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Stages of Evil

Stages of Evil: Occultism in Western Theater and Drama

Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 344
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    Stages of Evil
    Book Description:

    "The evil that men do" has been chronicled for thousands of years on the European stage, and perhaps nowhere else is human fear of our own evil more detailed than in its personifications in theater. Early writers used theater to communicate human experiences and to display reverence for the gods governing daily life. Playwrights from Euripides onward sought inspiration from this interplay between the worldly and the occult, using human belief in the divine to govern characters' actions within a dramatic arena. The constant adherence to the supernatural, despite changing religious ideologies over the centuries, testifies to a deep and continuing belief in the ability of a higher power to interfere in human life. Stages of Evil is the first book to examine the representation and relationship of evil and the occult from the prehistoric origins of drama through to the present day. Drawing on examples of magic, astronomy, demonology, possession, exorcism, fairies, vampires, witchcraft, hauntings, and voodoo, author Robert Lima explores how theater shaped American and European perceptions of the occult and how the dramatic works studied here reflect society back upon itself at different points in history. From representations of Dionysian rites in ancient Greece, to the Mouth of Hell in the Middle Ages, to the mystical cabalistic life of the Hasidic Jews, to the witchcraft and magic of the Elizabethan and Jacobean stage, Lima traces the recurrence of supernatural motifs in pivotal plays and performance works of the Western tradition. Considering numerous myths and cultural artifacts, such as the "wild man," he describes the evolution and continual representation of supernatural archetypes on the modern stage. He also discusses the sociohistorical implications of Christian and pagan representations of evil and the theatrical creativity that occultism has engendered. Delving into his own theatrical, literary, folkloric, and travel experiences to enhance his observations, Lima assays the complex world of occultism and examines diverse works of Western theater and drama. A unique and comprehensive bibliography of European and American plays concludes the study and facilitates further research into the realm of the social and literary impact of the occult.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-7176-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    Theater has been a mode of expression since the days of prehistory when man first attempted to communicate his experience and emotions, possibly through oral expression, perhaps through dance or mummery, to attentive companions gathered around a fire outdoors, at a hearth in a cave, or within another form of shelter. To magical gods, whom he feared when nature’s wrath was stirred but praised when the land came into fruition and the waters provided its nutrients, he made obeisances that may have consisted of ritualized movements, mimetic gestures, and sacred utterances.

    The desire to recount, proclaim, and venerate did not...

  5. I. The Matter of the Underworld

    • 1 The Mouth of Hell: Damnation on the Stage of the Middle Ages
      (pp. 13-44)

      The “Mouth of Hell” is a motif out of the ancient world that first became manifest iconographically in Christianity during patristic times and continued to increase in importance thereafter, reaching its apogee in the European Middle Ages. As Christianity increased its spiritual and temporal power in post-Roman Europe, it superimposed its beliefs on the pagan traditions of the Continent. Building on Greek ideas of the underworld, the church began to promote its conception of what awaited the Christian after death: either sanctification in heaven or damnation in hell. The concept of the place of eternal punishment soon caught the imagination...

  6. II. Metamorphoses of Gods

    • 2 The Masks of Harlequin: Daemonic Antecedents of the Commedia dell’Arte Character
      (pp. 47-82)

      When the god Mercury speaks these words of damnation in the final scene ofHarlequin Student; or, The Fall of Pantomime, with the Restoration of the Drama,¹ he is addressing Harlequin and his fellows, English pantomime players out of the commedia dell’arte tradition. The Greek god’s vituperation speaks to what was once generally known but has lately been forgotten: the origin of Harlequin is demonic and lies within the dark recesses of antiquity. Mercury’s words may be ironic in that a pagan deity damns the players to hell, but the anonymous dramatist is, after all, addressing a Christian audience. The...

    • 3 The Pagan Pluto: Touchstone of Celestina’s Magic in Tragicomedia de Calixto y Melibea
      (pp. 83-98)

      Magic and witchcraft have two very different venues and are wholly distinct. The difference is quite marked, magic being ceremonial and witchcraft religious. Magic seeks, through ritual practices, to manipulate the forces and denizens of the supernatural world to the end of personal empowerment. The practices of the magician are prescribed in what came to be known asgrimoires,among the most famous being theClavicle of Solomon(also theKey of Solomon),¹ esoteric texts that contained invocations, words of power, patterns of circles to be inscribed on the ground with esoteric formulas, and descriptions of objects to be used...

  7. III. Possession and Exorcism

    • 4 The Primal Spirit: Sacred Frenzy in Euripides’ Bacchae
      (pp. 101-116)

      While this segment of Aristotle’s famous definition of tragedy as it became manifest in ancient Greece opts, like many other translations, for the termfear,in the case at hand it would be much more appropriate to render the Greekphobosasterrororpanic,for either of these heightened states of fear better conveys the emotional extreme elicited by the horrific events that Euripides set before his audience inBacchae,his unique interpretation of Dionysian worship in Hellas.

