Mapping Interiors in Theatre and Philosophy
In my book The Mind-Body Stage: Passion and Interaction in the Cartesian Theater (published by Stanford University Press in 2013), I demonstrate how theatre history helps us to understand Descartes’s doctrine of mind-body union and, in turn, how mind-body union finds expression in theatre history. My paper for the Theater, Performance, Philosophy Conference continues this investigation, focusing on two types of performance space. Theatre architecture underwent consideration innovation in the late-seventeenth century, as theatres were deepened and audiences brought into better perspectival alignment with the stage. These transformations can be considered against Descartes’s mapping of a different interior: the mental arena he called the soul, and within which all visual and passionate perceptions are apprehended. I trace the spatial metaphors of Descartes’s notion of mental interiority alongside the renovated interiors of Paris’s redesigned theatres, especially the first permanent home of the Comédie-Française, designed by François d’Orbay and built in 1689. Such design innovations were quickly mimicked in England – as we might see at London’s Queen’s Theatre in the Haymarket, built in 1705 by the sometimes-playwright John Vanbrugh.
Having suggested how English theatre history and philosophy came to be transformed by Cartesian thought, I propose to bring some of my more modest ideas about the theatre-philosophy relationship – ideas previously articulated in English contexts – back to Paris, where most of my archival research was conducted. The ideas may ramify all performance scholarship, not just that of the seventeenth century. For, as I will argue, it is precisely the schism between material and immaterial which produces the tension between theatre and philosophy. Descartes’s doctrine of mind-body union helps us to reconcile this tension, which we must if we are to do justice to the subjects of theatre studies: a material archive of plays and an immaterial (or evanesced) repertory of performances.
R. Darren Gobert (Ph.D. Columbia University, 2003) is Associate Professor in the Department of English and the Graduate Program in Theatre & Performance Studies at York University, Toronto, where he specializes in comparative drama, performance theory, and the philosophy of theatre. His publications include articles on Molière, Freud, Brecht, Stoppard, and others, as well as two books: The Mind-Body Stage: Passion and Interaction in the Cartesian Theater (Stanford UP, 2013) and The Theatre of Caryl Churchill (Bloomsbury/Methuen, 2014).