History of Western Theatre: 17th Century to Now/English Realist
In his short story, "Nona Vincent" (1893), Henry James wrote about the attitudes of a young playwright after acceptance of his first play. "For himself, he had never been so happy as since he had seen his way, as he fondly believed, to some sort of mastery of the scenic idea, which struck him as a very different matter now that he looked at it from within. He had had his early days of contempt for it, when it seemed to him a jewel, dim at the best, hidden in a dunghill, a taper burning low in an air thick with vulgarity. It was hedged about with sordid approaches, it was not worth sacrifice and suffering. The man of letters, in dealing with it, would have to put off all literature, which was like asking the bearer of a noble name to forego his immemorial heritage. Aspects change, however, with the point of view: Wayworth had waked up one morning in a different bed altogether. It is needless here to trace this accident to its source; it would have been much more interesting to a spectator of the young man’s life to follow some of the consequences. He had been made (as he felt) the subject of a special revelation, and he wore his hat like a man in love. An angel had taken him by the hand and guided him to the shabby door which opens, it appeared, into an interior both splendid and austere. The scenic idea was magnificent when once you had embraced it—the dramatic form had a purity which made some others look ingloriously rough. It had the high dignity of the exact sciences, it was mathematical and architectural. It was full of the refreshment of calculation and construction, the incorruptibility of line and law. It was bare, but it was erect, it was poor, but it was noble; it reminded him of some sovereign famed for justice who should have lived in a palace despoiled. There was a fearful amount of concession in it, but what you kept had a rare intensity. You were perpetually throwing over the cargo to save the ship, but what a motion you gave her when you made her ride the waves—a motion as rhythmic as the dance of a goddess! Wayworth took long London walks and thought of these things—London poured into his ears the mighty hum of its suggestion. His imagination glowed and melted down material, his intentions multiplied and made the air a golden haze. He saw not only the thing he should do, but the next and the next and the next; the future opened before him and he seemed to walk on marble slabs. The more he tried the dramatic form the more he loved it, the more he looked at it the more he perceived in it. What he perceived in it indeed he now perceived everywhere; if he stopped, in the London dusk, before some flaring shop-window, the place immediately constituted itself behind footlights, became a framed stage for his figures. He hammered at these figures in his lonely lodging, he shaped them and he shaped their tabernacle; he was like a goldsmith chiselling a casket, bent over with the passion for perfection."
Celebrated English comedies of the late 19th century include "An ideal husband" (1895) and "The importance of being earnest" (1895) by Oscar Wilde (1854-1900), also of importance "Arms and the man" (1894) by George Bernard Shaw (1854-1950), both born in Ireland. Notable examples of English light comedies, akin to French Boulevard Theatre, is "Engaged" (1876) by William Schwenk Gilbert (1836-1911) and "Trelawny of the Wells" (1898) by Arthur Wing Pinero (1855-1934). A notable example of drama is "Mrs Dane's Defence" (1900) by Henry Arthur Jones (1851-1929).
Oscar Wilde also wrote "A woman of no importance (1893)". Of this author, Lewisohn (1915) says: "Wilde succeeds in lifting his comedies out of life — not, to be sure, above it — by the style of his dialogue. The noblest dramatic dialogue is that which creates the illusion of human speech; the basest that which pretends to create such an illusion and gives us the sentimental formulas of melodrama. Wilde neither succeeds nor fails upon such terms. His dialogue, like Congreve's, is an exercise in style. And for such an exercise he was admirably fitted by gifts and training. He has the icy glitter of sheer wit, the sparkling perfection of phrase, the ringing balance of rhythm. Nor is this all. He has moments of a larger and more subtly modulated eloquence. Assuredly the plea of Mrs. Arbuthnot in the last act of "A Woman of no Importance" is artificial, and so is Goring's reproof of Lady Chiltern in "An Ideal Husband". But the artifice is the legitimate artifice of fine oratory — calculated, of course, and consciously effective, but with a glow of real conviction, a throb of true feeling under the external flash and ring of its periods."
"The importance of being earnest"
"The importance of being earnest". Time: 1890s. Place: London, England.
