( Originally Published 1912 )
WE shall find, on looking into it, that most of the technical maxims that have any validity may be traced back, directly or indirectly, to the great principle of tension. The art of construction is summed up, first, in giving the mind of an audience something to which to stretch forward, and, secondly, in not letting it feel that it has stretched forward in vain. " You will find it infinitely pleasing," says Dryden, " to be led in a labyrinth of design, where you see some of your way before you, yet discern not the end till you arrive at it." Or, he might have added, " if you foresee the end, but not the means by which it is to be reached." In drama, as in all art, the " how " is often more important than the " what."
No technical maxim is more frequently cited than the remark of the younger Dumas : " The art of the theatre is the art of preparations." This is true in a larger sense than he intended; but at the same time there are limits to its truth, which we must not fail to observe.
Dumas, as we know, was an inveterate preacher, using the stage as a pulpit for the promulgation of moral and social ideas which were, in their day, considered very advanced and daring. The primary meaning of his maxim, then, was that a startling idea, or a scene wherein such an idea was implied, ought not to be sprung upon an audience wholly unprepared to accept it. For instance, in Monsieur Alphonse, a husband, on discovering that his wife has had an intrigue before their marriage, and that a little girl whom she wishes to adopt is really her daughter, instantly raises her from the ground where she lies grovelling at his feet, and says : Créature de Dieu, toi qui as failli et to repens, relève toi, je to pardonne." This evangelical attitude on the part of Admiral de Montaiglin was in itself very surprising, and perhaps not wholly admirable, to the Parisian public of 1873; but Dumas had so " prepared " the coup de théâtre that it passed with very slight difficulty on the first night, and with none at all at subsequent performances and revivals. How had he " prepared " it? Why, by playing, in a score of subtle ways, upon the sympathies and antipathies of the audience. For instance, as Sarcey points out, he had made M. de Montaiglin a sailor, "accustomed, during his distant voyages, to long reveries in view of the boundless ocean, whence he had acquired a mystical habit of mind. . . . Dumas certainly would never have placed this pardon in the mouth of a stockbroker." So far so good; but " preparation," in the sense of the word, is a device of rhetoric or of propaganda rather than of dramatic craftsmanship. It is a method of astutely undermining or outflanking prejudice. Desiring to enforce a general principle, you invent a case which is specially favourable to your argument, and insinuate it into the acceptance of the audience by every possible subtlety of adjustment. You trust, it would seem, that people who have applauded an act of pardon in an extreme case will be so much the readier to exercise that high prerogative in the less carefully " prepared " cases which present themselves in real life. This may or may not be a sound principle of persuasion; as we are not here considering the drama as an art of persuasion, we have not to decide between this and the opposite, or Shawesque, principle of shocking and start-ling an audience by the utmost violence of paradox. There is something to be said for both methods — for conversion by pill-and-jelly and for conversion by nitroglycerine.
Reverting, now, to the domain of pure craftsmanship, can it be said that " the art of the theatre is the art of preparation "? Yes, it is very largely the art of delicate and unobtrusive preparation, of helping an audience to divine whither it is going, while leaving it to wonder how it is to get there. On the other hand, it is also the art of avoiding laborious, artificial and obvious preparations which lead to little or nothing. A due proportion must always be observed between the preparation and the result.
To illustrate the meaning of preparation, as the word is here employed, I may perhaps be allowed to reprint a passage from a review of Mr, Israel Zangwill's play Children of the Ghetto.
