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Theatre, Plays and Movies.

James Dodson

Drury Theater, home of the first permanent theater company in the U.S.

Drury Theater, home of the first permanent theater company in the U.S.


“There’s one Thing more to acquaint the Reader with; ‘tis that I have ventured to change the Terms of Mistress and Lover, for others somewhat more plain, but much more proper. I don’t look upon this as any Failure in Civility. As Good and Evil are different in themselves, so they ought to be differently mark’d. To confound them in Speech is the Way to confound them in Practice. Ill Qualities ought to have ill Names, to prevent their being Catching. Indeed Things are in a great Measure govern’d by Words: To guild over a foul Character, serves only to perplex the Idea, to encourage the Bad, and mislead the Unwary. To treat Honour and Infamy alike, is an Injury to Virtue, and a Sort of Levelling in Morality. I confess, I have no Ceremony for Debauchery. For to compliment Vice, is but one Remove from worshipping the Devil.”—Jeremy Collier, Preface to A Short View of the Profaneness and Immorality of the English Stage. (March, 5, 1697/8)

“Play-houses, the seminaries of vice and impiety, erected in the principal cities of the nation, and stage players, commonly among the most abandoned of mankind, escape with impunity. Yea, this pagan entertainment of the stage is countenanced by the members and office-bearers of this church, and that to such a degree, that one of the ministers thereof has commenced author of a most profane play, called The Tragedy of Douglas, wherein immorality is promoted, and what is sacred, exposed to ridicule. Oh! how astonishing! that a minister in the once famous church of Scotland should be guilty of such abominations, and yet not immediately sentenced to bear the highest of all church censure!”—Act, Declaration, and Testimony for the whole of our Covenanted Reformation, (1761).

Works Against the Theatre:


The Preface.-1687-Increase Mather (1639-1723).-In this preface, Mather begins by decrying the profaneness of the stage and stage plays, occasioned by the erection of a theater, this describes why this should be avoided by Christians.

Some Important Cases of Conscience Answered, CASE X.-1755-Samuel Hayward (1718-1757).-An casuistical exercise on the matter of Christians and theatre attendance wherein Mr. Hayward affirms the unlawfulness of such displays together with the detriment they pose to maintaining a Christian demeanor.

A Serious Inquiry into the Nature and Effects of the Stage.-1757-John Witherspoon (1723-1794).-In this essay, the character of the theater is subjected to close scrutiny and its nature and tendencies are shown to be contrary to the piety and spirituality of the Christian profession. To this is appended a Letter Respecting Play Actors highly critical of their general moral and spiritual character.

The Stage. in A Testimony and Warning Against Some Prevailing Sins and Immoralities: Addressed to Christians in General.-1805-Reformed Presbytery, of Scotland.-In this section of their Testimony, the Reformed Presbytery explains why the theatre should be rejected as an institution and why attendance is forbidden to all communicant members of the Reformed Presbyterian Church.

A SERMON, Delivered January 19, 1812, At The Request Of A Number Of Young Gentlemen Of The City Of New-York.-1812-Samuel Miller.-A sermon occasioned by the burning of the Richmond theater in which a number of notable persons perished. Miller, while expressing sympathy for the grieving, explains why the theater is not a Christian amusement.

The Sin and Danger of Being “Lovers of Pleasures More Than Lovers of God.”-1818-Andrew Mitchell Thomson (1779-1831).-In these sermons, Thomson sets forth a sobering assessment of what most often passes for amusements. He challenges common assumptions and shows why Christians ought to be very circumspect in their walk. In his notes on these sermons, he offers criticisms of theatre, card playing and other pastimes many hold to be harmless.

Theatrical Entertainments.-1837-William S. Plumer (1802-1880).-This tract, by Presbyterian minister W.S. Plumer, various considerations against theatrical entertainments are advanced together with an array of testimonies against its compatibility with public morality.

On the Amusements of Youth.-1839-William Symington.-In this essay, Symington warns youth against the vanity of amusements. He singles out several, including theatre, fairs and games of chance. He admonishes Christians to consistency of behavior and circumspection in walk.

Influence of Theatres.-1840-Thomas Brainerd (1804-1866).-This lecture, by long time pastor of Old Pine Street Presbyterian church, in Philadelphia, explores the dangers and defects of the theater and its incapability with a sound profession of Christianity.

The Theater.-1863-Fales Henry Newhall (1827-1883)-A sermon by a prominent Methodist Episcopal minister wherein he decries the inherent immorality of the theater as an institution and theatrical amusements as entertainment.