Category Archives: Urban Education

The Importance of Perception and Portrayal

 

Georg Büchner’s unfinished play, Woyzeck, has been subject to many attempts, on the behalf of experts, to recreate a final version that would be similar to the one Büchner would have created. These recreations depend fully on how these experts comprehend the play and how they wish to recreate it. It is interesting then, that Büchner’s work itself seems to play with similar themes of perception and portrayal. We can see that perception and portrayal have an impact on the communication of ideas, which is consistent theme seen in various forms of media.

 

Woyzeck as a character seems to have an alternate perception of reality that affects his experience of the real world. Throughout the play he has hallucinations and talks about seeing things and hearing things that others do not hear. The other characters do not understand Woyzeck’s hallucinations. Marie even responds to Woyzeck saying, “ your out of your mind,” and “ you’re delirious,” (142). The only one that seems to try to help Woyzeck is Andres who recommends that Woyzeck go to the infirmary. The other characters did not understand Woyzeck and how he perceived the world, which caused many to treat him harshly. This illustrates the notion that the way that someone sees the world dramatically affects the way in which he/she is perceived by others. This is comparable to media because media is a powerful source of portrayal. The way in which one given form of media demonstrates its understanding of the world may be completely different than another, which contributes to the importance of the ideas of perception and portrayal that Büchner plays with.

 

Themes of perception and portrayal are also seen in the conversation between Woyzeck and the Captain about virtue. The Captain explains that he thinks Woyzeck has no virtue, and is not a virtuous man. To this, Woyzeck replies, “ Yes, Cap’n, virtue! I haven’t figured it out yet. You see, us common people, we don’t have virtue, we act like nature tells us – but if I was a gentleman, and had a hat and a watch an overcoat and could talk refined, then I’d be virtuous, too,” (142). Here, Büchner is further showing the power of portrayal. If Woyzeck was able to dress nicely and look like a gentleman, than the Captain would not criticize him for having no virtue, regardless of whether he had it or not. This continues to tie back to media. As a form of portraying messages, different types of media can result in different perceptions of the information.

 

Various experts continue to piece their interpretations of what a finished form of this play should be. It is interesting to think of these subsequent versions of Woyzeck as various portrayals of Büchner’s original version, which was never finished. Büchner seems to highlight in his work, that perception and portrayal play a key role in an individual’s world experience. The various attempts to finish Büchner’s work will rely on the ways in which these expert’s perceived Büchners writing and how they chose to portray these ideas in subsequent versions of Woyzeck.

 

1. How might different forms of media affect the ways in which information is perceived?

2. Is Büchner trying to portray Woyzeck as a cold blooded murderer? or does his portrayal of Woyzeck as a character almost make the reader feel sympathy for him?

Naturalism and Human Existence

Georg Büchner’s Woyzeck illuminates Büchner’s thoughts on society and the pessimistic way in which he views the world. Written in 1837, Woyzeck stems from the beginnings of the realist movement, a wave of art and literature that attempted to showed the world with complete authenticity. With a starkly pessimistic and harsh look at the human experience, Büchner pushes beyond realist themes in Woyzeck as he no longer strives to uphold the balance of good and evil, but rather allows suffering to prevail. Some would say that Büchner’s work is then more rooted in the philosophy and literary movement of naturalism. Naturalism is the belief that the world functions on natural laws and forces and that supernatural beings do not exist (1). This naturalist view aptly embodies Büchner’s feelings toward his own world. Through his use of biblical allusions, frequent reference to animals, and language regarding time and existence, Büchner conveys his disgust for his unjust and nonsensical world.

Büchner paradoxically plays with biblical language to reflect his belief that the world is not influenced by a higher god, but rather that mankind is left to suffer alone without help from a higher power. Büchner’s tragic protagonist, Woyzeck, takes on a Christ-like role as he is tormented physically and psychologically by his thoughts, the Doctor, and even Drum-Major. In the first scene, Woyzeck almost clairvoyantly hallucinates about an apocalypse as “fire [rages] around the sky” ending with “the world [being] dead” (Büchner’s Major Works, 137). We, as the audience, feel sorry for Woyzeck who must endure such torments as apocalyptic hallucinations and a starved diet of only peas. However, our views of the poor protagonist become jaded at the end of the play as Woyzeck kills his wife (a very non-Christ-like act). A similar paradox is created with the character, Marie, Woyzeck’s wife. Marie illusively resembles the Virgin Mary: she is referred to as “Mrs. Virgin” in the scene 4,2 (Büchner’s Major Works, 137), she frequently is seen with her baby – Christian – on her lap and her name so closely matches that of ‘Mary.’ Ironically, this “Virgin Mary” gets killed because of her flirtation with Drum-Major and is frequently called a “whore” and “bitch” throughout Büchner’s play. Büchner’s cynicism toward the human experience is ever-present in these two tragic characters. As they both endure such harsh lives only to kill or be killed in the end of the play, Büchner ironically employs biblical allusions to convey the idea that there is no higher being influencing the world. If God were present, perhaps Woyzeck and Marie, would not turn at the hand of their immoral society, but since God is not present, Woyzeck and Marie are left to their own undoing. In this sense, Büchner’s Woyzeck seems to parallel Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot as Vladimir and Estragon wait for a God that never arrives.

