Forms Of American Drama
( Originally Published 1911 )
THE American theatre has created no special form of drama; it has not even been original in its rhythm of expression. It has modified types, it has infused much picturesque detail into local condition, it has expressed rather crudely all that is meant by American "uplift," but it has done so in form imitative of English and Continental examples.
But at the present time the American theatre-goer is becoming conscious of form, inasmuch as ideas are in the air which cannot be satisfied with the old moulds. If Augustus Thomas had any spark of mysticism about him, he would express his belief in telepathy through other channels than direct narrative; if the comic opera librettist had been brought up in the school of W. S. Gilbert, his "book" would be more than a transitory vehicle; if the dramatist who turns novels into plays only realized that even a dramatization has a technique and a unity apart from the novel itself, there would be fewer failures in that direction.
The time is ripe for new form, and the only way in which we can determine what that shall be is to determine the real, true meaning of fundamental principles underlying the art. In our day we have seen changes and modifications in several forms; we have even witnessed the creation of special moulds for special amusements. Melodrama rose to a certain pitch of violence, then waned; musical comedy developed to a certain point and remained there; rag-time music shaped a lyric as ungainly as the cake-walk dance; vaudeville, through the efforts of Tony Pastor and later of Proctor and Keith, was evolved from the variety. Yet, as regards the latter, we have seen it persist, not only in vaudeville, but in comic opera as well.
It is only in the minor forms of theatrical art that we have retrograded. In this very problem of comic opera, we have reverted far from such a type of musical entertainment as Gilbert and Sullivan used to give. Music, song, and dance are welded together in a "show" that depends more on its topical "hit" than on any meaning the piece as a whole might have. Musical comedy is now nothing more nor less than the means of exploiting vaudeville reputation and variety glitter.
In fact, modern musical comedy is a hybrid type, of which the original was John Gay's "The Beggar's Opera" (1728), and it allows one to introduce any feature into the entertainment without disturbing the plot. Ask Harry B. Smith, author of "Rob Roy," "Robin Hood," "The Fortune Teller," and "The Wizard of the Nile"; Henry Blossom, who wrote the "books" for "The Yankee Consul," "Mlle.. Modiste," and "The Red Mill"; Frank Pixley, who did "The Burgomaster," "King Dodo," and "The Prince of Pilsen" — they will tell you that the chief difficulty is in "boosting" a "book" after it is written, in securing the proper interpolated lyrics. George V. Hobart not only turns out scores of these flimsy "books," but he is regarded as a general renovator. Musical comedy is in constant need of a steady stream of oxygen.
Fortunes are made in the musical comedy field. The cooperation of Edgar Smith with Weber and Fields; of John McNally with the Roger Brothers; the individual coups of Glen Macdonough's "The Wizard of Oz" and "Babes in Toyland," of Owen Hall's "Florodora," of Hugh Morton's "The Belle of New York" — these are sufficient evidences of the popularity of the form, apart from its permanence or its quality. The facts are these. George Ade's "The Sultan of Sulu" was only a moderate success, yet it brought him an income. George M. Cohan, librettist, composer, and actor, whose songs sell also in the music stores, netting him a royalty, has been known to draw over three thousand dollars weekly as a librettist alone. That is what "Little Johnny Jones," "Forty-five Minutes from Broadway," and "Yankee Doodle" have done for him.
But there is not one of these librettists or of these composers whose work will withstand more than a decade. There is no "book" that will have the vitality of Gilbert's "Patience," or "H. M. S. Pinafore," or "The Mikado." Not one of these names will outlast more than two generations, whereas Meilhac and Halévy are unmistakably identified with Bizet and Prosper Mérimée in "Carmen." Even such a transplanted and effective piece as Lehar's "The Merry Widow" will be imitated, until the imitations dim its freshness. For the "book " is poor.
Experience shows that musical comedy abhors consistency; it is a loose type, even as vaudeville is a loose type. These forms are full of tricks. Vaudeville, it is true, has become legitimitized by the introduction of the high-class artist, who gives a form of play in which our American dramatist would do well to indulge; I mean, the playlet. And the custom has now become so fixed, that the best actor, no matter what his winter's work may be, does not disdain the comfortable fortune awaiting him in a few weeks' vaudeville. In this way Henry Miller has utilized Clyde Fitch's "Frédéric Lemaître." Vaudeville, however, has the pernicious effect of moving-pictures; the audience is not held by any unified or consecutive interest; it is, in fact, almost as casual as frequenters of the nickelodeon playhouses. Out from vaudeville has come excellent material, not of the variety type, but of the art type. Chevalier and Lauder and Genée have danced and sung, Mrs. Campbell has acted, and historians like to call to mind the days when even Edwin Booth did not disdain to blacken his face, or Edwin Forrest to dance a jig.
