Representative Continental Dramas: Revolutionary and Transitional

Representative Continental Dramas: Revolutionary and Transitional

Representative Continental Dramas: Revolutionary and Transitional

Representative Continental Dramas: Revolutionary and Transitional

Excerpt

The laboratory method of analyzing plays may not be æsthetically satisfying. Yet there is no more graphic way of determining what is meant by the terms "transition" and "change", so continually used by the critics of the Modern Drama, than to hold up two pictures, compare two methods, show the angle of difference between two social and spiritual visions. Definitions epitomize; laws codify. But neither is a living realization, until the forces behind them are clearly argued out, and the human reasons for them justified.

What would be the mere expression of the Corn Laws of 1832, the significant little volume, dated 1833, of Tennyson's poetry, the publication of Wordsworth's Preface to the Lyrical Ballads, without those minute understandings of the life- stuff which called them forth? There are supreme moments when the current, in social, economic, spiritual, and artistic life, reaches a cumulative force which determines its direction. These are the moments made most of in history as defining progress. There are no sharp breaks -- the stream of endeavor is continuous; its direction may be turned only by revolution. Otherwise its flux is marked by varying intensities; its definitions are like nodes on a violin string. Something causes the nodes -- some urge of the creative spirit, some intention of the body politic, some revulsion against established tradition. And so literature, as well as life, must be forever revalued. Its greatness depends upon how constant it is at all times; how necessary it is at any given moment for the maintenance and enrichment of the human spirit, for the support of human ideals. That is the touchstone of all great art.

If there be truth in this view, we are always in transition, in a state of change. Time is eternal; the times are the human mileposts. And of the mileposts, the drama in all countries makes plentiful use. They are sometimes the same mileposts planted at different moments, though relatively in the same period. They are often lonely beacon flames that, like the muezzin's call for prayer, bid the brave artists follow. And so we have schools -- groups uttering the same artistic creed -- upholders of the naturalistic method, of realism, of symbolism, and now, of expressionism.

In such cases, the initiative usually comes to the theatre from the outside. It was the novel that helped to draw the drama away from contrivance; it was industrialism and science that opened up new classes to show concern for, new psychologies to be reckoned with: -- from fustian to moral responsibility, from veneer to truth. If one would hope to understand rightly the modern forces affecting the drama, then the new ideas effecting the changes must be looked for first in those conditions shown in the novel. The significance of Darwin and Herbert Spencer, of the radical spirit which made progress with the rise of the labor classes, -- the urge of Zola, the philosophy of Nietzsche, the apostolic fervor of Tol-

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