Bertolt Brecht and Aristotle: Epic vs Dramatic

My last post was all about Arturo Ui, and my review of the play. Looking back I realized I still had a ton of notes on a discussion we had in class about Bertolt Brecht and Aristotle and how they are really quite different, so I figured this would be a good time to put it all up!

If you read my review then you’d have a brief introduction as to who Bertolt Brecht was (if you haven’t read the review, read it!)

Bertolt Brect and Aristotle had two very different views on theater, and after a ton of research and notes I’ve written a (not so small) piece on what I understand these two views to be:

Epic Theatre is a theatre movement in mid-20th century that is greatly linked to German playwright Bertolt Brecht who called it his modern theatre; it’s also known as Brechtian acting.

Bertolt Brecht

The goals of Epic Theatre are what make it so different. The main purpose of the play is to only present ideas and not to imitate reality. It encourages the audience to think and then make judgments and act. It clearly shows the audience an argument with its different viewpoints. Due to the fact that the audience is only an observer, he remains at an emotional distance from the action thus always aware that it is watching a play. It’s an enacting of reality and not reality itself. It should be able to change the human being because if the audience can be critical about what’s happening, it’ll be able to know its causes and effects and will be able to change it in their own real lives. Brecht deliberately used unrealistic techniques in set design, light and visuals to always remind the audience that this is not even close to reality and that they are watching a play. Brecht wanted actors to make a balance between “being” their characters and showing the audience that the character is “being played”. The actor must always remember that he is an actor and that he is only portraying the feelings and emotions of his character. Epic actors are only narrators and tools of representation. They narrate the events and do its actions only to make the audience understand the situation.  Brecht wanted to create productions that are entertaining and that provokes people to think and learn. An epic play consists of scenes that exist by its own and doesn’t connect to the scene before or after it.

 

Aristotle 

Dramatic (Aristotelian) Theatre on the other hand is not the opposite of epic theatre but has different goals and techniques. Dramatic theater treats its audience as passive and can not be reached except through their emotions. The dramatic stage fully embodies the plot/event. It fully involves the audience by putting them into the action thus endangering emotion in him. For example in The Skin of our Teeth, the audience are asked to get chairs from the auditorium to ‘save the human race’ by burning them to keep themselves warm. It makes the audience very involved in the play and what’s happening to the extent that it doesn’t give them a chance to look at the play from a distance and reflect. Scenes are linked to each other; in The Skin of our Teeth, scenes lead to each other. It presents you with the world as it is so the audience leaves the theatre believing that life is unchangeable and inevitable. Dramatic theatre allows the audience to see a representation of reality encouraging us to accept it without thinking so that’s why it gives you a sense of inevitability and fate. The audience identifies with the characters through terror and pity. Dramatic theatre’s illusion of representing the present event doesn’t encourage the audience’s reflection on what’s happening and on the themes presented.
According to Aristotle, to achieve unity of action and maintain its illusion, the dramatic play must consist of scenes that are linked to each other and that lead to each other leading to a climax of catharsis (evocation of intense fear and pity).

Brecht believed that theatre should not play with the audience’s feelings but should appeal and influence his reason/mind. It should encourage the audience to have a more critical attitude to what’s happening on stage. He wanted to reach ultimate objectivity from the audience’s side instead of identifying with the characters. This way the audience will learn the real truth about their society and world.

Brecht refuses to assume that the audience could only be reached through their emotion but through their minds so he doesn’t want the audience to relate to the characters and become emotionally involved with them (breaking empathy for characters) at all but make them think about their own life and this is where change will come. He did present feelings but he did that from a standpoint critical to the feeling.

Feelings and identifying with the characters affect the audience’s objectivity and reasoning. Brecht believes that the Aristotelian thought on feelings (The audience feels exactly what the character on stage feels) wears out the audience. Feelings alone are not enough for transformation and change; thought and reason are the keys.

