1. Theory of the Drama, and Dramatic Art
The first step towards the drama is the assumption of character, whether real or fictitious. It is caused by the desire, inseparable from human nature, to give expression to feelings and ideas. These man expresses not only by sound and Origin of the drama. gesture, like other animals, and by speech significant by its delivery as well as by its purport, but also by imitation superadded to these. To imitate, says Aristotle, is instinctive in man from his infancy, and no pleasure is more universal than that which is given by imitation. Inasmuch as the aid of some sort of dress or decoration is usually at hand, while the accompaniment of dance or song, or other music, naturally suggests itself, especially on joyous or solemn occasions, we find that this preliminary step is taken among all peoples, however primitive or remote. But it does not follow, as is often assumed, that they possess a drama in germ. Boys playing at soldiers, or men walking in a pageant—a shoemaker’s holiday in ribbons and flowers, or a Shetland sword-dance—none of these is in itself a drama. This is not reached till the imitation or representation extends to action.
An action which is to present itself as such to human minds must enable them to recognize in it a procedure from cause to effect. This of course means, neither that the cause suggested must be the final cause, nor that the result Dramatic action. shown forth need pretend to be the ultimate result. We look upon an action as ended when the purpose with which it began is shown to have been gained or frustrated; and we trace the beginning of an action back to the human will that set it on foot—though this will may be in bondage to a higher or stronger will, or to fate, in any or all of its purposes. Without an action in the sense stated—without a plot, in a word—there can be no drama. But the very simplest action will satisfy the dramatic test; a mystery representing the story of Cain and Abel without a deviation from the simple biblical narrative, a farce exhibiting the stalest trick played by designing sobriety upon oblivious drunkenness, may each of them be a complete drama. But even to this point, the imitation of action by action in however crude a form, not all peoples have advanced.
But after this second step has been taken, it only remains for the drama to assume a form regulated by certain literary laws, in order that it may become a branch of dramatic literature. Such a literature, needless to say, only a Dramatic literature. limited number of nations has come to possess; and, while some are to be found that have, or have had, a drama without a dramatic literature, it is quite conceivable that a nation should continue in possession of the former after having ceased to cultivate the latter. It is self-evident that no drama which forms part of a dramatic literature can ignore the use of speech; and however closely music, dancing and decoration may associate themselves with particular forms or phases of the drama, their aid cannot be more than adventitious. As a matter of fact, the beginnings of dramatic composition are, in the history of such literatures as are well known to us, preceded by the earlier stages in the growth of the lyric and epic forms of poetry, or by one of these at all events; and it is in the continuation of both that the drama in its literary form takes its origin in those instances which lie open to our study.
While the aid of all other arts—even, strictly speaking, the aid of the literary art—is merely an accident, the co-operation of the art of acting is indispensable to that of the drama. The dramatic writer may have reasons for preferring to The dramatic and the histrionic arts. leave the imagination of his reader to supply the absence of this co-operation; but, though the term “literary drama” is freely used of works kept away from the stage, it is in truth either a misnomer or a self-condemnation. It is true that the actor only temporarily interprets, and sometimes misinterprets, the dramatist, while occasionally he reveals dramatic possibilities in a character or situation which remained hidden from their literary inventor. But this only shows that the courses of the dramatic and the histrionic arts do not run parallel; it does not contradict the fact that their conjunction is, on the one side as well as on the other, indispensable. No drama is more than potentially such till it is acted.
To essay, whether in a brief summary or in more or less elaborate detail, a statement of the main laws of the drama, has often been regarded as a superfluous, not to say, futile effort. But the laws of which it is proposed to give Laws and rules of the drama. some indication here are not so much those which any particular literature or period has chosen to set up and follow, as those abstracted by criticism, in pursuit of its own free comparative method, from the process that repeats itself in every drama adequately meeting the demands upon it. Aristotle, whom we still justly revere as the originator of the theory of the drama, and thus its great νομοθέτης, was, no doubt, in his practical knowledge of it, confined to its Greek examples, yet his object was not to produce another generation of great Attic tragedians, but rather to show how it was by following the necessary laws of their art that the great masters, true to themselves and to their artistic ends, had achieved what they had achieved. Still more distinctly was such the aim of the greatest modern critical writer on the drama, Lessing, whose chief design was to combat false dramatic theories and to overthrow laws demonstrated by him to be artificial inventions, unreal figments. He proved, what before him had only been suspected, that Shakespeare, though in hopeless conflict with certain rules dating from the siècle de Louis XIV, was not in conflict with those laws of the drama which are of its very essence, and that, accordingly, if Shakespeare and the rules in question could not be harmonized, it was only so much the worse for the rules. To illustrate from great works, and expound with their aid, the organic processes of the art to which they belong, is not only among the highest, it is also one of the most useful functions of literary and artistic criticism. Nor is there, in one sense at least, any finality about it. Neither the great authorities on dramatic theory nor the resolute and acute apologists of more or less transitory phases of the drama—Corneille, Dryden and many later successors—have exhausted the statement of the means which the drama has proved, or may prove, capable of employing. The multitude of technical terms and formulae which has gathered round the practice of the most living and the most Protean of arts has at no time seriously interfered with the operation of creative power. On the other hand, no dramaturgic theory has (though the attempt has been often enough made) ever succeeded in giving rise to a single dramatic work of enduring value, unless the creative force was there to animate the form.
