11. The Fields of Theater, Drama, and Poetry

Ann and Jerry have started dating. Friends are not certain what brought on this relationship because Ann is a convert to Islam and Jerry is a Jew, but it is clear that they are spending time together. Something is also happening that friends of the Dean notice: he is showing signs of fatigue. They have recommended that he see a doctor, but he has been too busy.

  Kathleen is in late pregnancy without a new boyfriend. She has located a place to have her baby with the support of her parents.

Professors Benedict and Kornberg went out to dinner together last night and talked about the last class discussion on the evolution of music. She has been trying to convince him that the philosophical problem of “matter versus mind” has already been solved. Music is grounded in both sides of this binary – like the particle and the wave in physics. The sound of music is physical in the air and in the brain, while simultaneously non-physical in the mind and spirit. The neurons in the brain are active in conjunction with the mind’s activity, but certain ideas and feelings transcend the understanding of scientists: consciousness works at a higher level of vibration than that of the body. The mind has evolved with its own governing system of higher thought, feeling, and meaning, and these go beyond the capacity of science to assess. But the subject is so complex that Professors Benedict and Kornberg were not able to reach a conclusion. They come to class hoping for more insight about their on-going debate.

The Dean has been requiring “test essays” from students every three weeks. The essays are on the topics discussed in class that connect with the reading assignments. Students research these assignments and propose their own ideas. As students arrive, he hands the recent essays back, graded with commentaries, and then tells the class how proud he is of their work. He reminds them that the assignment for today has been for them to bring poetry. 

The Dean:  We have with us Professor Bertolt Simon from our Theater Arts Department. You know about his superb plays and his capabilities as a director. Students tell me he is one of the best teachers on campus.

We also have with us Professor William Burns who teaches poetry in the Department of English. He will share his thoughts about how poetry links with evolution.

In the back row you see Professors Benedict and Kornberg. And finally, Professor Britten was so interested in our last discussion on music that he has rejoined us. And you all know that Ann, a member of our class, is majoring in theater; she will contribute to our discussion on the history of theater that Professor Simon is about to introduce.  

Professor Simon, thank you so much for joining us today.

Professor Simon: It is a pleasure to be here. The Dean has spoken to me about your study of evolution. We have talked about his perspective and some of your contributing ideas. “I know nothing about evolution,” I told him; but he replied, “Just tell the class something about the history of theater. They will take it from there.” “Okay,” I answered,  “I am here to learn.”  

Dean: Start us off with that history, and we will all think together. (The Dean writes on the blackboard:


The History of Theater


Prof. Simon: Thank you. Well, you all know Ann (nodding in her direction). She will begin with the ancient history of the theater. She has done some research on the matter, so I defer to her for now; I will pick up where she leaves off.

Ann: Thank you. (Although a little nervous, she stands up proudly.)

I found the beginning of history in what is called “folk theater.” (looking at her notes) Let’s see... India.

In India – as far as I can tell -- theater began in the second millennium B.C.E. with rituals and feasts among tribes who “acted out” events that took place in their daily lives. Historians write about the rituals of Indo-Aryan tribes, in which some people pretended they were wild animals and others were their hunters. But there is no hard evidence for exactly when this started. (She begins reading from her notes.)

Indian theater began to develop in a serious way with the Rigveda and its hymns. The Ramayana and Mahabharata became the first plays in India. Sanskrit drama became a distinct art in the last few centuries B.C.E. --closely associated with seasonal festivals. A man named Bharat Muni wrote the Natya Shastra. (looking up from her notes) This may be the earliest surviving text on theater and drama. (continuing) This early theater carried with it what have become all the different fine arts – such as dance, music, mime, movement, sculpture, painting and architecture. Bharat Muni was the leading figure…He lived in the second century B.C.E.[i]

China next. I found that theater in China began around 1500 B.C.E. during the Shang Dynasty. It was accompanied by music, with lots of clowning and acrobatic displays. The Tang Dynasty is known as "The Age of 1000 Entertainments." During this era, Ming Huang formed an acting school known as “The Pear Garden” and produced a type of musical drama.[ii]

Professor Simon: (Interrupts). Ann has studied theater from around the world, but it would take her more than an hour to tell you the whole story. So, Ann, would you …summarize.

Ann: Yes sir. (speaking with more confidence) The earliest recorded theatrical events I could find took place in Egypt; they date back to 2000 B.C.E. These were passion plays (more about these later). The story of the god Osiris was performed at festivals. 

Greece. The most famous playwrights flourished during the fifth century B.C.E.: Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, and Aristophanes. At that time tragedies and satyr plays were performed at a festival in honor of the god Dionysus in Athens. These writers produced a series of performances called a "tetralogy." The first, second and third plays of the tetralogy consisted of a dramatic trilogy based on mythological events; the last performance was a satyr play. The latter was a play on a lighter note, with some dance and celebration. Performances of a tetralogy lasted for several hours and were held during the daytime.

Should I go on?

Professor Simon: I have an idea on how to quicken the story. Why not go ahead and give the class that timeline you made on the history of theater?

Ann: (brightening) Yes. I brought copies of the chart with me to give to the class. It will give us a chance to see the story quickly. Then we can talk about periods that are of special interest. But everyone should understand that this list of events is my own selection. It starts with the Greeks, a little earlier. (She hands out her history chart.)


The History of Theater[iii]

534 B.C.E.

    Thespis wins the first public contest for tragic poets in Greece; the term thespian derives from his name. He also introduces masks, which become a staple prop of Greek and Roman theater.

525–385 B.C.E.

    The Athenian period introduces an era of tragic poets that includes Aeschylus (Agamemnon, 458 B.C.E.), Sophocles (Antigone, 441 B.C.E.; Oedipus Rex, 430 B.C.E.) and Euripides (Medea, 431 B.C.E.). 350–250 B.C.E.

    The Hellenistic period marks an era when comedy is preferred over tragedy. Old Comedy—buffoonery and farce in which individuals are often attacked and the foibles of a social class portrayed—evolves into New Comedy, a more polished and refined humor that centers on the shortcomings of the middle class. Comic drama changes the focus of theater from politics and philosophy to everyday life.

ca. 185 B.C.E.

In the 3rd and 2nd centuries B.C.E., Plautus and Terence create a Roman drama based on Greek originals.                   

ca. 500–800 C.E.

   Theater is all but extinct in both the western and eastern Roman Empires during the Dark Ages because Christians oppose the entertainment.

ca. 900 C.E.

    The church introduces dramatic performances into Easter services, acting out the story of the Resurrection. Ironically, the institution that discouraged theater is responsible for its rebirth.


ca. 1250

    Tannhäuser was one of the Minnesinger, German equivalent of the French troubadours.                          


    Kanami and Zeami Motokiyo please the shogun with their theatrical performance, and his patronage begins the tradition of Japan's Noh theatre.                       

c. 1400

    The English mystery cycles are performed by trade guilds, on carts pulled around from audience to audience.


     Everyman, the best surviving example of a morality play, is written. The morality play touches on large contemporary issues with moral overtones and describes the lives of everyday people facing temptation.


     A form of dance, precursor to ballet, is performed for the first time.



     Commedia dell'Arte flourishes in Italy and Western Europe. Literally “professional comedy,” this theatrical form features improvisation from a standard script and stock characters.



     Count Giovanni Bardi debuts the Elizabethan masque, an aristocratic form of entertainment that features music, dance and elaborate costuming.



    The Theatre, the first commercial theater, opens in London. It is also the first Elizabethan playhouse.



     The Chamberlain's Men, the leading Elizabethan and Jacobean theatrical company of the day, is formed. William Shakespeare is the chief playwright and Richard Burbage its most famous actor. After 1603 the group is known as The King's Men. The Admiral's Men is the group that performs the works of Christopher Marlowe.


    Jacopo Peri's musical fable, Dafne, often considered the first opera, is performed at the palace of Jacopo Corsi. Opera becomes the preferred entertainment of the aristocracy.


    William Shakespeare writes Much Ado About Nothing, As You Like It, All's Well That Ends Well, Julius Caesar, Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, Macbeth and Anthony and Cleopatra.


    Claude Monteverdi's Orfeo, regarded as the first masterpiece in opera history, is performed and revolutionizes music by establishing a tonal system and giving the recitative a more flexible accompaniment.


    Teatro Farnese in Parma, Italy, uses the proscenium arch for the first time.


    Venice becomes the home of the first public opera house, the San Cassiano Theater.


ca. 1650 Japan's popular theatre, Kabuki, develops as a form of café entertainment.



    Following the civil war of 1642, the Puritans close or burn down all English theaters and forbid acting.


    Molière incorporates an acting troupe called Illustre Theatre. Although initially unsuccessful with his troupe, Molière goes on to become one of history's most famous and enduring playwrights. His work includes Tartuffe (1664), The Misanthrope (1666) and The Bourgeois Gentleman (1670).


    Women start appearing in French and English plays. Elizabeth Barry and Anne Bracegirdle are among the pioneers.


    Louis XIV officially recognizes dance instruction by establishing the Académie Royale de Danse.


    William Darby's Ye Bare and Ye Cubb, reportedly the first English-language play presented in the colonies, is performed in Accomac County, Virginia.

ca. 1670

    Pierre Beauchamps codifies the five foot positions in ballet.


    Pierre Beauchamps and Jean Baptiste write Le Triomphe de I'Amour, which features LaFontaine, the first woman to dance professionally in a ballet.


    Alessandro Scarlatti founds the Neapolitan School of Opera, which establishes the da capo, or three-part aria.


    The young women at Josias Priest's finishing school in Chelsea, England, perform Henry Purcell's Dido and Aeneas, the first English operatic masterpiece.


    Romeo and Juliet, the first play by Shakespeare to be presented in America, is performed in New York.


    La Serva Padrona by Giovanni Pergolesi is performed in Naples, heralding the popularity of opera buffa or comic opera.


    French ballerina Marie Camargo stirs controversy when she raises dancing skirts above the ankle for greater freedom of movement.


    Ballet arrives in America. Englishman Henry Holt stages the first production for the amusement of the Charleston, South Carolina, elite.

    John Hippisley's Flora, the first opera performed in America, is also presented in Charleston, South Carolina.


    The first professional theater company in the colonies, the Virginia Company of Comedians, opens a temporary wooden playhouse in Williamsburg, Virginia.


    Christoph Willibald von Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice premieres at the Hofburgtheater in Vienna, marking revolutionary changes and reform in opera seria.


    The first permanent American theater building, Southwark Theater, is erected in Philadelphia.


Goethe's play Götz von Berlichingen, a definitive work of Sturm und Drang (the “Storm and Stress Movement”), has its premiere in Berlin.                      


Figaro makes his first appearance on stage in Beaumarchais' The Barber of Seville.                           


    Milan's Teatro alla Scala, Italy's leading opera house and one of the world's most renowned, is built.


    Mozart collaborates with Lorenzo da Ponte on The Marriage of Figaro, which premieres in Vienna. He completes Don Giovanni the following year, and it premieres in Prague.


    Gas lighting is used for the first time in an American theater at Philadelphia's Chestnut Street Theatre.

    Thomas Drummond invents the limelight, which is used in the same manner as the spotlight is used today.


    Minstrel dancing debuts with Thomas Dartmouth “Daddy” Rice appearing as Jim Crow in a song-and-dance act.


    The Romantic period in ballet sees ballerinas making technical and artistic strides in the art form. Until this period, men have dominated the balletic stage.


    The Theatre Regulation Act of 1843 bans drinking in legitimate theaters. Many tavern owners take advantage of this situation and renovate their establishments to accommodate live performances.


    The French Opera House, the first great opera house in America, is built in New Orleans.


    Former circus clown Tony Pastor opens the first variety theater in New York.


    Lydia Thompson and her British Blondes bring burlesque to the United States.


    Giuseppe Verdi's Aïda premieres in Cairo, Egypt.

    The first collaboration of W.S. Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan, Thespis, is performed at London's Gaiety Theatre.


    The first complete production of Wagner's Ring, a titanic cycle of four musical dramas, opens the first Bayreuth Festival.


    Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House, a revolutionary play that centers on the repression of women, deeply offends conservatives and thrills a newly awakened European conscience when it premieres at Copenhagen's Royal Theatre.


    The first modern cabaret, Le Chat Noir (“The Black Cat”), opens in Paris. London's Savoy Theatre opens and is the first to be lit by electricity. Vaudeville debuts at Tony Pastor's New 14th Street Theater in New York.


    The Metropolitan Opera House opens in New York with Gounod's Faust.


    Modern dance emerges when choreographers and dancers begin to rebel against traditional ballet.


    Floradora opens at Broadway's Casino Theatre. It introduces the Floradora sextet, a predecessor to the chorus line.


    Founder of the Moscow Art Theatre, Konstantin Stanislavski formulates the revolutionary Stanislavski Method of acting, which requires actors to look and listen on stage as they do in real life, enabling them to react to theatrical situations in the same way as they would in real life. He is credited with launching the age of the great director in modern theater.


    Claude Debussy introduces Impressionism in music in Pelléas and Mélisande at the Opéra Comique in Paris.


    The London Symphony Orchestra is established. Anton Chekhov introduces modern realism with the premiere of The Cherry Orchard at the Moscow Art Theatre.


    Isadora Duncan establishes the first school of modern dance in Berlin.


    Florenz Ziegfeld introduces his Ziegfeld Follies, the legendary musical extravaganzas.


    Serge Diaghilev opens the Ballets Russes de Serge Diaghilev, which begins the era of modern ballet and his 20-year reign as ballet's leading figure. Moving away from full-length works characteristic of Romantic ballet, he creates new, shorter ballets. Mikhail Fokine is Diaghilev's choreographer and is considered the most influential choreographer of the 20th century.


    Der Rosenkavalier, Richard Strauss's masterpiece, premieres in Dresden.


    Darktown Follies opens in Harlem and helps to make Harlem a black cultural center.


    Ruth St. Denis and her husband, Ted Shawn, establish the Denishawn Dance School in Los Angeles, where Martha Graham and Doris Humphrey study.


    Eugene O'Neill's first full-length play, Beyond the Horizon, is produced on Broadway and wins a Pulitzer Prize, marking the beginning of modern American drama. Rising popular interest in African-American literature sparks the beginning of the Harlem Renaissance.


    The Cleveland Playhouse opens, becoming the country's first resident professional theater.


    Karel Capek's play R.U.R. debuts, introducing the word "robot."


    Harlem's Cotton Club opens and presents all-black performances to white-only audiences. Entertainers include Lena Horne, the Nicholas Brothers and Cab Calloway.


    Martha Graham, the American pioneer of the modern-dance revolt, gives her first New York performance, which features 18 barefoot, evocatively costumed dancers.


    The Broadway musical links with opera in Jerome Kern's revolutionary Show Boat.


