Speech and Drama
III. Speech as a Formed Gesture
7 September 1924, Dornach
My dear Friends,
We have learned to see how speech comes originally from the artistic in man—the primitive artistic, but by no means on that account inferior in quality—and that from the beginning there has lived in speech both a musical and a plastic element. We have moreover seen how man's thought life and man's life of feeling lived in his speaking. Bearing this in mind, it will now be our task to try to form a true idea of the art of speech as it is today. Let us then ask ourselves: How do we speak? Assuming we are interested in artistically formed speech, what do we take as our standard?
As a matter of fact, life as it is lived today provides us with no true standard; it is indeed sadly lacking altogether in artistic standards. Are there not many people today who enjoy poetry very much and yet have no knowledge of what a poem is? They take their poetry as if it were prose, looking at the content and having often not the remotest understanding for its artistic form. For them, the artistic quality in the poetry might simply not be there at all. And so, since in the matter of speech we must needs take our start from what can be known and experienced by people at large— after all it is they for whom art is in the first place produced— we shall have to take our start from prose. For notwithstanding the advanced age of civilisation in which we live, it is in accordance with the standards of prose that speech is adjudged, even when people profess to be judging it from an artistic point of view. And these standards have not arisen out of artistic feeling; they have gradually taken shape and simply been accepted as conventions.
How often one hears people complain today if someone, out of artistic necessity, reads or recites in accordance with the verse, and not in accordance with the syntax! Following the orthodox prose standards, he should carry right on from one line of verse into the next, and objection is raised if he does not do this, but obeys the verse instead of the grammar. In this connection a curious anomaly has crept into the literature of today. The younger poets have an overpowering desire by some means or other to get back to style; and right in the middle of a sentence which runs on, necessarily and naturally, into the following lines, they will introduce a rhyme in such a way that the rhyme breaks rudely into the grammatical sequence of the sentence. Now, this is certainly not quite the way to achieve style! Nevertheless, where the spiritual life has become what it is today and all feeling for style has been lost, one can well understand how these poets feel impelled purposely to insert rhyme just where it can strike a rude blow at the grammar And then the poor reciter is obliged not to swallow the rhyme but to give it its place and value in his recitation, and in doing so he too of course has to play havoc with the composition of the sentence. There is, in fact, a regular battle being waged in our day between art and taste, and we must be ready to bear our part in it, particularly in the realm of speech.
In a time when men still had a feeling for art and for style, there was even for prose what, at all events, resembled art, namely rhetoric—or, as it was often called, eloquence. It has survived, along with many another antiquated curiosity, in some of our universities. The universities, at any rate the older ones, have still continued to appoint Professors of Eloquence. There was one, for example, in Berlin, who was quite a famous man. He was appointed to teach eloquence. The public, however, and consequently the University, had no use for lectures on eloquence. In their view, all that is necessary is for people to open their mouths and speak, just as it comes; no need of any teaching! And so it came about that most people were quite unaware that they had in the University a highly distinguished Professor of Eloquence. He lectured on Grecian Archaeology, and he gave excellent lectures. He had not, however, been appointed for that at all, he had been appointed Professor of Eloquence, for which there was no demand, so sadly out of tune with the age is anything that has to do with the real forming of speech.
The proper aim and purpose of prose is to bring back thought into speech. For thought has become quite detached from speech.
Now the thoughts men have today are, without exception, thoughts that have to do with the head. For to what do they refer? Solely to things that are material. The religious bodies, having no desire to be connected with material things, have for a long time, and especially the Protestants, been making great efforts to exclude thought altogether, in theory anyway, and instead to fall back on feeling—to have, that is, what they call faith, which amounts for them to the same thing. We have no occasion to go further into that now, but it is important for us to realise that the thoughts that are in the world today are material as regards their content. Even men who believe they recognise and acknowledge the spiritual—unless they take their stand right within the life of the spirit, their thoughts too are concerned with what is material and are the product of the head alone.
And now you must allow me at this point to make use of a picture, although the picture is meant to be taken seriously and even quite exactly. In a lecture on natural science it would not of course be permissible to describe the human being in the way I shall now be doing.
