Material Shadows of Humanity: An Exploration of Theatrical Puppetry in Relation to the Allegory of the Cave

Open Access
Joslin, Regina Lee
Area of Honors:
Bachelor of Fine Arts
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Milagros Ponce De Leon, Thesis Supervisor
  • Susan B Russell, Honors Advisor
  • theatre
  • puppetry
  • allegory of the cave
  • argonautika
  • greek theatre
  • puppets
  • theater
In March 2017, I began reading the play Argonautika by Mary Zimmerman. I eventually would design and fabricate the puppets for this production, which opened October 27, 2017. Argonautika is filled with moments where reality, history, and imagination meet. Birds wheel over the ocean, a golden ram flies above, and dragons do not sleep. Puppets cross between worlds: that of the real and unreal, the living and the dead. These lifeless objects are prone to metamorphosis. They are material, animal, and human all at once. In Book VII of The Republic, Plato proposes the allegory of the cave to explain not only four ways of thought, but also four ways of life: imagination, belief, reason, and understanding. Theatre encompasses all of these philosophies, from the perspective of the designer, the actor, and the audience. Puppets explicitly relate to the world proposed in the allegory of the cave. They are something outside of our reality. They evoke both imagination and belief yet question our reason and understanding. This document will explore the ancient yet somehow modern world of Argonautika, and the puppets designed and built for this production, but more broadly how puppetry and theatre as a whole, can relate to Plato’s allegory of the cave. It shall address how we find the shadows of ourselves presented in the theatre, how we find belief in the story and in the puppet—that which is so obviously material, but gives a new definition to life. This thesis analyzes how our imagination gives life to that which is lifeless and how theatre tries so desperately to impress upon its audience a new reasoning and understanding. This document attempts to better understand the relationship of the audience with the play and with the puppets. Through Plato’s allegory of the cave, it shall analyze the four forms of thinking in relation to the theatre, and discuss how theatre and puppetry are but a reflection of ourselves, a shadow of our own reality.