It is therefore the operation of this creative force which we are chiefly interested in noting; and its task begins with the beginning of the dramatist’s labours. He must of course start with the choice of a subject; yet it is Choice of subject. obvious that the subject is merely the dead material out of which is formed that living something, the action of a play; and it is only in rare instances—far rarer than might at first sight appear—that the subject is as it were self-moulded as a dramatic action. The less experienced a playwright, the more readily will he, as the phrase is, rush at his subject, more especially if it seems to him to possess prima facie dramatic capabilities; and the consequence will be that which usually attends upon a precipitate start. On the other hand, while the quickness of a great dramatist’s apprehension is apt to suggest to him an infinite number of subjects, and insight and experience may lead him half instinctively in the direction of suitable themes, it will often be long before in his mind the subject converts itself into the initial conception of the action of a play. To mould a subject—be it a Greek legend, or a portion of a Tudor chronicle, or one out of a hundred Italian tales, or a true story of modern life—into the action or fable of a play, is the primary task of the dramatist, and with this all-important process the creative part of his work really begins. Although his conception may expand or modify itself as he executes it, yet upon the conception the execution must largely depend. The range of subjects open to a dramatist may be as wide as the world itself, or it may be restricted by an endless variety of causes, conventions and considerations; and it is quite true that even the greatest dramatists have not always found time for contemplating each subject that occurs to them till the ray is caught which proclaims it a dramatic diamond. What they had time for, and what only the playwright who entirely misunderstands his art ignores the necessity of finding time for, is the transformation of the dead material of the subject into the living action of a drama.
What is it, then, that makes an action dramatic, and without which no action, whatever may be its nature—serious or ludicrous, stately or trivial, impetuous as a flame of fire, or light as a western breeze—can be so described? The answer Unity of action. to this question can only suggest itself from an attempt to ascertain the laws which determine the nature of all actions corresponding to this description. The first of the laws in question is in so far the most noteworthy among them that it has been the most amply discussed and the most pertinaciously misunderstood. This is the law which requires that a dramatic action should be one—that it should possess unity. What in the subject of a drama is merely an approximate or supposititious, must in its action be an actual unity; and it is indeed this requirement which constitutes the most arduous part of the task of transforming subject into action. There is of course no actual unity in any group of events in human life which we may choose to call by a single collective name—a war, a revolution, a conspiracy, an intrigue, an imbroglio. The events of real life, the facts of history, even the imitative incidents of narrative fiction, are like the waves of a ceaseless flood; that which binds a group or body of them into a single action is the bond of the dramatic idea; and this it is incumbent upon the dramatist to supply. Within the limits of a dramatic action all its parts should (as in real life or in history they so persistently refuse to do) flow into its current like tributaries to a single stream; or, to vary the figure, everything in a drama should form a link in a single chain of cause and effect. This law is incumbent upon every kind of drama—alike upon the tragedy which sets itself to solve one of the problems of a life, and upon the farce which sums up the follies of an afternoon.
