Quaker View of Theatre

[This is taken from Thomas Clarkson's A Portraiture of Quakerism.]


The theatre—the theatre as well as music abused—plays respectable in their origin—but degenerated—Solon, Plato, and the ancient moralists against them—particularly immoral in England in the time of Charles the second—forbidden by George Fox—sentiments of Archbishop Tillotson—of William Law— English plays better than formerly, but still objectionable—prohibition of George Fox continued by the Quakers.


Section 1.

It is much to be lamented that customs, which originated in respectable motives, and which might have been made productive of innocent pleasure, should have been so perverted in time, that the continuation of them should be considered as a grievance by moral men. As we have seen this to be the case, in some measure, with respect to music, so it is the care with respect to plays.

Dramatic compositions appear to have had no reprehensible origin. It certainly was an object with the authors of some of the earliest plays to combine the entertainment with the moral improvement of the mind.  Tragedy was at first simply a monody to Bacchus. But the tragedy of the ancients, from which the modern is derived, did not arise in the world, till the dialogue and the chorus were introduced. Now the chorus, as every scholar knows, was a moral office. They who filled it, were loud in their recommendations of justice and temperance. They inculcated a religious observance of the laws. They implored punishment on the abandoned. They were strenuous in their discouragement of vice, and in the promotion of virtue. This office therefore, being coeval with tragedy itself, preserves it from the charge of an immoral origin.

Nor was comedy, which took its rise afterwards, the result of corrupt motives. In the most ancient comedies, we find it to have been the great object of the writers to attack vice. If a chief citizen had acted inconsistently with his character, he was ridiculed upon the stage. His very name was not concealed on the occasion. In the course of time however, the writers of dramatic pieces were forbidden to use the names of the persons, whom they proposed to censure. But we find them still adhering to the same great object, the exposure of vice; and they painted the vicious character frequently so well, that the person was soon discovered by the audience, though disguised by a fictitious name.  When new restrictions, were afterwards imposed upon the writers of such pieces, they produced a new species of comedy. This is that which obtains at the present day. It consisted of an imitation of the manners of common life. The subject, the names, and the characters, belonging to it, were now all of them feigned. Writers, however, retained their old object of laughing at folly and of exposing vice.

Thus it appears that the theatre, as far as tragedy was employed, inculcated frequently as good lessons of morality, as heathenism could produce, and as far as comedy was concerned, that it became often the next remedy, after the more grave and moral lectures of the ancient philosophers, against the prevailing excesses of the times.

But though the theatre professed to encourage virtue, and to censure vice, yet such a combination of injurious effects was interwoven with the representations there, arising either from the influence of fiction upon morals, or from the sight of the degradation of the rational character by buffoonery, or from the tendency of such representations to produce levity and dissipation, or from various other causes, that they, who were the greatest lovers of virtue in those days, and the most solicitous of improving the moral condition of man, began to consider them as productive of much more evil than of good. Solon forewarned Thespis, that the effects of such plays, as he saw him act, would become in time injurious to the morals of mankind, and he forbade him to act again. The Athenians, though such performances were afterwards allowed, would never permit any of their judges to compose a comedy. The Spartans under Lycurgus, who were the most virtuous of all the people of Greece, would not suffer either tragedies or comedies to be acted at all. Plato, as he had banished music, so he banished theatrical exhibitions from his pure republic. Seneca considered, that vice made insensible approaches by means of the stage, and that it stole on the people in the disguise of pleasure. The Romans, in their purer times, considered the stage to be so disgraceful, that every Roman was to be degraded, who became an actor, and so pernicious to morals, that they put it under the power of a censor, to control its effects.