    Jean Rosenthal, one of the greatest lighting designers in theater history, pioneers the concept of stage lighting.


    Manhattan's Radio City Music Hall opens.


    Sally Rand's fan dance is a hit at the Chicago World's Fair.


    George Gershwin combines black folk idiom and Broadway musical techniques in Porgy and Bess.


    Rodgers & Hammerstein's Oklahoma! opens and changes American musical theater by combining entertainment and serious subjects. Agnes de Mille choreographs the musical, capturing the essence of American folk dance.


    Benjamin Britten's Peter Grimes premieres in London, signalling the rebirth of British opera.


    George Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein establish the New York City Ballet. It makes its home at Lincoln Center in 1964.


    Tennessee Williams's A Streetcar Named Desire opens at Broadway's Ethel Barrymore Theatre, with Marlon Brando as Stanley Kowalski and Jessica Tandy as Blanche DuBois. The play wins the 1948 Pulitzer Prize.


    Broadway classic Guys and Dolls debuts at the 46th Street Theatre and becomes an instant hit. The show runs for three years and becomes one of the Great White Way's longest-running shows, with 1200 performances.


 Yul Brynner makes his first appearance as the king of Siam in Rodgers and Hammerstein's The King and I. Gertrude Lawrence costars (March 29).


    Jose Quintero's revival of Tennessee Williams's Summer and Smoke premieres at Broadway's Circle in the Square Theatre and is the first major Off-Broadway success.

Merce Cunningham forms his own dance company.


     Robert Joffrey Ballet debuts.


Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story debuts on Broadway and brings violence to the stage. Eugene O'Neill's A Long Day's Journey Into Night is produced posthumously and wins both the Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize.


Alvin Ailey establishes the American Dance Theatre.


    The first dance concert is held at New York's Judson Memorial Church, marking the beginning of the Judson Movement and postmodern dance. Judson dancers also introduce the use of a performance space instead of a stage. Judsonites include Meredith Monk, Trisha Brown and Lucinda Childs.


    The old Metropolitan Opera House is abandoned as the company moves to Lincoln Center. The new Metropolitan Opera opens with Samuel Barber's Antony and Cleopatra.


The rock musical Hair opens on Broadway.


    The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts opens in Washington, D.C., with the premiere of Leonard Bernstein's Mass.


    Premier Russian dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov defects and joins the American Ballet Theatre.


    Mark Morris establishes the Mark Morris Dance Group in New York and is widely received as the most promising modern-dance choreographer of his generation.


    Cats opens on Broadway and becomes Broadway's longest-running play.


    Harvey Fierstein's Torch Song Trilogy wins the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award and Tony Award for best play, marking the acceptance of gay theater.


The Metropolitan Opera installs screens on audience seats that display captions, to attract a wider audience.



Ann: Okay. With this information available to you, I can resume. There are different theories about the beginning of theater. According to Aristotle, the dithyramb was the origin of theatre …

Dean: Wait. You need to tell us: what is a dithyramb?

Ann: The dithyramb was an ancient Greek hymn sung to the god Dionysus. It was the music of their religion in the 6th century B.C.E. in Athens.

As you can see by my timeline, a poet by the name of Thespis started theater. Thespis impersonated a character and interacted with a chorus. He invented the “musical” – so to speak -- with chorus members, who were singer-dancers. There had been a chorus before he came on the scene, so to say, but now the singers engaged in dialogue with him.[iv]

Dean: Ah. (In good humor.) You must be a thespian.

Ann: Yes, I am. (Class laughs.)

Dean: Is that who you really are?

Ann: (She speaks back sharply.) Well, that’s what we are here to find out, isn't it? Who am I? Who are we?

Prof. Simon: (brusquely, in her defense) Ann is a poet and a dancer as well. (to the Dean) You might want to pick one or two countries for her to discuss. Otherwise, as you can see, she will never get through the story. Theater arts began in different countries around the world in many different ways.

Dean: I see Japan on your chart. How did theater begin there?

Ann: (shifting through her notes) It began with the Noh theatre in 1270. It was first called Suragaku but later the name was changed to the shorter form  Noh. (reading) Between 1333 and 1444, Kiyotsugu Kan’ami and Zeami, a father and son team, wrote the majority of the plays. They were the great innovators of Noh and their plays are still performed today.  In 1615, the Noh stage was standardized, and Noh began a long tradition of performances. 

(returning to her notes) In 1603, the Kabuki Theater began in bordellos and bars.  Women did the first performances and they were, really… I have to say, erotic. (Class laughs). Then in 1629, women were forbidden to perform in Kabuki theatres. Kabuki became exclusively male. In fact, women were prohibited from the stage for the next four hundred years. That is pretty ironic because it was women who created the Japanese theater.

Between 1675 and 1759, Kabuki Theater developed special characteristics. The plays usually lasted about twelve hours. (She looks up.) For me this is hard to believe, but apparently it’s true. In 1868, the length of a play was reduced to 8 hours. There is a lot of literature on Kabuki, I should add.[v]

Dean: Are Kabuki and Noh the whole story of theater in Japan?

Ann: No. There were also companies of actors who performed short comedies. Around the 14th century, the emperor established a “court” education for the arts. There was a mixture of pantomime and vocal acrobatics that lasted for hundreds of years.[vi]

Dean: This is all very interesting. (to Professor Simon.) But – History is not evolution. Evolution has a timeline, but there is more going on than a simple documenting or reciting of events. Let us think together now: How does theater manifest the principles of evolution that we have discussed? 

Prof. Simon: You and I talked briefly about those principles. (riffling his notes) Let’s see, you talked about simplicity-and-complexity, interior-and exterior, attraction-and-repulsion, equality-and-hierarchy, separation-and-synthesis, linearity-and-cycles, sacred-and-secular…My God, this is too much all at once. (He laughs.)

Dean: We don’t have time to discuss how all of them apply to the theater. So let’s go back to Greek theater and focus on what students can recognize there from our previous discussions. Ann is familiar with those principles. (He and Professor Simon both look to Ann.)

Ann: I can accent “principles” as I go along. I know them.

Let’s see: I mentioned how playwrights “invented” plays some 200 years after Thespis created a “social” dialogue with his chorus. We see the plots of tragedy and comedy emerging with increasing “complexity”. The first three playwrights were tragedians.

You could say that tragedy is an attempt to “resolve opposites.” Dramatists argue that Greek tragedy should be seen as interplay of opposites” – what have been called the Dionysian and Apollonian forces.

Aeschylus is famous for his Oresteia. Here I see greater “complexity” in plot formation. Yes, I would argue that human drama developed more complexity during the peak period of development of Greek tragedy. I think Sophocles developed even more complexity in Oedipus Rex 

Dean: Let me see if I follow you: Greek playwrights put abstract ideas into their stories, developing a greater “interiority” in the process.  

Ann: Yes, I would agree with that. (The Dean nods to proceed.)  A more complex interplay began to develop between the roles that actors took. There was an increased refinement and expansion of each character, more individuality, and a greater emphasis on the dimensions of emotional life.

Dean: What about sacred and secular?

Ann: (Thinking.) At first, these plays developed a strong religious theme—Athena and Apollo played prominent roles in the resolution of Aeschylus’s trilogy the Oresteia, for example—but Euripides began to develop a “natural” (I would say, more secular) theme in his work.

And a new form of comedy was also developing. Aristophanes and Menander wrote in “topical satire.” There were a lot of crude emotions in them – like…aaa… farting and references to intercourse. (Ann is trying to be polite. Students notice her embarrassment; some giggle.) That didn’t survive as well as the tragedies.

Dean: Why? (He looks to Professor Simon.)

Prof. Simon: The comedic topics were related to the specific aspects and details of their day; those change over time. Tragedy deals with more universal themes.  Deep thoughts and emotions are timeless. And yet (thinking again) the two styles are universal. Comedy and tragedy have always existed in theater, nonetheless. Both of these types of theater are timeless.

Dean: Emotions! Timeless?

Prof. Simon: Emotions are the essential subject matter of theater. Deep emotions are timeless, yes, rage, grief, jealousy, humor, love. They are always with us – regardless of culture.

Dean: You mean timeless in terms of human history. Emotions are not in the stars. (Simon nods vigorously, “Yes, of course.” But Prof. Kornberg is thinking, “Atoms are timeless. They are always with us.”)

Ann said that four thousand years ago theater consisted mostly of festivals and circus performances in which crude emotions were expressed. Does theater history show how the crude evolves into the refined over time?

 (Professor Simon does not realize that a discussion of “evolving emotions” already began in their class on biology. The Dean is struck with how theater history might tell him more about how emotions evolve, and he wants students to get involved.)

How do “rage” and “terror” in animals develop into human versions of “anger” and “fear”? Theater might tell us something about this evolution.

Prof. Simon: (looking puzzled: to the Dean). Would you explain more of what you mean?

Dean: Humans share the emotion of panic with animals, but in Homo sapiens the brain is evolving more. When does a feeling of respect first evolve? When does a sense of courtesy appear? When does patience appear in theater? The history of human emotions has never been written. What do students think?[vii]

Tom: In biology, we do not know for sure if we can use the word “emotion” to refer to what happens at the animal level. I could see “patience” in the lion “waiting” for the kill. Lions wait patiently to pounce on antelopes. But this is an instinct.

Kathleen: I think that patience develops intofaith” over time. Look at the story of Job in the Old Testament. (Students look puzzled.)

Tom: If animal terror evolves into fear in humans I mean… if the emotion goes beyond pure—frozen—panic, people develop more choices for action. Animal panic is different from human fear in that it may mix with anxiety. There is more freedom to act in a variety of ways when this condition manifests in humans.

Ann: (She sees his point and hopes to bring the discussion back to her subject.) And so the greater number of emotions you can master in theater means the greater power you have as an actor. Yeah. There is more choice -- for actors to portray the range of human emotions. (She thinks): Panic, terror, fright, dread, horror… mmmm …. shock, unease, anxiety…these are all different human emotions. The actor must know them all. 

And there is more choice for writing plays when you know all the different emotions. Do you understand what am I saying? (Everybody laughs; heads nod “Yes.” This matter of “increasing freedom” has been a key principle of evolution in their sessions.)

Prof. Simon: The history of theater may help to show how emotions evolve, but some student would have to do special research on the matter. I don’t know how emotions came to be sequenced. Atoms develop into molecules, yes? You have a timeline, don’t you? (The Dean nods.)

Dean: Well, I think the history of theater would also have data on the “history of emotions.” (looking back and forth, from Prof. Simon to Ann) Tell us more about this history. Maybe we can pick up the subject again.  

Prof. Simon: I will pick up where Ann left off. Let’s see: back in Greece and Rome.

 Roman theater developed carnival-like religious festivals. There were not many subtle emotions expressed in those events, which included prizefighting, flute playing, dancing, and some acting.[viii]

After the fall of the Roman Empire, theater died, for all practical purposes. During the rise of Christianity, these festivals began to be seen as “pagan,” uncivilized. (referring to Ann’s chart.)

Now let’s see. There is not much evolution in theater during the Dark Ages. Formal theater began again when religious plays started to be performed again with the formation of guilds and the growth of towns, in Europe at least.[ix]

Dean: Theater died in the Dark Ages, you say? Then, what about continuity? Remember that principle we’ve been studying? Does Greek and Roman drama become extinct before another species arises? How does this compare with our views on the continuity of biological evolution? Tom, what do you think?

Tom: I could make a guess based on biology. (The Dean nods “Yes, please.” Pause.) The taxonomic structure of biological life goes from the Kingdom (such as Animalia) to Phylum to Class to Order to Family to Genus to Species and Subspecies.

So we can make this analogy: theater is a species of art while music and painting represent other species under the same genus. So, art is the Genus and theater is the Species, while Greek and Roman Theater are subspecies. (The Dean is surprised at his imaginative proposal, but wiggles his finger around in the air signing that he is not sure where Tom is going…)

So let’s say… (Tom is thinking hard). Let’s say that Greek drama is a subspecies of a class. It is like a butterfly that exists under the class of Insecta. And there are many subspecies of butterflies that die out but leave their genes to other developing butterflies. So Greek theater died out as a unique species but left its type of drama to the Romans, who took it up giving it a different coloring. And then that species got wiped out, while another species began to evolve.

Dean: Wow, Tom! Good guess! And you’ve really fleshed it out for us. So say we are back in the Dark Ages. Tom, try this one! Would we call this a period of regression for theater? (Silence, then…)

Tom: Lightning starts fires that destroy forests. There is nothing left but arid land -- until another set of trees starts to grow up. It looks like the Dark Ages until a new forest rebuilds.[x]

Prof. Simon: Tom, you are nothing less than amazing! Yes. I think theater stayed alive in the memory of the “genes” carried by new roving bands of jongleurs. These were wandering entertainers in northern Europe, something like minstrels, who sang and recited poetry. (Benedict figures that Simon is not familiar with cultural theory. It is “memes”-- not genes -- that are carried forward in culture.) In the history of the Dark Ages, that is, we see street players, jugglers, acrobats and animal trainers. They continued the practices, customs and spirit of theater at that time.

The Catholic Church wanted to bring religion to the pagans. So the clergy began to use types of “theater” -- for their own holidays -- to tell the Christian story. They needed theater to create the dramas of Christmas and Easter… But let Ann continue with this part of the history.

Ann: Thanks. In the post-Roman Empire, theater became a part of Church activity. Priests took turns playing Jesus, his disciples, and other Biblical figures like Herod. Soon the religious dramas moved out of church sanctuaries and into the towns. Passion plays remained in the new towns. During the Medieval era, these were Christian plays based on the story of the suffering and death of Jesus. And then came the rise of guilds and local governments, and finally the Protestant Reformation. Now we begin to see a secularization of theater.

Dean: Secularization. Ah! What do you mean?

Ann: It means that the church does not control the theater. Instead, theater evolved along with the institutions of society.  

Dean: You mean: institutions in society are differentiating.

Ann: Yes. Theater differentiates along with institutions, such as government and the market, as well as with religion. It took the free market to allow theaters to differentiate and evolve. (She looks to Professor Simon.)

Simon: In 1642, the British Parliament closed the theaters. This occurred during the time of Oliver Cromwell and the Commonwealth in England. There was no theater again there until Charles II came to the throne in 1660. The plays at that time were masques—I mean, with a concentration on costume, dance and bright scenery, not much acting with a plot. (He signals Anne to continue.)

Anne: But during the 1600s in France, theater developed further with Jean Racine and Molière. They wrote some of the best comedies in European history. (You can see them listed on my chart.) I personally like Le Misanthrope by Molière because the play differs so much from other farces at the time. It had dynamic characters, like Alceste and Célimène, as opposed to the flat characters of most satirists. (The Dean recalls that artists in ancient Egypt drew flat figures with no third dimension and depth.)