Such is not, however, the case with certain more or less arbitrary rules which have at different times been set up for this or that kind of drama. The supposed necessity that an action should consist of one event is an erroneous interpretation of the law that it should be, as an action, one. For an event is but an element in an action, though it may be an element of decisive moment. The assassination of Caesar is not the action of a Caesar tragedy; the loss of his treasure is not the action of The Miser. Again, unity of action, while excluding those unconnected episodes which Aristotle so severely condemns, does not prohibit the introduction of one or even more subsidiary actions as contributing to the progress of the main action. The sole indispensable law is that these should always be treated as what they are—subsidiary only; and herein lies the difficulty, which Shakespeare so successfully overcame, of fusing a combination of subjects taken from various sources into the idea of a single action; herein also lies the danger in the use of that favourite device of the Spanish and other modern dramas—“by-plots” or “under-plots.” On the other hand, the modern French drama has largely employed another device—quite legitimate in itself—for increasing the interest of an action without destroying its unity. This may be called the dramatic use of backgrounds, the depiction of surroundings on which the action or its chief characters seem sympathetically to reflect themselves, backbiting “good villagers” or academicians who inspire one another—with tedium. But a really double or multiple action, logically carried out as such, is inconceivable in a single drama, though many a play is palpably only two plays knotted into one. It was therefore not all pedantry which protested against the multiplicity of action which had itself formed part of the revolt against the too narrow interpretation of unity adopted by the French classical drama. Thirdly, unity of action need not imply unity of hero—for hero (or heroine) is merely a conventional term signifying the principal personage of the action. It is only when the change in the degree of interest excited by different characters in a play results from a change in the conception of the action itself, that the consequent duality (or multiplicity) of heroes recalls a faulty uncertainty in the conception of the action they carry on. Such an objection, while it may hold in the case of Schiller’s Don Carlos, would therefore be erroneously urged against Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Lastly, as to the theory which made the so-called unities of time and place constitute, together with that of action, the Three Unities indispensable to the (tragic) drama, the following note must suffice. Aristotle’s supposed exaction of all the Three Unities, having been expanded by Chapelain and approved by Richelieu, was stereotyped by Corneille, though he had (as one might say) got on very well without them, and was finally set forth in Horatian verse by Boileau. Thus it came to be overlooked that there is nothing in Aristotle’s statement to show that in his judgment unity of time and place are, like unity of action, absolute dramatic laws. Their object is by representing an action as visibly continuous to render its unity more distinctly or easily perceptible. But the imagination is capable of constructing for itself the bridges required for preserving to an action, conceived of as such, its character of continuousness. In another sense these rules were convenient usages conducing to a concise and clear treatment of a limited kind of themes; for they were a Greek invention, and the repeated resort to the same group of myths made it expedient for a Greek poet to seek the subject of a single tragedy in a part only of one of the myths at his disposal. The observance of unity of place, moreover, was suggested to the Greeks by certain outward conditions of their stage—as assuredly as it was adopted by the French in accordance with the construction and usages of theirs, and as the neglect of it by the Elizabethans was in their case encouraged by the established form of the English scene. The palpable artificiality of these laws needs no demonstration, so long as the true meaning of the term “action” be kept in view. Of the action of Othello part takes place at Venice and part at Cyprus, and yet the whole is one in itself; while the limits of time over which an action—Hamlet’s progress to resolve, for instance—extends cannot be restricted by a revolution of the earth round the sun or of the moon round the earth.
In a drama which presents its action as one, this action must be complete in itself. This Aristotelian law, like the other, distinguishes the dramatic action from its subject. The former may be said to have a real artistic, while the Completeness of action. latter has only an imaginary real, completeness. The historian, for instance, is aware that the complete exposition of a body of events and transactions at which he aims can never be more than partially accomplished, since he may present only what he knows, and all human knowledge is imperfect. But Art is limited by no such uncertainty. The dramatist, in treating an action as one, comprehends the whole of it in the form of his work, since, to him who has conceived it, all its parts, from cause to effect, are equally clear. It is his fault if in the action of his drama anything is left unaccounted for—not motivé; though a dramatic motif might not always prove to be a sufficient explanation in real life. Accordingly, every drama should represent in organic sequence the several stages of which a complete action consists, and which are essential to it. This law of completeness, therefore, lies at the foundation of all systems of dramatic “construction.”
Every action, if conceived of as complete, has its causes, growth, height, consequences and close. There is no binding law to prescribe the relative length or proportion at which these several stages in the action should be Systems of construction based on this law of completeness. treated in a drama; or to regulate the treatment of such subsidiary actions as may be introduced in aid of the main plot, or of such more or less directly connected “episodes” as may at the same time advance and relieve its progress. But experience has necessarily from time to time established certain rules of practice, and from the adoption of particular systems of division for particular species of the drama—such as that into five acts for a regular tragedy or comedy, which Roman example has caused to be so largely followed—has naturally resulted a certain uniformity of relation between the conduct of an action and the outward sections of a play. Essentially, however, there is no difference between the laws regulating the construction of a Sophoclean or Shakespearian tragedy, a comedy of Molière or Congreve, and a well-built modern farce, because all exhibit an action complete in itself.
