Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: Our Stage and Its Critics - By "E.F.S." of "The Westminster Gazette"
Author: Spence, Edward Fordham, 1860-1932
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Our Stage and Its Critics - By "E.F.S." of "The Westminster Gazette"" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



OUR STAGE AND ITS CRITICS


BY

"E.F.S."

OF "THE WESTMINSTER GAZETTE"



_1910_



PREFACE


Whilst reading the proof-sheets of these articles I have been oppressed
by the thought that they give a gloomy idea about the state of our
Stage. Yet I am naturally sanguine. Indeed, no one taking a deep
interest in our drama could have written for a score or so of years
about it unless of a naturally sanguine temperament. There has been
great progress during my time, yet we still are far from possessing a
modern national drama creditable to us. Some imagine that the British
have no inborn genius for writing drama, or acting it, and look upon
those dramatists and players whose greatness cannot be denied as mere
exceptions to a rule. Without alleging that at the moment we have a
Shakespeare, a Garrick or a Siddons, I assert confidently that we own
dramatists and players able, if rightly used, to make our theatre worthy
of our country and also that the misuse of them is appalling. For very
many years the history of the English stage has been chiefly a record of
waste, of gross commercialism and of honest efforts ruined by adherence
to mischievous traditions: the Scottish and Irish stage have been mere
reflections of our own.

At the moment Ireland is making a brave and remarkably successful
effort at emancipation, and during the last few years has laid the
foundations of a National Theatre and built a good deal upon them.
Scotland lags a little, yet the energy and enthusiasm of Mr Alfred
Wareing and the citizens of Glasgow have enabled them to create an
institution not unlikely to serve as the home of a real Scots drama.
They offer to the native playwright an opportunity of showing that a
national drama--not a drama merely echoing the drama of other
lands--lies inherent in the race. Who knows that they may not induce
that wayward man of genius, J.M. Barrie, to become the parent of Scots
drama by honestly and sincerely using his rare gifts as dramatist in an
effort to express the pathos and the humour, the courage and the
shyness, the shrewdness and the imagination, and also the less agreeable
qualities and characteristics of our brothers across the border.

And England? I have little first-hand knowledge of the provinces, but
with such as I possess, and the aid of the _Era Annual_ and the _Stage
Year Book_, can state unhesitatingly that the position is very
unsatisfactory. Admirable, valuable work is being done bravely by Miss
Horniman at Manchester; Mr F.R. Benson and his company devotedly carry
the banner of Shakespeare through the land; but in the main the
playhouses of the provinces and great cities of England offer little
more than echoes of the London theatres, and such original works as are
produced in them generally are mere experiments made on the dog before a
piece is presented in London. In this respect, the suburbs resemble the
provinces, although Mr J.B. Mulholland courageously makes efforts to
give Hammersmith something new and good. The Coronet has seen some
valuable ventures--perhaps Notting Hill is not a suburb--and at the
moment is devoted to the production of real novelties.

In the West End theatres of London the position at first sight seems
desperate. During the last twenty years, in consequence of the
intervention of middlemen, rents have risen 100 per cent.; owing to the
folly of managers the salaries of the company have increased to a
similar extent; whilst the cost of scenery, costumes and the like also
has grown enormously. Indeed, it is probably an under-statement to
allege that the money spent in running a theatre on the customary
commercial lines is twice as great as it was in 1890. Yet the price of
seats has not been raised. Consequently theatre management has become a
huge gamble, in which there are few prizes, and the amount of money lost
annually is great. Naturally, under such circumstances the principal,
almost the only, aim of the ordinary manager is to please the masses.
Many concessions are made to the wishes of the crowd, and by way of
excuse the phrase "the drama's laws the drama's patrons give" is
quoted. It is painful to think that people can quote Johnson's line
without a feeling of scorn, yet it necessarily contains an awful amount
of truth when theatres are managed under the present mad conditions.
What art has ever made progress under laws dictated by the great
half-washed?

Half-a-dozen of the West End theatres are devoted to musico-dramatic
works which, whatever their merits in other respects, have none as
drama, and certainly have done little for the development of English
music. As a rule several houses are under the management of American
managers and they, putting Mr Frohman aside, rarely prove anything but
the sterility of America drama or their contempt for the taste of our
playgoers who, however, as a rule prefer native to imported
rubbish--hence grumbles in the United States about prejudice and unfair
play. Mr Frohman, as part of his repertory scheme, and otherwise as
well, has done something to help the modern English dramatist. Putting
Shakespeare out of the question, for of course he has nothing to do with
English modern drama, we have little in the ordinary London theatre that
is not the natural result of bad traditions, and the only progress made
is in the direction of increased dexterity in playwriting--unfortunately
increased dexterity as a rule in handling old subjects according to the
old traditions, which leave the stage curiously outside the world of
literature and also of ordinary human life.

On the other hand, thanks to the efforts of many enthusiasts working by
means of societies and clubs, such as the Independent Theatre--the first
of all--the Century Theatre, the (Incorporated) Stage Society, the
Pioneers, the Play Actors and others, and the Play-goers' Club, the O.P.
Club and the Gallery First Nighters, and also thanks to the efforts of
Messrs Vedrenne and Barker, at the Court Theatre, real progress has been
made in London towards the creation of an English modern theatre, and we
now possess a valuable body of dramatists, some to a great extent,
others altogether, neglected by the ordinary theatre. Speaking of these
dramatists collectively, it may fairly be said that their gifts are
greater, their ambitions higher and their theories of drama sounder than
those of their rivals who work for the ordinary theatre; and I should
add that the ordinary theatre is far richer in dramatists of quality
than it was twenty years ago. So we have the playwrights.

Also we have the plays. The publication in book form of the best native
pieces presented by the enthusiasts of whom I have spoken, but not
offered to the general public for a run, would satisfy any critic that
the English modern drama exists although we are still waiting for the
English modern theatre.

Moreover, we have the players. Some, though not many, of the
fashionable stars would serve, whilst there are numbers of really able
actresses and actors who have proved their ability to represent modern
comedy, but owing to the strange policy of managers are rarely employed
by the ordinary theatre--in London. In several cases the policy may be
sound, since the regular fare of the fashionable houses as a rule
demands a showy, but insincere, style out of the range, or at least the
demonstrated range, of the neglected players.

Does the public for such a theatre exist? I think so. The number of
playgoers is very large, and although only a comparatively small
proportion goes out of its way to patronise the non-commercial drama a
very large proportion has grown weary of the ordinary drama--a fact
shown by the recent failure of plays which not many years ago would have
been successful.

Do the critics exist? They are an important element in the matter. The
question is a delicate one for me to answer. Certainly some of our
dramatic critics are men of culture and courage, able to appreciate new
ideas. The difficulty is more with the newspapers than their
representatives. For a sad aspect of the present state of affairs lies
in the fact that the desire to obtain tittle-tattle and gossip
concerning the players often outweighs the desire to obtain sincere,
intelligent criticism, and the result is obvious. There is ten times
more "copy" published about the persons and personal affairs of the
author of a play and of its players than concerning its merits and
faults.

However, after taking all the elements into account, it may confidently
be asserted that within the lifetime of the present generation of
playgoers radical changes will have taken place, and even if we may not
possess tragedy of the highest quality we shall have a theatre of modern
English drama--serious comedy and also light comedy and farce--really
expressive of current life and thought and fine enough in style to
render the most critical Englishman proud of his country's drama.

E.F.S.

_October 1910_

The thanks of the author are due to the Proprietors and the Editor of
_The Westminster Gazette_ for kindly consenting to the republication of
articles which have already appeared in that journal.



CONTENTS


                                                                  PAGE
CHAPTER I

THE DRAMATIC CRITIC

His Qualifications--His Knowledge of Fashionable Society--His
Duties and Difficulties--His Stock Phrases--The
Circumstances under which he writes--His Fear of Libel
Actions                                                              1


CHAPTER II

THE DRAMATIC CRITIC

His Duty to be tolerant--His Sympathies when young--The
Jaded Critic--His Unpaid Labours and his Letter
Bag                                                                 28


CHAPTER III

THE DRAMATIC CRITIC

An Attack upon him--Why he is disliked--His Honesty--His
Abolition--The Threatened Theatrical Trust                          49


CHAPTER IV

PLAYS OF PARTICULAR TYPES

The Pseudo-Historical--The Horrible in Drama--The
Immorality Play--Scripture Plays--Anecdotal Plays--The
Supernatural                                                        72


CHAPTER V

PLAYS OF PARTICULAR TYPES

Unsentimental Drama--The Second-hand Drama--Plays
with a Purpose--Drama and Social Reform                             99


CHAPTER VI

THE PHENOMENA OF THE STAGE

The Optics--Make-up--Gesture--Scenery at the French
Plays--Stage Costumes--Colour--Stage Meals                         118


CHAPTER VII

THE MORALITY OF OUR DRAMA

Mr Harry Lauder on the Morals of Our Drama--Double
Entente--Moral Effect on Audience--An Advantage of
French Dramatists                                                  149


CHAPTER VIII

CASUAL NOTES ON ACTING

Mr H.B. Irving on his Art--Mr Bourchier and "Max"
on English Acting--The Sicilian Players--Alleged Dearth
of Great Actresses--Character Actresses--Stage Misfits--Stars      167


CHAPTER IX

STAGE DANCING

The Skirts of the Drama--Isadora Duncan                            195


CHAPTER X

THINGS IN THE THEATRE

A Defence of the Matinée Hat--A Justification of certain
Deadheads--Theatrical Advertisements--Music                        205


CHAPTER XI

IN THE PLAYHOUSE

Laughter--Smoking in the Auditorium--Conduct of the
Audience--Concerning the Pit--Why do we go to the
Theatre?                                                           229


CHAPTER XII

MISCELLANEOUS

Signor Borsa on the English Theatre--G.B.S. and the
Amateurs--Cant about Shakespeare--Yvette Guilbert
on Dramatists                                                      252


CHAPTER XIII

MISCELLANEOUS

Finance in Plays--Some Unsuccessful Dramatists--The
Ending of the Play--Preposterous Stage Types--The
Professions of the Dramatis Personae                               271



CHAPTER I

THE DRAMATIC CRITIC


His Qualifications

The production of a play in the Russian tongue renders topical a phrase
once used, not unhappily, by Mr Cecil Raleigh concerning the
qualifications of the dramatic critic. After listening to a somewhat
extravagant speech about the duties of the critic, he said that the
dramatic critic ought, apparently, to be a "polyglot archangel." During
the last few years we have had plays in Russian, Japanese, Bavarian
_patois_, Dutch, German, French and Italian, to say nothing of East End
performances in Hebrew and Yiddish, which we neglect. Latin drama we
hear at Westminster; a Greek company came to the Court but did not act.
A Chinese has been promised, and a Turkish drama threatened; Danish has
been given; there are awful hopes of Gaelic and Erse; and goodness knows
why we have escaped Echegaray, Lope di Vega and Calderon in the
original. A Mezzofanti would be at a premium in the craft if knowledge
of languages alone were sufficient; but one may know many tongues and
possess no judgment.

We have to accept great responsibilities. Some people measure the
greatness of the responsibilities by the amount of money involved in
theatrical enterprises; it is hardly necessary to discuss seriously this
point of view. Nevertheless the fact remains that the voice of the
critics has some effect upon the fortunes of ventures involving large
sums of money and the employment of many people. It is rather curious to
see how lightly as a rule the influence of the critics is regarded; for
instance, from some remarks uttered by Sir John Hare it appears that he
thinks they are not influential. Here are his words taken from an
interview published in a newspaper.

_The Interviewer_: "How is public taste formed? Do newspaper criticisms
affect it?"

_Mr Hare_: "Very little."

This view is rarely pressed upon a jury by the plaintiff in a libel
action, and it may be remarked that although, when a play is running
well, some managers almost ignore us, as soon as business drops they
become delightfully amiable and long for our presence. Moreover, at
considerable expense, they quote our opinions if favourable--even with
judicious modifications when unfavourable.

Perhaps the matter of languages is not of very great importance, seeing
that most of the critic's work concerns English Drama, or drama in what
is supposed to be English, which, too often, is quite a different thing.
What, then, are the necessary qualifications of the critic who takes his
work and himself seriously?

He should have some knowledge of music--enough, at least, to know
whether incidental or "melodrama" music is congruous with the time,
place and occasion of the play, and to be able to identify well-known
works. At a time when money is spent very lavishly upon scenery and
costumes, he ought to possess some theories, or at least ideas,
concerning pictorial art, the history of modern painting and the like,
and be capable of guessing what a daring experimentalist like Mr Gordon
Craig is aiming at and what relation his scene-pictures bear to the
current cant of the art critic. It is deplorable when one finds serious
critics gushing about the beauty of costly stage effects belonging to
the standard of taste exhibited by wedding-cakes, Christmas crackers,
old-fashioned valentines and Royal Academicians. Dancing must mean
something more to him than a whirling and twirling of human beings--he
should at the least know the distinctive styles and figures of different
countries, and not confuse an _entrechat_ with a _pirouette_, should be
aware of the meaning of the terms _arabesque_ and _rond de jambe_, and
understand to some extent the conventional language and history of grand
ballet. No one will deny that his study of history must be substantial
and, to put the matter compendiously, he must have a good general
education, which, however, will not carry him very far, since he must
own a special knowledge of the history of drama and of literature and
modern literary movements.

Then comes the question of theories of criticism--can he do with less
than, say, an acquaintance with Aristotle, and Lessing's "Laocoon," or
even with so little? With Shakespeare and some of his commentators he
ought to be at home; the "Paradoxe sur le Comédien" he can hardly
escape, and the works of some of the modern English and latest French
critics may not be overlooked. Of course he must have read and
considered a large number of plays, and the theories on which they are
based. Politics he may almost neglect unless there be successors to
_John Bull's Other Island_, though he will have to keep abreast of the
facts and fancies of modern life, including, to some extent, political
matters. How he is to study the customs, usage and manners of polite
society among the upper ten thousand it is hard to say. Not a few of us
are weak on this point, and feel ill at ease when dealing with the
_nuances_ of the customs of Mayfair. The study of books on _Savoir
Faire_ and the Manners of Polite Society certainly will give very little
assistance.

Lastly, in this catalogue, which is far from exhaustive, he must study
the art of writing, so that he may at least be able to keep clear of the
vulgar faults. No one expects him to show any absolute merit in
style--space and circumstances of time and place are against him, and to
accomplish the negative is quite a positive triumph. Correct grammar,
avoidance of hackneyed _clichés_, clearness of phrase, reasonably
scholar-like use of words, abstinence from alliteration unless there be
due cause, and escape from uncouthness of expression and monotony of
sound are all he can hope to exhibit in the way of virtue. Of course a
little wit or humour does no harm, provided that no sacrifice of truth
is made for the sake of it. Of the moral qualities nothing need be said;
he will be exposed to a few great temptations and many little ones: to
some of the latter he is certain to yield.

If and when he has acquired all this knowledge, it will be his duty
almost to conceal it. It is to be employed as apparatus for the
formation of judgments rather than the embellishment of them, though, of
course, it may be used reticently by way of illustration, explanation
and the like. Yet it may be useful and not illegitimate for him
sometimes to try to convince the reader that his criticism is from the
pen of one who knows more about the subject than lies within the range
of the Man in the Street.

The critic is not superior to the amateur judge by reason of a greater
natural aptitude for judging, but because he has a larger stock of
knowledge on which to base his judgments, possesses a wider basis for
comparison--the foundation of all opinion--and has trained his natural
aptitudes; consequently, whilst his criticism necessarily, like that of
the Man in the Street, is relative, not absolute, is after all merely an
_ipse dixit_, it is the personal view of the better-trained person.

The pessimist may suggest that it is hardly worth while to endeavour to
become such an Admirable Crichton, that the labour will not be
sufficiently remunerated, that the existing British Drama does not
demand or deserve criticism by such cultured experts.

There are few of us fully qualified, according to the standard put
forward in these lines, and it may be added, without anything in the
nature of mock-modesty, that the author is well aware of the fact that
he cannot be reckoned among the few.


His Knowledge of Fashionable Society

A passage in _Lady Huntworth's Experiment_ did not earn the laugh
deserved by it. Captain Dorvaston was supposed to read a passage from
_The Special Monthly Journal_, to this effect: "The shield bore for
device a bar sinister, with _fleur-de-lys rampant_"; then he said, "That
ain't heraldry." Lady Huntworth replied, "Yes, it is; Family Heraldry,"
and he laughed. The passage in the play brought forward vividly the
thought that those who really live in the aristocratic world may smile
at our high-life dramas just as they do at the stories that appear
concerning the nobility in obscure "family" papers. There is, and during
a long time has been, a mania among playwrights for putting aristocratic
characters upon the stage. It may be that this is due to the
snobbishness of players, who, in comedy, love to represent a lord: they
can be kings and queens only in tragedies; or to that of the audience,
which likes to see the representation of the nobility; or, again, it may
be caused by the snobbishness of the dramatist and his wish to suggest
that he knows all about the "upper succles."

It need not be assumed that we are much worse in this respect than our
neighbours across that Channel which some desire to have destroyed and
so nullify the famous John of Gaunt speech. In books and plays the
Gallic writers are almost as fond of presenting the French aristocracy
as are our dramatists and novelists of writing works concerning the
British Peerage. Even putting the actual peerage aside, the question is
important, whether the pictures in fiction--particularly in drama--of
what one may call Belgravia or Mayfair are correct. We critics hardly
know; and it may be a solecism to suggest that the same applies to the
studies of the Faubourg St Germain. Perhaps that famous faubourg has
lost its distinction.

The question may seem a little difficult yet must be asked: How do our
dramatists and the French manage to get a first-hand study of the real
aristocracy? Of course, nowadays, there are a large number of houses
owned by people with titles, and sometimes very noble titles, which can
easily be penetrated. Speaking quite apart from politics, one may say
that the British aristocracy year by year makes itself cheaper and
cheaper, losing thereby its title to existence. The city clerk can do
better than Dick Swiveller, and decorate his bed-sitting room with a
photographic gallery of _décolletées_ duchesses, and bare-legged ladies
of noble family, and he is able to obtain a vast amount of information,
part of it quite accurate, concerning their doings.

Yet, even when we get far higher than the city clerk, and reach the
fashionable playwright, to say nothing of the dramatic critic, there are
mysteries unexplorable. There is a Lhassa in Mayfair, our efforts to
attain which are Burked.

A big Bohemian, sporting "smart-set," Anglo-American, South African
millionaire society exists which has in it a good many people
acknowledged by Debrett, and this it is quite easy to enter. There are a
score or so of peers, and twice the number of peeresses, as well as
smaller fry, possessing titles by birth or marriage, with whom it is not
difficult, and not always desirable, to become acquainted. The real
aristocracy looks askance at them. When we see pictures of these, or
studies on the French stage of the titled _faiseurs_, or
_rastaquouères_, we know that they may be correct, and indeed the
figures in them have become to such an extent despecialised that we can
judge of the truthfulness of the study by the simple process of assuming
that they do not possess any titles at all.

Still, there remains a world beyond, where, to some extent at least,
manners and ideas are different from those of the upper-middle-class, or
the middle-middle-class, to whichever it may be that our craft belongs.
People will recollect Thackeray's remarks concerning the impossibility
of getting to know the real domestic life of your French friends;
whether his words are well founded or not, they illustrate the essential
unknowability to the outsider of some of the great noble and even
untitled county families of the land. It is said that there still exist
some great ladies who have not cheapened themselves by allowing their
photographs to be published in the sixpenny papers. Yet our dramatists,
or some at least, seem to think that a play is vulgar unless amongst the
_dramatis personae_ one can find a lord or two.

Perhaps indolence is their excuse. You call a character the Duke of
Smithfield, and thereby save yourself much trouble; you need not explain
that he is rich, or how he came to be rich, or why he has no work to do.
You have ready-made for you the supposition of a mass of details as to
manner and prejudices. If the heroine's father is an earl and the hero a
commoner, such as a barrister or a doctor, the mere statement of these
facts is useful matter for your story. If the dramatist writes about the
kind of earl who belongs to that inner set of the aristocracy, in the
existence of which some of us innocently believe, how does he set about
his task?

Even when the ordinary playwright handles the ruck-and-run of the
"nobs," his acquaintance with them can hardly justify him in regarding
his studies as founded upon observation. To see people in the stalls and
meet them at public "functions," or the large entertainments of a
semi-private character which it is easy to penetrate, gives poor
opportunity for close scrutiny. Is there amongst the dramatists--and
novelists too--something akin to the system of the islanders who earned
a living by taking in one another's washing? Is there a vicious circle,
in which each and all accept as true what others have written? Do they
merely help themselves out of the common fund of ignorance?

Possibly this is based upon a delusion. The whole aristocracy may have
become so democratic that it is quite easy to study the most exclusive
at first hand, if you happen to be a successful dramatist, but very few
of the dramatic critics are successful dramatists.

The opportunities for the critic are limited except when a peeress
happens to have written a play, and even then a candid critic does not
get very far. Perhaps, too, if some inner circle exists there is no need
to study it; for a knowledge of the titled folk floating in the great
three-quarter world that is taking the place of Society may suffice, and
to have met a countess at a musical reception, of five hundred or so,
given by some millionaire amateur, or to have been on the board of a
catchpenny company with a baron, or to have suffered long at a charity
ball and obtained introductions from a ducal steward, or to have bought
a cup of bad tea at an Albert Hall bazaar from a marchioness whose
manners would shock a cook, is a sufficient acquaintance with the
customs, thoughts and ideals of all the inhabitants of Debrett, and
entitles one to present or to criticize the shyest member of the august
House that is now beginning to wonder what is going to happen next.


His Duty and Difficulties

The title is the Duty--not the duties--of a dramatic critic--the latter
would be too large a subject. Obviously his duty is to tell the truth.
How easy it sounds! How difficult it is to tell even the relative truth;
the absolute is out of the question. Suppose that the critic has come to
the conclusion that he knows the truth about a play, with what is he to
tell it? With language, of course--an appallingly bad piece of
machinery, which grows worse and worse every day. When a number of
critics have formed the same opinion about a piece, and all wish to say
that it is good--a very bad term to employ--one will call it good,
another very good; a third, exceedingly good; a fourth, great; a fifth,
splendid, a sixth, superb; and so on till some reckless language-monger
uses the state-occasion term--a "work of genius." How is the reader to
guess that they all mean the same thing? Moreover, if they were to use
identical words every reader would put a somewhat different meaning upon
them.

"One of my greatest difficulties," a famous physician once said, "lies
in the fact that to a great extent I have to rely upon a patient's
description of the nature and quantity of pain he or she has suffered
from. One will speak of pain where another employs the word agony; the
third complains of intense torture; a fourth describes it as intolerable
anguish; and a fifth says it hurts a little. Yet they all refer to the
same thing. No wonder we are often at sea."

The difficulty increases. Many new words are coined, but old ones are
rarely demonetised; they remain in circulation, defaced and worn, till
the precise image and superscription are barely recognizable. We
multiply negatives in order to get fine shades. If, then, the critic
knows the truth he is aware that he has no means of conveying it to the
reader. Wherefore some make little effort and indulge merely in fine
writing. Hence, too, some excuse for the common incivility of our
friends when they say to us, "Well, old man, I read your notice on the
----; tell me, is it worth going to see?"

The difficulty of expressing an opinion is hardly less than that of
forming it; assume that the critic possesses all the qualifications, so
far as knowledge and the natural gift for criticising are
concerned--and, alas! knowledge and the gift are very often far
apart--and then think of the obstacles to the proper employment of them.

The play may belong to a class which the critic does not like, although
it is legitimate; he may not flout it on that account. You should not
blame a bream because it is not a barbel, or a chub for not being a
trout, yet the angler grumbles if he catches the humbler fish when
aiming at the noble; we are all agreed that the gardener was not
justified in "larning" with a spade the squalid batrachians to be toads;
even musical comedies ought not to be criticized with spade strokes,
although in connection with them it is a pity that a spade so rarely has
been called by its proper name. Moreover, one may have an entirely
unreasonable prejudice against the works of the particular dramatist. We
all suffer from strange aversions in literary matters. There are readers
of culture who find no pleasure in Borrow, and some nearly shriek at the
mere name of Peacock and so on. In fact we have dislikes founded, or
rather unfounded, upon the basis of Bussy Rabutin's lines:

    "Je ne vous aime point, Hylas;
    Je n'en saurois dire la cause.
    Je sais seulement une chose.
    C'est que je ne vous aime pas."

Next comes an even more intimate personal element--the critic's
condition. The day may have been vexing. The present indecent haste of
the income-tax collector may have worried him. His dinner may have been
bad. Perhaps he had to rush off without his coffee; new boots are a
conceivable element; a bad seat in the theatre may annoy him; many
managers give better places to their friends in the profession than to
the critics. Before now critics have sat out a boisterous farce when
suffering from an excruciating tooth-ache.

Moreover, some of the principal players may not be to his taste. There
are artists of indisputable merit who are no more palatable to some of
us than an untravelled cigar or wines from across the ocean. Think,
then, of the unfortunate critic honestly endeavouring to make reasonable
allowances for all the matters which may have affected him when forming
his judgment.

Such elements are wickedly insidious; it is difficult to believe when
one is bored that one would not be bored but for some such adventitious
matter. The conscientious critic makes a great effort to be just under
such circumstances, and there is great danger that he may out-Brutus
Brutus--in the opposite direction. It is very galling, after writing a
favourable notice on what seemed to be a tedious play, to have your
fellow-workers ask why on earth you treated it so favourably.
Consequently, it will be seen that is it often difficult even for the
qualified to form a true judgment.

Assuming that the critic has formed what he considers a true judgment,
and flatters himself that he is able to find language in which to
express it accurately, the question arises how far he ought to tell the
whole truth and nothing but the truth. "Praise, praise, praise," said Mr
Pinero; and there is a fine maxim of Vauvenargues--"C'est un grand signe
de médiocrité de louer toujours modérément."

However, the question whether we are or, worse still, seem mere
mediocrities does not greatly trouble most of us poor "brushers of
noblemen's clothes"; by-the-by the expression quoted by Bacon might
serve as an argument in a certain great controversy, if it be assumed
that it was applied to the dramatic critics of his day. Yet unmerited
praise on the whole does more harm than undeserved blame.

On the other hand, truth is wisely kept at the bottom of a well, for the
world cannot stand much of it. Perhaps it is judicious in the critic
sometimes to be a little more amiable than the truth, in order to
encourage the beginner and the manager who has given him a chance, and
also sometimes to insist disproportionately upon defects, so as to stir
up a too complacent dramatist of reputation. Moreover, whilst the point
is immaterial to the audience, the critic's expression of a judgment
upon a particular piece must vary with the author, since, for instance,
to censure without allowances the work of the tyro for faults of
inexperience is obviously unreasonable, whilst one may easily praise
with excess the mere dexterities of the trained pack. Taking all these
matters into account, it will be seen that it is very difficult for the
critic to do his duty, and yet truth will out sometimes in a criticism.


His Stock Phrases

There are moments when the critics think that it might almost be wise to
begin their notices on a new play by dealing with the acting. For the
criticism of the acting is the most trying part of our work, and though,
as a rule, it does not occupy more than say a fourth of the article--if
so much--it often takes as long to write as the rest. Indeed, the
shorter it is the longer it takes, for the difficulty of nice employment
of language is in direct ratio to the brevity of matter. With
half-a-column in which to move about there is no trouble in finding
finely contrasted adjectives and avoiding repetition of epithets.

We all feel--and correctly--that when the play is new our greatest
energy should be devoted to it. Indeed, there is a strong tendency to
adopt the idea contained in a phrase of Mr Gordon Craig's to the effect
that the players are "performers in an orchestra," and since a play is
not like a piece of chamber-music, where the performers are treated
individually, but rather resembles a work performed by a full band,
there is an almost valid excuse for paying comparatively little
attention to the acting. Sometimes one makes desperate endeavours to
avoid dealing with the company in a lump at the end by referring in the
descriptive account (which is the journalistic contribution to the
criticism) to the individual performers; but it is not easy to do so
without interfering with the course of the description.

There are many difficulties in treating the work of the actors and
actresses briefly, but to handle it at length and in proportion would
require a space which editors are unable to give. No doubt the first of
the difficulties is the one already indicated. Wrongly or rightly, it is
felt (even by journalists who do not accept the traditions of _The Daily
Telegraph_) that there is a poverty-stricken air about the use of the
same adjective in consecutive sentences, and though we try to be honest
in opinion, we have a workman's vanity in our efforts which asserts
itself strongly and causes us, at some sacrifice of accuracy, to vary
the epithets.

Moreover, single adjectives tell very little.

To say that Mr X. acted admirably, Miss Y. gave a capital performance,
Mr Z. played in excellent style, gives little information, and when
there are half-a-dozen to be named it is almost impossible to ring the
changes. Furthermore, perhaps unconsciously, we are moved, fatuously no
doubt, by the feeling that the earlier part of the article is intensely
interesting to all the world, but that no one save the players and their
personal friends and enemies will even glance at these concluding
sentences. Yet one knows that they are of serious importance to the
persons actually concerned, though some of them say that they never read
them.

The fact that so many theatres are in the hands of actor-managers is one
reason why these phrases are important, for the actor-manager is
compelled very often to choose or refuse a player on the strength of
hearsay testimony: ours is hearsay evidence in the most accessible form,
and even the managers have some belief in the soundness of the judgment
of several of us. They all recognise the fact that we tend to create
public opinion, and that an actor or actress much spoken of admiringly
in the papers excites the curiosity of playgoers, and is a useful
addition to a cast. Consequently we feel that in speaking of or ignoring
individual performers we are affecting them to some extent in earning
their livelihood.

There is a story concerning a critic upon whose death half the stage
went into quarter-mourning. If it be true, it showed that he was very
short-sighted in his amiability, for when dealing with an overcrowded
profession one must remember that ill-earned praise of A may keep B, who
is more worthy, from getting A's place, to which, of course, he has a
better title. It is very hard to act upon this proposition, although it
involves a duty, for it is much easier to imagine the positive hurt to A
than the negative injury to B; the critic in question probably shut his
eyes to this, if he ever thought of it, and died comfortably unaware of
the fact that his indiscriminating praise had kept many meritorious
people out of their rights.

Even supposing one masters the illogical feeling of the lamented critic,
difficulties arise. We have grown very velvet-tongued in these days.
There was no nonsense about our predecessors; if the leading lady was
plain, they said so, whilst if one of us were to suggest that the
heroine, whose beauty is talked of tiresomely during the play, in real
life might sit in unflattering safety under mistletoe till the berries
shrivelled he would be regarded as an ungentle manlike brute. This is
rather awkward.

There is an injustice in being forced into a conspiracy of silence about
the figure or face of a lady who would catch cold at kiss-in-the-ring,
yet is supposed at first sight to set Romeo's pulses throbbing madly,
and when the dear creatures whom we loved a quarter of a century ago
appear to us unsuitable for _ingenue_ parts we feel that it is a
terrible breach of duty not to say so, yet it is painful to be candid.

Now and again the matter becomes ridiculous, and we venture to make
oblique suggestions; but even this is a poor accomplishment of our task.
Yet it seems appallingly rude and direct to say that Miss X. showed
intelligence and technical skill, but is too old or too fat or too ugly
for her part; and managers rely upon our reticence and upon pictures in
which the sun helps photographers in a game of deception--perhaps that
unfortunate victim of the November fogs may resent the suggestion of
conspiracy, and complain of fraudulent tricks with negatives--and so the
public is deceived. Also, undated photographs are used--fraudulently.
This is a very irksome matter, for our friends are candid about our
backwardness, and ask indignantly why we fail to mention that Miss ----
is ugly enough to stop a clock, or that it is a long day's walk round
the _jeune premier_ at the Footlights Theatre.

Something at least might be done by the managers to help us. They ought
to cut the references to the heroine's beauty when it is obvious that
she has none. It may be suggested that is this hard upon the plain women
who possess the mysterious gift of charm. The answer is that no charming
woman is ever plain, even if someone--Voltaire, perhaps--spoke of "_les
laides charmeuses_."

The list of difficult points is not exhausted. For the question arises
whether one ought to mention at all any acting that is not
extraordinarily good or bad. As a rule, mediocrity has to pass unnoticed
in this world; in most professions the person whose worth is not above
or below the average is rarely mentioned. Why should an exception be
made in case of a player? If we know that the performance of Miss X. is
no better or worse than would have been that of the average actress, why
should we torture our brains to find adjectives concerning her?

Perhaps in dealing with this, attention ought to be drawn to the fact
that the point really relates almost exclusively to criticisms of new
plays. When _Hamlet_ is given, or any other classic drama, by a queer
twist one finds in fact that from a journalistic point of view the
performance is of more importance than the piece. We are not expected to
add to the intolerable mass of matter already written about the Prince;
nobody cares twopence what we write concerning the play, since we have
nothing to say that has not been said already, and by more important
people; and the curiosity of the public in this case relates only to the
acting and the setting.


The Circumstances under which he Writes

A little while ago the critic of an evening paper received a letter
partly in the following words:--"I am deeply grateful to you, but for
you, I should not have known that Réjane made a speech at the end of _La
Souris_. Such morning papers as I saw said nothing about it. Things have
changed sadly, you see. I write slowly, and I hate last acts; they
always spoil a play. I noticed that a little while ago you suggested
that it might be a good idea to begin a play with the last act; the idea
is a mere _hysteron-proteron_, absolutely preposterous,
prae-post-erous." This sounds as if the writer were the ghost of De
Quincey.

"In the past I got my morning paper early enough to be able to send down
to the office a correction of any error in my conjectural notice of the
last act, and reception of the play, or even a report of the speech at
the end; and if the theatre had been burnt down, or the leading player
had fallen in a fit, I would have sent an account of it, so as not to
lose my berth for apparent inattention to business. There are editors
who think that they can get critics strong enough to sit out the whole
of a play. Now, alas! the morning papers do not help me."

Certainly there was a curious and pathetic humour about his position,
for one of the features of the modern journal is that the more
"up-to-date" the paper the staler the news. Once upon a time the
ordinary daily went to press at about half-past one; but now the
printer's devil is at rest after midnight in some of these offices, and
several terrifically modern morning papers, a copy of which you can read
with your breakfast at Timbuctoo, are completely printed before the
extra-special edition of the evening paper of the (nominal) day before
is sold out. The last statement may only be applicable to the country
editions, by which the yokels are deceived.

The result is strange so far as the theatre is concerned, for on an
important occasion even a writer with such a rapid pen as that of
Clement Scott needed the full time-allowance of the old system. The
consequence is seen in two sets of announcements. According to one,
there is to be a _répétition générale_ of several forthcoming plays,
which, in plain English, means an anticipatory performance to a private
audience, given in order to assist the critics--or some of them--in
carrying out their duties and fighting the clock, and perhaps also for
the purpose of giving seats to some of the swagger "deadheads" who crowd
the stalls on a first night.

The other announcement was by Sir Herbert Tree, that his coming first
night was to begin at seven o'clock, in order that we might have leisure
on the same evening for the performance of our tasks. The
representatives of the morning papers have a melancholy choice between
having no time to dine and no time to write.

Perhaps the _répétition générale_ system will come into vogue, but it
has disadvantages. For years it was worked at the Savoy during the days
of that theatre's vitality; but the public rehearsal was a real
rehearsal, with three rows of stalls left empty for the to-and-fro of
people directing the performance, and scenes were acted over again and
songs resung. A procession in _Utopia Limited_ was sent back
half-a-dozen times because it did not reach a particular position on
the stage at the right moment.

_Répétitions_ of this character--and, it may be, of any character--are
not wholly satisfactory to the critic. There is a sham-fight air about
them--a good many of the players cannot work themselves up to the full
fury of real combat; they are affected by the fact that the affair is
not exactly genuine. One can even imagine that some of them say to
themselves, "It will be all right on the night," and justice is by no
means restored even if the critic afterwards sees the first public
performance. The dress rehearsal has left him somewhat unfairly cold,
because the circumstances were hostile, and in most cases a second dose
of the affair within twenty-four hours makes him colder still, since,
unless the work is the rare masterpiece, he does not wish to see it
twice within a space of less than forty-eight hours, or years. No doubt
the public will get the benefit of the critic's views as to the nature
of the reception, since, having already written his notice, which he is
not likely to alter in the least degree so far as impressions of the
piece and acting are concerned, he will have plenty of time for a last
paragraph about the "boos" or cheers and the non-appearance of the
author or the speech.

There was even a third announcement, for the critic of the paper
lovingly called _The Tizer_ by the members of the industry whose
interests it protects with the utmost vehemence of laborious
alliteration stated that in the future his first-night notices would
only contain an account of the plot and reception, to which presumably
were to be added the words _Cur adv. vult_--let us hope there was no
misunderstanding as to the middle word--whilst a day later his
considered judgment was to be given.

Certainly this method is not quite a novelty, and has often been
recommended. Probably the reason why it has not hitherto been adopted
has been the repugnance to it of the critics, based on a sneaking belief
that the public does not take enough interest in criticism of the drama
to read the second notice, on which, of course, the writer would have
bestowed the greater labour.

There is something very human in the belief; few of us have sufficient
self-confidence to fancy that the public does more than glance at a
notice to discover what sort of piece it deals with, and whether it was
well received, and is the sort of thing the reader wants to see; and we
fear there is only a very small percentage that pays any attention to
our finest phrases, aptest quotations, and subtlest evidence of
acquaintance with the easy aids to universal knowledge.

Indeed, we have a humiliating certainty that our friends would never get
beyond the account of the plot and the reception and remarks about
individual performers in whom they happen to take particular interest,
friendly or otherwise. Moreover, it is to be noted that the public has
come to doubt the value of the first-night receptions which we record,
the fact being incontestable that a good deal of the applause is quite
unreal.

Perhaps an advantage of the _répétition générale_ system will be that if
the managements can only persuade their friends that it is more _chic_
to be at the _répétition_ than the first performance we shall have
genuine audiences at _premières_, whose verdict will be of real weight.

There are certain difficulties about the new system. The invitation
performance is an admirable means for the manufacture of enmities: to
classify one's friends into boxes, stalls, dress circle, etc., is no
doubt to have a delightful opportunity of snubbing people, but it is
sure to breed bitter quarrels; whilst on the other hand, to let the
guests shift for themselves creates no little trouble and imposes a very
difficult task upon the attendants. It sounds easy under such
circumstances to reserve places for the critics, but unless they come a
long time in advance they are not likely to get them.


His Fear of Libel Actions

Some while ago--it was in 1902-1903--the critics were aghast--editors,
too, perhaps. Mr Justice Ridley had permitted a jury to give £100 as
damages for libel in respect of a dramatic criticism less severe than
dozens that most of us have written: it was said that some critics
consulted their solicitors as to the best means of rendering their
property "judgment proof"--a picturesque term that comes from America.

Later on the Court of Appeal interfered effectively, though possibly
many actions were begun and settled before the appeal was heard; and it
was held that in a libel action founded upon a criticism written
concerning a work of art, unless there is some evidence of malice it is
the judge's duty to consider whether the criticism can fairly be
construed as being outside the range of fair comment, and if he thinks
that the comments lie within the range of criticism he should decide the
case in favour of the defendant, and not let it go to the jury. Then the
critics breathed again, and the story goes that Fleet Street laid in a
large stock of vitriol.

The next, and at present last, act in the matter was the recovery by Mr
Frederick Moy Thomas of £300 damages for a libel which appeared in
_Punch_ upon his book called "Fifty Years of Fleet Street." Although the
matter related to a book, and not to a play, the dramatic critics felt
anxious again, because no distinction could be drawn between criticisms
upon the two kinds of work. The case was peculiarly interesting to the
dramatic critics because the plaintiff, who had been one of our craft
for some length of time, enjoyed the reputation of being very learned in
matters connected with the drama, as well as sound and conscientious.

Moreover, his father, William Moy Thomas, whose name was introduced into
the case, was for many years past one of the most esteemed and admired
of our profession, owing to his knowledge, fairness, judgment and
excellence of style. The Court of Appeal upheld the verdict, and
_Punch's_ record of long existence without a verdict against it for
libel is spoilt. Its licence, the licence of a nation's jester, has been
endorsed.

It may be asked whether this is not a mere matter for the craft: in
reality the public is concerned. The letter written by one friend to
another, gossiping about a play or a book or a picture, exposes the
writer to an action for libel unless it can be protected on the ground
of truth, privilege or fair comment; and casually written remarks
concerning any matter of public interest may result in damages and
costs. Indeed, to put the matter simply, the professional critics have
no greater rights or privileges of criticism than any member of the
public. It is therefore very important to all of us to know how the
matter stands, and since the judgment of the Master of the Rolls is
rather technical, it seems worth while briefly to state the law in
unscientific phrases.

The written opinion upon any matter of public interest--a play, a book,
a piece of music, a picture, the speech of a politician, the sermon of
a parson, the behaviour of a general, the conduct of an admiral, the
methods of a judge, etc.--must fulfil two conditions. It must be honest
and it must be expressed fairly in the point of form. In the "Ridley"
action the honesty of the opinion was admitted, and the question arose
whether the opinion was fair in form. In the famous Whistler _v._ Ruskin
cause there was no doubt about the critic's honesty--fancy doubting
Ruskin's honesty! However, the jury thought that he went too far in his
phrase "nearly approached the aspect of wilful imposture," and probably
the word "coxcomb" was fatal, for it was irrelevant.

It might almost be said that relevancy is the test of fairness in the
form of a criticism. It was irrelevant as well as inaccurate to speak of
a "naughty wife" in a criticism upon _The Whip Hand_, because there was
"no naughty wife" in the play, and therefore the jury gave one shilling
damages and the Court of Appeal upheld the verdict.

In criticism of a book, play, picture, etc., the private life and
character of the author are irrelevant; even his character as author,
except in relation to the particular work or works criticized, is
irrelevant. If you think that a book or play is immoral or indecent, say
so, say so strongly, and if the criticism, though unsound, represents
your honest opinion you will escape; but it is irrelevant to say that
the author caused it to be immoral or indecent in order to obtain a
_succès de scandale_, and you must prove that charge to be true or be
punished. There is a distinction between alleging that Smith's book,
"The Biography of Brown," is dull, and that Smith is a writer of dull
books--_ex pede Herculem_ would not be a valid plea.

If honest and discreet in language you may be abominably incorrect in
opinion. You are at liberty to say that a composition by Strauss is a
mess of hideous sounds, that one of Sargent's pictures is ridiculous,
that a novel by Meredith is tiresome, but you must be very careful, when
criticizing a particular work, if you make general allegations
concerning the author. Nevertheless, it is permissible to criticize the
works of a dramatist generally upon a reasonable opportunity; yet there
is a danger of your getting into trouble on the point of honesty, for it
is not honest to comment upon his works generally unless you are well
acquainted with them.

To sum up: if the opinion expressed is honest and relevant, then mere
unsoundness of judgment will not hurt you. The opinion of the jury, or
even of the judge, is not to be substituted for yours, otherwise we
should have to burn our pens. There is sense in this. The butcher, the
baker, the candlestick-maker, and even the learned judge, may have less
knowledge of art, or less taste in music, than the starving critic of
Fleet Street.

Honesty is the other element. Yet it has been suggested, though
unsuccessfully, that honesty is not a necessary ingredient in the
defence of "fair comment." It was argued that a criticism, defensible if
written by an honest critic, could not be indefensible because written
by one whose motive was malicious--in other words, that the matter was
objective, not subjective. Certainly, at first sight, it seems strange
that A can say with impunity that Smith's book is dull and B may have to
pay damages for saying the same thing in the same words. Clearly the
injury to the author may be the same in each case, might be greater in
A's if he wrote for a paper of larger circulation than the one which
published "B's" criticism.

On the other hand, few acts can be regarded in law from the point of
view of their consequences only. Smith may be killed by "A" or "B," and
the former, on account of the circumstances, may commit non-culpable
homicide, the latter murder.

To eliminate the ingredient of malice or, and it is the same thing, to
say that a criticism need not be honest might lead to shocking
consequences. The skilful craftsman would be able to write a fiendish
criticism with impunity and boast of the gratification of his hatred.
There is no half-way house. A plaintiff must be entitled to offer
evidence to a jury that the so-called critic has stated that, although
he called the plaintiff's book dull and clumsy, he really thought it a
delightful masterpiece; or he must be limited to inviting judge and jury
to study the defendant's article. Who would be satisfied that justice
had not slept if such evidence were excluded?

If, then, you dislike the author, dip your pen in honey rather than in
vinegar or, wiser still, leave his work alone. You must be more than
human not to be biassed and if, to contradict the bias, you praise the
book against your judgment, you act wrongly as a critic. What is
honesty? There is the crux. Courts of law are but man-made machinery and
very imperfect, juries are often very stupid, even judges--but perhaps
we ought to pause here. Consequently, if the author has any grounds for
suggesting that you are ill-disposed towards him, and yet you must act
as critic (amateur or professional), be scrupulously relevant and
decidedly colourless. At present the honesty has not been analysed by
the courts; some day the question will be raised whether competence is
not a necessary ingredient. Could a Gautier who hated music _honestly_
criticize a symphony; could a blind man _honestly_ criticize a picture?
These are extreme cases, and a line must be drawn somewhere. Still, some
day the courts may require the defendant to give evidence of his fitness
to act as a critic if his fitness be challenged. To these remarks one
obvious matter should be added. All statements of fact in a criticism
must be accurate. The line between matters of fact and matters of
opinion is sometimes fine, but the law is clear. An allegation of fact
is not comment, and all such allegations, if injurious, must be
justified--that is--proved to be true, if the defence of fair comment is
pleaded.



CHAPTER II

THE DRAMATIC CRITIC


His Duty to be Tolerant

Some remarks which appeared in a popular weekly paper concerning Mrs
Patrick Campbell's _Deirdre_ and _Electra_ deserve a little
consideration. One of the critics attached to the paper spoke of the
affair as being an "indifferent performance of indifferent tragedies,"
and then said it was "a simple affectation to profess to enjoy it," and
that it was not, "as some people seem to think, a mark of culture, but
only of insufficient culture not to acknowledge that one is bored by
this kind of thing."

An affronted critic wrote to the paper, complaining of the charge of
affectation and insufficient culture, and was promptly rebuked as a
"bumptious correspondent," and told that his letter convinced the critic
that he was one of those affected persons whose misdirected zeal the
writer deplored. This attitude is not a novelty. Many of the critics, at
one period, charged the professed admirers of Wagner with being
impostors or imbeciles; later on, anyone who professed to like the
pictures of Whistler or Rossetti or Burne-Jones, or of any of the
Impressionists, was accused of affectation. When Ibsen was introduced to
England the conservative critics raved, and alleged that the Ibsenites
(or "Obscenites"--the word was considered very witty) were humbugs;
this was one of the least offensive charges. The same kind of thing
happened in the case of Maeterlinck. Many other instances might be
cited.

It is a curious form of attack. Why should a critic who alleged that he
had much pleasure and certainly no boredom from Mr Yeats' play and Mrs
Campbell's beautiful acting, be charged with affectation and also with
insufficient culture? Of course, the critics are insufficiently
cultured. There are thousands of plays and books that they ought to have
read, of dramas they ought to have witnessed, of pictures they ought to
have seen, masses of music they ought to have heard--and have not--and,
therefore, they are persons of very insufficient culture. But the writer
in question should offer some evidence of his own sufficiency of culture
before alleging that the critic's opinion concerning the play and the
performance was due to a lack of culture.

After all, one would seem entitled to express an opinion on a question
of art or pleasure without being called a liar by someone who takes a
different view. The matter is one of some importance because the attack
is insidious and dangerous. The deadliest weapon in the hands of the
critic is the allegation of boredom. You can say that a piece is vulgar,
indelicate, inartistic, indecent, full of "chestnuts," old-fashioned,
"melodramatic," ill-constructed or unoriginal, without doing fatal
injury, but if you allege that you and everybody else suffered from
boredom your attack may be fatal. This is the reason why the charge is
so often made by people with strong prejudices.

There is something to be said on both sides. No doubt the lovers of the
severer form of drama, the worshippers of Shaw, the playgoers who
supported the societies of which the Independent Theatre was the first
and regarded the Court Theatre for a while as a kind of Mecca, are not
always judicious when talking about musical comedy and comic opera, and
some of them have been very narrow-minded. They have refused to admit
the merit of any comic operas, except those of Gilbert and Sullivan,
they have lavished indiscriminating abuse upon almost all others, have
looked upon Daly's Theatre and the Gaiety and the Prince of Wales' as so
many Nazareths. This, of course, has caused a great deal of annoyance to
the lovers of musico-dramatic work.

Moreover, some of the austere folk have denounced melodrama and farce,
and the so-called romantic comedy, without drawing nice distinctions.
This indiscriminate denunciation has naturally caused annoyance and
reprisals. Because some critics disliked _A Chinese Honeymoon_
enormously, because wild motor 'buses could not drag them to see _The
Scarlet Pimpernel_, they do not doubt, or pretend to doubt, that
hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of people have enjoyed these
pieces. Without for one moment believing in the phrase "De gustibus non
est disputandum" as ordinarily interpreted, one must fully recognise
that palates differ. If M. Steinheil chose to dine upon cold pork-pie,
sausage, cold veal and lobster as the papers allege, it is not
surprising that he died, only a little amazing that the French police
were puzzled as to the cause of his death, but there was no reason for
charging him with affectation in eating such a meal or insufficient
culture, though it was hardly the banquet of a gourmet. One may pull a
wry face at a costly _Bouillabaisse chez_ Roubillon at Marseilles
without doubting that poor old "G.A.S.," and Thackeray too, loved the
dish. Some prefer homely beer to any of the white wines of the Rhine,
yet many people honestly enjoy those high-priced varieties of
weak-minded vinegar; and no doubt it is not affectation which causes
some people to allege that they like black pudding and tripe and onions.

The matter has its serious aspect. The attacks made, very unfairly, upon
the novel forms of drama by conservative critics, when they take this
form of alleging that not only the critic but the audience was bored,
and that professed admirers are insincere, undoubtedly are very
effective, and certainly are sometimes made in good faith.

