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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 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.

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.

Xena Fandom

In Xena fandom, "subtext" refers to the implication that Xena and Gabrielle are meant to be understood as a lesbian couple.[2] 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. Xena - The Subtext FAQ for, Version 1.08, updated 1998. (Accessed 26 December 2008)
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