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Schools And Education
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Drama And Education

Drama And Education

( Originally Published 1913 )

Has the drama any relations to education? I have looked carefully through the prospectus of your studies for the corning season, and with the exception of a class for elocution, I do not find any evidence of the existence of such relations. Surely if there were any direct and vital relations between the drama and education, it would be at once apparent in the programme of an institution like the City of London College. I stand appalled at the range and depth of your studies. You oppress me with your encyclopedic knowledge. I am embarrassed in assuming anything that approaches to the attitude or manner of a teacher in such an assembly as this. Therefore I propose to talk over with you this matter of the relations of the drama to education in a questioning, open-minded spirit...

"What is the object of education? We hear a great deal about the technical education, that special training which is to fit a man for some special place he is to occupy in life. I notice that many of your classes supply a special kind of knowledge not likely to be very valuable or useful except to those whose business or hobby it is to acquire it. I have lately read of a naturalist who spent all his life in acquiring an exhaustive knowledge of the forehead of a carp. At the end of his days he knew almost all that could be known of his subject...

Tell me, what science is of the utmost importance to every one of us, irrespective of occupation, position, age or sex, and for lack of whose knowledge men and women are destroyed? The science of life, the science of living.

How to live wisely is a far more necessary study for a man than anything that is taught in board-schools or in universities. And apart from mere technical knowledge and skill, apart from mere bread-and-cheese considerations, all education is only of value as a means to this end, as a help to the art of science of living.

Some of us can perhaps remember old men and women of the days before school-boards and board-schools, men and women who could not write their names, or do an addition sum, or read a word, yet who did possess a natural wisdom and shrewdness and insight, a natural health and integrity of character, a perception of the cardinal facts and duties of life that certainly made them better educated people than the average scholar that the board-school is turning out today. That is, they understood and practiced the art or science of living. This last generation has seen a wonderful increase in the means and appliances of education; the State gives a wider and, on the whole, a better education to every child of England than two generations back was in the reach of any ex cept a few of the privileged classes. That education has been beneficial only if and so far as it has taught its recipients, not how to scramble for material advantages and to outwit each other in the race for money, but if and so far as it has taught them what is the lasting and final end of all education-the science of living...

Those of us who are engaged in writing and producing plays are constantly startled to find how magnifying and concentrating is the power of the theater, how it isolates, how it vivifies, how it enlarges, how it inflames! The outside world is for the time annihilated, it does not exist. There on the stage in front of you is the whole drama of humanity being played out; no other men and women are alive; there is the very sum and substance and essence of human life. Now in this great power of presenting life and the realities of life in such a way as to give the spectator the same knowledge of them as he would possess after years of observation and experience, the stage is supreme.

But is this wide knowledge of life desirable? How far does it tend to perfect the science of wise living, which is the ultimate end of all education? I say the two are inseparable. Though in individual cases there is or seems to be no necessary connection between full knowing and wise doing, though there is an eternal warfare between man's passions and man's peace, between what men preach and what they practice, between aspiration and accomplishment, yet, taking a wide survey, there is a constant ration between what a nation or race knows and what it does, between what it holds as the highest truths and the smallest daily actions of its people. Intellectual advance means sooner or later moral advance, and intellectual advance always comes first.

I say then that this wide knowledge of life, of good and evil, is a good in itself. And further, we live in an age when there is a loud and general demand to know the truth about life. It is an age of upheavals, of inquiry, of searching. Smug half-truths and wandering benighted prejudices are everywhere being challenged and stripped. "Come out into the daylight" is the cry of this age to national beliefs and institutions. "Unmuffle ! let us see whether you are an eternal truth or only a notion."

You cannot quench this demand for knowledge of what life is and what life means. It is not only on the stage that this demand is made; it meets you everywhere-in the reviews, in the latest novel, in drawing-rooms, in the talk of the street, in the pulpit itself. And unless I much mistake the drift of modern thought, it will not be easily quieted and answered.

I have said enough, I hope, to convince you that, while the drama claims a right to deal fearlessly with the whole nature of man, to blink nothing, to shirk nothing, to extenuate noth ing, but to proclaim the whole truth about him, yet if this is done in a reverent and faithful way, I hope I have said enough to convince you that you need not hesitate to entrust your dramatists with the plenary powers that this implies, and you need not fear that anything but goad can come in the long-run if the widest and most searching knowledge of the heart of man is shown you and taught you by means of the stage.

