Boundaries of belief: Implications of the paradox of fiction on the multifarious layers of the dramatic narrative found in theatre’s fictional worlds.



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In 1975, philosopher Colin Radford introduced the Paradox of Fiction. Simply put, it contains three propositions: 1) We must believe the objects of our emotions exist if we are to be moved by those objects 2) When we engage fictional worlds, those beliefs are absent 3) However, when we engage fictional worlds, we do experience emotional responses.

Over the past 40 years, philosophers have grappled with the Paradox, and three dominant theories have emerged: Pretend, Illusion, and Thought. However, the primary thrust of inquiry on the Paradox thus far has focused on the most common configuration: one author and one recipient. While such a prism works well for literary fiction, it falls short when applied to the fictional worlds of theatre.

The Paradox runs rampant throughout the creation (and receipt) of theatre’s fictional worlds. A director is audience to the original script, author of the world of the play, but also audience to the actors. Actors are audience to the script and to the world of the play, and to other actors, but they are also authors of character. These overlapping collisions spark fertile opportunities for the Paradox.

My dissertation explores the multifarious layers of the dramatic narrative by examining how the Paradox operates at each step of a play’s development. It examines the role of belief, questions notions of “truth” in theatre, and queries whether the Paradox, due to our penchant for storytelling, is as incoherent as Radford suggests.



Paradox, Fiction, Theatre, Verisimilitude, Acting, Directing