Week 5

Pick one play we’ve read, or performance we’ve watched, and explain how catharsis functioned in the work. If the work did not strive to produce a catharsis, what did it do instead? Please offer an opinion as to why your choice of work did or didn’t utilize catharsis.  You are welcome to refer to Aristotle’s Poetics, or to any of the authors assigned for this week’s set of readings.

To me, the obvious choice as to which work produced catharsis is ta’ziyeh. Aristotle refers to catharsis as a “purge” of certain emotions, pity and fear among them, brought about by performance. While many of the works we have discussed so far have included elements of catharsis, ta’ziyeh brings catharsis to a whole new level. In the articles we have read about ta’ziyeh as well as the performances we have watched, one element remains steady and clear: the audience. Audience reaction is critical to ta’ziyeh, as it helps co-create the world of the performance and achieve its central goal: to unify the Shiite communities of Iran and the world around a common tragedy, and to reaffirm their belief and devotion to God. This is much more difficult without catharsis.

Sabrina M. Guerrieri, in her article “Taziyeh in Motion: The Traveling Culture of Iranian Muharram Theater,” talks extensively about the audience effects produced in traditional (Iranian) performances of ta’ziyeh, and whether ta’ziyeh can be truly “authentic” if performed for a non-traditional (non-Iranian/Shiite) audience. There must be some amount of audience buy-in, Guerrieri argues, for ta’ziyeh’s goal to be accomplished and catharsis to occur. This buy-in takes the form of high emotional stakes and engrossment, as Guerrieri describes: “When an actor playing the role of Hussein mounts his horse and fights a losing battle in the reenactment of the Imam’s martyrdom, physical displacements are made on stage. When the audience assumes an active role in enhancing the emotional fervour through collective mourning, a spiritual transcendence towards repentance takes place.”

This “spiritual transcendence” takes the form of open weeping and yelling, shouting and mourning from the audience, as seen in the many filmed performances we’ve watched in and outside of class. These emotions are precisely what Aristotle talks about in Poetics–the performance of the story and the actors who put it on cause this catharsis, which then unifies the group with a common feeling and reaffirms their faith. As shown in many of our readings as well, ta’ziyeh’s catharsis can be used for other purposes, too: the strengthening of belief that comes with ta’ziyeh’s catharsis can also strengthen the resolve of the Iranian people during times of war or hardship. Catharsis can be a powerful tool, and the tradition of ta’ziyeh has harnessed it to keep its community together for centuries.

One thought on “Week 5

  1. Hi Allie,
    Let’s pause for a moment and look at the function of catharsis – which according to Aristotle is effected first by identification — which is exactly what you describe as “taking an active role” in the martyrdom — but then detaching from the exact fate of the protagonist so that one can both fear the outcome of her or his actions and pity the protagonist and feel purged of the similar feelings one might have through that process of identification and (at the end) distance. The question of whether Ta’ziyeh provides a catharsis for all of its participants is debatable, no? For the point is to join the actor portraying Hussain in mourning, to become a community in mourning and to remain bonded together by sustaining that shared affect. The performance doesn’t “relieve” the community of the feeling – it reproduces and sustains it. The point isn’t purgation – instead it is production and keeping it in play until the next cycle of performances.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s