Nonfiction > Harvard Classics > Lectures on the Harvard Classics
  Lectures on the Harvard Classics.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
I. General Introduction
By Professor George Pierce Baker
RARE is the human being, immature or mature, who has never felt an impulse to pretend he is some one or something else. The human being who has never felt pleasure in seeing such a pretending is rarer still. Back through the ages of barbarism and civilization, in all tongues, we find this instinctive pleasure in the imitative action that is the very essence of all drama. The instinct to impersonate produces the actor; the desire to provide pleasure by impersonations produces the playwright; the desire to provide this pleasure with adequate characterization and dialogue memorable in itself produces dramatic literature. Though dramatic literature has been sporadic, dramatic entertainment by imitative action has been going steadily on since we first hear of it in connection with the Bacchic festivals of early Greece; and the dramatic instinct has been uninterruptedly alive since man’s creation. We do not kill the drama, we do not really limit its appeal by failing to encourage the best in it; but we do thereby foster the weakest and poorest elements. In 1642 the English Parliament, facing war, closed the theatres and forbade all plays. Yet, though the years following were so troublous as not to favor drama, it was necessary in 1647 to repeal the edict, because surreptitious and garbled performances of plays formerly popular had been given, and because vulgarized excerpts from comic portions of past plays had been given at fairs and other public gatherings. Clearly, so strong was the instinct, the craving for drama, that if the public could not get new plays, or even its old plays as wholes, it would accept far less worthy entertainment rather than go without. Even in this country, far more recently, in many communities where theatres were regarded at least with hesitation, the panorama was popular, and local branches of the G. A. R. gave to enthusiastic audiences “The Drummer Boy of Shiloh.” To-day, many who will not attend the theatre do attend the moving-picture show. One cannot annihilate an instinct of the races old as time: to legislate against it is to risk repressing only the better part; what is necessary is to make the undesirable unattractive.  1

  The only sound basis for this result is a widespread taste in the public for good drama. While it is not true, as George Farquhar wrote, that “Plays are like suppers, poets are the cooks,” there is yet truth in Samuel Johnson’s saying that “The drama’s laws the drama’s patrons give.” He who serves his dramatic meal, cooked and seasoned exactly for what he takes to be the tastes of his public, merely writes plays: he does not create drama. To try to hit public taste in the drama is like trying to hit the bull’s-eye of a rapidly shifting target on a very foggy day. On the other hand, the public speaker who should try to present his subject to a public knowing nothing of it, and to a public of which he knows nothing, must skillfully interest them by finding in his subject some appeal of a general nature. In similar fashion works the dramatist. He cannot write comedies and farces for a community lacking in humor. He can do little in grim story play or tragedy with a laughter-loving public. Granted a public fond of the theatre, he is sure of a hearing and probably an appreciative one; but the fuller and the more accurate his public’s knowledge of good drama in the past, the greater his chance for an attentive and comprehending hearing when he writes what should be good drama to-day.

