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Psychology in the Study of Drama: The Negative and the Positive
Author(s): J. L. Styan
Reviewed work(s):
Source: College Literature, Vol. 5, No. 2 (Spring, 1978), pp. 77-93
Published by: College Literature
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25111211 .
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PSYCHOLOGY INTHE STUDY OF DRAMA:
THE NEGATIVE AND THE POSITIVE
J. L. Styan

The application
of psychological
ideas to drama and the theatre is in a
state of some confusion.
of the playwright
The contribution
is muddled
with that of his characters,
the character with the actor, and the activity of
the actor with that of the spectator. Each of these is a different animal, with
a different job to do. I should like to try to disentangle
character, actor, and
in Shakespearean
spectator and provide some examples of the confusion
and modern drama.
the author there is probably the least to be said which might illumi
About
nate his play in performance.
Does
it help the theatre experience
to know
that Pirandello's
wife was insane, or that Strindberg was himself insane, or
was in love with Ann
that Congreve when he wrote the part of Millamant
or
was
that
Wilde
Oscar
and so on? We may
homosexual,
Bracegirdle,
thank heaven that almost nothing is known about Shakespeare,
and certain
or
was
now believe
not
"on
"in
the
he
the
when
Some
ly
depths"
heights."
was
that Timon, his most pessimistic
his
last?at
the
very time when
play,
Dowden believed he was "on the heights."
In the old-fashioned
there was always a ten
type of character-criticism
to
as
were always too busy
for
about
if
talk
he
dency,
example,
Shakespeare
to write his autobiography,
to use his plays to record a few im
but managed
After
of 1925?a
John Barrymore's
Hamlet
very gentle and
pressions.
as the
romantic, not to say dull and low-toned,
prince, with Fay Compton
sweetest of nineteenth-century
maidens?The
that
concluded
Spectator
"some day an up-to-date
actor will give us the psychoanalyst's
Hamlet."
Ernest Jones' The Oedipus-complex
as an Explanation
of Hamlet's Mystery
had been a response to a footnote by Freud in 1900 and published
in The
American
Journal of Psychology
in 1910. Thence itwas translated into Ger
man, and thence it was revised and translated back into English as "A Psy
in 1923, finally to be published as Hamlet
cho-Analytic
Study of Hamlet"
and Oedipus
in 1949. Freud joined forces with Shakespeare,
late
therefore,
and circuitously. His studies in the infantile desires of Shakespeare's
heros
embraced Lear's relationship with his daughter Cordelia,
Lady Macbeth's
with her father, and Richard Ill's with his hump.
Freud's thinking was a special force in the study of Hamlet, whose Eliza
bethan melancholia
to identify his traits of per
seemed quite insufficient
must
a
He
have
smack
had
of
himself. The Prince's
sonality.
Shakespeare
his
and
his
suicidal
procrastination,
despair
tendencies, his cynicism and his

COLLEGE LITERATURE

78

could be as readily explained by his Oedipal desire
quick changes of mood,
to kill his father and marry his mother?which,
after all, Claudius had man
treatises on the psy
aged to do with far less conscience?as
by Elizabethan
urges toward incest and
chology of the humours. Of course, subconscious
fail to explain Hamlet's
Christian
the "divinity
that
parricide
thinking,
"but there is more to his mys
shapes our ends." Hamlet may be Oedipal,
the rest of us were to
"Though
tery than that," argues Arthur Eastman.
as
Jones well knows, no such mira
slay our fathers and marry our mothers,
cles of wit and passion would come from our lips as come from Hamlet's."
a psychoanalytical
However,
study seemed to be the natural, and far more
done
scientific, extension of the impressive work on character and motive
by A. C. Bradley. The troubling difference was that Bradley had assumed
knew what he was doing, whereas Freud's theories implied
that Shakespeare
that he did not.

The

of Hamlet's

question

sanity

became

a question

of

Shakespeare's.

That, I feel, is as
thor's psychodrama.
where characters are
in 1934,
Writing
Hamlet's
examining
tors and directors:
A

fundamental

far as I care to go on the subject of the play as its au
In any case, we have already slithered into the morass
treated like persons in real life.
John Dover Wilson
put his finger on the problem of
as
an
analyst would, at least as it seemed to ac
psyche
misconception
of this

most

attempts
previous
or a historical
living man
in a dramatic
tral figure,

upon

the world;

ine they must

he has

character,
composition.
filled his plays

an existence

have

vitiates
kind:

beyond

that

of

[psychoanalytical
Hamlet
treating

and
diagnosis]
a
as if he were

a single
if the cen
of being
figure,
has put his spell
Prospero
Shakespeare
so life-like
creatures
that we imag
with

instead

the element

they move

in. Yet

they

are

confined spirits; and though the illusion of their freedom is perhaps the high
the fact that he has
of the magician's
wand,
errors
the
rise to grave
critics
greatest
concerning
gives
.Apart
...
from
his actions,
from
nature
from
the play,
of his art
apart
tell us about
other
characters
he tells us about
himself
what
and what
him,
est of
thus

there

all

tributes

enchanted

to the potency

his

is no Hamlet.

in his belief that to ab
inHamlet,
Wilson
In What Happens
persisted
and examine it as a clinical
stract one figure from a dramatic composition
it was a fine testimony
case made for wrong-headed
criticism. Nevertheless,
to the influence of Dr. Jones that what had traditionally been referred to as
seventh
scene" inWilson's
the closet scene suddenly became "the bedroom
there never had been a bed on the London stage in the
chapter. Surprisingly,
scene between Hamlet
and his mother. Not surprisingly,
playgoers had to
to
its
make
wait only another year for the bed
appearance.
John Gielgud, who used his voice as the subtlest of instruments, played
Hamlet at the Old Vic in 1930 as a romantically
lonely youth in a hostile en
at
New
four years later, and this
Theatre
He
the
the
revived
vironment.
play

