Acting and the Theatre

TryingToLearn

Puritan Board Freshman
I'm aware that many in the Christian tradition have denounced the theatre and acting as a profession in general. I'm wondering what the reasons are for this? I understand much of it was because of sexual immorality, but did it go beyond this? Was the common Reformed position that such things are sinful in themselves for some reasons, or is it just that they were so bound up with sin that they were denounced so harshly?

The most interesting argument I've come across is that actors are contributing nothing to society by their profession. That and that as a recreation, it is vain. I'm sure the tradition recognizes artistic value as well as certain recreations, so I'm sure this argument is more nuanced?
 
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The most interesting argument I've come across is that actors are contributing nothing to society by their profession. That and that as a recreation, it is vain.
That argument would include nearly every sport and with a twist, especially football with its high incidence of CTE, you might as well be poising yourself.

Many reformed were also against playing 'cards.' Guess uno is out of the question. I think I recall a reliance on chance was an argument against it and in someway we are calling on God in vain...I think it was a rather tortured argument.
I think, and would like to hear other arguments if there are any, that they are similar the blanket denunciation of video games today. Surely it's a stretch to call games in and of themselves sinful if God hasn't said so but we can always find exceptions and then tend to make them the rule.
 
The "magnum-opus" on Puritan thought for this matter, to my knowledge, is "Histrio-Mastix" by Puritan William Prynne. A copy can be found here: Of what I can see, not having read him myself, some people do not like Prynne for being blunt and verbose. But he was genuine in his Puritanism, being jailed frequently (given a life-sentence for the mentioned book, but later paroled,) and I believe having his face branded, his nose was slit, and his ears cut-off. I would like to do this work one day, but Prynne quotes a lot of Latin, and ultimately, it would have to be redone by a scholar for a critical edition. If I were to do it, much of the Latin footnotes would be missing, and only the main body remaining, but even so, it would be an almost 700 page book. Dont know, will have to see. It looks like some say Prynne retracted this book years later, but I believe, according to Wiki, that supposed retraction was proven to be a hoax.

I think one of the gists he is getting at, is the lewdness of the acting profession. We can see this from Hollywood today. For instance, the same person that played Jesus in the Passion, also plays a vulgar assassin in another film, the lady that plays Mary, a seductress in another role. People who profess to be Christians, like Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Sylvester Stallone, etc. somehow have to reconcile their faith, with the roles they take, and the witness and opposition to holiness many of those roles permeate through their on-screen examples. I dont see how one can biblically reconcile such vile portrayals in the spirit of "art" whether it be for profession or passion. Yet, at the same time I would be a hypocrite if I fail to mention I still dabble in such movies, though time spent in such has been greatly reduced (about 2 hours a week.) I prefer sci-fi, seeming the least likely to be offensive, but, having just watched Netflix's "The Problem of 3" it was bombarded with undertones of anti-Christian sentiment, yet, I finished the series. So if I were to make an argument against the acting profession, it would be the almost non-existence of holy-roles. Think of it this way, none of us gives the adult film people leeway to continue in vulgarity because it is how they feed themselves; the same should/can be said about other actors/actresses who portray depravity for money, even if it may be to a lesser degree.

"Histriomastix is the name of a book written in 1663 by William Prynne, a Puritan barrister, against plays, masks, dancing, etc. It is a thick quarto of 1006 pages, and abounds with learning and curious quotations. The author of this work was arraigned before the Star Chamber Feb. 7, 1663, on account of passages which, it was alleged, reflected on the religious conduct of the royal house. But the fact was that the author condemned, and that justly, the levity and voluptuousness of the court, and the encouragement which even some of the prelates gave to its licentiousness. Prynne was sentenced" to have his book burned by the hands of the common hangman, to be put from the bar, and to be forever incapable of his profession, to be turned out of the society of Lincoln's Inn, to be degraded at Oxford, to stand in the pillory at Westminster and Cheapside, to lose both his ears, one in each place, to pay a fine of £5000, and to suffer perpetual imprisonment." But more remarkable than this, if possible, was the violent speech of an English earl (Dorset) on this occasion. "I declare you (Prynne) to be a schism maker in the Church, a. sedition sower in the commonwealth, a wolf in sheep's clothing; in a word, omnium malorum nequissimus," continuing in this strain, and closing thus: "I would have him branded in the forehead, slit in the nose, and have his ears chopped off." Neal, Hist. of the Puritans, 1, 316, 317; Wood, Athenae Oxon. 2, 315; Granger, Biog. Hist. 2, 230; Carwithen, History of the Church of England, 2, 78-80. (J. H.W.)"
-- McClintock and Strong Biblical Cyclopedia
 
