thumbnail of Ideas and the Theatre; Religious drama
Hide -
If this transcript has significant errors that should be corrected, let us know, so we can add it to FIX IT+
The program will be the place and the meaning of religious drama today. The series ideas and the theatre the actual views and voices you will hear critics George Friedly doctor Joan Thomas a nurse and Reverend Malcolm Boyd actor director Cyril Richardo authors scholars Kenneth Burke Edmund fuller John W. Bachman Garvey Dall and Professor Martin Brown chairman of the religious drama society of Great Britain those who make this series possible the University of Minnesota radio station am in cooperation with the National Association of educational broadcasters under a grant from the Educational Television and Radio Center. And now here is the producer of ideas and the theater critic at large Philip gallop. The final program in this series. This program will discuss the place and the meaning of religious drama today. Why what's so important about religious drama today. I think I got a good simple and
direct answer in my recorded interview with actor director Sir Richard Mr. Richard. One is discouraged from thinking individually but more in the role which I think is frightening. Mass thought is seems to be the passion and I think that the dramatized. Up aside from the responsibility of again pointing the way it boils down to the fact that is something that you have to face that there is celebration for the world as a return to the spiritual. The spiritual means of behavior under the terms that are laid down by the Almighty serve a charge gives us a very fundamental and philosophical reason for opening our minds to the idea of religious drama today a spiritual need of our times. Still some specifics are in order. Just what is this religious drama that we're talking
about. Who's writing it who's doing it. What does it mean. Why are we considering it here in a series entitled ideas and the theatre. I believe my other guests will be answering these questions. And in the process I think they may give you not just a picture of religious drama today but a picture of a kind of ultimate meaning of ideas in the theater. First we'll hear from Mr. George Friedly the curator of the theater collection of The New York Public Library and literary editor for The Morning Telegraph and the secretary of the Drama Critics Circle. Mr. Friedly is discussing religious drama particularly in terms of playwright T.S. Eliot. Mr. Friedrich and I think that its place in religious drama has been extremely important and I think that if it had not been writing it would not be a revival of religious drama
in England in this country as it is at the present time. The Union Theological Seminary through a grant I think from one of the foundations I think of. We're able to bring with the Martin Brown the president of the British Drama League and a very distinguished director who directed the cocktail party and who originally directed murder in the Cathedral of Canterbury and you know invited him to this country and you know I have an institute for the development of teachers and production of religious drama and I think you can trace that directly back to TS Eliot. How do you really produce and religious institutions play plays a religious interest in time and setting and subject matter. You can then though I think that certain plays that do lend themselves to
production in churches CHRISTOPHER FRY has made very good use of that is a sick for prisoners which has been performed probably in more churches that and any other place in modern times. And curiously enough this is being a nice circle with the theater. Came out of the medieval church and I would say it's really returning to it at least up late but at least it's going back into it and using its force as a moral force as it did in the 15th and 16th 14th centuries even earlier. That was Mr. George Friedly co-author of the well-known textbook a history of the theater and Secretary of the New York Drama Critics Circle. There probably is not any man anywhere who is more qualified to talk about religious drama today and the man that Mr. Friedly mentioned history Martin Brown
the head of the religious drama society of Great Britain and the original producer director of TS Eliot's plays. I was very fortunate in having the opportunity to interview Mr E. Martin Brown when he was a visiting professor in the religious drama program discussed by Mr. Friedly at the Union Theological Seminary in New York City. Here now is required especially for ideas in the theater. Mystery Martin Brown. Can we start by saying that religion and drama. Well in the first place. One and the same thing Dahmer was the expression of religion. This you find in all primitive religions and you even find it in a highly developed an artist a Greek drama where in the center of the theatre is an altar at which sacrifices made before the day begins and the play's verb is concerned with something to do with the worship of God in the way it developed. But then as the two things go on developing They also go on separating a drama becomes a separate art
though in the Middle Ages of course the Christian drama began once more in the church and as it developed into a separate art was progressively separated off from the church as they grew their separate ways. Drama becomes more and more concerned with either an emotional experience or entertainment. Now is this something that can be brought back to the concept of religion. The modern drama surely has become a highly developed psychological study in this century. The play which appeals most deeply to people is which knows deep the most honest the most penetrating the studies the psychology of a person or a group of people and shows the background of the society which created that. Well it surely ought to be possible and has occasionally already been
