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interest. It was acted practically without curtailment, and, although the performance lasted nearly five hours, no sign of impatience manifested itself at any point. This was no exceptional experience at the Burg-Theater. Plays of Shakespeare are acted there repeatedly—on an average twice a week—and, I am credibly informed, with identical results to those of which I was an eye-witness.
It cannot be flattering to our self-esteem that the Austrian people should show a greater and a wiser appreciation of the theatrical capacities of Shakespeare's masterpieces than we who are Shakespeare's countrymen and the most direct and rightful heirs of his glorious achievements. How is the disturbing fact to be accounted for? Is it possible that it is attributable to some decay in us of the imagination—to a growing slowness on our part to appreciate works of imagination? When one reflects on the simple mechanical contrivances which satisfied the theatrical audiences, not only of Shakespeare's own day, but of the eighteenth century, during which Shakespeare was repeatedly performed; when one compares the simplicity of scenic mechanism in the past with its complexity in our own time, one can hardly resist the conclusion that the imagination of the theatre-going public is no longer what it was of old. The play alone was then “the thing.” Now “the thing,” it seems, is something outside the play-namely, the painted scene or the costume, the music or the dance.
ALLEGED DESIRE FOR SPECTACLE
Garrick played Macbeth in an ordinary Court suit of his own era. The habiliments proper to Celtic monarchs of the eleventh century were left to be supplied by the imagination of the spectators or not at all. No realistic “effects” helped the play forward in Garrick's time, yet the attention of his audience, the critics tell us, was never known to stray when he produced a great play by Shakespeare. In Shakespeare's day boys or men took the part of women, and how characters like Lady Macbeth and Desdemona were adequately rendered by youths beggars belief. But renderings in such conditions proved popular and satisfactory. Such a fact seems convincing testimony, not to the ability of Elizabethan or Jacobean boys—the nature of boys is a pretty permanent factor in human society -but to the superior imaginative faculty of adult Elizabethan or Jacobean playgoers, in whom, as in Garrick’s time, the needful dramatic illusion was far more easily evoked than it is nowadays.
This is no exhilarating conclusion. But less exhilarating is the endeavour that is sometimes made by advocates of the system of spectacle to prove that Shakespeare himself would have appreciated the modern developments of the scenic artnay, more, that he himself has justified them. This line of argument serves to confirm the suggested defect of imagination in the present generation. The well-known chorus before the first act of Henry V. is the evidence which is relied upon to show that Shakespeare wished his plays to be, in journalistic dialect, "magnificently staged," and that he deplored the inability of his uncouth age to realise that wish. The lines are familiar; but it is necessary to quote them at length, in fairness to those who judge them to be a defence of the spectacular principle in the presentation of Shakespearean drama. They run:
O for a muse of fire, that would ascend
There is, in my opinion, no strict relevance in these lines to the enquiry whether Shakespeare's work should be treated on the stage as drama or spectacle. Nay, I go further, and assert that, as ESSENTIAL LIMITATIONS OF SCENERY
far as the speech touches the question at issue at all, it tells against the pretensions of spectacle.
Shortly stated, Shakespeare's splendid prelude to his play of Henry V. is a spirited appeal to his audience not to waste regrets on defects of stage machinery, but to bring to the observation of his piece their highest powers of imagination, whereby alone can full justice be done to a majestic theme. The central topic of the choric speech is the essential limitations of all scenic appliances. The dramatist reminds us that the literal presentation of life itself, in all its movement and action, lies outside the range of the stage, especially the movement and action of life in its most glorious manifestations, Obvious conditions of space do not allow “two mighty monarchies” literally to be confined within the walls of a theatre. Obvious conditions of time cannot turn "the accomplishments of many years into an hour glass.” Shakespeare is airing no private grievance. He is not complaining that his plays were in his own day inadequately upholstered in the theatre, or that the "scaffold” on which they were produced was “unworthy” of them. The words have no concern with the contention that modern upholstery and spectacular machinery render Shakespeare's play a justice which was denied them in his lifetime. As reasonably one might affirm that the modern theatre has now conquered the ordinary conditions of time and space; that a modern playhouse can, if the manager so will it, actually hold within its walls the “vasty fields of France," or confine “two mighty monarchies.”
A wider and quite impersonal trend of thought is offered for consideration by Shakespeare's majestic
eloquence. The dramatist bids us bear in mind that his lines do no more than suggest the things he would have the audience see and understand; the actors aid the suggestion according to their ability. But the crucial point of the utterance is the warning that the illusion of the drama can only be rendered complete in the theatre by the working of the “imaginary forces” of the spectators. It is needful for them to “make imaginary puissance,” if the play is to triumph. It is their “thoughts” that “must deck” the kings of the stage, if the dramatist's meaning is to get home. The poet modestly underestimated the supreme force of his own imaginative genius when giving these admonitions to his hearers. But they are warnings of universal application, and can never be safely ignored.
Such an exordium as the chorus before Henry V. would indeed be pertinent to every stage performance of great drama in any age or country. It matters not whether the spectacular machinery be of royal magnificence or of poverty-stricken squalor. Let us make the extravagant assumption that all the artistic genius in the world and all the treasure in the Bank of England were placed at the command of the theatrical manager in order to enable him to produce a great play on his stage supremely well from his own scenic point of view. Even then it would not be either superfluous or impertinent for the manager to adjure the audience to piece out the "imperfections” of the scenery with their “thoughts” or imagination. The spectator's "imaginary puissance” is, practically in every circumstance, the key-stone of the dramatic illusion.