What else can I say? Women began to appear on stage, instead of just young men and boys taking female roles, which had been the case even in the plays performed during Shakespeare’s time, and in England right up until the revival of theater in 1660. This was a big step. After that, as we have been saying, greater freedom evolves. And we are in a market society.

Dean: Questions? (He looks to the class.)

James: A couple of times you mentioned a market society.  How exactly did that affect theater?

Simon: Theaters had been licensed and controlled by the state, but at the beginning of the 18th Century, we see a broader concept of theater appealing to property owners and merchants, and then eventually to the general public.


Dean: (to students.) Others? Do you have questions about playwrights who might have led us to understand more about ‘who we are?

Mary: William Shakespeare. Theater and drama must have taken a big leap with him. I don’t think anybody has ever equaled his power as a writer.

Simon: Shakespeare opened new doors for theater.  What had been private performance for royalty went public on the stage at that time. He portrayed the private emotional life of kings and queens, for example, and shocked people with new language. He invented new ideas and feelings. (He looks at the Dean puzzling at his own assertion, whether feelings can be “invented,” and then looks to Ann.)

Ann: In Shakespeare's time, theater the emphasis on stage scenery was lessened and the plot’s complexity increased. Shakespeare didn’t need scenery. His characters inform the audience of their whereabouts:  “we are in the Forest of Arden,” they state outright, or on the battlements of a Danish castle, or on the seacoast of Bohemia. There was just a bare stage jutting out among the spectators, flanked by galleries and balconies.

Dean: Anything more you can tell us about evolution in this context?

Simon: Drama was evolving with new emotional complexity –a long way, yes, from those Roman spectacles. Shakespeare openly expresses feelings that had been hidden, subtler. Private feelings go public. (He is looking to Ann.) 

Could we say to the Dean that we see a tension between what he calls “antinomies” – conscious and unconscious, private and public, reason and feeling?

Ann: Yes. Theater labors through resolutions. Shakespeare invented hundreds of words and phrases to create new ideas with feeling. I think he was the greatest creator of feeling through his metaphors. (The Dean’s eyes flash.) I recall some of his sayings. “The earth has music for those who listen.” “The love of heaven makes one heavenly.” “There’s method in my madness”; “I wear my heart on my sleeve”; and “fair play,” “a sorry sight.” Shakespeare was beyond incredible! 

Simon: The feelings expressed through his characters ranged from some of the rawest to the most and colloquial, eloquent, idealistic. He could lift an audience – in the midst of watching a bloody war – from a feeling of sickness to a sense of grandeur. He knew how to bring emotional opposites into a play.

Dean: He wrote more on war than on peace.

Simon: Still, if you read his plays carefully you will find him condemning war.

Dean: How?

Simon: Shakespeare’s villains subvert “the glory of war.” You will see subversive intent in Henry V and nearly every other one of Shakespeare’s works on war. These plays pretend to depict the heroism of battle, but their subtext calls into question the legitimacy of war. They critique the actions of “mighty men.” They “mangle their glory.” Shakespeare exposes the immorality that thrives under the guise of bravery and nationalism.

Dean: Interesting! (Pause. He is eager to keep the discussion on principles.) Wait. Students, are there more questions from you about how theater evolved on a continuum with society?

We talked about how biologists see the eye of animals becoming more and more complex over time. There was an accumulation of complexity through small mutations – all preserved by natural selection.[xi]

Tom: (Jumps in.) The concept of a continuum in complexity applies to everything in evolution. Look at the "evolution" of the computer, all the way from the abacus to my laptop here. Each step along the way is an improvement on the one before it: an abacus is definitely better than counting fingers and toes, a Commodore 64 is way, way better than an abacus, and a Pentium is better than a Commodore 64…

Dean: Yes, but that’s technology. We talked about how technology is the clearest example of a continuum. Remember? We saw the continuum of an increase in speed—from walking to chariots to bicycles, automobiles, airplanes, jets and rockets. But theater and drama has its own nature.

Simon: Hmmm. Well, for one thing evolution in theater is connected with the evolution in government, although the changes were more cyclical in the former. The relationship between them went up and down, that is. The Beggar's Opera in 1728 met with great popular success, for example, but the satire was too sharp for government officials. The government retaliated as a result and imposed strict laws of censorship in 1737. In fact, for the next 150 years, there was a decline in theater; only a few English authors dared to bother with drama, and they were better known for other forms of writing, mostly poetry. I have Robert Browning in mind and a few others in England. Goethe wrote plays—Fausts I and II, Iphigenia and Tasso inspired in great part by Shakespeare and the Greek tragedians, but the novel was the most common nineteenth century work of prose writing in Europe.

Dean: It is interesting to see how antinomies resolve: sacred-secular, private-public, reason-emotion. Tell us more about changes from the sacred to the more secular modes of theater. 

Simon: (concerned about the Dean’s abstract use of over-arching terms.) It is hard to define how these differences resolve over time. As theater developed in the 19th century in Europe—let’s keep our focus there for now it moved from being very religious-centered (by this I mean Christian) to being focused on the human. But I am worried about too much theory in our discussion. (He decides to challenge the Dean on his project, since Simon believes the Dean is overemphasizing principles.)

Look at Faust in the 1800s. (pausing; to the class) You must have heard something about  Faust, the play by Johann von Goethe—today as you know you can Google the whole text!—(Quoting Faust, Simon mocks the “principles” that the Dean would apply to all fields of knowledge.):


I've studied now Philosophy

And Jurisprudence, Medicine,

And even, alas! Theology

All through and through with ardor keen!

Here now I stand, poor fool, and see

I'm just as wise as formerly.


.Faust is about a man who shows that intellectuals attempt to master all knowledge. He is in a struggle to know everything he can about the whole universe. (Some students see the dig.) The story of Faust is about religion and humanity. Could it be an analogue for what you attempting in this very class?

Dean: Yeah. But Faust is a character out of German Romanticism. We do not belong to his category. We stand between the real and the ideal and are looking for resolutions. We are not simply “romantic.” (The Dean knows that Simon is challenging his project.  He is familiar with Goethe’s story in which the Devil enters as the tempter of the academic mindand about what happens to any “mad genius” who would attempt to act, unfettered by rules.)

Simon: Romanticism dominated much of the theater during the first half of the nineteenth century in Europe. Could this happen again to a great mind? (He is complimenting and criticizing the Dean at the same time, an emotionally charged moment.)

Dean: ((The Dean feels the sting but keeps calm.) Let’s strive to stay truthful and seek a sincere path. I have argued that Romanticism cannot win out over Realism. Nor can Spiritualism win over Materialism.  (smiling at Professor Simon) I get your point. Now, let’s continue with the history of theater. Tell us about Romanticism.

Simon: The French playwright René Charles Guilbert de Pixérécourt paved the way for French Romanticism. However, Victor Hugo's Hernani (1830) is considered the first French Romantic drama.

Dean: I think European theater expressed all the philosophies of art.

Simon: Well, yes. You can see contrasting themes between Romanticism and Naturalism, Idealism and Realism. They evolved out of one another, if you will.  

Theater strove for realism after the Renaissance. But when realism reached its pinnacle in the late 19th century, an anti-realistic reaction erupted against that perspective as though it were an enemy. An avant-garde appears. Artists felt that a greater truth could be found on the dark side of a..uumm…let’s say in the unconscious where the deeper emotions exist.[xii]  

Dean: Simplicity and complexity. Is there a constant increase of complexity? What do you think Ann?

Ann: (Surprised at his sudden shift.) Aaaa…Yes, well. Music and theater are becoming more complex simultaneously, I would say…mmm (glancing down at her notes). But there may be a limit to the increasing of their complexity.

Richard Wagner’s operas show a more complicated (she reads) “contrapuntal texture, rich harmonies and orchestration, and an elaborate use of leitmotifs. He pioneered advances in musical language, like great color and shifting tonal centers.” For sure, Wagner transformed the arts by mixing them together. He called this combination "total artwork."

Dean: Would you call this a synthesis? (Ann is not prepared to answer his question in detail and looks to her professor.)

Simon: Wagner was synthesizing all the poetic, visual, musical and dramatic arts. So the answer to your question is, Yes. You should see his four-opera cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen. He was a playwright-artist-architect-and-composer all together. He wanted to create a perfect world. He wanted the audience to have a total communal experience of the arts.[xiii]

Benedict: And so symbolism in theater becomes more complex. Right? The arts are becoming richer and deeper in meaning. But what about the principle of “simplicity”? Let’s go back to the history once more with this aspect in mind.

Simon: Well. (He does not want to oversimplify.) French Symbolism continued the Romantic tradition, but it was also a reaction to Impressionism. It developed the darker sides of Romanticism as it moved finally into more abstraction. The texts were laden with suggestive images; they were not easily interpreted.  The general mood of plays became slow and dream-like.

Dean: Do we see a cycle here? Is there a “back-and-forth” between principles?

Simon: Well. (Again he feels internal conflict against the Dean’s generalizations about history.) Playwrights wanted to evoke an unconscious response rather than just a conscious one. They began to dismiss “reason” -- right to the point of absurdity.[xiv]

Dean: Absurdity! This is now a new conflict -- Reason versus Absurdity.

Simon:  Well. (“Maybe the Dean is pushing “reason” into absurdity with his quest,” he thinks.) You could look at it that way. A popular genre of the 20th century was called Absurdism. (He sees puzzled faces among the students.)

Absurdist dramatists depicted people who were “lost” in the world. All human actions were viewed as senseless, meaningless, useless. They emphasized our separation from life’s meaning; eliminated cause-and-effect relationships among incidents; and they reduced language to a game without any power for communication. They viewed the world as alienating and incomprehensible, made the places they depicted nonspecific.

Absurdism reached its peak in the 1950s, after World War II that is, but it kept influencing drama right through the 1970s. Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot is considered a quintessential Absurdist play.[xv]

Dean: So we see parallel attitudes toward the world in theater and literature -- Realism and Idealism, Romanticism and Naturalism. Theater “acts out” the emotions behind these philosophies, so that we are made to feel them.

Simon: Yes. Theater expresses the feelings behind all this “reasoning.” The drama in Realism developed especially after World War I. It had its own variations. Look at the plays of Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams. These plays use memory scenes, dream sequences, symbolic characters, projections, and the like.

Then look at Eugene O'Neill's later works, such as Long Day's Journey into Night from 1956. The poetic dialogue softened the hard edge of realism. Scenery was more suggestive than realistic…

Dean:  What about theater in other countries at this time? 

Simon: European drama was not influenced by psychological realism. It was concerned more with ideas. You should see the work of the Italian dramatist Luigi Pirandello, and the French playwrights Jean Anouilh and Jean Giraudoux, and the Belgian playwright Michel de Ghelderode.[xvi]

Dean: And sooo… Did modern theater follow an entirely different track in China, Egypt, and South America?

Simon: Oh heavens. (Again he notices the Dean’s desire to know everything.) There are too many countries with different histories to talk about within the time limit of this class. We cannot cover them all.

Dean: You’re right. (The Dean goes back to his key question.) Ann, once again, do you think that theater gives us a richer understanding ourselves? Does theater help us answer the question “Who are we”?

Ann: Yes. (forthrightly) Some people say that plays are just entertainment. But I would say theater helps us learn about ourselves. A play asks the audience, “With which character do you most identify?” (Pause) Anyway, that’s what I think.

Dean: Interesting. So, could theater help us evolve? What is the purpose of theater? (The Dean cannot avoid the question of whether evolution has a “purpose,” even though he knows this view is contrary to the outlook of science. Professor Kornberg is sitting in the class, listening, and waiting for an appropriate time to speak.)

Simon: Emotions are called up in us when we watch a play, such as a tragedy. In his Poetics Aristotle speaks about catharsis as a "purging" of emotions. That’s a purpose. It is therapeutic if you will. Theater is an “education” for our emotions.  

The philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer said that spectators develop “self-knowledge” in watching a play. He also said that people “grow” when watching a drama. They see their limitations in the face of “power and fate.” Theater can give them a sense of humility and insight into their illusions.

Look at Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House. It was banned in England – as too realistic. People rejected it and didn’t want to look at it. But after a while, by watching it, they learned how to see themselves better.[xvii]

Dean: Aristotle’s “purging” has to do—I think—with the idea of removing human imperfections. Could life be evolving in this way?

Simon: What do you mean? (Kornberg is also curious.)

Dean: Are we getting better and better? I mean, are we moving toward perfection? (Kornberg recoils:  this is a version of the Dean’s “idealism.”)

Look at the evolution of the eye. Could we be developing a higher level of seeing colors, and of hearing sounds? The senses are all differentiated in the evolution of the animal body. In evolution we have seen our physical senses evolve as the different modes of perceiving, and knowing: seeing (eyes), hearing (ears), touching (skin), tasting (tongue). Could human senses come back together at a higher level in the next thousand years? Remember our talk about synaesthesia?[xviii]

Simon: I’m not following you.

Dean: Look at the evolution of the eye. It kept getting better and better, I mean, more refined. The capacity to perceive colors evolved slowly in the eyes of animals. At one time “we” had no rods and cones. “We” could not see colors. (By saying “we,” the Dean is identifying with frogs and lizards, without consciously realizing it.) Now think of colors – red, blue, green, yellow – all that we can see. They are like emotions in our mind. Red stands for anger, we can say, since that is one of its symbolic senses. But “white” contains all the colors put together.

Simon: So?

Dean: If the combination of all colors were "white," then the essence of all emotions could be some pure—or high—feeling. That’s logical. White would include all other colors. Some transcendent feeling …like Agape, the Greek work for a selfless kind of love, some people would say the highest kind…could include all feeling.

Simon: What would scientists say about your idea? (Kornberg says nothing.)

Dean: (looking at Kornberg for insight, or maybe a fight.) Am I right? In chemistry, the origin and essence of all things is light, whiteness again. The nature of light can be defined through its different vibrations. Everything – and everyone -- in the universe is composed of vibrations. For you as a chemist, that’s the essence of our nature. That’s who we are. We are a set of vibrations of light. (Kornberg remains silent, waiting for a better opportunity. ”We are divine, each and every one of us,” Kathleen in thinking, but also says nothing.))

Simon: Vibrations. Well, you are beyond me.

Dean: Mystics claim that they see a pure light – a “white” too bright for their eyes. Could that white light contain all the emotions known to humankind? (Kornberg thinks the Dean is too far out. He is feeling incensed until he notices a glint of humor in the Dean’s eye. Could he be teasing? Or, is he playing with ideas to stimulate the students’ imaginations?)

Prof. Benedict: Could the life and spirit of sages like the Buddha be made of “pure lightness of being”? (The Dean now wonders whether she is serious or not.)

