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Jan Amos KOMENSKÝ - life, work, legacy

School theatrical productions

 

In Comenius’ method of teaching there is an essential requirement that all school activities be non-violent and pleasant for both pupils and teachers. One of the routes to the fulfilment of this requirement was through the involvement of students in school theatrical productions. The participation of the pupils in such plays was not only an entertaining means of helping them to fix their knowledge, but also a way of satisfying another fundamental, i.e. the mobilisation of the pupil, and, moreover, contributed to removing shyness in terms of speaking in public. School plays were above all part of language teaching. Comenius put on plays in Latin with his students within the framework of the Latin school, albeit that their themes also contributed to gaining and fixing knowledge in other disciplines.

 

In the 17th century, the arrangement of school theatrical productions  was a favourite part of the curriculum, even if it was on the other hand also regarded as too secular, and damaging to the esteem in which schools and education were held. Comenius, of course, clearly and emphatically defended them against such charges in several of his treatises, for example in the conclusion of the first part of the Pansophic School (Schola pansophica).

 

Comenius himself was the author of three plays. Two of these were written for the gymnasium at Leszno, and the third for that at Sárospatak. His Diogenes the Cynic Redivivus (the Diogenes) was performed in Leszno in 1640, to be followed a year later by his Father Abraham (the Abrahamus). As is obvious from the titles, the former material is drawn from Antiquity, and the latter from the Bible. The first is not lacking in humorous moments, mediated by the use of traditionally biting statements by the foremost leader of Greek Cynical philosophy and the title character, Diogenes of Sinope. The second is serious, as is called for by the use of a Biblical story. At Sárospatak Comenius was obliged to assert and defend the performance of school plays in the face of senior local ecclesiastical and school figures, with whom it was finally agreed that he would re-work his textbook the Gate of Tongues (the Janua linguarum) into a form suitable for the theatre. It was thus that the famous School as Play (the Schola ludus) came into being in the first half of the 1650s – actually a cycle of 8 plays, into which Comenius divided the material from the Gate of Tongues.

 

Overall, in evaluating Comenius’ school plays it is necessary to emphasise that these are indeed works for schools, i.e. that their pedagogical purpose outweighs their theatricality. This, naturally, is a long way from meaning that they are entirely without literary value.

 

 



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