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Spectators come to the theater to hear the subtext. Constantin Stanislavski, the father of method acting

Subtext as defined by the Russian director Constantin Stanislavski is the underlying motivation, feelings and emotions behind a character's actions and speech. With a good actor, the audience can pick up on the subtext and interpret the character's thoughts. This is why people say of actors like Ethel Barrymore or Leonard Nimoy that a single gesture or word "spoke volumes".[1]

In fandom, subtext is content in canon (or, sometimes, fanworks) that is meant to be understood by the audience without being explicitly stated.

In dramatics, subtext does not necessarily have to be deliberate on the part of the author. There have been many debates over whether certain subtext exists in canon whether or not the writer intended to put it there.

Subtext is extremely subjective, and not all fans will agree on their validity or application to a particular relationship in a show or film.

An example of subtext: When Bodie and Doyle have a different set of rooms every time they are shown at home in The Professionals, the subtext can be, "CI5 agents have to move often for security reasons," or "These characters are so unstable that they can't keep the same apartment for long."

In fan discussions, subtext most commonly refers to canon that is felt to imply a romantic relationship or unresolved sexual tension/attraction between two same-sex characters, or to hint at a character's sexual orientation. Slash fans point out elements of art direction and photography as well as acting that they feel make the "obvious" point.

When the term subtext is used with regard to canon, an argument is often made that fans are seeing sexual relationships or attraction where they don't really exist. In film and television, especially in dramatic or suspense genres, two men looking intensely at each other or even touching does not mean they are lovers. However, showrunners and producers who point this out, may be accused, rightly or wrongly, of Queer Baiting.

For my part, I never have been able to "slash for slash's sake." I don't and can't "see slashy subtext" everywhere I look. Evidence of emotional and/or physical intimacy (same gender or opposite) demonstrates only that characters are emotionally and/or physically intimate. Emotional/physical intimacy exists between people who are friends and among family members and is, by itself, insufficient to suggest, much less prove, that there is or should be sexual relationship.

I remember one of the original "incest slash" fandoms, from the early-to-mid-80s--"Simon and Simon" fandom. My friends and I were *so* bewildered by that and, when it was explained to us by proponents that "of course they're having sex, look at how much they love each other," it was (in modern 'net vernacular) a real *headdesk* moment for us.

It's the Vulcan in me--I need to see a logical extrapolation from the media source product to the suggested extra-textual relationship (slash or het). Connect all the dots for me--explain what is in canon (the characterizations, backgrounds, history, specific relationships, physical setting, time period, larger culture and worldview, etc.) that makes it possible (or even likely) and also rationally explain away whatever there is in canon that mitigates against it. [2]

Xena Fandom

In Xena fandom, "subtext" refers to the implication that Xena and Gabrielle are meant to be understood as a lesbian couple.[3] A "subtexter" in Xena fandom is someone who is a fan of lesbian subtext. Here, references to subtext links, subtext fanfiction, subtext virtual seasons, etc. are usually referring to a lesbian interpretation of the source, like for example in CN Winters Xena Subtext Reports.



  1. At least this is true of neurotypical audiences. This is an area where autistics can have difficulty eliciting meaning, and may need to have some things spelled out in more detail.
  2. comment from klangley56 in the subject of slash, dated June 1, 2008, accessed Feb. 11, 2011; WebCite.
  3. Xena - The Subtext FAQ for, Version 1.08, updated 1998. (Accessed 26 December 2008)