Büchner’s disgust for the human experience is also present in the way in which he elevates animals in his play. Büchner comments that animals have a “beastly wisdom [that] put[s] human society to shame” (Büchner’s Major Works, 139). He jabs at humans in saying that “It’s all a matter of upbringing; [a monkey] is no brutish individual like a lot of people” (Büchner’s Major Works, 139). Through his references to animals, Büchner establishes his antipathy for humans in his society in saying that they are less than creatures that do not even act by their own accord.

Lastly, Büchner’s mere language concerning time and existence throughout the play is laden with disgust for the human experience. Through his characters, Büchner expresses his “fear for the world when [he] thinks about eternity” and how “thirty years” left on Earth is an “ungodly amount of time” (Büchner’s Major Works, 141). Büchner believes that “everything goes to hell…man and woman alike” and questions, “why does man exist? … Why doesn’t God blow out the sun so that everything can roll around in lust, man and woman, man and beast” (Büchner’s Major Works, 147). Through this language, we see Büchner’s utter contempt for human existence and his true sentiments on the reality of life.

Questions:

Do you think Büchner’s views on society would be different today in the age of technology than they were back when he was writing Woyzeck? If so, how and why would they be different (i.e. what would technology do to change Büchner’s mind about his failing society)? Would he feel more positively about the human experience or would technology engender further disgust for mankind?

How might Büchner’s thoughts about human existence manifest in social media today? Do we gain validity and/or solace in our understanding of human existence through social media? Does social media re-affirm existence for some or help others feel a sense of comradery in life?

(1) (2016). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved from http://www.britannica.com/topic/naturalism-philosophy

The Patriarchy and Same-sex Relations of 17th Century England

Shakespeare’s The Twelfth Night  provides us with an interesting outlier concerning the thought processes of those who wished to promote the traditional patriarchy, where the male is the head of the household and all reproductive rights are granted to him, of the time.  The play incorporates cross dressing in the form of Viola impersonating a man by the name of Cesario.  Cesario then becomes involved in a love triangle with the fair maiden Olivia and the Duke Orsino.  Olivia falls in love with Cesario (Viola) while she falls for the Duke who is in love with Olivia.  This provides a type of confusion to the cut and dry heterosexual relationship of the times and somewhat serves to introduce the concept of gender.

Although many theater companies began employing women to play female roles by the 16th century, English companies did not.  This served to reinforce the patriarchy by denying women employment within the theater industry. (Zarrilli, 228)  However, I feel like this choice was a very large contradiction to the country’s aversion to same sex relations.  Men playing female roles would have lead to the portrayal of romantic relationships in theater between two persons who were actually men at a time when homosexuality was punishable by imprisonment or death.  Historians say that one possibility would be the fear of female sexuality, although it is somewhat discredited in that the rest of Europe was certainly not more enlightened to this subject at the time.  (Zarrilli 229)

The most likely reason for the continuance of this tradition was that it was familiar to the audiences.  However, it has been argued that artists like William Shakespeare took advantage of the familiarity to explore more outlandish or forbidden topics such as homoeroticism and same-sex attraction. The Twelfth Night is an excellent example as, although the play ends with two traditional marriages (Olivia to Sebastian and Duke Orsino to Viola) to satisfy the common sentiment of the time, the suggested homoerotic relationships established between Viola and Olivia and Duke Orsino and Cesario are simply glossed over. (Zarrilli, 232)  This leaves us to wonder at the state of the relationships, as Olivia was attracted to Viola in the form of the man, while Orsino takes Viola for his wife with the clear image of her as Cesario, even referring to Viola as Cesario before declaring that she shall be his queen. (Anthology, 533)

For further questions, I would be interested to learn more about other plays that also exhibit relationships without the realm of heterosexuality.  Also, I feel that it would be interesting to examine the relationship between Antonio and Sebastian, as Zarrilli also alludes to there being sexual suggestion in their relationship.  Finally, I am wondering if the rest of the class views Shakespeare’s actions deliberate in depicting same-sex relationships as such or if the sole purpose was to divine comedy from the mix up at the end of the play.

