The humorous aspect of the masque that Ben Jonson wrote stood out to both Ben (McCormick) and myself. I was a little shocked that a religious ceremony would include any sort of humor, and Ben echoed my own thoughts in his post. He wrote, "What I find hilarious is the humor involved in the work that makes me wonder if Jonson is really that dumb or if he's the most courageous critical playwright of his time. "
I never really thought of Ben Jonson as being brave and standing up to the king until I read Ben's post. Honestly, I sort of thought of the masques as a silly little ceremony. I didn't think about the bigger consequences they could have on people who performed in them, viewed them, or wrote them. Ben writes in his post about a point we talked about in last week's class - is it better to be a dead lion or a live rat? I definitely agree with Ben's answer, regarding Ben Jonson. Jonson is definitely a lion, as opposed to a rat. Ben's post gave me a new appreciation for "Pleasure Reconciled to Virtue."
While I read this play, I had a realization about what made this work different than our other readings. For the first time, religious themes were not bluntly stated or obviously hinted out. Most of our readings laid everything out for us. With The Tempest, I really had to search out and think about how this reading related to our class. Most weeks, I mention the progression in writing styles with each play. With The Tempest, I think William Shakespeare brings a sophistication to religious-themed writing. By not overtly stating the themes, he makes his readers/audience really think about and consider what is happening within the play.
For example, instead of casting God as a character, like our earlier readings would do, Shakespeare just creates ordinary characters. They get into certain situations, and sometimes they do bad things. So, as Christianity teaches us, there are consequences for bad actions. The character of Ariel is a reminder of that. In Act III, Scene III, the men are discussing the idea of murdering another man. Ariel comes in, like an angelic figure, and say, "You fools! I and my fellows are ministers of Fate..." (p. 46). Ariel goes on and accuses the men of being sinners:
"They have bereft; and do pronounce by me: Lingering perdition - worse than death can be at once - shall step by step attend you and your ways..." (p. 46)
I wonder though what Shakespeare's intention of adding religious themes was. Did he truly care about it? Was it pressures from his society - whether it be by authorities or readers - to add religious themes? Or did he do it for the benefit of his characters?
Pleasure Reconciled to Virtue
As I read the introduction to this reading, this portion stuck out to me:
"jumbled the heraldic and mythical figures together in strange profusion; it was both comic and serious, and anything but realistic..." (p. 1)
I always thought of rituals worshipping deities to be so serious. I find very surprising that there were comic elements to some of these ceremonies. I assumed these people would be afraid to do something that could be misconstrued as being disrespectful to God. Also, I found it very interesting that the participants in these masques intended to lose money. How would they continue to do masques if they had no money? Regardless, I think it was very fitting that we were assigned to read a masque along with a Shakespeare play this week. I saw "As You Like It" this summer. This was the first time I saw a Shakespeare story as a play - not as a movie with a modern twist. Shakespeare's writing rings reminiscent of the extravagance of masques.
But on that note, I found the masque to be hard to read, since it is largely just a series of songs. It doesn't translate to text well, I think. It is clearly a spectacle meant to be viewed, not read about. But obviously, we are at a disadvantage here, since masques are no longer performed. So, we are just left to imagine what they would look and sound like.
I enjoyed reading Taylor's post, because she took her post in a direction that is very different than what I tend to do. While I've been focusing strictly on the religious and theatrical aspects, Taylor goes beyond that and also includes sociological and historical themes. Taylor brought up one point that I found particularly interesting:
"As Father said in class, it was absolutely forbidden to write abut religious controversial subjects in the 1530s and further. So, it makes you wonder what a play written at that time would actually be like. I’m inclined to think it would be not as enjoyable. Especially after reading Vitus, it is easy to imagine an overly didactic, yet mildly subjected play, but even worse!"
