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tion and discover new ideas, have had minds far different from this. They have not written plays. It is to these men, the philosopher, the essayist, the novelist, the lyric poet, that each of us turns for what is new in thought. But from the dramatist the crowd desires only the old, old thought. It has no patience for consideration; it will listen only to what it knows already. If, therefore, a great man has a new doctrine to expound, let him set it forth in a book of essays; or, if he needs must sugar-coat it with a story, let him expound it in a novel, whose appeal will be to the individual mind. Not until a doctrine is old enough to have been long-accepted is it ripe for exploitation in the theatre.
The truth of this point seems to me indisputable. I know that the best European playwrights of the present day are striving to use the drama as a vehicle for the expression of advanced ideas, especially in regard to social ethics; but in doing this, I think, they are mistaking the scope of the theatre. They are striving to say in the drama what might be said better in the essay or the novel. As the exposition of a theory, Mr. Shaw's Man and Superman is not nearly so effective as the writings of Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, from whom the playwright borrowed his ideas. The greatest works of Ibsen can be appreciated only by the cultured individual and not by the uncultured crowd. That is why the breadth of his appeal will never equal that of Shakespeare, in spite of his unfathomable intellect and his perfect mastery of the technique of his art. Only his more commonplace plays-A Doll's House, for example-have attained a wide success. And a wide success is a thing to be desired for other than material reasons. Surely it is a good thing for the public that Hamlet never fails.
The conservatism of the greatest dramatists asserts itself not only in their thoughts but even in the mere form of their plays. It is the lesser men who invent new tricks of technique and startle the public with innovations. Molière merely perfected the type of Italian comedy that his public long had known. Shakespeare quietly adopted the forms that lesser men had made the crowd familiar with. He imitated Lyly in Love's Labour's Lost, Greene in As You Like It, Marlowe in Richard III., Kyd in Hamlet, and Fletcher in The Tempest. He did the old thing better than the other men had done it, that is all.
Yet this is greatly to Shakespeare's credit. He was wise enough to feel that what the crowd wanted, both in matter and in form, was what was needed in the greatest drama. In saying that Shakespeare's mind was commonplace, I tendered him the highest praise. In his common
placeness lies his sanity. He is so greatly usual that he can understand all men and sympathize with them. He is above novelty. His wisdom is greater than the wisdom of the few; he is the heir of all the ages, and draws his wisdom from the general mind of man. And it is largely because of this that he represents ever the ideal of the dramatist. who would write for the theatre must not despise the crowd.
All of the fore-mentioned characteristics of theatre audiences, their instinct for contention and for partisanship, their credulity, their sensuousness, their susceptibility to emotional contagion, their incapacity for original thought, their conservatism, and their love of the commonplace, appear in every sort of crowd, as M. Le Bon has proved with ample illustration. It remains for us to notice certain other traits in which theatre audiences differ from other kinds of crowds.
In the first place, a theatre audience is composed of individuals more heterogeneous than those that make up a political, or social, or sporting, or religious convocation. The crowd at a foot-ball game, at a church, at a social or political convention, is by its very purpose selective of its elements: it is made up entirely of college-folk, or Presbyterians, or Prohibitionists, or Republicans, as the case may be. But a theatre audience is composed of all sorts and conditions of men. The same theatre in New York contains the rich and the poor, the literate and the illiterate, those who are dressed and those who are merely clothed, those who have dined at Sherry's and those who have eaten at Childs', the old and the young, the native and the naturalized. The same play, therefore, must appeal to all of these. It follows that the dramatist must be broader in his appeal than any other artist. He cannot confine his message to any single caste of society. In the same single work of art he must incorporate elements that will interest all classes of the human race.
Those promising dramatic movements that have confined their appeal to a certain single stratum of society have failed ever, because of this, to achieve the highest excellence. The trouble with Roman comedy is that it was written for an audience composed chiefly of freedmen and slaves. The patrician caste of Rome walked wide of the theatres. Only the dregs of society gathered to applaud the comedies of Plautus and Terence. Hence the over-simplicity of their prologues, and their tedious
repetition of the obvious. Hence, also, their vulgarity, their horse-play, their obscenity. Here was fine dramatic genius led astray, because the time was out of joint. Similarly, the trouble with French tragedy, in the classicist period of Corneille and Racine, is that it was written only for the finest caste of society-the patrician coterie of a patrician cardinal. Hence its over-niceness, and its appeal to the ear rather than to the eye. Terence aimed too low and Racine aimed too high. Each of them, therefore, shot wide of the mark; while Molière, who wrote at once for patrician and plebeian, scored a hit.
The really great dramatic movements of the world-that of Spain in the age of Calderon and Lope, that of England in the spacious times of great Elizabeth, that of France from 1830 to the present The Dramatist's hour-have broadened their appeal to every class. The queen and the orange-girl joyed together in the healthiness of Rosalind; the king and the gamin laughed together at the rogueries of Scapin. The breadth of Shakespeare's appeal remains the greatest fact in the history of the drama. Tell a filthy-faced urchin of the gutter that you know about a play that shows a ghost that stalks and talks at midnight underneath a castle-tower, and a man that makes believe he is out of his head so that he can get the better of a wicked king, and a girl that goes mad and drowns herself, and a play within the play, and a funeral in a churchyard, and a duel with poisoned swords, and a great scene at the end in which nearly every one gets killed: tell him this, and watch his eyes grow wide! I have been to a thirty-cent performance of Othello in a MiddleWestern town, and have felt the audience thrill with the headlong hurry of the action. Yet these are the plays that cloistered students study for their wisdom and their style!
