Towards a Theatarical Attitude in Man. The Feeling of Theatricality

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They were forbidden to leave the profession and were required to pass their employment on to their children.

Roman Empire and the rise of Christianity

Mimes included female performers, were heavily sexual in nature and often equated with prostitution. Attendance at such performances, says Barish, must have seemed to many Romans like visiting the brothels, "equally urgent, equally provocative of guilt, and hence equally in need of being scourged by a savage backlash of official disapproval". Early Christian leaders, concerned to promote high ethical principles amongst the growing Christian community, were naturally opposed to the degenerate nature of contemporary Roman theatre.

However, other arguments were also advanced. In the second century, Tatian and later Tertullian , put forward ascetic principles. In De spectaculis , Tertullian argued that even moderate pleasure is to be avoided and that theater, with its large crowds and deliberately exciting performances, led to "mindless absorption in the imaginary fortunes of nonexistent characters". If he impersonates someone vicious, he further compounds the sin.

In the fourth century, the famous preacher Chrysostom again stressed the ascetic theme. It was not pleasure but the opposite of pleasure that brought salvation.

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He wrote that "he who converses of theatres and actors does not benefit [his soul], but inflames it more, and renders it more careless He who converses about hell incurs no dangers, and renders it more sober. Augustine of Hippo , his North African contemporary, had in early life led a hedonistic lifestyle which changed dramatically following his conversion.

In his Confessions , echoing Plato, he says about imitating others: "To the end that we may be true to our nature, we should not become false by copying and likening to the nature of another, as do the actors and the reflections in the mirror We should instead seek that truth which is not self-contradictory and two-faced.

For in the theatre, dens of iniquity though they may be, if a man is fond of a particular actor, and enjoys his art as a great or even as the very greatest good, he is fond of all who join with him in admiration of his favorite, not for their own sakes, but for the sake of him whom they admire in common; and the more fervent he is in his admiration, the more he works in every way he can to secure new admirers for him, and the more anxious he becomes to show him to others; and if he find anyone comparatively indifferent, he does all he can to excite his interest by urging his favorite's merits.

If, however, he meet with anyone who opposes him, he is exceedingly displeased by such a man's contempt of his favorite, and strives in every way he can to remove it. Now, if this be so, what does it become us to do who live in the fellowship of the love of God, the enjoyment of whom is the true happiness of life? Around AD , as Rome declined, the Roman Church increased in power and influence, and theater was virtually eliminated.

One of the few surviving examples of anti-theatrical attitude is found in A Treatise of Miraclis Pleyinge, a fourteenth-century sermon by an anonymous preacher.

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The sermon is generally agreed to be of Lollard inspiration. It is not clear if the text refers to the performance of mystery plays on the streets or to liturgical drama in the church. Possibly the author makes no distinction. Barish traces the basis of the preacher's prejudice to the lifelike immediacy of the theater, which sets it in unwelcome competition to everyday life and to the doctrines held in schools and churches. The preacher declares that since a play's basic objective is to please, its purpose must be suspect because Christ never laughed. If one laughs or cries at a play it is because of the "pathos of the story".

One's expression of emotion is therefore useless in the eyes of God.

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The playmaking itself is at fault. The first English theatres were not built until the last quarter of the 16th century. One in eight Londoners regularly watched performances of Marlowe, Shakespeare, Jonson and others, an attendance rate only matched since by cinema around — Variations of Plato's reasoning on mimesis re-emerged. One problem was the representation of rulers and the high-born by those of low birth. Both Ben Jonson and Shakespeare used cross-dressing as significant themes within their plays, and Laura Levine explores this issue in Men in Women's Clothing: Anti-theatricality and Effeminization, In Stephen Gosson said that theatre "effeminized" the mind, and four years later Philip Stubbes claimed that male actors who wore women's clothing could "adulterate" male gender.

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Further tracts followed, and 50 years later William Prynne who described a man whom cross-dressing had caused to "degenerate" into a woman. Levine suggests these opinions reflect a deep anxiety over collapse into the feminine. Gosson and Stubbs were both playwrights. Ben Jonson was against the use of theatrical costume because it lent itself to unpleasing mannerisms and an artificial triviality. Although a particularly acute and comprehensive attack which emphasised spiritual and moral objections, it represented a common anti-theatrical view held by many during this time. Prynne's outstanding objection to theater was that it encouraged pleasure and recreation over against work, and that its excitement and effeminacy increased sexual desire.