"The importance of being earnest" text at http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Importance_of_Being_Earnest
Algernon Moncrieff receives the visit of Ernest Worthing, who intends to propose to his cousin, Gwendolen. Algernon refuses to consent unless his friend explains why the inscription on his cigarette case bears a different name. Ernest explains that in the country he is known as the serious-minded Uncle Jack for the benefit of his ward, Cecily, and has invented a younger brother named Ernest, who lives a wastrel life in London. Gwendolen arrives with her mother, Lady Bracknell. Alone with Gwendolen, Ernest proposes marriage and is accepted, but Lady Bracknell refuses the match, due to the curious circumstance of his adoption after being discovered as a baby in a handbag at Victoria Station. Curious to know Cecily, Algernon discovers the location of Ernest's country house and pretends to be Ernest Worthing, a ploy successful in his attempt to charm her. Wishing to abandon his double life, Uncle Jack arrives in mourning to announce Ernest's death, strangely at odds with the presence of the disguised Algernon. Gwendolen arrives and meets Cecily, each indignantly declaring their engagement to Ernest, so that the men's tricks are exposed. Lady Bracknell then arrives in pursuit of her daughter and approves of Algernon's engagement, but now Ernest does not, until she consents to his. When Lady Bracknell sees Cicily's governess in passing, she recognizes her and suddenly asks: "Prism! Where is that baby?" It seems that many years ago, Miss Prism took Lady Bracknell's nephew for a walk and never returned. Miss Prism explains that she had absent-mindedly put a manuscript in the perambulator and the baby in a handbag and left him at Victoria Station, but could never find him again. Jack produces the handbag, proving he is the lost baby in question and thereby eligible as Gwendolen's suitor, all the more so, to satisfy his intended's infatuation with the name, when he discovers his real name has been Ernest all along.
"An ideal husband"
"An ideal husband". Time: 1890s. Place: London, England.
"An ideal husband" text at http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/An_Ideal_Husband
Advised by Baron Arnheim, Mrs Laura Cheveley has invested heavily in the Argentine Canal Company. She wishes to prevent Robert Chiltern, member of the House of Commons, to present the report of the commissioners before the House. Instead, she says to him: "I want you to say a few words to the effect that the government is going to reconsider the question, and that you have reason to believe that the canal, if completed, will be of great international value." She is willing to offer him money, but when he shows no interest, she blackmails him. "I realise that I am talking to a man who laid the foundation of his fortune by selling to a stock exchange speculator a cabinet secret," she tells him. She possesses the letter he wrote to Baron Arnheim as Lord Radley's secretary, "telling the baron to buy Suez Canal shares, a letter written three days before the government announced its own purchase," she specifies. Robert is forced to agree. After they leave, Mabel, his sister, discovers a diamond brooch half hidden underneath a sofa cushion. Her friend and Robert's, Lord Arthur Goring, takes it from her, explaining: "I gave this brooch to somebody once, years ago." After Robert's wife, Gertrude, is told by Laura what she expects from him, she comments to Lord Goring: "She is incapable of understanding an upright nature like my husband's!" But after being told by her husband that he has changed his mind out of "rational compromise", she pleads: "To the world, as to myself, you have been an ideal always. Oh! be that ideal still." Contrite, he writes a letter to Laura, informing her of his refusal to yield to her scheme. The next day, Laura returns to ask about her lost brooch, but Gertrude has not heard of any being found. When Robert enters, she repeats her threat, this time to both. Gertrude is devastatingly disappointed in her husband, who comments in much pain: "You made your false idol of me, and I had not the courage to come down, show you my wounds, tell you my weaknesses. I was afraid that I might lose your love, as I have lost it now... The sin of my youth, that I had thought was buried, rose up in front of me, hideous, horrible, with its hands at my throat. I could have killed it for ever, sent it back into its tomb, destroyed its record, burned the one witness against me. You prevented me." Meanwhile, Lord Goring receives a letter from Gertrude. While talking with his father, he asks his servant to conduct the visitor he is expecting in the drawing-room, but instead Laura shows up, who notices Gertrude's letter and slips it under a blotting-book before being mistakenly conducted there. At his wit's end, Robert arrives to ask Lord Goring's help. Thinking Gertrude is in the next room, Lord Goring lies to Robert by saying there is no one, though both hear a chair falling there. Robert enters that room, comes back, and walks out angrily as Laura, amused, confronts Lord Goring. She proposes to give him Robert's letter if he consents to marry her. He declines. On learning that she lost her brooch, he clasps it on her arm, accusing her of having stolen it from a cousin several years ago. She is unable to remove it, so that, to avoid prosecution as a thief, she hands the letter over, but, before going away, steals Gertrude's compromising letter. On the following day, Lord Goring is pleased to learn that Robert denounced the canal scheme before the House and also that Mabel accepts his marriage proposal. He tells Gertrude that Laura relinquished Robert's letter but stole her own. As a result, they become worried about Robert's interpretation as he enters with it, not having noticed the name on the envelope. Gertrude informs him he is safe, as Lord Goring possesses the incriminating letter. More good news arrive, a seat in the Cabinet for Robert for his speech! However, to please Gertrude, he wishes to abandon public life. As he writes his resignation letter in the next room, Lord Goring convinces her to refuse her husband's sacrifice, which she agrees to, so that he, relieved, accepts the nomination after all. Lord Goring then tells him of his marriage proposal, but he, having seen Laura in his drawing-room, is against it until Gertrude reveals that she, not Laura, was thought to be present in the room.
