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Speech and Drama
GA 282

X. The Mystery Character of Dramatic Art

14 September 1924, Dornach

My dear Friends,

It is my intention today to add something to our previous studies that will, I believe, help you to a deeper understanding of dramatic art. For, as I indicated at the end of yesterday's lecture, that is the direction in which our studies are leading us—to an esoteric deepening of our whole conception of drama and of our own part in it. For the community at large, the situation is of course different; we shall be dealing with that later. But speaking for those of us who want to take a share in the work of the stage, we are called upon to fulfil a mission (if I may use such a word in this connection)—a mission on behalf of art and on behalf also of mankind. And before we can begin to have a true perception of that mission, we must learn to see how deeply our art is grounded in man as he is today, and we must also look a little more closely into the whole process of human evolution, in one phase of which we are now living.

The actor must be able to experience for himself how the word, the artistically formed and spoken word, can reveal the whole being of man. This penetrating insight that can behold the word as a revelation of man cannot fail to give him a more spiritual conception of his calling; and once he has that, he will be able to arouse within him the necessary energy to make his work increasingly artistic, gradually bringing more and more artistic form into every detail of his acting. I will give you an example.

An essential factor in the speaking of consonants is the part played by palate, tongue, lips, etc., in the forming of the word. And by looking a little deeper into the matter, we can see how the word on its part, in order that it shall acquire a fulness of content, catches hold of the experience which is associated with the region of each of the specified organs. We can quite well detect this, if we do not disdain to give our attention first of all to what presents itself to immediate perception, in order to pass on afterwards to its more spiritual aspect.

Suppose we take our start from the ordinary physical sense of taste. There is positive ground, you know, for the fact that appreciation of art goes also by the name of taste; although when today we speak of taste in matters of art, and then again of the taste of a cucumber or of a veal cutlet, we have no longer that feeling of necessity which led men of an older time to label both with the same word.

Consider how it is when you take some food or drink that can be described as bitter, that ‘tastes bitter’ in the ordinary material sense. Your palate and the back part of your tongue do the sensing of the bitterness for you. While the bitter substance is passing from your mouth into your oesophagus, and you are having the purely physical experience of bitterness, it is the palate that is engaged, in conjunction with the back part of the tongue. It is also possible to feel that something you eat tastes sour. The consumption of such a substance will lead you into a different physical experience. The task of mediating for you this perception of sourness you assign to the edge of the tongue. It is the edge of the tongue that is actively engaged in the experience of sourness. Or again, some food may taste sweet; then the tip of the tongue is mainly concerned. As you see, our relationship to the external world is in strict accordance with laws underlying our organism. We could never cajole the tip of the tongue into communicating to us the sensation of sourness or of bitterness; such foods leave it passive and inert. The tip of the tongue enjoys the distinction of coming into operation only when we take something sweet into our mouth.

Now it is, as I have said, not without very good reason that we transfer the expressions sour, bitter, sweet, to the realm of the soul. We apply these terms to impressions that are of a moral nature—and we do so with careful discrimination. For we are not ordinarily inclined to picture, for instance, something sour before us as a result of the words another person speaks in our presence; his countenance however, may well cause us to speak of a sour face, and that out of a perfectly natural instinct. Whilst we do not readily feel a sentence to be sour, we have no compunction about calling a face sour. The fact is, the experience that makes you describe a face as sour calls into action exactly the same region in the mouth—namely the back part of the tongue where it goes toward the throat—as is engaged when you swallow vinegar. The experience is somewhat more spiritual, but it works in the same way. For there is an inner relationship between the two, and the relationship makes itself felt—instinctively, but unmistakably. The unconscious in us knows quite well the connection between vinegar and a sour face. There is just this slight difference in their working, that vinegar lays claim to the small and more passive organs of the tongue, whereas there are occasions when a sour face will call upon the more active parts of the same!

