How the World Became a Stage

Presence, Theatricality, and the Question of Modernity

By William Egginton

Subjects: Philosophy
Paperback : 9780791455463, 216 pages, October 2002
Hardcover : 9780791455456, 216 pages, October 2002

Alternative formats available from:

Table of contents


Introduction: The Legend of Saint Genesius

1. Actors, Agents, and Avatars


2. Real Presence, Sympathetic Magic, and the Power of Gesture

Religious Spectacle
Political Spectacle
Seeds of Theatricality

3. Saint Genesius on the Stage of the World

Diderot's Paradox
Actors and Martyrs

4. A Tale of Two Cities: The Evolution of Renaissance Stage Practices in Madrid and Paris

Italian Innovations
Theories and Theaters in Paris
Theories and Theaters in Madri
Tales from the Crypt
True Pretense: Lope's Lo fingido verdadero and the Structure of Theatrical Space

5. Theatricality versus Subjectivity

Philosophical Subjectivity
Political Subjectivity
Aesthetic Subjectivit
Theatricality and Media Theory




Argues that the experience of modernity is fundamentally spatial rather than subjective.


What is special, distinct, modern about modernity? In How the World Became a Stage, William Egginton argues that the experience of modernity is fundamentally spatial rather than subjective and proposes replacing the vocabulary of subjectivity with the concepts of presence and theatricality. Following a Heideggerian injunctive to search for the roots of epochal change not in philosophies so much as in basic skills and practices, he describes the spatiality of modernity on the basis of a close historical analysis of the practices of spectacle from the late Middle Ages to the early modern period, paying particular attention to stage practices in France and Spain. He recounts how the space in which the world is disclosed changed from the full, magically charged space of presence to the empty, fungible, and theatrical space of the stage.

William Egginton is Assistant Professor of Modern Languages and Literatures at the University at Buffalo, State University of New York and the translator of Lisa Block de Behar's Borges: The Passion of an Endless Quotation, also published by SUNY Press.


"…Egginton's account of theatricality provides one useful place to begin a needed reassessment of modernity that will free us from the grip of the 'subject' as the sole way to understand and criticize modern institutions. " — Theatre Research International

"The author brings philosophical scholarship of a very high order to bear on concrete questions in the history of drama. Such a leap has to be made with clarity and rigor if it is going to be persuasive, and Egginton brings it off elegantly. He addresses the perennial issue of whether philosophical thinking can have a productive relationship to real issues—and answers it with a resounding yes. A highly original, fascinating book. " — John McCumber, Northwestern University

"I like the book's challenging breadth of theoretical investigation. It offers a way of thinking about the transition from medieval to early modern that is at once familiar and quite new. The implications are important for thinking about theater, about presence, about signs. " — David Bevington, University of Chicago

"The strength of Egginton's book lies in its originality. I am not familiar with any other work in this area that shows this combination of original insight and theoretical strength. It will be a reference for scholars in Romance studies in general. " — Joan Ramon Resina, Cornell University