The chief characteristics of vaudeville will remain, how-ever much its good points are abused by the variety inheritance. It is a form dependent on one's like for disassociation of ideas; it is amusement cultivating nervous strain rather than resulting in permanent effect.
The dramatization of novels cannot be called a new form, for Shakespeare looms in the past, an inimitable adapter of the conte. Professor Matthews, in his "Pen and Ink," has a suggestive chapter on this process, and we note that it has become a custom in every country to benefit by the inventive faculty of the novelist. For, while I cannot agree with Paul M. Potter, adapter of "Trilby," that the passionate story is all an audience seeks, I do believe that an interesting story, in novel form, might be very well utilized by the dramatist, but, mind you, in the dramatist's way. In other words, the latter must take liberties with the former, in so far as the technique of the latter differs from that of the former.
Mr. Potter is rash when he claims that the drama is not dependent upon the intellectual element. But it is easy to fall into platitudes, and Mr. Potter's belief that "if the feelings of the audience are rightly moved, the play succeeds," has nothing to prove. For audiences are moved intellectually as well as passionately, and, what is more, they have a common spirit which passion only indirectly appeals to. When one looks back on "The Eternal City," "The Only Way," "The Prisoner of Zenda," "When Knighthood was in Flower," "Janice Meredith," and countless other dramatizations, when one regards the work of Potter, of Rose, of Kester, and of an increasing host, one is tempted to believe that dramatization has become a form — a manufactured form — readily manipulated, but built only to last a season. We have seen how often the American dramatist has either dramatized or adapted. Boucicault lived upon the process; it even dulled his originality, though it did not paralyze his resources of inventiveness.
But the ease with which novels have been turned into plays has presented a mistaken idea to the novelist regarding the stage. The process has been detrimental to the drama as well as to the novel. There is no reason, however, why lasting plays should not be taken from books, save that where there is a slavish dependence upon the story as told, there is a consequent lack of intensity and of close technique. The reading public scares the dramatizer, for when a book is popular, and only popular books are dramatized, the dramatist has to keep faith with what the public already knows.
I do not think that it is so necessary for the student of American drama to trace minutely the varying forms in which drama expresses itself. It is enough that we are imitative in farce, in comedy, in social drama, in the problem play, in every form imported from abroad. What should concern us, however, is a subject that narrows itself down to two points: comedy on one hand, and tragedy on the other. How fare these with us, not as form, but as spirit; not as convention, but as attitude, as national outlook?
If our American humor is what we claim it to be, then our comedy should be rich. And no one may complain of this, remembering Mark Twain, George Ade, and Peter F. Dunne (Mr. Dooley). If our American sanity is a fact, then our recognition of the Tragic Spirit, as opposed to the special form of tragedy, must be pronounced. Our American dramatists of the closet drama employed the old classic form of catastrophe, but that has passed out of date with the coming of modern technique. Our early American humorists gave types caricatured as we have seen in Sellers, in Solon Shingle, and in others, but the human view, which lies at the basis of realism, has modified every form of comedy and tragedy, and there is only left the deep and abiding spirit of each with which to cope.
There is no business more speculative than that of defining things; lexicographers are not given the prophetic vision, and only one, so far, — Dr. Johnson — has possessed the literary sense. No matter what limitation we place upon the meaning of a word, time overrides it and creates a periodic point of view.
Since Aristotle framed his classic definition of tragedy,we have been called upon to reckon with drama in terms of Shakespeare on one hand, and in terms of Ibsen and Maeterlinck on the other. Literary history has taught us to be wary of declaring old formule useless. Hence, there has become evolved a type of criticism which is more interesting because of its angle of vision than because it throws any deep and abiding light upon the fundamental starting-point.
Professor Ashley Thorndike wrote a volume for a series called "The Types of English Literature," and he gave it the inclusive title of "Tragedy." What the reader finds to be the case is, that beginning with certain general premises, he discusses the modifications attendant upon all practice, and in this case subject to national characteristics. And, after reading through the chapters, a truth is impressed upon us: tragedy, as a mere form, is not constant, but is a convention of art, subject to conventional social ideas and ideals. The Tragic Spirit behind the sequence of things, or rather within and coincident with the evolution of humanity, is more eternal and more universal.
