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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.




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

1 This paper was first printed in the New Liberal Review, May, 1902.


tries that great drama, when fitly represented in the theatre, offers the rank and file of a nation recreation which brings with it moral, intellectual, and spiritual advantage.


The first question to consider is whether in England the existing theatrical agencies promote for the general good the genuine interests of dramatic art. Do existing theatrical agencies secure for the nation all the beneficial influence that is derivable from the truly competent form of drama? If they do this sufficiently, it is otiose and impertinent to entertain the notion of creating any new theatrical agency.

Theatrical agencies of the existing type have never ignored the literary drama altogether. Among actor-managers of the past generation, Sir Henry Irving devoted his high ability to the interpretation of many species of literary drama-from that by Shakespeare to that by Tennyson. At leading theatres in London there have been produced in the last few years poetic dramas written in blank verse on themes drawn from such supreme examples of the world's literature as Homer's Odyssey and Dante's Inferno. Signs have not been wanting of public anxiety to acknowledge with generosity these and other serious endeavours in poetic drama, whatever their precise degree of excellence. But such premisses warrant no very large conclusion. Two or three swallows do not make a summer. The literary drama is only welcomed to the London stage at uncertain intervals; most of its life is passed in the wilderness.

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The recognition that is given in England to literary or poetic drama, alike of the past and present, is chiefly notable for its irregularity. The circumstance may be accounted for in various ways. It is best explained by the fact that England is the only country in Europe in which theatrical enterprise is wholly and exclusively organised on a capitalist basis. No theatre in England is worked to-day on any but the capitalist principle. Artistic aspiration may be well alive in the theatrical profession, but the custom and circumstance of capital, the calls of the counting-house, hamper the theatrical artist's freedom of action. The methods imposed are dictated too exclusively by the mercantile spirit.

Many illustrations could be given of the unceasing conflict which capitalist methods wage with artistic methods. One is sufficient. The commercially capitalised theatre is bound hand and foot to the system of long runs. In no theatres of the first class outside London and New York is the system known, and even here and in New York it is of comparatively recent origin. But Londoners have grown so accustomed to the system that they overlook the havoc which it works on the theatre as a home of art. Both actor and playgoer suffer signal injury from its effects. It limits the range of drama which is available at our great theatres to the rank and file of mankind. Especially serious is the danger to which the unchangeable programme exposes histrionic capacity and histrionic intelligence. The actor is not encouraged to widen his knowledge of the drama. His faculties are blunted by the narrow monotony of his experience. Yet the capitalised conditions of theatrical enterprise, which are in



vogue in London and New York, seem to render long runs imperative. The system of long runs is peculiar to English-speaking countries, where alone theatrical enterprise is altogether under the sway of capital. It is specifically prohibited in the national or municipal theatre of every great foreign city, where the interests of dramatic art enjoy foremost consideration.

The artistic aspiration of the actor-manager may be set on the opposite side of the account. Although the actor-manager belongs to the ranks of the capitalists (whether he be one himself or dependent on one), yet when he exercises supreme control of his playhouse, and is moved by artistic feeling, he may check many of the evils that spring from capitalist domination. He can partially neutralise the hampering effect on dramatic art of the merely commercial application of capital to theatrical enterprise.

The actor-manager system is liable to impede the progress of dramatic art through defects of its own, but its most characteristic defects are not tarred with the capitalist brush. The actor-manager is prone to over-estimate the range of his histrionic power. He tends to claim of right the first place in the cast of every piece which he produces. He will consequently at times fill a rôle for which his powers unsuit him. If he be wise enough to avoid that error, he may imperil the interests of dramatic art in another fashion; he may neglect pieces, despite their artistic value, in which he knows the foremost part to be outside his scope. The actormanager has sometimes undertaken a secondary rôle. But then it often happens, not necessarily by his deliberate endeavour, but by the mere force and

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