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LABOR UNITY HAS BEEN SHORT LIVED. GRUMBLING HAS now BROKEN OUT WITHIN OPPOSITION RANKS OVER THE ROLE PLAYED BY FACTIONS IN CHOOSING THE FRONTBENCH. (ABC)

It seems like ‘over the role’ is the complement of ‘grumbling’. But I’m not sure what ‘played by faction’ and ‘in choosing the frontbench’ are respectively modifying or what role do they take in the sentence. Would you parse them?

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Played... modifies role: the factions played a role.

In choosing... is ambiguous, because play a role in is semantically a unitary but very complex metaphor:

The factions play a role in choosing the frontbench.
Olivier plays the Prince in Hamlet.

  • The factions are represented as an 'actor portraying a character' (playing a role) in a 'drama', so in choosing... is a prepositional phrase modifying both the factions and the role.
  • But the role was played 'in the drama', so in choosing also modifies played.
  • Yet the action performed by both the actors and the character was choosing..., so both the factions and the role are the subject of the clause choosing... .
  • Finally, the object of over—what the grumbling was about—is not the role but the entire NP headed by the role; and what that NP signifies is the manner in which the drama was performed: how the frontbench was chosen.

The theatrical metaphor is notoriously hard to pin down. Kenneth Burke chose it as the generative core of his study of human relationships, A Grammar of Motives, because "what we want is not terms that avoid ambiguity, but terms that clearly reveal the strategic spots at which ambiguities necessarily arise."

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