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chapter one The Idea of a Theater in Late Antiquity Augustine’s Critique and Isidore’s History R the writings of St. Augustine of Hippo (354–430) and Isidore of Seville (d. 636) have provided modern scholarship with rich information about theatrical performance in the Greco-Roman world. Augustine’s The City of God and Confessions criticize theater as a social, religious, and representational practice from a Christian perspective; Isidore’s Etymologiae describes Roman theater, its performances, and its poetry based on an array of sources.1 The differences in purpose, readership, organization of ideas, and intellectual commitment between Augustine’s and Isidore’s ideas about ancient theater have mattered little in the construction of European theater’s history. In Christianity’s intellectual tradition, however, the differences between Augustine ’s and Isidore’s writings on theater are pronounced. Augustine’s zealous condemnation of theater as a debauched social activity rooted in Roman polytheism was grounded in his experience of the behavior (on and off the stage) that theatrical shows encouraged. Generations away from the plays and pantomimes of Augustine’s Carthage and Rome, Isidore documented theater and theatrical practice as a Christian historian. Theater had become an artifact of the old world, an idea that could be transmitted along with other Christian assessments of pagan learning. Unlike rhetoric, oratory, and literary genres (including drama), Latin Christian thought would not ‹nd theater—as a performance practice—of signi‹cant concern or interest in and of itself. But whether or not Augustine and Isidore had their facts right about how theater was done in the Greco-Roman world, they created a space for ancient theater in Christian thought.2 Chapter 1 and the sub11 sequent chapters of this study take medieval discourses on ancient theater out of their familiar place in the history of Western European theater and drama in order to trace the transmission of ideas about theater in the context of a developing intellectual tradition. This ‹rst chapter identi‹es how two writers of late antiquity, Augustine and Isidore, present theater differently in relation to their own intellectual projects.3 Augustine, the Christian Person, and Theatrical Representation Augustine discusses theater in four of his major texts—Confessions, The City of God, Concerning the Teacher, and On Christian Doctrine—as well as in occasional sermons and soliloquies. He is responding to the ludi performed in permanent or (more often) temporary theater structures that were built throughout the Roman Empire (with raised stages, scaenae frons replacing the Greek skene building, and a semicircular orchestra), as well as to the spectacles of the circuses and amphitheaters. Though the religious aspects of Roman theater, especially their associations with festivals, diminished during the empire, the statues, ef‹gies, and altars that kept the gods in full view in the theaters clearly marked theater as the domain of the pagan gods.4 Theater ‹gures prominently in Augustine’s Confessions as a site of moral and physical debauchery, and The City of God construes theater as a social practice inappropriate for Christian participation on the grounds of its close ties with pagan religion. Concerning the Teacher and On Christian Doctrine, documents cited much less frequently in theater history, brie›y suggest theater as a sign system inadequate for representing Christian things (res).5 Together, these four texts outline the logical reasons why Christianity cannot tolerate theater or theatrical representation (as Augustine experienced and understood it). Augustine’s attitude toward theater has often been tied to his rejection of the lust and passions that, as he writes in Confessions, dominated his life prior to his embrace of Christian chastity.6 Augustine’s reasoning, however, goes further than his second- and third-century predecessors—namely, Tertullian—in demonstrating exactly how and why theater and theatrical representation were fundamentally incompatible with a Christian view of the world. Three themes run through his arguments against theater (as distinct from dramatic poetry, rhetoric, oratory, or music): theatrical shows encourage bad behavior (solipsism , lust, devotion to actors, and uncharitable acts); theater is so rooted in pagan religion that a Christian city could not sustain it as an institution; and theatrical representation interferes with Christians’ ability to know God. 12 The Idea of the Theater in Latin Christian Thought Augustine understood theater as a social reality in a way later Christians could not. Theater was as much a part of the social fabric of the empire as was the status of Christians in imperial North Africa.7 Theaters were physical places, and performances were...


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