PSYCHOLOGY INTHE STUDY OF DRAMA

79

became the most celebrated Hamlet
of modern
times, running for 155 per
formances. The Voice was more thrilling than ever, a presence in itself, and
it spoke of a poignant melancholy
and the deepest pain of the soul. Or so it
it in part the voice of Freudian
seemed. Was
sexuality and inner conflict?
This production
used centre curtains for the closet scene, suggesting a hid
den bed. When Gielgud played Hamlet
inNew York
and
as a
incest"
damned
had
materialized
luxury
to
in
Hamlet
order
stab
Polonius
leaped irreverently
Gielgud does not speak of an interest in Freud in his
Stages, Rosamond
Gilder, who kept a record of

in 1936, the "couch for
real bed, upon which
through the arras. If
autobiographical
the New York

Early
perfor

certainly recognized Freud's presence:
Modern psychology must be as much a part of [Gielgud's] thinking as the

mance,

was
of our
The
fathers'.
Freudian
of Hamlet's
aspects
to whom
for those
the revelations
of the psycho
startling
are an accepted
and experience.
He can
analytical
part of thought
technique
see and understand
as perfectly
sound
and accurate
Hamlet's
portraiture
split

Darwinian

theory
are not

character

his sense of guilt, his battles that will not
to reconcile the conflicting elements in his

personality, his mother-fixation,
stay won, his desperate efforts
psychic
cowardice,

his tendency
make-up,
his final
integration.

to unpack

his

heart

in words,

his

and

heroism

in part because he seemed to embody the
Gielgud's Hamlet was successful
"modern man" of psychological
self-consciousness.
I should add as a footnote
that at about this time there was a middle
in which
production
European
(closer to the hot-bed of psychoanalysis)
Hamlet played the closet scene in his nightshirt. The only difficulty was in
having a place to keep his phallic sword about his person.
at the Old Vic in 1937, with Lau
of Hamlet
Tyrone Guthrie's
production
rence Olivier as a more fiery prince, was also inspired by the director's
inter
est in Ernest Jones' ideas, and doubtless others have followed him. On this
issue Ivor Brown made perhaps the shrewdest comment some years later in
of Michael
at the Old Vic in
response to the tremulous Hamlet
Redgrave
1950: "Does hesitation
to murder need all the argle-bargle
that the profes
sors have bestowed on the psychology
of Hamlet?"
was the
But ifHamlet
focus for most Freudian speculation about Shakespeare,
others of his plays
did not escape. Before
the production
at the Old Vic in 1937,
of Othello
Guthrie
and Olivier
took the unusual
Jones in person
step of consulting
about the playing of Iago. For Jones,
the clue to the play was not Iago's hatred for Othello,
for
cause

him.

His

he was

jealousy
in love with

conscious affection
not

was

not

because

Desdemona,

for theMoor,

he
but

envied
because

the homosexual

but his deep affection

Othello's
he himself

position,
possessed

not

be

a sub

foundation of which he did

understand.

In this way,
the great climax inAct III, when Iago and Othello kneel together planning the

80
death
my

of Cassio,
lieutenant,''

became
and

virtually

Iago's

reply,

a
"I

COLLEGE LITERATURE

love

scene

with

Othello's

"Now

am

your

own

forever"

taking

art
on

thou
a new

significance.

result was

since Olivier's
disastrous,
jaunty Iago seemed more of a
a
than
and
practical joker
tragic villain,
Ralph Richardson
playing Othello
seemed terribly embarrassed
Olivier's
affection
for him.
by
unexpected
to
in
Guthrie's
interest
also
extended
and
However,
Coriolanus,
psychology
between Caius
element into the relationship
he introduced the homosexual
in his Nottingham
of 1963.
Martius
and Aufidius
Playhouse
production
This time the structure of the play was not disturbed, perhaps because the
two leaders come together only twice in the play.
I am sorry to have to report this of Tyrone Guthrie,
in many
because
The

one who never ceased to worry
ways he was a true student of Shakespeare,
at the issues provoked by his desire to understand,
explore and enjoy him
in
fully
performance.
directors of
taken by most post-Barker
started from the position
Guthrie
to
the
his
He
real
achievement
first
size
of
had
up
great Vic
Shakespeare.
had
made
he
called
cathedrals"
what
"dramatic
torian predecessors:
they
of the plays, elaborate monuments
regarded with reverence. And he attrib
uted their booming, bellowing manner of performance,
commonly
regarded
a correct grandeur,
to the
as "the Shakespeare
and embodying
tradition"
huge theatres in which they were played. The subtlety, intimacy, and elabor
in the thea
ate detail which are apparent
in the study entirely disappeared
tre. He was soon to rebel against the vast emporia of the Victorians
by going
for the
But along with his concern
himself.
business
into the building
went his interest in the appropriate
"scale"
for Shakespeare
appropriate
to make
fic
naturalism was the paradoxical
attempt
style. For Guthrie,
seem
as real as possible by means of literal imitation: this
titious characters
was not the purpose of the theatre. Just as the painter desired, not to
that the camera could
imitate, but to interpret nature when he recognized
achieve a better likeness, so by looking at the cinema Guthrie began to see
the real magic of the theatre lay: "It was, I discovered,
charming,
it approached
but the
and exciting not the nearer
Reality,'
interesting
further it retreated into its own sort of artifice."
the current
followed
that Guthrie
It may therefore seem contradictory
Yet to the
of
vogue
major figures by psychology.
interpreting Shakespeare's
a "love"
scene between
inner conflict,
end he insisted upon Hamlet's
that Brutus regarded Caesar as a father-figure,
and Aufidius,
Coriolanus
and that in the trial scene of The Merchant
of Venice Portia was aware that
this search fof a reality of hidden mo
Antonio
loved Bassanio. However,
tives in Shakespeare's
plays did not constitute a realism of style any more
because he was writ
than Sophocles
himself invites a realistic performance
where

ing of Oedipus's

intimate

relationship

with

Jocasta.

