« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »
THE ENGLISH THEATRE.
The recent discussion about the art-furniture, varying the fabrics and English drama bas done some good, patterns as required. But he does in bringing the matter to a definite not go about claiming to be an artist, issue by asking the question, can the and declaring that his object in life English theatre be anything but a is to create a love of the Beautiful. business carried on for profit? Sir He is satisfied with his profits. The Squire Bancroft answered the question theatrical manager goes to work in when he declared that be kept a shop
the same way.
He has his spring and conducted it on the shopkeeper's shows and his autumn shows, and he principles. That was more sensible sets off his wares with idealism or and more honest than talking about romanticism, with_art or poetry as the artistic mission of the commercial he thinks best. These are only the theatre. We have gained something lures for his public, the means to and cleared our minds of cant when his profits.' Unfortunately, the comwe recognise that the first and last mercial manager makes the mistake aim of the English theatre is to make which the drap r avoids; he will go money. It may have other aims, about saying that he lives for art such as the glorification of individual and poetry, and all the other pretty actors with the consequent distortion things. He deceives himself and the of & play's natural construction, but truth is not in him. He cannot these aims are not general, nor openly afford to live for poetry and art: at avowed.
the best he can do so only so far as In fact, the theatrical manager is his public will let him ; and we know in the same position as any other the sort of art and how much of it shopkeeper; he can live only by pleas- the commercial manager's customers ing his customers. The theatrical, want. So far as it is art, it is the like the drapery, trade has its lead- spectacular art which uses colour and ing establishments, its Bond Street light, scenery, crowds, and costumes houses, its suburban emporiums, and for sensuous effects. The large stages its little shops in back streets. The and the mechanical resources of the sales indicate the means, knowledge, modern theatre are favourable to intelligence, and ideals of the patrons spectacle which sometimes deserves who are attracted and retained by to rank as an artistic creation. The the enterprise and shrewdness of the attraction of colour, of ordered moveshopkeeper, and particularly by the ment, and of balanced mass is unijudgment he shows in selecting the versal; but the pleasure it gives is season's novelties. The intelligent scarcely intellectual. The love of tradesman sees, and the most intelli- & show is common to the women of gent sees first, a change in his clients' the people and the women of society, taste. If through Ruskin, or William and to the men of all classes whose Morris, or South Kensington, they senses and minds are as those of a have beard of art, the intelligent little child. The masque, which was tradesman gives them art-fabrics and also a show, was immensely popular in England in the spacious days of vent controversialists from arguing great Eliza and the less spacious days high and low and round about them. of James Stuart. Spectacle is the Even at that cost it is better to modern form, and when it is well know what we are talking about, and done there is nothing to say against greatly daring I will hazard a definiit, except that it is not dramatic ; it tion. National drama is the kind of reduces drama to a mere accessory.
drama which reflects the temper, manSpectacle, because it is a living, ners, thought, and custom peculiar to natural, and progressive art, will any country. probably kill drama.
Let us test our plays by this definithe eyes of the English people, and tion and see how far they reflect our now that they have been educated national life. There is the important beyond the primary contrasts, they matter of religion. How far does our can enjoy refinements of colour and drama reflect the religious life of the tone which did not exist for the early nation? So far as THE SIGN OF THE Victorians. It is a great gain, though Cross. Even the commercial apolonot a gain to drama, and if the taste gists see the inadequacy of this refor spectacle continues to grow, the flection, and yield the point by saying dramatic part of it will be repre
that it is irreverent to treat sacred sented by the commercial manager
themes in the theatre. The Greeks standing at the proscenium delivering did not think so, nor the Christians explanatory verse, whi!o objects and of the ages of faith. Modern France creatures of surpassing beauty defile and Germany produce religious plays. before a succession of panorama England does not and cannot; and cloths.