Topic 6-Flexibility of Language and Communication

In chapter 9 of Bill Kovarik’s Revolutions in Communication, Kovarik addresses the development of the television and the impact the new technology has had on media since the invention’s infancy. Kavorik claims that, “television embodied the dream of universal international communication…” (Kavorik, 236). Before media such as print, photographs, radio, and television, the theater was the closest form of “universal international communication” (236). Similar to the FCC’s instances of broadcasting regulation in the years following WWII and the civil rights movement, the English crown regulated theater companies in London (Kavorik 239, 250; Zarilli, 206). The Puritans in 1660, just like Plato’s view of the theater, “feared that mimicry and spectacle would corrupt people’s reason” (Zarilli, 207).

William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night; Or What You Will serves as an overarching metaphor for the versatility of language and the fragility of communication. The title itself includes the indecisive phrase, “Or What You Will”, which allows the reader the freedom to choose another title for the play, furthering the theme of the flexibility of language. Feste, the jester, says in act III, “A sentence is but a chev’ril glove to a good wit. How quickly the wrong side may be turned outward! (Shakespeare, 3.1.311-313). Feste claims that sentences are similar to thin material; He suggests that words can be easily warped or turned inside out. Feste, as a jester, is a master of wit and puns. The clown’s statements about language and his twisting of words reflect the essence of Twelfth Night festivities in Tudor England. “The Twelfth Night marked the end of a winter festival that started on All Hallows Eve… A King or Lord of Misrule would be appointed to run the… festivities… The common theme was that the normal order of things was reversed” (ReligionFacts.com). Additionally, letters and poetry concerning love interests move throughout Twelfth Night as the play reflects on danger of written words and the folly of man.

Analogously to The Importance of Being Earnest, Twelfth Night; Or What You Will, addresses aestheticism and the artificiality of life. As Viola (a woman played by a young boy) assumes the identity of Cesario (the character of a young boy, played by a young woman who is played by a young boy) questions the accuracy of realness and reality. Viola claims at the play’s start, “Doth oft close in pollution… I’ll serve this duke. Thou shalt present me as a eunuch to him. It may be worth my pains… ” (Shakespeare, 1.2.46, 54-56). She states that “nature often conceals a person’s inward corruption with outward beauty”(Norton, 473). Then, Viola ironically announces that she will serve the Orsino in a disguise: her outward appearance hiding her inner one.

 

  1. How does the Kavorik chapter on television relate further to the play?
  1. The idea of flipping gender roles has been a topic in our class concerning other plays. What makes this one unique? Is it significance of where and when the play was written and performed originally? The Zarilli chapter speaks to this in the case study, but I’m curious to see what other opinions are about this.
  1. I would like to know more about Malvolio’s role in the play. What is his significance? He suffers from the flexibility of language unlike any of the other characters.

 

Citation:

http://www.religionfacts.com/twelfth-night

Origins of Catfishing: Identity and Sexuality as Performance in Twelfth Night

“I am not that I play” (Norton, 459).

Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night is replete with mistaken identities, misinterpretations, and ambiguous sexualities. Not only are semblances feigned, but information is complicated and misconstrued through various mediums. The plot of Twelfth Night, much like that of The Importance of Being Ernest, is based on the inconsistencies between appearance and reality. Characters mask themselves in costumes to assume other identities. Romances are formed and fractured due to false information and recognition. Images of masking recur throughout the text, as brides walk “veiled” and Olivia “draws the curtains” to display her face (448, 460). Almost every character involves himself/herself in some sort of masking, whether that be through written word (Maria, Toby, and Fabian), spoken word (Feste), or appearance (Viola). Eventually, the “knot” becomes “too hard” to “untangle,” and characters are caught in their lies or in complicated situations (464). I could not help but to think of a similar phenomena that uses the internet to feign identity: Catfishing.

When one catfishes, he or she lures another into a relationship (often via social media) by false means or through a fictitious persona. The original 2010 documentary film depicts a man researching his online girlfriend and eventually tracking her down in person. The film has developed into a television series, the trailer to which I have posted below. The relationship between Viola (Cesario) and Olivia is somewhat similar to a catfishing, as Olivia is falsely convinced that Viola is a man. The letter from Maria to Malvolio more so resembles a traditional catfishing, because Maria has claimed someone else’s identity and written falsely from them. The ambiguity of identity and relationships potentially implies a latent homosexuality within Twelfth Night, as described in greater detail through Zaralli’s case study of Marjorie Garber’s Vice Versa: Bisexuality and Eroticism of Everyday Life. According to Garber, homosexuality (and bisexuality) was considered a “practice” rather than an “identity” (Garber). She claims that bisexuality is present in many Shakespeare plays, though some less obviously. The relationship between Viola as Cesario and Orsino is particularly interesting, for though he is unaware of Viola’s interest in him, the two are incredibly close. Orsino trusts Viola, the man, with his secrets, and spends much of the play in close quarters with him. When Viola reveals her true identity as a woman, Orsino pursues her without hesitation, claiming that they will be married. Gender within the play additionally appears fluid, though ironically there is ample discussion on the temperament of women versus men, and the different ways in which both pursue romance. The notion of masking also relates to Zarrilli’s case study on Kabuki theater, a form of traditionally Japanese drama. Kabuki is very stylized, with sharp, specific movements. The actors wear masks to embody a character, and the masks themselves are inherently tied with the new personas. When in costume, the actor assumes the character entirely, and cannot be separated. Similar to Viola’s disguise, Kabuki theater uses costume as a way to portray a deeper transition from one person to another.

