Der Zuschauer

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

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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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Dramaturgy in Bucharest

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Rhine Maiden as Roaring Girl

It was bad enough when I first moved to Bucharest to work as a dramaturg at the State Opera. Wolves had begun to make forays into the outer suburbs. Every truck I saw on the street seemed to me at least to have just run over the playwright, Mihail Sebastian. Balzac novels seemed to be overflowing in the bookstores. Then the wild bears came into the inner ciy. The recent presidental election was said in the newspapers to have been altered or affected by a paranormal psychiatrist. I was put to work on a libretto based on “the truth about Vlad, the Impaler.” People began to bruit it about that vampyres had returned to the city. Highly anti-semetic vampyres. I wasn’t sure about that but bears began to appear downtown soon after the wolves had moved in from the suburbs. People began wondering if Romania was a Balkan nation. A lot more women in Bucharest wore stockings and garters than do so in America. Vlad the Impaler, was a tough script to work on and more and more of my female colleagues had stopped doing thier eyebrows so it seemed as if the world in the east had grown much colder and hairy. I noticed the werewolves straight away. They began to appear in green rooms and at cast parties. They wore tuxedos and made it clear dramatists were not seriously important in the theatrical world, and dramaturgs even less so. It was difficult to tell the male from the female werewolves and I began to consider whether I should go back to Kansas, or at least the Iowa Writing Workshop. Then she, or it, put her hand on my thigh, my inner thigh, and I fell into a trance. Time passed. Then the Romanian Air Force introduced a new jet-biplane to its arsenal. Submarines were said to be active in the Black Sea with names like the Jason and the Medea. Dismemberment opened at the National Theatre. I seemed to be the only person in the city to not have a widow’s peak. I began to read Herodotus aloud in a late night cabaret. This was deemed highly controversial. It was suggested I stay at home after dark, eat, sleep, and read.

Stanley Richardson,
Der Zuschauer

Written by herrdramaturg

February 5, 2010 at 10:11 am

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Intellectual Life on Cape Cod Summer 09

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Nude Volley Ball has suffered severe blows from all the rainstorms and thunder-clapping clouds of late, as have most nude beach activities, not to mention the US Open. Many established groups, such as the writer’s colony in Provincetown, Norman Mailer’s group, and the reconstituted Partisan group do their volley balling indoors in Truro, Wellfleet, etc., where all the talk is about Obama’s influence on the recent events in Tehran, or possible retaliation to a North Korean missile strike on Pearl Harbor. Super models continue to get knocked up, bait shops are open, and Critical Inquiry is still on sale at the bookstore in Vineyard Haven; thus you have to drive back to Oaks Bluff to get alcohol with your moralism, or is it the other way round? Savvy salty dogs have their TLS or NYRB delivered via post or internet. Your correspondent appreciates writing on the internet via this Journal for really big bucks, but I do not listen to Little Dorrit on an I-Pod or I-Phone, or try to read it online with any of the various new reading technologies now available. If you can’t get sand in it in the summertime why go to Marseille or Chatham in the first place. Of course the situation hasn’t changed that much. Reading a New Yorker after an Ivy League BA is held the height of casual awareness. There is much perfect storm discussion of the French airliner “disapeared” over the Atlantic. The usual blather about the Red Sox and the Yankees, spottings of Ayn Rand paperbacks continue, as well as the odd Decline of the West or Civilization and its Discontents. There always seem to be more French readers than German readers on Cape Cod and the Islands. Almost everyone now drinks Aussie Swill-Shiraz, which is the current dago red. John Ashbery seems set to live forever and one can’t help but think somewhat fewer Europeans will weep if he dies, than as they did for Lord Byron. My editors continue to remind me they are due articles on Icelandic economic reform and the Mongolian theatrical avant-garde. Max Klinger is in heavy debate with scientists over the presence of hotel resorts and spas in the Marinas Trench. C.D. Grabbe and Ekaterina Degout are no longer speaking to another. Dear Reader, I write to you from the broad, sandy beaches which surround the hill-populations of Somerville, City of Trees and Dogshit. I travel to my local Brazilian Beer Store on an outboard-powered skiff. I have promised Herr Klinger more on this topic later, and some translations from the German poems of George Heym. My Best to you.
Stanley Richardson, Correspondent for Der Zuschauer
Northeast Corridor All Rights reserved Guam Battalions


The Roman idea of Hanging Out

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Written by herrdramaturg

March 22, 2009 at 3:18 pm

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Der Deutschen Frau

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Written by herrdramaturg

December 20, 2008 at 8:26 am

Voltaire Has Sent Us This Picture

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Voltaire, lived in exile in Great Britain from 1726 to 1729. In 1734 he published his Philosophical Letters, or, Lettres anglaises. Containing letters on Quakers, on Parliament, Commerce, Inoculation with smallpox, Newton, Decartes, Bacon, and a System of Gravitation, they are written from acute observation, with witty insight, and at times, absurd wrong-headedness. They are a delight. Below we offer some extracts from the two letters, On Tragedy and On Comedy. We will remind you that Voltaire saw himself, chiefly as a dramatist.

“The English already had a theatre, as sis the Spanish, when the French still had nothing but portable stages. Shakespeare, who was considered the English Corneille, flourished at about the time of Lope de Vega. He had a strong and fertile genius, full of naturalness and sublimity, without the slightest spark of good taste or the least knowledge of the rules.”

“I am going to tell you something rash but true, namely that the excellence of this author ruined the English theatre.”

“You know that in the tragedy of the Moor of Venice, a most touching play, a husband strangles his wife on the stage, and while the poor woman is being strangled, she shrieks that she is dying most undeservedly. You are not unaware that in Hamlet gravediggers dig a grave, swallowing drinks and singing popular songs, cracking jokes typical of men of their calling about the skulls they come across. But what will surprise you is that these stupidities should have been animated in the reign of Charles II, which was the age of politeness and the golden age of the art.”

We will spare you much of Voltaire’s translations into French of some of the great soliloquies. “To be or not be,” in the German, robustly “Sein oder nicht sein.” Voltaire’s “free” translation goes to a rhyming, meandering couplet”
“Demmure; il faut choisir, et passer a l’instnat
Dela vie a la mort, ou de l’etre au neant.”

“The plays of the English tragic writers, almost all barbarous, quite lacking in good taste, order and plausibility, have amazing flashes amid this gloom. The style is too bombastic, too far removed from nature, too much copied from Hebrew writers who are themselves so full of Asiatic hot hair.”

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November 12, 2008 at 10:54 am

Max Klinger on Der Zuschauer

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Dear Comrades, We have found it necessary to make some editorial changes in the journal. Ekaterina Degot┬áhas been forced out in what she calls a putsch. Christian Grabbe is in a padded cell, sort of an “alternative detention.” We hope to see him better and returned to editorial eminence. Lastly we welcome Thomas Shadewell to our working editorial board. All our best to you, Dear Readers.

Klinger, (Grabbe, Here), Shadewell, and Mrs. Inchbald.

Written by herrdramaturg

August 22, 2008 at 4:19 pm