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