment of the original compositional context. Occasional reparative interpretations of the canon, in turn, help to sustain the community.


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How to Cite

Gillespie, C. (2022). Sustainable Canons: Gadamer’s Hermeneutics and Theatre . Labyrinth, 24(2), 150–175.