We have not yet had a treatise on the Tragic Spirit that has not paid greater attention to the comparative estimate of dramatists in the university or academic manner, than to the psychological reasons for the existence of the spirit itself. Gummere considers the vocero, or tribal songs of grief; here is a primitive basis, unhindered by any cumber-some body of literature, — a basis upon which to reach some physical recognition of tragedy. Perhaps, in a small and not wholly satisfactory manner, W. L. Courtney has suggested quite as much of the historical perspective in a survey of "The Idea of Tragedy" as one would need, in order to arrive at some conception of the tragic, not as a form but as a principle.
Now, what has happened in this wild and seemingly in-effectual groping for the defining marks of tragedy? Aristotle, in true greatness of the Greek spirit, attempting to reduce the problem to its simplest points, yet including all its essential connections with life, as the Greek philosophers saw life, used general rather than specific terms: "Tragedy is an imitation of an action that is serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude; in language embellished with each kind of artistic ornament, the several kinds being found in separate parts of the play; in the form of action, not of narrative; through pity and fear effecting the proper katharsis, or purgation, of these emotions."
The danger of literary study is that, too often, we are side-tracked by minor interesting problems. Not only are there students working in the oppressive style so well exemplified in Dr. Schelling's "Elizabethan Drama," where streams of fact measure a certain orderliness of mind, without expressing the breadth of spiritual view — forgetful of the life and of the personality in the fractional difference of the fact — but a literature has grown up around the interpretation of a word. In Butcher's translation of Aristotle, he analyzes the Greek conception of "the function of tragedy," and deals with those critics, including Lessing and Goethe, who have debated and challenged the translation of the word katharsis, or purgation. You see how subtly one may be drawn into a profound discussion of the ethics of an art, losing sight of the essentials under consideration.
The subject is a big one and a human one; on one hand, you have the conventions of the stage in different ages, affecting the form of tragedy; on the other, there are the moral and social standards which have moved the individual along the scale of increasing importance. We have had considered for us Greek tragedy, Roman tragedy, and, in modern times, tragedy reacted upon by English, French, German, Spanish, and Italian temperament. But the basic reasons for the support and development of the Tragic Spirit, whatever the environment, have not had a popular, a readable exposition. That Americans, for example, do not care for tragedy as a form of drama, and blind them-selves to the Tragic Spirit, is not due to a predominating cry in the illogical vein of the Dr. Fell couplet. Nor may we go so deep as ethnology for an explanation. But a perspective view of our human response to social and economic fact will give us cause to believe that comedy, in its richest sense, measures our dramatic taste.
In Greek tragedy, we consider the abstract will struggling against a religious attitude toward Fate. In Shakespeare, there is the human will centered upon personality, struggling, not against Fate, but against time and circumstance. In Ibsen and Maeterlinck, the stage contracts, becomes centred in personality effected by all the currents of time. I have elsewhere said that Ibsen unfailingly approached optimism, save in the case of "Hedda Gabler" and "The Wild Duck," through pessimistic channels; that his indignation was health-giving, and counteracted the bitter realism of his temporal contemplation. Maeterlinck, in the tracks of Emerson, has taken all the abstract ideas of the Greeks — the concepts of destiny, righteousness, truth — moving in an outside sphere, and has compressed them within and around the individual.
Tragedy of old had a conventional idea that only the highly bred, the kings, the princes of the universe, were subject to the cataclysmic reversals of Nature. But the modern note accentuates a democratic level, and, as we have "The Treasure of the Humble," so we, perforce, come to consider " the tragical in daily life."
"I have grown to believe," writes Maeterlinck, "that an old man, seated in his arm-chair, waiting patiently, with his lamp beside him; giving unconscious ear to all the eternal laws that reign about his house; interpreting, without comprehending, the silence of doors and windows, and the quivering voice of the light; submitting with bent head to the presence of his soul and his destiny, . . . motionless as he is, does yet live in reality a deeper, more human, and more universal life than the lover who strangles his mistress, the captain who conquers in battle, or `the husband who avenges his honor.'"
Here, then, the modern concept of tragedy, even in its formal state, takes on a new aspect; the heightened swing of blank verse has had to contend with the commonplace vitality of Ibsen prose. But the essence of the form, which is the Tragic Spirit, has become almost personal in its source.
