(Roughly) Daily

“This need for excitement of the will manifests itself very specially in the discovery and support of card-playing, which is quite peculiarly the expression of the miserable side of humanity”*…

 

The con game and the theatre seem to have so much in common that it is tempting to mistake one for the other; in fact the long anti-theatrical prejudice against actors has much to do with the perception that actors and conmen both disguise their “true” characters and attempt to fool their audiences. Because both the actor and the conman present “lies like truth,” it is not that easy to distinguish between theatre and monte. Some might say the distinction lies in the convention that the theatre audience knows that they are seeing a performance. But if we want to continue to categorize as theatre such enterprises as Augosto Boal’s Invisible Theatre, where the audience never knows that they’ve been part of a theatre experience, then we must abandon that distinction. The con game is different from true theatre in that the con game always sells the promise of profit for the spectator, with no intention of fulfilling that promise. The theatre on the other hand, sells the spectator the promise of entertainment and/or enlightenment, which promise may or may not be fulfilled. Though the con game draws many techniques and structures from the theatre, the con game remains an essentially criminal enterprise. The performance of monte demands of the spectator not willing suspension of disbelief, but unwilling suspension of cash.

Jack Shalom recaps the 1200-year history of Three-Card Monte, and explores the con’s resonance with theater at: “Finding The Red Card: The Performance Of Three-Card Monte.”

(See also “School for Scoundrels ‘Notes on Three-Card Monte’,” from whence the photo above.)

* Arthur Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation, Vol 1

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As we prepare for a different kind of trick (or treat), we might pause to remember that today is All Saints Eve, or All Hallows Eve… or, as we more commonly know it, Halloween.  Many Halloween traditions originated from ancient pagan Celtic harvest festivals, particularly the Gaelic festival of Samhain, which was Christianized as Halloween in the eighth century, by Pope Gregory III.

The original reason for disguise on Samhain was to prevent lonely spirits recognizing and snatching one away to their between-the-worlds home; it was an additional bonus that the costumes allowed you to lead a mini-riot without being recognized.  The custom of trick-or-treating seems to date to the 19th century in England, when people went house-to-house in costume at Halloween, reciting verses in exchange for food, and sometimes warning of misfortune if they were not welcomed.  It seems to have taken off in the U.S in the 1920s.  The custom of making jack-o’-lanterns began in Ireland in the 19th century; “turnips or mangel wurzels, hollowed out to act as lanterns and often carved with grotesque faces,” were used at Halloween in parts of Ireland and the Scottish Highlands.

Special Halloween bonus: Jacques Collin de Plancy’s Dictionnaire infernal, a monumental compendium of all things diabolical, was first published in 1818 to much success; but it was the fabulously-illustrated final edition of 1863 that secured the book as a landmark in the study and representation of demons.  Read “Defining the Demonic,” then page through the 1863 edition at The Internet Archive.

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Written by LW

October 31, 2017 at 1:01 am

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