Skeleton Epilogue 2
(A note to the reader.)
Marina di Pisa, 1916.
Note for the author.
“Two phrases together… and one act.”
This Drama is made up of the following things…
Of mysterious happenings which have no motive and lead to no conclusion.
Of commonplace remarks.
And of one tragic Fact.
The Fact alone is the Drama.
The Happenings are planned to increase the sense of mystification and of coming catastrophe – an accumulation of them.
The remarks are planned to allay all suspicion and yet to add to the mystification.
Happening and the Fact are divided – never had nor will have anything to do with each other. As in life so we find here the true Dramatic event was an isolated fact – and the things which seemed to be leading up to the catastrophe were not even paths.
Character there is none.
Passion there is none.
A struggle between opposites there is none. Tragedy can come and go without a struggle. The Heroic again.
Can it be called a Drama?
To me the worries of life are not dramatic – they are only insignificant. The modern drama offers us smug or worried persons – not living tragic figures. “The Second Mrs Tanquery is worried, worried about her past.” “Tosca”, “Magda”, “Lucia1”, worried about nothing. The list is long but the figures are all worried not tragic.
This is the fault of the Dramatist, not the Actor. The Dramatist cannot refrain from sympathetic sentimental utterances about his men and women – he even makes them sorry for themselves – so we are no longer sorry for them – and never (passing sympathy) do we admire them.
An act alone is dramatic.
And when that act is placed in the midst of a number of unconnected happenings and has no relation at all to any of the happenings, then only to my mind is it really dramatic. That Orestes should be haunted by the Furies because he assisted his sister to slay their mother who slew her husband because he slew his daughter, …this does not seem to me dramatic at all. It is far too logical and consequential to be that – the Gods move unheard – but also unseen: those are old truths.
° ° °
[The name of this drama]
The name of this Drama, “The Skeleton” has a little more meaning than it appears to have.
To begin with, as I believe that the stage managers and the actors can (some of them) create dramas far better than writers can, this written piece of a drama is the skeleton to which the stage men will, if they trouble themselves with it, add the flesh, the blood, and the movement.
I suppose that had I learned the art of writing I could swell up this theme into three or five acts, writing down every stage direction and all the things the actors had to say. This would satisfy me if I knew less about the Theatre and cared less about my fellow workers in the Theatre. But knowing what I do about the stage and its inhabitants I prefer to show some respect for their wits. Having sketched the Drama, I ask them to take it on into the next stage of its existence. After that I can again lend a hand, and as I know about stage managing, scene, costume and acting. We might in this way be of some use. We should not at any rate get in each other’s way, since we all of us belong to the boards.
“The Skeleton” is therefore just a skeleton, and I only hope there are enough bones in it to give it sufficient form when the stage manager and the actors take it up to give something to it.
It is not a play for reading: – it is a Drama.
Although only a skeleton at present, it will remain so till a fine stage manager and six fine actresses and two fine actors get to work on it2.
A second reason for calling it “The Skeleton” is for the sake of the Poster, and a third is because I wish that before it is seen the spectators may be waiting to see a skeleton… or twig a skeleton somewhere behind the four doors, or in that cupboard, or in the house which can be seen through the windows. So, if people ask after seeing it, “Why does he call it ‘The Skeleton’?” these are three of the reasons.
And to the students actors and stage managers who may care to try their crafts on it and prove their powers as creative artists, I will add that if I may be allowed to collaborate further with them I shall still expect them to do the lion’s share of the work, and it seems to me that if we succeed we shall have proved a point in our argument (for it is theirs as well as mine) that the stage can create.
When good judges of works of art are considering some picture, bronze or engraving which they have come across, they judge of the workmanship, not the personality of the artist. While everything matters, while everything is of some importance, that which matters most is, whether the work satisfies those senses by which we judge, or let us say by which we taste and feel the work.
While it must be human it must at the same time have a way with it by which we recognize a work of art. It is to be for us just as much a question of what and how ’tis done as of why ’tis done. Why did Hamlet kill Polonius? Why behind arras instead of under the bed? Why did he say “a rat! a rat!”? Actors and audience alike are too apt to knit their brows about all these little whys and wherefores while they forget to remark what is happening and how it is happening.