We are here verily becoming able to behold the mysterious transition from inner perception or feeling to speech. For there is undoubtedly this real and living connection between them. When something makes an impression upon us in the moral sense and moves us to speech, then what happens is exactly the same as when some physical substance excites our sensation of taste. If you know this, then the knowledge will, evoke in you the power also to dive down into the more hidden regions of external reality. It will, for example, become possible for you to know that supposing you have to speak a sentence that refers, not without artistic feeling, to So-and-so's sour countenance, you will do well to carry in your soul at the same time a distinct after-taste of vinegar. Careful observation of life teaches that this will help; for there is a road that leads straight across from one experience into the other.

Or, let us suppose, in the course of my part, I have to say, or am to overhear, that someone has a complaint against me. Then it will be good if I can instinctively arouse in the depths of my soul a sensation that resembles the after-taste of wormwood.

Or again, let us say, I have to present on the stage some high official into whose presence a man is admitted who wishes to obtain for himself some office or other. The latter adopts a cringing attitude, and pours out on me words of the most fulsome flattery. This is a situation that may well occur in a play. In addition to all else that it will require—and the ‘all else’ will be substantially helped thereby—I shall do well to carry in me, while speaking, the sweet taste that sugar leaves in the mouth. And that will help with my listening too. If I am there in front of him, feeling in my soul, as it were, the after-taste of sugar, I shall—as the listener—instinctively assume the appropriate gesture.

The question might well be raised: In expressing ourselves in this way, are we not adopting a rather realistic and materialistic point of view? Let me tell you, however, that the inducement to speak in this way follows as a direct result from that other study to which I have already alluded—the study, namely, of the historical evolution that has led up to our present drama.

If we trace drama right back to the place of its birth, we come ultimately to what are known as the Mysteries. It is, in fact, not possible to have a worthy conception of dramatic art unless we are able to see its origin in the art of the Mysteries. Now, the art of the Mysteries had this aim in view: that what took place on the stage should proceed from those impulses that make their way into man from the spiritual world. But the art of the Mysteries sought also to follow how these spiritual impulses work right down into the details of the material world; so that, for example, those who had to take part in the ancient Mystery Plays would actually be given vinegar or wormwood, or some other substance, in order to prepare them for finding the right words and mime and gesture. And we, on our part, only begin to take our art seriously when, in our quest for artistic form, we do not hesitate to take account also of bodily experience. Otherwise our performances, where the acting must needs, from the very nature of the art, be carried right down to the fingertips—I might even say, to the tip of the tongue, for I have seen actors put out their tongue before now !—can never be more than superficial.

Such revivals of primitive drama as can be met with in our time—the sort of drama to which I alluded the other day, for instance, when I told you of the Oriental performance I had witnessed in London—do certainly take us back to quite early stages of dramatic art, but not so far back as to give us any idea of the way things were done in the Mysteries. Plays of that kind we will therefore leave for the moment, we shall return to them later; just now we want to race back the art of drama to its source in the art of the Mysteries. If once the actor of the present day can come to understand the Mystery character of the great and noble art that he is following, he will begin to look on his work in a new way, he will begin to take it seriously.

Fundamentally speaking, what the Mystery Play had to do was to show, through the agency of human beings, how the Gods intervene in the life of man on earth.

Had we still today a number of plays of Aeschylus that have been lost, we would not, it is true, be able to learn from them the nature and character of the very most ancient Mystery art, but we would have in them echoes of this original art of the Mysteries. And then we would be able to ee that those who had to take part in the plays approached them with a certain awe and reverence. For these plays did not set out to represent events taking place among men on earth. Supersensible events were enacted, events that had indeed connection with human life on earth but took place among the Gods. The object was to show events that happen in supersensible realms among supersensible beings—to show these events in their influence upon the life of man on earth.

In the most ancient times men shrank with awe from any direct representation of the supersensible. Rather had they the feeling that their part was to create a kind of framework on the stage for the Gods; everything must be so designed and ordered as to enable the spectators to feel that the Gods themselves have with a part of their being come down upon the stage. How was it sought to bring this about? To begin with, by having not individual actors that should represent Gods or human beings, but Choruses. These Choruses performed a special kind of recitative that was between speaking and singing, and was accompanied by instruments. In this way a form was brought into being and hovered over the stage, a stylised form that was absolutely real and was created out of sound and syllable and sentence, moulded and fashioned with an artistic sensitiveness far surpassing anything known in ordinary life. This form was conjured forth before the spectators, or rather the listeners, conjured forth from the word—the word with all its qualities of music and sculpture and painting. And the listener who lived in these older conceptions perceived—that is to say, did not merely have an idea of what was happening, but saw for himself that these Choruses gave the Gods the possibility of being themselves present, of being present in the musically and plastically formed word.

