Commentary Magazine


Post-Literary Theater

To the Editor:

Jack Richardson in “The English Invasion” [February] refuses to come to terms with contemporary theater and yearns instead for the literary theater of the past. . . . His yearning is understandable: from prehistory to Shakespeare, the function of the theater was to provide literature for a largely illiterate or semi-literate audience. . . . Today, a literate public gets its literature from books, and comes to the theater for an experience, not of literature, but of visceral, voyeuristic empathy. This theater is acted, not written. . . . And to keep the focus on character interpretation, the text must be kept simple. Peter Shaffer’s greatness is in his decision to avoid literary complexity, even when bringing the most complex themes to the stage. . . . With Equus, theater becomes an art form with its own aesthetics, independent of the literary kind. Thanks to Shaffer’s restraint, the play achieves a memorable emotional impact in its own, post-literary way. . . .

Adam V. Reed
The Rockefeller University
New York City

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