Dean: Good, Professor Benedict. And would you kindly tell us more about what you mean?

Benedict: (returning to the subject of theater) I saw a theater production last night by Evan Brenner. It is a monologue drawn directly from the Pali Canon, that is, the Theravada Buddhist scriptures. It tells the life story of Siddhartha Gautama. You should see it.

Dean: I would like to see it. (Smiles.) Now tell us about colors in that Buddhist tradition.

Benedict: Colors are an important part of Tibetan Buddhism. For example, there is the Buddhist idea of the "rainbow body." This is the penultimate “transitional state” of meditation in which matter is transformed into pure light. It is said to be the highest state attainable in the realm of samsara, the realm of suffering where we all live in our typical human condition, before the "clear light" of Nirvana. The spectrum itself contains all possible manifestations of light. The rainbow body points to the awakening of the inner self. You awaken to the most “complete reservoir of knowledge” that it is possible to access on earth -- before stepping over the threshold into Nirvana.[xix]  

Simon: Interesting. That reminds me. I saw a play about the Buddha called Siddhartha. It was an adaptation of Herman Hesse’s classic novel about the Buddha. I should also add—and Dean, take note if you would—that theater in this case is drama but also non-drama; I mean, this notion of “pureness” where there is no emotion.

Dean: No emotion: explain to us more of what that means.

Simon: Well. I saw an opera at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City called Satyagraha. It was about the power of light and “truth-force” that Gandhi proclaimed.

Dean: Class, are you with us? (He notices that professors are talking among themselves. but student heads nod “Yes,” somewhat tentatively.)

Simon: The opera Satyagraha was by Philip Glass. There were no dramatic emotions, I mean, no fierce jealousy or flaming resentment. There was no adultery, betrayal, revenge, and murder, no gripping drama.

Dean: But I have read that “drama” is what theater is all about. What do you mean?

Simon: Drama was not the focus, well, at least, not the essence of this opera. The leading edge was a feeling of pureness, purity. (The Dean questions softly “What?”) 

Aristotle says that a plot is a knot. It is tied out of the multiple strands of competing wills and desires. The ugly knot will in due course come undone. It happens in a climactic moment of “loosening tension” or "dénouement."

Dean: So what happened in the opera Satyagraha?

Simon: Not much.

Dean: (The sides of the Dean’s mouth simulate sympathy.) You need to have personal ambitions to fuel a plot. Remember Antigone with her allegiances and all that righteousness? And Carmen, with her seductiveness! So, tell us what you mean. No drama?

Simon: It seems cruel to ask male choristers in an opera to sing monotone repetitions of “ha, ha, ha, ha” for nearly 10 minutes. Philip Glass requires that, and I was bored. But I tell you: my feelings changed. I felt an amazing shift in mood.

The chorus was singing with conviction, and I began to cross a threshold as the music touched me. I started to see a world where change happens so slowly -- and carefully -- that each different harmony -- and added rhythm -- seemed monumental.

Dean: And so for you… it became what?

Simon: I cannot say exactly. It was not Medea's infanticide. It was not Peter Grimes's anguish. This was not Western drama. (Everyone leans forward in their seats.) I dunno. His subject was human goodness at the highest pitch. It was pure… light.[xx]

Dean: (remembering Gandhi) Gandhi’s strategy was to keep repeating small acts based on respect, nothing violent. His goal was human service. And…he believed in simplicity. (Pause.) He was a highly evolved human.

Mary: (catching on) Gandhi was both complex and simple at the same time!

Simon: The opera is simple. But the structure of Satyagraha is carefully organized… deeply meaningful. (The Dean, whispering loudly, “Why?”) The characters are uttering passages from the Bhaghavad Gita. The Gita text deepens that feeling of simplicity.

Dean: (The whole class is now catching up with Mary’s realization of the Dean’s argument in this context: that simplicity goes with greater complexity in the evolution of theater and opera, too.) So Glass wants to reproduce the spirit of Gandhi.

Simon: Right. That opera, I tell you, was poetry. It hovered between abstraction and the real. It had the quality of old religious rituals. For me, it evoked a different understanding of Satyagraha. It was all fresh and new.

Dean: Can you give the class some sample of the scenes -- in this drama with no drama? That would help us understand.

Simon: Well… there was the Indian Opinion scene. Here we see Gandhi in South Africa, when he was a young lawyer, holding a first-class rail ticket. He was thrown off the train because he was of a different race, pushed physically onto the platform.

He became outraged at racial injustice. You see him wearing the proper, dowdy black-and-white clothes of the Victorian lawyer, the frock coat and the well-shined shoes.

As the opera progresses, it happens almost imperceptibly, but he sheds more and more of his clothes. By the end he's the Gandhi you recognize from images of him: the slender, bird-legged figure in the white loincloth.

Dean: So a simple change of clothes …

Simon: These acts of shedding outer garments had an extraordinary power in this staging. It is like people shedding their ego. At the end of the battle scene in Act I, you know that Gandhi has the support of the chorus. Suddenly they take off their shoes and line them up, dozens of them, downstage.

Dean: So the chorus is “evolving” with Gandhi.

Simon: It helps observers understand his need to drop violence in favor of a new kind of conflict. This same gesture is amplified in a scene on taking the "Vow" at the end of that act. The supporters of Gandhi – during his resolution to fight the British racial law -- start removing their outer garments. They hang them on hangers that have been lowered from the ceiling. The dozens of frock coats and ladies' coats and shawls and veils suddenly float toward the ceiling. It transforms into a moment of deep feeling.

Dean: Gandhi was a Hindu, but I think he transcended religion: he represented humanity. (The Dean, an   agnostic, is wary of religion.)

Simon: On stage you feel the beauty of selflessness and service. You see this change in feeling going into exaltation and joy. It goes with the abandonment of the "I" for the "we." They say with the Bhagavad Gita: "Let people feel hatred for no being.” The scene is spare, but it has these elevated feelings.

Dean: A simple shedding of clothes! The ordinary becoming extraordinary.

Simon: That’s what struck me. The “ordinary” change becomes the exalted symbol. There is something of the hieratic about them. It’s a mystery play.

Dean: A mystery play?

Simon: Gandhi sings: "The Lord said, I have passed through many a birth and many have you. I know them all but you do not." These sacral lines are sung to a single musical figure—a beautiful ascending scale, of eight notes, in the Phrygian mode, repeated thirty times and yet never quite the same in each repetition.

Professor Britten: (He breaks into the conversation.) So the musical repetition is gripping!

Simon: Yes. Each repetition is always a little different. It’s a paradox. (Each participant in the class is simultaneously thinking something different about Prof. Simon’s report regarding Philip Glass’s opera Satyagraha.  Surprised at Simon’s knowledge of music, Professor Britten is focusing on his mention of the “Phrygian mode.” The Dean, on the other hand, is thinking about “DNA” and the principle of repetition in evolution. Professor Benedict is pondering Gandhi’s reference to reincarnation in “many births.”)

Simon: Yes…the play has a transcendent quality. It makes you feel as if something new has been achieved. (He looks to the class.) This play should raise some questions about “who you are.” (No one says a word, and Professor Britten fills in the hush.)

Professor Britten: I thought of that when I was listening last night to Kodaly’s Duo for Cello and Violin. May I speak about it?

Dean: Yes, of course.

Britten: Zoltan Kodaly wrote this Duo in 1914. It’s a transformation of folksong experience in Hungary into a classical structure—a “transcendence,” you might say, of folk into classical. In the opening movement, you hear the extreme range of both the violin and the cello. Kodaly uses wild tumultuous sounds and rich sonorities.  (Britten pauses.) I was repelled by the sound at first, but then I began to be attracted to it. I sensed the way in which he was expressing the feelings of Hungarian friends -- the pain and agony they had felt in their lives.

In the second movement, the violin goes center stage, wailing in the Magyar styles, with cello accompaniment. That sound was foreign and dissonant to me, but then I connected again with those Hungarians: a scream, a shout, and agony. Kodaly was sharing his life experience, translating into music those gut feelings of people he knew in Hungary.[xxi]

Dean: Yes. I heard the Duo long ago. Kodaly retained the folk tradition and yet transformed the music into something greater. (He is connecting in his mind this particular “transformation” and “transcendence” with those in the history of the universe.)

Britten: In this piece, I could hear the scream for freedom. It reminded me of what you said about the Glass opera. Not everyone can “hear” what I heard, however. I mean, not everyone would understand it the way I did. (The Dean nods agreement.)

In the case of Kodaly’s Duo, I would say that the musicians and the audience were not where I was when I was listening to it last night. They were fascinated with his ability to combine dissonance and harmony, just marveling at the sound and appreciating his skill as a composer.

Dean: Kodaly’s music was new. New music can sound like noise to many people.[xxii]

Britten: Yes. Great composers thought Beethoven was noise at first. Franz Schubert was Beethoven’s contemporary, and he did not like it – at first.

Dean: Why?

Britten: Schubert grew up listening to the harmonies of Mozart. When he heard Beethoven, he wrote in his journal that this “new composer confounds the tragic and the comic, the sacred and the profane, the pleasant and the unpleasant, heroic strains and mere howling.” He said Beethoven brings feelings “not of love but of madness.” He incites people to “scornful laughter instead of lifting our thoughts to God.” He hated what Beethoven was doing. Only during later years did Schubert appreciate Beethoven’s power. [xxiii] 

Dean: He could not comprehend how music in his day was becoming more complex and beautiful.

Britten: There was not exactly a progression into Beethoven. Each preceding composer can be appreciated for his own sake. Mozart was a genius in his own way.

Dean: (The Dean looks at his watch and realizes that the time will run out before Professor Burns has had a chance to speak.) Professor Burns (looking his way), how do our thoughts on theater translate into the history of poetry? Evolution. How does nature work?  Give us your history of poetry.

Wait. Everybody stand up for a minute. Stretch your arms and legs. (He goes to the blackboard and writes:)


The History of Poetry (as Evolution)

Professor Burns: Okay. Thanks. Well.

Poetry began in ancient times with oration.  Storytellers would recite their histories, explain religious beliefs and recount the dramatic stories of their lives together. The stories were passed along from one generation to the next through epic poems. They gradually developed rhyming patterns and a lyric quality. I think this made stories easier to memorize and more enjoyable to hear. (He sees the Dean glancing at his watch.)

Since our time is so short, unfortunately I will have to give you the condensed version of this history. Two sentences will have to suffice. Ancient oration went into metered verse, and then beginning in the 19th century into free verse, and now -- to hypertext. Poetry is based on the evolution of language in society. (The Dean senses the frustration in Prof. Burns’s clipped presentation.)

Harry: Hypertext?

Burns: It is a new genre that uses the computer and screen as medium. These literary works rely on the qualities of a digital environment, and different effects such as sound and movement.[xxiv]

Harry: You mean: Poetry evolves with new technology!

Burns: (Smiles.) More than that! Oral poetry is now sometimes performed as “Slam poetry.”

Dean: What is that?

Burns: “Slam poetry” originated in Chicago with competitive performances of avant-garde poetry. The readings were often focused on performance – which was the case with the early epics.

Dean: Wait! Go back. We need more details in this history. How did poetry start? 

Burns: Well, consider the Iliad in Ancient Greek times and Beowulf in Middle English. At first, the stories were oral. People made no distinction between what we would call “myth” and “history.”…Hmmm…this was “history with fabulous elements,”  “myth” with some correspondence to fact.

Dean: How did these tales evolve?

Burns: They evolved from one another – the way, as you might say, that molecules evolved from atoms. Virgil composed the Aeneid by following closely the epics attributed by many to Homer, the Iliad and the Odyssey. He hoped that his would be the Roman version of these two Greek epics, joined together perhaps. He combined (yes, synthesized) old myths and Homeric legend. The poetic details were his inventions. The foundation is the hexameter, the same in both languages, and the body also has its rhythm. [xxv]

Dean: (He likes the allusion to “synthesis” and “inventions.”) What can be said about the appearance of a poem like Beowulf? It must be dated as far back as maybe the 7th century C.E.?

Burns: Poetry is based on meter. You can identify the alliteration and meter of the first 16 lines of Beowulf. It is a narrative full of analogical episodes with lyrical moments, grim comedy and even grimmer tragedy. Some of its creatures—they can hardly be called characters—are less-than-human. [xxvi]

Harry: You say that the foundation of poetry is the meter. What do you mean?

 Burns: Meter is a pattern of sound; it’s the rhythm of a poem. (Looks to the larger class.) In poetry, a “foot” is composed of syllabic sounds. In English, meter is broken into feet by stressed and unstressed syllables. In Latin and Greek, the length of the syllables is used to define a foot.

Dean: Hmm. And rhyme?

Burns: Dean, you will like this: Rhyme is the “repetition” of sounds. Sounds can take different forms. I spoke of alliteration in Beowulf: alliteration is the repetition of consonants. Assonance is the repetition of vowels. Rhyme schemes can use both assonance and alliteration. This is perfect rhyme.

Dean: Do other students have questions? (There is a moment of silence; finally Derek speaks.)

Derek: What is poetry? I’m not clear.

Burns: Me either. I’m not sure! (Class laughs.) Well. Regular writing is the organization of words in a purposeful way. But poetry is even more purposeful, with more intention. There is more thought behind the choices a writer makes with words.

Derek: More choice? More purpose?

Burns: When poets write, they make special choices about the use of their words and meter. They want to create an emotion, or express an idea better. They may want to transmit a sense of beauty, or … just entertain people. There is great deal of intent and purpose in the arrangement of poetic words. 

Dean: More purpose in writing poetry! Interesting. What do students think? Purpose? And what does this have to do with Evolution?

Katherine: (after looking around for others to speak) For scientists, there is no purpose to evolution. There is no purpose in the evolution of stars. There is no purpose to the earth. (There is a tone of clipped anger in her response.) There is no purpose in a robin being born. (She is so acerbic that she surprises everybody. Students think: it’s not her nature to speak in this way. Some students believe she is becoming more assertive, but others think she feels guilty: there is no purpose in having her baby. Kornberg twists in his seat as he hears her sarcasm.)

Kornberg: Thank God we have science!  

Dean: Yes! Thank God we have science … and poetry! (He looks to Professor Burns.) I have been proposing that evolution is based on “opposition, tension, and resolution.” This would include the tensions between purpose and chance, structure and change, and more. The resolution tells us something about the nature of evolution.

Burns: But I don’t understand “oppositions.” We do talk about the contradictions in lyric poetry. “A poem is made of contradictions,” the Polish poet Adam Zagajewski has written, “but it can’t cover them.” Maybe that is connected to what you mean.

Dean: Yes, I’d say they are connected. I see oppositions—contradictions, antinomies: there is more than one term for them—as active throughout evolution. For example, structure and change: how does that contradiction work in poetry? They are virtual opposites, and yet they each need each another to exist. (Burns nods in agreement.) Every poem is different—that’s change. But a poem must have some structure.

