Sunday, January 13, 2008

50 Thoughts on Theatrical Criticism 11-15

11. As Theodore Roosevelt once wrote:

It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.

12. As James Huneker wrote in A Word on the Dramatic Opinions and Essays of Bernard Shaw, the preface to the anthology of Shaw's theatre criticism:

We decry impressionistic criticism, and lift reverent eyes before them that pace academic groves. But the different is largely a fanciful one -- not as real as Stendhal's wicked definition of Classic and Romantic. Dr. William Barry wisely says that "the whole art of judgment is faithful impression." All criticism is personal, and neither academic nor impressionistic criticism should be taken too seriously. Anatole France has proved that one may be both wise and witty while sailing his soul in quest of masterpieces. A man's ponderous learning is of no more value than the superficial skating of some merry emotional blade over the dramatic ice. The main point is -- particularly in dramatic criticism -- whether the writer holds our attention. Otherwise his work has no excuse for existence. Be as profound as you please -- but be pleasing. Nature abhors an absolute; and there is no absolute is dramatic criticism. It is an exotic growth and as inutile as politics. Now Shaw always holds one's attention, nay, grips it, and at times rudely chokes it into submission. His utterances are male, forceful and modern.

13. As George Bernard Shaw wrote in his essay, "The Case for the Critic-Dramatist":

A discussion has arisen recently as to whether a dramatic critic can also be a dramatic author without injury to his integrity and impartiality. The feebleness with which the point has been debated may be guessed from the fact that the favorite opinion seems to be that a critic is either an honest man or he is not. If honest, then dramatic authorship can make no difference to him. If not, he will be dishonest whether he writes plays or not. This childish evasion cannot, for the honor of the craft, be allowed to stand. If I wanted to ascertain the melting-point of a certain metal, and how far it would be altered by an alloy of some other metal, and an expert were to tell me that a metal is either fusible or it is not -- that, if not, no temperature will melt it; and if so, it melt anyhow -- I am afraid I should ask that expert whether he was a fool himself or took me for one. Absolute honesty is as absurd an abstraction as absolute temperature or absolute value. A dramatic critic who would die rather than read an American pirated edition of a copyright English book might be considered an absolutely honest man for all practical purposes on that one particular subject -- I say on that one, because very few men have more than one point of honor; but as far as I am aware, no such dramatic critic exists. If he did, I should regard him as a highly dangerous monomaniac.

14. Here's another snippet from the same Shaw piece:

The advantage of having a play criticized by a critic who is also a playwright is as obvious as the advantage of having a ship criticized by a critic who is also a master shipwright.

15. And here's one from Edward Albee:

If Attila the Hun were alive today, he'd be a drama critic.

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