This concludes Prof. Hoeksema’s lecture on drama. ed.
And that brings me to my second main proposition, namely: all drama is, as a matter of principle, wrong.
In order to see this, we must have a definition of drama, first of all.
By drama I do not refer to the literary composition as such. I consider the drama a legitimate form of literary art. It is very well possible to employ dialogue as a device of direct quotation in literature. There is nothing wrong with that as such. It makes no real difference whether you write a story that is interspersed with direct quotation of the conversation of the characters in the story, or whether you write the entire story in the form of dialogue, which is nothing else than direct quotation. Hence, with drama as a literary composition we have no difficulty at all. We can very well write and read dramas.
But by drama as we discuss it tonight we mean the enacting, the performance, usually in a suitable stage setting, of such a dramatic composition, where in prose or verse, portraying the character and life by means of dialogue and action. The term drama is Greek. It means literally “a thing done”. Our term theater is also from the Greek. It means “a seeing place.” The later, Latin term, audience means “those who listen.” And while today there is a good deal of dialogue in a dramatic production, originally the term emphasizes the action rather than the dialogue, or speaking, and the seeing rather than the hearing. And this still is the main element of a dramatic production today: drama is acting out the character and life of others.
We must distinguish in this connection between impersonation, or acting, on the one hand, and on the other hand, imitation. Imitation is legitimate. We are even enjoined in Scripture to be imitators of God or to follow the example of the apostles and of the saints in the past. When you imitate, you remain yourself. Your actions remain your own; your character remains your own. You merely choose a pattern to follow, whether for good or for evil. And therefore, in imitation as such there is nothing wrong.
But drama involves impersonation. In drama your person is merged as much as possible in the person and character of another. Physically, you must look like that person, and put on a mask of makeup. Psychologically, you must be merged into that other person’s mentality and will and emotions. Your soul must be merged into his. Spiritually too you must become that other person as much as possible. In your character and in your person, in your actions, in all these you must be and become as much as possible another person. It is a well known fact that professional actors even become typed. And some have been known to play a certain character-type, or even one specific character, all their life. Hence, in drama your person and character is submerged in that of another individual. And the more realistically, the more completely an actor succeeds in eliminating his own person and character and substituting the persons character, life, morals, speech, deeds of another individual, the more successful is the dramatic production.
All this is is for the entertainment of others, mind you. It is for the amusement, the emotional titillation, the thrill, of the audience. If the true person and character of the actor shines through and the drama loses its realistic character, then the thrill is gone too. The successful drama must carry the audience away from the world of reality into a dream-world.
This is the idea of drama as such. The idea may be attained through various means and in varying degrees. There is the skit. There is the rather simple dialogue. There is the amateur play, more or less elaborately produced by the high school or college senior class or by the school dramatics club. There is the professional production of the stage and screen. There is the opera, a musical dramatic production. There is the TV. But they are all basically the same in their conception and purpose.
And every form of such drama is wrong in its principle. In the first place, such acting is in itself a lie, and it purposes to cause the audience to live in a lie-world. The actor violates his own God-given nature and character and gifts, which he is to use to live his own life and perform his own deeds. You may object that this takes place with the knowledge of both the actor and the audience. But this does not justify the lie; in fact, it makes it worse. The lie is always wrong. But to lie knowingly is more wrong. And it is a patent fact in drama that the more convincingly you can lie and make your audience forget who you really are and believe that you are someone else, the better actor you are. And the audience participates in this lie. For not only does the audience support and approve of the lie by its presence. But the drama purposes to make the audience live for a while in a different world.