PSYCHOLOGY INTHE STUDY OF DRAMA

81

to Shakespeare's
the psychological
characters
Unfortunately,
approach
had for many years had the immense authority of scholar-critics:
straining
was essentially a pre-Freud
realism in Shakespeare
towards psychological
in the work of A. C. Bradley. Notwith
activity, culminating
ian, Victorian
statement of his gratitude for Bradley's
actor
Tree's
Beerbohm
the
standing
on
in his Prefaces,
obvious
indebtedness
Granville-Barker's
Macbeth,
piece
and no doubt other actors who have been attracted by the "psychological"
in the age of Freud and Stainslavsky,
the great
treatment of the characters
of a wholly non-theatrical
bulk of Bradley's book proposed character-study
kind, and those actors who turned to him as a guide to working on a role
found themselves in confusion. Was there ever a star bright
have commonly
on the stage all of Bradley's closet subtleties?
to
realize
enough
was Bradley's very
Of primary interest, and of far-reaching consequence,
as if they
full discussion
of Shakespeare's
and minor,
characters, major
were real people.
It was this talent of Bradley's
to bring the persons of the
play to life, set them in different plays (what would Cordelia have done in
Desdemona's
their ages (how old
place?), enquire about their childhood,
was Hamlet
or Macbeth?),
out
their
lives
before
the action of the
puzzle
was
had
at
Hamlet
the
time
his
father's
of
(where
play
begun
death?), com
and Iago in common?),
and so
pare fact with fiction (what had Napoleon
set actor and critic on the wrong path. Bradley's
insistent
forth, which
into the motives
behind a character's behavior was quite un
investigation
historical
and non-Elizabethan,
but it placed Shakespeare
in the main
stream of new ideas about the Victorian
novel, so that soliloquy need not
stream -of-consciousness,
look quite unlike Jamesian
of course,
provided,
the reader was not asked to imagine it addressed to some audience in a thea
tre. Needless
to say, the common reader was delighted to have Bradley's
im
mense
to do?talk
behind what he always wanted
the
about
authority
and pass moral verdicts upon each, as if they were the people
characters,
next

door.

No harm in this, one may say, until it is seen what else must be sacrificed
to the process. Coleridge's
ideas about Shakespeare's
plays as organic
unities in which the characters were properly the intricate and ideal parts of
the whole were not widely available until 1930, and belong to the period of
the New Criticism.
F. R. Leavis's attack on Bradley's
belief that Othello
was Iago's foil, for which he substituted
the notion that Iago was merely a
to split Othello's mind, did not
"necessary
piece of dramatic mechanism"
the influence of Bradley's book was reflected
appear until 1937. Meanwhile,
in the potted "characters"
which were offered
in the introductions
to
school texts, and is still felt strongly in the work of the average theatre re
viewers in the newspapers.
The best early statement of the danger of the
was published as a warning against committing
a
Bradleyan character-study
sin in the criticism of the novel. This was C. H. Rickword's
"A
comparable

82
Note on Fiction"
1925.

in the short-lived

Calendar

COLLEGE LITERATURE

of Modern

Letters,

founded

in

Rickword
summarized
the concept of "character"
assumed.
commonly
In fiction it was regularly taken to be either "character
in repose" or
in action,"
and then either an image of the "inner man" or the
"character
In whatever aspect that character might be seen, however,
"outer man."
it
was always regarded as an objective portrait of an imagined human being,
there to be judged by moral,
social or other standards appropriate
to real
beings. It was as if such portraits were not merely composed of "re
"a balance of response on
sponses to their author's verbal arrangements,"
the part of the reader." "precipitates
from the memory."
A character was
part of the work's functional
technique and dependent on "devices of arti
that is, "as legs are on muscles,
for the how but not
culation"?dependent,
the why of movement."
The true values of the work were to be found only
in its "inner necessity,"
not in such emergent qualities as character and
human

plot.
could not avoid carrying all the
Meanwhile,
Bradley's character-in-action
moral
to the man-in-the-street.
Othello
implications
accruing to actuality,
say, thinks his wife unfaithful,
in-the-street,
slaps her in public, prepares to
revenge himself and finally does so. This kind of thinking was to emasculate
as to see Othello
a
and was so sentimental
and Desdemona
Othello,
was
made
the
victims
of
evil
Leavis
what
happy couple
unhappy
(which
interpreted as Bradley's
reading of the play). For all his science, Bradley
was substituting
his own play for Shakespeare's,
and betraying
the short
like Charles Lamb before him. Em
comings of his own theatre experience
barrassed and constricted by concepts of illusion and realism, Bradley sim
what was in the play he was reading, and his par
ply did not acknowledge
to submit himself to the imaginative un
ticular failure lay in his unreadiness
realities of a poetic drama.
of his own
He must always be explaining away "inconsistencies"?those
of carefully contrived ambivalence
And at any crucial moment
misreading.
a play in the theatre, he consistently missed
for an audience watching
the
the audience seeing Hamlet's
point. Where
play scene may not know wheth
er it is Claudius or the Prince who has prematurely
sprung the mouse-trap,
device proves a triumph far more complete
Bradley found that "Hamlet's
than he had dared to expect." Of the brilliant and decisive eavesdropping
scene in Othello,
the scene in which the Moor
reveals all his ignoble weak
nesses and on his side of the stage supplies as corrupt an image of Desde
mona as Bianca's on the other, Bradley has nothing to say. He has nothing
inKing
to say, either, on the theatrically daring use of Edgar's role-playing
and re
Lear: he found him merely an admirable young man of confidence
of that buoyancy of spirit which charms us in Imo
source, with "something
gen."