The “introduction” or “exposition” forms an integral part of the action, and is therefore to be distinguished from the “prologue” in the more ordinary sense of the term, which like the “epilogue” (and the Greek παράβασις) Prologues and epilogues outside the action. stands outside the action, and is a mere address to the public from author, presenter or actor occasioned by the play. Prologue and epilogue are mere external, though at times effective, adjuncts, and have, properly speaking, as little to do with the construction of a play as the bill which announces it or the musical prelude which disposes the mind for its reception. A special kind of preface or argument is the “dumb-show,” which in some old plays briefly rehearses in pantomime the action that is to follow. The introduction or Parts of the action. Introduction or exposition. exposition belongs to the action itself; it is, as the Hindu critics called it, the seed or circumstance from which the business arises. Clearness being its primary requisite, many expedients have been at various times adopted to secure this feature. Thus the Euripidean prologue, though spoken by one of the characters of the play, took a narrative form, more acceptable to the audience than to the critics, and placed itself half without, half within, the action. The same purpose is served by the separate “inductions” in many of the old English plays, and by the preludes or prologues, or whatever name they may assume, in numberless modern dramas of all kinds—from Faust down to the favourites of the Ambigu and the Adelphi. More facile is the orientation supplied in French tragedy by the opening scenes between hero and confidant, and in French comedy and its derivatives by those between observant valet and knowing lady’s-maid. But all such expedients may be rendered unnecessary by the art of the dramatist, who is able outwardly also to present the introduction of his action as an organic part of that action itself; who seems to take the spectators in medias res, while he is really building the foundations of his plot; who touches in the opening of his action the chord which is to vibrate throughout its course—“Down with the Capulets! down with the Montagues!”—“With the Moor, sayest thou?”
The exposition, which may be short or long, but which should always prepare and may even seem to necessitate the action, ends when the movement of the action itself begins. This Opening of movement. transition may occasionally be marked with the utmost distinctness (as in the actual meeting between the hero and the Ghost in Hamlet), while in other instances subsidiary action or episode may judiciously intervene (as in King Lear, where the subsidiary action of Gloster and his sons opportunely prevents too abrupt a sequence of cause and effect). Growth. From this point the second stage of the action—its “growth”—progresses to that third stage which is called its “height” or “climax.” All that has preceded the attainment of this constitutes that half of the drama—usually its much larger half—which Aristotle terms the δεσις, or tying of the knot. The varieties in the treatment of the growth or second stage of the action are infinite; it is here that the greatest freedom is manifestly permissible; that in the Indian drama the personages make long journeys across the stage; and that, with the help of their under-plots, the masters of the modern tragic and the comic drama—notably those unequalled weavers of intrigues, the Spaniards—are able most fully to exercise their inventive faculties. If the growth is too rapid, the climax will fail of its effect; if it is too slow, the interest will be exhausted before the greatest demand upon it has been made—a fault to which comedy is specially liable; if it is involved or inverted, a vague uncertainty will take the place of an eager or agreeable suspense, the action will seem to halt, or a fall will begin prematurely. In the contrivance of the “climax” itself lies one Height or climax. of the chief tests of the dramatist’s art; for while the transactions of real life often fail to reach any climax at all, that of a dramatic action should present itself as self-evident. In the middle of everything, says the Greek poet, lies the strength; and this strongest or highest point it is the task of the dramatist to make manifest. Much here depends upon the niceties of constructive instinct; much (as in all parts of the action) upon a thorough dramatic transformation of the subject. The historical drama at this point presents peculiar difficulties, of which the example of Henry VIII. may be cited as an illustration.
From the climax, or height, the action proceeds through its “fall” to its “close,” which in a drama with an unhappy ending we still call its “catastrophe,” while to terminations in general we apply the term dénouement. This Fall. latter name would, however, more properly be applied in the sense in which Aristotle employs its Greek equivalent λύσις—the untying of the knot—to the whole of the second part of the action, from the climax downwards. In the management of the climax, everything depends upon producing the effect; in the fall, everything depends upon not marring it. This may be ensured by a rapid advance to the close; but neither does every action admit of such treatment, nor is it in accordance with the character of those which are of a more subtle or complicated kind. With the latter, therefore, the “fall” is often a revolution or “return,” i.e. in Aristotle’s phrase a change into Return. the reverse of what is expected from the circumstances of the action (περιπέτεια)—as in Coriolanus, where the Roman story lends itself so admirably to dramatic demands. In any case, the art of the dramatist is in this part of his work called upon for the surest exercise of its tact and skill. The effect of the climax was to concentrate the interest; the fall must therefore, above all, avoid dissipating it. The use of episodes is not even now excluded; but, even where serving the purpose of relief, they must now be such as help to keep alive the interest, previously raised to its highest pitch. This may be effected by the raising of obstacles between the height of the action and its expected consequences; in tragedy by the suggestion of a seemingly possible recovery or escape from them (as in the wonderfully powerful construction of the latter part of Macbeth); in comedy, or wherever the interest of the action is less intense, by the gradual removal of incidental difficulties. In all kinds of the drama “discovery” will remain, as it was in the judgment of Aristotle, a most effective expedient; but it should be a discovery prepared by that method of treatment which in its consummate master, Sophocles, has been termed his “irony.” Nowhere should the close or catastrophe be other than a consequence of the action itself. Sudden Close or catastrophe. revulsions from the conditions of the action—such as are supplied with the aid of the deus ex machina, or the revising officer of the emperor of China, or the nabob returned from India, or a virulent malaria—condemn themselves as unsatisfactory makeshifts. However sudden, and even in manner of accomplishment surprising, may be the catastrophe, it should, like every other part of the action, be in organic connexion with the whole preceding action. The sudden suicides which terminate so many tragedies, and the unmerited paternal blessings which close an equal number of comedies, should be something more than a “way out of it,” or a signal for the fall of the curtain. A catastrophe may conveniently, and even (as in Faust) with powerful effect, be left to the imagination; but to substitute for it a deliberate blank is to leave the action incomplete, and the drama a fragment ending with a—possibly interesting—confession of incompetence.
