Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

witness on this issue, and show that he not only foresaw, but desired, the system of production that is now most in the public favor. Surely no complaint can be raised against those who seek, in putting an author's work upon the stage, to carry out the author's wishes in the matter, as it is better to follow those directions than to listen to the critics of three hundred years later, who clamor for a system exactly opposite to the one which the author distinctly advocated. In spite of what has been said to the contrary, I adhere to my feeling of the prelude to "Henry V," and contend that in those most beautiful lines Shakespeare regretted the deficiencies of the stage of his day, for it is reasonable to suppose that in writing those lines he did not mean the opposite of what he said, as we are ingeniously told he did. Here it will be seen what store Shakespeare sets on illusion for the theatre, and how he implores the spectator to supply by means of his imagination the deficiencies of the stage. It is, of course, impossible on the stage to hold in numbers "the vasty fields of France"-but it is not impossible to suggest those "vasty fields." Can it be reasonably argued that, because in these lines he prays his auditors to employ the powers of their imagination, therefore we in these days are to be debarred from helping that imagination with the means at hand? But if we would get a really just view of Shakespeare's notions of how his dialogue and action were to be theatrically assisted, we need do nothing else than turn to the stage directions of his plays. To take three examples, I would beg you carefully to read the stage instructions in "The Tempest," "Henry VIII" and "Pericles," and ask yourselves why, if Shakespeare contemplated nothing in the way of what we term a production, he gave such minute directions for effects which, even in our time of artistic and scientific mounting,

are difficult of realization. Surely no one reading the vision of Katharine of Aragon can come to any other conclusion than that Shakespeare intended to leave as little to the imagination as possible, and to put upon the stage as gorgeous and as complete a picture as the resources of the theatre could supply.

And are we not inclined to undervalue a little the stage resources of the Elizabethan period? Are we not prone to assume that Shakespeare had far less in this direction to his hand than we give him credit for? Of scenery in the public theatres there was practically none, but in the private houses and in the castles of the nobles, when plays were played at the celebration of births and marriages and comings-ofage, we find that mounting, scenery, costume and music were largely employed as adjuncts to these performances. In fact, when we read the description of some of the masques and interludes, when we consider the gorgeousness of display and the money that was expended for only single performances, we may well doubt whether, even in our day, we have surpassed what our forefathers of three centuries ago attained. So that in justifying the lavishness of modern productions we are not altogether thrown back upon the theory of Shakespeare's "prophetic vision" of what the stage would compass when he had been laid in his grave. These shows were undoubtedly witnessed by Shakespeare himself, and it is, indeed, not unreasonable to suppose that he acquired the love of gorgeous stage decorations from such performances witnessed by him in early life. Take the question of what we call properties; Shakespeare, more than any other author seems to demand these at every turn. Swords, helmets, doublets, rings and bracelets, caskets and crowns are the inevitable paraphernalia of the Shakespearean drama;

while as to music, the existence of an orchestra is vouched for by the recent discovery by a German savant of a contemporary drawing of the interior of the old Swan Theatre. This drawing is reproduced in Mr. Sidney Lee's remarkable "Life of Shakespeare," and proves conclusively that instrumentalists were employed to heighten the effect of the spoken words, as indeed Shakespeare's stage instructions continually indicate they should. When we come to the question of costumes, the case is even stronger. The burning of the Globe Theatre-an event, by the way, due to the realism of Shakespeare's stage management-has robbed us of many important documents, but in the inventory still in existence of the costume wardrobe of a London theatre in Shakespeare's time ("Henslowe's Diary") there are mentioned particular costumes for cardinals, shepherds, kings, clowns, friars and fools; green coats for Robin Hood's men, and a green gown for Maid Marian; a white and gold doublet for Henry V, and a robe for Longshanks, besides surplices, copes, damask frocks, gowns of cloth of gold and of cloth of silver, taffeta gown, calico gowns, velvet coats, satin coats, frieze coats, jerkins of yellow leather and of black leather, red suits, gray suits, French pierrot suits, a robe "for to go invisibell" and four farthingales. There are also entries of Spanish, Moorish and Danish costumes, of helmets, lances, painted shields, imperial crowns and papal tiaras, as well as of costumes for Turkish janissaries, Roman senators and all the gods and goddesses of High Olympus.

