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Title: How to See a Play
Author: Burton, Richard, 1861-1940
Language: English
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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.

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HOW
TO SEE A PLAY

BY
RICHARD BURTON

New York
THE MACMILLAN COMPANY
1914


Now here are twenty criticks ... and yet every one is a critick after
his own way; that is, such a play is best because I like it. A very
familiar argument, methinks, to prove the excellence of a play, and to
which an author would be very unwilling to appeal for his success.

--_From Farquhar's A Discourse Upon Comedy._


COPYRIGHT, 1914
BY THE MACMILLAN COMPANY

Set up and Electrotyped. Published November, 1914
THE MACMILLAN COMPANY NEW YORK--BOSTON--CHICAGO
DALLAS--ATLANTA--SAN FRANCISCO

MACMILLAN & CO., LIMITED
LONDON--BOMBAY--CALCUTTA
MELBOURNE
THE MACMILLAN CO. OF CANADA, LTD.
TORONTO

* * *

PREFACE

Chapter: I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, X, XI

NOTES

* * *



PREFACE


This book is aimed squarely at the theater-goer. It hopes to offer a
concise general treatment upon the use of the theater, so that the
person in the seat may get the most for his money; may choose his
entertainment wisely, avoid that which is not worth while, and
appreciate the values artistic and intellectual of what he is seeing and
hearing.

This purpose should be borne in mind, in reading the book, for while I
trust the critic and the playwright may find the discussion not without
interest and sane in principle, the desire is primarily to put into the
hands of the many who attend the playhouse a manual that will prove
helpful and, so far as it goes, be an influence toward creating in this
country that body of alert theater auditors without which good drama
will not flourish. The obligation of the theater-goer to insist on sound
plays is one too long overlooked; and just in so far as he does insist
in ever-growing numbers upon drama that has technical skill, literary
quality and interpretive insight into life, will that better theater
come which must be the hope of all who realize the great social and
educative powers of the playhouse. The words of that veteran
actor-manager and playwright of the past, Colley Cibber, are apposite
here: "It is not to the actor therefore, but to the vitiated and low
taste of the spectator, that the corruptions of the stage (of what kind
soever) have been owing. If the publick, by whom they must live, had
spirit enough to discountenance and declare against all the trash and
fopperies they have been so frequently fond of, both the actors and the
authors, to the best of their power, must naturally have served their
daily table with sound and wholesome diet." And again he remarks: "For
as their hearers are, so will actors be; worse or better, as the false
or true taste applauds or discommends them. Hence only can our theaters
improve, or must degenerate." Not for a moment is it implied that this
book, or any book of the kind, can make playwrights. Playwrights as well
as actors are born, not made--at least, in the sense that seeing life
dramatically and having a feeling for situation and climax is a gift and
nothing else. The wise Cibber may be heard also upon this. "To excel in
either art," he declares, "is a self-born happiness, which something
more than good sense must be mother of." But this may be granted, while
it is maintained stoutly that there remains to the dramatist a technic
to be acquired, and that practice therein and reflection upon it makes
perfect. The would-be playwright can learn his trade, even as another,
and must, to succeed. And the spectator (our main point of attack, as
was said), the necessary coadjutor with player and playwright in theater
success, can also become an adept in his part of this coöperative
result. This book is written to assist him in such coöperation.



HOW TO SEE A PLAY



CHAPTER I

THE PLAY, A FORM OF STORY TELLING


The play is a form of story telling, among several such forms: the short
story, or tale; the novel; and in verse, the epic and that abbreviated
version of it called the ballad. All of them, each in its own fashion,
is trying to do pretty much the same thing, to tell a story. And by
story, as the word is used in this book, it will be well to say that I
mean such a manipulation of human happenings as to give a sense of unity
and growth to a definite end. A story implies a connection of characters
and events so as to suggest a rounding out and completion, which, looked
back upon, shall satisfy man's desire to discover some meaning and
significance in what is called Life. A child begging at the mother's
knee for "the end of the story," before bedtime, really represents the
race; the instinct behind the request is a sound one. A story, then, has
a beginning, middle and end, and in the right hands is seen to have
proportion, organic cohesion and development. Its parts dovetail, and
what at first appeared to lack direction and connective significance
finally is seen to possess that wholeness which makes it a work of art.
A story, therefore, is not a chance medley of incidents and characters;
but an artistic texture so woven as to quicken our feeling that a
universe which often seems disordered and chance-wise is in reality
ordered and pre-arranged. Art in its story-making does this service for
life, even if life does not do it for us. And herein lies one of the
differences between art and life; art, as it were, going life one better
in this rearrangement of material.

Of the various ways referred to of telling a story, the play has its
distinctive method and characteristics, to separate it from the others.
The story is told on a stage, through the impersonation of character by
human beings; in word and action, assisted by scenery, the story is
unfolded. The drama (a term used doubly to mean plays in general or some
particular play) is distinguished from the other forms mentioned in
substituting dialogue and direct visualized action for the indirect
narration of fiction.

A play when printed differs also in certain ways; the persons of the
play are named apart from the text; the speakers are indicated by
writing their names before the speeches; the action is indicated in
parentheses, the name business being given to this supplementary
information, the same term that is used on the stage for all that lies
outside dialogue and scenery. And the whole play, as a rule, is
sub-divided into acts and often, especially in earlier drama, into
scenes, lesser divisions within the acts; these divisions being used for
purposes of better handling of the plot and exigencies of scene
shifting, as well as for agreeable breathing spaces for the audience.
The word scene, it may be added here, is used in English-speaking lands
to indicate a change of scene, whereas in foreign drama it merely refers
to the exit or entrance of a character, so that a different number of
persons is on the stage.

But there are, of course, deeper, more organic qualities than these
external attributes of a play. The stern limits of time in the
representation of the stage story--little more than two hours, "the two
hours traffic of the stage" mentioned by Shakespeare--necessitates
telling the story with emphasis upon its salient points; only the high
lights of character and event can be advantageously shown within such
limits. Hence the dramatic story, as the adjective has come to show,
indicates a story presenting in a terse and telling fashion only the
most important and exciting things. To be dramatic is thus to be
striking, to produce effects by omission, compression, stress and
crescendo. To be sure, recent modern plays can be named in plenty which
seem to violate this principle; but they do so at their peril, and in
the history of drama nothing is plainer than that the essence of good
play-making lies in the power to seize the significant moments of the
stage story and so present them as to grip the interest and hold it with
increasing tension up to a culminating moment called the climax.

Certain advantages and certain limitations follow from these
characteristics of a play. For one thing, the drama is able to focus on
the really interesting, exciting, enthralling moments of human doings,
where a novel, for example, which has so much more leisure to accomplish
its purpose to give a picture of life, can afford to take its time and
becomes slower, and often, as a result, comparatively prolix and
indirect. This may not be advisable in a piece of fiction, but it is
often found, and masterpieces both of the past and present illustrate
the possibility; the work of a Richardson, a Henry James, a Bennett. But
for a play this would be simply suicide; for the drama must be more
direct, condensed and rapid. And just in proportion as a novel adopts
the method of the play do we call it dramatic and does it win a general
audience; the story of a Stevenson or a Kipling.

Again, having in mind the advantages of the play, the stage story is
both heard and seen, and important results issue from this fact. The
play-story is actually seen instead of seen by the eye of the
imagination through the appeal of the printed page; or indirectly again,
if one hears a narrative recited. And this actual seeing on the stage
brings conviction, since "seeing is believing," by the old saw. Scenery,
too, necessitates a certain truthfulness in the reproducing of life by
word and act and scene, because the spectator, who is able to judge it
all by the test of life, will more readily compare the mimic
representation with the actuality than if he were reading the words of a
character in a book, or being told, narrative fashion, of the
character's action. In this way the stage story seems nearer life.

Moreover, the seeing is fortified by hearing; the spectator is also the
auditor. And here is another test of reality. If the intonation or
accent or tone of voice of the actor is not life-like and in consonance
with the character portrayed, the audience will instantly be quicker to
detect it and to criticize than if the same character were shown in
fiction; seeing, the spectator insists that dress and carriage, and
scenery, which furnishes a congruous background, shall be plausible; and
hearing, the auditor insists upon the speech being true to type.

The play has an immense superiority also over all printed literature in
that, making its appeal directly through eye and ear, it is not literary
at all; I mean, the story in this form can be understood and enjoyed by
countless who read but little or even cannot read. Literature, in the
conventional sense, may be a closed book to innumerable theater-goers
who nevertheless can witness a drama and react to its exhibition of
life. The word, which in printed letters is so all-important, on the
stage becomes secondary to action and scene, for the story can be, and
sometimes is, enacted in pantomime, without a single word being spoken.
In essence, therefore, a play may be called unliterary, and thus it
makes a wider, more democratic appeal than anything in print can. Yet,
by an interesting paradox, when the words of the play are written by
masters like Calderón, Shakespeare, Molière or Ibsen, the drama becomes
the chief literary glory of Spain, England, France and Norway. For in
the final reckoning only the language that is fit and fine preserves the
drama of the world in books and classifies it with creative literature.
Thus the play can be all things to all men; at once unliterary in its
appeal, and yet, in the finest examples, an important contribution to
letters.

A peculiar advantage of the play over the other story-telling forms is
found in the fact that while one reads the printed story, short or long,
the epic or ballad, by oneself in the quiet enjoyment of the library,
one witnesses the drama in company with many other human beings--unless
the play be a dire failure and the house empty. And this association,
though it may remove some of the more refined and aristocratic
experiences of the reader, has a definite effect upon individual
pleasure in the way of enrichment, and even reacts upon the play itself
to shape its nature. A curious sort of sympathy is set up throughout an
audience as it receives the skillful story of the playwright; common or
crowd emotions are aroused, personal variations are submerged in a
general associative feeling and the individual does not so much laugh,
cry and wonder by himself as do these things sympathetically in
conjunction with others. He becomes a simpler, less complex person whose
emotions dominate the analytic processes of the individual brain. He is
a more plastic receptive creature than he would be alone. Any one can
test this for himself by asking if he would have laughed so uproariously
at a certain humorous speech had it been offered him detached from the
time and place. The chances are that, by and in itself, it might not
seem funny at all. And the readiness with which he fell into cordial
conversation with the stranger in the next seat is also a hint as to his
magnetized mood when thus subjected to the potent influence of mob
psychology. For this reason, then, among others, a drama heard and seen
under the usual conditions secures unique effects of response in
contrast with the other sister forms of telling stories.

A heightening of effect upon auditor and spectator is gained--to mention
one other advantage--by the fact that the story which in a work of
fiction may extend to a length precluding the possibility of its
reception at one sitting, may in the theater be brought within the
compass of an evening, in the time between dinner and bed. This secures
a unity of impression whereby the play is a gainer over the novel. A
great piece of fiction like _David Copperfield_, or _Tom Jones_, or _A
Modern Instance_, or _Alice for Short_ cannot be read in a day, except
as a feat of endurance and under unusual privileges of time to spare.
But a great play--Shakespeare's _Hamlet_ or Ibsen's _A Doll's
House_--can be absorbed in its entirety in less than three hours, and
while the hearer has perhaps not left his seat. Other things being
equal, and whatever the losses, this establishes a superiority for the
play. A coherent section of life, which is what the story should be,
conveyed in the whole by this brevity of execution, so that the
recipient may get a full sense of its organic unity, cannot but be more
impressive than any medium of story telling where this is out of the
question. The merit of the novel, therefore, supreme in its way, is
another merit; "one star differeth from another in glory." It will be
recalled that Poe, with this matter of brevity of time and unity of
impression in mind, declared that there was no such thing as a long
poem; meaning that only the short poem which could be read through at
one sitting could attain to the highest effects.

But along with these advantages go certain limitations, too, in this
form of story telling; limitations which warn the play not to encroach
upon the domain of fiction, and which have much to do with making the
form what it is.

From its very nature the novel can be more thorough-going in the
delineation of character. The drama, as we have seen, must, under its
stern restrictions of time, seize upon outstanding traits and assume
that much of the development has taken place before the rise of the
first curtain. The novel shows character in process of development; the
play shows what character, developed to the point of test, will do when
the test comes. Its method, especially in the hands of modern
playwrights like Ibsen and Shaw, is to exhibit a human being acted upon
suddenly by a situation which exposes the hidden springs of action and
is a culmination of a long evolution prior to the plot that falls within
the play proper. In the drama characters must for the most part be
displayed in external acts, since action is of the very essence of a
play; in a novel, slowly and through long stretches of time, not the
acts alone but the thoughts, motives and desires of the character may be
revealed. Obviously, in the drama this cannot be done, in any like
measure, in spite of the fact that some of the late psychologists of the
drama, like Galsworthy, Bennett and others, have tried to introduce a
more careful psychology into their play-making. At the best, only an
approximation to the subtlety and penetration of fiction can be thus
attained. It were wiser to recognize the limitation and be satisfied
with the compensating gain of the more vivid, compelling effect secured
through the method of presenting human beings, natural to the playhouse.

There are also arbitrary and artificial conventions of the stage
conditioning the story which may perhaps be regarded as drawbacks where
the story in fiction is freer in these respects. Both forms of story
telling strive--never so eagerly as to-day--for a truthful
representation of life. The stage, traditionally, in its depiction of
character through word and action, has not been so close to life as
fiction; the dialogue has been further removed from the actual idiom of
human speech. It is only of late that stage talk in naturalness has
begun to rival the verisimilitude of dialogue in the best fiction. This
may well be for the reason (already touched upon) that the presence of
the speakers on the stage has in itself a reality which corrects the
artificiality of the words spoken. "I did not know," the theater auditor
might be imagined as saying, "that people talked like that; but there
they are, talking; it must be so."

The drama in all lands is trying as never before to represent life in
speech as well as act; and the strain hitherto put upon the actor, who
in the past had as part of his function to make the artificial and
unreal plausible and artistic, has been so far removed as to enable him
to give his main strength to genuine interpretation.

The time values on the stage are a limitation which makes for
artificiality; actual time must of necessity be shortened, for if true
chronology were preserved the play would be utterly balked in its
purpose of presenting a complete story that, however brief, must cover
more time than is involved in what is shown upon the boards of a
theater. As a result all time values undergo a proportionate shrinkage.
This can be estimated by the way meals are eaten on the stage. In actual
life twenty minutes are allotted for the scamped eating time of the
railway station, and we all feel it as a grievance. Half an hour is
scant decency for the unpretentious private meal; and as it becomes
more formal an hour is better, and several hours more likely. Yet no
play could afford to allow twenty minutes for this function, even were
it a meal of state; it would consume half an act, or thereabouts.
Consequently, on the stage, the effect of longer time is produced by
letting the audience see the general details of the feast; food eaten,
wine drunk, servants waiting, and conversation interpolated. It is one
of the demands made upon the actor's skill to make all these condensed
and selected minutiæ of a meal stand for the real thing; once more art
is rearranging life, under severe pressure. If those interested will
test with watch in hand the actual time allowed for the banquet in _A
Parisian Romance_, so admirably envisaged by the late Richard Mansfield,
or the famous Thanksgiving dinner scene in _Shore Acres_, fragrantly
associated with the memory of the late James A. Herne, they will
possibly be surprised at the brevity of such representations.

Because of this necessary compression, a scale of time has to be adopted
which shall secure an effect of actualness by a cunning obeyance of
proportion; the reduction of scale is skillful, and so the result is
congruous. And it is plain that fiction may take more time if it so
desires in such scenes; although even in the novel the actual time
consumed by a formal dinner would be reproduced by the novelist at great
risk of boring his reader.

Again, with disadvantages in mind, it might be asserted that the stage
story suffers in that some of the happenings involved in the plot must
perforce transpire off stage; and when this is so there is an inevitable
loss of effect, inasmuch as it is of the nature of drama, as has been
noted, to show events, and the indirect narrative method is to be
avoided as undramatic. Tyros in play-writing fail to make this
distinction; and as a generalization it may be stated that whenever
possible a play should show a thing, rather that state it. "Seeing is
believing," to repeat the axiom. Yet a qualifier may here be made, for
in certain kinds of drama or when a certain effect is striven for the
indirect method may be powerfully effective. The murder in _Macbeth_
gains rather than loses because it takes place outside the scene;
Maeterlinck in his earlier Plays for Marionettes, so called, secured
remarkable effects of suspense and tension by systematically using the
principle of indirection; as where in _The Seven Princesses_ the
princesses who are the particular exciting cause of the play are not
seen at all by the audience; the impression they make, a great one,
comes through their effect upon certain characters on the stage and this
heightens immensely the dramatic value of the unseen figures. We may
point to the Greeks, too, in illustration, who in their great folk
dramas of legend regularly made use of the principle of indirect
narration when the aim was to put before the vast audiences the terrible
occurrences of the fable, not _coram populo_, as Horace has it, not in
the presence of the audience, but rather off stage. Nevertheless, these
exceptions can be explained without violating the general principle that
in a stage story it is always dangerous not to exhibit any action that
is vital to the play. And this compulsion, it will be evident, is a
restriction which may at times cripple the scope of the dramatist, while
yet it stimulates his skill to overcome the difficulty.

Summarizing the differences which go to make drama distinctive as a
story-telling form and distinguish it from other story molds: a play in
contrast with fiction tells its tale by word, act and scene in a rising
scale of importance, and within briefer time limits, necessitating a far
more careful selection of material, and a greater emphasis upon salient
moments in the handling of plot; and because of the device of act
divisions, with certain moments of heightened interest culminating in a
central scene and thus gaining in tension and intensity by this enforced
method of compression and stress; while losing the opportunity to
amplify and more carefully to delineate character. It gains as well
because the story comes by the double receipt of the eye and ear to a
theater audience some of whom at least, through illiteracy, might be
unable to appreciate the story printed in a book. The play thus is the
most democratic and popular form of story telling, and at the same time
is capable of embodying, indeed has embodied, the greatest creative
literature of various nations. And for a generation now, increasingly,
in the European countries and in English-speaking lands, the play has
begun to come into its own as an art form with unique advantages in the
way of wide appeal and cultural possibilities.



CHAPTER II

THE PLAY, A CULTURAL OPPORTUNITY


Certain remarks at the close of the preceding chapter hint at what is in
mind in giving a title to the present one. The play, this democratic
mode of story telling, attracting vast numbers of hearers and
universally popular because man is ever avid of amusement and turns
hungrily to such a medium as the theater to satisfy a deeply implanted
instinct for pleasure, can be made an experience to the auditor properly
to be included in what he would call his cultural opportunity. That is
to say, it can take its place among those civilizing agencies furnished
by the arts and letters, travel and the higher aspects of social life. A
drama, as this book seeks to show, is in its finest estate a work of art
comparable with such other works of art as pictures, statuary, musical
compositions and the achievements of the book world. I shall endeavor
later to show a little more in detail wherein lie the artistic
requirements and successes of the play; and a suggestion of this has
been already made in chapter one.

But this thought of the play as a work of art has hardly been in the
minds of folk of our race and speech until the recent awakening of an
enlightened interest in things dramatic; a movement so brief as to be
embraced by the present generation. The theater has been regarded
carelessly, thoughtlessly, merely as a place of idle amusement, or
worse; ignorant prejudice against it has been rife, with a natural
reaction for the worse upon the institution itself. The play has neither
been associated with a serious treatment of life nor with the refined
pleasure derivable from contact with art. Nor, although the personality
of actors has always been acclaimed, and an infinite amount of silly
chatter about their private lives been constant, have theater-goers as a
class realized the distinguished skill of the dramatist in the handling
of a very difficult and delicate art, nor done justice to the art which
the actor represents, nor to his own artistry in it. But now a change
has come, happily. The English-speaking lands have begun at least to get
into line with other enlightened countries, to comprehend the
educational value of the playhouse, and the consequent importance of the
play. The rapid growth to-day in what may be called social consciousness
has quickened our sense of the social significance of an institution
that, whatever its esthetic and intellectual status, is an enormous
influence in the daily life of the multitude. Gradually those who think
have come to see that the theater, this people's pleasure, should offer
drama that is rational, wholesome amusement; that society in general has
a vital stake in the nature of an entertainment so widely diffused, so
imperatively demanded and so surely effective in shaping the ideals of
the people at large. The final chapter will enlarge upon this
suggestion.

And this idea has grown along with the now very evident re-birth of a
drama which, while practical stage material, has taken on the literary
graces and makes so strong an appeal as literature that much of our best
in letters is now in dramatic form: the play being the most notable
contribution, after the novel, of our time. Leading writers everywhere
are practical dramatists; men of letters, yet also men of the theater,
who write plays not only to be read but to be acted, and who have
conquered the difficult technic of the drama so as to kill two birds
with the one stone.

The student of historical drama will perceive that this welcome change
is but a return to earlier and better conditions when the mighty
play-makers of the past--Calderón, Molière, Shakespeare and their
compeers--were also makers of literature which we still read with
delight. And, without referring to the past, a glance at foreign lands
will reveal the fact that other countries, if not our own, have always
recognized this cultural value of the stage and hence given the theater
importance in the civic or national life, often spending public moneys
for its maintenance and using it (often in close association with
music) as a central factor in national culture. The traveler to-day in
Germany, France, Russia and the Scandinavian lands cannot but be
impressed with this fact, and will bring home to America some suggestive
lessons for patriotic native appreciation. In the modern educational
scheme, then, room should be made for some training in intelligent
play-going. So far from there being anything Quixotic in the notion, all
the signs are in its favor. The feeling is spreading fast that school
and college must include theater culture in the curriculum and people at
large are seeking to know something of the significance of the theater
in its long evolution from its birth to the present, of the history of
the drama itself, of the nature of a play regarded as a work of art; of
the specific values, too, of the related art of the actor who alone
makes the drama vital; and of the relative excellencies, in the actual
playhouses of our time, of plays, players and playwrights; together with
some idea of the rapidly changing present-day conditions. Such changes
include the coming of the one-act play, the startling development of
the moving picture, the growth of the Little Theater, the rise of the
masque and pageant, and so on with other manifestations yet. Surely,
some knowledge in a field so broad and humanly appealing, both for
legitimate enjoyment of the individual and in view of his obligations to
fellow man, is of equal moment to a knowledge of the chemical effect of
hydrochloric acid upon marble, or of the working of a table of
logarithms. These last are less involved in the living of a normal human
being.