Some extra notes and my reflections:

-For Aristotle–> drama=representational–> what ‘Poetics’ aimed to target

-Impact of drama has to be ‘cathartic’–> you go to watch performances in order to “purgate” your emotions

-Greek theater–> wanted to invoke Gods, and these Gods would enter on stage–> demons would enter from other places (related to Indian folk theater)

-Brecht–> politically charged, known for his plays, poetry and fiction

-Brecht-> big believer in art being closely linked to society and his work has given a new direction into art and society

-Brecht countered much much of what Aristotle said, and Brecht believed in the Marxist idea of changing society (base, structure and superstructure) and especially focused on superstructure

-Brecht counters Aristotle’s idea of theater and questions the idea of the “natural”–> Brecht see’s life as never being natural, and believes ideas to be constructed by society (beginning, middle and end given by society, not God)–> drama considered to come from social constructs

-Brecht believed there was no set beginning, middle and end because life is EPISODIC

Exposition–> Brecht said it was Episodic, as life occurred in Episodes—> Aristotle believed in an ‘Act’ structure

-Brecht strengthened Marxist ideas and weakened Aristotle’s ideas

-According to Brecht- what is important is not to imitate life but what are the forces that create life? who created that human pattern? what has made human patterns the way they are? Doesn’t want to imitate feelings and characters but imitation of thinking processes is needed=called empathy–> Aristotle believed the opposite

-Stanislavsky- Russian director who proposed the idea of sympathy and was very important in character building

-There is a need to look at life through empathy rather than sympathy= Brecht

-Brecht didn’t want the audience to feel cathartic effects–> doesn’t want the audience to only focus on emotion

-Brecht wants to create characters and scenes that cause “defamiliarization” and estrangement in the audience–> he wants to separate the audience and the play

-During Brecht’s plays–> the audience at some point acts as a 3rd person

-During Aristotle’s plays–> plays engaged the audience as if audience were characters

-Brecht was the audience to detach and think and then feel, not only feel, therefore Brecht creates thoughtful, analytical and creative engagement with the audience

Want to know more? Visit the links below!

http://faculty-staff.ou.edu/L/A-Robert.R.Lauer-1/Brecht.html

http://nebo-lit.com/drama/illusion-and-alienation-drama.html

Folk theater in Colonial India: My First Assignment!

Hey guys! So it’s been a while since I last posted, far too long I know, but I cannot convey the pile of work I’ve been buried under. Blame the hectic class scheduling of college plus all those pesky assignments!

Anyway, I thought I’d start off by posting an assignment I wrote for the course; it pretty much focuses on folk theater during the colonial times, and what exactly happened to folk theater once the British came. It was a topic I was quite interested in, ever since we covered it in class, so it was great to be able to do some additional research for myself!

It is rather long, as most Literary and Cultural studies based papers are, but I’ve included my bibliography page so feel free to skip to that part if you just want some general information and don’t really feel like reading the entire paper.

Folk Theatre and Colonial India

India is known for its long and rich tradition in theatre, dating back at least 5000 years (Dharwadker 35). Over the years, scholars have established that the origin of Indian theatre is closely connected to the ancient rituals and seasonal festivities of the country (Dharwadker, 35).The Natya Shastra, believed to have written by Bharata (2000 BC to 4th Century AD) is perhaps the earliest and most elaborate text on dramaturgy written in the world, and gives a “divine origin” to Indian theatre, attributing it to the ‘Natyaveda’ or the holy book of dramaturgy constructed by Lord Brahma (Dharwadker, 36).

Theatre in India started as a narrative form, with recitation, singing and dancing becoming key elements of theatre (Mukherjee, 10).This focus on “narrative aspects” made Indian theatre, “theatrical” from the very beginning; this is why the theatre in India has included all the other forms of literature and fine arts into its “physical presentation”: literature, mime, music, dance, movement, painting, sculpture and architecture- all are combined into one and called ‘Natya’ or Theatre in English (Mukherjee, 11). Over time, Indian theatre became divided into three unique kinds; the Classical, or Sanskrit theatre, the Traditional or folk theatre and the Modern theatre seen during colonial times (Dharwadker, 36). It was during these colonial times that folk theatre, so popular with the masses, began dying out, forgotten and replaced by modern theatre practices (Dharwadker, 36). While Sanskrit theatre continued to receive some recognition, folk theatre was shunted and many playwrights began drawing from modern theatre to write their plays (Mukherjee, 11).

Before exploring how this occurred, and the various changes that proceeded as a result, it is important to understand what folk theatre is.

