Home  »  Volume XVII: American LATER NATIONAL LITERATURE: PART II  »  § 19. William Gillette

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21). rn VOLUME XVII. Later National Literature, Part II.

XVIII. The Drama, 1860–1918

§ 19. William Gillette

The work in play-writing of William Gillette has been so closely identified with his peculiar technique as an actor that it is difficult to separate the two. Apart from his first collaboration with Mrs. Frances Hodgson Burnett in Esmeralda (29 October, 1881); apart from his dependence on French sources in Too Much Johnson (26 November, 1894) and Because She Loved Him So (16 January, 1899), both of which showed the quickness of his farce spirit, one should judge him by the tenseness of his Civil War pieces, Held by the Enemy (16 August, 1886) and Secret Service (5 October, 1896); and by the refined melodrama of his Sherlock Holmes dramatization (6 November, 1899), which, for its success, was so dependent on the nervous quiet of his acting. As an actor, Gillette requires peculiar opportunities of hesitant firmness; only one dramatist outside of himself has recognized his special needs—J. M. Barrie in The Admirable Crichton (17 November, 1903). Gillette himself did not rightly estimate them when he wrote the sentimental comedy Clarice (16 October, 1906), nor did he, either as a technician or as a psychologist, create aright in such a piece as Electricity (31 October, 1910). As a dramatist he has remained undisturbed by the interest in modern ideas; his social conscience has not ruffled the even amusement tenor of his plays, which always arouse the observer to moods romantically tense, and depend on thoroughly legitimate situations rather than on ideas.