I never considered this point. I have openly admitted that some of our earlier readings haven't really held my attention. But I never thought about the reasons why the plays were written like they were. If these playwrights wrote something the clergy found just too controversial, it could've had bad conse
A Man of All Seasons
As I began to read A Man for All Seasons, I noticed that this is the first time we really are reading a story. While we have been reading plays all semester long, I’ve felt like our previous readings have really only been to teach a lesson. I mean, many of the supporting characters in last week’s readings were not people but feelings or abstract ideas. Now, we have dialogue between actual people. And while this play is told for its religious themes, we now actually have a story that goes a long with it, which definitely makes it easier to read.
Another progression I’ve noticed are some theatrical tactics that are still in use today. Bolt uses the character of Common Man to act as a narrator. However, the Common Man breaks the fourth wall and addresses the audience. I’ve always enjoyed plays, films, and television shows that use this tactic. I think it brings a great deal of humor to a production. It also captures the attention of the audience and holds it throughout the show. For example, the play starts out with the Common man conversing with the audience. He goes as far as to tell the audience that he wishes he could’ve come on stage naked; that he would’ve shown the audience something that words could not convey. Although he is a character in the play, he pokes fun at the playwright:
“And an intellectual would have shown enough majestic meanings, colored propositions, and closely woven liturgical stuff to dress the House of the Lords. But this!” (p. 3)
I think the Common Man is a very important character in this play. I feel like in our past readings, when a certain character is meant to represent all of humanity, that person is a sinner. A character we are supposed to dislike and look down upon. However, the Common Man is just a normal man. I think this represents the progression of Christianity. In our readings that took place earlier on in Christianity, I felt like narrators were portrayed as sinners, not humans. But we have now reached the point in Christianity where people can be just people. They are no longer defined by their sins.
Bolt wrote the play in historical fiction, which has always been a genre that has fascinated me. I think it is so interesting how writers can get into the heads of historical figures and create rich stories about them. This is actually the easiest and most enjoyable way for me to read religious literature.
The first thing that struck me about Luther was the stage directions. Oh, the stage directions. There were certain pages where there were more stage directions than dialogue. That made the play very hard to follow. The first twenty pages or so also felt like I was reading twenty pages of characters praying, on top of all the stage directions. Needless to say, I had a tricky time getting through this play. I think reading about characters praying is pointless for readers. It in no way has the same affect as participating in prayer.
Needless to say, I enjoyed A Man of For All Seasons more than Luther. I think this particular piece showed a more significant maturation of Christianity than Luther did.
Okay. Hopefully I can get this thing right now.
The Jesuit Theater
Right from the beginning, this quote in the beginning of the reading stuck out to me:
" ...the Jesuit theater emerged as the natural product of the circumstances into which the Society founded by Ignatius of Loyola, almost from its beginnings, was thrust" (p. 4).
The history presented in this reading is absolutely fascinating. It was so interesting to learn that the Jesuits' society was not formed specifically for teaching, since that is what the Jesuits have become known for these days. Instead, the society of Jesuits was formed more with a theatrical intention. I think that really says something about the Jesuits. They are more interested in an interactive approach to learning about scripture, as opposed to just talking at people.
Later in the article, McCabe says that the student benefited more from Jesuit theatre, as opposed to the audience. He goes on to say that it gave the student confidence and helped propel the Jesuits' message:
" This sort of training for the boy squared perfectly with the general intent of the Jesuit educator to influence the outside world by sending forth into it."
So, the Jesuits believed by putting on these plays, their message was sticking with their audiences. Then, the audience could go forth and share the message. I think the Jesuit theater would be beneficial to the actor, because he or she must learn so much about the character he or she is portraying. They must truly believe the words they are saying. That is the only way they would be able to get the message across.
I really enjoyed the class discussion we had on this piece. It really make me appreciate the Jesuits more to see that they wanted to send their message in this way. I thought Alex's tie-in to the late Phylis Ravel was really lovely, as well.