Following Sanskrit theatre was folk theatre which was primarily based on oral traditions. This form of theatre was first seen around 1000AD and its emergence was primarily linked with the change of political set up in India, along with the formation of different regional languages in all parts of the country (Mukherjee, 13).While the classical theatre, based on the ‘Natya Shastra’ was much more sophisticated in its form and nature, and entirely “urban-oriented”, traditional theatre evolved out of rural roots and was more “simple, immediate and closer” to the rural population (Mukherjee, 13). Indian folk theatre was further divided into two broad categories; religious and secular; these two categories then gave rise to the ‘Ritual Theatre’ and ‘Theatre of Entertainment’ (Mukherjee, 14). These two forms thrived together, and tend to be narrative or vocal-this means they are singing or recitation based, like Rasleela, Bhand, Nautanki and Wang (Mukherjee, 15). India is also rich in ‘ballad singing traditions’ like Pabuki-ki-phar of Rajastan and the Nuipaalaa of Manipur (Mukherjee, 15). These forms share differences in style, staging, and execution, amongst other aspects, and reflect the individuality of the state they belong to (Mukherjee, 16). There are south Indian forms like Kathakali and Krishnattam, as well as North Indian forms, for example, Nautanki of Uttar Pradesh, Tamasha of Maharashtra and the Jatra of Bengal (Dharwadker, 37).

Modern theatre was very different to folk theatre, even though it did draw partly from folk and classical influences.

During the mid-nineteenth century, the Europeans were discovering ancient Indian culture, while Indian elites were discovering modern European culture (Richmond, 319).This encounter gave rise to the new theatrical genre called the modern Indian theatre (Richmond, 319).The “designation”, modern Indian theatre, refers to a new genre that developed between the late-eighteenth and the mid-nineteenth centuries (Richmond, 319).

Shaped by the imperatives of empire, nationalism, and nativism, this was a “metropolitan genre” created by a bilingual high-caste bourgeoisie, who strategically adapted elements from a gallery of models that included the Sanskrit theatre, traditional theatre, and European theatre (Richmond 321). Ironically, it was only after the Orientalists had first “championed” Sanskrit literature and translated it into European languages that these Westernized Indian elites had turned to Sanskrit drama and revalued it as classical, as a part of their “nationalist aspirations” (Richmond, 321).

The modern Indian theatre began as renewed “cultural consumption” for the upper crust but developed into broad-based entertainment for large audiences in cities across the country and thus manifested itself in several different languages (Richmond, 321). Irrespective of its language, however, this theatre sought to project both modernity and “Indianness” in its style and subject matter (Richmond, 322).

It constituted a fundamental component of the Indian audience’s “grand nationalist enterprise to invent an identity that was modern but with roots in an ancient past” (Banerji, 559). Like the authors of the ancient Hindu epics noted earlier, “they were also trying to imagine, narrate and perform a nation into existence” (Banerji, 560). As a result of this origin the modern Indian theatre enjoyed great prestige among the cultural elites (Banerji, 562).Europeans keen to investigate India’s ancient past inevitably relied on Brahman priests and scholars who were by tradition the “sole preservers, transmitters, and guardians” of Sanskrit texts, whether religious or secular (Banerji, 563). The Brahmans’ pride in Sanskrit culture and belief in its superiority over all other Indian traditions coloured the early Indologists interpretations (Richmond, 322).

Many of the Indian Theatre historians have treated Sanskrit drama as synonymous with Indian Theatre, and ended up devaluing the existence and influence of traditional folk theatre which had been a hallmark of Indian theatre (Richmond, 323). Much of the Western research and criticism privileged Sanskrit literature over the “post classical vernacular traditions” and “gave drama a preeminent position among Sanskrit genres, making Indian theatre virtually synonymous with the poetically exquisite national theatre of the Hindus”- there was almost no emphasis on drama’s written in regional languages or the folk performances of different states (Richmond, 325). It was only in the later twentieth century that Sanskrit drama ceased to be the primary focus of Indian theatre studies in the West, and the interest among anthropologists, dramatists, historians and scholars shifted to genres of “pre modern” and “non modern performance” like Raslila, Ramlila, and other folk styles (Banerji, 564).

Modern theatre led to many changes in the theatre of that time. Theatre in India under British rule gained a “global contour” (Richmond, 325). Gone were the days of eposes, epics and “Loknatya” – theatre in India under British rule for the very first time geared up fully towards a systematic and natural presentation (Dharwadker,42). India, as a colony of the European empire used theatre to illustrate the likings and disliking’s of the “British raj” (Dharwadker, 44). The stylistic approach of theatre in India under British rule changed quite drastically and the presentation started focusing mainly on the day to day life and common people (Richmond, 327).