Instead,

he wondered

why Gloucester

should

"wander

painfully

all

PSYCHOLOGY INTHE STUDY OF DRAMA

83

and why Edgar did
the way to Dover
simply in order to destroy himself"
not reveal himself to his blind father. Of Edgar's acutely ironic "miracle"
on the "cliff,"
it was the gods
Bradley must explain that Edgar "though
who, through him, had preserved his father," because "he is the most reli
intend a character for Edgar? If
gious person in the play." Did Shakespeare
so, he has the weakest character, but the strongest role, in the play. Bradley
never sat himself with an audi
never once read King Lear as performance,
ence as it were, so that it is no surprise that he found the blinding of Glou
cester "a blot upon King Lear as a stage-play"
and the whole work "too
huge for the stage."
Leavis accused Bradley of reading Shakespeare's
poetic drama as if it
were "a psychological
novel written
in dramatic form and draped in poe
in
try" and in 1937 thought him to be "still a very potent and mischievous
fluence." No matter that Leavis himself could counter Bradley's analysis of
character only with one of exactly the same kind: he was right to
Othello's
whether
To this we may
Bradley had been good for Shakespeare.
question
add that, published at the very moment when the study of the Elizabethan
new horizons
to the understanding,
stage wa? disclosing
great
Bradley's
book may in time be seen as a disaster.
Not to put too fine a point on it, Shakespeare
is full of character effects
which cannot be explained by psychological
realism. One of the more un
usual is the problem of Leontes'
all-too-speedy
jealousy at the beginning of
The Winter's
Tale. Leontes makes a very poor runner-up to Othello,
and
directors have consistently
stumbled at his motivation.
In Peter Brook's
1951 production,
John Gielgud
took a hint from Dover Wilson
and played
him as a jealous paranoid
from the start, as if the audience had come in
after Act I was over. In 1969, Trevor Nunn had Hermione
and Polixenes
in a strobe-light while Leontes uttered his ugly asides
"freeze"
and move
about "paddling
at least had the vir
palms and pinching fingers"?which
tue of manipulating
it left us with the impression
stage time. Unfortunately,
that Leontes was having an hallucination.
We should remind ourselves
that
they had no strobe-light at the Globe.
Now if Shakespeare
had wanted to take his time to motivate
the charac
he have done so? But he had no wish to repeat Othello.
If we
ter, wouldn't
look at what is there, we find Leontes silent for fifty lines while he watches
his wife, although he doesn't hear her because she's downstage with us. In
her turn, Hermione
is silent for another forty lines while Leontes
tells us
what he thinks he saw. All that has happened
is that Hermione
and Polix
enes have simply repeated their former gestures, but this time upstage and
unheard. A striking, but essential expressionistic
trick of stagecraft which
the misconception
demonstrates
of a jealous mind.
Jealousy may be real
drama was not.
enough, but the Elizabethan
The

truth

is that,

although

actors

look

like characters

and characters

84

COLLEGE LITERATURE

therefore look more or less like human beings, there is no final connection
between them. Therefore
the psychology
of a character is not always to be
measured
by real life: he's only there to serve the purposes of the play.
An interesting conflict arose when
the realist Stanislavsky
invited the
in 1908 to direct Hamlet.
Craig had ad
symbolist Gordon Craig toMoscow
or super-puppet,
a term in
vanced a theory of the actor as Ubermarionette
vented to describe, not a doll, but a stillness of body and gravity of face
which could turn an actor into a beautiful god, a divine image. The idea de
rived from the discipline of the Oriental and Greek theatre, which dispensed
with the "ego" of the actor in order to achieve a ritual drama. Of course,
all this was in direct conflict with the psychological
detail of acting pursued
seemed doomed from the start, with Craig
by the Russians. The production
to work up new ideas, leaving Stanislav
repeatedly departing for Florence
In increasing irritation Stanislavsky
fell
sky to realize them in his absence.
he knew best. This pathetic process
back upon the psychological
methods
went on for three and a half years.
the Prince as a giant of a man in body and mind,
Craig had visualized
with leonine hair like "a snow-capped mountain,"
truly a Shakespearian
a
to
little like Craig himself.) He
Ubermarionette.
tell, he looked
(Truth
as
a
the
gaudy, insincere court, and
figure isolated against
thought of him
scene
The
to
as
was
court
"Hamlet's
be represented
the first
nightmare."
court was to be seen as so many pallid faces looking out through holes cut in
a huge golden cloth, the skirts of the royal robe. The conception was one of
with the audience seeing only through Hamlet's
eyes through
monodrama,
to
return to the
had
out. However,
that
realism
surely
argued
Stanislavsky
other characters when Hamlet was not on stage, and to prevent this Craig
in scenes in which he
tried to arrange for the Prince to be a silent presence
was not wanted. At one time, Craig added a "bright golden figure" as the
Prince's demon, and at another a figure of death who would enter to music,
as a struggle between the material and
so that the play should be understood
the spiritual. Trying to cope with a pretty heavy part, the actor Kachalov
naturally found all this a little distracting.
As for the other characters, Craig thought of the King as masked with a
a blazing eye, and enormous hands like an eagle's talons. Ophe
and stu
the scene with a pretty face, childlike
flit across
that if
an
was
for
love
protested
girl
imaginary
(Stanislavsky
pid?Hamlet's
she were played as a fool, Hamlet would also look a little silly). Stanislavsky
the realism of everyday,
characters
the secondary
wanted
played with
them to stand like puppets with waxen arms and
whereas Craig wanted
in ethereal silhouette,
faces. The Ghost was to appear on a high platform
below in heavy earthbound
with Hamlet
garments. As for the
symbolically
on
wires like Chinese acrobats.
they were to fly in through windows
Players,
The production was, as they say, accorded a mixed reception.
large head,
lia would

PSYCHOLOGY INTHE STUDY OF DRAMA

85

because
I have dwelt at length on Shakespeare's
characters,
they have
dramatic criticism which
been the prime target for that kind of modern
leads us away from the real business of his plays. But inmodern drama the
into characterization
has too
of recent psychological
introduction
concepts
Jean Cocteau gave his
often provided a cloak for inadequate play writing.
Oedipus an Oedipus complex, and Eugene O'Neill gave his Electra an Elec
tra complex,
such
that Sophocles managed well enough without
forgetting
also seem to forget that to empha
additional problems. Many playwrights
in a play (I think of Equus)
is a form of base
size abnormal
psychology
sensationalism
which reduces an audience to its lowest level of perception.
In the theatre we cannot share a complex;
it's always what someone else has
while we lick our lips and our teeth drip.
In our search for a justifiable area of psychological
research in the thea
tre, we

pass

on

to

the actor.