      Euripides’ tragedy is at the end of a long evolution of the form, which began with the dithyramb, a choral song...

    • 5 Rites of Passage: Metempsychosis, Possession, and Exorcism in S. An-Sky’s The Dybbuk
      (pp. 117-136)

      Sholem An-Sky’s playDer Dibbuk¹ details the daily life of a group of Hasidic Jews in Eastern Europe, recording in the process a wealth of traditions, legends, superstitions, and other beliefs.² But the purpose of the play is not to be merely a faithful folkloric document of a colorful religious community.The Dybbukis the tale of Channon, a young scholar in the Hasidic synagogue of Brainitz, and Leah, the daughter of the congregation’s wealthiest member. The love between them stems from their youth, when the orphaned Channon was sheltered by Leah’s father, Sender. But, facing the reality that Channon...

    • 6 The Savaged Mind: Voodoo Terror in Eugene O’Neill’s The Emperor Jones
      (pp. 137-146)

      Dante’s “darkened wood”¹ is a metaphor for the fallen state of the soul, a condition that impedes taking “the proper path,” the way that leads to personal purgation and, in the Christian scheme of the epic journey, to God. Thus, the poet, recognizing that he has strayed from the proper path, must strive to find his way. But he will be able to regain the path only after willingly undergoing the process of integration of the self² in the journey through infernal depths. Dante’s was an intense rite of passage that required dying to the old ways in order to...

    • 7 Satan in Salem: Sex as Grimoire in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible
      (pp. 147-158)

      The realities of fanatical politics in the United States in the early 1950s proved unpalatable to many, among them the playwright Arthur Miller, who was prompted to writeThe Crucible,¹ a work that attacked the perceived evils of McCarthyism under the veil of the infamous witch trials held in the Massachusetts Bay Colony village of Salem in 1692. To the dramatist, the witchhunt in some areas of colonial America, which condemned those accused as religious dissidents through hearsay and superstitious belief (spectral evidence,to use the phrase then current), seemed a perfect parallel to the hearings in which Senator Joseph...

    • 8 A Matter of Habit: The Politics of Demonic Hysteria in John Whiting’s The Devils
      (pp. 159-176)

      When Aldous Huxley issuedThe Devils of Loudunin England in 1952, he drew on a substantial number of sources, some published as early as 1634. This was the very year in which culminated the strange events that took place in the French city of Loudun concerning the alleged misdeeds of a controversial priest and the nun responsible for initiating a series of accusations that would facilitate the priest’s demise at the hands of his political and religious adversaries.

      The life and times of Father Urbain Grandier, a Jesuit-trained secular priest who was renowned for his decadent and amorous lifestyle,...

    • 9 The Prey of the Vampire: Malign Decadence in Francisco Nieva’s Nosferatu
      (pp. 177-194)

      Until 1961, when Francisco Nieva wrote his playAquelarre y noche roja de Nosferatu(Witches’ Sabbat and Red Night of Nosferatu), the theme of the vampire had not been treated in serious Spanish or Spanish American literature. With the play’s belated publication in 1991 and production in 1993, the Spanish-speaking public was given an opportunity to experience through the interpretation of one of its dramatists a dark subject that had long fascinated many readers and filmgoers, Spaniards included. In order to achieve his end of informing and interpreting, Nieva steeped himself in the lore of the vampire, derived from sources...

  8. IV. Cauldron and Cave

    • 10 Wither’d and Wild: Witches of the Elizabethan and Jacobean Stages
      (pp. 197-224)

      The description of unearthly beings is of “the weird sisters,” as the three hags in Shakespeare’sMacbethcall themselves. They are first glimpsed and heard briefly “At an open place” (act 1, sc. 1; p. 858), accompanied by thunder and lightning, as the play opens. As Banquo so tersely describes them in his query, they are the physical prototypes of Elizabethan and Jacobean witches. The folk belief of the times perceived witches as malefactors, thus their decadent, otherworldly aspect, their eerie and secretive behavior, their power to affect human lives and the contexts in which they are lived. Yet, despite...

    • 11 The Cave and the Magician: Chthonic Sanctuaries in Early European Drama
      (pp. 225-270)

      There is no certainty about the use to which caves were put in the first instance. But, when they began to be inhabited by human beings at a time lost in the abyss of prehistory, their function was to provide shelter at night and whenever the elements proved inhospitable; to enfold shamanistic practices that would propitiate the spirit(s) of the place, ensure the fertility of nature, abet the hunting strategy, involve the tribal group in the unmanifest dimension, and initiate the youth in the ways of the earth; and, finally, to entomb within the womb of Mother Earth those felled...

  9. Appendix: Bibliography of European and American Drama of the Occult
    (pp. 271-314)
  10. Index
    (pp. 315-330)