Burns: Well, poetry has structure all right. Hmmm. Look at iambic pentameter. (The Dean nods for him to proceed.) It contains five feet per line. The predominant foot is the "iamb.” This structure was first used in ancient Greece, by some of the lyric, and by the great tragedians of Athens.

In ancient Greek and Latin, this form was based on the alternating length of syllables—first a short, then a long, with some variations.  Iambic pentameter, based on stressed and unstressed syllables rather than on their length, comes natural to English. It was used frequently by many of the most famous poets, including Shakespeare and Keats. In its unrhymed form, it is called blank verse. Shakespeare employs blank verse in his plays for the most part.

Then there is “dactylic hexameter.” It has six feet per line. The dominant kind of foot is the dactyl, a long followed by two short syllables. Dactylic hexameter was also the meter of Greek epic poetry. The earliest examples are the works of Homer and Hesiod.

Derek: But what do you say about “free verse”? Doesn’t that mean verse without structure. When did that evolve?

Burns: Free verse evolved in late 19th-century France with poets like Arthur Rimbaud and Jules Laforgue. They wanted to liberate poetry from any metrical structure.

And then literary critics applied the term to the King James translation of the Song of Solomon and the Psalms. And there are some of the poems of Matthew Arnold (“Dover Beach,” for example, probably his most famous poem) and Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass… and Ezra Pound. T.S. Eliot, William Carol Williams, Carl Sandburg and all wrote poems in verse that has been called “free.” Many poets in the 20th century wanted more freedom.

Dean: So where is the structure? “Freedom” always goes with “structure.” They are opposite and complementary.

Burns: A poet -- in the spirit of freedom – may create a structure “on purpose” -- rather than the other way around –fitting words into a rhyming structure say. And 20th century American poet Marianne Moore wrote in stanzaic structures of syllabic verse—based entirely on a count of syllabics—which some people confused with free verse.  

Dean: So even free verse has a purpose. Poets can create their own structures in which to create?

Burns: The poet’s “purpose” gives the verse its structure. A poet might want to create a new mood or a different experience for the reader. The purpose creates the structure. Derek: (looking puzzled) Could you give us an example?

Burns: Walt Whitman, for example, uses the technique of sound and the flow of natural speech. Listen to the rain on the window. The poet would want you experience it. 

Dean: How?

Burns: Well, listen to Whitman. He asks the rain, “Who are you?”


And who art thou? said I to the soft-falling shower,

Which, strange to tell, gave me an answer, as here translated:

I am the Poém of Earth, said the voice of the rain,

Eternal I rise impalpable out of the land and the bottomless sea,

Upward to heaven, whence, vaguely formed, altogether changed, and yet the same,

I descend to lave the drouths, atomies, dust-layers of the globe,

And all that in them without me were seeds only, latent, unborn,

And forever, by day and night, I give back life to my own origin, and make pure       and beautify it… [xxvii]


I’ll stop here, but you get the idea, I think.

Dean: Yes. Now, how do we connect that kind of free-verse poetry with evolution?

Burns: (Frustrated with the Dean.) An ape would “feel” the rain but would not be able to “interpret” it. There was no human language at that time. A shaman would interpret the rain and pray to it as a god. At that time there was no hypotaxis, which we find in poetry, no pleonasm, no anacoluthon, no eponym…. (He is being sardonic with the Dean who, realizing it, throws up his hands in shame, smiling in self-defense.) Yes. We have come a long way.

In poetry, as I said, there can be a repetition of sound in rhyme, alliteration, assonance, and so on, in order to produce a mood; and images to emphasize and illustrate concepts (T.S. Eliot spoke of objective correlatives in poetry), but I tell you (to the Dean) any depth explanation would take more time than we have in this class period. (Pause.) Students! Take my course, an Introduction to Poetry! (Smiles at the “marketing” of his own class.)

Dean: Back to evolution. When did rhyme begin?

Burns: Rhyme entered Europe in the High Middle Ages, partly under the influence of the Arabic language in Al Andalus. Classical Greek and Latin poetry did not use rhyme to my knowledge. The Greeks in fact avoided it; they didn’t like the way it sounded. Arab poets, on the other hand, did use rhyme.

But poets invent their own "rules." In this day and age, rhyme is not a big deal in poetry. Poets know how sound is connected to the senses and to pleasure -- and can have aesthetic purposes. (The Dean points to a place on the blackboard that says “as evolution”; he wants more connection to the primary subject of their course.) So tell me: What are some of your other principles of evolution?

Dean: “Differentiation.” This is another key principle of evolution. How did poetry become differentiated from prose?

Burns: (seeing this buried in history) My God! Longer and longer…

Dean: Well, you can be specific. How did the sonnet differentiate as a structure, for example?

Burns: By the thirteenth century, the sonnet had evolved as a poem of fourteen lines with a set rhyme scheme. But the sonnet keeps evolving. Today there are many different sonnet forms.[xxviii]

Dean: What about other types of poetry?

Burns: Poems differentiated everywhere around the world. Jintishi is a form of Chinese poetry based on a series of tonal patterns. Chinese is a tonal language, and Jintishi uses four tones of the classical form of the language in each of four couplets: the level, rising, falling and entering tones. It has eight lines, that is, with parallelism between the lines in the second and third couplets. One of its masters was Du Fu who lived in the 8th century during the Tang Dynasty. And there are also variations evolving from this Jintishi form.

Dean: I’ve never heard of it. What others?

Burns: The sestina has six stanzas, each comprising six unrhymed lines. The words at the end of each of the lines of the first stanza reappear in a rolling pattern in the other stanzas. The poem then ends with a three-line stanza—called a Coda—in which the words again appear, two to each line. 

The Villanelle is a nineteen-line poem made up of five triplets with a closing quatrain. It has two single-line refrains, used in the first and third lines of the first stanza, and then alternately at the close of each subsequent stanza until the final quatrain, which concludes with the two refrains. The lines of the poem alternate in an a-b-a-b rhyme scheme.

Dean: When did the Villanelle begin?

Burns: The form of the poem in the English language has been in use since the late nineteenth century; English poets borrowed it from one particular French Renaissance version of this poetic form. Many poets writing in different forms have used it, such as W.H. Auden, Elizabeth Bishop, and Dylan Thomas.[xxix]

Dean: Interesting. Keep going on the evolution of poetry.

Burns: The pantoum is similar to a villanelle. It’s composed of a series of quatrains; the second and fourth lines of each stanza are repeated as the first and third lines of the next. (The Dean nods.)

The ode has three parts: a strophe, an antistrophe, and an epode. Odes can be sung by two choruses with the first reciting the strophe, the second the antistrophe, and both together the epode. The ode should fit with your principles that started with the Big Bang.

Dean: Sociality. We said: Evolution is social -- from the beginning of time.

Burns: Well, if that’s how you see it, I think I can make a connection between sociality and the ode, which is a dialogue with a very complex structure. It is generally of considerable length, has an elevated theme, and is told in a lofty, dignified manner.

Dean: Where did it begin?

Burns: It began in ancient Greece and was written first with musical accompaniment. The ode evolved into a composition sung by two parts of a chorus; the first part of the chorus would sing a division of the poem, later called a strophe; then the second part of the chorus would sing the next division, virtually identical in structure with the first, and subsequently called the antistrophe. Then the chorus as a whole would sing a third division of the poem, different in structure from the strophe and antistrophe and later called the epode. In performances of ancient Greek drama, the members of the chorus were singer-dancers—the word chorus comes from the ancient Greek word meaning “to dance.” The chorus moved as a unit in one direction during the strophe, then in the opposite direction during the antistrophe, and stood still during the epode.  (The Dean’s eyes widen. This fits his dialectical perspective.)

Dean: It’s dialectic, in action!

Simon: (Interrupts.) This poetry is also the beginning of ancient Greek theater. Greek drama began as a dialogue between and among two or three singer-actors, a chorus of twelve to fifteen singing dancers, a musician playing a double reed pipe, and others, such as "spear-carriers." I should say: theater and poetry were evolving together in the plays of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides…

Dean: How?

Simon: First, you have a dialogue preceding the entry of the chorus that presents the topic of the tragedy. The entry chant of the chorus would be in an anapestic marching rhythm—two short syllables followed by one long, with four of these anapestic feet, as they are called, per line. The chorus remains on stage throughout the rest of the play. Members wear masks; their dancing is expressive, with the movement of hands, arms and the body in general.[xxx]

Dean: Thanks for the connection. (smiles, turning back to Professor Burns) Another principle of evolution is the metaphor. What about that?

Burns: Metaphor! …In poetry? No way! (Class laughs.)

Just joking, of course. Aristotle wrote in the Poetics: "the greatest thing by far is to be a master of metaphor." But some poets today push rhetorical devices to their limits, making use of catachresis. (Students look puzzled.) Catachresis means mixing metaphors. The juxtaposition of unexpected images is a strong element in surrealist poetry and haiku, for example. I say today, but Shakespeare, a consummate master of metaphor, is also known for his not infrequent use of catachresis.

Dean: “Synthesis” –that’s another evolution-principle. How would the rhetorical devices combine? We spoke of Wagner putting all the arts together to create a newly integrated art form.

Burns: The poet has at her or his disposal, to put it somewhat crassly, more than a hundred devices -- metaphor, irony, repetition, metonymy, synecdoche, and so on… Do the math on the possible combinations and permutations; they would be endless. (Britten is reminded of the endless possible combinations in music of notes, pitches, keys, tones, instruments, inversions, and so on.

A poet uses the structure of the past for a purpose. A “repetition” in poetry can add a somber tone to a poem, as it can be combined and laced with “irony.” (Puzzled faces again.) For example, in Anthony's famous eulogy to Caesar in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, Anthony's repetition of the words, "for Brutus is an honorable man," moves from a sincere tone to one that exudes irony.

Dean: Ah! Great. Now students!  The faculty has been doing all the talking.  I want you to be more involved. Do you have questions? Anyone? (Silence).

Well. How do these principles of evolution apply here? Class, someone pick out one of those principles of evolution and show how poetry expresses it.

Anne: (There is some embarrassment in the silence, but poetry is what brought Ann and Jerry together, and now she interjects...) “Transcendence!” That’s the principle of poetry. I think poetry lifts us up. It helps us rise above our differences. That’s also what evolution is about.

Dean: Tell us more. Can you illustrate this with a poem?

Anne: Here is a poem from Rumi, the Islamic Sufi poet. I memorized it. (She coughs.)

 Love comes sailing through and I scream.  

Love sits beside me like a private supply of itself.

Love puts away the instruments and takes off the silk robes.

Our nakedness together changes me completely.

Dean: (Ann’s recitation of the poem out loud changes the mood of the class.) What does the poem say to you?

Ann: There is some immediacy in it for me…some majesty in these lines. And passion. It begins with a sudden surge: “Love comes sailing through…” Love goes beyond thought… Rumi speaks of love as power. It enters like a scream. (She looks at Jerry.)

Jerry: Passion, yeah. (Their heads nod together.) Rumi is talking about the shock of love in creation. He blows me away. I agree.  And I’m not someone to support Muslim poetry!

Dean: What does the poem say to you?

Jerry: I read that Rumi wants to destroy our egos. “Love tears off all the masks,” he says, …and it makes us as One. (The Dean is impressed.)

Ann: And then Rumi says: “Love sits beside me like a private supply of itself.” He is saying: Love is never-ending. It’s within all us—all of us, always. When we experience this love we’re given a new opportunity. (She pauses. The Dean encourages her: “What?”)

I see a mirror of the Beloved in all of us. (The Dean is taken aback.) That’s Rumi! (A quiet laugh goes through the class.) Rumi’s love on earth reminded him of a great Love beyond human love. (Pause.)

Third line: “Love … takes off the silk robes…”

 Dean: (Interrupts) Alice, you know philosophy. What is this Love that Ann is talking about? 

Alice: Agape.

Ann: (Filled up with the spirit of the poem, and maybe a little theater at the same time.) This Love is somethin’ else. It is revealing; it’s stripping; it makes you naked. (Everyone remembers the talk about Phillip Glass’s opera, stripping in that, and another embarrassed laugh edges through the class.)

Jerry: It is like Gandhi – dropping his clothes. Rumi is writing about his Beloved…

Dean: Is this Beloved the Sufi name for God? (The Dean remains suspicious of religious talk. He wants the conversation to remain objective.)

Ann: Well, it’s Passion. It’s what Sufis feel to be a Presence. It’s in their whole body. Sufis dance the feeling – some whirl around in a trance.

Jerry: Yeah. Whirling Dervishes.

So you can’t have just one name for God. According to the Kabbalah, there are 72 names for God. And that just gets you started. (The Dean looks surprised at the word Kabbalah.) These names are combinations of Hebrew letters from Chapter 14 of the book of Exodus. For those who study the Kabbalah, these letters produce a spiritual vibration.

Dean: And God is the same as Allah is in Islam?

Ann: Well. In the Muslim faith there are 99 names for God, for Allah. For example, there is the name Al-Wadud, or "the Loving One," which refers to God as being "full of loving kindness." Sufis believe that love is a projection of the essence of God onto the universe. (The Dean believes the reverse: God is a projection of the human mind onto the universe.) God wants to recognize beauty, as if one looks at a mirror to see oneself. God "looks" at “itself” in the nature of things. It’s hard to make sense of this in everyday language. Since everything is a reflection of God, we meditate to see the beauty inside all that appears ugly. Sufis believe that through love, people can get back to the Beloved’s purity and grace. The Kabbalah has this same outlook.[xxxi]

Dean: Oh, that sounds mystical.

Jerry: Kabbalistic masters have been around for thousands of years.

Dean: (Confessing.) I’ve got a problem. What is the Kabbalah?

Jerry: It’s a discipline in Judaism. It’s a school of thought. It helps to explain the relationship between the Creator and us.

Dean: Hmm. The Infinite within the finite.

Jerry: (Jerry is not sure whether the Dean really gets the idea.) The Kabbalah helps us understand the nature of the universe… and the purpose of human existence.[xxxii]   

Dean: Ooo. That’s heavy…too much… beyond me. (He is reacting to the religious outlook. He does not reflect at this moment on how he has stirred up the pot to move the argument in this direction. In the arts, his “class project” on evolution presents the subject in a new way.)

Anne: (to the Dean) You said that intuition is one source of knowledge. Remember? Poetry is based on intuition and insight. Now we are saying that poetry is a source of knowledge. (The Dean never ceases to be amazed at what students remember.) Poets have known about evolution for a long time – for centuries before Darwin. Poetry is based on impulse, insight, and a sixth sense. Poets know more than scientists do...(pauses) about their own field. (Kornberg twists in his seat but says nothing.)

