Theatre Of Today - The Literary Forces: Dramatists Of The Germanic Nations
( Originally Published 1914 )
IN grouping together Scandinavia, Germany, Austria, England and America for one chapter we find little beyond the supposed Germanic ancestry of the countries to justify the arbitrary connection. They have had quite different histories and traditions. One general fact alone can be predicated of them: they are learning to know each other. Not a little of this understanding is due to a mutual appreciation of their arts. Mod-ern facilities for printing and translation, for the spreading of daily news and classified information, has put the best part of the art and culture of each nation at the disposal of every other nation, the only practical limitation being the stupidity or narrow-mindedness of the recipient. And in the matter of the drama, of course, this internationalisation has been particularly striking. It is now about a quarter of a century since the first English performances of Ibsen's plays shocked and pained London. Rereading reviews of the time makes one realise what a distressing experience it was for the Englishmen to get somebody else's point of view. We need not lay this to English stupidity; every nation has at some time repeated the performance, and most of them do it continually. For that first mysterious puzzling out of another viewpoint is a mental and moral struggle. When it has been achieved, life is never again quite the same. So painful are the successive steps in the brotherhood of man.
Thanks in great part to Ibsen this process has been going on steadily in Europe and America in the last twenty or thirty years. There are few more impressive spectacles in the history of literature than the conquering of the European theatre by this grim thinker writing from a small and remote nation, doing something he wanted to do and nobody else in the world wanted him to do, and finally making everybody else want to do it too. The reawakening of the European theatre is of course due to more than one cause, but as a matter of overwhelming convenience we lay the whole mater to Ibsen and let it go at that. In whatever nation the appreciation of Ibsen penetrated, there arose a new era in drama. Audiences saw a world of new possibilities in the stage, and native authors felt the necessity of doing things that had never been done in the land before. So each nation, while adopting a dramatic convention much like that of every other, developed a personal form of expression more peculiar to itself than it had had before. And with the growing interest the interchange between countries became more abundant. And as a result, the reader of a few well selected foreign plays (in translation, if necessary) can, without going abroad, learn to know viewpoints to understand which he would formerly have had to live in the foreign land.
Scandinavia could hardly have been expected to furnish the world a second Ibsen, but it did the next best thing produced one of the most intense geniuses of the time who did some of his most effective work in the dramatic form. Strindberg's plays, still scarcely known in England or America, are permanent fare in Germany, where they are admired, and, what is more important, understood at their true value. This understanding can hardly come by direct inspiration ; it grows in direct proportion to one's familiarity with the plays. Strindberg, undoubtedly a genius of great power, ploughed his own furrow, establishing not only a new dramatic type, but a new domain of literary expression. The peculiar form of his play flows from the peculiar nature of his subject-matter. He is writing always the thoughts of a very intense mind; he is assuming characters who have rare powers of self-analysis ; he is interested not in presenting people as they seem, but in analysing them to the utmost. His dramatic method, though at bottom realistic, inevitably becomes one of unusual condensation, sometimes verging into symbolism. He makes his dialogue carry such a quantity of thought that it seems at times as though the whole structure would break down. Sometimes he crowds such an amount of psychological analysis (in the strict sense) into a single short scene that we seem, in retrospect, to have lived through several months of a soul's experience. Often the rapid succession of essential moods is beyond what could possibly be found in real life, and there is a resulting sense of unreality, as in the one-act "Countess Julie." Violence of this and another sort has prejudiced more than one reader and spectator against Strindberg's plays. We need a bit more charity. This psychological condensation, this overweighting of the dialogue with introspective thought, is only a dramatic convention, the particular artificiality which Strindberg has invented to carry his particular sort of play. Once accept the plays as they stand and you have a wonderful group of intellectual experiences open to you. One need not agree with his view of woman as a snake-eyed adventuress in order to sympathize with the writer, his intense sympathy for every sort of human feeling, his intense longing to achieve the finest sort of power that was in him, his intense struggle with the vices, some of them the most base and petty, with which he was beset.
His historical verse plays never achieved much success outside Sweden and have rarely been translated into foreign languages. His list of realistic plays seems endless. The first to be put into English was "The Father," purporting to show how utterly the husband's peace of mind is in the wife's gentle care. We have since had an opportunity to read many another analysis of marriage from his pen. "The Link" is a breathless tale of mutual accusations and recriminations a divorce court, and in the mass of jealousies arising out of perverted sexual passion the child is left adrift. "Comrades" is a bitter tale of man and wife who sought to "work together;" they were rivals, says Strindberg, and there could be no marriage. "Creditors" shows a wife triumphantly using her power of outplaying and exhausting one man after another.