Theatre in India under British rule therefore became a structured way of manifesting the daily life (Richmond, 337).It was no more laced with the heroic deeds of the celestial figures; it was no more woven around powerful gods and mythological heroes-rather it became the portrayal of the life and style of common man; “an illustration of sufferings of the poor and the graphic presentation of the unedited realities of life” (Mukherjee, 17).

Theatre in India under British rule thus slowly became a logical expression of democratic ideas, beliefs and mores (Banerjee, 198). Theatre groups were formed during this time and theatre was then clearly divided into two distinct categories like the urban theatre and the rural theatre (Banerjee, 199).Although folk theatre was also there yet the colossal demand of altering the social, economic as well as the political set up of India was so prominent that the brilliance of the folk theatre was lost and somewhat faded away (Banerjee, 200).

The two most important changes in theatre involved the separation of the audience from the stage by the proscenium, underscoring the fact that what was being presented was a spectacle free of any ritualistic associations and which expected no direct participation by the audience in it (Mee, 4).  The other was the idea of pure entertainment in terms of immediate financial returns from the play through the ticket system (Mee, 6).

While theatre became much more realistic and perhaps even more relatable during British times, many criticized it for departing from folk theatre practices (Nag, 7). Some of the major criticism is directed to towards three major “formations” or developments of the 1850-1950 modern theatre period: the establishment of commercial “proscenium theatres”, especially in the colonial metropolises of Calcutta and Bombay; the emergence of Parsi theatre as a popular national institution, through both resident urban and touring companies; and the radical politicization of theatre in the decade of Independence by the Indian People’s Theatre Association (Nag, 8). The novelist Mulk Raj Anand, along with the actor Balraj Sahni and the writer-critic Prabhakar Machwe, argue that “the colonial and late colonial theatre institutions are no longer usable” and anticipate a future of theatre radically unrelated to the culturally rich theatre in its pre-colonial past (Nag, 10).

The heavy attack on colonial theatre forms stem mainly from the perception that they were “imperialist impositions”, destructive of the indigenous aesthetic and performance traditions that had prevailed for more than a millennium (Mee, 6). Nothing portrays this process of displacement more powerfully than the conventions of “Western naturalism” and their “spatial embodiment” the urban proscenium stage (Nag, 12). “The most important problem of the modern era in theatre” Anand comments, “is the basic contradiction between the symbolism of the Indian heritage in drama, with its poetic realism, and the naturalism of the Western theatre, which percolated into India devoid of its own organic sensibility, poetry and mechanical perfection” (Nag, 12).

The arguments for the rejection of naturalism therefore become multiple and interrelated (Nag, 13). From the mid-nineteenth century onward, urban proscenium theatres created fixed and enclosed theatre spaces, which was quite different to the mobile, open air performance venues of Indian traditional and folk theatre (Nag, 13). The system of commercial ticket sales made theatre “subservient” to popular taste and destroyed older systems of patronage involving religious or landed elites and their institutions (Mee, 5). The naturalistic conventions of the prosceniums stage were fundamentally opposed “to the pervasive antirealism of indigenous forms” (classical, traditional, folk and popular) and imposed an “alien aesthetic” on the urban audience (Mee, 5). Anand goes onto dismiss naturalism as “thoughtless” borrowing from the West, while H.V Gupte argues interestingly that modern Indian drama developed haphazardly because of its distance from traditional Indian aesthetics (Nag, 13).Further, the strict separation of performers from spectators destroyed the actor-audience unity that precolonial theatre had emphasized through the figure of the sutradhar a character who manages the various “strands” of a performance, mediates actively between play, actor and spectator and addresses the audience directly (Nag, 15). Locating the theatres in the cities also created a division between urban and rural audiences that contradicted the social connections within a predominantly agrarian culture (Nag, 17). In discussing the relation between traditional and new drama, Balaraj Sahni describes the wedge between town and country as an “imperialist move on the part of the colonial government, calculated to disempower rural populations and devalue their aesthetic forms” (Nag, 17).

