Inter Ocean 22 May 1904 -- Wilstach on "Improving Shakespeare"
IMPROVING SHAKESPEARE. Among those who keep abreast of current theatrical . discussions., and frequently air their views upon the progress, decadence, trend, and health of the drama, native and foreign, la Frank J. of the house of Wll-stach, Wll-stach, Wll-stach, agents, managers, and owners. This particular Mr. Wilstach Is and has been for some time tbe director of Viola Allen's tours, and their success has been largely due .to his earnest and logically argumentative efforts efforts in behalf of the attraction. The appended characteristic Wilstachlan letter concerns the possibility of reaching tbe ludicrous extreme In the matter of studying studying Shakespeare by the aid of well meaning but still fallible annotators. Writes he:. "Caroline Wells, when ahe bullded her charming conglomeration of fun. 'The Nonsense Nonsense Anthology.' overlooked one Inexhaustible Inexhaustible occasion for merriment. Had she hit upon the pedagogue who la forever walling that Shakespeare's play 'were written for the theater and survive for the library,' -and-so -and-so -and-so -and-so supplants tbe actor with 'curiously discordant discordant foot notes, her wonderful little book would have been complete, and a gem beyond compare.- compare.- . - . "Several personally appointed noodles, sclntillant annotatora of the text of Shakespeare, Shakespeare, have been playing on this string for so long a time that they havecome to believe the tune a tuneful as they consider It true. But It is neither musical, nor is It a fact, that Shakespeare has ceased to be actable, and to understand the deeper meaning of the text one must depend upon a parcel of ridiculous comments, instead of the finer art of the actor, t "In order-to order-to order-to discover to what a low level of -absurdity -absurdity these foot note ninnies have sunk, all that is, necessary to do Is to pick up almost any copy of Shakespeare and read the annotations. The reader will there discover discover . such startling facts . as that . when Shakespeare said 'silly.' be meant 'absurd'; and that when be wrote 'boundless' he Intended Intended 'big.' - - - '."The pedagogue's purpose seems to be to deprive tbe reader of thinking for himself, or making use of his own Imagination. It Is. however, rather rough on Shakespeare to put him In the same class with the author of 'Mother Goose.' However, before entering upon an examination of some of the notes to Shakespeare, let us see what the annotators, annotators, who consider that Shakespeare Is for tbe library alone, have done for 'the old lady with the shoe.' Take 'Hey, Diddle, Diddle,' for example: 'Her. diddle diddle. a am m an Thm COW JU Tn llttl . To sea surl Th cat and th Addle, lumped over the moon; . k doa- doa- lauahad- lauahad- urh sDort. " And the dish raa away with tfca spoon. ."Here are Clara Austin Window's curious annotations: !" The following questions are suggested for atlm- atlm- ulatlna the dudII'b imagination -What -What la tha alsnitu-anca alsnitu-anca alsnitu-anca of the first Una? Hey arialnallir a pad character. "Do you understand that the cat had already br" to pixy the Addle? How did Of cat jump by the Drlaarte method? method? . What l a full moon? Vr'ae the due's iaunMng an evidence of wit ox humor, or mlirht thers have been a combination of the two elements? "Would It have been poaaible for the dog to see at sucn a alliance i - "The reader may. imagine that this ex ample . is' an unfair one to cite, but If he thinks so, let him scan the professor's ex aminatlon of a youth as to a salt box: - - Profeaaor What la a aalt box? ' "Studftnt It la a box made to contain aalt. - "Proft-aaor "Proft-aaor "Proft-aaor How la It divided T "Student Into a- a- aalt box end a box of Rait. "Profeaaor Verr wall! Ehow tha dlattnetlon. " "Hludrnt A aalt box may ba bera there la no tan; nut fail is aDMiuteiy ntcesrary to tna tx irtenea of a bcx of aalt. "Profeaaor Are not salt boxes otherwise " dl- dl- VldCOT; "Htudent Te: by a partition. "Hrofeaaor What la th uaa of thla DartltlonT ' "8tudnt To at-pa at-pa at-pa rata tha coaraa salt from the not. - - . Profeaaor How T Think a little. "Student To aeparata tha Aoa aalt from tha coarse.' ' 'Professor-To 'Professor-To 'Professor-To be cure; it la to aeparate the Una aft from the mars'; but are not salt boxes other- other- Wise astinstiinedT -. -. "Student Tea; Into possible, probable, and poal t!ve "Profeaaor Define these several kinds of salt Doaes. "Student- "Student- A posnlble aalt box la a aalt box yet unroiu in me nancs c.r tne carpenter. ... "Professor Whir ao? "Rtudent Because It hath never yet become a salt oox in taet. navina; never nao any rait in ft: and It mar Dosrlbly be anolled to eome other use. "Professor Very ri ue; for a Halt box which never hath, oath not now. and rerhaps may never have any Hit In it, can only be termed a possible salt oox. wnnt i a prooaoie salt dot r "Htudent It Is a en It box In th" hands of one irolna to a shop to buv salt, and wbo hath a dim tn his potket to par the e-rorer; e-rorer; e-rorer; and