Analyzing a Performative Text through Cluster Criticism: Hegemony in the Musical Wicked as a Case Study

Valerie Lynn Schrader, Penn State Schuylkill


This article proposes an extension of Burkean cluster criticism to include performative elements of a musical theatre text. Using the musical Wicked as a case study, this article uses cluster criticism to analyze Wicked’s script, cast recording, sheet music, and fieldnotes from three performances to reveal messages about hegemony.


At the end of the first act during the Broadway performance of Wicked on July 11, 2009, the Wizard of Oz (P.J. Benjamin) urged Elphaba (Nicole Parker) to cast what she believes is a levitation spell on the Wizard’s pet Monkey,1 Chistery (played by understudy Brian Wanee). However, the Wizard and his new press secretary, Madame Morrible (Rondi Reed) tricked Elphaba into casting a spell that caused Chistery and the other Monkeys to sprout wings and shriek in pain. As the Monkeys ran around the stage, the Time Dragon, a giant mechanical dragon at the top of the proscenium, moved back and forth with its eyes blazing red. In fact, everything on stage became red.

“Such wing span!” Reed as Madame Morrible declared grandiosely, admiring the flying Monkeys. “Oh, won’t they make perfect spies!”

Parker’s eyes widened, signifying that Elphaba is horrified. “Spies?”

“You’re right, that’s a harsh word,” Benjamin as the Wizard replied. “What about scouts? That’s what they’ll be really. They’ll fly around Oz, and report any subversive Animal activity…”

Parker stiffened her stance; Elphaba can’t believe what she’s just heard. “So it’s you?” she asked. “You’re behind it all?”

Benjamin used a calm, explanatory vocal tone that made his character sound like a father explaining a difficult concept to a young child. “Elphaba, when I first got here, there was discord and discontent. And where I come from, everyone knows: The best way to bring folks together is to give them a really good enemy.”

Wicked’s storyline came to life through this performance. Stephen Schwartz’s and Winnie Holzman’s hit 2003 musical, based on Gregory Maguire’s novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, takes a different twist on L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Written as a prequel to Dorothy’s adventures in Oz, Wicked tells the story of two other young women: Pretty, perky, popular Galinda and awkward, outcast, green-skinned Elphaba, who grow to become Glinda the Good Witch and The Wicked Witch of the West, respectively. Wicked tells of their friendship, their loves, their losses, and of an oppressive regime, led by the Wizard of Oz, that promotes anti-Animal bigotry. In this Broadway performance, Benjamin’s calm, fatherly demeanor seemed to contrast the Time Dragon’s blazing red eyes and mechanical movements – and yet, the two are part of the same regime. Parker’s reaction to her character’s discovery also contributed to the scene; her initial shock was more believable than if, for example, she had chosen to immediately become enraged. The various aspects of the production – the acting, the scenery, and the props – came together in this scene to provide the audience with an entertaining performance that illustrates hegemony.

Theatrical performance is an act of communication, and it can serve rhetorical functions. Theatrical performance can serve as a channel for authors, directors, performers and audiences to co-construct messages. Writers, actors and directors communicate a message to an audience, which, in turn, provides feedback (often in the forms of applause, ticket sales, or reviews) for future consideration. But how does one begin use rhetorical criticism to analyze a performative text, such as a musical, so that the performative elements, like scenery, vocal tone, and props, are taken into account? This article proposes one possible methodology: An extension of Burke’s cluster criticism to include not only terms, but performative aspects as well. For the purposes of this article, performance is viewed as representation (Madison and Hamera), or as Dwight Conquergood describes it, a “complement, supplement, alternative, and critique of inscribed texts” (33). Through an analysis of the New York performance script, original Broadway cast recording, sheet music, and fieldnotes from three performances of Wicked, I suggest that the Burkean cluster criticism, which is most commonly used for public discourse analysis, be extended to incorporate the performative elements of a musical theatre text. This extension of cluster criticism embraces the interdisciplinarity of both rhetoric and performance.

Interdisciplinarity is not a new concept. Aristotle was perhaps the first to combine rhetoric with other disciplines. In On Rhetoric, he connects rhetoric with politics (52-75) and with prose (193-229). The work of Kenneth Burke also crossed disciplinary boundaries; for example, Burke (The Philosophy of Literary Form) explains that it is important to read and analyze literature because literature can serve as “equipment for living” (61). He suggests that poetry (or any other literary text) “arm[s] us to confront perplexities and risks” (61). Burke says, “Art forms like ‘tragedy’ or ‘comedy’ or ‘satire’ would be treated as equipments for living, that size up situations in various ways and in keeping with correspondingly various attitudes” (304). Works of literature can “single out patterns of experience that are sufficiently representative of our social structure” (300). Such philosophy applied to literature extends to the performance of literature in theatre. Theatre can also serve as “equipment for living” by offering “patterns of experience” that represent our social structure. For example, in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s classic musical South Pacific, Nellie, a Caucasian American nurse stationed in the South Pacific during World War II, falls in love with Emile, a French citizen who now lives with his Polynesian children where Nellie is stationed. Although Nellie loves Emile, her racist upbringing causes her to struggle with her feelings, especially her feelings towards Emile’s children. Nellie ultimately overcomes her own racism and finds happiness with Emile and his family (Aikin; Pao). As audience members, when we watch Nellie in South Pacific, we may learn how to cope with negative feelings, notions, and events from our own pasts. We may even identify with Nellie and her struggle in ways that are unique to our own lives. Theatre, like literature, provides us with equipment for coping with the perplexities of life.

