Der Zuschauer

A Journal of Essays and Reportage on Drama, History, and Literature

Archive for February 2011

G. E. Lessing on theatrical newspapers

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“In truth I pity my readers who promised themselves in this journal a theatrical newspaper as varied and manifold, as amusing and comical as a theatrical newspaper should be. Instead of containing the story of the plays performed, told in short, lively and touching romances, instead of detailed biographies of absurd, eccentric, foolish beings, such as those must be who concern themselves with writing comedies, instead of amusing , even slightly scandalous anecdotes of actors and especially actresses, instead of all those pretty things which they expected, they get long, serious, dry criticisms of old well-known plays; ponderous examinations of what tregety should or should not be, at times even expositions of Aristotle. And they are to read this? As I say, I pity them; they have been grievously deceived. But let me add in confidence, better they, than I. And I should be much deceived if I made their expectations my law. Not that their expectations would be very difficult to fulfil; no indeed, I should rather find them very easy, if only they agreed better with my intentions.”
Lessing, #50 in the Hamburg Dramaturgy, p. 156/7.

Written by herrdramaturg

February 16, 2011 at 6:33 pm

William Archer: on The Old Drama and the New

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Dear Readers we are pleased to provide excerpts from William Archer’s The Old Drama and the New. Heinemann, London, 1923. Much labor on the part of Stanley Richardson is greatly appreciated.
Yours in earnest,
Max Klinger,Editor in Chief.

“Another highly regrettable fact is this: the nature of dramatic intelligence is so little understood that men without the smallest scintilla of it, not infrequently, devote themselves with great ardor to the production and criticism of drama. How many thousands of plays have been written by men who had no conception of what a play really is! Most of them, of course, have been mercifully forgotten; but the names of a few are still cited with formal respect, though to the vast majority of people they are names and nothing more. A more remarkable fact is that some of the most highly esteemed dramatic criticism in the language (and I fancy in other languages as well) has been written by men who had no clear conception–or perhaps a clear misconception–of the real nature of drama. Are there, I wonder, color-blind painters and critics of painting? One is sometimes tempted, in these days, to answer the question in the affirmative; but I am sure they are not, and can never have been, so numerous as of drama-blind dramatists and critics of drama. We do not sufficiently realize the fact that drama springs from two sources, consists of two elements, and that a conflict between these two elements is continually going on. What are these two sources from which drama arose? They are, to put it briefly, imitation and passion.” p.4.

“We all know the meaning of ‘imitation’ and I need not enlarge upon it. The term ‘passion,’ on the other hand calls for some explanation. I use it to signify the exaggerated, intensifed–in brief, the lyrical or rhetorical–expression of feeling. Perhaps a still more general term than ‘lyrical’ might be employed–one might say ‘rhythmic.’ Passion was expressed in primitive ages not only by the voice, but by rhythmic motions of the body; and the drama, all over the world, has grown out of dancing quite as much as out of song. Not only passion, indeed, but also imitation as was conventionalized in mimetic dance.” p.4/5.

“For the pratical purposes of criticism, the two elements in drama maybe set down as faithful or would be faithful imitation and wilful, sometimes, hysterical exaggeration. My suggestion is that, until quite recent years the disentangling of these elements was very imperfectly effected, and that the final casting out of the exaggerative or lyrical element, which has occurred almost in our own time is merely the culmination of a process which has been going on for centuries, and is thus to be accepted as an inevitable step in advance.” p.5

“The modern realistc drama is a pure and logical art-form.” p.5.

“The other elements of primitive drama, the lyrical and the saltatory, have been sloughed off and have taken independent form in music-drama, commonly known as opera, and in ballet. These cannot be called pure art-forms, for they cannot dispense with the element of imitation, which is, after all, the prime essential of drama.” p. 5.

Tristam and Isolde is is a more consistent work of art than…Romeo and Juliet or Antony and Cleopatra. It is entirely steeped in an atmosphere of rhythmic passion, where as in Shakespeare’s plays sober imitation is constantly mingling with the lyricism by which they are essentially inspired. ” p. 5.

“On the other hand we have modern love-plays from which lyricism is sternly excluded, except in so far as love is actually lyrical in its utterances. One may instance Max Halbe’s Jugend or or Sir Arthur Pinero’s Iris or Letty.” p. 5.

“What I do say is that the modern plays are not be despised, but rather to be welcomed, because they represent the completion of a long process of develpment.” p. 6.

“It is sufficient for my purpose that [Gilbert Murray and Ridgeway] agree in representing the utterance of emotion, now sorrowful, and again triumphant, as the essential factor in primitive tragedy, the imitation of actions being subsidiary. In other words, the lyric element (with dancing to mark its rhythms) dominated and overshadowed the mimetic element.” p. 7.

[Referring to the Japanise Noh drama] “Everywhere we find exaggeration, intensification, lording it over upon simple imitation–one halfpenny-worth of imitative bread to an intolerable deal of exaggerative stock.” p. 7/8.

“Nevertheless we shall find, I think, that all the blank-verse plays which lived on the stage during the 17th, 18th, and early 19th centuries, did so in virtue of certain brauvra passages which great actors and actresses treated with a virtuosity entirely comparable to that of an accomplished singer, and very remote from the literal reproduction of anything in nature, imitation, in a word, was swamped in passion.” p.10.

[Having discussed the alteration in Noh drama between wild exaggeration and minute realistic detail: “So it must have been throughout the history of acting everywhere truth of imitation must have uderlain, and frequently broken through, exaggerative intensity of passion. And this breaking-through, as it seems to me, is the first and last word in the development of the modern drama.” p. 16.

“And this refinement, this doing down as it were, of the methods of acting has gone hand in hand with a corresponding refinement and subtle elaboration of the methods of authorship.” p 16.

“…the change is quite wrongly described and deplored as a process of degeneration. On the contrary, it may rather be called a process of purification–the liberation of pure drama, of faithful and consistent imitation of life, from a number of conventional and heterogenuous adjuncts.” p. 16.

“The drama…has become an art of interpretation through faithfull delineation.” p. 17.

“The growth of modern drama has been accompanied and conditioned by an ever-increasing harmony between the action and its background, its scenery.” p. 17.

“When Elenora Duse engaged Gordon Craig to design scenery for Ibsen’s Romershlom, it was like engaging William Blake to illustrate Tristam Shandy.” p. 18.

” I think we shall find, however, that the advance of dramatic art has consisted, not merely in the negative process of casting out of extraneous and illogical elements, but also in the positive process of acquiring a technique appropriate to the great ending view–that, namely, of interesting theatrical audiences by the sober and accurate imitation of life.” p 20.

To be continued and expanded. Max Klinger.

Written by herrdramaturg

February 13, 2011 at 4:40 pm

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