Studies in the Spirituality of Jesuits
This piece really echoed my feelings on The Jesuit Theater and our class discussion last week. The author seemed to be surprised, yet taken, with the art within the Jesuit community. The author wrote:
"Everyone present enjoyed himself immensely, and that the visitors derived from it an enlarged vision of the societies, its goals, aims and scope, and especially of its relevance to our age and its needs. I am sure there is none among you who has any doubt at all" (p. 4).
I really enjoyed the view of St. Ignatius that this piece gives to us. The author included a quote that he said often gets misunderstood:
"His oft-quoted exclamation that earth looked drab to him when he looked at the heavens, has somehow been interpreted to mean he did not care for the beauty of earth."
I would never have understood it as St. Ignatius looking down on the state of earth. I think instead, he just meant the heavens and the afterlife would be so beautiful that nothing would compare to it. The only way he knew how to share that was from the gift of acting.
This paragraph really stuck out to me from Tess's response:
"People wanted to see the Jesuits perform. They were good at it. They brought plays to life. They interacted with the audience and made it exciting. They were brilliant at it. Being a priest involves a lot of the same qualifications that being an actor does. Both sing. Both have choreographed movements. Both have to memorize scripts or in the case of a priest, Scripture. Being an actor and participating in theatre made these students before 1574 better priests because they were practicing skills that crossed over to their chosen profession."
Now, as Dr. Kiely was kind enough to point out to me, I accidentally read and responded to the wrong set of readings this week. So, as of now, I have not read the correct set of readings yet (I swear I will have some read by class tomorrow, Dr. Kiely!). So, I am not entirely sure if the idea of priests being similiar to actors is Tess's idea or the author. Regardless, I think that is such an interesting and smart point. I've never thought of priests as performer. But now, thinking about it, they do often taken on theatrical characteristics to get the message of scripture across. I think this point that Tess brought up will alter the way I listen to sermons now. Honestly, I think this will help me enjoy them and get more out of them.
Tess's post also highlighted the progressiveness of the Jesuits quite nicely.
This play is probably my favorite of all the readings from this class so far. It deals with an aspect of Christianity we haven't dealt with in class yet - death. So many of the readings this semester have dealt with violent, vengeful people doing the killing. Instead, we get to see someone on the other end of the spectrum.
God asks death to visit living creatures. For all that He has sacrificed for them, He believes people have grown to be ungrateful:
"I healed their feet; with thorns hurt was my head. I could do no more than I did, truly." (Lines 33 & 34)
This reminds me a bit of the story of Noah and the flood. God struck the world with a flood because humanity became a truly terrible bunch. So, I am assuming that Everyman came before the story of Noah and the flood, since the flood was a form of death.
However, I think the thing that's really interesting about this play is that Everyman goes through all the stages of death. First, Death comes to the Everyman. The Everyman has no idea why this is happening to him. He tries to bargain his way out of it. He offers death wealth if his life can be spared. When he learns it cannot be saved, he looks for comfort from fellowship and support from family. He frets about losing his goods. He thinks he can bargain with good deeds to keep alive.
But then, he turns to knowledge for support. And finally, beauty and strength come to show him that he need not be frightened of death. Once the Everyman comes to terms with his death, an angel comes to take him away.
I found this play to be very fascinating. The themes in this reading mirror the seven stages of grieving. But taking into consideration the time in which it was written, this play probably has an important place in Christian literature. Assuming our readings go in chronological order in this class, this play was written in the early stages of Christianity. Christians were unsure of what happened in the afterlife in their religion, so it must have been a frightening experience. This play helped to show them it was nothing to be frightened of:
Knowledge: "Now he hath made ending. Methinketh that I hear angels sing and make great joy and melody where Everyman's soul received shall be." (Lines 890-894).
