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THE PURPOSE OF SCENERY
audience that illusion of environment which the text invites. Without so much scenery or costume the words fail to get home to the audience. In comedies dealing with concrete conditions of modern society, the stage presentation necessarily relies to a very large extent for its success on the realism of the scenic appliances. In plays which, dealing with the universal and less familiar conditions of life, appeal to the highest faculties of thought and imagination, the pursuit of realism in the scenery tends to destroy the full significance of the illusion which it ought to enforce. In the case of plays straightforwardly treating of contemporary affairs, the environment which it is sought to reproduce is familiar and easy of imitation. In the case of drama, which involves larger spheres of fancy and feeling, the environment is unfamiliar and admits of no realistic imitation. The wall-paper and furniture of Mrs. So-and-so's drawing-room in Belgravia or Derbyshire can be transferred bodily to the stage. Prospero's deserted island does not admit of the like translation.
Effective suggestion of the scene of The Tempest is all that can be reasonably attempted or desired. Plays which are wrought of purest imaginative texture call solely for a scenic setting which should convey effective suggestion. The machinery to be employed for the purpose of effective suggestion should be simple and unobtrusive. If it be complex and obtrusive, it defeats "the purpose of playing" by exaggerating for the spectator the inevitable interval between the visionary and indeterminate limits of the scene which the poet imagines and the cramped and narrow bounds which the stage renders practicable. That perilous interval can only be ef
fectually bridged by scenic art, which is applied with an apt judgment and a light hand. Anything that aims at doing more than satisfy the condition essential to the effective suggestion of the scenic environment of Shakespearean drama is, from the literary and logical points of view, "wasteful and ridiculous excess."
But it is not only a simplification of scenic appliances that is needed. Other external incidents of production require revision. Spectacular methods of production entail the employment of armies of silent supernumeraries to whom are allotted functions wholly ornamental and mostly impertinent. Here, too, reduction is desirable in the interest of the true significance of drama. No valid reason can be adduced why persons should appear on the stage who are not precisely indicated by the text of the play or by the authentic stage directions. When Cæsar is buried, it is essential to produce in the audience the illusion that a crowd of Roman citizens is taking part in the ceremony. But quality comes here before quantity. The fewer the number of supernumeraries by whom the needful illusion is effected, the greater the merit of the performance, the more convincing the testimony borne to the skill of the stage-manager. Again, no processions of psalm-singing priests and monks contribute to the essential illusion in the historical plays. Nor does the text of The Merchant of Venice demand any
1 A minor practical objection, from the dramatic point of view, to realistic scenery is the long pause its setting on the stage often renders inevitable between the scenes. Intervals of the kind, which always tend to blunt the dramatic point of the play, especially in the case of tragic masterpieces, should obviously be as brief as possible.
EFFECTS OF SIMPLIFICATION
assembly of Venetian townsfolk, however picturesquely attired, sporting or chaffering with one another on the Rialto, when Shylock enters to ponder Antonio's request for a loan. An interpolated tableau is indefensible, and "though it make the unskilful laugh, cannot but make the judicious grieve." In Antony and Cleopatra the pageant of Cleopatra's voyage up the river Cydnus to meet her lover Antony should have no existence outside the gorgeous description given of it by Enobarbus.
What would be the practical effects of a stern resolve on the part of theatrical managers to simplify the scenic appliances and to reduce the supernumerary staff when they are producing Shakespearean drama? The replies will be in various keys. One result of simplification is obvious. There would be so much more money in the manager's pocket after he had paid the expenses of production. If his outlay were smaller, the sum that he expended in the production of one play of Shakespeare on the current over-elaborate scale would cover the production of two or three pieces mounted with simplicity and with a strict adherence to the requirements of the text. In such an event, the manager would be satisfied with a shorter run for each play.
On the other hand, supporters of the existing system allege that no public, which is worth the counting, would interest itself in Shakespeare's plays, if they were robbed of scenic upholstery and
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