Tracing the development of modern Urdu drama, M. Mujeeb sums up the view of modernity and modernization as “extrinsic processes forced on a passive culture”- “Europeanisation had the support of political authority, of economic power, of scientific achievement. The result of its conflict with Indian tradition was not a synthesis of ideas and beliefs, not an organic change, but forced compromise, tacit acceptance of facts” (Hollander, 189).

The attack on Parsi theatre arose from the belief, widely held in the 1950’s, that commercialism and the profit motive are fundamentally incompatible with the art of theatre (Hollander, 189). The Parsi stage was an elaborate, highly profitable private enterprise “based on historically new relations between theatre, popular culture and the sociology and demographics of the colonial city” (Hollander, 190).Kathryn Hansen notes that between 1853 and 1931 “Bombay developed a lively theatrical culture grounded in the overlapping practices of the Parsi, Gujarati and Marathi theatres”; these theatres “participated in a commercial entertainment economy characterized by corporate ownership of theatrical companies, which arose in tandem with the city’s rapid population, growth and prosperity” (Hollander, 192). At the same time, many believe that Parsi theatre impeded the association between literary drama and the popular stage in two ways; firstly, the association of drama with the “performance of theatrical companies” was a deterrent to serious playwriting and production, even when the value of the drama “had been realised by the educator and the reformer” (Hollander, 193).Secondly, serious colonial era dramatists such as Bharatendu Harishchandra, Rabindranath Tagore and Jaishankar Prasad became largely ‘closet playwrights’ because of their distaste for commercial theatre (Hollander, 193).

Many dramatists and writers including Shombhu Mitra, Dina Gandhi and Mulk Raj Anand believe that organizations like the IPTA brought playwrights out of the “ivory tower” and gave drama a “populist base” by reviving some forms of folk drama during the colonial times, but he argues, like Kamaladevi that the quality of their productions remained “amateurish” and the pressures of party loyalty and propaganda “reduced Art to a handmaid of politics” (Dharwadker, 67). Anand describes the Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA) as an organization incapable of dealing seriously with traditional Indian theatre and folk theatre and further goes onto say that the organization might have actually diminished the already dwindling audience for folk theatre (Dharwadker, 68).

Modern theatre swept through the nation, and even after India had moved on from the colonial period, this form of theatre continued to dominate over classical and folk theatre (Dharwadker, 69). However, there were some playwrights who decided to incorporate the folk forms actively into their own plays, as they believed that the rural folk theatre was still extremely important; three well known figures who experimented with folk forms at that time are Vijay Tendulkar, Girish Karnad and Badal Sircar (Dharwadker, 71).

These playwrights along with a number of playwrights such as Kavalam Narayana Panikkar and Habib Tanvir, felt the need to develop a theatre that did not follow British models, but was in some way Indian (Mukherjee, 23).They were members of what is often referred to as the “Theatre of Roots” movement, and began to study Kathakali, Yakshagana, Chhau, and other traditional Indian performance forms to see what could be used in the creation of a modern Indian drama (Mukherjee, 24). As Karnad very clearly states, however, the attempt “was not to find and reuse forms that had worked successfully in some other cultural context” (Mukherjee, 27).The hope, rather, was “to discover whether there was a structure of expectations and conventions about entertainment underlying these forms from which one could learn” (Mukherjee, 28).

Tendulkar’s Marathi play ‘Sari Ga Sari’ was first produced in Bombay in 1964 (Hollander, 201).In writing the play, Tendulkar utilized the Tamasha form and its characteristic language patterns (Hollander, 205).The play contained the conventional gan, gaulan and povadd but characters such as Mukunda were given satirical treatment and references to contemporary urban life filled the dialogues (Hollander, 207).Tendulkar was particularly interested in capturing the feeling of spontaneity of Tamasha, and he discovered that the urban actors he used lacked the informality and improvisational skills of traditional actors (Hollander, 208). This problem highlighted for him one of the major differences between urban and rural theatre: the urban play depends upon the playwright, while in folk theatre, the actor is all-important (Hollander, 209).

Girish Karnad’s play ‘Hayavadana’, written originally in Kannada in the early 1970’s; based on the tale of transposed heads from the Kathdsaritsagarai, Hayavadana is a symbolic drama employing several conventions of Yakshagana, such as the half-curtain which is carried onstage to introduce new characters, and the Bhagavata or narrator, who introduces the story and comments on the action throughout the play (Mee, 17). The structure of the play as a whole, however, is not derived from any particular regional tradition, and its “philosophical exploration” of the “problems of wholeness and identity” has a decidedly “modern orientation” (Mee, 18).