But the stage is not merely the most vivid and forcible teacher of the truths and wisdom of life. It is also the most flexible, the most humane, the most tolerant teacher. Schools and creeds, by their very nature, tend to become rigid and inadaptive to the ever-changing necessities of their supporters. The drama, by its nature, is the most flexible, the most adaptive, the most humane and large-hearted teacher. Consider the magnificent humanity and tolerance and wide sympathy of the drama! With how large and kindly an eye it can. afford to look on human littleness and human transgression! It is not constrained to damn anybody. It has no party to conciliate or to support; the very clique and feuds among its own votaries are a part of its own subject-matter; the quarrels of this school or that school, even the disagreements of critics, if I dare whisper it, are all a part of that delightful imbroglio, that great, perpetual tragi-comedy, human life.

But beyond giving a deep and searching knowledge of the heart of man and the great truths of life, the stage has a lighter and pleasanter task in teaching good manners and the delicacies and amenities of social intercourse. Our old comedies are, I fear, to be commended rather as teachers of manners than as teachers of morals. Their good manners are widely different from the good manners of to-day, but they have a charm and distinction of their own, which when they are well rendered on our modern stage (alas, how rarely they are well rendered!) contain a much-needed lesson in deportment to a democratic age...

I hope, then, I have convinced you that the drama has very strong claims to be considered as a teacher, that it has very real and permanent relations with education. Taking the word "education" in its wide derivative sense as that which "leads, draws forth, trains, and exercises the powers of the mind, the passions, affections, dispositions, habits, and manners," there is no instrument so powerful, so instant, so effective as the drama.

I have perhaps persuaded you that the drama has so much to teach that it is a very serious, nay a very dull affair indeed; in fact, that it is, or ought to be, a good deal like a sermon. Not a bit of it. I hasten to reassure you on this point. If you remember, we not only set out to discover if the drama did teach and what it teaches, but we also proposed to ask, how and by what methods it teaches. I hope our chairman will not take it unkindly if I dare to suggest that the stage has an advantage over the pulpit not only in the matter but also in the methods of its teaching. The pulpit is a direct, an absolute teacher. So are all your other teachers who come here to instruct you. The drama is not. I am going to give you a paradox, yet a profound truth. The drama does teach, must teach, is a potent influence and also a great art in direct proportion as it does teach; yet the moment it sets out to teach, the moment it takes the professional chair, the moment it assumes the Professorial robes, it stultifies itself, it usurps a function and an authority that it has no right to or business with, and it becomes a meddler and a bungler. The drama cannot directly and explicitly affirm or teach or solve or prove anything...

You will tell me I am contradicting all the earlier part of my lecture. No, I am not. I am giving you the two sides of the same truth. The paradox I am putting before you is the paradox of all art, nay, the paradox of life itself. What does life teach? Can you tell me? Does life teach you that honesty is the best policy? Are all the honest men you know in the best positions of their class? If life teaches anything directly about honesty at all, I think it rather inclines to that fine bit of worldly wisdom and Bible teaching which you will find in Ecclesiastes: "Be not righteous over much: why shouldest thou destroy thyself ?" Again, does life teach that lying does not prosper, that virtue leads to happiness? You know it does not teach these things directly, for every case that goes to prove these maxims could be matched with one that contradicts them. No, life does not teach directly. It is profounder than any copy-book. But does life teach nothing? Yes, it teaches us these great truths in a large, indirect way. We all read our own interpretation into life's experience. It teaches us all just what we find in its book. And sooner or later we all find these great central truths written there. Again, what is the end or meaning of life? It always escapes you; you never pluck the heart out of, its mystery. So with the great masterpieces of the drama. You can read into them any meaning or any teaching that you please; their secret will always escape you. What does Hamlet prove? Nothing, no more than life itself. What does it teach? Just whatever you please; just whatever you like to read into it. This is the paradox of life, and it is equally the paradox of art-that though it must have a meaning and an end, they always elude you when you search for them. Therefore I say that the drama is following life, is following nature when it teaches in the same way, not directly, not absolutely, nor for an immediate result, but hiddenly, silently, implicitly, and with results and consequences that are removed and farreaching, and not obvious at the first glance to the average man.

To sum up then on both points. The drama should teach; if it does not it is meaningless, empty, puerile, trivial. It should never teach directly and with a set purpose; if it does, it is meddlesome, one-sided, intolerant, irritating, and tiresome. Briefly we may say, it should teach, but it should never preach. -Henry Arthur Jones

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