In other lectures we have seen that the ego not only works on the sentient soul, the intellectual soul and the consciousness soul, but through this work is itself made stronger and brought nearer fulfilment. Hence we can readily understand that laughing and weeping can be a means whereby the ego can educate itself and further strengthen its powers. No wonder, then, that among the great sources of education for human development we rank those dramatic creations which stimulate the soul-forces that find expression in laughter and tears.
[…] Hence we can see how closely connected with human development are tragedy and comedy, when through artistic creations they come before our souls.
Anyone who can observe human nature in its smallest details will find that everyday experiences can lead to an understanding of the greatest facts. Artistic productions, for example, can make us see that in human life there is a kind of pendulum which swings to and fro between laughter and tears. The ego can progress only by being in motion. If the pendulum were at rest, the ego would not be able to expand or develop; it would succumb to inward death. It is right for human development that the ego should be able to free itself through laughter and on the other hand to search for itself through tears. Certainly a balance between the two poles must be found: the ego will find completion only in the balance, never in swinging to and fro between exaltation and despair. It will find itself only at the point of rest, which can swing over as easily to one extreme as to the other.
The human being must gradually become the guide and leader of his own development. If we understand laughter and tears, we can see them as revelations of the spirit, for a human being becomes transparent, as it were, if we know how in laughter he seeks an outward expression of inner liberation, while in tears he experiences an inner strengthening after the ego has suffered a loss in the external world.
Source: Rudolf Steiner – GA 59 – Metamorphoses of the Soul: Paths of Experience Vol. 2: Lecture 2: Laughing and Weeping – Berlin, 3rd February 1910
Translated by Charles Davy and Christian von Arnim