Badal Sircar’s movement toward a “Third Theatre,” which he conceived as a theatre of rural-urban synthesis was another approach to explore folk practices within modern Indian drama. Sircar’s goals were to abolish the proscenium arch stage, to emphasize physical movement of the actors over words, and to rely upon only the simplest techniques of lighting, costuming and staging, emulating Grotowski’s Poor Theatre—all to build up the immediacy of communication between actors and audience. His 1973 Calcutta production of ‘Spartacus’ based on the story of a Roman slave revolt, incorporated these elements.

The Marxist theatre veteran Utpal Dutt also showed an abiding interest in the folk form of Jatra to reach out to the masses. In his forceful defence of jatra ‘In Search of Form’, Dutt praises jatra (yatra) for having the potentials for a “revolutionary theatre” (Nag, 19).  Forms such as yatra, “evolved over centuries and continued to adapt from and adapt to contemporary reality” says Dutt..Jatra, which Dutt argues persuasively, “has refused to die with the incursions of Capitalism into countryside” unlike “many other folk forms have been wiped out” is “theatre at its primitive best” (Nag, 20). Dutt himself experimented with the form in ‘yatra-plays’ as he calls them, like Sanyasir Tarabari (The Crusade), Tutu Meer and the critically acclaimed Tiner Toloar (The Tin Sword) (Nag, 22).

In the last twenty years or so, a new interest in regional cultural expressions and folklore has developed in India, leading to the rediscovery and “re-evaluation” of indigenous forms of literature and the performing arts (Dharwadker, 72). Nowhere is this more apparent than in theatre. The traditional theatres such as Yakshagana, Tamasha, Raslila, Nautanki and Bhavai, have gone through an amazing revival since Independence (Dharwadker, 79). Considered decadent and largely forgotten during colonial days, these regional theatres have recently received attention and a certain amount of governmental support from the national and state Sangeet Natak Akademis (Hollander, 208). Their status has been enhanced by an “intellectual reappraisal” which views them as the surviving fragments of the ancient Sanskrit dramatic tradition, on the basis of common features such as “preliminary rituals, stylized acting and gestures, stock characters like the stage director (sutradhdra) and clown (vidushaka), and abundant song and dance” (Hollander, 210). Through annual festivals held in the capital, folk theatre groups from all over India have performed for urban audiences, and Western scholars have also been attracted to study the traditions (Hollander, 211).As a result, greater familiarity with folk theatre forms has developed in the cities, and the urban attitude has shifted from scorn to curiosity and respect (Hollander, 211).

The rediscovery of folk theatre has in fact heightened the sense of a “rural-urban cultural dichotomy” among the educated elite (Richmond, 351). Urban theatre is perceived more and more as imitative of the West and “non Indian” while the term rural is acquiring the prestigious connotation of “indigenous” (Richmond, 352). Badal Sircar, the noted Bengali playwright, expressed this clearly; “Theatre is one of the fields where this [rural-urban] dichotomy is manifested most. The city theatre today is not a natural development of the traditional or folk theatre in the urban setting as it should have been. It is rather a new theatre having its base on Western theatre….whereas the traditional village theatre has retained most of its indigenous characteristics” (Richmond, 353). As a result, some dramatists are now beginning to reject Western influence and urge a return to village culture and traditions (Richmond, 354). The Urdu playwright Habib Tanvir stated “It is in its villages that the dramatic tradition of India in all its pristine glory and vitality remains preserved even to this day (Richmond, 356). It is these rural drama groups that require real encouragement… it is not until the city youth is fully exposed to the influence of folk traditions in theatre that a truly Indian theatre, modern and universal in appeal and indigenous in form, can really be evolved” (Richmond, 356).

