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  • Hi, I'm Mike Rugnetta.

  • This is Crash Course Theater, and as much as we may all adore the violence and raunch

  • of Roman performance.. it's time to move on.

  • Aw, Yorick - you disappointed?

  • I know it well, you're a fan of the rope dancing maidens aren't you?

  • So bawdy, this one!

  • The theater of Greece and Rome is only one tradition, and today we're going to survey

  • another: Sanskrit theater.

  • We could devote several episodes to classical Indian theater, but because we have two and

  • a half millennia of opening nights from around the world to cover in this series, today is

  • more of a highlights reeland those highlights include happy endings, rectangular theaters,

  • and fish bellies.

  • INTRO We don't really know when Sanskrit theater

  • started or how it evolved, but likely it followed a process similar to Greek drama andspoiler

  • alert!—the future reemergence of theater in the medieval period.

  • Basically: People create religious rituals to honor their gods.

  • Someone gets the bright idea that, instead of just singing praises, it might be cool

  • to act out some devotion.

  • And before you know it, you have characters and plots and sometimes a chorus of frogs.

  • Thee-ah-TAH!

  • Sanskrit literature starts around 1500 BCE, and like Greek literature, it was originally

  • an oral tradition.

  • Its great worksthe Mahabharata and the Ramayanaweren't written down until much,

  • much later.

  • The Mahabharata is an epic tale of a battle between two groups of cousins.

  • The Ramayana is a more intimate family narrativethat also involves a monkey king.

  • Yeah.

  • It's as dope as it sounds.

  • Most Sanskrit dramas are based on excerpts from these epics.

  • There's no solid date for the first Sanskrit dramas, either, though we do have a bunch

  • of surviving plays from the first century CE, suggesting this tradition had already

  • been around for a while.

  • The golden age for Sanskrit drama comes a little bit later, around the 4th and 5th centuries,

  • during the Gupta Dynasty.

  • Which was a good time if you were into science, math, or ... theater.

  • That's us!

  • All told, about two-dozen dramas survive; we're going to look at one later in this

  • episode.

  • The plays were typically written in a mix of Sanskrit, the fancy literary dialect, and

  • Prakrit, the more common dialect.

  • If the Greeks have taught us anything, it's that if you want to have a great age of drama,

  • you need someone to come along and lecture you on how to do it right.

  • In Sanskrit theater, instead of Plato and Aristotle, we have Bharata Muni.

  • Speaking historically, he may not actually have been a real person, but more of a literary

  • construct like Homer, except he was also semi-divine.

  • Sorry, Homer.

  • We still think you're fabulous.

  • Sometime in the common era, Bharata Muni wrote the Natyasastra, which is basically an all-purpose

  • guide to theater: How to write it, how to stage it, how to watch it, all the different

  • ways an actor can move her nose.

  • And much more.

  • So much more.

  • It's like Aristotle's Poetics if, after writing about tragedy, Aristotle decided to

  • write abouteverything else.

  • Oh and the Natyasastra, is also structured as a 6000 verse poem.

  • Obviously we're not going to have time to summarize all of the Natyasastraturns out

  • there are LOTS of nose movements; I'm partial to this one [C/U ON SOME NOSE MOVES] –but

  • we will look at the philosophies that underlie the composition of plays.

  • We'll also look at how plays should be performed, at least according to Bharata Muni.

  • But first, let's check out the Natyasatra's theory of the origins of drama.

  • Theater, it says, was created by Brahma, because Brahma's job is creating stuff.

  • See CC World Mythology, with this handsome half bird sir - don't worry Thoth and I

  • still hang out on the weekends.

  • Brahma and some other gods are worried that the scriptures are just too literary, so he

  • comes up with drama as a religious teaching tool.

  • Brahma teaches it to the god Bharata, who teaches it to his 100 sons.

  • They prepare a play about that awesome time the god Indra defeated some demons.

  • The gods in the audience love the play, the demons not so much.

  • They start wilding out, and Indra has to defeat themagain!

  • The demons are still pretty upset, but they are reassured that some plays will make fun

  • of the gods, so they agree to stop their attack.

  • Man, and you thought your preview audiences were tough!

  • YEESH!

  • After that exciting origin story, the Natyasastra introduces the idea of rasas.

  • Greek and Roman plays were divided by genrecomedy, tragedy, satyr plays.

  • Sanskrit theater is different.

  • Instead of genre, plays are defined by the kinds of moods they evoke.

  • These moods are called rasas.

  • There are initially eight of them: erotic, comic, pathetic, furious, heroic, terrible,

  • odious, and marvelous.

  • Eventually a ninth rasa, is added: peace!

  • A very nice mood to evoke!

  • Not terrible or odious in the least.

  • How do you evoke these rasas, you might ask?