  In reading plays, however, it should always be remembered that any play, however great, loses much when not seen in action. As John Marston wrote in 1606: “Comedies are writ to be spoken, not read; remember the life of these things consists in action”; or, as Molière put it: “Comedies are made to be played, not to be read.” Any play is so planned that it can produce its exact effect only with its required scenery, lighting, and acting. And that acting means the gesture, movement, and voice of the actor. Above all, it means the voice, the instrument which conveys to the audience the exact shade of meaning of the author and, like music, opens up the emotions. Drama read to oneself is never drama at its best, and is not even drama as it should be. Usually, too, just because readers do not recognize the difference between drama and other forms of fiction, they lose the effects they might gain even in reading. Closer attention than with a novel or short story is required. The dramatist does not guide us by explanations, analysis, and comment in our visualizing of his figures. Instead, he depends on a few stage directions as to their movements, and on the rightness of his chosen words in the dialogue. Unfortunately, many a reader, accustomed to hasty reading of the sketchy stories so common in the magazines, does not piece out what is given him but sees only just what the words of the text force him to see with no effort on his part. He is not active and cooperative. No play read in this way yields its real value. First, see in your mind the setting as described. Then, reading sympathetically, thoughtfully, and slowly if need be, visualize the figures as they come and go. The lines of any good play mean more than appears at a hasty glance. They have been chosen not simply because they say what the character might have said, but because what is said will advance the plot, and, because better than some half dozen other phrases considered by the author, they will rouse the emotions of the audience. Keep the sympathetic, not the critical mood, to the fore. Reading to visualize, feel because you visualize, and feel as fully as you can. Then when you close the book, moved and admiring, and then only, let your critical training tell you whether you have done well to admire. Don’t let prejudices, moral or artistic, cause prejudgments: keep an open mind as you read. A writer may so treat a subject for which you have never cared as to make you care for it. He may so treat a subject you have regarded as taboo as to make it acceptable and helpful. Don’t assume because a play is different from the plays you have known that it is bad. As the general editor has said: “It is precisely this encounter with the mental states of other generations which enlarges the outlook and sympathies of the cultivated man.” When a play of a different nation or period at first proves unattractive, don’t assume that it will remain so. Rather, study the conditions of stage and audience which gave it being. Usually this will transmute a seemingly dull play into a living, appealing work of art. In any case, when you have finished reading, judge with discretion. Say, if you like, “This play is not for me—for a person of my tastes,” but not, “This is a bad play for all,” unless you are able to explain why what is poison for you should be poison for the general public. In all the great periods of the drama perfect freedom of choice and subject, perfect freedom of individual treatment, and an audience eager to give itself to sympathetic listening, even if instruction be involved, have brought the great results. If a public widely read in the drama of the past and judging it as suggested would come to the acting drama of to-day in exactly that spirit, almost anything would become possible for our dramatists.

  But what is drama? Broadly speaking, it is whatever by imitative action rouses interest or gives pleasure. The earliest of the mediæval plays, the trope of the church in which the three Marys go to the tomb to find that Christ has risen, and make their way thence rejoicing, does not differentiate one Mary from another. The words, which were given to music, have only an expository value. Here, as through the ages succeeding, it is action, not characterization, however good, not dialogue for the sake of characterization or for its own sake, which counts. Of course, this very early drama is too bald and too simple to have value as literature. As the trope in the tenth to the thirteenth centuries adds to the episode of the Resurrection or the Nativity preliminary or continuing Biblical material, so story develops around the original episode. Almost inevitably, in order to make these differing episodes convincing, characterization appears, for, unless the people are unlike, some of the episodes could not occur. The dialogue ceases to be merely expository and begins to characterize each speaker. Later it comes to have charm, amusingness, wit, that is, quality of its own. When the drama attains a characterization which makes the play a revelation of human conduct and a dialogue which characterizes yet pleases for itself, we reach dramatic literature.
  So, too, as time goes on, there develop the play of story, the play mainly of characterization, the play in which dialogue counts almost as much as plot or character, and the great masterpieces in which all these interests, plot, character, and dialogue are blended into a perfect whole. “The Duchess of Malfi” 1 of Webster is a story play which illustrates a change in public taste. For a modern reader, probably more interested in the character of the Duchess than in the story itself, the last act doubtless lacks the interest it had for its own public. In Johnson’s “Alchemist” 2 it is character mainly which interests us. In Sheridan’s “School for Scandal,” 3 as in Congreve’s “Way of the World,” dialogue counts as much as character. In “Hamlet,” “Lear,” and “Macbeth” 4 there is a perfect union of story, characterization, and dialogue.  5

  Once the idea was widespread that tragedy and comedy differ essentially in material. Dryden maintained that tragedy must deal with people of exalted rank in extraordinary situations, expressing themselves in speech befitting their extraordinary circumstances. This idea, first stated by Aristotle in his “Poetics” as a result of his observation of the Greek Tragedy—which the definition perfectly fits—was fostered and expanded by critical students of dramatic theory till it found expression in the exaggeration of the Heroic Drama in England and the dignified if somewhat cold tragedies of Corneille and Racine. 5 The coming of the Sentimental Comedy in England in the first thirty years of the eighteenth century, the related “Drame Larmoyante” of France, and the “Bürgerliche Drama” in Germany, showed that tragedy may exist in all ranks from high to low, from educated to uneducated.
  What then is tragedy? In the Elizabethan period it was assumed that a play ending in death was a tragedy, but in recent years we have come to understand that to live on is sometimes far more tragic than death. Nor is the presence of tragic incidents in a play sufficient reason for calling it a tragedy, for many plays that end happily have in them profoundly moving episodes. Why, then, is it that we are so agreed in calling “Hamlet,” “The Duchess of Malfi” and “The Cenci” 6 tragedies? Because in them character clashing with itself, with environment, or with other temperaments, moves through tragic episodes to a final catastrophe that is the logical outcome of what we have observed. By “logical” I mean that the ending is seen to grow from the preceding events in accordance with the characters. That is, it conforms with human experience as known to us or as revealed to us by the dramatist in question.  7