Man's head is round, at all events in its inherent tendency; and in its roundness it forms a picture of the universe, the universe, that is, as it presents itself to immediate observation in its material aspect. Thoughts that are spiritual can never originate in the head; they can only spring from the whole human being. And man as a whole is not round; for in man as a whole the roundness has been metamorphosed so that he has an altogether different form. The moment it is a question of leaving the purely material, as for example in the forming of speech, we have to look in the direction of that in man which is not round. We did this yesterday, when we gave our attention to gesture, which is something that least of all can be carried out by the head. For it is only a few people who can, for example, move their ears at will; and such gestures as these do not anyway come into consideration here. The head is indeed, and with good reason, gestureless; only in look and in play of countenance may it be said to have a last relic, an indication merely, of gesture.
We were speaking yesterday of many things that need to be brought into speech, and these all have their origin, not in the head, but in the whole of the rest of man. So it comes to this: what man experiences in the rest of his being must flow up into the head. This is what I meant when I said that after we have studied a passage in gesture, studied it first, that is, in gesture alone, the gesture has then to flow into the word, has to be lifted up into the spoken word.
Prose, however, having been restricted to the head, has almost entirely lost gesture; prose can be declaimed with complete absence of gesture. Or rather, not declaimed; one merely talks prose—prosaically.
What does this imply? That in prose, as we have it today, there is a tendency to lose style altogether and replace it with a mere pointing of certain words. For it is the business of prose to state or tell something quite precisely. And since what has to be told has been acquired by means of the head, that is to say, by means of the roundness that imitates the apparent roundness of the universe, it has in itself no form. Our thoughts, in so far as they move in prose, are chaotically jumbled together. If it were not so, we would not have in our time the deplorable spectacle of the sciences working alongside one another but unconnected, and of the specialisation that goes on in each separate branch of knowledge. Why, today one can be reputed a great anatomist and have no understanding whatever for the soul. In reality that is simply not possible. In reality one can neither know the soul without some understanding of anatomy, nor know anatomy without some understanding of the soul. And yet it would appear that in our day such a thing is possible! This has come about because the generally accepted form of expression for prose consists in placing thoughts side by side and giving to each its own particular point and emphasis. Style, however, requires continuity of thought. Anyone setting out to write an essay and to write it in style, ought already to have his last sentence within the first. He should in fact pay even more attention to the last than to the first. And while he is writing his second sentence, he should have in mind the last but one. Only when he comes to the middle of his essay can he allow himself to concentrate on one sentence alone. If an author has a true feeling for style in prose, he will have the whole essay before him as he writes.
Ask a present-day botanist whether he knows, when he begins to write, what his last sentence is going to be! All feeling for style in the formulation of ideas has completely disappeared. The prose writing of today is based on emphasis and pointed expression, not at all on a feeling for style. And so, if prose is taken as the model upon which people form their estimation of speech, it means that the objections put forward against the stylists are made—and even consciously made—without any feeling for style.
What unbelievable expressions one hears used today! I have repeatedly heard some quite cultured person say, for example, in praise of a beautiful pear: ‘It looks like wax!’ Yes, my dear friends, that single remark can show you what a complete lack there is today, not merely of any feeling for art in speech, but a complete lack even of any possibility of acquiring such a thing. Anyone who has the smallest feeling for style will know of course that it is possible for a wax pear to be beautiful through its resemblance to the real pear, but not vice versa. You have, however, an example of the very same fallacy when you find people comparing what is spoken in verse with something expressed in prose. In dealing with the modern sort of prose we are often painfully compelled to dispense with style entirely—the only alternative being to create a prose of our own.
This is a matter that calls for serious attention. Prose exists for communication; and we have the task to see how prose can still fulfil its purpose when we have consciously restored style to those elements in it that are tending to lose style altogether.
What is it must enter into our speaking when we are telling something? The reason our prose has become styleless is of course that it sets out merely to tell and nothing more. That has been the tendency all through. Prose has always tended to get away from art; it is a cultural activity of the head—which is as much as to say, a cultural activity totally lacking in art. What then must narration try to do, in what direction must it turn if it wants still to fulfil its part as narration, and at the same time evince an artistic quality?