To those who have not read the novel, it must seem as though the mere illustrations of Jewish life entirely overlaid and overwhelmed the action. It is not so in reality. One who knows the story before-hand can often see that it is progressing even in scenes which seem purely episodic and unconnected either with each other or with the general scheme. But Mr. Zangwill has omitted to provide finger-posts, if I may so express it, to show those who do not know the story beforehand whither he is leading them. He has neglected the great art of forecasting, of keeping anticipation on the alert, which is half the secret of dramatic construction. To forecast, with-out discounting, your effects — that is all the Law and the Prophets. In the first act of Children of the Ghetto, for instance, we see the marriage in jest of Hannah to Sam Levine, followed by the instant divorce with all its curious ceremonies. This is amusing so far as it goes ; but when the divorce is completed, the whole thing seems to be over and done with. We have seen some people, in whom as yet we take no particular interest, enmeshed in a difficulty arising from a strange and primitive formalism in the interpretation of law ; and we have seen the meshes cut to the satisfaction of all parties, and the incident to all appearance closed. There is no finger-post to direct our anticipation on the way it should go; and those who have not read the book cannot possibly guess that this mock marriage, instantly and ceremoniously dissolved, can have any ulterior effect upon the fortunes of any one concerned. Thus, the whole scene, however curious in itself, seems motiveless and resultless. How the requisite finger-post was to be provided I cannot tell. That is not my business ; but a skilful dramatist would have made it his. Then, in the second act, amid illustrations of social life in the Ghetto, we have the meeting of Hannah. with David Brandon, a prettily-written scene of love-at-first-sight. But, so far as any one can see, there is every prospect that the course of true love will run absolutely smooth. Again we lack a finger-post to direct our interest forward; nor do we see anything that seems to bring this act into vital relation with its predecessor. Those who have read the book know that David Brandon is a `Cohen,' a priest, a descendant of Aaron, and that a priest may not marry a divorced woman. Knowing this, we have a sense of irony, of impending disaster, which renders the love-scene of the second act dramatic. But to those, and they must always be a majority in any given audience, who do not know this, the scene has no more dramatic quality than lies in its actual substance, which, although pretty enough, is entirely commonplace. Not till the middle of the third act (out of four) is the obstacle revealed, and we see that the mighty maze was not without a plan. Here, then, the drama begins, after two acts and a half of preparation, during which we were vouchsafed no inkling of what was preparing. It is capital drama when we come to it, really human, really tragic. The arbitrary prohibitions of the Mosaic law have no religious or moral force either for David or for Hannah. They feel it to be their right, almost their duty, to cast off their shackles. In any community, save that of strict Judaism, they are perfectly free to marry. But in thus flouting the letter of the law, Hannah well knows that she will break her father's heart. Even as she struggles to shake them off, the traditions of her race take firmer hold on her ; and in the highly dramatic last act (a not unskilful adaptation to the stage of the crucial scene of the book) she bows her neck beneath the yoke, and renounces love that the Law may be fulfilled."
To state the matter in other terms, we are conscious of no tension in the earlier acts of this play, because we have not been permitted to see the sword of Damocles hanging over the' heads of Hannah and David Brandon. For lack of preparation, of pointing-forward, we feel none of that god-like superiority to the people of the mimic world which we have recognized as the characteristic privilege of the spectator. We know no more than they do of the implications of their acts, and the network of embarrassments in which they are involving themselves. Indeed, we know less than they do : for Hannah, as a well-brought-up Jewess, is no doubt vaguely aware of the disabilities attaching to a divorced woman. A gentile audience, on the other hand, cannot possibly fore-see how —
" Some consequence yet hanging in the stars
and, lacking that foreknowledge, it misses the specifically dramatic effect of the scenes. The author invites it to play at blind-man's-buff with the characters, instead of unsealing its eyes and enabling it to watch the game from its Olympian coign of vantage.
Let the dramatist, then, never neglect to place the requisite finger-posts on the road he would have us follow. It is not, of course, necessary that we should be conscious of all the implications of any given scene or incident, but we must know enough of them not only to create the requisite tension, but to direct it towards the right quarter of the compass. Retrospective elucidations are valueless and sometimes irritating. It is in nowise to the author's interest that we should say, " Ah, if we had only known this, or foreseen that, in time, the effect of such-and-such a scene would have been entirely different ! " We have no use for finger-posts that point backwards.'