Thus was the forming of the word in all its music and colour, in all its sculpted moulding, brought to such a degree of individualisation that it was able to betoken Divine Beings. This was in very truth attained in the Mysteries of ancient times. And while it was proceeding, the whole space was pervaded with what we today would call fear of the Divine, awe and reverence in the presence of Divine Being. This mood hovered there like an astral aura, mediating between what went on upon the stage and what the spectators were experiencing. The human being felt himself to be in the presence of a supersensible world. And that was what was intended.

And it was further intended that in union with this feeling, another should rise up in the human being; he should feel that he is living in his soul together with the Divine. An inner life lived in close relation with the Divine was thus tho second aim that was cherished in these ancient Mysteries. First, fear of the Gods, in the best sense of the word; and then that man should have this experience of living together with the Divine.

But now a new development. As time went on, men gradually lost the power to perceive spiritual reality in a form that was not outwardly tangible. The consequence was, it became necessary to put the human being on the stage. In earlier times, men had been able to perceive the contours of the Gods in the word—the word with its colour and its music, the plastically moulded word, the recitative. When they could do so no longer, the human being had to be there on the stage to present in his form and figure the contours of the Gods. But the people must not be allowed to forget that the human being on the stage is a God.

Think, for instance, of the Egyptian Gods. Unless there were some special reason for it, they were not given insipid human countenances (I explained in an earlier lecture how I mean this to be understood). The Gods of Egypt, more especially the higher Gods—that is, those who ascend farther into the spiritual—had animal faces, bearing always in their countenance what was intended to typify the eternal. The human countenance is eternal in its mobility; it is eternally changing! Mobility had to be expressed in the gestures of the rest of the person, apart from the head. But there must needs also be duration, constancy; and that must be shown in the physiognomy. A human being cannot let his countenance remain permanently immobile; it would take on the expression of death or look as though he were afflicted with tetanus. If you want to show in the world of the senses that which endures and belongs to the spiritual, if you want to present this in bodily form in contrast to that which is continually changing, then there is no other way, you must have recourse to the animal countenance And so we find in the cult of the Egyptians the supersensible Gods with animal faces.

When now the human being begins to appear on the stage, he too comes before us with a mask that is reminiscent of the animal. This development that we can observe on the stage is an outward expression of the inner development that was taking place in man's spiritual life.

At his first appearance on the stage, the human being did not present man, he presented the God, and most often the God who stands nearest to man, Dionysos. And we begin then to have, in addition to the Chorus, the actor standing in their midst; first one, then two who carry on a dialogue, and gradually more.

Only when we have learned to discern in the whole art of dramatic representation something of the magic of its birthplace in the Mysteries—only then is it possible for us to stand up before an audience as we should, carrying in us the knowledge of how drama has grown up out of the cult of the Mysteries, out of that cult whose whole purpose was to present what belongs to the supersensible world.1At this point Dr. Steiner made a coloured drawing on the blackboard.

In the Middle Ages there was still an understanding for this. If we go back to the time before worldliness began to get the upper hand on the stage, we shall find that dramatic performances were always in connection with worship, with the cult. The Christmas ritual which was intended to lead the people up to a lofty height where they might verily behold the Divine—this Christmas ritual we find continued, either still inside or in front of the church, in the form of a play. The acting was nothing else than an extension of the ritual that was performed inside the church. The priest who celebrated would afterwards appear as actor and take part in the play.

We do not find in these plays the same holy feeling that pervaded the ancient Mysteries, where the drama was an integral part of the cult itself, directly belonging to the Mystery. In mediaeval times it was different; the ritual and the drama had each its own distinct character. One could nevertheless feel that they belonged together. And the sane kind of development went on in connection with the other festivals of the year.

