Bryan's Blog

A quick reflection on some of the challenges of theatre historiography:

1. Acknowledging your personal aesthetic lens (often the W.E.I.R.D. lens) - It's often difficult to avoid personal judgments about plays based on your own notions of what "good" theatre should be. Are this playwright's jokes not funny, or does it just seem that way because we are used to other traditions of humor?

2. Incomplete record of embodied actions - While some plays include certain stage directions (or imply certain actions through the dialogue) we can't fully conceive of what the play was like in-person. Think about Will's explanation of the importance of gesture in implying Moliere's jokes (i.e. "the broth"); while we can hypothesize some of the gestures that may have been used in these plays, we don't know exactly how they worked. What was the timing? Did the actor look at the audience when s/he did it, or the other person onstage? How did the audience watching react - laughing from the pit and indignant shock from the upper-crust people? Or was there complete silence?

3. Understanding the position of theatre in the time period studied - Today, theatre occupies a complex position in our society. On the one hand, it is not a terribly popular medium, especially when compared to mass media like film and television; but on the other, theatre tends to have a good deal of cultural capital - that is, seeing theatre is often regarded as a way of becoming "cultured" or "cultivated." What was theatre's position in other time periods? We've talked about how in Rome, theatre was just one of many entertainments that competed with one another. In France and England, theatre was a more popular entertainment, but it simultaneously catered to both the upper class literati and the working class. Furthermore, in both countries, certain theatres were sponsored by state representatives - how does this change our notion of these authors' artistic projects compared to contemporary authors'?

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