While theatre is indeed a communicative process, there are relatively few studies that have examined musical theatre from a rhetorical standpoint. Elliot, Gassner, Hellman, Miller, Papa, and Schriver and Nudd have published works analyzing plays, and there are a handful of studies in various journals, both communication-oriented and theatre-oriented, which critically analyze musical theatre works. Some of these musicals include Oklahoma! (Aikin; Cook; Most “We Know We Belong”), Rent (Schrader “No Day But Today”; Sebesta), Pins and Needles (Schrader “Connecting to and Persuading”), Miss Saigon (Pao), and Wicked (Burger; Lane; Kruse and Prettyman; Raab; Schrader “They Call Me Wonderful”; Schrader “Witch or Reformer”; Schrader “Face-work, Social Movement Leadership, and ‘Glinda the Good;’” Schweitzer; Wolf “Wicked Divas”; Wolf, “Defying Gravity”). It is my hope that this article will contribute to this body of literature in addition to outlining a new way of using cluster criticism to analyze performative texts.

Extending Burke’s Cluster Criticism for Performative Texts

This article proposes that cluster criticism, as a type of rhetorical criticism, be extended from its original form in order to examine the messages conveyed through theatre and how performance contributes to the creation of these messages. Rhetorical analysis allows one to find emerging themes (or clusters in cluster criticism) in the text, and these themes or clusters can be used to construct meaning. Rhetorical analysis also focuses on the role of the audience. As Charland observes, the audience embodies discourse. As audience members, we participate in the meaning-making process along with the performers, directors, producers, lyricists, composers and playwrights. Therefore, it is important not only to examine the written textual elements of a theatrical work, such as the script and sheet music, but also the performative elements experienced by the audience, such as scenery, stage direction, musical intonation, and sound effects. While written texts allow for ease of access at any point in the study, performances, which occur in a certain place and time, can only exist outside that context in the audience’s memory. Therefore, fieldnotes of performances are necessary to examine performative elements. Using the research technique of qualitative observation (Angrosino; Lindlof and Taylor), I attended three performances of Wicked, taking detailed fieldnotes by hand. These fieldnotes were transcribed within twenty-four hours of being written, achieving the recommendations of Lindlof and Taylor, who suggest that it is beneficial to transcribe fieldnotes while they are fresh in the researcher’s mind. The three performances observed for this study were the September 2, 2008 performance in Chicago, the September 13, 2008 touring company performance in Pittsburgh, and the New York Broadway performance on July 11, 2009. All three performances were directed by Joe Mantello. Observing more than one performance enhanced this study by providing an opportunity to compare and contrast the usage of performative elements.

Playbills from the three performances observed for this study. Photo taken by Valerie Lynn Schrader.

Cluster criticism allows rhetorical critics to examine relationships and meanings between concepts in the text (Foss, 1996). In Attitudes Toward History, Burke suggests that “significance [is] gained by noting what subjects cluster about other subjects” (232). In The Philosophy of Literary Form, he elaborates on his previous discussion of cluster criticism, explaining that writers use “associational clusters,” and that by studying their work, scholars can “find ‘what goes with what’ in these clusters – what kinds of acts and images and personalities and situations go with…notions of heroism, villainy, consolations, despair, etc.” (20). He makes note that cluster analysis allows interrelationships between these elements to emerge, and it is only by studying a work after it has been completed that one can understand these interrelationships (20). Burke recommends that cluster criticism begin with a “God term” or simplistic “summarizing title,” which allows the rhetorical critic to examine “what complexities are subsumed beneath it” (Grammar of Motives 105). However, as Carol A. Berthold notes, Burke’s method of cluster criticism is not clearly defined. She contends that “Burke only vaguely sketches the steps involved in cluster and agon analysis,” and that this may cause “anyone desiring to use the method [to] become perplexed by the lack of a clearly defined procedure” (302). Because of this ambiguity, other scholars have sought to define the method in ways that are less abstract.