For narrating we make use of the senses and the understanding, which belong to the head. Consequently prose has perforce to express itself in such form as the head can provide. It should, however, also be continually making the effort to reach out with what has been perceived by the head and let it take hold of the arms, and more especially of the legs. Then in the rendering of epic (and epic exists to tell and narrate), the sort of pointed style that belongs to the head becomes modified by the attempt to seize hold of the legs—no occasion of course to do so literally, with brute force!
And this is exactly what has happened in the hexameter, 1It may be helpful to remind the student of the following:
Anapaest ⌣ ⌣—
Dactyl— ⌣ ⌣
The hexameter is a verse of six feet, generally five dactyls followed by a spondee (or trochee). A familiar example in English is Longfellow's Evangeline. and with marvellous success. For what is the hexameter? The distinguishing feature of it is that, having set out to be the verse for communication and narrative, it seizes upon the legs and brings their rhythm into the verse. Not without reason do we speak of the `feet’ in a line of verse. And you will have no true experience of the hexameter until you can feel that besides speaking it, you can also step it. For you can certainly do so. You set out to narrate something; that is, you want to express, to reveal in your speech what I named yesterday the `thoughtful’. First of all, you must see to it that you do really start from this thoughtful element in speech. You stand still, resting your weight on one foot, and while you are standing there you speak—slowly, and with full tone. You take two steps, and glide rapidly over the speaking in these two steps. Then the time has come round again to stand still, because the narrative requires to be thought. Then once more you take two steps.
It can, you see, be easily done; and when you have carried it out for a whole line of verse, you have walked the hexameter. It is there in your stepping in its true form: plant the foot down, o, two steps, e, e; o, e, e; o, e, e; o, e, e. You have taken your stepping into your speaking; the form of your stepping is in your speaking.
Take the line:
Singe, unsterbliche Seele, der sÃündigen Menschen Erlösung.
(Sing, O immortal soul, of sinful mankind the redemption.)
or again, this one:
Singe, O Muse, vom Zome mir des Peleiden Achilleus.
(Sing now to me, O Muse, of the wrath of the godlike Achilles.)
and so on.
As you can see, the whole man goes over into what is produced by the head.
When Goethe came to feel the force of this metre in the epics of Homer, he was moved to revive the use of it for narrative poetry. And he did so in his Hermann and Dorothea, where he was wanting to write an epic. He soon began to feel, however, while at work on the poem, that the hexameter does not really lend itself to the expression of modern themes, since these have become quite prosaic. And so Goethe did not after all entirely succeed in clothing the rather provincial contemporary epic—for that is what Hermann and Dorothea is in respect of its theme—in such noble forms as should lift it on to quite another level, while at the same time satisfying the taste of an uncultured public. Yet he did give them in this poem a genuine epic, even while treating the theme in such a way as to delight their Philistine hearts. In truth, a task which none but a great poet could achieve!
Goethe also tried employing the hexameter for a theme that had in the very shaping of its content a spiritual quality. This was in his Achilleis. And that is why the poem, though no more than a fragment, rings true, artistically true, ‘style’ true. We will now listen to the recitation of a passage from Goethe's Achilleis.
(Frau Dr. Steiner): Achilleis, Book I. Achilles is standing before his tent, watching the slow collapse of the funeral pyre upon which the remains of Hector have been consumed. He begins a conversation with his friend Antilochos, in course of which he prophesies his own approaching death.
Hoch zu Flammen entbrannte die mächtige Lohe noch einmal,
Strebend gegen den Himmel, und Ilios' Mauern erschienen
Rot durch die finstere Nacht; der aufgeschichteten Waldung
Ungeheures Gerüst, zusammenstürzend, erregte
Mächtige Glut zuletzt. Da senkten sich Hektors Gebeine
Nieder, und Asche lag der edelste Troer am Boden.
Nun erhob sich Achilleus vom Sitz vor seinem Gezelte,
Wo er die Stunden durchwachte, die nächtlichen, schaute der Flammen
Fernes schreckliches Spiel und des wechselnden Feuers Bewegung,
Ohne die Augen zu wenden von Pergamos' rötlicher Feste.
Tief im Herzen empfand er den Hass noch gegen den Toten,
Der ihm den Freund erschlug und der nun bestattet dahinsank.