  Suppose, however, that we have tragic circumstance not justified by the characterization of the figures concerned. For instance, in some play on Cleopatra the special scenes may move us even if they do not put before us a character whose willfulness and exacting love seem great enough to bring about the final catastrophe. Then what have we? Melodrama in the broadest sense of the word. Melodrama in this sense of plays insufficiently motivated in characterization has existed from the beginning of drama. Technically, the word came into England early in the nineteenth century to designate an importation from France of sensational scenes with frequent musical accompaniment. As this particular combination disappeared, the name remained for plays of sensational incident and inadequate characterization.

  Between the two—melodrama and tragedy—both perhaps sensational in episode, but only the second justifying its episodes by perfectly motivated character, lies the story play. In this the light and the serious, the comic and the tragic, mingle, though the ending is cheerful. “The Merchant of Venice,” regarded as Shakespeare regarded it as the story of Portia and Bassanio, is clearly not a tragedy but a story play. If, however, we sympathize with Shylock as modern actors, especially by their rearrangement of the scenes, often make us, is it not a tragedy? There lies the important distinction. There is no essential difference between the material of comedy and tragedy. All depends on the point of view of the dramatist, which, by clever emphasis, he tries to make the point of view of his audience. The trial scene of Shylock perfectly illustrates the idea: to the friends of Bassanio, as to most of the Elizabethan audience, this Jew-baiting was highly delightful; to Shylock it was torture and heartbreak. The dramatist who presents such material so as to emphasize in it what would appeal to the friends of Bassanio, writes comedy. He who presents it to an audience likely to feel as Shylock felt, writes tragedy.

  Comedy divides into higher and lower. Low comedy concerns itself directly or indirectly with manners. “The Alchemist” of Jonson busies itself directly with manners by means of characters varying from types of a single aspect to well-individualized figures. Comedy of intrigue, centering about a love story, deals in complicated situations arising therefrom, but indirectly paints manners as it characterizes. “The Shoemaker’s Holiday” 7 may perhaps stand as a specimen of this type, though Fletcher’s “The Wild-Goose Chase” is a better example. High comedy, as George Meredith pointed out in his masterly “Essay on Comedy,” deals in thoughtful laughter. This laughter comes from the recognition, made instantaneously by the author, of the comic value of a comparison or contrast. For instance, in “Much Ado About Nothing” it is high comedy at which we laugh when from moment to moment we contrast Benedick and Beatrice as they see themselves and as we see them in the revelatory touches of the dramatist.
  Farce treats the improbable as probable, the impossible as possible. In the second case it often passes into extravaganza or burlesque. “The Frogs” 8 of Aristophanes illustrates farcical burlesque. In the best farce to-day we start with some absurd premise as to character or situation, but if the premises be once granted we move logically enough to the ending.  11