No dramatist of the French, English or Athenian stage relies as Shakespeare does for his effects on the dress of his actors; he not only appreciated the value of costume in adding picturesqueness to poetry, but he saw how important it is as a means for produc

ing certain dramatic results. Many of his plays, such as "Measure for Measure," "Twelfth Night," the "Two Gentlemen of Verona," "All's Well that Ends Well," "Cymbeline," "The Merchant of Venice" and many others, depend entirely on the character of the various dresses worn by the hero and heroine, and unless these dresses be accurate, the author's effect will be lost.

I have endeavored to call Shakespeare as a witness for the justification of the public taste through the means of his printed words; we have, as it were, taken his evidence on comission; and I could have cited, had time permitted, the delightful scene in the last act of "A Midsummer Night's Dream," which is itself the most humorously satirical skit on the primitive methods of the stage-and the ruthless exposition of which shows how Shakespeare himself, in his amusing lament of adequacy, stood forth as the staunch advocate of a wider stage art. If we are to mount his plays in the manner of his time, we may go further and hold that, because in Shakespeare's day female parts were represented by boys, this system should be adhered to to-day. It is true that the practice is still in vogue in pantomime, but I question whether the severest sticklers for the methods of Elizabethan days would advocate that Ophelia should be represented by Mr. This and Desdemona by Mr. That. Accuracy of detail, for the sake of perfect illusion, is necessary for us. What we have to see is that the details are not allowed to overshadow the principal theme, and this they never can do while they are carefully and reasonably introduced. As Victor Hugo says, "the smallest details of history and domestic life should be minutely studied and reproduced by the manager, but only as a means to increase the reality (not the realism) of the whole work, and to drive into the obscurest corners of a play an atmos

phere of the general and pulsating life in the midst of which the characters are truest and the catastrophes consequently the most poignant."

The art of the theatre is of comparatively modern birth-it has become more widely appealing, because it has embraced within its scope many arts and many sciences, and because, through their aids, it epitomizes for us in an appealing and attractive form, the thoughts, the aspirations, the humors and the passions of humanity, as expressed by the dramatist. As Campbell wrote in his valedictory stanzas to John Philip Kemble:

His was the spell o'er hearts
Which only acting lends-
The youngest of the sister Arts
Where all their beauty blends.
For ill can Poetry express

Full many a tone or thought sublime;
And Painting, mute and motionless,
Steals but a glance of time.
But by the mighty actor brought
Illusion's perfect triumphs come;
Verse ceases to be airy thought
And Sculpture to be dumb.

There is another point of view which I would fain touch upon before I end this paper-and that is the point of view of the artist himself. He works not only for the public; he works, and I think should work, primarily for himself. To satisfy his own artistic conscience should be his first aim-and this is what the public, unconsciously perhaps, appreciates and respects. Now, whatever may be said as to pandering to the public taste, I maintain that the artist himself would not remain satisfied with tawdry productions. Even were the public indifferent on this point (which happily, it is not), it should still be the actor's best endeavor to aim at the highest that is within his reach and to exhaust the resources which his generation has given him. It is, I maintain, a fallacy to say that the manager merely follows the public taste;

by giving a supply of his best he often creates a demand for what is good; and it is largely his initiative-the stimulus which his individual enthusiasm and imagination give to the production of great works-which preserves for those works the recognition and support of the public which follows him. Perhaps the ideal of the artist is not always understanded of the public, but unless he keeps his ideal high, be sure the public will not regard him. I do not claim that in this he is necessarily guided by a self-conscious code of ethics-it is oftenest his ambition that impels him to the highest work of which he is capable. He cannot, in fact, be merely adequate. And who are the trustees of the stage's good? Despite the dicta of literary coteries, I maintain that the only men who have ever done anything for the advancement of the higher forms of the drama, the only men who have made any sacrifice to preserve a love of Shakespeare among the people, the only men who have held high the banner of the playhouse, on which the name of Shakespeare is inscribed, are the actors themselves.

These thoughts were passing through my mind on a recent Saturday night, when the curtain had fallen for the last time on Fairyland-when the lights of Fairyland had one by one gone out and the fairies had gone home to bed. I was pacing the darkened stage, taking a final farewell of the scene of our happy revels, when, by the magic of imagination, as it were by the touch of Titania's wand, the empty stage was filled with another fairyland-the fairyland of the Elysian Fields-an unfamiliar scene, peopled with vaguely familiar forms. There, clad in his habit as he lived, was a spare figure, the domed arch of whose brow and whose serene smile reminded me strangely of a bust I had once seen in a Warwickshire church. I noticed that round his neck

he wore an Elizabethan ruff. There, too, was a little man in powdered wig and flowered dressing-gown, reciting now and then snatches of blank verse which awakened the echoes of my memory, and who was occasionally addressed as "Davy." The third was a portly and portentous figure clad in a snuff-colored, square-cut coat and wearing an ample wig. The last was the first to speak:

"Sir!" said the strangely materiallooking spirit, "in Heaven's name what think you of the way they are presenting your plays on earth?"

