Blaise Pascal on “The Theatre”

11. All great amusements are dangerous to the Christian life; but among all those which the world has invented there is none more to be feared than the theatre. It is a representation of the passions so natural and so delicate that it excites them and gives birth to them in our hearts, and, above all, to that of love, principally when it is represented as very chaste and virtuous. For the more innocent it appears to innocent souls, the more they are likely to be touched by it. Its violence pleases our self-love, which immediately forms a desire to produce the same effects which are seen so well represented; and, at the same time, we make ourselves a conscience founded on the propriety of the feelings which we see there, by which the fear of pure souls is removed, since they imagine that it cannot hurt their purity to love with a love which seems to them so reasonable. 

So we depart from the theatre with our heart so filled with all the beauty and tenderness of love, the soul and the mind so persuaded of its innocence, that we are quite ready to receive its first impressions, or rather to seek an opportunity of awakening them in the heart of another, in order that we may receive the same pleasures and the same sacrifices which we have seen so well represented in the theatre.

Blaise Pascal, Pensees, § 1.11


2 thoughts on “Blaise Pascal on “The Theatre”

  1. in order to respond to this, i need to know what theater blaise is speaking of. the theater as in the movie theater, or theater as in live acting on stage theater. because in one sense i completely and totally disagree, and in the other i completely and totally agree. more specifics. theater is too broad of a term.

  2. The issue is not “theatre” precisely. It’s not a matter of which theatre Pascal is talking about.

    This statement was written in the 17th century. Be careful of imposing our 21st century conception of theatre on his 17th century discussion. I don’t think Pascal’s criticism is of the “Theatre” per se. It’s a bit more abstract than that.

    Pay more attention to what the “theatre” does instead of what the theater is.

    Try asking these questions:
    – “What ‘Theatre’ is Pascal himself defining?”

    – “What is it about Theatre that Pascal is cautioning against? The theater itself or something else?”

    – “What is the Theatre Pascal is talking about doing? Especially with human “passions”?”

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