In the works of Sir Arthur Pinero I recall two cases in which the lack of a finger-post impairs the desired effect : slightly, in the one instance, in the other, very considerably. The third act of that delightful comedy The Princess and the Butterfly contains no sufficient indication of Fay Zuliani's jealousy of the friendship between Sir George Lamorant and the Princess Pannonia. We are rather at a loss to account for the coldness of her attitude to the Princess, and her perverse naughtiness in going off to the Opera Ball. This renders the end of the act practically ineffective. We so little foresee what is to come of Fay's midnight escapade, that we take no particular interest in it, and are rather disconcerted by the care with which it is led up to, and the prominence assigned to it. This, however, is a trifling fault. Far different is the case in the last act of The Benefit of the Doubt, which goes near to ruining what is otherwise a very fine play. The defect, indeed, is not purely technical: on looking into it we find that the author is not in fact working towards an ending which can be called either inevitable or conspicuously desirable. His failure to point forward is no doubt partly due to his having nothing very satisfactory to point forward to. But it is only in retrospect that this becomes apparent. What we feel while the act is in progress is simply the lack of any finger-post to afford us an inkling of the end towards which we are proceeding. Through scene after scene we appear to be making no progress, but going round and round in a depressing circle. The tension, in a word, is fatally relaxed. It may perhaps be suggested as a maxim that when an author finds a difficulty in placing the requisite fingers-posts, as he nears the end of his play, he will do well to suspect that the end he has in view is defective, and to try if he cannot amend it.
In the ancient, and in the modern romantic, drama, oracles, portents, prophecies, horoscopes and such-like intromissions of the supernatural afforded a very convenient aid to the placing of the requisite finger-posts — " foreshadowing with-out forestalling." It has often been said that Macbeth approaches the nearest of all Shakespeare's tragedies to the antique model ; and in nothing is the resemblance clearer than in the employment of the Witches to point their skinny fingers into the fated future. In Romeo and Juliet, inward fore-boding takes the place of outward prophecy. I have quoted above Romeo's prevision of " Some consequence yet hanging in the stars "; and beside it may be placed Juliet's —
"I have no joy of this contract to-night ;
In Othello, on the other hand, the most modern of all his plays, Shakespeare had recourse neither to outward boding, nor to inward foreboding, but planted a plain finger-post in the soil of human nature, when he made Brabantio say —
"Look to her, Moor, if thou hast eyes to see:
Mr. Stephen Phillips, in the first act of Paolo and Francesca, outdoes all his predecessors, ancient or modern, in his daring use of sibylline prophecy. He makes Giovanni's blind foster-mother, Angela, foretell the tragedy in almost every detail, save that, in her vision, she cannot see the face of Francesca's lover. Mr. Phillips, I take it, is here rein-forcing ancient tradition by a reference to modern " psychical research." He trusts to our conceiving such clairvoyance to be not wholly impossible, and giving it what may be called provisional credence. Whether the device be artistic or not we need not here consider. I merely point to it as a conspicuous example of the use of the finger-post.
