September 25, 2007 at 8:12 pm (Uncategorized)

Freidrich Schiller: The Stage as a Moral Institution (1784)

In pairing together the “opinions” of the masses on social issues such as nations and ages, religion and education, parents and teachers, governments and classes and invention and industry, Schiller proposes that theatre can work to encourage the progression of society. His idea of a “National Theatre” is most interesting to me- like the institutions of law and religion (the judicial system and the Church, respectively) Schiller believes that theatre could also act as a cornerstone institution of society- a place where the ‘masses’ are subjected to theatrical pieces centering on the morality of mankind and the advancement of society. He claims that the masses can learn about themselves through plot and characters on stage (like Aristotle) and then apply what they have learned to their own lives and eventually interpret what they learn to the desire to better society and become or remain “good” people (Aristotle’s theory of good/bad men). Schiller believes that theatre can release the “enchained masses” from their opinions. However it is interesting to note another statement he makes in the reading on page 253. He advocates that it is the “thoughtful and worthier section of people in society who diffuse the light of wisdom over the masses through the stage.” Is this to say then, that eventhough he argues for a united society where all are equal that a “worthier” section of society dictate the content of theatre and what goes on stage to the masses? Schiller has an extremely ellitest attitude towards the creation of theatre. To play the devil’s advocate to my own standpoint, and to perhaps give Schiller the benefit of the doubt, he could be referring to this “worthier section” as a kind of theatre mediator- a section of people (playwrights like himself, actors, producers etc) who decide what goes on stage infront of the masses in the same way that other social and moral institutions such as the judicial system and the Church have their own governing members -the “section” of society that encompasses such professions as such as judges, lawyers, police, members of authority and clergymen. The theatre, as a “popular channel” (253) could and can still bring people together and cause it’s audience to reflect upon their own lives, experience catharsis (Aristotle). However to say that instills a desire to advance humankind is a bold statement because everyone experiences theatre differently. Schiller clearly considers theatre as an essential element to society and to humanity. He concludes that we need theatre in order to reflect on our own lives, on our own identities and to therefore establish our own individual role within society and ultimately to decipher how we can meaningfully contribute to the advancement of humankind…

…and he is sure to remind the Schiller critics of the universal truth that theatre not only can be didactic, but that it was also the premier form of amusement!  🙂


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