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last on his throne, dead, with the crown of Denmark on his knees.
Courtier's, soldier's, scholar's eye, tongue, sword,
The expectancy and rose of the fair state;
the "sweet prince" of Horatio's "goodnight" -the soldier for whose passage Fortinbras commanded
The soldier's music and the rites of war.
We think of him, too, as the haunted son of a dear father murdered, a philosophic spectator of the grotesque brutality of life, suddenly by a ghostly summons called on to take part in it; a prince, a philosopher, a lover, a soldier, a sad humorist.
Were one asked what aspects of Hamlet does Forbes-Robertson specially embody, I should say, in the first place, his princeliness, his ghostliness, then his cynical and occasionally madcap humor, as where, at the end of the play-scene, he capers behind the throne in a terrible boyish glee. No actor that I have seen expresses so well that scholarly irony of the Renaissance permeating the whole play. His scene with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and the recorders is masterly: the silken sternness of it, the fine hauteur, the half-appeal as of lost ideals still pleading with the vulgarity of life, the fierce humor of its disillusion, and behind, as always, the heartbreak-that side of it which comes of the recognition of what it is to be a gentleman in such a world.
In this scene, too, as in others, ForbesRobertson makes it clear that that final tribute of Fortinbras was fairly won.
The soldier-if necessary, the fighteris there as supple and strong as a Damascus blade. One is always aware of the "something dangerous," for all his princely manners and scholarly ways. One is never left in doubt as to how this Hamlet will play the man. It is all too easy for him to draw his sword and make an end of the whole fantastic business. Because this philosophic swordsman holds the sword, let no one think that he knows not how to wield it. All this gentleness -have a care!-is that of an unusually masculine restraint.
In the scene with Ophelia, ForbesRobertson's tenderness was almost terrible. It came from such a height of pity upon that little uncomprehending flower!
"I never gave you ought," as ForbesRobertson said it, seemed to mean: "I gave you all-all that you could not understand." "Yet are not you and I in the toils of that destiny there that moves the arras. Is it your father?"
Along with Forbes-Robertson's spiritual interpretation of Shakspere goes preeminently, and doubtless as a contributive part of it, his imaginative revitalization of the great old lines-lines worn like a highway with the passage of the generations. As a friend of mine graphically phrased it, "How he revives for us the splendor of the text!"
The splendor of the text! It is a good phrase, and how splendid the text is we of course all know-know so well that we take it for granted, and so fall into forgetfulness of its significance; forgetting what central fires of soul and intellect must have gone to the creation of such a world of transcendent words.
Yet how living the lines still are, though the generations have almost quoted the life out of them, no man who has spoken them on the stage in our day, except Forbes-Robertson, has had the gift to show.
It is more than elocution, masterly elocution as it is, more than the superbly modulated voice: the power comes of spiritual spring swelling up beneath the voice -springs fed from those infinite sources which "lie beyond the reaches of our souls."
Merely to take the phrase I have just quoted, how few actors-or readers of Shakspere, or members of any Shaksperian audience, for that matter-have any personal conception of what it means! They may make a fine crescendo with it, but that is all. They have never stood, shrinking and appalled, yet drawn with a divine temptation, upon the brink of that vastness along the margin of which, it is evident, that Hamlet often wandered. It is in vain they tell their audiences and Horatio:
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
We are quite sure that they know nothing of what they are saying; and that, as a matter of fact, there are few things for them in heaven or earth except the theater they are playing in, their actors' club, and, generally, their genial mundane lives; and of course one rather congratulates them on the simplicity of their lives, congratulates them on their ignorance of such haunted regions of the mind. Yet, all the same, that simplicity seems to disqualify them from playing Hamlet.
Few Shaksperian actors seem to remember what they are playing-Shakspere. One would think that to be held a worthy interpreter of so great a dramatist, so mysterious a mind, and so golden a poet, were enough distinction. Oscar Wilde, in a fine sonnet, addressed Henry Irving as
Thou trumpet set for Shakspere's lips to blow,
and we may be sure that Irving appreciated the honor thus paid him, he who so wonderfully interpreted so many of Shakspere's moods, so well understood the irony of his intellect, even the depth of his humanity, yet in Hamlet, at all events, so strangely missed his soul.