One of these scholars is William Rueckert. Rueckert explains that “the object of a cluster analysis is to find out what goes with what, and why; it is done by making an index and a concordance for a single work or group of works by the same author” (84). He illustrates the method by applying it to a number of different texts, including the Shakespearean play Othello, poems by Cummings and Wordsworth, and the novels Madame Bovary and The Ordeal of Richard Feverel (85-89). Sonja Foss’s work has also contributed to the discussion of Burkean cluster criticism. Foss describes three steps rhetorical critics should take when engaging in cluster criticism (“Cluster Criticism”). First, the rhetorical critic must identify the “God terms” or key concepts in a text. Next, the critic must look for additional concepts and ideas that are associated with the “God terms” already identified, and these sub-concepts form collections, or clusters. Finally, the critic must examine how each of the sub-concepts represents the “God term.” Foss observes that this step often involves comparing clusters and incorporating other methods of rhetorical criticism, such as metaphoric criticism or feminist criticism (“Cluster Criticism”).

Cluster criticism has often been employed as a method of analyzing public address. Berthold applied cluster criticism to the rhetoric of John F. Kennedy, noting key terms in Kennedy’s speeches, such as “peace” and “strength,” as well as the agon-term2 “communism.” Several scholars have employed cluster criticism to examine religious texts (Foss “Women Priests;” Graves, Pullum), while others have applied cluster criticism to epideictic rhetorical texts (Docan, Freitas and Holtzman). Cluster criticism can also be used as a method when examining other rhetorical texts. Two examples are Corcorcan’s work, which employed cluster criticism to examine images of USSR political funerals in U.S. weekly news magazines, and an article by Hoffman and Cowan, who used cluster criticism to study Fortune 500’s list of the “100 best companies to work for” in 2004.

While traditional cluster criticism is useful in public address settings, it often falls short when used to analyze non-public address texts, such as films, television shows, music, and theatre. In 2006, Lynch re-envisioned cluster criticism so that it could be used to analyze qualitative interviews and focus groups. In his study, Lynch provided key terms for focus groups to use, but his participants defined those terms by using other terms, which were then clustered together. Lynch was then able to form meanings from these clusters. Through Lynch’s discussion of cluster criticism, one finds a way in which to work both inductively and deductively within the same method.

Through this study, I attempt to extend cluster criticism in a way that will allow it to be a useful tool for rhetorical critics studying performative texts. I begin with a “God term,” and then let the clusters emerge from the analysis. Instead of looking for single terms that relate to the “God term,” as various other scholars employing this method have done (Berthold; Foss “Cluster Criticism;” Graves; Pullum), I look at terms and phrases along with such content as music, lyrics, and visual elements to explore relationships between and among themes that emerge.

Traditionally, cluster criticism has emphasized the importance of the rhetor’s intent, as noted by Foss (“Women Priests”), Blakesley, Rueckert, Berthold, and Pullum. However, this extension of cluster criticism focuses on the messages conveyed to the audience. Similar to what Kimberling describes in regards to the creation of motion pictures (31), there are many people involved in how a message is conveyed through theatrical performance, and therefore, one cannot determine one sole rhetor for a performance. Writers create scripts and characters. Directors and actors both have visions for how characters and events should be portrayed. Producers, lighting designers, sound directors, property managers, set designers and costume designers all play a role in how messages are conveyed through performance. It is nearly impossible to determine who is responsible for the way a particular scene is performed in a theatrical production. Therefore, the emphasis of this study is on the experience of the living product of this collaboration: The performance of the character by a particular actor. As Gadamer observes, “it is in the performance . . . that we encounter the work itself” (116). This article contends that cluster criticism can also be employed through a postmodern perspective to analyze meanings that are co-constructed by the writers, directors, producers, performers and audiences of a particular performance. In this cluster criticism of Wicked, I look for messages and meanings within the text and for the ways in which performance affects these messages and meanings.

This study employs multiple layers of Wicked’s text in order to allow themes and meanings to emerge: The New York performance script, the original Broadway cast recording, sheet music, and fieldnotes of the three performances. Through observation and close readings of these layers, several key themes emerged, including leadership, hegemony, and the characteristics and strategies of social movements. Using these themes, a “God term” was chosen for this cluster analysis in order to center the study on the political messages within Wicked: Hegemony. Through the analysis of these layers of text, additional concepts and examples that relate to hegemony have emerged. These additional examples and concepts formed clusters, all of which were diagrammed on a cluster map (See Fig. 1). Finally, the clusters were analyzed in relation to the “God term” in order to form meanings about the performative text. The extension of this method has allowed meanings that are salient in the messages and performances of Wicked to emerge.

To be certain that “hegemony” is an appropriate “God term” to use in this cluster analysis, it is necessary to understand the history and meaning of the term. Hegemony, initially coined by Antonio Gramsci, is the maintenance of power by one group over a subordinate group (Further Selections). Hegemony describes how the dominant group coerces or convinces the subordinate group to accept their own oppression; it creates a contradictory consciousness within people in that while they experience life in an oppressed way, they are also subjected to the messages that praise upholding the status quo (McGovern). Gramsci suggests that the effect of this conflicting consciousness is “to immobilize subordinate groups from acting on the very real grievances that they feel” (McGovern 423). To use Gramsci’s own words, hegemony is “a complement to the theory of state-as-force” (Further Selections 357-358). The hegemonic state becomes “the ‘common sense’ of the people” (Fontana 98) in that they accept their own oppression as a part of everyday life. As Benedetto Fontana explains, “hegemony is the institutionalization of consent and persuasion within both civil society and the state” (99). In short, hegemony is the ability of the dominant or institutional group to persuade or coerce a subordinate group to accept its own oppression because there is significant benefit for the subordinate group by doing so.

