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Hannah's song would have been, but its “execution” would have been the best she was capable of. In that respect the simple verses tradition has handed down are beyond criticism. Considerations, such as the foregoing, appear to point to the conclusion that the theory of dual or triple authorship does not afford us an adequate explanation of the difficulties with which we meet in the historical parts of the Old Testament. That it is to European scholars a satisfactory and convincing solution is due to the scientific and philosophical discipline in which they are trained. If we turn to such a purely Semitic literary product as the Korán, we find the same phenomena as beset us in the Hebrew, and, to a less degree, in the Christian Scriptures. Yet the Korán is the rock upon which higher criticism goes to pieces. To apply to it the theory of double sources is out of the question. It is hard to get behind a text, the
words of which are extant, engraved The Contemporary Review.
upon nearly contemporary coins. With all its Self-contradictions and inconsistencies, its flights from the loftiest poetry to the tamest prose, it had but one author—Muhammad. Of the early Hebrews, it is true, no coins exist, and, but for one or two inscriptions, we have nothing to go upon beyond the national tradition. The inscriptions and the tradition, however, are in agreement, and tradition with the Hebrew and the Arab is a more reliable source of knowledge than are Written documents With us. As Professor Strack observes in the new edition of Genesis: Nations, like individuals, remember their earliest years best. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that a study of the Korán would suggest that instead of splitting up the books of the Bible into innumerable sources, we would be nearer the mark if we supposed, for example, that the first three books of the New Testament were from a single hand. T. H. Weir.
THE BACKGROUND OF DRAMA.
In his Shakespeare and the Modern Stage Mr. Sidney Lee has dealt in a trenchant style with the elaborate scenic production of Shakespeare's plays which is the fashion of the day. He gives many reasons why scenic display should not be too elaborate, among them the practical one that the cost of such productions is so excessive that two or three pieces could be mounted for the same cost as One. That is a matter which need hardly be discussed, for presumably managers know their own business and do not spend money on their productions unless they have good reason to expect it will be returned to them with profit. The chief practical objection, apart
from artistic grounds, against the elaborate productions of to-day, is that the initial expense demands a long run before the manager can be recouped, and long runs do not make for the best achievement of the actor's art. Unfortunately, Shakespeare is not the only sufferer from this state of things, and long runs are not always the result of an expensive production. While the theatre is a commercial speculation, the manager will naturally attempt to squeeze every penny piece he can out of his commodities. The plays themselves suffer. Mr. J. M. Barrie's Peter Pan is an instance. It is now in its third year, and, we may assume, will gradually take its place as a dramatic perennial. It has not been improved in growths. The acting has not improved, and all kinds of tasteless “business” have been grafted on to the original stock. The problem of long runs is very difficult to solve. It is all very well to say that an artistic manager should withdraw a play after a reasonable number of performances, which would be determined both by public demand and the players' interest in their work; but London is so large that, if a play be really successful, it may run for a year without having exhausted its audience. Mr. Pinero's His House in Order is a case in point, for that play is not of the type which people desire to see many times, so that every audience is practically a fresh audience. Nor can it be said that Mr. Beerbohm Tree, who is the arch-priest of elaborate Shakespearian productions, keeps any one play on his stage for an exceptionally long run. Whether he changes them for financial reasons or other I do not know, but a year's history of work at His Majesty's shows sufficient variety. Much Ado about Nothing, The Tempest, Business is Business, Colonel Newcome and Antony and Oleopatra, besides a Shakespeare week in the summer, is not a bad record for one theatre, and compares favorably with any stage but that of the Court Theatre. The practical side of theatre management is beset with so many difficulties that we had best not touch upon them. The complication of the problem by the magnificence of scenery, upholstery, and costumes supposed to be demanded by modern audiences does not apply to Shakespeare only. It will be more to the purpose to examine the modern decoration of Shakespeare, and scenic elaboration in general, entirely from the artistic standpoint.
II There are two opposed views which
LIVING AGE. VOL. XXXV. 1819
call for some consideration. Mr. H. Beerbohm Tree, in a lecture to the members of the Salon, thus expressed the faith that is in him:
I take it that the entire business of the stage is—illusion. To gain this end, all means are fair. The same is sometimes said of love and war, though I incline to dismiss this declaration as an ethical fallacy. Illusion, then, is the first and last word of the stage: all that aids illusion is good, all that destroys illusion is bad. This simple law governs us—or should govern us. In that compound of all the arts which is the art of the modern theatre, the sweet grace of restraint is of course necessary, and the scenic embellishments should not overwhelm the dramatic interest, or the balance is upset—the illusion is gone!
These be wise words, but it will be noted they contain a very drastic modification of the blessings of “scenic embellishments.”
Mr. Sidney Lee, whose opinions may be taken as representing those of the bulk of literary admirers of Shakespeare, bewails the fact that the imagination of modern audiences is so weak. that they cannot create the environment of Shakespeare's dramas for themselves, as audiences did in the poet's day. But Mr. Lee is in favor of adequate scenery. He is not of Mr. Beerbohm Tree's “certain pedants” who “apparently imagine that Shakespeare should be presented on the stage of the twentieth century in the same manner and with the same limitations. as were necessarily observed on the stage of the Globe Theatre in the sixteenth century.” The general question of the place of scenery in drama is complicated, however, by the loose construction of Shakespeare's plays. Mr. Beerbohm Tree has quoted the chorus which precedes Henry the Fifth in support of his contention that Shakespeare did not consider the
limited scenic conditions of his own day “as perennial and eternal”:
! But pardon, gentles all,
The flat unraised spirit, that hath dar'd,
On this unworthy scaffold, to bring forth
So great an object: Can this cockpit hold
The vasty fields of France? or may we crain
Within this wooden O, the very casques That did affright the air at Agincourt? O, pardon! since a crooked figure may Attest, in little place, a million; And let us, ciphers to this great accompt, On your imaginary forces work: Suppose, within the girdle of these walls Are now confin'd two mighty monarchies, Whose high upreared and abutting fronts The perilous, asunder. Piece out our imperfection with your thoughts; Into a thousand parts divide one man, And make imaginary puissance: Think, when we talk of horses, that you see them Printing their proud hoofs i' the receiving earth: For 'tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings, Carry them here and there; jumping o'er times; Turning the accomplishment of many years Into an hour-glass.
narrow Ocean parts
Mr. Tree sees in this a prophetic vision and justification of His Majesty's Theatre. Mr. Sidney Lee, on the other hand, considers the lines
a spirited appeal to his audience not to waste regrets on defects of stage machinery, but to bring to the observation of his piece their highest powers of imagination, whereby alone can full justice be done to a majestic theme. The central topic of the choric speech is the essential limitations of all scenic appliances. The dramatist reminds us that the literal presenta
tion of life itself, in all its movement and action, lies outside the range of the stage, especially the movement and action of life in its most glorious manifestations.
If Shakespeare meant that as an testhetic theory the less Shakespeare he. A poet who knows that “the literal presentation of life itself . . . lies outside the range of the stage” and yet attempts that presentation, and excuses it in a prologue, merely shows that he has not thought about the theory of drama. And, indeed, the greater part of the speech is a lame excuse for the disregard of dramatic unities which makes Shakespeare's plays so difficult to present on any stage without emphasizing their chaos of construction. We really must not account this chaotic chronicling of incidents as a virtue, or even as a magnificent lapse which can be made good by the imagination of an audience. This free-and-easy marshalling of incidents in Shakespeare is a weakness and a sign of drama in a low state of development.
In this respect many of his works are mere chronicle-plays, however magnificent they may be in the higher sense of drama: in their truth to human nature, their presentment of character, and their gorgeous verse. At the same time, although no modern scenic art can amend an essential breach of unities, Mr. Tree is partly right in considering this speech as evidence that Shakespeare could imagine a better setting for his play than the Globe Theatre was able to give him. “Into a thousand parts divide one man” plainly cries out for the multitudinous supers of His Majesty's Theatre. Possibly, too, Shakespeare would have liked to see his horses “printing their proud hoofs i' the receiving earth,” nor would he have objected to his king being decked in more dazzling apparel than the thoughts of his
audience could supply. In this limited sense the speech is on the side of Mr. Beerbohm Tree. Not all the spectacular ingenuity in the world could, however, make two kingdoms of the “unworthy scaffold” of the stage. Moreover, if any argument against elaborate scenic productions of Shakespeare were required it is to be found in the very construction of his plays.
We must honestly accept this chaotic presentment of the stories Shakespeare has to tell. We need not pretend, in blind admiration of our great poet, that this chaos is a virtue, or anything more than the natural outcome of theatrical conditions of the poet's period. But it exists in his plays, and no modern manager can artistically pass it over. It should be stated at once, too, that chaotic as the conduct of the dramas may be, the sudden changes of scene, the “jumping o'er times” and the “turning the accomplishment of many years into an hour-glass,” are an organic part of them. These cannot be cut out without injuring the main drama and destroying many necessary considerations. The modern manager has to eliminate some of these scenes or to incorporate them with others. The only alternative is the production of Shakespeare's plays as far as possible in the conditions of their original performances.
