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 Ling 131: Language & Style
 

 Topic 13 - Shared knowledge and absurdist drama (Session A) skip topic navigation

Topic Contents
Shared knowledge
More about shared schematic knowledge
Our schematic knowledge of a typical tutorial
Educating Rita
Analysing Rita
 
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Readings
 

What will we learn in this topic?

In session A of this topic we are going to look at the knowledge we share about objects, people, situations and so on, and how this shared knowledge is used by writers, readers and theatre audiences in the creation of meaning in drama.

Some shared knowledge is universal. For example, if we are told that it is raining we will expect the ground to get wet and to see people trying to avoid getting wet, wherever we are in the world.

Other kinds of shared knowledge vary from one culture, era and/or part of the world to another. For example, if we are told that a British family are having their main evening meal, we will expect them to eat the savoury course with a knife and fork and the sweet course with a spoon (and possibly a fork). And we would expect them to hold the fork in their left hand. But in the USA it is common to put the knife down after cutting some food up and transfer the fork to the right hand. And in China we would expect people to eat with chopsticks. These expectations, based on shared knowledge, may not apply in every circumstance, but we would expect them to apply in most circumstances in the relevant cultural context.

We share knowledge about every aspect of our lives, including the areas we have already covered on this course. Consider, for example, turn-taking, which we explored in Topic 11. We share knowledge about the typical turn-taking patterns found in different kinds of situations: for example in coffee bar conversations among friends we expect everyone to be able to take turns on an equal basis, whereas in classrooms we expect the teacher to speak first, and to have many more turns – perhaps as many as all the other participants put together!

We will focus on our use of shared knowledge in understanding dramatic texts, but it is important to remember that, as with all the other areas we have covered on this course, what we learn can also be applied to other text-types, literary and non-literary.

In Session A we will apply what we discover to the beginning of a play by Willie Russell called Educating Rita. In Session B we will look at some extracts from what are usually called absurdist plays. We will discover that one of the important features of absurdist drama is that there are overt clashes between what happens in these plays and what we would expect to happen, according to the knowledge we all ‘intuitively’ share about the relevant situations portrayed.

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