Tuesday, 25 April 2017

The Death of Dramaturgy: Performances

Okay, the problem with the Enlightenment dramaturgy is that it's a big pick'n'mix counter: neither Diderot nor Lessing ever get down to basics, hitting the subject in media res. Diderot slips all his fancy ideas into a Platonic dialogue between himself and Dorval (a character in his play), and Lessing's essays are responses to the events at the National Theatre. They never develop their dramaturgy from first principles.

But pulling together their various thoughts does reveal that the emphasis in on the theatre-as-event, not theatre-as-a-script. For example, Diderot's Paradox of the Actor, which didn't get published until long after his death, goes into some detail about the skills of the performer. It accounts for the transfer of emotion from stage to audience, and speculates on how the actor can do it. And each of Lessing's essays take a production as their starting point, before he gets wandered. 

If I push it, I might be able to argue that this new interest reflects an Enlightenment appreciation of time and space. Let's see: one of the big shifts in the eighteenth century was the recognition of geological time, rather than Biblical time. If you use the Bible as the basic for your chronology, you get a 'young Earth' - history isn't that long. But with all the Earth sciences going on (although the results weren't in until the nineteenth century), the Enlightenment philosophers did know that the planet was really old. Like millions of years.

This more scientific notion of time is part of a shift in thinking about change. The whole point of absolutist monarchy and classical tragedy, as Brecht would later point out, is to demonstrate that change doesn't happen and what does happen is inevitable. Take Oedipus. There was no way that boy could escape ending up in his mother's bed. Or Orestes: he had to knock his mother off (as opposed to knock up, see Oedipus). 

Aristotle and his laws of tragedy realised that inevitably made for exciting drama. Getting rid of the idea that everything was fixed, predetermined, was a strong statement that the old order had to go. Structure of plays, their manifestation as objects in real time: this is all very scientific and realistic. 

I think that part of the thing with the Enlightenment was a desire to use a scientific approach to everything. Newton was the big hero, and he came up with gravity. By taking an object in the 'real world' and not a text (which could be seen as a bit like scripture), the philosophers could act like they were being scientific. 

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