In most cases, literary history has shown that dramaturgic conventions may generally be defied. The comic idea has spread in such directions as to approach the tragic. Someone refused lately to write a book on comedy because the subject was so inclusive in its reach, under modern theatrical nomenclature. No longer does a tragedy necessarily imply death; no longer does death have to occur off the stage. Technique and philosophy have thrown into temporary disuse the soliloquy, which largely expressed narratively what Ibsen could place into seemingly trite dialogue, what Maeterlinck, in such a perfect piece of psychology and clinical observation as "The Blind," treats through the atmospheric quality of his Ollendorfian talk — which is only Ollendorfian, by the way, when it is badly read.
Maeterlinck has given us "The Life of the Bee"; neither has science refuted his observation nor economics his social statement; yet primarily his essay is no text-book on apiculture, no discussion of the social unit. My contention is that scholarship only half sees, or, more aptly, sees only half of the subject it considers. Tragedy needs yet to be viewed in the Maeterlinckian fulness.
This does not mean that one should try to sense instinctively the Tragic Spirit, though the true artist assuredly be-comes freer as he divines his substance and its essential form, rather than bases it upon studied or remembered models. One writes tragedy only when the Tragic Spirit moves him forcefully, only when it emanates from the material which is his choice. I quote Maeterlinck: "None but yourself shall you meet on the highway of Fate. If Judas go forth to-night, it is toward Judas his steps will tend."
Life is so closely knit with the tragic and the comic, that defining will not account for all the forms that arise there-from. Abstractly stated, we see the Tragic Spirit as one unchangeable principle — wherein agony, despair, grief, pain, tend toward the dissolution of the human will. Comedy may yield to the darker balance of life, becoming serious, grave, even destructive, yet still we would keep from designating it as tragedy.
Therefore, even though "A Doll's House" and "Ghosts" be painful in their outcome, though "Hannele" wrench the heart with its pathetic child symbol, though Pinero's "Iris" be the tragic dragging of a woman into the gutter, we theatre-goers are at a want for the phrase by which to call them. Ibsen wrote no tragedies during his later life, in the accepted sense of the word; yet in no modern playwright is the Tragic Spirit so clearly realizable — which in no way detracts from his positive influence.
Somehow, form has crept into the popular conception of the outward expression by which the Tragic Spirit is recognized. Is it necessary to have the lofty style, the exaggerated speech, the melancholy event, the florid diction, the stately action? Then truly the cottage and cabin are no scenes for tragedy, and the commonplace contains no essence of the same. It is the great flow of circumstance, of time, of infinitude around the lowly, that must be reconciled with the accustomed height and swing of the art form.
Verily, the student's perspective is needed by the writer on tragedy, but it is his imagination and his constructive ability that will aid him most. For the Tragic Spirit in man is that which gives life to tragedy, and the product may only be a faint reflex of the principle. That is where Greek art overreached the limits of its time; it was conceived clearly in the spirit of highest Greek endeavor; it was based upon the concepts of eternal principles. Thinking was not imitative; it was pristine. Men spoke like oracles, stating law as above fact.
Tragedy, as a form of art, is at the present, furthest removed from the American spirit — from the democratic spirit. I, nevertheless, take the attitude that we must not blind ourselves to the existence of the Tragic Spirit, even though we do not accept tragedy, per se, on our boards. Ibsen's voice proclaims its presence underlying the ills of our social organism; Maeterlinck's philosophy shows the lowliest soul confronted by the problems of eternity. We respond in terms of the comic, but the American people cannot be blind to the tragic in their lives.
We meet misfortune in the comedy spirit of youth. Take the ravages of the Civil War and the epic response afterward among Southerners, who faced the future with supernal faith. Take the San Francisco earthquake and the reaction that resulted in the rebuilding of a city. No one will deny the presence there of the tragic element. Perhaps we are prone to lose sight of it in the reaction of the American spirit itself, after the tragic event.
Undoubtedly, the old dramatic terms, though rigidly defined by lexicographers, are becoming too narrow to hold the varying forms. And no doubt, with the principle of Ibsen on one hand, and with that of Maeterlinck on the other, we are tending toward a new form. This will be considered later. But, at present, we need some treatise on tragedy which will estimate its essential spirit as well as its varying expression. We speak frankly in our magazines and on our stage, of conditions involving sexual relations and struggles in environment. Yet, though 'we see souls dragged to the depths of despair in Walter's "The Easiest Way," though Jones's "Mrs. Dane's Defense" gives us another form of social evil, and Nirdlinger, in "The World and His Wife," represents the grave consequences of social gossip, still we find staring us in the face on our program the word " comedy." And our attitude becomes that of comedy toward the vital problems of life, simply because we will not countenance on our stage, or in our ordinary pursuits, the form of tragedy, and we have failed to identify in our national life the presence of a Tragic Spirit.
