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date: 18 September 2019

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter argues that Christian antitheatricalists could persuasively oppose pagan theater only by offering their faith as a superior but fundamentally similar substitute — starting with Tertullian's use of persona (the Latin term for a theater mask) to describe the multiple facets of a Trinitarian godhead. The patristic hermeneutics of prosopopoeia (or in Latin, fictio personae) likewise treated scripture explicitly as a drama in which God plays multiple roles. Medieval Christians went even further by staging the Bible and once again using masks as an indispensable theatrico-theological property; hence the common English Protestant position that Christian culture had devolved into little more than paganism by a different name. Ironically enough, early modern antitheatricalists constantly cited their patristic antecedents in order to demonstrate the theater's dangerous allegiance to polytheism — even as they once again implicitly positioned their "strictly scriptural" version of Christianity as the ultimate drama. By the time Sidney published his Defense of Poesie it was in fact possible to argue that scripture itself had achieved such sublime effects only by means of its quasi-theatrical impersonation of multiple sacred figures.

Keywords: antitheatricalism, Augustine, Cassiodorus, Christianity, drama, Gosson, mask, monotheism, polytheism, prosopopoeia, Psalms, Sidney, Tertullian, Trinity, Zizek.

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