Catholic religious orders that have education as part of their mission have often used visions of the afterlife in theatre productions as vehicles to transmit a message of conversion, especially to those who, because of age or illiteracy, would not benefit as much from Scripture readings or complex sermons. In this article, I look at how such visions of the blessed and the damned, of heaven and hell, of angels and demons, were used in educational theatre in Italy by the Jesuits in the 16th century and the Salesian sisters in the 20th century. The historical background for the Jesuit and Salesian plays I analyze also reveals a propagandistic layer of meaning in their representation of the afterworld, as the Jesuits’ tragedies date to the years of the Counter-reformation, while the Salesian sisters’ plays belong to era of the cold war. Thus, the Jesuit and Salesian theatrical depictions of heaven and hell provide insight not only into the religious understanding of the eras, but also into the social and political concerns of the times in which they were composed, as well as the diverse educational messages transmitted to young men and young women.
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