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LIT 142 M.P. No. 1 (2010)

Esslin’s assertion that “drama is a political event” is clearly defined by his belief that drama “either reasserts or undermines the code of conduct of a given society.” By this, Esslin avers that drama is not merely a spectacle that employs devices that make one feel soaring emotions or that satiate man’s penchant for concretizing his imaginings, but rather, it is an event which enables people, whose experiences are contextualized by the society to which they belong, to experience and see their social reality displayed before their very eyes, thus opening it to scrutiny, or a critique of that same reality, for them to either affirm (which they, according to Esslin, show by clapping) or otherwise deny (as evidenced by a lack of emotional response to the dramatic performance presented before them). As such, drama is a political event because it engages the audience to think about and respond to their current disposition, the current state of affairs of their government or nation (such as in Henry V, as mentioned by Esslin in his essay), and the practices and unwritten laws of social interaction and living in their particular society, as well as in other societies. In this way, drama, similar to a debate by politicians on television on different issues that affect the nation, fosters a dialogue between reality (as portrayed through fiction, on stage), be it social, political, or even personal, and the audience (themselves affected by this same reality) and affords them the opportunity to express their sentiments, like voters casting their ballots during elections, about how they perceive their reality and themselves in the context of their own experience of their collective sense of identity. Esslin’s assertion of drama being a political event is exemplified by plays that either challenge the status quo and the unwritten codes of social engagement (plays such as those made by the playwrights Ibsen and Shaw, as mentioned by Esslin in his essay), or present political and social realities through satire (such as Hagedorn’s “The Dogeaters”). Both types offer a commentary on the state of society and how it affects different individuals whose lives revolve around the structures of that same society. More importantly, though the two may elicit very different reactions on the surface, both draw out not only a reaction, but a concrete response (by way of such subtle expressions as wincing, clapping, or shedding tears, or even yawning) because of either a connection formed between the audience and the reality presented on stage which the audience feels is similar to their reality, or a disconnect, signifying a shift in the audience’s perspective on what for them is real, consequently signifying a similar change in societal values or social and political realities. Either way, both types seek the consensus of an audience as to their view if what is onstage is characteristic of their situation (their reality), or not. In such a way, like other political events such as rallies and political gatherings (meetings and inaugural activities), drama becomes a platform for presenting individuals not as mere fragments but as parts of a community, of a whole, which gives them their identity by viewing what is on-stage in the context of the society in which they live, which they end up affirming, pondering upon, or changing, not as individuals, but as a community. Drama, being a platform for presenting reality or a critique to that same reality, is thus a political event because it shows us, as the audience, how we are governed, how we interact with other people and make sense of the world, and how we are constrained by factors such as values, norms, beliefs and fundamental assumptions about life and living which we, and our respective communities, hold to be true. However, it is not the presentation which makes drama a political event but one important ability: the ability to present reality, or its opposite, in such a powerful way as to make us respond either by affirming what we see, adhering to the tenets displayed on stage, or by dissenting and criticizing the status quo through a reversal in attitude. In all these, one thing is common — we are inspired into taking stand and are moved to action.