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The theatre is well planned for intimate realizations, as it brings all close to the stage; but it is too small for the more imposing effects, and its plan and decoration make no appeal to the asthetic sense. The costumes, too, though always effective and sometimes rich, lack the finish which one takes for granted on the professional stage. Even the players cannot all be called professional in artistic merit, and they have had their share of criticism both in England and in America. A single performance by them would impress a seasoned theatre-goer as appreciative and intelligent, but hardly as being more: a dozen performances would leave him grateful—especially if he is also a student of Shakespeare and his age-for a stimulating and illuminating artistic experience.
It is precisely this massing of Shakespeare performances at Stratford which is the most potent factor in the accomplishing of the result. Seeing so many of the plays acted in a place where the mind naturally is fixed upon the dramatist with absorbing interest, is itself a great advantage. When we rush to a city theatre, as most of us do, to witness a single performance of Shakespeare, or even two in succession, we are full of the stress of modern life and of the conventions of modern drama. We lack the attitude of mind, as well as the time, to adjust our imaginations to the realism or the romanticism of Shakespeare's Elizabethan world, and so sit protesting as we listen, missing the spell which the play would inevitably throw about imaginations properly receptive. We may read Shakespeare at home to enjoy him only as a poet, if that way commends itself to us as best; but when we come to see the plays acted we demand that we shall feel them as drama, and I am convinced that it is the difficulty of slipping quickly from the conventions of our own life and drama into the Elizabethan ones, which Shakespeare takes for granted, that prevents any thoughtful and fairly imaginative spectator to-day from delighting in Shakespeare's plays more than in any others. When we give ourselves up to his world for a month, or even for a week, as it is possible to do in Stratford, seeing one play after another in swift succession, often two in one day, this Shakespearean world soon becomes a reality to us, and we find ourselves accepting it as simply and
unprotestingly as Elizabethans did, whether it is realism or romanticism we are called upon to accept. The tavern scenes, which often make such dull reading in their lack of poetry and seemingly labored humor, kindle into a wonderful vitality of hearty English life, especially in the frankly rollicking presentation of them which prevails in the Benson company. The humor of the dialogue suddenly becomes real humor to us, and many of the comedy scenes are inconceivably amusing in action, as where the self-effacing old man, Silence, in Henry IV becomes, under the influence of drink, a boisterous imbecile; or where Pistol in Henry V takes a French soldier prisoner. In the same way one grows accustomed to the character types which the Elizabethans themselves must have enjoyed chiefly for their extravagance, -a fact which we are too apt to forget. The jealous husband, the ruthless villain, and the languishing lover-not treated seriously and for all time as these types are in Othello and Romeo and Juliet, but more than half humorously, and for Elizabethans, as in The Merry Wives of Windsor and Much Ado About Nothing - drop into their proper perspective, and for the first time succeed in justifying themselves. The sense of intimate realization comes with especial effect, too, when the same characters appear in a succession of plays, as is true of the Falstaff group in the performances given of the Henry IV plays, Henry V, and The Merry Wives of Windsor.
It would be very unfair, however, not to give the players themselves credit for much of the vivid realization of Shakespeare's Elizabethan world. The praise due them is all the greater, because, as Mr. Benson tells me, he has no intention of reproducing Elizabethan stage conditions closely. He has the actor's usual antipathy to what he calls "archæological exactness," and on the other hand his productions are entirely lacking in the very expensive subtleties by which Reinhardt makes Shakespeare's plays as actual for a modern audience in its own terms of impressionistic stage art as it was to the Elizabethans in their cruder terms. In this way he throws himself back entirely upon what he calls "making the plays live and leaving the rest to Shakespeare," and for one spectator at least he
achieves his end to a remarkable degree. The value to his players, too, of their rapid shifting from one play to another is shown in the spontaneity and flexible quality of their acting in their various rôles. So, also, the very simplicity of stage equipment, due probably to motives of economy, contributes perceptibly to the Elizabethan effect of the performance. The use of a middle curtain, by means of which a scene too large to be given before the front curtain is given before the middle one while another is being set behind, is decidedly interesting to the student of Elizabethan staging. Occasionally the use of the device is not good, however, as where the ghost in the earlier Hamlet scenes fairly brushes the guards in passing and shows too plainly by his proximity to the audience that he is not a bona fide ghost. But in the main the middle curtain justifies its use.