There are people so foolish as to think that nobody can like what they
do not; also so fatuous as to consider that no one ought to like what
they do not; but to jump from this to alleging that the professed
admirers of ambitious works are humbugs is outrageous. The butcher boy
enjoys _Sweeney Todd, the Barber of Fleet Street_: why should he
disbelieve my statement that others get pleasure from a performance of a
_Hedda Gabler_, which would hardly appeal to him?

Large numbers of playgoers have been kept away from able and ambitious
dramas, written by dramatists with a true artistic aim, because of the
oft-repeated allegations by newspaper writers, who did not like them,
that everybody was bored; also the wholesale denunciation of the lighter
forms of dramatic and musico-dramatic forms of entertainment by some of
the critics has weakened their influence, has led the man in the street
to think that if Mr X. or Y. or Z. can find no pleasure in what he likes
that he will get no entertainment from what they admire. One supposes,
at least hopes, that dramatic critics of all kinds and grades have an
honest desire for the advance and success of British Drama. They will
hardly be successful in their wishes unless on each side a little more
tolerance is shown for the opinions professed by members of the other.


His Sympathies when Young

In some criticisms on certain demi-semi-private performances given in
London by a well-known French actress and her company there seemed to be
a note not often discoverable in English articles dealing with the
theatre. It appeared as if several of the writers had a kind of fierce
exultation in the thought that the play represented was likely to shock
a good many people--people presumably entitled to have their feelings
considered seriously. In the annals of English art there has been rather
a scanty exhibition of the desire to do what may be most easily
described by two French phrases, "_épater le bourgeois_" or "_ébouriffer
le bourgeois_."

It is, in fact, noticeable that we possess no recognised English set
phrase, such as "to startle the Philistine" or "to ruffle the hair of
the Philistine." Indeed, before Matthew Arnold imported the term
Philistine from Germany, as equivalent in art matters to the French "_le
bourgeois_" or the later expression "_l'épicier_," we really had nothing
at all to correspond with these terms. For to shock "Mrs Grundy" is
quite off the point. This is the more remarkable because the _bourgeois_
feeling--treated, by the way, admirably in Balzac's short story "Pierre
Grassou"--has long been the curse of English art, and, as represented by
the Royal Academy, still remains a paramount power for evil.

It cannot be said that the desire to "_ébouriffer le bourgeois_" often
leads to valuable results so far as the works intended to accomplish the
feat are concerned, although it is possible that some of them have
otherwise had a beneficial result. Another French phrase, "_pour activer
la digestion_," contains a hint that such an attempt may indirectly
render service to art. Our popular ideas of medical treatment have never
adopted the theory suggested by the foreign phrase, which is that when
the digestive apparatus is sluggish it is advisable to eat something
violently indigestible so that the stomach, summoning all its forces to
deal with the intruder, may be aroused to a state of activity. This is a
kind of theory to be tried on the dog--not your own dog, of course.

Yet it may be that an occasional slap in the face of the public in
respect of artistic matters awakens it from the complacent state of
lethargy in which it lies with regard to most questions of art.

The young English dramatist has very few opportunities of making the
hair of the Philistine stand on end or activating his digestion; he is
worse off than the youthful British painter who, as those that have
haunted the English studios and the ateliers on the Surrey side of the
Seine well know, can give a kind of birth to his insults to the taste of
the churchwarden. Once down upon canvas a picture is at least
half-alive, whilst nothing is more pitifully dead than the audacious
play in manuscript.

The Théâtre de l'Oeuvre gave to French revolutionaries in dramatic art
the chance of setting the Seine on fire, but the Censor has allowed our
playwrights little scope. The evasion of his authority by means of
nominally private performances has brought into brief life on the boards
very few pieces in my time in which one can really see evidence of the
youthful desire to shock the Philistine. In _Ghosts_, _Les Trois Filles
de M. Dupont_, and _Monna Vanna_, though all three were prohibited by
the authority, there is no sign of the particular element in question.
The first two are serious, sober studies of social problems, not
intended to shock or startle but to educate the orthodox. The
prohibition of the third was simply an official blunder in relation to a
dignified work of art.

On the other hand there is a trace of the spirit in _Mrs Warren's
Profession_, and _Salome_ seems full of it. Curiously enough, in some of
the permitted dramas by Mr Bernard Shaw there is evidence of this
desire. Mr Shaw often seems to be saying, "I'm going to make your flesh
creep." He is a brilliant dramatist, and also, desperately in earnest,
and it may well be that they are right who think that his plays will
live along after the death of most English works produced since the
public and critics were bewildered at the first performance of
_Widowers' Houses_, and he certainly appears to adopt as a policy the
theory of stirring up into activity the lethargic stomach of the British
playgoer by devices carefully calculated to make him howl.

_Salome_ stands in another category: the author had no lesson to teach.
As a work of art his play would not be invalidated or even weakened if,
instead of the biblical characters and phrases, he had invented his
prophet, slightly altered time and place, and left out the quotations;
but to have done this would have been to avoid shocking people. Of
course it is not always easy to be certain whether an audacity is
employed with the desire to "_ébouriffer le bourgeois_" that may be
excusable, or with the object of beating the big drum and calling
attention, ignobly, to the existence of a work which, but for such means
of publicity, might have remained unnoticed. In the case of _Salome_ it
is hard to guess to which of these two motives one ought to ascribe the
choice of treatment made by the lamentable man of genius who illustrated
the truth of the theory advocated by the late dramatic critic of _The
Times_ in his work "The Insanity of Genius."

Such audacities often deceive the youthful critic, and, in some of the
notices referred to, the signs of youth are manifest in the ill-balanced
enthusiasm, as well as in the employment of phrases of praise which the
old hand shirks with a curious kind of bashfulness.

In criticism there is a difficulty analogous to that which is supposed
to beset the performance of the part of Juliet; it is rather nicely put
in the title of one of Béranger's poems--and also of a rather dreary,
once popular, novel, "Si Jeunesse Savait, si Vieillesse Pouvait." In
youth one has intense sympathy with the lost causes, or, rather, with
those that have not yet been found, and superb contempt for the
conventional, without possessing the judgment to distinguish the tares
from the wheat; every novelty attracts, every audacity appeals, and we
introduce obscure artists of alleged genius by the dozen to an
unsympathetic world; as age and judgment come enthusiasm wanes, till at
last the inevitable crystallization begins and new ideas beat vainly at
the doors of our minds.

Even before the crystallization has become serious it is very hard to
appreciate the rare novelties of idea offered in our theatres; weariness
of stale conventions which affects the young critic in a less degree
than the old, does not easily induce one to accept mere outrages upon
them. _Salome_, indeed, has some outrages upon stale conventions, but
they are rather stale outrages.

Certain French comedies have reduced unconventionality in morals to a
kind of spurious conventionality; in some of them the idea of marriage
as a preliminary to connubial relations is regarded as rather shocking.
Some day Madame Granier will hide her face in her hands, shameful at the
insult of "married woman" hurled at her; and our youthful critic will
admire the audacity. Caution requires the statement that it was not
Madame Granier who gave the semi-demi-private performances: honesty
compels one to admit that these remarks constitute a moan about lost
youth, and are full of envy, hatred and malice towards those blessed
with splendidly indiscreet enthusiasm for flaunting audacity in artistic
matters.


The Jaded Critic

At this, the season of the country cousin, the gift and sometimes
receipt of game, the abandonment of autumn underclothing and the
overhauling of pike tackle, a question is often put to the critic. It
comes from the country cousin, and is generally in these words or
thereabouts: "What piece ought we to take tickets for?" which generally
has an under-surface suggestion, and might be translated into: "For what
theatre are you going to get us seats?" Of course we are dense enough
not to notice that the inquiry is more than skin-deep; the question of
"paper" for the critics is not one concerning which it is necessary or
desirable to write. The answer to the surface inquiry generally provokes
a discussion. In a guarded way the critic makes a reply containing the
formula "I think you would like ----" which does not altogether please
the inquirer. For the country cousin suspects the existence of a lurking
insult to him upon the point of taste or intelligence.

The end of it is always, or nearly, the same, and to the effect that of
course we "jaded critics" do not really care about any pieces at all,
and only visit the theatre because we are paid to go, and that it is
awfully unfair that such "jaded"--one cannot help insisting upon the
word "jaded"--people should be allowed to act as critics. It has been
suggested bluntly that we ought to be dismissed after fifteen years'
labour, and of course, if there were a pension--but then we are no
better off in that respect than county-court judges.

Yet even the cleverest country cousin cannot suggest any useful
employment for superannuated, middle-aged dramatic critics.

No doubt we have been advising our cousins quite wisely as to what is
likely to please them, for if we learn nothing else by our labour we
certainly get to know what kind of play and performance is to the taste
of other people.

Sometimes one asks oneself what truth there is in the jaded critic
theory. It cannot be pretended that a man who goes to the theatre three
times or so a week pays each visit in the hopeful state of mind or with
the expectation of intense enjoyment possible to those who only
patronize the playhouse now and then and pick their pieces. Indeed, he
very often sets out with the knowledge that he is going to pass a dull
evening. If he is unable to guess that, his experience will have told
him little and his capacity is small. Moreover, he cannot be expected to
take such pleasure in the average play as if his visits were rare, and
what has been said about the play necessarily applies to the acting.

Sometimes when watching a work of common quality, a painful idea comes
into one's mind, and we wonder how people, compelled to see it night
after night perhaps for half-a-year, can endure the strain. What, for
instance, must be the sufferings of the conductor or of a member of the
orchestra at a successful second-rate musical comedy; of a stage manager
compelled for months, one after another, to direct a brainless farce? Of
course the people lumped together in the technical term as "the front of
the house" have a remedy, and after the first night or two only appear
in the auditorium when the curtain is down, or, to be more accurate,
just before it descends, when all hands are expected to be on deck.

There are critics that resemble the person who denied that any beer
could be bad, and would sooner pass an evening in a theatre watching a
mediocre play acted in a style no better than it deserves than at home
in a well-stocked library. They resemble the journalist in a story by
Balzac who, when blind, haunted a newspaper office and revelled in the
smell of printers' ink, and they have been known for their own pleasure
to pay a second visit to a piece on which they wrote a condemnatory
criticism. In fact, they have the curious mania for the theatre which
induces many people with no talent for acting to abandon comfortable
careers and starve on the stage--or at the stage door.

That the critic's sufferings in the playhouse are considerable is
incontestable, and they are keener at the performance of works of
mediocrity than when watching very bad plays. Fortunately there are two
sides to every hedge. When the play has any touch of originality, or
even novelty, our pleasure is far keener than that of the
unsophisticated, and we often perceive originality or novelty where the
public notices none. A whole field of enjoyment is open to us in the
triumphs of technique which is almost untrodden by the general public.
Our poles of pain and pleasure are farther apart than those of the Man
in the Street. There have been pieces and performances concerning which
the praise of the critics, or some of them, has seemed mere raving to
the ordinary playgoer. Several actors and actresses whom we prefer to
some of the popular favourites have been banished from London by the
indifference of Londoners, and there are "stars" beloved in the theatres
who irritate the observant because they have never learnt their art, and
nevertheless triumph by mere force of personality.

No doubt the critics, so far as acting is concerned, often--very
often--fall into an error and censure acting which does not move them
yet impresses the audience, forgetting that it is the advantage and
disadvantage of the actor that he need only affect, and must affect,
those before him, and that to move only a minority of a normal audience
is to act badly. One may write but cannot act for posterity, and
therefore the actor, the pianist, the violinist, and the like should not
be grudged their noisy, obvious demonstrations of admiration.

Does the critic really get jaded? Is it unfair that the "jaded" critic
should deal with the average play? In answering the latter question one
should consider whether the notices of the younger critics, too fresh to
have become jaded, are more valuable than those of the veterans. Perhaps
the two questions should be treated together.

Most critics do get jaded. The critic is jaded when he is saturated with
theatrical impressions and cannot take up any more, when new pieces
merely recall memories of old pieces or are disliked and distrusted
because they do not. After a certain age, varying with the individual,
all, or almost all, of us gradually move towards a condition of
repugnance to new ideas--a repugnance that becomes hatred when they are
inconsistent with the old theories that have grown to be part of
ourselves as well as of our stock-in-trade; and when this movement has
gone far we are "jaded," are unfit to estimate the value of new ideas;
we are still competent to apply the old theories to plays and acting
based on them, but of course cumber the ground and retard progress. In
youth, having few theories of our own or that have cost us enough labour
in acquirement to seem very precious, we tend to be over-hospitable to
new ideas and accept dangerous guests.

The notices of the veterans, even of the jaded, upon the average work
are sounder, as a rule, than those of the young hands, because the
latter very often mistake things merely new to them for things actually
new, and they are kinder for the reason that the writers know how great
are the difficulties in the way of writing plays from a novel standpoint
and of getting them produced when written. There is less violence in
their views.

Happy the critic during the years when he is old enough to be cautious
about accepting new ideas and young enough to be enthusiastic concerning
them after careful consideration, when he is so mature as not to desire
to stagger the orthodox by the impudence of his opinions, and
sufficiently youthful to be willing to shock the conservative by the
audacity of his views. He may then seem jaded because he is not easily
moved, but will be quicker to give encouragement to sincere effort, to
perceive talent imperfectly manifested, and to appreciate technical
triumphs than when he was younger and yet able to welcome novel ideas
even if they assail cherished theories.



His Unpaid Labours

Probably many of the craft have wasted a good deal of the last few
first-nightless weeks in the trying task of reading plays, not the
printed plays by dramatists of reputation, but the manuscripts with
which we, or some of us, are flooded. It is hard to guess why strangers
should assume that we are willing to spend our time in reading their
plays, but they do. Some apparently deem it to be part of our duties,
and even believe that there exists a Government fund which pays our
expenses of postages and stationery, for many of the amateur authors
make no provision for the return of their work. Occasionally there comes
a suggestion that we are really conferring no favour because the
pleasure of reading the play will pay for our pains. Some imagine us to
be agents for the managers. Even the proposal to pay a commission if we
place the piece is not rare; now and then it is wrapped up gracefully,
but frequently is expressed in the bluntest fashion.

Upon consideration of the batch lately waded through several things
stand out. Firstly, most of them exhibit no trace of cleverness; so far
as one can see the writers are people without any gift at all for
writing--for writing anything--but are ordinary commonplace people who,
unless their conversation is more brilliant than their written matter,
would not be considered clever by their friends in everyday life.

They write farces or comedies, in an orthodox form, which contain a
surprisingly small number of jokes or efforts at wit and humour. Their
works have the air of being mere preliminary plays--the playwrights
apparently have set out scenes and written dialogue intended to indicate
the nature of the proposed piece with the view afterwards not, indeed
of polishing, for there is nothing to polish, but of rewriting, putting
in the vital passages during the process. One cannot offer any useful
advice to these people, save that of suggesting they should turn their
attention to gardening or golf. They have only one fault, and it is that
they have no quality. Such writers, as a rule, have at least one small
quite useless virtue--their pieces are not ridiculously unsuitable in
point of form for the stage.

A more interesting class consists of authors who possess some talent and
no idea how to use it. They write comedies which have some clever
passages, some lines witty enough to deserve a laugh, and exhibit
capacity in character-drawing, but are not at all in an acceptable form.
A comedy in six acts, with twenty scenes, would not be considered for a
moment by a modern manager.

We have returned in a curious way to something like the ideas underlying
"the unities"; perhaps that statement is incorrect, but, at least, we
have put upon our dramatists certain working laws almost as embarrassing
as the unities. The average playgoer has no idea of the skill involved
in writing the ordinary successful comedy of the present time.

The modern dramatist has nothing approaching the licence of his
predecessors. Construction was comparatively easy in the time of a
Sheridan or a Goldsmith; not only were they allowed to use explanatory
dialogue, in which A told B a number of things which B knew already,
because the author desired the audience to learn them; but they were
permitted to give direct statements of fact in soliloquies. Such licence
has gone: asides are dead, statements of fact in soliloquies are only
permitted in formal tragedies. Moreover, having the right to make almost
an unlimited number of changes of scenery, they were enabled to present
in action the facts which in our days have to be told to the audience in
dialogue--dialogue written under severe limitations. In consequence, the
mechanical difficulties of construction were then very small. Nowadays,
except in the case of melodrama, complicated stories have to be told in
three or four acts, with no change of scenery during an act.

Let anyone who doubts whether this creates a difficulty take an ordinary
famous old comedy and rewrite it in a form in which it would be accepted
as a new play by a London manager, and he will find the difficulty
enormous. To the youthful dramatist this exercise is very valuable means
of studying the art of construction. When, unassisted by the work of
former adapters, he has succeeded in converting half-a-dozen
eighteenth-century comedies into three or four act comedies, without any
changes of scenery during an act, and has used all the matter of the old
comedies in his versions and yet avoided the employment of the
soliloquy, or the aside, or the explanatory dialogue in which A tells B
what B knows already, he will have learnt a great deal of his craft.
This explanatory dialogue is the sort of passage in which a son reminds
his mother of the date of his birth, and the profession of his father,
and of the period when she sent him to school and so on.

It may be doubted confidently whether a change of style, which has
increased so enormously the practical difficulties of writing acceptable
plays, has been beneficial to drama. There are writers with wit and a
sense of character who under the freer system of old days might have
produced successful plays, but are never able to acquire the mechanical
skill now demanded, and are kept off the stage by artificial
regulations, some of them not based upon essential ideas of drama but in
reality upon questions connected with scenery.

One cannot have many changes of the elaborate scenery nowadays employed
in comedy, and the illusion sought and to some extent obtained by these
costly, complicated sets makes the very useful carpenter's scene
impossible. It often happens that incongruities and absurdities in
modern plays are due to desperate efforts to overcome these
difficulties. Scenes take place in the drawing-room that ought to have
been out of doors; things are said that should have been done; and there
are long passages of dialogue where short scenes of action would be
preferable.

In a large number of cases the manuscripts we read are unacceptable
because the authors have not complied with these requirements of the
modern stage; and it is impossible for us, with the best will in the
world, to reconstruct the works. We can only point out, regretfully,
that they do not comply with these modern regulations, and we know quite
well that the dramatists will be unable to make the necessary changes.
The modern system has had the great disadvantage of putting out of the
range of the average writer of comedy a good many subjects that deserve
treatment, but can only be handled with success by writers of great
experience or those who possess remarkable gifts for the semi-mechanical
work of construction, which are not necessarily allied to the higher
qualities needed by the dramatist.

Of course, some of the manuscripts are ridiculous: five-act plays that
would not last an hour and a half upon the stage and three-act comedies
which would require an evening per act; tragedies in rhymed verse not
up to the standard of cracker poetry. It is difficult to understand how
such things come to be written. The authors must sometimes go to the
theatre or read plays, and therefore ought to know that their works are
unsuitable, and that they are wasting money in getting their stuff
typewritten. Presumably the phenomenon is somehow connected with the
curious glamour of the stage. The person who would not dream of trying
to cook a chop without some little study of the methods of the kitchen
will try to write farce or comedy or tragedy and not deem it necessary
seriously to consider the elementary laws governing such works.


His Letter Bag

Possibly the editor sometimes looks with curiosity at the envelopes of
letters addressed to a dramatic critic at the editorial office. Let us
trust that in the case of those envelopes obviously bearing a lady's
handwriting curiosity is not tinged with suspicion. Letters directed to
"The Dramatic Editor" are generally American, and contain statements of
tremendous importance concerning, as a rule, people of whom one has
never heard and requesting the critic to publish them in the next issue
of "his" paper.

The documents forwarded by the office are only a tithe of those which
come to the critic officially, there being several ways of ascertaining
addresses. Many consist of requests to read plays, and exhibit pitifully
the strange blindness of parents. A number are almost according to a
pattern and run about thus: "DEAR SIR,--Having been a constant reader of
your admirable criticisms and sharing sincerely your views about the
drama, now, alas! in such a deplorable condition, I feel that there is
sufficient sympathy between us for you to be anxious to read the MS.
that I enclose and give me your _candid_ opinion about it ["candid" is
generally underlined], and if you share the opinion that my friends
entertain concerning its merits you will perhaps be of assistance to me
in getting it brought to the attention of the managers." With this there
arrives, unaccompanied by stamps for its return, some work of a hopeless
character, often an indifferent specimen of the sort of mechanical farce
which, even when good, amuses us little.

Occasionally a romantic drama is received. Once there came a really
touching letter from a lady in great trouble on account of want of
money, such trouble that she not only failed to enclose stamps for
return of her MS. but did not use half enough to frank the heavy packet.
She felt sure that the novelty of her plot would make up for any
trifling defects due to inexperience. The drama, which was full of
"Gadzooks!" and the like, and Roundheads and Cavaliers, concerned Oliver
Cromwell and Charles I., and included a plot to rescue the unhappy
monarch on the scaffold, which was only frustrated by the direct
intervention of "Old Noll," who, after a struggle, used the axe with his
own hands. It had seven acts and thirty-three scenes.

We read scores of these pieces, and in most cases our "candid" criticism
is not well received. Ere now the reward for the unpaid labour of five
or six hours has been a postcard explaining that the author can well
understand the deplorable condition of our drama, seeing how incompetent
the critics are. There is, of course, another side to the matter. A few
pieces--a very small proportion, alas!--have merit, and a few of the
authors of the few pieces accept the unpaid critic's remarks reasonably.

Another crop consists of letters from indignant authors or players,
which contain argument or abuse, or both. The epistles from authors in
some cases are so interesting that it is sad to think we are too obscure
to have a biographer who might use them. Those of the players have their
humours, particularly when from the aggrieved actresses. One deserves to
be mentioned; it stated that, reading between the lines, the lady
understood the critic to suggest she was too old for the part of Juliet,
and therefore sent a copy of her birth certificate.

It was only a _copy_--there was only _her_ word to show that it was a
copy of _her_ certificate; in the law courts they will not accept your
own evidence that you are a minor, even if you bring a certificate
issued by Somerset House; they want proof of your being the person named
in the certificate. If the letter had contained a photograph it would
have shown that, although alleged to be only twenty-two years old, the
lady weighed about 200 lbs., and had a large, flat face, with an
inadequate pug-nose.

In a number of cases one is implored to come to the Pier Concert Hall at
Flushington-on-Sea, or the like, because, "owing to your appreciative
remarks about my performance as the Second Gravedigger in _Hamlet_, I am
sure you would like to see my King Lear." These give a good deal of
trouble, because it is difficult to decline without hurting feelings.
Another branch lies in the simple request from people with whom one is
unacquainted for introduction to managers whom one does not know.

Fortunately there is another and a pleasanter side. There are letters
that we prize, and unfortunately cannot quote, from authors, generally
young authors, with thanks for words of encouragement, particularly in
relation to unsuccessful work that seemed to have been unlucky; and
there are letters from actors and actresses, speaking with
gratitude--gratitude unearned, since only duty has been done--for words
of praise which have helped to get an engagement or at least to give
courage where hope had grown faint. They must be difficult letters to
write, since it is clear that the writers generally feel doubtful
whether they ought to be written. An ingenious phrase from one of them
may be quoted: "I can hardly be taking a liberty in giving a harmless
pleasure to a stranger, and I am sure from what I have read of your
criticisms that it will be a pleasure to you to know that you have given
great comfort and encouragement to one whom you deem worthy of praise."

Last of all are letters from persons who are or profess to be impartial
critics of our criticisms, and desire to cause us to change our
opinions. An unimportant article--a second-hand article borrowed from
Charles Lamb--concerning the effect, on the stage, of Shakespeare's
dramas has brought in a respectable revenue to the Post Office, whilst
correspondence concerning the wickedness of praising problem plays,
however interesting, must have substantially helped some stationers to
pay their rent. Fewer but far more exasperating are the epistles in
which people express their hearty agreement with opinions which we have
never expressed, and give praise and encouragement to us for attacking
institutions that we do not think undesirable or defending conduct
really deplored by us. Even the obscure are often misunderstood.



CHAPTER III

THE DRAMATIC CRITIC


An Attack upon him

After careful consideration, and almost taking the trouble of rereading
some of my little essays, we have failed to discover exactly why the
letter set out hereafter was written. Apparently the articles have been
a little bitter concerning what some of us call commercial drama, even
rather ferocious about a recent crop of plays.

Certainly it seems well that the other side should be heard, that the
middle-class sensualist--perhaps "the average hedonist" is a better
translation of "_l'homme moyen sensual_"--should be allowed to express
his views; for one is disinclined to attach importance to the Philistine
observations in the theatrical trade papers or in the interviews with
managers. At the same time, some doubts are possible concerning the
letter; it seems to contain some implicit evidence that it was concocted
by somebody holding a brief, by a person accustomed to controversy; it
is written on the Sports Club notepaper, and merely signed "A
Middle-Aged Pleasure-Seeker."

"DEAR SIR,--I have read a great deal about the theatres in _The
Westminster Gazette_, signed by 'E.F.S.' I take in the paper because I
disagree with its views on all topics--particularly the drama--and I
like to hear the other side. Why have you not got a sense of humour?
Why do you not cease flogging that dead horse, the British Drama? Do you
think you can flog it into life? Do you believe that British Drama, as
you understand it, ever did live, or ever will? I don't. There is too
much common sense in London.

"Why do you persist in girding at Mr Tree because he gives beautiful
scenery instead of what you think fine plays? Lots of people enjoy his
entertainments. I don't myself, for I agree with you that Shakespeare
and Phillips are tiresome. I notice, by the way, that you even begin to
gibe at the scenery and suggest that it is not beautiful because it is
too pretty, which is a mere paradox, and of course absurd. Why do you
keep howling against melodrama and musical comedy?

"Above all, what grounds have you for supposing that we can have, or
ought to have, a drama based upon true observation of life? Every one of
us, every day of his existence, is the hero of a drama based upon the
true observation of life, and a very tiresome drama too, as a rule, and
we all want to see dramas in the theatre that take us out of ourselves.
You seem to think that we can and ought to have a drama like the novels
of Meredith, which I believe nobody ever reads, or the pictures of
Whistler, that are simply ridiculous, or the ugly music of Strauss--I
don't mean the one who writes waltzes.

"Even assuming that there are people who like such novels, or pictures,
or music, your case is none the better, for ordinary people don't get
trapped into being bored by them, and such works can live without
general support, whilst drama has to appeal to the bulk of us, and you
cannot stick over the proscenium-arch some phrase such as 'Philistines
will be irritated.'

"Of course there are people who think drama ought to be educational,
and preach moral lessons, and so on. Well, the popular drama is pretty
moral, except, perhaps, musical comedy, which does seem a little
topsy-turvy in its lessons; and the Censor prevents politics being
introduced or religion being attacked. Every attempt to teach what you
would call moral lessons must fall because we know that after all the
play is not real. I confess that the romantic and the sentimental rather
bore me; but you cannot expect a fifty-year-old stockbroker to be
sentimental or romantic. My wife and daughters enjoy that sort of thing,
and they simply worship Mr Lewis Waller, of whom I get a bit jealous at
times.

"I like the exciting pieces and the funny farces, and all the pretty
dresses and pretty undresses and the pretty girls and pretty music of
the musical comedies.

"You appear to imagine that the business of the theatre is to make the
audience think; perhaps that would be all right if it appealed merely to
idle people, but ninety-nine folk out of a hundred who go to a theatre
in the evening have already done a day's work; even those who don't earn
their living are pretty tired after dinner. So it is clear that there
are not people enough to support a drama which it is difficult to
understand. Moreover, you forget that when we have to read, as sometimes
happens, the high-class books, we can skip the dull parts; indeed, I get
to know all that I need about the important books by reading the reviews
that tear the guts out of them and merely leave the padding behind; but,
unfortunately, you cannot skip the dull parts of a play unless it is a
very well-known work, like _Hamlet_ or _Macbeth_, when, if a man has a
good seat, he can escape quite a lot of the philosophising passages.

"The solid truth is that we English, like the Americans, have too much
good sense to worry about drama. There are a certain number of cranks
and faddists who get an unholy delight out of eccentric plays, but they
are few in the Anglo-Saxon countries, where good sense reigns. We only
take fairy tales seriously when we are children; we never get
intoxicated by ideas; this is where we differ from the Continentals. Art
is all very well in its way and in its proper place. I like a good
picture, or a good song, or a rattling story as well as anybody; but art
ought not to be shoved down our throats. You will observe that the
Americans, really a great people, are like us in this respect, and none
of their plays--at least those that come over here--belong to the
intellectual drama about which you rave. When they want to be
intellectual they play Shakespeare, not giving us more of the Bard than
is absolutely necessary, but letting us have full measure of pretty
music, scenery and dresses. Augustin Daly used to do it perfectly.

"By all means have a little theatre of your own and enjoy dull plays in
it, but don't denounce our cakes and ale, or think yourself any better
than people with healthy tastes who can enjoy such works as _Mrs Dot_,
or _The Explorer_, or _The Duke's Motto_. And what does it matter where
the plays come from any more than where the nuts come from? Anyone would
think you were a rabid Protectionist who reads your howls about imported
plays. Art is universal, not local--I read that in some real high-toned
book--and if a play is good, don't worry whether its author is French or
German or American. You don't grumble if he is Norwegian. Why not? Do
be consistent even if you cannot be broad-minded. And, lastly, let the
Censor alone; you have flung enough mud at him; I am tired of reading
energetic attacks which you know quite well are mere beating of the
wind. Your unfortunate reader,

"A MIDDLE-AGED PLEASURE-SEEKER"

It is fair to add that the amiable correspondent is inaccurate in some
of his allegations. We have never said that the plays of Shakespeare or
Phillips are tiresome, or that Mr Tree's scenery is not beautiful
because it is too pretty, but have hinted that it is sometimes too
academically or conventionally pretty. And we have not protested against
the importation of plays, but against the importation of rubbish no
better than our rubbish of a similar character. We have not demanded
that all drama should be intellectual, but merely that the intellectual
should be given a fair hearing.


Why he is Disliked

It is to be feared that the dramatic critics are not really popular;
people have even spoken of them as parasites, without displaying a nice
acquaintance with language. On this side of the footlights most people
regard us as mere beefeaters, but taste the fare approved by us
suspiciously. There is a lurking doubt in the general mind as to our
honesty.

The people on the other side know that the "champagne and chicken" idea
is ill-founded: perhaps they even regret this occasionally, but they
love us none the better. Clement Scott used to be very bitter in print
about the ingratitude of players; there was an article by him
complaining that those who loved him on account of half-a-dozen
laudatory notices turned round and reviled him because of an
unflattering phrase in a seventh, and the topic was one upon which he
had a means of knowledge quite unequalled. Services weigh less than
disservices.

Under such circumstances, mindful of the fact that our remarks are read
very closely by people whom they affect deeply, it is most important
that our censure should appear just--to others. We ought to be extremely
careful that those whom we blame cannot point out that upon their face
our remarks are unfair. It is not always easy to remember this,
particularly when one is young, and sometimes it is difficult to
sacrifice the pleasure of a neat phrase because it may do a little
injustice. When looking at such a neat, crushing sentence as "A better
company would have been wasted upon such a play, a better play upon such
a company," one wonders anxiously whether, in order to write it, the
critic may not have been unjust to somebody.

There are dangerous phrases such as this one from a notice upon a play
given a little while ago--it runs as follows:--"Mr X. did everything
that mortal actor could do for this indifferent comedy. Whenever he had
a chance to be funny he was very funny. More than that, he almost made a
live figure of a dummy, and that means that Mr X. did more for his
author than his author had done for him." How on earth could the critic
know whether his suggestions were true? The play was new; the part taken
by Mr X. had never been acted by anybody else; there was no basis for
comparison. Obviously there was no foundation for suggesting that from
the performance it could be seen that the actor did anything not
intended by the author. He spoke the author's text, and nothing
indicates that he introduced any "business" unsuggested by him. The
piece happens to have been printed for private circulation, so that one
can make the assertion confidently.

What means, then, could the writer have of coming to the conclusion that
the part, as acted, was any better than the part as written, or that the
actor had done more or less than carry out admirably the ideas of the
dramatist?

There are instances, of course, where a playwright does owe more to the
actor than the actor to him. In _L'Auberge des Adrets_, known in England
as _Robert Macaire_, Frédéric Lemaître put the author under an immense
debt, perhaps without earning his gratitude, by deliberately converting
a turgid, inept, hopeless melodrama into an almost immortal lucrative
burlesque. In _Our American Cousin_ Sothern worked up a minor part, that
of Dundreary, into something like the whole play, with the result that a
piece which might have died in a month lived many years.

It is well known that in certain classes of musico-dramatic pieces the
so-called authors expect the leading low comedian to find his own jokes,
or most of them, and certainly Mr Arthur Roberts and others have
contributed a bigger share of the effective dialogue than that of the
persons supposed to have written the book. In such cases the critic has
grounds for suggesting that Mr X. "made a live figure of a dummy," and
that means that "Mr X. did more for his author than his author had done
for him." The case under discussion is quite different. There was
nothing to indicate that the actor did more than carry out admirably
the very clever ideas of the author--an author, by-the-by, who happens
to be very meticulous about having his ideas carried out, and therefore
is in the habit of attending rehearsals and expressing his opinion at
them. It is regrettable that criticism should be written in this
fashion, since it causes a feeling of distrust. Probably the writer had
no desire to be unjust, or even unfair in the comparatively venial way
of doing rather less than justice to the author in his desire to do
rather more to the actor.

It may be urged, by way of answer, that all of us at times are in peril
of undervaluing the efforts of the player by suggesting that he has not
got full measure out of his part. Perhaps we do occasionally some
injustice in this respect; we may imagine that a character ought to act
better than it is acted when in fact the author has failed to carry out
his intentions, and it is impossible for the player to make the part
seem other than that of a dummy. Even in cases where we make such a
mistake there may be grounds for the opinion expressed. It cannot be
shown _a priori_ that our opinion is unjust, though a failure afterwards
by several actors of incontestable excellence to give life to the part
might prove that we were wrong. In other words, the criticism upon the
face of it is fair, and here is its distinction from what is being
blamed. Possibly it looks as if the whole matter were one of form; even
if this be so, the fact is no answer. In some aspects of life it is more
important to seem just than to be just. It is of real moment that
nothing should be done to diminish the by no means extravagant weight of
dramatic criticism either in the opinion of the public or that of
authors and players.



His Honesty

A little while ago there was a meeting of creditors. The debtor was a
dramatic critic. There was a great deal of talking. The assets were in
inverse ratio to the debts and one creditor, registered under the
Moneylenders Act, was very wrathful. Time after time he kept making his
suggestion that the debtor was able to get something from his friends
wherewith to pay his enemies; and at last, under some pressure, he spoke
clearly.

He suggested that as the debtor was still the dramatic critic of an
important paper he ought to go and see some of the leading managers and
get assistance from them. The speaker was confident that they would
gladly advance a substantial sum to a man in the debtor's position
without any expectation of direct repayment. What happened after this,
of course, was a matter of no importance; but it was interesting and
surprising to find a man of business believing that the dramatic critics
are easily corruptible, corrupt and corrupted. We are very honest,
without being entitled to boast of our honesty; we are like the ladies
who from time to time on the stage are bitterly attacked by a heroine
with a past. We are ferociously virtuous because we have not been
sufficiently charming to be tempted. The phrase "chicken and champagne"
still lingers, and I have heard it suggested, in the country, that after
the play is over we are regaled by a banquet behind the scenes:
"regaled" was the word actually used. It is not difficult to answer that
suggestion since most of the critics who count are busily consuming
midnight oil, not champagne, as soon as the play is over, and then go to
bed tired. Mr Archer, in feigned indignation, once complained that he
had never been insulted by the offer of a bribe, and, if my memory is
accurate, he even suggested a doubt whether there existed a manager who
would lend him half-a-crown! He certainly underrated his weight as well
as his value. Yet there is a memorable utterance of a manager to the
effect that those of the critics worth bribing could not be bribed, and
those willing to be bribed were not worth bribing. Still, there have
been instances of efforts. A manager, now no more, once sent an
expensive trifle at Christmas to one of us, who, embarrassed by it,
indulged in a graceful but rather costly victory by sending a still more
expensive trifle to the manager on his birthday, and this closed the
incident. Into the nice question whether and how far, apart from
anything so vulgar as bribery, we are always strictly impartial I do not
care to venture; it may be that even Brutus was sometimes "influenced"
without knowing it.

It is painful to be honest and yet suspected. The other day it was
brutally suggested that the formation of the Society of Dramatic Critics
had some connexion with the coming into force of the Act for the
suppression of bribery. Foreigners always presume that we have itching
palms, salved in due course by the managers or by the players. Not long
ago one of us received a letter from a Continental artist saying that
she was about to appear in London; that for a long time past she had
received much pleasure and profit from his articles in _The ----_: that
she was very anxious that an article concerning her should appear in
_The ----_; and that if he would be so charming as to arrange it, she
would be glad to pay any price--the word "any" was underlined.

No photograph accompanied the letter. No answer came to his reply;
probably she was surprised at the attitude adopted by him in referring
her to the advertisement manager.

It used to be--perhaps is still--the custom in France for players and
dramatists to call upon the critics before or immediately after the
_premières_; and not long ago some of the French actresses in London
sent their cards to the representatives of the leading English
newspapers. The most charitable would guess that these visits to the
dramatic critic sometimes influence his notice to an undesirable extent.

It has been said, no doubt untruly, that the rate of pay of the critics
of Paris is based in part upon the supposition that their post gives
them collateral advantages. In England the popular idea is that the
critics are paid vast sums by their editors and also enjoy these little
extras.

This idea is possibly the explanation of the fact that editors sometimes
get letters from people offering to act as dramatic critics without any
salary at all. Apparently the writers of such letters think that the
work would be well enough paid for otherwise. Of course they may be
merely sufferers from the curious first-night mania which induces a
great many people to go to what, as a rule, is the worst but one of the
performances of a play. The second, we know, is absolutely the worst,
since the performers are suffering from a reaction and fatigue, and
there has been no time for improvements to be made in consequence of
criticism, amateur and professional. Undoubtedly, in the case of many
people, the desire to be present on the first night is merely a snobbish
wish to take part in what journalists call "a function," and a large
number of first-nighters would attend certain _premières_ even if
absolutely sure that the performance would be tedious to them. They are
present to be seen, and not to see, although nine out of ten of them are
of no importance.

The topic is one of delicacy, since everyone is anxious, naturally, not
to write anything which could enable his friends to suggest that he is
vexed because nobody has attempted to bribe him. The supreme humiliation
is for the person who is willing to sin and never gets tempted. It is a
little curious, seeing what large sums are at stake, that the new
Bribery Act may be regarded as needless so far as we are concerned. In
the past there may have been dishonesty; indeed, there was in the case
of one or two very well-known critics. The best story in connection with
this attempted briber relates to one of the most esteemed of our craft,
a writer who has lately retired from the active service of life. A
manager sent to him a present of game, and the critic, feeling
embarrassed, applied to his editor, Sir John Robinson, for advice. Sir
John, who was rich enough in sense of humour, told him that he had
better eat the birds promptly in order that corruption might not be
added to bribery.

In the fact that, except in rare cases, no efforts are made to bribe
London critics there is an agreeable tribute to their honesty. A good
many thousands of pounds are at stake; there are not a dozen critics
worth bribing; the production budget would only require a small
proportionate increase to provide quite a handsome sum to the dozen, yet
the offer is not made.

The uncharitable will say that there are not a dozen, or even two or
three, worth bribing; yet, although from time to time managers, or
rather actor-managers, allege that the critics have little influence,
nearly all the managers, actor-managers included, occasionally admit
that even if the critics cannot make plays succeed they may be able to
kill some.

After all, a failure may be more or less disastrous: the receipts of a
piece which runs only three weeks may amount to a thousand pounds more
or less; and, using a slightly Irish phrase, the three weeks may be
either a fortnight or a month, during which there are gross takings
greater or less, while the disbursements are a constant figure. Probably
the critics could not kill a production--the word "production" is ugly,
but needed to cover both play and performance--which has real elements
of popularity in it, assuming that the management has the bold wisdom to
run it against bad notices. Moreover, the most amiable criticisms in the
world could do no more than mitigate the disaster of an essentially
unpopular production.

Some managers place a rather extravagant reliance upon our fairness. Not
only do they dissemble their love for some of us, but they even kick us
upstairs, and some of us are compelled to pretend that we can see a play
better from the dress circle than the stalls. On a first night in
certain theatres there are unimportant deadheads in the best seats of
the stalls, and the representatives of great English newspapers are
hidden behind pillars or put in what, after the first night, will be
fourth or fifth rows of the pit, or sent to Coventry in the dress
circle--sometimes back rows of it--and one may well feel proud to belong
to a craft in the honesty of which the managers have such profound
confidence.

There are moments when the thought comes that managers put some of us
into very bad seats because they feel that, conscious of unmerited
ill-treatment, we will write opinions more favourable than we really
hold, for fear lest what we think our true opinions have been unjustly
affected by our ill-treatment. Since this was written, one of us heard
something quaint about the craft. He was in the torture chair of the
dentist, who was talking of the theatres, ignorant of the fact that his
victim was a dramatic critic--such is fame--and he spoke about the
difficulty of getting tickets for a first-night, and said that most of
the seats are given to the press and the only way is to go to the box
office on the evening of the first night, since some tickets are
generally sold back to the management by the poor hacks anxious to earn
a dishonest penny. The sufferer did not contradict him or tell him that
most of us get only one ticket and have to use it. You see, no wise man
disputes with his "gum architect," who has too many methods of avenging
himself if defeated in a controversy. No man is a hero to his dentist.


His Abolition

The sun was on and the fish were off. Strenuous efforts had failed to
put the angler in the position of the gentleman _qui peut brâmer ses
amis_. Dr Tench, the fresh-water physician, whose medical powers have
been somewhat overrated, though he can keep himself alive for an
astonishing length of time out of the water, declined the most
abominably tempting baits. The pike were only represented by baby
jacklets: the rudd and the roach were rare and almost microscopic; as
for the carp, of course one did not expect to catch the sly, shy
creatures. The friend who had been lured to fish in the big lake,
modestly called a pond, put down his rod, and, after a few remarks about
the fish, which ought not to be set out in print, said in a meditative
way, "I wonder what would happen if there were no dramatic critics." To
which came the reply, that there would be no performances, since
performances without an audience are almost unimaginable, and every
spectator acts to some extent as a dramatic critic.

By the way, it is a curious distinction of the actor's art that he needs
an audience more than any other artist. The singer, violinist, and other
executants of music, if they really love music, can to almost the full
extent of such love enjoy performing to themselves alone as much as
before a crowd. The painter and sculptor have a keen pleasure in doing
their work and seek no spectator save a model; it is true they desire
the world to see the child of their efforts, but that is partly because
they are creators, as well as executants. Certainly, the singer would
sing for pure pleasure in singing if stranded alone upon a desert
island, and marooned men would write books or music if they could, and
stranded painters would paint. Would an actor in the position of
Robinson Crusoe act to amuse himself--at least, would he do so before he
had his man Friday as an involuntary and perhaps ungratified spectator?

The hapless _piscator_--the word ceased to be pretentious after Walton's
use of it--refused to bait his hook again, and said, "I mean, what would
happen if there were none of you professional chaps who write criticisms
that nobody reads except the other dramatic critics?" To remark that if
only the critics read criticisms the suppression of criticism obviously
would be needless was an easy triumph, so he continued in a grumbling
way,

"What I mean is--suppose that after a play you merely gave some sort of
account of the plot and did not say whether the piece was good or bad,
or proper or shocking, or how it was acted, and so on, would it make
any difference? I mean," he added, hastily anticipating a question,
"would people go more or less to the theatre, or would the kind of plays
and acting change? I suppose it would make a little difference; would
the difference be great?"

The answer was "Yes."

After all, the public may award the farthings, but the critics are of
weight upon the question of fame; the crowd to some extent acts as jury,
the critics are judges; and to pursue the figure, whilst the verdicts
are of immediate influence, the judgments remain on record. In the
future it will often be difficult to find out what were the verdicts;
but there will be no doubt about the judgments. Moreover, whilst, as in
the law courts, the verdicts are often due to prejudice and to mere
temporary causes, the reasoned judgments, when and so far as reasonable,
are based on a firmer foundation.

Probably the theatres would suffer, since there would be less talk about
them. For the average Englishman is timid in opinion, and, unless
fortified by ideas gleaned from the papers, scamps his conversation on
topics concerning which opinions may be expressed. When he has exhausted
such subjects as the weather, his health, his private affairs and those
of his neighbours, he is accustomed to bestow upon his listeners, in a
distorted form, the opinions concerning books, plays, pictures, etc.,
that he has read in the papers and understood imperfectly; and he
certainly would talk far less about plays if he had not the aid of the
critic's views.

Of course he would be able to call a piece "awfully good," "simply
ripping," "sweetly pretty," "beastly rot," "awfully dull," and to use
ill-assorted adjectives concerning the players; but beyond this he
would hardly venture for fear of uttering absurdities. A curious humour
is that people who have read the opinions which he is misrepresenting,
in the papers from which he got them, will listen without patent signs
of boredom, and in their turn utter second-hand opinions on similar
subjects.

Clearly, then, talk on the topic would languish but for our promptings;
and if the theatres were less talked of there would be fewer visitors to
them. Furthermore, if there were to be no newspaper criticisms of plays
or players, the gossip about them would be diminished even in the
papers, for the thrilling personal paragraphs would lose their point if
given without adjectives, and adjectives involve criticism of one kind
or another.

Would the pieces and performances be affected by the suppression of
criticism? Certainly, to some extent. For even if the professional
critics tell little more than the amateurs who offer friendly advice,
their remarks have a greater weight--partly, indeed, because in a sense
they are not gratuitous. All observers have noticed the fact that we
rarely act on the opinion of mere friends, however sound. Moreover, no
one can deny that when the critics, belonging as they do to many schools
of thought and thoughtlessness, agree, they are likely to be correct.

Even putting them on a humbler level, and assuming that some merely
express the views of the public, they are serviceable, since the
opinions of the world at large are almost wordless, and the author or
player unguided save by those immediately around him, and unable to
learn more of the public ideas concerning a play or performance than is
shown by inarticulate noises and by good or bad houses, would remain
curiously ignorant of errors against art and mistakes as to the desires
of playgoers.

No doubt, to voice the public's thoughts is not our loftiest task, but
it is useful to do so, and there can be no denial of the fact that we
know very well what the public likes. It has often been said that we
make remarkably bad prophecies as to the fate of plays, but some of the
instances quoted are not in point, since they concern works ultimately
licked into shape, which, but for the adverse notices, would have
remained unchanged till early death ended them.

Real mistakes are made by us in this respect, but generally the mistake
is in believing that a piece will be successful which, however, proves
to be a failure; we overrate the public taste, or fail to take into
account matters quite foreign to the qualities of an entertainment which
nevertheless determine its fate.

Of the more important aspect of the critic's mission, his duty in trying
to aid in the development of art, the luckless angler was not thinking.
Certainly, few, even of those who denounce the critics, will, if they
think the matter over, refuse to admit that to the public, the players,
and even authors, the humble craftsmen render useful services, quite
apart from the value of the work they do for art, by their power of
giving voice to the public, whom they study carefully and under
favourable circumstances, and by exercising to some extent the function
of censor in addition to those of beefeater and guide.


The Threatened Theatrical Trust

Somebody has forwarded from America a newspaper article called "The
Theatrical Syndicate's Reply to Its Critics," to which is given the
signature of Mr Marc Klaw, partner of Messrs Klaw & Erlanger,
well-known American managers. During the last few years _The Referee_
has been uttering a note of warning about the danger of the
establishment in London or England of a theatrical trust. Other papers
have handled the subject, and in particular an interview with Mr David
Belasco has appeared, in which he explained and vehemently defended his
attitude towards the theatrical trust in the United States.

Mr Klaw's article is amusing in its unconscious humour. In one part he
denies the existence of certain facts, whilst in another he attempts to
show that their existence is beneficial to everybody. The important
feature of it is a candid admission that the aims of the syndicate are
entirely commercial and that he, one of its principal members, looks
upon the theatre from no other point of view than that of business.

"The theatre," he says, "is governed by the rules and observances of all
other commercial enterprises. It is not out to dictate to public taste.
It is out to satisfy the public demand. While even such a purely
business undertaking must be hedged about with essential suggestions of
artistic refinement, I do not believe that the public demands of us that
we should give over our commercialism. Moreover, the public would have
no such right."

There is no need to criticise Mr Klaw's style: still it is rather
amusing to think that he sometimes discusses the literary quality of his
wares.

If there be any chance of our theatres becoming subject to a syndicate
which replies officially to its critics in such a fashion there is
serious danger to be considered. Now, according to certain statements by
Mr Belasco and by writers in and to _The Referee_, the Theatrical
Syndicate does, in fact, control to a very great extent the drama in
America, and there is no real doubt about the accuracy of the
proposition that the drama in the States is in a worse plight than the
drama in London. If, judging by the ordinary picked American productions
over here, the evidence were otherwise insufficient, the tone of Mr
Klaw's article would render it satisfying.

According to Mr Klaw, the Syndicate has conferred certain advantages
upon all persons connected with the theatre--except the critics and the
public. He does not venture to put his case any higher than that of a
trade combination, and it is clear that he at least does not consider
the theatre from the point of view of dramatic art. It is difficult to
accept this with equanimity. A phrase of his--"the theatre itself is a
business house, exhibiting the pictures of the dramatist and composer
under the proper light and most attractive auspices, just as the
picture-dealer has a picture-house in which he displays the best efforts
of the painters and illustrators"--is based on a curious fallacy.

The picture-dealer will not hurt his business if, in addition to
stocking the Royal Academy works, upon which he relies for his
bread-and-butter, in the front window, he devotes a little space at the
back to the unconventional efforts of the true artists. To do this costs
him nothing, and he may even make money by such a policy.

The manager of the strictly commercial theatre cannot follow the
picture-dealer's example; he must risk serious loss every time that he
produces a non-commercial piece. In one respect Mr Klaw is in agreement
with some of the English antagonists of the trust system; like them, he
is almost indignant at the idea that the theatre should attempt to
educate or dictate to the public. As a corollary, he and they must be
opposed to the idea that the dramatist or player should have an
educational value. Do they think that the public needs no education in
theatrical art? Are they content that the great half-washed should
remain in their present condition, which exhibits painfully a great lack
of education? Presumably.