The Comic Spirit is an illusive factor in literary history; it is a deep and subtle principle in life. Raised from its Bacchic origin, it has become the very core of sanity, it has become the true moral corrective of tragedy. Perhaps we are losing sight of this in our demand that a name cover many species, until at last the pure type is confounded with the hybrid. But, nevertheless, for richness of humanity, for breadth of view, for deep understanding, the Comic Spirit has a range that embraces a large sweep of life.
To him who views the world aright, there are always the action and reaction, the tension and relief. In tragedy, the emotions are so powerfully involved that one is no longer able to measure the deviation from the normal view; but a real value of the Comic Spirit depends almost wholly upon our realization of how far we have deflected from the truth. We can only reach the latter state when we have adequately become informed of the former. We arrive at the pure comic when we have sounded the depths of full existence.
Now, this view of comedy has been lost to the present-day playgoer; most of our writers either avoid the subject as being too abstract for journalistic purposes, or else discuss new forms herded together under an old name. If we look into the philosophy of the matter, we find the psychologist too intent upon the physiological reasons as to why we laugh, and the metaphysician too loath to handle the subject in the concrete. Yet, in the scattered cases where writing has been done on the Comic Spirit, the humanistic aspect has been surely persisting, and its right to be regarded as the sane view seems justified in the light of accomplishment.
Within past years, we have had evidences of an existing sense of the Comic Spirit among our dramatists and players. Mr. Barrie would approach very near to it, if his piquancy of outlook was not limited by an agreeable mannerism of narrative style. After a fashion, he defined the true comedy position when, in "What Every Woman Knows," Maggie Wylie declared that no one could love her who could n't laugh at her a little.
When Percy Mackaye wrote "Mater," his intention was to imbue American conditions with the essence of comedy, illustrating by way of political satire the fundamental note in life, that "the test of love — and the best of love — is laughter." But at present his spiritual desire is more defined than his understanding of the body politic, and Mr. Mackaye's Comic Spirit, as expressed, comes in flashes rather than in even flow.
Paul Kester, essaying to make a drama from "Don Quixote," conceived his knight-errant in terms of situation, rather than in terms of the rich defects of the character. In this latter respect, Mr. Sothern was the only one who approached Cervantes' original conception — to picture the weakness of over-romantic chivalry, at the same time fully realizing perfectly the innate perfectness of the true gentleman. His acting raised Mr. Kester's play, by enforcing the personal dignity of the character.
Take what comedy you will, in which there flows any of the red blood of life, and, after analysis, you will find that the Comic Spirit is not haphazard, is not shallow, is not easy to grasp. One must be very near to life in order to feel it, and must have asked one's self questions regarding the eternal verities, as well as have answered them.
I have chosen to confine myself entirely to the Comic Spirit as affecting drama, realizing at the outset that we must not identify it exclusively with the stage, inasmuch as we have Thackeray, Balzac, La Fontaine, Cervantes, Rabelais, and Chaucer richly entitled to consideration in the larger field. But I am taking the stage, for I am aware that, curiously, it is there that the fullest meaning of the Comic Spirit is in greatest danger of being submerged. There are some audiences so regaled by the fun-making of Eddie Foy and James T. Powers — thoroughly clever as far as they go — that these same audiences do not see the sweet human defects that bring one to the verge of tears. Why not, they argue, call "'Op o' My Thumb" a tragedy and be done with it?
All is not gold that glitters, saith the proverb; which means, theatrically, that our stage is too filled with song and dance to comprehend the Comic Spirit. Mr. Mansfield never once builded upon our reaching the human and interpretative importance of Molière's " Misanthrope." He planned simply to satisfy his own desire to add to the honor of the stage; he was not disappointed, for Molière was not a popular success. Yet it is the duty of our critics to point the way to what the Comic Spirit means in the affairs of life. Our stage revivals are received with too much willingness to understand the archaeological shroud, and with no cultural perspective to note wherein the unctuousness and live quality lay. It is part of the university's province to quicken the past. And so, I welcome Dr. Curtis Hidden Page's translations of Molière, not only because they are an aid to the English reader, but because in the lucidity of their style they are adequate for stage presentation, with practical and judicious excisions. I believe it is given the audience to sense the essence of the comic without knowing why or how. This is seen in that instantaneous response of the reading public, for example, to Aldrich, to Mark Twain, to Holmes; and in the merry laugh over "Uncle Remus." I see the Comic Spirit swell the meaty substance of Henry James' sentences. It is not that the Comic Spirit is wanting, but that our vision of it has been warped by other forms which are, in comparison, even as paste jewels. It is surprising that we have so much of the richness of the comic in the face of newspaper supplements and musical comedies. We will have greater plays of the Comic Spirit just so soon as we are everywhere alive to its whole value. It were well for us, indeed, when we reach that stage of culture where we can grasp the humor of our faith without in the least relinquishing its sanctity. In deep reverence, I have heard portions of the Book of Mark read for the purpose of illustrating the rich essence of Christ's humor. Comedy and right living are closely related ideas.