This play was an interesting followup to Everyman. It shows that Christianity is not all Heaven and angels. If you sin, there will be consequences. Faustus sells his soul to the devil for knowledge, and he must answer for his actions:
"Now Faustus, must thou needs be damned, and canst thou not be saved. What boots if then to think of God or heaven? Away with such vain fancies, and despair, Despair in God, and trust in Belzebub." (pgs. 1033-1034)
In the timeline of our readings, this shows major progress. Christianity is a fully formed religion. You are rewarded or punished in the afterlife, based on how you lived your life. So, as always, I will be curious to see how Christianity evolves in our next set
Noah and His Sons
As I began Noah and His Sons, I ran into something that has always fascinated me, when it comes to religious literature and films. How did this play decide to portray God? Unless I missed it, the play never mentioned it. I believe the way God is portrayed would say a lot about the playwright. Was it just a man in white? Or was it a man's voice with his body obstructed? If God is portrayed by a man, the playwright could be using that as a metaphor for God being equal to man. Or, if God is just portrayed by a voice, this says something totally different to me. This would say that no human is capable of imitating God. So, I think this would've added to my experience reading the play.
On the note of Noah and His Sons' interpretation of God, I've noticed that this week's readings come a long way in representing God. Instead of a vengeful, fearful God, we have a kind one. But there is a still a hint of the personality of the gods in this representation. Lines 121 and 122 show this for me:
"To my bidding, obedient; friendship shall thou feel as they reward."
God is offering Noah friendship. This seems a far cry from people who feared their God/gods. Instead of killing to please his God, Noah must just build an ark to be considered a friend to God. However, the fact that God says his friendship is a reward reminds me of the vanity of the ancient Greek gods.
I Have Our Help Here In Our Arms
Fr. Pilarz’s piece immediately drew me in because of the clever tie-in to pop culture. Anyone who knows me well enough knows that I practically speak in film and television quotes and references. For this week’s readings, I have had a hard time following because of the language used. However, the Fr. Pilarz’s writing style kept me interested and wanting to read more.
Many interesting points stuck out to me while I was reading this. One thing I found interesting was that whoever was portraying the Holy family had to pretend to be from the city wherever they were performing at. I also thought it was interesting that these plays really tried to show the human side of Mary and Joseph.
On that note, a part of this reading reminded me of the prejudice of theatre we learned about last week. One of the philosophers that we read about last week denounced the theatre because viewers would try to emulate what they saw on the stage. However, it sounds like those who created the Corpus Christi cycles intended just that.
“While watching their friends and neighbors play Jesus, Mary and Joseph, they would have had good reason for wanting to become what they beheld – holy families” (p. 13).
So, it seems like these cycle plays were presented more as a lesson, instead of art or a celebration of the Holy family. This play has put in perspective the journey that theatre has taken to come where it is now. I am anxious to see how this journey progresses in our next set of readings.
The Anti-Theatrical Prejudice
I actually never realized that there was an anti-theatrical prejudice until Monday's class. I found the explanation of Plato's and Socrates' prejudices to be fascinating. However, I've never been one for philosophy, so I am not sure I completely understand Plato's and Socrates' prejudices against the theatre. So, I think I understand that Plato believes all forms of art to be imitations of reality. And imitations are sub-par to excellence - so in that case, would "excellence" be the gods? Is Plato saying that artists attempting to create a perfection that only the gods could achieve? Again, I struggled in my philosophy classes, so I have no idea if I am interpreting this correctly at all. Socrates' own prejudice seemed pretty similiar, except he says that viewers of art must have a philosophical understanding of it, because one's understanding will be ruined without that. So, is Socrates saying that philosophers, such as himself, are the only ones adept at understanding such works? It seems to me that, by saying this, Socrates, is putting himself above the average person. It is like he identifying more so with god than person.
I found it very interesting that pagan authors were very much in favor of the barbaric spectacles in the arena, while Christian authors were against them. I wonder if pagans who participated in these spectacles considered the end result to be a sacrifice to their gods. Weren't a lot of these spectacles just for entertainment? Like, betting if the lion or the gladiator would come out of the arena alive? Or maybe, pagans believed their gods deserved to be entertained, too?
What I find most interesting, and I never thought about until now, is the Christians' view of this. They believed these acts to be barbaric. These spectacles went against the idea of God as a creator. However, the God of the Old Testament depicted was a vengeful God. God was to be feared, and devout Christians were make sacrifices to Him. But the God of the New Testament was a loving father. When and why did the switch in the way Christians viewed God happened?
