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Caryl Churchill: Representational negotiations and provisional truths

Lavell, Iris Joy (2004) Caryl Churchill: Representational negotiations and provisional truths. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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JUDGE: Go away Barbara. I've had enough. Should we all be kind? You are lukewarm and will be vomited. There are two camps, Barbara, mine and theirs. Either you are with, or you are against.

Although English playwright Caryl Churchill wrote the three scripts examined in this thesis more than thirty years ago, each captures our contemporary zeitgeist in sometimes surprising ways. These works explore the shifting politics of power, revealing binary and essentialist representations that not only continue but have been strengthened on all sides in recent years, suggesting their central importance in defining and controlling culture.

This thesis examines how Churchill subverts conventional forms of representation and probes the ways in which she herself has been represented by critics and scholars at various periods of her writing career. It is my contention that these processes operate in tandem, performing an ongoing dialogue. Because of the dynamic nature of this dialogue, the aim here is not so much to provide an increasingly unified or finite understanding of the artistic milieu from which a play emerges, as it is to recognize the level of complexity underlying the mutable and political process of its interpretation.

I have undertaken a detailed exploration of three lesser-known short scripts from 1972, a 'watershed' year for Churchill, culminating in the relative success of Owners, her first major stage play. While many of her earlier works have been deserving of further exploration, a number of them have been largely overlooked in the broader environment of her subsequent contribution to contemporary theatre. The particular scripts that I explore in the course of this thesis are: The Hospital at the Time of the Revolution; Schreber's Nervous Illness and The Judge's Wife, an unperformed stage play, a radio play and a television play respectively. These works are worthy of exploration because of their experiments with the politics of subjectivity as it impacts on race, gender and social class, and notions of 'legitimacy' that shift with a person's changing circumstances. Each of these plays implicitly demonstrates the importance of subjectivity in relation to representational power as it places characters who have traditionally been silenced at the centre of the action.

I have titled my thesis Caryl Churchill: Representational Negotiations and Provisional Truths. In invoking this title I pre-empt the engagement of a subjective, strategic essentialist approach, both in critiquing this period of Churchill's work and in declaring the assumptions of the arguments contained in the pages that follow.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Social Sciences and Humanities
Supervisor(s): Grehan, Helena
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