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Reconsidering Rājaśekhara : performance and courtly context in Viddhaśālabhañjikā Bellefleur, Timothy Earl


In this paper I discuss historical and contemporary approaches to the 10th century Sanskrit poet and playwright Rājaśekhara (most of which centre upon literary criticism) and propose an alternative approach to his work in which his plays might be examined in terms of their performance and courtly contexts. I then apply this analysis to his play Viddhaśālabhañjikā (The Hollow Statue). By analyzing the performance context focusing on the categories of body, space, and object, I argue that the text puts forward strong evidence for its own performativity, offers a diverse set of indications of how the play is to be staged, and contains a number of noteworthy and unique material characteristics. I then examine the courtly and historical context surrounding the play’s creation to offer suggestions about how its content may have been intended and received, as well as the significance of certain historical characters or events which seem to be embedded in the text. The result is that—rather than being a poorly-constructed, incomprehensible play full of inappropriate moments, depicting a Sanskrit dramatic form in decline—Viddhaśālabhañjikā is in fact quite a novel and complex work of Sanskrit drama that shows a conscious sensitivity to performance concerns and an acute awareness of its place in society.

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