Most of us have seen many Hamlets die. We have watched them squirming through those scientific contortions of dissolution, to copy which they had very evidently walked the hospitals in a businesslike quest of death-agonies, as certain histrionic connoisseurs of madness in France lovingly haunt the Saltpétrière. As I look back, I wonder how we tolerated their wriggling absurdity. I suppose it was that the hand of tradition was still upon us, as upon them. And, let us not forget, the words were there, the immortal words, and an atmosphere of tragic death and immortality that only such words could create:
Absent thee from felicity awhile, And in the harsh world draw thy breath in pain
loved best, those who valued the dearest, the kindest, the greatest, and the strongest in our strange human life, to come with me and see Forbes-Robertson die in Hamlet. I asked them because, as that strange young dead king sat upon his throne, there was something, whatever it meant-death, life, immortality, what you will-of a surpassing loneliness, something transfiguring the poor passing moment of trivial, brutal murder into a beauty to which it was quite natural that that stern Northern warrior, with his winged helmet, should bend the knee. I would not exchange anything I have ever read or seen for Forbes-Robertson as he sits there so still and starlit upon the throne of Denmark.
Forbes-Robertson is not merely a great Shaksperian actor; he is a great spiritual actor. The one doubtless implies the other, though the implication has not always appeared to be obvious.
He is prophetic of what the stage will some day be, and what we can see it here and there preparing to become. In all the welter of the dramatic conditions of the moment there emerges one fact, that of the growing importance of the stage as a vehicle for what one may term general culture. The stage, with its halfsister, the cinema, is strangely, by how long and circuitous a route, returning of course, with an immeasurably developed equipment, to its starting-point, ending curiously where it began as the handmaid of the church. As with the old moralities. or miracle-plays, it is becoming once more our teacher. The lessons of truth and beauty, as those of plain gaiety and delight, are relying more and more upon the actor for their expression, and less on the accredited doctors of divinity or literature. Even the dancers are doing much for our souls. Our duties as citizens are being taught us by well-advertised plays, and if we wish to abolish Tammany or change our police commissioner, we enforce our desire by the object-lesson of a play. The great new plays may not yet be here, but the public once more is going to the theater, as it went long ago in Athens, to be delighted and amused, of course, but also to be instructed in national and civic affairs, and, most important of all, to be purified by pity and terror.
BY LAWRENCE PERRY
WITH PICTURES BY REGINALD BIRCH
"THE Raggedy Man 's so good and kind
as in all things which come instinctively. to little chaps verging on four years, he accepted it philosophically. He seized the book, placed it on the couch, and pored over the likeness of the dear Raggedy Man and of the little boy and girl who sat with faces raptly upturned to his.
"No, you 're not a baby any more."
It was merely the expression of a segment of thought, nothing more than a vague muttering. Bunk was growing older. He was; that was a fact. But
SAUNDERS was doing it quite well, even so it was only last night that he had
had listened doubtfully to three stanzas, and at the fourth, pleased with the equine reference, and enjoying by cumulative process the happy alliteration, his eyes snapped, and he puffed out his cheeks mightily.
"Ho! ho! y' funny ol' Rikety, Rikety, Rikety Man!" he cried. And the father, gazing down over his glasses, knew that the day of former things had passed. Nevertheless, he applied the test. In singsong he drawled:
"Vixen and I were playmates,
Vixen was black and tan;
Bunk would have none of it. "Stop! Stop it!" he cried. "Tell me some more Rikety Man."
Instead, the father took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes with his fingers. Then he reached out and abstractedly tousled the glorious mane of curly gold hair which framed his son's face.
"Bunk," he said at length, "you 're no baby any more, are you?"
"Why ain't I?" asked the boy. "Because you 're not, you little monkey; 'll soon be showing your old daddy-' Saunders paused, dropped his head sidewise, staring vacantly over the tops of his glasses. Bunk of late had learned that in this mood there was to be no more reading by his exceedingly wonderful father, and
father could protect him from a whole jungle full of tigers and caves full of witches-ineffable trust, with nothing to harm him, while he slept with his crib so near to daddy that, in the night, when he woke frightened by a dream, he could feel the dear, big hand pulling the coverlet, and hear that voice of peace:
"All right, Bunky; go to sleep."