when we allow ministers of religion That, or something of the kind, on the stage, the Anglican clergyman will probably be the sole advance in is an example of benignant and genthe art of the theatre if playgoers tlemanlike piety, the Nonconformist continue to educate their eyes and an obvious hypocrite, and the Catholic neglect their intellects. The present priest ascetic in England, jovial in discussion began with the reformers Ireland, and diplomatic in the Latin saying that we had no national countries. Surely the gifts of Provitheatre. The apologists of the com- dence are not distributed with such mercial theatre rent the clouds with mechanical exactitude. However that denials and protestations, and quoted may be, there is clearly no place for the receipts of box-offices. They as- religion on the English stage, and serted that the English people had a there is one vital element of society national drama which they loved next ruled out of the drama. after their national Church and their Let us next take politics. Now, national sport. They argued that people do not agree on politics, and just as every nation has the laws it disagreements may produce disorder, deserves, so it has the drama it de- and nothing hurts business so much as serves, an argument (if it be one) disorder or the fear of it. The theatre, which anyone can meet by denying managers say, gets a bad name with the premiss and the analogy as well. respectable people who have no poliNo one on either side has told us tics. I am sorry for this, because I what he understands by national am sure that there is good dramatic drama. Perhaps it is an innate idea, material in politics. What an admiror it may be that exactness is con- able political play Lord Beaconsfield sidered pedantic and likely to pre- could have written ! And is not the
commercial manager like all capitalists It seems a pity. Allowing for the rather timorous? I should not damage difference of method, surely what is the theatre if my neighbour showed interesting in the literary form could excessive (and unreasonable) delight be made interesting in the dramatic in the Conservative speeches; I should form. The fortunes of a business possess my soul in peace, knowing firm have dramatic possibilities which that my man would have his turn would be effective on the stage if before long. And that of course is faithfully observed
faithfully observed and faithfully what most people would do. To see presented. If we can scarcely expect the female politician on the stage, to recognise the partners, perhaps the and the duchess who makes managers, or at least the clerks, are unmakes ministries in the society- persons within our knowledge. At papers! And then the scope for in- less effort, though with less awe, we trigue! But it is all a vain dream; could understand them better than there is no room for politics in the the sumptuous aristocrats whose emoEnglish drama.
tions are always but dimly realised by These explosive themes, however, commoners. Why then is the drama do not exhaust life. There is the implicit in the lives of the English vast field of character conditioned people never seen on the stage? It by occupation; the professions, com- is conventionalised in domestic plays merce, and
labour. In this field and caricatured in melodrama. Why the novelists have found their best do we never get the real thing? material. Their doctors, lawyers, par- It is partly, I take it, because the sons, shopkeepers, farmers, and la- English are deferential people, bourers are human beings whom we partly because they are sentimental love or hate just as if they were materialists (a combination that is alive. We know their looks and supposed to produce idealism), and speech and gait and habitual ges- partly for another
The tures. The course and accidents of deferential Englishman likes to see their lives make the plot and in- lords and ladies on the stage just as cidents of great novels. The ambi- he likes to see them in cocked hats bitions of lawyers, the ideals of and tiaras in the illustrated papers, doctors, the affairs of merchants, and or joking with difficulty in PUNCH. the petty commerce of the small shop He does not think that they are hold the stuff of pathos, humour, over-represented on theatrical proand tragedy; but not in the theatre. grammes, or that their importance in There they must creep into the husks plays is so much greater than it is in of conventional types; they lose their the actual world. To him they are individuality, and in the dry air of an ambition and an ideal. Aristothe stage the juices of their vitality crats fill him with awe, millionaires evaporate. They degenerate into bits strike him with terror; their misof character and comic relief if they fortunes inspire him with pity, and in are lawyers or doctors; men of science that way he gets the Aristotelian and scholars are usually represented katharsis. The idealist who hates as little better than fools outside their everything that he calls low will not own professions ; the lower middle- have common people on the stage class are either comic absurdities with unless they are amusing or contempridiculous names such as Tickletop tible. So the drunken and unand Gushington, or in serious plays licensed plumber becomes the reprethey are mere figure-heads.
sentative of the English working
classes. That plumber shows how directly to the primary universal infar we have got towards a national stincts, which are common to men drama.
and the other animals. Time, and The other reason is that which the revolving seasons, and the high prevents the commercial manager rents of theatres in central London, from exploiting (as he would say) have largely restricted the peculiar the play of contemporary life. He domain of the drama. Few of the is not prejudiced against such plays : elementary instincts pay on the stage, he is as ready to make money out of
à matter of fact, they are truth as out of falsehood ; but he is reduced to the emotion of love. We in the hands of his paymasters. One regret the fact, and hope to be thing his audience will not suffer; compensated by the perfection that they will not see their daily lives, the comes from concentration. Passion details of their business, the way they is the most dramatic form of this make their fortunes, and the way they emotion, yet passion is unknown on realise their social aspirations, put the modern stage. All the subupon the stage for the delight and varieties of love can be seen there; edification of their neighbours and the tender, the lady-like, the "nice,” acquaintances. They shrink from and the jolly, but not passion, not the seeing themselves reflected on the one and highest form of love that stage. This also is idealism.