The action of a drama, besides being one and complete in itself, ought likewise to be probable. The probability or necessity (in the Aristotelian sense of the terms) required of a drama is not that of actual or historical experience—it is a Probability of action. conditional probability, or in other words an internal consistency between the course of the action and the conditions under which the dramatist has chosen to carry it on. As to the former, he is fettered by no restrictions save those which he imposes upon himself, whether or not in deference to the usages of certain accepted species of dramatic composition. Ghosts seldom appear in real life or in dramas of real life; but the introduction of supernatural agency is neither enjoined nor prohibited by any general dramatic law. The use of such expedients is as open to the dramatic as to any other poet; the judiciousness of his use of them depends upon the effect which, consistently with the general conduct of his action, they will exercise upon the spectator, whom other circumstances may or may not predispose to their acceptance. The Ghost in Hamlet belongs to the action of the play; the Ghost in the Persae is not intrinsically less probable, but seems a less immediate product of the surrounding atmosphere. Dramatic probability has, however, a far deeper meaning than this. The Eumenides is probable, with all its mysterious commingling of cults, and so is Macbeth, with all its barbarous witchcraft. The proceedings of the feathered builders of Cloudcuckootown in the Birds of Aristophanes are as true to dramatic probability as are the pranks of Oberon’s fairies in Midsummer Night’s Dream. In other words, it is in the harmony between the action and the characters, and in the consistency of the characters with themselves, in the appropriateness of both to the atmosphere in which they have their being, that this dramatic probability lies. The dramatist has to represent characters affected by the progress of an action in a particular way, and contributing to it in a particular way, because, if consistent with themselves, they must be so affected, and must so act.
Upon the invention and conduct of his characters the dramatist must therefore expend a great proportion—even a preponderance—of his labour. His treatment of them will, in at least as high Characterization. a degree as his choice of subject, conception of action, and method of construction, determine the effect which his work produces. And while there are aspects of the dramatic art under which its earlier phases already exhibit an unsurpassed degree of perfection, there is none under which its advance is more notable than this. Many causes have Advance of the drama in this respect. contributed to this result; the chief is to be sought in the multiplication of the opportunities for mankind’s study of man. The theories of the Indian critics on the subject of dramatic character are little more than an elaborate scaffolding. Aristotle’s remarks on the subject are scanty; nor indeed is the strength of the dramatic literature from whose examples he abstracted his maxims to be sought in the fulness or variety of its characterization. This relative deficiency was beyond doubt largely caused by the outward conditions of the Greek theatre—the remoteness of actor from spectator, and the consequent necessity for the use of masks, and for the raising, and consequent conventionalizing, of the tones of the voice. Later Greek and Roman comedy, unable or unwilling to resist the force of habit, limited their range of characters to an accepted gallery of types. Nor is it easy to ignore the fact that the influence of these classical examples, combined with that of national tendencies of mind and temperament, have all along inclined the dramatists of the Romance nations to attach less importance to characterization of a closer and more varied kind than to interest of action and effectiveness of construction. The Italian and the Spanish drama more especially, and the French during a great part of its history, have in general shown a disposition to present their characters, as it were, ready made—whether in the case of tragic heroes and heroines, or in that of comic types, often moulded, as in the commedia dell’ arte “and beyond,” according to a long-lived system of local or national selection. These types, expanded, heightened and modified, are recognizable in some of the triumphs of comic characterization achieved by the Germanic drama, and by its master, Shakespeare, above all; but this fact must not obscure one of more importance than itself. In the matter of comic as well as of serious characterization—in the individualizing of characters and in evolving them as it were out of the progress of the action—the modern drama has not only advanced, but in a sense revolutionized, the dramatic art, as inherited from its ancient masters.