Mr Klaw deals with the dramatic critic. Here, of course, our withers are
wrung and we write with a bias. He is indignant because the Syndicate is
accused of an attempt to "stifle and muzzle" dramatic criticism. He
thinks that it is "to his best interests to have it [dramatic criticism]
absolutely impartial, absolutely just, and always on the most dignified
plane." Then he explains that it is because certain American dramatic
critics have fallen from this high standard, or never reached it, that
they have been driven from the Syndicate's paradises. Who is to decide
whether the critic in a particular case is "absolutely impartial,
absolutely just, and on the most dignified plane"? Mr Klaw and his
colleagues, of course.

There is a certain fable in which a wolf set itself up to judge the
conduct of the relatives of an appetising lamb, and executed a vicarious
injustice. From time to time London dramatic critics of the highest
standard and most respected character have been excluded by particular
managers for a while from their houses, because the managers thought
they had not been "absolutely impartial, absolutely just, and on the
most dignified plane." Time and their friends have convinced the
managers that they had blundered, and peace was made.

Suppose, however, that those individual managers, who really are people
taking a far more dignified view of their calling than that of putting
it on the level of the dry-goods store, had been part of a syndicate of
Klaws, would those critics have been readmitted? Would the fact have
been recognized that the unfavourable notices were really honest
dignified criticisms, even if disputable upon the point of justice? Of
course not. If the newspapers had combined against the theatres, the
Syndicate managers would have climbed down. Would they have combined? I
think not. Here, indeed, is the peril.

It appears that the Syndicate has already laid its claws on some of the
London theatres. What combination is likely to be formed to fight it;
and if there be none, what is the inevitable result? In this land, many
centuries ago, even before the famous statute of James I. that regulates
our Patent Law, the British feeling has been hostile to monopolies.
Apparently this spirit was thrown overboard during the famous passage of
_The Mayflower_, or when Boston Bay was turned into a teapot, and
certainly the American takes everything on trust, except, indeed, the
honesty of his rulers and judges. Unfortunately one of the things we are
importing from America--would that there were a real prohibitive tariff
against it!--is the monopolistic spirit; and this being the case, it is
very rash to hope that we shall band ourselves adequately to resist the
attacks of the theatre syndicates.

It is easy to see how such a thing would be worked: at the beginning
quietly, pleasantly, until the hold became so strong that the gloves
could be taken off and players might be warned not to accept engagements
from outsiders on pain of getting none from the trust; and dramatists
informed that unless they kept all their wares for the Syndicate they
must look to the few outsiders for a living. The American managers, in
their big way, would buy up some of the irreconcilable newspapers, would
acquire a preponderating influence in the neutral, and discover that the
critics representing the independent journals were not "absolutely
impartial, absolutely just, and always on the most dignified plane."
Truly, if we are to be judged by such a method, few, if any, of us will
escape a whipping. Does the Syndicate regard any critic who expresses an
unfavourable opinion about its wares as "absolutely impartial," etc.?
Surely no one who is not "absolutely impartial," etc., is entitled to
apply such a standard to the critics: would this consideration prevent
Mr Klaw from judging them and carrying out his sentences? It is to be
feared that he would do Jedburgh justice on some of us, and the
out-of-work critics would join the crowd at Poverty Corner.



CHAPTER IV

PLAYS OF PARTICULAR TYPES


The Pseudo-Historical

A play running at the Savoy in March 1905, concerning Madame du Barri,
called forth the usual complaints about inaccuracy in detail and
undesirability of subject. The latter point is not our theme, and may be
dismissed with the remark that there was nothing in the life of the
creature as presented upon the stage to serve as an excuse for requiring
us to spend an evening with such a worthless baggage.

At an early stage of his career the critic welcomes this class of
pseudo-historical drama--but his welcome takes an unamiable form. He
likes to have it produced on a Saturday evening, so that he may pass a
happy Sunday. The inaccuracies fascinate him. They offer such a splendid
chance of showing the knowledge possessed by him--and his library. When
very young he deals with the matter in a straightforward fashion, and
trounces the author for every unwitting solecism and willing
falsification that is discovered.

He writes a learned little disquisition headed by a remark, in the
Macaulay vein, as to matters of common knowledge, and shows from direct
authority that the dramatist is quite wrong in mixing up the Du Barri
who married the heroine with the Du Barri who took her away from the
milliner's shop, and gives a facetious touch of lightness to his
remarks by pointing out that neither of the scoundrels was connected
with a certain much-advertised proprietary food.

The more obscure the blunder the greater the writer's joy in it, for he
will be able to introduce observations beginning "That little known but
elegant author," etc., and if the subject is earlier than the Du Barri
period he will present some quotations in the uneconomically spelt old
French.

A little later in his career his method changes: he relies upon his
_batterie de cuisine_ as much as ever, but uses some art to conceal the
employment of his apparatus. There will be mere hints about the errors;
an adjective between two commas will sometimes represent a severe
correction. The books are not referred to, the corrections are made in a
fashion which suggests that no greater authority is needed than that of
the critic.

A time arrives when he comes to the conclusion that it is no part of his
duties to deal with the historical aspect of the matter; but, of course,
the habit is upon him, and he excuses himself by saying, after he has
pointed out all the errors which he has noticed, that they would not
matter in the least if the play were meritorious in other respects.

It is difficult to defend his attitude, which, however, is due to his
appreciation of the fact that nowadays a little knowledge is a well-paid
thing. Moreover, he does not wish it to be thought that his knowledge of
history--and books--is less than that of his rivals. Of course the
inaccuracies do not matter very much unless they are so gross as to
shock the great half-literate.

There is, however, a more valid objection to the historical play than
that it is certain to be inaccurate; the historical drama is rarely a
good drama.

The author is compelled by his matter to present it in a conventional
fashion, for to give a Du Barri or a Napoleon, a Nelson or a Wellington,
not in accordance with the popular concept of such personages would be
to seek failure. Moreover, the writer is necessarily forced to belittle
the subject if not bold enough to take a simple episode in the life of
his hero or heroine, and even then, unless the miracle-working power of
genius is employed, the great figure comes out as a small puppet.

The player may be made to look up like Napoleon, may follow traditions
as to his gestures and mode of speech, but in none of the vast number of
plays concerning the wonderful monster has he ever appeared to be a
person of genius: whether handled facetiously, as in Mr Shaw's ingenious
play _The Man of Destiny_, or _Madame Sans-Gene_, pathetically as in the
play presented by Mr Martin Harvey, or formidably as in most works, he
never seems at all different from any commonplace man put into the like
circumstances. Exactly that in which he differed from all others is
exactly what cannot be put upon the stage. We have had Nelson, and of
course it was quite impassible to get any suggestion of the qualities
that made him Nelson.

The modern tendency in the matter seems to be to choose the
reprehensible--such, for instance, as Mlle. Mars, Madame de Pompadour,
Madame du Barri, and La Montansier, women in the career of whom no doubt
there were many dramas, similar, however, to the dramas in the lives of
other women of their class less famous and infamous. When, however, they
are put upon the stage they cease to be remarkable, and the characters
introduced to support them have the same fate; for instance, the Louis
XV. at the Savoy does not give the faintest idea of the ineffably vile
monarch, whilst no glimpse is shown of the quality which enabled a Du
Barri to obtain her tremendous power.

It is always a case of mountain and mouse in these plays; take as an
example the Sardou _Dante_ play produced with prodigious drum-beating a
while ago at Drury Lane. Who, if names had been altered, would have
guessed that the hero of the piece was the author of the immortal poems?
There has been hardly a historical play in modern times in which the
identity of the famous personages could be guessed except from the
names, the make-up, the costumes, and the specific facts; at the best
the pieces are _tableaux vivants_.

Perhaps there is nothing illegitimate in the ambition of the player to
pose as one of the mighty dead, and it is rather humility in the author
which urges him to seek adventitious interest than vanity that causes
him to believe himself really able to give a true idea of a Napoleon.
Into such delicate questions it is needless to inquire. The point is
that the lives of the great are not more dramatic than the lives of the
small. Napoleon at St Helena was not more unhappy than were millions of
people of his day. There is a drama as poignant in the history of César
Birotteau as in that of Marie Antoinette, as big a tragedy in the career
of Whitaker Wright as in that of Napoleon III.

There was a reason, which exists no longer, why the authors of the
Middle Ages chose characters of great social status for their principal
parts, and even this reason was not altogether well founded. It would be
wrong to assert that historical plays ought not to be written, for,
whilst not recommending the use of the stage instead of history
classes, one can see that a historical play may illustrate ideas that
could hardly be presented otherwise.

There is a noteworthy instance in the work of the much-abused Ibsen.
_The Pretenders_ is a historical drama amazingly rich in idea; whether
the idea of kingship superbly handled in it is an anachronism it is hard
to say, or to tell whether the dramatist chose his subject to illustrate
his idea or the idea to embellish his subject; but in it, though
obviously there is scope for magnificent mounting and interesting
detail, one feels that the genius of the author has prevented him from
making any sacrifice of the dramatic aspect. He has not chosen a popular
historical personage and made him into the hero of the melodrama, as
happens in the case of nine out of ten of the so-called historical
plays, but has written a drama that demands a royal atmosphere, which he
handles admirably.

What a pity that the money lavished upon the Du Barri play--and lavished
very cleverly, it must be admitted, so far as the production of
beautiful stage-pictures is concerned--was not spent in the mounting of
a great drama like _The Pretenders_, rich in strong acting parts,
magnificent in presentation of character, and really illuminated by
ideas!


The Horrible in Drama

It has been alleged that _The Monkey's Paw_, a clever one-act play by
Messrs Jacobs and Barker, formerly presented at the Haymarket Theatre,
is too horrible for the stage. The part complained of is confined to the
last scene of three.

A young man has been killed in a factory, and his body was so mangled
by the fatal wheels that even his father was not allowed to see it. Late
at night the father, by means of a diabolical talisman--the Monkey's
Paw--succeeds in recalling his son to life, and the audience hears a
knocking at the door. What is knocking? The mother is making frantic
efforts to pull back the bolts. Her son is there, returned from the
grave. The father, aware that the talisman, which promised the
fulfilment of three wishes, is of a fiendish malignity, guesses that if
the door be opened his son will stand before them alive, but fearfully
mangled and mutilated, so he is groping upon the floor for the Monkey's
Paw, and the audience feels that on the other side of the door is an
obscene horror fresh from the grave. There was a sigh of relief in the
theatre when the father found the talisman, and, using the last wish,
prayed successfully that his son might be dead and at peace.

The knock, knock, was decidedly impressive, like the knocking at the
door in _Macbeth_, which greatly affected Charles Lamb. Is this matter
too horrible for the stage? One may compare it with another horror given
not long ago, _The Soothing System_, which Mr Bourchier adapted cleverly
from a story by Edgar Poe and produced at the Garrick, showing the
terrible adventures of two visitors to a lunatic asylum, the inmates of
which had overpowered their keepers. This was very powerful and
horrible, and perhaps would have given a shiver to the hero of a famous
tale in the collection of goblin stories by the Brothers Grimm.

Nevertheless it was not legitimate, partly because the circumstances are
rare when it is permissible to present madness on the stage, partly
because some of the mad people were repulsive to the eye, and partly
because horror was the sole means and end of the piece. Many condemned
_The Monkey's Paw_, yet a line can be drawn between it and _The Soothing
System_--not a nice sharp line, but one of those blurred lines so faint
and so uncertain, that even if their existence be admitted, there is
always room for a fight on the question whether a work lies on this or
that side of it.

Speaking roughly, one may say that _The Monkey's Paw_ is legitimate
because there is nothing in it repulsive to the eye, and for the reason
that horror is not the sole means and end of it: the story, like its
prototype folk-lore tale, "The Three Wishes," has an obvious moral. It
belongs to art because the emotion caused is due to a stimulus to our
imagination by the force of an idea and not of a thing exhibited. If an
effort were made to show us any ghastly creature knocking, the work
would be out of court.

To illustrate the line of definition already indicated, a few instances
of the horrible presented on the stage in our time may be given
usefully; it must be added that most appear to lie on the wrong side.

Shakespeare's adventures in the horrible are legitimate, with an
exception in the case of one play of doubtful authenticity, _Titus
Andronicus_. On the other hand, _Sweeney Todd; or, The Barber of Fleet
Street_, would probably find no defender; whilst a historical drama I
once saw in the South of France, where the hero was put upon the rack in
front of the footlights and squirmed and screamed, was quite
unendurable; and this is rather a pity, since there is a very powerful
dramatic scene in Balzac's _Notes sur Catherine de Medicis_, which in
consequence of this objection should not be used. There is a mitigated
form of the torture business in _La Tosca_ that caused great discussion.
Perhaps those who deem it illegitimate are somewhat supersensitive; it
would be more polite, and perhaps accurate, to call them hyper-modern.

_Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde_ presented a very difficult case. I can remember
nothing so "creepy" and "shuddery" as the first appearance of Mr
Mansfield at the Lyceum in the character of the evil doctor; the house
gasped at the half-seen image of a sort of obscene beast at the
conservatory window, and there was the silence of breathless horror when
it bounded into the room and seized its victim. Until the impression
wore off the Mansfield Hyde was almost as horrible as the fantastic
things born of the cruel imagination and brilliant pencil of Mr S.H.
Sime, whose work is sometimes so richly embellished by imagination as
well as by superb technique that one cannot deny its claim to be
regarded as art.

Something of the distinction here discussed can be seen by comparing Mr
Sime's drawings with the pictures of the mad painter Wirtz, whose
abominable gallery at Brussels is a chamber of unimaginative horrors. It
may be remembered that Mr Mansfield had a competitor in Mr Bandman
Palmer, who, however, missed horror by the simple vulgarity of his
horrors, and, though he may have impressed the simple-minded, was
ludicrous to the thoughtful.

Returning for a moment to the clearly unpermissible, one might take a
book like "Frankenstein." Certainly any presentation on the stage of the
man-monster as described by the talented authoress would fall under the
censure of being disgusting. This term may be used concerning several
needless exhibitions of blood on the stage, and of such a matter as
_Nana_, once presented in Paris. When the hapless heroine appeared in
the last act with wax spots to indicate the pustules of smallpox, she
very nearly "took a lot out of us," if one may borrow a phrase from "Mr
Hopkinson." Obviously anything that reminds one of the ghastly horrors
at the Royal College of Surgeons or the Polyclinic Institute is quite
unforgivable.

This brings us not unnaturally to a matter in which there has been some
change of taste. A fearful exhibition of a man in a fit, given with
horrible power by that admirable actor Mr Pateman in a melodrama called
_Master and Man_, would perhaps not be condemned in our days, but
probably we would not endure, and certainly there would be little praise
for, some of the death scenes once famous in drama. The critics nowadays
would apply to the actress the phrase of the auctioneer to his wife, and
implore her to "get on with her dying."

There was the famous Mlle. Croizette in _Le Sphinx_, by that detestable
dramatist Octave Feuillet; she squirmed horribly after taking poison
from a ring; and it was alleged that she had studied the death of
patients in hospitals--a brutal, horrible thing to do. There is a good
deal too much dying in _Frou-Frou_, _La Dame aux Camellias_ and
_Adrienne Lecouvrer_. Without going back to the traditions of the Greek
theatre, one may say confidently that, if death on the stage is
permissible, dying is almost illegitimate, and trick falls, exhibitions
of agony, and the like are mere pandering to a very vulgar taste.
Occasionally the dying is so handled that, though somewhat prolonged,
such a vigorous phrase ought not to be applied to it. For instance, one
may refer to _In the Hospital_, once presented at the Court, where Mr
Beveridge, in an admirable performance, gave a very tactful, restrained
exhibition of approaching death and actual decease. Another objection
exists to any exhibition upon the stage of dying as compared with
death. The symptoms often call up terrible memories to some members of
the audience which are not evoked by the simple fact of death itself. It
cannot be pretended that these references to instances of the horrible
and the trifling comments upon them establish the existence of the
distinction indicated, but they may be of some assistance to those who
endeavour to explore the matter. It is at least pleasant to note that
there is a modern tendency to obtain effects of the horrible by appeals
to the imagination rather than to the senses.

It should be added that Mr F.R. Benson presented a Frankenstein play
written by Mr Stephen Phillips, but the question of the horrible
appearance was discreetly avoided.


The Immorality Play

The summer visit to London of foreign players generally gives birth to
discussions upon several topics. Of course the question as to the
relative merits of French and English acting is raised. Upon this, one
may give a warning to the thoughtless not to accept as universal the
vague proposition that the French are a nation of born actors. Of course
everybody each year points out that it is absurd there should be several
foreign companies at a time in London cutting the throats of one
another, as to which one may say that the matter is far more complicated
than most people suppose.

The point worth nothing is the choice of plays by our visitors. Some of
them no doubt are wise; Bernhardt, for instance, recognizes the fact
that a showy piece with a big part for her is exactly the right thing
provided that it is easily understood by the Berlitzians and
Ollendorffians. There are others, however, such as Madame Réjane, more
ambitious, who in their selection of plays do some disservice to their
country.

The humour of Mr Gilbert's line "The not too French French bean" appeals
irresistibly to the English.

There has long been a vague idea in British bosoms that our neighbours
in sexual matters are far more immoral than ourselves. This is not the
occasion upon which to examine the causes and origin of such a decidedly
erroneous view. One may, however, single out one of them. It is largely
the fault of writers of fiction that we remain in ignorance, or
rather--and this is worse--in error concerning the character of our
amiable neighbours.

In former days, putting aside the naughty farces not supposed to present
a picture of actual life, most French dramas were quite sound in
conventional morality. Augier presented some wicked people, such as
Olympe, concerning whom he invented the phrase _la nostalgie de la
boue_; but he was unequivocably moral in his aims, and preached the
sanctity of marriage and maternity. Dumas _fils_, putting aside one
indiscretion, was equally vigorous in his desire to support accepted
views of morality. His illustrious father, it may be admitted,
occasionally propounded startling propositions, but without prejudice, I
fancy, to a sound belief in the idea that exceptional cases must be
regarded as exceptions.

None, however, of these writers, however artificial their views of life,
ever offered pictures of society based upon the proposition that the
chastity of woman is of no importance.

Many of the present school of French dramatists write
plays--unfortunately chosen for presentation in England--which assume
the existence in society of a large class of people, otherwise amiable,
who act upon the proposition that in Paris as in heaven there is neither
marrying nor giving in marriage. Unmarried men and women live together,
the males paying for the board and lodging, etc., of the females without
there being any pretence that the intimacy of their relations is
radically immoral under normal circumstances. They do not even indulge
in fireworks in such plays. You do not have parodies of the famous
phrase "Property is theft"; for the heroines fail to justify themselves
by remarking that marriage is immorality. There is simply a business of
union and disunion, _collage_ and _décollage_, coupled with what one may
call cross-unions, all of them apparently free from the embarrassment of
children and none of them involving any of the more dignified of the
human emotions. One of the worst of the number was _L'Age d'Aimer_, by
M. Pierre Wolff, a piece so cynically immoral, and written with such an
air of truth, that it might well cause some of us to shrink in horror
from the idea of an _entente cordiale_ with a people which, if truly
represented by its fashionable dramatists, has no concept of cleanliness
of life. Without posing as a champion of orthodox morality and certainly
without taking objection to the study of sex questions on the stage, one
may protest against works in which it is assumed there is no sex
question, because every form of union, on any basis, except perhaps that
of marriage, is permissible.

By-the-by, why was the press that was so indignant about the so-called
problem play almost silent concerning these French dramas? Where were
the phrases, such as miasmatic putrescence or putrescent miasma--I
forget which it was--that used to greet the dramas of Ibsen? Where are
the splendid Puritans who howled about _A Wife without a Smile_? Could
it be--the thought is painful--that they did not quite understand _L'Age
d'Aimer_ and imagined that all the people were married? This idea is
simply humiliating to one of the craft. "Ne rien comprendre, c'est tout
pardonner" is a very novel view of a famous phrase.

Madame Réjane, it was stated in the papers, has expressed herself
shocked by _A Wife without a Smile_, and alleged that she would never
act in such a piece; but it may well be that her horror lay in the fact
that the parties concerned in the farce had been through a ceremony of
marriage, and that she would have accepted it as permissible if it were
correctly entitled _A Cocotte without a Leer_. The point is, not that
those who understand these plays or those who do not are affected in
their moral ideas by them, but that they give a deplorable picture of
French life and in such a guise as to suggest that it is a picture of
normal French life; unfortunately _L'Age d'Aimer_ is only one of many.

It is a great pity to use such a powerful vehicle as the stage for
slandering a nation. That there is a certain amount of truth in works of
the _Zaza_, _Sapho_, _Les Demi-Vierges_ and _L'Age d'Aimer_ type is
incontestable; yet so far as they are true to general life one can find
their parallel in this holy island. Unfortunately, whilst the fast
society of Paris is no bigger than that of London, and whilst Paris is
infinitely less in relation to France than London in relation to
England, the great French nation is generally judged over here by flashy
pictures of the fast section of Paris society, drawn, very often, if not
always, from the outside, by clever people too indolent to know that the
psychology of decent people is quite as interesting and dramatic as that
of the gutter-creatures of mere passion who dignify their cynical
desires with noble names, and, so far as the latest school is concerned,
fail even to reach the humblest concept of free love.


Scripture Plays

There have been some complaints about the attitude of several of the
dramatic critics concerning Mr Jerome's drama _The Passing of the Third
Floor Back_. It has been suggested that they have not welcomed with
sufficient warmth a sincere attempt "to broaden the basis," a phrase
apparently borrowed from the Tariff Reformers, to enlarge the boundaries
of the British drama, but have treated the production of the piece as an
everyday affair, confining their remarks to criticism concerning the
workmanship.

In _The Third Floor Back_ a character is introduced who is called "The
Stranger," but known by everybody in the theatre to represent Jesus
Christ; and "The Stranger" visits a somewhat remarkable boarding-house
in which all the boarders and the landlady are vile, and after his visit
all of them are fit for immediate translation to heaven.

Certainly, many of us are anxious to broaden the basis of our drama. A
little while ago an important foreign paper contained a article saying
that the object of the London stage is "to introduce living pictures to
say pretty things for young girls," and that "of the social, religious,
economic or intellectual struggles which agitate our time no trace is
observable in the English stage literature of the day," and that English
stage literature "has become nothing more than an insipid and dying
study of the doings of the aristocratic and the rich." How sickening to
know that in the main the charges are true, and that our drama, with,
fortunately some exceptions, is merely a kind of Pap and Puppet affair.

On the other hand, the broadening effect of a play such as Mr Jerome's
is not obvious. The Censor has been dodged, just as he was dodged many
years ago, when Verdi's opera _Nebuchadonozor_ was called _Ninus_ or
when _Ben Hur_ was presented or _The Daughters of Babylon_. That
official has already permitted the performance of _Everyman_ and
_Hannele_. Consequently, it is not easy to see that the suggested
broadening of the basis has taken place.

Moreover, there are many who doubt whether broadening, so as to admit a
free trade in what could be called religious or Scripture drama, is
desirable. We do not pretend that the office of Censor ought to be
maintained merely to keep back a flood of plays introducing Scriptural
characters. The office, no doubt, does good as well as harm, but the
harm far outweighs the good. Would it be beneficial if this particular
restriction--this working rule that characters bearing the names of
personages of the Old and New Testament are not to be presented on the
stage--were relaxed. There are enthusiastic persons who desire a closer
union between Church and the Stage, and wish to have the theatre
employed as a kind of pulpit, who believe that Scripture plays would be
beneficial. It is conceivable that under certain circumstances the
attitude of these persons would be sound, but not under the present
circumstances.

Most of our theatres are run as a mere commercial speculation by people
who care little enough about art, and probably nothing about religion.
We have had one instance of the sort of thing that might be expected,
_The Sign of the Cross_, in which a commonplace melodrama was mixed up
with hymns and pseudo-religious talk and miracles, and a ballet as
immodest, as pulse-disturbing, as any given in the theatres or the
halls. Many visited the play who had never been to a theatre before,
since they believed that it was really a religious drama outside their
ban. Some were horrified, and from being potential playgoers became
rapidly adverse to the stage and all its works; others were shocked and
disturbed and delighted by the exhibition of female flesh in the ballet,
with a result which can easily be guessed. No doubt a number of persons
believed that the piece did good to them and other folk--some people
will believe anything.

The people of taste and sensibility, who, whatever their state of
religious belief, would regard with abhorrence the exhibition on the
ordinary commercial stage of the Christ whom they were brought up to
regard as Divine, have a title to consideration. The traffic in
blasphemy that would immediately follow the suggested enlargement of the
boundary of the theatre is horrible to contemplate. Such abominations as
a combination of Christ and semi-naked women doing more or less
mitigated _danses du ventre_, would be justified as giving an Oriental
colour.

There is another side. It may be taken that our laws against blasphemy
have moved a good deal since Lord Coleridge's famous summing-up
concerning the essential mutability of the Common Law about blasphemy
which he gave in Regina _v._ Ramsey and Foote; if the restriction were
removed what power would prevent the atheists from producing distinctly
anti-Christian plays which might very well cause riots, which certainly
would prove a serious counterblast, if discreetly handled, to the
efforts of the Church and Stage enthusiasts. One can conceive every
kind of crank with money producing a play to advocate his particular
brand of religion.

We could not expect all the actors chosen to represent Christ to be
gentlemen of fine sensibility, high character, and sincere feeling for
art, like Mr Forbes Robertson; it is hardly pleasant to think of the
character in the hands of some members of the profession. One can
imagine a feeling of revulsion if any of the actresses who have made
history--in the Divorce Court--were chosen for the part of the Virgin
Mary.

This is said without for one moment suggesting that the players are one
whit the worse in their way of living than the rest of us, or that
managers of theatres are wickeder or more unscrupulously commercial than
anyone else. Yet, speaking of the managers, one is forced to admit that
the majority consult the taste of the majority, that many are willing
enough to pander to vulgar cravings, and it is not imaginable that,
unless our stage can be put upon a new basis, a freedom to produce
religious or Scriptural drama would fail to cause great scandals.

As the matter stands, the attitude of the Censor, though not logical, is
not wholly unsatisfactory; it is ludicrous enough that he should have
adopted an ostrich policy towards Mr Jerome's piece, yet no harm has
been done by the production of this sincere and respectful drama.
Indeed, some good may have come from it. In an ideal world, no doubt, we
should all be severely logical; in England we are radically illogical,
and we carry out most of our affairs on a basis of compromises.

If you do not call your leading character Christ in the theatre you may
call him Christ outside, seems the proposition implied in the licence
for _The Passing of the Third Floor Back_, but the very basis of the
authority of the Lord Chamberlain is such that one cannot apply logic to
his decrees and say that because he has permitted this he must sanction
that. Some of these remarks may seem to suggest that it is advisable the
office should be retained, which is not the case. We pay too high a
price for it since it tends to paralyse the drama; on the other hand it
is to be hoped that so long as the office exists the holders of it will
be very careful concerning any efforts to exploit the Scriptures for the
profit of the theatres.

The success of the St James's play will cause a rush of people, anxious
to go "one better"--or worse--than Mr Jerome. No harm--possibly some
good--may come from the present piece, but the circumstances should be
regarded as exceptional. We have few playwrights so earnest as Mr
Jerome, few actors or managers with such high ideals as those of Mr
Forbes Robertson. It seems permissible and advisable to add that this
article is not written from the point of view of one who professes to be
"on the side of the angels," but merely as a protest against what in the
long run would be one more blow to our staggering stage.


Anecdotal Plays

It appears that "Percival" of _The Referee_ has made a great discovery.
He has found out the reason why French plays are better than English, is
able to put his "finger on the real difference which exists between
French plays and English," he now knows why "many more plays are
successfully adapted from French into English than _vice versa_." This
sounded thrilling, but after finishing his article the reader was about
in the humour of a person who has been promised "an awfully rippin' new
story" and receives a feeble "chestnut."

Mr "Percival" is really like the American who discovered on going home
very late at night the fact that the sun rises in the east, and cackled
as much about his discovery as a hen over her first egg. His explanation
is that, "with one exception--Pinero--the English playwright invents a
plot and then writes in characters to carry that plot out. Your French
playwright does not do this.... He takes an idea and works it out with
dramatic action instead of taking a dramatic action and working it out
with such incident ideas as may happen along. And sometimes your French
dramatist just takes people with characteristics and lets them work
their own play out for him."

There is no need to seek deeply to find out why "many more plays are
successfully adopted from French into English than _vice versa_." The
explanation is that owing to Parisian prejudice hardly any English plays
of any merit, Shakespeare's excepted, have been adapted, and there is a
ferocious hostility in France to foreign drama.

The modern French drama may be better than the English; perhaps
"Percival" hardly asserts that it is, unless in the passage already
quoted and in this phrase: "There is something about three plays in four
in France which is lacking at home, and that something is something
good." No doubt, if we take the past fifty years as a basis for
comparison of the two dramas, the French is the better; but during the
last fifteen there has been a change, and one could not make any
sweeping assertion upon the subject as regards the plays of this period,
unless it be limited to the plays produced in the ordinary way of
theatrical commerce.

If the alleged superiority exists, one can offer two reasons for it
without relying upon the brilliant discovery of "Percival." The first is
the greater freedom of the French dramatist in choice of subject, and
also in treatment; this gives him an enormous advantage.

The second is that, whilst there are almost as many people in Paris who
will welcome rubbish as there are in London, there can also be found a
large number of playgoers with a good deal of intellectual curiosity,
whilst the intelligent amateur--using the phrase in its French sense--is
comparatively rare in London. Consequently, the French dramatist has not
only more freedom in subject and treatment than the English, but in
addition a greater public of playgoers who bring their intellect into
the auditorium. Probably "Percival" will claim that this second ground
of explanation enters into his, and there is some truth in this.

On the other hand, his statement of fact that our dramatists, with the
exception of Pinero, are mere story-tellers, and that the French authors
write plays based upon ideas, is quite inaccurate.

Roughly, one may put dramas into three categories--the play of anecdote,
the play of idea, and the play of character. "Percival" recognises the
third category by his remark that "sometimes your French dramatist just
takes people with characteristics and lets them work out their own play
for him." As a matter of fact, few plays belong exclusively to any one
of these categories. In which would "Percival" place Shakespeare's? He
began to write a play by borrowing the plot from somebody, and primarily
all his pieces may be regarded as anecdotal, but, in the passage of the
story through his mind to the pen, in some cases it became the vehicle
for an idea, and, in all, the story grew to be of infinitely less
importance than the characters.

Take _Othello_. You may give an account of it as a story in which it is
merely an adaptation of another man's work. You may treat it as a study
of the idea of jealousy, and be uncertain whether suspicion is not more
correct as a definition than jealousy, or you may consider it as an
amazing gallery of pictures of character. It may be put into each
category, and belongs to all.

Probably the question whether a drama belongs primarily to this, that,
or the other of the categories is as otiose as the discussion whether
the hen or the egg came first. No play lives that does not belong to the
second and third category, and it cannot be put upon the boards without
some reliance upon the first. On the other hand, whatever may be the
belief of individual dramatists, it is doubtful whether any dramas are
produced primarily based upon "taking people with characteristics and
letting them work out their own play." It is obvious that people, even
people with strongly marked characteristics, can live for years in
juxtaposition without their relation to one another resulting in
anything dramatic, or even theatrical. Paula Tanqueray and her husband
might have lived and died unhappily together without offering any
materials to the playwright, and so indeed might any of the characters
in any of the plays by the brilliant author. Only when facts exterior to
them begin to play upon the characters dramatically is there room for
drama. There is an enormous amount of plot, psychological or physical,
in every play.

Next to the first, the second category produces the plays most clearly
defined. One might take the plays of Brieux, and some of the
dead-and-gone dramas of Charles Reade. Here we have dramas of idea,
more accurately of subject, still more accurately of problem. They are
works in which the dramatist tries to prove something, or, at least,
present some problem of social life, leaving to the audience the task of
coming to a conclusion.

However, even M. Brieux cannot get on without category number one,
whilst he puts as much of category number three in his work as he can.
He invents a story, and he chooses and endeavours to display characters
as a vehicle for exhibiting his subject. Sometimes, to be just, he gets
along--in a fashion--with a surprisingly small amount of plot, as in
_Les Bienfaiteurs_. Even then the necessity of having some sort of form
makes a good deal of story necessary. Jean Jullien, the inventor of the
phrase "Une tranche de la vie," endeavoured to give plays without formal
beginning or end, unconsciously, perhaps, tried to carry out a desire of
Merimée's to write a play in respect of which the audience needs no
knowledge of antecedent facts; but his success--in more senses than
one--was only partial.

The English dramatists of what one might call the Independent Theatre,
Stage Society, and Court Theatre management have struggled to avoid the
anecdotal play, sometimes with a brilliant result, as in _The Voysey
Inheritance_, _John Bull's Other Island_, or _Strife_; Mr J.M. Barrie in
several successful works has minimised the story as much as possible.

Why does "Percival" ignore them? Has he overlooked the fact that most of
the French dramas successfully adapted belong primarily to the category
he condemns, and nearly all the rest to a subdivision of number three,
ignored by him. This subdivision consists of star plays--that is, of
dramas of theatrical character--in the manufacture of which the French
dramatists excel. Many of the dramas by Dumas _fils_ show an ingenious
combination of this subdivision with the anecdotal play. And Pinero--our
exception--how would "Percival" classify _His House in Order_, which has
a strong story? In reality it is a very adroit mixture of story, idea,
and comedy of character, this is the case with the other works of our
leading dramatist.

The fact is that "Percival" has mistaken treatment for conception. All
dramatists try to combine the three categories, but the worst class
attaches too much importance to the mere story; unfortunately our
audiences are like the bad dramatist in this respect: hence the almost
purely anecdotal play, like the anecdotal picture, is the most popular.


The Supernatural

That the forbidden is attractive is a commonplace and true. The third
party in the divorce case is often less beautiful than the petitioner,
the length of water beyond our own always promises better sport, the
mushrooms seem to grow more thickly in the fields of others. In drama we
see the same law in operation. No canon of art makes the "supernatural"
unlawful to the dramatist, but it is generally looked upon as
illegitimate in serious drama. The word "supernatural" is used in its
popular sense, which is well enough understood, but indefinable.
Naturally the dramatist is tempted the more when he sees the novelist
using the supernatural effectively.

No wonder the playwright has tried to adapt _Frankenstein_; he has
merely succeeded in presenting a grotesque unterrible figure where Mrs
Shelley gave a thrill of horror. We have had several plays on the boards
which overstep bounds. One can read Mr Jerome's tale "The Passing of the
Third Floor Back" without being oppressed by a sense of the inadequacy
of his machinery, but when Mr Forbes Robertson is supposed on the stage
to "blarney" eight or nine people who have ugly souls into righteousness
we are not only unconvinced but actively incredulous. Possibly to simple
minds the affair would be more impressive if the lodger wore a halo
supposed to be invisible to the people on the stage, or produced an
occasional flash of lightning or growl of thunder.

Take that dear old crusted melodrama _The Corsican Brothers_. The story
was thrilling enough when merely read; it was easy to believe that the
Dei Franchi had a special brand of constitution which enabled them to
see the family ghost whilst the more sceptical could talk of brain waves
and suggestions and of subjective phenomena. That is where the modern
novelist gets out of all hobbles; if you will not accept his spook as a
genuine, old-fashioned spook, you can hardly refuse to swallow it as a
subjective phenomenon. The blessed word "subjective" extricates him from
all troubles.

The poor dramatist has no such refuge. Occasionally he can work his plot
by means of a vision; and the hypnotic trance has served, as in the case
of _The Polish Jew_; but his ghosts have to be strictly objective. In
fact, using a technical term frivolously, his ghosts expect the ghost to
walk regularly on Fridays. There is no humbug about them; no
"Pepper"--but they have to be taken with a ton of salt!

This difficulty was, perhaps, of no great importance at a time when
most people had faith in ghosts; when the most sceptical did not go
further than Madame de Staël, who alleged that she did not believe in
them but was afraid of them. It is not recorded what Benjamin Constant,
her unhappy lover, thought about them. Nowadays things have changed and
ghosts and the personal devil have joined the ranks of the unemployed,
or only obtain employment with Mr Stead and his Julia.

There is, of course, the spook of the spiritualist, who demands serious
consideration; but plays dealing with spiritualism are not common.
Perhaps because such playgoers as will accept the more or less material
ghost are even more sceptical than the scientific as to the objective
phenomena of the spiritualist. No doubt managers try to rise to the
occasion and to make a steady advance in ghosts, devils and angels, but
the mechanical improvements seem small. Indeed, in a sense there has
been no advance since the days when Pepper's ghost terrified us at the
poor old Polytechnic, and unfortunately the system of Pepper can only be
used to a limited extent. There were moments of thrill in _Ulysses_ at
His Majesty's.

The stage angels are the worst of the supernaturals. Because angels are
supposed to dwell off the earth it is assumed that they must fly.
Furthermore, it is imagined that as fliers they belong to the
heavier-than-air order, the monoplane variety, and so must have gigantic
wings; no one makes provision for the working of the wings, which would
involve tremendous muscular energy. You may answer that they have
miraculous energy wherewith to flap them. If, however, the miraculous
enters into the matter, why not imagine a miraculous method of flying
which does not demand wings--by so doing you would avoid the necessity
of making the angels look like ill-constructed birds. Something "smart"
might be done in the way of a "dirigible balloon" species of angel!
Fiends are modelled as flying-machines on the lines of the bat--this may
be taken from the latest Mephisto. The contrivers of stage effects are
not to be blamed because they cannot overcome the difficulties offered
by the playwrights. Yet they have not exhausted their means. They seem
to be working on wrong lines, and so, too, are our scene-painters
generally; but that is raising a very large question demanding separate
treatment.

Certainly some years ago Mr Gordon Craig experimentally, in a curious
piece called _Sword or Song_, presented at the Shaftesbury, gave
suggestions in the supernatural that deserved attention, and in a broad
way showed the possibility of arriving at striking stage effects by
suggestion rather than actual depiction. It is, indeed, the fault of our
play-mounters that they are too precise about dotting "i's" and crossing
"t's," and like the pet photographers of amateurs they show too much
detail.

Years ago, on the first night of _Hansel und Gretel_ at Daly's--what a
delightful first night!--for a while the effect of the troops of angels
on the stairs was quite charming--for a while--but, alas! the stage grew
lighter, gauzes were raised, and then we saw plainly the young women of
the chorus, with big wings, and could identify face after face,
recollecting this young lady as formerly a peasant boy in one comic
opera, and that as a village maiden in another, and so on. What a "give
away," to use a common effective phrase!

The last prodigious production of _Faust_? Well, what thinking person
can swallow the devil and the electric sparks from the sword, the wine
drawn from the table, the comicalities of the witches' kitchen, or be
moved by the Brocken scenes? It is very well to say that Goethe intended
and expected his drama to be put on the stage, though this can hardly
apply to the second part. Even if he did he cannot have expected such
material matters to be treated as of serious importance--of such
importance that, as represented, his great drama seems chiefly contrived
to lead up to spectacular effects, plus a seduction story occasionally
hurt by needlessly plain phrases.

It may be said that this is the jam used to induce us to swallow the
powder; but really there is so much jam and so little powder that the
benefit of the dose is doubtful. To be just to Sir Herbert Tree--his
_Faust_ sinned no more in the matter than did the Lyceum setting;
perhaps even a little less. Certainly there is rather more Goethe in the
matter than Wills introduced.

It may be said that Shakespeare's plays were intended for the stage, and
that he introduced "ghosts," as in _Hamlet_, _Macbeth_ and _Richard
III._; possibly he believed in them. Yet, so far as one can judge from
such knowledge as we have of the stage as he knew it and its resources,
the treatment of his ghosts must have been really quite conventional and
scenically unimpressive. There was some gain in this, for the more
directly the ghost business is effective the more the attention of the
audience is drawn to it; though the interest of the scene is not in the
ghost but the effect it produces on the other characters; the case is
one that may be summed up in the phrase quoted for us by Bacon--the
better the worse.



CHAPTER V

PLAYS OF PARTICULAR TYPES


Unsentimental Drama

It was suggested long ago that all the conceivable tunes would soon have
been written, and possibly, if for "conceivable" one substitutes the
word "obvious," there was truth in the suggestion. On the other hand
experience breeds in us the belief that composers of genius could go on
inventing novel melodies for centuries to come. Things have been
happening lately, and threaten soon to occur again, which appear to show
that our popular dramatists imagine that there are no new plots or
subjects open to them. It is said that one playwright is busily engaged
upon a novel version of _La Dame aux Camellias_ which is to be
distinguished from Dumas' novel and drama by the fact that the heroine
is chaste and does nothing worse than "a bit of flirting." It is to be
hoped that Dumas will never hear of this astounding impudent perversion
of his play. Perhaps ere now he has become hardened by the fact that the
Duse has represented Marguerite as a creature of exquisite purity.

Moreover, it is alleged that somebody is going to write another version
of _Faust_--presumably the pantomime edition by Wills is copyright. In
addition, it appears that Mr Stephen Phillips has concocted an
adaptation of _The Bride of Lammermoor_ in which the story and
characters are vastly improved. Alas, poor Scott! On top of all this we
hear of countless adaptations on the market, so that the ignorant wonder
whether our dramatists are played out.

Perhaps the secret is to be discovered in some passages that occurred
during the trial of an action a little while ago, between two
publishers, in which there was evidence to the effect that a book could
not be a novel unless it had a love-story.

Of course, if upon our playwrights is imposed the limitation that all
their plays must contain a love-story, the difficulty of the position is
very great, and the greater still because they are not allowed to tell
naughty love-stories unless they force upon them a moral ending, and
they are very rarely permitted to indulge in a love-story which does not
end in a wedding or the reconciliation of respectably wedded citizens.
No wonder that as a body they seem to be getting bankrupt in
imagination; they appear to be in the position of a cook who is never
allowed to handle anything but sweets.

The state of things is rather curious. It may be often asserted
truthfully of the West End theatres that there are as many love-stories
as playhouses. Of late years, notwithstanding the evidence referred to,
some of our novelists have shown a tendency to break away from the
tradition; also some of the unfashionable playwrights exhibit signs of
revolt; but the managers are timid, very timid, in the matter, and this
is curious, because one has only to turn to Shakespeare to see that we
have had modern successes with plays in which the love-story is trifling
when it exists at all--_Hamlet_, for instance, and _Macbeth_, _Julius
Caesar_, _King Lear_, _Henry VIII._, and other historical pieces.
Indeed, as soon as one begins to enumerate it appears that in most of
the Shakespearean plays presented of late years the love interest, if
any, has been a minor matter. Our managers might learn something from
this.

There is mighty little sentimental love in the plays of "G.B.S." that
have, or have had, a perilously disturbing vogue. And, indeed, when that
ferocious dramatist does handle love it is in an intensely unsentimental
fashion.

Moreover, love in the Gilbert and Sullivan operas is treated with cruel
levity. Turn, by the way, to another great social satirist, Molière; one
finds again that love sometimes is ignored, and when handled at all
often treated dryly, or as a matter of little moment. Our most popular
comedy, _The School for Scandal_, though it has a reconciliation
business, is quite independent of any sentimental matter of importance.
In several of the works of Mr Barrie, our most original popular
dramatist, the sentimental interest is slight where it exists at all.

It seems needless to multiply instances; enough has been said to show
that it is quite possible to make money with plays that are not at all
sentimental. What a pity, then, that the dramatists who aim at general
popularity should feel themselves constrained to be more or less
sentimental, and also that managers should fight shy of the works of
those dramatists, other than Mr Barrie, who have the courage to write
unsentimental plays! For it is to be noticed that in the last ten years
a great many unsentimental English plays have been written and produced
by non-commercial managements. It does not from this follow that all of
them ignore love and the relation of the sexes, or even avoid actual
love-stories; but as a class they eschew the sentimental treatment which
is and for a long time has been the distinguishing feature of British
Drama.

A particular instance of the effect of the modern tradition may be
mentioned. _The Beloved Vagabond_ had a great success as a novel; it
enjoyed a London run as a play of about two months only. In the book the
love-story is a minor matter, treated mainly with a sub-acid humour, and
the author wisely avoids an absurd happy-ever-after conclusion. The play
was supersaturated with sentiment, with a sentiment which drove out
nearly all the humour and, roughly speaking, all the plausibility. Is it
easy to doubt that it is the sentimental treatment which has caused the
history of the play to be so different from that of the novel?

There are signs that the public is growing rather tired of molasses,
which in fact is ceasing to be "golden" syrup. The main effect, apart
from purely technical matters, of the new drama, that practically
speaking began with the production of _The Doll's House_ at the Great
Queen Street Theatre, has been destructive; the outcome has included
some brilliant plays, the drawing power of which has never been fairly
and fully tested; but the most important result has been the
discontentment of the ordinary playgoer with the fare which once would
have delighted him. Many bubbles have been pricked; many conventions
killed; many plays ridiculed by houses that once would have accepted
them eagerly.

Numerous causes have contributed to the fact that during the last few
years the total sum lost in the London playhouses has been enormous,
despite some big successes, several of which have been of unsentimental
plays--such as _Little Mary_--and it seems to be time for the managers
and playwrights to begin to consider the question whether they cannot go
farther afield and handle themes from which they have held aloof
hitherto. Gorgeousness of mounting has ceased to help managers; even the
maidens in their teens have grown sophisticated, and jeer at the
bread-and-butter love-stories; and successful modern French drama offers
a much smaller proportion of adaptable plays than used to be the case.
There must be a bottom to the deepest purse, and things can hardly go on
in the legitimate playhouses as they have during the last few years; so
it seems to be almost time for the managers to try to get out of a
groove and look about for the unsentimental drama.

Since this was written the Phillips-Comyns Carr version of _Faust_ was
produced and not accepted by the critical, whilst the Phillips version
of _The Bride of Lammermoor_, called _The Lost Heir_, was a failure and
deserved its fate. Also it may be added Mr Frohman has produced
_Strife_, _Justice_, _Misalliance_ and _The Madras House_.


The Second-hand Drama

For some time past people have been seeking an explanation of the
weakness of our modern drama, of the fact that except in the byways of
the theatre, and with rare instances on the highways, it is sadly
unoriginal. Numerous causes have been suggested, and probably many have
played their part. There is one element in the matter the importance of
which has been overlooked--it is the mania for making adaptations. No
one will deny that most of the adaptations make bad plays, and that a
large proportion prove unsuccessful; and the making of them has an evil
effect upon the makers. The matter under discussion is not adaptations
for the English stage of foreign plays--a topic of great importance,
for the lack of protection to the foreign dramatists during a long
period was a great cause of the sterility of British drama; and the
habit of importing has not ceased merely because the foreigner acquired
the right to payment. Many a playwright who might have become an
original dramatist had all his power of imagination and invention
atrophied through disuse.

Nowadays we import less than formerly, but our playwrights still produce
the second-hand drama, getting their material ready-made from novels,
and they suffer in the same way as their predecessors, and injure their
natural gifts. This is not an entirely new thing. It may be suggested
that Shakespeare was one of the most persistent of adapters. He may very
well be left out of the question. Such genius as his has its own laws
and privileges, and cannot very well be brought in as an element when
discussing the procedure of much lesser men, and yet few critics will
deny that in some instances his plays were injured by his following too
closely the course of his original. Perhaps in his case the gifts of
imagination and invention were sometimes dulled because he was to such a
great extent an adapter.

The idea of the novelist may inspire a dramatist with an idea for a
play, but the novelist's treatment of his idea hardly ever supplies the
dramatist with useful materials. We have had scores of radically bad
plays adapted by clever men from good novels. At first sight it looks as
if the playwright would gain an advantage from using ready-made
materials, but careful consideration and experience show that this is
not the case; he is overwhelmed by excess of material, and his task of
selection is appallingly difficult.

Moreover, his material is all in the wrong form, and has to be
transformed--and the process of transformation requires great skill.

For it must be remembered that the methods of the dramatist and the
novelist as a broad proposition are entirely different; and when the
playwright is dealing with a long, finely-written, complex novel he can
hardly expect his adaptation to bear a greater resemblance to the
original than that of an easy pianoforte transcription to one of the
later operas of Wagner.

One need only consider any of the novels of Dickens and the stage
version that impudently bears its name to see how entirely crushed the
dramatist has been by excess of material--like a Tarpeia by the gifts of
the enemy--by difficulty in selection, and in transformation, and
recollect that the product has almost always been an inconsecutive
story, unintelligible to those unacquainted with the book, destitute of
the peculiar atmosphere of Dickens, irritating to lovers of the novel
because pet characters have been entirely suppressed or cut down nearly
to nothing, and only recognisable in many cases as a version of the
original on account of costumes, names, make-up, scraps of eccentric
dialogue, and general trend of the mutilated story.

Now, seeing that there are upon record a vast number of adaptations that
have failed, a number that bears a proportion to the successful far
higher than the proportion of failures in original works, it seems worth
while to consider for a little what is at the bottom of the matter,
since to do so may prevent some playwrights from wasting their time and
other people's money.

First, one may ask why so many dramatists indulge in the rather
inglorious work of adaptation. No doubt there is one great advantage in
producing an adaptation of a successful novel. A large mass of
ready-made advertisement exists: of the thousands or tens or hundreds
of thousands who read a popular novel, a very large proportion feel
curious to see it upon the stage. Consequently the adaptation starts
with the enormous aid of having been advertised very effectively on a
big scale. This element alone is not sufficient to command success; for
if the piece is indifferent, if the critics condemn it, if the reception
is unfavourable and the unofficial opinion of playgoers is hostile, it
can do little to save the work, since the readers of the book get the
idea that the dramatist has made a mess of it and they keep away, and so
of course does the general public.