Some scholars have examined the role of the hegemon. Mearsheimer suggests that a hegemon is a state that dominates all others (40-42). The hegemon is the dominant group, institution, or leader that dominates an oppressed group. Keohane notes that “the hegemon plays a distinctive role, providing its partners with leadership in return for deference” (46). A hegemon cannot act alone, because “it is impossible to separate the concept of hegemony from consent” (Lentner 738). In short, a hegemon cannot exist without an oppressed group to dominate.

Several of Burke’s writings connect to the concept of hegemony. In his response to Lentricchia’s criticism that Burke did not invoke the concept of hegemony, Tomkins argues that that Burke wrote about hegemony in several of his works, though he sometimes used different words to address the concept (124). Tompkins suggests that Burke’s speech, “Revolutionary Symbolism in America,” which he addressed to the American Writers Congress in 1935, was “an explicit intervention in the intersection of rhetorical, philosophic, literary, social and political life” (124, emphasis Tomkins’); in this speech, Burke sought to influence social change. Tomkins also points out that Burke addressed hegemony in Permanence and Change3 and in “My Approach to Communism.4” Through these works, Tomkins suggests that Burke’s concept of hegemony is quite close to Gramsci’s. Hegemony, therefore, seems an appropriate term through which to examine a text using a Burkean methodology.

Hegemony in Wicked: A Case Study

This cluster analysis revealed a number of themes clustered around the concept of hegemony (See Fig. 1). Specifically, these clusters fell into two distinct categories: Strategies used by the hegemon and the Ozian public’s lack of concern for anything that does not directly affect them. While the first category appears more prominent based on the number of clusters and examples that refer to it (Oppression of Animals, Dillamond as scapegoat, Elphaba as scapegoat, Animals in lower level positions, and Morrible aligns herself with people in power), the second category is equally as important because it allows the hegemonic strategies to occur.

Figure 1. The cluster map created through this study. You can also view this image as a full-page PDF file here.


The apathy of the Ozian public is first revealed through the character of Fiyero in the first act. A trouble-making prince from Oz’s Vinku province, Fiyero, upon arrival at Shiz University, immediately encourages the other students to stop studying and start “dancing through life.” Fiyero is a carefree party boy, and in the Chicago production, he was played very much like a stereotypical fraternity brother seen in popular American movies. Fiyero begins the song “Dancing through Life” in an upbeat, major key:

Dancing through life, skimming the surface, gliding where turf is smooth. Life’s more painless for the brainless. Why think too hard when it’s so soothing, dancing through life? No need to tough it when you can sluff it off as I do. Nothing matters, but knowing nothing matters. It’s just life, so keep dancing through.

At first, one may dismiss Fiyero’s lyrics as simply a carefree happy-go-lucky character encouraging his classmates to worry less and have more fun. However, other themes and examples in the musical suggest that this upbeat don’t-worry-be-happy song actually has deeper implications. In Oz, Animals (with a capital A) are different from animals (with a lower-case a) because of their ability to think and communicate; they are essentially an oppressed social class that is gradually having their rights stripped away from them. By encouraging his classmates not to think about things that upset them, Fiyero turns his back on the oppression of the Animals, thus contributing to the hegemony in the country. As Lentner notes, hegemony cannot occur without the public’s consent. If the public chooses to ignore issues that trouble them, they are, in a way, giving their consent for such problems to exist.

This apathy is further illustrated in the reactions of the class in the Pittsburgh and New York performances when Dr. Dillamond, the students’ Goat professor, turns his blackboard around and sees that someone has written “Animals should be seen and not heard” in large red letters. In the Chicago production, the Ozian students were ashamed and hung their heads. In the other two performances, however, they were silent with blank expressions on their faces, thus suggesting apathy; they simply do not care what happens to the Animals in Oz. It is this apathy that allows the hegemonic regime to oppress Animals without having to justify this oppression to a concerned public.

Aligning Oneself with Those in Power

This cluster analysis revealed three unique strategies used by hegemonic leaders to gain or maintain control over their populace: Aligning with those in power, scapegoating, and demoting Animals to lower level positions. The first strategy is primarily illustrated through the character of Madame Morrible, the students’ headmistress and later the Wizard’s press secretary, who seeks to connect herself with those in power in order to increase her own power. Morrible’s interest in those with power is apparent when she first meets Elphaba and her sister Nessarose, who are the daughters of the Governor of Munchkinland. She immediately fawns over the beautiful Nessarose in hopes to aligning herself with Nessarose’s powerful father. In the same scene, Morrible recognizes that Elphaba has a natural talent for sorcery, and insists on teaching Elphaba in a private sorcery seminar, in hopes that Elphaba will be able to develop her skill enough that Morrible can present her to the Wizard and be rewarded for her efforts.