Dean: Tell me more.

Anne: Listen to this poem by Rumi from the 13th Century. (It is as though she had prepared for this. She reaches into her pocket and pulls out slip of paper to read:)


I died from minerality and became vegetable;

And from vegetativeness I died and became animal.

I died from animality and became man.

Then why fear disappearance through death?

Next time I shall die

Bringing forth wings and feathers like angels;

After that, soaring higher than angels –

What you cannot imagine,

I shall be that.[xxxiii]

Dean: (Silence. Anne says nothing more.) Oh. That poem is hard to believe. A poet – in the 13th century -- how could he know about evolution from the beginning of time, something only discovered fairly recently?

Ann: I was surprised. I started reading Rumi, and there it was. I think he is the greatest poet who ever lived. (Fixed in appreciation of Ann, the Dean raises his eyebrows at her maximizing statement. Then he turns to Jerry:)

Dean: Jerry, you and Ann have been studying poetry together. Right? (Jerry nods.) How do you see poetry as connected with the principles of evolution?

Jerry: I’ve looked at a cycle of poems from ancient Egypt called The Leiden Hymns. One of the Hymns tries to answer my big question: If God, Yahweh, created the universe, then, who created God?[xxxiv]

Dean: Well, how does that poem go?

Jerry: It’s three thousand years old. I did not memorize the whole thing, but this is how it starts:

God is a master craftsman;

yet none can draw the lines of his Person…[xxxv]

Dean: What does it say to you?

Jerry: God has no image but is the craftsman of all images. Egyptians knew this: The face of the universe “transcends” their experience. “It”—whatever word you come up with— crafted everything beyond the image of a Person.

Dean: So Egyptians were projecting their experience onto the universe, using crafts. The best they could do was to imagine a “master craftsman.” Freud would understand that: it is human self-projection. (The Dean is in the position of authority figure, but not everyone in the class agrees with him.) Now let me ask you: If God were Unity within all this Plurality, how would you see that?

Jerry: I would see it as a concept, not as an experience. You said – at the beginning -- that we must experience the truth in Unity. Knowing must be an experience.

Dean: Hmm. What would that experience be?

Jerry: I dunno. It must include everything that has happened in the universe. Maybe it is white light. Ann has said to me: “It is a great passion with a purpose.” (The Dean is quiet, thinking.)

Dean: (He hesitates at first, … then asks boldly:) What do a Muslim and a Jew have in common?

Jerry: Compassion. They have respect for the mystery of life. Rabbi Abraham Maimonides advocated, “sublime piety.” It was to be based on a discipline of mystical communion. He recommended that Jews adopt some Sufi practices of contemplation and mantra-like repetitions of the divine names – without losing their tradition. (Again the Dean is impressed.)[xxxvi]

Dean: Ann, we’re running out of time. Jerry is giving back to me my own perspective, and it shocks me: “We must experience this great unity.” (The Dean has trouble feeling the idea so continues:)

Now theater must have unity. Right? (Ann shrugs. To her it seems like the Dean is changing the subject.) The characters in a stage play are all different. But the whole play must have some degree of unity, some coherence.  Right? (Ann nods her agreement.) As we talk with scientists, we see the same need for unity, all the way through evolution.

We can see the principles of separation, distinction, individuality, opposition and synthesis, and unity, all the way. Is this also the case in a play, a drama?

Ann: Yes, sir.  A play must give each of its actors some separate individuality, some distinction, and opposition between and among actors. … (pausing to remember) Different characters have different goals and intentions that produce conflicts, so their purposes are antithetical at times; but out those antitheses comes synthesis, yes, and unity… Making use of all these dynamics, the story should come together -- with meaning.

Dean: But what about the “Theatre of the Absurd”? Doesn’t that genre refer to plays that have no meaning? 

Ann: Yes. But we said the aim was to make a comment on the human condition. You have to feel loneliness. I have read plays like Samuel Becket’s Waiting for Godot and… Harold Pinter’s The Dumb Waiter. They all have a special impact, a feeling with meaning

Dean: Well, “meaning.” what does that mean? We need help here.  

Kornberg: (bolting up at last) Where is the meaning? ALL THEATER IS ABSURD. (He spouts this out, forcefully, loudly, smiling in an evil superior way. The Dean thinks he almost looks like a predator.) Evolution has no purpose either. (emphatically) What could the purpose be? What is the meaning? Even history is meaningless, without any theory that is verifiable. This whole effort is absurd. (The Dean can’t tell how he serious he is because of Kornberg’s crooked smile.)

Simon: (stepping in to defend the Dean’s project) Plays are a mirror of life. Absurdism was about powerlessness of individuals, about the stupidity of civilization. (He looks at Kornberg as though he were part of the absurdity of the universe.) You have to feel that stupidity and absurdity to understand other people, to develop compassion. We experience absurdity all the time, including on this campus. (He is smiling at Kornberg, who is not sure where Simon is coming from emotionally. Simon stays cool, but from his perspective, he wonders whether Kornberg could be an academic psychopath.)

Dean: Okay. Whew! I think I get it. Art is the expression of everyday life – including all of its absurdity. But I still think drama is constructed through oppositions, as is the universe.

Simon: In principle, yes. But there is more to this world than principles, as intellectually stated. We have to experience the drama. Theater means being alive. Being alive is not just “a principle.”

Dean: There is always some opposition and tension among actors in a play, right? (Simon nods “Yes,” figuring the Dean has not “gotten it” at all that he’s still in the dark.) Now think of these characters as parallel to atoms or molecules. They are in tension; they attract and repel. Right?

Simon: Right again. But drama is so much more than a principle. In drama, you “feel” the tension.

Dean: H’rumph. The story must “hold together” in the mind. And the same is true with physical evolution. The actors are like particles, the scenes are like atoms, the acts like cells, and the whole play is like an organism. All parts in the story must hold together. (He is speaking half triumphantly, half in humor, but Kornberg scowls at hearing the idea.)

Ann: Right..a…I’m not sure I get the parallel. (She is thinking about the allusion.)

Dean: Seriously. When these particles -- like the actors in your story – transform and develop over time through scenes in the “drama,” so to speak, they add to its richness and complexity.

Ann: Yes. But it must be a good story.

Kornberg: Ah! And are you sure that evolution is a good story? A good story must be artfully done. How do you know this is a good story? 

Dean: Mmmm…I think that history must be truthful. That’s good. And those constellations… What I see in them certainly looks like a work of art! As a matter of fact, the earth and all that is in it to me looks like a work of art. That’s my thought. (He is really looking for a synthesis of Truth, Art, and Goodness, but he says nothing about them.) And this perspective doesn’t elevate above science as a discipline. What do you think? (Smiles again.)

Kornberg: You are projecting art and drama onto this idea of evolution, as though it existed in the stars. The truth is based on science, hard facts (a frown distorting his handsome features).

Dean: Let me turn that around. Are scientists projecting the human story onto their science? Are they anthropomorphic?

Kornberg: No. (Kornberg has heard this argument before from Professor Benedict. Now he sits up, troubled, looking at her.)

Benedict: We have talked about this more than once, both inside the class discussion and outside it. Your concepts in chemistry -- attraction and repulsion, symmetry and asymmetry -- they came from somewhere. They did not come from the STORK.  (raising the level of their personal debate) Where did you get those concepts? What was their origin? (Kornberg smirks and snaps forward in his seat.) These words originated with human language -- long before the science of chemistry ever appeared. (Benedict and Kornberg stare at each other in a tense moment, where each has emotions that could be better expressed in an alley, not in this class. There is a hiatus.)

Ann: (Changing the subject.) Well, more than one of the big questions has not been answered: for example, is the universe a work of art?

Dean: That’s the case all right; this question hasn’t been answered. But I say it depends on the eye of the beholder. In theater, the artfulness of the play must be judged after the play is over. Our story of the universe is not over. We have not arrived at the last act.

Ann: But we keep creating new stories and characters. This story looks like it is not all scripted for us. We are participating in this story of creation.

Dean: Yes. There is a lot of improvisation. Every scene in this play has improvisation.

Kornberg: Ah! Well, maybe we can agree in concluding that “chance” exists in evolution and in the universe.

Dean: Yes, biologists talk about it. Composers talk about it. Artists talk about it. All things are unique in some way. Right, Jane? Can portrait artists copy someone else’s painting with absolute precision?

Jane: Portrait artists cannot move their brush precisely the same way with each new stroke.

Benedict: Everything changes from minute to minute. (She is thinking of the Buddha who said: “Everything changes; nothing remains without change.”)

Kornberg: But atoms do not change. They are eternal. (Heads turn to look at Kornberg and then at each other, surprised.) The atomic structure will not go away. That structure is here forever. (Pause, facing the class.)

Every single human being could die from a nuclear war, and those atoms will still remain in the universe. 

Dean: I never thought of atoms as eternal.

Benedict: Can we say that atoms are the firmament of the universe? (She is bantering, but the Dean takes her idea seriously.)

Dean: Interesting. The “firmament” has a double meaning. It refers to heaven and earth at the same time. (Jerry is thinking of its meaning in Hebrew in the Torah, the first five books of the Hebrew Bible.)[xxxvii] 

Katherine: In the King James Bible, God said, "Let there be a firmament in the midst of the water.” It’s definitely there.[xxxviii]

Dean: (He has had enough talk of “religion” and wants to change the topic, so… back to poetry.) And so it all remains a mystery. Professor Burns, what about these dynamics in nature? How do they work in poetry? What about timing?

Burns: Certainly, poetry is based on timing. It is in the pace of words. Einstein said: The “time” is in how fast you go. Hmmm.

Listen to this: “As the trees danced around me, I saw leaves fall like helpless soldiers.” (He speaks the words with the intonation of everyday speech.) It sounds like any other prose line about the joys of the fall season. (He goes to the blackboard to write and says slowly:) Here's the same line again, arranged a little differently.

As the trees


around me,

I saw leaves fall

like helpless


Now you should have a different sense of what it says, as the lines are in tension and unfold slowly. This helps the reader “feel” what is said at a subliminal level. The poet controls the speed of reading. The emphasis is on the most evocative words.

Dean: Interesting. It is the pace at which we evolve. (He had felt like a “fallen soldier” a minute ago, when the criticism was directed at him.)  We are moving slowly or rapidly through different stages. And we keep finding a new identity, new answers to “who we are.” (Derek is thinking of a previous class in which they spoke of stages of maturation— from childhood, through adolescence to adulthood, each with a new identity. Professor Benedict is thinking of stages of personal identity through reincarnation.) Professor Simon, how does this apply to theater?  

Simon: It takes time to see all the sides of a person’s identity. If theater is really good, you come to identify with the good guys and the bad. The audience sees “life” even among the worst of humanity. If the play is good, the audience is resonating with all of the actors.

Dean: Professor Burns, what do you think? Theater is not poetry. The actors can be seen. Their feelings and actions are observable. Nor is a poem, a play. In poetry, you are not watching anybody, or identifying with anybody. You cannot see and know how other people feel in a poem. Am I right?

Burns: Poetry is known by what you have experienced, and it builds from there. Sometimes agony must become visible before you can understand it. Listen to this poem by Emily Dickenson. I love Dickenson because she is so honest.


I like a look of Agony,

Because I know it's true --

Men do not sham Convulsion,

Nor simulate, a Throe --


The Eyes glaze once -- and that is Death --

Impossible to feign

The Beads upon the Forehead

By homely Anguish strung.

You can fake a look of happiness but Dickinson likes the "knowing" that comes with the face of pain. When you see real pain expressed in others, you see reality, no pretense. That knowing is something both personal and communal.

Dean: It took me a long time to understand poetry. I could not understand it in grade school, not at all. Students, what do you think? When did you come to appreciate poetry?

Ann: (speaking up, feeling audacious) Rumi says: “Until the juice ferments awhile in the cask, it isn't wine. If you wish your heart to be bright, you must do a little work.” (Smiles.)

Dean: Goodness! You and Jerry must really be at work. You are doing more than… your homework. (Everybody laughs at the implication that something is awry in this seemingly ideal relationship.)

Ann: Jerry and I have been studying poetry, but we are not romanticizing. (Class chuckles.) We memorize poetry and perform in slam sessions.

Burns: Ah! Muslim poetry in slam sessions!

Dean: Perform! Can you recite a Rumi poem that is relevant to our subject?

Ann:  (pert, though a little shyly) I remember one poem. I hope I remember it, at least. (She clears her throat.)


God has given us a dark wine so potent that, drinking it, we leave the two worlds.

God has put into the form of hashish a power to deliver the taster from self-consciousness. 

God has made sleep so that it erases every thought.  (She halts,  trying to recall the next lines.)

There are thousands of wines that can take over our minds.

Don't think all ecstasies are the same!

Jesus was lost in his love for God.  His donkey was drunk with barley. 

Drink from the presence of saints, not from those other jars. 

Every object, every being, is a jar full of delight. 

Be a connoisseur, and taste with caution. 

Any wine will get you high.  Judge like a king, and choose the purest.[xxxix] 

(Kathleen’s eyes are glowing.)

Dean: Wow! Ann! Professor Burns, take note of this young lady. (Professor Burns smiles and nods vigorously.) This poem is mystical.

Aldous Huxley said that for great mystics to become the “purest,” they had to fast and mortify the flesh. They restricted sensory data, repeated sounds and syllables, spun around rapidly -- and used all kinds of ways to change their “body chemistry.” And finally, as a result they reached transcendent states of consciousness. (Professor Benedict remembers that the Buddha engaged in self-mortification early in his life, but later repudiated the practice. Thereafter, he taught his disciples what he called the Middle Path to attain Enlightenment: between self-indulgence and self-denial. Kathleen remembers how Jesus spent months fasting in the desert, spoke of joy, and died suffering. But it is Kornberg who picks up the implications of this idea.)

Professor Kornberg: Well. Body chemistry is involved in all of consciousness. The whole body is chemistry. All emotions have their chemistry. (Looking at Benedict.)  Emotion has its physical foundation.

Benedict: How do you know? (She sounds sincere.)

Kornberg: I can point to recent studies on “brain-imaging research” in Science magazine-- that’s a top journal in my profession. Anyone can read it. But you need scientific training. (The Dean nods for Kornberg to proceed and with his finger points him toward the class, not Professor Benedict.)

Brain images show that the amygdala—that’s a neural region in the brain that processes strong negative emotions like fear—fires up in response to big decisions. One brain region is even connected to positive emotions like “empathy.” That empathic region of the brain activates when people face choices. Different parts of the brain “duke it out” when a person is in the process of making a big decision 

Benedict: But what does that tell you exactly? You cannot really understand what is going on inside the mind of a person -- with all your images and measurements. (The class is enjoying watching these professors “duke it out.”)