  Yet, even if one understands these differences, one may find it difficult at first to appreciate the drama of a past time. Modern drama from 980 A. D. onward passes from the simple Latin trope, already described, by accumulation of incident, developing characterization, and a feeling for expression for its own sake, to similar work in the vernacular, be it English, French, or German. Then slowly it gains enormously in characterization till some of the miracle and morality plays of the late fifteenth century equal or surpass any English drama up to Marlowe. But what lay behind all this drama of miracle play and morality was an undivided church. With the coming of the Reformation and its insistence on the value and finality of individual judgment, the didactic drama gave way to the drama of entertainment—the interludes and the beginnings of the five-act plays. Yet, fine as are some of the plays of the days of Elizabeth and James I, we find in them a brutality of mood, a childish sense of the comic, a love of story for mere story’s sake that make them oftentimes a little hard reading. Moreover, their technique—their frequent disregard of our ideas of unity, their methods of exposition by chorus, soliloquy, and aside—frequently appears to us antiquated. Except for the greatest of these plays—mainly by Shakespeare—the Elizabethan drama seems strange to us at a first reading. Only coming to know the conditions from which it sprang can give us its real values.
  Even the great dramas of Æschylus, Sophocles, and to a less extent of Euripides, because he is more modern, are best read when we know something of the Greek life around these dramas and of the stage for which they were written. To these plays a great audience of perhaps 10,000 brought a common knowledge of the myths and stories represented, akin to our universal knowledge a generation ago of Biblical story. The audience brought also memories of successive and even recent treatments of the same myth by other dramatists, taking delight, not as we do in something because it seems new, but in the individual treatment of the old story by the new dramatist. The same attitude held for the Elizabethan public which delighted in successive versions of “Romeo and Juliet,” “Julius Cæsar,” and “Hamlet.” In judging the drama of Greece or Elizabethan England this fact must be kept constantly in mind.  13
  As one turns from Greek and Elizabethan drama, written for the delight and edification of the masses, to the work of Corneille and Racine, one faces plays written primarily for the cultivated, and worked out, not spontaneously by individual genius, but carefully according to critical theory derived not so much from study of classic drama as from commentators on a commentator on the Greek drama—Aristotle. From him, for instance, came the idea as to the essentiality of the unities of time, action, and place, themselves the result of physical conditions of the Greek stage. By contrast, then, this French tragedy of the seventeenth century is a drama of intellectuals.  14
  Then as the spirit of humanitarianism spread and men shared more and more in Samuel Johnson’s desire “with extensive view” to “survey mankind from China to Peru,” the drama reflected all this. No longer did the world laugh at the selfish complacency and indulgence of the rake and fop, but it began to sympathize with his wife, fiancée, or friend who suffered from this selfishness and complacency. Illustrating that the difference between tragedy and comedy lies only in emphasis, Restoration comedy turned from thoughtless laughter to sympathetic tears. But such psychology as the sentimental comedy shows is conventional and superficial. It is in the nineteenth century that the drama, ever sensitive to public moods and sentiment, undergoes great changes. In France and Germany it breaks the shackles of the pseudo classicism which had for centuries held the drama to empty speech and a dead level of characterization. Goethe, Schiller, Hugo, Dumas père, and Alfred de Vigny reveal a new world of dramatic romance and history. In turn this romance leads to realism with an underlying scientific spirit which takes nothing at its old values.  15

  This searching scrutiny of accepted ideas of personality, conduct, right, wrong, and even causation in general, is seen in Ibsen and all his followers. Planting themselves firmly on the new and developing science of psychology, guided by the most intense belief in individualism, demanding its passports from every accepted idea, the dramatists of the last half century have steadily enlarged the scope of their art. From mere story-telling they passed to ethical drama. Convinced by practice that it is difficult for a play in its limited time—two and a half hours at the most—to do more than state a problem or paint a set of social conditions, they have taken to merely drawing pictures or raising questions rather than attempting even to suggest an answer. As we have seen, in the eighteenth century the writer of sentimental comedy painted social conditions, but with a psychology purely intuitional. To-day we have swung to the other extreme. Recognizing the limited space of the dramatist, confused by contrasting psychological theories, puzzled by the baffling intricacies of the human soul, convinced that the great questions raised cannot be settled in a breath, or with any ready-made panacea, many a dramatist to-day merely pictures an evil condition, waiting for others to find its exact significance or, better still, a solution. “Justice” of Mr. Galsworthy, like “La Robe Rouge” of M. Brieux, offers no solution, yet both led to changes in the conditions portrayed—in the former, conditions of prison life; in the latter, evils attending the life of the petty judiciary of France.

