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CHARLES LAMB.

From a Drawing by Hancock, 1798.



THE ART OF THE STAGE



AS SET OUT IX




LAMB'S DRAMATIC ESSAYS



WITH A COMMENTARY



PERCY FITZGERALD, M.A, F.S.A.




REMINGTON & CO., PUBLISHERS
HENRIETTA STREET, COVENT GARDEN

1885



ALL RIGHTS RESERVED



INSCRIBED
WITH MUCH REGARD

TO

EDWARD F. S. PIGOTT

KX A MINER OF PLAYS)






ABSTRACT OF CONTENTS



That a successful interpreter of Shakspeare has therefore a

* mind congenial with him ' is a misapprehension ... 2

This suggested by the lines on Garrick in Westminster Abbey ibid

The actor cannot reach to the expression of the poet 3

We confound the particular actor with the part, and think

Hamlet to be Kemble ... ... ... ... 4

The school ' spouting pieces ' destroy all appreciation from

familiarity and repetition ... ... ... ... 5

The reason for not acting Shakspeare is, that so much cannot

be acted or seen by the eye ... ... ... ... ibid

Soliloquies : a form unnatural and unreal ... ... ... 6

Love dialogues of Romeo become a controversy of elocution ... 7

Chief portion of Hamlet's part commuuings with himself ... 8

Yet has to think of the spectators ... ... ... ... ibid

Garrick's powerful rendering an appeal to eye and ear only . 9

On which system, if re-written by Banks or Lillo, the

melodramatic result might be the same as Shakspeare 's . . . ibid
People thus talk of Othello being 4 so natural,' as George Barn-
wall is natural ... ... ... ... ... 11

They do not think of the inner texture of his mind ... ... 12

Even though it be true to what passes current in the theatre

as the proper expression of emotion ... ... ... ibid

Hamlet's rough treatment of Polonius and Ophelia always ex-
aggerated, and the real delicate motive not conveyed to the
audience ... ... ... ... ... ... 13

Ifceal exposition of Hamlet's feelings... ... ... ... 14

Shakspeare's delicacy revealed in his sonnets... ... ... 16

Yet interpreted by a man full of mean jealousies and tricks

(Garrick) ^ ... ibid

Garrick not a true admirer of Shakspeare from his coarse

mangling and alterations ... ... ... ... 17

Richard III, interpreted byCooke in the same style ... ... ibid



ii ABSTRACT OF CONTENTS

In the ' murderous ' tragedies of Shakspeare on the stage, the

act everything, the motive nothing ... ... ... 19

Lear put forward as an old man with a stick, but cannot be acted 20
In reading we only see Othello's colour in our minds: it is repul-
sive on the stage ... ... ... ... ... 22

Tne supernatural, as the witches, impossible to pourtray ... 24

Elaborate copying of outside life in scenery, destroys the illusion 25
Thus a mere parlour is indifferent to us, and we aecept it : but