Aber als nun die Wut nachliess des fressenden Feuers
Allgemach, und zugleich mit Rosenfingern die Göttin
Schmückete Land und Meer, dass der Flammen Schrecknisse bleichten,
Wandte sich tief bewegt und sanft der grosse Pelide
Gegen Antilochos hin und sprach die gewichtigen Worte:
‘So wird kommen der Tag, da bald von Ilios’ Trümmern
Rauch und Qualm sich erhebt, von thrakischen Lüftengetrieben,
Idas langes Gebirg und Gargaros' Höhe verdunkelt:
Aber ich werd' ihn nicht sehen. Die Völkerweckerin Eos
Fand mich Patroklos' Gebein zusammenlesend; sie findet
Hektors Brüder anjetzt in gleichem frommen Geschäfte:
Und dich mag sie auch bald, mein trauter Antilochos, finden,
Dass du den leichten Rest des Freundes jammernd bestattest.
Soll dies also nun sein, wie mir es die Götter entbieten,
Sei es ! Gedenken wir nur des Nötigen, was noch zu tun ist.
Denn mich soll, vereint mit meinem Freunde Patroklos,
Ehren ein herrlicher Hügel, am hohen Gestade des Meeres
Aufgerichtet, den Völkern und künftigen Zeiten ein Denkmal.
Fleissig haben mir schon die rüstigen Myrmidonen
Rings umgraben den Raum, die Erde warfen sie einwärts,
Gleichsam schützenden Wall aufführend gegen des Feindes
Andrang. Also umgrenzten den weiten Raum sie geschäftig.
Aber wachsen soll mir das Werk! Ich eile, die Scharen
Aufzurufen, die mir noch Erde mit Erde zu häufen
Willig sind, und so vielleicht befördr' ich die Hälfte.
Euer sei die Vollendung, wenn bald mich die Urne gefassthat!’
Also sprach er und ging und schritt durch die Reihe der Zelte,
Winkend jenem und diesem und rufend andre zusammen.
Alle, sogleich nun erregt, ergriffen das starke Geräte,
Schaufel und Hacke, mit Lust, dass der Klang des Erzes ertönte,
Auch den gewaltigen Pfahl, den steinbewegenden Hebel.
Und so zogen sie fort, gedrängt aus dem Lager ergossen,
Aufwärts den sanften Pfad, und schweigend eilte die Menge.
Wie wenn, zum Ueberfall gerüstet, nächtlich die Auswahl
Stille ziehet des Heers, mit leisen Tritten die Reihe
Wandelt und jeder die Schritte misst und jeder den Atem
Anhält, in feindliche Stadt, die schlechtbewachte, zu dringen:
Also zogen auch sie, und aller tätige Stille
Ehrte das ernste Geschäft und ihres Königes Schmerzen.
Als sie aber den Rücken des wellenbespületen Hügels
Bald erreichten und nun des Meeres Weite sich auftat,
Blickte freundlich Eos sie an aus der heiligen Frühe
Fernem Nebelgewölk, und jedem erquickte das Herz sie.
Alle stürzten sogleich dem Graben zu, gierig der Arbeit,
Rissen in Schollen auf den lange betretenen Boden,
Warfen schaufelnd ihn fort; ihn trugen andre mit Körben
Aufwärts; in Helm und Schild einfüllen sah man die einen,
Und der Zipfel des Kleids war anderen statt des Gefässes.
Jetzt eröffneten heftig des Himmels Pforte die Horen,
Und das wilde Gespann des Helios, brausend erhob sich's.
Rasch erleuchtet' er gleich die frommen Aethiopen,
Welche die äussersten wohnen von allen Völkern der Erde.
Schüttelnd bald die glühenden Locken, entstieg er des Ida
Wäldern, um klagenden Troern, um rüst'gen Achaiern zu leuchten.
Aber die Horen indes, zum Aether strebend, erreichten
Zeus Kronions heiliges Haus, das sie ewig begrüssen.
Und sie traten hinein; da begegnete ihnen Hephaistos,
Eilig hinkend, und sprach auffordernde Worte zu ihnen:
‘Trügliche! Glücklichen schnelle, den Harrenden langsame, hört mich!
Diesen Saal erbaut' ich, dem Willen des Vaters gehorsam,
Nach dem göttlichen Mass des herrlichsten Musengesanges;
Sparte nicht Gold und Silber noch Erz, und bleiches Metall nicht.