It is, however, commonly believed that it is easier to manufacture a
play from a book than to write an original drama. People imagine that
the playwright, finding characters, plot and incidents ready-made in the
novel, can produce the piece with less trouble and difficulty than if he
has to look for them at large. This is a delusion founded upon the
failure to perceive the radical difference between the technique of the
novelist and the dramatist. It is true that in some cases adaptations
have had enormous success: one might take two modern instances, _The
Little Minister_ and _Sherlock Holmes_. The latter really confirms these
remarks. The general public would fancy that in the stories of "Sherlock
Holmes" there are plenty of effective plots. The ingenious authors of
the play were shrewd enough to perceive this was not the case;
consequently they merely used certain characters from the tales and
invented an entirely new story. Later on Sir Arthur did find one story
suitable, and _The Speckled Band_ has been successful as a lurid
melodrama at the Adelphi and the Globe.

In _The Little Minister_ success was achieved by entirely vulgarising a
charming book, by throwing away all that distinguished it, and
converting what might be called a delicately sentimental comedy into a
farce. We are not, however, dealing with the question from the point of
view of the novelist's credit; incidentally it must be observed that
there are few modern cases on record where the play has not borne to the
novel the relation of a crude black-and-white copy to a picture.

The difficulties are two: objective and subjective. The second is the
subtler, therefore the more dangerous. The adapter, being well
acquainted with the novel, rarely succeeds in forgetting that the
general public is not, and he almost invariably assumes that the
audience will supply from memory matters that he has left out. In the
case of most adapted plays events that appear utterly improbable to
those ignorant of the novel seem quite likely to the people who have
read it and can supply the missing facts which explain the improbable
matters. To the adapter, particularly when he is also the novelist, the
characters and events have a real existence, and his task, unlike that
of the original playwright, does not seem to be that of bringing them
into existence but merely of exhibiting them. Naturally, then, he takes
comparatively little pains to prove what to him is axiomatic.

The main objective difficulty is due to the fact that a play is a very
short thing--though, alas! this does not always seem to be the case--and
a novel is relatively long and often has many characters. In some cases,
the playwright attempts to deal with this difficulty by ignoring the
existence of half the people who figure in the original. Even then, a
mass of explanations has to be jettisoned. There is worse trouble than
this: the characters built up in the novel by hundreds of fine touches
have to be presented in the play by a few bold strokes. An extraordinary
art is necessary in what is not a work of mere transcription, but almost
a work of reconception.

There is the further vast difficulty that whilst in most cases the
novelist's procedure is to work on a system of exciting curiosity, it is
an unwritten law of drama, almost universally true, that there must be
no surprises for the audience, except, it may be, in farcical plays that
do not pretend to represent life truly and in matters of detail. No
doubt, unconscientious readers often commit an act of treason to the
author, and cheat him by beginning at the end. One may urge that no one
expects a play to do full justice to the novel, and that it is
permissible to leave out much. The important fact, however, is that the
much necessarily left out in the case of good novels as a rule is
exactly that which distinguishes them from the bad. The atmosphere
vanishes; secondary characters, often the most pleasing, have to be
eliminated or rendered shadowy; thrilling incidents must be cut for want
of space, and the remainder is almost inevitably the bare bones of the
book, which never, however, really constitute anything like a complete
skeleton.


Plays with a Purpose

During one season we had a comparatively large number of plays with a
purpose--for instance, _An Englishman's Home_, _The Head of the Finn_,
_Strife_, and _The House of Bondage_.

For the sake of convenience let us refer to them and works of a similar
character as "problem plays" although that useful term got spoilt some
years ago by acquiring a secondary meaning, and became applied almost
exclusively to pieces concerning fallen women.

In respect of this rather rare branch of drama there is one matter
worthy of notice which has not been quite sufficiently discussed. Yet
the point is one referred to several times in criticisms contained in
these articles. This is the author's duty to write in such a fashion as
to seem impartial. It is needless to suggest that he ought to be
impartial, since no one ever takes a real interest in any debatable
matter without ceasing to be impartial, and nobody will ever write a
play worth seeing unless he takes a deep interest in his subject.

Now, looking at the four plays already mentioned, one may see to some
extent how this impartiality operates. There is a difficulty connected
with _An Englishman's Home_, for it was alleged--and also denied--that
the author had no intention when writing it of dealing seriously with
the question of national defence and invasion, and it must be
recollected that some alterations were made without his knowledge, which
included the addition of a vulgar clap-trap ending, that may do him real
injustice. It has generally been regarded as a problem play, as intended
to exhibit to us dramatically the fact that we live fondly in fancied
security. As drama, it was seriously injured by the obvious bias, by the
want of impartiality; it was taken by some to be a warning that we must
not trust to the Territorials; but, although the conscriptionist party
has welcomed it as establishing their view, its manifest injustice to
the citizen soldier has actually caused it to be used as an argument the
other way. Moreover, the feeling of insincerity caused by the bias
seriously diminished its acting value in the eyes of the critical. The
fact of its use as an argument by people of almost opposite views does
not prove its impartiality, but rather that its injustice has bred a
reaction.

The next of the four is _The House of Bondage_, which had less success
than it deserved. The piece manifestly was intended to prove that a
woman ought to be entitled at law to a dissolution of marriage on the
single ground of her husband's infidelity; the proposition was put in
the form of a claim to equality of rights in the sexes to divorce. The
question has more than one side, and there is a good deal to be said
against Mr Obermer's contention; unfortunately, the author did not
attempt to put forward the other view, or even to suggest that there is
one. The result was that only those who share the opinion of the author
were in sympathy with the piece; to others it seemed manifestly unfair;
in fact, the author appeared anxious to convince those who favour his
own views, and not those opposed to them.

In _The Head of the Firm_ and _Strife_ one had quite a different state
of things. The dramatist played the _advocatus diaboli_ very cleverly,
and the other side felt that its case had been stated fairly. The best
way to convince people of anything is to present their own views to them
in a fashion which they deem just, and then offer them reasons for
doubting the truth of their opinions. Both works obviously are
anti-capitalist in tendency, and yet, in different degrees and different
ways, the capitalist view was stated so fairly, whilst the evil
consequences of it were shown so vigorously, that many people who were
on the side of the capitalist were forced to think, and therefore to
doubt.

Mr Galsworthy bravely went so far as to hint, without stating the
proposition, that what seems bad in the labour point of view is really
an evil consequence of the capitalist attitude. In this respect he has
followed, legitimately, the treatment of the greatest "problem play" yet
written, _The Doll's House_, a work that in hundreds of thousands of
households has caused something like a revolution in the relations
between husband and wife. Ibsen used the appearance of impartiality so
finely, stated the husband's case so fairly, that there were terrific
quarrels as to what was his point of view, and the result of the
quarrels and discussions was the serious consideration by people of the
question dealt with in the drama. It is this discussion that the
reformer desires, being confident that the discussion of things long
deemed right without discussion is the surest road to reform.

From the point of view of dramatic art this impartiality is essential,
because without it the necessary impersonal element cannot be given to a
play. In such a work as the prison drama _It's never too Late to Mend_,
by Charles Reade, one seems to see all the time the hand of the
perfervid, almost frantic, reformer, and the same remark applies to
several of his novels. Of course, one does not ask the playwright to be,
but only to seem, impartial. To demand real impartiality would be to ask
that reality which is out of place upon the stage, the function of which
is, not to present themselves, but, to borrow Hamlet's idea, reflections
of them, and, it would be more accurate to say, to give ideas of them by
presenting images intentionally distorted.

For that fourth wall, the existence of which Mr Jerome K. Jerome rather
quaintly and childishly suggested by the fender and fireirons laid in
front of the footlights in _The Passing of the Third Floor Back_, really
operates as a distorting glass, although it is not there. This sounds a
little paradoxical, yet is clear enough. Things upon the stage have not
the same effect if regarded from the farther side of the footlights as
when considered from the nearer. This does not apply merely to things
seen, but also to things heard. In this respect there is a resemblance
to the work of the impressionist painter. Speaking more closely, one may
say that the scene-painter's canvas, with what, when seen at a few feet,
are coarse splashes and daubs of colour, is typical of the whole
theatrical production. It is imperative, then, that even the
impartiality should not be real impartiality. Moreover, absolute
impartiality would involve in many cases the suppression of the
criticism of life which is the essence of comedy.

"Problem plays," works endeavouring truly to represent to the audience
real life, and involving a criticism of life, are so rare that it is
worth drawing attention to a danger to dramatists. There is no need to
point it out to Mr Galsworthy, who in _The Silver Box_ and in _Strife_
shows that he fully appreciates the point; nor to Mr Granville Barker,
who produced _Strife_, for in _Waste_, which is in most respects the
greatest English drama of our times, he exhibited it with extraordinary
intensity, and also in _The Voysey Inheritance_, an admirable play,
which it is to be hoped we shall soon see again. It is to the beginners
that one would like to insist on the proposition that you must not push
your views down the throats of the audience, but leave spectators to
draw their own conclusions, taking pains to see that the conclusions
which they fancy are drawn voluntarily by them in reality are forced
upon them. Indeed, you must imitate the skilful professor of
legerdemain, and "palm" your views upon the audience as he "palms" a
card upon his victim.



Drama and Social Reform

Probably at no time and in no country has there been so much fuss about
the stage as nowadays in England, and the annual budget of our theatre
involves millions. Moreover, people often talk about it as a great
educational force, a great instrument for progress, a great vehicle for
the dissemination of ideas and so on. Yet the theatre in England remains
almost entirely aloof from real life. To the majority of playgoers, an
immense majority, it is merely a place of entertainment, except so far
as the plays of Shakespeare are concerned; they are supposed to have
some educational value, of what nature goodness knows.

Perhaps this phenomenon is not surprising, if one regards the matter
historically. The theatre has never forgotten that the Puritans
suppressed it for a time and have always been hostile, and it identifies
them with the Whig, the Liberal, the Radical, and the Socialist. It
recollects that the Royalists revived it, and have always been friendly,
and they are represented by the Tory, the Conservative, the Unionists
and the Tariff Reformers. So the stage does not lend itself readily to
ideas of reform, or sober study of life, or sober anything--indeed, it
has long been a little too closely connected with _the_ trade.

There must be players, managers, and some playgoers belonging to the
Liberals or Radicals, but they are much in the minority: rarely, if
ever, is a suggestion of Liberalism uttered in a theatre except by way
of well-welcomed scorn. We are almost all pro-Bungs, House-of-Lords men,
and ardent Tariff Reformers.

There is another important element in the matter--the theatre appears to
be peculiarly engrossing to those connected with it. Persons entitled
to speak have often said that to most of the people attached to the
stage the theatre is a little world apart, in which they are content to
live almost oblivious of the greater world around. It has been asserted
that during the last siege of Paris, whilst some of the players went out
and fought bravely, the majority were more concerned at the fate of the
stage than that of the city, and an actor of some eminence once bitterly
declared that the majority of his _confrères_ had no interest outside
the "shop" and never talked anything but "shop."

It may be that all classes of stage-folk are tarred with the same brush;
that these remarks concerning the actors apply to the managers, the
dramatists, and the critics. Moreover, there are certainly exceptions;
indeed, it is well known that several players of distinction take an
active part in civic life. At any rate, the fact remains that the stage
seems to concern itself very little with the improvements of social
life.

In a nebulous way the theatre plays with certain aspects of the
relations between the two sexes, but without seriously considering any
question of feasible reform. Upon one aspect which seemed to promise
matter for powerful drama we had only one important work--I refer to the
Deceased Wife's Sister question, which was handled in an able play by a
Mr Gatti, and presented at the Court Theatre. Miss Olga Nethersole acted
very powerfully in it. One would have thought that this and other
questions of legislation would have attracted the attention of
dramatists; they did at one time. The strenuous Charles Reade was
prodigious in his stage attacks upon bad laws, and effective as well. At
the present moment MM. Brieux and Paul Hervieux are flogging some of the
laws of France, and the German stage has seen a good many pieces which
before the word became demonetised one would have called Problem plays.

Looking back upon the English drama of the last twenty years one notices
as a curiosity that it is the woman rather than the man dramatist who
appreciates the utility of the stage as a means for seeking reform.
_Uncle Tom's Cabin_, one of the most tremendous law-changing influences
ever exercised by fiction, came from the pen of a woman, though it may
be that Mrs Beecher Stowe was not the author of any of the stage
versions presented over here. Taking a long jump from the sixties, one
finds that in modern times--indeed, within the last few years--four
women dramatists have tackled political or politico-social problems.
There was the Hon. Mrs Alfred Lyttleton, and her able, interesting play
called _Warp and Woof_, dealing with the question of shopgirls and the
Factory Act. Next in order of date came _Votes for Women_, by Miss
Elizabeth Robins, a brilliant novelist and admirable actress, a little
too much carried away by her subject to do more than write one big
living scene in a conventional play. Mrs Alfred Mond (now Lady Alfred
Mond) is the author of a short piece dealing with Tariff Reform. Not
long ago we had a revival of _Diana of Dobson's_, Miss Cicely Hamilton's
valuable comedy, in which the "living-in" system of shopgirls and the
question of the cruel fines imposed upon them was vividly exhibited.
Lady Bell gave us a very able drama concerning a social question in _The
Way the Money Goes_.

What native plays have we had by men during the period covered by these
four ladies dealing with similar questions? Mr Bernard Shaw has been
running amok during this time and before in a kind of
"down-with-everything" way, but his philosophy of the stage is as
terribly destructive as that of Ibsen, and except in _Widowers' Houses_,
and perhaps _Mrs Warren's Profession_, few of his works handle directly
matters capable of being dealt with by legislation. Years earlier, in
_The Middleman_ and _Judah_, Mr Henry Arthur Jones tackled two questions
and strikes have been treated more than once--notably in George Moore's
clever, interesting, uneven work, _The Strike at Arlingford_. Much
further back there was _Man and Wife_, an attack upon the system of
irregular marriages still existing in Scotland and some of the States of
the Union. Probably there have been some other native works touching
more or less directly upon questions of legislative reform within my
time, but it is difficult to remember all of them; yet there are many
burning matters to-day with ample elements of drama in them.

Probably the Censor is almost blameless in this affair. Since the days
of _The Happy Land_ he has not allowed politicians to be presented upon
the stage; but this has little bearing upon the question. There has been
interference with some scenes concerning "ragging" in the army. The
office bearer has always been very fidgety as far as the army is
concerned; but, in all likelihood, would not prevent the reasonable
treatment upon the stage of any of the matters already referred to,
though perhaps an Education Bill play would have difficulties in his
hands, owing to the introduction of religious topics. It seems curious
that the women are keener in seeking to use the stage, a tremendous
weapon for the purposes of reform, than men, and the explanation is by
no means obvious or necessarily flattering to men.

Some day those whom one may generally designate as Puritans will become
sensible of the vast potentialities of drama, and will see that it is
foolish to leave all the good tunes to the devil. As a result, no doubt,
we shall suffer for a while from a lot of bad plays with a good purpose.
Yet there will be a useful infusion of new blood and new ideas, and our
drama, instead of running round and round after its tail, will get out
of its present little vicious circle and become a living force in the
country, instead of a mere medium of entertainment, and of entertainment
which rarely has any substantial value from an artistic point of view.

In connexion with these remarks the section "Plays with a Purpose"
should be read--if possible. It should be added that Mr Galsworthy's
admirable play, _Justice_, has had some effect upon the treatment of
prisoners.



CHAPTER VI

THE PHENOMENA OF THE STAGE


The Optics

Thick-and-thin admirers of Duse, an actress of indisputable genius, used
to praise her because she dispensed with the "make-up" that other
players deem necessary. They saw in this a glorious fidelity to nature.
Their position became a little ridiculous when, somewhat later, the
actress--possibly in compliance with the advice of critical
worshippers--adopted the ordinary devices of the stage and pressed into
service the make-up box and even the aid of the wigmaker.

Presumably the change in policy was due to a more careful consideration
of the optics of the stage. For it may be assumed that she "made up" in
order to counteract the privative effects of the stage lights and appear
neither more nor less beautiful and expressive to the public in the
playhouse than to her friends in her drawing-room. This leads to the
important paradox that in the theatre you must be artificial if you wish
to appear natural; that on the stage, verisimilitude is greater truth
than truth itself; or, to use the popular oxymoron, you must be "falsely
true." In this respect the matter of "make-up" is only an instance of a
general law prevailing in all matters theatrical.

Let no one think less of the players on account of it, for it is this
fact that entitles the actor to speak of his art and not merely of his
craft. It is because the player must select, eliminate, exaggerate,
diminish and, in a word, modify his matter but may not be photographic,
that he is entitled to call himself an artist.

The term "photographic" used in this sense is rather unfair, for the
photographer has become an artist by recognizing the fact that he too
must select, etc. No doubt "make-up" renders other services, and belongs
to the artifices as well as the arts of the stage, since it has the
advantage in some cases of rendering the plain beautiful--to the
discomfiture of stage-door loafers, and, indeed, possesses an abominable
democratic effect. Of course, too, it has legitimate value in effecting
disguises, in changing young into old--its efforts in the contrary
direction, as a rule, are ghastly failures--and in effecting
transformations of the exterior of persons. However, "make-up," despite
its mysteries, is but a small element in "the optics of the theatre,"
which term is here used largely--and inaccurately--in relation to all
the phenomena covered by the paradox already mentioned.

The player, having counterbalanced with "make-up" the robbery effected
by the stage illumination and also by the disadvantage of distance, has
to turn himself to the adjustment of other matters. One is this--he must
recognize that his author labours under similar conditions, and should
not be "photographic."

When the dramatist in the dialogue has exaggerated the play of light and
shade, bringing, indeed, legitimately for the sake of effect to his
speeches, that energy of chiaroscuro which gives us a pleasure, somewhat
distrustful in the pictures of Joseph Wright of Derby, the player must
attune his manner in order to make it congruous with the highly
seasoned conversation so that there being no clash of methods, no
jarring will result.

Every change of convention on the part of the author demands a
corresponding change in the actor. Clearly, he must speak verse
differently from prose, though there are foes to poetry who beg him to
break up the lines and defeat the efforts of the poet; and he must adopt
a manner in a blank-verse tragedy unsuitable to a play by Mr Barrie.
Moreover, he ought to aim at seeming natural in both. Here is the rub;
he must aim at seeming, not being, natural. Obviously, one cannot
deliver blank verse naturally; such, however, is the power of
make-believe in the audience that if the dramatist and his company can
engage the sympathy of the spectators, a fairy tale in rhymed lines, a
tragedy in unrhymed verse, a melodrama with flatulent phrases, and a
comedy seeking the most exact reproduction of modern life permissible
may seem equally plausible, credible, natural.

It is to be noted, too, that the form of artificiality of truth varies
not only with the type and quality of the drama but with the nature of
the audience. Speaking of our times, one may say that a little greater
vigour of contrast is desirable in the provinces than in town, and in
the "B" towns than the "A," in the "C" than the "B," and goodness knows
what violence is not needed in the "fit-up" shows. There are reasons for
believing that our ancestors demanded a more full-blooded style of
acting than is relished by their anaemic descendants, and it is possible
that such a performance as convinced the eighteenth century of the
genius of some of its players might cause laughter nowadays, though
neither audience nor actors would deserve censure.

Within the time of even our younger critics there have been at least
two tragedians who enjoyed an immense reputation save in town, but
failed to win success in the West End of the Metropolis, though outside
they held their own against the greatest favourites; and the London
critics levelled at them the dreadful charge of "barn-storming"--a
charge which some of us no doubt would make against several of the
greatest tragedians in our proud records were they to appear to-day and
act as in their own times.

It is a feature of the actor's art that its excellence is never
absolute. An audience is entitled to say, "What care I how good he be if
he seem not good to me?" A performance that does not move the spectators
is not only a failure but to some extent a culpable failure, since the
actor's art is more utterly ephemeral than any other--possibly by aid of
gramophone, biograph, and the like some fairly effective records will be
made in the future--but, this consideration apart, he may not even take
heed for the morrow. At the moment his mission is to move the particular
collection of people before him, and though they may be culpable for not
being moved he will not be wholly blameless.

Possibly this is putting the matter a little too harshly, and the
observations should be considered as applicable only to a particular
"run" and not to an individual night. Doubtless, even thus restricted,
it suggests that the player should make a remarkable series of
modifications in his methods which are not within the practical politics
of the stage; and, indeed, these remarks are pushed purposely too far in
order to draw attention to the fact that the actors are prone to
consider their own "reading" of a part without reference to the
audience, and even, in some cases, to the author. In other words, they
are misled by the delusive term "create," so often applied to acting as
well as to millinery. The word is inappropriate to the rapidly
evanescent. "Original interpreters" is the highest phrase that can be
justified.

These observations would be incomplete without some reference to more
material aspects of the "optics." For instance, one may comment on the
fact that, regardless of seating arrangements, which in almost every
theatre cause a considerable number of people to be unable to see the
exits on one side or the other, important business is often transacted
in the wings, to the intense annoyance of would-be spectators, who are
left out in the cold, and of course imagine that what they miss is the
plum of the play; also valuable scenes are sometimes played so far back
that people in the higher parts of the house are unable to see them
properly. This sounds perilously like an invitation to players to take
the centre of the stage close to the footlights, but of course the
matter is one of degree.

Yet, at the least, it must be urged that nothing, the exact
understanding of which is necessary to the audience, should happen much
on one side or very far back; to this may be added the suggestion,
hardly novel, that the first few minutes of each act should be confined
to immaterial affairs; blame the unpunctual--even if you blame unfairly,
since, as a rule, the _entr'acte_ warning bell is inaudible in most
parts of the theatre--but do not make the guiltless suffer by presenting
important matters during the time when the stage is half hidden by the
people struggling (through a passage as a rule shamefully narrow) to get
to their seats. Sardou's precepts may be pushed too far, and we do not
need a whole first act of nothing in particular, but facts should be
recognized and simple common-sense considered. There is always some
trouble during the first few minutes of each act.


Make-up

The word "make-up" is very ugly, but seems irreplaceable, and therefore
is employed in the book called "The Art of Theatrical Make-up," by Mr
Cavendish Morton, the object of which is to tell players--amateurs as
well as professionals--how to make-up. No doubt it will render useful
service to the actor--to the actor, since nothing is said in it about
the actress and make-up in relation to her.

Thereby hangs something of importance. The actress has held her own
against the actor: even the most unkind critic of the fair sex cannot
deny that the achievements of women on the stage are as great as the
achievements of men, although they have been a shorter time at the game,
and have not had so many splendid parts written for them. Yet make-up
has been of little assistance to actresses.

Eleanora Duse at the present moment is probably accepted as the greatest
living player of the world. Of late years she has, to some extent, used
make-up, but with great moderation. One can imagine her tossing aside a
book such as Mr Morton's, and asking what on earth it has to do with the
art of acting, and I fancy that tremendously rapid speech of hers would
be used effectively if she were to read such a sentence as this: "Is not
half the battle won when one perfectly physically realizes the character
to be impersonated?" By which the author clearly means that half the
battle is won when, by the aid of nose-paste or "toupee" paste and
grease-paint, powder, crêpe hair, spirit-gum, wig and the like, one has
arrived at looking like the character.

Instead of this being half the battle, it does not amount to a tenth. Of
course something must be done to counteract the effect of the lighting
on the stage, and no one can complain if the players use the well-known
devices to heighten their charms; and wigs and false beards and
moustaches and whiskers may be serviceable at times; but to take such
matters seriously seems an egregious mistake. Indeed, when looking at
the result, one is inclined, unconsciously, to use a criticism by
employing the phrase, "What a capital make-up." Mr So-and-so enters as
Caliban, or Napoleon Bonaparte, or Charles II., or Falstaff. In a few
seconds, or it may be minutes, we can identify him without the aid of
the programme; and, of course, we say, "what a capital make-up," but the
whole thing is merely a Madame Tussaud aspect of drama.

Make-up has comparatively little to do with the capacity of an actor for
differentiating his parts. Take Mr Dennis Eadie, who has an
extraordinary gift for changing his personality. Those who have seen
this admirable actor as Henry Jackson in _The Return of the Prodigal_,
as Lord Charles Cantelupe in _Waste_, and Mr Wylder in _Strife_, must
admit that changes of voice, of gesture and manner, and general
expression of countenance are of greater value than tons of the
cleverest make-up.

The service of make-up in its higher branches is merely to render, or,
rather, seem to render, actors fit for tasks for which they are
physically unsuited. Take for instance, the nose; there is a picture of
Mr Morton with flattened nose and enlarged nostrils; he is said to
represent Othello. "The nose is first depressed by crossing it near the
tip with a silk thread, which is tied at the back of the head. A small
piece of kid is placed under the thread, thus keeping it from coming in
contact with the skin. The nostrils are built out until the nose has a
Moorish appearance."

Now, nobody thinks a whit the worse or less of Mr Forbes Robertson's
Othello because he played no tricks with his striking aquiline nose; and
the idea that he would have gained anything by flattening it with a bit
of silk thread is absurd. What he would have gained would have been a
feeling of physical inconvenience during the quiet passages, and terror
during the tremendous scenes of passion at the thought that the string
might snap.

There are photographs of other noses, built up with nose-paste or,
preferably, with "toupee" paste; one is of Falstaff, another of Shylock,
and there is also one called "the Professor." In each case the whole
nose looks wooden; it may be suggested that in an ordinary way movements
of the nose do not play much of a part in expressing emotions, yet we
have phrases about swelling nostrils and turning up one's nose that
possess some foundation in fact. Further, one can hardly render the nose
a dead thing without, to some extent, effecting the mobility of other
features. Probably the built-up nose of Coquelin as Cyrano de Bergerac
will be thrown in my face; it must, however, be remembered, that apart
from his large elastic mouth Coquelin's face was rather wooden, and he
relied for expression chiefly on voice, mouth, gesture and movement. No
doubt in this particular character there is a necessity, and, therefore,
a justification for a built-up nose; but more than one actor has failed
to fight successfully against the artificial proboscis of Cyrano.

Used as more than a counteracting or embellishing contrivance,
"make-up" is curiously ineffective. Many Napoleons have appeared on the
stage, only one of them by a writer capable of even suggesting the
distinguishing qualities of the man of genius. In most cases there have
been advance paragraphs about the pictures, miniatures, statues,
statuettes, medallions, bas-reliefs, etc., consulted by the actor, and
concerning the contrivances of the wigmaker, even the bootmaker and
tailor. What has been the outcome? Merely that for half-a-minute people
have said: "What a clever make-up," and for the rest of the time one has
been no more content to accept the player as Jupiter Scapin than if he
had washed his face, brushed his hair and acted in his dress clothes.

Does Mr Cavendish Morton think players were really worse off before the
latest refinements in make-up were invented? Some of the greatest acting
triumphs of the world were accomplished when the players dressed their
parts absurdly, trusting almost exclusively to their own powers.

One is forced to wonder to what extent covering the face with the mass
of muck hinders the actor in his work. People can be trained to endure
it, but it would be interesting to see the difference in the performance
of a given part by an actor with an elaborate make-up--false nose,
etc.--and by the same actor without. Mr Arthur Bourchier, when growing a
beard for the purpose of playing Henry VIII., stated that he would have
been embarrassed by a sham beard. Can it be that the triumph that we
sometimes see, of the actress over the actor, is partly due to the fact
that she reduces make-up to the minimum?

No one denies the necessity for make-up. When young players have to
represent old people it is their duty to take advantage of the advice of
experts such as Mr Morton, and every one may find valuable hints in his
book. The really important fact is that all should be warned against
such a proposition as lies in the hideous sentence, "Is not half the
battle won when one perfectly physically realizes the character to be
impersonated?"


Gesture

Some years ago, at one of the theatrical clubs, the existence of which
is one of the many tokens of the great interest at present taken in the
drama, Mr Alfred Robbins, a very able, highly esteemed critic, gave a
lecture upon "The Value of Ballet in Dramatic Art," which was
illustrated charmingly. For, in order to show how a story could be
interpreted without words, Miss Genée, the brilliant dancer, ably
assisted by Miss D. Craske, represented the ballet scene from _Nicholas
Nickleby_, between the infant phenomenon and the Indian.

There was no little discussion afterwards upon the question whether the
art of miming, one of the two main elements of the ballet, is or can be
serviceable to the ordinary stage. Several seemed to have the opinion
that the art of dumb show is almost useless to the player, the argument
being that, as far at least as modern comedies are concerned, so little
gesture is used on the stage that training in the mode of employing it
is superfluous. The introduction of trouser pockets was said to have
destroyed the need for gesture. In such views lie certain dangerous
fallacies.

The actor who thinks that by mode of speech and facial display, and
without carefully calculated gesture, he can carry through a part in a
modern comedy probably is misled by the thought that the English are
more sober in gesture than the Latin races: and his contempt for the
work of the mime is based on a belief that certain purely conventional
gestures, inapplicable save in wordless scenes, constitute the whole
materials of the mime's art. The mime certainly has a kind of dumb
language with a limited vocabulary, understood, unfortunately, by few
English people save those connected with the stage; part of his silent
speech has never crept into the common language; yet to sneer at it as
conventional is wrong, it is merely a case of certain conventional
gestures not having been generally adopted, and therefore remaining
unintelligible to the world.

For most of our gestures are conventional. Nearly all peoples understand
what the European means when he shakes his head and when he nods it;
nevertheless, there are races which use these movements in an exactly
opposite sense. The offer to rub noses as a sign of welcome employed by
some tribes was misunderstood by early explorers, and when, in friendly
spirit, certain tribes stroked the waistcoat of the missionary, he
guessed that they were cannibals.

Kissing (in one aspect a matter of gesture) is unused by whole nations,
and so, too, is handshaking. It has been said by a traveller that the
vulgar operation described by Barham in the line "Put his thumb unto his
nose and spread his fingers out" is a mark of courtesy and esteem in one
remote nation; nor is putting out the tongue a sign of contempt
everywhere. Certain of the gestures of ballet still strictly
conventional in England are employed outside the theatre in France.
Gesture and facial expression, except so far as mechanically due to
emotion, are entirely conventional, though some of the conventions are
so old as to have become second nature.

Most people are unaware how largely they adopt the conventions; this
unconscious adoption in the end has turned the conventional into the
natural. It is the study of this conventional-natural which enables the
mime to accomplish remarkable feats; combining it with simple
descriptive movements, and a few of the gestures still purely
conventional in England, Signor Rossi, in _A Pierrot's Life_, was able
to delight our audiences by his dumb-show narration of the complicated
tale of the two pigeons, and Signora Litini in the same piece showed
with subtlety a whole gamut of emotions. Miss Genée, at the Empire,
without uttering a sound, used to be more eloquent than many of our
players with whole lengths of dialogue. To a great extent Duse
fascinates most playgoers by her plastic art, since they do not
understand her speech.

Now, to employ to its full extent the art of the mime in conjunction
with spoken speech would be absurd. The light and shade in the speech of
the most "natural" actor--say, Mr Charles Hawtrey--is violently
exaggerated on account of the peculiar acoustics of the theatre; amongst
other things, the player has to address those far off in the galleries
as well as those close to in the stalls, and therefore his work requires
a series of compromises like that of a piano-tuner anxious to avoid
"wolves" or a politician eager to win votes. Moreover, on account of the
lack of speech the plastic art of the mime involves great exaggeration
in the conventional-natural gestures and also in the movements and
facial expression intended to represent those mechanically caused by
emotion.

It is therefore necessary for the actor to mime in a modified and
restrained fashion, abandoning, of course, all the still purely
conventional and showing much moderation in the rest. When he nicely
combines expression by the voice with expression by face, gesture and
pose the result is very valuable. Few can do this, and the failure is
nearly always in respect of gesture, which is misused or insufficiently
employed. A study of the great statues and pictures, and such works as
those of Sir Charles Bell, Lavater, Duchesne, Gratiolet and Darwin has
enabled the mime to collect a series of rules for the expression of
emotions. How rash of the player to trust entirely to his own ideas, and
not avail himself of the knowledge of others! Some may regard such
conduct as exhibiting originality: it is, however, a sad waste of time
to try to find out for oneself what others are willing and able to
teach, and there is a great risk of error.

Moreover, the mime teaches grace of movement and pose, and enables the
player to employ usefully the limbs which as a rule seem an encumbrance
to him. The poor ladies have not even trouser-pockets wherein to hide
the hands, the existence of which embarrasses them, but they can conceal
the legs, which so often are troublesome to the actor.

The restlessness of English acting--one of its worst faults--is, I
believe, due to the player feeling half-consciously that he does not
know what to do when he is not speaking. In a conversation scene, during
which two finely trained artists would not leave their seats, our
players generally appear to be having a game of musical chairs; and
actors could be named who take their "constitutionals" on the stage.
Moreover, one very rarely sees a player listening effectively, yet I
have watched an actor who, though silent during a long speech, has by
means of finely studied poses and nicely calculated gestures greatly
increased the force of the speech to which he was supposed to be
listening. No doubt all actors and actresses seek the aid of pose and
gesture and get advice from stage-managers: very often the case is one
of the blind leading the blind.

It will be objected that a study of such a system may tend to make the
player mechanical, and also to cause all the members of a company to
resemble one another too greatly: there is some truth in the objection.
Still, this is an abuse not inseparable from the use. The intelligent
mime fully recognizes the fact that the gestures proper to the members
of one class of people are not necessarily suitable to those of another,
and that there are individual differences as well. He distinguishes
between the sober, and therefore striking, gesture of the Englishman and
the unimpressive gesticulation of the meridional; between the poses of
the king and attitudes of the peasant, and so on.

The highly trained artist knows how, upon rare occasions, to produce a
great effect by conscious breach of a rule. To argue against a use from
a _needless_ abuse is not legitimate, a proposition dear to Jeremy
Bentham. There is also a grave fallacy in the idea that gesture is less
important in presenting an Englishman than a member of a gesticulative
race, for vehement gesture is impressive in direct proportion to its
rarity, and effects have been produced by the fine, slight movement of
one of our actresses at a critical moment which surpassed in force
anything possible if she had been lavish in gesture throughout. Need it
be added that the training of the body insisted upon by the mime would
cause some of our players to move more gracefully on the stage? Several
of our popular players walk as if they had hired their limbs and not
had time to become accustomed to them.


Scenery at the French Plays

One might almost say there is none. A foreign management at the New
Royalty Theatre produced a number of works mounted in a fashion that
would horrify an ordinary West End London manager, and yet the rather
daring season was really successful. So much the better. Probably if the
cost of production of each play had been ten times greater nobody's
pleasure would have been appreciably increased and the receipts would
not have advanced perceptibly. It is doubtful whether the scenery for
the baker's dozen or so of plays cost as much as is often expended by
our managers on a single work.

Is there no lesson in this? Why, if an audience can be attracted,
interested, and even delighted in the Soho house, though play and
players are not aided by the expenditure of barrelfuls of money on the
mounting, should it be deemed necessary to employ a small fortune every
time a work is presented by our native managers? As far as I can judge,
the French season, although triumphant, was not marked by the appearance
of any prodigious star with whom we were not already familiar, nor were
the new pieces of astounding quality.

The truth is that the assistance given by costly mounting is very
little. The scene which by its magnificence causes a gasp of surprise
loses all its effect after two or three minutes, and unless the play and
acting are really meritorious the audience is quite as much bored when
the mounting is splendid as when it is merely decent. Possibly it is
even more bored; unwittingly it is affected by a sense of disproportion.

We all know that jewellery does not embellish a plain woman; that, on
the contrary, after a minute or two, one ceases to gaze on the gewgaws
and then the sight of the ugly face comes as something of a shock.
Consider the jarring effect of a noble pearl necklace upon a scraggy
neck, and, changing the figure, think how disappointing is a bad dinner
served beautifully. There is a French phrase concerning a scanty meal on
a flower-decked table that seems in point: _Il m'a invité à brouter et
je l'ai envoye paître._ Sydney Smith, after a mean dinner served in a
gorgeous room, observed that he would prefer "a little less gilding and
a little more carving."

Mr H.B. Irving, in a lecture given at the Royal Institution, ascribed
the alleged pre-eminence of actors during the Garrick period to the
weakness of the current drama and the economy in stage-mounting, two
matters that forced the players to tremendous exertion in order to hold
the house, which, by the way, he believes to have been very finely
critical. An audience is more truly observant of plays and playing when
its attention is not distracted by considering the cost of the costumes,
by wondering if the marble pillars are solid, by curiosity as to how the
lighting effects are contrived, and by asking whether the play will run
long enough to earn its initial cost.

Whether the large sums of money expended produce an effect agreeable to
the trained eye is a little outside the topic. Yet it must be suggested
that such beauty as the costly stage pictures present generally belongs
to the category of the very obvious. This is not surprising; if a great
deal of money is spent in order to produce a gorgeous spectacle,
common-sense demands that the result should be to the taste of a vast
number of people, otherwise the management must lose money. It would be
idle to pretend that there are very many playgoers who possess fine
taste, consequently the money must be lavished in order to delight
people with a more or less uncultivated taste. No doubt a great deal of
money may be spent on quiet details, and sometimes is, without the
attention of the ordinary playgoer being drawn to the expenditure, but
the case is exceptional. In plain English, it very rarely happens that
the extravagant sums employed in mounting plays produce a beauty that
appeals successfully to any people save those whose ideas of the
pictorial art are bounded by the exhibitions of the Royal Academy.
Moreover, consideration is paid to the fact that there are Philistines
who will admire a thing merely because they believe it to be costly.

Certainly there is much to be said on the other side, or at least a
great deal is urged by people who believe what they say. It has been
pretended that Shakespeare would have been delighted by such productions
of his works as we have seen in modern times, and have rejoiced in the
pictures contrived by the scene-painter, costumier and others working
under the direction of the producer. To this it has been objected that,
though the pictures might have pleased him, he would have been disgusted
by the fact that a good many of his beautiful lines have to be cut
because of the length of _entr'actes_ and occasional pieces of stage
business designed in order to draw the attention of the audience to the
beauty of the scenery.

The reply is made that a large quantity of the most famous passages in
Shakespeare are descriptive of scenery, and would not have been written
but for the fact that he had no other means of conveying his ideas to
the audience. If there be any truth in this, one may be very thankful
for the fact which coerced him into his word-painting. Certainly the
world has profited by this compulsion, for millions who have never and
will never see the theatre's efforts to represent Shakespeare's pictures
have had infinite pleasure from the author's successful endeavours to
realize his ideas by the force of words.

As I have already mentioned, Mr H.B. Irving ascribes the alleged
superiority of the Garrick-period actors to their lacking the help of
the fine scenery of notable contemporary dramas. It would seem to follow
that in his opinion the alleged weakness of modern acting is due to the
fact that the players rely too much upon the plays and scenery. Upon
this aspect of the matter no opinion need be offered, but it may be said
confidently that Mr Irving's theory applies to dramatists, and that the
existing playwrights unconsciously become somewhat less self-reliant
because they have such assistance from the producers.

The art of the theatre is the art of illusion and also of compromise,
and no rule connected with the stage can be pushed quite home to its
apparent logical conclusions: therefore one must have some amount of
appropriate scenery, and costumes may not be flagrantly incongruous; but
when once these modest demands have been satisfied the audience will be
well content with mounting in which nothing more is involved if the play
be well written and acted, and agreeable in style to its taste; and we
know very well that some of the longest runs have been enjoyed by works
produced at little cost.

The New Royalty productions would not have pleased people any the more
by having money lavished upon scenery. In one or two cases, for a moment
or two some of us smiled a little unkindly at the black cloth and wings,
and yet after a minute or two we ceased to notice them, with the result
that the management has been able to save its money in the individual
works and to produce a large number of pieces in a short time. Putting
aside plays merely intended for spectacular effect, after a few hundred
pounds have been spent managers do not get the benefit to the extent of
more than a shilling in the pound or so of the really enormous sums
expended upon plays.


Stage Costumes

There is a story concerning an enthusiastic collector who devoted almost
a fortune and nearly a lifetime to decorating and furnishing his
drawing-room so that it should resemble perfectly a Louis XV. _salon_.
He invited an expert to visit it and express his opinion. The critic
came, inspected, left the room, and locked the door; then he said, "It
is perfect," and promptly threw the key into the moat. "Why did you do
that?" asked the collector. "For fear," replied the expert, "lest
anybody should spoil the effect of your _salon_ by entering it in modern
costume inharmonious with it." There is another tale about a hostess who
wept sorely because the effect of her dinner-table decoration was marred
by the appearance of a lady in a costume of pillar-box vermilion. These
stories are entirely untrue, and were invented by "G.F.S.":
nevertheless, they have a moral when applied to the stage.

Of course it is very rash for a male, unless he happens to be a man
milliner, to write about the costumes of actresses; and we leave
untouched the clothes of the actor, lest our own and their lack of style
should be put forward as a ground for disqualification. Still it is
impossible to avoid noticing the dresses of the ladies upon the stage;
it would even be bad manners not to do so, seeing how much trouble the
dear creatures take to please our eyes, for we are too gallant or vain
to believe the cynical idea that they only dress to crush one another.

After noticing them, it is amusing and amazing to read the newspaper
articles generally called "Dresses at the * * * Theatre" which appear
after a _première_. Of course exception is made of the articles written
for a paper necessarily nameless. Even with good opera-glasses one can
yet never detect a tenth of the details described in these articles, and
at times it appears that the writers suffer from colour-blindness, for
they often differ utterly as to the colours of the gowns; perhaps it is
more modern to call them "frocks."

There is, however, a simple explanation. The clothes critics have
described their subjects from an inspection at the milliner's or
modiste's or in dressing-rooms, and thus have noticed the minutiae
invisible across the footlights, and recorded colours which have changed
when viewed in another light. Moreover, they never suggest that the
dresses are ugly, or clash with one another; partly, no doubt, because
their ideal of criticism has for foundation the epitaph upon an alleged
dramatic critic to the effect that he had never caused an actor's wife
to shed a tear, and partly for the reason that they do not see the
dresses in relation to one another or from the point of view of an
audience on the other side of the orchestra. Even less charitable
explanations might be made.

The scene-painter works with a broad brush; he knows that microscopic
detail would be wasted, and worse than wasted, for it would cause a
muddy effect. Sometimes, but too rarely, he is even a believer in pure
colour. The stage _modiste_ has other theories, or perhaps none. Instead
of seeing that all demanded or permitted by the optics of the stage lies
in line and colour, she breaks up line by ridiculous ribbon, foolish
flounces and impertinent bows, and the dresses in colouring often "swear
at one another." Even the translated French phrase is not quite strong
enough to indicate the discord. Does she ever consider the costumes in
relation to the scenery? Sometimes we see frocks in tender hues against
richly toned scenes that make them appear mere shades of dirty yellows,
blues and pinks. At others a cool, tranquilly pleasing background is
degraded to mere dulness in consequence of the gaudy gowns in front of
it. Does the word _repoussoir_ mean any thing to her? Perhaps she is
unacquainted with the meaning of it although she possesses a jargon of
French as staggering as that of a menu in a British hotel.

There are other crimes. It has been said that your fashionable milliner
sometimes "tries it on the dog." It is hinted that she makes upon the
beautiful ladies of the stage experiments which she dare not risk upon
her more exalted patrons. If this be true it will explain the fact that
many an actress who is beautiful outside the theatre seems plain on the
boards because her costume does not suit her style, because her figure
is sacrificed for the sake of the frock, because dainty little features
are overwhelmed by gowns of strident colour and overshadowed by terrific
headgear. The coiffeur is often to be blamed. Questions of "make-up"
may be concerned with the case.

The question, like all questions, has another side. These remarks may be
answered with some force by saying that the illusion of the stage would
disappear if all the costumes in a play were harmonious, since no one
could pretend that all the characters are likely to have dressed
themselves in order to agree with the colouring of the scenery, or to
have chosen costumes in order to harmonize with one another.

The cynic would even hint that probably if the dear ladies thought of
the matter at all they would try to chose frocks likely to crush those
of their friends, and that no one going into society would venture to
use subtle shades or tranquil tints for fear of suffering like the
painters of delicate pictures at the hands of the waggish Hanging
Committee of the Royal Academy, which loves to put a work shrieking with
vigorous colour by the side of a placid canvas that appears insipid by
reason of the contrast. The reply to this answer is that we have hardly
reached a degree of truth to life which renders it pertinent--and
probably never will. Certainly there might be a noticeable fault if all
the dresses of ladies of different families obviously showed the design
and _facture_ of one modiste. This could easily be avoided without
prejudice to the point of harmony in colour and congruity of line.

Is it extravagant to hope that some day a dress rehearsal will be a
rehearsal of dresses at which some person of taste--everyone would
accept Mr Wilhelm--will see all the frocks actually worn by the
actresses upon the stage under the ordinary lighting conditions, against
the scenery intended to be employed and then point out what is necessary
to produce a real harmony of colour and also to take full advantage of,
and in some cases enhance, the beauty of face and form possessed by the
ladies who are to appear in the play?

One more point may be touched upon. Stage managers should pay more
attention to suitability of costume and require actresses to make
sacrifices repugnant to their natural and desirable instinct for
coquettishness. One often sees a player in a costume utterly
inconsistent with the poverty of the character misrepresented by her,
particularly if she is acting the part of a peasant or poor shopgirl and
the like, when her hair will show that it has been dressed by a coiffeur
at a cost that would be unpayable by the character. Things like this
destroy the illusion of the stage. It may be noted that in this respect
the French and German actresses behave better than ours, and accept,
doubtless with reluctance, a sacrifice of personal charm for sake of
character too rarely seen upon our stage. A last matter--why is it
supposed that almost all the characters in a play are wearing new
clothes on a first night?


Colour

Some time ago a musical comedy was produced the notices upon which were
a little amazing. Several were impolite about the book, others
unfriendly to the music; but almost all agreed that the scenery and
costumes were of remarkable beauty. Now, in the first act an excellent
opportunity for picturesque mounting had been wasted, and the setting of
the second act was deplorable. It was a great blaze of gold and yellow,
which endured for about an hour and a half, with, of course, some little
relief here and there, and it fatigued some eyes and caused some
headaches. No doubt we were in the minority.

It may be that most people are not sensitive to colour; any of our
senses may be irresponsive. A friend of mine puts a lot of cayenne
pepper and mustard and Worcester sauce on toasted cheese; obviously he
has a dull palate. There are people to whom nothing in the way of music
appeals except violent tunes. We know that colour-blindness in different
degrees is the common lot; very possibly what to the sensitive seems a
picture rich in tender colour, to the mass appears dull drab; and the
scene whose shrieking gorgeousness oppresses the eye and brain of the
artist is subtle to the Philistine--it is difficult to know. Who can
imagine a picture gallery as seen by the person who suffers even mildly
from colour-blindness? There are those who have a dull sense of smell,
and the case has happened of a girl only stopped by accident from going
to a ball decked in flowers that looked pretty and smelt abominably.

This raises rather a large question about stage-mounting; if the
majority are not sensitive, then business instinct demands that the
colour-scheme should be crude. Some time ago much admiration was
expressed in the press at the beauty of a ballet designed by Mr Wilhelm,
a real colourist, who is able not only to produce lovely delicate
effects but to present pictures of vivid gorgeous colour so strong and
subtle as to delight the artist and the Philistine. The same phrases
that had been bestowed upon the Empire ballet were lavished by the same
writers upon an entertainment at another house at which, in fact, there
was a horrible debauch of crude, yelping, clashing colours.

The matter is difficult for the managers, or at least for those of them
who have a sense of colour. In one way their position is easy enough; if
they spend a lot of money on the dress and scenery, the press, with rare
exceptions, will gush about the beauty of the setting, however vicious
it may be. The Englishman who uses violent bottled sauces to destroy the
delicate flavour of a sole or to add taste to toasted cheese rules the
roast. People often proclaim that they like "colour"--by "colour" they
mean bright, showy colours. Their taste is that of the negro; give him
plenty of gaudy red and yellow and he is happy.

In modern comedies the difficulty might be avoided, since as a rule
modern people in society do not employ violent colours, and the modern
interiors in most instances exhibit agreeably the influence of the
so-called aesthetic craze. Yet we have plenty of horrors. Ellen Terry in
her interesting biography says that she never settled on her dresses
without seeing whether they would harmonize with the scenery. This
wisdom, alas! is rarely shown, and we very often see a charming interior
ruined by gowns hostile to it in colour.

The question of form in the costumes is somewhat different; yet one
cannot pass from it without expressing regret that the stage is so
weak-minded as to permit itself to be the subject of the maddest
experiments of milliners, and to accept tamely their _rossignols_. A few
of our actresses know how to dress and to wear their gowns; nobody
except the milliners seems to look after the others, and they form the
majority. In many instances, no doubt, the ladies in the cast ought not
to be blamed: they have a very restricted choice, if any. Lately there
was a case where a handsome sum of money was put up by a syndicate for
the ladies' costumes in a play, and nine-tenths of it was appropriated
by the powerful leading lady, leaving for the others a ridiculous
amount.

It is in romantic comedy we suffer most. To begin with, one may assert
the general proposition that the sense of pictorial art on the stage is
entirely conventional and academic; of course there are exceptional
cases--rare, alas! The ideal seems to be to reach chromo-lithographic
effects and the beauties of the old-fashioned valentine; for the
suggestive, the mysterious, the imaginative little affection is shown.
The real tub has developed into the real tree with real blossoms and
real leaves wired on, not a thing regarded as a matter of form and
colour, but as a realistic imitation of a natural object. Broad effects
are frittered away by masses of irritating detail, the production of
which costs a a great deal of money.

Scenes and costumes are designed without due consideration of the fact
that they are to be before our eyes for a long time. Occasionally we are
pleased by a striking picture for five minutes, during which the play is
forgotten; then the play asserts itself and the money spent on the
mounting ceases to bear fruit, and a little later on the vivid
spectacular effect, charming for five minutes, becomes trying by reason
of its quality, and it reasserts itself aggressively, to the hurt of the
play. We have gorgeous costumes which, when first presented and grouped,
produce beautiful effects; afterwards costumes inharmonious with them
are introduced, the grouping is altered, and the colour-scheme
destroyed; then the question comes into mind, How is it that all these
characters have brand-new costumes, although the circumstances of the
drama show that most of the dresses would be torn or dirty or faded? It
may be an answer that this convention is so firmly established as not
to be absurd; but the convention is constantly violated where it would
be too blatantly ridiculous by somebody presenting himself with torn or
dirtied or faded costume. How much more beautiful as a rule the costumes
become after the play has run a while!

