Philosophy and Theatre: An Introduction
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The relationship between philosophy and theatre is a central theme in the writings of Plato and Aristotle and of dramatists from Aristophanes to Stoppard. Where Plato argued that playwrights and actors should be banished from the ideal city for their suspect imitations of reality, Aristotle argued that theatre, particularly tragedy, was vital for stimulating our emotions and helping us to understanding ourselves.
Despite this rich history the study of philosophy and theatre has been largely overlooked in contemporary philosophy. This is the first book to introduce philosophy and theatre. It covers key topics and debates, presenting the contributions of major figures in the history of philosophy, including:
- what is theatre? How does theatre compare with other arts?
- theatre as imitation, including Plato on mimesis
- truth and illusion in the theatre, including Nietzsche on tragedy
- theatre as history
- theatre and morality, including Rousseau’s criticisms of theatre
- audience and emotion, including Aristotle on catharsis
- theatre and politics, including Brecht’s Epic Theatre.
Including annotated further reading and summaries at the end of each chapter, Philosophy and Theatre is an ideal starting point for those studying philosophy, theatre studies and related subjects in the arts and humanities.
things for which he had been mocked in Aristophanes’ play. While Socrates was still alive, so one source claims, he had worked together with Euripides to write tragedies; he had also convinced a young tragedian called Plato to give up writing plays and become a philosopher.3 After Socrates died, Plato wrote a defence speech on Socrates’ behalf – the Apology; it doesn’t mention Aristophanes directly, but it does emphasise the false rumours and prejudices that made Socrates’ conviction all but
are the case, for example that years have passed in the space of a couple of hours. When the audience imagines that years have passed between scenes, this is obviously not a matter of visualising the years passing, but of supposing or accepting the claim that years have passed.49 If interpreted in this way, the Chorus’ request seems general for theatre: the audience has to imagine seeing certain things, and it has to imagine that certain things are the case. Make-believe The third category,
this suggests a further problem: what are the main events? Eyewitnesses often don’t have any idea what is going on in front of them. They are confused, disorientated and sometimes afraid for their lives. Theatre audiences at history plays are guided through the signiﬁcant details, introduced to the important ﬁgures and told about the important events that take place ‘out of sight’; they are offered a degree of understanding and insight that goes far beyond the level of the eyewitness. Hence, for
and novels. Other candidates include paintings, documentary films, roller coasters, fine oratory and so on. Because our concern is with theatre, I won’t spend time discussing how far the problem stretches. 21 Hume (1965: 185). 22 See Friend (2007); Feagin (1983). 23 Roughly, Hume thinks that the artistic elements of a performance ‘convert’ the negative emotions to positive ones. For an excellent critical analysis, see Neill (1999). 24 Lennard and Luckhurst (2002: 134) even suggest that public
certainly did – as making a claim about what Israelis think about the death of Palestinian children during the Gaza War; or one might prefer to leave Churchill out of the picture and speak of the claims made in the play. In what follows, I’ll speak primarily in the ﬁrst way – that is, in terms the playwright making political statements through the play; but it seems to me that these remarks apply more or less to the second construal as well. In as much as political drama is a matter of an author