Und so wie ich's vollendet, vollkommen stehet das Werk noch,
Ungekränkt von der Zeit; denn hier ergreift es der Rost nicht,
Noch erreicht es der Staub, des irdischen Wandrers Gefährte.
Alles hab' ich getan, was irgend schaffende Kunst kann.
Unerschütterlich ruht die hohe Decke des Hauses,
Und zum Schritte ladet der glatte Boden den Fuss ein.
Jedem Herrscher folget sein Thron, wohin er gebietet,
Wie dem Jäger der Hund, und goldene wandelnde Knaben
Schuf ich, welche Kronion, den kommenden, unterstützen,
Wie ich mir eherne Mädchen erschuf. Doch alles ist leblos!
Euch allein ist gegeben, den Charitinnen und euch nur,
Ueber das tote Gebild des Lebens Reize zu streuen.
Auf denn! sparet mir nichts und giesst aus dem heiligen Salbhorn
Liebreiz herrlich umher, damit ich mich freue des Werkes,
Und die Götter entzückt so fort mich preisen wie anfangs!’
Und sie lächelten sanft, die beweglichen, nickten dem Alten
Freundlich und gossen umher verschwenderisch Leben und Licht aus...
High into flames burst forth once more the great conflagration,
Ere it heavenwards died, and through the gathering darkness
Red loomed Ilios' walls. Of wood from the forest, the scaffold,
Piled up in mighty heaps, excited, crashing together,
Glow of the fiercest at last. Then sank down the body of Hector,
And as mere ash on the ground there lay the noblest of Trojans.
Then from his seat Achilles rose before the encampment,
Where through the nightly hours he watched, and looked at the distant,
Terrible play of the flames and the fire's continual changes,
Not once turning his eyes from Pergamos' reddening fortress.
Deep in his heart tow'rds the dead still raged the bitterest hatred,
Him who had smitten his friend, and there at last was disposed of.
When, however, the rage of the flames devouring diminished,
Growing less by degrees, and the rose-fingered goddess, adorning
Land and sea, arose, of the flames thus paling the terrors,
Deeply moved and softened, then turned the great son of Peleus
To Antilochos round, and spoke words of weighty expression:
' Soon will arrive the day when thus from Ilios' ruins
Smoke and vapour shall rise, and, driven by Thracian breezes,
Ida's long mountain range and Gargaros' summit shall darken.
Yet shall I not see it. For Eos, who wakens the nations,
Found me collecting Patroclos' remains, as now she is finding
Hector's brothers engaged in similar pious employment,
And may soon as well, my trusted Antilochos, find thee,
Deep immersed in grief, of thy friend the light relics interring.
Must, then, this be now, as already the gods have directed,
Then let it be! But now, let us think what to do may be needful.
For there shall for me, with my friend Patroclos united,
Rise to honour a mound, on the highest bank of the seashore,
Grandly built, a memento for all future people and ages.
Busily have already the active Myrmidons dug me
Round all the space a trench, and thrown the earth from it inwards,
Forming against the attack of our foes at the same time a rampart:
Thus have they the wide space with diligent labour encircled.
Yet must, however, the work increase. I hasten to summon
Hither the crowds, who earth on earth to heap up are willing:
Thus, perchance, the half of the mound to build I may manage:
Thine must be its completion, when soon the urn shall inclose me.’ 2The Readings having been given as an illustration of verse in hexameter, the above rendering of a part of it will perhaps suffice.
(From the translation by Alexander Rogers.)
(Dr. Steiner): When we listen to the hexameter we know at once that some event is being narrated; and narrative presupposes that under its stimulus we see what it is telling us. We listen: foot firmly planted on the ground. We receive from the narrative all the feelings that arise in us : the feeling of life, of movement—the feeling of the stepping feet whereby we free ourselves from the earth's gravity. If we feel all this as we listen, that means that we understand the hexameter.
Let us now study the reverse process. For we can equally well start from the feeling, from the soul within, and then, after having lived in unclear feeling, lift ourselves up to the point of full inner clarity, where the feeling is constant, stands still. Then we would say: to begin with, two uncertain steps (we are in the unstable equilibrium of feeling); and now, put the foot down firm and sure (we make the feeling steadfast).
