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2006-04-13 12:25 AM
Maugham at midnight
When it's 11:00 and the whiskey of the early evening is keeping me awake, I might as well get out of bed and--at least until the midnight feeding--stand in front of open refrigerators and bookcases.
I couldn't find Somerset Maugham's THE SUMMING UP during the 5-minute search window before my Syracuse flight, so I didn't have it on hand to quote offhandedly. Tonight it was stacked sideways with only yellow page bottoms showing, but I knew those yellow page bottoms.
To my mind the drama took a wrong turning when the demand for realism led it to abandon the ornament of verse. Verse has a specific dramatic value as anyone can see by observing in himself the thrilling effect of a tirade in one of Racine's plays or of any of Shakespeare's great set pieces; and this is independent of the sense; it is due to the emotional power of rhythmical speech. But more than that: verse forces on the matter a conventional form that heightens the aesthetic effect. It enables the drama to achieve a beauty that is out of the question in a prose play. However much you may admire The Wild Duck, The Importance of Being Earnest, or Man and Superman, you cannot without abuse of the word claim that they are beautiful. But the chief value of verse is that it delivers a play from sober reality. It puts it on another level, at one remove from life, and so makes it easier for the audience to attune themselves to that state of feeling in which they are most susceptible to the drama's specific appeal. In that artificial medium, life is not presented in a word-for-word translation, but in a free rendering, and thus the dramatist has ample scope for the effects of which his art is capable.
I remember thinking, when I read it, that this still applied to musicals. I didn't remember this:
It has occurred to me that possibly the dramatist would be wise now to go back to the origins of modern drama and call to his aid verse, dancing, music, and pageantry so that he might appeal to all possible sources of entertainment: but I am conscious that here again the cinema with its great resources can do better whatever the spoken theatre can do...
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