possible for this to be done in Christian terms that's to say such a studied made by a dramatist who is looking at these characters from a Christian point of view and who is prepared to see as the answer to their problem is the thing which we Christians call salvation. And this is the essence of what I should call today religious drama and this is the kind of drama that you have produced. Yes. Could you give us some examples. Well cheers Alice. Modern plays of course are the most noteworthy examples I suppose a family reunion a cocktail party or a confidential talk. And then there is a play like Graham Greene was the living room which seems to me to be very important in this field because here that is a place in which the certain side of life is explored to its depths. This is as Frank a play
as any of the work said Tennessee Williams. And yet it is getting a complete sick Christian arms and doing that without appearing to criticize very sharp say the actual organized Christian faith in practice. So you have this very interesting combination of the liturgical framework with the very tragic study of the human beings involved and a very frank criticism of the church involved. And this seems to me an extremely valuable double take so to speak in a very religious drama I would like to say that because I suggest the particular importance of this audit doesn't mean that I don't think there are openings for and value in a great many other kinds of religious trauma of a more obvious type. In the morality play you have abstraction and instead of being
involved with the characters you are all the time looking at the characters and saying yes that pride or hate or good deeds or whatever it may be is a bit of me. And it's the interplay between the virtues and vices in man that is the drama. And one enjoys and also learns from recognizing aspects of oneself in these various characters. Professor Brown what do you hope to accomplish with the production of. The sign of Jonah and other religious plays. Well I hope first of all to get people in the best sense entertainment that is a refreshment for the mind of the Spirit. Second today to awaken them to a whole new set of values which they may have been aware of. But which have largely gone to sleep in them. And I believe that through the drama in which you can
actually see these things operating in human lives you can do that perhaps better than any other way. Let me put the question this way is the purpose of religion and religious drama one of. The individual identifying with a given church or should it have some real and measurable affects upon his day to day living. Of course it should. And those two things should not be separated. That they too often are separated is one of the great and justified criticisms of the state of Christianity Today and in so far as the drama reflects that state. The drama deserves criticism as well. As I say I think religious struggle should get back to dealing with the problems of the fellowship of society the political problems the moral problems the economic problems even.
And I hope people do so. That was a modern bra. The chairman of the religious drama society of Great Britain and a visiting professor in the religious drama program at the Union Theological Seminary in New York City. Right now I'd like to relate an idea mentioned by Martin Brom to a man identified with him. A man is T.S. Eliot whose plays were first produced by E. Martin Brown the same T.S. Eliot whom George Friedly believes started a renewed interest in religious drama today. The idea refers back to Professor Brown's statement that the modern psychological view of persons and groups could be and is presented in both Christian and dramatic terms today. This can lead us to consider religious dramatist Elliot's use of psychological terms and psychological figures. How is it that a playwright essentially concerned with religion leans on psychology so heavily. If you remember the
central character in TS Eliot's The Cocktail Party is a psychiatrist and psychology appears to play a part in his other plays. I asked Gore v. Dahl if he thought Mr Elliot was any kind of psychiatric writer. Garvey Dahl wrote the motion picture Dreyfus the Broadway hit comedy visit to a small planet and more than a few novels and TV plays. Here now is writer Garvey Dahl commenting on TS Eliot's psychologist or theologian Mr vidoe. There again is a man coming out from the church from a whole conception of a sort of higher aquatic world with measured value and precise choice. And I would say one might find him closer to dawn to closer to. Certain Anglican divines than one would find him to psychiatry or to because he was an analyst in a play. It was merely a device to have somebody or
somebody in other words he did not use a priest which is what he meant to use. I've always felt for that character Harcourt Riley was that his name was standing in for him for a priest. But because he did not want to get the play and quite rightly into that area just let's all go to confessional. He used a lay figure. Yeah that an interesting point here mine was there. Quite by your own psychological slippy put in the truth there which is that they have I think I had it. I don't I don't feel that religion would be more ennobling. And whereas psychiatry is related more to this concept of acceptance and adjustment and I think as well. This is why I call it psychiatric. You have just heard some comments by Garvey Dahl. Although he apparently dismisses TS Eliot's interest in psychology as only a theological device this hardly dismisses the much of the larger issue of the
relationship between psychology and religion today. In an earlier program in our series Dr David W. Thompson our consultant from the theater arts department of the University of Minnesota pointed out that the psychiatric view may have become a general frame of reference and even a way of life to many people today because of the failure or lack of appeal in religion to be either a frame of reference or way of life. In other words psychiatry may have become a kind of modern day religion. I believe there is no area in which both the common grounds and the differences in religion in psychiatry are being fought out in a more direct sense than upon the American stage today. The relationships if there are any between psychological drama and religious drama between psychiatry and faith merit analysis. Well I discussed this topic with three different but I think very qualified individuals. First I put
