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To realise completely the motives of Hamlet's conduct, and the process of his fortunes, not a single utterance from the lips of the King, Polonius, or Laertes can be spared. In ordinary acting versions these three parts sink into insignificance. It is only in the full text that they assume their just and illuminating rank as Hamlet's foils.
The King rises into a character almost of the first class. He is a villain of unfathomable infamy, but his cowardly fear of the discovery of his crimes, his desperate pursuit of the consolations of religion, the quick ingenuity with which he plots escape from the inevitable retribution that dogs his misdeeds, excite -in the full text of the play-an interest hardly less intense than those wistful musings of the stormtossed soul which stay his nephew's avenging hand.
Similarly, Hamlet's incisive wit and honesty are brought into the highest possible relief by the restoration to the feebly guileful Polonius of the speeches of which he has long been deprived. Among the reinstated scenes is that in which the meddlesome dotard teaches his servant Reynaldo modes of espionage that shall detect the moral lapses of his son Laertes in Paris. The recovered episode is not only admirable comedy, but it gives new vividness to Polonius's maudlin egotism which is responsible for many windings of the tragic plot.
The story is simplified at all points by such amplifications of the contracted version which holds the stage. The events are evolved with unsuspected naturalness. The hero's character gains by the expansion of its setting. One downright error which infects the standard abridgement is wholly avoided. Ophelia is dethroned. It is recognised that she is
A SCHOOL FOR ACTORS
not entitled to share with Hamlet the triumphal honours of the action. Weak, insipid, destitute of all force of character, she deserves an insignificant place in Shakespeare's gallery of heroines. Hamlet's mother merits as much or more attention. At any rate, there is no justification for reducing the Queen's part in order to increase Ophelia's prominence. Such distortions are impossible in the production of the piece in its entirety. Throughout Hamlet, in the full authorised text, the artistic balance hangs true. Mr Benson recognised that dominant fact, and contrived to illustrate it on the stage. No higher commendation could be allowed a theatrical manager or actor.
Much else could be said of Mr Benson's principles, and of his praiseworthy energy in seeking to familiarise the playgoer with Shakespearean drama in all its fulness and variety, but only one other specific feature of his method needs mention here. Perhaps the most convincing proof that he has given of the value of his principles to the country's dramatic art is his success in the training of actors and actresses. Of late it is his company that has supplied the great London actor-managers with their ablest recruits. Nearly all the best performers of secondary rôles and a few of the best performers of primary rôles in the leading London theatres are Mr Benson's pupils. Their admission to the great London companies is raising the standard of acting in the Metropolis. The marked efficiency of these newcomers is due to a system which is inconsistent with any of the accepted principles of current theatrical enterprise in London. Mr Benson's disciples mainly owe their efficiency to long association with a permanent company controlled by a manager who seeks, single-mindedly, what he holds to be the interests of dramatic art. The manyheaded public learns its lessons very slowly, and sometimes neglects them altogether. It has been reluctant to recognise the true significance of Mr Benson's work. But the intelligent onlooker knows that he is marching along the right road, in intelligent conformity with the best teaching of the past.
Thirty years ago a meeting took place at the Mansion House to discuss the feasibility of founding a State theatre in London, a project which was not realised. The most memorable incident which was associated with the Mansion House meeting was a speech of the theatrical manager Phelps, who argued, amid the enthusiastic plaudits of his hearers, that it was in the highest interests of the nation that the Shakespearean drama should continuously occupy the stage. “I maintain,” Phelps said, “from the experience of eighteen years, that the perpetual iteration of Shakespeare's words, if nothing more, going on daily for so many months of the year, must and would produce a great effect upon the public mind.” No man or woman of sense will to-day gainsay the wisdom of this utterance; but it is needful for the public to make greater exertion than they have made of late if “the perpetual iteration of Shakespeare's words” in the theatre is to be permanently secured.
Mr Benson's efforts constitute the best organised endeavour to realise Phelps's ambition since Phelps
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withdrew from management. Mr Benson's scheme is imperfect in some of its details; in other particulars it may need revision. But he and his associates have planted their feet firmly on sure ground in their endeavours to interpret Shakespearean drama constantly and in its variety, after a wise and wellconsidered system and with a disinterested zeal. When every allowance has been made for the Benson Company's shortcomings, its achievement cannot be denied “a relish of salvation.' Mr Benson deserves well of those who have faith in the power of Shakespeare's words to widen the horizon of men's intellects and emotions. The seed he has sown should not be suffered to decay.
THE MUNICIPAL THEATRE 1
MANY actors, dramatic critics, and men in public life advocate the municipal manner of theatrical enterprise. Their aim, as I understand it, is to procure the erection, and the due working, of a playhouse that shall serve in permanence the best interests of the literary or artistic drama. The municipal theatre is not worth fighting for, unless there is a reasonable probability that its establishment will benefit dramatic art, promote the knowledge of dramatic literature, and draw from the literary drama and confer on the public the largest beneficial influence which the literary drama is capable of distributing
None of Shakespeare's countrymen or countrywomen can deny with a good grace the importance of the drama as a branch of art. None will seriously dispute that our dramatic literature, at any rate in its loftiest manifestation, has contributed as much as our armies or our navies or our mechanical inventions to our reputation through the world.
There is substantial agreement among enlightened leaders of public opinion in all civilised coun
* This paper was first printed in the New Liberal Revier, May, 1902.