Historically, the Jesuits are well known for giving back to the community, having a great educational philosophy including rhetoric and ethics and embracing the arts as an academic pursuit. They used all of these qualifications to highlight the positives of theatre and the impact it can have on a young person. They taught young men how to speak on stage, what was appropriate to do on stage and what was not. They performed plays for the community, giving them a brand new experience they might not have received otherwise.
In an Introduction to Jesuit Theater, the author discusses how some people were opposed to Jesuit Theater. Those that had the same views on theatre as Tertullian were definitely some opponents. While this could have been confined to Rome, the Jesuits were more of an international order. In 1556, a group from Lisbon College put on a performance of the Prodigal Son. Originally, it was met with some opposition, but when the curtain went up, people were sitting in the seats, excited to see the performance.
After the performance in Lisbon, one of the members wrote, “You should scarcely believe how acceptable the performance was to all people, and how much they wanted this sort of play to be staged frequently. This is especially true of the students, who are particularly delighted and inspired by the drama. I hope we can do what they want” (43).
People wanted to see the Jesuits perform. They were good at it. They brought plays to life. They interacted with the audience and made it exciting. They were brilliant at it. Being a priest involves a lot of the same qualifications that being an actor does. Both sing. Both have choreographed movements. Both have to memorize scripts or in the case of a priest, Scripture. Being an actor and participating in theatre made these students before 1574 better priests because they were practicing skills that crossed over to their chosen profession.
Here’s how you know that the Jesuits did not want to give up theatre. After Pope Gregory XII closed the theatres in 1574, Jesuits continued, “the honorable and cultivated youth of this city have continuously presented for years, before large audiences of respectable men of all classes and –to put it modestly— not without the approval of all of Rome” (46).
The youth at these Jesuit schools directly defied an order from the Pope, but had the support of practically everyone in Rome. These students continued to do what they wanted and fought to be brilliant. By continuing that mindset, we still have theatre today.
Are we really sure that brilliance doesn’t suit the Jesuits, Hopkins?