Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Narrative Disparity (and Seinfeld)

It is important to distinguish between narrator and audience and the different levels of knowledge that each possesses. A disparity of information between the narrator and audience (dramatic irony) is a key feature of all different kinds of narrative.

In this case, we are privy to much knowledge that the narrators of our stories are not. For example, we know what eventually happens to Leah.  The tragedy is greater because we understand what will happen. Bringing the characters to life through performance will allow the audience to connect to the characters.

This device is consistently employed in tragedies (look at just about any Shakespearean tragedy, such as Romeo and Juliet or Othello). However, it is equally important in comedy. Most modern sitcoms hinge on characters not knowing what other characters and the audience does, resulting in mix-ups and awkward situations. For example, in the clip below, we see the woman walk into the room behind George while he is unaware. Both the tragic and comic applications of this technique show the power of this narrative device.

1 comment:

  1. To piggy back on this post, I'd like to go a little further in depth about knowledge and the audience. After reading this, Hitchcock's theory on Surprise versus Suspense comes to mind:

    "Four men are sitting at a table playing poker. The scene is rather boring. Suddenly, after 15 minutes, we hear a big bang - it turns out there was a bomb under the table. This is called surprise as it isn't what we expected would happen.
    If we watch the same scene again with the important difference that we have seen the bomb being placed under the table and the timer set to 11 AM, and we can see a watch in the background, the same scene becomes very intense and almost unbearable - we are sitting there hoping the timer will fail, the game is interrupted or the hero leaves the table in time, before the blast. This is called suspense."

    The same scene generates two completely different emotions based entirely on how it is told. In Hitchcock's example, showing the audience the placement of the bomb elicits the emotion of tension and suspense and changes the entire mood of this scene. The execution of a narration truly makes a difference in how an audience will perceive a tale.