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Dramatic Technique   By:

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Professor of History and Technique of the Drama in Yale University

" A good play is certainly the most rational and the highest Entertainment that Human Invention can produce. "



Houghton Mifflin Company Boston · New York · Chicago · Dallas · San Francisco

The Riverside Press Cambridge

Copyright, 1919, by George Pierce Baker All Rights Reserved

The author acknowledges courteous permission to quote passages from copyright plays as credited to various authors and publishers in the footnotes.

The Riverside Press Cambridge · Massachusetts

Printed in the U.S.A.


"The dramatist is born, not made." This common saying grants the dramatist at least one experience of other artists, namely, birth, but seeks to deny him the instruction in art granted the architect, the painter, the sculptor, and the musician. Play readers and producers, however, seem not so sure of this distinction, for they are often heard saying: "The plays we receive divide into two classes: those competently written, but trite in subject and treatment; those in some way fresh and interesting, but so badly written that they cannot be produced." Some years ago, Mr. Savage, the manager, writing in The Bookman on "The United States of Playwrights," said: "In answer to the question, 'Do the great majority of these persons know anything at all of even the fundamentals of dramatic construction?' the managers and agents who read the manuscripts unanimously agree in the negative. Only in rare instances does a play arrive in the daily mails that carries within it a vestige of the knowledge of the science of drama making. Almost all the plays, furthermore, are extremely artificial and utterly devoid of the quality known as human interest." All this testimony of managers and play readers shows that there is something which the dramatist has not as a birthright, but must learn. Where? Usually he is told, "In the School of Hard Experience." When the young playwright whose manuscript has been returned to him but with favorable comment, asks what he is to do to get rid of the faults in his work, both evident to him and not evident, he is told to read widely in the drama; to watch plays of all kinds; to write with endless patience and the resolution never to be discouraged. He is to keep submitting his plays till, by this somewhat indefinite method of training, he at last acquires the ability to write so well that a manuscript is accepted. This is "The School of Experience." Though a long and painful method of training, it has had, undeniably, many distinguished graduates.

Why, however, is it impossible that some time should be saved a would be dramatist by placing before him, not mere theories of play writing, but the practice of the dramatists of the past, so that what they have shared in common, and where their practice has differed, may be clear to him? That is all this book attempts. To create a dramatist would be a modern miracle. To develop theories of the drama apart from the practice of recent and remoter dramatists of different countries would be visionary. This book tries in the light of historical practice merely to distinguish the permanent from the impermanent in technique. It endeavors, by showing the inexperienced dramatist how experienced dramatists have solved problems similar to his own, to shorten a little his time of apprenticeship. The limitations of any such attempt I fully recognize. This book is the result of almost daily discussion for some years with classes of the ideas contained in it, but in that discussion there was a chance to treat with each individual the many exceptions, apparent or real, which he could raise to any principle enunciated. Such full discussion is impossible in a book the size of this one. Therefore I must seem to favor an instruction far more dogmatic than my pupils know from me... Continue reading book >>

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