Theatre in India has been vibrant and diverse, ranging from Sanskrit and folk theatre to Modern Theatre and Contemporary Theatre. Modern Theatre developed during the colonial times was a big departure from the classical and folk theatres seen in the precolonial times, and although Modern theatre introduced India to different experiences, many have criticized the pillars of this kind of theatre; these individuals include acclaimed writers and playwrights Dina Gandhi and Mulk Raj Anand amongst others. Yet, there are certain playwrights, who continued to prevail-after Independence when Modern Theatre still dominated the Indian stages, dramatists like Vijay Tendulkar, Girish Karnad, Badal Sircar and Utpal Dutt continued to incorporate folk elements into their plays. The recent years have seen a revival of folk traditions and scholars are now displaying a renewed interest into understanding these important forms of theatre; this interest is further encouraged by many Indian playwrights, some of who are Badal Sircar and Habib Tanvir. Slowly, folk theatre is gaining momentum and the audiences are once again beginning to appreciate the brilliance and culturally rich heritage of folk theatres all across India

 

Work Cited

Banerjee, Utpal K. “Folk Theatre: Pageantry and Performance.” India International Centre Quarterly, vol. 18, no. 4, 1991, pp. 198–200. <www.jstor.org/stable/23002260>

Banerji, Arnab. “Asian Theatre Journal.” Asian Theatre Journal, vol. 28, no. 2, 2011, pp. 588–592. <www.jstor.org/stable/41306520>

Dharwadker, Aparna Bhargava. Theatres of independence: drama, theory, and urban performance in India since 1947. Iowa City: U of Iowa Press, 2005. <https://books.google.co.in/books?id=mLQaz-12Eo8C&pg=PA38&lpg=PA38&dq=colonial+folk+theater&source=bl&ots=Jn4EDu4CyL&sig=CgO0_35z3QX5JcThK1BsP8JM88g&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjO6vreo8bRAhXLK48KHbLfANMQ6AEIRDAH#v=onepage&q=colonial%20folk%20theater&f=false>

Hollander,Julia. Indian Folk Theatres . London: Routledge, 2007.<https://books.google.co.in/books?id=P22CAgAAQBAJ&pg=PA187&lpg=PA187&dq=indian+folk+theatre+during+colonialism&source=bl&ots=bT65BqmmFC&sig=zSUYz7EdvyWPH6o9M–60VHi9Rc&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjDnZz-mNDRAhXGOo8KHZ9mDp8Q6AEIUDAI#v=onepage&q=indian%20folk%20theatre%20during%20colonialism&f=false>

Mee, Erin B. “Contemporary Indian Theatre: Three Voices.” Performing Arts Journal, vol. 19, no. 1, 1997, pp 1-50. <www.jstor.org/stable/3245738>

Mukherjee, Anuparna. “Acrobating between Tradition and Modern”: The Roots Movement and Theatre’s Negotiation with Modernity in India.” The Rupkatha Journal on Interdisciplinary Studies in Humanities (2009): 1-18. Web. 11th Jan. 2017. <http://rupkatha.com/roots-movement-theatre/>

Nag, Baishakhi. “ROLE OF THEATRE AND FOLK MEDIA IN PROMOTING SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT.” Global Media Journal-Indian Edition 2nd ser. 4 (2013): 1-23. Web. 15th Jan. 2016.<http://www.caluniv.ac.in/global-mdia-journal/COMMENTARY DEC%202013/Commentary_6_Baishakhi_Nag.pdf>

Richmond, Farley. “The Political Role of Theatre in India.” Educational Theatre Journal 25.3 (1973): 318. Web. 13th Jan. 2017. <http://www.yavanika.org/classes/reader/richmond.pdf>

 

 

Background of Colonial Theater

So this post is going to be a bit of a mash-up of my thoughts/understanding of colonial theater in India and the important events that have contributed to the formation, or shift from traditional Indian folk theater to colonial theater. I’m going to try and make it brief….but I’m probably not going to succeed.

The “logic of the outsiders” in colonial society in India was quite prevalent, and modern theater in colonial times followed such logic; for that reason much of the theater was performed in closed spaces. However, even though the English society and the Englishmen came in with a completely different culture, there was still a continuous flow of tradition in Indian society.—–> English was especially prominent in the 17th and 18th centuries.

India retained its status of a multi-lingual society and a flow of language and culture became particularly prominent during colonial times. Certain languages like Sanskrit and Persian became more important than other regional languages like Tamil or Marathi.