Zarrilli also discusses a case study of the comic, citing Henri Bergson’s: “Laughter: An Essay on the Meaning of Comic.” According to Bergson, the comic utilizes “absurdity” and the “logic of the absurd” (Bergson). Comics “invert common sense,” often mixing “madness” and “dreams” with reality (Bergson). The uncertainty of sanity and reality, seen clearly through Malvolio’s deception, demonstrates the use of absurdist comedy within the play. The fool, Feste, additionally embodies this role of the comic, and often appears wiser and more cunning than many of the other characters. Viola states: “this fellow is wise enough to play the fool and to do that well craves a kind of wit” (Norton 478). The play mentions fools, politicians, and comedians, all of whom utilize some sort of performance to craft an identity. Feste is perhaps the most successful of the Twelfth Night characters at feigning a persona, for though he plays a fool, he is intelligent. Feste ultimately acquires a good amount of money for going along with what is asked of him.

I saw Kovaric’s chapter on television and the Global Village tangentially relating to the play in its discussion of the “illumination” that television could bring. With the rise of publicized political debates, information was able to spread more widely and accurately. The mention of quiz show deception was interesting, as the shows seemed to be the origins of modern “reality” television, complicating what is real and what is staged. The discussion of the Global Village related well to the play, as it provoked a “huge involvement in everyone else’s affairs.” Though the information in Twelfth Night is misconstrued, the notion of nosiness and secrecy is prevalent, leading characters to involve themselves in others’s situations, only to further complicate them.

Questions:

Is it easier today to successfully feign an identity, with the prevalence of internet and social medias? Is it be more complicated to keep consistency through these mediums, or is it easier to distance one’s self from another through them?

I’m interested in Feste’s role as the fool, and am hoping to discuss him more. This is not a specific question, but more so a hope to discuss his function in the play and why he can successfully feign an identity when others cannot. Is it that he is always performing?

I am also interested in exploring gender roles, specifically relating to Shakespeare’s society. If bisexuality was seen as “practice,” and gender appears less of a concern romantically and sexually throughout the play, why are depictions of gender so stringent and polarizing in the text, particularly in terms of domestic roles and human nature.

Does the rise of television continue to promote reality as a performance? Everyday events such as the news, political debates, and sports, are now mediated through a box that inherently places them in the realm entertainment. Is this similar to Twelfth Night’s intentional deception of character’s feigning reality?

Another topic that I think we should is the relation between one’s appearance and one’s interiority. There is ample discussion within the play about outer beauty and inner maliciousness: “nature with a beauteous wall doth oft close in pollution” (Norton 449). How does the internet, with photoshop, affect this notion? Does there need to be discord between appearance and one’s interior?

Catfish Season 1 Trailer:

 

 

Works Cited:

Bergson, Henri. “Laughter: An Essay on the Meaning of Comicby Henri Bergson.” Laughter: An Essay on the Meaning of Comic. Authorama, n.d. Web. <http://www.authorama.com/laughter-14.html>.

Garber, Marjorie B. Vice Versa: Bisexuality and the Eroticism of Everyday Life. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995. <http://prelectur.stanford.edu/lecturers/garber/viceversa.html>.

 

Topic 5: Theatre as a Channel for Religion

 

According to Zarilli, religion emerged as an engine to maintain social, civic, and cosmic cohesion. Cultural performances were at the forefront of the earliest civilizations, from the Upper and Lower Kingdoms of Ancient Egypt, Greece, South America, Persia and Europe. While the advent of writing and introduction of new technologies may have shaped the production of drama, it still sought to ‘provide distinctive ways of encountering myths, epics, or narratives’ (Zarrilli, 52). Religious festivals were accompanied with dramatic productions served to enhance communal relationship, honor appropriate figures, communicate with the divine, and celebrate historical moments. The theme of good vs. evil, featuring the battle of Gods having access to supernatural abilities, is consistent throughout the history of religious performances. Christianity becoming the official religion of the Roman Empire in 312 C.E paved the way for works preaching the “Word of God”.

 

Hrotsvitha was a noble member of the all-female Abbey of Gandersheim, in Saxony. Some of writings included six plays, based of Terence, a Roman playwright. While her works were not necessarily designed for theatre performance, she was one of the first writers to blend elements of comedy with religion. She based her works upon the legends of the saints, aiming to glorify religion in its most supreme and exceptional efforts. This phenomenon is exemplified in Dulcitius. Even though the play was probably intended for Hrotsvitha’s sisters’ reading in the convent, its elements of wit, comedy, tragedy, and religious manifestations make it enjoyable and interesting for peasant to serf to monarch.

