The freedom in the construction of scenes for our stage, and the greater number of the actors, make it apparently so easy for the poet to conduct his action through a scene, that often, in the new drama, the customary result of an excessive lack of restraint is to be regretted. The scene becomes a jumble of speeches and responses, without sufficient order; while it has a wearying length and smooth flowing sentences, neither elevation nor contrasts are developed with any power. Of course, there is not a total lack of connection in the scenes in the most bewildered work of the amateur; for the forms are to such a degree the expression of the character, that dramatic perception and feeling, even though unschooled, is accustomed to hit what is the correct thing, in many essentials; but not always, and not every one. Let the poet, therefore, during his work, critically apply a few well known rules.
Since the scene is a part of the drama, set off from other parts, and is to prepare for the meaning of what follows in itself, to excite interest, to place a final result in a good light, and then to lead over to what may follow in the next scene,—minutely examined, it will be found to contain five parts, which correspond to the five divisions of the drama. In well wrought scenes, these parts are collectively effective. For it is impracticable to conduct the action in a straight line to the final result. A. feels, wills, demands something. B. meets him, thinking with him, disagreeing with him, opposing him. In every case, the projects of the one are checked by the other, and for a time at least, turned aside. In such scenes, whether they present a deed, a battle of words, an exhibition of feeling, it is desirable that the climax should not lie in a direct line which leads from the supposed conditions previous to the action, to the final results; but that it indicate the last point in a deviating direction, from which point the return action falls to the direct line again. Let it be the business of a scene to render B. harmless through A.; its proposed result, B’s promise to be harmless. Beginning of the scene: A. entreats B. to be no longer a disturber of the peace; if B. is already willing to yield to this wish, a longer scene is not needed. If he accepts passively A’s reasons, the scene moves forward in a direct line; but it is in great danger of becoming wearisome. But if B. puts himself on his defensive, and persists in continuing the disturbance or denies it, then the dialogue runs to a point where B. is as far as possible from the wish of A. From here, an approach of points of view begins, the reasons put forth by A. show themselves strongest, till B. yields.
But since every scene points to what follows, this pyramidal structure is frequently changed into the profile of a shore-beating wave, with long ascending line, and short falling side,óbeginning, ascent, final result.
According to the number of persons they contain, scenes are determined differently, and are subject to varied arrangement. The monologue gives the hero of the modern stage opportunity, in perfect independence of an observing chorus, to reveal to the audience his most secret feeling and volition. It might be supposed that such confiding to the hearer would be very acceptable; but it is often not the case. So great is the influence of the struggle of each man, on every purpose of the drama, that every isolation of an individual must have a special justification. Only where a rich inner life has been concealed for a long time in the general play, does the auditor tolerate its private revelation. But in cases where artistic intrigue playing will make the audience a confidant, the spectator cares little for the quiet expression of an individual; he prefers to gather for himself the connection and the contrasts of characters, from a dialogue. Monologues have a likeness to the ancient pathos-scene; but with the numerous opportunities which our stage offers for characters to expose their inner lives, and with the changed purpose of dramatic effects through the actor’s art, they are no necessary additions to the modern drama.
Since monologues represent a pause for rest in the course of the action, and place the speaker in a significant manner before the hearer, they need in advance of themselves an excited tension of feeling in the audience, and then a line of division either before or after them. But whether they open an act or close it, or are placed between two scenes of commotion, they must always be constructed dramatically. Something presented on one side, something on the other side; final result, and indeed, final result that wins something significant for the action itself. Let the two monologues of Hamlet in the rising action be compared. The second celebrated soliloquy “To be or not to be,” is a profound revelation of Hamlet’s soul, but no advance at all for the action, as it introduces no new volition of the hero; through the exposition of the inner struggle, it only explains his dilatoriness. The previous monologue, on the contrary, a masterpiece of dramatic emotion,—even this, the outburst resulting from the previous scene, has as its foundation a simple resolution; Hamlet says: (1) “The actor exhibits so great earnestness in mere play; (2) I sneak along inactive, in the midst of the greatest earnestness; (3) to the work! I will institute a play, in order to win resolution for an earnest deed.” In this last sentence, the result of the entire preceding scene is at once concentrated, the effect which the interview with the players produces on the character of the hero, and on the course of the action.
