Sunday, 3 November 2013

Theatre as Spectacle (Brief note)

As one of history's least fashionable philosophers, Augustine of Hippo has been relegated to the margins of debate on theatre's social importance. Yet, in this particular extract, he provides a strong argument against theatre, citing it as something recognisably distracting for post-modernists who worry about The Spectacle.

Augustine of Hippo: On theatre, from the ConfessionsConfessions, St. Augustine. London: Penguin Classics, 1961.
“ I was much attracted by the theatre, because the plays reflected my own unhappy plight and were tinder to my fire. Why is it that men enjoy feeling sad at the sight of tragedy and suffering on the stage, although they would be most unhappy if they had to endure the same fate themselves? Yet they watch the plays because they hope to be made to feel sad, and the feeling of sorrow is what they enjoy. 
What miserable delirium this is! The more a man is subject to such suffering himself, the more easily he is moved by it in the theatre. Yet where he suffers himself, we call it misery: when he suffers out of sympathy with others, we call it pity. But what sort of pity can we really feel for an imaginary scene on the stage? The audience is not called upon to offer help but only to feel sorrow, and the more they are pained the more they applaud the author. Whether this human agony is based on fact or is simply imaginary, if it is acted so badly that the audience is not moved to sorrow, they leave the theatre in a disgruntled and critical mood; whereas, if they are made to feel pain, they stay to the end watching happily.”
Book III, 2.

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