this question to the drama critic for the Catholic News Dr Joan Dallas nurse. Do you feel there is any kind of fundamental conflict Livesay between psychoanalysis and Catholicism. I heard the statement made that there really isn't because what used to be sin and shame is now guilt and anxiety. I think if if psychoanalysis should get to the point where the word denies any any possible freedom word becomes another type of determinism. Then I think it would be in direct contradiction to to religion to the extent that it explores perfectly legitimate areas in the workings of the mind and certainly to the extent that it can be employed therapeutically. Without suggesting that the patient achieves some
kind of therapy by throwing off all restraints and going around and murdering a few people to get rid of some of his inhibitions. Well to the extent that that it does not do this that it stays in its legitimate problems I think it works nicely hand-in-hand with religion. That was the drama critic for the Catholic News Dr. John Dallas a nurse. Another view with the same topic was presented by Professor John W. Bachmann chairman of the faculty committee on religious drama at the Union Theological Seminary in New York City. Dr. Bachmann. Organized religion would claim to go beyond where the psychiatrist goes I believe partly because this is more than an individual whose limitations may become apparent and therefore break down the whole process. But partly also because the psychiatric relationship is more one of cleansing and removing
the guilt of the past let us say then of preparing very much in terms of positive like that particular term I stumbled into. But preparing for life itself a continuing life kill for the future. Yes it is. It is not just to clean up the house you have to put some in if you get it cleaned out or it's going to get dirty again. And I think that's one of the areas where religion comes in. That was Professor John W. Bachmann chairman of the faculty committee on religious drama at the Union Theological Seminary a kind of fundamental and perhaps summary view on the relationship between psychology and religion was set forth by Edmund foller a teacher scholar and author of the recent man in modern fiction. Here now is Mr. Edmund Fuller. But just as I do not believe that there is a valid real conflict
anywhere along the line between physical science and religion. Neither do I believe there is a valid conflict between the psychoanalytic psychotherapy of our age and the religious view isn't there. It's fair comparison that can be made between psychoanalysis which provides an excuse for one's actions without really involving any kind of change or commitment. And also the original sin idea which adds up to a phrase What's the use of my playing the devil's advocate at this given moment would be that neither one or none of these concepts involves much in terms of making anybody more responsible. My own personal understanding of the. Christian traditional concept of original sin is not in harmonious with what the analyst calls the id the.
Raw primal source of a great deal of his evil and destructive in the life of man. The problem of the religious man is to control his nature as a being of original sin. The problem of the man viewed by the analyst is to govern the ID by what the analyst calls the super ego of the Christian might call the conscience. And pointing out both the areas of responsibility and possible escape or abuse of religion and psychiatry. I think adman foller and our other guests have pointed out two of the functions of religious drama. Still I think we had best find out what is most fundamental in terms of understanding religious drama. And for this I turn to one of our leading modern philosophers Mr. Kenneth Burke author of permanence and change. The philosophy of literary form
and many other outstanding books and publications. Here now is Kenneth perk. As a final relation between drama and religion I thought today that one of Aristotle's remarks is particularly. Of basic to the to the understanding of that relation that's where he's talking about how to give the effects of the marvelous and that he's saying that and I quote here from my translation tragedy represents not only a complete action but also incidents that cause fear and pity and this causes most of all. And this happens most of all when the incidents are unexpected and yet one as a consequence of the other four and that way the incidents will cause more amazement than if they happen mechanically and accidentally. Since the most amazing accidental occurrences are those which seem to have been providential for instance
when the statue of Midas at Argus killed a man who caused my disses death by falling on him at a festival such event did not seem to be mere accidents. When I got that thing always seems particularly significant to me because what Aristotle is saying here is I understand it is that here is the way to give a sense of religious mystery and a drama doesn't matter really ready or believe in it or not this is a way to develop. So there's a yes it seems to me finally the relation between religion and drama. Is it each. It is a device from the standpoint of the other. I would say that fundamentally the religious the motivation centers in some principle of sacrifice. The. There is the whole idea of the any of us. Either you are a person sacrificing for his own God are being sacrificed for someone else's god or having some like carrion sacrifice wins
