Drama, though defined simply as acting or doing, most often takes its form as a story that is being told by people to people. When giving a defense for the use of drama in the church and in ministry I bring up the point that Jesus used stories or parables in His earthly ministry. Recently I have been challenged that my argument is not valid since Jesus used parables because they confuse those who do not have ears to hear, He did not use them for their artistic value. Though I would have still maintained that Christ chose to use parables because the medium lent itself to His purposes, I was without response as to whether drama could be used in the same way.
This challenge led me to evaluating my position and critiquing many of the plays I know and have seen. I still felt that the use of parables could correlate to the use of drama but I wanted a concrete example. This example came when last week in for a different class we read Hamlet. Shakespeare’s Hamlet portrays profound truths about the human condition. It deals with the tension between revenge and justice. In King Claudius’ actions the audience sees just how far humans will go to attain power (he kills his own brother to become king, plots Hamlet’s death and accidentally kills his wife). It also shows human relationships in marriage, parenthood, friendship, and governance. Hamlet was written in an age where drama was not popular because it expressed a message well. Drama was popular because it was a distraction and it was entertaining. I have been to the New Globe Theatre in England and have studied Elizabethan theatre and I am convinced that people did not go to the Globe to be convicted about the truth of human depravity. They went to get drunk, to have or see sex and to be entertained. This is the setting in which Hamlet was written, Shakespeare did not have to weave a multifaceted message about the human condition in his play, his audience could have been satisfied with something much more base, but he did. Though Shakespeare knew most people would miss these imbedded observations he included them anyway. That is why his plays are still so powerful today, because hundreds of years later they still portray truth. Shakespeare’s plays are now studied and dissected as students, professors and consumers of theatre try and understand the themes Shakespeare brings to light.
As Shakespeare patiently wrote epic plays that were taken for granted by his own generation, Jesus used his parables so that those who wanted to be entertained would be, but those with ears to hear would recognize His message and follow Him. Shakespeare used drama to speak truth, because he made honest observations about humanity his plays are still absolutely relevant. The Christian playwright can take up their own pen, write the captivating journeys of their characters while portraying Biblical truth in a way that’s acceptable to secular culture. Through the medium of drama the secular millenial can encounter Biblical truth, those with ears to hear may recognize the potency of the message and thirst for more. May God continue to use the beautiful art of storytelling for His glory.