Yet, however the method and scope of characterization may vary under the influence of different historical epochs and different tendencies or tastes of races or nations, the laws of this branch of the dramatic art remain based on Requisites of character. the same essential requirements. What interests us in a man or woman in real life, or in the impressions we form of historical personages, is that which seems to us to give them individuality. A dramatic character must therefore, whatever its part in the action, be sufficiently marked by features of its own to interest the imagination; with these features its subsequent conduct must be consistent, and to them its participation in the action must correspond. In order to achieve such a result, the dramatist must have, in the first instance, distinctly conceived the character, however it may have been suggested to him. His task is, not to paint a copy of some contemporary or “historical” personage, but to conceive a particular kind of man, acting under the operation of particular circumstances. This conception, growing and modifying itself with the progress of the action, also invented by the dramatist, will determine the totality of the character which he creates. The likeness which the result bears to an actual or historical personage may very probably, from secondary points of view, affect the immediate stage success of the creation; upon its dramatic result this likeness can have no influence whatever. In a wider sense than that in which Shakespeare denied the charge that Falstaff was Oldcastle, it should be possible to say of every dramatic character which it is sought to identify with an actual personage, “This is not the man.” The mirror of the drama is not a photographic apparatus; and not even the most conscientious combination of science and art can bring back even a “phase” of the real Napoleon.
Distinctiveness, as the primary requisite in dramatic characterization, is to be demanded in the case of all personages introduced into a dramatic action, but not in all cases in an equal degree. Schiller, in adding to the Distinctiveness.dramatis personae of his Fiesco superscriptions of their chief characteristics, labels Sacco as “an ordinary person,” and this, no doubt, suffices for Sacco. But with the great masters of characterization a few touches, of which the true actor’s art knows how to avail itself, distinguish even their lesser characters from one another; and every man is in his humour down to the “third citizen.” Elaboration is necessarily reserved for characters who are the more important contributors to the action, and the fulness of elaboration for its heroes. Many expedients may lend their aid to the higher degrees of distinctiveness. Much is gained by a significant introduction of hero or heroine—thus Antigone is dragged in by the watchman, Gloucester enters alone upon the scene, Volpone is discovered in adoration of his golden saint. Nothing marks character more clearly than the use of contrast—as of Othello with Iago, of Ottavio with Max Piccolomini, of Joseph with Charles Surface. Nor is direct antithesis the only effective kind of contrast; Cassius is a foil to Brutus, and Leonora to her namesake the Princess. But, besides impressing the imagination as a conception distinct in itself, each character Self-consistency. must maintain a consistency between its conduct in the action and the features it has established as its own. This consistency does not imply uniformity; for, as Aristotle observes, there are characters which, to be represented with uniformity, must be presented as uniformly un-uniform. Of such consistently complex characters the great critic cites no instances, nor indeed are they of frequent occurrence in Greek tragedy; in the modern drama Hamlet is their unrivalled exemplar; and Weislingen in Goethe’s Götz, and Alceste in the Misanthrope, may be mentioned as other illustrations in dramas differing widely from one another. The list might be enlarged almost indefinitely from the gallery of female characters, in view of the greater pliability and more habitual dependence of the nature of women. It should be added that those dramatic literatures which freely admit of a mixture of the serious with the comic element thereby enormously increase the opportunities of varied characterization. The difficulty of the task at the same time enhances the effect resulting from its satisfactory accomplishment; and, if the conception of a character is found to meet a variety of tests resembling that which life has at hand for every man, its naturalness, as we term it, becomes more obvious to the imagination. “Naturalness” is only another word for what Aristotle terms “propriety”; the artificial rules by which usage has at times sought to define particular species of character are in their origin only a convenience of the theatre, though they have largely helped to conventionalize dramatic characterization. Lastly, a character should be directly effective with regard Effectiveness. to the dramatic action in which it takes part—that is to say, the influence it exerts upon the progress of the action should correspond to its distinctive features; the conduct of the play should seem to spring from the nature of its characters. In other words, no characterization can be effective which is not what may be called economical, i.e. which does not strictly limit itself to suiting the purposes of the action. Even the minor characters should not idly intervene; while the chief characters should predominate over, or determine, the course of the action, its entire conception should harmonize with their distinctive features. It is only a Prometheus whom the gods bind fast to a rock, only a Juliet who will venture into a living death for her Romeo. Thus, in a sense, chance is excluded from dramatic action, or rather, like every other element in it, bends to the dramatic idea.