Here are signs of the time, which mark a revolution in thought. In the
light of such facts, it is curious to reflect upon the neglect of the
theater hitherto for centuries as an institution and the refusal to
think of the play as worthy until it was offered upon the printed page.
The very fact that it was exhibited on the stage seemed to stamp it as
below serious consideration. And that, too, when the very word _play_
implies that it is something to be played. The taking over of the
theaters by uneducated persons to whom such a place was, like a
department store, simply an emporium of desired commodities, together
with the Puritanic feeling that the playhouse, as such, was an evil
thing frowned upon by God and injurious to man, combined to set this
form of entertainment in ill repute. Bernard Shaw, in that brilliant
little play, _The Dark Lady of the Sonnets_, sets certain shrewd words
in the mouths of Shakespeare and Queen Elizabeth pertinent to this
thought:

SHAKESPEARE: "Of late, as you know, the Church taught the people by
means of plays; but the people flocked only to such as were full of
superstitious miracles and bloody martyrdoms; and so the Church, which
also was just then brought into straits by the policy of your royal
father, did abandon and discountenance playing; and thus it fell into
the hands of poor players and greedy merchants that had their pockets to
look to and not the greatness of your kingdom."

ELIZABETH: "Master Shakespeare, you speak sooth; I cannot in anywise
amend it. I dare not offend my unruly Puritans by making so lewd a
place as the playhouse a public charge; and there be a thousand things
to be done in this London of mine before your poetry can have its penny
from the general purse. I tell thee, Master Will, it will be three
hundred years before my subjects learn that man cannot live by bread
alone, but by every word that cometh from the mouth of those whom God
inspires."

The height of the incongruous absurdity was illustrated in the former
teaching of Shakespeare. Here was a writer incessantly hailed as the
master poet of the race; he bulked large in school and college,
perforce. Yet the teacher was confronted by the embarrassing fact that
Shakespeare was also an actor: a profession given over to the sons of
Belial; and a playwright who actually wrote his immortal poetry in the
shape of theater plays. This was sad, indeed! The result was that in
both the older teaching and academic criticism emphasis was always
placed upon Shakespeare the poet, the great mind; and Shakespeare the
playwright was hardly explained at all; or if explained the
illumination was more like darkness visible, because those in the seats
of judgment were so ignorant of play technic and the requirements of the
theater as to make their attempts well-nigh useless. It remained for our
own time and scholars like George P. Baker and Brander Matthews, with
intelligent, sympathetic comprehension of the play as a form of art and
the playhouse as conditioning it, to study the Stratford bard primarily
as playwright and so give us a new and more accurate portrait of him as
man and creative worker.

I hope it is beginning to be apparent that intelligent play-going starts
long before one goes to the theater. It means, for one thing, some
acquaintance with the history of drama, and the theater which is its
home, both in the development of English culture and that of other
important nations whose dramatic contribution has been large. This
aspect of culture will be enlarged upon in the following chapters.

Much can be done--far more than has been done--in this historical
survey in school and college to prepare American citizens for rational
theater enjoyment. There is nothing pedantic in such preparation. Nobody
objects to being sufficiently trained in art to distinguish a chromo
from an oil masterpiece or to know the difference in music between a
cheap organ-grinder jingle and the rhythmic marvels of a Chopin. It is
equally foolish to be unable to give a reason for the preference for a
play by Shaw or Barrie over the meaningless coarse farce by some stage
hack. It is all in the day's culture and when once the idea that the
theater is an art has been firmly seized and communicated to many all
that seems bizarre in such a thought will disappear--and good riddance!

The first and fundamental duty to the theater is to attend the play
worthy of patronage. If one be a theater-goer, yet has never taken the
trouble to see a certain drama that adorns the playhouse, one is open to
criticism. The abstention, when the chance was offered, must in fact
either be a criticism of the play or of the person himself because he
refrained from supporting it.

But let it be assumed that our theater-goer is in his seat, ready to do
his part in the patronage of a good play. How, once there, shall he show
the approval, or at least interest, his presence implies?

By making himself a part of the sympathetic psychology of the audience,
as a whole; not resisting the effect by a position of intellectual
aloofness natural to a human being burdened with the self-consciousness
that he is a critic; but gladly recognizing the human and artistic
qualities of the entertainment. Next, by giving external sign of this
sympathetic approval by applause. Applause in this country generally
means the clapping of the hands; only exceptionally, and in large
cities, do we hear the _bravos_ customary in Europe.

But suppose the play merit not approval but the reverse; what then? The
gallery gods, those disthroned deities, were wont more rudely to
supplement this manual testimony by the use of their other extremities,
the feet. The effect, however, is not desirable. Yet, in respect of
this matter of disapproval, it would seem as if the British in their
frank booing of a piece which does not meet their wishes were exercising
a valuable check upon bad drama. In the United States we signify
positive approval, but not its negation. The result is that the cheaper
element of an audience may applaud and so help the fate of a poor play,
while the hostility of those better fitted to judge is unknown to all
concerned with the fortunes of the drama, because it is thus silent. A
freer use of the hiss, heard with us only under rare circumstances of
provocation, might be a salutary thing, for this reason. An audible
expression of reproof would be of value in the case of many unworthy
plays.

But perhaps in the end the rebuke of non-attendance and the influence of
the minatory word passed on to others most assists the failure of the
play that ought to fail. If the foolish auditor approve where he should
condemn, and so keep the bad play alive by his backing, the better view
has a way of winning at the last. Certainly, for conspicuous success
some qualities of excellence, if not all of them, must be present.

But intelligent play-going means also a perception of the art of acting,
so that the technic of the player, not his personality, will command the
auditor's trained attention and he will approve skill and frown upon its
absence.

And while it is undoubtedly more difficult to convey this information
educationally, the ideal way being to see the best acting early and late
and to reflect upon it in the light of acknowledged principles,
something can certainly be done to prepare prospective theater-goers for
appreciation of the profession of the player; substituting for the
blind, time-honored "I know what I like," the more civilized: "I approve
it for the following good and sufficient reasons." Even in school, and
still more in college, the teacher can coöperate with the taught by
suggesting the plays to be seen, amateur as well as professional; and by
classroom discussion afterward, not only of the plays but concerning
their rendition. Students are quick to respond when this is done, for
the vital object lesson of current drama always appeals to them, and
they are glad to observe a connection between their amusement and their
culture. At present, or at least up to a very recent time, the
eccentricity of such a procedure would all but have endangered the
position of the teacher so foolhardy as to act upon the assumption that
the drama seen the night before could be in any way used to impart
permanent lessons concerning a great art to the minds of the pupils.
Luckily, a more liberal view is taking the place of this crass
Philistinism.

In a proper appreciation of the actor the hearer will look beyond the
pulchritude of an actress or the fit of an actor's clothes; he will
judge Miss Ethel Barrymore by her power of envisaging the part she
assumes, and not be overly interested in an argument as to her increase
of avoirdupois of late years. He will not allow himself to consume time
over the question whether Mr. William Gillette in private life is
addicted to chloral because Sherlock Holmes is a victim of that most
reprehensible habit.

And above all he will constantly remind himself that acting is the art
of impersonation, exactly that; and, therefore, just as high praise goes
to the player who admirably portrays a disagreeable part as to one in
whose mouth the playwright has set lines which make him beloved from
curtain to curtain. Yet the majority of persons in a typical American
theater audience hopefully confuse the part with the player, and award
praise or blame according as they like or dislike the part itself.

The intelligent auditor will also give approval to the stage artist who,
instead of drawing attention to himself by the use of exaggerated
methods, quietly does his work, keeps always within the stage picture,
and trusts to his truthful representation to secure conviction and
reward. How common is it to see some player overstressing his part, who,
instead of being boohed and hissed as he deserves and as he infallibly
would be in some countries, receives but the more applause for his
inexcusable overstepping of the modesty of his art. It becomes part of
the duty of our intelligent play-goer to teach such pseudo-artists their
place, for as long as they win the meed of ill-timed and ignorant
approval, so long will they flourish.

Nor will the critic of the acceptable actor fail to observe that the
latter prefers working for the ensemble--_team work_, in the sporting
phrase--to that personal display disproportionate to the general effect
which will always make the judicious grieve. In theatrical parlance,
"hogging the stage" has flourished simply for the reason that it
deceives a sufficient number in the seats to secure applause and so
throws dust in the eyes of the general public as to its true iniquity.
The actor is properly to be judged, not by his work detached from that
of his fellows, but ever in relation to the totality of impression which
means a play instead of a personal exhibition. It is his business to
coöperate with others in a single effect in which each is a factor in
the exact measure of the importance of his part as conceived by the
dramatist. Where a minor part becomes a major one through the ability of
a player, as in the famous case of the elder Sothern's Lord Dundreary,
it is at the expense of the play; _Our American Cousin_ was negligible
as drama, and hence it did not matter. But if the drama is worth while,
serious injury to dramatic art may follow.

Again, the intelligent play-goer will carefully distinguish in his mind
between actor and playwright. Realizing that "the play's the thing," he
will demand that even the so-called star (too often an actor foisted
into prominence for a non-artistic reason) shall obey the laws of his
art and those of drama, and not unduly minimize for personal reasons the
work of his coadjutors in the play, nor that of the playwright who
intended him to go so far and no further. The actor who, whatever his
fame, and no matter how much an unthinking audience is complaisant when
he does it, makes a practice of giving himself a center-of-the-stage
prominence beyond what the drama calls for, is no artist, but a show
man, neither more nor less, who deserves to be rated with the
mountebanks rather than with the artists of his profession. But it may
be feared that "stars" will continue to seek the stage center and crowd
others of the cast out of the right focus, to say nothing of distorting
the work of the dramatist, under the goad of megalomania, so long as a
goodly number of unintelligent spectators egg him on. His favorite line
of poetry will be that of Wordsworth:

"Fair as a star when only one is shining in the sky." It is to help the
personnel of such an audience that our theater-goer needs his training.

A general realization of all this will definitely affect one's theater
habit and make for the good of all that concerns the art of the
playhouse. It will lead the properly prepared person to see a good play
competently done, but with no supreme or far-famed actor in the company,
in preference to a foolish play, or worse, carried by a "star"; or a
play negligible as art or hopelessly _passé_ as art or interpretation
of life for which an all-star cast has been provided, as if to take the
eye of the spectator off the weaknesses of the drama. Often a standard
play revived by one of these hastily gathered companies of noted players
resolves itself into an interest in individual performances which must
lack that organic unity which comes of longer association. The
opportunity afforded to get a true idea of the play is made quite
secondary, and sometimes entirely lost sight of.

Nor will the trained observer in the theater be cheated by the dollar
mark in his theatrical entertainment. He will come to feel that an
adequate stock company, playing the best plays of the day, may afford
him more of drama culture for an expenditure of fifty cents for an
excellent seat than will some second-rate traveling company which
presents a drama that is a little more recent but far less worthy, to
see which the charge is three or four times that modest sum. All over
the land to-day nominally cultivated folk will turn scornfully away from
a fifty-cent show, as they call it, only because it is cheap in the
literal sense, whereas the high-priced offering is cheap in every other
sense but the cost of the seat. Such people overlook the nature of the
play presented, the playwright's reputation, and the quality of the
performance; incapable of judging by the real tests, they stand
confessed as vulgarians and ignoramuses of art. We shall not have
intelligent audiences in American theaters, speaking by and large, until
theater-goers learn to judge dramatic wares by some other test than what
it costs to buy them. Such a test is a crude one, in art, however
infallible it may be in purely material commodities; indeed, is it not
the wise worldling in other fields who becomes aware in his general
bartering that it is unsafe to estimate his purchase exclusively by the
price tag?

To one who in this way makes the effort to inform himself with regard to
the things of the theater--plays, players and playwrights--concerning
dramatic history both as it appertains to the drama and the theater; and
concerning the intellectual as well as esthetical and human values of
the theater-going experience, it will soon become apparent that it
offers him cultural opportunity that is rich, wide and of ever deepening
enjoyment. And taking advantage of it, he will dignify one of the most
appealing pleasures of civilization by making it a part of his permanent
equipment for satisfactory living.

Other aspects of this thought may now be expounded, beginning with a
review of the play in its history; some knowledge of which is obviously
an element in the complete appreciation of a theater evening. For the
proper viewing of a given play one should have reviewed plays in
general, as they constitute the body of a worthy dramatic literature.



CHAPTER III

UP TO SHAKESPEARE


The recent vogue of plays like _The Servant in the House_, _The Passing
of the Third Floor Back_, _The Dawn of To-morrow_, and _Everywoman_
sends the mind back to the early history of English drama and is full of
instruction. Such drama is a reversion to type, it suggests the origin
of all drama in religion. It raises the interesting question whether the
blasé modern theater world will not respond, even as did the primitive
audiences of the middle ages, to plays of spiritual appeal, even of
distinct didactic purpose. And the suggestion is strengthened when the
popularity is recalled of the morality play of _Everyman_ a few years
since, that being a revival of a typical mediæval drama of the kind. It
almost looks as if we had failed to take into account the ready response
of modern men and women to the higher motives on the stage; have failed
to credit the substratum of seriousness in that chance collection of
human beings which constitutes a theater audience. After all, they are
very much like children, when under the influence of mob psychology;
sensitive, plastic to the lofty and noble as they are to the baser
suggestions that come to them across the footlights. In any case, these
late experiences, which came by way of surprise to the professional
purveyors of theatrical entertainment, give added emphasis to the
statement that the stage is the child of mother church, and that the
origin of drama in the countries whereof we have record is always
religious. The mediæval beginnings in Europe and England have been
described in their details by many scholars. Suffice it here to say that
the play's birthplace is at the altar end of the cathedral, an extension
of the regular service. The actors were priests, the audience the vast
hushed throngs moved upon by incense, lights, music, and the intoned
sacred words, and, for the touch of the dramatic which was to be the
seed of a wonderful development, we may add some portion of the sacred
story acted out by the stoled players and envisaged in the scenic pomp
of the place. The lesson of the holy day was thus brought home to the
multitude as it never would have been by the mere recital of the Latin
words; scene and action lent their persuasive power to the natural
associations of the church. Such is the source of modern drama; what was
in the course of time to become "mere amusement," in the foolish phrase,
began as worship; and if we go far back into the Orient, or to the
south-lying lands on the Mediterranean, we find in India and Greece
alike this union of art and worship, whether the play began within
church or temple or before Dionysian altars reared upon the green sward.
The good and the beautiful, the esthetic and the spiritual, ever
intertwined in the story of primitive culture.

And the gradual growth from this mediæval beginning is clear. First, a
scenic elaboration of part of the service, centering in some portion of
the life and death of Christ; then, as the scenic side grew more
complex, a removal to the grounds outside the cathedral; an extension of
the subject-matter to include a reverent treatment of other portions of
the Bible narrative; next, the taking over of biblical drama by the
guilds, or crafts, under the auspices of the patron saints of the
various organizations, as when, on Corpus Christi day, one of the great
saints' days of the year, a cycle of plays was presented in a town with
the populace agog to witness it, and the movable vans followed each
other at the street corners, presenting scene after scene of the story.
Then a further extension of motives which admitted the use of the lives
of the saints who presided over the guilds; and finally the further
enlargement of theme due to the writing of drama of which the personages
were abstract moral qualities, giving the name of Morality to this kind
of play. Such, described with utter simplicity and brevity, was the
interesting evolution.

Aside from all technicalities, and stripped of much of moment to the
specialist, we have in this origin and early development a blend of
amusement and instruction; a religious purpose linked with a frank
recognition of the fact that if you make worship attractive you
strengthen its hold upon mankind--a truth sadly lost sight of by the
later Puritans. The church was wise, indeed, to unite these elements of
life, to seize upon the psychology of the show and to use it for the
purpose of saving souls. It was not until the sixteenth century and the
immediate predecessors of Shakespeare that the play, under the influence
of renaissance culture and the inevitable secularization of the theater
in antagonism to the Puritan view of amusement, waxed worldly, and
little by little lost the ear-marks of its holy birth and upbringing.

The day when the priests, still the actors of the play, walked down the
nave and issued from the great western door of the cathedral, to
continue the dramatic representations under the open sky, was truly a
memorable one in dramatic history. The first instinct was not that of
secularization, but rather the desire for freer opportunity to enact the
sacred stories; a larger stage, more scope for dramatic action. Yet,
although for generations the play remained religious in subject-matter
and intent, it was inevitable that in time it should come to realize
that its function was to body forth human life, unbounded by Bible
themes: all that can happen to human beings on earth and between heaven
and hell and beyond them, being fit material for treatment, since all
the world's a stage, and flesh and blood of more vital interest to
humanity at large than aught else. The rapid humanization of the
religious material can be easily traced in the coarse satire and broad
humor introduced into the Bible narratives: a free and easy handling of
sacred scene and character natural to a more naïve time and by no means
implying irreverence. Thus, in the Noah story, Mrs. Noah becomes a stout
shrew whose unwillingness to come in out of the wet and bestow herself
in dry quarters in the Ark must have been hugely enjoyed by the
fifteenth century populace. And the Vice of the morality play
degenerates into the clown of the performance, while even the Devil
himself is made a cause for laughter.

Another significant step in the advance of the drama was made when the
crafts took over the representations; for it democratized the show,
without cheapening it or losing sight of its instructional nature. When
the booths, or pageants as they were called, drew up at the crossing of
the ways and performed their part in some story of didactic purport and
broadly human, hearty, English atmosphere, with an outdoor flavor and
decorative features of masque and pageantry, the spectators saw the
prototype of the historic pageants which just now are coming again into
favor. The drama of the future was shaping in a matrix which was the
best possible to assure a long life, under popular, natural conditions.
These conditions were to be modified and distorted by other, later
additions from the cultural influence of the past and under the
domination of literary traditions; but here was the original mold.

The method of presentation, too, had its sure effect upon the theater
which was to follow this popular folk beginning. The movable van, set
upon wheels, with its space beneath where behind a curtain the actors
changed their costumes, suggests in form and upfitting the first
primitive stages of the playhouses erected in the second half of the
sixteenth century. Since but one episode or act of the play was to be
given, there was no need of a change of scene, and the stage could be
simple accordingly. Contemporary cuts show us the limited dimensions,
the shallow depth and the bareness of accessories typical of this
earliest of the housings of the drama, for such it might fairly be
called. Obviously, on such a stage, the manner and method of portrayal
are strictly defined: done out of doors, before a shifting multitude of
all classes, with no close cohesion or unity, since another part of the
story was told in another spot, the play, to get across--not the
footlights, for there were none--but the intervening space which
separated actors and audience, must be conveyed in broad simple outline
and in graphic episodes, the very attributes which to-day, despite all
subtleties and finesse, can be relied upon to bring response from the
spectators in a theater. It must have been a great event when, in some
quiet English town upon a day significant in church annals, the players'
booths began their cycle, and the motley crowd gathered to hear the
Bible narratives familiar to each and all, even as the Greek myths which
are the stock material of the Greek drama were known to the vast
concourse in the hillside theater of that day. In effect the circus had
come to town, and we may be sure every urchin knew it and could be found
open-mouthed in the front row of spectators. No possibility here of
subtlety and less of psychologic morbidity. The beat of the announcing
drum, the eager murmur of the multitude, the gay costumes and colorful
booth, all ministered to the natural delight of the populace in show and
story. The fun relieved the serious matter, and the serious matter made
the fun acceptable. With no shift of scenery, the broadest liberty, not
to say license, in the particulars of time and place were practiced;
the classic unities were for a later and more sophisticate drama. There
was no curtain and therefore no entr'act to interrupt the two hours'
traffic of the stage; the play was continuous in a sense other than the
modern.

As a result of these early conditions, the English play was to show
through its history a fluidity, a plastic adaptation of material to end,
in sharp contrast with other nations, the French, for one, whose first
drama was enacted in a tennis court of fixed location, deep perspective
and static scenery.

On the holy days which, as the etymology shows, were also holidays from
the point of view of the crowd, drama was vigorously purveyed which made
the primitive appeals of pathos, melodrama, farce and comedy. The actors
became secular, but for long they must have been inspired with a sense
of moral obligation in their work; a beautiful survival of which is to
be seen at Oberammergau to-day. And the play itself remained religious
in content and intention for generations after it had walked out of the
church door. The church took alarm at last, aware that an instrument of
mighty potency had been taken out of its hands. It is not surprising to
find various popes passing edicts against this new and growingly
influential form of public entertainment. It seemed to be on the way to
become a rival. This may well have had its effect in the rapid taking
over of the drama by the guilds, as later it was adopted by still more
worldly organizations.

It was not from the people that the change to complete secularization of
subject-matter and treatment came; but from higher cultural sources:
from the schools and universities, touched by renaissance influences; as
where Bishop Still produced _Gammer Gurton's Needle_ for school use, the
first English comedy; or from court folk, as when Lord Buckhurst with
his associate, Sackville, wrote the frigid _Gorbudoc_ based on the
Senecan model and honorable historically because it is the first English
tragedy. The play of Plautian derivation, _Ralph Roister Doister_, our
first comedy of intrigue, is another example of cultural influences
which came in to modify the main stream of development from the folk
plays.

This was in the sixteenth century, but for over two centuries the
genuine English play had been forming itself in the religious nursery,
as we saw. Now these other exotic and literary influences began to blend
with the native, and the story of the drama becomes therefore more
complex. The school and the court, classic literature and that of
mediæval Europe, which represented the humanism it begot, fast qualified
the product. But the straightest, most natural issue from the naïve
morality and miracle genre is the robustious melodrama illustrated by
such plays as Kyd's _Spanish Tragedy_ and Marlowe's _Edward II_; which
in turn lead directly on to Shakespeare's _Titus Andronicus_, _Hamlet_
and chronicle history drama like _Richard III_; and on the side of
farce, _Gammer Gurton's Needle_, so broadly English in its fun, is in
the line of descent. And in proportion as the popular elements of
rhetoric, show and moralizing were retained, was the appeal to the
general audience made, and the drama genuinely English.