Effective soliloquies have naturally become favorite passages with the public. In Schiller’s and in Goethe’s plays, they are presented with great fondness by the rising generation. Lessing would hardly have sought this kind of dramatic effects, even if he had written more than Nathan The Wise in our iambics.
Next to the monologues, stand the announcements by messenger in our drama. As the former represent the lyric element, the latter stand for the epic. They have been already discussed. Since it is their task to relieve the tension already produced that they may be well received, the effect which they produce on the counter-players of the messenger, or perhaps on himself, must be very apparent. An intense counter-play must accompany and interrupt a longer communication, without, of course, outdoing it. Schiller, who is very fond of these messenger speeches, gives copious examples which serve not only for imitation but for warning. Wallenistein alone contains a whole assortment of them. In the beautiful model speeches, “There is in human life,” and “We stand not idly waiting for invasion,” the poet has connected the highest dramatic suspense with the epic situations. Wallenstein’s inspiration and prophetic power appear nowhere so powerful as in his narratives. In the announcement of the Swede, however, the dumb play of the mortally wounded Thekla is in the strongest contrast with the behavior and the message of the active stranger. Moreover, this drama has other descriptions,—for example, the Bohemian cup and the room of the astrologer,—the curtailing or removal of which would be an advantage on the stage.
The most important part of an action has its place in the dialogue scenes, specially scenes between two persons. The contents of these scenes,—something set forth, something set forth against it, perception against perception, emotion against emotion, volition against volition,—have with us, deviating from the uniform method of the ancients, found the most manifold elaboration. The purpose of every colloquy scene is to bring into prominence from the assertions and counter-assertions, a result which impels the action further. While the ancient dialogue was a strife, which usually exercised no immediate influence on the soul of the participants, the modern dialogue understands how to persuade, demonstrate, bring over to the speaker’s point of view. The arguments of the hero and his adversary are not, as in the Greek tragedy, rhetorical word-contests; but they grow out of the character and spirit of the persons contending; and the hearer is carefully instructed how far they are to express real feeling and conviction, and how far they shall mislead.
The aggressor must arrange the grounds of his attack exactly according to the personal character of his antagonist, or he must draw his motives truly from the depths of his own being. But in order that what has a purpose, or what is true, may be fully conceived by the hearer, there is needed a certain trend of speech and reply on the stage, not in the regular course, conformable to custom, as among the Greeks or old Spanish, but essentially different from the way in which we undertake to convince any one in real life. To the character on the stage, time is limited; he has no arguments to bring forward in a continuously progressive order of effects; he has to explain impressively for his hearer, what is most effective for the time and situation. In reality, such a conflict of opinions may be in many parts, and may rest upon numerous grounds and opposing grounds; the victory may long hang doubtful; possibly an insignificant, subordinate reason may finally determine the outcome; but this is not, as a rule, possible on the stage, as it is not effective.
Therefore, it is the duty of the poet to gather up these contrasts in a few utterances, and to express their inner significance with continuous, progressive force. In our plays, the reasonings of one strike like waves against the soul of the other, broken at first by resistance, then rising higher, till, perhaps, at last they rise above the resistance itself. It happens according to an old law of composition, that frequently the third such wave-beat gives the decision; for if the proposition and counter-proposition have each made two excursions, by these two stages the hearer is sufficiently prepared for the decision; he has received a strong impulse, and has been rendered capable of conveniently comparing the weight of the reasons with the strength of the character on which they are to work. Such dialogue scenes have been finely elaborated with great attractiveness on our stage, since Lessing’s time. They correspond much to the joy of the Germans in a rational discussion of a matter of business. Celebrated roles of our stage are indebted for their success to them alone,—Marinelli, Carlos in Clavigo, Wrangel in Wallenstein.