Again and again the woman is an evil genius. In "Countess Julie" she is a sensual maniac, giving herself to her coachman, and then tearing her soul to pieces with doubts and fears. In "Motherlove" she is a mother jealous for domination in her child's every act. In "The Dance of Death" she is a plotter, with two faces as always. In a host of one-act plays Strindberg repeatedly shows his uncanny power of analysis. His intellectual dynamic never seems to fail. His clearness of mental grasp, apart from an occasional symbolism of method, holds the attention spellbound.
But he is more than the mysogynist and pessimist. He is sometimes the moralist and even the tender poet. In the play translated as "There Are Crimes and Crimes" he has a powerful study of the growth of moral responsibility, apart from overt acts, in the human conscience. "Snowwhite" is a fairy play, written for pure love of the story. "The Dream Play" is a tour de force of the imagination and a burning symbol of the love for his fellow-men with which he emerged from his mental crisis of 1900. For Strindberg to a great extent came out of his bitterness, his hatred of woman, his mysticism, and his violent egotism. He came to feel himself as only a part in a great living world. He died a Socialist, and was hailed at labour demonstrations as a comrade.
We should forget the bogey of the "pathological" which has kept us prejudiced against Strindberg. He was too honest with himself not to reveal his weaknesses with his strength, and unless we are pathological our-selves we need not fear imbibing the one along with the other. What we have particularly to get from Strindberg is that fine stimulus of the intellectual dynamic flowing more richly in his plays than it has flowed in any other modern dramatic author. If we will allow for his originality the same license as to method that we allow to anybody else, we shall not be troubled at all by his strangeness of form. And if we allow our minds to vibrate with his we shall be the richer for many an in-tense intellectual experience.
The plays of Björnson, Ibsen's friend and contemporary, have long made their place in the German theatre, but seem almost too naïve to have much driving ,power into foreign lands. There is in them nothing of Ibsen's fiercely tight intellectual coherence, and there is a certain obviousness of effect, even obviousness of character reading, which is quite unexpected. They seem unduly perturbed over traits of personality which a child would notice, and they tend to be too consciously moralistic for their body of human content. Björnson, who is loved in Norway chiefly as a poet, is much more a poet in his plays than a thinker. He has scenes of very effective satire, in Ibsen's manner, and other scenes of cumulative dramatic intensity in the style of Sardou. But now and again things seem to slip from his grasp. It is the spirit of the man which is impressive, for his thoughts are rather too obvious. And the spirit, as felt in his plays, is of the sort that lifts an audience out of any attitude of reasonableness, and makes it glow, for the moment, by pure force of human sympathy or inspiring language. "When the New Wine Sparkles," written by the old poet only a few weeks before his death, is charged with the glow of youth, and has the poetic element abundantly beneath and beyond its some-what involved plot. "The Bankrupts" traces the effect of sudden poverty on a well-to-do family, and "The Newly Married Couple" shows with considerable delicacy of analysis the adjustments made between husband and wife after marriage. "Beyond Human Power," much acted in Germany, is in two parts. In its manner of developing the mystical atmosphere out of a human and realistic plot, this work is highly typical. The sphere of activity in which man can accomplish things by conscious action is limited; beyond it lies the great cloudy region in which he is face to face with infinite forces. It is this region that Björnson tries to make us feel, not by mystical means, but by sheer sympathy with the men whose strivings carry them into the mystical. The first part of the play has to do with the personal and psychological. A faith-healer, much loved in the country-side, tries the final test, before a committee of sceptical ministers, of curing his wife of her life long sickness. She walks at his command, for the first time in years and falls dead. In the second part it is the social and material world that is the object of struggle. The faith-healer's son has consecrated him-self to the struggle of the working class against their employers, being convinced that this is the only way to further the improvement of man. He calls a meeting of the employers to discuss the men's demands, and gives the signal for the dynamite explosion which sends him and most of the employers into eternity. But such a problem, too, is beyond human power. Credo and Spero, two symbolical figures in the last act, point the moral.