But the stage, in the time of Charles the second, when the Quakers first appeared in the world, was in a worse state than even in the Grecian or Roman times. If there was ever a period in any country, when it was noted as the school of profligate and corrupt morals, it was in this reign. George Fox therefore, as a Christian reformer, could not be supposed to be behind the heathen philosophers, in a case where morality was concerned. Accordingly we find him protesting publicly against all such spectacles. In this protest, he was joined by Robert Barclay and William Penn, two of the greatest men of those times, who in their respective publications attacked them with great spirit. These publications showed the sentiments of the Quakers, as a religious body, upon this subject. It was understood that no Quaker could be present at amusements of this sort. And this idea was confirmed by the sentiments and advices of several of the most religious members, which were delivered on public occasions. By means of these publications and advices the subject was kept alive, till it became at length incorporated into the religious discipline of the Quakers. The theatre was then specifically forbidden; and an inquiry was annually to be made from thenceforward, whether any of the members of the society had been found violating the prohibition.

Since the time of Charles the second, when George Fox entered his protest against exhibitions of this sort, it must certainly be confessed, that an alteration has taken place for the better in the constitution of our plays, and that poison is not diffused into morals, by means of them, to an equal extent, as at that period. The mischief has been considerably circumscribed by legal inspection, and, it is to be hoped, by the improved civilization of the times. But it does not appear by any historical testimony we have, that a change has been made, which is at all proportioned to the quantity of moral light, which has been diffused among us since that reign. Archbishop Tillotson was of opinion, “that plays might be so framed, and they might be governed by such rules, as not only to be innocently diverting, but instructive and useful to put some follies and vices out of countenance, which could not perhaps be so decently reproved, nor so effectually exposed or corrected any other way.” And yet he confesses, that, “they were so full of profaneness, and that they instilled such bad principles into the mind, in his own day, that they ought not to have been tolerated in any civilized, and much less in a Christian nation.” William Law, an eminent divine of the establishment, who lived after Tillitson, declared in one of his publications on the subject of the stage, that “you could not then see a play in either house, but what abounded with thoughts, passages, and language contrary to the Christian religion.” From the time of William Law to the present about forty years have elapsed, and we do not see, if we consult the controversial writers on the subject, who live among us, that the theatre has become much less objectionable since those days. Indeed if the names only of our modern plays were to be collected and published, they would teach us to augur very unfavorably as to the morality of their contents. The Quakers therefore, as a religions body, have seen no reason, why they should differ in opinion from their ancestors on this subject: and hence the prohibition which began in former times with respect to the theatre, is continued by them at the present day.

 

Section 2.

Theatre forbidden by the Quakers on account of the manner of the drama—first, as it personates the character of others—secondly, as it professes to reform vice.


The Quakers have many reasons to give, why, as a society of Christians they cannot encourage the theatre, by being present at any of its exhibitions. I shall not detail all of them for the reader, but shall select such only, as I think most material to the point.

The first class of arguments comprehends such as relate, to what may be called the manner of the drama. The Quakers object to the manner of the drama, or to its fictitious nature, in consequence of which men personate characters, that are not their own. This personification they hold to be injurious to the man, who is compelled to practice it. Not that he will partake of the bad passions, which he personates, but that the trick and trade of representing what he does not feel, must make him at all times an actor; and his looks, and words, and actions, will be all sophisticated. And this evil will be likely to continue with him in the various changes of his life.

They hold it also to be contrary to the spirit of Christianity. For men who personate characters in this way, express joy and grief, when in reality there may be none of these feelings in their hearts. They express noble sentiments, when their whole lives may have been remarkable for their meanness, and go often afterwards and wallow in sensual delights. They personate the virtuous character to day, and perhaps to-morrow that of the rake, and, in the latter case, they utter his profligate sentiments, and speak his profane language. Now Christianity requires simplicity and truth. It allows no man to pretend to be what he is not. And it requires great circumspection of its followers with respect to what they may utter, because it makes every man accountable for his idle words.

The Quakers therefore are of opinion, that they cannot as men, either professing Christian tenets, or Christian love, encourage others to assume false characters, or to personate those which are not their own.