ought to be there. I remember seeThe obscure mental processes of ing it on the stage once in Mr. Jones's these classes have produced a rule of MICHAEL AND His Lost ANGEL, one ethics which recognises how hard it is of the greatest achievements of our to make a decent income and keep contemporary drama, and the occasion your wife and family in a fair posi- of one of the greatest mistakes of the tion, which says th
we are all in
Their criticisms, the same boat and declares that the resting on the usually safe idea that unpardonable sin is, in the elegant the British public are as moral as language of our day, to give the show Artemus Ward's kangaroo, expressed away. This rule condemns most of à maidenly and outraged modesty, what is true in literature and drama. dumb before The SECOND MRS. Tan. It is the exceeding bitter cry of the QUERAY and The Gay LORD QUEX. Ephesian silversmiths; Ephesus and This time the professional moralisers England are at one.
were too moral for their clients. A man cares very little about truth in large majority of the public supported literature or art, but he cares very the play in the theatre as well as in much for keeping himself and his wife the drawing-room. It was a lesson and family in that state of suburban to anyone inclined to despair of the society to which he has been called. English theatre, for it showed that Naturally the commercial manager there is a public for natural and leaves truth out of his plays, and the sincere plays, and that the commercial national drama languishes.
manager cannot afford to produce There is one test that should be them. applied, because it seems to give the The commercial manager is only commercial drama a chance. Its
carrying on the traditions of his class. apologists have no difficulty in show- With rare exceptions the theatre in ing that it has little or nothing to do this country has always been comwith intellect; but in the domain of mercial. The popularity of some feeling it rules paramount. It appeals Shakespearian plays did not mean
that the public cared particularly for COMMAND I should say that Captain the poetic drama; it meant that they Hood got his psychology from Captain cared very much to see Kean, John Marshall, if that did not bar the only Kemble, and Mrs. Siddons. In the possible source of Captain Marshall's absence of “stars” the theatres of psychology. Yet their plays are the the palmy days were as commercial as only kind of national drama (besides our own, and as ready to attract the adaptations of Dante and Homeric public with melodrama, menageries, panoramas) that we have got from and circuses. That was long before the commercial manager.
He is satisthe cry for Free Trade in the drama, fied with the theatre as it is and with or, to speak accurately, before the the dividends it pays, and if it pays anti-monoply agitation, There has none he is kept going by the syndialways been Free Trade in drama; cates that renew themselves by fissure. the dramatic produce of France, Italy, It is no affair of his that since Goldand Germany have never paid import smith and Sheridan the drama has duty. As a countervailing duty was contributed nothing to English literaimpracticable, it is hard to see why ture, and that while the characters of this source of revenue was overlooked., our great novelists have become part At all ovents the anti-monopolists of the life and thought of the English won, and the er of Free Trade in people not a single character, not a drama began in spite of the people single speech or phrase from the Eng. who argued that Free Trade is a lish drama is either remembered or theory of trade and not of art, and quoted. pointed out that the art of Greece, The commercial manager then can Italy, Spain, and Holland was pro- do nothing to remedy the critical conduced in economic conditions much dition of the theatre. If any comnearer Protection than Free Trade. petent and impartial person thinks Is Velasquez lodged in the Escurial that its condition is satisfactory he an instance of free competition ? had better run over a list of the plays Were not the St. Catherines and St. of the last few years and see how near Sebastians, and the other saints whose they come to being a national drama. portraits the copyists produced by the I can recall only one, MR. AND MRS. score, the true products of supply and DAVENTRY, which had more than a demand? The result of applying trade superficial relation to life. Mr. Jones, principles to the drama has been to having apparently come to the conmake it a trade, and to limit the clusion that the theatre is not the relation of manager and audience to place for human nature, is that of shopkeeper and customer. satisfied with amusing the classes We have seen how much reflection of and the dependents of class. Mr. life there is in the commercial theatre. Pinero always has one eye on his play "Our people don't care about that and the other on the box-office, with kind of thing,” the managers say, and the result that his serious pieces are apparently get their most successful mainly examples of compromise. The plays at the Army and Navy Stores. psychology of his heroines is either I do not know what our officers are accidental or arbitrary; they usually like in action, but in the theatre they yield to the hero, but they always are of an astounding simplicity, of a yield to the plot, and his coups de pathetic conservatism. Having seen théatre are as dangerous to the piece Captain Hood's SWEET AND TWENTY as they are to the furniture.
In short, and Captain Marshall's SECOND IN most of the plays of this, as indeed of
No. 535.-VOL. XC.