In Antitheatrical Prejudice, Jonas A. Barish unintentionally connects Plato and Tertullian’s ideas. Plato argues that writers and thespians should only depict Gods doing positive things, as Gods should be role models for society. Plato believes that the Gods should not provide any sort of radical ideas in theatre. If they did provide any sort of radical idea, Plato feels that the people would automatically assume that it is the correct thing to do and chaos would ensue.
Tertullian believes that the theatre is based in idolatry. “Moreover,” Tertullian argues, “ frequenting these amusements unnecessarily undermines moral disciple, since they rouse the most violent passions.“ I get that Tertullian normally uses violent to mean anger, but in this case, I think he might mean passion.
If Gods in theatre are deemed as exhibiting unacceptable God-like behavior, then according to Tertullian’s reasoning, all of society’s moral discipline will be gone. This proves Plato’s idea that Gods should be shown in a positive way.
But is it right? If Gods are depicted in a positive way all the time, it sets unfair standards for humanity. By having flaws, the Gods show humans that it is ok to make mistakes. At the same time, Gods have a reputation to live up to of being better than humanity, so they should act in ways that are better than the human race.
Here’s the big question: Should we be doing that with actors that are depicting these Gods? My friend from high school, Chris, played Jesus his senior year in Godspell. Due to his role, he needed to let his hair grow past his collar, a major faux pas at his Catholic school. One day, the president of the school came into the hallway and asked him about his hair. My friend calmly explained that he would be playing Jesus in the school play and needed to let his hair grow out. The Monsignor let him go and made it known to the other teachers that this was acceptable.
While the production was going on, Chris later told me that students started treating him differently, agreeing more often with what he had to say in class and in a case with a younger student, almost following him around, listening to whatever he said. It was almost like he became Jesus.
This is a side effect of playing a God. Some actors start to believe that they are a God. Others adopt that role off stage and in regular life.
Is that what Plato and Tertullian were trying to avoid? Could be. It could also be that the two wanted to avoid having an audience get new behaviors to implement into their daily lives. Behaviors that might not be acceptable for humans.