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N.B. Correction to McClintock and Strong. Histriomastix was published in 1633. The punishments etc. were carried out 1634. He was a supporter of the Restoration and was consulted on occasion by Charles II; he sided with the Presbyterians in the debates about accomodation (interestingly, since he was antiScot and an Erastian). I mention only because the mistatement of the dates indicates he suffered the things from the 1630s in the 1660s.
The "magnum-opus" on Puritan thought for this matter, to my knowledge, is "Histrio-Mastix" by Puritan William Prynne. A copy can be found here: Of what I can see, not having read him myself, some people do not like Prynne for being blunt and verbose. But he was genuine in his Puritanism, being jailed frequently (given a life-sentence for the mentioned book, but later paroled,) and I believe having his face branded, his nose was slit, and his ears cut-off. I would like to do this work one day, but Prynne quotes a lot of Latin, and ultimately, it would have to be redone by a scholar for a critical edition. If I were to do it, much of the Latin footnotes would be missing, and only the main body remaining, but even so, it would be an almost 700 page book. Dont know, will have to see. It looks like some say Prynne retracted this book years later, but I believe, according to Wiki, that supposed retraction was proven to be a hoax.

I think one of the gists he is getting at, is the lewdness of the acting profession. We can see this from Hollywood today. For instance, the same person that played Jesus in the Passion, also plays a vulgar assassin in another film, the lady that plays Mary, a seductress in another role. People who profess to be Christians, like Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Sylvester Stallone, etc. somehow have to reconcile their faith, with the roles they take, and the witness and opposition to holiness many of those roles permeate through their on-screen examples. I dont see how one can biblically reconcile such vile portrayals in the spirit of "art" whether it be for profession or passion. Yet, at the same time I would be a hypocrite if I fail to mention I still dabble in such movies, though time spent in such has been greatly reduced (about 2 hours a week.) I prefer sci-fi, seeming the least likely to be offensive, but, having just watched Netflix's "The Problem of 3" it was bombarded with undertones of anti-Christian sentiment, yet, I finished the series. So if I were to make an argument against the acting profession, it would be the almost non-existence of holy-roles. Think of it this way, none of us gives the adult film people leeway to continue in vulgarity because it is how they feed themselves; the same should/can be said about other actors/actresses who portray depravity for money, even if it may be to a lesser degree.

"Histriomastix is the name of a book written in 1663 by William Prynne, a Puritan barrister, against plays, masks, dancing, etc. It is a thick quarto of 1006 pages, and abounds with learning and curious quotations. The author of this work was arraigned before the Star Chamber Feb. 7, 1663, on account of passages which, it was alleged, reflected on the religious conduct of the royal house. But the fact was that the author condemned, and that justly, the levity and voluptuousness of the court, and the encouragement which even some of the prelates gave to its licentiousness. Prynne was sentenced" to have his book burned by the hands of the common hangman, to be put from the bar, and to be forever incapable of his profession, to be turned out of the society of Lincoln's Inn, to be degraded at Oxford, to stand in the pillory at Westminster and Cheapside, to lose both his ears, one in each place, to pay a fine of £5000, and to suffer perpetual imprisonment." But more remarkable than this, if possible, was the violent speech of an English earl (Dorset) on this occasion. "I declare you (Prynne) to be a schism maker in the Church, a. sedition sower in the commonwealth, a wolf in sheep's clothing; in a word, omnium malorum nequissimus," continuing in this strain, and closing thus: "I would have him branded in the forehead, slit in the nose, and have his ears chopped off." Neal, Hist. of the Puritans, 1, 316, 317; Wood, Athenae Oxon. 2, 315; Granger, Biog. Hist. 2, 230; Carwithen, History of the Church of England, 2, 78-80. (J. H.W.)"
-- McClintock and Strong Biblical Cyclopedia
 
There was an article published by Banner of Truth around 1970 by S. M. Houghton titled" The Christian and Theatrical Entertainment." In it he writes: "The writer of this article believes that it is time to expose the folly, the vanity and unlawfulness for the believer in Christ of stage entertainments. With William Law of 18th-century fame he holds to their 'absolute unlawfulness'. This note has been ever present in evangelical testimony against the vices of an evil world, but in recent years it has been greatly muted, and in some quarters, professedly evangelical, it has died away completely".

It is worth reading.
 
I have in the past seen here on the PB arguments against acting as a 9th commandment violation, curiously enough. Fischer's Catechism and Turretin both referenced "Juccose" or "Ludicrous" lies, defined as "when people relate things they know to be false, with a design to make a jest or diversion to others"*, as a species of lying, though I am not sure if they were talking about acting.
I have alao recently heard of the argument agsinst games of chance from the third commandment (unlawfull lots, making light of providence).

Honestly I have no idea what to do with that. Living in the age we do these arguments sound puritanical - but then again, we are on the Puritan Board.

* As defined by Fischer's Catechism
 
Remember that plays in the 16th and 17th centuries involved men and boys dressing as women, and playing women. When Romeo and Juliet kissed on Shakespeare's stage it was a man kissing a man in a dress.
And on top of that the whole play was lascivious and full of innuendos.
The Westminster standards did well to condemn "lascivious plays."
The Reformed generally did not condemn all plays. Theodore Beza wrote a play based on Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac.
 
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