Having thus come to see that drama has a sacramental origin, we may now go on to consider the other, more worldly, factor that was brought in later on, and that has not the same close relation to cult and ritual. It has nevertheless a similar origin.

When in very early times man looked out into the great world of Nature, he felt there the presence of the Divine, with whom he himself was connected; he felt the God in tho clouds, the God in the thunder and lightning. And still more did he feel the God entering into the word, into the artistically formed and musically modulated word, which the Chorus in the Mysteries placed out into the world as objective, created form. And now, as time went on, this very experience led man to perceive another secret. He began to learn that there is something in himself that is Divine, and that responds like an echo to the Divine that comes to meet him from the far reaches of the universe. And this led man to develop a new feeling about drama which we may describe in the following way.

The ground had been prepared in far-off times by the Chorus, who produced the word wherein the God was able, not of course to incarnate, but to be incorporated. That was how it was in the Mystery Play, the original Mystery Play. Then came the time when, man being no longer equal to this experience, the actor was brought forward, not yet, however, for any other purpose than to represent the God. But now, as evolution proceeded further, the perception began to dawn upon man that when the human being presents his own innermost soul, then too he is presenting something Divine; if he can present on the stage the Divine that is in the external world, he can also present the Divine that is in himself. And so, from being a manifestation of the Gods, dramatic art became a manifestation of the inner being of man; it presented on the stage the human soul. And this inevitably led to the need to bring innermost human experience into the forming of the speech, to bring this same intimate human experience into the gesturing also that was done on the stage.

And then there developed, in a time when its significance could still be instinctively felt, all that way of working with voice and gesture which I have been putting before you in these lectures, impressing upon you the need to renew it in our day, to put your whole will into getting it restored to the technique of the stage. We have seen how it takes us, on the one hand, to such things as Discus-throwing, and on the other hand to a sensitive perception of the after-taste, for example, of sour and bitter. Yes, we have to go on paths that may seem at first to lead us far afield, in order to find again the foundations upon which alone can be built the drama that portrays man.

It will be helpful if at this point we make a kind of picture of how the evolution of drama has taken its course. Contemplate the picture, meditate upon it, and it will inspire you to enter with deeper understanding into the things that I have been expounding in these days in considerable detail and that will, I hope, become much clearer to you as I help you now to see them in a larger perspective.

We can for the moment imagine that we have before us the stage of the present day (only, obviously no more than its barest outlines, if we are thinking of primeval times); and in the centre of the stage the word, produced by the Chorus in all its fulness of colour and tone and form. In the word men feel the presence of the God. The God appears in the word—in the music, in the painting, in the sculpture of the word. It is His will to appear to those who are present there, beholding. That is the first phase.

The next phase is that in amongst the Chorus the human being begins to take a place, the real and actual human being. Before, it was the God—the God who was only `incorporated’ in the formed word. Now, man stands there; yet we still have the God, for man is only there to represent the God. He will accordingly have to learn how to speak from the Chorus, who used even to employ instruments in order to give greater strength to the voice. Man will have to learn from the Chorus; for his voice must not reveal what is within him, must not utter forth any human experience, no, it has to imitate what the Chorus places out objectively into the world. His recitative is to be a continuation of what was in the Chorus. In comparison with the mighty development of voice that was striven for here and that was rendered yet more powerful by the use of all manner of instruments (and this was not simply because they were acting in the open air and needed on that account to reinforce the voice, but for the reason I have explained, namely, that upon that stage should be heard speak the voice of the Gods)—in comparison, I say, with this development of voice in the earliest Mystery Plays, the speaking on our modern stage would sound to some Greek of ancient times who had understanding for these things like the squeaking of a mouse. Yes, it would indeed! For through what took place upon that stage of olden time, the Divine World rushed storming like a mighty wind.

But now comes this further development, where man begins to grow aware that the Divine is also within himself. Representation of the God gives place to representation of man.