"Arms and the man"
"Arms and the man". Time: 1890s. Place: Bulgaria.
"Arms and the man" text at http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Arms_and_the_Man_(Shaw)
During the Serbo-Bulgarian War, Raina Petkoff's mother announces to her daughter happy news: Sergius Saranoff, her intended, has led a great cavalry charge and won a battle against the Serbian army. They jubilate. Raina says that before this event she had some doubts about whether her lover could achieve heroic deeds, doubts now happily dispelled. As she retires for the night, Bluntschli, a Swiss mercenary in the Serbian army, enters inside her room to hide. He first threatens, then pleads, at last gives up, when Raina, in a fit of female heroism, hides him in any case, and lies to soldiers sent to investigate. In apparent security, Bluntschli tells her of the cavalry charge, how men "pull back their horses" as they charge to avoid being first under enemy fire. Raina frowns on hearing such unheroic details, smiles on hearing that Bluntschli carries chocolates instead of cartridges, but is scandalized on hearing that Sergius was laughed at by the Serbians as he headed the charge, and only won the battle because the enemy had the wrong ammunition to fire. After 48 hours without sleep, Bluntschli at last succumbs. Raina calls her mother, and both sneak Bluntschli out of the house, hidden under Major Petkoff's housecoat. After the war, Sergius returns, and is seen flirting with the insolent servant, Louka, though both are engaged to be married, he to Raina, she to another servant, Nicola. Bluntschli surprisingly returns to give back the coat and to see Raina. Both she and her mother are dismayed and nervous at his return, more so when Petkoff and Sergius reveal that they have met Bluntschli before, inviting him to stay for lunch and help them with troop movements. While Bluntschli and Raina talk in private, she tells him she had left her portrait inside the coat pocket, inscribed "To my chocolate-cream soldier", but Bluntschli never looked, and so she must retrieve the coat. Bluntschli leaves on being informed of his father's death, making him a rich man. Louka, in a fit of jealousy and revenge, informs Sergius that Bluntschli was protected by Raina during the war and that she loves him, not the man to whom she is betrothed. Angry and wounded in his honor, Sergius challenges Bluntschli to a duel, quickly dismissed on both sides, but with the engagement broken off, Raina understanding the hollowness of her romantic ideals. Before Raina can do anything, the major discovers her portrait in the coat pocket, but she and her mother convince him that his mind is wandering. When Bluntschli reveals the entire truth, he becomes engaged to Raina and Sergius to Louka, the latter to Mrs. Petkoff's dismay, Nicola quietly letting her go to accept a favorable position as a manager in one of Bluntschli's hotels.
"Engaged". Time: 1870s. Place: Near Gretna and in London.
"Engaged" text at http://math.boisestate.edu/gas/gilbert/plays/engaged/index.html
At the border between Scotland and England, Angus has found a way to increase the income of his future mother-in-law: derailing trains, for Mrs MacFarlane, as the owner of the local inn, is supplied by such means with new customers. Much shaken by just such a train wreck, Belawney and Belinda are welcomed by Maggie, Angus' love. Belawney explains to Belinda that his only source of income is provided by the father of his friend, Cheviot. His 1,000 pounds per year will disappear once Cheviot yields to an undesirable marriage, all the more difficult to maintain since his friend "has contracted a habit of proposing marriage, as a matter of course, to every woman he meets". By contrast, Symperson will obtain that same sum provided his nephew marry, and he has in his mind the perfect wife for him: his daughter, Minnie. These plans are put in jeopardy when Cheviot meets Maggie, for he is instantly smitten with her and promises her marriage, to Angus' despair, but this plan is also impeded when Cheviot meets Belinda, for he is instantly smitten with her and promises her marriage as well, to Maggie and Belawney's despair. Yet before any form of ceremony occurs, Symperson guides Cheviot towards London, where he is to marry Minnie, who receives the visit of her old friend, Belinda, who explains that she has lost track of her husband, for by the marriage laws of Scotland, the mere intention to marry by verbal means is binding. "What fun!" cries Minnie, unaware that the man in question is her bridegroom. Meanwhile, Belawney is still in despair for having lost Belinda, more so when he learns of Cheviot's imminent marriage to Minnie. To stall for time, he defends Belinda's view of the legitimacy of their marriage. They are interrupted by Mrs MacFarlane, Maggie, and Angus, who arrive in answer to Cheviot's advertisement of hired help, and then by Symperson, who, on learning of the Scotch marriage, declares he has obtained Belawney's income. "Not yet," retorts Belawney, for "it's not certain whether the cottage was in England or Scotland." When Cheviot goes to Scotland to obtain this information, they learn that the relevant authority might not be available for six years. Meanwhile, Symperson learns that Cheviot's shares have plummeted, so that he is now penniless. On learning this pice of news, Minnie immediately throws him over. Crushed, Cheviot considers suicide, approved of by Symperson, who will obtain the 1,000 pounds in the case of either marriage or suicide. To prevent this, a desperate Belawney is willing to sacrifice Belinda on his behalf, then is forced to admit he invented the statement of Cheviot's financial ruin. Overjoyed, Cheviot turns towards Belinda, but Belawney, too quick for him, marries Belinda before he has a chance to see her. However, that marriage is annulled when they learn that the verbal contract occurred in Scotland, and so Cheviot and Belinda are truly married and Angus is free to marry Maggie.
"Trelawny of the Wells"
"Trelawny of the Wells". Time: 1860s. Place: London, England.
"Trelawny of the Wells" text at http://archive.org/details/cu31924013536713
Rose Trelawny is to quit the stage at the Wells Theatre as a successful 19-year old actress because of her engagement to Arthur Gower, a gentleman of wealth, grandson of Sir William Gower. It is agreed that to adjust herself to the West End she will live with William and his sister, Trafalgar. Rose finds the place dull. As she listens to a barrel-organ playing on the street, the man is chased away by Clara, Arthur's sister. Despite William's qualms, Trafalgar is confident: "We shall shape her to be a fitting wife for our rash and unfortunate Arthur," she declares. She proposes the "disagreeable duty" of playing cards. During the course of the conversation, William thinks it fit to object to Arthur's habit of gazing up at his intended's window on his way towards Clara's house. "They are the manners and practices of a troubadour," he announces. Although Arthur tries to soothe her, Rose is affronted by the domineering tone of the petty household tyrants: "They are killing me," she says, "like Agnes in "The Specter of St. Ives". She expires, in the fourth act, as I shall die in Cavendish Square, painfully, of no recognized disorder." While hearing Rose play the piano and sing in the adjoining room, William admits to his sister: "I fear this is no longer a comfortable home for ye, Trafalgar; no longer the home for a gentlewoman. I apprehend that in these days my house approaches somewhat closely to a Pandemonium." Later that night, thanks to the connivance of a servant, Rose lets her theatre friends inside the house, but they are discovered by William and Trafalgar, the former exclaiming: "A set of garish, dissolute gypsies! Begone!" Rose gives up the game: "Indeed, I am very sorry, Sir William. But you are right- gypsies- gypsies! Yes, Arthur, if you were a gypsy, as I am, as these friends o' mine are, we might be happy together. But I've seen enough of your life, my dear boy, to know that I'm no wife for you. I should only be wretched, and would make you wretched; and the end, when it arrived, as it very soon would, would be much as it is tonight." Rose returns to theater life, but, because of her experience inside a wealthy family, is dissatisfied with her roles, loses her audience appeal, and suffers a salary cut. In the course of a few months, William has second thoughts about his treatment of Rose, all the more so since Arthur has left the house to an unknown destination. He is further dismayed on learning that she is to lose her position at the Wells. To make amends, he decides to provide the funds needed for producing a play written by one of her friends, Tom. During rehearsals. Rose is stunned on seeing the role of her lover in the piece played by Arthur, now an actor, along with the equally bewildered William. Arthur seeks to re-enter into his grandfather's good graces by asking: "May I, when rehearsal is over, venture to call in Cavendish Square?" "Call!" exclaims William. "Just to see Aunt Trafalgar, sir? I hope Aunt Trafalgar is well, sir," ventures Arthur. "Your great-aunt Trafalgar? Ugh, yes, I suppose she will consent to see ye," says William.
