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THERE is need for an essay on the Misuse of the Word Dramatic.
Drama, by its nature, can come into being only when men are moved powerfully and suddenly to record the circumstances of life: for the dramatic form is the most exacting of literary forms, demanding a high and sustained emotion in the author; and in its choice there lies implicit a certain impatience with other and less heightened forms, with the slower and more detailed revelation of the epic or novel, with the momentariness of the lyric. The great ages of drama have thus been those when life has been raised to an unusual intensity, or viewed with an excited surprise. The ages of the novel have been those of calmer, more urbane contemplation. The artist in any sort may take what he desires from life, and, letting all else drop away, may raise this to a sudden height; or he may wind himself into life like a skein of silk about
its heart. “ What would he do,” asks Hamlet, in an intensity of feeling, “ had he the motive and the cue for passion that I have ? He would drown the stage with tears.” It is not altogether
' fanciful to think the dramatist impatient of the disability under which the novelist works: the novelist must sustain the march of a narrative; the she said and said he and manner of the sun's setting or a cab-horse's passing while they said it —these things are the camp-followers of the novelist's progress ; excellent camp-followers ministering, under proper leadership, to truth and to our pleasure, but irking by their importunity the creative artist of certain temperament in a certain mood. The dramatist is for striking out his words and actions in the round, as it were; his people must stand by virtue of their own concreteness—like chessmen ready to a player's hand, rather than figures worked in silk on an arras. Everything felt by the dramatist shall
go into them, and find expression through their mouths only; in his high mood, all else but direct speech and visible action is tiresome and redundant. Thus the dramatist lifts his art out of the literary, and may escape, as Ibsen's Master Builder wished to escape when his own imagination moved him, from the “irrelevancy ” of books in a library. The motive and the cue for the dramatist's passion, then, is this quick desire to make real his imaginings—under the influence, if our supposition be accurate, of surprise; of pleased or excited surprise. The method of realization need not be rapid--so only that the finished work stand quick and eager, leaping to the spectator's imagination, a thing of essentials only. The dramatist's impatience is with inessentials, his disposition is to eliminate them ; in actual fact, a patient process, if he go on to observe the further critical canon of Hamlet, and “ use all gently : for in the very torrent, tempest, and-as I may say—whirlwind of passion, you must acquire and beget a temperance, that may give it smoothness"; but a process flattering to his impatience in the achievement, by the very smoothness and temper of the finished work. If poetry be “emotion remembered in tranquillity,” as Wordsworth said, then drama is, or must seem to be, emotion visualized in action; howsoever tranquil the after-mood of the dramatist.
It is not dramatic that a distraught coalheaver should execute sudden death upon a wife and seven children, nor that a commercial traveller should be reunited with a long-lost mother; these things are but newspaper “tragedy,” and newspaper “drama”; neither of them undramatic of necessity but, until some dramatist's imagination has come to them with
pleasure and surprise, incidents merely in a vast and distracting universe. The Dramatic is not some quality inherent in, and common to, such incidents in the daily round as stand out by their violence or curiosity, as sub-editors believe; notwithstanding they give the lie daily to their belief by tucking away such “dramatic” circumstances in a minor crevice of their sheet, since in a newspapered age these affairs of distraction and coincidence have become a daily occurrence. Nor are sub-editors alone in their misapprehension; many a would-be dramatist shows a confident belief in the essential dramatic virtue of a firearm. A pistol may or may not be dramatic in just the same degree as a beer-jug may or may not be dramatic; Mr. Masefield has drawn drama from the one, but half a hundred practising dramatists have failed to get anything from the other but the bang; for the Dramatic is a quality not in things but in the imagination of the artist who can give to these things an extraordinary significance and purport. There might well be drama behind any little story of the courts; but the drama does not lie in the police report, and evades the police-reporter's manner. He is a supreme dramatist who can move us with some such story, let us say of a youth who killed, or tried to kill, his father, while digging potatoes in a field, and leave us saying at the