In view of this predominance of character over action, we may appropriately use such expressions as a tragedy of love or jealousy or ambition, or a comedy of character. For such collocations merely indicate that plays so described have proved (or were intended to prove) specially impressive by the conception or execution of their chief character or characters.
The term “manners” (as employed in a narrower sense than the Aristotelian ἤθη) applies to that which colours both action and characters, but does not determine the essence of either. As exhibiting human agents under certain conditions Manners. of time and place, and of the various relations of life, the action of a drama, together with the characters engaged in it, and the incidents and circumstances belonging to it, must more or less adapt itself to the external conditions assumed. From the assumption of some such conditions not even those dramatic species which indulge in the most sovereign licence, such as Old Attic comedy, or burlesque in general, can wholly emancipate themselves; and even supernatural or fantastic characters and actions must suit themselves to some sort of antecedents. But it depends altogether on the measure in which the nature of an action and the development of its characters are effected by considerations of time and place, or of temporary social systems and the transitory distinctions incidental to them, whether the imitation of a particular kind of manners becomes a significant Their relative significance. element in a particular play. The Hindu caste-system is an antecedent of every Hindu drama, and the peculiar organization of Chinese society of nearly every Chinese play with which we are acquainted. Greek tragedy itself, though treating subjects derived from no historic age, had established a standard of manners from which in its decline it did not depart with impunity. Again, the imitation of manners of a particular age or country may or may not be of moment in a play. In some dramas, and in some species of drama, time and place are so purely imaginary and so much a matter of indifference that the adoption of a purely conventional standard of manners, or at least the exclusion of any definitely fixed standard, is here desirable. The ducal reign of Theseus at Athens (if its period be ascertainable) does not date A Midsummer Night’s Dream; nor do the coasts of Bohemia in The Winter’s Tale localize the manners of the customers of Autolycus. Where, on the other hand, as more especially in the historic drama, or in that kind of comedy which directs its shafts against the ridiculous vices of a particular age or country, significance attaches to the degree in which the manners represented resemble what is more or less known, the dramatist will do well to be careful in his colouring. How admirably is the French court specialized in Henry V.; how completely are we transplanted among the burghers of Brussels in the opening scenes of Egmont; what a portraiture of a clique we have in the Précieuses ridicules of Molière; what a reproduction of a class in the pot-house politicians of Holberg! And how minutely have modern dramatists found it necessary to study the more fascinating aspects of la vie parisienne, in order to convey to the curious at home and abroad a conviction of the verisimilitude of their pictures! Yet, even in such instances, the dramatist will only use what suits his dramatic purpose; he will select, not transfer in mass, historic features, and discriminate in his use of modern instances. The details of historic fidelity, and the lesser shades distinguishing the varieties of social usage, will be introduced by him at his choice, or left to be supplied by the actor. Where the reproduction of manners becomes the primary purpose of a play, its effect can only be of an inferior kind; and a drama purely of manners is a contradiction in terms.
No complete system of dramatic species can be abstracted from any one dramatic literature. They are often the result of particular antecedents, and their growth is often affected by peculiar conditions. Different nations or Species of the drama. ages use the same names and may preserve some of the same rules for species which in other respects their usage may have materially modified from that of their neighbours or predecessors. The very question of the use of measured or pedestrian speech as fit for different kinds of drama, and therefore distinctive of them, cannot be profitably discussed except in reference to particular literatures. In the Chinese drama the most solemn themes are treated in the same form—an admixture of verse and prose—which not so very long since was characteristic of that airiest of Western dramatic species, the French vaudeville. Who would undertake to define, except in the applications which have been given to the words in successive generations, such terms as “tragi-comedy,” or indeed as “drama” (drame) itself? Yet this uncertainty does not imply that all is confusion in the terminology as to the species of the drama. In so far as they are distinguishable according to the effects which their actions, or those which the preponderating parts of their actions, produce, these species may primarily be ranged in accordance with the broad difference established by Aristotle between tragedy and comedy. “Tragic” and “comic” effects differ in regard to the emotions of the mind which they excite; and a drama is tragic or comic according as such effects Tragic and comic. are produced by it. The strong or serious emotions are alone capable of exercising upon us that influence which, employing a bold but marvellously happy figure, Aristotle termed purification, and which a Greek comedian, after a more matter-of-fact fashion, thus expressed:
“For whensoe’er a man observes his fellow
Bear wrongs more grievous than himself has known,
More easily he bears his own misfortunes.”
