1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Applause

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APPLAUSE (Lat. applaudere, to strike upon, clap), primarily the expression of approval by clapping of hands, &c.; generally any expression of approval. The custom of applauding is doubtless as old and as widespread as humanity, and the variety of its forms is limited only by the capacity for devising means of making a noise. Among civilized nations, however, it has at various times been subject to certain conventions. Thus the Romans had a set ritual of applause for public performances, expressing degrees of approval: snapping the finger and thumb, clapping with the flat or hollow palm, waving the flap of the toga, for which last the emperor Aurelian substituted a handkerchief (orarium), distributed to all Roman citizens (see Stole). In the theatre, at the close of the play, the chief actor called out “Valete et plaudite!”, and the audience, guided by an unofficial choregus, chaunted their applause antiphonally. This was often organized and paid for (Böttiger, Über das Applaudieren im Theater bei den Alten, Leipz., 1822). When Christianity became fashionable the customs of the theatre were transferred to the churches. Eusebius (Hist. Eccl. vii. 30) says that Paul of Samosata encouraged the congregation to applaud his preaching by waving linen cloths (ὀθόναις), and in the 4th and 5th centuries applause of the rhetoric of popular preachers had become an established custom. Though, however, applause may provide a healthy stimulus, its abuse has led to attempts at abolishing or restricting it even in theatres. The institution of the claque, people hired by performers to applaud them, has largely discredited the custom, and indiscriminate applause has been felt as an intolerable interruption to serious performances. The reverential spirit which abolished applause in church has tended to spread to the theatre and the concert-room, largely under the influence of the quasi-religious atmosphere of the Wagner performances at Baireuth. In Germany (e.g. the court theatres at Berlin) applause during the performance and “calling before the curtain” have been officially forbidden, but even in Germany this is felt to be in advance of public opinion. (See also Acclamation and Cheering.)