Change in society
The prime purpose of a political play is to effect change in society”. How far and in what ways do you consider that this statement describes the two plays studied? The given statement firstly assumes that the plays are both political, and secondly it does not give an accurate depiction of what is to be considered political. It is fair to assume that all overtly political plays, such as those of Brecht, can be considered to attempt to effect change in society, whether this can be said of Playing the Victim (the Presnyakov Brothers, 2003) and Scaramouche Jones (Justin Butcher, 2001) is open to debate.
The simplistic idea of a political play may be interpreted as a play that involves Politics in terms of Governments and Parliaments; whereas another interpretation may be interpreted a political play as one that gives across a message to its audience members. Brecht a founder of political plays in the early 19th Century was one of the founding and most known theatrical minds in the uses of political ideology to infiltrate theatrical performances. His background in politics from Communism and Marxism infiltrated his productions from Mother Courage to Galileo, this is similar in some respects to the infiltration of political ideology in the Presnyakov Brothers presentation of Playing the Victim. ‘Brecht’s plays had a strong political social function in seeking to promote a Marxist analysis of society’ (Dobson,2000;37).
It is this analysis from which he sought to effect change, showing what was wrong with society and therefore negative making the audience think about what they are watching. This seems in many ways similar to Playing the Victim, the Presnyakov Brothers showed Valya, a social underdog, seemingly pushed to the bottom of society by those above and around him, his superiors at work and his family, it is not until the play is analysed further that it shows that it is Valya that is manipulating the ‘system’. The play itself promotes to an extent a Capitalist mode of thinking to an audience, but it still shows an endeavour to escape from the Capitalism of Russia and Valya’s attempt to change the system by not becoming involved in it, which promotes the idea of the need to effect change in society further to the audience.
The alternative interpretation of a political play can involve a more in-depth analysis of a play of as a whole. The ideology and meaning, which infiltrates any play, can be considered as political as the ideas of the playwright are being communicated to an audience, it is whether through these ideological implications they are trying to effect change within a social setting which is imperative to the analysis of the given statement. Scaramouche Jones is a portrayal of a man’s life over a century, Justin Butcher’s interpretation of the character and his own ideological inferences does not seem in any way overtly political as in the afore mentioned interpretation, with links to political theory.
The one hundred year portrayal of Scaramouche’s life seems more to link to Butchers own ideological views upon society and how people in the singular adapt to the various trials and tribulations that they face. According to Stanley Fish there are no meanings inherent in works of art except those which ‘interpretive communities’ in any particular era foster or allow, while disallowing and discouraging others (Fortier,1997:88).
To a certain extent there is reason for disagreement with Fish’s theory, for if there are no inherent meanings then how can a text such as Butcher’s Scaramouche Jones be read by an audience so that they gain the ideological implications which are placed into the text by the author, those meaning which are inherent to the text. Butcher looks at the identity of man as one of his themes, although this theme does not send out a message to effect change in society, it looks at the ways that racial prejudices are impacting upon one man which reflects upon a society. Although Fish’s theory does make some disagreeable comments there is also an important notion highlighted in his theory. Fish looks at ‘interpretive communities’ and how this can allow or disagree with certain meanings within a given text.
This is an important aspect when considering whether a political play in either given sense can effect change in society. The interpretive community of the 1930’s when Brecht was at a peak during the demise of the German economy, was more willing to accept the meanings that Brecht highlighted through his didactic approach and were willing to react forcibly so to effect change within the given society, whereas a presentation of the Presnyakov Brothers Playing the Victim or indeed Justin Butcher’s Scaramouche Jones may not cause such a effect of change as the economic and political context in which we live is very different to ones seen in both of the given texts.
Overall when considering the given statement that the prime purpose of a political play is to effect change in society I feel that this is the very nature of political plays. As in John Willets, 1977 book The theatre of Bertolt Brecht the one of the most resounding features of Brecht’s work is ‘its reflection of a consistent social and political point of view’ (Willet, 1977:187). Brecht did this through his Verfremdungseffekt, and the didactic method of approach to his plays.
The spectator then not only was distanced from the performance, therefore allowing detached judgement, but the didactic method of approach meant that the spectator’s understanding of the themes, whether political or social could be enhanced. This would then go some way to allowing the audience members to look at the portrayal of society and think about the themes and try and resolve them for themselves rather than becoming emotionally involved with the performance and therefore not taking away anything other than self satisfaction. In some ways this is very similar to the style in which the Presnyakov Brothers text Playing the Victim is written, the text itself seems to incorporate many of the Brechtian techniques, although not directly didactic in form the use Valya’s ‘voice’ the voice conveys a meaning that and is used to get across that meaning to an audience.