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ii






THE DEVELOPMENT OF
THE DRAMA



THE DEVELOPMENT OF
THE DRAMA



BY

BRANDER MATTHEWS

LITT.D. (YALE)

PROFESSOR OF DRAMATIC LITERATURE IN COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY




NEW YORK
CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS

1904





ENGL. LIB. FD,



Copyright, 1903, by
BRANDER MATTHEWS

Publish** September, 1933



PREFACE

THE interesting story of the slow evolution of
the drama, from, its rude beginnings far back in
the forgotten past to the pictorial complexity
of the present day, has not hitherto been told in
a single volume. Most of the existing histories
of dramatic literature are unduly distended with
critical biographies of distinguished playwrights.
Some of them in particular, Schlegel's are
filled with the echoes of bygone controversies.
No one of them, moreover, has taken into account
the threefold influence exerted on the form of
the drama of every epoch by the demands of
the actors, by the size and shape and circum-
stances of the theaters of that time, and by the
changing prejudices of the contemporary audi-
ences.

Each of these influences has been kept in mind
constantly in the present attempt clearly to trace
the development of the drama itself, down
through the ages, without ever delaying to nar-
rate the lives of the leading writers who found
in this form of literary art their chief means of
self-expression. Such criticism as there may be in



)35



PREFACE - ,

the following pages is not so much philosophical
or even esthetic as it is technical; it is concerned
less with the poetry which illumines the master-
pieces of the great dramatists than it is with the
sheer craftsmanship of the most skilful play-
wrights. The desire of the author has been to
bring out the essential unity of the history of the
drama and to make plain the permanence of the
principles underlying the art of the stage.

As it has seemed best to leave the book unen-
cumbered with foot-notes, it may be recorded here
that the conventions of the drama have been con-
sidered (at greater length than was here possible)
in a paper published in a volume entitled 'The
Historical Novel, and Other Essays ' a volume
which also contains an essay on ' The Relation of
the Drama to Literature.' In the third edition of
another volume, 'Aspects of Fiction,' there was
included a paper on 'The Importance of the
Folk-Theater.'

Of the ten lectures which make up the present
volume, one or more have been delivered during
the past two or three years at the Royal Institution
of Great Britain, at the Brooklyn Institute, at
Columbia University, and before the National
Institute of Arts and Letters.

B. M.

Columbia University

in the City of New York.



VI



CONTENTS



PAGE



I The Art of the Dramatist .... i

II Greek Tragedy 38

III Greek and Roman Comedy .... 74

IV The Medieval Drama 107

V The Drama in Spain 147

VI The Drama in England 186

VII The Drama in France 227

VIII The Drama in the Eighteenth Century 263

IX The Drama in the Nineteenth Century 296

X The Future of the Drama .... 325




I. THE ART OF THE DRAMATIST



/CRITICISM nowadays is franker than ever
^^ before in acknowledging the kinship of the
various arts painting and sculpture, music and
poetry and the drama. As an American poet
once made an Italian painter say,

It seems to me

All arts are one, all branches on one tree,
All fingers, as it were, upon one hand.

And yet at the same time criticism is ever re-
vealing an increasing appreciation of the special
characteristics of each of the arts, a keener relish
for the qualities peculiar to that art alone and
absent from all the others. While every art can
make us see and feel and think, each in its own
way, the means of each are as different as may
be; and whenever their methods are confused
there is at once loss of power and misdirection of
energy, lit is a part of the duty of the epic poet
to tell us a story; of the painter to give us an



THE ART OF THE DRAMATIST

impression of the visible world ; of the sculptor
to fill our eyes with the beauty of form alone;
and of the musician to charm our ears with
rhythm and with harmony. But when the
painter puts his chief reliance upon story-telling,
and when the poet seeks to rival the musician,
then of a certainty will they fail to attain the higher
summits of possible achievement in their own
arts.

/ It is in their technical processes that the arts
ire strangers, in the methods by which the artist
expresses himself; and this is why technic is
jigain coming into the high esteem in which it
was held during the Renascence, the most glori-
ous epoch for all the allied arts since the day when
Pericles ceased to rule over Athens. Craftsman-
ship, the mastery of his tools this is what we
are now demanding of the practitioner of every
art. Craftsmanship can be his for the asking; he
can have it if he will pay the price in toil and care
and time. The message he may have to deliver
is the gift of God, after all; but the artist himself
is responsible for the clearness and the eloquence
of its delivery. The prime duty of the craftsman
is to know his trade, that he may give a fitting
form to whatsoever ideas may hereafter possess
him. His second obligation is to understand the
possibilities of his art, its limitations, its bounda-[
ries, so that he may conquer all temptation to tryj



THE ART OF THE DRAMATIST

to do what cannot be done by the only means at
his command.

^One art there is, and only one, which canfavail
itself at will of almost every device of all the other
arts. One art there is which can reach out and
borrow the aid of the poet, the painter, the sculp-
tor, the musician, compelling them all to help it
toward its own perfection. One art there is
which, without danger of confusion, without
departing from its own object, without loss of
force, can, at one and the same time, tell a story,
and give an impression of the visible world, and
fill our eyes with the beauty of form, and charm
our ears with rhythm and with harmony. This
one art is the art of the drama, the art which
most completely displays the life of man "the
youngest of the^ sister arts,." the British poet
called it, "where all their beauty blends ";

For ill can Poetry express

Full many a tone of thought sublime,
And Painting, mute and motionless,

Steals but a glance of time.
But by the mighty actor brought,

Illusion's perfect triumphs come;
Verse ceases to be airy thought,

And Sculpture to be dumb.

To many of us the drama gives merely un-
thinking amusement in the playhouse; and to
not a few others it presents itself as the loftiest






THE ART OF THE DRAMATIST

form of poetry. To some its chief quality is that
it enables them to disentangle the philosophy of
the dramatist himself, and to declare his ethical
code; and to others it affords satisfaction because
it is ever a gallery of character-portraits, wherein
we can each of us enlarge our knowledge of our
fellow-man. To a few it is significant as the
material by which we can best distinguish na-
tional characteristics ; and to more it is of value
chiefly because of its words, which can be
scanned and parsed and traced to their sources.
/And to the scantiest group of all, perhaps, dra-
( matic literature is ever interesting because it is the
v highest manifestation of the dramatic instinct uni r
versal in mankind, and because it supplies abun-
dantly the special pleasure which only the art of
the dramatist can provide.

To this smallest body I confess myself to be-
long. The drama is interesting in many ways,
no doubt; but to me, I admit, it is always most
interesting when it is considered simply as drama
as a work of dramaturgic craftsmanship pre-
pared especially to be performed by actors, in a
theater, before an audience. As all the great
plays were written to be played, it is perhaps
most profitable always to consider them from
this point of view from the point of view of the
playhouse, in the terms of which they were con-
ceived. Other methods of approach there are
4



THE ART OF THE DRAMATIST

also, of course, but this is ever the most neces-
sary. Nor is it a work of supererogation to
repeat this apparently obvious statement, and to
persist in reiterating it, since the essential quality
of the mighty masterpieces of dramatic literature
is only too frequently neglected. Praise is abun-
dant for the poetry that adorns the great plays,
for their sentences of pregnant wisdom, for the
subtlety of their authors' insight into conflicting
human motives; but due consideration is seldom
bestowed on the skill with which the action is
conducted-tthe action, which is the heart of the
play, and without which it is lifeless and inert.

To some of us it seems like an arrant absurdity
that school-boys should now be forced to scan
the pathetic passages of Sophocles, and that
school-girls should be set to parse the swift re-
partees of Shakspere, before these young students
have been made to see clearly that the tragedies
of the Greek and the romantic-comedies of the
Englishman are as great as they are, not because
of any mere metrical or grammatical felicity, but
because of their admirable jj^iT^aturgic^ structure
because Sophocles and Shakspere were both of
them born playwrights; because they were, first
of all, not writers of poetry, but makers of plays,
masters of all the tricks of their trade, and pos-
sessing completely all the resources of their craft.
The dramatist needs to have his full share of play-

5






THE ART OF THE DRAMATIST

..making skill before he can adequately display his
power as a poet; and itjs this play-making skill,
this dramaturgic faculty, which sustains and vi-
talizes every masterpiece of dramatic literature.

The dramaturgic faculty is evolved slowly with
the growth of civilization; and play-making skill
is one of the latest of human accomplishments.
But the rudimentary effort is everywhere visible,
even among the most primitive peoples. As we
consider the history of human progress we per-
xeive that the drama is almost the very earliest of
Ithe arts, as early, perhaps, as the art of personal
adornment; and we discover, also, that it is the
very latest to attain its complete expression.
Only among the races which may be excep-
tionally endowed with energy of imagination and
with power of construction does the drama arrive
at its highest possibility of achievement. In these
rare cases it is the most splendid expression of the
special gifts of these races; it is the sublime
summit of their literatures. But in the noblest
works of the great Greek dramatists, and in the
most powerful plays of the Elizabethans, the
same principles are applied which we discover
doubtfully in the rudest theatrical attempts of the
lowest savages. Sophocles profited by Aeschylus,
and Shakspere by Marlowe; but if it had not been
for many humble beginners following one an-
other, each bettering the effort of him who went
6



THE ART OF THE DRAMATIST

before, and all alike forgotten now, Aeschylus
and Marlowe would never have found a form of
drama ready to their hands. By considering the
dramaturgic art throughout its whole history,
we can best win our way to an understanding
of its essential principles. We learn most, no
doubt, by a study of the workmanship of the
undisputed masters ; and yet only at our peril do
we neglect the obscure origins of the art far back
in the remotest past.



IT is out of crude efforts, such as may still be
observed among the Eskimo and the tribes of the
Amazon, that the dramatic art was toilfully devel-
oped by our own predecessors as taste refined and
civilization advanced. The traditions of these
rude play-makers were passed down from genera-
tion to veneration, and the art slowly discovered
itself. jThe true dramatist is like the true states-
man in recognizing that nothing substantial can
, and that nothing survive^



whidinot development of institutions already
existing. The one untried novelty in the Consti-
tution of the United States soon failed of its pur-
pose; and whenever the merely literary critics
have succeeded in persuading the dramatic poet
to discard the playhouse methods of his own
day, the result has been disastrous, i Art must
7



THE ART OF THE DRAMATIST

always make haste slowly; and no art ever
sprang like Minerva full grown from the head of
Jove not even the dramatic art in the city of the
violet crown, where Phidias wrought the tower-
ing statue of the wise goddess.

In these earlier attempts at the drama there is
no tincture of literature; and more often than not
these primitive plays were even unwritten, being
wrought out by word of mouth. Sometimes they
were a combination of pantomimic action with
song and dance; and sometimes the dramatic ele-
ment served solely to emphasize the important
passages of a narrative chant. In the childhood
of a race or of an individual, we discover that the
lyric, the dramatic, and the narrative are only
imperfectly differentiated from one another; and
we can gain some insight into primitive condi-
tions of the drama by going back to our own
childhood, since youth is the special season of
make-believe, strong as that instinct is in all the
seven ages of man. The child is ever imitative
and mimetic. The little girl is willing to credit
her doll with feelings like her own and to hold
converse with it; she is glad to pretend that it is
ill; and she is delighted to be able to change the
sheets on its bed as the trained nurse changed
hers when she herself lay sick. fl'One of the most
striking discoveries of modern Science has made
it plain that we must each of us follow the de-
8



THE ART OF THE DRAMATIST

velopment of our ancestors, and pass through the.
successive stages of animal and social evolution. ^
Much of this journey takes place before we are
born, but not a little is left for the years of in-
fancy and of youth. )

It is from the observation of children and from
the study of savages that the comparative an-
thropologist has been able to throw so much light
on the earlier stages of human progress. Pro-
fessor Grosse, in his illuminating discussion of
the 'Beginnings of Art,' points out that pure
narrative " requires a command of language and
of one's own body which is rarely found," and
that " children and primitive peoples likewise are
indeed unable to make any narration without
accompanying it with the appropriate demeanor
and play of gesture." Professor Grosse notes
that common usage means by a drama, " not the
relation of an event enlivened by mimicry, but its
direct mimic and verbal representation by several
persons " ; and he asserts the existence of this in
even the lowest stages of culture. He recognizes
as one root of a more elaborate drama the duet of
the Greenlanders, for example, in which "the
two singers are not only relating their adventure,
but are representing it by mimic gestures " ; and
he finds a second source in the mimic dance.
Out of one or the other a true drama gets itself
evolved at last; and its slow rise in the dramatic

