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less veneration for Shakespeare than their parents felt and will more readily outgrow his plots and fools and spectacles.
Some three decades ago the habitués of Daly's Theatre thought it was Shakespeare's clever comedies they were so eager to see; but in reality, of course, it was not, that is to say, not primarily: it was the resourceful stage-manager and his talented actors that attracted them to the playhouse. Many of the host of admirers of Miss Marlowe and Mr. Sothern have gone under the same delusion to the theatre where they were performing; but nowadays the most of us go frankly to see the versatile stars, and when we return home we converse, not of Shakespeare and his play, but of Marlowe-her beauty, graciousness, voice, eyes.
It is not conceivable, to put it fatly, that any theatrical manager on Broadway to-day would be foolhardy enough to present for a prospective ‘run' any of Shakespeare's plays. Mr. F. R. Benson eschewed New York entirely on his recent American tour. Mr. Barker gave but a single play of Shakespeare's in his New York season last year, and that only a few times. Mr. Robert B. Mantell still lingers in the limelight, it is true; but Edwin Booth brought to a close an epoch of the American stage. Mansfield was of the new century, and he stood alone.
“Shakespeare's poetry," said Schlegel, "is near akin to the German sptrit." It seems at times as if they really enjoyed our dramatist to a fuller measure in Berlin and Vienna than we do in London and New York. Art to the Teuton, indeed, is a more serious matter than it is to us. Although the Hamlet of neither a Barnay nor a Sonnenthal is acceptable to the AngloSaxon, what is generally recognized as the German histrionic school is superbly adapted to the personation of most of Shakespeare's heroes. The repertory system in vogue on the Continent naturally makes for a more general appreciation of Shakespeare than is now possible with us. The shifting of the scenery, which is nearly always appropriate and in excellent taste at the Royal Playhouse in Berlin, appears surprisingly expeditious to the American and English theatre-goer. There is seldom more than one längere Pause in the course of the performance, and one leaves the theatre at about ten o'clock.
French actors are not felicitous in the rendering of Shake
speare. The Gallic idea of tragedy in several essentials differs from ours.
Of Hamlet - with a version in Alexandrines-the Comédie-française makes outright melodrama; and M. Antoine's ingenious productions at the Odéon were not near akin to the spirit of Shakespeare as we conceive it. Any success that the Hamlets of Fechter and Mounet-Sully met with in America was due chiefly to their unnaturalness. Rossi, Salvini, Grasso, Novelli have made themselves effective through the mediums of Hamlet, Othello, Shylock, but none of them have really interpreted Shakespeare. And if some of us who saw the Sicilian Players in Othello (London, 1910) could not refrain from lauding the fiery performance as one of the most pleasurable Shakespearean presentations we had ever attended, this was principally because it so radically differed from the struggling thing we have been obliged to accept for Shakespeare on the modern English stage. Here was for us no poetry, no philosophy, but only sheer theatricalism--the acting and action that we go to see despite the dramatist!
When Hamlet and Othello were for the first time played in Japan, a decade ago, they appeared in modern garb. “For in order to render Shakespeare intelligible to the masses,' says Yone Noguchi, “the time of the plays has been changed to the present; the characters to Japanese; the places to Japan, Formosa, etc.; and even the words in many parts have been transformed to fit the Japanese cast of thought, of manner, and of speech.” And the resultant melodrama proved successful.
Strindberg, in one of his last books, notes that when Hamlet is performed in Sweden, Polonius is invariably made a clown and the King a “coal-black villain.” Were it not that we ourselves go to glass theatres, we might safely castigate other foreigners in the same words. A youth once complained that he had always disliked Abbey's pictures from Shakespeare because they didn't "look like the stage.” What, after all, is to be gained by not frankly admitting that the actors have unbalanced and in part spoiled for us Portia's romantic comedy? But surely we would not have old Shylock, in a glaring red wig and with an artificial nose, hobbling and ranting through the great revenge
speech? Schoolboys have been seen to laugh at the most tragic moments even of Mr. Sothern's Shylock. Salanio says:
I never heard a passion so confus'd
As the dog Jew did utter in the streets.
Why, all the boys in Venice followed him,
Crying, his stones, his daughter, and his ducats. “Sophocles differs from Shakespeare," said Hazlitt, “as a Doric portico does from Westminster Abbey''; and the Elizabethan drama, Professor Algernon Tassin has remarked pithily, "was at its best when it was doing precisely what the modern play seeks not to do-when the characters were telling you explicitly in words the emotions they were experiencing.” Shakespeare disregarded the unities of Sophocles; he used comic scenes in tragedy; and he showed acts of violence on the stage instead of merely narrating them. To adumbrate how the modern play and actor and audience differ from the Elizabethan would bring forth more and greater contrasts. Any present-day reproduction of the Attic drama or of the miracles and moralities, though they be by a Reinhardt almost unrecognizably transformed, must yet be looked upon by the contemporary theatregoer rather as curiosities than as plays. And in considering the spectacles that modern producers have seen fit to devise around Shakespeare, it is well always to bear in mind that he wrote his dramas for a non-scenic platform-stage.
