SHAKESPEARE AS A DRAMATIST
If lovers and friends of art wish fully to enjoy a creation of any kind, they delight in it as a whole, are permeated by the unity with which the artist has endowed it. To a person, on the other hand, who wishes to discuss such productions theoretically, to assert something about them, and therefore, to inform and instruct, discrimination becomes a duty. We believed we were fulfilling that duty in considering Shakespeare first as a poet in general, and then comparing him with the ancient and the most modern poets. And now we wish to complete our design by considering him as a dramatist.
Shakespeare’s name and worth belong to the history of poetry; but it is doing an injustice to all the dramatists of earlier and later ages to present his entire merit as belonging to the history of the theatre.
A person of universally acknowledged talent may make a doubtful use of his endowments. Not everything produced by such a superior mind is done in the most perfect way. Thus Shakespeare belongs essentially to the history of poetry; in the history of the theatre he figures only accidentally. Because we can admire him unqualifiedly in the first, we must in the latter take into consideration the conditions to which he submitted and not extol those conditions as either virtues or models.
We distinguish closely allied forms of poetic creation, which, however, in a vivid treatment often merge into each other: the epic, dialogue, drama, stage play, may be differentiated. An epic requires oral delivery to the many by a single individual; dialogue, speech in private company, where the multitude may, to be sure, be listeners; drama, conversation in actions, even though perhaps presented only to the imagination; stage play, all three together, inasmuch as it engages the sense of vision and may be grasped under certain conditions of local and personal presence.
It is in this sense that Shakespeare’s productions are most dramatic; he wins the reader by his mode of treatment, of disclosing man’s innermost life; the demands of the stage appear unessential to him, and thus he takes an easy course, and, in an intellectual sense, we serenely follow him. We transport ourselves with him from one locality to another; our imagination supplies all the intermediate actions that he omits; nay, we are grateful to him for arousing our spiritual faculties in so worthy a fashion. By producing everything in theatrical form, he facilitates the activity of the imagination; for we are more familiar with the “boards that mean the world” than with the world itself, and we may read and hear the most singular things and yet feel that they might actually take place before our eyes on the stage; hence the frequent failure of dramatizations of popular novels.