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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The Playwright Is Born—and Made
By Alexandre Dumas, Jr. (1824–1895)
 
From the Preface to ‘A Prodigal Father’: Translation of Edward Irenæus Prime-Stevenson

OF all the various forms of thought, the stage is that which nearest approaches the plastic arts—inasmuch as we cannot work in it unless we know its material processes; but with this difference: that in the other arts one learns these processes, while in play-writing one guesses them; or to speak more accurately, they are in us to begin with.  1
  One can become a painter, a sculptor, a musician, by sheer study: one does not become a dramatic author in this fashion. A caprice of nature makes your eye in such a way that you can see a thing after a particular manner, not absolutely correct, but which must nevertheless appear, to any other persons that you wish to have so think, the only correct point of view. The man really called to write for the stage reveals what is an extremely rare faculty, in his very first attempts,—say in a farce in school, or a drawing-room charade. There is a sort of science of optics and of perspective that enables one to draw a personage, a character, a passion, an impulse of the soul, with a single stroke of the pen. Dramatic cheating of the eye is so complete that often the spectator, when he is a mere reader of the play, desiring to give himself once more the same emotion that he has felt as one of the audience, not only cannot recapture that emotion in the written words before him, but often cannot even distinguish the passage where the emotion lies hid. It was a word, a look, a silence, a gesture, a purely atmospheric combination, that held him spellbound. So comes in the genius of the playwright’s trade, if those two words can be associated. One may compare writing for the stage in relation to other phases of literature, as we compare ceiling painters with [painters of] pictures for the wall or the easel. Woe to the painter if he forget that his composition is to be looked at from a distance, with a light below it!  2
  A man without merit as a thinker, a moralist, a philosopher, an author, may turn out to be a dramatic author of the first class; that is to say, in the work of setting in motion before you the purely external movements of mankind; and on the other hand, to become in the theatre the thinker, the moralist, the philosopher, or the author to whom one listens, one must indispensably be furnished with the particular and natural qualities of a man of much lower grade. In short, to be a master in the art of writing for the stage, you must be a poor hand in the superior art….  3
  That dramatic author who shall know mankind like Balzac, and who shall know the theatre like Scribe, will be the greatest dramatic author that has ever existed.  4
 
 
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