That is to say, the petty troubles of self which disturb without elevating the mind are driven out by the sympathetic participation in greater griefs, which raises while it excites the mind employed upon contemplating them. It is to these emotions—which are and can be no others than pity and terror—that actions which we call tragic appeal. Naïf as we may think Aristotle in desiderating for such actions a complicated rather than a simple plot, he obviously means that in form as well as in design they should reveal their relative importance. Those actions which we term comic address themselves to the sense of the ridiculous, and their themes are those vices and moral infirmities the representation of which is capable of touching the springs of laughter. Where, accordingly, a drama confines itself to effects of the former class, it may be called a pure “tragedy”; when to those of the latter, a pure “comedy.” In dramas where the effects are mixed the nature of the main action and of the main characters (as determined by their distinctive features) alone enables us to classify such plays as serious or humorous dramas—or as “tragic” or “comic,” if we choose to preserve the terms. But the classification admits of a variety of transitions, from “pure” tragedy to “mixed,” from “mixed tragedy” to “mixed comedy,” and thence to “pure comedy,” with the more freely licensed “farce” and “burlesque,” the time-honoured inversion of the relations of dramatic method and purpose. This system of distinction has no concern with the mere question of the termination of the play, according to which Philostratus and other authorities have sought to distinguish tragic from comic dramas. The serious drama which ends happily (the German Schauspiel) is not a species co-ordinate with tragedy and comedy, but at the most a subordinate variety of the former. Other distinctions may be almost infinitely multiplied, according to the point of view adopted for the classification.
The historical sketch of the drama attempted in the following pages will best serve to indicate the successive growth of national dramatic species, many of which, by asserting their influence in other countries and ages than those which gave birth to them, have acquired a more than national vitality.
The art of acting, whose history forms an organic though a distinct part of that of the drama, necessarily possesses a theory and a technical system of its own. But into these it is impossible here to enter. One claim, however, should The art of acting. be vindicated for the art of acting, viz. that, though it is a dependent art, and most signally so in its highest forms, yet its true exercise implies (however much the term may have been abused) a creative process. The conception of a character is determined by antecedents not of the actor’s own making; and the term originality can be applied to it only in a relative sense. Study and reflection enable him, with the aid of experience and of the intuition which genius bestows, but which experience may in a high degree supply, to interpret, to combine, and to supplement given materials. But in the transformation of the conception into the represented character the actor’s functions are really creative; for here he becomes the character by means which belong to his art alone. The distinctiveness which he gives to the character by making the principal features recognized by him in it its groundwork—the consistency which he maintains in it between groundwork and details—the appropriateness which he preserves in it to the course of the action and the part borne in it by the character—all these are of his own making, though Its means. suggested by the conception derived by him from his materials. As to the means at his disposal, they are essentially of two kinds only; but not all forms of the drama have admitted of the use of both, or of both in the same completeness. All acting includes the use of gesture, or, as it has been Gesture. more comprehensively termed, of bodily eloquence. From various points of view its laws regulate the actor’s bearing, walk and movements of face and limbs. They teach what is aesthetically permitted and what is aesthetically pleasing. They deduce from observation what is appropriate to the expression of particular affections of the mind and of their combinations, of emotions and passions, of physical and mental conditions—joy and grief, health and sickness, waking, sleeping and dreaming, madness, collapse and death—of particular ages of life and temperaments, as well as of the distinctive characteristics of Speech. race, nationality or class. While under certain conditions—as in the masked drama—the use of bodily movement as one of the means of expression has at times been partially restricted, there have been, or are, forms of the drama which have altogether excluded the use of speech (such as pantomime), or have restricted the manner of its employment (such as opera). In the spoken drama the laws of rhetoric regulate the actor’s use of speech, but under conditions of a special nature. Like the orator, he has to follow the laws of pronunciation, modulation, accent and rhythm (the last in certain kinds of prose as well as in such forms of verse as he may be called upon to reproduce). But he has also to give his attention to the special laws of dramatic delivery, which vary in soliloquy and dialogue, and in such narrative or lyrical passages as may occur in his part.
The totality of the effect produced by the actor will in some degree depend upon other aids, among which those of a purely external kind are unlikely to be lost sight of. But the significance of costume (q.v.) in the actor, like that of Costume. decoration and scenery (see Theatre) in an action, is a wholly relative one, and is to a large measure determined by the claims which custom enables the theatre to make, or forbids its making, upon the imagination of the spectators. The actor’s real achievement lies in the transformation which the artist himself effects; nor is there any art more sovereign in the use it can make of its means, or so happy in the directness of the results it can accomplish by them.