Up to 1576 we are concerned with the history of the drama and there is
no public theater in the sense of a building erected for theatrical
performances. After the strolling players with their booths, plays were
given in scholastic halls, in schools and in private residences; while
the more democratic and direct descendant of the pageants is to be seen
in the inn yards where the stable end of the courtyard, inclosed on
three sides by its parallelogram of galleries, is the rudimentary plan
for the Elizabethan playhouse, when it comes, toward the end of the
sixteenth century. But with the year 1576 and the erection in Shoreditch
of the first Theater on English soil--so called, because it had no
rivals and the name was therefore distinctive--the proper history of the
institution begins. It marks a most important forward step in dramatic
progress.

There is significance in the phrase descriptive of this first building;
it was set up "in the fields," as the words run: which means, beyond
city limits, for the city fathers, increasingly Puritan in feeling,
looked dubiously upon an amusement already so much a favorite with all
classes; it might prove a moral as well as physical plague spot by its
crowding together of a heterogeneous multitude within pent quarters.
Once started, the theater idea met with such hospitable reception that
these houses were rapidly increased, until by the century's end half a
dozen of the curious wooden hexagonal structures could be seen on the
southward bank of the Thames, near the water, central in interest as we
now look back upon them being The Globe, built in 1599 from the material
of the demolished Shoreditch playhouse, and famed forever as
Shakespeare's own house. Here at three o'clock of the afternoon upon a
stage open to the sky and with the common run of spectators standing in
the pit where now lounge the luxuriant occupants of orchestra seats,
while those of the better sort sat on the stage or in the boxes which
flanked the sides of the house and suggested the inn galleries of the
earlier arrangement, were first seen the robust predecessors of
Shakespeare, Marlowe, and Kyd and Peele and Nash; and later,
Shakespeare, Beaumont and Fletcher, Ben Jonson and the other immortals
whose names are names to conjure with, even to this day. Played in the
daylight, and most crudely lighted, the play was deprived of the
illusion produced by modern artificial light, and the stage, projecting
far down into the audience, made equally impossible the illusion of the
proscenium arch, a picture stage set apart from life and constituting a
world of its own for the representation of the mimic story. There was
small need for make-up on the part of the actors, since the garish light
of day is a sad revealer of grease paint and powder; and the flaring
cressets of oil that did service as footlights must, it would seem, have
made darkness visible, when set beside the modern devices. It is plain
enough that under these conditions a performance of a play in the
particulars of seeing and hearing must have been seriously limited in
effect. To reach the audience must have meant an appeal that was
broadly human, and essentially dramatic. Fine language was
indispensable; and a language drama is exactly what the Elizabethan
theater gives us. Compelling interest of story, skillful mouthing of
splendid poetry, virile situations that contained the blood and thunder
elements always dear to the heart of the groundlings, these the play of
that period had to have to hold the audiences. Impudent breakings in
from the gentles who lounged on the stage and blew tobacco smoke from
their pipes into the faces perchance of Burbage and Shakespeare himself;
vulgar interpolations of some clown while the stage waited the entrance
of a player delayed in the tiring room must have been daily occurrences.
And yet, from such a stage, confined in extent and meager in fittings,
and under such physical limitations of comfort and convenience, were the
glories of the master poet given forth to the world. Our sense of the
wonder of his work is greatly increased when we get a visualized
comprehension of the conditions under which he accomplished it. It is
well to add that one of the most fruitful phases of contemporary
scholarship is that which has thrown so much light upon the structure of
the first English theaters. We now realize as never before the limits of
the scenic representation and the necessary restriction consequent upon
the style of drama given.

Another interesting and important consideration should also be noted
here; and one too generally overlooked. The groundlings in the pit,
albeit exposed to wind and weather and deprived of the seats which
minister to man's ease and presumably dispose him to a better reception
of the piece, were yet in a position to witness the play as a play
superior to that of the more aristocratic portions of the assemblage.
However charming it may have been for the sprigs of the nobility to
touch elbows with Shakespeare on the boards as he delivered the tender
lines of old Adam in _As You Like It_, or to exchange a word aside with
Burbage just before he began the immortal soliloquy, "To be or not to
be," it is certain that these gentry were not so advantageously placed
to enjoy the rendition as a whole as were master Butcher or Baker at
the front. And it would seem reasonable to believe that the nature of
the Elizabethan play, so broadly humorous, so richly romantic, so large
and obvious in its values and languaged in a sort of surplusage of
exuberance, is explained by the fact that it was the common herd to whom
in particular the play was addressed in these early playhouses: not the
literature in which it was written so much as the unfolding story and
the tout ensemble which they were in a favorable position to take in. To
the upper-class attendant at the play the unity of the piece must have
been less dominant. And surely this must have tended to shape the play,
to make it a democratic people's product. For it is an axiom that the
dominant element in an audience settles the fate of a play.

But this new plaything, the theater, was not only the physical
embodiment of the drama, it became a social institution as well. Nor was
it without its evils. The splendors of Elizabethan literature have often
blinded criticism to the more sleazy aspects of the problem. But
investigation has made apparent enough that the Puritan attitude toward
the new institution was not without its excuse. As we have seen, from
the very first a respectable middle class element of society looked
askance at the playhouse, and while this view became exaggerated with
the growth of Puritanism in England, there is nothing to be gained in
idealizing the stage conditions of that time, nor, more broadly, to deny
that the manner of life involved and in some regards the nature of the
appeal at any period carry with them the likelihood of license and of
dissipation. The actor before Shakespeare's day had little social or
legal status; and despite all the leveling up of the profession due to
him and his associates, the "strolling player" had to wait long before
he became the self-respecting and courted individuality of our own day.
Women did not act during the Elizabethan period, nor until the
Restoration; so that one of the present possibilities of corruption was
not present. But on the other hand, the stage was without the
restraining, refining influence of their presence; a coarser tone could
and did prevail as a result. The fact that ladies of breeding wore masks
at the theater and continued to do so into the eighteenth century speaks
volumes for the public opinion of its morals; and the scholar who knows
the wealth of idiomatic foulness in the best plays of Shakespeare,
luckily hidden from the layman in large measure, does not need to be
told of the license and lewdness prevalent at the time. The Puritans are
noted for their repressive attitude toward worldly pleasures and no
doubt part of their antagonism to the playhouse was due to the general
feeling that it is a sin to enjoy oneself, and that any institution
which was thronged by society for avowed purposes of entertainment must
derive from the devil. But documentary evidence exists to show that an
institution which in England made possible the drama of Shakespeare,
Beaumont and Fletcher, Webster, Ford, Jonson and Dekkar, writings which
we still point to with pride as our chief contribution to the creative
literature of the world, could include abuses so flagrant as to call
forth the stern denunciations of a Cromwell, and later even shock the
decidedly easy standards of a Pepys. The religious element in society
was, at intervals, to break out against the stage from pulpit or through
the pen, in historical iteration of this early attitude; as with Collier
in his famed attack upon its immorality at the close of the seventeenth
century, and numerous more modern diatribes from such clergymen as
Spurgeon and Buckley.

And in order to understand the peculiar relation of the respectable
classes in America to the theater, it is necessary to realize that those
cherishing this antipathy were our forefathers, the Puritan settlers.
The attitude was inimical, and of course the circumstances were all
against a proper development of the function of the playhouse. Art and
letters upon American soil, forsooth, had to await their day in the
seventeenth and following centuries, when our ancestors had to give
their full strength to more utilitarian matters, or to the grave demands
of the future life. The Anglo-Saxon notion that the theater is evil is
to be traced directly to these historic causes; and transplanted to so
favorable a soil as America, it has produced most unfortunate results in
our dramatic history, the worst of all being the general unenlightened
view respecting the use and usufruct of an institution in its nature
capable of so much good alike to the masses and the classes.



CHAPTER IV

GROWTH TO THE NINETEENTH CENTURY


Preparedness in the appreciation of a modern play presupposes a
knowledge of the origin and early development of English drama, as
briefly sketched in the preceding pages. It also, and more obviously,
involves some acquaintance with the master dramatists who led up to or
flourished in the Elizabethan period, with Shakespeare as the central
figure; it must, too, be cognizant of the gradual deterioration of the
product in the post-Elizabethan time; of the temporary close of the
public theaters under Puritan influence during the Commonwealth; and of
the substitution for the mighty poetry of Shakespeare and his mates of
the corrupt Restoration comedy which was introduced into England with
the return of the second Stuart to the throne in 1660. This brilliant
though brutally indecent comedy of manners, with Congreve, Wycherley,
Etherage, Vanbrugh and Farquhar as chief playwrights, while it
represents in literature the moral nadir of the polite section of
English society, is of decided importance in our dramatic history,
because it reflected the manners and morals of the time, and quite as
much because it is conspicuous for skillful characterization, effective
dialogue and a feeling for scene and situation--all elements in good
dramaturgy.

This intelligent attempt to know what lies historically behind present
drama will also make itself aware of the falling away early in the
eighteenth century, in favor of the new literary form, the Novel; and
the all too brief flashing forth of another comedy of manners with
Sheridan and Goldsmith, which retained the sparkle, wit and literary
flavor of the Restoration, with a later decency and a wholesomer social
view; to be followed again by a well-nigh complete divorce of literature
and the stage until well past the middle of the nineteenth century, when
began the gradual re-birth of a drama which once more took on the
quality of letters and made a serious appeal as an esthetic art and a
worthy interpretation of life: what may be called the modern school
initiated by Ibsen.

All this interesting growth and wonderfully varied accomplishment may be
but lightly touched upon here, for admirable studies of the different
periods and schools by many scholars are at hand and the earnest theater
student may be directed thereto for further reading. The work of
Professor Schelling on Elizabethan drama is thorough and authoritative.
The modern view of Shakespeare and his contribution (referred to in
Chapter III) will be found in Professor Baker's _Development of
Shakespeare as a Dramatist_ and Professor Matthews' _Shakespeare as a
Playwright_. The general reader will find in The Mermaid Series of plays
good critical treatment of the main Elizabethan and post-Elizabethan
plays, together with the texts, so that a practical acquaintance with
the product may be gained. The series also includes the Restoration
dramas in their best examples. For the Sheridan-Goldsmith plays a
convenient edition is that in the Drama section of the Belles Lettres
series of English Literature, where the representative plays of an
author are printed with enlightening introductions and other critical
apparatus. In becoming familiar with these aids the reader will receive
the necessary hints to a further acquaintance with the more technical
books which study the earlier, more difficult part of dramatic
evolution, and give attention to the complex story of the development of
the theater as an institution.

A few things stand out for special emphasis here in regard to this
developmental time. Let it be remembered that the story of English drama
in its unfolding should be viewed in twin aspects: the growth of the
play under changing conditions; and the growth of the playhouse which
makes it possible. What has been said already of the physical framework
of the early English theater throws light at once, as we saw, upon the
nature of the play. And in fact, throughout the development, the play
has changed its form in direct relation to the change in the nature of
the stage upon which the play has been presented. The older type is a
stage suitable for the fine-languaged, boldly charactered, steadily
presented play of Shakespeare acted on a jutting platform where the
individual actor inevitably is of more prominence, and so poorly lighted
and scantily provided with scenery that words perforce and robustious
effects of acting were necessitated, instead of the scenic appeals,
subtler histrionism and plastic face and body work of the modern stage
which has shrunk back to become a framed-in picture behind the
proscenium arch. As the reader makes himself familiar with Marlowe, who
led on to Shakespeare, with the comedy and masque of Ben Jonson, with
the romantic and social plays of Beaumont and Fletcher, the lurid tragic
writing of Webster, the softer tragedy of Ford and the rollicking folk
comedy, pastoral poetry or serious social studies of Dekkar and Heywood,
he will come to realize that on the one hand what he supposed to be the
sole touch of Shakespeare in poetic expression was largely a general
gift of the spacious days of Elizabeth, poetry, as it were, being in the
very air men breathed[A]; and yet will recognize that the Stratford man
walked commonly on the heights only now and again touched by the others.
And as he reads further the plays of dramatists like Massinger,
Tourneur, Shirley, and Otway he will find, along with gleams and
glimpses of the grand manner, a steady degeneration from high poetry and
tragic seriousness to rant, bombast, and the pseudo-poetry that is
rhetoric, with the declension of tragedy into melodrama. High poetry
gradually disintegrates, and the way is prepared for the Restoration
comedy.

In reflecting upon the effect of a closing of the public theaters for
nearly twenty years (1642-1660) the student will appreciate what a body
blow this must have been to the true interests of the stage; and find in
it at least a partial explanation of the rebound to the vigorous
indecencies of Congreve and his associates (Wycherley, Etherage,
Vanbrugh, Farquhar) when the ban was removed; human nature, pushed too
far, ever expressing itself by reactions.

The ineradicable and undeniable literary virtues of the Restoration
writers and their technical advancement of the play as a form and a
faithful mirror of one phase of English society will reconcile the
investigator to a picture of life in which every man is a rake or
cuckold and every woman a light o' love; a sort of boudoir atmosphere
that has a tainted perfume removing it far from the morning freshness of
the Elizabethans. And consequently he will experience all the more
gratitude in reaching the eighteenth century plays: _The School for
Scandal_, _The Rivals_, and _She Stoops to Conquer_, when they came a
generation later. While retaining the polish and the easy carriage of
good society, these dramas got rid of the smut and the smirch, and added
a flavor of hearty English fun and a saner conception of social life; a
drama rooted firmly in the fidelities instead of the unfaithfulnesses
of human character. These eighteenth century plays, like those of the
Restoration--_The Plain Dealer_, _The Way of the World_, _The Man of
Mode_, _The Relapse_, and _The Beaux Stratagem_--were still played in
the old-fashioned playhouses, like Drury Lane, or Covent Garden, with
the stage protruding into the auditorium and the classic architecture
ill adapted to acoustics, and the boxes so arranged as to favor
aristocratic occupants rather than in the interests of the play itself.
The frequent change of scene, the five-act division of form, the
prologue and epilogue and the free use of such devices as the soliloquy
and aside remind us of the subsequent advance in technic. These marks of
a by-gone fashion we are glad to overlook or accept, in view of the
essential dramatic values and permanent contribution to letters which
Sheridan and Goldsmith made to English comedy. But at the same time it
is only common sense to felicitate ourselves that these methods of the
past have been outgrown, and better methods substituted. And we shall
never appreciate eighteenth century play-making to the full until we
understand that the authors wrote in protest against a sickly sort of
unnatural sentimentality, mawkish and untrue to life, which had become
fashionable on the English stage in the hands of Foote, Colman and
others. Sheridan brought back common sense and Goldsmith dared to
introduce "low" characters and laughed out of acceptance the
conventional separation of the socially high and humble in English life.
His preface to _The Good Natured Man_ will be found instructive reading
in relation to this service.

From 1775 to 1860 the English stage, looked back upon from the vantage
point of our time, appears empty, indeed. It did not look so barren, we
may believe, to contemporaries. Shakespeare was doctored to suit a false
taste; so great an actor-manager as Garrick complacently playing in a
version of _Lear_ in which the ruined king does not die and Cordelia
marries Edgar; an incredible prettification and falsification of the
mighty tragedy! Jonson writes for the stage, though the last man who
should have done so. Sheridan Knowles, in the early nineteenth century,
gives us _Virginius_, which is still occasionally heard, persisting
because of a certain vigor and effectiveness of characterization, though
hopelessly old-fashioned in its rhetoric and its formal obeyance of
outworn conventions, both artistic and intellectual. The same author's
_The Honeymoon_ is also preserved for us through possessing a good part
for the accomplished actress. Later Bulwer, whose feeling for the stage
cannot be denied, in _Money_, _Richelieu_, and _The Lady of Lyons_,
shows how a certain gift for the theatrical, coupled with less critical
standards, will combine to preserve dramas whose defects are now only
too apparent.

As the nineteenth century advances the fiction of Reade and Dickens is
often fitted to the boards and the fact that the latter was a natural
theater man gave and still gives his product a frequent hearing on the
stage. To meet the beloved characters of this most widely read of all
English fictionists is in itself a pleasure sufficient to command
generous audiences. Boucicault's _London Assurance_ is good stage
material rather than literature. Tom Taylor produced among many stage
pieces a few of distinct merit; his _New Men and Old Acres_ is still
heard, in the hands of experimental amateurs, and reveals sterling
qualities of characterization and structure.

But the fact remains, hardly modified by the sporadic manifestations,
that the English stage was frankly separating itself from English
literature, and by 1860 the divorce was practically complete. There was
a woful lack of public consideration for its higher interests on the one
hand, and no definite artistic endeavor to produce worthy stage
literature on the other. Authors who wrote for the stage got no
encouragement to print their dramas and so make the literary appeal;
there was among them no esprit de corps, binding them together for a
self-conscious effort to make the theater a place where literature
throve and art maintained its sovereignty. No leading or representative
writers were dramatists first of all. If such wrote plays, they did it
half heartedly, and as an exercise rather than a practical aim. It is
curious to ask ourselves if this falling away of the stage might not
have been checked had Dickens given himself more definitely to dramatic
writing. His bias in that direction is well known. He wrote plays in his
younger days and was throughout his life a fine amateur actor: the
dramatic and often theatric character of his fiction is familiar. It was
his intention as a youth to go on the stage. But he chose the novel and
perhaps in so doing depleted dramatic history.

Literature and the stage, then, had at the best a mere bowing
acquaintance. Browning, who under right conditions of encouragement
might have trained himself to be a theater poet, was chagrined by his
experience with _The Blot on the 'Scutcheon_ and thereafter wrote closet
plays rather than acting drama. Swinburne, master of music and mage of
imagination, was in no sense a practical dramatist. Shelley's dramas are
also for book reading rather than stage presentation, in spite of the
fact that his _Cenci_ has theater possibilities to make one regret all
the more his lack of stage knowledge and aim. Bailey's _Festus_ is not
an acting play, though it was acted; the sporadic drama, in fact,
between 1850 and 1870, light or serious, was frankly literary in the
academic sense and not adapted to stage needs; or else consisted of book
dramatizations from Reade and Dickens; or simply represented the
journeymen work of prolific authors with little or no claim to literary
pretensions.

The practical proof of all this can be found in the absence of drama of
the period in book form, except for the acting versions, badly printed
and cheaply bound, which did not make the literary appeal at all. Where
to-day our leading dramatists publish their work as a matter of course,
offering it as they would fiction or any other form of literature, the
reading public of the middle century neither expected nor received plays
as part of their mental pabulum, and an element in the contemporary
letters. The drama had not only ceased to be a recognized section of
current literature, but was also no longer an expression of national
life. The first faint gleam of better things came when T. W. Robertson's
genteel light comedies began to be produced at the Court Theater in
1868. As we read or see _Caste_ or _Society_ to-day they seem somewhat
flimsy material, to speak the truth; and their technic, after the rapid
development of a generation, has a mechanical creak for trained ears.
But we must take them at the psychologic moment of their appearance, and
recognize that they were a very great advance on what had gone before.
They brought contemporary social life upon the stage as did Congreve in
1680, Sheridan in 1765; and they made that life interesting to large
numbers of theater-goers who hitherto had abstained from play acting.
And so _Caste_ and its companion plays, of which it is the best, drew
crowded houses and the stage became once more an amusement to reckon
with in polite circles. The royal box was once more occupied, the
playhouse became fashionable, no longer quite negligible as a form of
art. To be sure, this was a town drama, and for the upper classes, as
was the Restoration Comedy and that of the eighteenth century. It was
not a people's theater, the Theater Robertson, but it had the prime
merit of a more truthful representation of certain phases of the life of
its day. And hence Robertson will always be treated as a figure of some
historical importance in the British drama, though not a great
dramatist.

In the eighteen eighties another influence began to be felt, that of
Ibsen. The great dramatist from the North was made known to English
readers by the criticism and translations of Gosse and Archer; and
versions of his plays were given, tentatively and occasionally, in
England, as in other lands. Thus readers and audiences alike gradually
came to get a sense of a new force in the theater: an uncompromisingly
truthful, stern portrayal of modern social conditions, the story told
with consummate craftsmanship, and the national note sounding beneath
the apparent pessimism. Here were, it was evident, new material, new
method and a new insistence upon intellectual values in the theater. It
can now be seen plainly enough that Ibsen's influence upon the drama of
the nineteenth century is commensurate in revolutionary results with
that of Shakespeare in the sixteenth. He gave the play a new and
improved formula for play-writing; and he showed that the theater could
be used as an arena for the discussion of vital questions of the day.
Even in France, the one country where dramatic development has been
steadily important for nearly three centuries, his influence has been
considerable; in other European lands, as in England, his genius has
been a pervasive force. Whether he will or no, the typical modern
dramatist is a son of Ibsen, in that he has adopted the Norwegian's
technic and taken the function of playwright more seriously than before.

Both with regard to intellectual values and technic, then, it is no
exaggeration to speak of the modern drama, although it be an expression
of the spirit of the time in reflecting social evolution, as bearing the
special hallmark of Ibsen's influence. A word follows on the varied and
vital accomplishment of the present period.



CHAPTER V

THE MODERN SCHOOL


We have noted that Ibsen's plays began to get a hearing in England in
the eighteen nineties. In fact, it was in 1889 that Mr. J. T. Grein had
the temerity to produce at his Independent Theater in London _A Doll's
House_, and followed it shortly afterward by the more drastic _Ghosts_.
The influence in arousing an interest in and knowledge of a kind of
drama which entered the arena for the purpose of social challenge and
serious satiric attack was incalculable. Both Jones and Pinero,
honorable pioneers in the making of the new English drama, and still
actively engaged in their profession, had begun to write plays some
years before this date; but it may be believed that the example of
Ibsen, if not originating their impulse, was part of the encouragement
to let their own work reflect more truthfully the social time spirit
and to study modern character types with closer observation, allowing
their stories to be shaped not so much by theatric convention as by
honest psychologic necessity.