elaborate supernatural effects do not awe us ... ... 26

We are not conscious of what kingly robes Macbeth has on ... 27

The pictures in Hamlet must be ' lugged out ' ... ... 28

This want of ' imaginative treatment ' found in modern art as in

painting

- Titian's Ariadne reaches the ideal ... ... ... ... ibid

Raphael fails in the ' Presentation of Eve ' from this point of

view

Martin, in his ' Belshazzar's Feast, ' treats the subject wrongly 35

Illustration of the hoax at Brighton Pavillion ... ... 36

Here mere 'Vulgar fright:' in reality no one could see all the

details of his temples, &c. ... ... ... ... 37

For ' not all that is optically possible is to be shown in every

picture' ... ... ... ... 38

Illustrated at length by the instance of Pompeii, of ' Lazarus

rising from the dead,' by S. de Piombo ... ... 41

Right and wrong mode of presenting a Dryad ... ... 42

And of the dockyards at Woolwich ... ... ... ... 43

Don Quixote, the true ideal of ... ... ... ... 44

In presenting character actors must not be too natural ... 48

A coward done to the life not successful ... ... ... ibid

So with misers and infirmities of age: why are these acceptable

as done upon the stage ? ... ... ... ... 49

Emery too much in earnest as * Tyke ' ... ... ... 50

* A pleasant impertinent, ' must not be too much annoyed

it should be half put on ... ... ... ... 51

Of Mrs Jordan's playing ... ... ... ... ... 54

Her delivery of ' She never told her love, ' as if by impromptu

suggestions ... ... ... ... ... ... 55

Bensley ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ibid

His lago, no repellent villain ... ... ... ... 58

His Malvolio taken au serieux ... ... ... ... 59

Dodd 61

Fancif ul account of Suett ... ... ... ... ... 64

Jack Bannister The Palmers ... ... ... ... 67

Acute distinction in playing a Footman; Ben, in Love for Love,

^w too downright as played by Bannister ... ... ... 70

^ Vindication of the artificial comedy ... ... ... 71

Its code o.f morals, not to be taken seriously and belongs to the

stage alone ... ... ... ... ... ... 73

No right or wrong in this domain ... ... ... ... 76

The School for Scandal now played seriously ; Sir Peter a per-
secuted husband, ' capable of bringing an action ; ' Joseph,

a villainous seducer ... ... ... ... ... 79



ABSTRACT OF CONTENTS iii

Fine original caste of the Play ... ... ... ... 81

John Kemble as Charles ... ... ... ... ... 82

Munden as * Cockletop ' ... .. ... ... ... 84

Literally makes faces ... ... ... ... ... 86

His art of throwing * a preternatural interest ' over common

objects ... ... ... ... ... ... 87

Understands ' a leg of mutton in its quiddity ' ... ibid & 89

His death ... ... ... ... ... ... 88

He never acted m the common sense ... ... ... 89

Criticism on him quoted ... ... ... ... ... 90

Elliston... ... ... ... ... ... ... 92

Continued his acting into real life ... ... ... ... 95

This was the real man ... ... ... ... ... 96

His ' great style '... ... ... ... ... ... 97

Anecdotes ibid



CRITICISMS OF DRAMATIC WRITERS



Shakspeare's contemporaries ... ... ... ... 102

Marlowe... ... ... ... ... ... ... 103

Decker ... ... ... ... ... ... ... 106

Marston... ... ... ... ... ... ... 108

Heywood ... ... ... ... ... ... 110

Middleton and W. Rowley ... ... ... ... Ill

W. Rowley ... ... ... ... 113

T. Middleton ... ... ... ... 114

Rowley, Decker, Ford ... ... ... ... ... 115

Cyril Tourneur ... ... ... ... ... ... ibid

Webster 116

Ford 118

Lord Brooke ... ... ... ... ... ... 120

Ben Johnson ... ... ... ... ... ... 121

Chapman ... ... ... ... ... ... 124

Fletcher... ... ... ... ... ... ... 127

Massinger ... ... ... ... ... ... 129

Massinger, Middleton, Rowley ... ... ... ... 130

SJrirley ... ... ... ' ... ... ... ... ibid

.Xn*13hakspeare ' so few revolting characters ' ... ... 131

ut the King in Hamlet ' mean ' . . . ... ... ... ibid

as to whether Othello was a jealous character ... ... 132

incredulous ... ... ... ... ... ibid

xSjpecimen of Shakspeare's divine reserve ... ... ... 133

Theatrical criticisms ... ... ... ... ... 134

Miss Burrell in Don Giovanni ... ... ... ... 135

Miss Kelly at Bath 137

The Jovial Crew ... ... ... ... ... ... 141

The Hypocrite ... ... ... ... ... ... 143

Barbara S. ( Miss Kelly)' 150

My first play ... ... ... ... ... ... 159

The ' oilman ' who received Sheridan on his elopment ... 160

Desillusionment ... ... ... ... ... ... 164



iv ABSTRACT OF CONTENTS

THE COMMENTARY



Objection taken to the 'theory, that the actor cannot be ' con-

^ genial' to the poet ... ... ... ... ... 168

Iiakspeare gains by being acted, many neutral or colourless

passages escaping the reader, unless acted ... ... 170

Lamb thinking of the * stilted ' style of his own day .... ... 171

No reason why the acting should not correspond to the deli-
cacies of the play ... ... ... ... ... 172

Ordinary familiar strain of conversations not to be used on the

stage 174

King Lear's stick ... ... . , . ... ... ... 175

The supernatural too much emphasized on the stage. . . ... 178

' Keeping out of sight the meanness of the operations '. . . ... 182

'Realism ' of material objects destroys illusion ... ... ibid

Illustrations from painting ... ... ... ... 183

Limits of scenery ... ... ... ... ... 185

Illustration of ' The Green Curtain ' ... ... ... 186

Retinues and exhibition of State on the Stage ... ... 188

The Lyceum Revivals ... ... ... ... ... 189

The area of the stage a fixed quantity what is on it variable 190

' Archaic ' revivals ... ... ... ... ... 192

The church scene in ' Much Ado ' ... ... ... ... ibid

Romeo and Juliet unfitted for sumptuous elaborate treatment 195

Imagination limited by imitating reality ... ... ... 200

Illustration from Martin's Paintings ... ... ... ibid

The same principle found in other arts ... ... ... 203

Illustration from portrait painting ... ... ... 204

Objections to the ' building up ' system ... ... ... 206

* What is the Scene ?' answered ... ... ... ... 208

It represents the zone about the actors ... ... ... 209

Hence the defect of representing a whole street or room ... 210

The position of the spectator discussed ... ... ... 211

Supposed to be in the room with the characters not looking

at them through an opening ... ... ... ... ibid

Sections of double scenes unscenical ... ... ... 212

' Flats ' and side scenes nearer the true scenic system than the

present one ... ... ... ... ... ... 213

Present lighting of the stage contrasted with the old system ... 214

Literal representation of crowds, armies, &c., a mistake ... 215

The Canons of scenic effect Archaic scenery a mistake ... 218

' Carpenters' ' scenes ... ... ... ... ... ibid

The ' building-up ' system discussed ... ... ... 220

* Discordancy between painted scenes and real people ' ... 224
Lamb's theory of ' correspondence with the audience explained ' 227
A means of avoiding being literal ... ... ... ... 226

Illustrated by the modes of playing Joseph Surface ... ... 227

The real life character not revealed, but to be guessed at ... 229

Palmer's playing the Footman and Ben ... ... ... 232

Illustration from Malvolio's threat of revenge ... ... 234

The quintessence of things only to be set on the stage ... 237



ABSTRACT OF CONTEXTS v

Bensley 's lago and Malvolio ... ... ... ... 238

Hamlet's instructions to the players expounded .,. ... 240

Illustrations from the Queen Mab Speech : ' All the world's a

stage,' and 'She never told her love' ... ... ... 252

' Facial expression ' ... ... ... ... ... 254

Lamb's theory as to the morality of Congreve and Wycherley

controverted ... ... .., ... ... 257

Lamb's account of Elliston true comedy ... ... ... 260

Two sides to the character shown ... ... ... ... 261

' To the shade of Elliston ' ... ... ... ... 265

The acting of Munden ... ... ... ... ... 270

Made a pewter pot a play in itself ... ... ... ... 271

Scene from the Cobbler of Preston quoted ... .., ... 273




THE ART OF THE STAGE

AS SET FORTH IN THE DRAMATIC ESSAYS
OF CHARLES LAMB



THE TRAGEDIES OF SHAKSPEARE,

CONSIDERED WITH REFERENCE TO THEIR

FITNESS FOR STAGE REPRESENTATION



TAKING a turn the other day in the: jU^petf/, f
was struck with the affected attitude of a figure,
which I do not remember to have seen. V^?Qre, 4 n ^
which upon examination proved to be a whole-length
of the celebrated Mr Garrick. Though I would not
go so far with some good Catholics abroad as to
shut players altogether out of consecrated ground,
yet I own I was not a little scandalised at the in-
troduction of theatrical airs and gestures into a
place set apart to remind us of the saddest realities.