Rousseau condemns the stage upon the same principle. “It is, says he, the art of dissimulation—of assuming a foreign character, and of appearing differently from what a man really is—of flying into a passion without a cause, and of saying what he does not think, as naturally as if he really did—in a word of forgetting himself to personate others.”

Quakers object also to the manner of the drama, even where it professes to be a school for morals. For where it teaches morality, it inculcates rather the refined virtue of heathenism, than the strict, though mild discipline of the gospel. And where it attempts to extirpate vice, it does it rather by making it ridiculous, than by making men shun it for the love of virtue. It no where fixes the deep Christian principle, by which men are bound to avoid it as sin, but places the propriety of the dereliction of it rather upon the loss of reputation among the world, than upon any sense of religious duty.

 

Section 3.

Theatre forbidden an account of the internal contents of the drama—both of those of tragedy—and of comedy—these contents hold out false morals and prospects—and weaken the sinews of morality --observations of Lord Kaimes upon the subject.


The next class of arguments is taken from the internal contents of the drama.

The Quakers mean that dramatic compositions generally contain false sentiments, that is, such as Christianity would disapprove; that, of course they hold out false prospects; that they inculcate false morals; and that they have a tendency from these, and other of their internal contents, to promote dissipation, and to weaken the sinews of morality in those who see them represented upon the stage.

Tragedy is considered by the Quakers, as a part of the drama, where the hero is generally a warrior, and where a portion of human happiness is made to consist of martial glory. Hence it is considered as frequently inculcating proud and lofty sentiments, as cherishing a fierce and romantic spirit, as encouraging rival enmities, as holding of no importance the bond of love and union between man and man. Now as Christianity enjoins humility, peace, quietness, brotherly affection, and charity, which latter is not to be bounded by the limits of any country, the Quakers hold as a Christian body, that they cannot admit their children to spectacles, which have a tendency to engender a disposition opposite to these.

Comedy is considered as holding out prospects, and inculcating morals, equally false and hurtful. In such compositions, for example, a bad impression is not uniformly given of a bad character. Knavery frequently accomplishes its ends without the merited punishment. Indeed treachery and intrigue are often considered but as jocose occurrences. The laws of modern honor are frequently held out to the spectator, as laws that are to influence in life. Vulgar expressions, and even swearing are admitted upon the stage. Neither is chastity nor delicacy always consulted there.  Impure allusions are frequently interwoven into the dialogue, so that innocence cannot but often blush. Incidents not very favorable to morals, are sometimes introduced. New dissipated characters are produced to view, by the knowledge of which, the novice in dissipation is not diverted from his new and baneful career, but finds only his scope of dissipation enlarged, and a wider field to range in. To these hurtful views of things, as arising from the internal structure, are to be added those, which arise from the extravagant love-tales, the ridiculous intrigues, and the silly buffoonery of the compositions of the stage.

Now it is impossible, the Quakers contend, that these ingredients, which are the component parts of comic amusements, should not have an injurious influence upon the mind that is young and tender and susceptible of impressions. If the blush which first started upon the cheek of a young person on the first hearing of an indecorous or profane sentiment, and continued for some time to be excited at repetitions of the same, should at length be so effectually laid asleep, that the impudent language of ribaldry can awaken it no more, it is clear, that a victory will have been gained over his moral feelings: and if he should remember (and what is to hinder him, when the occurrences of the stage are marked with strong action, and accompanied with impressive scenery) the language, the sentiments, the incidents, the prospects, which dramatic pieces have brought before him, he may combine these, as they rise to memory, with his own feelings, and incorporate them imperceptibly into the habits and manners of his own life. Thus, if vice be not represented as odious, he may lose his love of virtue. If buffoonery should be made to please him, he may lose the dignity of his mind. Love-tales may produce in him a romantic imagination. Low characters may teach him low cunning. If the laws of honor strike him as the laws of refined life, he may become a fashionable moralist. If modes of dissipation strike him us modes of pleasure in the estimation of the world, he may abandon himself to these, and become a rake. Thus may such representations, in a variety of ways, act upon the moral principle, and make an innovation there, detrimental to his moral character.