Jones began with melodrama, of which _The Silver King_ (1882), _Saints
and Sinners_ (1884) and _The Middle Man_ (1889) are examples; Pinero
with ingenious farces happily associated with the fortunes of Sir Squire
Bancroft and his wife, _The Magistrate_ (1885) being an excellent
illustration of the type. The dates are significant in showing the
turning of these skillful playwrights to play-making that was more
serious in the handling of life and more artistic in constructive
values; they are practically synchronous with the introduction of Ibsen
into England. Both authors have now long lists of plays to their credit,
with acknowledged masterpieces among them. Pinero's earlier romantic
style may be seen in the enormously successful _Sweet Lavender_, a style
repeated ten years later in _Trelawney of the Wells_; his more mature
manner being represented in _The Second Mrs. Tanqueray_, the best of a
number of plays which center in the woman who is a social rebel, the
dramatist's tone being almost austerely grim in carrying the study to
its logical conclusion. For a time Sir Arthur seemed to be preoccupied
with the soiled dove as dramatic inspiration; but so fine a recent play
as _The Thunderbolt_ shows he can get away from it. Jones' latest and
best work as well has a tendency to the serious satiric showing-up of
the failings of prosperous middle-class English society; this, however,
in the main, kept in abeyance to story interest and constructive skill
in its handling: _Mrs. Dane's Defense_, _The Case of Rebellious Susan_,
_The Liars_, _The Rogue's Comedy_, _The Hypocrites_, and _Michael and
His Lost Angel_ stand for admirably able performances in different ways.

At the time when these two dramatists were beginning to produce work
that was to change the English theater Bernard Shaw, after writing
several pieces of fiction, had begun to give his attention to plays so
advanced in technic and teaching that he was forced to wait more than a
decade to get a wide hearing in the theater. His debt to the Norwegian
has been handsomely acknowledged by the Irish dramatist, wit and
philosopher who was to become the most striking phenomenon of the
English theater: with all the differences, an English Ibsen. A little
later, in the early eighteen nineties, another brilliant Irishman, Oscar
Wilde, wrote a number of social comedies whose playing value to-day
testifies to his gift in telling a stage story, while his epigrammatic
wit and literary polish gave them the literary excellence likely to
perpetuate his name. For the comedy of manners, light, easy, elegant,
keen, and with satiric point in its reflection of society, nothing of
the time surpasses such dramas as _Lady Windermere's Fan_ and _A Woman
of No Importance_. The author's farce--farce, yet more than farce in
dialogue and characterization--_The Importance of Being Earnest_, is
also a genuine contribution in its kind. And the strange, somber,
intensely poetic _Salome_ is a remarkable _tour de force_ in an unusual
field.

The tendency to turn from fiction to the drama as another form of story
telling fast coming into vogue is strikingly set forth and embellished
in the case of Sir James Barrie, who, after many successes in novel and
short story, became a dramatist some twenty years ago and is now one of
the few men of genius writing for the stage. His _Peter Pan_, _The
Little Minister_, _The Admirable Crichton_, and _What Every Woman Knows_
are four of over a dozen dramas which have given him world fame.
Uniquely, among English writers whose work is of unquestionable literary
quality, he refrains from the publication of plays; a very regrettable
matter to countless who appreciate his rare quality. He is in his droll
way of whimsy a social critic beneath the irresponsible play of a poet's
fancy and an idealist's vision. His keen yet gentle interpretations of
character are solidly based on truth to the everlasting human traits,
and his poetry is all the better for its foundation of sanity and its
salt of wit. One has an impulse to call him the Puck of the English
theater; then feels compelled to add a word which recognizes the loving
wisdom mingling with the pagan charm. Sir James is as unusual in his way
as Shaw in his. Of late he has shown an inclination to write brief,
one-act pieces, thereby adding to our interest in a form of drama
evidently just beginning to come into greater regard.

For daring originality both of form and content Bernard Shaw is easily
the first living dramatist of England. He is a true son of Ibsen, in
that he insists on thinking in the theater, as well as in the
experimental nature of his technic, which has led him to shape for
himself the drama of character and thesis he has chosen to write. To the
thousands who know his name through newspaper publicity or the vogue of
some piece of his in the playhouse, Shaw is simply a witty Irishman,
dealer in paradox and wielder of a shillelah swung to break the heads of
Philistines for the sheer Celtic love of a row. To the few, however, an
honorable minority now rapidly increasing, he is a deeply earnest,
constructive social student and philosopher, who uses a popular
amusement as a vehicle for the wider dissemination of perfectly serious
views: a socialist, a mystic who believes in the Life Force sweeping man
on (if man but will) to a high destiny, and a lover of fellow man who in
his own words regards his life as belonging to the community and wishes
to serve it, in order that he may be "thoroughly used up" when he comes
to die. He has conquered as a playwright because beneath the sparkling
sally, the startling juxtaposition of character and the apparent
irreverence there hides a genuinely religious nature. Shaw shows himself
an "immoralist" only in the sense that he attacks jejune, vicious
pseudo-morals now existent. For sheer acting values in the particulars
of dialogue, character, scenic effectiveness, feeling for climax and
unity of aim such plays as _Candida_, _Arms and the Man_, _Captain
Brassbound's Profession_, _The Devil's Disciple_, _John Bull's Other
Island_, _Man and Superman_, _The Showing Up of Blanco Posnett_, and
others yet, are additions to the serious comedy of England likely to be
of lasting luster, so far as contemporary vision can penetrate.

One of the most interesting developments of recent years has been the
Irish theater movement, in itself part of the general rehabilitation of
the higher imaginative life of that remarkable people. The drama of the
gentle idealist poet Yeats, of the shrewdly observant Lady Gregory and
of the grimly realistic yet richly romantic Synge has carried far beyond
their little country, so that plays like Yeats' _The Land of Heart's
Desire_ and _The Hour Glass_, Lady Gregory's _Spreading the News_ and
Synge's _Riders to the Sea_ and _The Playboy of the Western World_ are
heard wherever the English language is understood, this stage literature
being aided in its travels by the excellent company of Irish Players
founded to exploit it and giving the world a fine example of the success
that may come from a single-eyed devotion to an ideal: namely, the
presentation for its own sake of the simple typical native life of the
land.

It should be remembered that while these three leaders are best known,
half a dozen other able Irish dramatists are associated with them, and
doing much to interpret the farmer or city folk: writers like Mayne,
Boyle, McComas, Murray, and Robinson.

Under the stimulus of Shaw in his reaction against the machine-made
piece and the tiresome reiteration of sex motives, there has sprung up a
younger school which has striven to introduce more varied subject-matter
and a broader view, also greater truth and subtler methods in
play-making. Here belong Granville Barker, with his _Voysey Inheritance_
(his best piece), noteworthy also as actor-manager and producer; the
novelists, Galsworthy and Bennett; and Masefield, whose _Tragedy of Nan_
contains imaginative poetry mingled with melodrama; and still later
figures, conspicuous among them the late Stanley Houghton, whose _Hindle
Wakes_ won critical and popular praise; others being McDonald Hastings
with _The New Sin_; Githa Sowerby, author of the grim, effective play,
_Rutherford and Son_; Elizabeth Baker, with _Chains_ to her credit;
Wilfred Gibson, who writes brief poignant studies of east London in
verse that in form is daringly realistic; Cosmo Hamilton, who made us
think in his attractive _The Blindness of Virtue_; and J. O. Francis,
whose Welsh play, _Change_, was recognized as doing for that country the
same service as the group led by Yeats and Synge has performed for
Ireland.

A later Synge seems to have arisen in Lord Dunsany, whose dramas in book
form have challenged admiration; and since his early death St. John
Hankin's dramatic work is coming into importance as a masterly
contribution to light comedy, the sort of drama that, after the Wilde
fashion, laughs at folly, satirizes weakness, refrains from taking
sides, and never forgets that the theater should offer amusement.

Of all these playwrights, rising or risen, who have got a hearing after
the veterans first mentioned, Galsworthy seems most significant for the
profound social earnestness of his thought, the great dignity of his art
and the fact that he rarely fails to respect the stage demand for
objective interest and story appeal. Some of these new dramatists go too
far in rejecting almost scornfully the legitimate theater mood of
amusement and the necessity of a method differing from the more analytic
way of fiction. Mr. Galsworthy, however, though severe to austerity in
his conceptions and nothing if not serious in treatment, certainly puts
upon us something of the compelling grip of the true dramatist in such
plays as _The Silver Box_, _Strife_ and, strongest of them all and one
of the finest examples of modern tragedy, Justice, where the themes are
so handled as to increase their intrinsic value. This able and
high-aiming novelist, when he turns to another technic, takes the
trouble to acquire it and becomes a stage influence to reckon with. _The
Pigeon_, the most genial outcome of his dramatic art, is a delightful
play: and _The Eldest Son_, _The Fugitive_ and _The Mob_, if none of
them have been stage successes, stand for work of praiseworthy strength.

On the side of poetry, and coming a little before the Irish drama
attracted general attention, Stephen Phillips proved that a poet could
learn the technic of the theater and satisfy the demands of reader and
play-goer. Saturated with literary traditions, frankly turning to
history, legend, and literature itself for his inspiration, Mr. Phillips
has written a number of acting dramas, all of them possessing stage
value, while remaining real poetry. His best things are _Paolo and
Francesca_ and _Herod_, the former a play of lovely lyric quality and
genuinely dramatic moments of suspense and climax; the latter a powerful
handling of the Bible motive. Very fine too in its central character is
_Nero_; and _Ulysses_, while less suited to the stage, where it seems
spectacle rather than drama, is filled with noble poetry and has a last
act that is a little play in itself. Several of Mr. Phillips' best plays
have been elaborately staged and successfully produced by representative
actor-managers like Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree and Sir George Alexander.

Still with poetry in mind, it may be added that Lawrence Binyon has
given evidence of distinct power in dramatic poetry in his _Attila_,
and the delicate Pierrot play, _Prunella_, by Messrs. Housman and
Granville Barker is a success in quite another genre.

Israel Zangwill has turned, like Barrie, Galsworthy and Bennett, from
fiction to the play, and _The Children of the Ghetto_, _Merely Mary
Ann_, _The Melting Pot_, _The War God_ and _The Next Religion_ show
progressively a firmer technic and the use of larger themes. Other
playwrights like Alfred Sutro, Sidney Grundy, W. S. Maugham, Hubert
Davies, and Captain Marshall have a skillful hand, and in the cases of
Maugham and Davies, especially the latter, clever social satire has come
from their pens. Louis R. Parker has shown his range and skill in
successful dramas so widely divergent as _Rosemary_, _Pomander Walk_ and
_Disraeli_.

It may be seen from this category, suggestive rather than complete, that
there is in England ample evidence for the statement that drama is now
being vigorously produced and must be reckoned with as an appreciable
and welcome part of contemporary letters. In the United States, so far,
the showing is slighter and less impressive. Yet it is within the facts
to say that the native play-making has waxed more serious-minded and
skillful (this especially in the last few years) and so has become a
definite adjunct to the general movement toward the reinvestiture of
drama.

In the prose drama which attempts honestly to reproduce American social
conditions, elder men like Howard and Herne, and later ones like Thomas,
Gillette and Clyde Fitch, have done worthy pioneer work. Among many
younger playwrights who are fast pressing to the front, Eugene Walter,
who in _The Easiest Way_ wrote one of the best realistic plays of the
day, Edward Sheldon, with a dozen interesting dramas to his credit,
notably _The Nigger_ and _Romance_; and William Vaughan Moody, whose
material in both _The Great Divide_ and _The Faith Healer_ is
healthfully American and truthful, although the handling is romantic and
that of the poet, deserve first mention.

Women are increasingly prominent in this recent activity and in such
hands as those of Rachel Crothers, Ann Flexner, Marguerite Merrington,
Margaret Mayo and Eleanor Gates our social life is likely to be
exploited in a way to hint at its problems, and truthfully and amusingly
set forth its types.

Moody, though he wrote his stage plays in prose, was essentially the
poet in viewpoint and imagination. A poet too, despite the fact that
more than half his work is in prose, is Percy Mackaye, the son of a
distinguished earlier playwright and theater reformer, author of _Hazel
Kirke_ and _Paul Kauvar_. Mr. Mackaye's prose comedy _Mater_, high
comedy in the best sense, and his satiric burlesque, _Anti-Matrimony_,
together with the thoughtful drama _Tomorrow_, which seeks to
incorporate the new conception of eugenics in a vital story of the day,
are good examples of one aspect of his work; and _Jeanne d'Arc_, _Sapho_
and _Phaon_, verse plays, and the romantic spectacle play, _A Thousand
Years Ago_, illustrate his poetic endeavor. Taking a hint from a short
story by Hawthorne, he has written in _The Scarecrow_ one of the
strongest and noblest serious dramas yet wrought by an American. He has
also done much for the pageant and outdoor masque, as his _The
Canterbury Pilgrims_, _Sanctuary_ and _St. Louis, A Civic Masque_,
presented in May of 1914 on an heroic scale in that city, testify. A
poet, whether in lyric or dramatic expression, is Josephine Preston
Peabody. Her lovely reshaping of the familiar legend known best in the
hands of Browning, _The Piper_, took the prize at the Stratford on Avon
spring Shakespeare festival some years ago, and has been successful
since both in England and America. Her other dramatic writing has not as
yet met so well the stage demands, but is conspicuous for charm and
ideality.

In the imaginative field of romance, poetry and allegory we may also
place the Americanized Englishman, Charles Rann Kennedy, who has put the
touch of the poet and prophet upon homely modern material. His beautiful
morality play, _The Servant in the House_, secured his reputation and
later plays from _The Winter Feast_ to _The Idol Breaker_, inclusive of
several shorter pieces, the one act form being definitely practiced by
this author, have been interesting work, skillful of technic and
surcharged with social sympathy and significance. Edward Knoblauch, the
author of _The Faun_, of _Milestones_ in collaboration with Mr. Bennett,
and of the fantastic oriental divertissement, _Kismet_; and Austin
Strong, who wrote _The Toymaker of Nuremberg_, are among the younger
dramatists from whom much may yet be expected.

In this enumeration, all too scant to do justice to newer drama in the
United States, especially in the field of realistic satire and humorous
perception of the large-scaled clashes of our social life, it must be
understood that I perforce omit to mention fully two score able and
earnest young workers who are showing a most creditable desire to depict
American conditions and have learned, or are rapidly learning, the use
of their stage tools. The purpose here is to name enough of personal
accomplishment to buttress the claim that a promising school has arisen
on the native soil with aims and methods similar to those abroad.

And all this work, English or American, shows certain ear-marks to bind
it together and declare it of our day in comparison with the past. What
are these distinctive features?

On the side of technic, a greater and greater insistence on telling the
story dramatically, with more of truth, to the exclusion of all that is
non-dramatic, although preserved in the conventions of the theater for
perhaps centuries; the elimination of subplot and of subsidiary
characters which were of old deemed necessary for purposes of
exposition; the avoidance of the prologue and such ancient and useful
devices as the aside and the soliloquy; and such simplification of form
that the typical play shall reduce itself most likely to three acts, and
is almost always less than five; a play that often has but one scene
where the action is compressed within the time limits of a few hours,
or, at the most, a day or two. All this is the outcome of the influence
of Ibsen with its subtlety, expository methods and its intenser
psychology. In word, dress, action and scene, too, this modern type of
drama approximates closer to life; and inclines to minimize scenery save
as congruous background, thus implying a distinct rebellion from the
stupidly literal scenic envisagement for which the influence of a
Belasco is responsible. The new technic also has, in its seeking for an
effect of verisimilitude, adopted the naturalistic key of life in its
acting values and has built small theaters better adapted to this
quieter, more penetrating presentation.

In regard to subject matter, and the author's attitude to his work, a
marked tendency may be seen to emphasize personality in the character
drawing, to make it of central interest (contrasted with plot) and a
bold attempt to present it in the more minute variations of motive and
act rather than in those more obvious reactions to life which have
hitherto characterized stage treatment; and equally noticeable if not
the dominant note of this latter-day drama, has been the social sympathy
expressed in it and making it fairly resonant with kindly human values:
the author's desire to see justice done to the under-dog in the social
struggle; to extend a fraternal hand to the derelicts of the earth, to
understand the poor and strive to help those who are weak or lost; all
the underlings and incompetents and ill-doers of earth find their
explainers and defenders in these writers. This is the note which sounds
in the fraternalism of Kennedy's _The Servant in the House_, the
arraignment of society in Walter's _The Easiest Way_ and Paterson's
_Rebellion_, the contrast of the ideals of east and west in Moody's _The
Great Divide_, and the democratic fellowship of Sheldon's _Salvation
Nell_. It is the note abroad which gives meaning to Hauptmann's _The
Weavers_, Galsworthy's _Justice_ and Wedekind's _The Awakening of
Spring_, different as they are from each other. It stands for a
tolerant, even loving comprehension of the other fellow's case. There is
in it a belief in the age, too, and in modern man; a faith in democracy
and an aspiration to see established on the earth a social condition
which will make democracy a fact, not merely a convenient political
catch-word.

Some authors, in their obsession with truth on the stage, have too much
neglected the fundamental demands of the theater and so sacrificed the
crisp crescendo treatment of crisis in climax as to indulge in a tame,
undramatic and bafflingly subtle manipulation of the story; a remark
applicable, for example, to a writer like Granville Barker.

But the growth and gains in both countries, with America modestly
second, are encouraging. In these modern hands the play has been
simplified, deepened, made more truthful, more sympathetic; and is now
being given the expressional form that means literature. The bad, the
cheap, the flimsy are still being produced, of course, in plenty; so has
it always been, so ever will be. But the drama that is worthy, skillful,
refreshing in these different kinds--farce, comedy light, polite, or
satiric; broad comedy or high, melodrama, tragedy, romance and
morality--is now offered, steadily, generously, and it depends upon the
theater-goer who has trained himself to know, to reject and accept
rightly, to appreciate and so make secure the life of all drama that is
worth preservation.

       *       *       *       *       *

This survey of the English theater and the drama which has been produced
in it from the beginning--a survey the brevity of which will not
detract, it may be hoped, from its clearness, may serve to place our
play-goer in a position the better to appreciate the present conditions;
and to give him more respect for a form of literature which he turns to
to-day for intelligent recreation, deeming it a helpfully stimulating
form of art. From this vantage-point, he may now approach a
consideration of the drama as an artistic problem. He will be readier
than before, perhaps, to realize that the playwright, with this history
behind him, is the creature of a long and important development, in a
double sense: in his treatment of life, and in the manner of that
treatment.

Naturally, the theater-goer will not stop with the English product. The
necessity alone of understanding Ibsen, as the main figure in this
complex modern movement, will lead him to a study of the author of _A
Doll's House_. And, working from center to circumference, he will with
ever increasing stimulation and delight become familiar with many other
foreign dramatists of national or international importance. He will give
attention to those other Scandinavians, Strindberg, Drachman and
Björnson; to the Russians, Tolstoy, Tchekoff and Gorky; to Frenchmen
like Rostand and Maeterlinck, Becque, Hervieu, Lavedan, Donnay and
Brieux; to the Germans and Austrians, Hauptmann, Sudermann, Wedekind,
Hofmansthal and Schnitzler; to the Italian, D'Annunzio, and the Spanish
Echgeragay,--to mention but a few. It may even be that, once aroused to
the value of the expression of the Present in these representative
writers for the stage, he will wish to trace the dramatic history behind
them in their respective countries, as he has (supposedly) already done
with the dramatists of his own tongue. If he do so, the play-goer will
surely add greatly not only to his general literary culture but to his
power of true appreciation of the play of the moment he may be
witnessing. For all this reading and reflection and comparison will tend
to make him a critic-in-the-seat who settles the fate of plays to-day
because he knows the plays of yesterday and yesteryear.



CHAPTER VI

THE PLAY AS THEME AND PERSONAL VIEW


We may now come directly to a consideration of the play regarded as a
work of art and a piece of life. After all, this is the central aim in
the attempt to become intelligent in our play-going. A play may properly
be thought of as a theme; it has a definite subject, which involves a
personal opinion about life on the author's part; a view of human beings
in their complex interrelations the sum of which make up man's existence
on this globe.

The play has a story, of course, and that story is so handled as to
constitute a plot: meaning a tangle of circumstances in which the fates
of a handful of human beings are involved, a tangle to which it is the
business of the plot to give meaning and direction. But back of the
story, in any drama that rises to some worth, there is a theme, in a
sense. Thus, the theme of _Macbeth_ is the degenerating effect of sin
upon the natures of the king and his spouse; and the theme of Ibsen's _A
Doll's House_ is the evil results of treating a grown-up woman as if she
were a mere puppet with little or no relation to life's serious
realities.

The thing that gives dignity and value to any play is to be found just
here: a distinctive theme, which is over and above the interest of
story-plot, sinks into the consciousness of the spectator or reader, and
gives him stimulating thoughts about life and living long after he may
have quite forgotten the fable which made the framework for this
suggestive impulse of the dramatist. Give the statement a practical
test. Plenty of plays suffice well enough perhaps to fill an evening
pleasantly, yet have no theme at all, no idea which one can take with
him from the playhouse and ruminate at leisure. For, although the story
may be skillfully handled and the technic of the piece be satisfying, if
it is not _about_ anything, the rational auditor is vaguely dissatisfied
and finds in the final estimate that all such plays fall below those
that really have a theme. To illustrate: Mr. Augustus Thomas's fine
play, _The Witching Hour_, has a theme embedded in a good, old-fashioned
melodramatic story; and this is one of the reasons for its great
success. But the same author's _Mrs. Leffingwell's Boots_, though
executed with practiced skill, has no theme at all and therefore is at
the best an empty, if amusing, trifle, far below the dramatist's full
powers. Frankly, it is a pot boiler. And, similarly, Mr. Thomas's
capital western American drama, _Arizona_, while primarily and
apparently story for its own sake, takes on an added virtue because it
illustrates, in a story-setting, certain typical and worthy American
traits to be found at the time and under those conditions in the far
west. To have a theme is not to be didactic, neither to argue for a
thesis nor moot a problem. It is simply to have an opinion about life
involved in and rising naturally out of the story, and never, never
lugged in by the heels. The true dramatist does not tell a story because
he has a theme he wishes to impose upon the audience; on the contrary,
he tells his story because he sees life that way, in terms of plot, of
drama, and in its course, and in spite of himself, a certain notion or
view about sublunary things enters into the structure of the whole
creation, and emanates from it like an atmosphere. One of the very best
comedies of modern times is the late Sidney Grundy's _A Pair of
Spectacles_. It has sound technic, delightful characterization, and a
simple, plausible, coherent and interesting fable. But, beyond this, it
has a theme, a heart-warming one: namely, that one who sees life through
the kindly lenses of the optimist is not only happier, but gets the best
results from his fellow beings; in short, is nearer the truth. And no
one should doubt that this theme goes far toward explaining the
remarkable vogue of this admirable comedy. Without a theme so clear,
agreeable and interpretive, a play equally skillful would never have had
like fortune.

