In reading plays, however, it should always be remembered that any play, however great, loses much when not seen in action. As John Marston wrote in 1606: “Comedies are writ to be spoken, not read; remember the life of these things consists in action”; or, as Molière put it: “Comedies are made to be played, not to be read.” Any play is so planned that it can produce its exact effect only with its required scenery, lighting, and acting. And that acting means the gesture, movement, and voice of the actor. Above all, it means the voice, the instrument which conveys to the audience the exact shade of meaning of the author and, like music, opens up the emotions. Drama read to oneself is never drama at its best, and is not even drama as it should be. Usually, too, just because readers do not recognize the difference between drama and other forms of fiction, they lose the effects they might gain even in reading. Closer attention than with a novel or short story is required. The dramatist does not guide us by explanations, analysis, and comment in our visualizing of his figures. Instead, he depends on a few stage directions as to their movements, and on the rightness of his chosen words in the dialogue. Unfortunately, many a reader, accustomed to hasty reading of the sketchy stories so common in the magazines, does not piece out what is given him but sees only just what the words of the text force him to see with no effort on his part. He is not active and cooperative. No play read in this way yields its real value. First, see in your mind the setting as described. Then, reading sympathetically, thoughtfully, and slowly if need be, visualize the figures as they come and go. The lines of any good play mean more than appears at a hasty glance. They have been chosen not simply because they say what the character might have said, but because what is said will advance the plot, and, because better than some half dozen other phrases considered by the author, they will rouse the emotions of the audience. Keep the sympathetic, not the critical mood, to the fore. Reading to visualize, feel because you visualize, and feel as fully as you can. Then when you close the book, moved and admiring, and then only, let your critical training tell you whether you have done well to admire. Don’t let prejudices, moral or artistic, cause prejudgments: keep an open mind as you read. A writer may so treat a subject for which you have never cared as to make you care for it. He may so treat a subject you have regarded as taboo as to make it acceptable and helpful. Don’t assume because a play is different from the plays you have known that it is bad. As the general editor has said: “It is precisely this encounter with the mental states of other generations which enlarges the outlook and sympathies of the cultivated man.” When a play of a different nation or period at first proves unattractive, don’t assume that it will remain so. Rather, study the conditions of stage and audience which gave it being. Usually this will transmute a seemingly dull play into a living, appealing work of art. In any case, when you have finished reading, judge with discretion. Say, if you like, “This play is not for me—for a person of my tastes,” but not, “This is a bad play for all,” unless you are able to explain why what is poison for you should be poison for the general public. In all the great periods of the drama perfect freedom of choice and subject, perfect freedom of individual treatment, and an audience eager to give itself to sympathetic listening, even if instruction be involved, have brought the great results. If a public widely read in the drama of the past and judging it as suggested would come to the acting drama of to-day in exactly that spirit, almost anything would become possible for our dramatists.

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