9



THE ART OF THE DRAMATIST

scale is in strict proportion to the rise of the
people itself in the scale of civilization. The
form is enlarged and enriched; it expands in
various directions ; it will lack literature for long
years, until at last there arrives a dramatic poet
who takes the form as he finds it, with all its
imperfections and inconsistencies. He accepts it
without hesitation, certain that it will serve his
purpose, since it has already proved that it is sat-
isfactory to the contemporaries whom he has to
please. In time, after he has mastered the form
as he has received it from his predecessors, he
makes it his own and remodels it to his in-
creasing needs, when he has gained confidence
in himself, and when he has broadened his out-
look on life.

As simple as any primitive play, and as char-
acteristic, is this pantomime represented by the
Aleutian Islanders: "An Aleut, who was armed
with a bow, represented a hunter, another a bird.
The former expressed by gestures how very glad
he was he had found so fine a bird; nevertheless
he would not kill it. The other imitated the mo-
tions of a bird seeking to escape the hunter. He
at la$t, after a long delay, pulled his bow and
shot: the bird reeled, fell, and died. The hunter
danced for joy; but finally he became troubled,
repented having killed so fine a bird, and la-
mented it. Suddenly the dead bird rose, turned

10



THE ART OF THE DRAMATIST

jnto.a beautiful woman, and fell into the hunter's
arms." Here we have a dramatic action, com-
y\ plete in itself, and yet extremely simple. It was
V^capable of being performed anywhere and any-
\when, since it called for no costumes, no scenery,
Ind no stage-properties. It needed no words to
be\plainly understood. It dealt with elementary
emotions, following one another in obvious suc-
cession. It was wholly within the compre-
hension of the spectators; and by the magical
resuscitation and transformation at the end, it
was likely to appeal to the love of the marvelous
always potent among savages.

Dropping down from Alaska to Australia, we
find a more spectacular pantomime, requiring
more performers and a more careful preparation,
even if not an actual rehearsal. On a moonlight
night some five hundred spectators gathered in a
clearing of the woods lighted by a huge fire;
and on one side there was seated an orchestra
of about a hundred women. " The first scene
consisted in the representation of a herd of cattle
which came out of the woods to pasture on the
meadow. The black players had painted them-
selves appropriately to their characters. The
imitation was skilful; the motion and behavior
of each head of the herd were amusingly natural.
Some lay on the ground and chewed their cuds.
Others stood and scratched themselves with their



THE ART OF THE DRAMATIST

horns and hind feet, or licked their companions
or their calves. Others rubbed one another's
heads in a friendly way. After their bucolic idyl
had lasted a little while, the second scene began.
A band, of blacks were perceived creeping upon
the herd, with all the precautions which the na-
tives use in such cases. At length they were
near enough, and two cattle fell, struck b^
spears, to the highest delight of the spectators,
who broke out in enthusiastic applause. The
hunters began to skin their prey, dress it, and
cut it up all with the most painstaking exact-
ness. The third scene was opened with a
trotting of horses in the wood. Immediately
afterward a troop of white men appeared on
horseback. Their faces were painted .a whitish
brown; their bodies blue or red, to represent
colored shirts ; and the lower parts of their legs,
in the absence of gaiters, were wrapped with
brushwood. These white men galloped straight
up to the blacks, fired, and drove them back.
The latter collected again, and a desperate battle
began, in which the blacks beat the whites and
drove them back. The whites bit off their car-
tridges, fixed the caps on their guns in short,
went regularly through all the motions of loading
and firing. As often as a black fell the specta-
tors groaned, but when a white man bit the dust
a loud shout of joy went up. At last the whites

12



THE ART OF THE DRAMATIST

were disgracefully put to flight, to the unbounded
delight of the natives, who were so excited that
the merest trifle might have changed the sham
fight into bloody earnest."

There we have a sophisticated analog of one
of the best known of American spectacles the
attack on the Deadwood coach and the driving
off of the Sioux by Buffalo Bill, aided by his reck-
less rough-riders. In one peculiarity the Aus-
tralian pantomime is more significant than the
Aleutian : we are told that one of the performers
took no actual part, but served as the director of
the whole exhibition, accompanying the succes-
sive scenes of the pantomime with an explanatory
song. Here we catch a glimpse of the expositor,
who in the medieval drama was expected to com-
ment upon the successive scenes of a passion-
play and to expound their meaning.