And this theme in a play, as was hinted, must, to be acceptable, express
the author's personal opinion, honestly, fearlessly put forth. If it be
merely what he ought to think in the premises, what others
conventionally think, what it will, in his opinion, or that of the
producer of the play, pay to think, the drama will not ring true, and
will be likely to fail, even if the technic of a lifetime bolster it up.
It must embody a truth relative to the writer, a fact about life as he
sees it, and nothing else. A theme in a play cannot be abstract truth,
for to tell us of abstract truth is the _métier_ of the philosopher, and
herein lies his difference from the stage story-teller. Relative truth
is the play-maker's aim and the paramount demand upon him is that he be
sincere. He must give a view of life in his story which is an honest
statement of what human beings and human happenings really are in his
experience. If his experience has been so peculiar or unique as to make
his themes absurd and impossible to people in general, then his play
will pretty surely fail. He pays the penalty of his warped, or too
limited or degenerate experience. No matter: show the thing as he sees
it and knows it, that he must; and then take his chances.

And so convincing, so winning is sincerity, that even when the view that
lies at the heart of the theme appears monstrous and out of all belief,
yet it will stand a better chance of acceptance than if the author had
trimmed his sails to every wind of favor that blows.

Mr. Kennedy wrote an odd drama a few years ago called _The Servant in
the House_, in which he did a most unconventional thing in the way of
introducing a mystic stranger out of the East into the midst of an
ordinary mundane English household. Anybody examining such a play in
advance, and aware of what sort of drama was typical of our day, might
have been forgiven had he absolutely refused to have faith in such a
work. But the author was one person who did have faith in it; he had a
fine theme: the idea that the Christ ideal, when projected into daily
life--instead of cried up once a week in church--and there acted on, is
efficacious. He had an unshaken belief in this idea. And he conquered,
because he dared to substitute for the conventional and supposed
inevitable demand an apparently unpopular personal conviction. He
found, as men who dare commonly do, that the assumed personal view was
the general view which no one had had the courage before to express.

In the same way, M. Maeterlinck, another idealist of the day, wrote _The
Blue Bird_. It is safe to say that those in a position to be wise in
matters dramatic would never have predicted the enormous success of this
simple child play in various countries. But the writer dared to vent his
ideas and feelings with regard to childhood and concerning the spiritual
aspirations of all mankind; in other words, he chose a theme for some
other reason than because it was good, tried theater material; and the
world knows the result. It may be said without hesitation that more
plays fail in the attempt to modify view in favor of the supposed view
of others--the audience, the manager or somebody else--than fail because
the dramatist has sturdily stuck to his point of view and honestly set
down in his story his own private reaction to the wonderful thing called
life; a general possession and yet not one thing, but having as many
sides as there are persons in the world to live it.

Consider, for example, the number of dramas that, instead of carrying
through the theme consistently to the end, are deflected from their
proper course through the playwright's desire (more often it is an
unwilling concession to others' desire) to furnish that
tradition-condiment, a "pleasant ending." Now everybody normal would
rather have a play end well than not; he who courts misery for its own
sake is a fool. But, if not a fool, he does not wish the pleasantness at
the expense of truth, because then the pleasantness is no longer
pleasant to the educated taste, and so defeats its own end. And it is an
observed fact that some stories, whether fiction or drama, "begin to end
well," as Stevenson expressed it; while others, just as truly, begin to
end ill. Hence, when such themes are manhandled by the cheap, dishonest
wresting of events or characters or both, so as presumably to send the
audience home "happy," we get a wretched malversion of art,--and without
at all attaining the object in view. For even the average, or
garden-variety, of audience is uneasy at the insult offered its
intelligence in such a nefarious transaction. It has been asked to
witness a piece of real life, for, testimony to the contrary
notwithstanding, that is what an audience takes every play to be. Up to
a certain point, this presentation of life is convincing; then, for the
sake of leaving an impression that all is well because two persons are
united who never should be, or because the hero didn't die when he
really did, or because coincidence is piled on coincidence to make a
fairy tale situation at which a fairly intelligent cow would rebel,
presto, a lie has to be told that would not deceive the very children in
the seats. It is pleasant to record truthfully that this miserable and
mistaken demand on the part of the short-sighted purveyors of
commercialized dramatic wares is yielding gradually to the more
enlightened notion that any audience wants a play to be consistent with
itself, and feels that too high a price can be paid even for the good
ending whose false deification has played havoc with true dramatic
interests.

Another mode of dishonesty, in which the writer of a play fails in
theme, is to be found whenever, instead of sticking to his subject
matter and giving it the unity of his main interest and the wholeness of
effect derived from paying it undivided attention, extraneous matter is
introduced for the sake of temporary alleviation. Not to stick to your
theme is almost as bad at times as to have none. No doubt the temptation
comes to all practical playwrights and is a considerable one. But it
must be resisted if they are to remain self-respecting artists. The late
Clyde Fitch, skilled man of the theater though he was, sinned not seldom
in this respect. He sometimes introduced scenes effective for novelty
and truth of local color, but so little related to the whole that the
trained auditor might well have met him with the famous question asked
by the Greek audiences of their dramatists who strayed from their theme:
"What has this to do with Apollo?" The remark applies to the
drastically powerful scene in his posthumous play _The City_, where the
theme which was plainly announced in the first act is lost sight of in
the dramatist's desire to use material well adapted to secure a
sensational effect in his climax. It is only fair to say that, had this
drama received the final molding at the author's hands, it might have
been modified to some extent. But there is no question that this was a
tendency with Fitch.

The late Oscar Wilde had an almost unparalleled gift for witty
epigrammatic dialogue. In his two clever comedies, _Lady Windermere's
Fan_ and _A Woman of No Importance_, he allowed this gift to run away
with him to such an extent that the opening acts of both pieces contain
many speeches lifted from his notebooks, seemingly, and placed
arbitrarily in the mouths of sundry persons of the play: some of the
speeches could quite as well have been spoken by others. This
constituted a defect which might have seriously militated against the
success of those dramas had they not possessed in full measure brilliant
qualities of genuine constructive play-making. The theme, after all,
was there, once it was started; and so was the deft handling. But
dialogue not motivated by character or necessitated by story is always
an injury, and much drama to-day suffers from this fault. The producer
of the play declares that its tone is too steadily serious and demands
the insertion of some humor to lighten it, and the playwright, poor,
helpless wight, yields, though he knows he is sinning against the Holy
Ghost of his art. Or perhaps the play is too short to fill the required
time and so padding is deemed necessary;[B] or it may be that the
ignorance or short-sightedness of those producing the play will lead
them to confuse the interests of the chief player with that of the piece
itself; and so a departure from theme follows, and unity be sacrificed.
That is what unity means: sticking to theme.

And unity of story, be sure, waits on unity of theme. This insistence
upon singleness of purpose in a play, clinging to it against all
allurements, does not imply that what is known as a subplot may not be
allowed in a drama. It was common in the past and can still be seen
to-day, though the tendency of modern technic is to abandon it for the
sake of greater emphasis upon the main plot and the resulting tightening
of the texture, avoiding any risk of a splitting of interest. However, a
secondary or subplot in the right hands--as we see it in Shakespeare's
_Merchant of Venice_, or, for a modern instance, in Pinero's _Sweet
Lavender_--is legitimate enough. Those who manipulate it with success
will be careful to see that the minor plot shall never appear for a
moment to be major; and that both strands shall be interwoven into an
essential unity of design, which is admirably illustrated in
Shakespeare's comedy just mentioned.

Have a theme then, let it be quite your own, and stick to it, is a
succinct injunction which every dramatist will do well to heed and the
critic in the seat will do well to demand. Neither one nor the other
should ever forget that the one and only fundamental unity in drama,
past, present and to come, is unity of idea, and the unity of action
which gathers about that idea as surely as iron filings around the
magnetized center. The unities of time and place are conditional upon
the kind of drama aimed at, and the temporal and physical characteristic
of the theater; the Greeks obeyed them for reasons peculiar to the
Greeks, and many lands, beginning with the Romans, have imitated these
so-called laws since. But Shakespeare destroyed them for England, and
to-day, if unity of time and place are to be seen in an Ibsen play, it
simply means that, in the psychological drama he writes, time and place
are naturally restricted. But in the unity of action which means unity
of theme we have a principle which looks to the constitution of the
human mind; for the sake of that ease of attention which helps to hold
interest and produce pleasure, such unity there must be; the mind of man
(when he has one) is made that way.

There is a special reason why the intelligent play-goer must insist upon
this fundamental unity: because much in our present imaginative
literature is, as to form, in direct conflict with that appeal to a
sustained effect of unity offered by a well-wrought drama. The short
story that is all too brief, the vaudeville turn, the magazine habit of
reading a host of unrelated scamped trifles, all militate against the
habit of concentrated attention; all the more reason why it should be
cultivated.

Let me return to the thought that the dramatist, in making the theme his
own, may be tempted to present a view of life not only personal but
eccentric and vagarious to the point of insanity.

His view, to put it bluntly, may represent a crack-brained distortion of
life rather than life as it is experienced by men in general. In such a
case, and obviously, his drama will be ineffective and objectionable, in
the exact degree that it departs from what may be called broadly the
normal and the possible. As I have already asserted, distortion for
distortion, even a crazy handling of theme that is honest is to be
preferred to one consciously a deflection from belief. But the former is
not right because the latter is wrong. Both should be avoided, and will
be if the play-maker be at the same time sincere and healthily
representative in his reaction to life of humanity at large. The really
great plays, and the good plays that have shown a lasting quality, have
sinned in neither of these particulars.

It is especially of import that our critic-in-the-seat should insist on
this matter of normal appeal, because ours happens to be a day when
personal vagaries, extravagant theories and lawless imaginings are
granted a freedom in literary and other art in general such as an
earlier day hardly conceived of. The abuses under the mighty name of Art
are many and flagrant. All the more need for the knowing spectator in
the theater, or he who reads the play at home, to be prepared for his
function, quick to reprimand alike tame subserviency or the
abnormalities of unrestrained "genius." It is fair to say that absolute
honesty on the dramatist's part in the conception and presentation of
theme will meet all legitimate criticisms of his work. Within his
limitations, we shall get the best that is in him, if he will only show
us life as he sees it, and have the courage of his convictions, allowing
no son of man to warp his work from that purpose.



CHAPTER VII

METHOD AND STRUCTURE


I

So far we have considered the material of the dramatist, his theme and
subject matter, and his attitude toward it. But his method in conceiving
this material and of handling it is of great importance and we may now
examine this a little in detail, to realize the peculiar problem that
confronts him.

At the beginning let it be understood that the dramatist must see his
subject dramatically. Every stage story should be seen or conceived in a
central moment which is the explanation of the whole play, its reason
for being. Without that moment, the drama could not exist; if the story
were told, the plot unfolded without presenting that scene, the play
would fall flat, nay, there would, strictly speaking, be no play there.
That is why the French (leaders in nomenclature, as in all else
dramatic) call it the _scène à faire_, the scene that one must do; or,
to adopt the English equivalent offered by Mr. Archer in his interesting
and able manual of stagecraft entitled _Playmaking_, the obligatory
scene: that is, the scene one is obliged to show. This moment in the
story is a climax, because it is the crowning result of all the
preceding growth of the drama up to a point where the steadily
increasing interest has reached its height and an electric effect of
suspense and excitement results. This suspensive excitement depends upon
the clash of human wills against each other or against circumstances;
events are so tangled that they can be no further involved and something
must happen in the way of cutting the knot; the fates of the persons are
so implicated that their lives must be either saved or destroyed, in
order to break the deadlock. Thus along with the clash goes a crisis
presented in a breathless climactic effect which is the central and
imperative scene of the piece, the backbone of every good play.

If this obligatory scene be absent, you may at once suspect the
dramatist; whatever his other virtues (fine dialogue, excellent
characterization, or still other merits), it is probable he is not one
genuinely called to tell a story in the manner of drama within stage
limitations.

It is sometimes said that a play is written backward. The remark has in
mind this fundamental fact of the climax; all that goes before leads up
to it, is preparation for it, and might conceivably be written after the
obligatory scene has been conceived and shaped; all that comes after it
is an attempt to retire gracefully from the great moment, rounding it
out, showing its results, and conducting the spectator back to the
common light of day in such a way as not to be dull, or conventional or
anti-climactic. What follows this inevitable scene is (however
disguised) at bottom a sort of bridge conveying the auditor from the
supreme pleasure of the theater back to the rather humdrum experience of
actual life; it is an experiment in gradation. And the prepared
play-goer will deny the coveted award of _well done_ to any play, albeit
from famous hands and by no means wanting in good qualities, which
nevertheless fails in this prime requisite of good drama: the central,
dynamic scene illuminating all that goes before and follows after,
without which the play, after all, has no right to existence.

With the coming of the modern psychologic school of which Galsworthy,
Barker and Bennett are exemplars, there is a distinct tendency to
minimize or even to eliminate this obligatory scene; an effort which
should be carefully watched and remonstrated against; since it is the
laying of an axe at the roots of dramatic writing. It may be confessed
that in some instances the results of this violation of a cardinal
principle are so charming as to blind the onlooker perhaps to the
danger; as in the case of _Milestones_ by Messrs. Bennett and Knoblauch,
or _The Pigeon_ by Galsworthy, or Louis Parker's Georgian picture,
_Pomander Walk_. But this only confuses the issue. Such drama may prove
delightful for other reasons; the thing to bear in mind is that they are
such in spite of the giving up of the peculiar, quintessential merit of
drama in its full sense. Their virtues are non-dramatic virtues, and
they succeed, in so far as success awaits them, in spite of the
violation of a principle, not because of it. They can be, and should be,
heartily enjoyed, so long as this is plainly understood and the two
accomplishments are perceived as separate. For it may be readily granted
that a pleasant and profitable evening at the theater may be spent,
without the very particular appeal which is dramatic coming into the
experience at all. There are more things in the modern theater than
drama; which is well, if we but make the discrimination.

But for the purposes of intelligent comprehension of what is drama, just
that and naught else, the theater-goer will find it not amiss to hold
fast to the idea that a play without its central scene hereinbefore
described is not a play in the exact definition of that form of art,
albeit ever so enjoyable entertainment. The history of drama in its
failures and successes bears out the statement. And of all nations,
France can be studied most profitably with this in mind, since the
French have always been past masters in the feeling for the essentially
dramatic, and centuries ago developed the skill to produce it. The fact
that we get such a term as the _scène à faire_ from them points to this
truth.

Accepting the fact, then, that a play sound in conception and
construction has and must have a central scene which acts as a
centripetal force upon the whole drama, unifying and solidifying it, the
next matter to consider is the subdivision of the play into acts and
scenes. Since the whole story is shown before the footlights, scenes and
acts are such divisions as shall best mark off and properly accentuate
the stages of the story, as it is unfolded. Convention has had something
to do with this arrangement and number, as we learn from a glance at the
development of the stage story. The earlier English drama accepted the
five-act division under classic influence, though the greatest dramatist
of the past, Shakespeare, did so only half-heartedly, as may be realized
by looking at the first complete edition of his plays, the First Folio
of 1621. _Hamlet_, for instance, as there printed, gives the first two
acts, and thereafter is innocent of any act division; and _Romeo and
Juliet_ has no such division at all. But with later editors, the classic
tradition became more and more a convention and the student with the
modernized text in hand has no reason to suspect the original facts. An
old-fashioned work like Freitag's _Technique of the Drama_ assumes this
form as final and endeavors to study dramatic construction on that
assumption.

The scenes, too, were many in the Elizabethan period, for the reason
that there was no scene shifting in the modern sense; as many scenes
might therefore be imagined as were desirable during the continuous
performance. It has remained for modern technic to discover that there
was nothing irrevocable about this fivefold division of acts; and that,
in the attempt at a general simplification of play structure, we can do
better by a reduction of them to three or four. Hence, five acts have
shrunk to four or three; so that to-day the form preferred by the best
dramatic artists, looking to Ibsen for leadership, is the three-act
play, though the nature of the story often makes four desirable. A
careful examination of the best plays within a decade will serve to show
that this is definitely the tendency.

The three-act play, with its recognition that every art structure should
have a beginning, middle and end--Aristotle's simple but profound
observation on the tragedy of his day--might seem to be that which marks
the ultimate technic of drama; yet it would be pedantic and foolish to
deny that the simplification may proceed further still and two acts
succeed three, or, further still, one act embrace the complete drama,
thus returning to the "scene individable" of the Greeks and Shakespeare.
Certainly, the whole evolution of form points that way.

But, whatever the final simplification, the play as a whole will present
certain constructive problems; problems which confront the aim ever to
secure, most economically and effectively, the desired dramatic result.
The first of these is the problem of the opening act, which we may now
examine in particular.


II

The first act has a definite aim and difficulties that belong to itself
alone. Broadly speaking, its business is so to open the story as to
leave the audience at the fall of the first curtain with a clear idea of
what it is about; not knowing too much, wishing to know more, and having
well in mind the antecedent conditions which made the story at its
beginning possible. If, at the act's end, too much has been revealed,
the interest projected forward sags; if too little, the audience fails
to get the idea around which the story revolves, and so is not
pleasurably anxious for its continuance. If the antecedent conditions
have not clearly been made manifest, some omitted link may throw
confusion upon all that follows. On the other hand, if too much time has
been expended in setting forth the events that lead up to the story's
start on the stage, with the rise of the curtain, not enough time may be
left, within act limits, to hold the attention and fix interest so it
may sustain the entr'act break and fasten upon the next act.

Thus it will be seen that a successful opening act is a considerable
test of the dramatist's skill.

Another drawback complicates the matter. The playwright has at his
disposal in the first act from half to three-quarters of an hour in
which to effect his purpose. But he must lose from five to ten minutes
of this precious time allotment, at the best very short, because,
according to the detestable Anglo-Saxon convention, the audience is not
fairly seated when the play begins, and general attention therefore not
riveted upon the stage action. Under ideal conditions, and they have
never existed in all respects in any time or country, the audience will
be in place at the curtain's rise, alert to catch every word and
movement. As a matter of fact, this practically never occurs;
particularly in America, where the drama has never been taken so
seriously as an art as music; for some time now people have not been
allowed, in a hall devoted to that gentle sister art, to straggle in
during the performance of a composition, or the self-exploitation of a
singer, thereby disturbing the more enlightened hearers who have come on
time, and regard it, very properly, as part of their breeding to do so.
But in the theater, as we all know, the barbarous custom obtains of
admitting late comers, so that for the first few minutes of the
performance a steady insult is thus offered to the play, the players,
and the portion of the audience already in their seats. It may be hoped,
parenthetically, that as our theater gradually becomes civilized this
survival of the manners of bushmen may become purely historic. At
present, however, the practical playwright accepts the existing
conditions, as perforce he must, and writes his play accordingly. And so
the first few minutes of a well-constructed drama, it may be noticed,
are generally devoted to some incident, interesting or amusing in
itself, preferably external so as to catch the eye, but not too vital,
and involving, as a rule, minor characters, without revealing anything
really crucial in the action. The matter presented thus is not so much
important as action that leads up to what is important; and its lack of
importance must not be implied in too barefaced a way, lest attention be
drawn to it. This part of the play marks time, and yet is by way of
preparation for the entrance of the main character or characters.

Much skill is needed, and has been developed, in regard to the
marshaling of the precedent conditions: to which the word _exposition_
has been by common consent given. Exposition to-day is by no means what
it was in Shakespeare's; indeed, it has been greatly refined and
improved upon. In the earlier technic this prefatory material was
introduced more frankly and openly in the shape of a prologue; or if the
prologue was not used, at least the information was conveyed directly
and at once to the audience by means of minor characters, stock figures
like the servant or confidante, often employed mainly, or even solely,
for that purpose. This made the device too obvious for modern taste, and
such as to injure the illusion; the play lost its effect of presenting
truthfully a piece of life, just when it was particularly important to
seem such; that is, at the beginning. For with the coming of the subtler
methods culminating in the deft technic of an Ibsen, which aims to draw
ever closer to a real presentation of life on the stage, and so strove
to find methods of depiction which should not obtrude artifice except
when unavoidable, the stage artist has learned to interweave these
antecedent circumstances with the story shown on the stage before the
audience. And the result is that to-day the exposition of an Ibsen, a
Shaw, a Wilde, a Pinero or a Jones is so managed as hardly to be
detected save by the expert in stage mechanics. The intelligent
play-goer will derive pleasure and profit from a study of Ibsen's growth
in this respect; observing, for example, how much more deftly exposition
is hidden in a late work like _Hedda Gabler_ than in a comparatively
early one like _Pillars of Society_; and, again, how bald and obvious
was this master's technic in this respect when he began in the middle
of the nineteenth century to write his historical plays.

In general, it is well worth while to watch the handling of the first
act on the part of acknowledged craftsmen with respect to the important
matter of introducing into the framework of a two hours' spectacle all
that has transpired before the picture is exhibited to the spectators.

One of the definite dangers of the first act is that of giving an
audience a false lead as to character or turn of story. By some bit of
dialogue, or even by an interpolated gesture on the part of an actor who
transcends his rights (a misleading thing, as likely as not to be
charged to the playwright), the auditor is put on a wrong scent, or
there is aroused in him an expectation never to be realized. Thus the
real issue is obscured, and later trouble follows as the true meaning is
divulged. A French critic, commenting on the performance in Paris of a
play by Bernard Shaw, says that its meaning was greatly confused because
two of the characters took the unwarranted liberty of exchanging a
kiss, for which, of course, there was no justification in the stage
business as indicated by the author. All who know Shaw know that he has
very little interest in stage kisses.

Closely associated with this mistake, and far more disastrous, is such a
treatment of act one as to suggest a theme full of interest and
therefore welcome, which is then not carried through the remainder of
the drama. Fitch's _The City_ has been already referred to with this in
mind. A more recent example may be found in Veiller's popular melodrama,
_Within the Law_. The extraordinary vogue of this melodrama is
sufficient proof that it possesses some of the main qualities of
skillful theater craft: a strong, interesting fable, vital
characterization, and considerable feeling for stage situation and
climax, with the forthright hand of execution. Nevertheless, it
distinctly fails to keep the promise of the first act, where, at the
fall of the curtain, the audience has become particularly interested in
a sociological problem, only to be asked in the succeeding acts to
forget it in favor of a conventional treatment of stock melodramatic
material, with the usual thieves, detectives pitted against each other,
and gunplay for the central scene of surprise and capture. That such
current plays as _The City_ and _Within the Law_ can get an unusual
hearing, in spite of these defects, suggests the uncritical nature of
American audiences; but quite as truly implies that drama may be very
good, indeed, in most respects while falling short of the caliber we
demand of masterpieces.