a dopKIv salt box Is one which bath actually ot salt In It. "Profeaaor What la -the -the abstract Idea of a salt box 7 "Student It Is tha Idea of a salt ho-r ho-r ho-r ahtre-te! ahtre-te! ahtre-te! from the Idea or .1 box. -or -or of salt, cr the salt box. nr the Lnx ef alt. . "Professor What la tha aalt called with respect to tne box 7 - - - r "Student It is celled. Its contents. "Professor Why so? "Student Fteoause the cook la content to find trn1v of salt In tha box. "Professor Ynti.are ilxht I sea you have not mtstpent year time. "The reader wilt say that It was very absurd absurd to state that any annotator ever applied "hny auch extraordinary comments on the text of Shakespeare. If be thinks in thlj way, be will presently be disillusioned. Let us take a few lines from Shakespeare's text and then discover the-notes the-notes the-notes to them: "O sleep. O gentle sleep. Nature's soft nurse, how have I frlahted thee. That thou no more wilt welrh my eyelids down And steep my senves In forgetfulnessT ' "Here are the annotations: "Not to the first line: This line mesns that sleep Is soft and caressing; but that the speaker has scared the timid creature, and is suffering from that dreadful disease Insomnia. And yet be is so lacking In discernment discernment that he asks bow the timid one has been frightened.' "Note to line two: 'Would It hot have been better for Shakespeare to have said, "Lovely nurse, Instead of "soft nurse." Certainly the bard did not mean that thla nurse was mushy.' "5ote to line three: 'It is evident that the' speaker cannot keep his eyes doted and going to sleep, forget. It is a very pretty figure, the idea of weishina; the lids down, say, with copper cents. This custom evidently evidently prevailed In Shakespeare's time. "Note to line four: 'Hasn't Shakespeare mads a frightful blunder In mixing his meta- meta- pbors? In Hne three be speaks of weighing the eyelids down, evidently with pennies; and In the fourth line speaks of steeping the sleepless person's sense that Is. holding the head over a pot of boiling water; 1. e., soaking the head.' -, -, "This Is the sort of thing that emanates from those persons who consider that Shakespeare Shakespeare ia for the study a ad not for the stage. But all one has to do to discover the complete complete absurdity of this notion is first to read the notes commonly affixed to one of the plays, and then see the play acted. - There are whole passages in tbe dramas which are entirely lest on tbe reader, unless he knows or sees the stage 'business' which goes with them. Lately, la Wahington, Ambrose Blerce saw a performance of Viola Allen's company 4n 'Twelfth Night.' After the famous kitchen scene, he said: 'I read the play this afternoon afternoon and I hadn't then the slightest notion that there was sneh a wealth of fun and comicality in the lines and situations. Afte all. It takes tbe actor to elucidate the text either by : inflexion, facial expression, or by what Is called "business." It is surprising to discover what a difference there is between between reading, a play and aeelng it well acted.' '"The duel scene of the comedy can be read without one grasping more than a pinch 01 me nuge duik 01 comicality. Unlets one knows the 'business' that goes with the lines, tbe fun is almost entirely lost. : "Take, for example, the following from Twelfth Night': "Sir Toby: 'Where are you. Sir Andrew r "Sir Andrew: 'Here I am.' "Now. there Is certainly nothing particularly particularly comic to these speeches, but see them properly rendered and they.become the occa-rion occa-rion occa-rion for shouts of laughter. The reader who has not seen the play upon the stage, does not anow mat sir Andrew has bid in a tree to escape the soldiers who have come to arrest Antonio, but whom he imagines have come to take htm in consequence of his duel with (jesano. bir Toby, In the meantime, baa bad a few saber thrusts with Antonio, and that person carried off. looks about for his friend Sir Andrew, crying. 'Where are vou. Sir Andrew r This individual, scared stiff, sticks hi head out from jt cluster of leave and answers plaintively. "Here 1 am.' Nor can a mere reader have any proper notion of ict. era! of Viola's lines, such as that: 'You're fair. If God did all,' and that other one: 'Poor lady, ahe bad as well love a dream,' unless spoken by an accomplished actress 'in the Play. "Now, Shakespeare left much of the sense of these passages, as he has hundreds of others, for the actor to Illustrate and em bellish. Consequently, In order to reallv know one of the plays In Its fullest sense. It must be seen upon tbe stage, for, as It has been said. Tbe drama were written for the theater. If Shakespeare had Intended them for the library be would have supplied his own notes and illustration and thus saved the world from a collection of ridiculous annotations. . . "The Individual who does not go to tk theater to see Shakespeare's play performed reminds one of that sapient Hooaler who did not visit the ruins of Pomreil. for the reason, as he expressed It, That they were out of repair.' repair.'