When working on this trifle we should try to weave the movements into a pattern that is delightful and gives pleasure merely by watching those movements; and the movements must as much as possible be in harmony with the scene and both must assist the voice and the voice both.
By this I do not mean that we should set out with the iron cast determination to force our movements to become angular or curved until they cease to be natural. That would lead us to an inhuman interpretation of a play; where as what we want to do is to leave it human – at any rate until we can make it divine.
The actors who decide to attempt to create this work will not be in any hurry to get it ready by any particular night, because it will not be for them one of their “jobs” but one of their pleasures. Parts will not be typed out with mere cues to work from. Each actor and actress will have several interleaved copies to score just as they like and each part will have its own private notes added by the inventor, …notes which it is better no one else but the performer shall see. For important reasons. They will do this without altering the bones of the skeleton, adding what they like so long as all of us are agreed that it is an improvement3; and none of us must mind if we each suggest some things which do not seem to improve.
I have already thought of some additions, many of which you would possibly find not at all helpful, and some which we will have to test. And this is just the process we will employ… we will test additions day by day at each new rehearsal… rejecting, altering, adjusting, riveting4… We will accept the rough shape of the thing as it stands now… crude as it must be… and then day by day we will test additional touches, phrases, exclamations, movements, looks, lights, shadows, colours, until we have as nearly perfect as can be a slight Drama of our own.
And we will work together at it and think of it as builders and architects did once of their creations – as engravers now do, as of a whole… thinking also of the parts… our own parts; all of which, if properly adjusted, could make up a perfect work of art.
I have brought here rapid and slow moments, moments of action and repose, moments where the Dramatic becomes what some will call exaggerated, and moments which are ordinary. Realistic sights as well as mysterious ones are brought here, ordinary happenings and queer things too. Character there is none to speak of, but we see that one figure can (if she can), look like Rachel at her best; another like Mr Smith whom we all know so very well; a third like a Sybil. And so we have already a variety of faces, voices and forms to work with, although our skeleton is as yet so slight.
° ° °
To the spectators.
Why has the cook shot herself?
Now what the deuce does it matter to you or to me, unless we are curious busy-bodies, why poor Jane shot herself?
Do we want to help Jane?
We can’t; besides, we don’t. We can’t prevent tragedies once they come about, and Art is, we know quite well, not made to assist politics, legislatures, or the Society for the prevention of Curiosity in Animals.
But if we cannot prevent anything by art or even by our little plays, we can at least grow up to the extent of realizing that Drama’s service is neither the prevention nor cure of anything or anybody. Yes we can – But I don’t think we do.
We don’t realize it, but we can if we wish to, and if we also realize that by so doing we enlarge instead of diminish the horizon of art we shall all be the gainers.
Do we want to help Jane when we hear she has shot herself? No, very few feel so. Therefore because of this I have kept the tragic fact till the end of the Drama, so that we could get through it without fuss, and it has been performed in the basement so as not to awaken our quite uncontrollable feelings at the sight of pain, which give us away.
Are we any the wiser or any more pleasant for knowing why Hamlet killed the King and why the King poisoned his brother? Does it serve “any” to realize that Macbeth and his wife were ambitious… awfully ambitious? To me the tragedy is that the good King Duncan should die, not that his hosts should play with death… no, nor that Shakespeare should linger so lovingly over the details.
When Hamlet stabs at the old man through the arras, crying “a rat! a rat!” the idea that he is just killing a real live man excites not our pity, not our wonder, but quite other feelings. When Lady Macbeth enters with hands as red as her husband’s, not horror but some other feeling is awakened in the body of the spectator. It only gives us a “sensation”. For it actually affects us and our lives as little as the reality would do, and so long as it does not affect us we can enjoy it all as one who dabbles in experience… as all do who allow the morning and evening Journal to bring them all the experience they dare not encounter.
You do not want to help Jane, and for this reason I have veiled the details of her tragedy from everyone, and the state of modern civilization would seem to imply that it is a pity the great dramatists did not veil the details of their tragic acts. And Mr Bernard Shaw with his Dilemma and his victim, and his Superman on the hunt, tells us that all the whys and the wherefores of these things… as though we were grown-up. Why should we know?