SANSKRIT

-most prestigious language—> rediscovered during colonialism by the Englishmen

“The Sanskrit language whatever be it’s antiquity is of wonderful structure, more perfect than Greek, more copious than Latin and more exquisitely refined than either”-  William Jones (spoken at Asiatic society of Bengal, 1786)

-Sanskrit was spoken by the upper caste (Brahmin) and used by aristocrats

-William James went onto translate the very important Indian play ‘Shakuntala’

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-Alas, Sanskrit theater wasn’t as popular as it seemed-when different languages gained popularity in India, people started moving away from Sanskrit, and towards languages like English and so on. Similar to the Renaissance in Europe, where English replaced Greek, Roman and Latin, this phenomenon of Sanskrit not being the “people’s language” anymore was inevitable.

-People’s theater stopped being performed from the 11th century onwards till ‘Shakuntala’ was translated in 1789—-> during colonialism was when the British started retracing Indian history, and they didn’t start with folk traditions, but with Sanskrit.

-Translations of Indian texts was done to better understand Indian society, to help the British with their governance of India. It seems unfortunate that they only focused on Sanskrit texts (primarily scriptures)-Sanskrit texts seemed the’ be all and end all ‘ of Indian theater and drama-the British missed out on a treasure trove of dramas and plays written in Marathi, Tamil, Gujarati; essentially the plays written in regional languages.

-German translation of ‘Shakuntala’ was seen in 1791–> this translation was based on the previous English one done by James. The British, in their translation, interpreted the play as a Hindu play when in reality it was much more; it was also the people’s and was rooted in folk tradition.

 

PERSIAN 

-Consisted of the Arabic language of the Quran and the Islamic Law.

-Persian: was the court language of the Mughal Empire

-the British didn’t appropriate Persian or Arabic: shows you how history+theater was reconstructed by the British

 

Then there arises the question:

WHY DID THE COLONIAL EDUCATIONISTS CONSIDER SANSKRIT THE LANGUAGE TO REDISCOVER INDIA? 

-partially because its the root of the Dravidian languages…but then what about the Aaryan languages?

-mainly because the Brahmins were the leaders of education and the informers of the British government

Food for thought: How much has been lost because of only relying on Sanskrit texts?

-translation became very important in colonial times: Indian playwrights like Bhasa and Kalidas were translated, but side by side, even Shakespeare was translated.

 

So…where did languages place in Indian society at that time? 

-There was a “3 language” position that Indians were in; those who had access to Sanskrit had access to English+whatever texts were being printed at that time

-those who had access to vernacular languages had no access to Sanskrit or English texts; the vernacular language was considered the “language of slaves”–> vernacular texts were only orally transmitted, while Sanskrit transmitted via oral+written means

Food for thought: What made Sanskrit more important than vernacular languages? Was it only because the British deemed it so?

 

After getting a rough understanding into colonial society, what are certain events that shaped colonial society in India? 

1800—> Joshua Marshman, William Ward and William Carey-these three missionaries start a printing press in Serampore. It’s important to remember that this isn’t the first printing press to be set up in India.

-how has the printing press impacted theater?-due to the printing press people started writing down the vernacular languages

-The Dakshina Prize Committee was replaced by the British government who said they’d give prizes to scholars who translated texts rich in political/scientific meaning into English; slowly there emerged an Urban Elite class due to the surge in English language and education

-later different universities and colleges emerged and there was a conflict between Sanskrit, English and the vernacular languages seen

1835–> Macaulay’s Minute on Education

-proposed that Indian language be replaced by English

-Introduced tertiary play for education=big shift in way of looking at education

-Urban elite class: would receive English education

-We see: Vernacular vs. Sanskrit vs. English

1880–> The College of Fort William for British civilians was set up by the British

 

The background surrounding colonial theater in India raises many questions and makes us reflect on the fate of all those works not written in Sanskrit; what happened to them? It seems unfair that in a place like India, which thrives on diversity, the British relied on only one language to supply them with an understanding of India culturally, socially and politically. What happened to unity in diversity?

Visit the following links for more information:

https://www.jstor.org/stable/41306520?seq=2#page_scan_tab_contents

https://books.google.co.in/books?id=mLQaz-12Eo8C&pg=PA38&lpg=PA38&dq=colonial+theater+in+india&source=bl&ots=Jn4DHu4FtP&sig=zxfDzTSC4H_qgohcwnTb256Leds&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwi8weXB6bTRAhXKM48KHVqMCggQ6AEIQjAG#v=onepage&q=colonial%20theater%20in%20india&f=false

Do you have any thoughts you’d like to share? If so, do comment!