subtext

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Related to subtexts: subtextual, context

subtext

1. an underlying theme in a piece of writing
2. a message which is not stated directly but can be inferred

Subtext

 

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

References in periodicals archive ?
The subtexts Meyer considers for Anna Karenina are therefore Rousseau's Emile et Sophie; Alexander Dumas fils' Man-Woman, Response to Monsieur Henri d'Ideville, and Claude's Wife; Flaubert's Madame Bovary; two of Zola's early novels: Therese Raquin and Madeleine Ferat; and, not surprisingly, considering Tolstoy's epigraph to the novel, the Gospels.
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Regardless of their strategy, all of the Pinter critics considered find themselves--in one way or another--engaged in discovering subtexts to the plays.
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On display from 7 July to 12 September 1999, these prints were chosen with a view to explaining the varied music- and dance-related subtexts of sixteenth-century art in the general environs of the Netherlands.
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