And let us not forget in this connection that a similar breadth of appeal is neither necessary nor greatly to be desired in those forms of literature that, unlike the drama, are not written for the crowd. The greatest non-dramatic poet and the greatest novelist in English are appreciated only by the few; but this is not in the least to the discredit of Milton and of Mr. Meredith. One indication of the greatness of Mr. Kipling's story, They, is that very few have learned to read it.
Victor Hugo, in his preface to Ruy Blas, has discussed this entire principle from a slightly different point of view. He divides the theatre audience into three classes-the thinkers, who demand characterization; the women, who demand passion; and the mob, who demand action-and insists that every great play must appeal to all three classes at once. Cer
tainly Ruy Blas itself fulfils this desideratum, and is great in the breadth of its appeal. Yet although all three of the necessary elements appear in the play, it has more action than passion and more passion than characterization. And this fact leads us to the statement, omitted by Victor Hugo from his preface, that the mob is more important than the women and the women more important than the thinkers, in the average theatre audience. Indeed, a deeper consideration of the subject almost leads us to discard the thinkers as a psychologic force and to obliterate the distinction between the women and the mob. It is to an unthinking and over-feminine mob that the dramatist must first of all appeal; and this leads us to believe that action with passion for its motive is the prime essential for a play.
A Mob of
For, nowadays at least, it is most essential that the drama should appeal to a mob of women. Practically speaking, our matinée audiences are composed entirely of women, and our evening audiences are composed chiefly of women and the men that they have brought with them. Very few men go to the theatre unattached; and these few are not important enough, from the theoretic standpoint, to alter the psychologic aspect of the audience. And it is this that constitutes one of the most important differences between a modern theatre audience and other kinds of crowds.
The influence of this fact upon the dramatist is very potent. First of all, as I have said, it forces him to deal chiefly in action with passion for its motive. And this necessity accounts for the preponderance of female characters over male in the large majority of the greatest modern plays. Notice Nora Helmer, Mrs. Alving, Hedda Gabler, Hilda Wangel; notice Magda and Camille; notice Mrs. Tanqueray, Mrs. Ebbsmith, Iris, and Letty-to cite only a few examples. Furthermore, since women are by nature inattentive, the femininity of the modern theatre audience forces the dramatist to employ the elementary technical tricks of repetition and parallelism, in order to keep his play clear though much of it be unattended to. Eugène Scribe, who knew the theatre, used to say that every important statement in the exposition of a play must be made at least three times. Now this, of course, is seldom necessary in a novel, where things may be said once for all.
The prevailing inattentiveness of a theatre audience at the present day is due also to the fact that it is peculiarly conscious of itself, apart from the play that it has come to see. Many people "go to the theatre,"
as the phrase is, without caring much whether they see one play or another; what they want chiefly is to immerse themselves in a theatre audience. This is especially true, in New York, of the large percentage of people from out of town who "go to the theatre" merely as one phase of their metropolitan experience. It is true, also, of the many women in the boxes and the orchestra who go less to see than to be seen. Now it is one of the great difficulties of the dramatist that he must capture and enchain the attention of an audience thus composed. A man doesn't pick up a novel unless he cares to read it; but many people go to the theatre chiefly for the sense of being there. Certainly, therefore, the problem of the dramatist is, in this respect, more difficult than that of the novelist, for he must make his audience lose consciousness of itself in the consciousness of his play.
One of the most essential differences between a theatre audience and other kinds of crowds lies in the purpose for which it is convened. This purpose is always that of recreation. A theatre audience is therefore less serious than a church congregation or a political or social convention. It does not come to be edified or educated; it has no desire to be taught: what it wants is to have its emotions played upon. It seeks amusement— in the widest sense of the word amusement through laughter, sympathy, terror, and tears. And it is amusement of this sort that the great dramatists have ever given it.
The trouble with most of the dreamers who league themselves for the uplifting of the stage is that they take the theatre too seriously. They base their efforts on the proposition that a theatre audience ought to want to be edified. As a matter of fact, no audience ever does. Molière and Shakespeare, who knew the limits of their art, never said a word about uplifting the stage. They wrote plays to please the crowd; and if, through their inherent greatness, they became teachers as well as mountebanks, they did so without any tall talk about the solemnity of their mission. Their audiences learned largely, but they did so unawares-God being with them when they knew it not. The demand for an endowed theatre in America comes chiefly from those who believe that a great play cannot earn its own living. Yet Hamlet has made more money than any other play in English; The School for Scandal never fails to draw; and in our own day we have seen Cyrano de Bergerac coining money all around the world. There weren't any endowed theatres in Elizabethan London. Give the crowd the sort of plays it wants, and