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Theatre: Excuse me, did I ask to be harrowed?

By Robert W. Bethune
ART TIMES online January 2015

Theaters do make some extraordinarily gruesome promises! “A harrowing experience.” “Wrings your withers and leaves you purged.” “Shakes you to the core.” “Riveting.” “Wrenching.” “Devastating.” “Scorching.” “Immense physical and psychological brutality.”

Uh – how much are those tickets again?

Do I really want to be harrowed? Harrowing is when the farmer uses a giant metal rake to rip the skin off the soil. Do I want that done to me? Even metaphorically? And do I want to pay for the privilege?

Of course, it’s always tragedy that’s promoted this way—you know, tragedy. The good people have sex and then die. Well, duh! I’m not likely to do lots of laughing while being harrowed, riveted, core-shaken, wrenched and devastated, to say nothing of scorched and brutalized.

Part of it is age, of course. Young people have young hearts and emotions; they’re up for a bit of harrowing or core-shaking, since they haven’t had their fill of it in real life yet. Older folks, well, let’s see, I had my soul ripped out a few years back, maybe it’s not yet quite time to do that again? How about another triple bypass or hip replacement, just for the fun of it?

And yet there is a mystery here: we do go for it. The record is clear; all the way back to Aristotle, for over two thousand years, we’ve gone back for another dose of purgation through pity and fear. One’s thing for sure: it plays better than it lives. But maybe it lives a little easier for having been played?

Bethune website: