Poetic Drama: An Anthology of Plays in Verse from the Ancient Greek to the Modern American

Poetic Drama: An Anthology of Plays in Verse from the Ancient Greek to the Modern American

Poetic Drama: An Anthology of Plays in Verse from the Ancient Greek to the Modern American

Poetic Drama: An Anthology of Plays in Verse from the Ancient Greek to the Modern American

Excerpt

The story of poetic drama is fundamentally the story of the greatest movements in the theater, of its outstanding ages, of the successful interplay of poets, actors, and audience. It also contains those chapters in which the drama declined because of social decadence, and those in which a renascence revived the drama and evolved new forms. The fortunes of poetic drama rose and fell with the fortunes of the human race and were determined by a community of interests from which no man was debarred, however low his social or economic standing. The quality of any theater was usually dependent on and expressive of the number of people who were really alive in a given order, whether royally democratic or democratically royal. In short, a fairly happy society, active in all its components, is the best possible soil for native genius--a light that sees more than the average light and that gives a race immortality. Greece was born for all time through blind Homer, and his epic vision gave birth to Aeschylus and Sophocles, Euripides and Aristophanes. If the drama, as Aristotle declared, is "an imitation of life," it is likewise the power which raises life to an undying form.

In its richest periods, poetic drama was never composed by "highbrows" for a cult of their own or for "lowbrows" whose real or seeming ignorance is in need of uplift. The artist in Greek society was a citizen-idealist whose work served the Democracy. He knew nothing of the escapist philosophy of recent times, of l'art pour l'art of the French, of the ivory tower of the British or the Americans. And yet the sheer perfection of his artistry has rarely been equaled and never surpassed. Poet and audience were drawn together, even where the social order began to fail, by a common passion for life set to music in an amphitheater open to the sun of Apollo and dedicated to Dionysus, god of the fecund spring. This "imitation of life" invited the whole community, down to the slaves and prisoners, who were set free long enough to attend the three-day run of tragedies, comedies, and satyr plays. Religion, government, and art moved hand in hand; and all things were human, even the gods. At such a time Aristotle could afford bold statements about the drama. Today we are forced to argue, especially about the poet who is so reduced in the economic scale that no one invites him to serve his race.

Meanwhile the race is led, fed and unfed, not by the science of numbers to which the poet is attuned, but by some calculus which measures people for their monetary . . .

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