Kornberg: Swiss scientists can detect a person's emotion behind an expressive word. And the brain keeps processing sounds from the world around it. (Benedict is upset because Kornberg does not seem to get her point.) Scientists at Columbia University have new brain-imaging studies that show the brain regulating emotions. I can show you the research -- published by Cell Press in the journal Neuron. Neuroscientists identify brain pathways that underlie “aversive” images. From imaging techniques that “see” inside the brain, they see how people change emotional intensity. [xl] 

Benedict: (now quite tense—very upset but without revealing it. She speaks calmly.) You may measure degrees of emotional “intensity,” but such measurements have no meaning. The “meaning” is beyond “chemistry.” (They are staring at each other, but Kornberg now turns back to the class.)

Kornberg: Antonio Damasio is head of the neurology department at the University of Iowa. Read his book! He refutes the Cartesian idea of a mind that is separate from bodily processes. Check out Damasio’s research. He is a neurochemist—solid, reliable—not some kooky poet, or dramatist. [xli]

Burns: (taking offense now, he interrupts.) Art – that is, drama, music, poetry -- are extremely complex fields. They are as complex as chemistry, I’ll venture to say. I doubt that the sciences could explain what is evolving where they are concerned. (The Dean wants to change the subject, but he feels he should not stop the argument between experts. He senses the heightened interest among students aroused by this little drama.)

Kornberg: The average brain consists of one hundred billion neurons. Each neuron is connected to other neurons:  typically about one thousand neurons are connected to ten thousand others. The number of combinations possible for different thoughts (or brain states) in each of us can exceed the number of known particles in the entire known universe.[xlii] 

Dean: That’s incredible! It suggests that -- THE BRAIN COULD BE EVOLVING TO REPRESENT THE UNIVERSE. (The Dean has bolted out these words and did not think about what he was going to say before he spoke. He is shocked now thinking back on the idea he has just enunciated. He had read somewhere that galaxies are elliptical, which he thinks is like the brain.  He looks out the window.)[xliii]

Kornberg: Well. (Coolly.) I haven’t heard that idea stated anywhere before.

A baby's brain begins in the womb. Four weeks into gestation, the first neurons are already forming at a rate of 250,000 every minute. It’s like the Big Bang. Billions of neurons will forge links with billions of other neurons and eventually there will be trillions and trillions of connections between cells. Every link between neurons is organized based on its history. At this point nothing is random; nothing is arbitrary.[xliv]

(The sudden expression side-by-side of the two notions from the Dean and Kornberg stuns everyone. The Deans asks the entire class to pause and think. No one speaks, but Professor Britten is miffed that science should be set up as the basis for answering the profound questions of life.)  

Britten: (Not to be dismissed lightly.) There is a beautiful passage in a book called "Home of the Gentry" by Ivan Turgenev. The protagonist of the novel listens to a piece of music being played on the piano that touches him to the very depths of his soul. (He reaches in his pocket.) I carry this passage around with me for strength in quiet moments. Let me quote this part of it, which describes the mystical power that music wields over the human brain.

The sweet, passionate melody captivated his heart from the first note; it was full of radiance, full of the tender throbbing of inspiration and happiness and beauty, continually growing and melting away; it rumored of everything on earth that is dear and secret and sacred to mankind; it breathed of immortal sadness and it departed from the earth to die in the heavens.

(There is another quiet moment as the Dean is asking himself: Is the brain recapitulating the universe’s story? Is it repeating stages in the life of the universe? Does this occur something like the way in which an embryo might repeat the evolutionary stages of animal life in the womb?)

Kornberg: (Unmoved) Professor Britten, you should read This Is Your Brain on Music! It’s a layman’s guide to the neuroscience of music. It tells how babies begin life with synaesthesia; they hear sounds as smells and tastes as colors. According to this account, by the age of five we are all musical experts, so I must conclude that music is wired into the brain. (Pause.)

Britten: (Sardonic.) So the physical brain is the primary key to music!

Kornberg: These studies even show that watching a musician perform affects brain chemistry differently from listening to a recording. Researchers find encephalization vital in this process. (He sees the Dean pointing to his head with one hand while also pointing to the class with the other, suggesting that nobody could understand the meaning of this word.) Encephalization: that’s the process by which “brain mass” increases dramatically in relation to total body mass.

We see that an increase in the complexity and the number of synapses was crucial for the emergence of cognition in the development from apes to Homo sapiens. (He looks to the Dean.) This supports your perspective. (The Dean is listening.) I am talking about the evolution of the synapse. The synapse is like the evolution of the eye. It is still evolving.

Dean: I don’t get it.

Kornberg: It’s been a constant process of “differentiation and synthesis.” A simple prototypical “synapse” first emerged in a single-celled eukaryote. Then it underwent expansion and diversification … repeatedly. It developed further into the components of the brain—we know today—as multicellular organisms branched out from single-celled organisms, and again as vertebrates branched out from the invertebrates. These synapses have not stopped evolving.

And so, all evolution -- including consciousness -- comes back to the “brain itself” evolving. (Kornberg is looking at Professor Benedict, directing his argument more to her than to the class. The Dean shakes his head at him, as if to say: “Please stop arguing.”) [xlv]

Dean: Hold right here! It looks like we need more research on this topic. And we’ve gotten very far afield from our topic. So, let’s return to the evolution of poetry.

Kornberg: (getting in his final word, for now.) Well, Dean, you’re the one who should know. I am “thinking through” your perspective, as you’ve repeatedly asked us to do. Neurons and “new sections” of the brain could be evolving with consciousness and new emotions. The brain’s cells could be becoming more complex with the advent of new feelings. People have new feelings everyday, and they could be adding to the brain’s complexity. (He is addressing Prof. Benedict directly again; she smiles.) Yes. (He nods once to her, emphatically.)

I think that the brain could be evolving with the evolution of human experience. And our experience could be causing it. (Professors Simon, Benedict, and the Dean are all surprised to hear this from Kornberg, as he concludes:) But so will our technology evolve to measure every change in consciousness. Our instruments will …someday…study what you call “Agape.” (Benedict gapes, frowning. The veins on her neck show, as though she is thinking about what to say. Damn: Kornberg is a narrow-minded lunatic, with a superiority complex on top of it. So why does she feel so much affection for him?)

Dean: Class. I think it is past time to get back to poetry, since we only have a few remaining minutes to wrap up. Poetry is about feelings as they are: I mean, as we actually feel them…. Professor Burns, help us out. Can you tell us—or illustrate for us—how poetry fits together with theater?

Burns: Well. Ann took a class in poetry with me; she’s a double major. We agreed that she would make some final remarks that connect poetry with theater.

Ann: (looking at Jerry) I have been studying poetry among the Sufis, as you now know. (The Dean nods, encouragingly)  I have read the work of Dr. Martin Lings on this point. He’s a scholar who argues that Shakespeare’s plays “mirror” the poetry of Sufis.

The figure of Prospero in The Tempest, and the Duke of Vienna in Measure for Measure are Shakespeare's alter egos, in his view. And Dr. Lings thinks that Rumi matches the poetic power of Shakespeare.[xlvi]

Dean: Interesting. Does Dr. Lings also refer to chemistry and neuroscience? (The Dean is being ironic. So he is surprised when she supports Kornberg.)

Ann: Well. Professor Kornberg is correct, I think. The appearance of new feelings in our experience should affect the brain. And those feelings could produce new pathways.

Dean: What? The “environment” affects changes in the body? Remember our discussion on biology? That’s what Lamarck argued, and he’s been proven wrong: it’s the genes that cause evolution! (Still, he flashes a mile-wide smile at Kornberg.)

Ann: Yes. But this is like Gaia. Chemicals created biota – the biological life on earth. And now the biota regulates the chemicals. . Do you remember James Lovelock? I wrote my essay on him! (The Dean’s hand goes to his mouth as though in surprise; Ann looks to the class.) Professor Wilson talked about it. And Tom backed him up.

Dean: Tom? Help us recall that incident! 

Tom: Yes. Gaia. James Lovelock said that life on Earth provides a cybernetic feedback system affecting its chemistry. The chemistry operates automatically through the biota. (Pause.) (He looks around the class and sees questionable looks from Simon and Britten, and goes on to explain:) The term “biota” stands for all the life forms that have appeared with the evolution of the earth. They transcend the chemistry with their own governing systems.

Here’s the point.  Lovelock argues that “life forms” control the Earth’s chemistry. It’s cause-and-effect: “Life” causes the changes in earth chemistry.

Now, Ann is saying that new forms of consciousness, evolving at higher vibrations should, logically, control the brain’s chemistry. Well…

Dean: Yes! The Earth’s biosphere became a new self-organizing system. It helped sustain life on earth. Right. “Life” regulates the earth’s “chemicals.” Ooo! Fascinating! (Looking to Professor Benedict.)  Ann is also supporting your idea. You argue for transcendence while keeping a connection with the past.

Consciousness has transcended the chemistry of the brain. And now new feelings act back onto the activity of neurons and synapses. (Benedict looks pleased.)

Benedict: Remember when I spoke about the Yogis in India? Yogis can control the heartbeat, blood pressure, and white blood corpuscles. This has all been documented. And they do this by developing an incredible self-discipline. It is consciousness that makes the chemistry change. Conscious life can shape – maybe regulate -- the brain’s nervous system. (Kornberg does not look happy. He has been coming at this from a different angle. He knows the Gaia argument, but is not convinced about it and remains quiet. )

Dean: Yes. Consciousness could act backward, so to say, on its ancestors in the nervous system. So, Professor Burns, I’m mindful of your presence: Is poetry connected to body chemistry?

Burns: Oh! This chemistry stuff is all new to me… but there could be a connection. The poet Jane Hirshfield says that poetry swings between the “language” of the conscious and the unconscious. You could argue that the unconscious is closer to the nervous system than the conscious mind.[xlvii]

Benedict: You mean the brain and the body would be speaking to us, poetically, through the unconscious and its connection to the brain?

Burns: Why not! In his book Leaping Poetry, Robert Bly says poetry “can be described as a leap from the conscious to the unconscious and back again.”

Ann: In my essay I proposed: “Great poets and playwrights search to find what is universal.”

Burns: Ah, yes, right on, Ann! Do you remember the discussion in my class? Kabir was a poet in India during the 1400s. The Dean might be interested in his poem. I brought a copy. Listen:

Between the conscious and the unconscious, the

mind has put up a swing:

all earth creatures, even the supernovas, sway

between these two trees,

and it never winds down.


Angels, animals, humans, insects by the million, also

the wheeling sun and moon;

ages go by, and it goes on.


Everything is swinging: heaven, earth, water, fire,

and the secret one slowly growing a body.

Kabir saw that for fifteen seconds, and it made him a

servant for life.[xlviii]


Benedict: (Pause). Well. That poem requires thought. I would need to study it…It’s, um, a little “far out.” Let me think about it.

Dean: (To Professor Burns). Could you send a copy of that poem to me? I will email it to the class. Stewart Perry is not with us today. He may send us a list of studies, though, so I’ll forward those the class as well. [xlix]  

It’s time to stop! We could go on forever.

Kornberg: (to the Dean) Wait, I must tell you. We are not too far apart. The physical brain may indeed keep evolving with experience and consciousness. Scientists have shown how the brain continues to evolve long after infancy.

 The development of the brain is determined by the demands put upon it by us and by the environment. Just look at the facts. Everything is not merely pre-programmed genetics. A new brain seems to be evolving along with consciousness.

Benedict: (jumping in at this) The material and the non-material could be different sides of the same coin.

Dean: Hmmm. That would include the inward (subjective) and outward (objective) sides of the brain. But what is the real coin made of?

Burns: Passion.

Simon: Ah! It’s not Principles; it’s Passion!

Dean: Oh, that’s exciting. (He is moved at the thought… then suddenly lifting his head.) But we must stop this class.

Burns: Dean, that’s your biggest contradiction. It’s life and death. It is Passion and Principles. (He says this in such a strong voice that the Dean’s face turns red. Some feeling shakes him. What is this topic all about? Could the driving power -- behind this long story -- be passion? He brushes the thought aside.)

Dean: Thanks for coming to class, everyone. See you next time.


The Dean walks home alone. He is not at the peak of health, but these seminars have strengthened and brightened his life. They lead him into “deeper waters,” so to speak. A different feeling is with him now. He looks up at the leaves of a maple tree. Their edges are shimmering with the sun. He thinks of Walt Whitman. Then he thinks: Music, drama, and poetry—all of them had to be hidden in that Big Bang, out of sight, buried, waiting to be realized. So all this “thought” around Principles (with a capital P) may not be the whole story. Could there be something more going on – and right from the beginning?

He knows that he must not anthropomorphize. Nor must he project the human drama onto physical evolution. But maybe the task is not just to explain or describe or analyze. Maybe the task is also to express and demonstrate. Maybe a passion could have been hidden and yet has existed from the beginning. Maybe this Passion (with a capital P) has to be expressed. Maybe it has to be demonstrated -- in order to be known and understood: that’s art. “Keep in mind: anything is possible.”

Passion is something he could not have imagined at the beginning of the academic year. Has all his training at the university led him to stress mind and reason and principles as opposed to… what? Did that academic training cause him to ignore something? He begins to wander as he wonders: Will the next class give him the answer? Will he learn more about himself? He enters the door of his home mumbling: “Who am I?”




[i]  For more, see Ralph Yarrow, Indian theatre: theatre of origin, theatre of freedom, Routledge, 2001. Ananda Lal, The Oxford Companion to Indian Theatre (Oxford University Press, 2004.

[ii] For more, see Shih Chung-wen, The Golden Age of Chinese Drama (Princeton University Press, 1976).


[iii]  This chart combines historical details from Infoplease at www.infoplease.com/ipea/A0153763.html with other sources.

[iv] Philip Wentworth Buckham, "Theatre of the Greeks," 1827.

Theodor, H. Gaster, Thespis: Ritual, Myth, and Drama in the Ancient Near East (NY: Henry Schuman, 1950).

[v] Loren Edelson,Beautiful Boys / Outlaw Bodies: Devising Kabuki Female Likeness,” Theatre Journal - Volume 59, Number 1, March 2007, pp. 141-142


[vi]  Oscar G. Brockett (editor). Plays for the Theatre: A Drama Anthology (Harcourt School; 5th edition, 1987),  293-310 and 293-310.


[vii]  Here are some research sources on emotions.

D. M. Buss, The Dangerous Passion: Why Jealousy is as Necessary as Love and Sex. (New York: Free Press, 2000.) P. Ekman and W.V. Friesen (1971). “Constants across cultures in the face and emotion.” Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 17(2): 124-129. D. M. T. Fessler, “Toward an understanding of the universality of second order emotions,” in A. L. Hinton (ed.), Biocultural Approaches to the Emotions, pp. 75-116. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999. Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson, Susan McCarthy, When Elephants Weep: The Emotional Lives of Animals (Delta, 1996).