Germany was the first foreign country to feel strongly the influence of Ibsen. In the late eighties there were stirrings, and with the establishment, in 1890, of the Freie Bühne, the new realistic and sociological drama had flung its challenge to German art. In the succeeding decade Germany was the leader in the new drama. The almost simultaneous composition, in three different lands, of "Magda," by Sudermann, "Blanchette," by Brieux, "Mrs. Warren's Profession," by Bernard Shaw, and "The Second Mrs. Tanqueray," by Pinero (all brilliant dating points for the new movement), is a remarkable coincidence. But Germany had the head start, and it was Sudermann and Hauptmann who were looked upon as the leaders in the drama of the future during the nineties. This was largely due, no doubt, to the peculiar condition of Germany, which was then just starting a new era, having been freed from the reign of the Iron Chancellor and having brought to open consciousness and discussion the social and political subjects which had been rankling unexpressed in loyal German hearts for half a century. The labour movement of the time, centring in political Socialism, was the great dynamic of the new German drama. Hauptmann's choosing of dramatic subjects from the lowest social classes was a sign of the shifting of the centre of human gravity due to the rising importance of the working class. And the new drama had, to a tremendous extent, a tone of partisanship with the proletariat. More than that, it was actually the proletariat the labour unions and the conscious political Socialists who gave the first widespread support to the new drama. Hauptmann's play, "The Weavers," for years the storm centre of the labour question in German drama, was first performed by the radical "Free Folk Stage." But what is still more important is the fact that the considerable middle-class application of the new drama was vitally connected with the proletarian movement. Many who lived through the time probably had no notion that there was any connection between Sudermann's "Honour" or "Magda," and Hauptmann's "The Weavers" But every tenet of iconoclasm in this middle class drama the breaking up of conventional moral codes, the emphasis upon woman as a responsible individual, the denial of traditional authority on every hand is implicit and explicit in the philosophy of the labour movement which antedated it. Moral codes, said the newly conscious working class, work out to the benefit of those who made them the middle and upper classes. Woman, because of the growth of mod-em industrial machinery, has become increasingly an economic unit ; she must become an ethical and political unit. As for authority, continued the working-class, we haven't got it, so it is sure to work against us and we had better deny it. And this philosophy swept up to a certain extent into the middle class, and was vehemently discussed in drama. All this may sound improbable to an American, but the whole struggle has been carried on for a much longer time and in a much smaller space in Germany, and the ideas consequently had a greater rebound. The chief upheaval in Germany in the last half century has been that of the proletariat, and the chief forces toward inner change have come from it. Equal suffrage, for instance, has been for years a demand of the German Social-Democratic party, and has only recently become a middle-class fad.
But all this vehemence in the realistic drama in Germany has died out. For the last ten years Germany's production in drama has been disappointing. Hauptmann and Sudermann are still writing, but the former is busily repeating himself and the latter is the scorn of all Germans of any class "a mere Jew," they say, "a sensation monger." Certainly Sudermann's recent dramatic output has been negligible. The dominating figure in present-day German drama is Wedekind (who will be discussed in another chapter), a man so strange, so perverse, so anarchic, and withal so talented and so courageous, that he "fits" in no category yet invented. In a general way he is typical of Germany of the last ten years, in his violent reaction to the flatly realistic and "well made" play, in his morbid subject-matter and his defiance of rules. It is difficult to name the man who in Germany is "the continuer of the Sudermann tradition." If he is known he is probably not worth naming. The tradition of the nineties seems to have broken off short. In its place we have the unclassifiable plays of Wedekind, the poetic drama of Hofmannsthal, the imaginative plays of Hardt and Eulenberg. We have further the hang over production of a number of the second-rate men of the nineties. And we have a limited output of very delightful comedies, such as Roessler's "The Five Frankforters," successfully played in this country, and Birinski's "The Dance of Fools," which formed the basis for a musical comedy which died a pre-mature American death. But with the single exception of Wedekind, there is not a single author in modern Germany whose work has the drive that will enable it to cross the border and plough up the literary field in a foreign land. Incenierung has the attention of present day Germans in the theatre. The "artists'' want plays written for Inscenierung. The realists want Inscenierung made for realism. In the meantime, a brilliant theatrical era with classical and imported plays, but no significant current dramatic literature.
In Austria, however, there is a continuous output of comedies of the highest order. Arthur Schnitzler and Hermann Bahr write as brilliantly, on the whole, as any comedian since Wilde. The Parisian influence which is traditionally operative in Vienna, seems to have given them a deftness of touch which a Prussian writer never has. At the same time there is in their characterization a certain quality, which we might suggest by the word "meatiness," which is distinctly German.
Schnitzler is a most delightful figure. The son of a Jewish physician he was himself educated to practice medicine, and served from 1886 to 1888 as second physician in the General Hospital in Vienna. His cycle of one-act plays, "Anatol," was written in the leisure hours of his early practice, purely for his amusement and that of his friends. The fact that it brought him farne is an incidental fact. Schnitzler is still a practicing physician. He still writes to please himself and amuse his friends. He is first of all a professional man, and an artist only out of the exuberance of his spirits. His fame is still an incidental thing, a thing, so to speak, quite out of his control.