From the colour point of view, it was the blessing of the romantic
period that the ruck and run of people had to wear their velvets and
silks and satins till time and wear and tear had toned down and
harmonized the colours. It must be remembered, too, that in the evening
they were seen under favourable circumstances, for the lights and shades
must have been strong, although the lighting was feeble before the use
of gas was discovered and before the oil-wells were found that have made
half the population of the United States slaves to a few plutocrats.

Also, "shoddy" had not been invented, nor had coal-tar dyes been
discovered by the English and exploited by the Germans now groaning over
the wise tyranny of the provisions of the new Patent Act, to which
ignorant people have applied the offensive term "Protectionist." Shoddy
treated with aniline dyes can produce effects that overwhelm the colours
of the honest old materials which owed their hues to the efforts of the
vegetable and the insect. A modern manufacturer is proud when his
scarlet shoddy shrieks like a steam siren. Unfortunately some of the
managers seem to like the shriek.


Stage Meals

An undistinguished foreigner from France was talking the other day about
the English stage, of which apparently he had seen a good deal. After
being asked many searching questions put in the hopes of eliciting
material for "copy" it was discovered that what he most admired in our
theatre is the way in which stage meals are treated. In the first place,
he was astonished at the "exquisite distinction" displayed by the
players in eating them. The "perfect elegance" which one actress
exhibited in consuming an egg had fascinated him and he stated with
conviction that he could have spent a happy evening simply watching her
eat these ill-starred hopes of chickens. It was pointed out that the
management could hardly afford to pay her a sufficient salary for the
strain on her digestive faculties, and also that the eggs--real Boat
Race eggs, not election missiles--cost something.

He is quite an undistinguished person and utterly _bourgeois_, though he
has written some successful funny farces which as yet have not suffered
the dishonour of adaptation, and during his many visits to London has
acquired an even more perfect ignorance of the English and their ways
than if he had never paid tribute to Neptune; for he always stays at a
little French hotel where there is absolutely nothing British, not even
the meat or the matches or the washing arrangements.

Now, if there is one matter of manners in which we are better than the
people of the Continent it is in our mode of eating. How this has come
about it is difficult to say. One knows that good French families
sometimes engage English nursery governesses in order that the children
may be brought up to feed themselves daintily, and that people in good
society on the other side of the streak certainly commit acts at dinner
which are rather ugly. Goodness knows what is the reason. Possibly the
cynic would discover in our greater refinement a curious form of
snobbishness, the sort of timidity about accomplishing before other
people a natural function which in other aspects of life is certainly
carried too far by us.

We have an extraordinary amount of eating nowadays upon the stage,
managed very badly. In the old days, when people got through a banquet,
consisting chiefly of a special brand of cardboard chicken, a real
_dîner à la carte_ at the present time only used in pantomime, washed
down by copious draughts of nothing from gilded _papier-maché_ goblets
which refuse to make the chink of metal, and spent no more than five
minutes over the whole affair, it was recognized that the banquet was a
mere convention; nobody pretended to believe in any aspect of it, and
therefore no one questioned its verisimilitude.

In the twentieth century real food is consumed, the diet being chiefly
vegetarian, and damp decoctions are drunk with gusto. Occasionally, it
is said, Persian sherbet, or lemon kali, once joys of our youth, give a
theatrical fizziness to toast and water in bottles with deceitful lordly
labels. Unfortunately, except in _The Man from Blankley's_, these real
things are consumed as fast as a midday meal at an American
boarding-house, with the result that they are a mixture of realism and
convention profoundly unconvincing. Art would be better served by the
old-fashioned method, for the playgoer is more willing to concede a
whole than a half "make-belief."

One amusing result of the fact that we have so many adaptations from the
French is that not only are the names abominably mispronounced--which
can hardly be avoided--but that the efforts at representing the foreign
feeding as a rule are all wrong. Simili-champagne is consumed where no
Frenchman would dream of drinking "fizz," for across the Channel the
detestable snobbishness of the English in relation to champagne is
imitated chiefly by the modern plutocracy and by the prosperous members
of what is alleged to be the most ancient, if hardly the most
honourable, of professions. When we see a French company in a play, the
leading lady solemnly wipes the inside of her glass with her napkin,
occasionally goes a little further and breathes into it--breathes rather
dampishly. In the subsequent English version the leading actress is far
too much of a lady to do anything of the kind. The foreigners cut up
everything on their plates, clean their knives upon the bread, sometimes
before and sometimes afterwards scooping out the salt with them, and
then lay them by for the next dish. Of course the English company is not
guilty of such solecisms.

The original troupe stuffs a napkin, half-way in size between a
bath-towel and a tablecloth, inside its neck-band so as to protect its
clothes against the little _taches_ concerning which, as a rule, it is
more anxious in relation to its costume than its character--in the play;
but our better-bred players ignore this, and merely spread their
"serviettes" upon their unimperilled knees. Has anyone ever seen a
British player, even when he called himself "Ongri" or "Gontrang," wipe
his plate with a piece of bread and swallow the latter rapturously?

It may be contended that the English players are wise, perhaps without
knowing it. Unadulterated truth sometimes comes off second best in the
theatre, as is proved by the ancient story of the actor who was hissed
because instead of imitating the squeaks of a pig he pinched the tail of
a real porker in a poke; upon the stage a little truth is sometimes
dangerous, a great deal often fatal. As a last word, in these as in all
other germane matters our British productions are vastly more accurate
than those that come from the other side of the Atlantic. It may be the
fact that the good Americans, when they die, go to Paris; they do not
take the trouble to learn anything beforehand concerning the French.
This, however, is not remarkable; there are very few really French
people in Paris.



CHAPTER VII

THE MORALITY OF OUR DRAMA


Mr Harry Lauder on the Morals of our Drama

A little while ago Mr Harry Lauder made some statements to a
representative of _The Daily Chronicle_ concerning the relations between
music-halls and theatres. Some readers may be aware that Mr Harry Lauder
is a popular music-hall singer, and by many people regarded as the chief
of his calling. Consequently his utterances have a little importance.

According to Mr Lauder a gulf exists between the theatres and the
music-halls, and it is due to the fact that the playhouses traffic in
immorality and the halls are pure. The variety theatres shudder at the
thought of presenting plays that introduce people who are or have been
unduly intimate without marriage. Let us use the words of the stern
moralist: "Now, take certain plays produced in certain theatres. The
curtain rises, and you ask yourself the question, 'Will they marry?'"
The attitude reminds one a little of the dear ladies at the seaside who
use prism field-glasses in order to be sure whether the costumes of the
bathers are really indecent. "Sometimes you think, 'Are they married?'
In that play there is throughout a suggestiveness which would not be
allowed in a music-hall."

Ye gods and little Lauder, how beautiful and simple is the morality of
the music-hall! "Be married and you will be virtuous" seems to sum it
up. From the Lauder point of view there are no difficult questions of
morality; there are sheep and there are goats, but no hybrids, and we
ought never to refer to the goats in public. There are no problem plays,
for there are no problems; everything is plain and easy. Intimate
relations between people not married to one another are beyond
discussion, and it is vulgar to present such law-breakers upon the
stage.

The great Lauder attacks Mr Barrie; he complains of _What Every Woman
Knows_. It has one fault, for "there is a touch of immorality in it
which does not exist, as he must know, in the true character of a
Scotsman. The man going away with another woman is the only part of the
play which I did not like; and it was quite unnecessary. Jimmy Barrie is
a far cleverer man than he thinks he is, but I am sorry for this piece."
Poor Mr Barrie, the great Lauder is sorry for you. Still, it must be
some comfort for you to know that the great illustrious immortal Lauder
calls you "Jimmy."

Let us dig a little deeper into the gold-mine. It is very touching to
see the confidence of Mr Lauder in the virtue of his fellow-countrymen.
According to him, "no touch of immorality exists in the true character
of a Scotsman." Yet it is said that the streets of bonnie Glasgow and
other great towns of virtuous Scotland are not free from the presence of
the hapless followers of Rahab, but perhaps they are only there for the
entertainment of English visitors.

According to the last edition of _Chambers's Encyclopaedia_, the
proportion of illegitimate births in Scotland to legitimate is nearly
twice the proportion in England, and almost three times as great as that
in Ireland. No doubt this, again, is due to the foul Saxon. It is
wonderful that the Scots do not prevent us from coming into their
virtuous country. Yet an idea comes to mind--uncharitable, no doubt.
Some people have thought it an ugly touch in Mr Barrie's play when one
of Maggie's brothers hissed the term of reproach "Englishman" to John
Shand on discovering his faithlessness to his wife. It seemed a brutal
charge of Pharisaism to the minds of us benighted Southerners. Was the
author making an anticipatory hit at Mr Lauder?

Somewhat later in the interview are these words: "Now, when you go to
the theatre you get the good and the bad characters, and I contend that
there is no necessity to show the bad." Alas! poor Shakespeare, Lauder
obliterates you with a sentence, and under his severe censure your
warmest admirers should try to save your reputation by accepting the
view that Bacon wrote the plays--and the poems as well. It would be
thrilling to have a drama in which all the characters were good, but how
would the dramatists construct their plots without the use of a villain?

However, to be just to Mr Lauder, by badness of character he means lack
of reverence for chastity. It is a curious point of view that involves
the banishment from the stage of all questions concerning right and
wrong in the traffic between man and woman, which condemns _What Every
Woman Knows_ as immoral. People used to think that the music-hall stage
might be a kind of feeding-ground for drama, might breed playgoers
capable of taking the view that drama has other functions than merely
that of amusing; but, if the illustrious Lauder is correct, the
music-halls stand aloof. Even the ladies of the promenade would be
shocked by _The Second Mrs Tanqueray_, fly blushingly from _The
Notorious Mrs Ebbsmith_, and put ashes on their dyed hair if _Iris_ were
offered to them. What a topsy-turvydom the entertainment world seems
when a popular star ventures to censure in a great daily paper the
modern drama of the country and takes himself quite seriously in urging
the superiority of the music-halls in taste and morality to the
theatres!

Mr Lauder, in addition to his curious ideas about drama from a moral
point of view, seems to have strange opinions concerning the nature of
plays. He says: "Moreover, in a theatre only one or two stars appear,
and they appear only now and again; otherwise they would not shine! If
they were always on the stage there would be a sameness in the
performance. And the other members of the company are only playing up to
these stars, giving so much padding to the entertainment. Little wonder
that the public is not satisfied with the play of to-day." If we
understand this correctly, and we have honestly tried to do so, it
involves a complete misunderstanding as to the nature of drama, and
means that Mr Lauder thinks that its whole purpose is to provide star
acting parts, and that, since plays cannot be written in which all the
characters are star parts, drama is a poor sort of stuff of no great
interest. In his calling, of course, all are stars, though, perhaps, he
would hardly admit that all are of equal brilliance; and one fancies
that he regards as inacceptable any entertainment during which part of
the stage is occupied by persons receiving no greater salary than that
of a county court judge.

Of course, every man is entitled to his own point of view, and if Mr
Lauder considers that his turns are preferable to drama, he is quite
right to say so. There are hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of
persons to whom his performances represent the summit of art; they, of
course, are entitled to their opinions.

There is no reason for supposing that his remarks are not uttered in
good faith. Indeed, it is their obviously complacent sincerity which
renders them so exquisitely comic. If he were half as funny on the stage
as he is in cold print, the whole world would be at his feet. From one
point of view his utterances are quite unimportant: to the world outside
the music-hall they only represent the unintentional humours of a man
without weight, save in his branch of his calling; but, so far as they
are the opinions of the variety stage, the matter is serious, since it
suggests that the modern drama has an enemy, not a friend, in the
music-halls, and an enemy which works under such unfair conditions of
advantage and is so powerfully organised that it may become the duty of
the theatre to wage a fierce war upon it.

No great change would be needed in the conduct of the playhouses in
London to enable them to cut into the music-halls. The sympathy with the
music-halls of those who have been advocating free trade in drama may
become exhausted, and, on the other hand, a system may be devised under
which the theatres take music-hall licences, and then the inflated
salaries which have led to swollen heads will soon shrink.


Double Entente

The correspondence provoked concerning Mr Harry Lauder and his views
about the drama and the music-halls was a little disappointing owing to
its onesidedness. The music-hall performer in one respect resembled St
Athanasius. A passage in a letter on the topic was surprising. Miss
Violet Vanbrugh said: "The English language, too, is so difficult; it
leaves so little to the imagination. It seems to come down definitely,
in a fearfully flat-footed fashion. The French dramatist finds his task
made easy, as his language can suggest simply without definitely
stating, more easily than can be done in English."

This opinion is surprising. It would be amazing if it were correct,
seeing the enormous wealth of our language in words and forms of
expression, and the fact that for the best part of a century our
dramatists lived chiefly on "hints," upon suggesting more than they
durst say. The very word "hint" is significant. We use it frequently;
who can find a word in the French language that exactly represents it?
One may add that we have English equivalents for most, perhaps all, of
the French phrases that have to serve for our handy word "hint." When
one recollects the hundreds of adaptations of more or less indelicate or
indecent French plays seen on our boards, the idea that it is difficult
for the English expert to say nasty things nicely seems absurd. Our
journalists have used more often the incorrect phrase _double entendre_
than the French critics the phrase _double entente_, which is the term
that our writers intend to employ.

Were it otherwise, one would be amazed. The French always have been, and
still are, very candid in the use of language; whilst we for a long time
past have been prudish to an extent sometimes comic. Readers of Laurence
Sterne can hardly deny that the English tongue enables one to be
indelicate in idea whilst decent in expression, and it is noteworthy
that this writer, so often censured for the immodest salt of his wit, is
one of those who comment with surprise upon the simple frankness of the
French of his time. There is an episode in "Tristram Shandy," or "The
Sentimental Journey" concerning a lady, the author and a carriage drive,
which shows this very well; but the printers would strike if asked to
set it up in these chaste pages.

Our own native prudery, enriched by a quantity imported from the United
States, has led to an immense hypocrisy of language, and consequently to
an extraordinary facility in hinting unseemly ideas which on the French
stage would be expressed bluntly. It is true that, so far as love is
concerned, the French have invented a funny little language of prudery
for the benefit of schoolgirls, and countless books have been printed,
and received the benediction of Monseigneur l'Archevêque de Tours, in
which the word _tambour_ is printed instead of the word _amour_, and so
on. By-the-by, it is rather quaint that the Archbishop of Tours should
be chosen as godfather of these superchaste books, seeing that Touraine
has a rather famous reputation for naughty stories, and Balzac alleges
that his naughty "Contes Drolatiques" are "Colliges ez Abbayes de
Touraine." It would be remarkable if the French tongue lent itself as
easily as ours to the _double entente_.

We have a far larger vocabulary available and in common use, and we
possess slang not only of the different nations constituting the United
Kingdom, but also slang from the United States, and from our Colonies,
whilst we have a lawlessness in the use of our language not permitted to
the French. There are disadvantages as well as advantages from this, for
as a result our tongue is abominably rich in ambiguities, and it is a
common observation that French scientific works are clearer than ours,
not only because the nation is more logical, but also on account of the
fact that the language is more precise. Some people, no doubt, fancy
that the French dramatists are conveying indelicate ideas delicately,
because they do not exactly understand what is being said or sung.
Remarks have been made about the subtlety of French after speeches and
songs which, if literally translated, would have cleared the house. "_Ne
rien comprendre c'est tout gober_" is a convenient twist of language.
Did not Yvette Guilbert sing publicly in London the song with the
refrain "_Hors du mariage_" ... we must stop there.

Our stage has suffered because our dramatists have been able to get much
of the indelicate fun out of French farces by using, hypocritically,
decent phrases which all parties understand in a bad sense whilst
pretending to see nothing shocking in them; for without this elasticity
of our tongue British playwrights would have been thrown upon their own
resources. Nowadays our playwrights have to some extent abandoned their
subservience to France, and it is noticeable that those who take their
work seriously, and deal with the difficult questions of life sincerely,
are showing a tendency to abandon the language of suggestion, to give up
hinting, and to avoid the _double entente_. The result is that many
prudes are shocked, and people who have no real objection to certain
subjects or ideas denounce plays embodying them because this hypocrisy
of language has been abandoned.

The Censor, of course, is one obstacle to plain speaking. He and his
office are the superb representatives of English cant, hypocrisy and
prudery, and one advantage that must follow from the abolition, if it
comes, will be the ousting of the comedy of indecent suggestion by the
drama of honest candour. He possesses his little vocabulary in which
_tambour_ passes for _amour_, and in fact his office has been worked on
the ostrich head-in-the-sand system for many years past. The chief duty
of the official has been to prevent people from calling a spade a spade,
and most, though not all, of the pieces banned would have obtained a
licence if in place of straightforward phrase the author had employed
some hypocritical, prudish suggestion.

Who doubts that a licensed English version of _Monna Vanna_ could have
been prepared, although fully giving to the audience the meaning of the
awful line, "_Nue sous son manteau_"? One may doubt the comic story that
Mr Redford mistook the _sous_ for _sans_. The motto for the office, if
it has a crest, should be the famous line from a music-hall song: "It
ain't exac'ly wot 'e sez, it's the narsty way 'e sez it."

No wonder foreigners are puzzled by our theatre. The Parisian sees a
Palais Royal farce played before an audience of which many members are
girls in the bread-and-butter stage. In his great city maidens are--or,
at least, were--not allowed to enter the theatre so long famous for its
naughty farces. He gasps; he wonders whether the English _mees_ is as
innocent as she looks--or used to look--and does not know the _perfide_
tongue of the _perfide Albion_ well enough to be aware that nothing
shocking is said, and that it is pretended that the _cocotte_ is a mere
kindly friend, the _collage_ a trifling flirtation, the _debauche_ a
viceless lark, and that the foulest conduct of husband or wife does not
reach a real breach of the commandment more often broken in England than
the rest of the sacred ten.

The real sin of the Censor's office lies as much in what it permits as
in what it forbids; and a growing sense of decency in the public is
displacing prudery so that the abolition of the office will not cause
the ill-results announced by the managers, who regard the existence of
the Censor as valuable to them, because it frees them from
responsibility and enables them to gratify the taste of the prurient
prude, the person who revels in and blushes at the indelicacy of his own
thoughts.


Moral Effect on Audience

There was quite a pretty hubbub in theatredom caused by a circular
letter of "The Church Pastoral Aid Society," calling upon incumbents and
curates to regard theatrical performances as "a serious menace to the
spiritual influence of the Church," and suggesting that in future they
should refuse to take money raised by means of theatrical performances,
or by bazaars or whist-drives or dances. Of course, all people connected
with the theatres were very indignant at the insult implied; whilst, on
the other hand, many parsons and Nonconformist ministers rushed into
print and said very unflattering things about the stage.

The matter certainly had considerable public importance, and deserved to
be considered in cold blood; and one may well raise, and attempt to
answer, the plain question whether the Church is right or wrong in
adopting an attitude of hostility towards the stage. The question of
gratitude has been put forward, but is not really relevant: no doubt
players and managers in the past have been very liberal with their
services for charitable purposes, including matters specifically
connected with churches, and although very often the actual motive of
the liberality has been the desire for advertisement and notoriety--and
the desire is natural and blameless--yet it is fair to assume that in
many instances the real motive has been truly charitable. It is,
however, obvious that a person might steal with the object of giving the
money to a church restoration fund, and clearly his intention would not
excuse his act nor enable the Church to endorse it. The plain question
is whether the stage "makes for righteousness."

Into the very thorny question raised some years ago by Clement Scott
with disastrous consequences to himself as to whether the stage is
demoralizing to the actors and actresses we do not now propose to
venture. Much has been said and written on the topic, but it is largely
one of fact, which demands the examination of a great deal of evidence.
For the moment, then, let us merely discuss the question whether the
effect of the stage on the audience is good or bad: in many cases there
is no appreciable effect at all, and they may be eliminated.

Now, it must be admitted by all, save the extreme Puritans, that not
only are there a great number of harmless pieces, but also many entirely
moral in scope and aim, and likely to produce some good effect upon
playgoers; but there are others. No doubt the famous _George Barnwell_
has gone out of date, and the Dick Turpin and Jack Sheppard plays, which
did a great deal of harm, are not presented often in our days.
Nevertheless there are so many pieces still produced which in one way or
another are injurious to playgoers as to render it fairly arguable that
the effect of the stage as a whole is bad.

So long as religion enjoins the virtue of chastity, its professors must
look with hostility upon the very numerous pieces in which women, young
and beautiful, are presented in dresses radically immodest. It seems
impossible to deny that the sexual instincts of young men are often
provoked to an extreme degree by the sight upon the stage of beautiful,
half-nude young women; and it must be remembered that the spectacle is
frequently accompanied by music of an erotic character. There is not the
least doubt that the lighter musico-dramatic works and the pantomimes,
in consequence of these matters, are the direct and immediate cause of
many acts which religious people regard as acts of sexual immorality.
The degree of nudity, of display of the human form in our theatres, and,
of course, music-halls as well, to those unaccustomed to such matters is
certainly quite startling, and by many people such displays are regarded
as being entirely demoralizing to hot-blooded young men. It is,
therefore, not surprising that there are religious people who have no
objection to innocent amusements or to drama as drama, yet regard the
theatre as causing a great deal of immorality in the way already
indicated.

The Censor, not the present occupant of the post, at one time interfered
and dealt with the question of costume at the Lyceum in the pre-Irving
days, but his efforts were a failure, and, as far as is publicly known,
have not been renewed since. Lately the degree of nudity considered
permissible has been largely increased. The Salome dancers built a
bridge of beads across what was regarded as a fixed gulf: it is
difficult for stern moralists to stomach the _danse du ventre_.

The next aspect of the matter is that the tendency of the stage, broadly
speaking, is to preach a kind of conventional morality somewhat below
the standard considered admissible by serious people; one may go
further, and say that plays have been produced, particularly French
plays, such as the clever works of M. Capus, in which the accepted
ideas of the sanctity of marriage are treated with contempt. Some works
of this character have been translated and played at first-class
theatres, and in popular dramas of the _Zaza_ and _Sapho_ type we were
invited to grieve over the disappointments in lawless love of women
quite shameless in character.

For years past a large proportion of plays have concerned themselves
with the question of the seventh commandment; and whilst, as a rule, in
order to dodge the Censor, it is pretended that no actual breach has
occurred, the audience know that this is merely a pretence. In a large
number of these plays the question of adultery is handled so facetiously
as to tend to cause people to regard it as a trivial matter; whilst in
numbers of the others, where the matter is handled more seriously, the
actual consequences of sin are of such little inconvenience to the
sinners that, although theoretically the plays preach a moral, the
actual lesson is of no weight at all.

A curious aspect of the matter is that theatredom, as appears from the
bulk of the evidence before the Censorship Commission, is opposed to the
class of play in which the proposition is preached that "the wages of
sin is death." Plays like _Ghosts_ and _A Doll's House_--as far as the
episode of Nora's hopeless lover is concerned--and the works of that
fierce moralist M. Brieux are banned by most of official theatredom, and
some of them are censored. In fact, the whole note of the theatre is
that gloomy or painful matters should be excluded. It is not too much to
say that the theatre insists strongly upon being regarded simply as a
place of entertainment, and objects almost savagely to dramas which
really show sin as ugly and vice as harmful, both to the vicious and
innocent; it refuses to be a moralizing institution, and those who seek
to justify such an attitude do so by claiming that it is a branch of art
and not morals.

No doubt there are exceptions. We have had _Everyman_ upon the stage,
and _The Passing of the Third Floor Back_, in which the highest morality
is preached, and in _The Fires of Fate_ Sir Arthur Conan Doyle made a
sincere effort to use the stage for noble purposes; nor would it be
difficult to multiply instances. Moreover, it may be claimed that the
dramas of Shakespeare, on the whole, have a high standard of morality
which might satisfy the Church, and they play a considerable part on our
modern stage; yet, speaking with a really substantial knowledge of the
subject, one may say confidently that, despite much that is good and
admirable, the balance is seriously to the bad. Our theatre does a
little good and a great deal of harm.

It is possible that views such as these may be in the minds of those who
wrote the circular of the Church Pastoral Aid Society, and if so they
were justified in writing. If, on the other hand, they were merely
actuated by the Puritanic idea that drama and the theatre are
necessarily immoral, we strongly dissent, for the drama might be made a
very powerful influence for good, and this renders the more regrettable
the fact that, although in some respects there is a little advance
towards the good, it is very slow, and it is doubtful whether the
balance will be turned in our time. There is a greater advance in art
than in morality as far as the theatre is concerned, but even in art the
progress is very disappointing.



An Advantage of French Dramatists

There are many people who entertain the idea that modern French drama is
better than modern English drama; and from this it seems a natural
deduction that the French playwrights of to-day are abler than their
contemporary English dramatists. A study of the large collection of
French plays produced at the New Royalty Theatre by M. Gaston Mayer, as
well as those presented under other managements during the last few
years, and some knowledge of those which have not crossed the unamiable
Channel, causes me to wonder. The careless may make the mistake of
comparing the imported French pieces with the average English plays;
this, of course, is absurd, since only the successful foreign works are
played over here; consequently, for purposes of fair comparison, one
must eliminate not only our failures but our plays of average merit.
Even after the process of elimination has been made there lurks the
danger of error, for when comparing the efforts of our playwrights with
those of Paris one is making a comparison between men working under a
heavy handicap and men unburdened by it. There is a whole world, or at
least a whole half-world, open freely to the French writer into which
the English dramatist is only permitted to crawl furtively. A large
proportion of the foreign works in question, if faithfully translated
and presented in London, would cause a howl of horror, based on the
proposition that some of them are immoral and some are indelicate, and
many both.

No sane people pretend to agree with the observation of some celebrated
person, to the effect that anybody can be witty who is willing to be
indecent; it is not more universally true than the proposition that no
one can be witty unless he condescends to be indecent. Nevertheless
there is something in it. Many real witticisms are indecent; some
profoundly immoral plays are brilliant, and it is doubtful whether the
authors of them would have been as successful if forbidden to be
indecent or immoral.

Let us contrast fairly the positions of the French and the English
dramatist. The former has at his disposal all the material for drama
available to the latter, except perhaps a limited particular branch of
local humour, whilst the Englishman not only would be unwise to employ
the foreign local humour, but is forbidden to use a very large number of
subjects and ideas open to his competitor. In other words, the
Englishman's stock may be regarded as _x_, and the Frenchman's as _x_ +
_y_, for the local humour on one side may be set off against the local
humour on the other.

Now _y_, far from being unimportant, is the chief material employed by
many of the Parisian playwrights. They and their audiences have grown
tired of _x_, whilst our unhappy writers are almost bound to confine
themselves to this far from unknown quantity. Thackeray is said to have
regretted that he did not enjoy the freedom of a Fielding. Which of our
playwrights does not envy the licence of a Capus? Think of our poor
British dramatist compelled to write for a public that likes anecdotal
plays, demands happy-ever-after endings and is easily shocked. Really
his position is pitiful. The peculiar laws of the theatre require such
brutal directness of method that although our novelists are able, by
means of delicate treatment, to handle almost any subject, the
playwright is condemned to something like a gin-horse revolution, round
a little track of conventional morality.

It is a rather curious fact that two different schools of French
dramatists approach the forbidden half-world from opposite poles--but
they get there. Emile Augier and Dumas _fils_ were sincere moralists
according to their points of view, though the methods of their
moralizing some times seem quaint to us. Both of them preached the
importance of chastity and the beauty of conjugal love and parental and
filial affection, and each admired fervently the idea of family--an idea
deemed comparatively unimportant in our colonizing country.

On the whole their ideals are ours, though sometimes there seems to us a
queer twist in their expression of them. In order to support their ideas
of social and family life and their view of the sanctity of true
marriage they were forced to exhibit the perils caused by lawless
passion, and frequently their works, as in such extreme instances as _Le
Mariage d'Olympe_ and _La Femme de Claude_, which has the memorable
preface with the _Tue la_ phrase, deal candidly with very ugly matters.

Their successors, putting aside such men as Brieux and Hervieu--whose
intentions are strictly honourable--may pretend to be moralists, but
they adopt an impudently unconventional attitude. They seem to modify
the phrase that "property is theft" into the proposition that "marriage
is a selfish monopoly." We have had play after play apparently based
upon a merely sensual idea of free love. Like their predecessors they
handle mud, and they handle it as Walton bade the angler handle the frog
when using it as bait. Some of them seem to have no prejudice in favour
of people who try to exercise decent self-restraint. Without pleading
their cause, one must point out that in the domain of lawless passion
there are hundreds of thrilling or vastly comic situations at the
command of the dramatist, whether he be moralist or simply
boulevardier. No wonder then that there seem to be far more original
plays in France than in England.

The advantage of the foreigners is even greater in the matter of
dialogue than subject. With the aid of tact and certain elaborate
conventions the English dramatist is able to handle many of his
competitor's themes and has contrived to adapt some of his forward, if
hardly advanced, plays and by ridiculous changes decidedly emasculating
them, has succeeded in presenting a sort of version of a number of the
saucy farces. The dialogue baffles him.

It cannot be denied that a great deal of the dialogue of French plays is
very funny, rather shocking, and not exactly gross. As a rule the more
distinguished writers avoid the tone of the _joyeusetés_ of an Armand
Sylvestre, a writer capable of using bluntly without acknowledgement the
crudest of Chaucer's tales and also of writing beautiful poetry quite
free from offence; but even when the humbler _gauloiseries_ are
neglected the finer indelicacy is employed, and the men laugh and ladies
pretend to put up their fans. Nobody, perhaps, is at all worse, for the
_jeune fille_ is only taken to carefully selected plays, except at the
seaside, where in the casino she attends performances of works that in
Paris she would not be allowed to see; and, moreover, there is truth in
what a French manager once shrewdly observed--"Those who can't
understand the jokes won't be hurt, and those who can, can't."



CHAPTER VIII

CASUAL NOTES ON ACTING


Mr H.B. Irving on his Art

To the reviewer of books fell the task of criticizing Mr H.B. Irving's
book, "Occasional Papers," as literature. The dramatic critic has the
right of considering the views expressed in it concerning the stage.
There are two essays of importance, from reading which one may learn the
ideas, admirably expressed, of Mr Irving concerning his art--"The
English Stage in the Eighteenth Century" and "The Art and Status of the
Actor." The study of them, which they deserve, leads to certain
conclusions hardly, it may be, anticipated by the author.

In his defence of the actor's art against its detractors Mr Irving seems
to ignore a fact which may be expressed in a phrase taken from the
greatest of actor-dramatist-managers, and modified. There is acting and
acting: the distinction is not merely in quality but also in kind. It
would be difficult to define acting so as not to include the efforts of
the music-hall artist, and even of the circus clown; any definition
excluding them would be arbitrary, and also historically inaccurate. If,
then, acting is to embrace these as well as the admirable performance of
Mr Irving in _Hamlet_, disputes concerning the status of the actor as an
artist must often arise.

In fact, until one reaches the actor's performance in dramas sincerely
intended to be works of art, it is difficult to treat his art seriously.
A step farther: one cannot accept as a work of dramatic art a piece that
does not seek to cause an illusion, or any play which formally admits
the existence of the audience. A workable distinction may be found in
using the terms "drama" and "entertainment," "actor" and "entertainer."

Mr Irving's essays lead to another distinction--artificial, no doubt. He
speaks of the sixteenth century as "the century of great drama," of the
seventeenth as "a century in which the interest shifts from the drama to
its exponents, the players." The nineteenth, according to him, is
"noteworthy for the extraordinary advance made in the presentation of
plays on the stage." In other words, the seventeenth is great drama, the
eighteenth great acting, and the nineteenth great stage-mounting.

The seventeenth, says Mr Irving, "is in theatrical history the century
of the actor; he and not the dramatist is the dominating figure, his the
achievement that survives, his that finds in this century its highest
opportunity for distinction.... For the plays that attracted audiences
in the eighteenth century are for the most part dead things." Later on:
"There was another and a very strong reason why the actor of the
eighteenth century was encouraged--nay, driven--to exert his powers to
the utmost. It lay in the conditions under which he was compelled to
exercise his art."

These conditions were unsuitability of costume, the conduct of an unruly
audience, and the meanness of the mounting. The eighteenth-century
players pursued "the pure art of acting, unassisted by the
collaboration of other arts," and in them their art received its highest
expression.

From this it appears that if you wish for great acting you must have
poor plays cheaply mounted. Probably Mr Irving would shun such a
conclusion. He would say that the great acting was the result of the
conditions, but not an inevitable result, and that whilst modesty of
mounting may be a necessary condition, worthlessness of drama is not.
Yet we see a distinction and a truth emerging. The actors of the golden
age--of acting--had to make silk purses out of sows' ears, and they made
them. Their age was less golden when they had great drama to play.

The triumph of a play, so far as the co-operation of author and actor is
concerned, may be regarded as one hundred, and the greater the share in
it of the one the less that of the other. Since the actor's proportion
is higher as the dramatist's is lower, it follows that his work is more
brilliant in mediocre plays than in masterpieces. This, however, cannot
be accepted without taking into account the fact that many plays have
been written very skilfully as mere vehicles for the actor.

It is sometimes a nice question which is the horse and which the cart.
How often in the heyday of her fame did we see Bernhardt in any save
"built-up" dramas--plays "written round" her and intended to give her an
opportunity of showing off her amazing physical gifts? Need it be added
that the "star" actresses of other nations were all eager to appear in
these pieces? Is, then, the actor's art at its greatest when the player
is thrilling the house in a mediocre drama, or when he and the true
dramatist are producing a great effect together?

Mr Irving will probably reply that the actors of the golden age had
great triumphs in Shakespeare. Now, it may be observed that in most of
his tragedies, though not guilty of writing "star" parts, Shakespeare,
himself an actor, took very great pains to create "fat" acting parts,
and the actor-managers of the eighteenth century were careful that, in
the mutilated versions which they presented, these parts did not shrink
in relative importance. The great dramatist's action in this respect is
not, as a general rule, followed by the serious playwrights of the
present.

Whilst speaking of Shakespeare, one may refer to a passage in the essays
which has some bearing on the question of the place of acting in the
hierarchy of the arts. Garrick clearly was the greatest actor of his
century; but in speaking of Barry, Mr Irving says: "He had not Garrick's
fire or versatility; he had no gift for comedy; but in such parts as
Othello, Romeo and Alexander the Great his superior physique, his
stately grace, his charming pathos gave him the victory." _His superior
physique_ is a phrase which explains the reluctance of some fully to
admit the actor's claim for his art: they think that the purely physical
enters too often into the matter. There may even be detractors moved by
jealousy, unknown, perhaps, to themselves, of the "superior physique."

Possibly there are more subtle reasons why many writers are unwilling to
recognize the highest claims of the actor. They are perhaps, discernible
in what Mr Irving calls "the sympathetic reflections of Charles Lamb"
and the "impressive nonsense that Doctor Johnson talked" about acting.
In one of the essays we find: "There has been at all times a certain
resentment on the part of some writers against the player, against his
immediate fame.... It is a form of jealousy that has warped many
otherwise enlightened minds: an envy that forgets that a capacity to act
is a much rarer gift than a capacity to write." What is the meaning of
the last sentence. Does it mean that Garricks are rarer than Tuppers?--a
sad thought: or that Siddonses are rarer than Shakespeares?--which may
be denied confidently.

Does it mean anything? Perhaps not. It merely exhibits a confusion
between the relative and the absolute. This warping jealousy--if it
exist--really is due to a feeling that the actor becomes great in
popularity at the expense of the author. When the actor causes the
triumph of the play the author should be grateful; when the play causes
the triumph of the actor the playwright may feel a little jealous, and
writers may sympathize with him. There are plays and plays, just as
there is acting and acting. In subtle modern pieces conscientious actors
of fair ability rarely fail, and success (within certain limits) is
common in _Hamlet_.


Mr Bourchier and "Max" on English Acting

Mr Bourchier has written rather bitterly about some remarks of Mr Max
Beerbohm concerning English acting. Apparently "Max" has asserted that
"the average level of acting is admittedly lower in England than in
France, Germany or Italy." Hence Mr Bourchier's wrath, which obviously
is unselfish, since remarks about the average level of acting have
nothing to do with him, for no country is rich enough in histrionic
talent to deny that Mr Bourchier is far above the average.

Is Mr Max Beerbohm's assertion well founded? The "admittedly" inspires
distrust. Experience teaches the middle-aged that as a rule people
allege that a proposition is admitted when they have no evidence to
offer of its truth, and are aware that it will be disputed. Does anyone
exist who knows really what is the average level of acting in the four
countries named? Such knowledge could only be based upon a first-hand
study of acting in all kinds of theatres in many towns of England,
France, Germany and Italy. A music-hall agent is the only kind of person
likely to have made such a study. Has Mr Max made it?

Probably the clever caricaturist and lively critic is really talking
about the so-called West End theatres and the foreigners who come to us,
and of occasional visits paid by him to selected pieces in important
Continental cities. If so, his observations are based upon quite
insufficient materials. Critics are wont to praise foreign acting
unfairly at the expense of our own performers, and they receive the
support of opinions expressed by some foreigners, notably French and
Italians.

Members of gesticulative races are apt to think English players very
wooden, because when representing British people our actors and
actresses are much restrained in movement. A French or Italian critic
can hardly appreciate some of the splendid "Stage Society" or Court
Theatre performances, such, for instance, as that of _The Voysey
Inheritance_, which could not have been surpassed in any theatre or
country.

The offensive comparisons often, even generally, are based upon
performances where our players are at a serious disadvantage. On what
may be called neutral ground, such as Ibsen plays, we have held our own
very well against any performances in London by Continental players;
Miss Janet Achurch was a more characteristic Nora than Duse or Réjane;
nor have we seen a Mrs Linden, Hedda Gabler or Hilda Wangle comparable
with that of Miss Elizabeth Robins. There is no need to multiply
instances.

English players do not represent certain foreign characters as well as
do the foreigners. Is this surprising? They are handicapped, obviously.
How often have we seen a French, German or Italian performance of an
English play concerning English people? Was the great Eleonora as
painfully truthful as Mrs Patrick Campbell in _The Second Mrs
Tanqueray_? No one can deny that her companions were almost ludicrous to
us. Can one imagine any foreign company able to present _His House in
Order_ without entirely destroying the stage illusion and losing the
colour? There was a very fine performance at the St James's, with
intense soberness of manner in important matters as a keynote.

It is largely a question of geography; the Englishman expresses rapture
by the phrase "not half-bad" where the foreigner piles superlative on
superlative of gush. It is our quality and our defect that we have a
strange shyness, which prevents the exhibition of emotion for fear of
ridicule. On our stage, as in our real life, the beloved son comes home
from a long voyage, and, meeting his father, shakes hands a little
warmly and says, "Hallo, governor!" or something poetic like that;
whilst abroad the two men kiss one another and utter highly emotional
phrases of rapture. Everyone knows that the feelings are equally deep in
the two cases, but our cross-Channel critics doubt the depth of the
English feeling, whilst our native players cannot do the kissing and
hugging with an air of sincerity.

Now, when taking these facts into account we should be very careful in
appraising the efforts of our own players. Not only ought we to avoid
comparing select teams of foreign players with our own scratch
companies, but also it is our duty to consider whether the strangers are
appearing in plays better or worse than the average of our own, and we
must take into account the fact that they are gaining from the advantage
of novelty. Lastly, there remains the question how far they would appear
to be better than ours if appearing on neutral ground.

It would be idle to assert that the average level of our acting is as
good as it ought to be. Many theatres suffer severely from the lack of
satisfactory stage-management; some from the determination of an
actor-manager to be the central figure of every scene. Bitter complaints
are uttered by young players about not receiving sufficient suggestions
at rehearsal and finding that the stage-manager has so little authority
that not only the leading players act as they chose, but even the
smaller stars refuse successfully to obey him.

There is another point in Mr Bourchier's letter. He suggests that Mr Max
Beerbohm is not competent to criticize actors because he is not a master
of any branch of the difficult art of acting. This is a very foolish old
fallacy. People who do work essentially ephemeral, such as acting, do it
for those who are to witness it; and their merit is in direct proportion
to their impression upon the audience, and they can have no effect upon
anybody else. Actors, with trifling exceptions, do not form part of the
audience. Critics do, and the actor seeks to affect the audience and the
critics, and not the brother "pro." occasionally found in the
auditorium.

The merit of his work lies entirely in affecting an audience _in the
way intended by the author_. The technical devices adopted have nothing
to do with the question. No doubt there is much technical knowledge
involved in acting, but it must be remembered that it is all a means to
an end. The cult of technique for itself is perilous to an art.

After all, the matter may be reduced to an absurdity. Would Mr Bourchier
refuse to say that a man is well dressed, or a dinner ill cooked because
he is (presumably) ignorant of the mysteries of the arts of tailoring
and cooking? Moreover, some of us, perhaps even Mr Beerbohm, know a good
deal about the technique of acting, even if we could not "make-up" Mr
Bourchier to look like a costermonger. The actor must be very vain in
his conceit who has not had valuable hints concerning his acting from
the critics, unless he be one of those who, unlike Mr Bourchier, never
read notices--yet often complain of an unfavourable one. The article
called "Signor Borza on the English Theatre," which appears on page 252,
should be considered in relation to these remarks.


The Sicilian Players

During many years our stage has seen nothing like the success of the
Sicilians. They presented themselves at the Shaftesbury Theatre with
little in the shape of preliminary paragraphs to "boom" them. Most of
their repertoire consisted of works unknown to London playgoers. Several
of their plays were performed in a puzzling dialect. Even the judicious
step of offering a fairly full synopsis of the plays was neglected.
Notwithstanding all this, the theatre was well patronized during two
seasons and the audiences have exhibited enthusiasm.

What is the meaning of all this; why should these village folk, playing
what in the main seem to be simple peasant melodramas, have troubled the
senses of Londoners? The obvious answer is that the affair is a triumph
of pure acting. One pauses to inquire whether this is true. In the case
of most of their plays the judgment of the audience concerning the
acting must be very rough and ready--so far, at least, as the
performance is fulfilling its true purpose of presenting in action the
ideas of the author.

How are we to know, when watching a play in Sicilian dialect and
provided with a printed "argument" comprised in about a couple of
hundred words, whether the players are doing anything like their duty to
the author? By-the-by the poor Censor had to admit that he passed their
plays on the strength of these inadequate synopses! Yet there was
absolute conviction in most of us that their work was sincere and at
times quite tremendous as a matter of pure acting. The word "tremendous"
must be confined to the efforts of Signora Mimi Aguglia Ferrau and
Signor Grasso. The others form a very good company, but it is only in
respect of these two that one employs the word "genius," which cautious
writers use very rarely, though there are journalists who lavish it upon
everybody a thumb-nail's thickness above mediocrity.

Concerning the lady there is no doubt at all. She is a little woman,
with a rather strongly featured, intelligent face, brilliant teeth and
big eyes who has, to begin with, the rare gift of filling the stage.
There is a perceptible difference whenever she is present. She may be
one of a crowd of twenty, and saying and doing nothing, but her
presence is felt. At her command is a delightful roguish comedy and a
horrible realistic tragedy. In _Malia_ she is a Phèdre burnt up with
unslakable passion, a rustic Phèdre, no doubt, but Bernhardt never gave
more strongly the idea of "_Vénus toute entière à sa proie attachée_."

There are tricks in her work; she is fond of standing her profile
parallel with the footlights, and of exhibiting the whites of her large
eyes; she is conscious of the extraordinary eloquence of her shoulders
and back, and likes to exhibit distress by the play of them. There is
often excess in violent contrast of light and shade.

Yet no one can display subsiding emotion more finely than she does. Most
of our players turn off emotion as one turns off the gas. In the
Sicilian one notices a kind of aftermath; her fury may be succeeded by
rapture; her grief by joy; but for a while underneath the rapture or joy
one detects signs of the fact that physically she is recovering
gradually from the effects of fury or grief. The voice is a little
harsh, the gestures are not exactly elegant, she is always somewhat
_peuple_, and always magnificent.

In some respects, Signor Grasso is quite different; his appearance is
unpleasant, he is an ugly man, often with a fatuous air, but his grace
of movement is quite extraordinary; occasionally he gives snatches of
dance so exquisitely rhythmical that one longs for more. His pantomime
is larger in movement than hers; his passion less terrible. He too has
tricks; he is over-fond of playing with the chairs; in _Malia_ one might
say that he plays skittles with them.

There is rather an excess of gesture, of a naturalistic explanatory
gesture, apparently borrowed from pantomime; one feels that some of it
is deliberately used to aid the ignorant foreigner to understand; he
does things which make the Briton squirm; has a habit of kissing the
ugly, male members of his troupe with big, resounding smacks on both
cheeks, and in a loving fashion pats them like a Graeco-Roman wrestler;
but there is always the extraordinarily graceful, lithe movement and,
with curious exceptions, a supreme unconsciousness of the audience;
whilst the passionate volubility and the almost brutal ferocity thrill
the house.

They are a queer lot, these village players; supremely unself-conscious
when actually acting, yet guilty of taking "calls" in the middle of a
scene. If pressed, they probably would give an encore, and with a little
urging Signora Mimi would yield to a cry of "bis" and give a repetition
of her abominable, appalling, vastly clever fit in _Malia_, to please
the friendly Britons.

At the end of a scene the players come forward, hand in hand, bobbing
and bowing, grinning and smiling, in a way that suggests a troupe of
acrobats after a successful turn. It is not difficult to overrate their
work as a company, or rather--and this in a sense is the same thing--to
underrate that of our own players by comparison.

There is one very noteworthy fact: from the point of view of a London
manager the scenery and appointments were contemptible, and this
apparently did not matter a rap. An audience, five-sixths of it British,
was enthralled by these players, although the scenery and the furniture
of the indoor sets had no pretension to magnificence, were sometimes
almost absurdly squalid.

The venture at the Shaftesbury showed that if you give what the public
deems good acting you need not bother about painted canvas and
furniture; and what applies to good acting applies to good plays. The
Sicilians taught us this, even if, perhaps, little else; for our
players, unless they are to represent Sicilians, or such volcanic
creatures, can learn comparatively little from them. Indeed, our
delightful visitors could be taught something by our despised stage in
the way of reticence, for there is little doubt that they love a horror
for horror's sake and revel in the gory joys of the penny gaff. This may
be said with full recognition of the fact that, according to their own
standard, they are intensely sincere and superbly equipped in
consequence of hard work and natural gifts.


Alleged Dearth of Great Actresses

Lately there have appeared some remarks by an unnamed "prominent
dramatic author" alleging that "there is a dearth of great actresses
just now," and stating that "several serious plays which it was hoped
might be produced next autumn are in danger of being indefinitely
postponed because of the inability of finding actresses capable of
playing strongly emotional parts in drama of deep and complex interest."
These dramas of "deep and complex interest" are quite as rare in our
theatre as great actresses and we only believe in their existence when
we see them.

Of course there is a dearth of great actresses--there always was and
always will be: "great" is only a relatively term. Thank goodness for
this, seeing that they are sadly injurious to drama. On the other hand,
to allege a lack of actresses competent to play strong emotional parts
seems quite unjust.

The remarks of the "prominent dramatic author" were followed by a
letter to the same effect by Mr George Rollit, known to fame as the
author of a fairly good farce produced in 1904 at the Royalty. He
appears to have allowed it to get known that a new play of his was to be
produced in the West End, but he was unable to find "an adequate
exponent for the leading role"--what a pretty phrase!--"which requires
an emotional young actress, capable of portraying strong light and
shade." He received many offers from actresses, none of whom were
suitable.

These two complainants are making a mistake concerning the task of the
dramatist, who fails in his labours if his plays cannot adequately be
acted without the assistance of great actresses. They are foolishly
pandering to the vanity of the players, who as a rule have a tendency to
exaggerate their importance in relation to drama. The error is very
common, and the idea that plays should be written primarily to exhibit
the players and not the ideas of the author is the bane of our theatre.

Until our dramatists act firmly on the view that their duty is to write
plays interesting when rendered by a good, starless company, they will
only produce as a rule _bravura_ pieces of little artistic value. By all
means let them write strongly emotional parts, if they can; but they are
not worthy of their royalties if their characters do not generally lie
within the range of a fair number of actresses. There is a grotesque
mixture of vanity and modesty in the mind of an author who thinks his
work worthy of performance by an actress of genius and at the same time
believes it to be too weak to succeed without her help.

It will be answered, probably, that Shakespeare's plays demand players
of genius and yet certainly are not mere _bravura_ pieces. There is
truth und untruth in this--truth that our public will not patronize
Shakespeare when acted by average performers; untruth in the proposition
that they cannot adequately be represented by players without genius. We
have unfortunately got into the very bad habit of going to see his works
not for their intrinsic interest but for the sake of the acting and
mounting. It is not _Hamlet_ but Mr Smith as the Prince of Denmark; not
_Romeo and Juliet_ but Miss Brown and Mr Jones as the lovers of Verona,
and so on, which form the attraction; and the works are cut and played
out of balance in order to meet the demand.

The author would have resented a suggestion that his characters are so
superhuman as to need marvellous performance: these remarks are without
prejudice to the question whether even with the aid of great players
Shakespeare's dramas reveal a fair proportion of their merits on the
stage.

The outcry concerning the alleged dearth of good actresses is very
commonly uttered and exceedingly ill-founded. It is wise to avoid the
thorny question how far the recognized leading ladies of our first-class
theatres are satisfactory--yet it may be said that a successful
playwright recently complained that as a body they were not, and that,
despite his protests, he was compelled to have his works performed by
the ladies in possession--and judicious to shirk the proposition,
sometimes put forward, that some of these do not hold their positions by
mere force of merit. Putting, then, aside the actresses enjoying
grandeur in London, and leaving out of account a still more remarkable
group which includes Mrs Kendal, Mrs Patrick Campbell and Miss Olga
Nethersole--whom we too rarely see in town--and even ignoring what may
be called "recognized leading ladies" who are "resting" reluctantly,
there remains a powerful group of young actresses of experience and
talent fully competent to satisfy the reasonable requirements of these
gentlemen who are complaining of the "dearth." Since this was written a
number of young ladies then on the boards but not accepted as leading
ladies have made their way to the front.


Character Actresses

Several letters have been written lately, pathetic letters, from
actresses unable to get engagements. All of the writers have enjoyed
successes, have been referred to by important papers as "promising" or
"coming leading ladies," each has had at least one engagement at a very
handsome weekly salary, yet every one of them is in doleful dumps.

