Every audience has the same experience at Abraham Lincoln, and I laugh privately when I think of that experience. The curtain goes up on a highly commonplace little parlour, and a few ordinary people chatting in a highly commonplace manner. They keep on chatting. The audience thinks to itself: “I’ve been done! What is this interminable small talk?” And it wants to call out a protest: “Hi! You fellows on the stage! Have you forgotten that there is an audience on the other side of the footlights, waiting for something to happen?” (Truly the ordinary people in the parlour do seem to be unaware of the existence of any audience.) But wait, audience! Already the author is winding his chains about you. Though you may not suspect it, you are already bound.... At the end of the first scene the audience, vaguely feeling the spell, wonders what on earth the nature of the spell is. At the end of the play it is perhaps still wondering what precisely the nature of the spell is.... But it fully and rapturously admits the reality of the spell. Indeed after the fall of the curtain, and after many falls of the curtain, the spell persists; the audience somehow cannot leave its seats, and the thought of the worry of the journey home and of last ’busses and trains is banished. Strange phenomenon! It occurs every night.
Arnold Bennett April 1919
The two speaking together: Kinsmen, you
Our stage, in mimic action, mould
A man’s character.
This is the wonder, always, everywhere—
Not that vast mutability which is event,
The pits and pinnacles of change,
But man’s desire and valiance that range
All circumstance, and come to port unspent.
Agents are these events, these ecstasies,
And tribulations, to prove the purities
Or poor oblivions that are our being. When
Beauty and peace possess us, they are none
But as they touch the beauty and peace of men,
Nor, when our days are done,
And the last utterance of doom must fall,
Is the doom anything
Memorable for its apparelling;
The bearing of man facing it is all.
So, kinsmen, we present
This for no loud event
That is but fugitive,
But that you may behold
Our mimic action mould
The spirit of man immortally to live.
First Chronicler: Once when a peril touched
Of freedom in our English ways,
And none renowned in government
Was equal found,
Came to the steadfast heart of one,
Who watched in lonely Huntingdon,
A summons, and he went,
And tyranny was bound,
And Cromwell was the lord of his event.
Second Chronicler: And in that land where
The pilgrim Mayflower came to rest,
Among the chosen, counselling,
Once, when bewilderment possessed
A people, none there was might draw
To fold the wandering thoughts of men,
And make as one the names again
Of liberty and law.