That our public would not accept them in that guise is not evidence that the popular imagination is less strong than it was in Shakespeare's time. The audience of Shakespeare's day had to exercise rather less imagination than is required for the appreciation of fiction. It is a question of custom. We are accustomed to scenery, and we miss it when it is absent. Moreover, a drama does gain by its scenic environment. The difficulty the manager has to face in mounting Shakespeare is
twofold: in the first place he must arrange his settings so that the least possible delay is caused by the change of scene; and, secondly, he should not allow the drama to be obscured by giving too much prominence to its embellishments. The first difficulty used to be overcome by a convenient compromise. By the employment of front scenes the action could pass almost as continuously as in the days of Shakespeare, and the only considerable waits Were after each act. Mr. Beerbohm Tree has made an innovation even from Sir Henry Irving's method of producing Shakespeare. At His Majesty's Theatre there is never a front scene in the old sense. The less important scenes are set with an elaboration which certainly makes it necessary to limit their number as much as possible, both on the score of expense and of time. The consequence is that Shakespeare has to undergo even more reshaping than used to be the case. The recent revival of Antony and Cleopatra is, of course, a glaring example. It is one of Shakespeare's most chaotic plays, and it is difficult to imagine what an Elizabethan audience made of the continual changing of the action from Egypt to Rome and back. I do not believe that the average Elizabethan troubled his mind about it. He was too intent on the characters and the verse, and he was accustomed to take a large fund of make-believe with him to the theatre. The arrangement made for Mr. Tree was very skilful in many ways, but it could not escape certain anomalies, which were made more patent from the fact that at least two scenes had to be omitted at the last moment. This would not have. been necessary had the system of front scenes been followed, and had much valuable time not been frittered away in unnecessary illustrations of the text. It must be confessed that Mr. Tree's grangerisms of Shakespeare are often very ingenious and not wanting in imagination. He presents an édition de lure of the poet, with living pictures. No one can come away from His Majesty's Theatre without having had his pictorial imagination quickened. Every production there is a kind of objectlesson in the splendor of the dead past. But a poet goes behind the show of things; it is his to interpret for us the minds and the hearts of men and women on whom the eternal silence has fallen; to show us how their natures join ours, and how the same sun shone on them as shines on us. This is not to be achieved through tableaux, however magnificent they may be. And this magnificence of illustration does still further make Shakespeare chaotic; for, well managed as it is, such a picture as that which illustrates Caesar's description of Antony and Cleopatra in Alexandria is unnecessary:
I' the market-place, on a tribunal
The picture was a splendid example of stage management, and, as one of a series of Shakespearian tableau.r vivants, would be worthy of all praise; but it did not help the drama in the slightest, and, as a matter of fact, did not even illustrate Caesar's bitter description; for Caesarion did not sit at the feet of Antony and Cleopatra, nor was there any sign of “all the unlawful issue.” At His Majesty's, Cleopatra was followed up the stairs of the tribunal by a diminutive little child, who appeared to be a page rather than one of the imperial offspring. To illustrate Enobarbus's famous word-picture of Cleopatra's barge was a great temptation, but Mr. Tree manfully
that jealous complexion.”
withstood it. True, hi, Antony and Cleopatra made their entrance on a barge, but that innovation was legitimate enough, and did not materially lengthen the action. If Shakespeare is not to be performed without such interpolated tableaux as that of Antony and Cleopatra at Alexandria, no great harm will be done to the poet. Most of us will but feel the same annoyance that we experience in reading an illustrated edition of the plays. Mr. Tree's productions, however, go much farther in the art of grangerism. In Much Ado about Nothing Beatrice speaks of Claudio as being “neither sad, nor sick, nor merry, nor well; but civil, count; civil as an orange, and something of Mr. Tree apparently could not understand how so unusual a simile should have entered the mind of Shakespeare's heroine. To make things clear, by way of a footnote, he invented a handsome orange-tree. Some of the fruit had fallen to the ground, and Beatrice's simile was suggested by her having picked up one of them. It is quite natural, of course, that an Orangetree should grow in a Messina garden, but it is equally natural that the commonness of the orange should have suggested the idea to Beatrice. Such “business” takes time which cannot be spared in a modern representation of Shakespeare. And if the time it takes be inconsiderable it delays the rapidity of repartee. Then, at every production at His Majesty's Theatre there is a deal of unnecessary processioning. It may give pomp to the productions, and it may be natural, but it seriously delays the drama. To the musician, too, the use Mr. Tree makes of incidental music is rather disconcerting. It is possible that harpists and choristers did welcome the arrival of Cleopatra and Antony, but