In the second place, all drama is sinful as far as its content is concerned. Either it portrays that which is sinful, or it presents that which is holy. There is no third possibility, no neutral ground. We sometimes speak of an “innocent little skit.” But the fact remains that even that little skit portrays the sinful or the holy side of life. And to play that which is holy is blasphemous. It is lying and vain playing with holy things. But to play that which is sinful is surely sinful. It is a repetition of that which you know to be sin and that too, as realistically as possible. The actor must put all his soul into the repetition of that sin. He must use all his talents to perform that which is displeasing to the Most High. Think of it! And all this is for entertainment too! The actor plays that which was real life, that which was a matter of the soul and life of a man, for many or for fame. He portrays the life of Luther, of which that reformer himself would say that it was only principally holy and so filled with sin and imperfection that it bears no repetition, -portrays his soul’s search for peace, his struggle of faith, his joy at finding justification through faith, his appearance before the authorities with his “Here I stand. . . God help me.” He portrays all this, though he is not Luther. And he does all this for the thrill, the entertainment of the audience. Or he portrays Judas Iscariot and his betrayal of the Christ. Can you imagine a Christian ever wanting to portray Judas? Or, as is so common in most of today’s drama with its emphasis on the sex and love them, he portrays all the moral filth of the gutter, the realistically and naturalistically the better, – all to thrill an audience. And audience is amused, and pays for being amused, by the serious, life and death incidents and aspects of the real life of a sinner or a saint that is responsible before God for that life and those actions!
When you think into it, you wonder how a Christian can even consider being entertained by this sort of thing.
And now we have not explored all the aspects of drama. You could investigate drama historically. You would find that our drama of today has its origin in Greek paganism. You would find that in church history drama does not have very commendable forbears. You would find the sons of the Reformation at their strongest and purest spurned it and even tried to ban it by governmental regulation. You could investigate drama psychologically, and you would find that even worldly psychologists warn at least against over indulgence in this world of “unreality.” You could investigate drama morally and spiritually. Then you would find that most drama of today makes abundant use of the sex theme and plays upon that which smutty and morally filthy, that much of it intends to thrill with “blood and thunder”, and that all of it purposes to titillate the lusts of the old man. However, I have not the time to elaborate on all this tonight.
I do want to issue a warning as to our practical walk. Begin with the skit or dialogue and you will end with the full fledged stage production. You must either close the door completely and principally against all drama, or you will open it all the way. Then you will enjoy all the fruits of Hollywood’s corrupt productions. Or you will imitate those productions as professionally as possible. You will end up by producing in the name of John Calvin, as the daily paper informed us recently by article and picture, by producing and being famous for operatic and dramatic productions. A shame to any school that goes by Calvin’s name!
And frankly, if I were going to give in and to indulge in drama, I would not “monkey” with amateur productions. I would go all the way then, and enjoy the cup of Hollywood’s lusts to the full. Experience proves too that I would not be alone. If you get a taste for drama, and don’t forget: drama is appealing to our old nature, if you get a taste for it in the amateur productions, you cannot ban the drama of theater and movie and TV. The reason is that you have abandoned the principle.
In conclusion, therefore: hold the line. Hold it for the sake of principle. Hold it for the practical reason that once you give in, you cannot stop the trend. Hold it for the reason that as covenant youth you have very little time anyway for amusement, and certainly none for illegitimate amusement.
And then don’t consider yourself deprived and impoverished because you cannot go along with the crown. If you consider it strict and an unfair restraint that you may not indulge in this form of entertainment, if you strain against this restriction, that’s only an expression of your lustful old flesh. Down that flesh! As covenant youth you have something far more precious than the world’s amusements and entertainment forms. And you can and should fill your life with that which is far more worthwhile. The time of preparation for life is far too brief to be wasted: and the strength of youth must not be dissipated by and on the corruptions of the world!
Stand fast, therefore! Dare to take your stand! Stand even against the tide! And then count yourself happy that you may!
“So long as we live here, we are always at a great distance from perfection, and are in continual progress towards it; but the Lord judges of us according to the which he has begun in us, and having once led us into the way of righteousness, reckons us to be righteous. As soon as he begins to check and reform our hypocrisy, he at once calls us true and upright.”
Calvin Commentary, Vol. 2 (page 212) Isaiah 26:2