  • A playwright does it by drawing on eight major human emotions, which are called bhavas.

  • There are eight of those: pleasure, mirth, sorrow, wrath, vigor, fear, disgust, and wonder.

  • You put the bhavas together in the right combination and you evoke the appropriate rasa.

  • Hold the odious phone, though: not only are there nine rasa-moods and eight bhava-emotions,

  • there are also ten categories of play, somewhat based on length, because a Sanskrit drama

  • can have between one and ten acts.

  • These categories don't have precise English translations, but most surviving plays belong

  • to two main categories: nataka plays and prakarana plays.

  • Nataka plays are five to ten acts long.

  • They usually borrow stories from the classic Sanskrit epics and deal with gods and heroes

  • and demons.

  • These plays are a little like tragedies, except, like most Sanskrit plays, they end happily.

  • This helps the audience live in harmony with the universe - which I mean hey, not a terrible

  • aim for the arts, right?

  • Prakarana plays are also five to ten acts long.These are closer in spirit to Roman comedies

  • in that they often have urban settings and deal with everyday human characters.

  • Other kinds include dima plays, which have 16 heroes, and anka, one-act plays in which

  • women lament.

  • Very exciting things happen in these playslike kidnappings and battles and berserk elephantsbut

  • those things mostly happen offstage.

  • Onstage, we get messengers' reports and dialogue about how people are dealing with

  • invading monkey forces, but not usually the monkey forces themselves.

  • Which, I mean, makes sense.

  • What director wants to manage the blocking for an army of monkeys?

  • Besides what types of plays there are, the Natyasastra has a lot of ideas about how plays

  • should be staged.

  • Like Greek and Roman theater, Sanskrit theatre was often staged in conjunction with religious

  • festivals and preceded by elaborate religious rituals.

  • But UNLIKE Greek and Roman theater, players weren't exclusively men: troupes were male,

  • female, and mixed gender.

  • Plays were also sometimes commissioned as court performances.

  • Bharata Muni says although the best spectators are noble, theater is for all classes.

  • Members of the four castespriests, warriors, merchants, and peasantsall seem to have

  • gone to the theater, though they didn't get to sit together.

  • No classical Sanskrit theaters survive, and sadly we know nothing about their concession

  • snacks.

  • But Bharata Muni does have some pointers on architecture.

  • Theaters could be rectangular, square, or triangular and small, medium, or large.

  • The medium-sized rectangle was the most popular design.

  • And in case you're thinking, hey isn't bigger better, - turns out you're more right

  • than you think, because large rectangles are reserved for the gods.

  • Half of the theater was for the audience, the other half was for the stage and the backstage.

  • There were also four color-coded pillars, and the whole thing was meant to symbolize

  • the entire universe.

  • No pressure.

  • If you think that seems precise, wait until you hear about the acting.

  • Acting in the classical Indian theater is incredibly specific and highly stylized.

  • The way a performer stands and blinks and crooks a finger and flares her nostrilsall

  • of that is conveying vital information about her character and the circumstances of the

  • play.

  • The Natyasastra lists six ways you can move your nose, nine ways you can move your neck.

  • There are seven ways you can move your eyebrows, each with its own distinct meaningfrom

  • loweringin envy, disgust and smellingto contracted inmanifestation of affection”.

  • And don't even get Bharata Muni started on the eyes.

  • Or the fingers.

  • Or the feet.

  • That said, it's communicating through emotion that matters most.

  • Rhythm and music, costume and make-up, are also crucially important.

  • Props, too.

  • But not scenery.

  • Sanskrit drama doesn't do scenery.

  • To get a feel of how these plays...uh, played out, let's take a look at one of the most

  • beloved Sankrit dramas, Kalidasa's “The Recognition of Sakuntala.”

  • No solid date for this one, but best guess: early in the common era.

  • Thoughtbubble, You Better Recognize: The play begins with a prayer to Shiva, the

  • destroyer.

  • But in a pretty meta gesture a director stops the hymn so that he can rehearse with one

  • of his actresses.

  • She sings a song, and the play begins.

  • In the first act, King Dushyanta is out hunting deer near a bunch of hermitages when he decides

  • to hide behind a tree, perving on some beautiful hermit maidensespecially Sakuntala.

  • The king falls in love, but ooohhh dip, she's in the wrong caste!

  • The king mopes because he's soooooo in love with the hermit girl and is trying to find

  • an excuse to see her.

  • But then!

  • Two youths come and ask him to protect the hermitage.

  • Score!

  • Before long, the king and Sakuntala confess their love.

  • By the next act, their wedding has taken place and also presumably sex.

  • Then the king has to leave to do king stuff.

  • Daydreaming, Sakuntala accidentally offends the touchy poet Durvasa.

  • So he curses her, telling her that King Dushyanta will forget all about her until she presents

  • him with a token