Up@dawn 2.0

Monday, April 20, 2015

Bioethical Themes in Theatre

Theatre and drama can be used not only to entertain the public – but theatre can be used to discuss and educate the public about historical events, current events, social issues, and ethical problems. For centuries, theatre has been used as a tool to express ideas about illness, medical technology, and ethics. Since I am a theatre major, I thought it would be interesting to look into some historical and contemporary dramatic literature and theatrical productions that have bioethical themes, and to discuss them briefly. 

“Learn from me, if not by my precepts, at least by my example, how dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge and how much happier that man is who believes his native town to be the world, than he who aspires to become greater than his nature will allow.”
-          Spoken by Victor Frankenstein, Frankenstein, Mary Shelley

Perhaps one of the best known bioethical productions is Frankenstein, a story about a young scientist who creates a sentient being by replicating parts of the human body. Although Frankenstein was/is originally a book by Mary Shelley, published in 1818, it has been adapted to fit the stage multiple times throughout history. Although some of the productions are humorous, or even written into musical format, the original ethical issues in the book remain prominent.  Victor Frankenstein essentially “plays god” and creates a grotesque monster, which is uncontrollable, although not inherently evil. The monster is capable of feeling, and is aware that he is hideous and different, but he is not able to properly express these emotions. The monster becomes violent, even resorting to murder. Who is responsible for the monster’s actions, Dr. Frankenstein, or the monster himself? Should humans be allowed to “play god” and create human life from scratch, and even if they are able to, who will be able to control how the public will react to such a creation? These topics are brought up in both the book and in the theatrical productions.

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