 

In the play, general Dulcitius is motivated by evil desires to rape three young maiden named Chionia, Agape, and Irena. Supernatural forces then posses him and Dulcitius hallucinates, convinced that scalding pots and pans are the three ladies he soughts. He then burns from head to toe. He then orders Sisinnius, the general’s right-hand to perform the killing of the three maiden but supernatural forces take hold of him as well as he becomes delusional. Eventually, however, he succeeds in killing the 3 girls, which serve as a sacrifice to the Holy Spirit.

 

Hrotsvitha wrote Dulcitius to honor the strength and presence of God. When the general becomes burnt, even his soldiers believe he is the Devil. Their loyalty for him is all but destroyed when they notice him covered in black soot: “The voice is our master’s voice, but the face is a devil’s. Come, let’s take to our heels! This devil means us no good” (Hrotsvitha). The soldiers are not willing to question what they believe is an act of God, even when it comes to obeying their master in commander. God acting in almighty ways to save the three girls is evidenced when the flames, that were originally intended to burn them, ends up saving them by retaliating the act against the general. In the Bible, flames are regarded as a sacred manifestation and they may a symbol of God himself in Dulcitius to save those that are faithful in him. Hrotsvitha wrote about the mysterious strength of the Lord, trying to spread the ‘Word of God’ by using supernatural powers to gain followers of the religion.

 

The printing revolution pushed Europe from the medieval age into modernity. It gave way to the Enlightenment by accelerating learning and serving as an agent of freedom. Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press in 1439 permitted the vast spread of religion. With copies of the bible flowing throughout cities, people could learn and appreciate the lessons of God and interpret them themselves. However, this revolution put a dent into the power and prominence of the Catholic Church, as “the church had an exclusive monopoly on information, and enforced it efficiently and ruthlessly’ (Kovarik 21). The church sought to control the availability of written texts by issuing the First Index of Prohibited Books in 1559. This censorship only fueled forward thinking attitudes by individuals like John Locke and Jean Jacques Rousseau, pushing for freedom. Revolutions arose throughout Europe and even North America for people to obtain their freedoms.

 

With regards to Dulcitius, the text was written prior to the invention of the printing press. Considering Hrotsvitha’s intentions for writing it, though, it would be surprising if it were published as a mass-scale work if she did have access to such a printer. The work was intended for her sisters in the convent and wasn’t meant to be a large production. If Dulcitius were to enter common households, it would have been another individual, seeking a profitable opportunity, responsible for its widespread and not Hrotsvitha. While the work clearly has some religious elements to it, it also serves as a piece of entertainment and comedy and not particularly for the spread of learning either. Hrotsvitha probably had no intentions of the work reaching mass publication and that would not have changed regardless of the time period in which she lived. Much like the printing press, Dulcitius was revolutionary in its own right. It was one of the first works to combine religion and comedy, featuring witty situations and symbols, aiming to spread the ‘Word of God”.

 

 

Questions:

 

-What were Hrotsvitha’s intentions with Dulcitius? Was she trying to reach a larger segment of the population than her sisters in the convent? Would the story be different if she had access to the printing press?

 

-How did Gutenberg’s printing press change the way in which religious performances were carried out as depicted by Zarrilli? Did people follow their religious beliefs more independently as a result of their new access to texts?

 

-Why did it take so long for comedy and religion to intertwine in Theatre? Had it always been some combination of religion and tragedy up until Hrotsvitha? What caused this change?

Topic 5: Religious Persecution and Censorship of the Press

Hrotsvit’s Dulcitius and the effect of the printing press on various forms of publications, discussed by Kovarik, both highlight the struggle of promoting or believing in an idea that conflicts with the dominant notion of the time. The religious persecution faced by the three female characters in the play mirrors the censorship of the press that writers during the middle ages and beyond had to deal with.

Much like the object of many newspapers is not to simply convey completely unbiased, objective information to its readers, Hrotsvit is trying to “promote images of female virtue and chastity” though her play ( Norton 215). Hrotsvit was very comfortable with advanced Latin rhetorical structures, including stichomythia. This practice of using alternating lines of a dialogue to dramatize a dispute can be seen multiple times throughout the play (Norton 216). A notable example is the conversation between Dulcitius and the Soldiers when discussing the three captured virgins (Hrotsvit 219).

Soldiers- Yes, they are perfectly lovely.

Dulcitius- I am captivated by their beauty.

Soldiers- That is understandable.

Dulcitius- To draw them to my heart, I am eager.

Soldiers- Your success will be meager.

Dulcitius- Why?

Soldiers- Because they are firm in faith.

Dulcitius- What if I sway them by flattery?

Soldiers- They will despise it utterly.

