restricted access Audiences, Producers, Plays, Poets
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288 ] Audiences, Producers, Plays, Poets1 New Verse, 18 (Dec 1935) 3-4 It becomes much more difficult to find anything worth saying about dramatic verse, once you begin trying to write it. And theoretically, we should leave theory about contemporary drama until we have produced some contemporary drama to theorise about. We admit that we cannot expect to produce a new dramatic literature until we have the audiences and also the producers capable of helping the poets to write for the theatre. On the other hand the producers are checked until they have enough dramatic repertory with which to feed and train the audiences. I believe that the deficiency of plays is more serious at present than the lack of producers or of possible members of audiences. We need not assume that the possible audiences represent one class rather than another, or one political tendency rather than another. So far as the dramatic artist is concerned “the people” is everybody except the present occupants of the stalls at the more expensive theatres. In a period in which dramatic verse is the normal theatrical form we may suppose that a poet has better opportunities of learning to be a good playwright than he has to-day. But at any time it is probably more possible for a poet to learn how to write a tolerable play, than for a playwright to learn how to write tolerable verse. Yet the poet who starts to write plays, to-day, should not expect to turn himself into a very good playwright. He must learn to work hard at an unfamiliar task for which he probably has no native gift, and to learn when (as well as when not) to be guided by those who know the theatre better than he does. As he is attempting to do something new on the stage, he will inevitably theorise a little about what he is doing: but I think he will be wise to aim at the minimum, rather than the maximum amount of theory, and for the most part keep his theories to himself. That does not exclude him from communicating to his colleagues any practical lessons he learns in the course of his experiments. The audience does not come to see what he does, in order to rally round a theory, but to be interested and excited. The indispensable merit of a verse play is that it shall be interesting, that it shall hold the audience all the time. And it will not do that, if the audience is expected to do too much of [ 289 Audiences, Producers, Plays, Poets the work. This is a very good exercise for poets, who seem to forget often that poetry, even to be readable, should be interesting. Second, the interest should be one interest throughout, not merely a succession of interests, or of momentary surprises. The play should have form: it needs more form than an ordinary conversation piece; it must have “dramatic form” and also the musical pattern which can be obtained only by verse; and the two forms must be one. Third: no models, only suggestions. Continual effort of self-criticism to find out what one can do and what one can’t, to build one’s form on one’s strength. This is expecting of the dramatic poet only the self-knowledge of the successful boxer or tennis-player. To violate every precedent, and break every rule except those mentioned above, if that will help to exploit one’s strength and render harmless one’s weakness. T. S. Eliot Note 1. TSE wrote to Geoffrey Grigson, editor of New Verse, on 3 Sept 1935: “I can see no harm in having a number about poets and the theatre. The great weakness is that so far there has been a great deal of talk about poets and the theatre and very little to show in the way of actual writing. I think that such a number ought to be late enough to include a critical examination of Rupert Doone’s Group Theatre, both of the aims which Doone has and of the actual accomplishment in his autumn production. It would be a good thing for the Group Theatre to receive friendly but unsparing criticism. I think that such movements are apt to suffer from not getting enough of encouragement and intelligent criticism well mixed. I shall be pretty busy up to December, but I would gladly try to write a short note for you on some...


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