Du bĕschēnkst mich
Mĭt dĕn Gaben
Dĕr Gĕschwīster. 3Thou presentest me
With the treasures
Of my bretheren.
There you have the exact opposite of the hexameter. Although the words have the form of a communication, we cannot speak them in the way of making a communication. For the speaker is not prompted by a desire to tell what he says; the other knows it already—he has himself done the ‘presenting’. The content of the verse shows us at once that we have here to do with an expression of feeling, that is then brought to rest. If you have something to communicate—well, that is something stable and settled; the feeling, where you tend to come into mobility, into unstable equilibrium, follows after. So you have:
— ⌣ ⌣— ⌣ ⌣
But where it is a question, first of all, of feeling, and then from the feeling you ascend to stability, you will have:
⌣ ⌣— ⌣ ⌣—
In Greek poetry, you will find the right use of dactyl and anapaest strictly adhered to, for the Greeks were sensitive to style. today we have consciously to learn these things; and that can be done only by calling on the whole human being to take part in the resurrection of style in the forming of the word and right into the actual speaking itself. It will then be obvious that we have to learn narrative speaking by speaking hexameters. All recitation of epic poetry will thus have to be learned from the speaking of hexameters. On the other hand, the speaking of lyric poetry can be learned best by speaking in anapaests.
In fine, we have to take our start, not from manipulation of the various parts of the human bodily organism, but from what is to be found in speech itself. The dactyl is in speech, the anapaest is in speech; from dactyl we learn to speak epic, from anapaest lyric. Nasal resonance and the rest can come later; we shall see how they come in. First in importance is to know where we are to begin when we set out to form our speech.
The objection may here be raised that the dactyl and the anapaest can hardly be said to survive in the language of today except in theory, and that if we want to experience the hexameter in its natural fluency we shall have to venture, as Goethe did, to choose an ancient theme. As we have seen, Goethe only once attempted to use it in a poem with a modern theme, when, under the influence of Voss's translation of Homer, he composed his Hermann and Dorothea; and I think when he was in the thick of it, positively sweating at the forging of his hexameters, he must many a time have heartily regretted his decision to call in the metre for such a theme. This does not, however, alter the fact that we can learn a great deal from speaking in hexameters; both anapaest and hexameter are particularly helpful for learning to give full tone to the separate sounds.
If you practise speaking hexameters—speaking, that is, in dactyls—for a considerable time, you will acquire, simply through speaking the metre, the right manipulation of tongue, palate, lips and teeth. In other words, the recitation of hexameters will teach you to form your consonants. There is, in fact, no better way to develop your instruments of speech for the proper speaking of consonants than the repeated recitation of hexameters. The tongue grows wonderfully supple, the lips become mobile, and above all you learn to control the palate, which very few people have under proper control when speaking. The right speaking of consonants is not to be learned by following all manner of instructions concerning the various speech organs, how to bring each of them into operation, etc., but simply by reciting hexameters. And then you can learn to say vowels, you can learn how to rest on the vowel, by speaking in anapaests. For when you speak in anapaests, you are instinctively impelled to form the vowel, to give your main attention to a proper development of the vowel. And this will mean that you learn to manipulate throat, lungs and diaphragm, just as by speaking hexameters you learn how to manage tongue, palate, lips and teeth.
In learning to speak hexameters one learns also at the same time how to speak the trochaic metre, and in learning to speak anapaests the iambic. For what does it mean, to speak in trochees ? It means again, you have to render the verse in such a style as to give the consonants their full value; whilst to speak iambics means to adopt a style that, like speaking in anapaests, gives the vowels their full value.
Where will you find today in any introduction to the study of speech this fundamental principle for the whole art of recitation? This is what I mean when I say that the art of recitation must be led back again to speech. We have misplaced it, locating it in anatomy and physiology, and all because we have no longer any understanding for the genius of speech.
For the creation of a drama that has style, we shall aim at using the iambic metre, since this kind of drama tends to have a more inward character. If on the other hand we are composing a drama of conversation, we shall try to make use of the trochee or else of downright prose. For poetry goes backwards ! It goes from anapaest through iambic to prose, and from dactyl through trochee to prose. And now you can see why a sensitive poet chooses the iambic metre for drama; witness Goethe's dramas in iambic. But if anyone wants to learn, let us say, how to read fairy tales, he will do well to prepare himself by reading trochees. For that will help him to develop a fine sensitiveness for his consonants; and it is upon the right sounding of the consonants that everything depends in the reading of fairy tales, or indeed in the reading of any poetical kind of prose.
