Romanticism Essay, Research Paper
Romantic Theatre Unifying Society Through Polite Conversation
From Romanticism in theater we find that the purpose of the role of art was to lead people to perceive the underlying unity of all existence and thus to eliminate conflict – to make man whole again. How did the Romantic theater make an impact to, in essence, unify existence or society? With the help of Hazlitt, a drama reviewer (critic) of 1820, we can examine the characteristics that Romanticism brought to the theater that, in turn, lead to a greater unity among people. Romantic plays fostered polite conversation through common experiences shared by all.
Emotions rather than intellect were the appeal of Romantic plays. Passion is culminated through emotions and passion is the motivation of human existence. Therefore, we use our passion for one another and things as a basis for our reflections. The theater supplies a common ground, a shared set of experiences, which are crucial components for fostering discussion among all people. The theater is a common-place , and a subject that all may use in conversing with others. Any topic that is discussed by persons of presumably equal knowledge of the subject can strike a chain of extended knowing.
Therefore, the role of the newspaper reviewer becomes a common mediator, connecting all classes. An ideal account of the Romantic theater functioning as an agent towards polite conversation is found in The Examiner of January 5, 1817:
The merits of a new play, or of a new actor, are always among the first topics of polite conversation. One way in which public exhibitions contribute to refine and humanize mankind, is by supplying them with ideas and subjects of conversation and interest in common. For instance, if we meet with a stranger at an inn or in a stage-coach, who know nothing buy his own affairs-his shop, his customers, his farm, his pigs, his poultry- we can carry on no conversation with him on these local and personal matters: the only way is to let him have all the talk to himself. But if has fortunately ever seen Mr. Liston act, this is an immediate topic of mutual conversation, and we agree together the rest of the evening in discussing the merits of that inimitable actor, with the same satisfaction as in talking over the affairs of the most intimate friend.
This account from The Examiner is a good example of the way that the Romantic theater fostered discussion through polite conversation . Hazlitt offers public discussion of the stage as a means of reconnecting with one s fellows. By promoting performance as art in the interests of the facilitating public discussion, a sense of unity and liberal national consciousness is provoked.
One important characteristic that drew increasing discussion and interest during the Romantic period was the emergence of stars , the actors as individuals. Audiences began to go to the theater because of the actors that acted in them, rather than the play that they were acting in. Hazlitt defines the attraction of stars as a potent combination of the everyday and the extraordinary, a combination that makes them ideal agents through which to focus public fascination in such a way as to induce discussion. In modern day times, this attraction to stars is still evident. It is commonplace to here the phrase, Did you see the last Julia Roberts movie? during a conversation. Anyone who has shared this experience will be enticed to join in the discussion. This brings us upon polite conversation again as the stage itself and the stars provide a topic of national interest and spreading discussion.
The theater setting itself was also a characteristic that unified society. Prior to the Romantic period the theater began exclusionary practices, attempting to shut out improper people from the theater. Prices gradually lowered coincidentally during the Romantic period producing a greater diversity of community attendance. As the great diversity of the community gathered for a shared experience, there was a need for standards of behavior to unify the audience. Although the theater was sectioned by class within the theater, the theater was enjoyed by all classes of society in the same experience. By setting unwritten audience behavioral standards, the classes formed a middle ground for which to co-exist. All of society could join in the experience and be equally knowledgeable for discussion with any fellow spectator. This unified presence and shared experience by all members of society supports the Romantic view. Inclusiveness and unity of existence is a focus of Romanticism and producing a cultured, liberal, not exclusionary audience, which overcomes class boundaries while incorporating behavioral standards.
Today the practices brought on by the Romantic period are still evident in everyday polite conversation . As with the earlier discussion of the emergence of stars in the nineteenth century and it s familiarity today, theater is an experience that moves all. We are passionate to discuss the feelings and thoughts provoked by the modern day forms of theater and art. The conversation of theater brings on a polite conversation that does not create conflict regardless of differing views. Theater discussion is in contrast to conversation of politics and religion yet more enjoyable than polite conversations of the weather and so on. Romanticism in the theater brought changes to society whether coincidental or intentional. There are many aspects of the Romantic view that are not presented in this essay, but for the purposes of defining characteristics that fostered polite conversation among society unity is of greater importance. Through this unity from polite conversation , society can begin the journey of making man whole again and eliminating conflict by sharing a common ground.
Hazlitt, William. The Complete Works of William Hazlitt. Ed. P. P. Howe. 21 vol. New York: AMS Press, 1967.