Since the poet must so fashion the dialogue scene that the progress which it makes for the action becomes impressed upon the hearer, the technique of these scenes will be different according to the position in which they find the participants, and in which they leave them. The matter will be simplest when the intruder overcomes the one whom he attacks; then two or three approaches and separations occur, till the victory of one, or if the attacked person is more tractable, there is a gradual coming over. A scene of such persuasion, of simple structure, is the dialogue in the beginning of Brutus and Cassius’ relations; Cassius presses, Brutus yields to his demands. The dialogue has a short introduction, three parts, and a conclusion. The middle part is of special beauty and great finish. Introduction, Cassius says, in effect, “You seem unfriendly toward me, Brutus.” Brutus, “Not from coldness.” The parts: 1. Cassius, “Much is hoped from you” (frequently interrupted with assurances that Brutus can trust him, and from cries without, calling attention to Caesar). 2. “What is Caesar more than we?” 3. “Our wills shall make us free.” Conclusion, Brutus, “I will consider it.”
But if the speakers separate without coming to terms, their position with reference to each other must not remain unchanged during the scene. It is intolerable to the audience to perceive such lack of progress in the action. In such a case, the trend of one or both must be broken, enough so, that in another place in the action they apparently agree, and after this point of apparent agreement again turn away from each other with energy. The inner emotions through which these changes of relation are affected, must be not only genuine but adapted to produce what follows, not mere conflicting whims arranged for the sake of a scenic effect but of no service to the action or the characters.
By unconnected talk, it is possible to bring into the field numerous reasons and counter-reasons, and to give the lines a sharper turn; but on the whole, the structure remains in form, as was indicated in the comparison with a roaring wave; a gradual movement upward to the climax, result, a short close. This is illustrated in the great quarrel scene between Egmont and Orange, indeed the best wrought part of the drama. It is composed of four parts, before which there is an introduction, and after which there is a conclusion. Introduction, Orange: “The queen regent will depart.” Egmont: “She will not.” First part. Orange: “And if another comes?” Egmont: “He will do as his predecessor did.” Second part, Orange: “This time, he will seize our heads.” Egmont: “That is impossible.” Third part. Orange: “Alba is under way; let us go into our province.” Egmont: “Then we are rebels.” Here there is a turn; from this point, Egmont is the aggressor. Fourth part, Egmont: “You are acting irresponsibly.” Orange: “Only with foresight.” Orange: “I will go and deplore you as lost.” The last uniting of these disputants into a harmonious spirit forms a fine contrast to Egmont’s previous violence.
The scenes between two persons have received special significance in the new drama, scenes in which two persons seem decidedly to cherish one opinion, love scenes. They have not originated in the ephemeral taste, or passing tenderness of poets and spectators, but through an original mental characteristic of the Germans. Ever since the earliest times, love-making, the approach of the young hero to a young maiden, has been specially charming to German poetry. It has been the ruling poetic inclination of the people to surround the relations of lovers before marriage, with a dignity and a nobility of which the ancient world knew nothing. In no direction has the contrast of the Germans with ancient peoples shown itself more markedly; through all the art of the middle ages, even to the present, this significant feature is noticeable. Even in the serious drama, it prevails with a higher justification. This most attractive and lovely relation of all the earth, is brought into connection with the dark and awful, as complementary contrast, for the highest degree of tragic effect.
During the poet’s work, indeed, these scenes are not the most convenient part of his creation; and everyone will not succeed in them. It is not a useless work to compare with each other the greatest love scenes in our possession, the three scenes with Romeo at the masked ball, the balcony scene, before and after the marriage night, and Gretchen in the garden. In the first Romeo scene, the poet has set the most difficult task for the actor’s art; in it, the speech of the beginning passion is wonderfully abrupt and brief; from behind the polite play of words, which was current in Shakespeare’s time, the growing feeling appears only in lightning flashes. Indeed, the poet perceived into what difficulties a fuller speech would plunge him. The first balcony scene has always been considered a masterpiece of the poetic art; but when one analyzes the exalted beauty of its verses, one is astonished to find how eloquently, and with what unrestrained enjoyment, the spirits of the lovers are able to sport with their passionate feeling. Beautiful words, delicate comparisons, are so massed that we sometimes almost feel the art to be artful. For the third, the morning scene, the idea of the old minnesongs and popular songs,—the song of the watchmen,—are made use of in a most charming manner.