Lord Kaimes, in his elements of criticism, has the following observations.

“The licentious court of Charles the second, among its many disorders, engendered a pest, the virulence of which subsists to this day. The English comedy, copying the manners of the court, became abominably licentious; and continues so with very little softening. It is there an established rule to deck out the chief characters with every vice in fashion however gross; but as such characters, if viewed in a true light, would be disgustful, care is taken to disguise their deformity under the embellishments of wit, sprightliness and good humor, which, in mixed company makes a capital figure. It requires not much thought to discover the poisonous influence of such plays. A young man of figure, emancipated at last from the severity and restraint of a college education, repairs to the capital disposed to every sort of excess. The play-house becomes his favorite amusement, and he is enchanted with the gaiety and splendor of the chief personages. The disgust which vice gives him at first, soon wears off to make way for new notions, more liberal in his opinion, by which a sovereign contempt of religion, and a declared war upon the chastity of wives, maids and widows, are converted from being infamous vices to be fashionable virtues. The infection spreads gradually through all ranks and becomes universal. How gladly would I listen to any one, who should undertake to prove, that what I have been describing is chimerical! But the dissoluteness of our young men of birth will not suffer me to doubt its reality. Sir Harry Wildair has completed many a rake; and in the suspicious husband, Ranger, the humble imitator of Sir Harry, has had no slight influence in spreading that character. What woman, tinctured with the play-house morals, would not be the sprightly, the witty, though dissolute Lady Townley, rather than the cold, the sober, though virtuous Lady Grace? How odious ought writers to be who thus employ the talents they have from their maker most traitorously against himself, by endeavoring to corrupt and disfigure his creatures! If the comedies of Congreve did not rack him with remorse in his last moments, he must have been lost to all sense of virtue.”

 

Section 4.

The theatre forbidden—because injurious to the happiness of man by disqualifying him for the pleasures of religion—this effect arises from its tendency to accustom individuals to light thoughts—to injure their moral feelings—to occasion an extraordinary excitement of the mind—and from the very nature of the enjoyments which it produces.


As the Quakers consider the theatre to have an injurious effect on the morality of man, so they consider it to have an injurious effect on his happiness. They believe that amusements of this sort, but particularly the comic, unfit the mind for the practical performance of the Christian duties, and that as the most pure and substantial happiness, that man can experience, is derived from a fulfillment of these, so they deprive him of the highest enjoyment of which his nature is capable, that is, of the pleasures of religion.

If a man were asked, on entering the door of the theatre, if he went there to learn the moral duties, he would laugh at the absurdity of the question; and if he would consent to give a fair and direct answer, he would either reply, that he went there for amusement, or to dissipate gloom, or to be made merry. Some one of these expressions would probably characterize his errand there. Now this answer would comprise the effect, which the Quakers attach to the comic performances of the stage.  They consider them as drawing the mind from serious reflection, and disposing it to levity. But they believe that a mind, gradually accustomed to light thoughts, and placing its best gratification in light objects, must be disqualified in time for the gravity of religious exercise, and be thus hindered from partaking of the pleasures which such an exercise must produce.

They are of opinion also, that such exhibitions, having, as was lately mentioned, a tendency to weaken the moral character, must have a similarly injurious effect. For what innovations can be made on the human heart, so as to seduce it from innocence, that will not successively wean it both from the love and the enjoyment of the Christian virtues?

