Low Love and High Passion
S H A K E S P E A R E surpassed his rivals Greene and Marlowe in part because he was first an actor and knew the possibilities of his medium thoroughly. The same advantage has raised Pinter and Osborne above their present contemporaries, and the lack of it deflected T. S. Eliot's aim at a dramatic climax to his career. Many brilliant insights of subtle Shakespearean critics are marginal; no actor could ever put them across, even to an audience of Shakespearean scholars. Perhaps the effects discerned may be subliminally significant: a minor guarantee that the playwright's intuitions are backed up by all his faculties. But to succeed in communicating, an actor must be more concerned with the explicit motives and actions provided than with overtones audible to perhaps one member in an audience of hundreds. Perhaps the most conspicuous example of this incompatibility of high insights and mere performance can be found in the history of the role of Falstaff. As critics increasingly insisted on the fascinating complexity of Falstaff from the eighteenth century onwards, there was actually a decline in the number of performances of Henry IV, Part I, so that the later nineteenth-century London theaters seem positively to be avoiding the play for the most part. Actors and directors wisely chose not to risk snobbish critics' regret of missed yet largely elusive nuances.