It was

at the turn of the nine
of the realistic movement
the development
teenth century which
into the
introduced genuine psychological
thinking
theatre's world of the unreal, but it was only at stage level, in the work of
the actor, and for any real advance, we must move to Moscow.
It is ironic
the
that the best solution to the practical problems of realistic theatre?how
actor should adapt his art to the new, oblique dialogue of Ibsen or Chek
to be on the fringes of western
hov?came
from a city generally considered
theatre. Upon the creation of the Moscow Art Theatre by two giants of the
Moscow
modern
and Nemirovich-Danchenko,
became
stage, Stanislavsky
the center of the movement,
and in the years that followed
it was the foun
tainhead of the theory and method which nourished psychological
acting
and realistic play writing
other companies
succeeded
everywhere. Where
under
only in imitating surface realism, the MAT realized its psychological
pinnings.
as an actor and director appeared early
dedication
Signs of Stanislavsky's
when at 24 he urged his amateur cast of The Mikado
to practice Japanese
even had to tie their legs above the knee. There
and the women
manners,
was more than a touch of misplaced
ingenuity in taking Gilbert and Sulli
van's burlesque comic opera so seriously. After an initiation with Haupt
mann and Tolstoy
was ready to form a
in the realistic vein, Stanislavsky
so
the
that
MAT
its
had
in a more evolu
permanent
company,
beginnings
as
than
his
work
the trappings of
showed
of
less
tionary
revolutionary way,
external realism and more of the inner qualities of psychological
realism. In
1897 the famous meeting
between Stanislavsky
and Danchenko
took place
in a Moscow
to
restaurant, where they found they had enough in common
talk for eighteen hours. At the end of that marathon
had
they
together
drawn up the rules for their new theatre. They were determined
to discard
what was bad in the past, and declamatory
acting with its theatrical tricks
and habits were at the top of the list. All this had been heard before in Paris

86

COLLEGE LITERATURE

and Berlin, but never before was so stringent a set of rules drawn up for the
was to be regarded as a crime, and any tempera
actors. Any self-indulgence
mental behavior,
"One
lateness, or laziness (even flirting) was forbidden:
must love art, not onself in art." Rehersals were to last up to twelve hours a
in an atmosphere
of reverence for the drama
day, and would be conducted
as an ideal.
in 1898 was a fair test: it was Alexey
The first production
of the MAT
This was given no less than seventy
historical piece Tsar Fyodor.
Tolstoy's
four rehearsals,
It became a sixteenth-cen
including five dress rehearsals.
with the whole company going
tury research project of the first magnitude,
off on numerous field trips to museums, monasteries,
palaces, bazaars, and
of life in
fairs in order to recreate on the stage the authentic
reproduction
its meals and manners,
its clothing and jewelry, the correct
old Russia,
and furniture, and all the rest. On the stage the audience was treat
weapons
and a bridge over the River Yaouza
ed to replicas of rooms in the Kremlin,
one
with barges passing beneath. For
device, the palace ceilings and doors
were lowered to make the Boyars seem taller on their ritualistic entrance.
so much so that they were hardly aware of the
The audience was dazzled,
new realistic acting.
to give some impression of the necessary back
Imention
this production
new
to
at the excesses
If one wonders
the
approach.
ground
psychological
in an expedition
of the MAT's Othello, which involved the whole company
to Cyprus, or at the pedantry of importing Norwegian
furniture for Ibsen,
or at the slavish requirement
that the actors live in togas for several days be
it was this quality of careful truth to life
fore the opening of Julius Caesar,
a new degree of psychology
in the playing. Without
which also encouraged
a complete commitment
to realism in all its aspects,
the early successes of
The Power
and Tolstoy's
The Seagull, Gorky's
The Lower Depths,
of
not have been possible.
For the Tolstoy,
Darkness
would
Stanislavsky
all the way from Tula, more than
brought two old peasants as "advisers"
a hundred miles south of Moscow. We can imagine their bewilderment.
find
The success of The Seagull sent the company on a greater quest?to
and to per
and mood,
of Chekhov's
atmosphere
fect the acting technique which would render his characters convincing. The
in
in St. Petersburg
at the Alexandrinsky
Theatre
play had failed miserably
to
meet
its
actors
unable
had
been
1896 precisely because its
psychological
them and the outlines of the
deceived
the colloquial
demands:
dialogue
rules and in
characters seem imperceptible. Trained by the old professional
life in the delicate

nuances

players trusted that everything would be all right
and the audience found Treplev's
attempt at sui
awkward symbolism of the property seagull quite
crushed, and left the theatre swearing never to
in
the fresh qualities
however,
perceived
play. Danchenko,

the
prepared,
adequately
on the night. It was not,
cide a great joke, and the
was
ridiculous.
Chekhov
write