At the beginning of a chapter on "Greek and Roman Comedy," in Professor Matthews' "The Development of the Drama," the author attempts to indicate a terse distinction between tragedy, serious drama, and comedy, basing the whole upon Brunetière's law — which after all is only Brunetière's restatement of the law of drama from time immemorial, — that all drama deals with the exercise of the human will. "If," so writes Professor Matthews, " the obstacle against which the will of the hero finally breaks itself is absolutely insurmountable, the Greek idea of Fate, for example, the Christian decree of Providence, or the modern scientific doctrine of heredity, then we have tragedy, pure and simple. If the obstacle is not absolutely insurmountable, being no more than the social law, some-thing of man's own making, and therefore not finally inexorable, then we have the serious drama. If the obstacle is only the desire of another human being, then the result of the contention of these two characters is likely to give us a comedy. And if the obstacle is merely one of the minor conventions of society, then we may have farce."
These are merely perfunctory demarcations, with only one phase of the matter indicated; for in no way do the several definitions clearly denote the measurement of the comic or tragic clash with the norm. The ethical, moral value of laughter lies in the fact that it makes us more sane, by bringing more truly into relief, through some slight in-congruity of motive or situation, the benefits of the normal life. Throughout his discussion of Aristotle, Butcher is continually emphasizing the humanistic, philosophical view of comedy, which distinguishes the modern from the ancient. He lays stress upon Hobbes' claim that "the passion of laughter is nothing else but a sudden glory, arising from a sudden conception of some eminency in ourselves, by comparison of the infirmity of others, or with our own formerly." The high comic poet must taste of life healthily, and see that it is good, before he formulates a table of contrasts. Knowing life, as it is given the big man to know it, he allows himself to throw relations out of harmony to the point where he is in danger of losing all hold upon the sane view.
The Comic Spirit, therefore, represents one of the highest factors, if not the highest, in life. From the modern stand-point, it approaches closer to the ethical demand, since it represents optimism rather than pessimism. "Comic emotion," Dr. Guthrie claims, "originates from the co-existence of a perception of incongruity and a persistent conviction, not probably more than half conscious and in all likelihood quite inexplicit, that in despite of such incongruity things are right."
The Greeks did not conceive the Comic Spirit in as pure a state as they did the Tragic Spirit; they could not wholly separate it from the Bacchic on one hand, or from the satiric on the other. "The ludicrous," as defined by Aristotle, "consists in some defect or ugliness which is not painful or destructive." The Greeks denied tears to laughter: they well-nigh sacrificed sympathy. There was some malice in their enjoyment of "discomfiture," as Butcher so well analyzes. They did not look to the comic for a criticism of life in general; they narrowed to the individual, sacrificing the type; they satirized with no regard for sane restraint. To them the Comic Spirit dwelt within the lower types.
As usual, we next turn attention to comedy in Shakespeare, as illustrating the rich humanistic view of character, devoid of buffoonery; one finds the full value in the character of Viola and in that of Malvolio. Life is warm, replete in sunshine here, with no poisoned shafts, but ripe in sympathy with human foibles, in kindliness. "Twelfth Night" is Shakespeare's midsummer in comedy, declares Professor Dowden.
In a broad sense, Molière is more nearly representative of the Comic Spirit than Shakespeare, although in a few instances the latter attained the pinnacle of preeminence. The former, however, clearly illustrates that perfection with which the comedy of manners, exquisitely representing its age on one hand, may likewise embrace a universal consideration. Scribe is Molière perverted.
