Why We Love Drama

Augustine, Confessions 3.2:

“The shows at the theater seized me, full of images of my woes and the tinder for my fire. Why is it that humans wish to grieve there when they watch mournful and tragic things, which they would nevertheless not wish to suffer themselves? And yet, the spectator wishes to suffer from them and the suffering itself is the pleasure. What is this other than extraordinary insanity? For each person is moved by those things more as he is less healthy in regard to such feelings, and although it is called misfortune when he himself suffers them, it is called mercy when he feels sympathy with others. But what kind of mercy is there in fictional and theatrical things? The audience is not called forth to help, but is only invited to suffer, and he favors the actor more in proportion to how much more pain he himself feels. But if those human calamities, whether ancient or invented, are thus presented that the spectator does not grieve, then he will depart despising and criticizing them; but if he is suffering, he will remain fixed in his seat, and will cry as he rejoices.”

rapiebant me spectacula theatrica, plena imaginibus miseriarum mearum et fomitibus ignis mei. quid est quod ibi homo vult dolere cum spectat luctuosa et tragica, quae tamen pati ipse nollet? et tamen pati vult ex eis dolorem spectator et dolor ipse est voluptas eius. quid est nisi mirabilis insania? nam eo magis eis movetur quisque, quo minus a talibus affectibus sanus est, quamquam, cum ipse patitur, miseria, cum aliis compatitur, misericordia dici solet. sed qualis tandem misericordia in rebus fictis et scenicis? non enim ad subveniendum provocatur auditor sed tantum ad dolendum invitatur, et actori earum imaginum amplius favet cum amplius dolet. et si calamitates illae hominum, vel antiquae vel falsae, sic agantur ut qui spectat non doleat, abscedit inde fastidiens et reprehendens; si autem doleat, manet intentus et gaudens lacrimat.

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