Research Paper: Spontaneous Playfulness and the Instinctive

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Spontaneous playfulness and the instinctive tendency to imitate manifested in children are traits that appear to linger into adult life. Theatre in the form it exists today was born somewhere along humanity's childish behavior combined with the profoundness of thought of ancient philosophers. Theatre writers such as Aeschylus possessed the power to get together and entertain thousands of people though the power of their words. By the end of the nineteenth century, other playwrights, like Ibsen, were following in the foot steps of their illustrious ancient predecessors, trying to influence the lives of the polis in a world that had changed tremendously over the last millennia, but it essentially remained the same in its human nature features.

Greek tragedy is initially believed to have developed from chants and dances dedicated to Dionysus and other deities, performed at festivals during early to mid spring. It further developed when Aeschylus introduced a second performer on stage. Greek tragedies relied on music, dance and dialogue. The performers were wearing masks and were male, actual acts of violence (which occurred frequently in Greek tragedies) happened off stage. The art of playing was quite different from what Ibsen's contemporaries must have known as theatrical performances.

Greek tragedies, as is the case for Oresteia, Aeschylus trilogy from the fifth century BC, took commonly known myths and adapted them for a particular audience and place. Aeschylus' trilogy is intended for the citizens of Athens of his time, so the mythological source is presented in a way that speaks to his contemporary audience in new ways. Amphitheaters such as the Theatre at Epidaurus could host around twelve hundred people. Trilogies like Oresteia were played throughout the day with people were coming and going as they pleased. The audience was probably made of both men and women. As the most important form of entertainment, tragedy played in Greek ancient times a tremendous role in shaping society. Public speech was extremely important and theatre was a form of speaking to the public with a multitude of purposes. Besides the entertainment aspect, ancient Greek theatre authors could use the stage as a tribune, a pulpit, a lecture hall or even a mental health doctor's office. Plays like Agamemnon, the first in the Aeschylus trilogy, are acting like the catharsis Aristotle is referring to when talking about classical theatre. Greek tragedy writers, like Aeschylus, could introduce new philosophic ideas into their plays, sociological and psychological insights, new political ideologies and doctrines.

By the end of the nineteenth century, theatre played a far more restrained role that what theatrical shows meant for the people of Athens in the fifth century BC. The setting was far more limited, thus the place more intimate, but technology enabled writers like Ibsen to bring their plays out in the open in tens of thousand of copies, in their written form. It is the end of the nineteenth century, an era of technological advancements and scientific discoveries that were changing the world with a speed never seen before. Industrialization and economic interests had changed human societies to the point where people hurdled in big cities, attracted by the promise to escape the hardships of life on the fields or raising animals. It meant development, but it also saw became estranged from the natural sources of life, developing new, different interests and changing their views on life. Still, human nature remained unchanged in essence and some of the main human characteristics remained the same, from Agamemnon, in the fifth century BC all the way to An Enemy of the People, by the end of the nineteenth century: love, hate, hypocrisy, greed, narrow-mindedness, vanity, love of power, lust etc.

As his highly acclaimed predecessor, more than two millennia ago, Ibsen's plays are worthy of admiration and praise. Besides providing sources of entertainment, he, too, uses the stage to present the world with new ideas, to criticize and offer catharsis. There is far less gruesomeness in his plays, but their impact of the public's psyche is as strong as Aeschylus' must have been in Antiquity.

The first dialogue between Dr. Stockman and his brother, the Mayor, in Ibsen's play, brings a lot of light on the psychological profile of the two. Each one of those reading or watching the play on stage must have felt like he or she was holding a mirror. The words are as powerful as they can be, as powerful as the healing words of a psychotherapist or those of the intimate talk with a good friend: "Dr. Stockmann: And then to be comfortably off, Peter! That is something one learns to value, when one has been on the brink of starvation, as we have."

This should have acted like a beautiful lesson for the people living in a small corner of the world, a Norwegian town where nothing ever seemed to happen. Dr. Stockman appears as the man who works hard according to his medical oath, but earns little, while the mayor comes out as the public servant who earns a good deal of money in the service of his community, without any special effort or sacrifice. The balance could still lean one way or the other, the spectator will incline to like more one or the other character, depending on the personal tastes and philosophies. The two appear to be merely leading a discussion between an idealist and down to earth person. The Mayor suddenly changes his discourse when he finds out that there might be something wrong with the municipal baths he was hoping would help revive the economy of the town. Like in ancient times on stage, he changes his masks, he is putting on the mask of authority, his discourse becomes solemn: "The individual ought undoubtedly to acquiesce in subordinating himself to the community-or, to speak more accurately, to the authorities who have the care of the communities welfare"

This is the moment reminding one of Noam Chomsky's referring to the public at large vs. those it is supposed to vote as its leaders, with the words of Walter Lippmann: "ignorant meddlesome outsiders."

The heroes in the classical Greek theater are always in advantage compared to what count as heroes in modern plays such as An Enemy of the People. First, the heroes in Ibsen's play are not as easy to spot, since they are not placed in heroic situations that involve actually going to war and fighting for their country or to protect it. Nevertheless, Dr. Stockman's very profession places him in a potential hero role since he is trained to save lives. The revenge of the gods for breaking the divine law is at the chore of Greek tragedies. Humans never fail to pay the price for that. The ancient gods were merciless in punishing those who sinned and condemned entire generations for it. Similar to the Bible, Gods in Aeschylus times had sins they categorized as capital and their punishment followed entire generations: "Woe springs from wrong, / the plant is like the seed - / While Right, in honor's house, doth its own likeness breed."

Dr. Stockman's daughter, Petra, is a teacher who likes what she does, but dislikes the fact that she is not allowed a difference of opinion in her job, sometimes. To some, she might appear as the sacrificial lamb in the play, since she will also suffer from her father's determination to reveal the truth about the baths' water contamination to the public. Ironically, Morton, her 10-year-old brother, a child, plays the role of the ancient chorus and calls her: "wicked"

. As he was taught in school excess, even when it comes to working, is a sin. She appears to be committing the same "sins" her father suffers from: excessive work and idealism.

In fact, as in the case of Aeschylus Agamemnon, it is about balance. To be an idealist is certainly no sin, on the contrary, if not giving up on one's ideals and convictions saves lives or prevents wrong doing, then it is just the opposite. Whereas, overdoing work might be a source of imbalance in one's life and it will have negative consequences.

Clytemnestra and Mrs. Katherine Stockmann, the two feminine characters in the plays, share only one feature: their care for their family. Clytemnestra, probably opposed to the role women had in antiquity at that time and certainly differently from her women predecessors in theatre characters, takes action and kills her husband to rule the kingdom herself. Mrs. Katherine Stockman is merely playing a passive role of the wife who is trying to make her husband change his mind and think of his family first, but does nothing more. She submits to her husband's wishes and stays with him, no matter how he resolves to act. Her quality is loyalty. She is a mother of three and a wife, so she is not happy to see her husband putting the family's well being in danger. On the other side, she accepts whatever the latter happens to decide, acting by… [END OF PREVIEW]

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