Vera Tobin

Elements of Surprise / Publications / Teaching / CV

“Performance, Irony, and Viewpoint in Language.” In Theatre, Performance and Cognition: Languages, Bodies and Ecologies. Eds. Amy Cook and Rhonda Blair. London: Bloomsbury Methuen.

Many critics have noted that something about the theatre seems to make it a fertile setting for ironies in general, and that something about irony seems distinctively theatrical. This chapter argues that theatre makes an apt setting for ironies not just because it is historically or metaphorically linked to irony, but because it supplies a culturally entrenched, embodied context that directly supports the particular kind of complex and cognitively demanding perspective taking that irony invokes. It provides both a material and a cultural anchor for ironic decompression. The viewpoint theory of irony (Tobin and Israel 2012) characterizes irony in terms of an interpretive stance in which attention ‘zooms out’ from one mental space (the ironized) to a higher viewpoint from which the original is reassessed (the ironic). This way of looking at irony can illuminate the cognitive underpinnings of situational and dramatic ironies as well as verbal irony, and the theatrical qualities they all share.