The poet only smiled.

"Sir!" the other persisted, "as a commentator I protest. It seems to me to lampoon antiquity that works of literary merit such as yours undoubtedly possess should be decked out for the delectation of a new-fangled posterity with the vulgar aids of scenic embellishment and with prodigious and impertinent supererogation."

Then he of the ruff spoke with a serene tolerance. I could not quite catch his words, but they were something to this effect:

[merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors]

Assume the port of Mars; and at his heels,

Leash'd in like hounds, should famine, sword, and fire

Crouch for employment. But pardon, gentles all,

The flat unraised spirits that have dar'd

On this unworthy scaffold to bring forth

So great an object; can this cockpit hold

The vasty fields of France? Or may we cram

Within this wooden O the very casques That did affright the air at Agincourt? O, pardon! Since a crooked figure may Attest in little place a million;

And let us, ciphers to this great accompt,

On your imaginary forces work. Suppose within the girdle of these

[merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors]

And so our scene must to the battle fly;

Where- oh, for pity; we shall much disgrace

With four or five most vile and ragged foils,

Right ill-disposed in brawl ridiculous, The name of Agincourt.

"But, sir," persisted the critic, "is a poor player, whose title to a place among the arts I as a literary authority dispute, to be permitted to put the stamp of his time on the literature of past centuries, and by the public of his hour to desecrate antiquity?"

"Fudge!" said the poet, dropping into prose. "Tell him, Davy, that passage in the Danish play in which I speak of the stage and its place in the civilization of the world."

Then the little man with the powdered wig loomed large, as with pride he spoke of the purpose of playing, "whose end, both at the first and now, was and is to hold, as 'twere, the mirror up to nature; to show virtue her own feature, scorn her own image, and The Fortnightly Review.

the very age and body of the time his form and pressure."

"Sir!" said the shadow of the learned man-"Sir!" and the vision began to fade-"Sir!" it faltered-and silence fell again.

H. Beerbohm Tree.

LYON PLAYFAIR.

Not many young Englishmen having opportunities of advancement abroad have been asked by the Prime Minister of their time to remain at home for their country's good, but we have the record of one in Lyon Playfair. At the beginning of his career, he was on the point of accepting a professorship at Toronto, which had been offered to him through Faraday, when he was surprised by receiving an invitation from Sir Robert Peel to visit him at Drayton Manor. There the Prime Minister explained that several men of science had expressed their regret at his leaving; that for himself it was his interest in public rather than personal affairs that induced him to intervene; and that if he would remain in England he would find him employment suitable for his abilities; and he tendered him a memorandum to that effect. Playfair declined the memorandum, but gave up Canada. Men of science were then scarce. Sir Robert Peel did not forget him, and the services that Playfair lived to render at home were many times greater than the sagacious statesman could have foreseen. His countrymen even now do not fully recognize the measure of their indebtedness to him; he attained to high influence, and became à peer, but his contributions to the common weal brought good to multitudes to whom he was known.

un

Nobody who met the small-statured man in later years for the first time "could have dreamed of the work he had done, and the great things he had accomplished in his busy life. Few possibly would have imagined that one who bore his load of learning so lightly and easily was the master of stores of knowledge such as it is given to few amongst us to profess." His "Memoirs and Correspondence" show him to have been a man whose whole faculty was employed in the service of his fellows, most conspicuously in shaping to their use the new knowledge which science was accumulating.' The Autobiography is edited and supplemented by Sir Wemyss Reid, whose knowledge of affairs gives additional interest. The book should be in every public library, and be widely read by young Englishmen. "To Lyon Playfair," says Sir Wemyss Reid, "the good of his country was a thing to be pursued, not merely in the Senate, or in contested fields, but in the laboratory and the council room, in social intercourse and in the humdrum rounds of daily life. It was a thing never to be lost sight of, no matter how incongruous with public work the scene or the circumstances might be. It was something calling not so much for isolated deeds of heroism

1 "Memoirs and Correspondence of Lyon Playfair-Lord Playfair of St. Andrews, G.C.B." By Wemyss Reid (Cassell & Co.).

« ZurückWeiter »