« ZurückWeiter »
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.
The dramatic interest of Shakespearean drama is, in fact, deemed by the manager to be inadequate to satisfy the necessary commercial purposes of the theatre. The average purveyor of public entertainment reckons Shakespeare's plays among tasteless and colourless commodities, which only become marketable when they are reinforced by the independent arts of music and painting. Shakespeare's words must be spoken to musical accompaniments specially prepared for the occasion. Pictorial tableaux, even though they suggest topics without relevance to the development of the plot, have at times to be interpolated in order to keep the attention of the audience sufficiently alive.
One deduction to be drawn from this position of affairs is irrefutable. Spectacular embellishments are so costly that, according to the system now in vogue, the performance of a play of Shakespeare involves heavy financial risks. It is equally plain that, unless the views of theatrical managers undergo revolution, these risks are likely to become greater rather than smaller. The natural result is that in London, the city which sets the example to most English-speaking communities, Shakespearean revivals are comparatively rare; they take place at uncertain intervals, and only those plays are viewed with favour by the London manager which lend themselves in his opinion to more or less ostentatious spectacle, and to the interpolation of music and dancing.
It is ungrateful to criticise adversely any work the production of which entails the expenditure of much thought and money. More especially is it distasteful when the immediate outcome is, as in the
PERILS OF SPECTACLE
case of many Shakespearean revivals at the great West-end theatres of London, the giving of pleasure to large sections of the community. That is in itself a worthy object. But it is open to doubt whether, from the sensible literary point of view, the managerial activity be well conceived or to the public advantage. It is hard to ignore a fundamental flaw in the manager's central position. The pleasure which recent Shakespearean revivals offer the spectator reaches him mainly through the eye. That is the manager's avowed intention. Yet no one would seriously deny that the Shakespearean drama appeals, both primarily and ultimately, to the head and to the heart. Whoever seeks, therefore, by the production of Shakespearean drama chiefly to please the spectator's eye shows scant respect both for the dramatist and for the spectator, however unwittingly he tends to misrepresent the one and to mislead the other in a particular of first-rate importance. Indeed, excess in scenic display does worse than restrict opportunities of witnessing Shakespeare's plays on the stage in London and other large cities of England and America. It is to be feared that such excess either weakens or distorts the just and proper influence of Shakespeare's work. If these imputations can be sustained, then it follows that the increased and increasing expense which is involved in the production of Shakespeare's plays ought on grounds of public policy to be diminished.
Every stage representation of a play requires sufficient scenery and costume to produce in the