The repertory given in the last August season included eleven of Shakespeare's plays and She Stoops to Conquer. Four of the Shakespearean plays,— Richard II, Henry IV, Henry V, and The Merry Wives of Windsor,-are rarely given by other companies outside of Germany. They form, of course, an excellent sequence for any student of Shakespeare to study in action. The Merry Wives of Windsor proved astonishingly modern to one who had not seen it played before, and is evidently an excellent play for college amateurs to undertake. The slightness in characterization and even the somewhat artificial plot are fully offset by the delightful scenes of English village life, and the variety of stage effectiveness is all the way from genuine tavern boisterousness to the outdoor setting of a fairy play with its dances and delicate costumes. The performance makes one feel that the play could never be fairly judged except in action, and the same thing might be said of all the historical plays in which Falstaff and his group appear; for although Falstaff himself may be independent of such justification, others of his group are frequentiy in need of it.
It was a great surprise to many when on the last evening of the Stratford festival in August just past Mr. Benson announced to the audience that his company was about to disband, several of the players coming to America and others perhaps going into other companies. What the significance of his announcement is for the
annual Stratford festival is not yet entirely clear, for although he spoke of his intention to keep the nucleus of a company, there was a decidedly wistful note in the hope he expressed that there was still some room in England for the work to which he had so long given himself. If this expression should in the near future prove the prophecy of the ending of his public work, it would mean the passing of one of the most devoted idealists and lovers of Shakespeare ever known among actors, and of one who has done a vast amount-whatever his limitations as an actorto make his own countrymen understand and enjoy the dramatist with whom most of them are far too little acquainted. I was told in England that during a good deal of the time since Mr. Benson's players began, he has been the only manager in England producing Shakespeare, and it was pleasant to hear from an Oxford man that the Benson players were one of the only two companies who could always count on a full audience there, even though the other company proved to be that of Gilbert and Sullivan. Others may come in time to the Stratford Theatre to take the place of Mr. Benson's company and carry on his work, but I doubt whether any man will ever make himself a more significant part of the Stratford life or do more to help the . average spectator to understand and enjoy the plays of Shakespeare, provided that spectator will be frequent enough in his attendance.
Bryn Mawr College.
O. L. HATCHER.
*Since this article was sent to the press, English theatrical journals report that Mr. Benson is playing Henry V with great success in the Shaftesbury Theatre, London, having reorganized his company and fitted their very appropriate play into the warlike spirit of the times. It is to be hoped that this success will prove a stimulus to his work in Stratford, where he must always be seen to the best advantage.
IMPRESSIONS OF ENGLAND DURING THE FIRST MONTHS OF THE WAR
When the present European War began I had, during several weeks, been staying near a large village in Surrey, situated about twenty miles from London on the main road to Portsmouth. Early in June I had motored up to London by this road, which runs through Esher and Kingston to Putney, where it crosses the Thames. The adjacent country all the way, being really suburban, is one of the most densely inhabited parts of England; but the traffic pouring over the road north and south is only in a measure local; for most persons travelling by motor car from as far afield as West Sussex or East Hampshire enter London by this highway. From morning to noon, from noon to night, there rolls over it an almost unbroken procession of cars of all sizes, models, and colors. On the occasion of my journey the number which I noted had never before seemed to me to be so great; but, extraordinary as the extent of this rush was, it appeared to shrink into triviality in comparison with what confronted me so soon as I crossed Putney Bridge and entered the outskirts of the metropolis itself. I had, during many successive years, visited London in June, when the season was at its flood; and on each return to the town I thought I could detect a very sensible increase in the volume of its human tide, in the multitude of its vehicles, and in the splendor of its display of wealth and fashion. More and more it appeared to be becoming the social centre of the globe, as it had long been the financial centre, -the world's capital in every sense of the word except the political.
But if I had been impressed before with London, the vastness of its population, the boundlessness of its riches, the inexhaustible variety of its cosmopolitan aspects, never was I so much impressed as I was at the time of this visit a few weeks before the war broke out. Not only was there a wholly unexampled torrent of human beings pouring along the sidewalks,— more particularly in the fashionable club, shopping, and residential areas, but the jam of vehicles of every imaginable sort