With the opening act, then, so handled as to avoid these pitfalls, the
dramatist is ready to go on with his task. He has sufficiently aroused
the interest of his audience to give it a pleasurable sense of
entertainment ahead, without imparting so much knowledge as to leave too
little for guesswork and lessen the curiosity necessary for one who must
still spend an hour and a half in a place of bad air and too heated
temperature. He has awakened attention and directed it upon a theme and
story, yet left it tantalizingly but not confusingly incomplete. Now he
has before him the problem of unfolding his play and making it center in
the climactic scene which will make or mar the piece. We must observe,
then, how he develops his story in that part of the play intermediate
between the introduction and the crisis; the second act of a three-act
drama or the third if the four-act form be chosen.



CHAPTER VIII

DEVELOPMENT


The story being properly started, it becomes the dramatist's business,
as we saw, so to advance it that it will develop naturally and with such
increase of interest as to tighten the hold upon the audience as the
plot reaches its crucial point, the obligatory scene. This can only be
done by the sternest selection of those elements of story which can be
fitly shown on the stage, or without a loss of interest be inferred
clearly from off-stage occurrences. Since action is of the essence of
drama, all narrative must be shunned that deals with matters which,
being vital to the play and naturally dramatic material, can be
presented directly to the eye and ear. And character must be
economically handled, so that as it is revealed the revelation at the
same time furthers the story, pushing it forward instead of holding it
static while the character is being unfolded. Dialogue should always do
one of these two things and the best dialogue will do both: develop plot
in the very moment that it exhibits the unfolding psychology of the
_dramatis personæ_. The fact that in the best modern work plot is for
the sake of character rather than the reverse does not violate this
principle; it simply redistributes emphasis. Character without plot may
possibly be attractive in the hands of a Galsworthy or Barker; but the
result is extremely likely to be tame and inconclusive. And,
contrariwise, plot without character, that is, with character that lacks
individuality and meaning and merely offers a peg upon which to hang a
series of happenings, results in primitive drama that, being destitute
of psychology, falls short of the finest and most serious possibilities
of the stage.

This portion of the play, then, intermediate between introduction and
climax, is very important and tries the dramatist's soul, in a way,
quite as truly as do beginning and end.

In a three-act play--which we may assume as normal, without forgetting
that four are often necessary to the best telling of the story, and that
five acts are still found convenient under certain circumstances, as in
Rostand's _Cyrano de Bergerac_ and Shaw's _Pygmalion_--the work of
development falls on the second act, in the main. The climax of action
is likely to be at the end of the act, although plays can be mentioned,
and good ones, where the playwright has seen fit to place his crucial
scene well on into act three. In this matter he is between two dangers
and must steer his course wisely to avoid the rocks of his Scylla and
Charybdis. If his climax come too soon, an effect of anti-climax is
likely to be made, in an act too long when the main stress is over. If,
on the other hand, he put his strongest effect at the end of the piece
or close to it, while the result is admirable in sustaining interest and
saving the best for the last, the close is apt to be too abrupt and
unfinished for the purposes of art; sending the audience out into the
street, dazed after the shock of the obligatory scene.

Therefore, the skillful playwright inclines to leave sufficient of the
play after the climax to make an agreeable rounding out of the fable,
tie up loose ends and secure an artistic effect of completing the whole
structure without tedium or anti-climax. He thus preserves unity, yet
escapes an impression of loose texture in the concluding part of his
play. It may be seen that this makes the final act a very special
problem in itself, a fact we shall consider in the later treatment.

And now, with the second-act portion of the play in mind, standing for
growth, increased tension, and an ever-greater interest, a peculiarity
of the play which differentiates it from the fiction-story can be
mentioned. It refers to the nature of the interest and the attitude of
the auditor toward the story.

In fiction, interest depends largely upon suspense due to the
uncertainty of the happenings; the reader, unaware of the outcome of
events, has a pleasing sense of curiosity and a stimulating desire to
know the end. He reads on, under the prick of this desire. The novelist
keeps him more or less in the dark, and in so doing fans the flame of
interest. What will be the fate of the hero? Will the heroine escape
from the impending doom? Will the two be mated before the Finis is
written? Such are the natural questions in a good novel, in spite of all
our modern overlaying of fiction with subtler psychologic suggestions.

But the stage story is different. The audience from the start is taken
into the dramatist's confidence; it is allowed to know something that is
not known to the _dramatis personæ_ themselves; or, at least, not known
to certain very important persons of the story, let us say, the hero and
heroine, to give them the simple old-fashioned description. And the
audience, taken in this flattering way into the playwright's secret,
finds its particular pleasure in seeing how the blind puppets up on the
stage act in an ignorance which if shared by the spectators would
qualify, if not destroy, the special kind of excitement they are
enjoying.

Just why this difference between play and novel exists is a nice
question not so easily answered; that it does exist, nobody who has
thought upon the subject can doubt. Occasionally, it is true, successful
plays are written in apparent violation of this principle. That
eminently skillful and effective piece of theater work, Bernstein's _The
Thief_, is an example; a large part of the whole first act, if not all
of it, takes place without the spectator suspecting that the young wife,
who is the real thief, is implicated in the crime. Nevertheless, such
dramas are the exception. Broadly speaking, sound dramaturgy makes use
of the principle of knowing coöperation of the audience in the plot, and
always will; if for no other reason, because the direct stage method of
showing a story makes it impracticable to hoodwink those in the
auditorium and also perhaps because the necessary compression of events
in a play would make the suddenness of the discovery on the part of the
audience that they had been fooled unpleasant: an unpleasantness, it may
be surmised, intensified by the additional fact that the fooling has
been done in the presence of others--their fellow theater-goers. The
quickness of the effects possible to the stage and inability of the
playwright to use repetition no doubt also enter in the result. The
novelist can return, explain, dwell upon the causes of the reader's
readjustment to changed characters or surprising turns of circumstance;
the dramatist must go forthright on and make his strokes tell for once
and for all.

Be this as it may, the theater story, as a rule, by a tradition which in
all probability roots in an instinct and a necessity, invites the
listener to be a sort of eavesdropper, to come into a secret and from
this vantage point watch the perturbations of a group of less-knowing
creatures shown behind the footlights: he not only sees, but oversees.
As an outcome of this trait, results follow which also set the play in
contrast with the other ways of story telling. The playwright should not
deceive his audience either in the manipulation of characters or
occurrences. Pleasurable as this may be in fiction, in the theater it is
disastrous. The audience, disturbed in its superior sense of knowledge,
sitting as it were like the gods apart and asked suddenly, peremptorily,
to reconstruct its suppositions, is baffled and then irritated. This is
one of several reasons why, in the delineation of character on the
stage, it is of very dubious desirability to spring a surprise; making
the seeming hero turn out a villain or the presumptive villain blossom
into a paragon of all the virtues: as Dickens does in _Our Mutual
Friend_; in that case, to the added zest of the reader. The risk in
subtilizing stage character lies just here. Persons shown so fleetingly
in a few selected moments of their whole lives, after the stage fashion,
must be seen in high relief, if they are to be clearly grasped by the
onlookers. Conceding that in actual life folk in general are an
indeterminate gray rather than stark black and white, it is none the
less necessary to use primary colors, for the most part, in painting
them, in order that they may be realized. Here again we encounter the
limitations of art in depicting life, and its difference therefrom. In a
certain sense, therefore, stage characters must be more primitive, more
elemental, as well as elementary, than the characters in novels, a
thought we shall have occasion to come back to, from another angle,
later on.

Equally is it true that good technic forbids the false lead: any hint or
suggestion which has the appearance of conducting on to something to
come later in the play, which shall verify and fortify the previous
allusion or implication. Every word spoken is thus, besides its
immediate significance, a preparation for something ahead. It is a
continual temptation to a dramatist with a feeling for character (a gift
most admirable in itself) to do brushwork on some person of his play,
which, while it may illuminate the character as such, may involve
episodic treatment that will entirely mislead an audience into supposing
that the author has far more meaning in the action shown than he
intended. These false leads are of course always the enemies of unity
and to be all the more carefully guarded against in proportion to their
attraction. So attractive, indeed, is this lure into by-paths away from
the main path of progress that it is fairly astonishing to see how
often even veteran playwrights fall in love with some character,
disproportionately handle it, and invent unnecessary tangential
incidents in order to exhibit it. And, rather discouragingly, an
audience forgives episodic treatment and over-emphasis in the enjoyment
of the character, as such; willing to let the drama suffer for the sake
of a welcome detail.

In developing his story in this intermediate part of it, a more
insidious, all-pervasive lure is to be seen in the change in the very
type of drama intended at first, or clearly promised in act one. The
play may start out to be a comedy of character and then be deflected
into one where character is lost sight of in the interest of plot; or a
play farcical in the conditions given may turn serious on the
dramatist's hands. Or, worse yet, that which is a comedy in feeling and
drift, may in the course of the development become tragic in conclusion.
Or, once more, what begins for tragedy, with its implied seriousness of
interest in character and philosophy of life, may resolve itself, under
the fascination of plot and of histrionic effectivism, into melodrama,
with its undue emphasis upon external sensation and its correlative loss
in depth and artistry.

All these and still other permutations a play suffers in the sin
committed whenever the real type or genre of a drama, implied at the
start, is violated in the later handling. The history of the stage
offers many illustrations. In a play not far, everything considered,
from being the greatest in the tongue, Shakespeare's _Hamlet_, it may be
questioned if there be not a departure in the final act from the
emphasis placed upon psychology in the acts that lead up to it. The
character of the melancholy prince is the main thing, the pivot of
interest, up to that point; but in the fifth act the external method of
completing the story, which involves the elimination of so many of the
persons of the play, has somewhat the effect of a change of kind, an
abrupt and incongruous cutting of the Gordian knot. Doubtless, the facts
as to the composite nature of this play viewed in its total history may
have much to do with such an effect, if it be set down here aright.[C]
In any case, it is certain that every week during the dramatic season in
New York new plays are to be seen which, by this mingling of genres,
fall short of the symmetry of true art.

One other requirement in the handling of the play in the section between
introduction and climax: the playwright must not linger too long over
it, nor yet shorten it in his eagerness to reach the scene which is the
crown and culmination of all his labors. Probably the experienced
craftsman is likely to make the second mistake rather than the first,
though both are often to be noted. He fails sometimes to realize the
increase in what I may call reverberatory power which is gained by a
slower approach to the great moment through a series of deft suggestions
of what is to come; appetizing hints and withdrawals, reconnaitres
before the actual engagement, all of it preparatory to the real struggle
that is pending. It is a law of the theater, applying to dialogue,
character and scene, that twice-told is always an advantage. One
distinguished playwright rather cynically declared that you must tell an
audience you are going to do it, are doing it, and have done it.
Examples in every aspect of theater work abound. The catch phrase put in
the mouth of the comic character is only mildly amusing at first; it
gains steadily with repetition until, introduced at just the right
moment, the house rocks with laughter. Often the difference between a
detached witticism, like one of Oscar Wilde's _mots_, and a bit of
genuine dramatic humor rests in the fact that the fun lies in the
setting: it is a _mot de situation_, to borrow the French expression,
not a mere _mot d'esprit_. By appearing to be near a crisis, and then
introducing a barrier from which it is necessary to draw back and
approach once more over the same ground, tension is increased and
tenfold the effect secured when at last the match is laid to the fire.

Plenty of plays fail of their full effect because the climax is come at
before every ounce of value has been wrung out of preceding events. If
the screen scene in _The School for Scandal_ be studied with this
principle in mind, the student will have as good an object lesson as
English drama can show of skilled leading up to a climax by so many
little steps of carefully calculated effect that the final fall of the
screen remains one of the great moments in the theater, despite the
mundane nature of the theme and the limited appeal to the deeper
qualities of human nature. Within its limitations (and theater art, as
any other, is to be judged by success under accepted conditions)
Sheridan's work in this place and play is a permanent master-stroke of
brilliant technic, as well as one explanation of the persistence of that
delightful eighteenth century comedy.

But the dramatist, as I have said, may also err in delaying so long in
his preparation and growth, that the audience, being ready for the
climax before it arrives, will be cold when it comes, and so the effect
will hang fire. It is safe to say that in a three-act play, where the
first act has consumed thirty-five to forty minutes, and the climax is
to occur at the fall of the second curtain, it is well if the
intermediate act does not last much above the same length of time. Of
course, the nature of the story and the demands it makes will modify the
statement; but it applies broadly to the observed phenomena. The first
act, for reasons already explained, is apt to be the longest of the
three, as the last act is the shortest, other things being equal. If the
first act, therefore, run fifty minutes, forty to forty-five, or even
thirty-five, would be shapely for act two; which, with twenty to
twenty-five minutes given to the final act, would allot to the entire
play about two hours and ten minutes, which is close to an ideal playing
time for a drama under modern conditions. This time allowance, with the
added fraction of minutes given to the entr'acts thrown in, would, for a
play which began at 8:15, drop the final curtain at about 10:30.

In case the climax, as has been assumed of a three-act play, be placed
at the end of the second act, the third act will obviously be shorter.
Should, however, the growth be projected into the third act, and the
climax be sprung at a point within this act--beyond the middle, let us
say--then the final act is lengthened and act two shortened in
proportion. The principle is that, with the main interest over, it is
hard to hold the auditor's attention; whereas if the best card is still
up the sleeve we may assume willingness to prolong the game.

With the shift of climax from an earlier to a later place in the piece,
the technic of the handling is changed only according to these
commonsense demands. A knowledge of the psychology of human beings
brought together for the purpose of entertainment will go far toward
settling the question. And whether the playwright place his culminating
effect in act two or three, or whether for good and sufficient reasons
of story complication the three acts become four or even five, the
principles set forth in the above pages apply with only such
modifications as are made necessary by the change.

The theater-goer, seeking to pass an intelligent opinion upon a drama as
a whole, will during this period of growth ask of the playwright that
he keep the auditor's interest and increase it symmetrically; that he
show the plot unfolding in action, instead of talking about it; that he
do not reach the eagerly expected conflagration too soon, nor delay it
too long; and that he make more and more apparent the meaning of the
characters in their relations to each other and to the plot. If the
spectator be confused, baffled, irritated or bored, or any or all of
these, he has a legitimate complaint against the dramatist. And be it
noted that while the majority of a theater audience may not with
self-conscious analysis know why they are dissatisfied, under these
conditions, the dissatisfaction is there, just the same, and thus do
they become critics, though they know it not, even as M. Jourdain talked
prose all his days without being aware of it.



CHAPTER IX

CLIMAX


With the play properly introduced in act one, and the development
carried forward upon that firm foundation in the following act or acts,
the playwright approaches that part of his play which will, more than
anything else, settle the fate of his work. As we have noted, if he have
no such scene, he will not have a play at all. If on arrival it fail to
seem indispensable and to be of dynamic quality, the play will be
broken-winged, at best. The proof that he is a genuine playwright by
rightful calling and not a literary person, producing books for closet
reading, lies just here. The moment has come when, with his complication
brought to the point where it must be solved, and all that has gone
before waiting upon that solution, he must produce an effect with one
skillful right-arm stroke which shall make the spectators a unit in the
feeling that the evening has been well spent and his drama is true to
the best tradition of the stage.

The stress has steadily increased to a degree at which it must be
relieved. The strain is at the breaking point. The clash of characters
or of circumstances operating upon characters is such that a crisis is
at hand. By some ingenious interplay of word, action and scene, by an
emotional crescendo crystallizing in a stage picture, by some unexpected
reversion of incident or of human psychology (known in stage technic as
peripety) or by an unforeseen accident in the fall of events, an
electric change is exhibited, with the emotions of the _dramatis
personæ_ at white heat and the consequent enthraldom of the audience. Of
all the varied pleasures of the playhouse, this moment, scene, turn of
story, is that which appeals to the largest number and has made the
theater most distinctive. This is not to say that a profound revelation
of character, or a pungent reflection on life, made concrete in a
situation, may not be a finer thing to do. It is merely to recognize a
certain unique thing the stage can do in story telling, as against other
forms, and to confess its universal attraction. While there is much in
latter day play-making that seems to deaden the thrill of the obligatory
scene, a clear comprehension of its central importance is basal in
appreciation of the drama. A play may succeed without it, and a
temporary school of psychologues may even pretend to pooh-pooh it as an
outworn mode of cheap theatrics. The influence of Ibsen, and there is
none more potent, has been cited as against the _scène à faire_, in the
French sense; and it is true that his curtains are less obviously
stressed and appear to aim not so much at the palpably heightened
effects traditional of the development in French hands,--the most
skillful hands in the world. But it remains true that this central and
dominant scene is inherent in the very structure of dramatic writing. To
repeat what was said before, the play that abandons climax may be good
entertainment, but is by so much poorer drama. The best and most
successful dramaturgy of our day therefore will seek to preserve the
obligatory scene, but hide under more subtle technic the ways and means
by which it is secured. The ways of the past became so open in the
attempt to reach the result as to produce in many cases a feeling of
bald artifice. This the later technic will do all in its power to avoid,
while clinging persistently to the principle of climax, a principle of
life just as truly as a principle of art. Physicians speak in a
physiological sense of the grand climacteric of a man's age.

A test of any play may be found in the readiness with which it lends
itself to a simple threefold statement of its story; the proposition, as
it is called by technicians. This tabloid summary of the essence of the
play is valuable in that it reveals plainly two things: whether there is
a play in hand, and what and where is its obligatory scene. All who wish
to train themselves to be critical rather than captious or silly in
their estimate of drama, cannot be too strongly urged to practice this
exercise of reducing a play to its lowest terms, its essential elements.
It will serve to clarify much that might remain otherwise a muddle. And
one of the sure tests of a good play may be found here; if it is not a
workable drama, either it will not readily reduce to a proposition or
else cannot be stated propositionally at all. Further, a play that is a
real play in substance, and not a hopelessly undramatic piece of writing
arbitrarily cut up into scenes or acts, and expressed in dialogue (like
some of the dramas of the Bengalese Taghore), can be stated clearly and
simply in a brief paragraph. This matter of reduction to a skeleton
which is structurally a _sine qua non_ may be illustrated.

A proposition, to define it a little more carefully, is a threefold
statement of the essence of a play, so organically related that each
successive part depends upon and issues from the other. It contains a
condition (or situation), an action, and a result. For instance, the
proposition of _Macbeth_ may be expressed as follows:

I. A man, ambitious to be king, abetted by his wife, gains the throne
through murder.

II. Remorse visits them both.

III. What will be the effect upon the pair?

Reflection upon this schematic summary will show that the interest of
Shakespeare's great drama is not primarily a story interest; plot is not
the chief thing, but character. The essential crux lies in the painful
spectacle of the moral degeneration of husband and wife, sin working
upon each according to their contrasted natures. Both have too much of
the nobler elements in them not to experience regret and the prick of
conscience. This makes the drama called _Macbeth_ a fine example of
psychologic tragedy in the true sense.

Or take a well-known modern play, _Camille:_

I. A young man loves and lives with a member of the demi-monde.

II. His father pleads with her to give him up, for his own sake.

III. What will she do?

It will be observed that the way the lady of the camellias answers the
question is the revelation of her character; so that the play again,
although its story interest is sufficient, is primarily a character
study, surrounded by Dumas fils with a rich atmosphere of understanding
sympathy and with sentiment that to a later taste becomes
sentimentality.

_The School for Scandal_ might be stated in this way:

I. An old husband brings his gay but well-meaning wife to town.

II. Her innocent love of fun involves her in scandal.

III. Will the two be reconciled, and how?

Ibsen's _A Doll's House_ may be thus expressed in a proposition:

I. A young wife has been babified by her husband.

II. Experiences open her eyes to the fact that she is not educated to be
either wife or mother.

III. She leaves her husband until he can see what a woman should be in
the home: a human being, not a doll.

These examples will serve to show what is meant by proposition and
indicate more definitely the central purpose of the dramatic author and
the technical demand made upon him. Be assured that under whatever
varied garb of attraction in incident, scene and character, this
underlying stern architectural necessity abides, and a drama's inability
to reduce itself thus to a formula is a confession that in the
structural sense the building is lop-sided and insecure, or, worse, that
there is no structure there at all: nothing, so to put it, but a front
elevation, a mere architect's suggestion.

As the spectator breathlessly enjoys the climax and watches to see that
unknotting of the knot which gives the French word _dénouement_
(unknotting) its meaning, he will notice that the intensity of the
climactic effect is not derived alone from action and word; but that
largely effective in the total result is the picture made upon the
stage, in front of the background of setting which in itself has
pictorial quality, by the grouped characters as the curtain falls.

This effect, conventionally called a _situation_, is for the eye as well
as for the ear and the brain,--better, the heart. It would be an
unfortunate limitation to our theater culture if we did not comprehend
to the full how large a part of the effect of a good play is due to the
ever-changing series of artistic stage pictures furnished by the
dramatist in collaboration with the actors and the stage manager. This
principle is important throughout a play, but gets its most vivid
illustration in the climax; hence, I enlarge upon it at this point.