A



2 THE ART OF THE STAGE

Going nearer, I found inscribed under this harlequin
figure the following lines :

' To paint fair Nature, by divine command,
Her magic pencil in his glowing hand,
A Shakspeare rose ; then, to expand his fame
Wide o'er this breathing world, a Garrick came,
Though sunk in death the forms the Poet drew,
^ The Actor's genius bade them breathe anew ;

Though, like the bard himself, in night they lay,
Immortal Garrick call'd them back to day ;
And till Eternity with power sublime
Shall mark the mortal hour of hoary Time,
Shakspeare and Garrick like twin stars shall shine,
And earth irradiate with a beam divine.'

It would be an insult to my readers' understand-
ings to attempt anything like a criticism on this
farrago of false thoughts and nonsense. But the
reflection it led me into was a kind of wonder, how,
from the days of the actor here celebrated to our
_own, it should have been the fashion to compliment
* every performer in his turn, that has had the luck
to please the Town in any of the great characters of
Shakspeare, with the notion of possessing a mind

congenial with the poet's : how people should come

^hujsj c'thiacpcountably to confound the power of

'Y originating < poetical images and conceptions with

th'e fatuity pi* being able to read or recite the same

when put into words ;* or what connection that

* It is observable that we fall into this confusion only in dramatic
x recitations. We never dream that the gentleman who reads Lucretius
in public with great applause is therefore a great poet and philosopher ;
nor do we find that Tom Davies, the bookseller, who is recorded to have
recited the Paradise Lost better than any man in England in his day
(though I cannot help thinking there must be some mistake in this
tradition) was therefore, by his intimate friends, set upon a level with
Milton.



THE TRAGEDIES OF SHAKSPEARE 3

absolute mastery over the heart and soul of man, \ 'x
which a great dramatic poet possesses, has with
those lowjfcricks upon the eye and ear, which a
player by observing a few general effects, which
some common passion, as grief, anger, &c., usually
has upon the gestures and exterior, can so easily
compass. To know the internal workings and
movements of a great mind, of an Othello or a
Hamlet for instance, the when and the ivhy and the
how far they should be moved ; to what pitch a
passion is becoming ; to give the r$ins and to pull
in the curb exactly at the moifient when the
drawing in or the slackening is most graceful ;
srrm^to demand a reach of intellect of a vastly
different extent from that which is employed
upon the bare .imitation ^bf the signs of these
passions in the countenance or gesture, which
signs are usually observed to be most lively _
and emphatic in the weaker sort of minds,
and which signs can, after all, but indicate
some passion, as I said before, anger, or grief, ^-^_
generally ; but of the motives and grounds of

the passion, wherein it differs from the same passion .....

in low and vulgar natures, of these the actor can
give no more idea by his face or gesture than the ^
eye (without a metaphor) can speak, or the muscles
utter intelligible sounds. But such is the in-
stantaneous nature of the impressions which
we take in at the eye and ear at a play-house, com-
pared with the slow apprehension oftentimes of the
understanding in reading, that we are apt not only



4 THE ART OF THE STAGE

to sink the play- writer in the consideration which\
we pay to the actor, but even to identify in our '
minds, in a perverse manner, the actor with the
character which he represents. It is difficult for a
frequent play-goer to disembarrass the idea of

"~ Hamlet from the person and voice of Mr K-^MM^
We speak of Lady Macbeth, while we are in reality
thinking of Mrs S^jJjtWK^Nor is this confusion
incidental alone to unlettered persons, who, not
possessing the advantage of reading, are necessarily
dependent upon the stage-player for all the pleasure
which they can receive from the drama, and to
whom the very idea of what an author is cannot
be made comprehensible without some pain and
perplexity of mind : the error is one from which
persons otherwise not meanly lettered, find it almost
impossible to extricate themselves.