Later in Act 1, when Madame Morrible arrives to tell Elphaba that the Wizard wants to meet her, Morrible is at least as overjoyed, if not more so, than Elphaba herself. While initially this appears to simply be the happiness of a mentor at seeing her student excel, it becomes clear that Morrible had selfish reasons for mentoring Elphaba and being happy for her. When Elphaba meets the Wizard and casts a spell to make the Wizard’s pet Monkeys fly, Morrible, as the Wizard’s new press secretary, tells the Wizard excitedly, “I knew it! I knew she had the power! I told you!” Elphaba, upset and backing away from Madame Morrible, replies, “You . . . you planned all this?” Morrible quickly tries to cover her selfish motives by insisting, “For you too, dearie! You benefit, too!” However, Elphaba is aware that she has been taken advantage of by her own instructor.

In this same scene, Morrible clearly articulates her quid pro quo strategy for gaining power. “I’ve risen up in the world,” she tells Elphaba and Glinda. “You’ll find that the Wizard is a very generous man. If you do something for him, he’ll do much for you.” It later becomes clear that Morrible offers two advantages for the Wizard: 1) She has trained Elphaba, a talented young sorceress who the Wizard hopes will join his regime, and 2) she uses her own sorcery power to help the Wizard achieve his goals. In return, Madame Morrible becomes an important figure in the regime. Madame Morrible’s actions suggest that the quid pro quo strategy is one strategy that hegemonic leaders may use to obtain their power.

Along with her desire to align herself with those who are powerful or potentially powerful comes Madame Morrible’s disdain for the ordinary. This is revealed through her dismissal of Galinda, who desperately wants to win Morrible’s favor and wishes to major in sorcery. Morrible brushes off Galinda’s questions about her entrance essay and refuses to include her in her sorcery seminar until Elphaba insists on it. When she reluctantly permits Galinda to join in the seminar, Madame Morrible tells her, “My personal opinion is that you do not have what it takes. I hope you prove me wrong. I doubt you will.” While most instructors seek to encourage their students to excel in their chosen major, Madame Morrible is completely unconcerned with Galinda’s education. Morrible is concerned only with her own welfare, and only encourages those who show promise because they potentially could help her obtain the power she seeks. Those, like Galinda, who do not show promise immediately, are simply brushed aside.

However, once Glinda becomes a figurehead in the Wizard’s regime, Madame Morrible begins treating her with respect, ultimately attempting to use her sycophantic ways to try to escape incarceration. When Glinda becomes engaged to Fiyero, Madame Morrible announces cheerily, “Glinda, dear, we are happy for you! As Press Secretary, I’ve striven to ensure that all Oz knows the story of your braverism!” The story that she tells, however, is a lie that is used to make Glinda look good in front of her constituents while making Elphaba appear jealous, angry, and mean. The story accomplishes two goals for Morrible as hegemonic leader: 1) She is able to continue to align herself with those in power by painting Glinda in a positive light, and 2) she is able to re-contextualize the situation to paint Elphaba in a negative light.

Morrible also attempts to survive a regime change through her sycophantic strategy when Glinda banishes the Wizard from Oz. She anxiously tells Glinda, “I know we’ve had our miniscule differences in the past, but . . .” Glinda, who is angry and confident in taking the reins of leadership, is not interested in listening to her, just as Morrible refused to listen to her when Glinda was a powerless young pupil. Glinda sends Madame Morrible to prison; it is Morrible’s disdain for the powerless, which initially caused her to rise to power, that ultimately is the key to her undoing. Morrible’s undoing seems to go against Audre Lorde’s famous quote: “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house” (110). In her essay, Lorde suggests that feminism as a movement cannot be successful as long as it works within a patriarchy that will never let it advance. While this may be true of social movements, individuals are often brought down by the same device that causes them to rise to power. Morrible’s case suggests that a hegemonic leader’s own strength can also be her Achilles’ heel.


The second strategy, scapegoating, is illustrated through a number of characters in the musical. Scapegoating is used by hegemonic regimes to maintain control over their state. The term “scapegoat” initially described a goat on which people symbolically placed their sins; the goat was then sent ceremoniously into the wilderness (Bremmer 8145). Similarly, a scapegoat is now “a specific person or minority” who is blamed for “crises (economic, political, social)” (Bremmer 8145). This analysis revealed two scapegoats in Wicked: The Animals in Oz (including Dr. Dillamond), and ultimately, Elphaba herself.