Saunders knew how it was,-ah, he knew, yet he had never before occupied such a place in the estimation of any one. It was always "daddy" now, the great, big, supereminent daddy; had been of late. Before that it had been "modder."
Mother! There was a rattle of dishes outside, and the door leading into the kitchen opened. Starting guiltily, Saunders leaned forward and gazed over his son's shoulder at the book; and it was thus that his wife beheld them. A dishtowel was thrown over her shoulder, and she wore a gingham apron. Her hands, red and heavily veined, contrasted sharply with the smooth, white, beautiful fore arms. There were lines in her face, but they were suggestive of that sweetness which comes from disappointments crushed down, heartaches smilingly endured, conditions met, and life readjusted to the limitations of a reduced scale, to perspectives less glowing. There was still the girlish curl in her hair, and the eyes were just as soft and bright and brave as when they
first looked on John Saunders, but worlds deeper. She smiled wearily as she gazed at the two.
"Just kids, both of you," she said.
Saunders turned with an appealing look. Then he rose and advanced to her, placing his hands on her shoulders. He was shorter than she, and stoop-shouldered, and his hair was just a bit gray and thin.
"You are tired, Nancy." He touched her beautiful hair, and in a flash the vision of a joyous girl passed through his mind like some beautiful spirit through heavy sunshine. "Nancy," he murmured. "Drudging at dishes! I-"
Her hand was over his mouth, and the boy, who had been wonderingly watching the tableau, seeing the movement, and eager for the evening mauling of his father, rushed forward with a gurgle of delight, and seized the tail of his coat.
"Let 's," said the mother. Thereat the two pushed the man to the couch and rumpled his hair and tickled him and prodded him until he lay back gasping. Then came the ride about the room and to bed, with real neighing, and of course the bear with wondrously realistic woofs through the crib bars, while Bunk, in giggling terror, crouched in the far corner. Then a monkey, certainly simian facial contortions, paw-like movements, and such squealing! The story, too, always by inflexible demand about "daddy"-how he saved Red Riding Hood from the wolf, broke giants over his knee, made engines go,-Bunk was interested in engines, --how he did, oh, everything, until
"Why am I little so long?"
"Why, we all have to be little a long while-so-so that we can be big a long while."
A silence. "Daddy." "Yes, Kid."
"When I'm big like you, can I draw engines and be animals as good as you?" "Gooder, Bunk, much gooder. Good night, Bunk."
"Good night, Daddy." He held up his arms for another kiss, and when he slept, the father stole to the crib and gazed at the little face, so sweet, so elfish, so peaceful, and protruding from the coverlet, a
little hand so busy all the day, but now so still and so helpless-stood and gazed until a nameless emotion thrilled him and choked him, and sent him out of the room.
The noise of the dishes had ceased as Saunders tiptoed into the sitting-room. The wife looked up from her sewing and smiled fondly.
"I wonder if every little boy has a father like you," she said, "and every wife a husband like mine."
"It's a poor woman who has n't." There was pathos in his eyes and a bitter cadence in his voice that caused her to start. Then quickly she rose and came to his side, lifting his head so that she could look into his eyes.
"Every woman has n't love, John." She spoke reproachfully.
"I wanted you to have everything. I promised it. I-I-thought
She interrupted him a trifle sharply. "I have you-and I have Bunk," —she paused as though to weigh her words,-"I have more than I deserve."
He rose and glanced half fearfully at her, and then, as was his manner, he reverently caressed her hair, bowing as though in worship. And she kissed him, and tempted him out of his gloom with laughing words, so that at last it was with energy and inspiration that make epochs in the mental trend of mankind, in conjunction with genius, that Saunders went to his desk and transcribed through the smoke of his pipe another chapter in the life of "Bunk and His Dad," which ultimately, bound between beautifully tooled covers, was to herald to all who love childrenwhich is all the world-a classic of child life. It had begun a few months before, and had progressed slowly, because Saunders was a slow worker and a slow thinker, and because there was so much to tell that it was difficult to decide what to leave out.
