"And since our plays...are exaltations of the human spirit, since that is what an audience expects when it comes to the theatre, the playwright...must so arrange his story that it will prove to the audience that men pass through suffering purified, that, animal though we are, despicable though we are in many ways, there is in us all some divine, incalculable fire that urges us to be better than we are...[I]n the majority of ancient and modern plays it seems to me that what the audience wants to believe is that men have a desire to break the molds of earth which encase them and claim kinship with a higher morality than that which hems them in...[They want to see plays that show] the groping of men toward and excellence dimly apprehended, seldom possible of definition. [Such plays] are evidence to me that the theatre at its best is a religious affirmation, an age-old rite restating and reassuring men's belief in his own destiny and his ultimate hope. The theatre is much older than the doctrine of evolution, but its one faith, assseverated again and again for every age and every year, is a faith in evolution, in the reaching and the climb of men toward distant goals, glimpsed but never seen, perhaps never achieved, or achieved only to be passed impatiently on the way to a more distant horizon." (1939)
What I see in this quotation, among many other things, and what I also say in The Time of Your Life, is a tremendous sense of optimism, a belief in mankind's ability to remain hopeful in the face of adversity, and a belief in his ability to make things better. Many would call this naive, and others would say it is impossible to hold onto those beliefs in the face of everything that has happened in the world. But what Anderson is saying, and I agree with him, is that the basis of tragedy is exactly this sense of courage and hope in the face of pain and inhumanity; the refusal to allow such inhumanity to seep into one's own consciousness. At one time, 75 years ago, such tragic pluck was valued, and the theatre served to reinforce the courage necessary to face the trials of each day. And so far, it has been a joy to encounter it.
Friday, March 10, 2006
Maxwell Anderson on Tragedy
I may have mentioned that I am preparing a new class for the fall on the American theatre of the 1920s and 1930s. I began reading plays and essays this week (I just finished The Time of Your Life, which was quite engaging). In a little book entitled American Playwrights on Drama, I found an essay by Maxwell Anderson entitled "The Essence of Tragedy." In it, he says the following:
Posted by Scott Walters at 10:05 PM