Emotion and the Arts

By Mette Hjort; Sue Laver | Go to book overview

Introduction

METTE HJORT & SUE LAVER

It is generally assumed that art and emotion are inextricably linked, as is shown by even the most cursory account of the history of critical thinking about music, painting, literature, or theatre.

Consider, for example, a few salient moments in the history of the theory and practice of the dramatic arts. Whereas Plato's indictment of poets construes theatre as a source of undesirable and even dangerous emotions, Aristotle's defense of the art hinges on its putative capacity to purge spectators of these very emotions. Plato's conception of theatre and emotion as inextricably intertwined provides support for the antitheatricalist viewpoints espoused by the early Church Fathers, just as it informs the condemnations of theatre articulated in sixteenth-century England and seventeenth-century France. 1 Thus, for example, William Prynne's strikingly vitriolic Histriomastix makes theatre a veritable machine of pandemonium fueled by mimetically inspired social emotions. 2 Pierre Nicole, the Jansenist, also charges theatre with undermining social order, but focuses his critique on actors' and playwrights' strategic and selective representation of the emotions, thereby taking issue with the links presented in plays between emotion and action. 3

Emotion, we have suggested, figures centrally in influential attempts to chart the reception of plays. Yet, if dramatic theorists are to be believed, this phenomenon should occupy a privileged site not only within reception studies, but within studies of performance as well. For example, Denis Diderot argued

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