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I. An Alleged Meeting of Peele, Ben Jonson, Alleyn,
II. The Fabrication by George Steevens in 1763 of a
III. French Misapprehensions of Shakespeare's Tragic
THE COMMEMORATION OF SHAKESPEARE IN LONDON
VII. The Real Significance of Milton's Warning against
SHAKESPEARE AND THE
SHAKESPEARE AND THE MODERN STAGE1
WITHOUT "the living comment and interpretation of the theatre," Shakespeare's work is, for the rank and file of mankind, "a deep well without a wheel or a windlass." It is true that the whole of the spiritual treasures which Shakespeare's dramas hoard will never be disclosed to the mere playgoer, but “a large, a very large, proportion of that indefinite all" may be revealed to him on the stage, and, if he be no patient reader, will be revealed to him nowhere else.
There are earnest students of Shakespeare who scorn the theatre and arrogate to themselves in the library, often with some justification, a greater capacity for apprehending and appreciating Shakespeare than is at the command of the ordinary playgoer or actor. But let Sir Oracle of the study, however full and deep be his knowledge, "use all gently." Let him bear in mind that his vision also has its limitations, and that student, actor, and spectator
1 This paper was first printed in The Nineteenth Century, January, 1900.
of Shakespeare's plays are all alike exploring a measureless region of philosophy and poetry, "round which no comprehension has yet drawn the line of circumspection, so as to say to itself 'I have seen the whole."" Actor and student may look at Shakespeare's text from different points of view; but there is always as reasonable a chance that the efficient actor may disclose the full significance of some speech or scene which escapes the efficient student, as that the student may supply the actor's lack of insight.
It is, indeed, comparatively easy for a student of literature to support the proposition that Shakespeare can be, and ought to be, represented on the stage. But it is difficult to define the ways and means of securing practical observance of the precept. For some years there has been a widening divergence of view respecting methods of Shakespearean production. Those who defend in theory the adaptability of Shakespeare to the stage are at variance with the leading managers, who alone possess the power of conferring on the Shakespearean drama theatrical interpretation. In the most influential circles of the theatrical profession it has become a commonplace to assert that Shakespearean drama cannot be successfully produced, cannot be rendered tolerable to any substantial section of the playgoing public, without a plethora of scenic spectacle and gorgeous costume, much of which the student regards as superfluous and inappropriate. An accepted tradition of the modern stage ordains that every revival of a Shakespearean play at a leading theatre shall base some part of its claim to public favour on its spectacular magnificence.