All explanations I can find is about actors. But what is the meaning in this case?

“People like me.” She looked down her adorable nose at him. “Most of the time.”
He snorted. “Yeah, I can see that. Flirt.”
She gasped. Then shrugged. “Yeah.” A couple of seconds ticked past. “You didn’t let me flirt with you. And then I thought you were married. My whole pattern got thrown off, I and now I don’t know how to act. Trying to flirt again seems pointless.”
The hell it was. “Try it.”
“No. I can’t!” she sputtered. “The third wall is already down.”
Was he sweating under his clothes? What the hell was wrong with him? “What is the next stage after flirting? Once you’ve settled in?”

Tessa Bailey "It Happened One Summer"

  • Have you Googled "the third wall"?
    – gotube
    Commented Nov 9, 2022 at 5:31
  • As I said, everything in google directs me to: " 1. The imaginary barrier that is considered to separate the audience from the characters in a play or other live performance" or "Breaking the third wall refers to when a character addresses the medium in which they are situated. This is one level removed from breaking the fourth wall, in which characters acknowledge and/or speak to the audience." And I don't understant how it fits in the text, which I'm reading. Commented Nov 9, 2022 at 7:11
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    They are actors, and at this time, they are acting. They are breaking the third wall by talking about the acting they are doing. Commented Nov 9, 2022 at 13:03
  • The expression is "break the fourth wall" (1807) and perhaps that's what Tessa Bailey meant to say. This Ngram illustrates the usage of the two phrases. That definition you've found, and other examples I've found, of "break the third wall," may be inventions or mistakes by the writer. (And maybe a novel with, "She looked down her adorable nose at him" won't be too careful!) Commented Nov 9, 2022 at 15:40
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    @Michael Harvey How does that work? Where would a third wall be? In the wings? Commented Nov 9, 2022 at 15:46

3 Answers 3


The third wall is a more recently discussed concept than the fourth. Both are examples of breaking the convention that what the audience sees and hears in a dramatic performance (TV, film, stage, radio drama, etc) are not the actors themselves, but the characters they are playing.

The more established term, the 'fourth wall' refers to an imaginary invisible wall considered to exist between the stage in a theatre and the audience. The other three 'walls' are the back and sides. An example of an actor 'breaking' this would be if they turned to the audience and said 'Macduff will kill Macbeth in a minute'. The audience will be jolted back into reality and be reminded that they are watching a play. There may be artistic reasons for doing this and the device has been employed in a number of TV, film, and stage productions.

More recently, the idea of a 'third' wall has been employed, although the technique is fairly old. It is less concretely derived, since theatrical stages already have three 'walls', but the significance is that four is one less than three. The assault on the audience's disbelief is less complete. Here, the discussion of, or reference to, the medium is confined to the actors themselves.. Breaking the third wall does not acknowledge the audience but it can become an 'inside joke' for them to share.

Examples of Breaking the Third Wall

A character in a horror film saying, “We can’t split up– what, are you in a horror movie or something?”

Two characters fall in love in a rom-com and one says, “It’s like the perfect ending to a rom-com.”

A character on a TV show saying, “Hm, I think that was last episode.”

Breaking the Third Wall (StudioBinder)

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    You know, it's so funny this. I have done theater [tre, :)) for ages, and I don't buy this as anything other than a Hollywood booboo trying to rectify itself. When actors talk to the audience, that's an "aside".
    – Lambie
    Commented Nov 9, 2022 at 18:06
  • @Lambie - well, yes, but everything's 'meta' these days so it's got to have a fancy name. I went to see Othello at the Bristol Old Vic around 1972 and Gerald Harper was in the title role. He was having a lot of fun with the people in the front rows. My girlfriend was positive he was flirting with her. Commented Nov 9, 2022 at 18:09
  • @Lambie I'm sure I saw a cartoon where a character was being chased and produced a black crayon, drew the outline of a cave on a nearby mountain, filled it in, and ran into it, evading capture. Commented Nov 9, 2022 at 18:26
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    "That's not criticism: it's oceanography." Excellent! Reminds me of the professor in Jumpers. Tvm, Michael. I STILL like the poem! Commented Nov 11, 2022 at 23:10
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    @OldBrixtonian - v. glad to be of assistance. Commented Nov 12, 2022 at 0:02

"Breaking the third wall" means when characters in a production show awareness of the fact that they are characters in a production.

The much more common expression "breaking the fourth wall" refers to an imaginary fourth wall in a theatre that separates the audience from the characters on stage. A character is said to "break" this wall if, as part of the show, they directly address the audience.

There is no "third wall", but the expression "breaking the third wall" is used because a character showing awareness of the fact they're in a production is comparable to breaking the fourth wall, but not as severe. A character breaking the fourth wall shows awareness of the world beyond their reality AND communicates to the audience in it. A character breaking the third wall merely shows awareness and does not communicate through it.

  • The invisible fourth wall just refers to the classical 18th c. stage, which is shaped like a box so that you are looking into, say, to someone's living room or house or other space. When characters address the audience, that is actually called an "aside" in theater parlance.
    – Lambie
    Commented Nov 9, 2022 at 19:26

Well, as far as it is absolutely clear, that theatre has nothing to do with this episode, it seems to me, that Piper simply has in mind, that she's like an open card now. Brendan knows too much about her. That is why the flirting is impossible.

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