Abbildungen der Seite

mate art to do these things in a way that is both thrilling and casual. Mercutio is the first of the actor's pitfalls in “Romeo and Juliet”; and the second is the Nurse. One always gets a little too much of this person. She is invaluable, of course, but her value should be economized. The manager would do well to have a talk with her beforehand, saying, “Madam, we cannot stage this play without a nurse; but if your idea is to occupy the centre of the stage and play at dolls with your part, I shall do with you just as I did with Polonius yesterday-get another.”

The best points in Shakespeare are sometimes not made by the actors at all, but fall between the cues, and are thrilling because of the situation which they create. The Nurse's lines contain one such climax, and it is one of the great strokes of dramatic genius in the play. It is a climax tragic in its import, natural in its manner, unforeseen and startling in its power. This is where the Nurse advises Juliet to marry Paris, although she knows that Juliet has been married to Romeo some three hours before :


Faith here it is,
Romeo is banish'd and all the world to nothing
That he dares ne'er come back to challenge ye
Or if he do, it needs must be by stealth.
Then since the case so stand as now it doth,
I think it best you married with the county;

Romeo's a dishclout to him, etc.
Juliet conceals her horror at the proposition till the
Nurse has left the room, and then breaks out with

Ancient damnation! O most wicked fiend, - etc.

The commonplace naturalism of the base-hearted old cockney woman is a thing unlooked for in tragedy. It is a bit of realism thrust in among dithyrambs. If you should work over the point and try to make much of it, you would spoil it. It must pass with the rest. Shakespeare has here allowed his whole plot to hinge on what seems to be the whim of an underling. It is the Nurse's conduct that determines Juliet to pursue her tragic course, and makes her step into the millrace. And yet scarcely anything is said about the matter at the moment it occurs on the stage. No other dramatist has transitions of this kind, turns of thought that are unexpected, fleeting, profound, so delicate that they must be instrumented with an æolian harp; and yet there is thunder in them. The plot pivots on them.

One of these shifts, from one kind of dramatic appeal to another, and where the lightning from on high falls between the characters on the stage, occurs in Hamlet's interview with his mother, where, in the midst of the towering passion of both Hamlet and his mother, Hamlet sees the Ghost. The Queen for a moment really believes Hamlet to be mad: she forgets her moral agonies and becomes plainly a frightened woman. All she has to say is, “Alas, he's mad!” This naturalism, which comes crashing down from the tragic roof in Shakespeare, is what makes his writing different from any other writing on earth. If you surround his dramas with pomp, as if they were the work of Æschylus or Corneille, you will lose him. The barn floor must be under the feet of the actor. Nothing else is humble enough, homebred, earthy, and inward enough, to show the fall of his fires.



This play is a rattling melodrama — perhaps the first good melodrama written in England, for its immediate popularity was immense and five editions appeared during Shakespeare's lifetime. It is boisterous and stagy, — almost an extravaganza, — and would be intolerable but for the wonderful godlike humor that pervades it. There is, to my mind, no note of tragedy in it; for the tragic themes have been handled wholesale, and as if by a giant at play. The characters seem to clamor for the boards. If you delay them, and insist on understanding the Dramatis Personæ, seeking to identify each of them historically, you will waste your time. The British Royal Family in Richard's time was so multitudinous and complicated that even Shakespeare himself makes mistakes in it; and this though he had spent several years over the chronicles while writing his historical plays. But as soon as the feet of the actors touch the boards, the characters in “Richard III” identify themselves very readily. Their names are announced as they enter. 'But who comes here? The new-delivered Hastings. “Here come the lords of Buckingham and Derby,” etc.

In the opening scenes it is dinned into the audience that Henry VI and his son have been murdered by Richard before the play opens; and the other people to be murdered pass toward their execution so rapidly after their first appearance, that we never confuse them. Most of the victims are allowed time to stop and point out that the curse has come upon them, which curse has been provided very unmistakably in a long scene near the beginning of the play. This curse helps hold the play together, and it is, as any child can see, the curse of the old Queen Margaret, whom the rest of the company have supplanted. But if by chance you fall into any doubt about the identity of the murdered people, your mind will be set at rest by a recapitulation. On the night before the battle the eleven ghosts rise in the order of their taking-off, and each pronounces a malediction on Richard, who is asleep on one side of the stage, and a blessing on Richmond (who, by the way, was Queen Elizabeth's grandfather), who is asleep on the other side of the stage. So well did Shakespeare understand the art of clear dramatic presentation.

Most of the scenes in this play are conceived in the same spirit of outrageous dramatic clarity that is seen in Richard's opening of "Now is the winter of our discontent,” etc. Richard is “determined to

Many separate scenes are little dramatic unities in themselves, full of points, full of stage business. The style of the play is so easily imitated that Colley Cibber doctored it to the extent of two thousand lines, and his version held the stage for one hundred and twenty years. Two of Cibber's improvements,– "Off with his head, So much for Buckingham !” and “Richard's himself again!” have passed into the language as a part of Shakespeare. The style of the play is, indeed, that of the babes in the wood; and some learned critics have

prove a villain.'

supposed that the ballad lies at the foundation of the play. I think so myself. That is why “Richard III” is popular, that is how it is good. That is why schoolboys spout it, and great actors chafe and fume till they can show themselves off in it. The play gives everyone a chance. Clarence's dream is surely enough to satisfy any reasonable actor for a season. Buckingham and Hastings have telling rôles and dying speeches. There are four women's parts, every one of them towering with stage possibilities.

Let us not forget those very endearing murderers of Clarence. These gentle cockneys belong to the grave-digging peasantry, the argumentative yokels, and alehouse loafers of Shakespeare's comedy. In “Hamlet” such figures are used as mere decoration, but in “Richard III” they must be melodramatic, like everything in the play. The murder is well managed. There is a soft villian and a hard villain; we are kept in doubt as to the outcome, and the blow is struck unexpectedly with a “Look behind you!” in the true, time-honored manner.

In writing “Richard III” Shakespeare did not deny himself any stage effects that he could think of. The murder of Clarence, the funeral procession of a king, a throne-room scene, the cursing of Richard by his mother, two bad dreams, two orations (one to each army by its commander), a desperate battle scene with Richard shouting for his horse, and the final entry of Richmond bearing the crown, and making the very gratifying announcement, “The bloody dog is dead !” Of course there are messengers. When the murders begin to run short, at the close of the fourth act, five messengers come in one

« ZurückWeiter »