Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

prophet-preachers, half-Hebrew, half-Celt, potters who burn their furniture, like Bernard Palissy, lest their ovens die out and the secret of the new porcelain dies with them, astronomers who, gazing upon the little star in Andromeda, miss their footing on the planet Terra. From the first, Ibsen at once attracted and repelled him; in pamphlet and lecture—for Mr. Jones is an active theatrical polemist as well as playwrighthe protested against the new Scandinavian “pathology." Yet Mr. Jones, while vowing he would ne'er consent, consented ; his Judah Llewellyn repeated the confession of Consul Bernick, and the London League in “ The Crusaders” was formed with at least half an eye on "The League of Youth.”

I have not mentioned a third dramatist, clever craftsman though he is, and likely yet to give us interesting work. For Mr. Sydney Grundy has been untouched by the Ibsen movement, and is no longer in the main stream of dramatic progress. Scribism, the well-knit play, theatrical sleight-ofhand, these are the qualities we associate with Mr. Grundy. He has mastered the technical manipulation, the fingering of the dramatist; and if plays were merely exercises in virtuosity he would rank as our most brilliant theatrical executant. But Scribe and Sardou in this country have ceased to be operative forces. They have had a long innings. It is now the turn of the other side. In reviewing, then, the present posture of our dramatic affairs not from the statistician's but from the biologist's point of view, that is to say, in seeking the nature and direction of their growth, we may treat Mr. Grundy as a negligible quantity. From that point of view there are only two men who count, the two I began by naming, Mr. Pinero and Mr. Jones.

When did Mr. Pinero first reveal, if not the direct influence of Ibsen, at any rate something of what may be recognised as the Ibsen spirit in drama ? Many people, I daresay, would answer, “In ‘The Profligate.'” Certainly, this was the first of Mr. Pinero's plays on the “New Model," and its root-idea might be expressed in the very words of Dr. Rank : “Everything in this world has to be paid for." But that idea is of course not particularly Ibsenian. Indeed, it had been worked out in our literature by George Eliot long before the Scandinavian drama had become an article of European consumption. It was as the first stage-adoption of this idea that “The Profligate ” acquired its significance and importance. Events were shown as the inevitable outcome of character, and inexorable ethical law was seen to be dramatically as effective as the "destiny” of the Greek theatre. This was a bolt from the blue. Nothing like it had been seen on our stage within living memory, and “The Profligate” was acclaimed as a masterpiece. It was scarcely that. Its thesis---maintained episodically by Thouvenin in “ Denise”--that prenuptial chastity is equally incumbent on both parties to the marriage contract, was strained and a little mawkish. Its view of life was that of an unsophisticated schoolgirl. Curiously enough, the author offered alternative endings, just as alternative endings were provided for “Romeo and Juliet” and “ King Lear” in the last century, a "happy” and an “unhappy" ending. In the one Dunstan Renshaw obtained his girl-wife's forgiveness, in the other he committed suicide. Note this "wobbling" of Mr. Pinero over his conclusion. It is a point to which I shall have to return.

The date of “The Profligate" is April, 1889. When, four years later, Mr. Pinero returned to his theme that we cannot escape from our past selves, it was to give it at last its true and complete stage expression, to create a character throbbing with life, in short, to achieve that masterpiece which some too eager spirits had prematurely welcomed in the earlier play. Much had happened in the interval. Ibsen had left an enduring impress upon men's minds; the play-house world was in a ferment; there was what the economists call an "effective demand” for a freer and more fearless treatment of the drama, for a widening of the theatrical horizon. This demand "The Second Mrs. Tanqueray" satisfied to the full. There was nothing exotic, nothing deliberately imitative, in the play. Its professional men, its chaperons, its boys and girls, its background, atmosphere, and talk, were thoroughly English. But it was Hedda Gabler and Rebecca West who had made Paula Tanqueray possible. Paula was a study of a particular species of neuropathic woman rather than of the genus courtezan. She was temperamentally virtuous, accidentally vicious; as remote from the sentimental Marguerite Gautier on the one hand, as, on the other, from the noxious Césarine. The attempt to compare her with Augier's Olympe was a piece of sheer stupidity—there is no other word for it. What was there in common between the delicate, freshly observed, eminently natural woman of the English, and the conventional, brazen, intriguing harlot of the French play? The intricate plexus of nerve and brain that go to make up Paula are things undreamt of in Augier's crude and summary “psychology," and the difference between the two is the joint work of the Time spirit and Henrik Ibsen. Finer than the study of Paula was the general burden of the play—the hopelessness of human endeavour in the face of inexorable fact. For there is no conscious villain in the piece ; all the characters, Paula included, are working to good ends. It is circumstances—the past, and character as conditioned by the past—that bring the catastrophe. The whole has that air of inevitability which is the mark of great drama. Nor need the objection trouble us that the reappearance of Paula's old lover as her step-daughter's suitor was improbable. For this was a typical case of that probable improbability, the είκός παρά το είκός of Agathon, upon which stress is repeatedly laid in “ the Poetics ”—“It is probable that many things should happen contrary to probability.” As for the dialogue of the play, nothing like it had been heard before on the English stage, nothing so simple, natural, and appropriate, yet at the same time rhythmical and choice, resonant with that intimate personal timbre which we call“ style.” Such a passage as the final one between Paula and her husband, wherein the woman surveys the long vista of dreary decay in store for her, would, it has been well said, if paraphrased into Elizabethan poesy or into Greek iambics, be hailed as “classical.” Only one point is open to question, and again, observe, it is the ending. Would the real Paula have borrowed the late General Gabler's pistols from her sister in misfortune, Hedda ? Until our alienist experts can give us clearer information as to the suicidal temperament, Mr. Pinero is perhaps entitled to assume its existence in Paula. And, as the assumption enables him to end the score of his play upon a "full chord " instead of a "suspension," its advantage is obvious.

