The Spectacle of Performance. The Postmodern Hyperreal and Medieval European Play


  • John R. Hall Department of Sociology, University of California – Davis and Santa Cruz



Performance, Postmodernism, Representation, Theater, Dramaturgy, Social construction, Genealogy, Cultural history


A postmodernist claim concerning contemporary displacement of reality by "simulacra" that subsume reality can inspire a broader genealogy of reality, representation, play, and imaginaries. This essay examines: (1) the supposed postmodern displacement of modern boundaries between reality and representation; (2) medieval European performance; and (3) implications for understanding reality construction as a genealogical project. Any overly binary distinction between the modern and the postmodern is problematic. The social construction of reality, representation, play, and imaginaries occurs in societies in general. Consideration of medieval European venues (the Church, courts, and others) reveals contestation about performances of jugglers and acrobats, minstrels and mimes, courtly poets, and religious performers of spectacular ritual. Myriad medieval practices created a "near imaginary" of enchantment that permeated even quotidian reality with magic, angels, devils, and monsters, nevertheless resisting dramatization as such. Modernization, marked culturally by the emergence of realist Renaissance theater, established stronger boundaries between reality and imaginaries. Postmodern developments undermine rationalized modern policings of objective reality and representation. However, in contrast to medieval enchantment through a near-imaginary, simulacra organize life through more free-floating representations. This analysis offers a prototype for further histories of cultural constructions of reality in relation to performance and imaginaries.


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How to Cite

Hall, J. R. (2022). The Spectacle of Performance. The Postmodern Hyperreal and Medieval European Play. Sociologica, 16(3), 109–131.