A little cleft of Puritanism still separates us from the appreciation of Schnitzler's delightful comedies and the bridge across is slippery. The strenuously immoral life of the young Viennese dandy, which he sat-irises without ever once condemning, seems to us hardly a matter for laughter. We must catch the trick of observing without participating, of understanding without judging. Anatol, with one new love (at least) for each of his seven playlets, need not be imitated, and cannot be by an American, for his epicurean touch is a thing of Vienna or Paris. The condemnation we have for him is not on the grounds of grossness. Love-making, to Anatol, is a fine art, and as long as due proportion is observed the gods will not be angry.
Anatol is the hero of one after another of Schnitzler's plays sometimes very young, sometimes past middle age, under many names and a variety of social ranks. Sometimes important things happen to him ; but usually he is called upon only to observe and guide an action here and there, and take what comes to 'him with an understanding smile. In "The Green Cockatoo," played by Mrs. Fiske's company as a "curtain raiser" one season, Anatol appears several times in the role of gallant, visiting a low wine room in Paris on the evening of the fall of the Bastille, and serving as the butt of a dramatic irony too delicate to be understood by any of the characters. In "Liebelei," one of the best beloved of recent German plays, Anatol is still a student, a somewhat serious-minded one, not yet disillusioned, not yet come to the realisation that all things in life are equally good if accepted with equal good nature. He is having an affair with a married woman, and takes it far too much to heart. The light touch is missing; the error in taste must be rectified. A fellow student introduces him to little Christine, who is young and is looking for a hero lover. It was intended that flirting should cure love. But our Liebelei kills souls instead. For the youth takes seriously a duel with the husband he has wronged, is killed, and leaves Christine with the double tragedy of her lover's death and the knowledge of another woman in his life.
And so people have come to think that Mr. Schnitzler is himself Anatol, that he capitalises his sins for gain and writes his misdemeanors into diverting literature. People do not know him. Mr. Schnitzler is, as we have said, a practising physician, a man of science, a clear-brained, clear-eyed, lovable man, whose art is only the second fact about him. It is the scientific feeling for detail that has made him the world's master in the one-act play. It is the scientific fascination for pure ideas which dictated his most impressive play "Professor Bernhardi." Professor Bernhardi is a physician and a Jew, one of the specialists in a great Vienna hospital. He refuses a Catholic priest admittance to the bedside of a dying patient who had not asked for absolution. The affair is taken up as a scandal. Bernhardi tries to stand on the scientific principle that his duty was to protect his patient in her last hours from the knowledge of approaching death. In a third act, which shows a session of the directing board of the hospital, prejudice and principle come to fine and subtle interplay. Bernhardi is forced from the hospital and condemned to a short term in prison. He comes out wiser, and not more violent.
Here, decidedly, is a play of very special calibre. It has but one woman character, and that for only a moment. It has absolutely no love interest. Except for the incident with the priest in the first act, there is an utter absence of any obvious action. From first act to last the play is talk. Moreover, it has a beginning and a middle, but no "end," for Bernhardi returns to his practice surrounded by the same base antisemitic prejudice as at the first. By all the rules it is undramatic and not legitimate drama. If the hearer has no brains or no interest in the clash of ideas, the play is a bore. But all this Schnitzler freely risked because as a thinker he was fascinated by the ideas, and as an artist he was fascinated with the problem of throwing them into artistic form. The play is a "legitimate" play because it fascinated thinking audiences throughout Germany (it was banned in Austria). If other audiences are bored by it they may go and see "Charley's Aunt," which is no less "legitimate," but somewhat less intelligent. To those who can appreciate it "Professor Bernhardi" has a very personal value, in showing that finest type of artist the artist who is not afraid to think.
Quite different from Schnitzler in personality is Hermann Bahr. Bahr is the "literary man" par excellence —by which it is understood that he is chiefly occupied with the artistic method by which he manipulates his observations of life. There is no continental author who can write whole acts of more delightful dialogue which are organic parts of a steadily developing comic idea. Bahr's moral world is much like Schnitzler's in his comedies. The world may be a bad sermon, but it is a very good joke. If you must withhold your condemnation from what is somebody else's business, must you at the same time withhold your laughter?
It is said that after the brilliant success which Mr. Belasco made of Bahr's delightful "The Concert" in New York he contracted for Bahr's next play, sight unseen, paying cash down. The next play was "The Children." Therein two middle-aged friends are the proud fathers of two children, a son and a daughter, who promptly fall in love with one another. The daughter confides in her father. Donnerblitzen ! The boy is her half-brother! Presently the boy's father comes to his friend with a horrible confession on his lips: the girl is his son's half-sister. Thus do two wrongs most sweetly make a right. There is nothing in the way of the marriage. The two men must heartily forgive each other, and all goes merrily. The play, needless to say, was not acted in New York, and Mr. Belasco lost his advance payment.
