페이지 이미지


wise fanciful scheme; it would provide an object-lesson for the bookmen. Meanwhile we may refer them back to their Aristotle. The author of the Poetics '-whom nothing could escape-saw the distinction between what we have called the bookman's point of view in regard to drama and that which we propose to take in the present inquiry. · Whether tragedy is to be judged in itself, or in relation • also to the stage (Tepòs déarpa) '—that, he said, is årros

óryos, another question. For us, however, it happens to be not another question, but the question. The bookmen have been used to consider drama exclusively in itself.' We think it is high time to consider drama npòs Oéatpa, in its relation to the material conditions of the stage.

This aspect of the matter, so strangely neglected, is simplicity itself. That has happened in the theatre which has happened in every congregation gathered round the same centre of interest. Whether it be John Wesley preaching to the miners on a Cornish hillside, or a socialist haranguing the loafers in Hyde Park, or an acrobat tumbling for pence in a by-street, he chooses his 'pitch' and the crowd forms a ring. The earliest theatres, then, were naturally circular, with the stage in the centre. Naturally, too, the stage was bound to gravitate towards the circumference, in order that the performers might reach their platform and retire from it without traversing the crowd. It is superfluous to describe the minor modifications of this arrangement in the Elizabethan playhouse -- everybody knows them-but it is not superfluous to point out the effects of this arrangement on the Elizabethan play. With actors on a raised platform, devoid of scenery and surrounded by the spectators on three sides, there could be no such thing as illusion, in the modern sense of the term, no attempt at a plastic reproduction of actual life. An Elizabethan actor was not, like his modern successor, a figure set in perspective in a framed picture whose conversation with his fellows is overheard by the audience. He stood forth among the crowd, hardly separated from them, and addressed them as an orator would address them. The Elizabethan drama, then, was of necessity a rhetorical drama. Each successive passage of dialogue was not so much the link between what preceded and followed it as a new topic,' which the speakers between them were expected to exhaust. The scene in itself, the scene of the moment,

atforn in order to bowh the the earlichooses

a devoidides, there the tor eliza

[ocr errors]

tudience to locitruck by the income in Shakespen the play

was everything; the logical nexus of the scenes nothing or next to nothing. Internal evidence of this has been adduced from Hamlet.' A curious piece of external evidence is forthcoming from a Frenchman who visited London shortly after the Restoration, one Samuel Sorbière, whose * Relation' of his visit was published in 1664. This, to be sure, was after Shakespeare's time; but the point is immaterial, for the position of the platform stage in the playhouse was still what it had been in Shakespeare's time. Sorbière was struck by the indifference of the English audience to logical nexus of scenes in their drama, and gives the explanation furnished to him :'Il ne leur importe que ce soit un pot-pourri, parce qu'ils n'en regardent, disent-ils,

qu'une partie après l'autre, sans se soucier du total.' * Sorbière's English friends here put him on the right track, and our bookmen should lose no time in adding the Relation' to their libraries. “Ne regarder qu'une partie après l'autre sans se soucier du total :' that was the inevitable frame of mind in the spectator of a platformdrama.

It is a simple fact, little suspected by the bookmen, or indeed by the common-sense students of our stage, that its history up to a time so recent as to be within the memory of people now living is the history of the platformdrama. As time went on, the dimensions of this platform gradually shrank, like the shagreen skin in Balzac's story. A notable passage in Colley Cibber throws light on this process. As a rule, the lives of the players may be said to belong to the least important branch of entomology; but an exception must be made in favour of Cibber's * Apology,' which is always interesting and sometimes, as is the ensuing extract, of great documentary value. Cibber is comparing Drury Lane, as altered by Rich, with the structure of the old theatre :

"It must be observ'd, then, that the Area or Platform of the old Stage projected about four Foot forwarder, in a Semi-oval Figure, parallel to the Benches of the Pit; and that the former lower Doors of Entrance for the Actors were brought down between the two foremost (and then only) Pilasters; in the place of which Doors now the two Stage-Boxes are fixt. That where the Doors of Entrance now are, there formerly stood two additional Side-Wings, in front to a full set

* Quoted by Texte, Cosmopolitisme Littéraire,' p. 28.

Quoted in "Thomas Betterton' by Robert W. Lowe (1891), the most exhaustive and the most authoritative account of the Restoration play house.

of Scenes, which had then almost a double Effect in their Loftiness and Magnificence.

By their original Form, the usual Station of the Actors, in almost every scene, was advanc'd at least ten Foot nearer to the Audience than they now can be; because, not only from the Stage's being shorten'd in front, but likewise from the additional Interposition of those Stage-Boxes, the Actors (in respect to the Spectators that fill them) are kept so much more backward from the main Audience than they us'd to be: But when the Actors were in Possession of that forwarder Space to advance upon, the Voice was then more in the Centre of the House, so that the most distant Ear had scarce the Least Doubt or Difficulty in hearing what fell from the weakest Utterance: All Objects were thus drawn nearer to the sense ; every painted Scene was stronger; every grand Scene and Dance were extended; every rich and fine-coloured Habit had a more lively Lustre: Nor was the minutest Motion of a Feature (properly changing with the Passion or Humour it suited) ever lost, as they frequently must be in the Obscurity of too great a Distance.