Read a fairy tale with special attention to the vowels, and you will feel at once there is something unnatural about it. Read a fairy tale, pointing and delicately chiselling the consonants, and you will have the impression, not indeed of something natural, but of something that is gently suggestive of the eerie, the ghostly. And this is how it should be with a fairy tale. The vowel intonation being allowed to subside, the vowels slip away into the consonants, and as a result the whole thing is lifted a little out of reality. We are no longer in immediate reality, we receive the impression of something a little uncanny. The fairy tale, you see, treats what belongs to the sense world as if it were supersensible, and only when it is told or read in the way I have described can our human feeling be reconciled to it.
Suppose, however, it is real life you want to take for your theme. You want to achieve a poetical treatment of real life. Then you will have to educate yourself in iambics. For when you practise in iambics, you do not come right away from the consonants, and yet you draw near to the vowels. The speaking that comes about in this way is the only kind of speaking that is adapted to express realism poetically. Hence for the actor, the study of iambics will be the very best thing to help him on his way. This will apply even if he is preparing for a drama in trochees, but particularly for the prose drama. For through studying iambics he will gain the requisite mastery of tongue and palate so that they are supple (as they need to be for speaking consonants), yet at the same time not obtrusive, not getting in the way of the full development of the vowels.
These are, then, the lines on which we must learn to think if we would set out to develop our speaking. They lead us at once to the recognition that there must be art in our speaking, and that the forming of speech has accordingly to be learned, just as much as one has to learn to sing, or to play a musical instrument, or to follow any other art. The Greeks were fully alive to this necessity; the whole style of their dramatic art leaves us in no doubt on this point.
And there is something else besides that you would have found on the Greek stage. A true feeling for poetry survived there. Only a few days ago I was vividly reminded of how this feeling for style was still present in the Greeks and showed itself in their dramatic performances. When we were in London, we were taken to a theatre and witnessed the performance, not of a Greek drama, but of an Oriental singing drama. 3This was at the British Empire Wembley Exhibition, and in all probability a performance by a Burmese company It was absolutely charming, really very good indeed; and the secret of its charm lay in the fact that the actors had masks, some of them even animal masks. They did not present to us their own human countenances; they stood before us as coming from a civilisation in which it was known that in gesture the countenance comes least of all into consideration, that as far as the countenance goes, gesture is best left stiffened into a mask. The Greek actors wore masks. The Oriental actors do so still. It was quite delightful for once to have before one the human being as such, the really interesting human being, wearing a human or animal mask—sometimes even one that a man of present-day civilisation would find distinctly unaesthetic! For when you have before you the human being wearing a mask, the impression he himself makes upon you is due solely and entirely to the gesturing he performs with the rest of the body; and there's nothing to prevent you from letting the mask complete the beauty of gesture above. One could not help feeling : Thank God, I have once again before me a human form, where up above arms and legs and body, which can express so beautifully what has to be expressed, sits not the dull human head, but the artistically fashioned mask, which with a kind of spirituality hides for the nonce, the insipidity of the human countenance.
I have, I know, been expressing myself rather strongly, nut I think it will have helped to make my point clear. Naturally, I don't mean that I never want to see a human face! You will, I feel sure, understand me; and it is my belief that this kind of thing needs to be understood if we are ever to get back to the artistic in our forming of speech. For what is worst of all in speaking? Worst of all is when you see the movements of the speaker's mouth, or when you see the uninteresting human face exhibiting all its physiognomy and play of countenance. But you have an impression of something quite beautiful when, without being confused or led astray by the countenance, you behold on the stage the gesticulation of the rest of the human being, whilst the speaking or singing, which is all that the countenance should be required to contribute, supplies the appropriate inner complement of what gesture is able so grandly to reveal.
Speech as ‘formed gesture’—that is the highest of all; since gesture has then been spiritualised, has been taken up into the realm of the spirit. Speech that is not formed gesture is like something that has no ground to stand upon.