It need scarcely be said that a misleading finger-post is carefully to be avoided, except in the rare cases where it may be advisable to beget a momentary misapprehension on the part of the audience, which shall be almost instantly corrected in some pleasant or otherwise effective fashion.' It is naturally difficult to think of striking instances of the misleading finger-posts; for plays which contain such a blunder are not apt to survive, even in the memory. A small example occurs in a clever play named A Modern Aspasia by Mr. Hamilton Fyfe. Edward Meredith has two house-holds: a London house over which his lawful wife, Muriel, presides; and a country cottage where dwells his mistress, Margaret, with her two children. One day Muriel's automobile breaks down near Margaret's cottage, and, while the tyre is being repaired, Margaret gives her visitor tea, neither of them knowing the other. Throughout the scene we are naturally wondering whether a revelation is to occur ; and when, towards the close, Muriel goes to Margaret's room, " to put her hat straight," we have no longer any doubt on the subject. It is practically inevitable that she should find in the room her husband's photograph, or some object which she should instantly recognize as his, and should return to the stage in full possession of the secret. This is so probable that nothing but a miracle can prevent it : we mentally give the author credit for bringing about his revelation in a very simple and natural way; and we are proportionately disappointed when we find that the miracle has occurred, and that Muriel returns to the sitting-room no wiser than she left it. Very possibly the general economy of the play demanded that the revelation should not take place at this juncture. That question does not here concern us. The point is that, having determined to reserve the revelation for his next act, the author ought not, by sending Muriel into Margaret's bedroom, to have awakened in us a confident anticipation of its occurring there and then. A romantic play by Mr. J. B. Fagan, entitled Under Which King? offers another small instance of the same nature. The date is 1746; certain despatches of vast importance have to be carried by a Hanoverian officer from Moidart to Fort William. The Jacobites arrange to drug the officer ; and, to make assurance doubly sure, in case the drug should fail to act, they post a High-land marksman in a narrow glen to pick him off as he passes. The drug does act ; but his lady-love, to save his military honour, assumes male attire and rides off with the despatches. We hear her horse's hoofs go clattering down the road ; and then, as the curtain falls, we hear a shot ring out into the night. This shot is a misleading finger-post. Nothing comes of it: we find in the next act that the marksman has missed! But marksmen, under such circumstances, have no business to miss. It is a breach of the dramatic proprieties. We feel that the author has been trifling with us in inflicting on us this purely mechanical and momentary " scare." The case would be different if the young lady knew that the marksman was lying in ambush, and determined to run the gantlet. In that case the incident would be a trait of character; but, unless my memory deceives me, that is not the case. On the stage, every bullet should have its billet — not necessarily in the person aimed at, but in the emotions or anticipations of the audience. This bullet may, indeed, give us a momentary thrill of alarm; but it is dearly bought at the expense of subsequent disillusionment.
We have now to consider the subject of over-preparation, too obtrusive preparation, mountainous preparation leading only to a mouse-like effect. This is the characteristic error of the so-called " well-made play," the play of elaborate and ingenious intrigue. The trouble with the well-made play is that it is almost always, and of necessity, ill-made. Very rarely does the playwright succeed in weaving a web which is at once intricate, consistent, and clear. In nineteen cases out of twenty there are glaring flaws that have to be overlooked ; or else the pattern is so involved that the mind's eye cannot follow it, and becomes bewildered and fatigued. A classical example of both faults may be found in Congreve's so-called comedy The Double-Dealer. This is, in fact, a powerful drama, somewhat in the Sardou manner; but Congreve had none of Sardou's deftness in manipulating an intrigue. Maskwell is not only a double-dealer, but a triple- or quadruple-dealer; so that the brain soon grows dizzy in the vortex of his villainies. The play, it may be noted, was a failure.
There is a quite legitimate pleasure to be found, no doubt, in a complex intrigue which is also perspicuous. Plays such as Alexandre Dumas's Ma-demoiselle de Belle-Isle, or the pseudo-historical dramas of Scribe—Adrienne Lecouvreur, Bertrand et Raton, Un Verre d'Eau, Les Trois Maupin, etc. — are amusing toys, like those social or military tableaux, the figures of which you can set in motion by dropping a penny in the slot. But the trick of this sort of " preparation " has long been found out, and even unsophisticated audiences are scarcely to be thrilled by it. We may accept it as a sound principle, based on common sense and justified by experience, that an audience should never be tempted to exclaim, " What a marvellously clever fellow is this playwright ! How infinitely cleverer than the dramatist who constructs the tragi-comedy of life."
