European Theories of the Drama: An Anthology of Dramatic Theory and Criticism from Aristotle to the Present Day

By Barrett H. Clark | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

European Theories of the Drama is an attempt to set before the reader the development of the theory of dramatic technique in Europe from Aristotle to the present time. It has been my purpose to select such texts and parts of texts as have been influential in shaping the technical form of plays. Sometimes this doctrine appears as criticism of particular works, sometimes as the playwright's own theory of his art, and sometimes as a history, a summing up of the dramatic products of a particular epoch.

The texts I have selected are arranged according to countries, and generally in chronological order, so that the whole volume, texts and preliminary historical remarks taken together, will furnish the reader an idea of the changes in dramatic technique as they were gradually introduced from country to country, and century to century.

It was no easy task to choose from the vast amount of material exactly what theories were most important, and reject what were foreign to my pre-conceived idea, for I have tried to include only the theories of dramatic form, and not venture into the fields of ethics and esthetics. This was, of course, an impossible task, because the technique of no true art is separable from ethical and esthetic considerations. It was inevitable that in the greater part of the writings I was called upon to consider, there should be constant reference to the purely psychological side of dramatic art, and to the moral intent and influence. However, as it was out of the question to give space in a book the size of the present one, to any of the exclusively esthetic or moral disquisitions on the subject, I have contented myself with including theories dealing primarily with dramatic structure. But it will be seen that even in these, there is a constant tendency on the part of theorists to enter into the moral side of the drama: from Aristotle to Bernard Shaw there is a "school" of dramatic critics which demands that the drama shall shape the morals and manners of men; to these critics, morality is itself a part of their theory of the form. To Dumas fils, for instance, it is the end of the drama, its excuse for existence. I have naturally allowed these critics to speak for themselves, and not attempted to select from among their utterances the passages dealing exclusively with dramatic form in itself. On the other hand, the estheticians--like Hegel and Croce--have no place in my scheme, for to include them meant the inclusion of the psychologists: it is only a step from esthetics to psychology, and it would be necessary to add the interesting, but--from my point of view hardly pertinent--books of Gustave Le Bon and Henri Bergson, to mention but two modern writers.

The texts in the present collection are culled from many sources. First is the work of the critics pure and simple. Lessing, Coleridge, Hazlitt, Sarcey, are typical critics of this class. Then there are the more philosophical critics who have attempted to compile more or less formal treatises: Aristotle, Horace, Scaliger, the Abbé d'Aubig-

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