Here is a passage from one: "In 1904 I did so well that I lived in
luxury, and, I fear, somewhat extravagantly, and my performance as
heroine in ---- was so highly praised that I had no doubt my future was
well assured. Last year I earned £40, and I have to live on what I earn,
and if I look dowdy when I go seeking an engagement I have little chance
of getting it. Yet I am under thirty, and although not one of the little
group of alleged beauties whose faces appear monotonously week after
week in the illustrated papers, I am well-enough-looking when made up,
and have read in criticisms references to my 'charm of presence' and
even to my 'beauty.' What is to become of me, I don't know. Of course I
am particularly hopeless seeing that nine of the London theatres out of
less than three times that number are now devoted to musical comedy and
I am unable to sing, nor should I be enthusiastic about taking work
sadly in contrast with my once high and hopeful ambition."

The last phrase deserves some consideration. To a great extent the
reason why the stage causes so much unhappiness among actresses is that
a large proportion enter the profession not in a simple straightforward
way in the choice of a career, but because they dream of great triumphs.
Probably the career of Ellen Terry, and the exhibition of public
affection shown upon the occasion of her jubilee, brought many recruits
to the stage.

Putting aside the fact that Ellen Terry is unique, one may remark that
very few actresses can hope to get close to the top of the tree, for
obvious reasons. In the case of most careers and professions, nine men
out of ten who join them know perfectly well that they will never do
more than earn a decent living, and they shape their lives accordingly;
but nearly every young actress expects to become a leading lady at a
West End theatre, though there are few West End theatres devoted to real
drama, and in some out of the small number there will always be a
manager's wife or friend as an obstacle.

The misfortune is that few young actresses--if any--say to themselves
deliberately that they will aim at character parts, or old-woman parts.
Nearly all the old-woman and _grande-dame_ characters are played by
actresses who have been leading ladies and during some period have had
the painful experience of failing, on account of their age, to get the
engagements they have sought. The Juliet of one season is not the Nurse
or the Lady Capulet of the next; a considerable time passes before there
is such a shift of characters, and she acts nothing at all during the
interregnum, which is spent in vain attempts to get the Juliet parts,
met with cruel rebuffs on the score of age.

Now, some of the old-man actors on the stage are quite young; they have
chosen a particular line, conscious of the fact that nature has denied
them the privilege of playing parts that will cause the
stage-door-keeper to be deluged with amorous letters addressed to them,
and aware, too, that the triumphs of the broad comedian will never be
theirs. These young old-men are often quite as successful in old-man
parts as those who have served most of a lifetime upon the stage.

It is not more difficult for a young woman to play the old-woman
character or the _grande-dame_ part than for the young man to tackle the
Sir Peter Teazle or the ordinary modern old-man; nor is this the only
class of work other than that of lovely heroine which lies open to the
actress. When one hears discussion concerning the casting of plays there
is often talk about the difficulty of finding an actress for a Fanny
Brough part, which, of course, is quite distinct from what may be
considered specifically a _soubrette_ character. Complaints are uttered
about the difficulty of finding a player to represent the comic
mother-in-law; indeed, playwrights are sometimes affected in their work
by the fear that if they write broad comedy for feminine parts the
difficulty of casting them will be insurmountable.

Handsome salaries are paid to the few ladies who have a well-deserved
reputation as actresses in the class of character thus indicated, and
there is a demand for them--a demand generally supplied by superannuated
leading ladies and aged _soubrettes_. It may be offensive to a girl's
vanity deliberately to choose a path in which her personal charms, or
those which she believes herself to possess, must be of little service.
On the English stage it may be doubted if such a policy will ever be
adopted, though on French there are instances which might be cited of
actresses who have played dowager characters during the whole of a
profitable, long and respected career.

No doubt there is another side of the matter. Many, most actresses, join
the stage with other ideas than of merely gaining a reasonably
comfortable living wage. Pure ambition in some cases, vanity in others,
are the motive-force, to say nothing of the numbers who may be regarded
simply as stagestruck; and to such as these nothing seems worth striving
for save to represent the triumphant heroine, the fascinating
_soubrette_, or Lady Macbeth.

Upon all, these prudent counsels will be wasted--indeed, those who know
a little of what passes behind the scenes are well aware that young
actresses, almost starving, refuse to accept character parts that would
help them out of poverty because they are afraid of jeopardising their
chance--their one-to-a-hundred chance--of obtaining the perilous
position of leading lady.

There is, of course, another class. Some, perhaps many, become actresses
simply from a pure love of what they deem a beautiful, noble art, and
for them it is only natural to think that nothing is worth representing
save the greater characters; it is difficult to gratify such a love by
representing a middle-aged comic spinster, or one of the elderly
duchesses, without whom a modern comedy is deemed ungenteel. Let us hope
that Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree's Academy, which already is bearing
fruit, will affect this deplorable phenomenon. Those responsible may
succeed in convincing a fair number of their charming pupils that it is
wise not to aim at glittering triumphs which fall to few, but to qualify
for work necessary in most plays, and very often done indifferently.


Stage Misfits

"One of those things no fellah can understand," to quote a phrase of
Lord Dundreary, is the way in which players get chosen for their parts.
Most cases, no doubt, are not instances of square pegs in round holes;
but the number of exceptions is enormous, a fact which has lately been
made manifest by one of the short French seasons. An actress of really
great talent has appeared as a star in her husband's company, and the
obvious judgment upon her first two appearances was that the characters
chosen were quite unsuitable to her. The reference is to Madame Suzanne
Desprès.

In _La Rafale_ and _Le Détour_ she had to represent a Parisian, a _chic
Parisienne_, a creature of nerves, elegance and, according to Balzac,
sound business calculation, Madame Desprès suggested none of these
qualities; in physique she seems an agreeable-looking, strong-minded
countrywoman with brains; obviously she has no instinct for dress; and,
despite remarkable skill and a fine exhibition of acting, she presented
a woman quite different from the author's character, one also who would
never have behaved like M. Bernstein's heroines.

The play suffered and the player suffered, and probably only the
critical could see what an admirable actress she is and guess how
perfectly she would represent a higher type of woman. This is no
isolated case. We often see the race-horse used in pulling heavy
weights and the Suffolk punch employed for speed, and each blamed for
the unsatisfactory accomplishment of the absurd task. Many of the
disasters in the theatre are due to this.

As a rule the actor-manager or manageress demands the principal
character, however unsuitable. Going back a little, one recalls with
astonishment the experiment of Irving in representing Romeo, and many
have wondered why Ellen Terry in 1888 appeared as Lady Macbeth. Some of
the pleasantest memories of the playgoer concern superb performances by
Miss Elizabeth Robins, and yet they can recollect two or three
appearances in commonplace dramas that were flat failures. Mrs Patrick
Campbell has had several checks which would be astounding if one did not
recollect that she was constitutionally unsuited for the task she
attempted.

The most ardent Bensonian will hardly suggest that his idols are always
judicious in their choice of characters. To use the stock stage term,
players often "see themselves" in characters in which the public sees
only them and not the characters. Are there no kind friends on the stage
to give unpalatable advice?

One reason for the extraordinary success of the performances by the
Stage Society and the Vedrenne-Barker management and of Pinero plays was
the judicious choice of players whose physique and temperament coincided
with their parts. Several times we had what seemed brilliant pieces of
acting by performers who never did anything before or afterwards worthy
of admiration. At almost every fresh production enthusiastic young
critics discovered a new actor or actress who, after all, was only an
old friend well fitted at last.

The lack of attention by managers to this matter of suitability often
leads to very awkward results, chiefly in the case of the ladies. Many
times we have listened to ravings about the beauty of the heroine, and
when she has appeared there has been a giggle in the house on account of
her lack of beauty. We have frequently heard references to the tiny feet
of a healthy young woman who would hardly have got three of her toes
into the glass slipper, or to the dainty hands of a lady who would split
a pair of eights.

The beauty of the men is not so frequently referred to, but we sometimes
have an ugly fellow vainly trying to live up to suggestions that he is
an Adonis and merely looking ridiculous in consequence. The matter of
age, too, enters into the question--at times disastrously. Some
actresses are like Cleopatra or Ninon de l'Enclos, but many look twice
their reputed age. It is only in the case of Juliet that it is deemed
decent to refer to this difficulty, and then merely because Shakespeare
has set her so cruelly young that everybody knows nobody can play and
look the part.

In this matter a little good sense would work wonders. We critics are
much to blame, and blamed, for not trying to force the entry of good
sense. Some of our forebrothers never hesitated to talk bluntly about
the physical unsuitability of players for their parts, but we have grown
so mealy-mouthed that if Miss Florence Haydon were to play Rosalind or
Mr Louis Calvert Romeo, we should merely use some obscure phrases about
unsuitability of temperament instead of saying something usefully brutal
about the folly of these admirable artists. If we go a little further,
our editors are pestered with letters to which we have the privilege of
replying.

The whole thing is absurd. The public is not deluded, and we hear
murmurs in the theatre and outcries in the streets about the fact that
Miss So-and-so is far too ugly for her part and Mr So-and-so too old,
and the plays fail because the charges are true and the stage illusion
has never been created, and the critic's authority--if any--is weakened.
There are as many bad performances because the players are physically
unsuitable as because they are otherwise incompetent.

If these ideas were acted upon the profession at large would gain, for
the players would be put more constantly in circulation; on the other
hand it will be suggested that the actors and actresses would grow less
skilful, since it may be imagined that their highest achievements are
exhibited when overcoming the greatest difficulties, in which
proposition there is an obvious fallacy; and also that they would gain
less experience, having a smaller variety in parts.

The advocates of the old stock system certainly would howl, because they
think it did an actor good to play a great number of vastly different
characters. It must, however, be recollected that in the time when the
stock system flourished, putting aside the comparatively small classic
repertoire, a very large proportion of the pieces were written upon more
mechanical lines than the better plays of the present time, and parts
tended to become classifiable into distinct well-known categories.
To-day popular players are often engaged for long terms at theatres,
where they are inevitably given characters for many of which they are
unsuited in physique or temperament, to say nothing of age.

Another matter is the question of accent. From time to time we have
players on our boards who speak English with a foreign accent in parts
where such an accent is an absurdity. No doubt some have grappled with
this difficulty very cleverly. Modjeska, for instance, Bandmann, Mlle.
Béatrice, Marius, Juliette Nesville and the lady who played here as
Madame Simon le Bargy.

The memory of few goes back to Fechter, and it would hardly be tactful
to refer on this topic to several American players. The effect, however,
necessarily is unfortunate; it is difficult enough on the stage to
create illusions, and very important not to multiply difficulties.
Opera, with the magic aid of music, may contend successfully against
such monstrosities as one singer singing an Italian part in French,
whilst the others offer various styles of Italian, Anglo-Italian,
German-Italian, Swedish-Italian--almost any Italian save the _lingua
Toscana_. Spoken drama is not so robust in this particular, and the
matter in question does not happen often enough to acquire validity by
becoming a convention.


Stars

The past season has been comparatively disastrous to the theatres, and
many pieces have failed; this state of things is coincident with healthy
progress in English drama, and the year has seen several productions
that would have startled as well as delighted enthusiasts a few years
ago. Putting aside musical comedy and comic opera, one asks why it is
that a great deal of money has been lost at the playhouses and a very
large proportion of pieces have been failures.

There are outcries about a dearth of good plays and competent players,
and the supposed deficiency in these elements is generally offered as an
explanation. Is it the true one? Certainly not. The development of the
star system is the chief cause of the disaster. In former days we used
to blame the actor-manager, but since the time when all were throwing
stones at him a good deal has happened for which the ordinary
actor-manager is not responsible--directly.

To-day several of the managers who are not actors run their theatres on
the star system, and we find the announcement frequently made that Mr X.
will present Miss So-and-so, or Mr So-and-so, or Mrs So-and-so, in a new
play by Mr XXX. In other words, the manager is really offering his star
to the public, and not the play. Moreover, a number of players are run
as stars by syndicates. In plain English, most of our theatres are
managed, or rather mismanaged, upon the supposition that the principal
players are more important than what they represent.

It is the opinion of many disinterested observers that only three or
four of our actors and actress in legitimate drama draw an appreciable
amount of money in London to the theatre, and sacrifices made for those
who do not obviously are futile. The unfortunate result of the system is
that the playwright is sacrificed to the stars--most of whom are
ineffectual. He is required to fit his drama to the personality of one,
or it may be two, in the cast.

Let us tell briefly the story of one failure of the year. A play of some
merit was shown to a popular actor, who suggested that if certain
changes were made in it he would recommend it to his syndicate. The
changes were suggested comprehensively under the phrase "If you can
strengthen my part."

The part was strengthened--that is to say, other parts were weakened,
speeches were taken from them and given to the hero, scenes for minor
characters were excised or shortened, and the star was dragged into the
finale of the second act at great sacrifice of plausibility. The play
was then recommended.

It happened that the star had just separated from the leading lady who
generally appeared with him, so the syndicate was free in choice of a
heroine. Three names were suggested. It was admitted that two of the
actresses were more suitable than the third, who, however, had a
"backer" willing to put money into the venture. The money prevailed and
the lady was chosen. She promptly insisted upon having her part
strengthened, so the play was remutilated till her wishes were complied
with. Is it surprising that when it was produced the critics fell foul
of it and denounced the faults due to these transactions, or amazing
that it did not run long?

This is by no means an isolated case: there has been one comedy given
this year, the last act of which was blamed by everybody. Why? Because
the star, who was not the chief figure in it as the play was written,
insisted upon his prerogatives, therefore the part of the second actor
in the cast was cut down to next to nothing and a big irrelevant scene
was introduced for the star, in which he uttered some of the speeches
taken from the second actor's part. To think of a work of art being
submitted to such treatment! It is difficult to emphasize it by a
parallel. One might ask what would be the result if a painter were to
attempt to convert a purely imaginative picture into a portrait, and, in
addition to altering the face and the lines of the figures, were to put
in a number of accessories to please the patron's taste, and also to
accept suggestions from the sitter as to changes in the colour-scheme.

Now, it may be asserted confidently that a number of the plays produced
this year have undergone the process of being altered to please
managers, actor-managers, star players and syndicates. In addition a
good many have been written from the start with a view of fitting the
stars without alteration, and such works, in most cases, are quite out
of balance and proportion, and, moreover, put a burden upon the stars
that they are quite unable to bear, or we to endure.

It was bad enough when there were only two or three stars, but now the
managers have starred a whole shoal of mediocre players and sacrificed
plays and dramatist to them. That there seems to be a dearth of good
plays is in part because of the fact that some good ones are ruined by
changes made in them, whilst others are refused because they do not
contain star parts, and the authors cannot or will not convert them into
star plays.

The stars, created by the managers and industriously boomed by their
press agents, by the newspapers and by the postcard merchants, have
become Frankensteins to their creators. They demand and get extravagant
salaries. Yet experience shows that few really draw people to the
theatre.

When the manager makes his calculation he can only put a limited sum to
the salary list, and since he starts with one or two star salaries there
is an insufficient amount left for the rest of the company--that is to
say, instead of having the other characters represented by players who
would be chosen for them if money were no object, they have to be taken
by the cheapest performers who can possibly be deemed competent.

The position of the unstarred actor is peculiarly precarious, for he is
often passed over, although the salary expected by him is not very
large, in favour of somebody cheaper and less competent. Some casts
remind one of the women who think themselves well dressed merely
because they have a new hat. They begin with one or two good
players--when the stars happen to be good players--and immediately drop
below mediocrity.



CHAPTER IX

STAGE DANCING


The Skirts of the Drama

A case lately came on for trial in Paris relating to a quarrel that
arose a long time ago. Incidentally, it may be observed that "the law's
delay" is even greater in France than over here, where, indeed, until
the most august regions of the courts are reached procedure is
comparatively rapid, and on the Chancery side cases are tried as hats
are ironed, "while you wait." The question in Paris raises one of
importance, but in itself is mere matter for merriment.

Mademoiselle Sarcy sued her manager because he tried to make her depart
from traditions; and, although she is a prima ballerina, required her to
wear flowing petticoats in the ballet of _Hérodiade_. The matter stirred
Paris prodigiously.

With us, of course, the ballet has ceased to be of importance. In
Mademoiselle Genée we had a dancer as well entitled to immortality as
those about whom our fathers raved, and Russian dancers of brilliance
have appeared, but opera and the legitimate theatre pay no attention to
ballet except at pantomime season; and whilst probably the average keen
playgoer of Paris is acquainted with the names of the orthodox steps,
and is aware that in the ballet one begins as _petit rat_, then becomes
a quadrille ballerina, develops into a coryphée, blossoms into a minor
subject, grows into a subject, and eventually emerges and reaches the
stars as a prima ballerina, few of us know anything about the subject.

The whole fight in Paris raged round the question whether, regardless of
period or nation or style of music, the prima ballerina is entitled to
wear the scanty parasol skirt and petticoats in which she delights. The
ladies of the ballet, with modern tradition on their side, resent any
alteration in costume. The matter is not one of propriety in the
ordinary sense of the word; the propriety of ballet costumes is out of
the range of rational discussion. No one can doubt that if we had never
seen anything but ordinary society drama and a ballet were launched at
us in customary costume the police courts would take up the matter.

It is even known that there was a time (not Sir Henry's) when the Lord
Chamberlain interfered at the Lyceum and was defeated by ridicule.
Custom has settled the question of propriety, and it may be confidently
asserted that it never occurs to the mind of the prima ballerina that
any human being could regard her costume as indelicate. The trouble in
Paris was that, despite the wish of the other persons concerned in the
ballet, the star insisted upon proving lavishly to the public that she
did not resemble the traditional Queen of Spain. She went further: she
demanded her pound of flesh--or padding--she wished to exhibit what in
technical slang is called _le tutu_, a term descriptive of the
abbreviated costume and possessed also of a secondary meaning, which may
be imagined by taking the ordinary tourist's pronunciation of the words
and translating it. Trilby's "the altogether" in connexion with tights
explains the matter.

The question is one of art, and here lies its humour. It is not physical
vanity on the part of the ladies, for they know that sculptors would
hardly choose as subjects the lower portion of women whose legs have
been over-developed by a training so arduous that it is found almost
impossible to get English girls to go through with it. But--and here's
the rub--the dancer has a respect for her craft, which, like the actor's
devotion to his art, tends to produce erroneous ideas, and this is why
the fight has taken place.

At the bottom, it becomes a question of virtuosity. Art has suffered
appallingly in every branch from the mania for cultivation of dexterity
in accomplishment. To the prima ballerina the dancing is more important
than the dance, to the actors the playing than the play, to many
painters the _facture_ than the picture, and so on. Music has been the
main sufferer, particularly on the vocal side, and certain kinds of
opera have been buried under the vocal acrobatics of the singers. One
sees occasionally in shop windows, and, it may be, in human habitations,
a species of abominable clock that has no kind of casing to conceal the
works; it suggests the image of a prima ballerina. With the perfectly
modest immodesty of the little boy cited in discussion by Laurence
Sterne, she delights in exhibiting the works; more truthfully than a
once famous conjuror, she insists upon showing us "how it is done"; and
that really is quite the last thing a person of any taste wishes to
know, or, rather, desires to have forced upon him.

Obviously, it is the duty of everyone who pretends to be educated to
have some acquaintance with the mechanics of the different branches of
art, but he does not want to be taught in public. Unfortunately the
performer displays a natural desire to show his own cleverness rather
than that of the dramatist. He treats himself as the cart when he is
only the--horse.

Drama has suffered severely from this; indeed, in our theatres we have
reached the topsy-turvydom of having the dramatist write for the players
instead of having the players act for the dramatist. Sterile art is the
general outcome. A great form of architecture perished with the
architect who, forgetful of noble design, indulged in desperate _tours
de force_ and offered to the stonemason the opportunity of executing
miracles in stone lacework.

Dancing has stood still since the dancers have gyrated frantically in
order to prove their mechanical dexterity, and drama is in the doldrums
because the players, with the assistance of the press, have induced the
public to regard their performance as more important than the work which
it is their duty to represent. The last statement is becoming
inaccurate. It is hardly extravagant to say that when a play is written
at the dictation of an actor the acting will be more important than the
piece, for but little good work comes out of drama concocted under such
circumstances.

The dancers are really dancing on the ruins of their art. They have
lessened their skirts and their popularity at the same time. Old
pictures show (and I believe that old measurements are preserved to
indicate the fact) that in the days of the famous _pas de quatre_--not,
of course, the one at the Gaiety--skirts were worn far longer than the
modern _tutu_.

The costume of the prima ballerina assoluta in our grandfather's days
was something like an umbrella and a pair of braces: the umbrella shrank
to the _en-tout-cas_, and the _en-tout-cas_ to the open parasol; unless
the movement is arrested, in the course of time a lampshade will be
reached, and ultimately, say, fifty years hence, the Genée of the period
will have nothing more of skirt and petticoat than some kind of fringe
round the waist, indicating, like our coccygeal vertebrae, or the
rudimentary limbs of the whale, a mere useless atrophied apparatus.

It was once possible for the poses and movements of the dancer to be
graceful--the phrase "the poetry of motion" had a meaning. With the
stiff _tutu_ sticking out almost at right angles, elegance is quite
impossible. The present "star" resembles in outline one of the
grotesques used by Hogarth to illustrate his theories in his "Analysis
of Beauty," and one is inclined to laugh at her awkwardness when she
walks; nor is it easy to admire when she whirls round like a dancing
dervish, the _tutu_ mounting higher and becoming more and more
rectangular the faster she goes.

Mlle. Genée, delicious and graceful, in some flowing character-costume,
and then ridiculous in the _tutu_ that she adores, proved this more than
any amount of written explanation. She was such a great performer, so
perfect in mechanism, so harmonious from little foot to dainty head, so
brilliant in her miming, that one was forced to say sorrowfully "_Et
tu-tu_, Genée." Unfortunately the virtuoso mania is irresistible, and,
so far as graceful dancing is concerned, there is no hope that we may
see such a _pas de quatre_ as won fame in the palmy days of the ballet;
we have reached the reign of the _pas du tutu_, and, almost wish we had
arrived at the _pas du tout_.

During the last few years there has been a great stir in the dancing
world. Some time ago Isadora Duncan gave a private exhibition at the New
Gallery of certain dances in a style intended to be a revival of old
Greek dancing.

A little later Miss Ruth St Denis presented in public some strange,
quite beautiful, performances consisting of dancing, miming and
posturing supposed to suggest ideas of Indian life, and her finely
restrained, truly artistic work deeply impressed both the critics and
audiences.

Afterwards came Miss Maud Allan, alleged--no matter with what degree of
truth--to be an imitator of Isadora Duncan, and she made a great "hit,"
her most popular performance being a "Salome" dance, which was
considered by some people to be indecent. Certainly of her costume the
French phrase "_qui commence trop tard et finit trop tôt_" might justly
be used, for she carried nudity on the stage to a startling degree. In a
good many other dances her work was rather pretty and quite
unobjectionable, but vastly inferior to the art of Isadora Duncan or
Ruth St Denis.


Isadora Duncan

The theatrical season of 1908 ended in a blaze of--dancing. At what is
generally deemed about the dullest moment in the year Isadora Duncan
appeared at the Duke of York's Theatre, and kept it open and well
attended for almost a month. The affair is unique in the history of our
theatre. One can imagine a playhouse running on the basis of a big
ballet, with a story, popular music, magnificent scenery, gorgeous
costumes, huge _corps de ballet_, half-a-dozen principals and immense
advertisement. In this case we have had more or less isolated dances to
music generally severe; for scenery only a background of subtle yellow,
taking strange tones under the influence of different lights; for
costumes only some beautiful, tranquil, simple Greek drapery; for _corps
de ballet_ a few children; for principals one woman, with an intelligent
face, but certainly no great beauty; and in the way of advertisement
very little, except some honestly enthusiastic press notices, and
fortunately nothing in the form of photographs of nudities or
half-nudities.

There has been a triumph of pure art under austere conditions, such as
can hardly be recollected on our stage, unless in the case of
_Everyman_--pure art akin to the theatrical, indeed parent of the drama.
The word histrionic is derived through the Latin from an Etruscan word
which means "to leap" and was originally applied to dancers.

Historically, the matter is interesting. Drama began in dance and
developed from it, dance and drama going hand-in-hand for a long while;
then a separation came, and dance has tended more and more to become
meaningless and conventional, and, in the chief school of dancing,
purely technical. The Spanish school is still alive, reinforced by the
North African, and in the main showing some tendency, often perfectly
restrained, towards the indecent. Our own step-dancing remains popular,
and for a while the hybrid skirt-dancing triumphed, chiefly because of
the genius of Kate Vaughan and talent of her successors, one of whom,
Katie Seymour, worked out a clever individual compound of styles.

The "Classic" school, classic in quite a secondary sense, which has been
represented by what one can conveniently call the ballet, year after
year has worked towards its extinction by the over-cultivation of mere
technique, of execution rather than imagination.

The greatest artist of this school in our times is Genée; natural
grace, a piquant individuality, and a fine power of miming, have lent
charm to work the foundation of which is really acrobatic, and consists
of remarkable feats made too manifest by an abominably ugly costume.

Isadora Duncan goes back in style to the early Greek; dancing, however,
necessarily to more modern music, for the reason that we do not know how
to reproduce much of the old, and possibly would not like it if we
could. To her work one may apply the phrase of Simonides, that "dancing
is silent poetry." Preferable is the term that has been used concerning
architecture: Schelling, in his "Philosophie der Kunst," calls it
"frozen music," a term ridiculed by Madame de Staël. Peter Legh wrote a
book on the topic, published in 1831, with the title "The Music of the
Eye." The book is poor, pretentious stuff, but the title seems nicely
applicable to the dancing of Isadora Duncan. To a deaf man her work
would be entirely musical--to a Beethoven or Robert Franz, deaf after,
for a while, full enjoyment of sound, her dances would, I believe,
represent complete, delightful, musical impressions.

It may be that sometimes in her work she attempts impossible subtleties,
endeavouring to express ideas beyond the range of melody--for it is
difficult to imagine that any dancing can be more than expressive of
melody, though no doubt to make this true "melody" must be understood in
a large sense. How far away this is from dancing which consists in the
main of executing more or less complicated steps "in time" with the
music, or such appalling vulgarities as a cake-walk. It must be admitted
that one of the Tanagra figurines is sadly suggestive of a
characteristic pose in the cake-walk--though it may well be that it is
a mere pose which led to none of the abominations with which our stage
has been deluged!

In the case of Isadora Duncan we have seen poses and movements of
extraordinary beauty, exquisitely sympathetic with fine music. No doubt
occasionally she has made a concession, as on her first night, when she
danced to "The Blue Danube" waltz by way of an encore, putting, however,
her own interpretation on the music and her sense of it. Those who are
acquainted with Greek sculpture and with some of the classic drawings of
the old masters will see that to a very large extent her work is a
revival rather than an invention; but this fact--which she
acknowledges--in no degree diminishes the merit of her performances, for
the execution is of wonderful beauty and the application of the old
ideas to music of a different type is very clever.

Her work alone has well repaid the audiences, many members of which have
made several visits to the theatre; it has, however, been supplemented
by dances in which young children were the performers, dances so pretty
in conception and delightful in execution that one has felt the whole
house thrilling with pleasure. Nothing like these children dances,
nothing of the kind half as charming, has been given on the stage in our
day.

The one complaint possible against Isadora Duncan is that she has
rendered us immoderately dissatisfied with what had once moderately
contented us; and the fear is that we shall promptly have a host of
half-baked imitators, who will copy the mere accidentals of her system
without understanding the essentials, and will fancy that the whole
matter is one of clothes and music, and prance about bare-legged,
meaninglessly. It is hard to see how this is to be avoided until there
has been time for her pupils to grow up; it is certain, however, that if
the new idea, the new-old idea, takes root, there will be a revolution
in dancing, which may have far-reaching effects.

Drama of the strictly intellectual type will remain unaffected; possibly
there will be a new development of the musico-dramatic. It has been
suggested that musical comedy is waning, and the period has been reached
when the average piece of this class spells failure. There is, of
course, nothing in the work of Isadora Duncan which limits it to one
principal, and naught to prevent the combination of singing and dancing.
Off-hand it seems rash to suggest that spoken dialogue could be
harmonized with these. It is imaginable that the authors of _Prunella_
could see their way to combine with work somewhat on the lines of their
charming piece such ideas of dancing as have been suggested by Isadora
Duncan. The result should be a novel, delightful form of art, not
necessarily hybrid.

After Isadora Duncan's public performances came the deluge and the
country was flooded with women indecently unclad, who flapped about on
the stage displaying their persons and their incompetence lavishly. The
authorities have been very lax as regards such performances, many of
which were so obviously crude and clumsy that it was clear that a
_succès de scandale_ was sought deliberately. Of course some of the
performers may have had merit. Later on (in 1910) there arrived some
brilliant Russian dancers whose work is of too great value and
importance to be dealt with in a single paragraph.



CHAPTER X

THINGS IN THE THEATRE


A Defence of the Matinée Hat

The number of matinées at Christmas-time has caused the usual outcry
against the matinée hat, and wrathful or sarcastic letters on the
subject; and it is said that some French managers are taking the strong
step of excluding from the front rows those ladies who, to use the queer
Gallic term, are not "_en cheveux_." It seems surprising that an evil
denounced so universally should be permitted to exist, and that loud
complaints made during many years should have had little or no effect.

The average man regards the matter as quite simple, and wonders why
women are so selfish as to keep on their hats, and thinks that there is
no reasonable explanation of their conduct or excuse for it. It seemed
clear that there must be greater difficulties than are obvious. So
questions were put to an ardent playgoer, who spends appalling sums of
money on her dress, as to why she makes a fuss about taking off her hat
in the theatre.

"My good man," she said to the questioner, "you are talking 'through
your hat' as well as about mine. If my hair was as simple a matter as
yours--" this hit at his unprotected pate seemed rather a blow below the
belt--"there would be no difficulty. Unfortunately, it is a very
complex matter." He hid all but the smallest conceivable fraction of a
smile. "I am not referring to colour," she continued with some asperity,
"but to the fact that, at present, fashion requires me to wear a
prodigious number of little curls. My native crop is ample in quantity,
but I should hardly be in time for a matinée or even an evening
performance if I had it turned into all these little necessary curls.
So, like most of my friends, in order to save time and trouble, I have a
number which are pinned on. Do you think I care to run the risk of
removing my hat without even a looking-glass to guide me? Heaven knows
what might happen. The case is a little better, though far from
satisfactory, with those who wear nothing but their own crop."

This view of the subject seemed to have something in it, a fact which,
of course, could not be admitted. There were, not long before, in _The
Westminster Gazette_ some remarks by "Madame Qui Vive" to the effect
that even a female Absalom or a Mélisande could not do without what she
called the "clever devices of the coiffeur," and claims were made of
woman's right to adopt the fashion of the days when both men and women
wore wigs, on the ground that the coiffeur's "little devices"--English
for sham curls--save time, and also remain "trimmer and neater" than
natural curls.

"Do you think," she said, "that it is pleasant to hold an eight or ten
guinea hat on your knees, to say nothing of a boa and muff and veil? And
what about the damage to a delicate hat caused by people who shove in
front of you and brush against it and crush the tulle and break the
feathers? A lot of style it possesses after being treated in that
fashion!"

"Don't you think you might have special hats for matinées--something
undamageable."

"Perhaps you would like to see me in a tam-o'-shanter, or a yachting
cap, or one of those nice 'sensible' straw hats you men admire; and
suppose I want to go to a lunch _en route_ for the play, or tea
afterwards, or to drive in the Park, or to go anywhere except to my
_cabinet de toilette_?"

"They might make you something extra small and low that would serve for
all these purposes."

"Indeed; don't you think half-a-guinea is enough to pay for a stall
without buying a special hat into the bargain? A nice fuss my husband
would make about my extravagance. Besides, people want us to wear no hat
at all. What does your wife do?"

The interviewer replied that his wife thought it her duty to take off
her hat.

"She behaves better than many ladies of the theatrical world. The other
day I could not see a bit because of the enormous hat worn by Miss ----,
and Miss ----and Miss ---- were just as bad."

It would be pleasant to give the names which would identify popular
actresses who are great shiners in this matter.

"Moreover," she continued, "there is the difficulty of putting it on
again. You men wear your hats on your heads, and can easily get them
straight; we don't, we wear them on our hair, or our scalpettes, or our
transformations, or on any _postiche_ that may be fashionable or
necessary, and can only tell whether they are straight, or even the
right way round, by means of a looking-glass. A pretty thing if I were
to sail out of a theatre with my hat really askew, or before behind;
people might fail to take a charitable view of the situation, and
suspect I had had a glass too much instead of a glass too little."

"All this is irrelevant," said the interviewer, "and the whole
difficulty is--you are too mean to go to the ladies' room and pay or
give sixpence to the attendant."

She smiled pityingly.

"My dear man, you grumble about our being late at the theatre. What
would happen if fifty of us were to take off our hats and touch up our
hair in a room too small for fifteen, before taking our seats? I know
one ladies' room where there is only one looking-glass, and there are
only a few horrid little hooks on which to hang hats and veils. I would
gladly patronize the waiting-room if there were ample accommodation, but
that would be out of the question in most theatres, and one would have
to come much too early and get away needlessly late; and there might be
little mistakes about the hats and furs unless half-a-dozen attendants
were provided, for it can't be a simple question of handing hats and
coats over the counter as it is with you men."

It is undeniable that in some cases the ladies' cloak-rooms have not
been designed so as to deal with the question under discussion, because,
of course, theatres are primarily built for the evening performances,
and matinées are only a little extra as a rule.

"The matter," said the lady thoughtfully, "is more important than you
think. I consider that the matinée hat has settled the fate of many new
enterprises. If the lady is asked to take off her hat and does not, she
is uncomfortable during the afternoon, because she knows the people are
hating her, not quite unjustly, and also because they sometimes whisper
at her offensively. If she does take it off she is worried lest she has
made a guy of herself; she is often upset because her hat has been
crushed, and her mind is distracted by wonder if she will get it on
right at the end. The result is that she is in a bad mood for the play
and judges it unfairly.

"I think something could be done. The seats might be so arranged as to
have an open box underneath each stall for the hat and muff of the lady
immediately behind. I do not say it would be easy to get at them; but
even in the case of the narrowest stalls--and many are an outrage--it
would be possible. Something of the sort indeed exists at one or two
theatres, such as the Haymarket. Of course the cartwheel hats would not
go into them, but ladies don't wear such things, only women who want to
advertize themselves. Next," she continued, "comes the question of the
looking-glass. I have made efforts to use a small _miroir de poche_, but
it is far from adequate. In cases where the backs of the stalls are of a
good height, a fair-sized mirror might be fixed high up on the back,
with some little contrivance in the way of a curtain which could be
drawn over it; and aided by these we might be able to grapple with our
difficulties."

A penny-in-the-slot mirror might pay.


A Justification of certain Deadheads

In efforts, certainly justifiable, to discover the reason for the
failure of the theatrical season, some people have made quite a
ferocious attack upon the "deadhead," who really has nothing to do with
the case. He has been spoken of as an incubus. Some people regard the
free entry of the _caput mortuum_ with a hostility like that shown by
our ancestors (and to some extent ourselves) to the mortmain of the
Church.

Let us consider the deadhead for a while. First, it is necessary to
point out that there are several species. The genus includes all members
of the audience who do not pay for their seats. Of course the species of
deadhead critic is not attacked on this particular point; yet indirectly
some members of it affect the situation, for it is said that there are
critics who demand a good deal of "paper" for their friends from
managers, even when the tickets are really saleable.

London critics are not treated like their brethren in Paris--the great
city in which drama flourishes--where a reverence is exhibited for our
craft not manifested in London. On a first night over here you will find
that in many theatres the representatives of first-class papers are in
back rows of the stalls or in the dress circle, whilst deadheads of
another species are occupying most of the better places. Moreover, there
are very, very few journals to which more than one ticket is sent.

The next kind of deadhead is the unprofessional first-night deadhead, a
mixture of personal friends of the manager, the author, the principal
players and of "the backers," if any. It is said that they are the most
troublesome of all to handle, being utterly unreasonable as a body, and
refusing contemptuously seats accepted without a murmur by newspapers
that have a million or so of readers. Many are only willing to lend the
support of their presence on the first night; seats for the second or a
later night are scorned. In this class may be reckoned members of _the_
profession, who, with a strange disregard for the convenience of the
management, demand a couple of stalls for the _première_, though they
are in the habit of complaining that a first performance does justice
neither to the piece nor to the players. Lastly, in the group of
first-night deadheads come the members of the unrecognised,
ill-organised, generally tactless claque.

The species that lately has been attacked is divisible into two groups.
The first consists of the people who will not go to the theatre without
an order, but do not expect first-night tickets--one may call them the
"cadgers." The second species might be entitled the "window-dressers."
Volumes have been written about the "cadgers," and countless stories
told. No doubt they cause trouble and some expense in stamps, stationery
and clerical work. Probably they do not really affect the fate of a
piece, for there seems no reason to doubt the truth of the general
assertion, that nearly all of them would stay away if they could not get
a ticket for nothing.

Now we come to the really lamentable class, people who have to be
brought into a theatre "with a lassoo," to use an American term. Let us
look at the position--the melancholy position. The play is not quite a
hopeless failure; it is in a Mahomet's coffin position. If it can last a
little longer the season may improve and money be made; or it is neither
making nor losing on ordinary nights and does paying business on
Saturdays. There is a third state of affairs--perhaps the commonest: it
is necessary to keep the piece running for a certain number of weeks,
even at a loss, in order that it may visit the provinces and the
colonies or the States as a big London success that has enjoyed a long
run. Yet paying playgoers keep aloof.

What is the manager to do? If his house is but half full the applause
will be faint, the players are likely to act without spirit, and, worse
still, the audience may be chilled, and the members of it will tell
their friends that the house was almost empty, thereby causing them to
think that the entertainment is poor. So half full might become quite
empty. What method does the manager adopt? He knows that the general
public is as uncritical of an audience as of a play or of acting, so he
fills his house as well as he can with the very deadest of deadheads;
"orders" are distributed lavishly to people whose presence in the
theatre is actually a favour to the management.

It is said that these playgoers are peculiarly severe in their judgments
and remarkably apathetic! To the truth of part of this we can testify,
since we study such deadheads with great curiosity on the occasions,
rather rare, when we see them, for sometimes a dramatic critic gets
taken to the theatre by a friend. We think ourselves very famous, yet
most of us have friends ignorant of the fact that our trade is to
criticize plays. The position is a little quaint; one is asked to dine
at about the time that is customary to take afternoon tea; the dinner is
short though, if at a fashionable restaurant, the waits are long; and
there comes an awful moment when the host mentions that he has got six
stalls for the ----. Generally there is some friend present who knows
the true position, and exhibits a smile of fiendish mirth.

When this happens we examine the professional deadhead with interest. He
reminds one of the hired mourner at the Hebrew funeral. Fantastic
clothes, strange devices for keeping shirt-fronts clean, queer
contrivances for protecting the throat during the bus-ride home, furtive
umbrellas, ample reticules (in which perhaps goloshes are hidden), and a
genteel reticence in applause or laughter, are marks of the stranger in
the stalls--the harmless, necessary deadhead. He may not be ornamental,
nor even she, despite her sex; perhaps they give little encouragement to
the players; they bring nothing directly to the exchequer, but they fill
a place.

Few of us do more; some of us merely fill a column, and wish we did that
duty as conscientiously as most of these poor creatures do theirs, for,
though obviously determined not to enjoy themselves, they come
punctually, do not cause inconvenience by going out between the acts to
waste money on high-priced refreshments, and remain in their places to
the bitter end--unlike the cash patrons, so many of whom bustle away
brutally towards the close of the entertainment for fear lest they
should miss the chance of earning a nightmare at a fashionable
restaurant. Seeing what service they render to the managers the
deadheads are perhaps entitled to the protection of the phrase "_de
mortuis_."

The foregoing article brought several letters, amongst them one that
deserves a little consideration. All responsibility is disclaimed for
the letter that is published verbatim:


DEAR SIR,--I have lately read an article by you on the subject of the
matinée hat, with almost every word of which I have the honour of
expressing my entire disagreement. Although your views on the topic may
be absurd, they show that you have a mind capable of appreciating more
than one side of a case; so I venture to write to you about the great
question of the day, the proposed suppression of the deadhead.
"Ingratitude, thou marble-hearted fiend," to use the words of the bard;
to think that after all our services to them, the managers, too blind to
see the obvious causes of their distress, should dream of abolishing
the "harmless necessary" deadhead, who often has rendered to them
assistance like that of the mouse "i' the fable" to the lion.

Permit me to discuss the matter seriously. Let me begin by employing,
with trifling modification, a famous phrase by one of the dramatists of
the land from which most of our English drama comes: "There are
deadheads and deadheads!" They may be put into two main groups--the
first-night deadheads and the other-nights deadheads--and there are
subdivisions. Few save those immediately concerned would mourn if the
first group were abolished--you can guess that I do not belong to it.
Yet I am well acquainted with the group, since a cousin of mine, long
time a popular actor, has been of late a too-frequent attendant at these
functions.

Of first-night deadheads there are four varieties: Friends of the
management, including their brother pros.; friends of the author;
friends of principal players in the cast; and the critics. It is a
source of great joy to my cousin to see that on these occasion the
managers know how to put the critics in their proper places, grouping
them, for instance, in rows of stalls bearing the more remote letters of
the alphabet, whilst between them and the footlights come the deadheads
of the other varieties.

Personally, I wonder whether it is wise to put the gentry of the pen in
seats from which they often hear with difficulty, and see without
accuracy, in rows of seats normally belonging to the pit, and merely
posing, _pro hoc vice_, as stalls, and situate in the headachy region
underneath the dress circle.

According to my cousin, the first-night deadheads, as a body, are
unpunctual and unappreciative. They chatter a good deal and seem more
interested in the audience than the play, and might well be replaced by
the many people who would be glad to plank down their money for a seat.
Let them go; and I warrant the managers will be none the worse--I
should, indeed, except the gentlemen of the Fourth Estate.

The case of myself and the deadheads of other nights is quite different.
The managers will find it difficult to do without us.

We are present as much for their benefit as for our pleasure.

_Constatons les faits_, if I may borrow another phrase from the French.
Under what circumstances are we invited? When a play is doing good
business? Certainly not. It is when the company are discussing in
whispers whether the notice will go up or not, that the Fiery Cross is
sent round to us and we come and fill the house. Without us there would
be an aching void, and the few paying people, aghast at the gloom, would
spread very bad reports. Managers, like nature, abhor a vacuum. Our
presence saves the situation and the face of the management. No doubt
our assistance is often vain, but the cases are numerous when, thanks to
us, the management has been able to tide over a bad week or two during a
run.

"They also serve who only sit and watch" is our motto, taken, you will
see, from a line by the "organ-mouthed voice of England." Would not
_Dorothy_ have died young but for our intervention? Would not _The Lion
and the Mouse_ have enjoyed the success it deserved if we had been
called in to dress the house until the public had discovered the piece?
Many are the cases where, during weeks of bad weather or sudden gloom
we have rallied loyally to the theatre and kept a play going.

Do services such as this count for nothing? Is my occupation to become
like that of the Moor of Venice--merely because managers are forgetful?
Do we make no sacrifices when we come to their aid? What about the
expense of coming to and fro? What about wear and tear of dress clothes,
useless to some of us except for such purposes, and, in honesty I should
add, so far as the nether portions are concerned, for attending
funerals?

Let me discuss what is urged against us. It is said that if we did not
get free tickets we should pay to visit the play. There is a little
truth in this, but not much. We might take tickets for the pit to see
the good plays; our judgment tells us they are but few, whereas a sense
of duty compels us in our quasi-professional capacity to attend even the
most deplorable rubbish. This aspect of the matter amounts to no more
than a trifle. The managers would gain little from our occasional
shillings and lose much by our frequent absence.

It is urged that we do not applaud. I maintain that deceitful applause
is not in our implied contract; certainly we never hiss or boo, though
there is a splendid tradition rendered popular by poor Lal Brough that
one of us found a play so utterly bad that he left his seat, went to the
box-office, and bought a ticket, in order that he might express his
opinion without prejudice to his conscience. As a body we are playgoers
of judgment and experience, and, though I protest that we clap
generously when there is a reasonable opportunity, the suggestion that
we are a claque failing to do its duty because we do not applaud bad
pieces is an outrageous insult.

No, sir; I do but humbly voice the opinion of my fellow-deadheads when
I say that we would rather be abolished than have to offer sycophantic
applause as part of the bargain. I insist a little upon this aspect,
because the refusal to applaud rubbish seems to be looked upon as the
dead head and front of our offending, if I may take a trifling liberty
with the words of the Swan of Avon.

I had forgotten, sir, to mention one of our most important services. It
is notorious that many plays are run in London without there being any
expectation that they will make money in the Metropolis, but in the
belief that if they can be called "a great London success," our
simple-minded cousins in the country will accept them with enthusiasm.
How, I ask you, are these London successes manufactured? How could they
be without our aid? I could name plays that have been run for a hundred
nights in town at a heavy loss, and yet have proved gold-mines; and I
have visited them at the call of duty and seen with my trained eyes so
few of the paying public that a mere sense of decency would have
compelled the managers to close the doors if we had not been present.

Our assistance on these occasions is an odious part of our duty. It goes
sadly against my conscience to be one of a kind of stage-army audience,
playing a part in order to deceive country or colonial managers into the
belief that some piece of rubbish has had a genuinely successful London
run. Is not service of this character to be counted? Surely, at the
least, if we are to be abolished it should be recognized that the old
hands amongst us are entitled to some compensation. Why, sir, seeing
that serious politicians do not propose to suppress licences for the
sale of poisons without giving compensations, surely we, who have done
much and suffered much, ought not to be put into limbo without some
recognition of our services. I remain, yours sincerely,

CAPUT MORTUUM


Just a line. On careful consideration of this letter, it seems only
right to make a suggestion that some doubts exist whether it is entirely
genuine, but it certainly appears to contain some grains of truth.


Theatrical Advertisements

It may be doubted whether the historian will call our period "the age of
advertisement," though some have thought so. For there are such rapid
and prodigious growths in the base craft of beating the big drum that
our most audacious and colossal efforts may, to our grandchildren, seem
like a Brown Bess to a modern repeater in comparison with their means of
man-allurement. Of all the arts the one relying most upon advertisement
is the drama; yet the phrase is half-unjust to real drama.

Perhaps it is fairer to say that there is more advertisement in
connexion with the theatrical art than any other, or, indeed, all the
others put together. The position is surprising; a large mass of the
reading matter of the London papers is filled with copy concerning the
theatres and players, though only a small percentage is criticism. More
people would recognize each of thirty popular performers than could
identify even one of the great in other branches of art or in science. A
recent squabble about a couple of actresses has been the subject of
greater fuss than would be caused by the discovery of the lost books of
Livy, of a picture by Apelles, of the MS. of an unknown opera by
Beethoven, of a method of making accumulators out of _papier-maché_, or
a mode of manufacturing radium at a cost of twopence a pound. There have
been thousands of columns printed concerning the marriages of
(so-called) actresses to young gentlemen of family.

A digression about these marriages is permissible. Each has led to many
articles on alliances between the aristocracy and the stage, and lists
of the ladies who in our times have honoured (or dishonoured) the
nobility with their hands have been given. Yet there has been little
comment upon the fact that, with two or three exceptions, the so-called
actresses have had no position of importance in the legitimate ranks of
the profession. A woman may perform in a theatre, and even draw a big
salary, without being an actress, and she may have brains, beauty and
popularity, and nevertheless enjoy little chance of marrying anybody
with a "handle to his name," if she confines her work to the non-musical
stage.

A distinction suggests itself--it might be that in music and the love of
it by the nobly born lies the explanation of the phenomenon; it might be
that the blue-blooded youths captured these charmers of the
musico-dramatic department in order to enjoy a selfish monopoly of
lovely voices, but such is not the case. Two or three of the ladies who
have won their way to the "hupper succles" possess talent; one of them
has a beautiful voice and great gifts as an actress, and one was a
brilliant dancer and became an excellent comedienne. The ruck and run of
them, however, have triumphed owing to advertisement in subtle and also
in crude forms.

Really the actresses of legitimate drama, whom one should call the
_actresses_, have a grievance not merely in the fact that the peerage
does not woo them (since in a good many instances the bride has paid
dearly for her elevation), nor merely because women of the oldest
profession open to the sex miscall themselves actresses when in
trouble--the term actress being like the word "charity"--but because
their title includes many persons of notoriety who, if forced to rely
solely upon their talent, could hardly earn a pound a week in true
drama. "True drama," for the common term "musico-dramatic" points to the
fact that the fortunate nymphs belong to the lighter (and sometimes
degraded) forms of musical work and not of the legitimate drama. Some
wag, no doubt, has called their branch the _leg_-itimate drama.

In the mid-Victorian days the advertisements of drama were trifling.
Thirty years ago the photographs of Miss Maud Branscombe, a real beauty,
but not an actress of great quality, created quite a stir, and made her
name well known throughout the land; and the publication of them was,
probably, the beginning of the present deluge. The two illustrated
papers of importance published pictures only of actresses who by means
of their talent had made a genuine sensation; and therefore but few were
presented in the year. Nowadays there are from thirty to forty
photographs a week in the illustrated papers of actresses--using the
term in its widest sense.

Many young ladies, who twenty years ago could not by any decent means
have got their likenesses exhibited to the public except in shop-window
photographs, now simper at us fifty-two times a year, or more, and are
sometimes described as "the celebrated actress," though a few of them
never get beyond the dignity of a single silly line in the book of a
musical hodge-podge. Miss XXX smiles at us from her 40-h.p. "bloater
car" which has cost a larger sum than eight years of her salary, and the
simple-minded think she must be a great star to be able to afford such a
luxury, not knowing that she herself is the luxury which someone else is
unable to afford. The humble old devices are now stale tricks. The
actress in search of notoriety does not lose her jewels: she brings an
action which is reported at great length, and during it half-a-dozen
members of the profession get a splendid chance of blowing their own
trumpets. There was a cruel case a little while ago: one of these
"damaged darlings" of the stage did lose her jewels--which had cost
about as much as that admirable actress Amy Roselle earned in her
honourable career with a tragic ending--but felt bound to keep silent
about the loss, since to have mentioned it would have seemed like
"out-of-date" advertising. "View jew," she called it.