Perhaps there is no need now to point out
again the absence of any literary quality from
these plays of the Aleutians and of the Austra-
lians, or from those of all savages in a similar
stage of social development, ^n fact, pantomime
itself is proof positive that the drama can be_absj^
lutely independent of literature, that it can come
into being^without the aid of the written word, .
and that it can support itself by its own devices/
In the earliest periods of culture the drama does
exist without literature; and it is only when the



THE ART OF THE DRAMATIST

people among which it is cherished reaches a very

high state of civilization thaT^Frrnrma Is~abk4e

appeTraTth^^ftie^tToTnTof poetry, after having

j lived for centuries, perhaps, without any literary

pretensions whatever.

/I hese inherent tendencies do not cease to be
effective with the advent of civilization ; if they
are truly inherent in humanity they must be at
work to-day. And altho the action of these in-
stinctive forces is not now with us what it was
when our remote ancestors were yet uncivilized,
still it is visible if only we take the trouble to look
for it. There are few periods when the sponta-
nemis_grow.th of the unliterary drama is not to
be seen somewhere ; andHie mstory of the theater
supplies many instances of the reinvigoration of
the regular drama by the irregular forms, f pr
example, the Itali_an_comed y^of-mas ks seems to
have originated in the humorous jesting of me-
diey^l_yjllagej-festiyals ; and nothing could well
be more frankly unliterary than these perform-
ances, since the plays were absolutely unwritten,
the chief of the company explaining the plot to
his companions, and the several comedians then
improvising the dialog during the performance
itself Yet this comedy-of-masks was lifted into
literature by Moliere, whose first long play, the
' Etourdi,' is nothing more or less than a comedy-
of-masks carefully written out in brilliant verse.
'4



THE ART OF THE DRAMATIST

In like manner the melodrama, which had
been elaborated year by year in the variety-shows
of the eighteenth century fairs of Paris, served
early in the nineteenth century as a model for the
striking plays of Victor Hugo and of the elder
Dumas. In Hugo's case the rather violent frame-
work of the melodrama was so splendidly draped
and decorated by his incomparable lyric magnifi-
cence that a critic so susceptible as Mr. Swinburne
was moved to hail the French poet as of the race
and lineage of Shakspere. The French melodrama
and the Italian comedy-of-masks were each of
them, at one stage of its career, almost as unlit-
erary as the pantomimes of the Aleutians and the
Australians; and yet we can see how each of
them in turn has been elevated by a poet.




in

IT is, perhaps, going a little too far to assert
that the drama can be as independent of literature
as painting may be, or as sculpture; and yet this
is an overstatement only : it is not an^jietruth.
The painter seeks primarily for pictorial effects,
and the sculptor for plastic effects just as the
dramatist is seeking primarily for dran^tw effects.
On the other hand, there is no denying that the
masterpieces of the graphic arts have all of them
a poetic quality in addition to their pictorial and
15



THE ART OF THE DRAMATIST

plastic qualities. To be recognized as master-
pieces, they must needs possess something more
than merely technical merits; but without these
technical merits they would not be masterpieces.
No fresco, no bas-relief, is fine because of its
poetic quality alone. In like manner, we may be
sure that there is no masterpiece of the drama in
rfvhich the poetic quality, however remarkable it
fmay be, is not sustained by a solid structure of
dramaturgic technic. The great dramatist must
be a poet, of course; but first of all he must be
a theajejigpet, to borrow the useful German term.
And ifls a German critic Schlegel who has
drawn attention to the difference in dramatic
capacity which subsists among nations equally
distinguished for intellect, " so that theatrical tal-
ent would seem to be a peculiar quality, essen-
tially distinct from the poetic gift in general."
By the phrase " theatrical talent " Schlegel obvi-
ously means the dramaturgic faculty, the skill of
the boriTplay-makej. Voltaire says somewhere
that the success of a poem lies largely in the choice
of a subject; and it is even more certain that the


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Online LibraryBrander MatthewsThe development of the drama → online text (page 1 of 20)