Jane has shot herself.
To Mr and Mrs Jeckle this is not only a sudden shock but also an inconvenience. It is hard for them to realize a death in their house… in the very room beneath their feet. It is also hard for them to have to realize that there must be some trouble associated with this lamentable proceeding… a funeral and all the bother of getting a new cook. And then, besides, “what did she do it for?”
If Mr and Mrs Jeckle are curious, you and I need not be… let poor Jane rest. One immortal remark of hers shall live, expressing the joy of her heart; why shall we meddle with the sacred pain?
Let us show less… veil more.
To show and to veil… in tragedy this is a difficult art, but essential. It has grown general to show tragedy without its veils, so as to make quite clear to the crown what was going on and why. For my part I regret this, though it is the custom since Aeschylus.
Crowds are no better but the plays are worse.
Even in that play by Synge… (one chooses the best modern play one can find)… “Deirdre of the Sorrows”… all her griefs are far too lovely, too seductive, the deaths of her brothers far too thrilling, in short the whole thing not serious enough.
Deirdre… such a beauty, such a dream… deserves better from the men who are to tell her tale. Better poetry or better said things she could not well have had, but better silence… more reticence she deserved.
A great woman’s tragedy deserves just that reticence from artists who record it… if she be a great woman she will not run around yelping about sorrows which are eternal and can not be escaped, therefore why should we parody and belittle them?
Jane was no great woman, but she was great enough. I happen to know about her. But because I know her story, is that any reason for blurting out its details to the crowd, so that they may estimate its “values” and trace its source? Because she had a few enemies is that any reason why I should parade them on the stage? Suppose these enemies were the few people she really loved… spite of their hate. What? Would she thank me for displaying the weaknesses of the choice of her heart?
In passing… what a look would Hamlet have given Shakespeare for that portrait of his mother! And think of Imogen’s disdain at seeing Posthumus as Shakesperare drew him, or Cordelia’s at the picture of Father Lear!
Jane was not one of the kind called by moderns “a great woman”. She cooked for Mr. and Mrs. Jeekle with pleasure. She received a salary. And she died. She was not particularly intellectual, could not write – could read a few words if given time, puzzled about no problems, nor hankered after any rights. Handsome she was… everyone who saw her said that. The beauty of the house was in the basement… for the Jeekles were a plain family even if powdered.
If I have given any reason for my not unveiling little Jane’s secrets, and this reason seems at all good to you, I shall be satisfied. I see every reason is against such treatment of dramatic figures, but evidently plenty of people cannot see any such reason.
They would pluck out the heart of their mysteries, they would sound them for the lowest note to the top of their compass, as those gentlemen Guildenstern and Rosencrantz tried to do with Hamlet… and, you add, as Shakespeare did with his Dwarfs of Blood and his Children of the Sun.
True, Shakespeare did so and succeeded tenderly. He often plucked out the mysteries with more than tender hands, and while doing so spoke more than tender words. Madness, jealousy, murder, drunkenness, boasting, big and petty vices alike he plucked them out and displayed them before us… but with the way of the great heart. And yet even then…
Since his time some of the big vices and passions have not been so popular with dramatic authors, and we feel that authors have hardly succeeded in touching us by the display of the little meannesses. The later figures of the drama have looked a bit shrivelled, and their mysteries a little off colour. Many have remarked on their unfortunate failure to thrill… Sentiment is like milk, it soon turns sour, and becomes sentimentality, and the odour and taste of sentimentality is unpleasant. Those characters who wallow in sentimentality (be they living or stage figures) are men and women who rather than endure their portion of hard as well as gentle fortune curse us by putting the full weight of their adversities on us. –The tragic figure endures in silence.
The modern dramatic figures, even if less grand than those of old, might have been as human.
But this they certainly were not… are not.
Therefore I for one shall try always to veil the mysteries and not to whisper the secrets, for useless it is to join a cabal for the deliberate perpetration of incessant sacrilege.
° ° °
Why the Queer Happenings… the Commonplace Talk… and what they signify.
