Politics And Theatre

In March 1997, while serving as President of the Czech Republic, Václav Havel – who died on December 18th -- offered the following assessment of the intersection of politics and playwriting in his life.

PRAGUE – I recently read an article entitled “Politics as Theatre,” a critique of all that I have tried to do in politics. It argued that in politics, there is no place for a realm as superfluous as theatre. To be sure, in the early months of my presidency, some of my ideas demonstrated more theatrical flair than political foresight. But the author erred in one fundamental issue: he misunderstood both the meaning of theatre and a crucial dimension of politics.

Aristotle once wrote that every drama or tragedy requires a beginning, a middle, and an end, with antecedent following precedent. The world, experienced as a structured environment, includes Aristotle’s inherent dramatic dimension, and theatre is an expression of our desire for a concise way of grasping this essential element. A play of no more than two hours always presents, or is meant to present, a picture of the world and an attempt to say something about it.

One definition of politics holds that it is the conduct, concern for, and administration of public affairs. Obviously, concern for public affairs means concern for humanity and the world, which requires a recognition of humanity’s self-awareness in the world. I do not see how a politician can achieve this without recognizing drama as an inherent aspect of the world as seen by human beings, and thus as a fundamental tool of human communication.