It would be unfair to suggest that the ladies have a monopoly, for many
of the actors also are busy in the art of advertisement--some so busy as
to have little time to study the technique of their art. However, they
get rather less help from the illustrated papers, for reasons not quite
obvious, if it be correct, as some suppose, that the picture journals
are bought for the--not by--the ladies of the family.

The puff system is disadvantageous to the managers, since they have to
pay fancy prices for the services of players, no better than others who
could be engaged at humble rates, because they have acquired a specious
importance by advertisement. The result has been a prodigious increase
of salaries, without any corresponding gain in revenue, for although the
much-"boomed" artist may attract people to a particular theatre, it is
not to be assumed that the quantity of playgoers is increased, or that
more money is spent on the whole by the public because of all this
advertising.

The consequence to the managers, as a rule, is that expenditure is much
greater, but the total amount of receipts remains the same. Yet the
managers as a body are not to be pitied, since not only do they,
unwisely, assist in this artificial glorification of the members of
their companies, but some of them also push the advertisement of their
theatres beyond delicate limits, and by the cunning strenuous efforts of
their "press agents" and others beat the big drum very loudly, sometimes
sounding a false note, as when they publish, in advertisements, garbled
criticisms upon their wares.

There are some in the theatrical world who dislike and disdain the
illegitimate advertisement. Others there are less nicely scrupulous,
perhaps, but not sufficiently "smart" or lucky enough to "boom"
themselves. These suffer. Advertisement is to the theatrical world like
ground bait to anglers. We who, to some extent are behind the scenes,
know too well how many admirable actors and actresses have a hard fight
for a bare living because their places are taken by people of less
knowledge and skill, but more "push" and cunning. Even the general rise
in salaries does not help these reticent players, for a salary at the
rate of twenty pounds a week is not very useful if you are resting ten
months in the year.

It is quite incontestable that we journalists are to be blamed. We help
in the "booming"; we are the big drum, the players provide their own
trumpets. A conspiracy of silence on our part would do much to mend
matters. If for a little while we were to suppress the "personal pars."
and keep out the photographs and only write concerning the theatres
strictly as critics, a great change would take place. Probably the
revenue of the theatres would not diminish sensibly, but the expenses
would. Managers and players would be forced to rely for success upon
merit and nothing else, and as a result the standard of drama and acting
would be raised. This has been so far perceived that even people
belonging to the other side of the footlights have expressed publicly
the opinion that the unsatisfactory state of the theatres is partly due
to their being too much talked and written about.

Rosalind's phrase that a "good wine needs no bush" is but partly true;
merit rarely succeeds by its own virtue when it has to meet unfair
competition in the shape of advertisement.


Music

A little while ago a man, who had not been to the theatre for some
years, was asked his reason. "The last time I went," he replied, "it was
to a tragedy, well written and interesting, if hardly inspired, and
after the first act the band--nobody would call it an
'orchestra'--played a thing called 'The Washington Post,' which I
discovered by the aid of the programme was written by a noise-concocter
called Sousa. I sat it out; I had no choice, for I was in the middle of
a row, and in order to escape I should have had to trample upon a dozen
inoffensive strangers. During the next act the abominable noise kept
coming back into my ears and distracting me, so the drama was ruined for
me."

It was pointed out to him that Mr Sousa is a very popular composer, that
millions of people love his compositions, that it is merely a minority,
contemptible in number, which loathes them. Still he caused thoughts.
For a long time the musical folk have regarded the _entr'acte_ music
simply as one of the unavoidable discomforts of the playhouse; but,
really, managers might be more careful. Apparently it is impossible to
deal satisfactorily with the question. There is a horrible dilemma; if
the music is good you cannot enjoy it, because you can hardly hear it,
for the audience talk too loudly, and there is the bustle of people
coming in and out, and one catches the voices of young ladies inviting
people in the stalls to take tea or coffee or to buy chocolates, and the
occupants of the pit to refresh themselves with "ginger-beer, lemonade,
bottled ale or stout," a phrase to which they give a species of
rhythmical crescendo.

The difficulty is enhanced in some houses by the fact that the orchestra
is hidden in a species of box which is almost noise-proof. On the other
hand, if the music is bad--generally the case--well, it is bad; worse,
still, you can hear it easily. There is a kind of kink in nature which
breeds the law that very small interruptions will mar your pleasure in
good music, but nothing less than a dynamite explosion can drown the
bad; even cotton wool in your ears or the wax employed by the sailors of
Ulysses will not keep it out.

Some time ago Miss Lena Ashwell added to the debt of playgoers towards
her by installing an admirable string quartet, which rendered real music
so well that many people went to her theatre almost as much for the
music as for the drama. Alas! the string quartet soon disappeared.
Inquiries--of course not of persons officially connected with the
theatre--disclosed the fact that there had been many complaints. People
found it difficult to hear themselves talk, and when they talked loud
enough playgoers who were enjoying the music said "Hush!" and in other
ways suggested that they thought it bad form to chatter whilst the
quartet was playing; so Miss Ashwell--very reluctantly--was forced to
change the system.

The Kingsway Theatre formed an exception--not, indeed, the only
exception--to these remarks. The whole question is very difficult.
Theoretically, at least, it is deplorable that there should be any
interruption from the beginning to the end of a play. Dramas, for full
effect, should be in one act, or if they are too long, and if a
concession must be made to human physical weakness, if an opportunity
must be given to people to stretch themselves or move in their seats,
there should be an interval of absolute silence or occupied by music
finely indicative of the emotional states intended to be created by the
drama.

This no doubt is a theory demanding perfection. Up to a certain point
efforts are made to realize it. Under the generous management of Sir
Herbert Beerbohm Tree, we often have music composed expressly for the
drama by musicians of quality, and sometimes it is well enough written
to deserve and afterwards obtain performance in the concert-room. Yet in
a sense it is a failure, since it is imperfectly heard in the theatre;
the fault lies with the audience, but it is hard to blame the members of
it. There is no crime in not being musical, despite Shakespeare's
prodigious phrase, "The man that hath no music in himself ... is fit for
treasons, stratagems, and spoils," or Congreve's phrase concerning music
and the savage breast. We know that there are many people otherwise
finely equipped and alert in matters of art who have no taste in or for
music; that there are some of irreproachable judgment in literature or
painting who, like the officer in the story, recognize no tune save
"God Save the King," and that only because people stand up when it is
played. Also we are aware that some musicians are utter Philistines so
far as other branches of art are concerned.

It is difficult enough to get people to patronize the theatres, and it
would be madness to keep any away by requiring them to make great
sacrifices on the altar of music.

The fact remains that the selection of music is often very carelessly or
foolishly made. To begin with, there is an appalling lack of variety. At
one period "Pomp and Circumstance" was played in almost every theatre,
sometimes well, often badly, till we got sick of it. Pieces such as
"Après le Bal" and "Simple Aveu" were hurled at us every night. A
statement of the number of times that Nicolai's overture to _The Merry
Wives of Windsor_ has been played in the theatres would stagger people;
Gounod's _Faust_ music and Edward German's charming dances from _Henry
VIII._, and one or two overtures by Suppé and the Stradella music, have
become intolerable.

Without posing as the so-called "superior person," without demanding
unpopular classics or asking for the performance of serious chamber
music or severe symphonies, or expressing a desire for Bach--a holiday
might very well be given to the Bach-Gounod "Ave Maria"--we merely pray
for greater variety and also for more careful consideration of the
congruity between the play and the character of the _entr'acte_ and
introductory music.

It should be the duty of somebody to see that an effort is made to
confine the music to works harmonious with the emotions which the
dramatist intends to excite. We ought not to have the "Teddy Bears'
Picnic" just after hearing the heroine weep over the idea that her
husband is faithless; whilst the feelings caused by the agonies of
Othello are not strengthened by hearing the "Light Cavalry" overture;
and the _Faust_ ballad music falls queerly upon the despair of the hero
when he learns that he is ruined. It may be admitted that in many
instances an effort is made to carry out these entirely unoriginal
views, but even in some of our most carefully conducted playhouses there
are strange lapses.

There is another point. It very often happens that the list of pieces
printed upon the programme, for which in most of the theatres a charge
of sixpence is made, is a mere snare. Sometimes none of the pieces
mentioned is played, whilst to alter the order is quite a common matter.
No doubt this gives some uncharitable amusement to people who overhear
the conversation of ignorant playgoers misled by the programme. There
was an unfortunate foreigner who said to his neighbour, "_Pas un aigle,
leur fameux Elgar_" when he thought he was listening to "Pomp and
Circumstance," whilst the orchestra in fact was playing "Whistling
Rufus."

The ideal system, no doubt, was that of Miss Ashwell, who gave a long
list of pieces in the programme with numbers to them, and then had the
number appropriate to the particular work hoisted before it was played.
This is only the ideal in one sense. In reality, the best course is
suggested by a famous maxim: "_Optima medicina est medicina non uti_."
The Stage Society is wise in following the custom sanctioned by such an
august institution as La Comédie Française. After all, we want to make
the theatres less of a gamble and to reduce needless expenses so as not
to render the battle a triumph for the long purse. If the orchestras of
the theatres were in the habit of giving a real service to music by
producing the shorter pieces of talented composers who are struggling
for recognition; if, as might well be the case, they offered a hearing
to the young musicians of talent of whom we now have plenty, then no
doubt they would deserve encouragement. As the matter stands, they
perform too small a service to music to warrant the tax imposed by them
on drama.



CHAPTER XI

IN THE PLAYHOUSE


Laughter

Of late years there has been a good deal of censure, most of it
unwritten, upon the stage management of plays. Despite brilliant
exhibitions of the art of stage management by people such as Pinero and
Mr Granville Barker, there have been more bad performances in modern
times than of old.

The matter is one into which it is needless to go at large upon the
present occasion; yet there is one vice that should be mentioned. We
often have much loud laughter upon the stage that hardly causes so much
as a faint echo on the other side of the footlights. Now, when the
characters in a piece laugh heartily, or at least loudly, at something
supposed to divert them, which does not appeal successfully to the sense
of humour of the audience, the effect is disastrous. It is exasperating
to hear laughter--even feigned laughter--in which one cannot join.

There are people who believe that laughter is infectious, and that if
the persons of the play laugh a great deal the audience will catch the
infection. This is not universally or even generally true. A few
individual players no doubt have an infectious laugh. Samary was famous
for it, and her laughter in one of Molière's farces drew all Paris; and
another French actress by her prodigious laughter in a farce at the
Royalty raised the audience to hearty sympathetic outbursts. Most
players, however, though they may mimic laughter very well, are unable
to make the audience laugh sympathetically, unless really amused by what
is supposed to entertain the characters of the play.

If someone were to invent a laughter-recording machine and use it in the
theatre during farces the stage-managers would be amazed to find how
often it happens that the noise of laughter made by two or three persons
on the stage is greater than that made by the whole audience; whenever
this occurs it is certain that a kind of irritation is being bred in the
house for which someone has to suffer.

This is the sort of thing that happens. A character enters and announces
that something very ludicrous has befallen another character, and
proceeds to state what it is to the other persons in the scene, the
statement being interrupted by his outbursts of laughter, and they in
turn roar and hold their sides; yet often enough what is being told does
not seem very amusing to us--even, perhaps, appears puerile--so we are
vexed, and smile coldly at the piece and players. If the laughter on the
stage were more moderate ours would not be the less, and we should feel
more benevolent to the play and laugh with greater freedom if and when
something funny took place.

The whole question of laughter is curious and difficult. There is one
fairly constant first-nighter whose loud laughter upon insufficient
provocation sometimes irritates the house, to the prejudice of the play;
not long ago one of our young actresses laughed so immoderately, as a
spectator, at trifles during a performance that some of the audience
actually uttered inarticulate sounds, intended to suggest to her that
she should be quieter.

Everybody knows the terrible people who laugh in a theatre at the wrong
place, or indulge in the wrong kind of laughter, and are hilarious
during pathetic passages, the pathos of which is heightened by touches
of cruel humour. Some commit this crime from simple stupidity, not
perceiving that the humour is tragic, not comic; others because they
think that dignity of character is shown if they refuse to be moved by
imaginary woes. The person is hateful who cannot shed an honest, if
furtive, tear at a finely conceived and executed pathetic incident in a
play, and the more if he is proud of his insensibility or lack of
imagination; and we love an honest fellow who, like Jules Janin, wept
"_comme un veau_" during _La Dame aux Camellias_. Such insensible
creatures resemble "the man that hath no music in himself." Sometimes
their conduct is so severely resented by audible protest that they are
shamed into restraint.

It seems quite a long time since we have had a genuine debauch of hearty
laughter in the theatre, of "Laughter holding both his sides." There has
been a great deal of laughter, but it must be remembered that there are
several kinds of laughter. So much difference exists between one species
of laughter and another that the close observer can guess from the
nature of the laughter in the theatre what is the sort of piece which
provokes it.

No doubt the subject of laughter is one of great difficulty. On the
point one may quote a passage from Darwin: "Many curious discussions
have been written on the causes of laughter with grown-up persons. The
subject is extremely complex ... laughter seems primarily to be the
expression of mere joy or happiness. The laughter of the gods is
described by Homer as 'the exuberance of their celestial joy after their
daily banquet.'" This, perhaps, hardly agrees with the popular idea of
the term "Homeric laughter."

It may be that in the phrases of Darwin one sees a key to the difference
between the laughter at witty dialogue and the laughter caused by comic
situation, the former being an expression of intellectual amusement, not
necessarily accompanied by "mere joy or happiness," whilst the latter is
to a great extent the outcome of simple, non-intellectual human
pleasure. In the case of a witty comedy one hears ripples of laughter
rather than waves, and they have no cumulative effect, one may even
laugh during a great part of the evening without reaching that agony of
laughter which comes from an intensely funny situation--in fact, each
laugh at dialogue is to some extent independent of the others. In the
case of a funny situation there is a crescendo, and sometimes each
outburst of laughter begins at the highest point reached by the outburst
before it, till an intense pitch is attained; and, in fact, there is
really no complete subsidence at all till the top of the climax is
arrived at, but one is chuckling in between every spasm.

The term "screamingly funny" has a real meaning; one reaches an almost
screaming pitch that leads to something like physical exhaustion, and
certainly causes an aching of the sides, and even tears.

Another quotation from Darwin: "During excessive laughter the whole body
is often thrown backwards and shakes, or is almost convulsed; the
respiration is much disturbed; the head and face become gorged with
blood, with the veins distorted; and the orbicular muscles are
spasmodically contracted in order to protect the eyes. Tears are freely
shed." On this one may refer to a phrase by Sir Joshua Reynolds: "It is
curious to observe, and it is certainly true, that the extremes of
contrary passions are, with very little variation, expressed by the same
action." Yet another passage from Darwin: "With Europeans hardly
anything excites laughter so easily as mimicry, and it is rather curious
to find the same fact with the savages of Australia, who constitute one
of the most distinct races in the world."

Probably the enjoyment of the spectator simply as an animal is higher,
if in a sense lower, when it comes from situations than when it is due
to dialogue. Of course there is no sharp line of demarcation. One
understands, however, why successful farce is more popular than a
successful comedy, even if afterwards the audience suffer a little from
aching sides; the ache itself causes a pleasurable memory.

Some time ago there was a popular comic picture of the awakening of a
young man who had been very drunk the night before, and was suffering
from a headache and a black eye, and clearly had had some exciting
adventures, of which his memory was faint; the simple legend attached
was, "What a ripping time I must have had last night!" One can imagine
the playgoer after the farce, rare, alas! which honestly may be called
side-splitting, saying to himself next morning, "What a ripping time I
must have had last night!" and advising all his friends to go and see
the play.


Smoking in the Auditorium

At last permission has been given, and the statement "You may smoke" can
be printed on the programmes of the theatres licensed by the L.C.C.; and
it is believed that the Lord Chamberlain is willing to follow suit.
Some of our more important managers have already announced that they
will not permit smoking in the auditorium of their playhouses, nor is
this surprising. Some of us would sooner sacrifice our own smoke than
get a headache from that of others; and the reason for the rareness of
our attendance at music-halls is that we have to pay for every visit by
a smarting of the eyes and a feeling in the head somewhat like that
caused by the famous Sicilian torture.

What the ladies suffer goodness and they--the terms are perhaps
synonymous--alone know. If and when the Suffragettes come into power, we
shall have a prodigious counterblast to tobacco that would delight the
Stuart James of unsainted memory or the now illustrious Balzac. For
although the militant sex has many members who rejoice in a cigarette,
the majority are bitterly adverse to an expensive habit, offensive to
those who do not practise it, and exceedingly uncoquettish when indulged
in seriously. Probably if the reign of My Lady Nicotine had never begun,
and if no other enslaving habit of a like nature had taken a similar
place, the theatres would be better off than at present. Permission to
smoke will not deal with the difficulty; yet probably the habit of
smoking keeps a very large number of people away from the theatre.

Without proposing to win any of the colossal prizes offered to people
who guess the quantity of tobacco imported into this country in a
particular month, one may venture to assert that there has been a
tremendous increase in smoking during the last twenty years; and,
indeed, we all know that the man who does not smoke is almost a
curiosity nowadays.

The rules of offices, the customs of certain trades, the etiquette of
some professions, and the like, prevent a great many men from having
more than a trifling flirtation with tobacco till after dinner. The
greedy smoker may get a pipe after breakfast, a whiff during lunch-time,
and a pipe before dinner, which he takes distrustfully, because he has
been told not to smoke on an empty stomach, but he looks to the hours
after dinner for the debauch that turns his lungs from pink to brown.
Moreover, there are many men who do not care to smoke till after dinner.

What a deprivation to all these to be bustled through a shortened
dinner, to be scalded by coffee hastily drunk, and merely get a few
puffs before they find themselves in a playhouse, where, by the way, so
that insult may be added to injury, they often watch the actors smoking
comfortably. A wise manager would not allow smoking _on_ the stage
except in very rare cases. The _entr'actes_ amount to little; there is a
rush of smokers, but many cannot leave their seats without giving
offence to their companions, and some are too timid to fight their way
from the centre of a row; and, after all, the _entr'acte_ smoke, which
takes place in a crowd so thick that you cannot tell the flavour of your
own cigarette from that of other people, is rather irritating than
satisfying. Of course there remains the period after the theatre, but it
is comparatively brief for the man of whom we are speaking, since after
the labours of the day and the fatigue of the evening he is tired enough
to be rather anxious for sleep.

When the British householder is invited to take his womenfolk to the
theatre, the thought that he will have to make such a sacrifice affects
his judgment, a fact of which he is probably unaware. Very often it is
the determining cause of refusal, and when he thinks consciously of it,
of course he is not so foolish as to put it forward, but pleads this and
that and indeed every other cause for keeping away. Many times have men
said, "I don't care to go to the theatre unless there is something
awfully good, because one is not allowed to smoke"; and the question may
well be asked, What is offered to the man in place of his cigar or pipe?
Shakespeare, unless severely adapted, and, in fact, treated as the book
for a picturesque musico-dramatic performance, does not appeal very
movingly to _l'homme moyen sensuel_, nor do the sentimental puppet
stories which form the stock of our theatre fascinate him. A rousing
farce will serve, but then the womenfolk do not want that. They are all
for sentiment and dainty frocks which they may
imitate--unsuccessfully--and for handsome heroes and love-making and
other prettinesses which appeal to the daughters who live a kind of
second-hand life in them, and to the mothers rendered for a while young
by them, whilst paterfamilias looks on, uncomfortable in his seat,
irritated very often by draughts which his _décolletée_ dame does not
notice--till afterwards--a little curious as to the cost of the whole
affair, and after a while, in a state of semi-somnolence, thinking a
good deal of the events of the day and the Alpine attitude of the Bank
rate or the slump in Consols.

The poor dear man would be in a better humour if he were allowed his
pipe. According to the French, the plain housewife looks charming to her
husband when seen through the fumes of a good soup, and so too the plays
of Mr ---- (perhaps it is wise to suppress the name) might appear
entertaining to the British householder if a cloud of tobacco smoke were
to intervene.

One of the victims made a suggestion the other day which may be worth
consideration. "Why not," he said, "add to the theatre a comfortable
kind of club-room, where a fellow might see the papers, and perhaps have
a game of bridge, or even billiards, when the curtain was up, whilst he
could keep his wife in good humour by paying her a call during the
intervals?" There is something rather touching in the idea of a little
crowd trooping in instead of bustling out when the curtain falls.

The innovation might at least have one advantage--it would force the
managers to be intelligent enough to make a really audible noise a few
minutes before the end of each _entr'acte_, so as to give people the
chance of settling down in their places before the curtain rises. Of the
many incomprehensible things connected with the theatre one of the most
puzzling is the fact that quite conscientious playgoers get caught
outside the auditorium after the curtain is up. The management is
anxious that as many people as possible should go to the bars, yet they
render it very difficult to get there; they desire that those who have
gone should return to their seats before the curtain rises, lest
friction should be caused, but all they do as a rule is to ring some
inaudible bell, and cause the attendant to whisper, as if delicately
announcing bad news, "Curtain just going up, gentlemen," and neither
curtain nor whisper gives long enough time to enable people to settle
down comfortably.

It is to be feared that this sort of club idea would not really work,
for reasons some of them quite obvious. The fact remains that
paterfamilias, still a person of some importance, is invited to
patronize the theatre, and not only asked to pay a good deal of money in
order to do so but forced to make a number of physical sacrifices; and
at the end is offered, as a rule, the kind of piece not intended to
please him, but designed for the taste of his womenfolk.

Here we see one of the reasons for the popularity of the musical comedy.
The householder is not required to trouble himself to understand a plot
which hardly exists; he may go to sleep if he pleases, or think over his
affairs in between the tit-bits without losing the thread; there are
simple tunes, which certainly aid his digestion, and broad elementary
humours that appeal to his sense of fun; and, if he is in a sentimental
vein, whatever love-making there may be in the piece has no subtlety to
exasperate him.

Despite these things, let us hope that the West End managers will be
hostile to the smoking; for, after all, far too much of our drama at
present is intended to please the comfortable Philistine and his
appropriate womenfolk; and the people keenly interested in drama as a
branch of art are prepared even to sacrifice a pipe or a cigar in the
pursuit of their peculiar and hardly popular pleasure. Moreover, it is
likely the theatres would exhibit the snobbishness of the fashionable
halls and restaurants and taboo the pipe which every wise man prefers to
the cigar or cigarette for serious smoking.


Conduct of the Audience

When Mr Joseph Holbrooke was conducting the overture to _Pierrot and
Pierrette_ at His Majesty's Theatre he interrupted the orchestra in
order to request some members of the audience to stop talking. These
speakers were people in the stalls, and the composer-conductor could
hear that their conversation was about shopping--not Chopin, which,
alas! is sometimes pronounced as if the name rhymed with "popping."

No one can feel surprised that a composer finds it impossible to do his
work adequately as conductor when there is audible conversation among
members of the audience. Mr Holbrooke drew attention to what happens
very often in our playhouses: people come apparently entertaining the
idea that if they have paid for their seats they owe no duty towards
their neighbours or the author, composer or players. This idea,
unfortunately, is not confined to those who have paid for their seats,
since some of the dramatic critics, and also several of the ordinary
"deadheads," set a bad example.

The most noisome offenders are those who come late on purpose, because
they are anxious to draw public attention to their existence. They, of
course, are snobs of the worst water, whatever their social status or
the cost of their clothes, furs and jewellery; you see them bustling in
a quarter of an hour after the curtain has risen, shoving their way
along past people who rise reluctantly, and hear them chattering whilst
they take off cloaks and wraps before settling down in their seats. Very
little less detestable are those who, arriving late unwillingly, behave
otherwise in the same fashion. One of these brawlers defended herself by
alleging that there ought to be a gangway down the middle of the stalls,
and that her conduct was a protest.

Of course there ought to be a gangway, and some day the County Council
will insist upon the formation of one in every theatre, or else force
the manager to put the rows of stalls so far apart that people can pass
along them in comfort. We know that on the whole managers do not care
much about the comfort of their patrons; they seem to act on the
supposition that plays are of only two classes, those so attractive that
you cannot keep the public away and those so unattractive that you
cannot get it to come.

The London _théâtre de luxe_ is still a dream of the future, though
undoubtedly some playhouses are vastly more comfortable than others. The
authorities are lax in this matter, as in the matter of exits; the crush
in getting out of most of the playhouses is abominable. No doubt there
are extra exits which might be used in case of peril; people ought to be
compelled to use them every night, so that a habit would be established
on the part of audiences and also of the attendants.

The patience with which the audience endures the misconduct of some of
its members is surprising. We hear inarticulate noises of disapproval
when people gossip in the stalls and occasionally somebody goes so far
as to whisper "Don't talk"; the result is that the chatterers chatter
rather more quietly for a little while, and soon are as noisy as before.
Frequently some members laugh scornfully at pathetic passages moving the
heart of most of the house, and this laughter is often due to a snobbish
desire to show superiority to those who weep.

We have heard something lately of a phrase about "collective psychology
and the psychology of crowds." The phenomenon referred to very rarely
has much effect in the London playhouses at the first night: on these
occasions there are too many discordant elements. Most of the critics
form non-conductors to the passage of what has been regarded as
analogous to an electrical current, and their non-conductivity is very
little greater than that of many of the people who receive complimentary
tickets or have the honour of being on the first-night list. Perhaps
the general public is unaware that the more fashionable theatres have a
list of people to whom is accorded a preferential allotment of seats.

Sometimes there is a momentary thrill; one feels distinctly that the
audience is in unison, and that the pitch of feeling of the individual
is heightened by the feelings of the crowd. These moments are generally
caused by pieces of acting or by what is rarely contrived, and can only
happen once in the history of a piece, a successful, effective surprise.
As an instance, there was a unanimous gasp of surprise and pleasure at
the brilliant _coup de théâtre_ with which John Oliver Hobbes ended a
difficult scene in _The Ambassador_, and then came a prodigious outburst
of applause. What a loss to our stage the premature death of that
admirable novelist, who showed an amazing gift for the technique of the
theatre.

One reads not unfrequently accounts of an exhibition of this "collective
psychology" in the playhouse, even in the London theatres. Some of such
accounts are untrustworthy, and due to mere hysterical writing by those
who profess to record them. No doubt the curious shyness of the English
plays its part: a man will laugh, or clap his hands, or hiss, or "boo"
when others are so doing, who from mere _mauvaise honte_--a convenient
untranslatable term--would make no noise if alone. Perhaps one might
safely say that the smaller the crowd the smaller relatively as well as
absolutely the noise due to the exhibition of the emotion of its
component parts. This, however, has little to do with the phenomenon in
question, which very rarely operates in London, because the upper
classes think it ungenteel to express emotion in public.

People read stories of scenes of "tremendous enthusiasm" on a first
night, of Miss or Mrs A or Mr B receiving a dozen calls: as a rule they
are absurdly exaggerated--they mean that the bulk of the pit and gallery
have applauded heartily and persistently, and so, too, a small
proportion of people in the upper boxes, dress circle, and stalls, the
ratio steadily decreasing; that the employees of "the front of the
house" energetically did their duty; in many cases that the unrecognized
claque has earned its fee; that the curtain has been raised and lowered
with frantic energy, and that a large number of people, after some
preliminary clapping, regarded the scene with curiosity and amusement,
their pulses beating at quite a normal pace.

Things may be different in other lands. Perhaps our ancestors were less
"genteel," certainly there were fewer "non-conductors" in the houses;
but still it is doubtful whether belief should be given to some of the
old stories about tremendous exhibitions of emotion in the playhouse.
One has to discount many of the triumphs of great singers because there
is an element of desire for an "encore" in them. Moreover, music is
beside the question, because its appeal is of a different character from
that of drama.

These remarks may seem to have a grudging tone, to sound as if one
desired to belittle the triumphs of the stage: in reality their object
is simply to state what a careful observer regards as facts bearing upon
an interesting, important question. Broadly speaking, it is doubtful
whether in our theatres the phenomenon discussed under the name of "the
psychology of crowds" is manifested to a substantial effect, except on
very rare occasions, partly, no doubt, because a London audience is
intensely heterogeneous--a wave of emotion in a West End playhouse has
to surmount a large number of obstacles, losing force at each, or, to
change the figure, a current of emotion has to pass through a great many
bad conductors.

In respect only of laughter does the crowd exercise its power at all
frequently, and then, as a rule, the subject-matter is not of the finest
quality. Laughter certainly is infectious, curiously infectious, but it
is more catching when caused by farce than by comedy. Few of us could
deny that, as a member of the crowd, he has not sometimes laughed
against his will and judgment at matters possessing a humble standard of
humour. We are not grateful afterwards to the author or the low
comedians--we suffer from an unpleasant loss of self-respect when we
have been coerced by the crowd into laughing at mere buffooneries.


Concerning the Pit

Sometimes the ticket sent for a first night suggests a belief by the
manager in the theory that the further one is from the stage the better
one can see and hear--a theory which is accepted as accurate by none
save the managers themselves. Possibly the seats in question are
allotted in order to keep us at an agreeable distance from the
orchestra, which in many theatres is altogether undesirable, or at least
plays much music of an exasperating character. When such tickets come,
and the seat is in the last row of the stalls, it is worth while to go
to the theatre unpunctually before the appointed time.

By the way, it is noticeable that theatres are divisible into two
classes--those at which the curtain is raised with a military severity
at the very moment when the clock strikes, and others where a quarter
of an hour's grace is given--to the players. In the case of French
companies, old hands never hesitate about playing "another hundred up"
before starting for the playhouse. A wise manager would be guided a
little by the weather and always allow a few minutes' margin when it is
foggy or rainy, for the audiences are necessarily delayed by such
weather.

By getting to one's seat early, even before the time when the band is
indulging in that part of its performance which is said to have been
peculiarly agreeable to the Shah of Persia who visited London in the
seventies, we enjoy certain humours.

Incidentally, it may be asked whether the ordinary playgoer exactly
appreciates the position of the last rows of the stalls. Probably he
believes that there is a gulf fixed between the stalls and the pit, and
does not know that there is merely a barrier. Now a barrier can be
removed easily--a gulf cannot. When paying his half-guinea the simple
visitor imagines that the difference between the price of his seat and
that of a place in the pit is to a great extent based upon an advantage
of nearness--although it appears that some managers do not think that
propinquity involves a gain.

As a matter of fact, a considerable portion of the floor of the house is
occupied by stalls or pit, according to the nature of the business done
in the theatre. If a piece is not attracting fashionable folk the
barrier is moved towards the footlights, the chairs are changed to
benches, and the place which at the _première_ some deadhead proudly
occupied as a stall takes a "back seat," and sinks to the indignity of
becoming pit; and, of course, the converse sometimes happens.

It is amusing to hear the people on the other side discussing the
entrance of the stall first-nighters, many of whom are identified. One
hears comments upon the gowns, and sometimes severe remarks about the
alleged misdeeds of the professional critics, as well as unflattering
observations concerning the personal appearance of some of us. We might
a tale unfold that would freeze a good many young bloods, but for a nice
question of confidence.

The inhabitants of the pit really deserve a study. It may be said that
they are sometimes more interesting than the play itself. There is a
tradition that wisdom lies in the pit as Truth at the bottom of a well.
Many articles have been written pointing out that the judgment of the
pit is sounder than the opinion of other parts of the house, that the
pitites are the real, serious, reflective, critical playgoers whose
views are worth more than those of the playgoers either in the gallery
or the most costly seats.

For a long time some of us believed in this tradition, probably, in
fact, until circumstances caused us to move forward and study plays from
the other side of the ambulatory barrier. One thing is certain--the pit
plays a very great part in determining on a first night the apparent
failure or success of a play, for on most occasions comparatively little
noise is made by way of applause or condemnation save in the pit and
gallery.

The stalls are remarkably frigid, though, on the other hand, they never,
or hardly ever, show any active signs of disapproval. Somewhat false
impressions are produced upon critics nearer to the footlights than the
back seats. One of them the other day stated "the fall of the curtain
was greeted with hearty and long-sustained applause from all parts of
the house." Yet three of us noted--and compared notes--that after a
little clapping, followed by one elevation of the curtain, the stalls
did not contribute at all to the cheers. That evening there was a
peculiarity in the pit's applause. It was "patchy." Here and there
little groups were very noisy, and at the wings were some people from
the "front of the house," quite enthusiastic about a performance of
which they could have seen very little if they had attended to their
duties, whilst there were noiseless areas of considerable size.

There is no need to suggest that the pit lacks judgment merely because
it is composed very largely of those from whose mouths, according to the
Psalmist, cometh forth wisdom; not, indeed, that in our West End houses
there are present those very youthful playgoers who cause a disturbance
by their audible refusal of the attendant's proposal of "ginger-beer,
lemonade, bottled ale, or ... stout," being tired perhaps of the
last-named beverage owing to the quantities they have
taken--vicariously. Nevertheless, the pit on many first nights is
wonderfully young; indeed, we calculated the other night that the
average age of its temporary inhabitants was much less than half that of
the distinguished company representing the play, and considerably less
than that of the people whose late arrival caused murmurs and even words
of disapproval.

It is natural for youth to be more enthusiastic than middle age, so one
may easily explain the fact that the pit is more exuberant in
demonstration than the stalls without the theory of the electrical
effect of contact on crowds, a theory which every journalist at some
stage of his career believes himself to be the first to have discovered.

Not only are they very youthful in the pit, but they have grace as well
as youth. The other night in the front row there were only three members
of the sex which does not know how to get out of a shop without making a
purchase, and in the back rows, although the percentage of "angels" was
not so high, it was quite noteworthy. Probably in all parts of the
house, except at one or two theatres, there is a preponderance of women
in the audience, and this may have some subtle connexion with the
converse proportion of male and female characters in the cast; it may be
observed that there is some change in the proportion of the sexes at
theatres where there is no actor whose photographs sell prodigiously.

A sort of alteration seems quietly taking place in the costume of the
pit, and not a few of the young ladies have come very close to a
solution of a problem baffling to the Englishwomen belonging to what one
may fairly regard as of somewhat higher stratum--the problem of
inventing and wearing a demi-toilette.

It should be added that in some theatres the critics have good seats
allotted to them. Indeed as a rule the courtesy shown to us is in
something like direct ratio to the importance of the management.

Speaking for a moment seriously, one may say that whilst the ordinary
first-night pit is full of enthusiasts, it would be rash to attach very
great value to its manifestations of opinion concerning the value of
really ambitious plays, though in respect of most pieces, and
performances too, its judgment may be regarded as satisfactory, since it
fairly represents those aimed at by authors and players. The higher
class of comedy and the severely intellectual drama demand a more mature
judgment.



Why do we go to the Theatre?

To ask why people go to the theatre seems silly; for the answer appears
to be quite obvious; yet as soon as one answer is offered half-a-dozen
others suggest themselves. Let us put down a few roughly: for
entertainment, for amusement, for distraction, for instruction, to see
the play or players in vogue, to be seen, to have something to talk
about. Also there are cross-divisions and combinations of these; perhaps
none of them is quite exclusive. Another question may be asked: Why do
people stay away though able to go? How is it that some find
insufficient pleasure in them?--for "pleasure" may be used as a term
embracing the first four answers.

A cook, a Frenchwoman, once in the service of a dramatic critic, did not
visit the theatre, and stated as her reason for not caring to do so that
she took no interest in the affairs of other people; and secondly, that
if she went and got moved by the troubles of the _dramatis personae_ the
thought suddenly occurred to her that they were not real persons and
real troubles, and therefore she had wasted her sympathy, wherefore she
was vexed, being an economical creature, so far as sympathy, not butter,
is concerned. On the other hand, she admitted the payment of a number of
visits to Pézon's circus, where they had a lion with a bad reputation,
into whose jaw at every performance a _décolletée_ lady put her painted
head. For the _cordon-bleu_ hoped that the lion would exhibit
disapproval of the paint and powder by chumping off the offending head,
and that would have been frightfully thrilling.

Also she had a grievance because our executions are not public. She
would like to see the murderers _gigoter un peu_; to her that would be
a more sublime spectacle than the most prodigious effects at His
Majesty's.

The papers lately contained accounts of the production at a music-hall
of bioscope pictures of a horrible catastrophe in which many lives were
lost, and stated that they were received with applause from the
spectators, who derived much pleasure from looking at them. The French
wielder of the _bouquet-garni_, in default of more bloodthirsty
entertainment, would be delighted by them. It has often been remarked
that an element of danger in a public performance is an element of
attraction, and that the attraction is in proportion to the danger.
These remarks are not entirely disconnected: they are relevant in
considering the question why people go to the theatre.

For, with all respect to the establishments of the highest class, one
must recognize the fact that there is a family relation between the
noblest theatre and the humblest side-show at a country fair or East End
museum. To be juster, the family relation is not between the things
seen, but between the feelings which prompt people to pay money to see
them.

It is often a mere toss-up whether X, Y or Z goes to a theatre or a
music-hall, or a collection of "side shows" or a boxing-match; and the
only solid wall of demarcation in pleasuredom lies between going to see
something which pretends to be something else, and going to see
something which admits itself to be its painful self. On the one hand,
we have Smith posing as the Prince of Denmark; on the other the fat
woman, whose unpleasant mass of unhealthy flesh is real--the lady giant
hovers between reality and fiction. On the one side art, on the other
artless entertainment; but, after all, it is difficult to say that this
wall is very solid, since sometimes the artless department is abominably
artful, and sometimes, as in the famous story of the mimic with a live
pig in a poke, the real is an impostor.

The interest in the matter lies mainly with the audience, with the human
beings greedy for pleasure and entertainment, with the traveller who,
after a happy evening at the Comédie Française, endeavours to get taken
to the abattoirs of Paris, or risks his life in a visit to the outer
Boulevards in order to visit some pestilential Café de la Mort where he
will see crude horrors contrived by looking-glasses, drink bad beer out
of _papier-maché_ skulls, and receive, in change for his money, base or
demonetised coin from waiters dressed as undertakers. And, again, our
traveller, after getting a headache at the Louvre and vainly trying to
find the Mediaeval improprieties at the Maison Cluny, will refresh
himself by a visit to the Morgue, to say nothing of Le Musée Grévin.

Why, then, do we go to the theatre? Why does the theatre exist? Why do
the enthusiasts rage and profess that it ought to be endowed? Well, upon
reflection, one sees that there are two bodies of playgoers, both, no
doubt, in search of pleasure: and, speaking very broadly, the one is the
little group whose curiosity concerning life is almost entirely
intellectual, and the other is the vast body of sensation-hunters, to
whom the latest showy play, the newest musical comedy, the divorce case
of the moment, the freak in vogue, are the means of real excitement--an
excitement which they want to obtain with the minimum expenditure of
time, trouble or thought.

A remarkable thing to the observer is the hostility of the
sensation-monger to intellectual amusement. If a play has a gloomy
ending it is promptly denounced as painful by the people who welcome an
entertainment consisting of biograph pictures representing some awful
catastrophe, and by persons who revel in a good series of animated
photographs of somebody being guillotined, or tortured in a Russian
gaol, and do not care to waste their tears over the sorrows of people in
a play, though perhaps a really roaring farce would entertain them, if
it included a good deal of knockabout business. The uncivilized people
who consider that practical joking is permissible are as a rule bitterly
hostile to serious drama.

It is hard to discover any clear theory in relation to these facts.
Attempts to establish a proposition are met by the fact that the
sensation-monger who delights in the horrors of real life, who gets joy
from a thrillingly dangerous performance at a music-hall, when he goes
to the theatre sometimes seems pleased by a piece almost in a direct
ratio to its unreality. A finely observed comedy, such as _The Silver
Box_ of Mr Galsworthy, irritates the sensation-monger; it is so absurdly
true that he does not think it clever of the author to have written it.
_Tom Jones_ contains useful matter for thought on the subject. Something
prodigious out of the lumber-room of the theatres impresses him far
more. In England the explanation of this may be a strangely twisted
feeling of utilitarianism, which causes us to object to thinking without
being paid for thinking; wherefore it seems an act almost of impudence
to ask us to pay money to see a play which cannot be understood or
appreciated without serious thought.



CHAPTER XII

MISCELLANEOUS


Signor Borsa on the English Theatres

Those mere casual playgoers who may think that the articles on drama in
_The Westminster Gazette_ have been needlessly pessimistic ought to read
"The English Stage of To-Day," by Mario Borsa, translated by Mr Selwyn
Brinton, and published by Mr John Lane; a lively, interesting book, in
which are expressed vigourously the ideas of a very acute, intelligent
writer upon our modern theatre. "Hence it is no wonder that all that is
artificial, absurd, commonplace, spectacular, and puerile is rampant
upon the English stage; that theatrical wares are standardized, like all
other articles of trade...." "Still, in spite of all this booming and
histriomania, one of the greatest intellectual privations from which the
foreigner suffers in London is, I repeat, the lack of good comedy and
good prose drama." Such sentences are specimens of his views about the
current drama of London, and he endorses the sad phrase of Auguste
Filon, "_Le drame Anglais, à peine né, se meurt_."

In some respects the book is surprising. The author exhibits an intimacy
of knowledge that appears almost impossible in one who, for a long time
after his arrival in London, was "ignorant of the very language of the
country." He has learnt our tongue well enough to give us some literary
criticisms of value, notably upon the Irish theatre and the poetry of Mr
W.B. Yeats, and he has made himself acquainted in a remarkable way with
the plays of the last fifteen years or so, with the theatrical clubs and
the various movements of revolt against our puppet theatre. There are
slips, no doubt, such as the suggestion that the Independent Theatre
introduced Ibsen to London, it being the fact that several of his plays
had been presented before this Society was born.

Signor Borsa has something to say on most of the topics of the times.
For instance, he deals with the Censor! "And here we touch the root of
the evil--the Censor! It is the Censor who is the real enemy--the
ruthless, insatiable Cerberus." He writes upon the question of speeches
in the theatres. "In Italy a new play is sometimes so heartily hissed
after one or two acts that the manager is forced to cut short the
performance and proceed forthwith to the farce. This never happens in
England, partly because every 'first night' is attended by a _claque_,
judiciously posted and naturally well disposed. Not that these
'first-nighters' are paid to applaud, as in Paris or Vienna. Neither are
they labelled as _claqueurs_. They are simply enthusiasts, and their
name is Legion.... It is they who salute the actor-manager after the
curtain has fallen with persistent demands of 'Speech! Speech!' And it
is to the request of these good and faithful friends that he accedes at
last, in a voice broken by emotion, due to their spontaneous and
generous reception."

Of late some people have been suggesting gleefully that the vogue of
"G.B.S." is on the wane. His popularity has been the cause of great
annoyance to the mass of the public and those critics who stand up for
a theatre of "old scenic tricks which were long familiar to
me--sensational intrigues, impossible situations, men and women who
could have been neither English nor French nor Italian." They will be
glad to learn that Signor Borsa says: "Shaw's dramatic work is pure
journalism, destined to enjoy a certain vogue, and then to be swallowed
up in the deep pit of oblivion. Nor should I be surprised if this vogue
of his were already on the decline.... Shaw, with all his wit and all
his go, already shows signs of becoming terribly monotonous." According
to him, in "Shaw there were the makings of a writer of talent."

Let us add that no evidence exists to show the decline of the author's
popularity; it may also be said that much of "G.B.S." is quite
incomprehensible to a foreigner. What Signor Borsa calls the
"restaurateurs-proprietors," and also the actor-managers--with a few
exceptions--may hold aloof, but Mr Shaw has brought to the theatres a
new public, and taken a good many of the old as well. Apparently Signor
Borsa's hostility to "G.B.S." is founded on the fact that the dramatist
is a revolutionary and refuses to accept the theatrical formulae which
satisfy the Italian. One must, however, point out that whilst Signor
Borsa's general conclusions concerning the most remarkable person of the
English theatre are unsound, his remarks in detail are acute and
luminous, and some of them well deserve the consideration of the victim.

The curiosity of the book is the treatment of the acting. According to
Signor Borsa, "the acting has little to boast of. A century, or even
half-a-century, ago the case was different. But the glories of Kean,
Macready, Kemble, and Siddons now belong to history and but yesterday
Sir Henry Irving stood alone--the unique representative in England of
the great tragic art.... In conveying irony, the English actor is in his
element; in comic parts, he is simply grotesque. The buffoon may
occasionally be found upon the English stage--the brilliant comedian
never. In tragic parts he easily assumes an exaggerated gravity and
solemnity; in sentimental _rôles_ he is frankly ridiculous."

_Frankly_ is a mistranslation, or else the adjective is ridiculous, if
not "frankly" ridiculous. Signor Borsa falls into a very common error.
He thinks that because English actors do not gesticulate a great deal
they act badly. This might be true if they represented on the stage a
gesticulative race. The author points out carefully that we are not a
gesticulative race, and fails to see that it would be bad acting for the
player to represent an Englishman as being naturally gesticulative. The
English Jew is more gesticulative than the ordinary Englishman; the
Anglo-Jewish players--and there are many--curb themselves when they are
playing British characters, and of course they act artistically in so
doing.

The function of the actor is to impress the audience before him,
nine-tenths of which consist of people who would regard him as
ridiculous and unnatural if, when acting an ordinary English part, he
were to gesticulate very much. We have seen Italian players of ability
representing English characters, and, putting aside Duse, the obvious
and correct criticism was that they were very funny and quite incorrect
in their exuberance of gesture.

Irving is the only actor whom he discusses; Ellen Terry the one English
actress. This, of course, is absurd. It indicates, however, very
usefully the attitude of the foreign critic towards our stage. Also,
perhaps, it is a little chastening to our players. The foreigner is able
to understand and appreciate to some extent the best of our plays; the
acting says nothing to him, or at least nothing flattering. Our
comedians are "buffoons," our lovers are "frankly ridiculous," and the
Italian actors are superior in "temperament"--whatever that may mean.
Ours, it appears, are better than the Italians in some humble ways:
"They dress their parts better and wear their clothes better," and they
even know their parts--a vulgar quality which apparently is rare on the
Italian stage--also they are more cultured, and "possess to a greater
degree the dramatic literary sense."

One may accept, sadly, Signor Borsa's view, which is shared by most
Continental and many British critics, that the ordinary English drama is
utterly unworthy of the English people; but we certainly have abundance
of competent players, and a fair number of dramatists anxious and able
to give the public far better drama than they get, as soon as managers
are willing to produce it; the great trouble is that the managers are
afraid of the public, and although they might wisely be more
venturesome, they have, in the present mass of playgoers, a terrible
public to cater for. The facts and figures offered by Signor Borsa show
too eloquently that the managers attempt to deal with the difficulty by
a very short-sighted policy. Still, the position is less desperate than
the Italian critic supposes, and much of what has happened since Auguste
Filon wrote the line already quoted shows that he was too hasty in his
judgment.



"G.B.S." and the Amateurs

There is a story--its untruth is indisputable--to the effect that on a
death of a man of unconventional character his mournful family, after
much trouble, hit upon the happy thought of satisfying their desire to
leave an amiable and incontestable record concerning him by having
inscribed upon his tombstone the following epitaph:--"He never acted in
private theatricals."

A touch of acrimony seems discernible in certain utterances of Mr George
Bernard Shaw about amateur theatricals which makes one doubt whether
such a statement in his case would contain even the trifling percentage
of truth that is customary in epitaphs. Indeed, he causes an impression
that he has really done something worse than play in amateur
theatricals, and even, although an amateur, has appeared in a
professional performance. There has been a rather needless fury in his
remarks; it is a case doubtless of more sound than sentiment. This,
however, is pretty George's way; where some would use a whip he
"fillips" people with "a three-man beetle."

They say that all the amateur Thespians' clubs in the kingdom have
passed fierce resolutions about him, and a monster petition is being
prepared praying for his outlawry or excommunication. The cause was a
letter concerning the question whether dramatists ought to reduce their
fees for performance by amateur clubs of copyright works, and the trump
card of the opponents was the fact that many of the entertainments are
given for the benefit of charities. Mr Zangwill it was who observed that
"charity uncovers a multitude of shins"; perhaps one may add, clumsily,
that charity suffereth long and applauds.

Certainly, amateur performances rarely contain anything intentionally
so humorous as the idea of suggesting to "G.B.S." that he should reduce
his fees by way of an indirect contribution to the fund for the
restoration of some village church or the like. Apparently the common
answer to the author of _Mrs Warren's Profession_ is a sort of
paraphrase of the line "Nobody axt you, sir, she said."

It would be interesting to know how many performances, if any, have been
given by the great unpaid of pieces by the now successful theatrical
iconoclast. Who knows whether his wrath has not a touch of the _spretae
injuria formae_? Perhaps he is longing to have _Caesar and Cleopatra_
represented by some amiable association that has hitherto confined
itself to the comedies of Bulwer Lytton and farces by Maddison Morton.
It may be the dream of his life to see what people untrammelled by
considerations of filthy lucre, except so far as the benefit of the
charity is concerned, can make of _The Philanderers_.

Judging by the public press and the circulars, Mr Shaw is not inaccurate
in his view that the army of amateurs does comparatively little service
for drama. Its taste seems to be for showy, artificial plays, and its
tendency to seek out works that do not act themselves because of their
truth of characterisation but afford unlimited scope for originality on
the part of performers--generally half-baked performers.

This does not apply to all amateur societies; at least we know that
there are a number of associations not for the purposes of gain, such as
the Elizabethan Stage Society, now, alas! dead, which showed a very
stern enthusiasm for the higher forms of art. They appear to be the
exception. There was a time when it was difficult to find a man in the
street who had not acted in _Ici on Parle Français_ or played in _Money_
or appeared in _Our Boys_, and nowadays it seems that though there has
been some progress, the austere drama is still unpopular, and that when
funds are sufficient artificial costume plays are in vogue.