It follows as a necessary consequence that man will have to learn to stylise his prose; for he has to carry into the external world the revelation of his own inner experiences. But for this it is by no means enough that we should behave on the stage as we do in real life. After all, what occasion is there to show that on the stage? We have enough of it around us all the time. No one with artistic feeling will be interested in a mere imitation of life, since life itself is always far richer than the poor husk which is all that imitation can produce.

Consider for a moment how it is with some other art—say, the art of landscape painting. There would not be much sense in a painter's setting out to paint trees with the object of painting them so as to show whether they had needles or leaves, and then putting in some clouds up in the sky of various shapes, adding below a meadow and carefully reproducing there the colours of the different flowers. No one with artistic feeling could bear to look at such a picture. And why not? Because there are much more beautiful views to look at outside in Nature. Landscape painting of this kind does not justify its existence. No question but Nature can show us pictures of far greater beauty.

But now suppose you have a painter who begins by feeling all around him a mood of evening time. The tree that stands there in the landscape is nothing to him, but the light on the tree, how the tree catches the light of the setting sun—that has a mood of its own, a mood that comes and goes in a moment. It will probably make no great impression on the dry and prosaic passer-by, but the painter can seize upon the momentary experience and hold it fast, if he have sufficient presence of mind (I mean that in the best sense of the word2The German word is Geistesgegenwart (presence of spirit)). Then landscape painting begins to have meaning. For if we have before us such a painting, we are looking at the momentary inspiration of a fellow human being, at the momentary spiritualising of his sight. Through and beyond the painted landscape, we are looking into the very heart of the painter's temperament. For according as is a man's temperament, so does the landscape show itself to him, down to the very colours he finds there. With a genuine and elemental painter, it will really be so, that if the fundamental mood of his soul is melancholy, he will show us the shadow side of things with their darker nuances of colour. If again in his deepest being he is of sanguine temperament, then shades of red and yellow will dance for him upon the leaves wheresoever the sunshine strikes them. And if you should happen to look at paintings where these bright colours are seen dancing in the sunshine, and on making the acquaintance afterwards of the man who painted them discover that he is a melancholic, then that man is no painter; he has merely learned to paint. And there is a vast difference between being a painter and learning to paint—although one who is a painter must also learn to paint! This last fact is too often forgotten nowadays, and people jump to the conclusion that one who has learned to paint is no painter, and that he alone is a painter who has never learned to paint. That is, however, not correct.

If you want to characterise the true painter, he is the one of whom you are bound to say when you see his pictures: He must indeed be a painter! And then you have to add, a little diffidently: And he must also have learned to paint! But if you meet with someone like I described just now, who paints. a picture that is entirely out of tune with his temperament, then you will have to say, taking care not to give offence (for one must always be polite): He has learned to paint!—adding, silently, to yourself: But he is, for all that, no painter !

I don't mean you to take this as a piece of advice! I am merely quoting what you will frequently hear people say in order to get out of the dilemma in which they find themselves when faced with the pretensions of would-be painters.

Well then, it will, I think, be clear to us all that there is no point in reproducing on the stage what we have immediately present before us in real life. What is wanted is that the one who is there on the stage shall for the time let his ordinary self be forgotten, and become the human being who lives in speech in the way I have described. The spectator will then instinctively perceive around the actor an aura; as he listens to the formed speech, he will see before him the auric contours—perhaps of the incisive word, or perhaps of the slowly spoken, or again of the word that is abrupt, or the word that is energetically flung out. Living in this way in the speech, the actor becomes something quite different from what he is in life.

In extreme instances you will recognise at once that this has to be so. Suppose you want to assign the part of a simpleton. It would never do to give it to an actor who is one already. A producer who allowed a rather silly, idiotic person to play the part would be the worst producer imaginable. To play the role of a simpleton requires the highest art; least of all is a simpleton equal to it. From a purely naturalistic point of view, it might, of course, seem best to look round for an actor who would play the part out of his own natural silliness. For the part to be played as it should be, however, something quite different is required. The actor has to know that the condition is due to an incapacity to let the forming of the speech make contact with the sour, bitter and sweet in the way I have explained. The simpleton does not succeed in building the bridge from these sensations to speech.

