We are oversexed, he cries, especially in the theatre. The slimy sentimentalities of the popular play are too much for his nerves. He is a Puritan in the last analysis and the degradation of dramatic art attendant upon sensuality moves him to strong utterances. I have, I think, always been a Puritan in my attitude towards Art. I am as fond of fine music and handsome buildings as Milton was, or Cromwell, or Bunyan; but if I found that they were becoming the instruments of systematic idolatry of sensuousness, I would hold it good statesmanship to blow every cathedral in the world to pieces with dynamite, organ and all, without the least heed to the screams of the art critics and cultured voluptuaries.
He would light the fuse himself, just as he would go to the stake for a principle. He is at once the slayer and the slain; Calvin and Servetus. Brave are his very Tolstoian words. Nor does he claim priority in those attacks upon Shakespeare which he so happily terms Bardolatry. You may notice after reading his critical animadversions upon this sacred topic that he is not so often attacking Shakespeare as the ultra-Shakespeareans; that he is by no means so sharp in his criticisms of the bard as were Ben Jonson, Dr.
Johnson, Voltaire, and Taine did not Mr. George Moore invoke destruction when he dared to harness the names of Balzac and Shakespeare? Besides, a critic may look at a king, and this critic has let in much light on his own peculiar psychology by these very criticisms. And it may be added that Shakespeares reputation has not suffered violence. More inexplicable is Shaws dislike of the Elizabethans. His lips curl with scorn when their names are mentioned.
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Their rhetoric is insane and hideous; they are a crew of insufferable bunglers and dullards; the Renaissance was an orgie; Marlowe might, if he had lived to-day, have been a tolerable imitation of Kipling; all these plays are full of murder, lust, obscenity, cruelty; no ray of noble feeling, no touch of faith, beauty, nor even common kindliness is to be discovered in them, says critic Shaw. Shades of Charles Lamb! What will Swinburne say! Touching again on Shakespeare it will not be amiss to calmly face some of the Shavian blasphemies.
An ounce of sincerity is worth a ton of hypocrisy. The optique of the theatre always magnifies, often falsifies. Great reputations should have their centennial critical baththey would look all the brighter after it. And there are whole continents steeped in artisticrather, in inartistichypocrisy. Witness the Parsifal craze; witness the eye-ball ecstasy when the name of Bach is 9.
But criticism makes cowards of us all.
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Ready-made admiration is ever dangerous; luckily Shaw, a Nietzschean before he ever heard of Nietzsche, was not taken in by the verdicts of yesterday. He carried his transvaluing scales in his pocket, and his alpenstock could be, if necessary, transformed into a critical measuring yardstick. He loved Wagners music and knew it so well that he was the first English critic who called attention to the fact that the composer, instead of being rhapsodic and formless, was, perhaps, a victim to the widespread Teutonic passion for Chinese formalism and systematism.
He finds Shakespeares work full of moral platitudes, jingo claptrap, tavern pleasantries, bombast and drivel; while the bards incapacity for following up the scraps of philosophy he stole so aptly is noteworthy; his poetic speech, feeling for nature and the knack of character drawing, fun and heart wisdom, which he was ready, like a true son of the theatre, to prostitute to any subject, occasion and any theatrical employment these are some Shakespearean at tributes.
He thinks Bunyan the truer manwhich is quite aside from the argumentand he believes that we are outgrowing Shakespeare, who will become with Byron a household pet, And most incontinently, he concludes by asserting that when he, Shaw, began to write dramatic criticism Shakespeare was a divinity; now he is become a fellow creature. He will never forgive him for the sensuality of Antony and Cleopatra or for the cruel treatment accorded Julius Caesars magnificent personality.
In short, Mr. Shaw finds that Shakespeares wisdom is Montaignes, his history Plutarchs, his plots Bandellos and several others. Yet he is a Shakespeare worshipperthough he cannot endure the accepted spelling of the great name; and declares that the ear should be the true clue to him In a deaf nation these plays would have died long ago. He berates Garrick, Colley Cibber, Irving, Augustin Daly and all the vaudeville adapters of the Shakespeare plays for their horrible taste, their vulgar excisions, and their substitution of scenic claptrap for the real Shakespeare.
He wishes his Shakespeare naked Of latter-day playwrights Shaw has written, learnedly and most piquantly. His Ibsen partisanship needs no vindication at this hour. The star of the great dead Norwegian has risen, no longer a baleful portent, but a beneficial orb in whose light we see ourselveswell, normally; as normally as Shaw sees us? For the modern English dramatists he has always exhibited a firm dislike until they achieved something that extorted his praise.
He was among the first to attack Pineros The Second Mrs. Tanqueray as an artificial bit of stage technique. He speedily exposed the inherent structural weakness and lack of logic in The Notorious Mrs.
Ebbsmith; but he found sufficient words of admiration for The Benefit of the Doubt, by all odds the best, because truest, of the Pinero dramas. Henry Arthur Jones is rated highly by Mr. This writer has creative imagination, curious observation, inventive humor, sympathy and sincerity. He admired Michael and his Lost Angel, as did a few discerning critics in New Yorkand he has never ceased wondering why this fine play was withdrawn in London before it had a fair chance. The reader will find scattered throughout these pages many treasures of wit and observation. And, oh! Who is Hall Caine? Of Shaws own criticisms: Those who think the things I say severe, or even malicious, should just see the things I do not say.
Boiled Heroine. On the stage we get the geniuses and the hysteriques; but the intermediate talents are drawn back from a profession in which brains and self-respect have no chance against emotional facility and neurotic sexuality. The stock actor is a stage calamity. Falstaff is human but disgusting. Bernard is not a lover of flesh, nor a consumer of sack. Mary Anderson was no actress she lacked the actress temperament. Rostand is pasteboard. Sardoodledomwhich is capital.
A Puritan is a fanatical idealist to whom all stimulations of the sense of beauty are abhorred; a philis I have a technical objection to making sexual infatuation a tragic theme. Experience proves that it is only effective in the comic spirit. Shaw, let us solemnly call your attention to Hedda Gabler; not to mention Romeo and Juliet! Duse vs.
Bernhardt t is an excellent study of the old and the new artistsold and new in an artistic sense. Of dramatic criticism again: The actor will get money and applause from the contemporary mob; but posterity will only see him through the spectacles of the elect; if he displeases them i. Which is a curious paraphrase of Hamlets remarks about the players. Marie Corellis works are cheap victories of a profuse imagination over an apparently commonplace and carelessly cultivated mind. Thackeray is an author I cannot abide. For my part I do not indorse all Ibsens views; I even prefer my own plays to his in some respects.
Pinero is no interpreter of character, but simply an adroit describer of people as the ordinary man sees and judges them. A character actor is one who cannot act and therefore makes an elaborate study of disguises and stage tricks by which acting can be grotesquely simulated.
Pinero is simply character acting in the domain of authorship.
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Many pinchbeck histrionic reputations in England and America would be shattered by this dictum if the public but realized it. Oscar Wilde is an arch-artist; he is colossally lazy.
And hitting off the critical condescension with which Wildes pieces were once received by many critics in England, Shaw coolly remarks: I am the only person in London who cannot sit down and write an Oscar Wilde play at will. Barrie makes a pretty character as a milliner makes a bonnet, by matching materials; he has no eye for human character, only a keen sense for human qualities. III But enough. Here is a plethora of riches. Remember, too, that when Shaw wrote the criticisms in this volume he was virginal to fame.
It is his best work, It contains his most buoyant prose, the quintessence of Shaw. His valedictory is incomparable. He found that after taking laughing gas he had many sub-conscious selves.