Page:The Harvard Classics Vol. 51; Lectures.djvu/362

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been validated.


DRAMA

I. GENERAL INTRODUCTION

By Professor George Pierce Baker

RARE is the human being, immature or mature, who has never felt an impulse to pretend he is some one or something else. The human being who has never felt pleasure in seeing such a pretending is rarer still. Back through the ages of barbarism and civilization, in all tongues, we find this instinctive pleasure in the imitative action that is the very essence of all drama. The instinct to impersonate produces the actor; the desire to provide pleasure by impersonations produces the playwright; the desire to provide this pleasure with adequate characterization and dialogue memorable in itself produces dramatic literature. Though dramatic literature has been sporadic, dramatic entertainment by imitative action has been going steadily on since we first hear of it in connection with the Bacchic festivals of early Greece; and the dramatic instinct has been uninterruptedly alive since man's creation. We do not kill the drama, we do not really limit its appeal by failing to encourage the best in it; but we do thereby foster the weakest and poorest elements. In 1642 the English Parliament, facing war, closed the theatres and forbade all plays. Yet, though the years following were so troublous as not to favor drama, it was necessary in 1647 to repeal the edict, because surreptitious and garbled performances of plays formerly popular had been given, and because vulgarized excerpts from comic portions of past plays had been given at fairs and other public gatherings. Clearly, so strong was the instinct, the craving for drama, that if the public could not get new plays, or even its old plays as wholes, it would accept far less worthy entertainment rather than go without. Even in this country, far more recently, in many communities where theatres were regarded at least with hesitation, the panorama was popular, and local branches of the G. A. R.

352