which does his work for him and I cite him for something bigger. Sacrificing for something today. Yes oh yes sacrificing far far higher aims I'm sorry but you're just the sacrificial principle is basic and of course your you're your sacrificial altar. Was I think as well that became Lee and then this great stage. That was author philosopher Kenneth Burke. Reverend Malcolm boy a contributor to Christian Century Scholastic and other publications author of Crisis and communication in some respects may be our outstanding critic today on the place of Christianity in relation to drama. Here is Reverend Malcolm Boyd. Now the world I want to come to is a strange moment and it's the word that one finds in Long Day's Journey Into Night or at least this is what the quality one finds and certainly perhaps we've been talked about so much and perhaps we're reading about it in textbooks and
it is fashionable and it is interesting that psychology is stressing it and theology is stressing it for quite different reasons. Probably but strange month is a factor so I don't know how to move. Well want to name the place forever I suppose with this theme of a strange moment now something that ought to be said here is that the theater. So we're mentioning the theater at the moment of the mass media to a degree also. You are stressing at the moment what I would call the demonic the negative witness the factors of a strange moment of restlessness of loneliness of lostness of anxiety. No one seems able at the moment to come in with the positive. There is a positive. Now I think for a Christian this is a very important point. I think what is so important is to let the artistic craftsman say what he has to say. The Church has spoken too
much it has also to be a listening church you can't preach a gospel to someone unless you listen so that you know where the person is and what his needs are and. And the church has to be a listening church after he has listened. Then it will know where to preach the Gospel in terms of point of contact. Otherwise it is preaching either into a vacuum or it's preaching to people who either aren't there or who won't know what is being said. So the fact that some many artistic media today are saying these things so eloquently and that there is a universal experience in these things so that all of us when they I said can identify and identifying this is extremely important. Now as a Christian. I believe that the Gospel does speak to any condition of man and I resent very much the fact that some people feel that the Gospel apparently cannot speak to any condition of man or that it is what they put try to protect its holiness which is absurd it being holy It will protect its own holiness in other words they feel that perhaps into
this dirty or this muddy situation one would not bring the Gospel and of course they are simply saying that the Gospel is bankrupt. Well the Gospel of Christ doesn't happen to be bankrupt. That was Reverend Malcolm Boyd. I think if there is any summary that might be made of Kenneth Burke and Malcolm Boyd's view of religious drama it is the place of mystery and sacrifice on the one hand and the realisation of the individual's fragmentation or loneliness on the other but both of these are very much a part of the sum and the substance of religious drama. From this I think it is safe to say that religious drama. Would not be escape drama. It would deal with some of the mysteries of life and it would certainly deal with the realities of life whether these are the realities of the individual in terms of his strange meant as pointed out by Reverend Boyd or in terms of the very real social economic and personal problems
as cited here by Professor Brown. In any case perhaps religious drama. Is the new gold a new clue as to what direction American drama may be taking if we add to all inclusive in terms of our definition of religious drama. It is only because both religion and the drama are lived and all inclusive. This program the place and the meeting of religious drama today concludes the series ideas and the theatre ideas and the theatre was produced and edited by Philip go. The commentator for this series. The program consultant was Dr. David W. Thompson professor in the theater arts at the University of Minnesota. This series was produced under the auspices of the University of Minnesota's radio station KUNM under a grant from the Educational Television and Radio Center. Ideas and the theater has been distributed by the National Association of educational
Ideas and the Theatre
Religious drama
Producing Organization
University of Minnesota
KUOM (Radio station : Minneapolis, Minn.)
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
If you have more information about this item than what is given here, or if you have concerns about this record, we want to know! Contact us, indicating the AAPB ID (cpb-aacip/500-g15tc75x).
Episode Description
An examination of the theme of religion as used in drama in the mid-20th century.
Series Description
The series presents a discussion of the current American theatre; its values, beliefs, patterns, and problems. Participants include Arthur Miller, Eric Bentley, Gore Vidal, Brooks Atkinson, Cyril Ritchard, Clinton Wilder, Tennessee Williams, and others.
Broadcast Date
Media type
Embed Code
Copy and paste this HTML to include AAPB content on your blog or webpage.
Guest: Burke, Kenneth, 1897-1993
Guest: Fuller, Edmund, 1914-2001
Guest: Vidal, Gore, 1925-2012
Guest: Ritchard, Cyril, 1897-1977
Guest: Browne, E. Martin (Elliott Martin), 1900-1980
Guest: Bachman, John W.
Host: Kerwin, Jonathan W.
Producer: Gelb, Philip
Producing Organization: University of Minnesota
Producing Organization: KUOM (Radio station : Minneapolis, Minn.)
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 58-7-13 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:28:25
If you have a copy of this asset and would like us to add it to our catalog, please contact us.
Chicago: “Ideas and the Theatre; Religious drama,” 1958-01-01, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed February 2, 2023,
MLA: “Ideas and the Theatre; Religious drama.” 1958-01-01. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. February 2, 2023. <>.
APA: Ideas and the Theatre; Religious drama. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from