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THE ACTOR'S OPPORTUNITIES
voice in the whole gamut of its inflections are the constituent qualities of true histrionic capacity.
In no drama are these qualities more necessary, or are ampler opportunities offered for their use, than in the plays of Shakespeare. Not only in the leading rôles of his masterpieces, but in the subordinate parts throughout the range of his work, the highest abilities of the actor or actress can find some scope for employment. It is therefore indispensable that the standard of Shakespearean acting should always be maintained at the highest level, if Shakespearean drama is to be fitly rendered in the theatre. The worst of the evils, which are inherent in scenic excess, with its accompaniment of long runs, is its tendency to sanction the maintenance of the level of acting at something below the highest. Phelps was keenly alive to this peril, and his best energies were devoted to training his actors and actresses for all the rôles in the cast, great and small. Actors and actresses of the first rank on occasion filled minor parts, in order to heighten the efficiency of the presentation. Actors and actresses who have the dignity of their profession at heart might be expected to welcome the revival of a system which alone guarantees their talent and the work of the dramatist due recognition, even if it leave histrionic incompetence no hope of escape from the scorn that befits it. It is on the aspiration and sentiment of the acting profession that must largely depend the final answer to the question whether Phelps's experiment can be made again with likelihood of success.
Foreign experience tells in favour of the contention that, if Shakespeare's plays are to be honoured on the modern stage as they deserve, they must be freed of the existing incubus of scenic machinery. French acting has always won and deserved admiration. There is no doubt that one cause of its permanently high repute is the absolute divorce in the French theatre of drama from spectacle.
Molière stands to French literature in much the same relation as Shakespeare stands to English literature. Molière's plays are constantly acted in French theatres with a scenic austerity which is unknown to the humblest of our theatres. A French audience would regard it as sacrilege to convert a comedy of Molière into a spectacle. The French people are commonly credited with a love of ornament and display to which the English people are assumed to be strangers, but their treatment of Molière is convincing proof that their artistic sense is ultimately truer than our own.
The mode of producing Shakespeare on the stage in Germany supplies an argument to the same effect. In Berlin and Vienna, and in all the chief towns of German-speaking Europe, Shakespeare's plays are produced constantly and in all their variety, for the most part, in conditions which are directly antithetical to those prevailing in the West-end theatres of London. Twenty-eight of Shakespeare's thirtyseven plays figure in the répertoires of the leading companies of German-speaking actors.
The currently accepted method of presentation can be judged from the following personal experience.
SHAKESPEARE IN VIENNA
A few years ago I was in the Burg-Theater in Vienna on a Sunday night-the night on which the great working population of Vienna chiefly take their recreation, as in this country it is chiefly taken by the great working population on Saturday night. The Burg-Theater in Vienna is one of the largest theatres in the world. It is of similar dimensions to Drury Lane Theatre or Covent Garden Operahouse. On the occasion of my visit the play produced was Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra. The house was crowded in every part. The scenic arrangements were simple and unobtrusive, but were well calculated to suggest the Oriental atmosphere of the plot. There was no music before the performance, or during the intervals between the acts, or as an accompaniment to great speeches in the progress of the play. There was no making love, nor any dying to slow music, although the stage directions were followed scrupulously; the song "Come, thou Monarch of the Vine," was sung to music in the drinking scene on board Pompey's galley, and there were the appointed flourishes of trumpets and drums. The acting was competent, though not of the highest calibre, but a satisfactory level was evenly maintained throughout the cast. There were no conspicuous deflections from the adequate standard. The character of whom I have the most distinct recollection was Enobarbus, the level-headed and straight-hitting critic of the action -a comparatively subordinate part, which was filled by one of the most distinguished actors of the Viennese stage. He fitted his part with telling accuracy.
The whole piece was listened to with breathless
interest. It was acted practically without curtailment, and, although the performance lasted nearly five hours, no sign of impatience manifested itself at any point. This was no exceptional experience at the Burg-Theater. Plays of Shakespeare are acted there repeatedly-on an average twice a week-and, I am credibly informed, with identical results to those of which I was an eye-witness.
It cannot be flattering to our self-esteem that the Austrian people should show a greater and a wiser appreciation of the theatrical capacities of Shakespeare's masterpieces than we who are Shakespeare's countrymen and the most direct and rightful heirs of his glorious achievements. How is the disturbing fact to be accounted for? Is it possible that it is attributable to some decay in us of the imagination to a growing slowness on our part to appreciate works of imagination? When one reflects on the simple mechanical contrivances which satisfied the theatrical audiences, not only of Shakespeare's own day, but of the eighteenth century, during which Shakespeare was repeatedly performed; when one compares the simplicity of scenic mechanism in the past with its complexity in our own time, one can hardly resist the conclusion that the imagination of the theatre-going public is no longer what it was of old. The play alone was then "the thing." Now "the thing," it seems, is something outside the play-namely, the painted scene or the costume, the music or the dance.
ALLEGED DESIRE FOR SPECTACLE
Garrick played Macbeth in an ordinary Court suit of his own era. The habiliments proper to Celtic monarchs of the eleventh century were left to be supplied by the imagination of the spectators or not at all. No realistic "effects" helped the play forward in Garrick's time, yet the attention of his audience, the critics tell us, was never known to stray when he produced a great play by Shakespeare. In Shakespeare's day boys or men took the part of women, and how characters like Lady Macbeth and Desdemona were adequately rendered by youths beggars belief. But renderings in such conditions proved popular and satisfactory. Such a fact seems convincing testimony, not to the ability of Elizabethan or Jacobean boys-the nature of boys is a pretty permanent factor in human society -but to the superior imaginative faculty of adult Elizabethan or Jacobean playgoers, in whom, as in Garrick's time, the needful dramatic illusion was far more easily evoked than it is nowadays.
This is no exhilarating conclusion. But less exhilarating is the endeavour that is sometimes made by advocates of the system of spectacle to prove that Shakespeare himself would have appreciated the modern developments of the scenic artnay, more, that he himself has justified them. This line of argument serves to confirm the suggested defect of imagination in the present generation. The well-known chorus before the first act of Henry V. is the evidence which is relied upon to show that Shakespeare wished his plays to be, in journalistic dialect, "magnificently staged," and that he deplored the inability of his uncouth age to realise that wish. The lines are familiar; but it