Published in , the Histriomastix scourged many types of theater in broad, repetitious, and fiery ways. The title page reads:. Wherein it is largely evidenced, by divers arguments, by the concurring authorities and resolutions of sundry texts of Scripture, that popular stage-playes are sinfull, heathenish, lewde, ungodly spectacles, and most pernicious corruptions; condemned in all ages, as intolerable mischiefes to churches, to republickes, to the manners, mindes, and soules of men. And that the profession of play-poets, of stage-players; together with the penning, acting, and frequenting of stage-playes, are unlawfull, infamous and misbeseeming Christians.

By , the Puritan view prevailed. The order cited the current "times of humiliation" and their incompatibility with "public stage-plays", representative of "lascivious Mirth and Levity".

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Under a new licensing system, two London theatres with royal patents were opened. A Royal Warrant from Charles II , who loved the theatre, brought English women onto the stage for the first time, putting an end to the practice of the 'boy player' and creating an opportunity for actresses to take on 'breeches' roles. This, says historian Antonia Fraser, meant that Nell Gwynn, Peg Hughes and others could show off their pretty legs in shows more titillating than ever before.

The dramatists mocked at all restraints. Some were gross, others delicately improper. The satirist, Tom Brown wrote, 'tis as hard a matter for a pretty Woman to keep herself honest in a Theatre as 'tis for an Apothecary to keep his treacle from the Flies in Hot Weather, for every Libertine in the Audience will be buzzing about her Honey-Pot The Restoration ushered in the first appearance of the casting couch in English social history. Most actresses were poorly paid and needed to supplement their income in other ways.

Of the eighty women who appeared on the Restoration stage, twelve enjoyed an ongoing reputation as courtesans, being maintained by rich admirers of rank including the King ; at least another twelve left the stage to become 'kept women' or prostitutes. It was generally assumed that thirty of the women who had brief stage careers came from the brothels and had later returned to them. About a quarter of the actresses were considered to live respectable lives, most being married to fellow actors. Fraser reports that 'by the s a respectable woman could not give her profession as "Actoress" and expect to keep either her reputation or her person intact The word actress had secured in England that raffish connotation which would linger round it, for better or for worse, in fiction as well as in fact, for the next years.

Jansenism was the moral adversary to the theater in France , and in that respect similar to Puritanism in England. However, Barish argues, "the debate in France proceeds on an altogether more analytical, more intellectually responsible plane.

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The antagonists attend more carefully to the business of argument and the rules of logic; they indulge less in digression and anecdote. Jansenists , rather like the Calvinists, denied the freedom of human will stating that "man can do nothing—could not so much as obey the ten commandments—without an express interposition of grace, and when grace came, its force was irresistible".

Pleasure was forbidden because it became addictive. When an actor expresses base actions such as lust, hate, greed, vengeance, and despair, he must draw upon something immoral and unworthy in his own soul. Even positive emotions must be recognised as mere lies performed by hypocrites. The concern was a psychological one for, by experiencing these things, the actor stirs up heightened, temporal emotions, both in himself and in the audience, emotions that need to be denied.

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Therefore, both the actor and audience should feel ashamed for their collective participation. In ' Reflections on the Moral Maxims', [24] Francois de La Rochefoucauld wrote about the innate manners we were all born with and "when we copy others, we forsake what is authentic to us and sacrifice our own strong points for alien ones that may not suit us at all".

By imitating others, including the good, all things are reduced to ideas and caricatures of themselves. Even with the intent of betterment, imitation leads directly to confusion. Mimesis ought therefore to be abandoned entirely. Jean-Jacques Rousseau , the Genevan philosopher, held the primary belief that all men were created good and that it was society that attempted to corrupt. Luxurious things were primarily to blame for these moral corruptions and, as stated in his Discourse on the Arts , Discourse on the Origins of Inequality and Letter to d'Alembert , the theater was central to this downfall.

Rousseau argued for a nobler, simpler life free of the "perpetual charade of illusion, created by self-interest and self-love". The use of women in theater was disturbing for Rousseau; he believed women were designed by nature especially for modest roles and not for those of an actress. In such a reversion, the theater—with all it symbolizes of the hatefulness of society, its hypocrisies, its rancid politeness, its heartless masqueradings—has no place at all. By the end of the 17th century, the moral pendulum had swung back.