Introduction to Theatre
Online Course

Dr. Eric W. Trumbull, Professor, Theatre/Speech

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Last update: December 11, 2007

Why Study Theatre?

Resource: Wilson/Goldfarb, "Introduction."

Objectives for this lesson:

Students will examine:

some of the different ways that the theatre has been viewed in the past,

some of the reasons for justifying theatre as an area of study

some of the different ways in which we can examine theatre today


Four Reasons To Study Theatre:

1) Theatre as a Humanity / Liberal Art:

Humanities / liberal arts can help us understand the world and our place in it .

Theatre reflects and possibly affects its society's view of the world: its history, philosophy, religious attitudes, social structure, theoretical assumptions, its way of thinking about humanity and the world and nature.

Each society in history had and still has theatre that can help them learn about their world and can help us to learn about other societies besides our own. {Top of Page}

2) Theatre as a social force:

Theatre is perhaps the world's 2nd oldest profession and has been praised and damned throughout history.
Plato, in The Republic, felt that poetry (which included drama and art) was fiction / lying / morally suspect..
-- People are once removed from the ideal / God (we are merely an imitation of the ideal).

--Art is therefore an imitation of an imitation of the ideal… thus three times removed from reality / ideal.

--Advocated banning poets from the Republic.

[Aristotle, conversely, in his Poetics, (c. 335 B.C.) suggested that "tragedy" came from a natural tendency of humans to imitate.


Drama is an "imitation of an action."

--He wanted to look at it objectively…what it is, what it does, how it does it…]

Actors were often denied the sacrament, as theatre was thought immoral.

Molière was denied the sacrament after collapsing on stage during one of his plays (1673) -- King Louis XIV had to intervene to grant Molière a Christian burial.

The Little Church around the Corner, in New York City, was for quite a while the only church in New York that performers were accepted.

Justinian, the holy Roman emperor, married Theodora only after she denounced her profession (actress).

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2a) Theatre as education - a social force --

"Didactic" = to teach.

Theatre has often been used primarily as a teaching mechanism -- throughout history theatre has often been a primary means of teaching.

(medieval theatre taught about the Bible and Christianity; the Blue Blouse troupes in Russia taught about how to be a good communist; Shakespeare's histories can be seen as

defending the Elizabethan monarchy [according to Eric Bentley].

When theatre is used as a "weapon" for social / political change, as propaganda, is can be called "agit-prop" (or agitprop, for agitation propaganda)

El teatro campasino (Luis Valdez, director) and Bread and Puppet Theatre (Peter Shumann, director) are two agitprop theatres with web pages.
2b) Theatre as influencer and reflector of social values --

Does not need to have social purpose or effect, but has caused riots :

--Astor Place riots -- Edwin Forrest (American) and William Charles Macready (English) - 1849.

--Victor Hugo's Hernani (1830) -- caused riots because it was not a true "neoclassical" play.

--"Waiting for Lefty," (Clifford Odets's play from the 1930's),  el teatro campasino, and the Bread and Puppet Theatre have had some kind of "influence"on the society.

To reflect social values, some plays have actually been changed. In 1818, Thomas Bowdler, M.D., published the "Family Shakespeare" omitting "those words and expressions which cannot with propriety be read aloud in the family." "Bowdlerize" thereupon became synonymous with "expurgate."

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3. Theatre as a personal force:

4. Theatre as an art form - an object:

Theatre could be looked as simply a bauble -- a pretty object -- and we can look at what the elements of that object are.

Theatre is a combination of many art forms.

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Let's take a look at some theories of theatre's origins.

Important Terms:





You can take short study quizzes based on textbook materials by going to the Student Online Learning Center page for our textbook...
Click here for a short study quiz on this lesson...(unfortunately, the QuizMaker site no longer exists, so you will not be able to get this quiz marked automatically...if you questions whether you got the answers correct or not, please save the page after you've answered them and then send the page to me)...

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This page and all linked pages in this directory are copyrighted © Eric W. Trumbull, 1998-2005.

This page last modified: December 11, 2007 .