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Life Arts    H4'ed 10/28/20

An Introduction to Friedrich Schiller: Theater Considered as a Moral Institution

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Only here [on the stage] do the world's mighty men hear what they never or rarely hear elsewhere: Truth. And here they see what they never or rarely see: Man.

As with any teaching, any education, for our instruction on how to determine a good course of action from a bad, a good constitution or philosophy from a terrible one, we need it to stand the test of action. There is no safer arena for this than in Art. This is why in Plato's writings of philosophy, the lessons are always presented in the form of stories or a dialogue amongst characters that all hold different perspectives, such as in his book Republic. The answer is never directly given. Through Art we can put to the test what we think we know. It is through this method that we also save ourselves from committing the error of the times. Because Art does not rigidly dictate but when done well, reflects honestly and truthfully as a mirror back onto its audience, its lessons are not held in a fixed state but rather hold living fluid layers that develop even past the sight of the original artist themselves and which inspires future artists to continuously build and improve upon. This can be seen with Aeschylus from Homer, Plato from Socrates, Schiller from Shakespeare, Schubert from Beethoven.

I will end here with the final paragraphs of Schiller's Theater Considered as a Moral Institution:

Such a person lets all previous generations pass in review, weighing nation against nation, century against century, and finds how slavishly the great majority of the people are ever languishing in the chains of prejudice and opinion, which eternally foil their strivings for happiness; he finds that the pure radiance of truth illumines only a few isolated minds, who probably had to purchase that small gain at the cost of a lifetime's labors. By what means, then, can the wise legislator induce the entire nation to share in its benefits?

"

For, judging from its consequences, no subject has greater importance for the future of the republic, than education; and yet, no area has been more neglected, and none so completely abandoned to the individual citizen's illusions and caprice. The stage alone would be able to confront him with touching, soul stirring scenes depicting the unfortunate victims of neglected education"False notions can lead even the finest heart astray; and what a disaster, when these begin to boast a method, and systematically spoil the tender stripling within the walls of philanthropic institutes and academic hot-houses.

The stage is the institution where instruction and pleasure, exertion and repose, culture and amusement are wed; where no one power of the soul need strain against the others, and no pleasure is enjoyed at the expense of the whole. When grief gnaws at our heart, when melancholy poisons our solitary hours; when we are revolted by the world and its affairs; when a thousand troubles weigh upon our souls, and our sensibilities are about to be snuffed out underneath our professional burdens - then the theater takes us in, and within its imaginary world we dream the real one away; we are given back to ourselves; our sensibilities are reawakened; salutary emotions agitate our slumbering nature, and set our hearts pulsating with greater vigor. Here the unfortunate, seeing another's grief, can cry out his own; the jolly will be sobered, and the secure will grow concerned. The delicate weakling becomes hardened into manhood, and here the first tender emotions are awakened within the barbarian's breast. And then, at last - O Nature! what a triumph for you! - Nature, so frequently trodden to the ground, so frequently risen from its ashes! - when man at last, in all districts and regions and classes, with all his chains of fad and fashion cast away, and every bond of destiny rent asunder - when man becomes his brother's brother with a single all-embracing sympathy, resolved once again into a single species, forgetting himself and the world, and reproaching his own heavenly origin. Each takes joy in others' delights, which then, magnified in beauty and strength, are reflected back to him from a hundred eyes, and now his bosom has room for a single sentiment, and this is: to be truly human.

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Cynthia Chung is a lecturer, writer and co-founder and editor of the Rising Tide Foundation (Montreal, Canada).  She has lectured on the topics of Schiller's aesthetics, Shakespeare's tragedies, Roman history, the Florentine Renaissance among other subjects. She is a writer for (more...)
 

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