The detachment necessary to view such a plot as this as comic material illustrates the totally different viewpoint of the cosmopolitan European audience. It is an extreme example of what is implicit in nearly all French and Viennese comedy the objectivity of material, especially dear to the comic artist. But the literary ability necessary to keep such material in the comic mood is very great. For when the mere story would become matter for the district police station, Bahr is constantly saving it by the humanity or the humanseemingness of his characters. In "Principle" he shows a rich middle class family imbued with an ill digested democratic ideal. They discover that the son of the house has "wronged" the cook. Nothing to do but to force the son to marry her, even at the cost of the family's standing in the outside world. The mother goes to the kitchen to impart the glad tidings to the girl. The latter is at first dumfounded at such absurdity. The gentleman hadn't intended marriage ; he was only on a little lark; for her part she is very well satisfied. Then she becomes indignant at this attempt to make her marry the young idiot. Besides, she has her own lover, and they are to be married soon. Would Madame destroy her happiness? And so all ends happily. "The Concert," which shows the lady pianist, infatuated with her teacher, receiving lessons from his wife in the ways of caring for his artistic moods, is one of the most delightful comedies ever seen on the American stage.
Bahr's greatest achievement is his dialogue, which, without straining for farce effect, reveals the numerous nooks of character in every line. It is not a dialogue of "points," and never one of verbal play. Nor is it a dialogue of ideas. It depends for its laughs on a personal acquaintance with the characters, who, from their first entrance, seem to stand before the audience in all their humanity. It is not a noisy type of comedy, this, but one which seems to crowd into two and a half hours all the fun that lies latent in human personality.
The smaller countries have been contributing important plays to the European theatre. Leaving aside for the present Hungary and Belgium, whose remarkable contributions will be mentioned in another chapter, we may notice for a moment Holland, which has a vigorous theatrical life of its own. The plays of Hermann Heijermanns have some years since established themselves in European theatres. Heijermanns recalls the realism of the nineties. He writes ex parte, an apologist of the working class, whose side it is his only interest to present. If there is a continuer of the Hauptmann tradition Heijermanns is the man. His power in presenting sympathetic human figures from the lower class is quite the equal of Hauptmann's. His partisanship is even more pronounced.
"The Good Hope," his masterpiece, he has made a sort of epic of the sea. There is a dishonest employer, who sends on a voyage an unseaworthy boat, expecting it to be sunk, that he may reap the insurance. The fisher people, who are giving their sons to this financial coup, are shown in all their human helplessness in the power of these tactics. But especially it is the sea, as an evil genius, that dominates the spirit of the play. The third act, which takes place while the Good Hope is still unheard from, is a collection of stories of sea-tragedy, told by the women gathered together in the hut on a stormy night an impressive passage of prose lyricism. "The Coat of Mail" shows militarism, as it presents itself in a small country, where the only use for an army is to repress strikes. "The Ghetto" shows the prejudices of Jewry against the intermarriage of the second generation with the Christians. "All Souls" is a work of peculiar inspiration. Here Heijermanns shows religious prejudice and impulsive natural life in full conflict. Rita, an illegitimate mother, is sheltered by the village minister, who thus brings scandal down upon his head. He is Christianly forgiving. But the woman is quite unrepentant, and when her lover returns she goes away with him joyously. The minister, who in the meantime has been driven from his pulpit, can only say a hopeless "Farewell," checkmated by his half-step toward freedom. Heijermanns is not a mere "photographic" realist. He has an imaginative feeling for character, and more especially a sense of the poetry of language which distinguishes the literary artist.
England has in the last quarter century produced a dramatic literature important out of all proportion to the limited prosperity of her dramatic life. We are constantly under the danger of underestimating this English drama by taking too narrow a view of it. It is not easy to judge it by any set standard. For whereas Russian drama has been distinguished chiefly by moral earnestness, German by emotional vigour, and French by technical mastery, English drama shows before all else intellectual power. And our dogmas incline to give precedence to the emotional and the technical elements, regarding intellect as an affair of dry books and parliamentary debates.
In Pinero and Jones England had a lively native drama before the influence of Ibsen arrived. But this influence promptly showed itself, first in the enlarged range of subject-matter, and next in the cleaning up of technical processes asides, arbitrary entrances, and the like. We commonly date modern English drama from Pinero's "The Second Mrs. Tanqueray," and the renovated Jones and Pinero pretty much dominated the English theatre during the nineties. Theorists found abundant matter to praise in the work of these two admirable technicians. But when the centre of interest shifted to another group of writers the cause of the "well made play" seemed to have lost the fight. Bernard Shaw, who understood the well-made play quite adequately, and wrote one every now and then by way of variety, was chiefly interested in vitalising audiences with his ideas. And with a courage and clear headedness which are rare among dramatists (whose practical success always seems to depend upon pleasing the greatest number in the easiest way) he continued to write what pleased him, throwing all the powers of one of the most vigorous digestive brains of the age into the theatre.