Never let me be so ungrateful as to forget the
very high degree of satisfaction which I received
some years back from seeing for the first time a
tragedy of Shakspeare's performed, in which those
two great performers sustained the principal parts.
It seemed to embody and realise conceptions which
had hitherto assumed no distinct shape. But dearly
do we pay all our life after for this juvenile pleasure,
this sense of distinctness. When the novelty is
past, we find to our cost that instead of realising
an idea, we have only materialised and brought
down a fine vision to the standard of flesh and

[ blood. We have let go a dream, in quest of an
unattainable substance.



THE TRAGEDIES OF SHAKSPEARE



5



How cruelly this operates upon the mind, to
have its free conceptions thus cramped and pressed
down to the measure of a strait-lacing actuality, ^
may be judged from that delightful sensation of
freshness, with which we turn to those plays of
Shakspeare which have escaped being performed,
and to those passages in the acting plays of the
same writer which have happily been left out in
the performance. How far the very custom of
hearing any thing spouted, withers and blows upon
a fine passage, may be seen in those speeches from
Henry the Fifth, &c., which are current in the
mouths of schoolboys, from their being to be found
in Enfields Speaker, and such kind of books. I
confess myself utterly unable to appreciate that
celebrated soliloquy in Hamlet, beginning ' To be,
or not to be,' or to tell whether it be good, bad, or
indifferent, it has been so handled and pawed about
by declamatory boys and men, and torn so in-
humanly from its living place and principle of con-
tinuity in the play, till it is become to me a perfect
dead member.

It may seem a paradox, but I cannot help being
of opinion that the plays of Shakspcare are less
calculated for performance on a stage than those of
almost any other dramatist whatever. Their dis-
tinguishing excellence is a reason that they should
be so ; there is so much in them, which comes not
under the province of acting, with which eye, and
tone, and gesture, have nothing to do.

The glory of the scenic artJs^to-personate passion,




6 THE AET OF THE STAGE

and the turns of passion ; and the more coarse and
\ palpable the passion is, the more hold upon the eyes
and ears of the spectators and performer obviously
npssesses. y For this reason, scolding scenes, scenes
^^vhere two persons talk themselves into a fit of fury,
( i and then in a surprising manner talked themselves
out of it again, have always been the most popular
upon our stage. And the reason is plain, because
the spectators are here most palpably appealed to,
they are the proper judges in this war of words,
they are the legitimate ring that should be formed
round such ' intellectual prize-fighters.' Talking is
the direct object of the imitation here. But in all
the best dramas, and in Shakspeare's above all, how
obvious it is, that the form of speaking, whether it
be in soliloquy or dialogues-is only a medium, and
-^ often a highly artificial one/for putting the reader or
spectator into possession of^that knowledge of the\
inner structure and workings of mind in a character^/
which he could otherwise never have arrived at in
that form of composition by any gift short of
^..jn tuition. We do here as we do witli novels
written in the epistolary form. How many impro-
prieties, perfect solecisms in letter writing, do we
put up with in Clarissa, and other books, for the
sake of the delight which that form upon the whole



gives us !



But the practice of stage representation reduces
every thing to a controversy of elocution. Every
character, from the boisterous blasphemings of
-Bajazet to the shrinking timidity of womanhood,



THE TRAGEDIES OF SHAKSPEARE 7

must play the orator. The love dialogues of Romeo
and Juliet, those silver-sweet sounds of lovers'
tongues by night ; the more intimate and sacred
sweetness of nuptial colloquy between an Othello
or a Posthumus with their married wives ; all those
delicacies which are so delightful in the reading, as
when we read of those youthful dalliances in
Paradise

' As beseem VI

Fair couple link'd in happy nuptial league,
Alone ; '

by the inherent fault of stage representation, how
are these things sullied and turned from their very
nature by being exposed to a large assembly ; wheii\
such speeches as Imogen addresses to her lord come \
drawling out of the mouth of a hired actress, whose r~"~
courtship, though nominally addressed to the per- /
sonated Posthumus, is manifestly aimed at the
spectators, who are to judge of her endearments
and her returns of love !