There is hardly anything which happens around us which is not mysterious. That which we make to happen is what we expected, but that which comes about, apparently by no agency other than its own volition… that seems to us very mysterious.
To the wise man mystery succeeds mystery – always a far greater mystery is waiting behind a great mystery. And even to most of us most things are surely full of that undrawable, unstateable beauty.
One is in a pine forest. A cone falls from the tree near one. The silence is broken and one is aware that the tree is alive and actively doing something. A star shoots across the sky at night… how strange! Explain either fact as long as you will, you cannot explain away their mystery.
Why have I put queer if not very mysterious happenings into “The Skeleton”?
For many reasons, and this is one: …In the audience there will be some who find in every suspicious action in this scene food for their own suspicions, and there will be others who will brush aside these suggestions.
When there is no one found outside the door upon which three taps have been given, some will think of spooks, others will merely feel that someone was there but went away. Still others will suspect Minnie, who answers the knocks by opening, of lying when she says there is “no one”, and for some secret reason. And the actress must play to all these people, and play upon them… lead all of them on… but give no one sufficient ground for being sure he is on the right track.
Therefore each of these queer happenings is put in to increase the alertness of mind of the spectators, who in life would probably be as indifferent as most people generally are about everything until catastrophes comes… and then the catastrophe is to them something beyond their comprehension… so dulled are their senses. Had they been active… awake… either a catastrophe had been avoided or at any rate met in the right spirit… with some realization. These strange happenings are introduced in order to arouse the speculation of the onlookers, to exercise their faculty of attention… and to lead them astray.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
And the commonplace talk which wanders out from the mouths of the Jeekle family… why is it so utterly without significance?
It is to balance the queer happenings.
It is to drown the speculations of the onlookers… to quiet the suspicions awakened by the queer happenings, and it is to puzzle them. It represents the useless utterances of most families… the stagnant pool of their daily lives.
At the same time it is designed to satisfy those who have been brought up never to reveal their feelings by expression of face or word or gesture.
Doubtless men of the Impassive School will recognize themselves at once and call out, “What sort of rubbish is this?” and will grow impatient; therefore it is the task of the actors never quite to allow them to get to this point of impatience. The actors must help me with the deception up to the end, making each character seem by the very quality of their (“his or her”) dullness or steadiness or whatever noun you care to apply to them, to be hiding in reserve forces not merely passionate – but profound… subtle… what you will… every force if you can.
The end should leave the spectators, all but a very few, in precisely the same mood of self-content as it found them, saying, “Very prettily acted! Rather wonderful of the actors to make so much out of nothing.”
They must speak only of the acting of the scene. Some will speak of the art the stage manager has shown. But none but a handful must say the “Skeleton” is good. They must go out saying, “What wonderful acting… simply wonderful but to all query as to what the play is about all must feel keen to keep silence – merely saying “I’m not going to spoil it for you… you must go and see it for yourself…”
That is the object I have in view. It will be a triumph for the stage, if not the beginning of the end of the Literary Drama.
The Theatre is never allowed to realize itself… never allowed to be enjoyed for itself alone. Some silly teaching (which always teaches backwards, by the way), is thrust upon us from the stage. How it gets in through the stage door is the wonder of wonders. We of all people hate most of all to preach and teach… and yet we are yearly forced to it.
And from the other point of view –
Here then is Drama without teaching but with some suggestion without literary values only with realism at last… I mean at least.
1. Characters from Giacomo Puccini’s operas Tosca (1900), La Rondine (1917), and Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor (1835).
2. In France I would ask J. L. B. [Jean-Louis Barrault] & R. R. [Raymond Rouleau] to take it up with… [Étienne] Decroux – Solange! [maybe the actress Solange Sicard, who was running an acting class at Saint-Germain des Prés] – step forward please & help.
Is André Roussin too busy to find here in this Skeleton a bit of a game – something to puzzle his wits?
In Tel Aviv [Zvi] Friedland works with his companions – will he take this up & improvise on its theme: is it too trivial for [Hannah] Rovina & the wise [Aharon] Meskin to keep it along.
In Poland – [Leon] Schiller of Warsaw the poet-musician & metteur en scene
3. The additions here did not read exactly clearly.
4. Revising ?