Had he left out what should have been left out? Had he put in what he should have put in? He glanced over the preceding chapters, and out of them, just as in writing them, he caught the pure, sweet essence of Bunk's baby-boy life, the pathos, the pleasures, and all the trust, and all the love. Yes, it thrilled him, and laying down his pen, he relighted his pipe and gazed out of the window, over the housetops, black, amorphous against the sky.
It was his favorite view. To the westward was the pale, lurid blur above the night heart of the city. When the book had gone well, it was a bright, alluring effulgence; but more often, when he destroyed a pile of turgid manuscript and withdrew his mind from the unequal combat, the glow was merely a cold, noxious reek, ready to enshroud ambition and hope. His wife laid down a book and came to him, following his gaze into the night. "Is n't it a beautiful night, Deary?" she asked in her full, low tones.
"Yes, beautiful, Nancy."
So they looked, two souls on the outer battlements of life, with all the feasting and song and light and laughter and trappings of fortune and the glitter of circumstance in the inner citadels, afar, but near on a night like this. But always they had love-love which creates, or involves pride, ambition, yearning, devotion, and is prone to mock them all, and a little boy sleeping sweetly in the adjoining room.
Fifteen years before, Saunders was graduated from his university at the head of his class. A cynical, underpaid professor had intimated that this was a misfortune which through effort he might live down. But Saunders had not lived it down. He had placed his money in a publishing house, which had promptly failed. Whereupon Saunders and his wife of a year had moved from Madison Avenue to East Sixtieth Street, altering their scheme of existence, their plans, pleasures, and ambitions in ratio to the change of location and the increased exigencies of life.
Then he had drifted to an evening newspaper, where his classical mind, a trifle heavy, for a while appealed to the editors as a novelty. When the novelty wore off, they dispensed with his services, and the Saunders went without their full quota of meals until a classmate who had become vice-president of a large insurance company gave him a position as clerk in the actuary's department. Here he sat subtracting and dividing and multiplying all day upon a machine that turned with a crank. They gave him twenty-five dollars a week for this; next to the departmental head and his assistants he was the best-paid clerk in the office. But he was far from being the best clerk. Saunders was a constant source of enjoyment to his fellow-workers. His odd, absent-minded
ways, his trick of looking over his glasses, lent themselves readily to mimicry, and the stories of his clerical ineptitude were always sure of a laugh. "Old Saunders," they called him.
In course of time Bunk came, and grew out of helpless babyhood into a full-chested little boy, and there began a new world of experience that Saunders never knew existed. For Bunk believed in his father, implicitly, absolutely. There was no one like him; no one would ever be like him, world without end. From the first this had frightened Saunders-so frightened him that at length, in sheer desperation, were born ambition and energy, misdirected, painful, until, gushing from fountains long dry, came the conviction that, compared with all the greatest things of life, he himself was a child, and that there was as much for him to learn, to think, to achieve, as there was for his boy.
There was less time, it was true, but, still, time enough. And so he began "Bunk and His Dad." Now the book was drawing to a close.
"There will be only two more chapters, Nancy," he said, turning from the window-"two. If it succeeds-"
"It will succeed. It must."
"And if it does, it will be only the written record that I am not a failure-evidence for you alone that I am what I should be. That-"
"For me, John, it is not necessary. I-" "For you, Nancy." And then in each other's arms they cherished the sweet lie. "And if it does n't succeed- We have to consider that."
They held each other closer, but in fear; Saunders saw not his wife. It was Bunk's eyes he saw, lighted with the silent contempt of disillusionment.
Saunders returned to his story, and long into the night, when all was quiet, he wrote and thought and wrote. Then laying down his pen, he picked up the manuscript, and began to read from the beginning. As the story progressed, his eyes burned feverishly; it had the sound of success. It went. It struck chords. He could hear them. Others would hear them. Every man, every woman who loved a child would hear them. He read on, and then suddenly, out of the full symphony, he detected a dissonance, a soft, flabby something, tuneless, jarring.