The Quakers also believe, that dramatic exhibitions have a power of vast excitement of the mind. If they have no such power, they are insipid. If they have, they are injurious. A person is all the evening at a play in an excited state. He goes home, and goes to bed with his imagination heated, and his passions roused. The next morning he rises. He remembers what he has seen and heard, the scenery, the language, the sentiments, the action. He continues in the same excited state for the remainder of the day. The extravagant passions of distracted lovers, the wanton addresses of actors, are still fresh upon his mind. Now it is contended by the Quakers, that a person in such an excited state, but particularly if the excitement pleases, must be in a very unfavorable state for the reception of the pure principle, or for the promotion of the practical duties of religion. It is supposed that if any religious book, or if any part of the sacred writings, were handed to him in these moments, he would be incapable of enjoying them; and of course, that religious retirement, which implies an abstraction from the things of the world, would be impracticable at such a season.

The Quakers believe also, that the exhibitions of the drama must, from their own nature, without any other consideration, disqualify for the pleasures of religion. It was a frequent saying of George Fox, taken from the apostle Peter, that those who indulged in such pleasures were dead, while they were alive; that is, they were active in their bodies; they ran about briskly after their business or their pleasures; they showed the life of their bodily powers; but they were extinct as to spiritual feeling. By this he meant that the pleasures of the theatre, and others of a similar nature, were in direct opposition to the pleasures of religion. The former were from the world worldly. They were invented according to the dispositions and appetites of men. But the latter were from the spirit spiritual. Hence there was no greater difference between life and death, than between these pleasures. Hence the human mind was made incapable of receiving both at the same time; and hence the deeper it were to get into the enjoyment of the former, the less qualified it must become of course for the enjoyment of the latter.

 

Section 5.

Theatre forbidden—because injurious to the happiness of man by disqualifying him for domestic enjoyments—Quakers value these next to the pleasures of religion—sentiments of Cowper—theatre has this tendency, by weaning gradually from a love of home—and has it in a greater degree than any other of the amusements of the world. 


The Quakers, ever since the institution of their society, have abandoned the diversions of the world. They have obtained their pleasures from other quarters. Some of these they have found in one species of enjoyment, and others in another. But those, which they particularly prize, they have found in the enjoyment of domestic happiness; and these pleasures they value next to the pleasures of religion.

“Domestic happiness, thou only bliss
Of Paradise, that has survived the fall!
Thou art the nurse of virtue—In thine arms
She smiles, appearing, as in truth she is,
Heav’n-born, and destin’d to the skies again. 
Thou art not known, where pleasure is ador’d,
That reeling goddess, with a zoneless waist
And wandering eyes, still leaning on the arm
Of Novelty, her fickle, frail support;
For thou art meek and constant, hating change,
And finding, in the calm of truth-tried love,
Joys, that her stormy raptures never yield. 
Forsaking thee, what shipwreck have we made
Of honor, dignity, and fair renown!”
-- Cowper

But if the Quakers have been accustomed to place one of the sources of their pleasures in domestic happiness, they may be supposed to be jealous of every thing that appears to them to be likely to interrupt it. But they consider dramatic exhibitions, as having this tendency.  These exhibitions, under the influence of plot, dialogue, dress, music, action, and scenery, particularly fascinate. They excite the person, who has once seen them, to desire them again. But in proportion as this desire is gratified, or in proportion as people leave their homes for the amusements of the stage, they lose their relish, and weaken their powers, of the enjoyment of domestic society: that is, the Quakers mean to say, that domestic enjoyments, and those of the theatre, may become, in time, incompatible in the same persons; and that the theatre ought, therefore, to be particularly avoided, as an enemy, that may steal them, and rob them of those pleasures, which experience has taught them to value, as I have observed before, next to the pleasures of religion.

They are of opinion also, that dramatic exhibitions not only tend, of themselves, to make home less agreeable, but that they excite a craving for stimulants, and, above all, teach a dependence upon external objects for amusement. Hence the attention of people is taken off again to new objects of pleasure, which lie out of their own families, and out of the circle of their friends.