This is what we inevitably exclaim as we watch Victorien Sardou, in whom French ingenuity culminated and caricatured itself, laying the foundations of one of his labyrinthine intrigues. The absurdities of " preparation " in this sense could scarcely be better satirized than in the following page from Francisque Sarcey's criticism of Nos Intimes (known in English as Peril) — a page which is intended, not as satire, but as eulogy —
At the sixth performance, I met, during the first interact, a man of infinite taste who . . . complained of the lengthinesses of this first act : " What a lot of details," he said, " which serve no purpose, and had better have been omitted ! What is the use of that long story about the cactus with a flower that is unique in all the world? Why trouble us with that dahlia-root, which M. Caussade's neighbour has thrown over the garden wall? Was it necessary to inflict on us all that talk about the fox that plays havoc in the garden? What have we to do with that mischievous beast? And that Tolozan, with his endless digressions ! What do we care about his ideas on love, on metempsychosis, on friendship, etc.? All this stuff only retards the action." " On the contrary," I replied, " all this is just what is going to interest you. You are impatient of these details, because you are looking out for the scenes of passion which have been promised you. But reflect that, without these preparations, the scenes of passion would not touch you. That cactus-flower will play its part, you may be sure; that dahlia-root is not there for nothing; that fox to which you object, and of which you will hear more talk during two more acts, will bring about the solution of one of the most entertaining situations in all drama."
M. Sarcey does not tell us what his interlocutor replied; but he might have said, like the hero of Le Réveillon: " Are you sure there is no mistake? Are you defending Sardou, or attacking him ? "
For another example of ultra-complex preparation let me turn to a play by Mr. Sydney Grundy, entitled The Degenerates. Mr. Grundy, though an adept of the Scribe school, has done so much strong and original work that I apologize for exhuming a play in which he almost burlesqued his own method ; but for that very reason it is difficult to find a more convincing or more deter-rent example of misdirected ingenuity. The de-tails of the plot need not be recited. It is sufficient to say that the curtain has not been raised ten minutes before our attention has been drawn to the fact that a certain Lady Saumarez has her monogram on everything she wears, even to her gloves : whence we at once foresee that she is destined to get into a compromising situation, to escape from it, but to leave a glove behind her. In due time the compromising situation arrives, and we find that it not only requires a room with three doors, but that a locksmith has to be specially called in to provide two of these doors with peculiar locks, so that, when once shut, they cannot be opened from inside except with a key! What interest can we take in a situation turning on such contrivances? Sane technic laughs at locksmiths. And after all this preparation, the situation proves to be a familiar trick of theatrical thimble-rigging: you lift the thimble, and instead of Pea A, behold Pea B ! — instead of Lady Saumarez it is Mrs. Trevelyan who is concealed in Isidore de Lorano's bedroom. Sir William Saumarez must be an exceedingly simple-minded person to accept the substitution, and exceedingly unfamiliar with the French drama of the 'seventies and 'eighties. If he had his wits about him he would say : " I know this dodge: it comes from Sardou. Lady Saumarez has just slipped out by that door, up R., and if I look about I shall certainly find her fan, or her glove, or her handkerchief somewhere on the premises." The author may object that such criticism would end in paralyzing the playwright, and that, if men always profited by the lessons of the stage, the world would long ago have become so wise that there would be no more room in it for drama, which lives on human folly. " You will tell me next," he may say, " that I must not make groundless jealousy the theme of a play, because every one who has seen Othello would at once detect the machinations of an Iago! " The retort is logically specious, but it mistakes the point. It would certainly be rash to put any limit to human gullibility, or to deny that Sir William Saumarez, in the given situation, might conceivably be hood-winked. The question is not one of psychology but of theatrical expediency: and the point is that when a situation is at once highly improbable in real life and exceedingly familiar on the stage, we cannot help mentally caricaturing it as it proceeds, and are thus prevented from lending it the provisional credence on which interest and emotion depend.