This exchange highlights the virgins’ steadfast belief in chastity and virtue that Hrotsvit is trying to convey. Diocletian wants to have the three virgins married to prominent men of his court. Agape speaks for all of them by replying that they should not bother planning any weddings because they “cannot be compelled under any duress to betray Christ’s holy name, which we must confess, nor to stain our virginity” (Hrotsvit 218). Dulcitius still believes that he will be able to satisfy himself “in their longed-for embrace” (Hrotsvit 219). Dulcitius mistakenly embraces the pots and the pans for the three virgins, and covers himself soot. While the three virgins look upon Dulcitius and his soot covered face, Agape observes, “it is only right that he should appear in body the way he is in his mind: possessed by the Devil” (Hrotsvit 220). Dulcitius’s new appearance renders him unrecognizable to his soldiers and guards. His wife and Diocletian recognize the humiliation these Christians have caused him and Diocletian orders Sissinus to kill them. The lack of bodily harm to Agape and Chionia despite their death from being burned alive, and Hirena’s strength in the face of her impending death are how Hrotsvit shows the power of faith and that those who remain strong in their beliefs will be protected. Hrotsvit is showing that even though Agape, Chionia, and Hirena may have suffered on earth they, in fact, are the ones who will experience salvation.

One of the aspects of this play that I thought was interesting was that it delivers the same effect of some of the longer plays we have read in fewer pages. Every scene is very important and after each scene the play seamlessly shifts ahead to another important scene. Similar to Mr. Burns where Anne Washburn is trying to show the effect of a nuclear apocalypse on a play about the Simpsons, Hrotsvit is trying to show the effect of the power of faith and virtue on three women in the face of torture and death. Both authors, especially Hrotsvit, are first and foremost concerned with getting their messages across.

Similar to the persecution faced by the three Christian virgins in Dulcitius, early printers and writers who spread controversial ideas were persecuted and censored by the government and ironically, the Catholic church. The printing press was one of the most important inventions of our time because it provided us with the ability to connect to each other in a much faster way. Printing was very dangerous to the church because as bibles were translated to languages other than Latin, lay people could read and interpret the bible themselves (Kovarik 21). Reformers, most notably Martin Luther, known for his 95 Theses, could get their ideas out to the public like never before. The newfound ability to spread accessible information to a large group of people at a low cost, threatened the power the church had as the all knowing presence in a world of uninformed people.The religious reformation was spread rapidly across Europe thanks to the press. There was a counter reformation levied by the Catholic Church, in which people were “executed simply for owning the wrong version of the bible” (Kovarik 22). Since the church saw the clear connection between books and other forms of media and the spread of anti-Catholic ideas, the church along with the state had to approve all publications in Catholic countries (Kovarik 29). The church wanted to limit the influence of books and later, newspapers, on Catholics, much like the Romans wanted to limit the influence of Christianity on Roman citizens. Early Christians, such as the three virgins from the play were punished for not conforming to the beliefs of the Romans, and early American colonists who critiqued the government were imprisoned and publications such as Publick Occurrences were shut down (Kovarik 32). The printing press helped give a voice to the oppressed and outnumbered. Just as the three Christian virgins stood strong in their beliefs in the face of the mighty Romans, American colonists spread their ideas and sentiments in the face of a harsh government. Hrotsvit showed that those who remain unwavering in faith were awarded, and Kovarik showed that those who used the power of the written word to spread the ideas they believed in, were eventually awarded as well.

Who are the two figures with Hirena at the end of the play? Who or what do they represent?

How is social media and the internet revolutionizing the way information is spread around the world?

Thinking back to the time when we tried to update The Importance of Being Earnest to appeal to today’s audiences, how could we do the same with Dulcitius?

Brian Pushie

Topic #5: Origins of Theater: Religion as Performance

According to Zarrilli, early theater stemmed from religious festivals and rituals, “choreographed performances” dedicated to the gods (Zarrilli 52). Drama was used in a competitive fashion, as well as a way to honor deities, edify citizens, and commemorate history. With the rise of democracy in Ancient Greece, theater only popularized, as citizens began to finance choruses and productions at annual festivals. Across cultures, both internationally and generationally, religion seemed inherently tied to performance and the rise of theater. Mesoamerican performances always involved religious elements, and their conquerors, the Spanish, later used religious performance to suppress and instruct them. The development of Christianity stemmed from performance, as Mass itself became a commemorative sort of theater. Drama was used to communicate biblical and moral ideals to those unable to read or without access to texts. As Kovarik claims, the printing press gave rise to the proliferation of texts in the Middle Ages, yet prior to the printing revolution, access to cheap and accurate text was difficult.

Theater continued to grow with the help of municipal communities, but its ties to religion remained evident, particularly with later “morality plays” (Zarrilli 78). Theater, Zarrilli claims, was meant to “incorporate large numbers of people in an activity with a common purpose,” not unlike performances today (Zarrilli 85). As we have discussed, theater differs from media such as television in its interactive rapport between audience and actors. The audience influences the production in ways impossible if separated by a medium.