First, it is no surprise that Dr. Dillamond, the chief Animal character in the show, is a Goat. In fact, it is Dr. Dillamond, when lecturing to the students on Ozian history, who introduces the term scapegoat. He tells them,

Doubtless you’ve noticed I am the sole Animal on the faculty – the ‘token Goat,’ as it were. But it wasn’t always this way. Oh, dear students, how I wish you could have known this place as it once was. When one could walk these halls and hear an Antelope explicating a sonnet, a Snow Leopard solving an equation, a Wildebeest waxing philosophic. Can you see, students, what’s being lost? How our dear Oz is becoming less and less, well, colorful. Now, what set this into motion?
When Elphaba answers that it began with the Great Drought, Dillamond continues, “Precisely. Food grew scarce, and people grew hungrier and angrier. And the question became – who can we blame? Can anyone tell me what is meant by the term ‘scapegoat?’”

Dillamond’s story is further enhanced by a visual aid in his classroom. In all three of the productions documented for this study, a timeline on a blackboard further illustrated this point. The timeline contained a history of Oz, including such events as the Great Drought, the ending of the war, and the Wizard’s arrival. The timeline allows Dillamond to show his students which events occurred in what order so that they may make connections between history and the oppression currently facing the Animals.

Dillamond’s story, while a fictional story in a musical, has real-life parallels. Most striking is perhaps the rise of anti-Semitism in post-World War I Germany. As Burke discusses in “The Rhetoric of Hitler’s Battle” (The Philosophy of Literary Form), Germany was in a state of economic ruin after the First World War and the German people were struggling. When Hitler took power, he sought to unify the country and offered the German people a “panacea, a ‘cure for what ails you,’ a ‘snakeoil,’ that made such sinister unifying possible within his own nation” (192). This “panacea” included the creation of a common enemy: The Jewish people. Writing in 1941, Burke suggests that Hitler was using the Jewish people as a “projection device” or “scapegoat;” one on which the German people could “hand over [their] ills” in order to be purified (202-203). The Jewish people were thus blamed for Germany’s problems, and this blame ultimately led to the Holocaust, where millions of Jews were murdered. The Animals in Oz serve as a reminder for audience members that there have been many social groups throughout history that have been unfairly blamed and persecuted for a nation’s problems.

As Dillamond’s story suggests, Animals are the primary scapegoat for Oz’s troubles. The same scene provides evidence that Ozians believe that Animals are the source of Oz’s problems. When Dillamond flips the blackboard to write on the side of it that does not contain the timeline, he sees the words “Animals should be seen and not heard” written in large red letters. As previously mentioned, the students’ reaction to this event varies by performance. Dillamond’s reaction also varies by performance. In the Chicago and Pittsburgh performances, Dillamond appeared angry and perhaps frightened. He screamed at the students to leave. In the New York performance, he appeared to be more hurt than angry, and his voice shook a bit when he told the students to leave.

Each performance choice offers a slightly different message for the audience to consider. The Chicago performance suggests that those being oppressed are strong and willing to fight, and that the Ozian population merely needs to be educated, like the students who recognized the unfair treatment and felt shame because of it, in order to change society and end the oppression. In contrast, the Pittsburgh performance suggests that the oppressed class of Animals, represented by Dr. Dillamond, is strong and willing to fight for their rights, but face the added challenge of winning the hearts and minds of an apathetic public. Finally, the New York performance allows audience members to feel more sympathy for the Animals, represented by a shaken Dr. Dillamond, and less sympathy for the students, or Ozian society, whom they represent.

Animals are not the only scapegoat in Wicked. Elphaba herself becomes a scapegoat in Act II. First, she becomes a scapegoat for her family. Elphaba’s sister Nessarose blames Elphaba for both their father’s death and the transformation of Boq, a Munchkin whom Nessarose loves. When Elphaba travels to Munchkinland to ask for her father’s help, Nessarose tells Elphaba that he died of shame because of Elphaba’s actions. Nessarose also blames Elphaba for Boq’s physical condition. When Nessarose erroneously casts a spell that has potentially-fatal effects on Boq, Elphaba saves Boq’s life by turning him into a tin woodsman. After Elphaba’s exit, Nessarose screams to Boq, “It wasn’t me; it was her! I tried to stop her! It was Elphaba, Boq, it was Elphaba!” Both of these examples suggest that Nessarose does not take responsibility for her own actions; instead, she blames Elphaba, the family scapegoat.

By the end of the musical, Elphaba becomes more than simply the family scapegoat. She becomes a scapegoat for the entire nation of Oz. This is especially prevalent during the mob scene at the end of the musical. As the mob sets out to kill the “Wicked Witch,” two figures, one human and one Animal, blame her for their troubles. The first figure is Boq, who declares that he holds Elphaba responsible for his condition and wishes to kill her in retaliation. The second figure, a Lion whom Elphaba and Fiyero freed during college, relays his message to Boq, who speaks for him. Boq announces to the mob, “The Lion also has a grievance to repay. If she’d let him fight his own battles when he was young, he wouldn’t be a coward today!”

