chapter  VI
17 Pages

The functions of imagery in drama

The plays or groups that we have already considered 1 have shown how seemingly incompatible subject-matter may be shaped into dramatic form, a supreme work of art winning a victory, where least expected, by transcending the normal limitations. But victory of this kind on the grand scale is rare, and there are less remarkable triumphs over limitation which are made possible by skilful and unobtrusive technique. These are almost all matters of detail rather than of basic structure and generally work by extending the scope through suggestion and implication without modifying the presentation of the matter. Imagery and prosody, together with certain bold conventions and even devices of setting, serve in various ways to overcome the disadvantages of that brevity which is essential to the concentration and immediacy of drama. A play in which any or all of these are richly used conveys an impression both of magnitude and of subtlety, while the dramatist who uses fewer of them must (like Ibsen in the social dramas) compensate the resulting austerity by some other means, such as the power and skill of the architecture. It is hardly necessary to point out that the average sound theatre play, whether of the present age or of any other, does neither; its potency is thus commensurate with its necessary dramatic brevity; it may be effective in the theatre, but it will not grow in the mind as will a great imaginative work of art.