Political Theater Summary

A Statement Through History

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Plays that make political statements often do so to encourage the audience’s serious consideration of a social issue. They may be used to change perceptions, challenge stereotypes, or simply provoke thought. Sometimes these plays depict historical or political events from the recent or distant past to allow the playwright to draw parallels and comment on contemporary issues. Plays that re-create historical events allow the author to highlight the significance of the event to then further his or her own political agenda. In her book Polity and Theater in Historical Perspective (1977), Karen Hermassi asserts that politics is the vocation of the theater and that the aim of most playwrights is to influence the audience’s thinking with concern to social issues. She cites as an example the ancient Greek playwright Aeschylus, stating that he intended to reshape society’s perception and memory of the myths he dramatized, not merely retell the story. When playwrights dramatize historical events in plays, they usually concern themselves with communicating what they see as true about the event, not necessarily what is factual.

One of the most powerful examples of this kind of political statement play comes from the McCarthy era in the United States. During the 1950’s, Senator Joseph McCarthy took full advantage of America’s fear of communism during the Cold War to make a name for himself as the avenging angel of democracy. He hoped to root out...

(The entire section is 593 words.)