Staging the Noble Savage: Neoclassical Ideals of Social and Political Responsibility

Dr. Thomas Paul Pfeiffer
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Drawn almost exclusively from primary sources from travelers' accounts, the philosophical essays of Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau and others as well as seventeenth and eighteenth century dramatic literature, this paper examines the shaping of European popular consciousness through the reinterpretation of the tragic hero. Through the use of the ‘Other’ in dramatic representation, the original inhabitants of the New World and other newly discovered cultures were used to pose challenges to established concepts of government, responsibility and freedom. In its entirety, the paper is thirty-five pages inclusive of notes and bibliography.

The didactic purposes of Neoclassical drama extend from the arena of morality, to the realm of politics and to combined themes of ethics and aesthetics. In the theatre, the theme of the tragic hero is used to illustrate the growing complexity of the European world-view of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. The aesthetic principles which shaped Neoclassical tragedy and the resultant influence on the depiction of the non-European 'outsider' as the tragic hero enabled dramatists to examine contemporary issues in political thought. Radical theories of kingship, government and social contract were brought to the fore through the medium of the theatre. Neoclassical tragedies drew on the fascination with and highly romanticized view of the current discoveries in the New World to spark the imaginations of their audiences with images of Paradise regained. The depiction of peoples native to these newly discovered territories both in literature and on the stage strengthened and nurtured the development of the ideal of the Noble Savage, which the French philosopher Rousseau would most fully visualize. Simultaneously, these images of an ideal state of mankind held a literary mirror, as it were, to the illnesses of contemporary society. Although certainly less intentional, and perhaps more noticeable today given current thinking on such topics as global responsibility, the treatment of the conquered peoples brought to vivid life upon the stage ultimately raised questions of European responsibility to and for those conquered Children of Paradise.

Keywords: Rouseau, Noble Savage, Dryden, Southerne, Behn, Jacobean Tragdy, Colonialism
Stream: Literature, Literary Studies, Media, Film Studies, Theatre, Communication, Philosophy, Ethics, Consciousness, History, Historiography, Political Science, Politics
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: A paper has not yet been submitted.

Dr. Thomas Paul Pfeiffer

Director of Theatre; Associate Professor of Theatre, Salisbury University, Department of Communications and Theatre Arts
Salisbury, Maryland, USA

Biographical Sketch for T. Paul Pfeiffer, Ph.D.

Since beginning his career as a professor of Theatre twenty-six years ago at Salisbury State University, Dr. Pfeiffer has been in active pursuit of his two academic loves – History and the Theatre. He completed his Master’s degree at the University of Maryland in 1985 in Theatre History and Directing and his Doctoral degree at the Union Institute in 1992 in Theatre History and Performance. He has also extended these studies to include professional training in Renaissance and Baroque dance at the Amherst Early Music Institute and in acting at the Herbert Berghoff Studio in New York. Most of his professional acting training, however, has been in the classical theatre. Dr. Pfeiffer has studied at the Folger Theatre in Washington, D.C. and, in1998. At Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London, he was one of only twenty-four American teachers selected to train in a three-week workshop entitled ‘Shakespeare in Performance’ as taught by theatre professionals from Great Britain, Australia and the U.S. He has continued to combine these areas of expertise not only in his teaching but also in the wide range of productions he directed for the University’s Bobbi Biron Theatre Program. He teaches all of the theatre history, voice and advanced acting courses for the program as well, which places a strong emphasis on the study of classical acting. Serving as Director of Theatre since 1989, Dr. Pfeiffer has led the theatre’s development to wide recognition for the quality of its theatrical seasons and the rigors of its acting training program. Most recently, this leadership has garnered a $500,000 endowment for the program and a new theatre major.

Dr. Pfeiffer also answered the call of the professional theatre where he has acted for the Riverside Shakespeare Theatre in Manhattan, among others. He has also very recently entered the British professional theatre this time as a playwright. His one man play, APOLOGY FOR THE LIFE OF AN ACTOR, based on the life of 18th century actor/manager Colley Cibber, was given a special showcase at the Royal Shakespeare Company’s ‘The Other Place’ in 1999. The play received public and critical enthusiasm. Stephen Pimlott, Artistic Director of ‘The Other Place,’ described Dr. Pfeiffer’s ability to bring the 18th century to life on the stage as, “Brilliant.” The play was also invited to the Edinburgh Fringe Theatre Festival for the summer of 2001, where both Dr. Pfeiffer (as Cibber) and the play received very favorable reviews, cited by The Scotsman as “a fascinating time travelogue, an hilarious and credible hymn to the joy of entertaining.” In the U.S., Dr. Pfeiffer was awarded an Individual Artist Award by the Maryland State Arts Council in 2004 for his performance in this play.

An active scholar in international conferences, where he has presented on various aspects of the classical theatre, Dr. Pfeiffer also aspires to continue to write for the theatre. He is currently working on a stage adaptation of Henry Fielding’s novel, JOSEPH ANDREWS, and several other projects for screen treatment.

As the culmination of twenty-six years of service to Salisbury State University; sixteen years of leadership as Director of Theatre; and notable accomplishments in both the academic and professional theatre, Dr. Pfeiffer was one of four selected to receive the prestigious Distinguished Faculty Award for 2000-2001 at Salisbury State University.

Ref: H06P0440