  A veritable passion for the theatre is shown by the younger generation to-day in the United States. It crowds the theatres—if we use the word to include not only places giving performances of legitimate drama but also vaudeville houses and picture shows—as in this country it never has crowded them before. To go to a theatre of the older type one must usually travel some distance and often one must save beforehand. Vaudeville and picture shows cheap enough for almost any purse are provided at our very doors. The difficulty is that what they offer is sometimes as low in art as in price. Yet surely, it may be said, there is good vaudeville, and surely proper legislation ought to dispose of what is poor or dangerous in it or the picture show. Granted, but there are inherent dangers which legislation cannot reach. In the first place, the balcony and galleries of our theatres are far less filled than they used to be before vaudeville and the picture show provided at much less expense and with greater comfort entertainment to many as satisfactory as the theatre itself. This decrease in attendance at the theatres naturally jeopardizes the chances of many a play which can be produced only if the manager feels reasonably sure of large houses or a public more general than usually frequents the orchestra. Vaudeville, too, like the collections of short stories we read in the train, is usually a mere time killer, making the least possible demand on our application and attention. In vaudeville, if something grips our interest we pay attention; if one “turn” does not interest us we simply wait for the next. Sooner or later, without any effort on our part, something will win our absorbed attention. Now drama that has literary value demands, when read, as I have pointed out, concentration, an effort to visualize. Acted drama requires surrender of one’s self, sympathetic absorption in the play as it develops. These absolutely essential conditions grow less possible for the person trained by vaudeville. The moving picture show, too, is at best drama stripped of everything but motion. The greatest appeal of all, the voice, except in so far as the phonograph can reproduce it, is wanting. But can any combination of mechanical devices such as the cinematograph and the graphophone ever equal in human significance, in reality of effect, in persuasive power, the human being—most vividly seen and felt in drama at its best? A combination of the cinematograph and the phonograph can be at best only a dramatic Frankenstein’s automaton. Dramatic literature is really threatened by the picture show and vaudeville.

  All this would be discouraging were not these conditions somewhat counteracted by drama as we find it in our schools, colleges, and social settlements. As far back as the sixteenth century in England and on the Continent the value for pronunciation, enunciation, and deportment of acting by school children was recognized. Ralph Radcliffe, a schoolmaster of Hitchen in Hertfordshire, wrote many plays for his scholars. Nicholas Udall, successively a master of Eton and Westminster schools, left us one of the early landmarks of English drama, “Ralph Roister Doister,” a mixture of early English dramatic practice and borrowings from the Latin comedy. On the Continent, fathers and mothers gathered often, fondly to watch their boys in similar Latin or vernacular plays. In like manner to-day, all over this country, in grammar and high schools, wise teachers are guiding their pupils in varied expression of their dramatic instinct. Many a high school to-day has, as part of its equipment, a small stage on which standard plays of the past, plays selected from the best written to-day, and, occasionally, even plays written by the students themselves are given. From participation in such performances more results than a mere gain in enunciation, pronunciation, and deportment. The standards of a youth who associates often with the best in dramatic literature must improve. Inculcate thus pleasantly right standards of drama, and the lure of vaudeville and picture show is weakened. But the training must be broad: our youth must know the best—comedy, tragedy, farce, burlesque—in the drama of to-day and yesterday.
  No such training of our youth can ever be complete if in the home there is no real understanding, at least from reading, of what the best in drama has been. Otherwise how can the elders sympathize with this natural demand of the young, for probably they will not recognize either the worthiness or the permanence of the appeal which the drama properly makes. While youth inevitably seek entertainment in the theatre, their elders must see to the kind of entertainment provided. That is a fair and natural division.  19
  Year by year we receive at Ellis Island people from all over the world, people little fitted for the responsibilities of a citizenship that was planned for a people relatively homogeneous and trained for centuries in a growing political power which rested on the responsibility of the individual. How shall we reveal to this immigrant what this great varied American life means and thus assimilate him into the body politic? Seeking an answer to this problem, the settlement houses have found one of their most effective means in the drama. The southern or southeastern European, filled with emotion, loves to act. In the settlement house, through carefully selected plays, he learns our language and gains the ideals of the land in which he is to live.  20

