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the latent, covert, indirectly revealed sense of an utterance, literary narrative, or line in a play or the second level of a stage role. Subtext is based on a trait of conversational speech according to which the lexical meaning of words and phrases, depending on the situation and the speaker’s intentions and expression, no longer has a relation to the inner content of the speech or may even contradict it.
Subtext, the complex of thoughts and feelings concealed beneath the words of a text, may be revealed by:
(1) Lines that contain allusions and that are often repeated as leitmotifs.
(2) Such qualities of the sound of speech as intonation and pauses that attest to an undercurrent in the action. For example, in Chekhov’s The Three Sisters, Masha’s question about whether Dr. Chebutykin loved her mother is followed by the doctor answering, after a pause, “I no longer remember.”
(3) Emphasized juxtapositions of speech, plot, and staging situations differing in content or sound, such as the combination of an outwardly insignificant conversation between characters with an intense inner argument taking place between them. From time to time this argument surfaces, as in M. Maeterlinck’s play Pelléas and Mélisande and E. Hemingway’s short story “Hills Like White Elephants.”
The concept of subtext was comprehended in the West by Maeterlinck, who called it the “second dialogue” in his book The Treasure of the Humble (1896), and in Russia by Chekhov and the founders of the Moscow Art Theater, K. S. Stanislavsky and V. I. Nemirovich-Danchenko. (See, for example, Nemirovich-Danchenko’s preface to N. Efros’ book The Three Sisters: A. P. Chekhov’s Play as Produced by the Moscow Art Theater, St. Petersburg, 1919.) In the Stanislavsky method, subtext came to express the inner emotional basis of stage speech.
V. A. KALASHNIKOV