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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
And let us, ciphers to this great accompt,
And make imaginary puissance:
Think, when we talk of horses, that you see them
For 'tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings,
Into an hour glass.
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 21
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.
SHAKESPEARE ON SCENIC REALISM
The only conditions in which Shakespeare's adjuration would be superfluous or impertinent would accompany the presentment in the theatre of some circumscribed incident of life which is capable of so literal a rendering as to leave no room for any make-believe or illusion at all. The unintellectual playgoer, to whom Shakespeare will never really prove attractive in any guise, has little or no imagination to exercise, and he only tolerates a performance in the theatre when little or no demand is made on the exercise of the imaginative faculty. "The groundlings," said Shakespeare for all time, "are capable of [appreciating] nothing but inexplicable dumb shows and noise." They would be hugely delighted nowadays with a scene in which two real motor cars, with genuine chauffeurs and passengers, raced uproariously across the stage. That is realism in its nakedness. That is realism reduced to its first principles. Realistic "effects," however speciously beautiful they may be, invariably tend to realism of that primal type, which satisfies the predilections of the groundling, and reduces drama to the level of the cinematograph.
The deliberate pursuit of scenic realism is antagonistic to the ultimate law of dramatic art. In the case of great plays, the dramatic representation is most successful from the genuinely artistic point of view-which is the only point of view worthy of discussion-when the just dramatic illusion is produced by simple and unpretending scenic appliances, in which the inevitable "imperfections"
are frankly left to be supplied by the "thoughts" or imagination of the spectators.
Lovers of Shakespeare should lose no opportunity of urging the cause of simplicity in the production of the plays of Shakespeare. Practical commonsense, practical considerations of a pecuniary kind, teach us that it is only by the adoption of simple methods of production that we can hope to have Shakespeare represented in our theatres constantly and in all his variety. Until Shakespeare is represented thus, the spiritual and intellectual enlightenment, which his achievement offers English-speaking people will remain wholly inaccessible to the majority who do not read him, and will be only in part at the command of the few who do. Nay, more: until Shakespeare is represented on the stage constantly and in his variety, English-speaking men and women are liable to the imputation, not merely of failing in the homage due to the greatest of their countrymen, but of falling short of their neighbours in Germany and Austria in the capacity of appreciating supremely great imaginative literature.