Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Leslie A. Wade


This dissertation investigates the potential applications of the scientific paradigm known as "chaos theory" in the examination of dramatic theory. By illuminating the limitations of traditional Newtonian physics and Euclidean geometry, chaos theory conveys philosophical implications that transcend the scientific and provide suitable tools for describing cultural and artistic phenomena. These implications include emphasis on unpredictability, interaction and feedback, qualitative rather that quantitative analyses, and a nonlinear, continuous, even holistic perspective of systems traditionally viewed as dischotomous (such as order and disorder or part and whole). This study examines several standard works of dramatic theory, concentrating on the relationship of the formal to the spontaneous in the creation of theatrical art and how chaos theory may provide a vocabulary for discussing intangible experiences (such as catharsis). Specific attention is given to Aristotle's Poetics, Dryden's "An Essay of Dramatic Poesy," Coleridge's Biographia Literaria, and Artaud's The Theatre and Its Double. The conclusions include an analysis of Richard Foreman's theatrical art and theories in the contexts of poststructuralism and postmodernism. The respective theoretical writings of the figures discussed in this dissertation each display attempts to describe some sort of an ineffable, chaotic moment involving theatrical experience and/or creativity. This point alone brings no new insight to the works of these theorists. When examined through a framework of chaos theory, however, such emphasis on these moments reveals the central roles they play in the theorists' accounts of the creation and experience of the theatre event. In this light, the traditional distinctions between the theories of these four individuals collapse, revealing underlying commonalities in their analyses of the processes and effects of theatrical art. Chaos theory, therefore, promises to offer a common foundation for speaking about the creation and reception of theatrical art. Although each theorist will experience a different perception of "nature," they will nevertheless observe the same similar patterns and chaotic moments of creation at work underneath it all. The same will be true in creation and perception of art, thus overcoming the poststructuralist lack of foundation and the postmodern impasse to meaning that limits contemporary theory.