Among the most novel, fruitful and interesting experiments now being
made in the theater here and abroad may be mentioned the attempts to
introduce more subtle and imaginative treatment of the possibilities of
color and form in stage setting than have hitherto obtained. The
reaction influenced by familiarity with the unadorned simplicity of the
Elizabethans, the Gordon Craig symbolism, the frank attempt to
substitute artistic suggestion for the stupid and expensive reproduction
on the stage of what is called "real life," are phases of this movement,
in which Germany and Russia have been prominent. The stage manager and
scene deviser are daily becoming more important factors in the
production of a play; and along with this goes a clearer perception of
the values of grouping and regrouping on the part of the plastic
elements behind the footlights.[D] Many a scenic moment, many a climax,
may be materially damaged by a failure to place the characters in such
relative positions as shall visualize the dramatic feeling of the scene
and reveal in terms of picture the dramatist's meaning. After all, the
time-honored convention that the main character, or characters, should,
at the moment when they are dominant in the story, take the center of
the stage, is no empty convention; it is based on logic and geometry.
There is a direct correspondence between the unity of emotion
concentrated in a group of persons and the eye effect which reports that
fact. I have seen so fine a climax as that in Jones's _The
Hypocrites_--one of the very best in the modern repertory--well nigh
ruined by a stock company, when, owing to the purely arbitrary demand
that the leading man should have the center at a crucial moment,
although in the logic of the action he did not belong there, the two
young lovers who were dramatically central in the scene were shunted off
to the side, and the leading man, whose true position was in the deep
background, delivered his curtain speech close up to the footlights on a
spot mathematically exact in its historic significance. True dramatic
relations were sacrificed to relative salaries, and, as a result, a
scene which naturally receives half a dozen curtain calls, went off with
comparative tameness. It was a striking demonstration of the importance
of picture on the stage as an externalization of dramatic facts.

If the theater-goer will keep an eye upon this aspect of the drama, he
will add much of interest to the content of his pleasure and do justice
to a very important and easily overlooked phase of technic. It is common
in criticism, often professional, to sneer at the tendency of modern
actors, under the stage manager's guidance, continually to shift
positions while the dialogue is under way; thus producing an
unnecessarily uneasy effect of meaningless action. As a generalization,
it may be said that this is done (though at times no doubt, overdone) on
a principle that is entirely sound: it expresses the desire for a new
picture, a recognition of the law that, in drama, composition to the eye
is as truly a principle as it is in painting. And with that
consideration goes the additional fact that motion implies emotion; than
which there is no surer law in psycho-physics. Abuse of the law, on the
stage, is beyond question possible, and frequently met. But a
redistribution of the positions of actors on the boards, when not
abused, means they have moved under the compulsion of some stress of
feeling and then the movement is an external symbol of an internal state
of mind. The drama must express the things within by things without, in
this way; that is its method. The audience is only properly irritated
when a stage moment which, from the nature of its psychology, calls for
the static, is injured by an unrelated, fussy, bodily activity. Motion
in such a case becomes as foolish as the scene shifting in one of the
highest colored and most phantasmagoric of our dreams. The wise stage
director will not call for a change of picture unless it represents a
psychologic fact.

Two men converse at a table; one communicates to the other, quietly and
in conversational tone, a fact of alarming nature. The other leaps to
his feet with an exclamation and paces the floor as he talks about it;
nothing is more fitting, because nothing is truer to life. The
repressive style of acting to-day, which might try to express this
situation purely by facial work, goes too far in abandoning the
legitimate tools of the craft. Let me repeat that, despite all the
refining upon older, more violent and crudely expressive methods of
technic, the stage must, from its very nature, indicate the emotions of
human beings by objective, concrete bodily reaction. The Greek word for
drama means _doing_. To exhibit feeling is to do something.

Or let us take a more composite group: that which is seen in a drawing
room, with various knots of people talking together just before dinner
is announced. A shift in the groups, besides effecting the double
purpose of pleasing the eye and allowing certain portions of the
dialogue to come forward and get the ear of the audience, also
incidentally tells the truth: these groups in reality would shift and
change more or less by the law of social convenience. The general
greetings of such an occasion would call for it. In a word, then, the
stage is, among other things, a plastic representation of life, forever
making an appeal to the eye. The application of this to the climax shows
how vastly important its pictorial side may be.

The climax that is prolonged is always in danger. Lead up to it slowly
and surely, secure the effect, and then get away from it instantly by
lowering the curtain. Do not fumble with it, or succumb to the
insinuating temptation of clinging to what is so effective. The
dramatist here is like a fond father loath to say _farewell_ to his
favorite child. But say the parting word he must, if he would have his
offspring prosper and not, like many a father ere this, keep the child
with him to its detriment. A second too much, and the whole thing will
he imperiled. At the _dénouement_, every syllable must be weighed, nor
found wanting; every extraneous word ruthlessly cut out, the feats of
fine language so welcome in other forms of literary composition shunned
as an arch enemy. Colloquialism, instead of literary speech, even bad
grammar where more formal book-speech seems to dampen the fire, must be
instinctively sought. And whenever the action itself, backed by the
scenery, can convey what is aimed at, silence is best of all; for then,
if ever, silence is indeed golden. All this the spectator will quietly
note, sitting in his seat of judgment, ready to show his pleasure or
displeasure, according to what is done.

A difficulty that blocks the path of every dramatist in proportion as
its removal improves his piece, is that of graduating his earlier
curtains so that the climax (third act or fourth, as it may) is
obviously the outstanding, over-powering effect of the whole play. The
curtain of the first act will do well to possess at least some slight
heightening of the interest maintained progressively from the opening of
the drama; an added crispness perceptible to all who look and listen.
And the crisis of the second act must be differentiated from that of the
first in that it has a tenser emotional value, while yet it is
distinctly below that of the climax, if the obligatory scene is to come
later. Sad indeed the result if any curtain effect in appeal and power
usurp the royal place of the climactic scene! And this skillful
gradation of effects upon a rising scale of interest, while always aimed
at, is by no means always secured. This may happen because the
dramatist, with much good material in his hands, has believed he could
use it prodigally, and been led to overlook the principle of relative
values in his art. A third act climax may secure a tremendous sensation
by the device of keeping the earlier effects leading up to it
comparatively low-keyed and quiet. The tempest may be, in the abstract,
only one in a teapot; but a tempest in effect it is, all the same.

Ibsen's plays often illustrate and justify this statement, as do the
plays of the younger British school, Barker, Baker, McDonald, Houghton,
Hankin. And the reverse is equally true: a really fine climax may be
made pale and ineffective by too much of sensational material introduced
earlier in the play.

The climax of the drama is also the best place to illustrate the fact
that the stage appeal is primarily emotional. If this central scene be
not of emotional value, it is safe to say that the play is doomed; or
will at the most have a languishing life in special performances and be
cherished by the élite. The stage story, we have seen, comes to the
auditor warm and vibrant in terms of feeling. The idea which should be
there, as we saw, must come by way of the heart, whence, as George
Meredith declares, all great thoughts come. Herein lies another
privilege and pitfall of the dramatist. Privilege, because teaching by
emotion will always be most popular; yet a pitfall, because it sets up
a temptation to play upon the unthinking emotions which, once aroused,
sweep conviction along to a goal perhaps specious and undesirable. To
say that the theater is a place for the exercise of the emotions, is not
to say or mean that it is well for it to be a place for the display and
influence of the unregulated emotions. Legitimate drama takes an idea of
the brain, or an inspiration of the imaginative faculties, and conveys
it by the ruddy road of the feelings to the stirred heart of the
audience; it should be, and is in its finest examples, the happy union
of the head and heart, so blended as best to conserve the purpose of
entertainment and popular instruction; popular, for the reason that it
is emotional, concrete, vital; and instructive, because it sinks deeper
in and stays longer (being more keenly felt) than any mere exercise of
the intellect in the world.

The student, whether at home with the book of the play in hand or in his
seat at the theater, will scrutinize the skilled effects of climax,
seeking principles and understanding more clearly his pleasure therein.
In reading Shakespeare, for example, he will see that the obligatory
scene of _The Merchant of Venice_ is the trial scene and the exact
moment when the height is reached and the fall away from it begins, that
where Portia tells the Jew to take his pound of flesh without the
letting of blood. In modern drama, he will think of the scene in
Sudemann's powerful drama, _Magda_, in which Magda's past is revealed to
her fine old father as the climax of the action; and in Pinero's
strongest piece, _The Second Mrs. Tanqueray_, will put his finger on the
scene of the return of Paula's lover as the crucial thing to show. And
so with the scene of the cross-examination of the woman in Jones's _Mrs.
Dane's Defense_, and the scene in Lord Darlington's rooms in Wilde's
_Lady Windermere's Fan_, and the final scene in Shaw's _Candida_, where
the playwright throws forward the _scène à faire_ to the end, and makes
his heroine choose between husband and lover. These, and many like them,
will furnish ample food for reflection and prove helpful in clarifying
the mind in the essentials of this most important of all the phenomena
of play-building.

It is with the climax, as with everything else in art or in life:
honesty of purpose is at the bottom of the success that is admirable.
Mere effectivism is to be avoided, because it is insincere. In its place
must be effectiveness, which is at once sincere and dramatic.

The climax, let it be now assumed, has been successfully brought off.
The curtain falls on the familiar and pleasant buzz of conversation
which is the sign infallible that the dramatist's dearest ambition has
been attained. Could we but listen to the many detached bits of talk
that fly about the house, or are heard in the lobby, we might hazard a
shrewd guess at the success of the piece. If the talk be favorable, and
the immediate reception of the obligatory scene has been hearty, it
would appear as if the playwright's troubles were over. But hardly so.
Even with his climax a success, he is not quite out of the woods. A
task, difficult and hedged in with the possibilities of mistake, awaits
him; for the last act is just ahead, and it may diminish, even nullify
the favorable impression he has just won by his manipulation of the
_scène à faire_. And so, girding himself for the last battle, he enters
the arena, where many a good man before him has unexpectedly fallen
before the enemy.



CHAPTER X

ENDING THE PLAY


To one who is watchful in his theater seat, it must have become evident
that many plays, which in the main give pleasure and seem successful,
have something wrong with the last act. The play-goer may feel this,
although he never has analyzed the cause or more than dimly been aware
of the artistic problem involved. An effect of anti-climax is produced
by it, interest flags or utterly disappears; the final act seems to lag
superfluous on the stage, like Johnson's player.

Several reasons combine to make this no uncommon experience. One may
have emerged from the discussion of the climax. It is the hard fortune
of the last act to follow the great scene and to suffer by contrast;
even if the last part of the play be all that such an act should be,
there is in the nature of the case a likelihood that the auditor,
reacting from his excitement, may find this concluding section of the
drama stale, flat and unprofitable. To overcome this disadvantage, to
make the last act palatable without giving it so much attraction as to
detract from the _scène à faire_ and throw the latter out of its due
position in the center of interest, offers the playwright a very
definite labor and taxes his ingenuity to the utmost. The proof of this
is that so many dramas, up to the final act complete successes and
excellent examples of sound technic, go to pieces here. I am of the
opinion that in no one particular of construction do plays with matter
in them and some right of existence come to grief more frequently than
in this successful handling of the act which closes the drama. It may
even be doubted if the inexperienced dramatist has so much trouble with
his climax as with this final problem. If he had no _scène à faire_ he
would hardly have written a play at all. But this tricky ultimate
portion of the drama, seemingly so minor, may prove that which will
trip him in the full flush of his victory with the obligatory scene.

At first blush, it would seem as if, with the big scene over, little
remained to be done with the play, so far as story is concerned. In a
sense this is true. The important elements are resolved; the main
characters are defined for good or bad; the obstacles which have
combined to make the plot tangle have been removed or proved
insurmountable. The play has, with an increasing sense of struggle,
grown to its height; it must now fall from that height by a plausible
and more gentle descent. If it be a tragedy, the fall spells
catastrophe, and is more abrupt and eye-compelling. If comedy be the
form, then the unknotting means a happy solution of all difficulties.
But in either case, the chief business of this final part of the play
would appear to be the rounding out of the fable, the smoothing off of
corners, and the production of an artistic effect of finish and
finality. If any part of the story be incomplete in plot, it will be in
all probability that which has to do with the subplot, if there be one,
or with the fates of subsidiary characters. If the playwright, wishing
to make his last act of interest, and in order to justify the retention
of the audience in the theater for twenty minutes to half an hour more,
should leave somewhat of the main story to be cleared up in the last
act, he has probably weakened his obligatory scene and made a strategic
mistake. And so his instinct is generally right when he prefers to get
all possible dramatic satisfaction into the _scène à faire_, even at the
expense of what is to follow.

A number of things this act can, however, accomplish. It can, with the
chief stress and strain over, exhibit characters in whom the audience
has come to have a warm interest in some further pleasant manifestation
of their personality, thus offering incidental entertainment. The
interest in such stage persons must be very strong to make this a
sufficient reason for prolonging a play. Or, if the drama be tragic in
its nature, some lighter turn of events, or some brighter display of
psychology, may be presented to mitigate pain and soften the awe and
terror inspired by the main theme; as, for instance, Shakespeare
alleviates the deaths of the lovers in Romeo and Juliet by the
reconciliation of the estranged families over their fair young bodies. A
better mood for leaving the playhouse is thus created, without any lying
about life. The Greeks did this by the use of lyric song at the end of
their tragedies; melodrama does it by an often violent wresting of
events to smooth out the trouble, as well as by lessening our interest
in character as such.

Also, and here is, I believe, its prime function, the last act can show
the logical outflow of the situation already laid down and brought to
its issue in the preceding acts of the drama. Another danger lurks in
this for the technician, as may be shown. It would almost seem that, in
view of the largely supererogatory character of this final act, inasmuch
as the play seems practically over with the _scène à faire_, it might be
best honestly to end the piece with its most exciting, arresting scene
and cut out the final half hour altogether.

But there is an artistic reason for keeping it as a feature of good
play-making to the end of the years; I have just referred to it. I mean
the instinctive desire on the part of the dramatic artist and his
coöperative auditors so to handle the cross-section of life which has
been exhibited upon the stage as to make the transition from stage scene
to real life so gradual, so plausible, as to be pleasant to one's sense
of esthetic _vraisemblance_. To see how true this is, watch the effect
upon yourself made by a play which rings down the last curtain upon a
sensational moment, leaving you dazed and dumb as the lights go up and
the orchestra renders its final banality. Somehow, you feel that this
sudden, violent change from life fictive and imaginative to the life
actual of garish streets, clanging trolleys, tooting motor cars and
theater suppers is jarring and wrong. Art, you whisper to yourself,
should not be so completely at variance with life; the good artist
should find some other better way to dismiss you. The Greeks, as I said,
sensitive to this demand, mitigated the terrible happenings of their
colossal legendary tragedies by closing with lofty lyric choruses. Turn
to the last pages of Sophocles's _OEdipus Tyrannus_, perhaps the most
drastic of them all, for an example. I should venture to go so far as to
suggest it as possible that in an apparent exception like _Othello_,
where the drama closes harshly upon the murder of the ewe lamb of a
wife, Shakespeare might have introduced the alleviation of a final
scene, had he ever prepared this play, or his plays in general, after
the modern method of revision and final form, for the Argus-eyed
scrutiny they were to receive in after-time. However, that his instinct
in this matter, in general, led him to seek the artistic consolation
which removes the spectator from too close and unrelieved proximity to
the horrible is beyond cavil. If he do furnish a tragic scene, there
goes with it a passage, a strain of music, an unforgettable phrase,
which, beauty being its own excuse for being, is as balm to the soul
harrowed up by the agony of a protagonist. Horatio, over the body of his
dear friend, speaks words so lovely that they seem the one rubric for
sorrow since. And, still further removing us from the solemn sadness of
the moment, enters Fortinbras, to take over the cares of kingdom and, in
so doing, to remind us that beyond the individual fate of Hamlet lies
the great outer world of which, after all, he is but a small part; and
that the ordered cosmos must go on, though the Ophelias and Hamlets of
the world die. The mere horrible, with this alleviation of beauty,
becomes a very different thing, the terrible; the terrible is the
horrible, plus beauty, and the terrible lifts us to a lofty mood of
searching seriousness that has its pleasure, where the horrible repels
and dispirits. Thus, the sympathetic recipient gets a certain austere
satisfaction, yes, why not call it pleasure, from noble tragedy. But he
asks that the last act pour the oil of peace, of beauty and of
philosophic vision upon the troubled waters of life.

There is then an artistic justification, if I am right, for the act
following the climax, quite aside from the conventional demand for it as
a time filler, and its convenience too in the way of binding up loose
ends.

As the function of the great scene is to develop and bring to a head
the principal things of the play, so that of this final act would seem
to be the taking care of the lesser things, to an effect of harmonious
artistry. And whenever a playwright, confronting these difficulties and
dangers, triumphs over them, whenever your comment is to the effect
that, since it all appears to be over, it is hard to see what a last act
can offer to justify it, and yet if that act prove interesting, freshly
invented, unexpectedly worth while, you will, if you care to do your
part in the Triple Alliance made up of actors, playwright and audience,
express a sentiment of gratitude, and admiration as well, for the
theater artist who has manipulated his material to such good result.

The last act of Thomas's _The Witching Hour_ can be studied with much
profit with this in mind. It is a masterly example of added interest
when the things vital to the story have been taken care of. Another, and
very different, example is Louis Parker's charming play, _Rosemary_,
where at the climax a middle-aged man parts from the young girl who
loves him and whom he loves, because he does not realize she returns
the feeling, and, moreover, she is engaged to another, and, from the
conventions of age, the match is not desirable. The story is over,
surely, and it is a sad ending; nothing can ever change that, unless the
dramatist tells some awful lies about life. Had he violently twisted the
drama into a "pleasant ending" in the last act he would have given us an
example of an outrageous disturbance of key and ruined his piece. What
does he do, indeed, what can he do? By a bold stroke of the imagination,
he projects the final scene fifty years forward, and shows the man of
forty an old man of ninety. He learns, by the finding of the girl's
diary, that she loved him; and, as the curtain descends, he thanks God
for a beautiful memory. Time has plucked out the sting and left only the
flower-like fragrance. This is a fine illustration of an addendum that
is congruous. It lifts the play to a higher category. I believe it is
true to say that this unusual last act was the work of Mr. Murray
Carson, Mr. Parker's collaborator in the play.

One more example may be given, for these illustrations will bring out
more clearly a phase of dramatic writing which has not received overmuch
attention in criticism. The recent clever comedy, _Years of Discretion_,
by the Hattons, conducts the story to a conventional end, when the
middle-aged lovers, who have flirted, danced and motored themselves into
an engagement and marriage, are on the eve of their wedding tour. If the
story be a love story, and it is in essence, it ought to be over. The
staid Boston widow has been metamorphosed by gay New York, her maneuvers
have resulted in the traditional end; she has got her man. What else can
be offered to hold the interest?

And just here is where the authors have been able, passing beyond the
conventional limits of story, to introduce, in a lightly touched,
pleasing fashion, a bit of philosophy that underlies the drama and gives
it an enjoyable fillip at the close. We see the newly wed pair, facing
that wedding tour at fifty, and secretly longing to give it up and
settle down comfortably at home. They have been playing young during
the New York whirl, why not be natural now and enjoy life in the decade
to which they belong? So, in the charming garden scene they confess, and
agree to grow old gracefully together. It is excellent comedy and sound
psychology; to some, the last act is the best of all. Yet, regarded from
the act preceding, it seemed superfluous.

Still another trouble confronts the playwright as he comes at grapples
with the final act. He falls under the temptation to make a
conventionally desirable conclusion, the "pleasant ending" already
animadverted against, which is supposed to be the constant petition of
the theater Philistine. Here, it will be observed, the pleasant ending
becomes part of the constructive problem. Shall the playwright carry out
the story in a way to make it harmonious with what has gone before, both
psychologically and in the logic of events? Shall he make the conclusion
congruous with the climax, a properly deduced result from the situation
therein shown? If he do, his play will be a work of art, tonal in a
totality whose respective parts are keyed to this effect. Or shall he,
adopting the tag line familiar to us in fairy tales, "and so they lived
happily ever after," wrest and distort his material in order to give
this supposed-to-be-prayed-for condiment that the grown-up babes in
front are crying for? Every dramatist meets this question face to face
in his last act, unless his plan has been to throw his most dramatic
moment at the play's very end. A large percentage of all dramas weaken
or spoil the effect by this handling of the last part of the play. The
ending either is ineffective because unbelievable; or unnecessary,
because what it shows had better be left to the imagination.

An attractive and deservedly successful drama by Mr. Zangwill, _Merely
Mary Ann_, may be cited to illustrate the first mistake. Up to the last
act its handling of the relation of the gentleman lodger and the quaint
little slavey is pitched in the key of truth and has a Dickens-like
sympathy in it which is the main element in its charm. But in the final
scene, where Mary Ann has become a fashionable young woman, meets her
whilom man friend, and a match results, the improbability is such (to
say nothing about the impossibility) as to destroy the previous illusion
of reality; the auditor, if intelligent, feels that he has paid too high
a price for such a union. I am not arguing that the improbable may not
be legitimate on the stage; but only trying to point out that, in this
particular case, the key of the play, established in previous acts, is
the key of probability; and hence the change is a sin against artistic
probity. The key of improbability, as in some excellent farces, _Baby
Mine_, _Seven Days_, _Seven Keys to Baldpate_, and their kind--where it
is basal that we grant certain conditions or happenings not at all
likely in life--is quite another matter and not of necessity
reprehensible in the least. But _Merely Mary Ann_ is too true in its
homely fashion to fob us off with lies at the end; we believed it at
first and so are shocked at its mendacity.

One of the best melodramas of recent years is Mr. McLellan's _Leah
Kleschna_. Its psychology, founded on the assumption that a woman whose
higher nature is appealed to, will respond to the appeal, is as sound as
it is fine and encouraging. She is a criminal who is caught opening a
safe by the French statesman whose house she has entered. His
conversation with her is so effective that she breaks with her fellow
thieves and starts in on another and better life in a foreign country,
where the statesman secures for her honest employment.

It is in the last act that the playwright gets into trouble, and
illustrates the second possibility just mentioned; unnecessary
information which can readily be filled in by the spectator, without the
addition of a superfluous act to show it. The woman has broken with her
gang, she is saved; arrangement has been made for her to go to Austria
(if my memory locates the land), there to work out her change of heart.
Really, there is nothing else to tell. The essential interest of the
play lay in the reclaiming of Leah; she is reclaimed! Why not dismiss
the audience? But the author, perhaps led astray by the principle of
showing things on the stage, even if the things shown lie beyond the
limits of the story proper, exhibits the girl in her new quarters, aided
and abetted by the scene painter who places behind her a very expensive
background of Nature; and then caps his unnecessary work by bringing the
statesman on a visit to see how his protégée is getting along.
Meanwhile, the knowing spectator murmurs in his seat (let us hope) and
kicks against the pricks of convention.

