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'We were there too': philosophers in the theatre

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)


This article challenges the longstanding perception of both Plato and Aristotle as representatives of a philosophical aversion to the values of theatrical performance. Starting from some reflections on the ambiguous evidence of our classical sources for the relationship of Socrates to the theatre, the argument proceeds to a close reading of some key Platonic and Aristotelian texts on the dynamics of theatrical experience. In Plato’s case, the analysis shows that despite a generalised concern about the ‘crowd psychology’ of theatre audiences, including the famous theatrocracy passage of the Laws, there is a clear acknowledgement that theatrical performance has an imaginative and emotional power which can penetrate the souls even of philosophers. In Aristotle’s case, attention is drawn, above all, to the often neglected evidence of the Rhetoric, which contains specific and revealing testimony to its author’s admiration for individual actors (of both tragedy and comedy), thereby supplementing, rather than clashing with, the theoretical principles set out in the Poetics.Far from being indifferent to theatrical performance, Aristotle can be seen to have recognised its distinctive capacity to give compelling embodiment to the mimetic worlds of drama.


Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSynagonizesthai. Essays in Honour of Guido Avezzù
EditorsSilvia Bigliazzi, Francesco Lupi, Gherardo Ugolini
ISBN (Print)9788864645032
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2018

Publication series

NameSkenè: Texts and Studies
ISSN (Print)2464-9295

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ID: 257504537