  Responsive to all this widespread interest of the people at large, men and women all over the country are busied with the difficult art of the dramatist. In turn responsive to their needs, our colleges are developing courses in dramatic composition, though ten years ago not one existed. But to these playwrights comes sooner or later the question: “Shall I write so as surely to make money, but pandering to the lower artistic and moral taste of my public; or shall I keep to my inculcated and self-discovered standards of dramatic art till I win my public to them?” For the latter result there must be a considerable part of the public which so understands and loves the best of the drama of the past that it can quickly discover promise in the drama to-day. Out of the past come the standards for judging the present; standards in turn to be shaped by the practice of present-day dramatists into broader standards for the next generation. The drama possesses a great literature growing out of an eternal desire of the races. The drama is a great revealer of life. Potentially, it is a social educative force of the greatest possibilities, provided it be properly handled. You cannot annihilate it. Repressing it you bring its poorer qualities to the front. How, then, can any so-called educated man fail to try to understand it? But to understand it one must read closely, sympathetically, and above all widely.
  For such results a collection like this must be but the fillip that creates a craving for more. Here is only a little of all the Elizabethan and Jacobean drama. Here it is possible to represent only by a few masterpieces the vast stores of the drama in France, Germany, England, Scandinavia, Italy, Spain, and Russia in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. To-day, English drama, with only a few exceptions better than any written since the seventeenth century, comes often to the stage. From month to month the drama is making history. In England and the United States to-day it is wonderfully alive, independent, ambitious, seeking new ways of expression on an infinite variety of subjects. Yet it is often crude, especially in this country. It will never know how crude till its public forces it to closer, finer thinking, more logical characterization, and stern avoidance of mere theatricality. Back of any such gains must stand a public with a love for the drama, gained not merely from seeing plays of to-day but from wide reading in the drama of different periods and different nations in the past.  22

  No drama, however great, is entirely independent of the stage on which it is given. In a great period the drama forces its stage to yield to its demands, however exacting, till that stage becomes plastic. At a time of secondary drama, plays yield to the rigidities of their stage, making life conform to the stage, not the stage to life. Consequently, just as different periods have seen different kinds of drama, they have seen different kinds of stage. In the trope the monks acted in the chancel near the high altar, to come out, as the form developed, to the space before the choir screen under the great dome of the cathedral where nave and transepts met. In that nave and in the adjoining aisles knelt or stood the rapt throng of worshipers. Forced by numbers who could not be accommodated in the cathedral and by other causes, the monks, after some generations, brought their plays out into the square in front of the cathedral. That all might see them to the best advantage they were ultimately given on raised platforms. Certainly by the time these plays passed from the hands of the churchmen to the control of the trade guilds, they were on pageant cars, a construction not unlike our floats for trade processions except that they contained two stories, the lower high enough to use for a dressing room. These pageant cars the journeymen drew, between daylight and dark, from station to station across a city like York or Chester. At each station people filled the windows of the houses, the seats built up around the sides of the square, and even the roofs. The very nature of this platform stage forbade scenery, though elaborate properties seem to have been used. By contrast, on the Continent, especially in France, constructions resembling house fronts, city gates, or walls could be freely set up on the large, fixed stage for miracle plays which was built in some great square of the city. To this one place flocked all the would-be auditors. The point to remember is that down to the building of theatres the stage meant a platform, large or small, movable or stationary, in some public place. Simply treated, as was the case when it was movable, it would have a curtain at the back, shutting off a space where costumes could be changed and where the prompter could stand: scenery was out of the question. Elaborately treated, when it was stationary, constructions suggesting houses, ships, town walls, etc., might be shown at the back or side of the stage, but they seem never to have been shifted from the beginning to the end of the performance. Such houses, walls, etc., were used when needed, but when not in use were treated as non-existent.
  In the sixteenth century when playing passed from the hands of the guilds to groups of actors, the latter sought refuge from the noise and discomforts of the public square in the yards of inns. In those days galleries like the balconies of our theatres were on all four sides of such an inn yard, sometimes two and sometimes three. The players, erecting a rough platform opposite the entrance from the street, hung a curtain from the edge of the first gallery to their stage. In the room or rooms behind this they dressed. Thus they gained a front stage; a rear stage under the first gallery to be revealed when the curtain was drawn; an upper stage in the first balcony representing at will city walls, a balcony for Romeo and Juliet, or an upper room. High above all this one or more galleries rose which could be used for heavens in which gods and goddesses appeared. In the yard stood the pittites; in the side and end galleries sat the people who paid the higher prices.  24

