What is the point of drama?

The point of writing about the extremes of human behaviour is not to discourage wickedness by pointing out the inevitability of it’s comeuppance: “Don’t do this at home'” is as misleading a description of what writing counsels “Go thou and do likewise.” The awful truth is that the response most great writing about wickedness provokes in us is neither “Yes please” nor “No thanks”, but “You too?” Richard III celebrates, nay, glorifies activities – brother-drowning, nephew-smothering, tyranny imposing – that have no redeeming social value at all. True, he gets his just deserts. But what the first half of the play does is to confront us with the fact that this appalling man is the most vivid, thrilling and inspiring person onstage. Eric Bentley points out that while tragedy does not reflect the audience’s actions (they have not committed murder),  it “reflects their souls, and in their souls they have committed murder.” By enabling us to imagine what it is like to see the world through other eyes (including through the eyes of the violent and the murderous), drama develops capacities without which we cannot live together in societies at all.

How Plays Work, David Edgar

%d bloggers like this: