Tuesday, 25 April 2017

The Death of Dramaturgy: give me a reason...

Typically for Enlightenment philosophers, Lessing and Diderot had a variety of interests: both wrote their most famous plays during a time when other avenues of expression had been blocked. Diderot had been banged up for the anti-religious tone of his Letter on the Blind, been warned about the Encyclopedia and was keeping a low profile: Lessing had been to told to give his theological arguments a rest and so returned to the stage with Nathan the Wise

However, whatever they were discussing, Lessing and Diderot identified with 'the age of reason'. As far as dramaturgy goes, this meant the rejection of assumed values, handed down from Aristotle and, at least in France, through the Académie française. Diderot's outburst that critics need the legitimacy of precedent to approve a performance, and Lessing's declaration that the Dramaturgy would help audiences understand what good theatre was all about, stand as statements of intent in opposition to tried and tested and approved theatricality. 

Content became a particular bone of contention. Lessing would mock one author for setting a play in the crusades (while later setting Nathan the Wise in pretty much the same period) while spending ages explaining why historical inaccuracy wasn't the big deal that Voltaire thought it was. Diderot argued that 'the conditions' of an individual were more important than their character, on the grounds that character type, rather than personality, enabled an audience to identify with a protagonist. 

More than anything, the pair wanted to get away from the classical tragic model, in which important events (like accidentally having sex with your mum) happened to important people (kings and nobles). Dids and Lessing wanted to see 'real people' (the bourgeoisie) on stage in 'real situations' (like not having sex by mistake with your sister). For Diderot, the play could be a place for the discussion of ideas, relevant ideas. Like, what's the point of the father these days, anyway?

Reason also encouraged an interest in tidying up a few of the messier aspects of the theatre building. Diderot was all for kicking the aristocrats off the stage (previously, they had got seats on the stage, and probably spent the show trying to flirt with actresses). Voltaire was big on that too, mainly because that one time when he copied Shakespeare, the ghost was obstructed by the on-stage audience, and everyone laughed at him. 

Within plays, Diderot imagined reason appearing as a sort of naturalism, both in the content and the scripting. He recommended, instead of all that fancy poetry Racine reckoned was so tragic, the author ought to leave moments of high passion to the actor, who could stutter their way through it in a facsimile of 'real emotion'. But he also took a few cues from visual art, pleading for the 'tableau' - a kind of physical theatre interlude that carries meaning through the visual image, like in a painting. 

Lessing had had a think about this kind of thing earlier - in Laocoon, he invented semiotics a century early to explain why poetry is, actually, different to painting (the neoclassic opinion had been ut pictura, poesis). By the time he gets to the Dramaturgy, he has gone full Enlightenment. He even tried to apply reason to the performance of the actors, only they told him to fuck right off (after essay twenty-five, he goes silent on this matter). 

Dance of the Magnetic Ballerina - Andrea Miltnerová 

No comments :

Post a Comment