"Mrs Dane's defence"
"Mrs Dane's defence". Time: 1900s. Place: Sunningwater, near London, England.
"Mrs Dane's defence" text at http://archive.org/details/mrsdanedefencea03jonegoog
Mrs Henrietta Bulsom-Porter has heard of a scandal which occurred five years ago in Vienna concerning a governess named Felicia Hindemarsh, a girl of fifteen seduced by a married man, whose wife had discovered that relation and had killed herself, whereby the man went mad. She asks for particulars from Mr Risby, who says that although at first he thought he recognized Mrs Dane as the governess in question, he now feels sure he was mistaken. Mrs Dane is a supposed widow who intends to marry Lionel, the son of an eminent lawyer, Sir Daniel, but is worried over his father's disapproval of the match. "He won't wish to part us when he knows how much I love you," affirms Lionel. But because of her modest background, Daniel wastes no time in seeking to end the matter. He announces to his son that he has spoken to an engineer friend to accept him as an assistant for the new railway in Egypt, but Lionel does not wish to go. He had intended to marry another woman, Janet, but is adamant in staying true to Mrs Dane. Meanwhile, ugly rumors have spread among Daniel's elite guests concerning Mrs Dane. Hearing of these, Daniel presses his son a second time to forget her: "The lady knows that her reputation is being torn to rags. She doesn't put the matter in her lawyer's hands. She avoids, or seems to avoid, meeting me; she gives you a few very vague details of her past life and then wraps herself in a mantle of injured innocence." Lionel is indignant at his father's attitude, but their disagreement is smoothed over by Lady Easterley, who makes them join hands. "But- don't be angry with me- if I find it true, of course there's an end to everything between you and her?" asks Daniel. "Of course, sir," affirms Lionel. Meanwhile, against her husband's wishes, Henrietta has hired a private detective, Mr Fendick, to seek the truth in Vienna. Lady Easterley informs Mrs Dane of Daniel's intentions to hear of her past life, obtain evidence for it, and force an apology from Henrietta. Before Fendick has a chance to announce his discoveries to Henrietta, Mrs Dane intercepts him and begs him not to reveal them in exchange for a large sum of money, which he accepts. In view of Fendick's denial that Mrs Dane is Hindemarsh, Daniel requests Henrietta to write her a written apology, short of which a libel suit would make the matter very expensive. Later, Mrs Dane meets Risby and is relieved to learn that he, too, will keep silent. Daniel informs Risby that he has given Henrietta a few days to decide between an apology and a lawsuit and requests him to make a statement about what he knows. When Risby sees Mrs Dane a second time, she informs him that she has taken her cousin's name, Lucy Hindemarsh, as her own, following that woman's death in Montreal, Canada. Thinking the matter about to be cleared up, Daniel welcomes Mrs Dane in his family. Nevertheless, he declares to her a shortcoming on their side about the impending lawsuit: "I have no evidence whatever to prove who you are. I have Risby's and Fendick's evidence to prove that you are not Felicia Hindemarsh." "Isn't that enough?" queries a nervous Mrs Dane. "Not if the matter comes into court," he pronounces. He recommends her to visit her native town and seek out people she once knew as evidence in her favor. On further interrogation, he discovers she has omitted to mention the existence of a cousin, whom she certifies as being dead. Wishing to know more, he takes down from his bookshelf "The topographical dictionary of England and Wales" and discovers that the vicarage is held by the Reverend Francis Hindemarsh. "Hindemarsh?" he asks, stunned at the name. "He was my uncle," she says, "Sir Daniel, I've done wrong, very wrong to hide from you that Felicia Hindemarsh was my cousin." Though shaken, he asks her: "There are, of course, people in Montreal who knew you intimately as Mrs. Dane and can identify you?" "Oh, yes, of course," she says uncomfortably. In view of her statements to that effect, he reasons: "If Felicia Hindemarsh was a pupil teacher at a school on the south coast, we shall doubtless be able to find out where it was, and someone who remembers her." He then offers to accompany her to her native town. On further interrogation, she inadvertently mentions that Risby knows she is Felicia Hindemarsh's cousin. "You told Risby, a mere acquaintance, that Felicia Hindemarsh was your cousin, and you didn't tell Lionel, you didn't tell me?" he asks, astounded. She breaks down and is forced to admit her name is Felicia Hindemarsh, but begs him to accede to his son's wishes. He refuses. On informing his son of her lies, Lionel drops her. Disappointed and exhausted, Lionel lies on the sofa in the moonlight and falls asleep. Janet enters, bends over, and kisses him.