The character of Hamlet is perhaps that by
which, since the days of Betterton, a succession of
popular performers have had the greatest ambition
to distinguish themselves. The length, ojLth^ part
may be one of theirj^asons. But for the character
itself, we fincTTTin a play, and therefore we judge V
it a fit subject of dramatic representation. The
play itself abounds in maxims and reflections
beyond any other, and therefore we consider it as a
proper vehicle for conveying moral instruction.'
But Hamlet himself what does he suffer mean-



8 THE ART OF THE STAGE

while by being dragged forth as a public school-
master, to give lectures to the crowd ! Why, nine
parts in ten of what Hamlet does, are transactions
between himself and his moral sense ; /they are the
effusions of his solitary musings, which he retires
to holes and corners and the most sequestered parts
of the palace to pour forth ; or rather, they are the
silent meditations with which his bosom is bursting,
reduced to words for the sake of the reader, who
must else remain ignorant of what is passing there.

These profound sorrows, these light-and-noise-
abhorring ruminations, which the tongue scarce
dares utter to deaf walls and chambers] how can
they be represented by a gesticulating actor, who
comes and mouths them out before an audience
making four hundred people his confidants at once I/
I say not that it is the fault of the actor so to do ;
he must pronounce them ore rotundo ;! he must
accompany them with his eye ; he must insinuate
them into his auditory by some trick of eye, tone,
or gesture, or he fails. He must be thinking all
the while of his appearance, because he knows that
all the while the spectators are judging of it. And
this is the w r ay to represent the shy, negligent, re-
tiring Hamlet ! r"

It is true that there is no other mode of convey-
ing a vast quantity of thought and feeling to a
great portion of the audience, who otherwise w r ould
never earn it for themselves by reading ; and the
intellectual acquisition gained this way may, for
aught I know, be inestimable; but I am not arguing




THE TRAGEDIES OF SHAKSPEARE



that Hamlet should not be acted, but how much
Hamlet is made another thing by being acted. I
have heard much of the wonders which Garrick
performed in this part ; but as I never saw him, I
must have leave to doubt whether the representation
of such a character came within the province of his
art. Those who tell me of him, speak of his eye, of
the magic of his eye, and of his commanding voice ;
physical properties, vastly desirable in an actor,
and without which he can never insinuate mean-
ing into an auditory : but what have they to do
with Hamlet ; what have they to do with intellect ?
In fact, the things aimed at in theatrical represent-
ation are to arrest the spectator's eye upon the form
and the gesture, and so to gain a more favourable
hearing to what is spoken : it is not what the
character is, but how he looks ; not what he says,
but how he speaks it. I see no reason to think
that if the play of Hamlet were written over again
by some such writer as Banks or Lillo, retaining
the process of the story, but totally omitting all the
poetry of it, all the divine features of Shakspeare,
his stupendous intellect, and only taking care to
give us enough of passionate dialogue, which
neither Banks nor Lillo was ever at a loss to fur-
nish ; I see not how the effect could be much
different upon an audience, nor how the actor has
it in his power to represent Shakspeare to us dif-
ferently from his representation of Banks or Lillo.
Hamlet would still be a youthful accomplished
prince, and must be gracefully personated; he



io THE ART OF THE STAGE

might be puzzled in his mind, wavering in his con-
duct, seemingly cruel to Ophelia ; he might see a
ghost, and start at it, and address it kindly when
he found it to be his father ; all this in the poorest
and most homely language of the servilest creeper
after nature that ever consulted the palate of an
audience, without troubling Shakspeare for the
matter ; and I see not but there would be room for
all the power which an actor has, to display itself.


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