This courage was continued in his close friend, Granville Barker, in some ways the most masterful writer the modern English drama has produced. What chiefly distinguishes Barker from lesser dramatistis is what distinguishes big men from little men generally brains. Barker rejected the dogma of the well made play as completely as Shaw rejected the dogma of the romantic love-affair. His plays are filled with passages of "just talk," talk which it is a rare privilege to read or hear, but talk which has nothing to do with a "conflict of wills." It would be foolish to deny that he understands the presenting of character on the stage, or the building up of an effective theatrical scene. His starting-point is the idea, which dictates the whole form and content of his drama. His reputation as a dramatist has been slow to develop, partly because he has insisted upon writing what he likes instead of what the crowd likes, and partly because he has been averse to letting his plays be performed by actors who do not understand what he is driving at. Certainly his comparatively slight reputation is not wholly to be explained by the statement that his plays are "undramatic." Shaw is usually quite as undramatic. But Shaw, still suspect in England, has a prodigious reputation on the continent. He is to the ever-generous Germans "Europe's best jester." The Hofburgtheater of Vienna was only too glad to get his "Pymalion" for a first performance on any stage, and became the hero of an international literary event by staging it. Shaw has made his way by force of brain and wit without making concessions to the mob. And Barker could doubtless do the same. But he is chiefly interested in his business of play-producing, in which he is teaching London as fast as she can learn. Play-writing is his side activity.
But that need not prevent us from appreciating his plays at their full remarkable value. We feel in his dialogue an abundance of brain power which we meet nowhere else save in Strindberg. We feel that quality which is the excellent basis for the English love of compromise the ability to see both sides, to evaluate all the forces truly. Barker is a partisan, as earnest a moralist as Brieux, but not a blind partisan. To read or see his plays, after the scarlet emotionalism of German or French realism, is to feel a cold, purifying winter wind. But now and again this intellectual vigour be-comes translated into emotionalism of strange power. After a whole act of esoteric political discussion in "Waste" we have a short love-scene, one of the most wonderful in all modern drama, which reveals every element of the emotion of the two people, but carries us along with their feelings. This ability to show the inside of the clock as well as its face, as Dr. Johnson put it, is the great contribution of intellectual validity to the making of plays.
In "The Marrying of Ann Leete" the heroine revolts, as so many English girls are revolting nowadays, and runs away with her gardener. Notice one fact about this action of hers : it explains much about the "intellectual drama" which Barker represents. Ann Leete eloped with her gardener for eugenic reasons, but from emotional motives. She was not a puppet in her action. But she was nevertheless the exponent of a philosophy. The playwright understood and showed both aspects of the case. He kept her flesh and blood, but showed her as raw material for ideas.
"The Voysey Inheritance" is a study of the ethics of business dishonesty, which we have met with before in Giacosa's "The Stronger." "Waste" shows the waste to society resulting from stringent application of moral codes waste equally in the weak woman who commits abortion out of fear, and in the strong man who is forced from public life by scandal. The third act, in which politicians discuss all aspects of the case, is much like the third act of "Professor Bernhardi" round table debate in both cases, but utterly absorbing to one who is willing to bring his brain with him to the theatre. "The Madras House" is Barker's study of the place held by sex in modern life. The Madras House manufactures women's clothes that is one of the starting-points. Sex is commercially profitable, very profitable. The fashion-setter, followed slavishly by all English ladies who are commie il taut, is a certain Parisian damsel with whom one would not dare live in the same block. So the question is discussed, partly by an Englishman who has become Mohammedan in order to be consistent in his attitude toward women. The dramatis persone shift in each act. Only one of them appears in all four. It is like Brieux's "La Robe Rouge," viewing one subject from four different angles. The play is amazing in its broadness and seeming completeness. It is one of the best statements of Feminism, from the personal standpoint, that has ever appeared.
John Galsworthy makes the well made play as well as any Englishman now living. But he is too big a man to be bound by it. His keen sense of proportion and fitness comes from the artist in him, which is always detached and critical, but always sympathetic. His "problem" plays state their problem, but do not solve it. "Strife" show labour and capital wasting themselves fruitlessly in their refusal to compromise. "Justice" shows how our legal procedure "but fans the wheat and saves the chaff with a most evil fan." "The Pigeon" is a delightful character comedy on the impulse of sweet charity in men. "The Fugitive" is much like Brieux's "La Femme Seule," showing how society bullies the woman who tries to be independent of men. In all this Galsworthy's touch is deft and sure. His characters act in their own right. He is their observer, but not their manipulator. His seriousness is always reserved, his humour always a trifle bitter. In combining strong human sympathy and sensitive artistic reserve he is more like Turgenieff than like any other English writer.
