Wrestling as Theater

To get us all in the spirit for our next reading assignment, specifically Roland Barthes’ “The World of Wrestling” (Mythologies 15-25), here’s a brief clip about the 1992 WWF Royal Rumble, which promises a truckload of WWF “superstars” in contention:

Of somewhat more recent vintage are these clips from the WWE’s Monday night RAW telecast that pits Randy Orton against the Undertaker. The first is the show opening, full of hype and anticipation:

The second contains less buildup, more grappling:

Or, for the height of theatricality, this WWE clip pits Orton against the McMahon family, who are the very owners of the WWE (heirs of WWE founder Vince McMahon)! In other words, it’s a staged labor/management dispute!

For a contrasting, old-school example, dig this IWA bout from 1975 between Chilean Joe Turco and Mexican lucha libre star Mil Máscaras (A Thousand Masks). Turco is essentially the heel here, or salaud, or “bastard” — that is, the villain. In lucha libre he would be called a rudo. Mil Máscara, on the other hand, appears as the heroic technico, the good guy.

Finally, Barthes compares wrestling to the Commedia dell’ Arte, an improvisational theatrical genre developed in Renaissance Italy that features stock characters and situations. You may find it useful to consult Judith Chaffee’s Commedia page or even (dare I say it?) the Wikipedia entry on Commedia. I also recommend the website of Italian actor, author, director, and Commedia master Antonio Fava, who runs the International School of Comic Acting in Reggio Emilia, Italy (there is an English version of the site, which is helpful, but click on the more complete Italian version for pictures).


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