An instructive contrast to The Degenerates may be found in a nearly contemporary play, Mrs. Dane's Defence, by Mr. Henry Arthur Jones. The first three acts of this play may be cited as an excellent example of dexterous preparation and development. Our interest in the sequence of events is aroused, sustained, and worked up to a high tension with consummate skill. There is no feverish overcrowding of incident, as is so often the case in the great French story-plays — Adrienne Lecouvreur, for example, or Fédora. The action moves onwards, unhasting, unresting, and the finger-posts are placed just where they are wanted.
The observance of a due proportion between preparation and result is a matter of great moment. Even when the result achieved is in itself very remarkable, it may be dearly purchased by a too long and too elaborate process of preparation. A famous play which is justly chargeable with this fault is The Gay Lord Quex. The third act is certainly one of the most breathlessly absorbing scenes in modern drama; but by what long, and serpentine, and gritty paths do we not approach it ! The elaborate series of trifling incidents by means of which Sophy Fullgarney is first brought from New Bond Street to Fauncey Court, and then substituted for the Duchess's maid, is at no point actually improbable; and yet we feel that a vast effort has been made to attain an end which, owing to the very length of the sequence of chances, at last assumes an air of improbability. There is little doubt that the substructure of the great scene might have been very much simpler. I imagine that Sir Arthur Pinero was betrayed into complexity and over-elaboration by his desire to use, as a background for his action, a study of that " curious phase of modern life," the manicurist's parlour. To those who find this study interesting, the disproportion between preliminaries and result may be less apparent. It certainly did not interfere with the success of the play in its novelty; but it may very probably curtail its lease of life. What should we know of The School for Scandal today, if it consisted of nothing but the Screen Scene and two laborious acts of preparation?
A too obvious preparation is very apt to defeat its end by begetting a perversely quizzical frame of mind in the audience. The desired effect is dis-counted, like a conjuring trick in which the mechanism is too transparent. Let me recall a trivial but instructive instance of this error. The occasion was the first performance of Pillars of Society at the Gaiety Theatre, London — the first Ibsen performance ever given in England. At the end of the third act, Krap, Consul Bernick's clerk, knocks at the door of his master's office and says, " It is blowing up to a stiff gale. Is the Indian Girl to sail in spite of it? " Whereupon Bernick, though he knows that the Indian Girl is hopelessly unseaworthy, replies, " The Indian Girl is to sail in spite of it." It had occurred to some one that the effect of this incident would be heightened if Krap, before knocking at the Consul's door, were to consult the barometer, and show by his demeanour that it was falling rapidly. A barometer had accordingly been hung, up stage, near the veranda entrance ; and, as the scenic apparatus of a Gaiety matinée was in those days always of the scantiest, it was practically the one decoration of a room otherwise bare almost to indecency. It had stared the audience full in the face through three long acts; and when, at the end of the third, Krap went up to it and tapped it, a sigh of relief ran through the house, as much as to say, " At last ! so that was what it was for!"— to the no small detriment of the situation. Here the fault lay in the obtrusiveness of the preparation. Had the barometer passed practically unnoticed among the other details of a well-furnished hall, it would at any rate have been innocent, and perhaps helpful. As it was, it seemed to challenge the curiosity of the audience, saying, " I am evidently here with some intention ; guess, now, what the intention can be ! " The producer had failed in the art which conceals art.
Another little trait from a play of those far-past days illustrates the same point. It was a drawing-room drama of the Scribe school. Near the beginning of an act, some one spilt a bottle of red ink, and mopped it up with his (or her) handkerchief, leaving the handkerchief on the escritoire. The act proceeded from scene to scene, and the handkerchief remained unnoticed ; but every one in the audience who knew the rules of the game, kept his eye on the escritoire, and was certain that that ink had not been spilt for nothing. In due course a situation of great intensity was reached, wherein the villain produced a pistol and fired at the heroine, who fainted. As a matter of fact he had missed her; but her quick-witted friend seized the gory handkerchief, and, waving it in the air, persuaded the villain that the shot had taken deadly effect, and that he must flee for his life. Even in those days, such an unblushing piece of trickery was found more comic than impressive. It was a case of preparation " giving itself away."