another

PSYCHOLOGY INTHE STUDY OF DRAMA

87

the play, and that it was written, as he thought, in "semitones"
designed to
to let the
He persuaded Chekhov
capture a fragile mood of unhappiness.
MAT have the play.
With characteristic
gave The Seagull twenty-six
Stanislavsky
discipline,
to perfecting
rehearsals. Rehearsal was devoted
every detail of speech and
gesture to capture the elusive tone of a scene, and Chekhov's
genius for ob
served detail rewarded this kind of approach as few dramatists
could have
done. Moreover,
respect for his author grew as he discovered
Stanislavsky's
how well every touch of character and action contributed
to the whole. By
the first night, every member of the cast was aware that a new mode of per
formance was to suffer its crucial test. In the event, the audience was totally
absorbed and caught up in the mesh of the play's details, and responded
orchestration
of its rhythms. After a nervewrack
strongly to Stanislavsky's
at
silence
the
final
the
house
broke into a roar of applause. This
ing
curtain,
a
new
era
in
the
modern
theatre.
production
inaugurated
we
at
are
a
this
distance
in
to make a more bal
Nevertheless,
position
anced judgment. Set design still belonged
to the age of the scene painter;
and the designer, Simov, would have pleased us less today. In his memoirs
he reported that the painting for the lake for Act Iwas too photographic
for
Chekhov's
in all
liking, whose work in the last analysis was impressionistic
its departments.
Chekhov's
dry comment on the painting of the lake was,
was
it
characteristically,
"Well,
wet," and one suspects that a mere hint of
on water would have sufficed. Stanislavsky's
moonlight
request for a chill
in the air during the last act, in order to convey the final emptiness of the
family's life, was better met by Simov, who hit upon the idea of placing the
furniture on the stage in some disorder, so that its appearance
suggested the
indifference of those assumed to live with it.
The Lower Depths was not as demanding
a play as The Seagull, but its
in a flophouse was replete with the grim
portrait of human degradation
realistic details of thievery, alcoholism,
and violence,
and the
prostitution
The cast promptly went off to in
play lent itself fully to the new methods.
and in performance
spect some actual institutions of lower life inMoscow,
wore
so
some
real
that
feared
rags,
they
spectators
they might catch lice
from being too near the stage.
None of this should, however, belittle Stanislavsky's
unique achievement
in uncovering
the psychological
attributes required of an actor to bring a lit
erary creature to life on the stage. He taught acting in the various studios of
over the years, and was a prolific diarist and notekeeper,
the MAT
con
to this he left us a full account
stantly analyzing everything he did. Thanks
of how the actor might school himself to recreate the motives of a character
in his own person.
and what he called his "System,"
Indeed, Stanislavsky
or what became known
as "The Method,"
in America
have dominated
schools

of acting

in this century.

88

COLLEGE LITERATURE

The Stanislavsky
System was intended to be as natural and organic as the
growth of a tree, being based essentially on intuition and not on science or
a wealth of new technical, quasi-psychological
logic. Unhappily,
jargon
associated with the System developed.
from the subtext or inner life of the play, the actor's creative
Working
ness springs from his belief in the truth of the life on the stage in its given
the life to be created (If'you were in love
the magic //behind
circumstances,
with Juliet, what would you do next?). He seeks the feeling of inner truth,
or inner logic, in his part, the logic of the emotions,
and begins to assume a
or what is sug
character's psychological
by studying his pretext,
make-up
gested about his imagined life before the curtain rises (at the beginning of
for example, please assume that the Prince had just returned from
Hamlet,
his father's grave). Imaginative
exercises can help place the actor in his
imaginary circle, and help him create a living character by a personal effort
This psycho-technique
of the will and memory.
compels him to evoke the
to
and
transfer
his personal experience,
of emotions,
appropriate memory
his inner images, to the stage from the past. This process is the "conscious
Thus as an exercise Mme. Ranevskv might
stimulation of the unconscious."
a
scene
life
in Paris before she returned to the cnerry
from
her
improvise
own that she didn't enjoy. And so on.
a
her
of
party
orchard, by recalling
for acting was hard and slow work, as patient and
This kind of preparation
disciplined a way of life as that required of a musician or a dancer.
the MAT paid a visit to New York just after
Because it needed the money,
theatre so
the War in 1923, and it was this event that started the American
was
im
on
York
Times
The
New
the
Method's
vastly
slippery
slope.
early
the Russians were
pressed by the "rich variety of new characterizations"
in
able to portray with each different play presented. Kenneth Macgowan
"the perfection of an
that the MAT demonstrated
Theatre Arts considered
exact." Stark Young
with the impersonations
"brilliantly
acting machine,"
in theNew Republic
invoked the phrase "spiritual
realism," which for him
he claimed that he had ex
implied "the inmost spirit of the actual matter";
sense
a
It is possible to ar
comes
truth."
of
from
perienced "the thrill that
that float
and Chekhov determined nearly everything
gue that Stanislavsky
at least a
for
on
and
of American
the mainstream
ed
production
playwriting
generation.

soon
in English
followed
flow of influential Chekhov
productions
in
in
after in New York. Broadway
English
proper had its first Chekhov
The
J.
B. Fagan presented
Cherry
1928, when the pioneer English director
In his pre
in George Calderon's
translation.
Orchard at the Bijou Theatre
a reason for the hesitation
of British and
had advanced
face, Calderon
were
unfamiliar
He
believed
Chekhov.
in
American
directors
they
tackling
tended to
the
in
which
with his technique of "centrifugal"
action,
dialogue
to
the indi
illuminate
or
in
order
idea
central
line
from
the
story
fly away
The