Bernard Shaw is one of the few dramatists who be-came well known in the nineties, of whom it can be said that he hasn't been largely repeating himself since. His plays have undergone no striking "new manner." They have become rather more discursive and loose jointed, more concerned with ideas themselves and less with obvious action. There has been less writing with a particular end in view, as when "The Man of Destiny" and "Captain Brassbound's Conversion" were written for Ellen Terry. There has been, in short, a fairly steady tendency away from the type of play prevalent in the nineties, such as "Candida" on the one hand and "The Devil's Disciple" on the other. The newer Shaw play is likely to be "a debate in one sitting," like "Misalliance," with the airy instructions that the curtain might be lowered whenever the audience began to get bored. The topic of discussion becomes more and more the play itself, as in "Getting Married," in which every possible attitude toward the estate of matrimony, seemingly, is personified in some character who sits in the old Gothic kitchen and thrashes it out with all comers from the Greengrocer to the Bishop. Here the plot is merely the progress of the discussion, from the proprieties of the approaching wedding up to a beautiful contract for a universal marriage arrangement, and down again into the slough of human cross-purposes. And here and there in his output is a play like "The Showing up of Blanco Posnet," banned in England because of some supposed blasphemy; or "The Dark Lady of the Sonnets" in which the Bard engagingly pleads Shaw's own views concerning him. And then "Fanny's First Play," most delightful of "pot-boilers," and a "box-office success," among the best of them in recent years. And within twelve months "Androcles and the Lion," a whimsical dramatisation of the struggle of Christian and Pagan ; "Great Catherine," one more addition to Shaw's list of historical figures; and "Pygmalion," which Germany seems to have adopted as its own. No regularity here ; no fixed purpose discoverable. But, be it noted in passing, a freshness and spontaneity of output which belies the ancient charge that Shaw is a "cerebral" writer, without the artist's joy in creation. His freedom of artistic form is one of the most refreshing things about him. But the intellectual Shaw has not stood still. He seems to have determined not to be caught growing old, and when his Socialist comrades are busy refining the Marxism or Fabianism of the nineties he propounds the revolutionary doctrine of equal pay for all adults in the state, regardless of the service performed. He gives us in the most compact form and most vigorous of English, a discourse on marriage (in the preface to "Getting Married") which, though eminently practical, starts from the most extreme premise it is possible to find. Though there is little to be said in general about the newer Shaw, there is so much mental stimulation to be had in detail that the world could easily stand another book about the Shaw of the last three years. It only needs to be said that this man, after a quarter of a century of fighting uncompromisingly for the things he wanted, has become a brilliant commercial success.
Of the remaining English dramatists one must mention Barrie, who, with "What Every Woman Knows" and the immortal "Peter Pan" has been steadily increasing his reputation and his bank account ; and Arnold Bennett, inveterate pot-boiler, who has turned his attention to the stage with the airy remark that writing for the theatre requires no special knowledge or technique, and has produced three or four delightful comedies and many a fat royalty sheet out of his efforts. The late Stanley Houghton, author of "Hindle Wakes," and one of the most gifted of the younger men, had a scarcely equalled ability at combining the polemic idea with the diverting story. Rudolph Besier is still being given his chance to fulfil the splendid promise of his early play "Don." And two English women, Elizabeth Baker with "Chains," and Githa Sowerby with "Rutherford and Son," have easily taken their place among the dramatists of the second rank. The former play is a study in monotony; and the latter the familiar story of tainted business and the ethical struggle of the second generation. But quite out of this class and among the best, or nearly there, one should mention the poet, John Masefield, author of "Nan" and "Pompey the Great." "Nan" is one of the loveliest of plays, a tragedy of simple people which seems to rise at times to Shakespearian dignity. "Pompey" can almost stand beside Shaw's "Caesar and Cleopatra" as a pioneer in what will surely some day become an influential form of drama the historical play in modern but lyric prose. The unusual talents shown by Mr. Masefield are equally those of word, plot, and character.
Off in the corner of the Empire a group of writers, clustering around the Abbey Theatre of Dublin, have written a number of realistic comedies which are quite as permanent additions to English literature as the plays of Oscar Wilde. These plays are almost as well known among English-speaking nations as those of Shaw, and their virtues need no eulogy to make them appreciated. Shaw has given the highest praise to Lady Gregory, the most notable of these writers. The Abbey Theatre has been almost as masterful at self-advertisement as Shaw himself, and the early struggles of the institution are well known. The moral is obvious this local activity, chiefly amateur in spirit, produced in a few years a body of dramatic literature as permanent and almost as notable as the two score or more of Lon-don theatres were able to achieve in two decades. The Abbey Theatre is the finest text for the apologist for localism in art.
