William Archer on Ibsen: The Major Essays, 1889-1919

William Archer on Ibsen: The Major Essays, 1889-1919

William Archer on Ibsen: The Major Essays, 1889-1919

William Archer on Ibsen: The Major Essays, 1889-1919

Synopsis

"William Archer on Ibsen assembles major essays, lucid and perceptive, in which the British theatrical critic championed the great Norwegian dramatist and which were instrumental in establishing Ibsen's reputation." Backstage "For the splendid work he has done... Postlewait deserves our deepest thanks." - Modern Drama

Excerpt

William Archer (1856-1924) was one of England's great theatre critics, possibly the most consequential because of his various campaigns for the revival of drama on the London stage. Over a period of almost five decades, beginning in 1877 at the age of twenty-one, Archer fought for the new drama in several of its manifestations, battling vigorously for "a literature in the theatre," and against its reactionary censors. His mission, which of course had its most notable success with the drama of Ibsen, grew out of a commitment to an idea of the theatre that placed the playwright at the center of production considerations, not the actor-manager nor scenic spectacle. In other words, his campaign for Ibsen and the other new dramatists was also a campaign against certain aspects of the Victorian theatre.

This advocacy is what primarily distinguishes Archer as a critic. No doubt, when compared to some of the other major theatre and drama critics in the history of the London stage (such as Dr. Johnson, William Hazlitt, or Max Beerbohm), Archer lacks certain qualities of style and analysis. We do not turn to him, as we do to Shaw, for lively wit nor do we expect, as with Coleridge, great leaps of imaginative synthesis. Instead, Archer offers us, as T. S. Eliot acknowledged, "great lucidity and consistency," a careful control of information and argument presented in logical terms. Archer is the epitome of the critic as rationalist, a writer skilled at analyzing how and why something works (or fails to work) on the stage. He is masterful at dissecting a play's strengths and weaknesses (see, for instance, Ibsen's Apprenticeship, Ibsen's Craftmanship, The Pillars of Society, and John Gabriel Borkman in this collection). Anyone who has read through the five volumes of his The Theatrical World of 1893-1897, which contain his weekly reviews, knows how well he defines the qualities, both positive and negative, of works as various as Henry James Guy Domville, Lord Tennyson Becket, Dumas fils' La Femme du Claude, and Wilde The Importance of Being Earnest. And in his reviews we can fine some of the best analysis anywhere on melodrama, its nature and its appeal. Also, although not usually granted, Archer's skill in analyzing acting can be quite effective, as is . . .

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