Home  »  Volume XVII: American LATER NATIONAL LITERATURE: PART II  »  § 27. Later Literary Drama

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

§ 27. Later Literary Drama

Mrs. Josephine Preston Peabody Marks, a poet with literary feeling, with an eye for the pictorial, won a prize offered by the English actor, Frank Benson, with The Piper (New Theatre, 30 January, 1911)—a charming resetting of the old Hamelin legend which has modern implication and application. Patches of poetry beautify the text but weight the acting quality. Its imaginative stretch was refreshing in the American theatre, however, and the production given by Winthrop Ames was distinctive. It possessed youthful spirit, and hints of dramatic tenseness. But Mrs. Marks has not yet added convincing proof that she is a dramatist above a poet, though her Marlowe furnishes a commendable example of poetic drama.

The fact is, American drama has always been so completely shadowing the newspaper on one hand or catering to Broadway on the other that any example of imaginative freshness with fanciful idea would appeal instantly to a sated public. It is on such psychology that Eleanor Gates’s The Poor Little Rich Girl (Hudson Theatre, 21 January, 1913) succeeded—a literary feat in fantastic story-telling which possessed Barriesque qualities without Barrie’s craftsmanship as a writer for the theatre. Is it fair to say that it was one of those happy accidents which so often happen in the theatre? For Miss Gates, in her next piece, We Are Seven (Maxine Elliott Theatre, 24 December, 1913), convinced the critics that she was happier as a story-teller than as a playwright. Her position in the theatre has yet to be won.

From the theatre direct, however, there has come a play which succeeded because of its universal dramatic and picturesque appeal and which, were the repertory idea again to become a fashion, should place it prominently in a list of permanent American products—George Hazelton and J. H. Benrimo’s The Yellow Jacket (4 November, 1912), an imaginative creation of real worth, far exceeding anything that Hazelton had ever done before, and defying imitation by Benrimo, who built The Willow Tree (Cohan and Harris Theatre, 6 March, 1917) upon it. It convinces the most unhopeful critic that what the American theatre needs is not so much material as an intellectual, a spiritual unity about it which will encourage such writers as Hazelton, Austin Strong, whose The Toymaker of Nüremburg (1907) was simple and poetic, Edward Childs Carpenter, whose The Cinderella Man (17 January, 1916) was wholesome, and whose The Pipes of Pan (6 November, 1917) impressed one with its literary quality, to create rather than to build with an eye on what the manager conceives the public wants.