In his essay on "The Progress of the World,” Lowell says that "in certain directions we find no advance, as in literature and sculpture, since the Greeks''; and a few years ago the late Professor Sumner, of Yale, declared, “The fine arts do not show an advance." There are persons to whom worship of the Past always has been dear. Whether there has been progress in art, as in science, as in freedom of thought, each one of course will decide for himself; but that
“The ever-whirling wheele Of Change, the which all mortall things doth sway,"— has included literature and art in its revolutions nobody can deny. “The greatness of Greece,” Emerson one day jotted
down in his Journal, “consists in this that no Greece preceded it."
There are, summarily, three ways in which to produce Shakespeare on the modern stage: the spectacular, text-mangled style, a hybrid — part modern, e.g. in mechanism, and part quasiElizabethan (Beerbohm Tree, Forbes Robertson, Sothern-Marlowe); the simple manner in approximation of Shakespeare's own theatre (The Elizabethan Stage Society, William Poël); the ultra-modern stage-director's method, untraditional, individualistic (Craig, Barker, Antoine, Reinhardt, Livingston Platt).
As Theodore Thomas became convinced that it was the duty of the executant musician to interpret a work exactly as the composer bad intended, without change or embellishment, so Goethe believed that the dramas of Shakespeare should be performed "in their entirety and without revision or modification of any kind.” To accomplish this in our commercialized theatre, we know to be beyond possibility, even more infeasible perhaps than the marvelous manner in which Mr. Craig dreams of producing Macbeth.
"In the interpretation of Shakespeare's characters and in the intelligent reading of his text,” William Poël not long ago remarked, “there seems to be no progress made and no individuality shown. In these matters we are still in the middle of the eighteenth century, the most artificial age in the history of Shakespearean drama.” That depends, of course, somewhat upon the point of view. Mr. Poël is an undisputed expert in Elizabethan stagecraft, but he has the defect of glancing too much backward. The arts of acting and stage-directing have changed since the last generation, for the better, some of us like to believe. Should Mrs. Siddons be born again, she would probably act in the manner of Signora Duse.
Now how, after three centuries, shall we play Shakespeare? Or shall we not play him at all? That he will not be so frequently performed in this century as he was in the last, the time seems now to give proof-also, happily, that he will not be so badly played.
The elaborate scenic style made famous by Irving is unmistakably passing, and without any deep regrets. Remembrance
of Mansfield in the tent scene of Richard III and of Mr. and Mrs. Sothern in the great scene between Hamlet and Ophelia connot but make us grateful for the many rare and radiant moments that this style, despite its grievous defects, has given us. But in itself, of course-even on the expeditious revolving stage -it is outdone; and stars now venturing into Shakespeare prefer to have the coöperation of a designer of the new school. Margaret Anglin and Annie Russell have of recent seasons commendably exemplified this tendency. After all, what counts in Shakesperean representation is not scenery and electricity but impersonation and reading of the lines. And if ever dramatist lived who composed lines to be heard, it is Shakespeare.
Irving, Professor Matthews has recorded, successfully appeared at West Point in The Merchant of Venice without the aid of scenery, and Booth once effectively gave Hamlet, the theatre trunks having gone astray, minus costume. As Mr. Lawrence Gilman remarked of Mr. Barker's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream-one of the most notable Shakespearean presentations seen in New York in many a season, —“Who would exchange the woodland scenes, as Shakespeare conjures them up before the inward eye and ear, for the crude approximations of the scene-painter, the costumer, and the incurably substantial mummers—even when so romantic and necromantic a producer as Mr. Barker is concerned?"
In our Civic and Repertory Playhouses of to-morrow, the best of Shakespeare will be occasionally given; and his less popular and less worthy plays the University Theatres will now and again academically disclose to our view. The scenery will be either of Elizabethan austerity or the artistry of a modern impressionist. The acting will be of a quieter, more truly ‘poetic' style than has heretofore been the vogue in Shakespeare; and the movement swifter, surer. In some such fashion will those of us who are not willing, even after three hundred years, to relegate him to the closet, be given opportunities of hearing and seeing Shakespeare's immortal plays.
ARTHUR SWAN. New York City.