These examples indicate some of the problems centering in an act which
for the very reason that it is, or seems, comparatively unimportant, is
all the more likely to trip up a dramatist who, buoyed up by his victory
in a fine and effective scene of climactic force, comes to the final act
in a state of reaction, and forgetful of the fact that pride goeth
before a fall--the fall of the curtain! No wonder that, in order to
dodge all such difficulties, playwrights sometimes project their climax
forward into the last act and so shorten what is left to do thereafter;
or, going further, place it at the play's terminal point. But the
artistic objections to this have been explained. Some treatment of the
falling action after the climax, longer or shorter, is advisable; and
the dramatist must sharpen his wits upon this technical demand and make
it part of the satisfaction of his art to meet it.

The fundamental business of the last act of a play, let it be repeated,
is to show the general results of a situation presented in the crucial
scene, in so far as those results are pertinent to a satisfactory grasp
of story and idea on the part of the auditor. These results must be in
harmony with the beginning, growth and crisis of the story and must
either be demanded in advance by the audience, or gladly received as
pleasant and helpful, when presented. The citation of such plays as
_Rosemary_ and _Years of Discretion_ raises the interesting question
whether a peculiar function of the final act may not lie in not only
rounding out the story as such, but in bringing home the underlying idea
of the piece to the audience. Surely a rich opportunity, as yet but
little utilized, is here. Yet again danger lurks in the opportunity.
The last act might take on the nature of a philosophic tag, a
preachment not organically related to the preceding parts. This, of
course, would be a sad misuse of the chance to give the drama a wider
application and finer bloom. But if the playwright have the skill and
inventive power to merge the two elements of story and idea in a final
act which adds stimulating material while it brings out clearly the
underlying theme, then he will have performed a kind of double function
of the drama. In the new technic of to-day and to-morrow this may come
to be, more and more, the accepted aim of the resourceful, thoughtful
maker of plays.

The intelligent auditor in the playhouse with this aspect of technic
before him will be able to assist in his coöperation with worthy plays
by noticing particularly if the closing treatment of the material in
hand seem germane to the subject; if it avoid anti-climax and keep the
key; and if it demonstrates skill in overcoming such obstacles as have
been indicated. Such a play-goer will not slight the final act as of
only technical importance, but will be alertly on the watch to see if
his friend the playwright successfully grapples with the last of the
successive problems which arise during the complex and very difficult
business of telling a stage story with clearness, effectiveness and
charm.



CHAPTER XI

THE SOCIAL SIGNIFICANCE OF THE PLAY


We have now surveyed the chief elements involved in the making of a play
and suggested an intelligent attitude on the part of the play-goer
toward them. Primarily the aim has been to broaden and sharpen the
appreciation of a delightful experience; for the sake of personal
culture. But, as was briefly suggested in the chapter on the play as a
cultural possibility, there is another reason why the student and
theater attendant should realize that the drama in its possibilities is
a work of art, and the theater, the place where it is exhibited, can be
a temple of art. This other reason looks to the social significance of
the playhouse as a great, democratic people's amusement where stories
can be heard and seen more effectively, as to influence, than anywhere
else or under any other imaginable conditions. It is a place where the
great lessons of life can be emotionally received and so sink deep into
the consciousness and conscience of folk at large. And so the question
of the theater becomes more than the question of private culture,
important as that is; being, indeed, a matter of social welfare. This
fact is now coming to be recognized in the United States, as it has long
been recognized abroad. We see more plainly than we did that when states
like France and Germany or the cities of such countries grant
subventions to their theaters and make theater directors high officials
of the government they do so not only from the conviction that the
theater stands for culture (a good thing for any country to possess) but
that they feel it to have a direct and vital influence upon the life of
the citizens in general, upon the civilization of the day. They assume
that the playhouse, along with the school, library, newspaper and
church, is one of the five mighty social forces in suggesting ideas to a
nation and creating ideals.

The intelligent theater-goer to-day, as never before, will therefore
note with interest the change in the notions concerning this popular
amusement that is yet so much more, based upon much that has happened
within our time; the coming back of plays into literary significance and
acceptance, so that leaders in letters everywhere are likely to be
playwrights; the publication of contemporary drama, foreign and
domestic, enabling the theater-goer to study the play he is to see or
has seen; and the recognition of another aim in conducting this
institution than a commercial one looking to private profit: the aim of
maintaining a house of art, nourished by all concerned with the pride in
and love of art which that implies, for the good of the people. The
observer we have in mind and are trying to help a little will be
interested in all such experiments as that of the Little Theaters in
various cities, in the children's theaters in New York and Washington,
in the fast-growing use of the pageant to illuminate local history, in
the attempts to establish municipal stock companies, or competent
repertory companies by enlightened private munificence. And however
successful or unsuccessful the particular ventures may be, he will see
that their significance lies in their meaning a new, thoughtful regard
for an institution which properly conducted can conserve the general
social welfare.

He will find in the growth within a very few years of an organization
like the Drama League of America a sign of the times in its testimony to
an interest, as wide as the country, and wider, in the development and
maintenance of a sound and worthy drama. And he will be willing as lover
of fellow-man as well as theater lover to do his share in the
movement--it is no hyperbole to call it such--toward socializing the
playhouse, so that it may gradually become an enterprise conducted by
the people and in the interests of the people, born of their life and
cherished by their love. Nor will he be indifferent to the thought that,
thus directed and enjoyed, it may in time come to be one of the proudest
of national assets, as it has been before in more than one land and
period.

And with the general interests of the people in mind, our open-eyed
observer will be especially quick to approve any experiment toward
bringing the stimulating life of the theater to communities or sections
of the city which hitherto have been deprived of amusement that while
amusing ministers to the mind and emotions of the hearers in a way to
give profit with the pleasure. Catholic in his view, he will just as
warmly welcome a people's theater in South Boston or on the East Side in
New York, or at Hull House in Chicago, as he will a New Theater in upper
New York, or a Fine Arts Theater in Chicago, or a Toy Theater in Boston;
believing that since the playhouse is in essence and by the nature of
its appeal democratic, it must neglect no class of society in its
service. He will prick up his ears and become alert in hearing of the
Minnesota experiment, where a rural play, written by a member of the
agricultural school, was given under university auspices fifty times in
one season, throughout the state. He will rejoice at the action of
Dartmouth College in accepting a $100,000 bequest for the erection and
conductment of a theater in the college community and serving the
interests of both academic and town life. And he will also be glad to
note that the Carnegie Institute of Technology, in Pittsburgh, has
initiated a School of Drama as an organic part of the educational life.
He will see in such things a recognition among educators that the
theater should be related to educational life. And, musing happily upon
such matters, it will come to him again and again that it is rational to
strive for a people's price for a people's entertainment, instead of a
price for the best offerings prohibitive to four-fifths of all
Americans. And in this fact he will see the explanation for the enormous
growth of the moving picture type of amusement, realizing it to be
inevitable under present conditions, because a form of entertainment
popular in price as well as in nature, and hence populously frequented.
And so our theater-goer, who has now so long listened with at least
hypothetic patience to exposition and argument, will be willing, indeed,
will wish, as part of his watchful canniness with respect to the plays
he sees and reads, to judge the playwright, among other things,
according to his interpretation of life; and especially the modern
social life of his own day and country.

I have already spoken of the need to have an idea in drama; a
centralizing opinion about life or a personal reaction to it--something
quite distinct from the thesis or propaganda which might change a work
of art into a dissertation. Let it now be added that, other things being
equal, a play to-day will represent its time and be vital in proportion
as it deals with life in terms of social interest. To put it another
way, a drama to reflect our age must be aware of the intense and
practically universal tendency to study society as an organism, with the
altruistic purpose of seeing justice prevail. The rich are attacked, the
poor defended; combinations of business are assailed, and criminals
treated as our sick brothers; labor and capital contest on a gigantic
scale, and woman looms up as a central and most agitating problem. All
this and more, arising from the same interest, offers a vast range of
subject-matter to drama and a new spirit in treating it on the stage.
Within the last half century the two great changes that have come in
human life are the growth in the democratic ideal, with all that it
suggests, and the revolutionary conception of what life is under the
domination of scientific knowledge. All art forms, including this of the
theater, have responded to these twin factors of influence. In art it
means sympathy in studying fellow-man and an attempt to tell the truth
about him in all artistic depictions. Therefore, in the drama to-day
likely to make the strongest claim on the attention of the intelligent
play-goers, we shall get the fullest recognition of this spirit and the
frankest use of it as typical of the twentieth century. This is what
gives substance, meaning and bite to the plays of Shaw, Galsworthy, and
Barker, of Houghton, and Francis and Sowerby, of Moody and Kennedy and
Zangwill, at their best. To acknowledge this is not to deny that
enjoyable farce, stirring melodrama and romantic extravaganza are not
welcome; the sort of play which simply furnishes amusement in terms of
good story telling, content to do this and no more. It is, however, to
remind the reader that to be most representative of the day the drama
must do something beyond this; must mirror the time and probe it too;
yes, must, like a wise physician, feel the pulse of man to-day and
diagnose his deepest needs and failings and desires; in a word, must be
a social drama, since that is the keynote of the present. It will be
found that even in the lighter forms of drama which we accept as typical
and satisfactory this social flavor may be detected, giving it body, but
not detracting from its pleasurableness. Miss Crother's _Young Wisdom_
has the light touch and the framework of farce, yet it deals with a
definite aspect of feminism. Mr. Knoblauch's _The Faun_ is a romantic
fantasia, but is not without its keen social satire. Mr. Sheldon's _The
Havoc_ seems also farcical in its type; nevertheless it is a serious
satiric thrust at certain extreme conceptions of marital relations. And
numerous dramas, melodramatic in form and intention, dealing with the
darker economic and sociological aspects of our life--the overworked
crime play of the day--indefinitely swell the list. And so with many
more plays, pleasant or unpleasant, which, while clinging close to the
notion of good entertainment, do not refrain from social comment or
criticism. The idea that criticism of life in a stage story must of
necessity be heavy, dull and polemic is an irritating one, of which the
Anglo-Saxon is strangely fond. The French, to mention one other nation,
have constantly shown the world that to be intellectually keen and
suggestive it is not necessary to be solemn or opaque; in fact, that one
is sure to be all the more stimulating because of the light touch and
the sense for social adaptability. This view will in time, no doubt,
percolate through the somewhat obstinate layers of the Anglo-Saxon mind.

From these considerations it may follow that our theater-goer, while
generally receptive and broad-minded in his seat to the particular type
of drama the playwright shall offer, will incline to prefer those plays
which on the whole seem in some one of various possible ways to express
the time; which drama that has survived has always done. He will care
most for the home-made play as against the foreign, if equally well
made, since its problem is more likely to be his own, or one he can
better understand. But he will not turn a cold shoulder to some European
drama by a D'Annunzio, a Sudermann, a Maeterlinck or a Tolstoy, if it be
a great work of art and deal with life in such universal applications
and relations as to make it quite independent of national borders. One
of the socializing and civilizing functions of the theater is thus to
draw the peoples together into a common bond of interest, a unit in that
vast community which signifies the all-embracing experience of being a
human creature. Yet the theater-goer will have but a Laodicean regard
for plays which present divergent national or technically local
conditions of life practically incomprehensible to Americans at large;
some of the Gallic discussions of the French ménage, for instance.
Terence taught us wisely that nothing human should be alien from our
interest; true enough. There is however no good reason why interest
should not grow as the matter in hand comes closer to us in time and
space. And still more vigorously will he protest against any and all of
the wretched attempts to change foreign material for domestic use to be
noted when the American producer (or traducer) feels he must remove from
such a play the atmospheric color which is of its very life,
transferring a rural setting of old England to a similar setting in New
England. Short of the drama of open evil teaching, nothing is worse than
these absurd and abortive makings over of drama from abroad. The result
is neither fish, flesh nor good red herring. They destroy every object
of theater enjoyment and culture, lying about life and losing whatever
grip upon credence they may have originally possessed. Happily, their
day is on the wane. Even theater-goers of the careless kind have little
or no use for them.

That the stage of our day, a stage upon which it has been possible to
attain success with such dramas as _The Blue Bird_, _The Servant in the
House_, _The Poor Little Rich Girl_, _The Witching Hour_, _Cyrano de
Bergerac_, _Candida_, _What Every Woman Knows_, _The Great Divide_ and
_The Easiest Way_ (the enumeration is made to imply the greatest
diversity of type) is one of catholic receptivity and some
discriminating patronage, should appear to anyone who has taken the
trouble to follow the discussion up to this point, and whose theater
experience has been fairly large. There is no longer any reason why our
drama-going should not be one of the factors which minister to rational
pleasure, quicken the sense of art and invite us fruitfully to
participate in that free and desirable exchange of ideas which Matthew
Arnold declared to be the true aim of civilization. Let us grant readily
that the stage story which shows within theater restrictions the life of
a land and the outlying life of the world of men has its definite
demarcations; that it may not to advantage perform certain services more
natural, for example to the church, or the school. It must appeal upon
the basis of the bosom interests and passions of mankind and its common
denominator is that of the general emotions. Concede that it should not
debate a philosophical question with the aim of the thinker, nor a legal
question as if the main purpose were to settle a matter of law; nor a
religious question with the purposeful finality of the theologian, or
the didactic eloquence of the pulpit. But it can and should deal with
any question pertinent to men, vital to the broad interests of human
beings, in the spirit of the humanities and with the restraints of its
particular art. It should be suggestive, arousing, not demonstrative or
dogmatic. Its great outstanding advantage lies in its emotional
suggestibility. To perform this service, and it is a mighty one, is to
have an intelligent theater, a self-respecting theater, a theater that
shall purvey rational amusement to the few and the many. And whenever
theater-goers, by majority vote, elect it, it will arrive.

It was suggested on an earlier page and may now be still more evident
that intelligent theater-going begins long before one goes to the
theater. It depends upon preparation of various kinds; upon a sense of
the theater as a social institution, and of the renewed literary quality
of the drama to-day; upon a knowledge of the specific problems of the
player and playwright, and of the aids to this knowledge furnished by
the best dramatic criticism; upon familiarity too with the printed
drama, past and present, in a fast multiplying library that deals with
the stage and dramatic writing. The last statement may be amplified
here.

A few years ago, there was hardly a serious publication either in
England or America devoted to the legitimate interests of the stage from
the point of view of the patron of the theater, the critic-in-the-seat
whom we have so steadily had in mind. Such periodicals as existed were
produced rather in the interests of the stage people, actors, producers,
and the like. This has now changed very much for the better. Confining
the survey to this country, the monthly called _The Theater_ has some
value in making the reader aware of current activities. The two
monthlies, _The American Playwright_ and _The Dramatist_, edited
respectively by William T. Price and Luther B. Anthony, are given to the
technical consideration of contemporary drama in the light of permanent
principles, and are very useful. The quarterly, _The Drama_, edited and
published under the auspices of The Drama League of America, is a
dignified and earnest attempt to represent the cultural work of all that
has to do with the stage; and a feature of it is the regular appearance
of a complete play not hitherto in print. Another quarterly, _Poet
Lore_, although not given over exclusively to matters dramatic, has been
honorably conspicuous for many years for its able critical treatment of
the theater and play; and especially for its translations of foreign
dramas, much of the best material from abroad being first given English
form in its columns. At Madison, Wisconsin, _The Play Book_ is a monthly
also edited by theater specialists and often containing illuminating
articles and reviews. And, of course, in the better class periodicals,
monthly and weekly, papers in this field are appearing nowadays with
increasing frequency, a testimonial to the general growth of interest.
Critics of the drama like W. P. Eaton, Clayton Hamilton, Arthur Ruhl,
Norman Hapgood, William Winter, Montrose J. Moses, Channing Pollock,
James O'Donnell Bennett, James S. Metcalf, and James Huneker are to be
read in the daily press, in periodicals, or in collected book form.
Advanced movements abroad are chronicled in _The Mask_, the publication
founded by Gordon Craig; and in _Poetry and Drama_. It is reasonable to
believe that, with the renewed appreciation of the theater, the work of
the dramatic critic as such will be felt to be more and more important
and his function will assume its significance in the eyes of the
community. A vigorous dramatic period implies worthy criticism to
self-reveal it and to establish and maintain right standards. Signs are
not wanting that we shall gradually train and make necessary in the
United States a class of critic represented in England by William Archer
and A. B. Walkley. Among the publishers who have led in the movement to
place good drama in permanent form in the hands of readers the firms of
Macmillan, Scribner, Mitchell Kennerley, Henry Holt, John W. Luce,
Harper and Brothers, B. W. Huebsch and Doubleday, Page & Company have
been and are honorably to the fore. In the way of critical books which
study the many aspects of the subject, they are now being printed so
constantly as plainly to testify to the new attitude and interest. The
student of technic can with profit turn to the manuals of William
Archer, Brander Matthews, and William T. Price; the studies of Clayton
Hamilton, W. P. Eaton, Norman Hapgood, Barrett Clark, and others. For
the civic idea applied to the theater, and the development of the
pageant, he will read Percy Mackaye. And when it comes to plays
themselves, as we have seen, hardly a week goes by without the
appearance of some important foreign masterpiece in English, or some
important drama of English speech, often in advance of or coincident
with stage production. The best work of the day is now readily
accessible, where, only a little while ago, book publication of drama
(save the standard things of the past) was next to unknown. It is worth
knowing that The Drama League of America is publishing, with the
coöperation of Doubleday, Page & Company, an attractive series of Drama
League Plays, in which good drama of the day, native and foreign, is
offered the public at a cost which cuts in two the previous expense. And
the Drama League's selective List of essays and books about the theatre,
with which is incorporated a complete list of plays printed in English,
can be procured for a nominal sum and will give the seeker after light a
thorough survey of what is here touched upon in but a few salient
particulars.

In short, there is no longer much excuse for pleading ignorance on the
ground of inadequate aid, if the desire be to inform oneself upon the
drama and matters pertaining to the theater.

The fact that our contemporary body of drama is making the literary
appeal by appearing in book form is of special bearing upon the culture
of the theater-goer. Mr. H. A. Jones, the English playwright, has
recently declared that he deemed this the factor above all others which
should breed an enlightened attitude toward the playhouse. In truth, we
can hardly have a self-respecting theater without the publication of the
drama therein to be seen. Printed plays mean a claim to literary
pretensions. Plays become literature only when they are preserved in
print. And, equally important, when the spectator may read the play
before seeing it, or, better yet, having enjoyed the play in the
playhouse, can study it in a book with this advantage, a process of
revaluation and enforcement of effect, he will appreciate a drama in all
its possibilities as in no other way. Detached from mob influence, with
no confusion of play with players, he can attain that quieter, more
comprehensive judgment which, coupled with the instinctive decision in
the theater, combines to make a critic of him in the full sense.

For these reasons, the well wisher of the theater welcomes as most
helpful and encouraging the now established habit of the prompt printing
of current plays. It is no longer a reproach from the view of literature
to have your play acted; it may even be that soon it will be a reproach
not to have the printed play presented on the boards. The young American
man of letters, like his fellow in France, may feel that a literary
_début_ is not truly made until his drama has been seen and heard, as
well as read. While scholars are raking over the past with a fine-tooth
comb, and publishing special editions of second and third-rate
dramatists of earlier times, it is a good thing that modern plays, whose
only demerit may be their contemporaneity, are receiving like honor, and
that the dramas of Pinero, Jones, Wilde, Shaw, Galsworthy, Synge, Yeats,
Lady Gregory, Zangwill, Dusany, Houghton, Hankin, Hamilton, Sowerby,
Gibson, acted British playwrights; and of Gillette, Thomas, Moody,
Mackaye, Peabody, Walter, Sheldon, Tarkington, Davis, Patterson,
Middleton, and Kennedy, acted American playwrights (two dozen to stand
for two score and more) can be had in print for the asking. It is good
testimony that we are really coming to have a living theater and not a
mere academic kow-towing to by-gone altars whose sacrificial smoke has
dimmed our eyes sometimes to the clear daylight of the Present.
Preparation for the use of the theater looks before and after. At home
and at school the training can be under way; much happy preliminary
reading and reflection introduce it. By making oneself aware of the best
that has been thought and said on the subject; by becoming conversant
with the history, theory and practice of the playhouse, consciously
including this as part of education; and, for good citizenship's sake,
by regarding sound theater entertainment as a need and therefore a right
of the people; in a word, by taking one's play-going with good sense,
trained taste and right feeling, a person finds himself becoming a
broader and better human being. He will be quicker in his sympathies,
more comprehensive in his outlook, and will react more satisfactorily to
life in general. All this may happen, although in turning to the
theater his primary purpose may be to seek amusement.

Is it a counsel of perfection to ask for this? Hardly, when so much has
already occurred pointing out the better way. The civilized theater has
begun to come; the prepotent influence of the audience is recognized.
Surely the gain made, and the imperfections that still exist, are
stimulants to that further bettering of conditions whose familiar name
is Progress.

In all considerations of the theater, it would be a good thing to allow
the unfortunate word "elevate" to drop from the vocabulary. It misleads
and antagonizes. It is better to say that the view presented in this
book is one that wishes to make the playhouse innocently pleasant,
rational, and sound as art. If by "elevate" we mean these things, well
and good. But there is no reason why to elevate the stage should be to
depress the box office--except a lack of understanding between the two.
Uniting in the correct view, the two should rise and fall together. In
fact, touching audience, actors, playwrights, producers, and the
society that is behind them all, intelligent coöperation is the open
sesame. With that for a banner cry, mountains may be moved.


NOTES:

[A] A fact humorously yet keenly suggested in Bernard Shaw's clever
piece, _The Dark Lady of the Sonnets_.

[B] When our theater has become thoroughly artistic, plays will not, as
at present, be stretched out beyond the natural size, but will be
confined to a shorter playing time and the evening filled out with a
curtain raiser or after piece, as is now so common abroad.

[C] For a good discussion of this, see "The Genesis of Hamlet," by
Charlton M. Lewis (Houghton, Mifflin & Company).

[D] Gordon Craig's book on _The Art of The Theatre_ may be consulted for
further light upon a movement that is very significant and likely to be
far-reaching in time, in its influence upon future stage and dramatic
conditions.

       *       *       *       *       *

etext transcriber's note:

The following typographical errors have been corrected ...

departure from theme follow => departure from theme follows

it is well if the intermediate act do not => it is well if the
intermediate act does not

dedelivered his curtain speech => delivered his curtain speech

leigitimate => legitimate





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