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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Percy MacKaye (1875–1956)
Critical and Biographical Introduction
 
THE MODERN drama since Ibsen has been in large measure realistic and propagandist. The theatre has been crowded with problems, sermons, and reforms. Yet during this period, Romance has refused to leave the stage, and Fancy and Poetry have piped for many a dance. Ibsen himself wrote ‘Peer Gynt’ as well as ‘Ghosts’; France has Rostand as well as Brieux; and the new Irish drama is essentially poetic and romantic. In England, not to speak of the blank-verse plays of Stephen Phillips and others, the most popular playwright has been Mr. Barrie, who welds sentiment, whimsy, fantasy, and nonsense into a kind of comedy scarcely seen since the days of Bottom and Titania. We may leave it to a future historian to decide where the balance lies between the realistic and the romantic proclivities of our drama, and to determine whether Mr. Shaw throws his weight with the serious preacher or with the “high fantastical.” Our concern is merely to note that our stage has been large enough to afford room for many a flight of fancy.  1
  In the United States, Mr. Percy MacKaye has been the chief poet of the theatre, and whether he has written in verse or in prose he has always contrived to give fancy wing. Sometimes he has gone to the past for his themes. Chaucer provided his first comedy, ‘The Canterbury Pilgrims’ (1903), which after many open-air performances graduated into opera. ‘Jeanne d’Arc’ (1906) and ‘Sappho and Phaon’ (1907) are two of his early tragedies that won the services of distinguished actors. But his fancy has not been confined to the great stories of the past or to the traditional forms of the drama. ‘The Scarecrow’ (1908) was sub-titled “a tragedy of the ludicrous”; and a series of one-act plays was brought together under the title ‘Yankee Fantasies’ (1912). ‘Eeny Meeny’ has the still more attractive label “a moonshine fantasy,” and when Mr. MacKaye came to write of ‘The Immigrants’ (1915), the result was denominated a “lyric drama.” The mixture of species indicated by these titles is significant of Mr. MacKaye’s invention, which while variable in purpose, is always seeking to escape from the stricter limitations of the theatre. He has found a congenial opportunity in the more spacious stage afforded by the masques, pageants, and out-of-door performances of civic celebrations. His ‘Sanctuary, a Bird Masque’ was produced before President Wilson in 1913; his ‘St. Louis,’ a civic masque, was given in 1914; and his ‘Caliban,’ for the Shakespearian tercentenary, received a stupendous presentation in New York in 1916.  2
  It would be easy to criticize any of Mr. MacKaye’s productions from the point of view of dramaturgy; but the remarkable fact is that in so many ways he has succeeded in bringing so varied and so fresh an invention to the service of the stage. Within the same period, other men have written more successful plays, and other men have sustained their fancy in more certain flights. No other man, however, has so persistently and ingeniously wooed the stage with poetry and fantasy.  3
  Percy MacKaye, dramatist, son of Steele MacKaye, dramatist, was born in New York in 1875. Since his graduation from Harvard and the succeeding years of study and travel abroad, he has practiced assiduously at his high calling. In addition to a large number of dramatic productions, some of which have been mentioned, he has written many non-dramatic poems, so that his collected works now consist of one volume of plays and one of poems. Among the latter are several read on special occasions, as ‘Ticonderoga’ (1909), ‘Ellen Terry’ (1910), ‘Commodore Peary and his Men’ (1910). He has also published a memoir of his father, several volumes of essays, as ‘The Playhouse and the Play’ (1909), and ‘The Civic Theatre’ (1912), and (with Professor Tatlock) has written ‘The Modern Reader’s Chaucer’ (1912).  4
 
 
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