"I can never care for seeing Things that force me to entertain low Thoughts of my Nature," wrote Congreve, in a letter concerning "Humor in Comedy." Take this statement in consideration with the moral status of his theatre, and we begin to realize that it was only through his grasp of the Comic Spirit that Congreve was preserved out of the general licentiousness of the time. He had the faults of his social environment; his genius rose above them, however identified with them, however shaped by them. Congreve means brilliancy of dialogue, and a sense of comic values, as soon as you are able to realize that he represents also a certain phase of English dramatic evolution. Do you remember Lamb's essay "On the Artificial Comedy of the Last Century"?
This is no simple subject that we are looking at so cursorily. Its proper consideration involves racial and national limitations and differences. What you smile over, I may not. What the English critic defines as Comedy, the German critic may deny; the one believes in a permanent effect of comedy, the other in simply a transitory effect. To enforce this, Dr. Paul Hamelius quotes Kant's "Kritik of Judgment," which defines "laughter as an emotion occasioned by the sudden resolution of a roused expectation into nothing."
Therefore, generally speaking, the German conception of comedy, as represented in Schlegel, is wild and lawless; and in true German manner, the philosophers, in especial Hegel, interpret the effect this "ignorance of self-restraint" has upon individuality and its vital relations to life, to cause and effect.
The book has yet to be written which will define the Comic Spirit in terms here suggested; the subject is so broad as to make the university worker hesitate. We want a vital discussion, in which tendencies, racial and social, are indicated; it is not enough that individual plays be defined in the scholar's manner. For the average reader is not familiar with plays of much wide diversity of range. That is why George Meredith is perhaps so little known to the general public as an analyzer of "comedy" in a special essay; it is full of learning, of great familiarity with stage history from the closet standpoint. He views his subject with the eye of the novelist. Yet his humanistic approach toward his discursive point of view is replete with unerring appreciation of the true value. "To be an exalted variety," he writes, "is to come under the calm, curious eye of the Comic Spirit, and be probed for what you are." Again he proclaims that "Comedy is the fountain of sound sense," all expressions of which are deeply conceived, and which, in themselves, refine even to pain.
In analyzing the essence of American humor, Charles Johnston 1 makes an excellent distinction between humor and wit, in both of which there must be the element of laughter. He writes:
" If there is a play of mind about difference of race, using this as the laughter-rousing contrast which is common to both wit and humor, and if this play of thought and feeling accentuates and heightens the race difference, and tries to show, or assume, as is often the case, that the race of the joker is endlessly superior to the other, then we are dealing with wit, an amusing thing enough in its way, but a false thing, one which leads us away from the true end of man. If, on the other hand, we have an accentuation of the common life, bridging the chasm of race, and the overplus of power is felt to be shared in by the two races, and to unite them, then we have genuine humor, something as vital to our true humanity as is the Tragedy of Greece, as is the Evangel of Galilee, yet something more joyful and buoyant than either; uniting us, not through comparison or the sense of common danger, but through the sense of common power, a prophecy of the golden age, of the ultimate triumph of the soul."
Consider these differences carefully, and it will be seen how reversed are the essential spirits of comedy and farce. These are not alone two forms of drama; they are also two outlooks upon life. The great fault with the American dramatist is that often he hides the richness of his humor beneath the incongruity of witty situation ; he spoils the good-natured satire of his intention beneath cartoon motives and actions. This was the weakness of Charles Hoyt (1860-1900), author of " A Parlor Match," " A Rag Baby," "Old Sport," "A Trip to Chinatown," "A Texas Steer," "A Temperance Town," " A Contented Woman" (1895), and "A Milk White Flag." His satire was spontaneous, but be became self-conscious whenever ' he attempted to cross the border into farce. His political pictures, his characterizations of conscientious churchmen, his thrusts against the sporting craze, the temperance movement, the militia, and the woman's rights movement would undoubtedly have placed him among the foremost American dramatists had he not persisted in upsetting his good work, which lay so largely in his ability to contrast, and in his resorting to the ridiculous and the incongruous. Hence, in Hoyt's plays there was an admixture of insight and shallowness.
I should say, therefore, that his farce-comedies were marked by humor, but were spoiled by the form of farce. As for Edward Harrigan (1845-1911), he must be characterized as a delineator of a special type, and with his partner, Tony Hart, he built up the reputation which won him support. For the two were funmakers, as Weber and Fields and the Rogers Brothers were funmakers. In 1871, Harrigan and Hart began their careers in "The Mulcaney Twins"; then there followed in quick succession "The Day We Went West," "The Doyle Brothers," "The Major" (1877), "Old Lavender" (1877), "The Mulligan Guards' Ball" (1879), "The Mulligan Guards' Chowder " (1879), "The Mulligan Guards' Christmas," "The Mulligan Guards' Surprise," and others.
