Theatre History
Italian Theatre

The Neoclassical Ideal was central to Italian theatre and the Renaissance. The ideal formed in Italy and soon spread throughout Europe. It was characterized by an interest in literary theory and a desire to read and understand theoretical works. It demanded verisimilitude and heavily stressed reality. Plays were produced with heavy morals and fantasy, the use of a chorus, and soliloquies were are discouraged. Referred to as “poetic justice”, the Neoclassical Ideal provided a standard for critical judgment.

(Source: http://www.cwu.edu/~robinsos/ppages/resources/Theatre_History/Theahis_5.html)

  • What ideals does modern theatre put forward?
  • What examples of art today contain the Neoclassical Ideal?

-Kate

RESPONSE

The Neoclassical ideal created the concept of verisimilitude, the appearance of truth.  Verisimilitude had three goals: reality, morality, and universality.  There was a push for art to be focus on real representations of human experiences.  Things such as deaths, battles, and fantastical creatures vanished from the stage; anything that could not be honestly represented onstage was not included in a production.  It became common to have a unity of time, place, and action.  It was a common belief that drama should teach moral lessons, such as wickedness is punished and goodness rewarded.  Every production aimed to teach the common people a lesson that was supported by the church.  Finally, it was believed that truth could only be found in common characteristics shared by everyone.  If there was a standard that only applied to a select group of people, it was not considered true.

There are some signs of Neoclassicism in today’s theatre.  Any production that strives for realism still holds to the concept of verisimilitude.  It is a common practice to rework/adapt a classic - whether that means rewriting the work in common slang or highly stylizing a Greek tragedy, which is a return to the classics, something else the Neoclassical era considered to be important.  Often times, people attend theatre (whether live or movies) and come away with a new idea about life, sometimes revolving around a moral.

And yet, sometimes our lessons are swayed.  Not everything is clear cut/black and white in our world today.  Sometimes the bad guy wins.  Sometimes the good guy ends up with the worst end of the bargain.  Sometimes love doesn’t conquer all.  Sometimes being good just isn’t enough.  I think that these lessons are the most important ones to learn in today’s world—sometimes things work out for the best and sometimes, no matter how unfair it may seem, things don’t work out how we think they should.  Theatre presents this to the world—everything comes in shades of gray.  And all we can do it keep fighting for the times that things work out the way we know they should.

What other lessons does art work to teach us in today’s world?

Are these morals we should hold onto?

-Teresa

I agree with Teresa that theatre shows us shades of gray in our lives. Theatre should present the audience with a challenge not a black and white answer. Plays like How I Learned to Drive and The Goat, or Who is Sylvia? present the audience with characters that make morally questionable decision, but that we identify with. These plays make us question our ideas of right, wrong, and what is socially acceptable. Sometimes a playwright takes an idea to the extremes to make a more subtle point. We should hold onto the idea that nothing is black and white, there is always another opinion or thought out there.

I think that a heavily stressed reality is still intact in the theatre today; however in order to compete with film and television we need to embrace the magic of theatre and abandon that reality. Film and television can accomplish that sense of reality with ease, while theatre often struggles with stage combat and making things look real. Even our sets have become lavish interiors decorated to look just like the inside of an apartment or living room. We can do so much with the fact that our performances are live, yet we often continue to isolate the audience in their seats. We need a new direction in the theatre one that embraces new voices and looks for different ways to accomplish old goals.

-Sarah

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