I want to follow a suspicion I brought up yesterday regarding the possible extent to which Euripides caused the French Revolution. Apparently actors were not seen favorably for centuries prior to that event
remained immoral, incontinent vagabonds, who roamed provincial villages, presenting scandalous spectacles both on and off the stage.
Catholics had nothing to do with actors, and they were excluded from political life. People would only admit they were fond of an actor if no one was around.
To give you an example of why this might be- I’m certain none of my angelic readers have ever viewed “stepsibling porn”. That adaptation of Euripides’ Hippolytus, Racine’s Phèdre is about the romance between a stepmother and her stepson. Examine your mood when you hear that concept. Something kind of mischievous almost? A giddy feeling of being naughty? “That’s just you!” Really? The Catholic church didn’t want people even having those kinds of thoughts. Seeing a “scandal” like that portrayed on the stage might even lead people to, well, bang their stepson. Can’t have that in an ordered society can we.
Notice the surface of the adaptation too- Hippolytus is the stepson, Phèdre is the stepmother. Racine put the emphasis on her. Beauvoir did not emerge out of the aether. I can imagine her even identifying with Phèdre when she was screwing around on Sartre. This is how art can cause chaos in society. Enough to lead to a revolution? That’s what I’m trying to figure out. “What if Hippolytus’s father had the wonky eye like Sartre?” I’ll leave that to your dirty imagination.
Here is one symptom at least- one of these was an actor
one of the twelve members of the all-powerful Committee of Public Safety that ruled France during the Terror, the former social outcast had moved to the very center of power.
Isn’t that a bizarre concept to us. Actors being pariahs. They’re the living gods of our society today! This is especially interesting if you are the type of person who sees the French Revolution as a severe mistake.
almost at the very moment of the Revolution’s birth, actors rushed to fill positions of prominence in the Revolutionary government, administration, and military.
I’ve tried to show you before that Christians did not see eye to eye with the ancients, and that’s what theatre was, the revival of the ancients, of the god Dionysus.
Here are a couple of the neoclassical rules playwrights had to submit to – what effects do you think these had on the audience?
Remember the other day I was talking about the nature of the good kind of clown, where you kind of want to push them away and say “Get out of here with that!” You don’t want to be tainted with the taboos they bring up. That’s sort of how actors were perceived in those days. “I do not want to fuck my stepson!”
This tendency just fell out of the sky
One might be reminded of Aeschylus in Aristophanes’ Frogs berating Euripides for incorporating whores into his plays.
Better start waving your fan, things are getting hot.
I don’t try to hide that I have sympathies for Catholicism, especially when I see material from the “theatre” of today
Almost as if they were witnessing the crumbling of a barrier that had previously separated raw sewage from fresh water, these individuals reacted as if their world was being contaminated by profane beings who only months before had been kept at bay by an officially-sanctioned cordon sanitaire.
Actors were lepers until the Revolution. We were born in that raw sewage! We’ve never known anything else.
If you recall my previous posts about the Revolution, you might raise your eyebrow about the possibility of banks funding the theatre.
That would be funny wouldn’t it, if that world-historical revolt against the royalty and nobility was motivated by the idea that Phèdre should be able to marry her stepson. Being a tragedy, Phèdre of course ends up poisoning herself. The French people wanted to prevent that, symbolically speaking. “That’s absurd!” Just sayin, Racine was the central artist in France before the Revolution, and that was his most acclaimed play.
These are two actors turned “politicians”
Oddly enough, just as Dugazon was rumored to have been involved in the execution of Louis XVI, so Grammont was reported to have headed the cortège which accompanied Marie-Antoinette to the guillotine.
This is a perception-warping essay – you can read it here.
Probably goes without saying that Bakhtin’s theory of the carnival seems relevant here. The fools took over France, among others. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very fond of Molière myself, and I’m sure the elite-sectors of that time were rife with the kind of hypocrisy he lambasted. The reason actors were stigmatized was probably in part because they were such a threat to the powers that were. Like Bakhtin says, the carnival of old times was a separate world altogether. The elites wanted to maintain the difference between the two worlds. The ones of our own day do the same thing with anon jesters. The roles are reversed though- our elites are grandchildren of the Revolution, and the jesters tend to be reactionary advocates of aristocracy in some form.
There’s a fine line between punishing elites for their hypocrisy on the one hand and opening the doors to total chaos on the other. I think Oedipus is the prime symbol of what that chaos can entail. Thee definition of tragedy in his violation of perhaps the two most primordial taboos. Or you could think of “As I lay dying” from yesterday, i.e. Agamemnon being murdered by his wife after he returned from war. That’s not Catholic in the least, is it? Even the most stubborn atheist will start attending church if all that is the alternative. It’s a fine line. And I think in contemporary times we’re closer to the pure chaos side. “Phèdre was a girlboss!”
That’s pretty inspiring though in one sense, the idea of those actors making the Bacchae into a reality- being Dionysus and orchestrating the real-life beheading of King Pentheus.
My main point though is that “liberté, égalité, fraternité” is certainly more Euripidean and Aristophanic than it is Aeschylean and Sophoclistic. And that reflects the aesthetic preference of the main artists of the century prior to the Revolution.
Try to keep all this in mind next time you do a netflix binge. What messages exactly are you absorbing? Not one drop of raw sewage is involved, right? As I lay dying… I bet some love the thought of that. You don’t know what happened in the plays after that. I’m sure you’ll find out, they’re considered timeless for a reason.
Makes me think- there must be studies out there by Aeschylus enthusiasts on popular TV shows. What would admirers of the “poet of nobility” have to say about those? It’s interesting how cult-fanatics of certain screen-spectacles never bother to learn what high-minded scholars think of the media that shapes their personalities. “I’m ME!” You are what you surround yourself with. Are you a shitpost? Or, what’s the basic premise of Fortnite? These things have effects on people. You should be careful. They only allow modern forms of the French Revolution to flourish, and that means lots of chaos, i.e. hatred of beauty. That’s the standard policy. State-decreed jealousy essentially. Tearing down good things precisely because they’re good. I’d consider that “raw sewage”.
There was an eventual backlash against those actor-turned-“politicians”
We will prove to Boursault, that no matter how talented he has been at fooling his fellow citizens as if he were [acting] at the theater; no matter how much skill went into creating the particular roles which he put on for each one of us… we say, that all that glitters is not gold.
When you wake up one day and you’re living in a mix between the Pale and the Congo it might dawn on you what the nature of “fool’s gold” is.
What a sign that is though, the prominence of actors in the French Revolution. It was all a stage-play that they had the interests of the people in mind. How would you like if normal social reality itself turned into a “carnival of fools”? There are different ways of interpreting that concept. Blink twice if you’re a total clown. The Clowns of Moses won’t let you hint any further than that.