The one thoroughly encouraging thing that is to be said about the American drama is that it has a future rather than a past. The division into "high-brow" and "low-brow" well expresses the two extremes that dominate American dramatic output, both without any especial courage. The former is industriously copying foreign masterpieces without imitating their boldness of form and message. The latter is as industriously following the fashions of Broadway, and turning out a type of play so "up to the minute" that a delay of three months in production is the difference between success and failure. The critic has a sorry time reviewing this dramatic output and trying to separate the worthy from the unworthy. On the whole, the "low-brows" are right in maintaining that the most valuable contributions of American drama are to be found among those plays that please the rag-tag rabble. The plays of George Ade and George Cohan, coming straight out of American life and true to it alone, are of the stuff that made the Abbey Theatre plays and the great Russian comedies. Europe, while maintaining a superior tone in regard to serious American literary efforts, has always been quick to recognise what was truly distinctive of America Mark Twain, Bret Harte, Jack London and so forth. Americans have never so true an eye for their national product as the Germans and Russians have. And so it is the American comedies which have chiefly represented American drama abroad. George Cohan is now one of the most sought-after dramatists in London theatres. Miss Mayo's "Baby Mine" was recently acted in Paris, and the French liked it. Serious American plays, on the other hand, have with few exceptions failed in Europe, amid the sneers of the critics at American "crudeness."
However, the serious plays, though they lack any vestige of intellectual power, often come out of American life, as regards externals if not as regards the spirit. Charles Klein's "The Lion and the Mouse," slippery as it is when regarded as a work of art, was really a note-worthy achievement, since it ranked at the time as a serious reflection of the American social conscience. Since it opened the way there have been any number of vigorous plays expressing the state of the public mind on matters of politics and business.
Probably the most able of the serious American dramatists, in point of execution, is Eugene Walter, who in "The Wolf" and "The Easiest Way" wrote plays worthy of being classed with the best European dramas. No American playwright can equal him in the writing of realistic dialogue, which is dramatic and characteristic and still true to life. Edward Sheldon, exuberantly trying his hand at many things at once, has written a number of plays in which a lively sense of the stage often atones for the lack of what we must call an artistic conscience. Augustus Thomas has brought something of his own into American plays in his fine newly acquired sense of finesse in dialogue (a most un-American thing in most people's minds). He is one of the few American playwrights who really understands and respects French plays. Moreover he is one of the few successful American writers who is sincere in trying to say something in his plays, and often lands a failure through too much zeal.
Charles Rann Kennedy, though a native of England, has done most of his work in America. Here we have a true "high-brow" who has to his credit at least one "box office success" "The Servant in the House." This play, admirable alike as a sermon and as a technical achievement in dramaturgy, was one of the memorable things in American stage history. Mr. Kennedy's in-creasing mysticism and symbolism have helped to keep him from any fruitful connection with the commercial stage since. Of quite another calibre, though no less sincere, is Joseph Medill Patterson, whose plays, "The Fourth Estate," "Rebellion," "Dope" and "By-Products" combine critical thought and observation of life with a considerable amount of dramatic ability. One of the few "unproduced dramatists" who deserve high rank among American authors is "Upton Sinclair," author of "The Machine," "The Nature Woman" and "Prince Hagen." The last named, the author states, was rejected by the New Theatre in New York on the express grounds that it "was not in accord with the principles of the founders." For Mr. Sinclair is first of all a Socialist, and all that he writes is devoted to the exposition of a proletarian philosophy. This fact has no doubt helped to keep his considerable abilities from achieving practical success on the stage. In this characteristic, apart from the artistic value of his plays, he is ahead of his time. The day for a Socialist drama on the stage will surely come.
One should not close even such a brief listing of American playwrights without mentioning Mr. Percy MacKaye. His life, from the "practical" point of view, has been one succession of failures. But they are failures of the sort that America needs more of. For Mr. MacKaye has never conceded an iota to popular effect. His verse often rises to a high level, as in the lovely "Sappho and Phaon." He is master of a certain whimsical humour which never fails to be delightful. Some of his realistic comedies have had a mild success on the stage. But his dialogue is not realistic in spirit and his plots incline too much to the arbitrary. The thing that is chiefly admirable in Mr. MacKaye's work is his courage to be himself the virtue which, more than any other, is lacking in present day American drama.