It will not take much time to show, that the Quakers have not been mistaken in this point. It is not unusual in fashionable circles, where the theatre is regularly brought into the rounds of pleasure, for the father and the mother of a family to go to a play once, or occasionally twice, a week. But it seldom happens, that they either go to the same theatre, or that they sit together. Their children are at this time left at home, under, what is considered to be, proper care, but they are probably never seen again by them till the next noon; and perhaps once afterwards in the same day, when it is more than an even chance, that they must be again left for the gratification of some new pleasure. Now this separation of fathers from mothers, and of parents from children, does not augur well of domestic enjoyments or of a love of home.

But we will trace the conduct of the parents still farther. We will get into their company at their own houses; and here we shall very soon discover, how wearisome they consider every hour, that is spent in the bosom of their families, when deprived of their accustomed amusements; and with what anxiety they count the time, when they are to be restored to their favorite rounds of pleasure. We shall find no difficulty in judging also from their conversation, the measure of their thought or their solicitude about their children. A new play is sure to claim the earliest attention or discussion. The capital style, in which an actor performed his part on a certain night, furnishes conversation for an hour. Observations on a new actress perhaps follow. Such subjects appear more interesting to such persons, than the innocent conversation, or playful pranks, of their children. If the latter are noisy, they are often sent out of the room as troublesome, though the same parents can bear the stunning plaudits, or the discordant groans and hissings of the audience at the theatre. In the mean time their children grow up, and in their turn, are introduced by their parents to these amusements, as to places, proper for the dissipation of vacant hours; till, by frequent attendances, they themselves lose an affection for home and the domestic duties, and have in time as little regard for their parents, as their parents appear to have had for them. Marrying at length, not for the enjoyment of domestic society, they and their children perpetuate the same rounds of pleasure, and the same sentiments and notions.

To these instances many indeed might be added, by looking into the family-histories of those, who are in the habit of frequenting theatres in search of pleasure, by which it would appear, that such amusements are not friendly to the cherishing of the domestic duties and affections, but that, on the other hand, in proportion as they are followed, they tend to sap the enjoyments of domestic life. And here it may be observed, that of all the amusements, which go to the making up of the round of pleasures, the theatre has the greatest share in diverting from the pleasures of home. For it particularly attracts and fascinates, both from the nature, and the diversity, of the amusements it contains. It is also always open, in the season, for resort. So that if private invitations to pleasure should not come in sufficiently numerous, or should be broken off by the indisposition of the parties, who give them, the theatre is always ready to supply any vacancy, that may be occasioned in the round.

 

Section 6.

Quakers conceive they can sanction no amusements, but such as could have originated in Christian minds—exhibitions of the drama could have had, they believe, no such origin—early Christians abandoned them in their conversion—arguments of the latter on this subject, as taken from Tertullian, Minucius Felix, Cyprian, Lactantius and others. 


The Quakers conceive, as a Christian society, that they ought to have nothing to do with any amusements, but such as Christians could have invented themselves, or such as Christians could have sanctioned, by becoming partakers of them. But they believe that dramatic exhibitions are of such a nature as men of a Christian spirit could never have invented or encouraged, and that, if the world were to begin again, and were to be peopled by pure Christians, these exhibitions could never be called into existence there.

This inference, the Quakers judge to be deducible from the nature of a Christian mind. A man, who is in the habit, at his leisure hours, of looking into the vast and stupendous works of creation, of contemplating the wisdom, goodness, and power of the creator, of trying to fathom the great and magnificent plans of his providence, who is in the habit of surveying all mankind with the philosophy of revealed religion, of tracing, through the same unerring channel, the uses and objects of their existence, the design of their different ranks and situations, the nature of their relative duties and the like, could never, in the opinion of the Quakers, have either any enjoyment, or be concerned in the invention, of dramatic exhibitions. To a mind, in the habit of taking such an elevated flight, it is supposed that every thing on the stage must look little, and childish, and out of place. How could a person of such a mind be delighted with the musical note of a fiddler, the attitude of a dancer, the impassioned grimace of an actor? How could the intrigue, or the love-sick tale of the composition please him? or how could he have imagined, that these could be the component parts of a Christian's joys?

