Spectacle  

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"Since, then, all passionate excitement is forbidden us, we are debarred from every kind of spectacle, and especially from the circus" --De spectaculis by Tertullian


"But certainly for the present age, which prefers the sign to the thing signified, the copy to the original, representation to reality, the appearance to the essence... illusion only is sacred, truth profane. Nay, sacredness is held to be enhanced in proportion as truth decreases and illusion increases, so that the highest degree of illusion comes to be the highest degree of sacredness [...]." -- Ludwig Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity, cited in The Society of the Spectacle by Guy Debord.


All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players [...]
--William Shakespeare's As You Like It

This page Spectacle is part of the bread and circuses series. Illustration: Pollice Verso by Jean-Léon Gérôme, 1872
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This page Spectacle is part of the bread and circuses series.
Illustration: Pollice Verso by Jean-Léon Gérôme, 1872
The Miseries and Disasters of War (1633) by Jacques Callot  With the 16th century The Miseries and Disasters of War, French 17th artist Jacques Callot anticipated Goya's Disasters of War, both of them criticizing the horrors of war in their art
Enlarge
The Miseries and Disasters of War (1633) by Jacques Callot
With the 16th century The Miseries and Disasters of War, French 17th artist Jacques Callot anticipated Goya's Disasters of War, both of them criticizing the horrors of war in their art
 This page Spectacle is part of the film series.  Illustration: screen shot from L'arrivée d'un train en gare de La Ciotat
Enlarge
This page Spectacle is part of the film series.
Illustration: screen shot from L'arrivée d'un train en gare de La Ciotat

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

In general spectacle refers to an event that is memorable for the appearance it creates. While some literary critics and philosophers in the 20th century have offered a theory of "the spectacle" as a mode by which capitalism subordinates everyday experience (see Situationist spectacle), the term "spectacle" has also been a term of art in theater dating from the 17th century in English drama.

Contents

Etymology

From Middle English, from Old French spectacle, from Latin spectaculum (“a show, spectacle”), from spectare (“to see, behold”), frequentative of specere (“to see”); see species.

Ancient origins

The term originated from the Roman practice of staging circuses, in the tradition of the Roman elite of providing "bread and circuses" to maintain civil order by distracting the populace from underlying social and economic problems.

Punishment as spectacle

public exectutions

A public execution is a form of capital punishment in which members of the general public are invited to participate as audience. While today the great majority of the world considers public executions to be uncivilized and distasteful and most countries have outlawed the practice, throughout much of history executions were performed publicly as a means for the state to demonstrate its power and for the sake of the spectacle itself.

The Masque and spectacle

Court masques and masques of the nobility were most popular in the Jacobean and Caroline era. Such masques, as their name implies, relied heavily upon a non-verbal theater. The character lists for masques would be quite small, in keeping with the ability of a small family of patrons to act, but the costumes and theatrical effects would be lavish. Reading the text of masques, such as The Masque at Ludlow (most often referred to as Comus), the writing is spare, philosophical, and grandiose, with very few marks of traditional dramatic structure. This is partially due to the purpose of the masque being family entertainment and spectacle. Unlike The Masque at Ludlow, most masques were recreations of well-known mythological or religious scenes. Some masques would derive from tableau. For example, Edmund Spenser (Fairie Queene I, iv) describes a masque of The Seven Deadly Sins.

Masques were multimedia, for they almost always involved costuming and music as a method of conveying the story or narrative. Joseph Bigler, for example, wrote masques with the architect Inigo Jones. William Davenant, who would become one of the major impresarios of the English Restoration, also wrote pre-Revolutionary masques with Inigo Jones. The role of the architect was that of designer of the staging, which would be elaborate and often culminate in a fireworks show.

The Restoration spectacle

Restoration spectacular

The Restoration spectacular, or elaborately staged "machine play", hit the London public stage in the late 17th-century Restoration period, enthralling audiences with action, music, dance, moveable scenery, baroque illusionistic painting, gorgeous costumes, and special effects such as trapdoor tricks, "flying" actors, and fireworks. These shows have always had a bad reputation as a vulgar and commercial threat to the witty, "legitimate" Restoration drama; however, they drew Londoners in unprecedented numbers and left them dazzled and delighted.

The Hollywood spectacular

Hollywood

When the zoetrope and nickelodeon technology first appeared, the earliest films were spectacles. They caught the attention of common people. They showed things people would rarely see, and they showed it to the wide audience.

Situationist notion of Spectacle and spectacular society.

Spectacle (critical theory)

Spectacle can also refer to a society dominated by electronic media, consumption, and surveillance, reducing citizens to spectators by political neutralization.

The word is associated with the many ways in which capitalism creates play-like celebrations of its products and leisure time consumption. Guy Debord's philosophical critique and documentary The Society of the Spectacle explores the concept.

Low and high culture

Spectacle operates in two contexts simultaneously. On the one hand, it refers to high culture (drama, movies) performances where the draw for an audience is the impressive visual accomplishment. On the other hand, it refers to low cultural shows operating in a folk environment. These can range from the freak show to folk drama to tablieau and beast-plays. The two worlds have always interacted to a lesser or greater degree, with the folks spectacle often being rewritten into a literary spectacle, whether for humor (e.g. The Mechanicals with their performance of Pyramus and Thisbe in William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream) or not (e.g. the serious treatment of the folk Everyman).

Low and high culture mingled in the spectacle as long as folk productions of spectacle were possible. In the 17th century in England, popular spectacles of the playhouse would be adapted into spectacles for the fair, and in the 18th century fair shows and pantomimes would be adapted to the playhouse stage. In the 19th century, theaters moved farther from folk cultural spectacles and began to develop stand-alone seasonal plays that were centered on a spectacular piece. However, in the 20th century, with the invention of movie theaters, folk festivals were unable to create or recreate the spectacles on film, and the theaters themselves were soon unable to replicate the spectaculars of films. Although film adaptation would occasionally begin with the old, folk mythological narrative material, the movie that resulted would be distributed out to all audiences, thus destroying the audience and source of folk spectacle.

Etymology

From Middle English, from Old French spectacle, from Latin spectaculum (“a show, spectacle”), from spectare (“to see, behold”), frequentative of specere (“to see”); see specio

Dicta

See also




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Spectacle" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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