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in the days when the most far-reaching effect can only be accomplished through the summons of a manifold physical and mental endeavor, the existence of these loud heroes is circumscribed within rather limited lines.
Previous generations could never have grasped the deep tragedy in that famous painting of Millet that inspired Edwin Markham to write his “Man with the Hoe.” Our generation, however, is thrilled by it. And is there not something terribly tragic about the lives of the great masses who pierced the colossal stone cliffs of the Simplon, or who are building the Panama Canal? They have and are performing a task that may safely be compared with the extraordinary achievements of Hercules; works which, according to human conception, will last into eternity. The names and the characters of these workmen are unknown. The historians, coldly and disinterestedly, pass them by. Baseball-He-Got-It-From-His-Mom-Shirt
The new drama has unveiled this kind of tragedy. It has done away with the lie that sought to produce a violent dramatic effect through a plunge from the sublime to the ridiculous. Those who understand Tolstoy’s “Power of Darkness,” wherein but those of the lowest strata appear, will be overwhelmed by the terrible tragedy in their lives, in comparison with which the worries of some crowned head or the money troubles of some powerful speculator will appear insignificant indeed. That which this master unfolds before us is no longer a plunge from heaven to hell; the entire life of these people is an Inferno. The terrible darkness and ignorance of these people, forced on them by the social misery of dull necessity, produces greater soul sensations in the spectator than the stilted tragedy of a Corneille. Those who witness a performance of Gerhart Hauptmann’s “Hannele” and fail to be stirred by the grandeur and depth of that masterpiece, regardless of its petty poorhouse atmosphere, deserve to see nothing else than the “Wizard of Oz.” And again is not the long thunderous march of hungry strikers in Zola’s “Germinal” as awe-inspiring to those who feel the heart beat of our age even as the heroic deeds of Hannibal’s warriors were to his contemporaries?
The world stage ever represents a change of participants. The one who played the part of leading man in one century, may become a clown in another. Entire social classes and casts that formerly commanded first parts, are to-day utilized to make up stage decorations or as figurantes. Plays representing the glory of knighthood or minnesingers would only amuse to-day, no matter how serious they were intended to appear. Once anything lies buried under the bulk of social changes, it can affect coming generations only so far as the excavated skeleton affects the geologist. This must be borne in mind by sincere stage art, if it is not to remain in the stifling atmosphere of tradition, if it does not wish to degrade a noble method, that helps to recognize and disclose all that is rich and deep in the human into a commonplace, hypocritical and stupid method. If the artist’s creation is to have any effect, it must contain elements of real life, and must turn its gaze toward the dawn of the morn of a more beautiful and joyous world, with a new and healthy generation, that feels deeply its relationship with all human beings over the universe.