‘A Lover of Shows’

‘Why is it that a man likes to grieve over doleful and tragic events that he would not want to happen to himself? The spectator likes to experience grief at such scenes, and this very sorrow is a pleasure to him. What is this but a pitiable folly? The more a man is moved by these things, the less free he is from such passions. However, when he himself experiences it, it is usually called misery; when he experiences it with regard to others it is called mercy. But what sort of mercy is to be shown to these unreal things upon the stage? The auditor is not aroused to go to the aid of the others; he is only asked to grieve over them. Moreover, he will show greater approval of the author of such misrepresentations the greater the grief he feels. But if men’s misfortunes, whether fictitious or of ancient times, are put on in such a manner that the spectator does not feel sorrow, then he leave sin disgust and disapproval. If grief is aroused in him, he remains in the theater, full of attention and enjoying himself.

Tears and sorrow, therefore, are objects of love. Certainly, every man likes to enjoy himself. But while no man wants to be wretched, does he nevertheless want to be merciful? Now since mercy cannot exist apart from grief, is it for this sole reason grief is loved? This also has friendship as its source and channel. But where does it go? Where does it flow? Why does it run down into a torrent of boiling pitch, into those immense surges of loathsome lusts? For into these it is changed, and by ts own choice it is turned from the purity of heaven into something distorted and base. Shall mercy, therefore, be cast aside? By no means. At certain times, therefore, sorrows may be loved. But shun uncleanliness, O my soul! With God as my keeper, the God of our Fathers, worthy to be praised and exalted above all forever, shun uncleanliness!’
-St. Augustine (Confessions, p. 78)

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