even

After “The Second Mrs. Tanqueray” Mr. Pinero stands forth as incontestably the primate of the English, as for the latter part of his life M. Dumas was of the French stage. Any further comparison between the two men would be idle and impertinent, so unlike have been the moments and the circumstances of their arrival. Mr. Pinero cannot match M. Dumas' magnificent output, nor has he any pretension to the European influence of that great master ; on the other hand, he is a comparatively young man, and it is not unlikely that his best work is yet to come. During the past year he has given us two more serious plays, “ The Notorious Mrs. Ebbsmith " and “The Benefit of the Doubt," both of them earnest in purpose, at once solid and brilliant in workmanship, and in a certain sense, perhaps, showing an advance upon Mrs. Tanqueray” in that the subject matter in either case is more subtle and elusive. Whether the difficulties of the theme in either case have been fully conquered is, however, a debatable question. Just as “Mrs. Tanqueray” showed an experiment in marriage vitiated and brought to naught by the disruptive forces of the characters themselves, and the pressure of external circumstances, so “Mrs. Ebbsmith " shows the same forces, internal and external, frustrating an experiment in “free love." In essence, the new play is an ironic, and even cynical, defence of orthodox matrimony, its implied argument being that, grave as are the objections against regular unions, irregular unions are open to precisely the same objections, and to some others into the bargain. Agnes Ebbsmith is no “daughter of joy,' but a somewhat frigid ascetic on the physical, and a visionary enthusiast on the mental side. She tries to establish a purely spiritual relationship, to "live the higher life," with Lucas Cleeve, and she fails because Cleeve is an average sensual man, only to be held by the bond of the flesh. She not only fails, but falls deeper and deeper into the mire, consenting first to play the “harem-woman "—the very part that had so revolted her in her legal marriage—and then to form a third in a triangular arrangement of husband, wife, and mistress. The successive steps in this inevitable process of degradation have been indicated by the dramatist with extraordinary skill; there is much that is tragic in the woman's hard fight to keep the man of her choice, though it be at the cost of her ideals, her self-respect, her very womanhood. But the method of her redemption is by no means convincing. She is saved by a revulsion of feeling, the present of a Bible, and the intervention of a couple of Good Samaritans, an Anglican parson and his sister. Again, you see, the weak point of Mr. Pinero's play is the ending.

And so it is with “The Benefit of the Doubt.” Here is a play which appeals, in a far greater degree than its predecessors, to that instinct of curiosity which it is the primary business of all the “story-telling" in the world to satisfy. The spectator's interest in the action of the moment, great as it is, is not so great as his expectation of interest to come. His attention is directed from the first, until it becomes fixed with almost painful intensity, upon the ultimate issue. A woman has left the Divorce Court with her reputation not destroyed but seriously damaged. We know that, in fact, she has not “stooped to folly,” in Goldsmith's sense of that phrase, but has only been guilty of thoughtlessness—the result, as is shown with consummate skill by the dramatist in his expository act, of bad breeding and vulgar surroundings. But the woman's husband does not know this, nor does the woman's rival, the wife of the friend with whom her indiscretion has compromised her. At first the question uppermost in the spectator's mind is : will she establish her innocence? She does establish it, but under circumstances so untoward that we are still in perplexity as to the final outcome. Or rather, I should say, we are perplexed in the theatre, where an outcome of some kind is demanded by the laws of the game ; in real life we should be in little doubt. For it needs very little experience of human nature to know that men and women so antagonistic in temperament as are the couples in this play-a flighty Frou-Frou and a replica in hard wood of Sartorys, on the one hand, a jealous fury and a weak sentimentalist, on the other---though they may “kiss again with tears” for the moment, have a long vista of misunderstanding and unhappiness before them. But this is a conclusion, it is not a dénouement. For the stage something more immediate must be found, something of a climax. Mr. Pinero has found something, and a very queer find it is. Again the

« AnteriorContinuar »