[viii] The first Roman performance occurred around 364 B.C.E. The Romans borrowed Greek and Etruscan methods in their own theater, modifying them. But comedy became more popular in Rome than tragedy. Titus Maccius Plautus was an extremely popular Roman writer of comedies, attributed with authoring 130 plays, including The Braggart Warrior, The Casket, and Pot of Gold. Only three names of Roman playwrights of tragedy are known from the early times: Quintus Ennius, Marcus Pascuvius, and Lucius Accius.  Chariot races were held in the Circus Maximus, which could accommodate 60,000 people. It also housed wrestling, fighting, and wild animals, such as lions. Christians were often the victims of the Romans' thirst for blood, and many were sentenced to battle to the death in the Coliseum. William J. Slater, Roman theater and society, E. Togo Salmon Papers  (University of Michigan Press, 1996).


[ix] Between the years 1200 to 1350 C.E., vernacular plays took over the number one position, previously held by liturgical plays. Many plays were performed outdoors during the spring and summer months. Cycle plays also became popular. The cycle plays were composed of short plays or episodes and could be religious or not. They could take from a few hours to 25 or more days to perform. Cycle plays varied, but usually they all dealt with religious figures, biblical writings of the church, and sermons of the church. The plays presented very little in the way of chronology, and most of their authors were anonymous. Around the end of the 14th century the church was controlling fewer and fewer of the productions of plays, but it always kept an eye on the content of plays and their presentation. Sometimes towns put on shows, but often individuals would arrange a production. The church always reserved the right to approve or disapprove of a script before it might be produced. Alice B. Fort & Herbert S. Kates. Minute History of the Drama, New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1935. p. 7-8.

[x] Stephen J. Pyne, Fire: A Brief History. (University of Washington Press, 2001). 


[xi] Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species, 6th ed., 1872, ch. VI,  "Organs of Extreme Perfection and Complication." Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker (New York: W. W. Norton, 1986), 85-86.


[xii] The issue is complex. There are realistic operas like Umberto Giordano's Andrea Chénier, created in the last decade of the 19th century in Italy, but it is their plots rather than their music that participate in the movement toward realism. Since "pure" untexted music is not usually representational (with the controversial exception of "program" music), it cannot be said to be more or less realistic. See Carol Dahlaus, Realism in nineteenth-century music, translated by Mary Whittall (Published by Cambridge UP Archive, 1985).

[xiii] He sought to depict the "soul state," or inner being, of characters rather than their superficial, realistic aspects. Furthermore, Wagner was unhappy with the lack of unity among the individual arts that constituted the drama. He proposed the Gesamtkunstwerk, the "total art work," in which all dramatic elements are unified, preferably under the control of a single artistic creator. Wagner was also reforming theatre architecture with his Festival Theatre at Bayreuth, Germany, completed in 1876. The stage of this theatre was similar to other 19th-century stages, but in the auditorium Wagner removed the boxes and balconies and put in a fan-shaped seating area on a sloped floor, giving an equal view of the stage to all spectators. Just before a performance, the auditorium lights dimmed to total darkness -- a radical innovation at that time.

[xiv] The Symbolist plays in the 1890s and the early 20th century by Maurice Maeterlinck of Belgium and Paul Claudel of France are seldom performed today. But strong Symbolist elements can be found in the plays of Chekhov and the late works of Ibsen and Strindberg. Symbolist influences are found also in the works of later playwrights, such as Eugene O'Neill, Tennessee Williams, and Harold Pinter.

[xv] The American playwright Edward Albee's early dramas were classified as absurd because of all the irrational elements defining his characters. Harold Pinter was also among the Absurdists. His plays (like The Homecoming in 1964) were dark and strange.


[xvi] In England in the 1950s, John Osborne's Look Back in Anger (1956) became a rallying point for the postwar group of "angry young men"; a Vietnam trilogy of the early 1970s by the American playwright David Rabe expressed anger and frustration towards the war in Vietnam. Under the influence of Brecht, many postwar German playwrights wrote documentary dramas that explored the moral obligations of individuals to society. An example is The Deputy by Rolf Hochhuth (1963), which deals with Pope Pius XII's silence during World War II.

[xvii]  Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method. Revised translation, Joel Weinsheimer and Donald G. Marshall (New York: Continuum, 1995), 132. Lord Chamberlain originally banned A Doll’s House in Britain. Ibsen was forced to change the play’s ending at one point. But virtually all productions today use the original ending.


[xviii] Richard E. Cytowic, The Man Who Tasted Shapes (MIT Press, 2003). V. S. Ramachandran, David Brang, “Tactile-emotion synesthesia,” Neurocase, Volume 14,  No. 5, September 2008,  390-399. Psychology Press, part of the Taylor & Francis Group.


[xix] Miranda Shaw, Buddhist Goddesses of India (Princeton University Press, 2006).


[xx]  This discussion is drawn from Daniel Mendelsohn, “The Truth Force at the Met.” New York Review of Books, Volume 55, Number 10,  June 12, 2008.

[xxi] Bela Bartok said, "If I were to name the composer whose works are the most perfect embodiment of the Hungarian spirit, I would answer, Kodaly. His work proves his faith in the Hungarian spirit. The obvious explanation is that all Kodaly’s composing activity is rooted only in Hungarian soil, but the deep inner reason is that his unshakable faith and trust [is] in the constructive power and future of his people." Kodaly had a predilection for melancholy and uncertainty, but Bartok said, Kodaly never sought “Dionysian intoxication – he strives for inner contemplation...His music is not of the kind described nowadays as modern. It has nothing to do with the new atonal, bitonal and polytonal music – everything in it is based on the principle of tonal balance. His idiom is nevertheless new; he says things that have never been uttered before and demonstrates thereby that the tonal principle has not lost its raison d’etre as yet." These quotes are from notes of the Sierra Chamber Society.

[xxii] See Jacques Attali, Noise: The Political Economy of Music (University of Minnesota, 1985.)

[xxiii] David Ferris AHCM. Quoted in a program note of the Ashmont Hill Chamber Music.

[xxiv]  ”Digital poetry" can consist of words that are not just organized into lines and stanzas, but it may also have sounds, visual images, and special effects. Each word or line may be linked to another page that expands on the idea of the text. The text can move as if it is hinged on a wheel while piano music plays in the background. The text is determined interactively when a reader clicks the "stop" button on his or her browser. Flashing words then stop to create a line.


[xxv] The Aeneid was crafted to glorify the rulers of the Imperial age, mainly Augustus, for having brought peace to the empire after so many years of war. Virgil spent the last decade of his life working on it, but died with it incomplete. When Augustus found the mostly complete manuscript, he had two other scholars prepare it for publication because he liked it so much.

[xxvi] Michael Alexander, Beowulf (Penguin Classics; Rev. ed. London: New York, 2003).


[xxvii] "The Voice of the Rain,” Outing. (August 1885):  570.  Reprinted in the "Sands at Seventy," annex to Leaves of Grass (1888).


[xxviii] By the 1200s, the sonnet form (from the Italian sonneto, "little song") had been defined by Italian poets.

[xxix]  For example, Dylan Thomas's Collected Poems, (London: Phoenix, 2003)

[xxx] M. C. Howatson (Ed.), Oxford Companion to Classical Literature (2nd ed., Oxford 1989). A. Preminger, & T. V. F Brogan (Eds.), New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics (Princeton 1993), (antistrophe, epode, parabasis, stasimon, strophe.)

[xxxi] From the Sufi point of view, the esoteric teachings of Sufism were transmitted from the Prophet Muhammad to those who had the capacity to “acquire the direct experiential awareness of God.” Some believe that it began before Muhammad, and that it was passed on from teacher to student through the centuries. Important contributions in writing are attributed to Uwais al-Qarni, Harrm bin Hian, Hasan Basri and Sayid ibn al-Mussib, who are regarded as the first Sufis. Harith al-Muhasibi was the first one to write about moral psychology. Rabia Basri was a Sufi known for her love and passion, expressed through her poetry.

Different devotional styles and traditions developed over time, reflecting the perspectives of different masters and the accumulated wisdom of the orders. Most believers were concerned with the understanding of subtle knowledge (gnosis), an education of the heart to purify it of baser instincts. Indries Shah, The Sufis (NY: Anchor 1971); Alan Godlas, Sufism's Many Paths (City: University of Georgia Press, 2000.)


[xxxii] Moshe Idel, Kabbalah: New Perspectives (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988).


[xxxiii] William Chittick, The Sufi Path of Love: The Spiritual Teachings of Rumi (Albany: SUNY Press, 1983). The Mathnawí of Jalálu'ddín Rúmí, edited from the oldest manuscripts available, with critical notes, translation and commentary by Reynold Nicholson, in 8 volumes, London: Messrs Luzac & Co., 1925–1940.


[xxxiv] In ancient times, names had power. If you knew the real name of an entity, you had power over it. Sometimes an entity would have two names, one public and one secret. It is quite possible that in the very early stages, Yahweh was God's secret name and was used to influence or even control Him. Later use of the Shem Hameforash in the Kabbalistic tradition points to this direction


[xxxv]  The whole poem, on papyrus dated  1238 B.C.E. in the reign of Pharoah Ramesses II, is as follows:

God is a master craftsman;

               yet none can draw the lines of his Person.

Fair features first came into being

               in the hushed dark where he mused alone;

He forged his own figure there,

               hammered his likeness out of himself—

All powerful one (yet kindly),

               whose heart would lie open to men.

He mingled his heavenly god-seed

               with the inmost depths of his mystery.

Planting his image there

               in the unknown depths of his mystery.

He cared, and the sacred form

               took shape and contour, splendid at birth!

God, skilled in the intricate ways of the craftsman,

               first fashioned Himself to perfection.

This hymn was translated by John Foster in the Norton Anthology of World Literature (2002). Also see John L. Foster, Echoes of Egyptian Voices: An Anthology of Ancient Egyptian Poetry (Oklahoma Series in Classics, [[okay?—ed]]1992).


[xxxvi] Paul Fenton, "Judaism and Sufism." In Routledge History of World Philosophies, ed. S. H. Nasr and O. Leaman, 755-68. London: Routledge, 1996. S. D. Goitein, A Mediterranean Society: The Jewish Communities of the Arab World as Portrayed in the Documents of the Cairo Geniza. 6 vols. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967. Daniel Chanan Matt, Zohar: The Book of Enlightenment, Classics of Western Spirituality. New York: Paulist Press, 1983. Gershom Gerhard Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism. Schocken Paperbacks, New York: Schocken Books, 1961. 


[xxxvii] The English translation of "firmament" comes from the Hebrew raqiya. The word is derived from the word raqa, which meant "to spread out" by stamping, stretching, beating, like making a metal bowl by hammering the metal flat. In the Bible, Elihu asks Job, “Can you beat out [raqa] the vault of the skies? ” Job 37:18. In the Vulgate version of the Bible, it means “strengthening” or “support.”

[xxxviii] The book of Genesis goes on to mention lights being placed in the firmament (Genesis 1:14-17). The heavens are "rolled back like a scroll" in Revelation 6:14: however, as stars are apparently still being knocked off the Firmament in subsequent verses, it's unclear which layer is being removed at this point.


[xxxix]  Mevlani Rumi, The Essential Rumi (trans. Coleman Barks & John Moyne), 7 - The Many Wines.


[xl] Dan Vergano, “Study: Emotion rules the brain’s decisions,” USA Today, 8/6/2006. Also see:  Randy Dotinga, “Brain Scans Show How Humans 'Hear' Emotion,” HealthDay Reporter, May 14, year? (HealthDay News)


[xli] Antonio Damasio, Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain (Harper Perennial, 1995).


[xlii] Daniel Levitin “In Search of the Musical Mind,” Cerebrum, Vol. 2, No. 4.  pp. 83-86.

[xliii] J. Binney, & M. Merrifield, Galactic Astronomy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998)

[xliv] Neurologist Carla Shatz says, "There's a great mystery left. Our memories and our hopes and our aspirations and who we love -- all of that is in there encoded in the circuits. But we only have the barest beginnings of an understanding about how the brain really works." www.pbs.org/wnet/brain/episode1/index.html

[xlv] His argument is supported by a study published in Nature Neuroscience which shows that sea sponges have proto-synapses without a nervous system.


[xlvi] Martin Lings says that in King Lear, the journey of Edgar is like the Sufi's search for truth. And King Lear's words echo Sufi ideas when he tells his faithful daughter: “Upon such sacrifices, my Cordelia, the gods themselves throw incense.” The famous line of Prospero, “We are such stuff as dreams are made on,” fits is entirely with Sufi thought, Lings claims.  Lings says that the Bard is “quite at home” with “Gods” in the plural. See Venessa Thorpe, “Islam week at the Globe Theatre,” linking Shakespeare with this Muslim sect. The Observer, Sunday October 24, 2004.


[xlvii] Jane Hirsfield’s books of poetry include After (HarperCollins, 2006); Given Sugar, Given Salt (2001); The Lives of the Heart (1997), The October Palace (1994), Of Gravity & Angels (1988), and Alaya (1982); and Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry (1997) where this statement about the conscious/unconscious is made.

[xlviii] Stephen Mitchell, The Enlightened Heart (Audio Literature, 1999), English version by Robert Bly. The original language is Hindi.

[xlix] Researchers show that brain development continues well after infancy, and that both before and after birth, brain development is determined by the functional demands on the brain, rather than purely by preprogrammed genetic factors. Kornberg sends the Dean the following bibliography by email: Ahern, G. L., and G. E. Schwartz (1985). "Differential lateralization for positive and negative emotion in the human brain: EEG spectral analysis". Neuropsychologia, 23: 745-755. Ahn, Woo-Kyoung, and Doublas Medin.(1992). "A two-stage model of category construction," Cognitive Science, 16: 81-121. Annis, David, and Linda Annis (1979). "Does philosophy improve critical thinking?" Teaching Philosophy, 3: 2. Armstrong, D. M. (1981). Belief, Truth and Knowledge (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).

Ausubel, David (1963). The Psychology of Meaningful Verbal Learning (New York: Grune and Stratton).

Baars, Bernard (1988). A Cognitive Theory of Consciousness (New York: Cambridge University Press).

Becker, Angela, and Thomas Ward (1991). "Children's use of shape in extending novel labels to animate objects: Identity versus postural change." Cognitive Development, 6: 3-16.

Berlin, Brent, and Paul Kay (1969). Basic Color Terms: Their Universality and Evolution (Berkeley: University of California Press). Blakemore, Colin, and G. F. Cooper (1970). "Development of the brain depends on the visual environment," Nature, 228: 477.