Here is a striking confirmation of the view already set forth that the rhetorical drama was what the mathematicians would call a 'function of the platform-stage. The histrionic elements which Cibber singles out for mention are elements of rhetoric—the 'voice,' the utterance.' Cibber talks of the actors as we should now talk of orators --just as Plato had talked of them when proposing that καλλίφωνοι υποκριταί, the actors with their beautiful * voices,' should be banished from his ideal State. The stage was still essentially a platform, projecting among the audience, though already showing a tendency to withdraw towards the curtain. Spectators still lined the sides of the stage as in Elizabethan times, no longer seated upon it, however, but placed in stage-boxes. A full century passed and we find Jane Austen, in 1813 (* September 15,

4 past 8'-'documentary'evidence is not always so precise) —writing from London to her sister Cassandra : 'I talked to Henry at the play last night. We were in a

private box-Mr. Spencer's—which made it much more . pleasant. The box is directly on the stage. One is infinitely

less fatigued than in the common way.'* Well into the last century, then, the boxes which Cibber had seen placed at the side of the stage were still in their old position. The stage remained even then, to all intents and purposes, a platform-stage.

, * Letters of Jane Austen, ed. Lord Brabourne (1884), vol. ii. f. 147.

These facts account for the form not only of the Restoration but of the Georgian drama. The Restoration plots were beneath contempt. Who can remember Congreve's ? From the modern point of view his dénouements are childish ; some sudden discovery,' some hasty production of a certain parchment,' brings down the curtain to a general song and dance. What,' says Witwoud at the close of The Way of the World,' are you all got together, ' like players at the end of the last act?' The players are, in fact, always got together, and the final direction is • Exeunt Omnes.' Congreve, to be sure, made some pretence to concern for the logical nexus of his plot. In his Epistle Dedicatory to "The Double Dealer,' he asserts that the mechanical part of it is regular. I made the plot as strong as I could because it was single, and I made it single

because I would avoid confusion, and was resolved to • preserve the three unities of the drama.' But in practice Congreve's notion of orthodoxy was rather like that put into the mouth of one of his personages— Orthodox is Greek ' for claret.' Who cares about what is going to happen next in The Way of the World'? Each scene of raillery between Millamant and Mirabell is self-contained. In the feigned madness of Valentine in ‘Love for Love,' there is a riot of rhetoric. "Mad scenes' were a constant feature of the platform-drama, because they gave the freest opportunity for bombastic, or discursive, or lyrical declamations. Valentine repeats some of Hamlet's very phrases. "Sir,' said Johnson of Garrick and Irene,'' the fellow wants me to make Mahomet run mad, that he may have an opportunity of tossing his hands and kicking his heels.' Tilburina went mad in white satin. The stage vogue of lunacy in those days is only to be matched by the vogue of hysteria—the hysteria of the Saphos' and the · Zazas 'in our own. The contrast is worth passing notice, as showing how the change from the platform to the modern picture-stage has affected the field of histrionic representation, even in the matter of physical ailments. As to Congreve's practice, it accorded, whatever he may have said, with the theory of Vanbrugh, which was the true theory of the platform-stage. “I cou'd say a great deal against the too exact observance of what's called the Rules of the Stage, and the crowding of a Comedy with a great deal of Intricate Plot. I believe I cou'd show, that the chief

entertainment, as well as the Moral, lies much more in the • Characters and the Dialogue, than in the Business and the

• Event.'* And why? The justification had already been anticipated by Sorbière: “Il ne leur importe que ce soit un pot-pourri, parce qu'ils n'en regardent qu'une partie après l'autre, sans se soucier du total.

We have seen that Congreve by no means practised what he preached. The fact is, in his theories of drama he was curiously ahead of his age. 'In any part of a play,' he says, “if there is expressed any knowledge of an audience, it

is insufferable.'t That would be true of our modern illusion-stage; it was not true of the platform-stage. In the rhetorical drama the actor, under the pretext of conversing with his fellows, was in reality talking at his audience. The original players of “The School for Scandal,' as Elia pointed out in a famous essay, surpassed their successors precisely because they recognised this. The 'teasings' of Sir Peter (while King acted it) were evidently as much played off at you as they were meant to concern anybody on the stage. The original players gave the true spirit of the play because they treated it frankly as a piece of rhetoric. Kemble is singled out by Lamb on this very account. His

exact declamatory manner' in Charles Surface) as he 'managed it, only served to convey the points of his • dialogue with more precision; it seemed to head the shafts, ' to carry them deeper. Not one of his sparkling sentences

was lost.' This was over a hundred years ago. To-day every so-called 'revival' of 'The School for Scandal' is an absolute counter-sense. What was written as a platformplay is presented as a picture-play.

But the platform-play died hard. It even survived the platform. It was kept alive by a succession of declamatory actors steeped in the traditions of the platform-stage, from Kemble and Siddons to Macready and Phelps. An amusing side-light is thrown on those traditions by the descriptions of amateur theatricals so frequent in the women novelists of the palmy days '-Miss Burney, Miss Ferrier, and Jane Austen. Lionel (in Camilla') returned to ask who would

come forth to spout with him. “Spouting' was the proper business of the platform-stage. An amateur actor (in

Patronage ') is condemned because he would regularly 'turn his back upon the audience'-an absurdity on a platform-stage, a perfectly legitimate effect on our modern

* From Vanbrugh's reply to Jeremy Collier in ' A Short Vindication,' 1698. . t Dedication to The Double Dealer.'

« 이전계속 »