The Lion’s story suggests that Elphaba has become a scapegoat for her own cause. Animals whom she has tried to help have blamed her for their troubles. Some social protest leaders, like Elphaba, have become a scapegoat for their own causes. One figure in U.S. history that exemplifies this is abolitionist John Brown. Brown became a leader of antislavery guerillas and fought against proslavery attacks. In retribution for a proslavery attack, Brown brutally murdered five settlers in a proslavery town (“John Brown”). While some abolitionists, like Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, praised Brown (“John Brown”), other leaders, like Abraham Lincoln, disapproved of Brown’s actions and believed he was insane (Sandburg). Brown became one of the most controversial figures of his time and has been partially credited with starting the Civil War (Frye). Like Brown, Elphaba is not only a scapegoat for her opposition, but for those who support her cause. Elphaba reminds audience members that one of the risks of fighting against hegemony is becoming a scapegoat.

Demoting Animals to Lower Level Positions

Another hegemonic strategy revealed through this analysis is the demotion of those in the oppressed class to lower level positions. Throughout Wicked, especially in the first act, Animals have been demoted to manual labor positions. What is particularly interesting about this theme is that it emerged almost entirely from performance fieldnotes, while most of the other themes and sub-themes arose from the script with the performance fieldnotes taking a supporting role. In fact, six out of the nine examples regarding this sub-theme are observable only through performance (see Fig. 1).

The first example occurs at the very beginning of all three performances. Flying Monkeys push, pull, and spin mechanical-looking wheels that appear to cause the curtain to rise. The Monkeys make sounds, but they do not speak as they turn the wheels and cogs. In the New York performance, they entered the stage from every possible entrance: Some entered from stage left or stage right, some came from around the proscenium, and still others entered the stage through trap doors in the floorboards of the stage.

Other examples of Animals doing manual labor occur at various points in Act I. Both the Pittsburgh and the New York performances included a character bit of an Animal pushing a cart containing Galinda’s massive suitcases when she arrives at Shiz University. The New York performance also featured an Animal serving punch to Boq and Nessarose in the dance scene at the OzDust Ballroom and an Animal loading and unloading baggage at the train station when Elphaba leaves for the Emerald City. In my fieldnotes from the New York performance, I note that the latter “looks exhausted and wipes the sweat from his brow.”

In fact, with the exception of Dr. Dillamond, Animals are never seen in a position of power or prestige during the musical. Dr. Dillamond explains the situation to Elphaba in the song “Something Bad.” The song serves as a warning, as indicated by its minor key, repeated notes, and underlying formidable-sounding beat. Dillamond sings,

I’ve heard of an Ox, a professor from Quox, no longer permitted to teach, who has lost all powers of speech. And an Owl in Munchkin Rock, a vicar with a thriving flock, forbidden to preach. Now he only can screech.

Dillamond’s story suggests that Animals in prestigious positions, particularly those in religious orders and higher education, were ousted from their jobs. Later, Dillamond becomes an example of his own story when he himself is forbidden to teach at Shiz University. With urgency, he enters his classroom for the last time, quickly tells his students that he appreciates them, and assures Elphaba that “They can take away my job, but I shall continue speaking out!”

When taken in context with Dillamond’s story and experience, it seems unlikely that the Animals in lower level positions, such as the baggage loader and the punch server, chose to take these jobs because they enjoy them. In Oz, Animals are forced to take these positions because they are considered a lower social class, and Animals in prestigious positions, such as professors or pastors, are removed by the government from the very positions they worked hard to obtain. Again, Wicked reminds audience members of real-life history: This is similar to the initial measures the Third Reich used in the 1930s to persecute the Jewish people. According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum website, in 1933, the Nazi-dominated German government passed a law that forbade Jews from holding positions in government, in the tax profession, and as stage actors. The German government also restricted their rights when holding positions in the legal sphere and in the medical profession. The rights of the Jewish people in Germany were further abolished throughout the 1930s until ultimately they were sent to concentration camps during the Holocaust. Wicked’s story serves as a warning to audience members about the dangers of apathy and the necessity of taking action. The musical reminds theatre-goers that no nation is safe from committing these atrocities, unless its citizens remember history, keep aware, and take action.

Wicked New for KBJ

Cluster Criticism for Layered, Performative Texts: Moving Forward

Scholars have utilized Burkean concepts in studies of performance and popular art in various ways. In his book exploring twentieth century theatre and Shakespearean plays, Francis Fergusson explores the connection between dialectic and drama in Burke’s Grammar of Motives. He explains that “behind Mr. Burke’s view of the dialectic process there lurks ritual drama” (201), and praises Burke’s “analysis of language,” noting that it “works like a farcical plot” (xvii). C. Ronald Kimberling connects Burke’s work to popular art, using dramatism to analyze the film Jaws, the television miniseries Shogun, and the Stephen King novel The Dead Zone. He suggests that “dramatism has the flexibility to enable us to penetrate several aspects of popular arts from a variety of angles” (13). In his work on theatre as ritual, Bruce A. McConachie uses dramatism to define theatre as “a type of ritual which functions to legitimate an image of a historical social order in the minds of its audience” (466). This article has attempted to contribute to this ongoing conversation by proposing an extension of Burke’s cluster criticism to include performative elements of performative, layered texts. Through an analysis of hegemony in the musical Wicked as a case study, I have sought to expand the scope of cluster criticism so that it may be used for a broader range of texts.