Goethe, also, in his most beautiful love scene has made poetic use of popular reminiscences; he has composed the declaration of love, in his own manner, out of little lyric and epic moments, which —though not entirely favorable for a great effect, —he interrupts through the incisive contrast, Martha and Mephistopheles. This circumstance, also, reminds us that the dramatist was a great lyric poet, in that Faust retires for the most part, and the scenes are not much other than soliloquies of Gretchen. But each of the three little parts of which the picture is composed is of wonderful beauty.
To the enthusiastic Schiller, on the other hand, while he was writing iambics, success in this kind of scenes was not accorded. He succeeded best in The Bride of Messina. But in William Tell, the scene between Rudenz and Bertha is without life; and even in Wallenstein, when such a scene was quite necessary, he has through the absence of Countess Terzky put a damper on it; Thekla must keep the loved one from the camp and from the astrologer’s room, till finally by herself for a brief time, she can utter the significant warning.
The brilliant examples of Shakespeare and Goethe show, also, the danger of these scenes. This, too, must be discussed. The utterance of lyric emotions on the stage, if it is at all continued, will, in spite of all poetic art, certainly weary the hearer; it becomes the dramatic poet’s profitable task then, to invent a little occurrence in which the ardent feeling of the loving pair can express itself by mutual participation in a moment of the action; in this way he possesses the dramatic thread on which to string his pearls. The sweet love chatter which has no purpose beyond itself, he will rightly avoid; and where it is inevitable, he will replace with the beauty of poetry what he, as a conscientious man, must take from the length of such scenes.
The entrance of a third person into the dialogue gives it a different character. As through the third man the stage picture receives a middle point, and the setting up of a group, so the third man often becomes, in import, an arbitrator or judge before whom the two parties lay the reasons they have at heart. These reasons of the two parties are, in such a case, arranged directly for him, according to his disposition, and thereby take on the nature of something that is known. The course of the scene becomes slower; between speech and response, a judgment enters which must, also, present itself to the hearer with some significance. Or the third player is himself a party and associate of one side. In this case, the utterances of one party will become more rapid, must break out with more feeling, because from the interested hearer, greater intensity of attention is exacted, while he must put the character and import of two persons in one scale.
Finally, the third and most infrequent case is that each of the three sets up his will against the other two. Such scenes are sometimes serviceable as the last notes of a relieved suspense. They have but a brief service to render; for the three speakers utter themselves really in monologues: thus the scene with Margaret in Richard III., where one character gives the melody, both the other characters in contrasts give the accompaniment. But such scenes with three players rarely gain significance in greater elaboration, except when at least one of the players goes over to the point of view of another in simulated play.
Scenes which collect more than three persons for active participation in the action, the so-called ensemble scenes, have become an indispensable element in our drama. They were unknown to the old tragedy; a part of their service was replaced by a union of a solo actor and the chorus. They do not comprise, in the newer drama, specially, the highest tragic effects, although a greater part of the most animated action is executed in them. For it is a truth not sufficiently regarded, that what originates from many, or consists of many things, excites and holds attention less than what receives its vividness or comes alive from the soul of the chief figures. The interest in the dramatic life of the subordinate characters is less, and the remaining of many participants on the stage may easily distract the eye or the curiosity, rather than attract and arouse. On the whole, the nature of these scenes is that by good management on the part of the poet, they keep the audience busily occupied and relieve the suspense created by the chief heroes; or they help to call forth such a suspense in the souls of the chief figures. They have, therefore, the character of preparatory, or of closing scenes.
It hardly need be mentioned that their peculiarities do not always become apparent when more than three persons are on the stage. For when a few chief roles alone, or almost exclusively, present the action, accessory figures may be desirable in considerable number. A council scene or parade scene may easily collect a multitude of actors on the stage, without their coming forward actively in the action.
The first direction for the construction of the ensemble scene is, the whole company must be occupied in a manner characteristic of the persons and as the action demands. They are like invited guests, for whose mental activity the poet must, as invisible host, have incessant care. During the progress of the action, he must perceive clearly the effects which the individual processes, speech, response, produce on each of the participants in the play.
It is evident that one person must not express in the presence of another person on the stage, what this one is not to hear; the usual device of an aside must be used only in extreme cases, and for a few words. But there is a greater difficulty. A role must also not express anything to which another person present is to give an answer which, according to his character, is necessary, but which would be useless and clogging to the action. In order to be just to all characters in a scene full of persons, the poet must have unrestricted mastery of his heroes, and a clear vision for stage pictures. For every individual role influences the mood and bearing of every other, and has a tendency, besides, to limit the freedom of expression of the others. In such scenes, therefore, the art of the poet will specially show itself by setting the characters in contrast, through sharp little strokes. And it is well to observe that suitably to occupy all of the collected persons is rendered difficult by the nature of our stage, which incloses the actors by its curtains as in a hall; and if the poet does not take definite precautions, as it is often impossible to do, this makes the separation of individuals difficult.
But further, the more numerous the actors invited into a scene, the less space individuals have to express themselves in their own way. The poet must also see to it that the respective parts of the action are not broken up into fragments by the greater number of participants and made to move forward monotonously in little waves; and as he arranges the persons in groups, he must likewise arrange the action of the scene so that the movement of subordinate roles does not excessively limit the movement of the leading characters. Hence the value of the principle: the greater the number of persons in a scene, the stronger must be the organization of the structure. The chief parts must then be so much the more prominent, now the individual leading moods in contrast with the majority, now the cooperation of the whole stand in the foreground.
Since with a greater number of players, the individual is easily concealed, those places in the ensemble scene are specially difficult in which the effect of any thing done is made to appear upon individual participants. When in such a case, a single brief word thrown in does not suffice to inform the spectator, some contrivance is needed which, without appearing to do so, separates the individual from the group and brings him to the front. It is entirely impracticable in such a case suddenly to interrupt the dramatic movement of the majority, and convert all the others into silent and inactive spectators of the private revelations of an individual.
The more rapidly the action moves forward in concerted play, the more difficult the isolation of the individual becomes. When the action has attained a certain height and momentum, it is not always possible even with the greatest art, to afford the chief actor room for a desirable exhibition of his inmost mood. Hence for such scenes, the value of the third law: the poet will not have his persons say all that is characteristic of them, and that would be necessary in itself for their roles. For here arises an inner opposition between the requisites of single roles and the advantage of the whole. Every person on the stage demands a share for himself in the progress of the action, so far as his associated relation with the other characters of the scene allows it. The poet is under the necessity, however, of limiting this share. Even chief characters must sometimes accompany with dumb play, when in real life opportunity would be given to engage in the conversation. On the other hand, a long silence is embarrassing to a player, the subordinate character becomes wearied and sinks into a stage walker, the chief character feels keenly the wrong which is done to his part; far less, he feels its higher necessity. It does not always suffice for the right aggregate effect, that the poet have regard to the activity of the roles not standing entirely in the foreground, and by means of a few words, or by means of a not unknown employment, afford to the actor a certain direction for his dumb play, and at the same time a transition to the place where he shall again participate in the action. There are extreme cases where the same thing is valuable in a scene, that is allowed in a great painting showing numerous figures in vigorous action and complication. Just as in the picture, the swing of the chief lines is so important that the right foreshortening of an arm or a foot must be sacrificed to it, so in the strong current of a scene rich in figures, the representation necessary for individual characters must be given up for the sake of the course, and the aggregate effect of the scene. In order that the poet may be able to practice attractively such offered deceptions, his understanding must be clear that in themselves they are blemishes.
It is really to the advantage of a piece, to limit the number of players as much as possible. Every additional role makes the setting more difficult, and renders the repetition of the piece inconvenient, in case of the illness or withdrawal of an actor. These external considerations alone will determine the poet to weigh well, in composing his ensemble scenes, what figures are absolutely indispensable. Here comes an internal consideration: the greater the number of accessory persons in a scene, so much the more time it claims.
The ensemble scenes are, of course, an essential help to give to the piece color and brilliancy. They can hardly be spared in using historical subjects. But they must be used in such pieces with moderation, because more than the others they make success depend on the skill of the manager, and because in them, the elaborate representation of the inner life of the chief figures, a minute portrayal of the mental processes, which claim the highest dramatic interest, is much more difficult. The second half of the piece will demand them most urgently, because here the activity of the counterplayers comes forward more powerfully, tolerated, however, without injury, only when in this division of the action, the ardent sympathy of the spectators has already been immovably fixed with the chief characters. Here, too, the poet must take care not to keep the inner life of the hero too long concealed.
One of the most beautiful ensemble scenes of Shakespeare is the banquet scene in Pompey’s gallery, Antony and Cleopatra. It contains no chief part of the action, and is essentially a situation scene, a thing not occurring frequently in the tragic part of the action in Shakespeare. But it receives a certain significance, because it is at the close of the second act, and also stands in a place demanding eminence, especially in this piece, in which the preceding political explanations make a variegated and animated picture very desirable. The abundance of little characterizing traits which are united in this scene, their close condensation, above all, the technical arrangement, are admirable. The scene is introduced by a short conversation among servants, as is frequently the case in Shakespeare, in order to provide for the setting of the tables and the arrangement of the furniture on the stage. The scene itself is in three parts. The first part presents the haughty utterances of the reconciled triumvirs, and the pedantry of the drunken simpleton, Lepidus, to whom the servants have already referred; the second, in terrible contrast, is the secret interview of Pompey and Menas; the third, introduced by the bearing out of the drunken Lepidus, is the climax of the wild Bacchanalia and rampant drunkenness. The connecting of the three parts, as Menas draws Pompey aside, as Pompey again in the company of Lepidus, resuming, continues the carouse, is quite worthy of notice. Not a word in the whole scene is without its use and significance; the poet perceives every moment the condition of the individual figures, and of the accessory persons; each takes hold of the action effectively; for the manager, as well as for the roles, the whole is adapted in a masterly way. From the first news of Antony across the Nile,—through which the image of Cleopatra is introduced even into this scene,—and the simple remark of Lepidus, “You have strange serpents there,” through which an impression is made on the mind of the hearer, that prepares for Cleopatra’s death by a serpent’s sting, to the last words of Antony, “Good; give me your hand, sir,” in which the intoxicated man involuntarily recognizes the superiority of Augustus Caesar, and even to the following drunken speeches of Pompey and Enobarbus, everything is like fine chiseled work on a firmly articulated metal frame.
A comparison of this scene with the close of the banquet act in The Piccolomini, is instructive. The internal similarity is so great that one is obliged to think Schiller had the Shakespearean performance before his eyes. Here also, a poetic power is to be admired, which can conduct a great number of figures with absolute certainty; and here is a great wealth of significant forces, and a powerful climax in the structure. But what is characteristic of Schiller, these forces are partly of an episodical nature; the whole is planned more broadly and extensively. This last has its justification. For the scene stands at the end, not of the second, but of the fourth act, and it contains an essential part of the action, the acquisition of the portentous signature; it would have had a still greater place if the banquet did not fill the entire act. The connection of parts is exactly as in Shakespeare.21 First comes an introductory conversation between servants, which is spun out in disproportionate dimensions; the description of the drinking cup has no right to take our attention, because the cup itself has nothing further to do with the action, and the numerous side lights which fall from this description upon the general situation are no longer strong enough. Then comes an action, also in three parts: first, Terzky’s endeavor to get the signature from accessory persons; second, in sharp contrast with the first, the brief conversation of the Piccolomini; third, the decision, as a strife of the drunken Illo with Max. Here the union of the individual parts of the scene is very careful. Octavio, through Buttler’s cautious investigation, quietly calls attention away from the excited group of generals toward his son; through the search for the wanting name, attention is completely turned to Max. Hereupon the intoxicated Illo turns first with great significance to Octavio before his collision with Max. The uniting and separating of the different groups, the bringing into prominence the Piccolomini, the excited side-play of the accessory characters, even to the powerful close, are very beautiful.
Besides, we possess two powerful mass scenes of Schiller, the greatest out of the greatest time of our poetic art; the Riitli scene, and the first act of Demetrius. Both are models which the beginner in dramatic work may not imitate, but may study carefully, in their sublime beauty. Whatever must be said against the dramatic construction of William Tell, upon single scenes there rests a charm, which continually carries one away with new admiration. In the Riitli scene, the dramatic movement is a moderately restrained one, the execution broad, splendid, full of beautiful local color. First, there is an introduction, the mood. It consists of three parts: arrival of the under forester, interview of Melchthal and Stauffacher, greeting of the cantons. Let it be noted that the poet has avoided wearying by a triple emphasizing of the entrance of the three cantons. Two chief figures here bring themselves into powerful contrast with the subordinate figures, and form a little climax for the introduction; and distraction through several forces of equal impulse, is avoided. With the entrance of the Urians, through whose horn the descent from the mountain, and the discourse of those present is sufficiently emphasized, the action begins. This action runs along in five parts. First, appointment for public meeting, with short speeches and hearty participation of the subordinate persons; second, after this, Stauffacher’s magnificent representation of the nature and aim of the confederation; third, after this powerful address of the individual, excited conflict of opinions and parties concerning the position of the confederation with reference to the emperor; fourth, high degree of opposition, even to an outbreaking strife over the means of release from the despotism of the governors, and disagreement over the conclusions. Finally, fifth, the solemn oath. After such a conclusion of the action, there is the dying away of the mood which takes its tone from the surrounding nature, and the rising sun. With this rich organization, the beauty in the relations of the single parts is especially attractive. The middle point of this whole group of dramatic incidents or forces, Stauffacher’s address, comes out as climax; after this as contrast, the restless commotion in the masses, the dawning satisfaction, and the lofty exaltation. Not less beautiful is the treatment of the numerous accessory figures, the independent seizing upon the action by single little roles, which in their significance for the scene stand near each other with a certain republican equality of justification.
The greatest model for political action is the opening scene in Demetrius, the Polish parliament. The subject of this drama makes the communication of many presupposed conditions necessary; the peculiar adventures of the boy, Demetrius, demanded a vigorous use of peculiar colors, in order to bring that strange world poetically near. Schiller, with the bold majesty peculiar to himself, made the epic narrative the center of a richly adorned spectacular scene, and surrounded the long recital of the individual, with the impassioned movements of the masses. After a short introduction follows, with the entrance of Demetrius, a scene in four parts, (1) the narrative of Demetrius, (2) the short, condensed repetition of the same by the archbishop, and the first waves which are thereby excited in the gathering, (3) the entreaty of Demetrius for support, and the increase of the agitation, (4) counter argument and protest of Sapieha. The scene ends with tumult and a sudden breaking off. By means of a slight dramatic force, it is connected with the following dialogue between Demetrius and the king. The excitement of the subordinate characters is brief but violent, the leaders of opinion few; except Demetrius, there is only one raising strong opposition, from all the mass. It is perceived and felt that the masses have been given their mood in advance; the narrative of Demetrius, in its elegant elaboration forms the chief part of the scene, as was befitting for the first act.
Goethe has left us no mass scene of great dramatic effect unless we are to consider some short scenes in Götz as such. The populace scenes in Egmont lack in powerful commotion; the beautiful promenade in Faust is composed of little dramatic pictures; the student scene in Auerbach’s cellar proposes no tragic effect, and presents to the actor of Faust, the disadvantage that it leaves him idle, unoccupied on the stage.
The action scenes in which great masses work, demand the special support of the manager. If our stages have already, in the chorus personnel of the opera, a tolerable number of players, and these are accustomed to render service as stage-walkers, yet the number of persons who can be collected on the stage is often so small as to be lost sight of, when compared with the multitude which in real life participate in a populace scene, in a fight, in a great uproar.
The auditor, therefore, easily feels the emptiness and scantiness as he sits before the little crowd that is led in. It is also a disadvantage that the modern stage is little adapted to the disposition of great masses. Now, of course, the external arrangement of such scenes is for the most part in the hands of the manager; but it is the poet’s task through his art, to make it easy for the manager to produce the appearance of a lively multitude on the stage.
Since the entrance and exit of a great number of persons requires considerable time and distracts attention, this must be attracted and retained by suggestive little contrivances, and through the distribution of the masses in groups.
The space of the stage must be so arranged, that the comparatively small number of really available players can not be overlooked,—by shifting sidescenes, good perspective, an arrangement along the sides that shall suggest to the fancy greater invisible multitudes which make themselves noticeable by signs and calls to each other behind the scenes.
Brilliant spectacular pageants, such as Iffland arranged for The Maid of Orleans, the composer of a tragedy will deny himself with right; he will avoid as much as possible, the opportunity for this.
On the other hand, mass effects in which the multitude surges in violent commotion, populace-scenes, great council assemblies, camps, battles, are sometimes desirable.
For populace scenes, the beautiful treatment of Shakespeare has become a model often patterned after,—short, forcible speeches of individual figures, almost always in prose, interrupting and enlivening cries of the crowd, which receives its incitement from individual leaders. By means of a populace scene on the stage, other effects may be produced, not the highest dramatic effects, but yet significant, which till the present time have been little esteemed by our poets. Since we should not give up verse in populace scenes, another treatment of the crowd is offered than that which Shakespeare loved. Now the introduction of the old chorus is impossible. The new animation which Schiller attempted, dare not find imitation, in spite of the fulness [sic] of poetic beauty which is so enchanting in the choruses of the Bride of Messina. But between the chief actors and a great number of subordinate actors, there is still another, dramatic, animated, concerted play conceivable, which connects the leader with the multitude as well as places him over against it. Not only short cries, but also speeches which require several verses, receive an increased power through the concert recitation of several with well practiced inflection and in measured time. With the multitude introduced in this way, the poet will be put in a position to give it a more worthy share in the action; in the change from single voices to three, or four, and to the whole together, between the clear tenor and powerful bass, he will be able to produce numerous shades, modulations, and colors. With this concert speech of great masses, he must take care that the meaning of the sentence, and the weight and energy of the expression correspond; that the words are easily understood and without discord; that the individual parts of the sentence form a pleasing contrast.
It is not true that this treatment puts on the stage an artificial instead of a varied and natural movement; for the usual manner of arranging populace scenes is an accepted artistic one, which transforms the course of the action according to a scheme. The way proposed here is only more effective. In making use of it, the poet may conceal his art, and by alternating in the use of the concert speech and counter-speech, produce variety. The sonorous speech in many voices is adapted not only to animated quarrels and discussions, it is available for every mood which effervesces in a popular tumult. On our stage up to the present time, the practice of concert speech has been unaccountably neglected; it is often only an unintelligible scream. The poet will do well, therefore, to indicate specifically in the stage copies of his plays, how the voice groups are to be divided. In order to indicate this properly, he must have first felt the effects distinctly in advance.
Battle scenes are in bad repute on the German stage, and are avoided by the poet with foresight. The reason is, again, that our theaters do such things badly. Shakespeare has an undeniable fondness for martial movements of masses. He has not at all lessened them in his later pieces; and since he occasionally speaks with little respect of the means by which fights are represented in his theater, one is justified in believing that he would willingly have kept away from them if his audiences had not liked them so well. But upon such a martial-spirited people, who passionately cultivated all manner of physical exercise, such an impression was possible only when in these scenes a certain art and technique were evident, and when the conventionalities of the stage did not make them deplorable. Scenes like the fight of Coriolanus and Aufidius, Macbeth and Macduff, the camp scenes
in Richard III. and Julius Cæsar, have such weight and significance that it is evident with what confidence Shakespeare trusted in their effects. In more recent times, on the English stage, these martial scenes have been embellished with a profusion of accessories, and their effects wonderfully enhanced; the audience has been only too much occupied with them. If in Germany there is too little of this occurring, this negligence can afford the poet no grounds to keep himself anxiously free from battle scenes. There are accessory effects which can render him acceptable service. He must take a little pains, himself, to find out how they may be best arranged, and see to it that the stage does its duty.