Hrotsvit’s play, “Dulcitius,” is a prime example of the use of theater to promote religion. Though it is unclear if her text was a closet drama, never staged and relatively unknown, the clear Christian values of virginity, purity (in women), and loyalty to God are still present. The dialogue of the three sisters, Agape, Hirena, and Chionia, appears strangely similar to the call and response developed in church Masses. The sisters speak eloquently, almost as though they are reading directly from a bible. They are unaffected by the violent threats against them, instead citing Christ and God as their saviors, and the afterlife as their heaven. The play brings gender roles into question, by declaring the women more chaste and honorable, and the men licentious and foolish. As plays were used to communicate religion to new members or those conquered, Hrotsvit’s play makes sense in that it seems didactic towards those of pagan faith.

I believe discussing religion and performance together is necessary to understand the origins of theater. Personally, I was surprised to discover that theater so strongly resides in religion, and that its development was used mainly to propagate religion even before the printing press. The notion of religion as a sort of choreography, staged instead of naturally arising out of faith, seems fascinating, and I believe it is something worth discussing in class, particularly now where personal performance on social media is prevalent.

 

Questions:

Particularly with Restoration Theater, religion and drama began to oppose one another. Instead of teaching moral lessons, theater explored more scandalous subjects of harlotry, gambling, and alcohol, mostly in comedic manors. I wonder how theater was able to grow and detach itself from religion enough to even oppose it, when its roots are so interconnected?

Zarilli claims that Aristotle wrote: “mimesis-direct imitation of reality-was theatre’s goal” (Zarilli 65). As theater later morphed into varying levels of realism, symbolism, and more stylized representations, I wonder how its purpose has changed? How has theater developed to suit the time in which it exists, particularly when realism is not the focus? Thinking especially to “Waiting for Godot,” and the impact of WWII on minimalism and symbolism.

I wonder how many of our historic institutions (religion, government, etc.) are based in performance. Particularly now that our presidential election has turned into a sort of reality television, I wonder if performance reduces the importance of various pillars of our society, or if in fact these pillars are just rooted in theater. Does that make them less legitimate or real?

Similarly, Zarilli discusses Christian Mass as a performance in itself. I wonder about the role religion plays today in a performance setting rather than simply in one’s private faith. With the infiltration of social media allowing anything to become public, as well as society’s fascination with broadcasting themselves as a sort of performance, I wonder if religion has remained performative despite plays becoming more secular? Does this mean customs such as religion have become more surface rather than sincere, or has performance always been an aspect of strong faith?

I am generally surprised that Hrotsvit’s play presented women with greater moral quality than men, for this seems quite controversial. From Zarrilli’s reading, plays did often inspire controversy, yet I wonder the reaction to women playwrights in general, as well as plays that, in a way, reversed gender roles?

Topic 5: Religion Depicted in Theater

After the fall of the Roman Empire, the influence of theater was somewhat limited. The Christian Church opposed organized theater in this era, which caused theater to be largely absent from daily life. Church authorities declared theater to be obscene and dangerous to audiences. This did not prevent the proliferation of ritualistic ceremonies in the medieval period, however: the growth of guilds and medieval towns facilitated the expansion of theatrical performances. Hrotsvit of Gandersheim, a canoness in a tenth-century abbey in northern Germany, created some of the first significant dramas in the history of Western literature. Classical authors Virgil, Ovid, and Terence influenced Hrotsvit’s Christian dramas. Scholars marvel at Hrotsvit’s knowledge of theology and classical literature; few could believe that a woman possessed such expansive and qualitative knowledge. Interestingly, Hrotsvit’s plays may never have been intended for live performance; instead, the plays may have been intended for reading and reflection (Zarrilli p. 72). Hrotsvit’s play Dulcitius has had arguably the most significant implications in presenting alternative views to traditional Christian axioms.

 

In Dulcitius, Hrotsvit explores classical notions of Christian faith, as well as the pious dynamic among men and women. In the play, Dulcitius (a Roman governor), Diocletian (a Roman emperor) and Sissinus (a Roman count) attempt to forcefully coerce three virgin women (Agape, Chionia, and Hirena) to renounce their devotion to Christ and the Christian faith. The men torture the women with imprisonment and attempted public exposure. Despite their efforts, the men cannot convince the women to reject Christianity. Agape and Chionia are burned at the stake, but their bodies remain unharmed and their souls rise to heaven, symbolizing their unyielding faith. Hirena attempts an escape, but she too is killed while reaching toward heaven.

