**** ROTATE **** **** ROTATE **** **** ROTATE **** **** ROTATE ****

Find this Story

Print, a form you can hold

Wireless download to your Amazon Kindle

Look for a summary or analysis of this Story.

Enjoy this? Share it!


About Play-Acting
by [?]

No one’s life escapes the blight. Timoleus, the gay satirist of the first two acts, who scoffed at the pious hypocrisies and money-grubbing ways of the great Roman lords, is grown old and fat and blear-eyed and racked with disease in the third, has lost his stately purities, and watered the acid of his wit. His life has suffered defeat. Unthinkingly he swears by Zeus–from ancient habit–and then quakes with fright; for a fellow-communicant is passing by. Reproached by a pagan friend of his youth for his apostasy, he confesses that principle, when unsupported by an assenting stomach, has to climb down. One must have bread; and ‘the bread is Christian now.’ Then the poor old wreck, once so proud of his iron rectitude, hobbles away, coughing and barking.

In that same act Appelles give his sweet young Christian daughter and her fine young pagan lover his consent and blessing, and makes them utterly happy–for five minutes. Then the priest and the mob come, to tear them apart and put the girl in a nunnery; for marriage between the sects is forbidden. Appelles’ wife could dissolve the rule; and she wants to do it; but under priestly pressure she wavers; then, fearing that in providing happiness for her child she would be committing a sin dangerous to her own, she goes over to the opposition, and throws the casting vote for the nunnery. The blight has fallen upon the young couple, and their life is a failure.

In the fourth act, Longinus, who made such a prosperous and enviable start in the first act, is left alone in the desert, sick, blind, helpless, incredibly old, to die: not a friend left in the world–another ruined life. And in that act, also, Appelles’ worshipped boy, Nymphas, done to death by the mob, breathes out his last sigh in his father’s arms–one more failure. In the fifth act, Appelles himself dies, and is glad to do it; he who so ignorantly rejoiced, only four acts before, over the splendid present of an earthly immortality–the very worst failure of the lot!


Now I approach my project. Here is the theatre list for Saturday, May 7, 1898, cut from the advertising columns of a New York paper:

[graphic here]

Now I arrive at my project, and make my suggestion. From the look of this lightsome feast, I conclude that what you need is a tonic. Send for ‘The Master of Palmyra.’ You are trying to make yourself believe that life is a comedy, that its sole business is fun, that there is nothing serious in it. You are ignoring the skeleton in your closet. Send for ‘The Master of Palmyra.’ You are neglecting a valuable side of your life; presently it will be atrophied. You are eating too much mental sugar; you will bring on Bright’s disease of the intellect. You need a tonic; you need it very much. Send for ‘The Master of Palmyra.’ You will not need to translate it; its story is as plain as a procession of pictures.

I have made my suggestion. Now I wish to put an annex to it. And that is this: It is right and wholesome to have those light comedies and entertaining shows; and I shouldn’t wish to see them diminished. But none of us is always in the comedy spirit; we have our graver moods; they come to us all; the lightest of us cannot escape them. These moods have their appetites–healthy and legitimate appetites–and there ought to be some way of satisfying them. It seems to me that New York ought to have one theatre devoted to tragedy. With her three millions of population, and seventy outside millions to draw upon, she can afford it, she can support it. America devotes more time, labour, money and attention to distributing literary and musical culture among the general public than does any other nation, perhaps; yet here you find her neglecting what is possibly the most effective of all the breeders and nurses and disseminators of high literary taste and lofty emotion–the tragic stage. To leave that powerful agency out is to haul the culture-wagon with a crippled team. Nowadays, when a mood comes which only Shakespeare can set to music, what must we do? Read Shakespeare ourselves! Isn’t it pitiful? It is playing an organ solo on a jew’s-harp. We can’t read. None but the Booths can do it.