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spectacular display. This estimate rests on insecure foundations. That section of the London public, which is genuinely interested in Shakespearean drama for its own sake, is prone to distrust the modern theatrical manager, and as things are, for the most part avoids the theatre altogether. The student stays at home to read Shakespeare at his fire-side.
It may be admitted that the public to which Shakespeare in his purity makes appeal is not very large. It is clearly not large enough to command continuous runs of plays for months, or even weeks. But therein lies no cause for depression. Long runs of a single play of Shakespeare bring more evil than good in their train. They develop in even the most efficient acting a soulless mechanism. The literary beauty of the text is obliterated by repetition from the actors' minds. Unostentatious mounting of the Shakespearean plays, however efficient be the acting with which it is associated, may always fail to "please the million"; it may be "caviare to the general." Nevertheless, the sagacious manager, who, by virtue of comparatively inexpensive settings and in alliance with a well-chosen company of efficient actors and actresses, is able at short intervals to produce a succession of Shakespeare's plays, may reasonably expect to attract a small but steady and sufficient support from the intelligent section of London playgoers, and from the home-reading students of Shakespeare, who are not at present playgoers at all.
EXPERIENCE OF KEAN AND IRVING
The practical manager, who naturally seeks pecuniary profit from his ventures, insists that these suggestions are counsels of perfection and these anticipations wild and fantastic dreams. His last word is that by spectacular method Shakespeare can alone be made to "pay" in the theatre. But are we here on perfectly secure ground? Has the commercial success attending the spectacular production of Shakespeare been invariably so conspicuous as to put summarily out of court, on the purely commercial ground, the method of simplicity? The pecuniary results are public knowledge in the case of the two most strenuous and prolonged endeavours to give Shakespeare the splendours of spectacle which have yet been completed on the London stage. What is the message of these two efforts in mere pecuniary terms?
Charles Kean may be regarded as the founder of the modern spectacular system, though it had some precedents and has been developed since his day. Charles Kean, between 1851 and 1859, persistently endeavoured by prodigal and brilliant display to make the production of Shakespeare an enterprise of profit at the Princess's Theatre, London. The scheme proved pecuniarily disastrous.
Subsequently Kean's mantle was assumed by the late Sir Henry Irving, the greatest of recent actors and stage-managers, who in many regards conferred incalculable benefits on the theatre-going public and on the theatrical profession. Throughout the last quarter of the last century, Irving gave the spectacular and scenic system in the production of Shakespeare every advantage that it could
derive from munificent expenditure and the cooperation of highly endowed artists. He could justly claim a finer artistic sentiment and a higher histrionic capacity than Charles Kean possessed. Yet Irving announced not long before his death that he lost on his Shakespearean productions a hundred thousand pounds. Sir Henry added:
The enormous cost of a Shakespearean production on the liberal and elaborate scale which the public is now accustomed to expect makes it almost impossible for any manager-I don't care who it is -to pursue a continuous policy of Shakespeare for many years with any hope of profit in the long run.
In face of this authoritative pronouncement, it must be conceded that the spectacular system has been given, within recent memory, every chance of succeeding, and, as far as recorded testimony is available, has been, from the commercial point of view, a failure.
Meanwhile, during and since the period when Sir Henry Irving filled the supreme place among producers of Shakespeare on the stage, the simple method of Shakespearean production has been given no serious chance. The anticipation of its pecuniary failure has not been put in satisfactory conditions to any practical test. The last time that it was put to a sound practical test it did not fail. While Irving was a boy, Phelps at Sadler's Wells Theatre gave, in well-considered conditions, the simple method a trial. Phelps's playhouse was situated in the unfashionable neighbourhood of Islington. But the prophets of evil, who were no greater strangers to Phelps's generation than they are to our own, were themselves confuted by his experience.
PHELPS AT SADLER'S WELLS
On the 27th of May, 1844, Phelps, a most intelligent actor and a serious student of Shakespeare, opened the long-disused Sadler's Wells Theatre in partnership with Mrs. Warner, a capable actress, whose rendering of Imogen went near perfection. Their design was inspired by "the hope," they wrote in an unassuming address, "of eventually rendering Sadler's Wells what a theatre ought to be, a place for justly representing the works of our great dramatic poets." This hope they went far to realise. The first play that they produced was Macbeth.
Phelps continued to control Sadler's Wells Theatre for more than eighteen years. During that period he produced, together with many other English plays of classical repute, no fewer than thirty-one of the thirty-seven great dramas which came from Shakespeare's pen. In his first season, besides Macbeth he set forth Hamlet, King John, Henry VIII., The Merchant of Venice, Othello, and Richard III. To these he added in the course of his second season Julius Cæsar, King Lear, and The Winter's Tale. Henry IV., part I., Measure for Measure, Romeo and Juliet, and The Tempest followed in his third season; As You Like It, Cymbeline, The Merry Wives of Windsor, and Twelfth Night, in his fourth. Each succeeding season saw further additions to the Shakespearean repertory, until only six Shakespearean dramas were left unrepresented, viz.-Richard II., the three parts of Henry VI., Troilus and Cressida, and Titus Andronicus. Of these, one alone, Richard II., is really actable.
The leading principles, to which Phelps strictly
adhered throughout his career of management, call for most careful consideration. He gathered round him a company of actors and actresses, whom he zealously trained to interpret Shakespeare's language. He accustomed his colleagues to act harmoniously together, and to sacrifice to the welfare of the whole enterprise pretensions to individual prominence. No long continuous run of any one piece was permitted by the rules of the playhouse. The programme was constantly changed. The scenic appliances were simple, adequate, and inexpensive. The supernumerary staff was restricted to the smallest practicable number. The general expenses were consequently kept within narrow limits. For every thousand pounds that Charles Kean laid out at the Princess's Theatre on scenery and other expenses of production, Phelps in his most ornate revivals spent less than a fourth of that sum. For the pounds spent by managers on more recent revivals, Phelps would have spent only as many shillings. In the result, Phelps reaped from the profits of his efforts a handsome unencumbered income. During the same period Charles Kean grew more and more deeply involved in oppressive debt, and at a later date Sir Henry Irving made over to the public a hundred thousand pounds above his receipts.
Why, then, should not Phelps's encouraging experiment be made again?1
1 It is just to notice, among endeavours of the late years of the past century, to which I confine my remarks here, the efforts to produce Shakespearean drama worthily which were made by