PSYCHOLOGY INTHE STUDY OF DRAMA

89

vidual drama of minor characters. Calder on argued in particular that Eng
to
lish acting was ill-suited to a play in which the whole cast had constantly
to
the
order
in
sustain
remain alive on stage, performing
"centripetally"
acting was doubtless as inflexible.
unity of the whole; at this time American
to Brooks
left the audience, according
At all events, the Fagan production
in boredom,"
of the Times, "drenched
Atkinson
only gloom emanating
of a production.
from the "cadaver"
the manner of acting on the New York stage was to undergo a
Happily,
sea-change, brought about by a further influence from the MAT. The Pol
from
of the company
had been a member
ish-born Richard Boleslavsky
States in 1922. His American
Laboratory
1906, and came to the United
his stu
Theatre began to teach the Stanislavsky
System of acting. Among
dents were Lee Strasberg and Harold Clurman, who together were directly
for the radical change in the attitude and method of the profes
responsible
sional actor in the United States. In the 1930s, their Group Theatre achieved
a notable consistency
and Arthur Miller has testi
in realistic production,
was
not
in my
ensemble
"It
the
brilliance
of
fied,
acting, which
only
cre
never
in
has
been
but
the
air
of
union
since
America,
opinion
equalled
ated between actors and the audience." With others Strasberg founded the
Actors'
Studio with the explicit intention of giving the serious actor inten
sive training in the Method.
The actors who owe their individual style to
as
a
an impressive
teacher
make
lit: Julie Harris, Montgomery
Strasberg
Paul Newman,
Karl Maiden, Kim Stan
Clift, Marlon Brando, Eli Wallach,
are
Anne
Ben
and Shelley Winters
Geraldine
Gazzara,
Bancroft,
ley,
Page,
a few of them. It is interesting that these players are equally at home on
is a special re
stage or screen, where the intimacy of realistic performance
medium.
quirement of a photographic
to bring out an actor's "hid
Strasberg's
acting exercises were designed
den" personality,
there was some danger that an actor trained by
although
at the expense of the
the Method merely
his own personality
established
was
to
Nor
character he
could he so easily adapt his skills to the
portray.
more "presentational"
drama. You
style of much pre- and post-realistic
remember
in
film
the one
Brando
and
the
of
Julius
may
Caesar,
Gielgud
us
his
"inner
and
the
other
treatment:
the
traditional
it
logic"
stage
giving
was like watching
two plays performed
at the same time. Tyrone Guthrie
was among those who felt that the Method was hopelessly
limited, on the
and too little
grounds that it placed "too much emphasis upon self-analysis
on technique."
The Group Theatre
in New York could handle only taxi
drivers and boxers, he said, because it assumed it was more real to be rough
than genteel. Coinciding
with the popular
the
impact of psycho-analysis,
actor believed that you could be a better actor by Being Yourself,
a
Method
cliche "inadequate
to express any wide range either of character, environ
ment or style" and, particularly
if your voice remained your own, unlikely

90

COLLEGE LITERATURE

to "take an actor far on the way to King Lear, Andromache
or Faust." The
was
sensible pursuit of good old-fashioned
The an
essential.
craftsmanship
swer to Guthrie, of course, is that even the best craftsmanship
is not quite
or Faust, especially
if the craft itself is
enough for Lear, Andromache,
cliche.
Much

of this is now ancient history. Inroads into the concept of psychol
realism
in acting have been made by two powerful forces in Germany
ogical
and France. Artaud
to write of his ideal theatre.
drew on the Balinese
to write his "Short Description
Brecht drew on the Chinese
of a New Tech
was
to
actor
make
of
these instruc
What
the
of
Method
nique
Acting."
tions?
The

actor

Chinese

The
art,

being

seen

to observe

his

own

to take his own
must
it possible
make
for the audience
too. He puts an incident
before
the spec
technique,
lightly
or might
it really happened
have
and as he thinks
hap
perfection
than an
does not conceal
the fact that he has rehearsed
it, any more

with

pened.
acrobat

by

actor

(Western)
his mastery

tator

the A-effect

achieves

....

movements

He

of

conceals

his

training

....

The attitude which he adopts is a socially critical one. In his exposition of the
and

in his

which

come

incidents
features

comes a discussion
ing

...

characterization
within

of

society's

the person,

to bring

tries

he

In this way

sphere.

out

his performance

those
be

(about social conditions) with the audieence he is address

.

in order to distance your acting, you must be able to act in the
However,
first place.
Meanwhile
the attack on realistic acting came from another direction:
the use of theatre as therapy. He called for a drama of
Artaud
advocated
all the ancient arts of theatre
savage shock tactics, one which employed
to its own secret crimes and obsessions
and
to expose an audience
magic
The intention was to cleanse the audience's
hostilities.
guilt, as he put it,
to
and to bring to the surface its vital and valuable energies. He wanted
was
which
theatre
of
over-civilized
the
revolutionize
realism,
psychological
always analyzing and dissecting and cerebrating. And he introduced a very
idea by insisting that it was "the subjugation of the theatre to the
un-French
In his
text" that had been the worst result of the theatre's sophistication.
no
be
written
ideal theatre there would
play.
wrote
in the Tulane Drama Review of Winter,
Charles Marowitz
1966,
actor could seem fraudulent and superficial by com
that even the Method
parison with his fellow
The

Method

his personal
The

Artaudian

communicative

The difference

actor's
feeling.
actor
image,

in the theatre of cruelty:
test

for

knows

truthfulness

that

unless

it is a passionate

is that the Method

actor

is the

that

intensity

feeling

letter without

is "chained

has

and

authenticity

been

shaped

of

into

a

postage.

to rational motivation"

91

PSYCHOLOGY INTHE STUDY OF DRAMA

actor realizes that "the highest artistic truth is un
the Artaudian
From
the
writer's
drama at least lacks
provable."
point of view, Artaudian
anew. Marowitz
believed
cliche, because each time it has to be discovered
that the methods
of the theatre of cruelty could refresh the jaded senses of
the audience and make
the value of its aesthetic experience.
it reconsider
Out of his time in the 1930s, Artaud struck the right note for the anti-realis
tic mood of the 1960s.
whereas

turn at last to what Meyerhold
in 1902 called the "fourth contribu
to the play?the
It
the
may be that the audience provides
spectator.
area
valid
to
art
the
the
drama.
for
of
of
only
application
psychology
It is evident from the world of Artaud
that dramatic perception has little
to do with formal literacy. Words
in the theatre are heard and not read,
We

tor"

which may explain why the Elizabethan
theatre flourished
in an age when
are an academic myth.
the majority were illiterate: sops for the groundlings
Marshall McLuhan
takes a typically extreme position and even denies his
to integrate his perceptions,
"literate man"
the power
that he
arguing
a
of
his
emotional
and
life.
Had
undergoes
separation
sensory
imaginative,
words
truly this power of limitation, we might mistrust
literacy indeed;
the integration of the perceptions
is what the theatre habitual
nevertheless,
and for a theatregoer
in the throes, a purely verbal apprehen
ly demands,
sion is not enough. McLuhan
offers this:
Literate people think of cause and effect as sequential, as if one thing pushed
another along by physical force. Nonliterate people register very little interest
*
in this kind of 'efficient" cause and effect, but are fascinated by hidden
forms

that

the nonliterate
the rest of

produce
and

the world

magical
nonvisual
as caught

results.
cultures.

