Doing Time: Exploring Hermeneutic Temporality in Prison Theater


  • Dr. Karen E. Davis Lewis University



According to Gadamer, engaging with a work of art arrests our time and attention, suspends our will, and compels our participation in its unfolding. Time in prison is also arrested time, when our will is suspended and we are compelled to submit to another’s authority. Time inside is often described as an endless present, without meaningful relation to the past or future. The experience of tarrying with art, on the other hand, offers a moment of absolute presentness. This paper explores how these two temporalities differ and overlap in the context of prison theater, namely Shakespeare Behind Bars. Participating in and celebrating the temporality of the work of art allows us to experience the fullness of time and an intensification of being that are absent from a prison temporality characterized as an interminable present. Involvement with art can return us to ourselves and a continuity with our world that imprisonment severs.

Author Biography

Dr. Karen E. Davis, Lewis University

Karen E. Davis is an Assistant Professor of philosophy at Lewis University in Romeoville, Illinois, United States. Her research ranges from aesthetics and philosophical hermeneutics, to applied hermeneutics and prison arts and education. Her work has appeared in journals such as Idealistic Studies, Journal of Aesthetic Education, and IJFAB: International Journal of Feminist Approaches to Bioethics.