  When, in 1576, London saw its first theatre just outside Bishopsgate, it was circular, in imitation of existing bull-baiting arenas. So far as a stage projecting into the pit, the rear stage underneath the balcony, and the use of the first balcony itself were concerned, the actors merely duplicated conditions to which they had grown attached in the old inn yards. As under the older conditions, scenery was impossible except as painted cloths might be hung at the back of the balcony or under it. Hence the care of the Elizabethan dramatists to place their scene by some hint or description in the text. Moreover, a play lacking the stage settings of a century later must be given atmosphere, reality, and even charm from within. More and more, however, influenced by increasingly elaborate performances at court of the masks, the public pressed the theatre manager as far as possible to duplicate their gorgeous and illusory settings. But such settings at the court were on stages behind an arch like our modern proscenium. Consequently by 1660 the stage of 1590 to 1642 had shrunk behind a proscenium arch. Then follow two centuries of very elaborate staging by painted drops at the back, side flats set in grooves, and painted borders. It should be remembered that till the second half of the sixteenth century public performances were given by daylight, largely because of the difficulty in using flaring and unsteady links or cressets for artificial light. When evening performances became the vogue, candles gave the light till the discovery of illuminating gas made a revolution in theatrical lighting. About 1860, the so-called box set, a means of shutting in the whole stage, replaced for interiors a back drop and painted side flats. Undoubtedly, some of the splendid and imaginative settings of Macready, Charles Kean, and Sir Henry Irving, seemed the last word on the subject. Steadily, however, producer and dramatist have worked together to make the stage as illusive as possible. On the one hand, realism has strained it to the utmost; on the other, poetic and fantastic drama have forced it to visualize for us the realms of imagination. Responding to all this, modern science and invention have come to the aid of drama. Electricity has opened up ways of lighting not even yet fully explored. At present, particularly in Germany, most ingenious devices have been invented for shifting scenery as quickly as possible. There and elsewhere, especially in Russia and England, skill and much artistry have been shown in quickening the imagination of the audience to the utmost by suggestion rather than by representation of minute and confusing detail. Frequently to-day the elaborate scenery of the past is improved upon by a stage hung about with curtains, with some properties here and there or a painted drop at the back to give all the suggestion needed. Alert and responsive, the stage of to-day at its best, in sharpest contrast with the bare stage of the sixteenth century, is calling on architects to make it flexible, on physicists and artists to light it elusively, on great designers to arrange its decorations. In brief, the stage throughout its history, longing always and trying always to adapt itself to the demands of the dramatist, is to-day, as never before, plastic.

  Nor has the drama changed merely in these respects. Once the drama was almost wholly national. Then just because a play smacked so of its soil, it could not be intelligently heard elsewhere. In the seventies, as far as the American public was concerned, this was true of the plays of Dumas fils and Augier. Now, increased travel and all the varied means of intercommunication between nations make for such swift interchange of ideas that the dramatic success of Moscow, St. Petersburg, Stockholm, Paris, London, or Madrid is known quickly the world over. With the drawing together of the nations more common interests have developed, so that intellectual and moral movements are not merely national but worldwide. All this makes any national treatment of a world question widely interesting: it even makes the world interested in local problems. Most marked change of all, this free intercommunication of ideas tends to make even the humor of one nation comprehensible by another.
  To-day, then, the drama has become cosmopolitan. Broadway sees Reinhardt’s Berlin productions: Paris and Berlin see “Kismet.” Broadway knows Gorki, Brieux, and Schnitzler; English and American plays have a hearing on the Continent. For two generations the drama has been fighting to take for its motto “Nihil mihi alienum.” It has won that right. Sensitive, responsive, eagerly welcomed everywhere, the drama, holding the mirror up to nature, by laughter and by tears reveals to mankind the world of men.  27
Note 1. Harvard Classics, xlvii, 755ff. [back]
Note 2. H. C., xlvii, 543ff. [back]
Note 3. H. C., xviii, 109ff. [back]
Note 4. H. C., xlvi, 93, 215, 321. [back]
Note 5. H. C., xxvi, 77, 133. [back]
Note 6. H. C., xviii, 281ff. [back]
Note 7. H. C., xlvii, 469ff. [back]
Note 8. H. C., viii, 439ff. [back]


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