The Divine: A Play for Sarah Bernhardt Analysis by Ciara Tobin

The Spatial Experience

I had never before encountered the Constans Theater. I had always been interested in what goes on inside, yet had never dared to venture to one of the plays as I felt as though everyone who attended were devoted fans of the arts. This assignment proved the perfect opportunity. When I entered the theater, I was shocked at the size of the place. From outside, it seems like a simple room; without any prior knowledge of the structure of the building, I was surprised to discover it a full wing of the Reitz. The auditorium itself was very spacious, with high ceilings and rows upon rows of seats. I sat in the center of the stage, a few rows from the front. I joked with my friends that I could not have gotten a better seat if I tried. It enabled me to really become a part of the performance, without being so close that I was uncomfortable. The auditorium initially held the nervous chatter of students who, like me, had never attended a University of Florida play and did not know what to expect. The sudden 'hush' of the crowd when the music began was profound; my heart raced in anticipation of what was to come. The theater itself often is a place where people express their deepest fears, thoughts, and tribulations and thus is a medium for attaining the Good Life, and conveying invaluable lessons of the class in general.

Note: Not Actual Constans Theater

The Social Experience

I attended the play with one other friend, Sarah. I am grateful that I did not go with a big group of friends as I feel as though they might have distracted me from the play. Shared experiences can both hinder and help one in pursuit of the Good Life. If someone is not interested in the same things you are, they can often be a distraction. If someone is as dedicated as you are, if not more so, they can aid you exponentially in your pursuit. I was genuinely interested in the content of the play, while I could tell others around me simply wished to get the assignment done and ignore the pertinent messages of the play. Sarah and I got dinner after the play and had a riveting discussion about what the content meant to us. This definitely enhanced my experience and overall understanding.

I have received Sarah Lottman's written consent for this photograph.

The Cultural and Intellectual Experience

Though the play was set in the early twentieth century, there exist many thematic parallels to our present society and culture. The central issue in the play was poverty and how there exist innumerable disparities between the lower and upper classes, and that said differences are seldom addressed. If they are talked about, they are often glorified and made to seem much more romantic than they actually are. This play also touched on sexual abuse and the church, a topic that is both always talked about and never talked about. I knew that priests abusing young boys occurred, but never thought about how long this might have gone on, nor about the emotional and mental repercussions the victims of said abuse have to suffer through for the rest of their lives. As Talbot discovered, it is just as hard to come out as the victim than it is the perpetrator. When Brother Casgrain's own abuse is made public, it is alluded that he takes his own life in embarrassment. Admittedly, I knew little about the impoverish conditions of the working class and the prevalence of child labor in the nineteenth century. Further, I never thought about how child labor still occurs today. It shocks me how naive I have been. I realized, however, that I had been ignoring these truths - that people are abused by those they look up to most, that children work in unimaginable conditions in an attempt to help feed their families, that people absorb damaging secrets in order to shield family members from sharing the pain. In a sense, I had been living as Michaud, blissfully unaware of the pain and suffering millions of people experience daily. I had never considered myself considerably fortunate - I take out loans to pay my college tuition and work a job on top of my studies to pay my rent - but I have only held myself to the standard of those who are incredibly fortunate around me. To little Leo, I might be living the life of an aristocrat. I am so unbelievably fortunate; I realize that now. This play was truly eye-opening.

The Emotional Experience

In all honesty, I was not expecting to be moved by this play. I had no idea that I would shed a tear even in the first act, in fact I was shocked when I found myself brought to tears. The scene where Talbot revealed what had happened to him was so moving. Someone very close to me was sexually abused by a family friend for a number of years, so I immediately thought of her and the pain she must have felt. I felt disgusted. The pain and understanding on Michaud's face mirrored my own in that moment. This play gave the audience the opportunity for katharsis when it was revealed that Leo had perished. The utter hypocrisy and irony of that scene shook me to the core - people high up in the church, a super star, a business owner, and his own mother were discussing the rights of children and debating the morality of their working in factories whilst children were dying quite literally beneath their own feet. It is symbolic for how we, as a society, often criticize an injustice yet stand in the way of its resolution. Often, we are the problem. Society is the problem. Luckily, in Western civilization, child labor is not commonplace, but in other parts of the world it still is. Just because it is not happening here, or we do not encounter it every day, does not mean it isn't happening. Likewise, the people closest to us could be victims of sexual abuse and we would not know because of the stigma and shame surrounding it. Some people would rather stay oblivious, but it is often quite liberating to know the truth.

Credits:

Created with images by anyulled - "Sky" • kaykaybarrie - "Factory Theatre" • PublicDomainArchive - "child labor boy carriage" • PublicDomainArchive - "child labor historic people" • Children's Bureau Centennial - "LC-DIG-nclc-01823 Mixed Gender Child Labor 1910" • PublicDomainArchive - "child labor historic people" • GiselaFotografie - "mother daughter together"

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