Hrotsvitha of Gandersheim
The contrast between Paganism and Christianity is also present in Hrotsvitha of Gandersheim's play. The very opening talks about Agape being married off. Agape is a Christian woman living in the time where paganism was the norm. On page 5 of the place, Diocletian calls Agape mad:
"Why, this above all, that you abandon the religion of your ancestors, leave its sacred rites, and follow in its stead this vain new Christian superstition."
Diocletian's frustrations with Agape leaving the religion of her ancestors is understandable. That is a problem that families today still have to deal with. But I am very curious as to why he considers Christianity to be "vain." I wonder if it comes from the fact that pagans worship multiple gods. Maybe Diocletian finds the worship of one individual being to be selfish on that god/God's part?
These sections from these three readings stuck out to me because I am very interested to learn more about pagans' views of Christianity. I hope that's something we discuss further during Monday's class.
At first, I found the task of writing a response on Greek tragedies to be daunting. The language used within them and the long monologues typically do not hold my attention for very long. When I first began to read The Oresteia by Aeschylus, I was bored. Not to mention, the story of Troy always frustrates me. (How come Paris is never blamed for any of the events that take place? I've always found him to be such a coward. But that is neither here nor there...) About halfway through reading Agamemnon, I remembered that Fr. Pilarz challenged us on the first class to look at the way the characters that we read about attempt to play God. This made getting through the plays much easier.
Instead of laboriously making my way through long monologues in which characters bragged about destroying Troy, I looked for lines of dialogue that defined their relationship with the gods. In the eyes of these people, their acts of violence please their gods, especially Zeus. On page 70, Agememnon states that "Heaven shares my glory." But who says that the gods are pleased at the destruction of a city to bring back a woman that ran away with her lover? In my opinion, Agememnon just uses this as an excuse to avenge his brother, who was most likely mortified that his wife ran away with another man.
On the note of Agememnon sharing his glory with the gods, who assigned these gods such vengeful characteristics? It seems like people who just wanted justification for their actions did so. I think adopting a religion, whether it be polytheism or Christianity, just to find blame for your actions totally contradicts the idea of religion.
Moving on to the Choephori, I found a very interesting difference from the previous play. Orestes, son of the murdered Agememnon, is now king of Argos. However, his relationships with the gods seem very different than his father's. Instead of expecting rewards from Zeus for acts of violence, Orestes asks Zeus permission to avenge his father's death. This makes me wonder if this is due to a change in the mindset of the people of Argos, or simply just the difference between Orestes and Agememnon.
In The Bacchae, we have a character actually claiming to be a god. Dionysus proclaims to be the son of Zeus and mortal Semele. A major conflict in the play is Dionysus pitted against Pentheus, arguing if the people of Thebes should be able to worship Dionysus, since Pentheus does not recognize him as a god. Dionysus prevails in the end and Pentheus is killed.
I'm assuming Pentheus did not reconigze Dionysus as a god due to jealousy of his relative. But I would completely understand if he didn't recognize him as a god, because he truly believed Dionysus to be mortal. According to Greek mythology, Zeus is said to have a plethora of offspring. I've found a few websites that said he had over 100 children. Who said all of these were actually Zeus' children? What if some of them just claimed to be sons and daughters of Zeus for the prestige of being a deity?
This idea reminds me of a quote from the 2001 film A Knight's Tale. Heath Ledger's character, a peasant, pretends to be royal to compete in jousting tournaments. To justify his actions, he says to his compatriots,"How did the nobles become nobles after all? They took it!" Maybe that's what some of these demigods did - they took the title of god.
After reading this collection of plays, my opinion of Greek tragedies have not changed. I still do not really enjoy them. That could be thanks to taking four year of Latin class in high school, which I did not enjoy. However, looking at these plays as a study of characters playing god/God definitely brought a more interesting aspect to the reading.