Like the elder Tyrone Power's, Harrigan's pieces depended upon his acting.' There was no art in the writing of them, and they would not read well were they put into print. Nor can we say that they were typical of American humor. In the street sense, George M. Cohan represents the popular conception of American wit, and his ability should not be overlooked. But he does not in any way approach the true humor of George Ade, whose style, even before he became a playwright, was sufficiently conversational in his books to point the way to the stage. That road, however, came into being by the merest chance in 1902.
Ade was born in Kentland, Indiana, on February 9, 1866, his father being a prominent banker of the town. In his youth, the boy tasted of all that country life upon which he was to look back with gentle banter and kindly laughter. In 1887, he graduated from Purdue University, and there-upon began his profession of journalism, which was to lead him to authorship.
By 1890, he was on the Chicago Daily News, associating with Harry B. Smith, the librettist of "Robin Hood" and " Rob Roy"; Peter F. Dunne, alias "Mr. Dooley"; and Charles B. Dillingham, who, once the personal representative of Miss Julia Marlowe, is now one of the prominent managers of the time. Ade's strides were determined and rapid. In 1894, he became a member of the staff of the Chicago Record, remaining there seven years, and occupying the desk made vacant through the death of Eugene Field. His "Artie" book and his "Fables in Slang" were written during these years. In 1900, he sailed for China, Japan, and the Philippines. Thus far the reporter was seeing life in various hues.
Then, on his return, a young Chicago composer, Mr. Wathall, asked Ade to write the "book" for a musical score he was preparing for an amateur club. But the actual work had not progressed far when Henry W. Savage appeared upon the scene, and Ade entered as a factor in the American drama, with "The Sultan of Sulu." Then followed in quick succession, "Peggy from Paris," "The County Chairman," " The Sho-Gun," "The College Widow," "The Bad Samaritan," and "Just Out of College." "Father and the Boys" is his most recent successful piece.
All of these plays apply poignantly to American conditions; they make use of a fresh way of forcing the in-congruous elements of "news" to act themselves visibly before an audience. They are loaded down with a humor which is that of the man on the street — perfectly legitimate humor, even though viewing life from a lower level of values.
Take, for instance, the predominant object of "The Sho-Gun," which is a Korean opera. " It is meant," explains Mr. Ade himself, " to be an indirect treatise on the worship of titles, the formation of trusts, the potency of the American `pull,' Yankee commercial invasion, legal manoeuvring, advertising enterprise, and other subjects of timely interest."
The saving grace in our strenuous existence is our appreciation of our vagaries; that is why Mr. Ade's comic operas are as stimulating as good cartoons. Besides sup-plying the sinuous lines of color, they have ideas behind the detail. In this respect, Mr. Ade is not so very far removed from W. S. Gilbert, though lacking in facility and in grace. He has defined American drama as one in which American characters are dealt with "in such manner as to increase our self-respect and to give us a new insight into our characteristics as a people."'
Mr. Ade's humor has all the essence of good comedy, but its form is unsteady and is too imitative of the conventional musical comedy and of farce. I do not believe I am far wrong in the contention that our stage has yet to under-stand the true meaning of comedy, and especially so when it starts out to create comedy in a spirit which is really farce.
However incomplete our discussion, we have at least come to comprehend the justice of accusing our stage of misinterpreting the true, permanent function of comedy. We need a new nomenclature in order to divest the pure type of its confusing deviations. Because we have lost the rich meaning of comedy, we find it difficult, save in "An Enemy of the People," to understand the Comic Spirit in Ibsen, and it is only by this realization that we will grasp the full significance of Ibsen's optimism. Humor is innate; it is dependent as much upon a quick fancy as upon a quick response to the actual. Though it is not self-conscious, our efforts toward culture ignore the strength that comes from a general understanding of the Comic Spirit. Our American dramatists mostly reflect their humor as an external thing, though there is a difference of excellence between Mark Twain and George Ade; between George Ade and George M. Cohan. Raise the taste for the true Comic Spirit, which saturates humanity first, and creates situation secondarily, and the American dramatist will become more vital in his whole effect. The Comic Spirit exists in our literature, but not so in our drama; because, in bulk, our plays do not stand the test of literature.
And yet, the theatre-goer who thinks at all on these questions as to the essence of drama will feel that something big should eventually come from American humor on the one hand, and from our national sanity on the other. Certainly, when the accomplishment reaches us, it will be fraught in large measure with the Comic Spirit.