While cluster criticism has previously been used primarily for examining public address texts, newspaper articles, and other word-oriented texts, Rueckert observes in Kenneth Burke and the Drama of Human Relations that cluster criticism can be used to examine dramatic texts, such as plays, as well. When employed in a traditional word-oriented manner, cluster criticism can reveal clusters surrounding “God terms” and/or “agon terms” that provide insight into the intention of the texts’ authors. Rueckert suggests that the cluster criticism can be applied to different texts in the same way (88), but applying traditional cluster criticism to a performative text only accommodates the words in a script or perhaps lyrics in a song, excluding elements that can only be experienced through performance. While the general procedure remains the same, this article has suggested that cluster criticism be extended to accommodate the various layers of a performative, fragmented text. Instead of searching for particular words that cluster together to form meanings, this extension of cluster criticism requires the critic to search for themes that clustered together to form meanings. In this case study, these clusters emerged upon the examination of each layer of the performative text (the New York performance script, fieldnotes from each of three performances, the original cast recording, and the sheet music).

First, this cluster analysis began with a “God term” that was contrived after a close reading of the textual layers used for this study, as well as after a review of the literature on the “God term” (hegemony). One “God term” was chosen in order to limit the numbers of clusters and sub-clusters to a manageable amount for this study, but future studies may include multiple “God terms” or include “agon terms” as well. It should be noted that different clusters and sub-clusters could emerge from the same text if a different term or phrase was used as a lens with which to examine each layer of text.

By analyzing each layer of text, numerous clusters and sub-clusters emerged from this analysis. These clusters included Ozian apathy and frivolousness, the oppression of Animals, the demotion of Animals to lower level positions, the scapegoating of Elphaba, the scapegoating of Dr. Dillamond, and aligning oneself with people in power (illustrated through the character of Madame Morrible). These six clusters form four overarching themes concerning Wicked’s messages about hegemony: 1. Apathy leads to hegemony, 2. Hegemonic leaders use scapegoating to gain/maintain their power, 3. Hegemonic leaders align themselves with those already in power to gain/maintain their power, and 4. Hegemonic regimes may demote members of the oppressed class from prestigious positions in order to gain/maintain power. Each of these themes was supported by a number of examples from the various layers of this performative text. It is important to note that the fourth theme was primarily illustrated through performative elements, and would not have emerged from a textual analysis or cluster criticism of the script’s text. The emergence of the fourth theme suggests that in order to thoroughly examine performative texts, one must extend cluster criticism as a method to include not only words and lyrics, but also performative elements, such as use of props, stage movement, music, and visual and sound effects.

The intention of this article was to provide rhetorical critics, performance scholars, and scholars of film, television and other media with a methodology through which to rhetorically study themes in layered, performative texts. Future research may employ cluster criticism to study multiple performances of theatrical productions, both musical and non-musical, the different visual and auditory elements of a television program episode, or the various layers of a film. It is my hope that rhetorical and performance scholars will find this extension of cluster criticism valuable when examining a variety of performance-oriented rhetorical texts, whether those texts are performed live, part of everyday life, videotaped, or broadcasted through new media.


1. The word Monkey is capitalized because in Wicked, Ozian Animals (with a capital A) are distinguished from animals (with a lower-case a) because of their ability to think and communicate; they represent an oppressed social class.

2. Agon-terms (or “devil terms”) are key words that appear to have the opposite message of “God terms.” Berthold explains that agon-terms, when contrasted with “God terms” can reveal a speaker’s intentions.

3. In Permanence and Change, Burke discusses “hegemony of custom” (186). He explains, “If there is a slave function in such a culture, the class that so functions does not know itself as such. A true slave morality is implicitly obeyed – and while such morality is intact, the slave does not consider his obedience as slavery, any more than a child normally considers obedience to its parents slavery. Before such obedience can be explicitly considered a state of slavery, a perspective by incongruity must arise” (186).

4. In “My Approach to Communism,” Burke refers to the “hegemony of business” when contrasting communism and fascism. He states, “The Fascist retention of business as the keystone of its scheme leads logically to the attempted subjugation of the workers, precisely as the Communist elimination of business leads to their establishment as the fulcrum of the governmental policies and purposes…Hence the logical demand that one choose Communism, which eliminates the hegemony of business, as against Facism, which would attempt to erect a stable economy atop the contradictions of business enterprise” (18).

* This article was adapted from the author’s dissertation. The author would like to thank her dissertation committee, Dr. Jerry L. Miller, Dr. William K. Rawlins, Dr. Benjamin R. Bates, Dr. J.W. Smith, and Dr. Jordan Schildcrout of Ohio University, for their guidance.

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