The dramatist ought to take this into consideration in his composition of the text; he ought to know that such a person remains at the sensation, cannot get across to the speech which should result from the soul experience that belongs to the sensation. What will a good dramatist do in such a situation? (And the actor, you know, should always have the insight to see what the dramatist is doing; it should be quite clear to him from the whole setting of the play.) A good dramatist will want the role to be played by an actor who is a true artist and possesses to a rare degree the gift of gesture in the way I have described it, so that his gestures come right out of inner experience, bringing this inner experience to expression in style, in true artistic style. The art of listening—that is what the actor of the part will have to develop particularly, the art of listening with gesture. It may be the dramatist will not help him here; for the dramatists of the present day are not exactly great artists. But, although it is true that one cannot ‘corriger la fortune’, one can ‘corriger’ life, which means in the present instance one can ensure that art appears on the stage in a genuine and worthy manner by having the ‘foolish’ part acted with full complement of gesture, and especially of those gestures I described yesterday for the listener or onlooker. The main point is that the simpleton, when he is conscious of some sensation within him, should show by his whole attitude and gesture that he expects his environment to tell him how he is to put it into words. Get your actor to make listening’ gestures and be all the time gazing open-mouthed at the people around him, in the position for a; and your audience will not fail to receive the impression of a simpleton. Let him even try to caricature this a position right from the back of the mouth, looking intently on the people around, as though it were they, and not he, who should really be doing the speaking. And if the dramatist has failed to do his part in the matter, the producer should none the less require the actor to employ the relevant gestures; even if something quite different is being said around him, the actor can still make as though he were hearing from the talk of the others what he himself has to say. You have only to let him be perpetually giving the impression of being the echo of those who are standing around and be making also at the same time appropriate gestures, and you will have placed on the stage a faithful presentation of a simpleton. In real life you won't find it exactly like that.

But now suppose you want to show on the stage the ‘wise’ man, generally a popular part with actors—but I myself would sooner play the simpleton. An actor who is playing the wise or ‘knowing’ man should show by his gestures that for his own understanding he is not very dependent on the others with whom he is conversing. His gestures will in fact be lacking in the very quality that I have said ought to characterise gesture; they will be lacking in life, being no more than lightly indicated, and containing always a subtle hint of the gesture of rejection that we saw must accompany the word of rejection or brushing aside. The wise man goes with the other speaker, follows what he is saying, but along with his gesture of understanding there will always be a touch of the gesture of rejection. And then, when his partner has finished speaking, he will wait awhile, and whereas before, when he was the listener, he inclined his head to hear what the other had to say, he will now perhaps throw it back; even the eyelids too can be held back a little. This will always >mean that the audience will instinctively have the impression that the ‘wise’ man is not going to enter fully into what the other has been saying, but intends rather to draw upon his own store of wisdom in order to show what is really essential in the matter. The audience will feel that he is talking more out of his memory than in response to what he has heard the other say. Your wise man should always give this impression. If he does not, the acting has been lacking in style.

A very different kind of gesturing will have to be employed if you want to represent on the stage a gossipy old lady. She has, let us say, just come from an afternoon tea-party, and brings with her the manners of the tea-table. This old lady will have to accompany what she hears said with a motion of stout resistance, indicating that nothing the other has to say is right. And then, before the other has finished speaking, she should break in, with complete corresponding accompaniment of gesture to accord with every shade of speech formation. She must break in so suddenly that you feel she has no need to stop to think; she knows right away, as soon as ever she is confronted with the situation, what she will say to it. She should be beginning with gesture and word while the other's last syllable is being spoken. One must, however, be careful to let this last syllable be heard, so that the audience do not lose the thread.

You must really ensure that such a scene is treated in the way I have described, for then it will have style. This gossipy old lady, coming in straight from the tea-table, is, you see, the exact opposite of the wise man. It could also quite well be a gossipy old gentleman, come straight from his evening glass with his pals; in that case the male quality of the talk would have to be brought out. And where the lady from the tea-party, before her partner has finished speaking, pokes out a finger, the old gentleman who also bursts in on the last syllable, will gesticulate with his whole hand, or his whole arm. That will be rendering the scene in style.