2012 Session: "Theater, Theory, Philosophy"

June 4 - 15, 2012



Faculty members and graduate students from around the world convened at Harvard University to explore topics in theater and performance research. The topic for the 2012 session, "Theater, Theory, Philosophy," was an investigation of the ways in which theater and performance intersect with theoretical and philosophical thought. One of the motivations for establishing the Mellon School was to place theater studies on a new theoretical foundation. The 2012 session helped to bring together in dialogue philosophers who write about the theater with prominent theater theorists.


Tracy C. Davis (Northwestern)
David Greenspan (Performer)
David Herskovits (Target Margin Theater)
David Kornhaber (UT Austin)
Donna Kornhaber (UT Austin)
David J. Levin (University of Chicago)
Bernadette Meyler (Cornell)
Martin Puchner (Harvard)
Freddie Rokem (Tel Aviv University)
Andrew Sofer (Boston College)
Dieter Thomä (St. Gallen University)
Henry S. Turner (Rutgers University)


Minou Arjomand
Julia Boll
Kate Bredeson
Joseph Cermatori
Ed Charlton
Vanessa Cianconi
Joshua Edelman
Serap Erincin
Miriam Felton-Dansky
Kyna Hamill
Ryan Anthony Hatch
Andrés Henao Castro
Katherine Hollander
Nicole Jerr 
Alek Jeziorek
Daniel KeeganTae-Yeoun Kim
Liza Kharoubi
Aneta Mancewicz
Erinc Ozdemir
Andrés Pérez-Simón
Ilaria Pinna
Katherine Schaap Williams
Jon Foley Sherman
Brigitte Witzenhause
Christine Woodworth


From ancient Athens onwards, plays in the Western dramatic tradition have depicted dilemmas of democracy, while at the same time theories of the theater have addressed the form’s relevance to democratic deliberation and popular decision-making. This seminar will pair four exemplary plays—Aristophanes’ Wasps, Shakespeare’s Coriolanus, Brecht’s Resistable Rise of Arturo Ui, and Suzan-Lori Parks’ The Book of Grace—with critical works on theater and democracy. These critical works will include the writings of a number of historical and contemporary philosophers and theorists, such as Plato, Aristotle, Rousseau, Schmitt, Derrida, Agamben, Scarry, and Rancière. Questions to be addressed include the relation of drama to mob violence and revolution, how theater represents the aleatory component of democracy, the extent to which sovereignty is theatrically constructed, and how audience reception connects to democratic deliberation.

Over the course of their tumultuous histories, theater and philosophy have been variously entangled with each other, forming strategic alliances, enmities, and enduring bonds. The seminar examines the dynamics underlying this entanglement, asking how philosophy avails itself of the resources of theater and what happens when the theater stages ideas. Theater and philosophy converge on a set of philosophical characters that includes Socrates on stage, Zarathustra in the circus, late Victorian dandies, German materialists, and an Arab street philosopher. These characters are harbingers of a new theatrical philosophy and a new philosophical theater, with profound consequences for how we understand politics, language, and aesthetics. Readings include Plato, Nietzsche, Wilde, Shaw, Brecht, Wittgenstein, Stoppard, Churchill, and Badiou.