But this inference is considered by the Quakers to be confirmed by the practice of the early Christians. These generally had been Pagans. They had of course Pagan dispositions. They followed Pagan amusements, and, among these, the exhibitions of the stage. But soon after their conversion, that is, when they had received new minds, and when they had exercised these on new and sublime subjects, or, on subjects similar to those described, or, in other words, when they had received the regenerated spirit of Christians, they left the amusements of the stage, notwithstanding that, by this act of singularity in a sensual age, they were likely to bring upon themselves the odium and the reproaches of the world.

But when the early Christians abandoned the theatre, they abandoned it, as the Quakers contend, not because, leaving Paganism they were to relinquish all customs that were Pagan, but because they saw in their new religion, or because they saw in this newness of their minds, reasons, which held out such amusements to be inadmissible, while they considered themselves in the light of Christians. These reasons are sufficiently displayed by the writers of the second, third, and fourth centuries; and as they are alluded to by the Quakers, though never quoted, I shall give them to the reader. He will judge by these, how far the ancient coincide with the modern Christians upon this subject; and how for these arguments of antiquity are applicable to modern times.

The early Christians, according to Tertullian, Menucius Felix, Cyprian, Lactantius, and others, believed, that the “motives for going to these amusements were not of the purest sort. People went to them without any view of the improvement of their minds. The motive was either to see or to be seen.”

They considered the manner of the drama as objectionable. They believed “that he who was the author of truth, could never approve of that which was false, and that he, who condemned hypocrisy, could never approve of him, who personated the character of others; and that those therefore, who pretended to be in love, or to be angry, or to grieve, when none of those passions existed in their minds, were guilty of a kind of adultery in the eyes of the Supreme Being.”

They considered their contents to be noxious. They “looked upon them as consistories of immorality. They affirmed that things were spoken there which it did not become Christians to hear, and that things were shown there, which it did not become Christians to see; and that, while these things polluted those from whom they come, they polluted those in time, in whose sight and hearing they were shown or spoken.”

They believed also, “that these things not only polluted the spectators, but that the representations of certain characters upon the stage pointed out to them the various roads to vice, and inclined them to become the persons, whom they had seen represented, or to be actors in reality of what they had seen feigned upon the stage.”

They believed again, “that dramatic exhibitions produced a frame of mind contrary to that, which should exist in a Christian's breast; that there was nothing to be seen upon the stage, that could lead or encourage him to devotion; but, on the other hand, that the noise and fury of the play-house, and the representations there, produced a state of excitement, that disturbed the internal man. Whereas the spirit of a Christian ought to be calm, and quiet, and composed, to fit it for the duties of religion.”

They believed also, “that such promiscuous assemblages of men and women were not favorable to virtue; for that the sparks of the passions were there blown into a flame.”

Tertullian, from whom some of the above opinions are taken, gives an invitation to those who were fond of public spectacles, in nearly the following terms.

Are you fond, says he, of the scenic doctrine, or of theatrical sights and compositions? We have plenty of books for you to read. We can give you works in prose and in verse. We can give you apothegms and hymns. We cannot to be sure, give you fictitious plots or fables, but we can give you truths. We cannot give you strophes, or the winding dances of the chorus, but we can give you simplicities, or plain and straightforward paths. Are you fond of seeing contests or trials for victory? You shall see these also, and such as are not trivial, but important. You may see, in our Christian example, chastity overcoming immodesty. You may see faithfulness giving a death-wound to perfidy. You may see mercy getting the better of cruelty. You may see modesty and delicacy of sentiment overcoming impurity and impudence. These are the contests in which it becomes us Christians to be concerned, and where we ought to endeavor to receive the prize.


 



 

 

Original text by Thomas Clarkson, edited and revised by William Mackis - this text © 2005.  Please note: all applicable material on this website is protected by law and may not be copied without express written permission. 


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Quaker View of Theatre