A somewhat later play, The Mummy and the Humming Bird, by Mr. Isaac Henderson, contains a good example of over-elaborate preparation. The Earl of Lumley, lost in his chemical studies with a more than Newtonian absorption, suffers his young wife to form a sentimental friendship with a scoundrel of an Italian novelist, Signor D'Orelli. Remaining at home one evening, when Lady Lumley and a party of friends, including D'Orelli, have gone off to dine at a restaurant, the Earl chances to look out of the window, and observes an organ-grinder making doleful music in the snow. His heart is touched, and he invites the music-monger to join him in his study and share his informal dinner. The conversation between them is carried on by means of signs, for the organ-grinder knows no English, and the Earl is painfully and improbably ignorant of Italian. He does not even know that Roma means Rome, and Londra, London. This ignorance, however, is part of the author's ingenuity. It leads to the establishment of, a sort of object-speech, by aid of which the Earl learns that his guest has come to England to prosecute a vendetta against the man who ruined his happy Sicilian home. I need scarcely say that this villain is none other than D'Orelli; and when at last he and the Countess elope to Paris, the object-speech enables Giuseppe to convey to the Earl, by aid of a brandy-bottle, a syphon, a broken plate, and half-a-crown, not only the place of their destination, but the very hotel to which they are going. This is a fair example of that ingenuity for ingenuity's sake which was once thought the very essence of the playwright's craft, but has long ago lost all attraction for intelligent audiences.
We may take it as a rule that any scene which requires an obviously purposeful scenic arrange-ment is thereby discounted. It may be strong enough to live down the disadvantage ; but a disadvantage it is none the less. In a play of Mr. Carton's, The Home Secretary, a paper of great importance was known to be contained in an official despatch-box. When the curtain rose on the last act, it revealed this despatch-box on a table right opposite a French window, while at the other side of the room a high-backed arm-chair discreetly averted its face. Every one could see at a glance that the romantic Anarchist was going to sneak in at the window and attempt to abstract the despatch-box, while the heroine was to lie perdue in the high-backed chair; and when, at the fated moment, all this punctually occurred, one could scarcely repress an " Ah ! " of sarcastic satisfaction. Similarly, in an able play named Mr. and Mrs. Daventry, Mr. Frank Harris had conceived a situation which required that the scene should be specially built for eavesdropping.' As soon as the curtain rose, and revealed a screen drawn half-way down the stage, with a sofa ensconced behind it, we knew what to expect. Of course Mrs. Daventry was to lie on the sofa and overhear a duologue between her husband and his mistress: the only puzzle was to understand why the guilty pair should neglect the precaution of looking be-hind the screen. As a matter of fact, Mrs. Daventry, before she lay down, switched off the lights, and Daventry and Lady Langham, finding the room dark, assumed it to be empty. With astounding foolhardiness, considering that the house was full of guests, and this a much-frequented public room, Daventry proceeded to lock the door, and continue his conversation with Lady Langham in the fire-light. Thus, when the lady's husband came knocking at the door, Mrs. Daventry was able to rescue the guilty pair from an apparently hopeless predicament, by calmly switching on the lights and opening the door to Sir John Langham. The situation was undoubtedly a " strong" one; but the tendency of modern technic is to hold " strength " too dearly purchased at such reckless expense of preparation.
There are, then, very clear limits to the validity of the Dumas maxim that " The art of the theatre is the art of preparations." Certain it is that over-preparation is the most fatal of errors. The clumsiest thing a dramatist can possibly do is to lay a long and elaborate train for the ignition of a squib. We take pleasure in an event which has been " prepared " in the sense that we have been led to desire it, and have wondered how it was to be brought about. But we scoff at an occurrence which nothing but our knowledge of the tricks of the stage could possibly lead us to expect, yet which, knowing these tricks, we have foreseen from afar, and resented in advance.