 

The men in this drama are presented as weak, incompetent and unfaithful. Dulcitius mistakenly embraces pots and pans, which leaves his face blackened by soot. The women remark that “it is only right that he should appear in body the way he is in his mind: possessed by the Devil” (Norton 220). In addition, Diocletian ridicules the women for following the “useless, newfangled ways of the Christian superstition” (Norton 218). Moreover, the men are unable to flatter the women or use force to cause their renunciation. The women, on the other hand, are portrayed as relentlessly strong and faithful. They refuse to give in to persuasion and torture. As a result, Hrotsvit challenges the image of women as the weaker sex, as well as their connection to Eve, who symbolizes women as prone to disobedience and temptation in ‘The Fall of Man.’

 

Kovarik articulates the widespread implications of the printing revolution in his first chapter. Printing led to increased dialogue and confrontation among literate thinkers. Printing allowed standard knowledge to be disseminated easily, and to be developed by others around the world. Gutenburg’s introduction of moveable type printing led to the Bible being translated into vernacular languages. Christian fundamentalists interpreted this innovation as an attack on the Christian religion, as it allowed ‘ordinary’ people and reformers to interpret the Bible for themselves. This facilitated the Protestant Reformation, as well as other alternative perceptions of the Christian faith.

 

In many ways, the advent of printing had a similar effect as Hrotsvit’s depiction of women. Both challenged traditional biblical notions (women in Hrotsvit’s case, original interpretations in printing’s case), and constituted radical changes in modes of thinking. Printing also challenged established political thought by circulating previously non-discussed ideas to large audiences. In many cases, if printing did not directly cause revolution, it most definitely played an important role (American/French Revolutions, for example). David Hume conceptualized printing freedom as a ‘cool’ form of media: “press freedom can not excite popular tumults or rebellions… A man reads a book or pamphlet alone coolly” (Kovarik p. 29). Theater, on the other hand, is a live spectacle, which could very well have elicited a strong, tangible reaction from audiences when radical ideas are shown. It would be interesting to investigate how audiences responded to Hrotsvit’s plays.

 

Questions:

  • Does Hrotsvit’s depiction of women remind you of Ibsen’s portrayal of Nora in A Doll’s House? Where do we see radical concepts distributed today?
  • If Hrotsvit were trying to present a similar concept today, would she still elect to use theater as her outlet, or would she choose a different form of media?

– Connor Rooney

Topic 4: Existentialism, Allegory, and Religion

Existentialism is the study of human existence and free will. Samuel Beckett clearly took a comical approach in understanding human existence in Waiting For Godot by using allegory. Allegory is often used in stories to exhibit a hidden message by using characters to represent people in reality and can be traced back to medieval plays such as Everyman, or modern movies such as Inside Out. Existentialism and allegory were mere apparatuses, for the big picture of Waiting for Godot was the symbolism of religion.
Samuel Beckett inquiries our existence as humans and our authority over our free will; multiple times throughout the play it seems as if the character don’t have any control over there own actions. For Example, in the last lines of the play Estragon and Vladimir decide to leave the tree, but don’t:

Estragon: Well, shall we go?
Vladimir: Yes, lets go.
They don’t move (lines 1075-1076)

The continuous repetition of Estragon and Vladimir’s lives is Beckett’s main argument for human’s not having free will. The two protagonists relive each day similarly to the next, and the predictability of their lives drives them to heavily consider suicide. For example, when Boy visits Vladimir and Estragon a second time to convey a message from Godot, Vladimir was able to predict what he was going to say:

Vladimir: You have a message from Mr. Godot.
Boy: Yes Sir.
Vladimir: He won’t come this evening.
Boy: No Sir.
Vladimir: But he’ll come tomorrow.
Boy: Yes Sir (lines 986-991)

Although, this is only our second time hearing from Boy, Bennett hints that Vladimir and Estragon have seen him multiple times already, but still decide to wait for Godot.
The characters in Waiting for Godot represent mankind in this play—this is called allegory. For Example:

Vladimir: …Let us not waste our time in idle discourse! (Pause. Vehemently.) Let us do something, while we have the chance! It is not every day that we are needed. Not indeed that we personally are needed. Others would meet the case equally well, if not better. To all mankind they were addressed, those cries for help still ringing in our ears! But at this place, at this moment of time, all mankind is us, whether we like it or not… (lines 638-643)

In this statement, Bennett asserts that the characters in his play exemplify mankind; therefore, he’s stressing that our control over our lives and actions is comparable to Estragon and Vladimir’s power of free will, which is minuscule.
The religious aspects of Waiting for Godot include my theory that Godot is a depiction of God. I believe Bennett is symbolizing religion because Godot never goes to meet Estragon and Vladimir at the tree, similar to Christians and Catholics waiting for the second coming of Jesus Christ. Godot is governing Estragon and Vladimir’s lives without him ever being seen, playing the role of God.

Questions:

Does repetition occur in our everyday lives as humans?

Do we actually have control over our lives, or does this only apply to followers of God?

How are Estragon and Vladimir interchangeable to one another?

What does the tree symbolize?