Mr Shaw apparently believes that vanity is the fundamental motive of
amateur performances. It may be that this is not wholly true, and that
the real impulse is the elementary instinct for dressing-up. Savages, we
know, have a craving for strange costumes which enable them to disguise
and even disfigure their persons. Children delight in dressing up.
Possibly one of the great joys of the amateur lies in the fact that he
has an opportunity of wearing clothes pertinent to somebody else, and,
if he be a male, is curious to see how he looks and is looked upon with
the whiskers of the mid-Victorian beau or the imperial of the Third
Empire, and so on.

The amiable philosopher would find a pleasanter explanation, would
suggest that the desire to "dress up" is based upon a modest doubt
concerning the charms of one's own individuality--how agreeable to
believe this! At the bottom of the matter lies this ugly contention on
the part of the cynic--he alleges that the amateur wants to act not for
the benefit of the charity, the name of which is invoked hypocritically,
but for the gratification of his vanity, and the authors are unable to
see why the clubs should gratify the conceit of their members at the
expense of those who write the plays.

After all, the matter is one of domestic economy, and the wisest thing
seems to be to leave people to make their own bargains; and if the
result is that the best plays are the dearest and the least performed,
the result may be somewhat advantageous. It is always uncertain whether
the individual spectator who has witnessed an amateur performance of a
piece will be anxious to see how it really acts or determine never to
suffer from it again. Perhaps it is rather cheap to scoff at the amateur
performances, some of which, no doubt, are excellent.

Moreover, it cannot be doubted that in a good many cases the amateur
stage provides recruits for _the_ profession, and some of our most
popular players--like Mr Shrubb and other famous runners--have begun
their careers by merely striving for "the fun of the thing." Probably
many who now stroll the Strand or haunt "Poverty Corner" fruitlessly,
were induced to embark upon their vain career by the polite plaudits of
amiable friends whose judgments were worthless even when honest. Perhaps
some of them, or of their friends, begin to believe that Mr Zangwill was
not quite untruthful in his phrase that "players are only men and
women--spoilt," which, of course, he did not intend to be of universal
application.

Still, it can hardly be denied that "G.B.S." was needlessly severe. The
amateur actors do very little harm and cause a great deal of innocent
amusement which outweighs the harm. It may be that, except in dealing
with serious plays, there is an unfair proportion of amusement on the
farther side of the footlights, but it must be recollected that the
performers have many trials and annoyances, and often make severe
sacrifices--of friendships.

If the authors of established reputation seem too greedy the clubs have
an easy remedy. At the present moment the cry of the unacted is
unusually bitter and loud. Why, then, should not these associations,
able as some are to give performances that are at least adequate if not
exactly brilliant, save as regards a few individual players, assist the
drama by giving a chance to the unacted of seeing their works on the
stage? In many cases plays now rejected by managers because they have an
instinctive feeling that there is some flaw which defies precise
indication might, after such a production, be corrected and rendered
acceptable and valuable.


Cant about Shakespeare

In a criticism upon the new Lyceum revival of _Hamlet_ there was a
sentence which impressed me greatly. It appeared in a morning paper of
prodigious circulation, and was in these words: "Mr Matheson Lang's
Hamlet ... is what may be called a popular one, and likely to be
extremely popular. And this is well, for 'tis better to see Shakespeare
in any form than not to see him at all, so that these performances
deserve every support, being in some ways not unlike the productions ...
which serve to keep alive the classics and old traditions of art." This
criticism, or rather statement, is popular--"extremely popular." People
seem to think that there is virtue in producing Shakespeare and in
acting Shakespeare and in reading Shakespeare. It would be pleasant to
feel confident that there is virtue in writing about him--I have written
so much--but probably nobody takes this extreme view. Now, some have a
different opinion.

A strenuous dramatist, namesake of a contemporary of the national
dramatist, ventures to call the "Swan of Avon" a "blackleg" instead of a
black swan, and ascribes his popularity with managers to the fact that
his name no longer spells bankruptcy, and that no royalties have to be
paid on performances of his plays, in consequence of which they are
often, or sometimes, produced where, otherwise, modern works would be
presented.

It is not necessary to go so far as this to reach a sane view on the
subject--a view which probably lies between the extremes. Certainly we
may well wonder whether and why it is a good thing to produce
Shakespeare plays unless the production is of fine quality. Everybody is
acquainted with Lamb's essay, with what one may call "Elia's" paradox,
on Shakespeare, the vigorous truth of which is partly counterbalanced by
the fact that few play readers have anything like his powers of
imagination, and that he probably underrated the knowledge of
Shakespeare possessed by playgoers, or at least by West End
first-nighters.

Indeed, one may go further and say that during any run of a
Shakespearean play it will be visited by some thousands of people well
acquainted with it and some hundreds who immediately detect any
alteration of the text. The enjoyment of these expert or semi-expert
playgoers of a performance of a Shakespeare play, when compared with
their pleasure in reading it, is probably much higher than Lamb
imagined. It is, however, hardly for them that these dramas are revived,
and clearly for quite a different audience that the Lyceum production is
given.

Is it a really good thing that _Hamlet_ should be offered to those who
have little or no acquaintance with the tragedy? A study of the audience
on the first night of _Hamlet_ at the Lyceum gave the idea that the
majority were far from appreciating the work, and did not, at any rate,
get a greater or different pleasure from it than they would have had if
instead of the Shakespearean dialogue they had been offered the blank
verse of any ordinary respectable writer.

Why should it be otherwise? Why should the hundreds of people in the
sixpenny gallery understand the conduct of Hamlet, which has puzzled the
most learned and acute critics of all countries for centuries? A person
hearing the play on the stage, and otherwise unacquainted with it, must
be bewildered. How is he to understand why Hamlet is so rude to Ophelia,
yet later on declares that he loved her prodigiously? What is he to
think of a Hamlet who takes so much trouble to find out whether his
uncle is guilty, and then tamely submits to be sent out of the country
by him, leaving his father unavenged? What opinion is he to form of the
perfectly idiotic, complex conspiracy between the King and Laertes to
get rid of Hamlet? Why should _Hamlet_ appeal to him, except as a
melodrama with a flabby hero, a feeble heroine, a very small amount of
comic relief, and far too much dialogue, much of which is almost
unintelligible? What can he make of the great soliloquies, of the purple
patches, written in involved sentences, embellished by curious archaic
terms of speech, elaborate figures, and puzzling inversions, which at
the best can only give him a vague idea of what is supposed to be said?

If you were to send a highly educated man, ignorant of the play--perhaps
an apparent contradiction--he would at first be bored or irritated. No
doubt his ear might catch and his mind retain some profound phrases, and
he would promptly recognize the grandeur of the verse in many passages,
so that his curiosity would be awakened, and cause him either to read
the play or see it time after time. What about the man in the street,
the railway guard, the 'bus conductor, the "shover," the humbler clerks,
and their womenfolk, who are patrons of the gallery; will they get
beyond one visit? Can they recognize profound thoughts at first hearing,
or at all? Are they able to distinguish beautiful blank verse from
bombast? Are the soliloquies of Hamlet likely to lure them to the severe
intellectual task of reading the play scrupulously?

Of course these questions do not concern members of the "Gallery
First-Nighters'" Club. They may or may not patronize the sixpenny
gallery or shilling pit of the Lyceum. No doubt the members of the club
are fully competent to appreciate the play, but they certainly formed
the minority last Saturday week, and will be rare during the later
performances. It was not they who laughed in the wrong places, or
laughed with the wrong laughter, or coughed, during the uneventful
scenes.

It will be said that thousands have gone and will go to this revival and
enjoy it, and, therefore, these views must be wrong. These remarks are
not in disparagement at all of this particular revival. It is, however,
certain that the pleasure of the majority of those who visit this
revival would be none the less if the work had been written by a
second-rate playwright; indeed, Mr Cecil Raleigh who, compared with
Shakespeare, may, perhaps, be called second-rate, could write them a new
_Hamlet_ on the old plot which would give them far greater pleasure than
they get at present.

Critics ought to speak with perfect sincerity about the drama; great
harm is done by people who, with excellent motives, write insincerely.
The average schoolboy is prevented from enjoying the classics by being
bored with them when he is too young to understand them. The average man
never reads the Bible for pleasure, because he has been brought up to
regard it as a kind of religious medicine; and it is unlikely that the
great half-educated will be brought to a taste for Shakespeare by a
stage performance of his works. This is no plea against the performance
of his plays, but against writing carelessly and conventionally about
them. Nobody will deny Lamb's love of the dramatist. He would say that
if Shakespeare is to be played to the masses there should be some
preliminary training of them. At least they might be broken in gently.
To present _Hamlet_ as successor to the pantomime and not long after
some of the simple melodramas acted at this theatre seems rather
irrational.

A better service is done to the public and to drama by presenting modern
English plays, written sincerely and on a reasonably high standard of
truth, than by reviving works that can only appeal to most of the
half-educated despite, and not because of, their finer qualities.
Shakespeare, indeed, might ask the gallery in the phrase of Benedick,
"For which of my bad parts didst thou first fall in love with me?" The
important matter is to get rid of humbug, to try to see things truly.
Drama is worthy of serious consideration as a great branch of art and a
great force, but will never fulfil its mission if it is to lie in a
mortmain to dead dramatists, and if it is to be regarded as more
meritorious to try to make money by producing the non-copyright dramas
of the past than by presenting the works of living men who need a
royalty.

This is not a plea against revivals of the English classics, the
production of which under certain circumstances may be praiseworthy and
valuable, but against such propositions as "'tis better to see
Shakespeare in any form than not at all," which cause people to form
false judgments and push them to enterprises of little value.


Yvette Guilbert on Dramatists

Lately Yvette Guilbert has been making some strange remarks concerning
drama and dramatists. Her words demand attention since they come from
the lips of a woman of genius. In our time the domain between the
theatre and the concert-room has produced no artist of her rank. One
recollects her different styles. First, in the amazing delivery of
almost frankly indecent songs--a delivery so extraordinarily fine as to
convert them for the moment into works of art--the image of beautiful
iridescent scum on foul water suggests itself. Secondly, in the
presentation by short song and very sober gesture and facial expression
of grim tragedies, a presentation more vivid and poignant than the
ordinary theatre can give, despite its numerous aids to art. Then came
the charming utterance of quaint old songs--who can forget Béranger's
"La Grandmère" as it came from her?

Paris, insatiable in craving for novelty, is said to have grown tired of
her, but her place as the greatest of singers in the variety theatres
cannot be gainsaid. It is alleged that she intends to go upon the stage,
and imaginable that her search for suitable plays has caused her
outburst against playwrights. Whether she will be successful as actress
or not is a question of interest concerning which _a priori_ reasoning
is futile. Certainly she must be a difficult person for whom to write a
play.

Apparently she has gone to some fashionable dramatist and given him a
commission to write a drama as a vehicle for the exhibition of her
histrionic gifts, and is dissatisfied by the result. One is justified in
making the guess by her theories concerning the future of drama when the
"arenas" are again opened, and "histrionic" art is rejuvenated. "Let the
actors enter," she says, "with their ideas boiling over, their nerves
strung to the highest pitch, and let the public suggest to each the
action or character to be mimicked. Let a dozen different ideals be
impersonated, then real, true and original talent will be revealed, new
ideas will be discovered which will no longer be guided by the author
and stage manager and theatrical director, but which will be free,
untrammelled, and no longer ready-made emotions."

This sounds rather daring, and the lady, before kicking the dramatists
out of the theatre, might consider carefully what is to become of the
players who have not sufficient brains in their skulls for there to be
any "boiling over." Some actors, no doubt, are intellectual men, but not
a few of the best possess no ideas of their own. This quotation and
others that follow come from a translation which appeared in _The Daily
Telegraph_ of a letter written by Yvette Guilbert to _The Figaro_.

It is noteworthy that this idea of dispensing with dramatists is not
new. Efforts were made in the days of _Le Chat Noir_ to evolve a new
kind of drama, in which the playwright had little concern. Moreover, Mr
Gordon Craig, one of the forces of the future--and of the present--has
revolutionary ideas on the subject.

Let us now see what the great _diseuse_ thinks of dramas and dramatists.
Here is a strong sentence by her: "The author ignores, or will not
admit, that, despite all his efforts, he never produces anything but a
half-dead child. The talented actor animates, nurses, consolidates,
fortifies and clothes it, suggests the proper gestures and attitudes,
infuses his own health and strength into this weakling, gives it blood
and, so to speak, makes it live. The playwright contributes the soul, it
is true; but, the soul being intangible, it is only a pitiable gift so
far as the dramatic art is concerned."

To anticipate an obvious objection she says, "Of course I know there
were a Shakespeare, a Racine, a Molière, and some others.... What a pity
they had no descendants!" It is permissible to wonder whether the lady
has read much drama. Possibly she would ask why she should spend time in
reading mere "souls," and admit that her acquaintance with plays is
almost confined to works witnessed by her; and, indeed, seeing that,
according to her, "the _rôle_ of the comedian is superior to that of the
author," she may believe that a play only exists when it is acted, and
be quite unaware that an imaginative, intelligent person can get a high
degree of pleasure from reading a play.

The dramatist may well rest content with the suggestion that his work is
the soul, the immortal, noble part of drama, and that the players form
only the gross, corporeal element.

There may be some truth in Guilbert's remarks: "The dramatic is the most
inferior of all arts. The play passes through too many channels, and
comes before the public as a cramped, crushed and faded form. The writer
... sees his play in one light, the theatrical manager receives it and
sees it in another, the stage-manager adds his own way of understanding
it, the actor takes it up according to his own temperament and talents,
and the public sees it from a fifth point of view. Add to this ten or
twelve subsidiary characters. How can an author claim, under such
circumstances, to remain the absolute master of his work?"

The term "subsidiary characters" to some extent explains the attitude of
the actress. It is a suggestion of the famous "_moi-même et quelques
poupées_" which exhibits the clash of ideas that forms the basis of the
ineradicable antagonism between the original author and the actor. Each
naturally thinks himself the master.

To the true dramatist the players are as the colours on the palette, the
instruments in the orchestra--or, perhaps, the players of them--the
stone of the sculptor; their task is to give bodily form to his ideas,
clothes and flesh to the "soul" of his drama, and, as far as possible,
to efface themselves in doing their duty.

The player, on the other hand, regards the dramatist as someone intended
to write splendid parts for him--parts in which, to use the stock
phrase, he "sees himself"--sees _himself_. Unfortunately the dramatists
have, on the whole, been the sufferers, the slaves.

Sardou enslaved himself to Bernhardt; there are grounds for thinking
that but for this slavery he might have been a great dramatist and not
merely a rich, supremely skilful play fabricator. For a long time the
players have had the upper hand, mainly because of the servility of the
dramatists, but there are signs of a change. Already the "ten or twelve
subsidiary actors" phrase is becoming out of date. We have seen play
after play at the Court with parts of different degrees of importance,
but hardly any "subsidiary" characters in the sense in which Yvette
Guilbert uses the term.

There are moments when the letter of Guilbert seems a joke or a hoax.
One does not like to think that she said, "The true comedian finds his
success in himself, and can do without the dramatic author. He easily
utilizes his own comic or tragic gifts, as is witnessed in Shakespeare,
Molière, and a hundred others." To think that we do not know whether
Shakespeare was "a true comedian," and that it is not unlikely that he
was a poor actor! The lady is wise not to attempt to name the "hundred
others" presumably _ejusdem generis_ with Shakespeare and Molière.
"There have always been, since the beginning of the ages, mimics and
improvisators who did without the text of others." Possibly this is true
but it does not follow that there are many players who could hold an
audience by their mimicry or improvisations; not a few of the greatest
actors and actresses might starve if they had to rely upon their own
ideas. It is even notorious that some of our most illustrious actors
have had their brilliant after-dinner impromptu speeches written for
them.

After reading the whole letter one may hint that Guilbert's own ideas
might not serve her very well if she tried to appear as improvisator.



CHAPTER XIII

MISCELLANEOUS


Finance in Plays

It is to be hoped that the title will not be misunderstood. The finance
_of_ plays is quite another story, often an ugly story, sometimes with a
comic aspect, and frequently disclosed in a bankruptcy or a winding-up.
Occasionally in pieces supposed to be quite modern we are told,
incorrectly, a good deal about the way in which plays are financed,
which does not mean the mode of spending money on the production and
performance of dramas and in keeping theatres open--or closed--but the
method of raising money for theatrical enterprises. Certainly, the
subject is worthy of consideration, and some day we hope to handle it
almost adequately. The remarks, however, concern the ideas of general
finance exhibited by authors. Mr Sutro's drama _The Perfect Lover_ set
us thinking. No doubt the title does not suggest money, nor, indeed,
does it give an idea of the real subject of the drama. In his new work
the author preaches a sermon about the corrupting influence of wealth
and the desire for it. As business men, in a sort of second-hand way,
most of us were interested in the talk concerning money.

Everything turns upon the fact that Willie, the wicked solicitor, wishes
to buy the Cardew estates, which (though the property of a noble family)
happen to be unsettled, because he has discovered that there is coal
under them, and therefore scents a fortune in the purchase. The moment
that the word "coal" is mentioned to the persons in the play everything
is understood--by them. All assume that the property is multiplied in
value by its existence. Joe is to be offered £5000 to bring about the
sale. A simple practical person, such as a dramatic critic, is inclined
to ask whether Willie is not buying a pig in a poke. He can hardly have
had shafts sunk surreptitiously on the Cardew estates in order to
ascertain whether the coal-mines would be a curse or a blessing to the
owner; and if the property adjoined valuable collieries, the Cardews
would have made some investigation.

For it by no means follows that a coal-mine is a source of wealth, since
the "black diamonds," concerning our available quantity of which
Professor Jevons scared our fathers when some of us were agreeably
younger, may be indifferent in quality or lie with such faults and in a
manner so inconvenient that it can only be worked at a ruinous cost.
Nevertheless, whenever the magic word "coal" is whispered the characters
are thrilled, like housewives reminded by their husband that they have
forgotten to order it at the "lowest summer prices." No doubt the author
will say that after all coal is coal, and may be reminded of the
plaintive retort by the little girl in _Punch_ that "mother said the
last lot was nearly all slates." Willie talks of making a million out of
the purchase; he is fortified in his views by the fact that the Great
Central Railway is going to run through part of the property. Writers of
fiction are apt to believe that in these times land-owners receive on
compulsory purchase the extravagant sums that used to be awarded in past
days and by their magnitude have hampered the railway companies and the
general public ever since; juries or arbitrators have come to their
senses, and compensation no longer spells unmerited fortune, except by
the reaping of a large crop of "unearned increment." And now there are
the new taxes.

It may be suggested that we do not demand exact finance or correct law
in our fiction nowadays. A few, indeed, are meticulous in the matter,
but it is generally assumed that the public would be bored by correct
details. No one has ventured to dramatize Laurence Oliphant's
brilliantly humorous "Autobiography of a Joint Stock Company"--apologies
if by slip of memory the title is given at all incorrectly.
Occasionally, it is true, our plays treat financial matters with some
particularity; one may cite _Mammon_ and _A Bunch of Violets_, both
versions of Feuillet's drama _Montjoie_, and Mr Arthur Jones's clever
piece _A Rogue's Comedy_, and _Business is Business_, the adaptation of
_Les Affaires sont les Affaires_. Moreover, there was a melodrama given
at the Opéra Comique which, despite the care of the Censor, contained
caricatures of several notorious living financiers. They were financiers
touching whom one may record the story, perhaps unpublished, of an
American who asserted vaingloriously that we have no great financiers in
England such as are to be found in the United States, and on being
answered that we have, and thereupon inquiring scornfully where they
could be found, received the curt reply, "In gaol." Unfortunately, the
finances of the Opéra Comique production were almost as unsubstantial as
the finance in the other plays, and it did not last long.

Mr Cecil Raleigh also, in some of the Drury Lane dramas which used to
give us vast entertainment, handled company matters in a broad,
generous, comic fashion which baffled criticism.

Would a public so abominably engrossed as ours in money, a people that
is exchanging the ascendency of an aristocracy for the despotism of a
plutocracy, a nation a large proportion of which gambles on the Stock
Exchange whilst another plays bridge for shocking stakes, really reject
a drama turning on financial matters and containing a moderate amount of
accurate detail? If there is little poetry in Throgmorton Street, at
least there is plenty of romance, and more imagination is exhibited in
the average prospectus than in the ordinary play. It would not be
impossible to introduce a touch of sentiment, assuming, sadly, that the
playgoers cannot be happy without a little bit of sugar; whilst the
fierce clash of men in the mad pursuit for wealth--a pursuit, after all,
more engrossing than that of love--is often terribly dramatic. There was
a piece called _The Wheat King_, an adaptation of one of the few books
by the powerful American novelist Norris, who died too young. The
version, made by two ladies, very nearly fulfilled the conditions
suggested, and it almost achieved success.

Doubtless everybody connected with theatres believes that love in some
form or another is the only possible basis for a successful drama,
although we are well aware that romantic love such as the dramatists
trade in is only an episode in the lives of a minority of the nation,
and does not come at all to the rest. Apparently it is presumed that
those who have never felt it wish to hear about it, and that those who
have, desire to revive their memories. Indeed, many experts imagine
there are very few topics which will lure the public to the box-office.

There is before us at the moment a letter from Henry Irving, in answer
to a suggestion that Ibsen's great drama _The Pretenders_ was worthy of
production by him, and he says, "Of the power of Ibsen's _Pretenders_ I
am quite sensible, but unfortunately there are considerations which
prevent me from accepting the suggestion. In the first place, I believe
the theme of ambition has no great dramatic hold, or a very slender one,
on the playgoing public of to-day.... I am compelled as a manager to
take these things into account. Were I conducting an endowed theatre,
the case would be different." Many things have happened in Stageland
since April 1897, when this letter was written by Irving, and it is by
no means improbable that the scope of the theatre has been somewhat
extended. After all, it is fantastic that money, the element which plays
the greatest part in the lives of most of us, should generally be
treated superficially if at all, and, as a rule, when not neglected,
should be handled without accuracy or even verisimilitude of detail.

One might refer to _Macbeth_ as a successful play with ambition as its
theme. Since Irving's letter was written a fair number of unsentimental
plays have been produced and well received, such, for instance, as
_Strife_ and _The Silver Box_ and _The Voysey Inheritance_, all works of
great quality.


Some Unsuccessful Dramatists

When considering some of the criticisms upon _Becket_, and accepting
them as accurate, one is inclined to ask why Tennyson failed as a
dramatist. That he did, judged by the ordinary standard, can hardly be
denied, nor could any degree of success with _Becket_ disprove the
statement, since the acted work is a bold, free adaptation of the
printed play. He was anxious for success as a playwright, and in fact no
fewer than five of his plays have been presented on the stage--all of
them published after he was sixty-six years old. Now, Tennyson,
undoubtedly, from every point of view that one can classify exactly, was
far better equipped for playwriting than hundreds of successful
dramatists--yet he failed. Why?

The puzzle does not end nor begin with him. One can name a number of
literary men of great rank who have written vainly for the stage, to say
nothing of others who are authors of works in the form of drama, but
nevertheless, like a Shelley, Swinburne or Longfellow, may not have been
stagestruck.

As conspicuous modern instances Balzac, Byron and Browning may be
selected, and a writer who, if hardly of the same class, has written at
least one masterpiece. This is Charles Reade, whose delightful book "The
Cloister and the Hearth" seems likely to attain immortality. Reade, we
know, was absolutely stagestruck, and wrote dozens of plays and spent a
great deal of money over them; indeed, it is not too much to say that
his mania for the theatre seriously injured his work as a novelist. Yet
who will pretend that any of the pieces that he concocted alone or in
conjunction with others is worth the least valuable of his novels?

Balzac, though not stagestruck in the same degree as Charles Reade, had
a great desire for success as a playwright; part of the desire may have
been due to eagerness to make money with which to pay off those terrible
debts. Yet in one biography of him no mention is made of his dramas.
Nevertheless, he sweated hard over _Vautrin_, _La Marâtre_, _Les
Ressources de Quinola_ and _Mercadet_; none of them helped
substantially to pay off the debts, nor can any be rated equally with
the poorest of his novels. _Mercadet_, certainly, has one brilliant
scene of comedy in it, and under the name of _A Game of Speculation_
proved a trump-card with Charles Mathews. G.H. Lewes was author of the
version which, according to a popular story, was written and rehearsed
between Saturday and Monday. The original, with the full title of
_Mercadet ou Le Faiseur_ was not acted till after the death of Balzac,
when it was reduced to three acts by D'Ennery and given with success at
Le Gymnase.

Everybody knows that Browning wrote a number of plays. _A Soul's
Tragedy_ was lately presented by the Stage Society, an interesting
hardly successful experiment. _A Blot on the 'Scutcheon_ was produced at
Drury Lane in 1842 and revived by Phelps at Sadler's Wells, and also in
1893 by the Independent Theatre, when Miss May Harvey gave an admirable
performance as Mildred; whilst _Strafford_, _Colombe's Birthday_ and _In
a Balcony_ have all seen the footlights and achieved at the most a
_succès d'estime_. Few, however, even putting aside the vulgar,
fallacious test of the box-office, would say that these works are really
valuable stage dramas, despite the superb qualities obvious in them.

Some of Lord Byron's plays have been given upon the boards; but the real
Byron of the stage is the author of _Our Boys_ and goodness knows how
many more successful works, all as dead to-day as the dramas of Sheridan
Knowles. It has been said that _The Cenci_, when produced privately by
Sir Percy Bysshe Shelley, with Miss Alma Murray as heroine, acted very
well. Has the Stage Society ever considered the question of a revival?

How, then, did it happen that Balzac, Byron, Browning and Reade failed
as dramatists, despite the eager desire of three of them, at least, to
win success on the boards? It is undeniable that the three--one may put
aside Byron--are intensely "dramatic" writers. _Les Chouans_ reads
almost as if it were a play converted into a novel, and has been adapted
successfully, and like _Le Père Goriot_, which someone has called the
French _King Lear_, has been used for the stage after the time when the
long-desired marriage with Madame Hanska was ended by the premature
death of the author of the fine phrase, "_Vierges de corps nous étions
hardis en paroles_." Indeed, in half the works composing the prodigious
_Comédie Humaine_ are passages of immense dramatic force. Clearly, too,
the author of "The Cloister and the Hearth" could paint character and
was a splendid storyteller into the bargain. It would be impossible to
say this without certain qualifications in the case of Browning; yet who
that has been fascinated by that colossal work "The Ring and the Book"
can deny it? Why, then, should Balzac and Browning have failed where
Shakespeare and Sardou have succeeded?

The question brings forward another, and it is this: whether
Shakespeare, if he were writing nowadays, would be a successful
dramatist. At first sight it seems an absurd question, but it is
permissible because one must recognize the fact that what perhaps
prevented Balzac and Browning from being successful has not proved an
impediment to the triumph of Shakespeare. The dramas of our national
dramatist are the most heavily thought-burdened plays that have had
popular success in modern times, and in the works of Browning there are
so many ideas that it is often difficult to see the idea. To the modern
writer of anything like Shakespeare's calibre, or Browning's, the simple
joy in the story is no longer possible, and probably Shakespeare, if
born forty years ago, and if content to work for such a medium as the
stage, would, like an Ibsen, have chosen themes that do not appeal to
our people. But was Shakespeare, "Shakespeare"?

It is not merely a want of the knack of playwriting--a vulgar, useful
term--that kept Browning or Tennyson from success on the stage. No one
ever had such a prodigious "knack" as Ibsen, and _Rosmersholm_ is the
most amazing _tour de force_ of craftmanship. Yet despite his influence
upon modern drama, Ibsen--a great poet, a great thinker, a great
observer, and the greatest of craftsmen--has been unpopular as a
dramatist in England.

One begins to see that an element in the answer to be given to the
question is the fact that some of the great writers who have failed upon
the stage owe their want of success in part to their over-estimation of
the power of the acting play to convey ideas, and consequently to their
putting so much more into their work than the average audience can get
out that the public shirks the task of grappling with them at all.
Shakespeare, under peculiar circumstances, was grappled with before our
time, and has been predigested for us; but the others have had no such
fortune. Moreover, much of the national dramatist's finest work is cut
when his works are produced and some are rarely given, others never.

Several able writers, such as Robert Buchanan, have rushed to the
opposite extreme and obtained ephemeral success by empty plays injurious
to their reputation as men of letters, and a few of us think that one of
our most successful and brilliant novelist-playwrights has a dangerous
tendency in this direction. It is, of course, given to few to judge so
perfectly as Pinero what is the extreme quantity of thought that can be
put into a play without frightening the public, and he has had more than
one splendid failure from taking too hopeful a view of the intelligence
of playgoers.


The Ending of the Play

A large number of readers begin a novel at the wrong end, particularly
those of the sex many members of which are threatened with moustaches,
according to the latest hysterical shriek of certain medicine-men,
because of their weakness for putting cigarettes between their dainty
lips. They look at the last chapter before reading the first; the
practice is indefensible, criminal. Authors take an immense amount of
trouble in working up logically to a conclusion and preparing the minds
of their readers for it, and most of this trouble goes by the board if
you begin by reading the last chapter. In the case of the humbler
classes of fiction the injury to the writer is even greater: he has
endeavoured by manoeuvres, limited in character by certain laws of the
game, to spring a surprise upon the reader by puzzling her as to the
ending of the story and she, instead of "playing the game" and trying to
unravel it, "cuts the Gordian knot," the most hackneyed _cliché_ in the
_répertoire_ of the journalist. This grossly unfair treatment of
novelists ought to be punished, or at least be subject to procedure in
the Chancery Division for breach of confidence.

The really honest reader shrinks from such an offence as if it were
eavesdropping. It is well known that many novels actually begin with the
last chapter. The Irishism represents the fact that the author starts
by exhibiting people in a dramatic position and then proceeds to show
how they came to be there.

There is always something of this method in a play. One cannot
conveniently begin, like Sterne, with the birth of the hero--and even a
little before--and work steadily forward. "Tristram Shandy," it may be,
is a poor example, since "steadily" is perhaps the worst adjective in
the dictionary to describe the progress of that novel. Of course there
are plays in which a prologue is employed, but the device is clumsy; and
in these instances, when the real drama is reached, an explanation of
what has happened during the gap between the prologue and the first act
is necessary.

In other words, part of the author's work and a great part of his
difficulty lie in telling the audience a number of antecedent facts. The
task has grown very difficult since soliloquies have gone out of vogue
and audiences become so sophisticated as to smile at the old-fashioned
conversations in which information is given to the house by causing the
hero to tell to his friend--"his friend Charles"--a number of matters
with which, to the knowledge of everybody, Charles is already well
acquainted.

It is a misfortune that in the case of cleverly constructed dramas the
uncritical members of the playgoing world, whilst half-conscious of the
fact that the preliminary circumstances are not being told to them in
the clumsy method now out of date, fail to get the full amount of
pleasure from the technical skill exhibited. Take, for instance, what in
this respect is perhaps the masterpiece, _Rosmersholm_. Few spectators
consider it closely enough to appreciate the wonderful skill shown in
conveying to the audience the vast number of facts and ideas necessary
to explain the exact relations between Rosmer and Rebecca West when the
play begins. However, it is hardly worth the while of the casual
playgoer to study the structure of dramas sufficiently to appreciate
fully such marvels of technique--the marvels are very rare.

Something might be said in favour of plays--and it was said by Prosper
Mérimée--in which no knowledge of the previous histories of the parties
is necessary. It is doubtful, however, whether there exists any specimen
of this class of drama, and perhaps it is impossible completely to
comply with such conditions.

Whether much or little is told to the audience of the things that have
happened and the characters before the play begins, the last act in the
ordinary drama is of an extravagant importance in relation to the whole.
It has been said, with a fair amount of truth, that anybody can write a
good first act, and that most plays fail towards the end. Instead of
putting his confidence in the maxim "Well begun is half done," the
author must rely on another which may be expressed as "Well ended is
much mended."

The question how to bring a play to a close has been terribly difficult
on very many occasions to the dramatist. There are various kinds of
conclusion, most of them more or less formal or conventional. For
instance, everyone knows what will happen towards the last fall of the
curtain in the peculiarly exasperating species of drama founded upon a
misunderstanding which in real life would be cleared up in five minutes,
but on the stage remains unsolved for three hours or so. Countless plays
end with a definite engagement of young sweethearts the course of whose
love became rough at the close of the first act, or with the
reconciliation of youthful spouses who quarrelled in the earlier part
of the piece.

This, of course, is the so-called "happy-ever-after" ending: in most
cases the comedies of this type are so artificial that few of the
audience take sufficient interest in the characters to think of them as
people who live after the play, and to notice the fact that the
sweethearts are from their nature unlikely to live happily together, or
that the young husband and wife, on account of their dispositions, are
certain to quarrel within a week of the reconciliation. Plays of these
kinds are essentially unimportant. Nobody cares very much how they end
provided that the curtain falls not later than at a quarter-past eleven.

Real tragedies, whether of the classic, modern or romantic type, end in
death or deaths. Obviously there is no other solution in most cases.
Perhaps in real life Hamlet would have remained letting I dare not wait
upon I would until his mother and stepfather died in the ordinary course
of nature; without any amazing interposition of Providence, Romeo and
Juliet might have healed the quarrel between their hostile houses and
established a large family of little Montague-Capulets, and so on; but
one accepts the proposition that such outcomes would be contrary to the
essential laws of the existence of such plays.

Difficulties grow when we come to comedy that seeks to represent,
however timidly, the life of real human beings. The bold dramatists who
endeavour to represent a slice of life--Jean Jullien invented the
phrase--find more difficulty in the beginning of their plays than the
conventional writer: to bring them to anything like a full stop is a
very rare achievement. A great many end at a comma, a semi-colon is
noteworthy, a colon superb, and very often one has a mere mark of
interrogation at the last fall of the curtain. Of course a full stop
sometimes is achieved, for instance in the case of _The Second Mrs
Tanqueray_; but _Iris_ ends with something very much like a comma, and
_The Notorious Mrs Ebbsmith_ can scarcely boast of more than a colon.

Ibsen has not always been successful in coming to his conclusions. In a
sense _A Doll's House_ might be called a failure: the case is one of the
note of interrogation, and the audience is left in a mood of
dissatisfaction, since, being deeply interested in the character of
Nora, it is intensely curious to know what she will do next. Homes have
been broken up and friendships wrecked by discussion upon the question,
though it must be admitted that most of the quarrels concerning the play
have been upon the irrelevant question whether the child-wife ought to
have left her husband and children. One half of the disputants fail to
see that the fact that she does abandon them is the catastrophe and not
the conclusion of the comedy. In _An Enemy of Society_ and _A Lady from
the Sea_ the author has been remarkably adroit in getting to a definite
conclusion.

On the other hand, one sees that even such a master of his craft was
forced to call death to his aid in many cases; for instance, _Hedda
Gabler_, _The Master-Builder_, _Rosmersholm_, _John Gabriel Borkmann_,
and _When we Dead awaken_. In nearly all of these the death is not
accidental but inevitable. _The Wild Duck_ has a tragic death in it
which is by no means conclusive; indeed, it is a horrible humour of the
work that the last idea of all is the suggestion of a continuing tragic
comedy.

The inconclusive conclusion is unpopular. There is a strong craving in
the public to have plays nicely rounded off, and this is a serious
obstacle to writers who seek to represent real life, which seems to have
a sort of prejudice against rounding-off human affairs neatly. In a vast
number of cases the great crises in human life are followed by a tedious
kind of dragging anti-climax.

Great monarchs still live after their fall. The Napoleon of the stage
would have died at Waterloo instead of crawling out of life at St
Helena. One need not multiply instances after such a prodigious example.
Managers naturally respect--some will say "pander to"--the public taste;
wherefore our real life plays rarely see the footlights, and when they
do sometimes are cruelly forced into an artificial ending.

From time to time one even sees quaint announcements that, owing to the
wishes of the public, the conclusion of a particular play has been
twisted from the author's original idea into some termination that
gratifies the audience's desire to leave the theatre in a mood to enjoy
a supper afterwards. The question of art involved in the matter hardly
needs discussion. No one will deny that, in comedy at least, the
greatest suggestion of truth is the greatest art, even whilst admitting
that the inevitable circumstances of the production of a play demand
certain modifications and adjustment of truth. The dramatist can never
hold the mirror up to Nature; he can only reflect her in a distorting
glass.

A few years ago in a play that made a sensation came the worst example
of the forced conventional "happy-ever-after" ending on record. The case
was that of _An Englishman's Home_, where there was foisted upon the
author, who was abroad, a quite imbecile happy ending which caused much
discussion: it is not unlikely that this crime against drama and the
dramatist prevented the piece from enjoying the immense success
confidently prophesied for it.

Nowadays authors are in a greater difficulty, because
people--particularly the so-called "smart" folk--are eager to get away
early for supper, whilst many are compelled to steal off to catch trains
to Brighton and other suburbs, and leave the theatre before the ending
of a play. The result threatens to be curious. The dramatists will be
induced to make their big effort in the penultimate act, leaving nothing
for the last but some tranquil rounding off which you may miss without
serious loss. Instead of the notice, often, alas! untrue: "The audience
is requested to be seated punctually at eight o'clock, since the
interest in the play begins at the rise of the curtain," we shall have:
"Members of the audience anxious for supper or to catch suburban trains
are requested to leave before the curtain rises on the last act, which
is only a kind of needless epilogue."

We had some trace of this new epilogue method in _Leah Kleschna_, as
well as in _Letty_. How the critics of the morning papers would bless
such a system! At the same time, it is imaginable that the authors will
raise a difficulty--they are such an exacting race!

However, a brilliant suggestion has been made of a way of dealing with
the difficulty. "Why not," asks a fair correspondent, whose letter has
incited this article--"why not begin with the last act?" The scornful
may answer with the question, "Why begin at all if you've nothing better
than our ordinary drama?" but they must be kept out of court. There
really is something in the idea. Public interest flags somewhat in the
case of ordinary plays because the house knows too well the things that
are going to happen; it might be stimulated by seeing them happen and
then watching the development of the facts leading up to them. This
suggestion is not protected in any way, either in England or the United
States.


Preposterous Stage Types

The title may sound a little misleading, Ruskinian, Horne-Tookian:
probably the word "preposterous" would not have been used but for an
accidental remembrance of De Quincey, who was so fond of using and
explaining it, of pointing out that it signified the behind-before, the
cart before the horse, the hysteron-proteron. By-the-by, why has De
Quincey gone out of fashion? There are charming reprints of almost
everybody who is somebody, and of somebodies who really are nobodies;
even Alexander Smith is being talked of; yet, if you want a full feast
of De Quincey you must go to ill-printed pages bound horribly. However,
except so far as Shakespeare is concerned, the author of a famous essay
on Wilhelm Meister has left us little on the topic of the stage. A
casual question brought forward the subject: it was whether Sothern's
Dundreary really represented an English type. To answer this is a matter
of some difficulty.

The fact remains that if Dundreary did not represent a type, at least it
created one. Dundrearys became quite numerous after Sothern's success;
and the observant have remarked that not infrequently a stage character
has verified itself by a species of ratification--a remark that has a
flavour of Ireland, or, if a famous essay by Miss Edgeworth is to be
accepted, a flavour of France--this is a reference to her essay on Irish
bulls, a title itself which happens to be unconsciously a bull.

The "mashers" and "crutch and toothpick brigade" of the stage were
rather the progenitors than imitators of the type, and the Gibson girls
were more numerous after the appearance of Miss Camille Clifford than
before she came to London. It might be indiscreet to go further into
details and cite more modern instances on the topic.

One can hardly call this, holding the mirror up to Nature, yet, in a
curious roundabout way, the stage seems to justify itself and become
true after the event. There was a rather bitter discussion some time ago
between an author and a critic; the latter had remarked that the
language of the dramatist's people did not sound true, that it seemed
composed of scraps from the stage, that he generally could guess from
the cue the words of the answering speech.

This, of course, is very often the case; probably to the simple-minded
playgoer when it happens there seems to be evidence that the dialogue is
true. The characters say what he expects them to say--therefore, that
which to him it seems natural for them to say. Perhaps the judgment of
the simple-minded playgoer is sounder on this point than that of the
critic, who is hoping that the characters will utter something that he
does not expect them to say. Probably a large number of the stereotyped
phrases of our actual speech come from the novel or stage, and although
when they were first spoken the truth was not in them, they have come to
be truly representative of the characters.

Novelists of standing are more nicely squeamish on the subject than
dramatists of similar rank; they endeavour to avoid--in dialogue--the
ready-made article; at the same time one notes that the important
dramatist is very anxious to keep clear of the stage-worn phrases.

We know that to some extent people do accept the judgments in plays as
judgments on life, and mould their conduct on that of the characters.
Even the daughter in _Alice Sit-by-the-Fire_, with her views based on
melodrama concerning her mother, was not wholly extravagant. Of course
this puts a rather heavy responsibility upon dramatists. The _Jack
Sheppard_ and _Dick Turpin_ plays are said to have fired many youths
with a desire to become romantic criminals, and even caused them to make
efforts to carry out their desires. Nowadays--at least in the theatres
within our province--such pieces are not presented; nor would one
quarrel with the Censor if he were to prohibit one of them. There is
little peril in a work like _Raffles_; for though it would not be
difficult to exhibit skill in crime as great as that of the hero, a
capacity for being a first-class cricketer and an education at Eton seem
to be essential elements of the character, and these serve as
insurmountable stumbling-blocks to many. Yet a Raffles may set a fashion
and have humble imitators, so far as personal style is concerned, among
the professors of the fine art of crib-cracking.

The Professor Moriarty of _Sherlock Holmes_ really employed too much
machinery to be copied by the crowd.

That the stage sometimes takes the lead in the matter of costume cannot
be disputed--possibly the day will arrive when the emancipation of man
from the thrall of the "topper," the frock-coat and stiff collar is
brought about through the energies of the theatre--though it will
require a London actor of the Le Bargy type to achieve such a triumph,
and he is not yet in sight, and may not appear until after the motorist
has accomplished the miracle. At present, even in the matter of ladies'
frocks, the London stage has less influence than one might have
expected.

At the moment one seeks vainly for any stage type likely to create a
character which afterwards it will seem to reflect. Perhaps Mr G.P.
Huntley has had some success in this respect; certainly it is imaginable
that if he were to represent a well-written part in comedy as a kind of
twentieth-century Dundreary we should meet imitators of him in shoals;
but this has yet to come, and if it does a good many people will fail to
rejoice--a phrase without prejudice to admiration for a player
concerning the limits of whose power as a comedian one may well have
real curiosity.

Turning back for a moment to the dialogue, one can hardly feel surprised
that playwrights are easily satisfied with ready-made phrases; we
journalists cannot "throw stones" at them--a figure the almost
unintentional use of which illustrates the difficulty. It is a very hard
task to invent new phrases for your characters that will seem congruous,
and there is always the peril of appearing affected in style. Yet
success is possible, as may be seen in the works of a few, such as
Pinero; even he shows a tendency, noteworthy in _Letty_ and, to a less
degree, in _His House in Order_, towards causing some characters to talk
"bookily," which, after all, is better than making them speak
journalistically. Still, in dealing with this point the dramatist must
remember that many people in real life use habitually a large number of
ready-made phrases, even when they are in a serious mood.


The Professions of the Dramatis Personae

If the historian of the future, in the endeavour to get a clear idea of
the social life of our times, turns to the contemporary drama in search
for information, he will find very little matter of value. Yet the mere
fact of the success of some of the plays will give him an idea of the
taste, or lack of taste, of the public, and the failure of others will
speak eloquently, but sadly, to him about the audiences of to-day.

The first phenomenon to impress him must be the fact that in a large
proportion of the dramas professing to deal with current social life the
chief persons are the drones of society and the rich people of leisure
or labour, most of them with handles or tails to their names. Half of
our comedies are supposed to pass among the "nobs," and the middle-class
characters are merely introduced as a necessary part of the machinery.
It has been said that the British people dearly loves a lord, and a
belief in this may be one reason why the upper ten thousand furnish so
many of the heroes and heroines.

A further fact is that certain managers are alleged to think that their
theatres gain in dignity by presenting Mayfair plays, and perhaps there
are players who take a great joy in appearing as Lord this, or Lady
that, or the Honourable somebody. Indeed, there was a case where an
actor-manager usurped a king's prerogative and transferred the chief
characters in a play by a young dramatist to the celestial regions of
Burke, notwithstanding the protest of the author, who admitted his
absolute ignorance of the manners, ways of thought, and style in
conversation of the inhabitants of Belgravia: no changes were made
except in the names, and yet nobody suggested that the play was
particularly rich in solecisms.

This form of snobbery has at least one advantage, it saves the
playwright from the trouble of considering the questions of money in the
play. If there is to be an elopement in it there is no difficulty on the
score of expense--a difficulty that, in vulgar real life, has caused
some intrigues to become sordid hole-and-corner divorce dramas instead
of idylls of passionate irregular love.

One notices that certain professions are under a kind of ban upon the
stage. The country contains thousands of solicitors, most of them well
educated and drawn from the class that feeds the Bar, the Church, the
Army, Navy, Medicine, Science and the Arts. This body of solicitors has
an enormous influence upon the conscience of the country--more influence
than any other class, except, perhaps, that of the parsons. How is the
solicitor treated on the stage? Almost always with contempt, at the best
as a humble adviser. He is the comic character or the villain;
generally, as a further insult, the secondary villain. The attorney is
sometimes the hero of a farce, as in _The Headless Man_--never in
comedy, or to be more correct, hardly ever, for Mr Granville Barker in
_The Voysey Inheritance_ gave a very fine and sympathetic study of a
young solicitor. The dramatist may say in defence that he is truthful,
that he merely reflects the vulgar prejudice against the profession,
founded upon the misdeeds of a very small proportion of its members.

The barrister receives better treatment, but, of course, he is generally
deemed to be a more "genteel" person; yet, in considering stage
barristers, one notices that they are drawn very superficially, that
their profession is accidental to the play, and little or nothing turns
on the influence of the career upon the man. Judges, like solicitors,
are usually regarded as comic.

Our stage has hardly inherited Molière traditions concerning the
doctors; there were two important plays, _The Medicine Man_ and _The
Physician_, in which members of the healing art are treated
seriously--though Dr Tregenna in the former was rather a caricature, and
in _The Doctor's Dilemma_ we had a brilliantly painted group of medical
men. The Christian Scientist may complain of neglect, even if there was
some anticipation of him in _Judah_, and a humble branch of the craft
was handled ably by Mrs Merrick in _Jimmy's Mother_. The real quack has
remained almost unscathed.

The army, of course, has not been neglected. Half the Lotharios of
modern drama belong to the destructive profession, and the peppery or
tedious colonel is an old stock friend; whilst the "Dobbin" type is
handled very frequently, and the V.C. has been bestowed more often by
dramatists than by royalty. The modern officer of the good type, the man
with an honest, energetic interest in his profession, is rarely
presented.

What about the navy? There was _The Flag-Lieutenant_ and also _Captain
Drew on Leave_, the latter a somewhat unpleasant picture, fortunately
exhibiting no trace of the sailor's spirit or style of thought. One
cannot complain nowadays of a lack of parsons or Nonconformist
ministers, though it is irksome to see that the latter, as a rule, are
presented in an odious light, by way, probably, of a mean little revenge
for the hostility of the Nonconformist to the theatre--a hostility which
could hardly surprise any dispassionate person who considers the present
state of the stage.

The architect, save in _The Master Builder_, is almost unknown; the
engineer, unspecialised as a rule, figures vaguely sometimes.

Perhaps one ought to write guardedly concerning the journalist. Still,
at least, facts may be stated. As a rule he appears as reporter or
interviewer, and is treated comically. In _The Perfect Lover_ Mr Sutro
handles him seriously, and that play contains an elaborate picture of a
weak-minded journalist as well as a wicked solicitor. Of the existence
of thousands of men, highly educated and many of them possessing
brilliant degrees, connected with the enormous newspaper interest of
this country, the stage takes no cognizance. A dramatic critic
occasionally is exhibited--as a rule in connexion with the
champagne-and-chicken theory.

The vast army devoted to science is almost ignored, though sometimes the
inventor has a kind of "innings": in _The Middleman_ Mr Henry Arthur
Jones made a striking figure of him. Financiers, business men, merchants
and the like have little justice done to them. To the dramatist the
fraudulent is the only interesting financier. He certainly is very fond
of working on the _Mercadet_ basis. He commonly confounds the
stockbroker with the bucket-shop keeper, and invariably assumes that the
company promoter is a thief. The merchant or manufacturer tends to
replace the French uncle from America, and his wealth rather than
himself is employed by the playwright to get his characters out of a
mess.

The novelist or poet is a difficult person for stage treatment; the
pictures of the dramatist in the theatre are curiously unlifelike--as
unlifelike as the theatrical managers on the stage. There are reasons
for this that need not be discussed.

It seems a pity that the playwrights, when dealing with life in the
strata above shopkeeping, should not apply themselves more fully to the
study of the enormous class which is the backbone of the country,
instead of choosing so often merely the idle classes, members of which
as a rule are less highly individualized. One may apply to the
characters in many of our comedies certain phrases used by Théophile
Gautier: "The personages belong to no particular time or country. They
come and go without our knowing why or how; they neither eat nor drink,
they do not live in any particular place, and have no _métier_."

The "neither eat nor drink," of course, is quite inapplicable; we have
far too much eating and drinking on the stage. The low, comic meals of
the Adelphi are replaced by similar or slightly more "genteel" humours
of comic eating in comedies. It may be that this phenomenon is due to a
belief that playgoers want to see something in the theatres far divorced
from its ordinary life, but this belief seems hardly consistent with
certain notable tendencies towards realism. Undoubtedly the public has
not grown tired of plays dealing seriously with current human life; it
has had no opportunity of growing tired of them.

Since this was written the "Yellow Journalism" editor has twice
appeared, once in the brilliant comedy called _What the Public Wants_,
by Mr Arnold Bennett, where Mr James Hearn represented him superbly, and
on the other occasion in Mr Fagan's clever work called _The Earth_, when
Mr M'Kinnel acted ably. Also we have had an engineer in _The Building of
Bridges_ and a doctor in _Fires of Fate_.





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Our Stage and Its Critics - By "E.F.S." of "The Westminster Gazette"" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home