Twice Johanne, Once Juliet: Kierkegaard and the Phenomena of Aesthetical/Ethical Convergence in Theatre Performance

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingBook chapterResearchpeer-review


In the theatre, the great divide between the stage and the audience must be crossed. Such is the task of the actor. Similarly, there is another threshold, that between the stage and the backstage - here too a crossing must take place, one that even if invisible, rests at the core of the essential performance.
In his 1848 critical essay titled “The crisis and a crisis in the life of an actress”, the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard discusses the inspiring event of a famous actress, Johanne Heiberg, who performed twice the role of Juliet in Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet”, once when she was 16 and again when she was 35.
Key concepts of the Danish philosopher’s thought are set in motion by this case-study: his particular notion of repetition, the concept of “circumnavigation of life”, his appraisal of a certain poetic mechanicism of performance (brilliantly exposed in Kleist’s 1810 essay “On the Marionette Theatre”), his use of the Hippocratic notion of crisis, the dynamics of gravity and weightlessness in the act of performing, etc.
Beyond the notion of theatre as a model for thought, or worldview, that philosophy has commonly promulgated, the question at hand is how, when an aesthetical phenomena is so radically rooted in actuality, albeit only through the play of virtuality (the necessary illusion of theatrical reality), what are its definite, existential consequences to performers and audience alike? In what space do they meet? What kind of presence is generated there? What are the dispositional bonds that are weaved among them? What happens before and after the performance, and is there such a thing as a before and after the performance?
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEthical Encounters : Boundaries of Theatre, Performance and Philosophy
EditorsDaniel Meyer-Dinkgrafe, Daniel Watt
Number of pages10
Place of PublicationNewcastle Upon Tyne
PublisherCambridge Scholars Press
Publication date2010
ISBN (Print)978-1-4438-1695-3
Publication statusPublished - 2010

Cite this