Inner,
And

in the seamless

rather

than

that

is why

web

of

causes
interest
outer,
the literate West
sees

superstition.

This generalization
about nonliterate people may well apply to the imagina
tive fusion of impressions which occurs in the theatre. The drama of logical
cause and effect, character and motivation,
with which Ibsen is associated,
is atypical of what the theatre has traditionally
done. The plays of the
of the Commedia
and Moliere were plays of hid
Greeks, of Shakespeare,
den forms, magical
results and inner causes, and were thoroughly caught in
the seamless web of superstition.
Today, with a renewed impulse towards
"poetry of the theatre," the theatre of the absurd, the theatre of cruelty and
other manifestations,
the stage is assuming its accustomed,
illogical role.
McLuhan
also believes
that consciousness
is not a verbal process, not
is regarded
"Consciousness
analytic like language, but an inclusive Gestalt.
as the mark of a rational being, yet there is nothing
lineal or sequential
about the total field of awareness
that exists in any moment
of conscious
ness." The psychology
of perception
tells us that we respond equally to
is only com
words,
images and imageless thoughts, but that perception
results from the activity of memory and judgment,
pleted when "meaning"

92

COLLEGE LITERATURE

of sensations and assumptions.
Gestalt
theories
upon the mosaic
working
assume that the organization
of the whole perceptual
field is more impor
tant than the sensations themselves. Such special stimuli as shape and move
which assist in the making
of a configuration,
become central, and
a
believes that a Gestalt
ismore than the sum of its parts?like
psychology
whose
fuse to create a tertium aliquid. The
poetic metaphor
ingredients
forces existing within the perceptual
field assume power which,
like poetry,
can acquire the properties of a magic beyond mechanics.

ment,

The notion of audience perception
is simply that of putting two and two
in the theatre by the collision
together, an activity thrust upon an audience
and blending of a play's many component
parts?the
totality which Artaud
found in the dance and song of the Balinese theatre. Any art must engage its
audience, and a play draws upon the peculiar powers of any or all of the arts
to work its effects, verbal and lyrical, visual and kinetic, often juxtaposing
what would otherwise seem inimical. The created energy is an activity of the
and the two-and-two may add up to more than four?to
five
imagination,
or even six!?a mystery which Coleridge
long ago recognized.
seem to support the romantic
The Gestalt
would
school of psychology
The organism of the play's image in the mind of the
philosophers.
is not of haphazard growth, nor are the elements of the stage like
uninhibited
children, but they are carefully nurtured and trained
when they are called, and only acceptable when they have proved
belong

in

the

orderly

mind.

In

the

theatre

we

experience

an

audience
wild and
to come
that they

isomorphic

re

the life of the play by admitting
sponse to all that is going on, reproducing
our
which
have
test. We do not allow Ophelia
those
passed
only
perceptions
to show signs of pregnancy merely because of the circumstantial
evidence of
the imagination
draws upon the world of the
her association with Hamlet:
play before that of real life, and refuses to destroy the established pattern of
inMac
the characters'
integrity. Or again: rather than reject the Witches
out of common
in A Midsummer
beth and the Immortals
Night's Dream
disbelief, we allow them to sweep us into the metaphysical
regions of a mur
derer's mind or lover's fantasy.
confirm that the text is only a plan for
The workings
of stage Gestalten
at best to the scenario of a film or the chore
drama, and is equivalent
ography of a ballet, never the film or the dance itself.
We are finally talking about audience response, a maddening
concept be
cause the critic is always in danger of finding the audience to be a mirror of
is true, that what we call a play has
the assumption
himself. Nevertheless,
no existence except in the minds of its audience, because
it is the audience
in words, but they are not
which puts it all together. A play text is written
the same sort of words we find in novels and newspapers.
They are a code
which waits to be projected and deciphered. Cleopatra
robing herself for immortality, but at the end Charmian

at her death talks of
has the line, "Your

PSYCHOLOGY INTHE STUDY OF DRAMA

93

crown's awry." Are we to believe that her crown was on crookedly all the
in spite of her? Only an audi
time? That her immortal longings were mortal
an audience does not see
ence in its creative act can decide. In its perception,
of The Cherry Or
words, only what they stand for. Lyubov Ranevskaya
looks out at the dawn light on the white cherry
chard, dressed all in white,
blossoms and says,
Nothing
. . . See,

has

changed?all,

our mother

walking,

all white.
all

Oh,

in white

my
down

orchard,

you

are

young

again

the path!

is thinking of herself as a girl again, just as we have seen her daughter
all in white too. And suddenly we have a vision of generations
of
Anya,
all in white,
it necessary
mothers,
stretching back through the years. Was
for Andrei
Serlan in New York to have an actual woman
in white walk
across the back of the stage? A brave new world of possible and positive
awaits us in the understanding
of audience re
psychological
investigation
our
ears
The
and
innumerable
sponse.
eyes
stage engages
by
signals received
in inexhaustible
combinations
for a play to be born. iTiat, however,
is the
She

subject of many

other papers.


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