(_underscores denote italics_)
A nice phrase: "A People's Theatre." But what about it? There's no
such thing in existence as a People's Theatre: or even on the way to
existence, as far as we can tell. The name is chosen, the baby isn't
even begotten: nay, the would-be parents aren't married, nor yet
A People's Theatre. Note the indefinite article. It isn't The
People's Theatre, but A People's Theatre. Not the theatre of Plebs,
the proletariat, but the theatre of A People. What people? Quel
peuple donc?--A People's Theatre. Translate it into French for
A People's Theatre. Since we can't produce it, let us deduce it.
Major premise: the seats are cheap. Minor premiss: the plays are
good. Conclusion: A People's Theatre. How much will you give me
for my syllogism? Not a slap in the eye, I hope.
We stick to our guns. The seats are cheap. That has a nasty
proletarian look about it. But appearances are deceptive. The
proletariat isn't poor. Everybody is poor except Capital and Labour.
Between these upper and nether millstones great numbers of decent
people are squeezed.
The seats are cheap: in decency's name. Nobody wants to swank, to
sit in the front of a box like a geranium on a window-sill--"the
cynosure of many eyes." Nobody wants to profiteer. We all feel that
it is as humiliating to pay high prices as to charge them. No man
consents in his heart to pay high prices unless he feels that what he
pays with his right hand he will get back with his left, either out
of the pocket of a man who isn't looking, or out of the envy of the
poor neighbour who IS looking, but can't afford the figure. The seats
are cheap. Why should A People, fabulous and lofty giraffe, want to
charge or pay high prices? If it were THE PEOPLE now.--But it isn't.
It isn't Plebs, the proletariat. The seats are cheap.
The plays are good. Pah!--this has a canting smell. Any play is good
to the man who likes to look at it. And at that rate Chu Chin Chow is
extra-super-good. What about your GOOD plays? Whose good? PFUI to
That minor premiss is a bad egg: it will hatch no bird. Good plays?
You might as well say mimsy bomtittle plays, you'd be saying as much.
The plays are--don't say good or you'll be beaten. The plays--the
plays of A People's Theatre are--oh heaven, what are they?--not
popular nor populous nor plebian nor proletarian nor folk nor parish
plays. None of that adjectival spawn.
The only clue-word is People's for all that. A People's---Chaste
word, it will bring forth no adjective. The plays of A People's
Theatre are People's plays. The plays of A People's Theatre are
plays about people.
It doesn't look much, at first sight. After all--people! Yes,
People! Not THE PEOPLE, _i.e._ Plebs, nor yet the Upper Ten.
People. Neither Piccoli nor Grandi in our republic. People.
People, ah God! Not mannequins. Not lords nor proletariats nor
bishops nor husbands nor co-respondents nor virgins nor adultresses
nor uncles nor noses. Not even white rabbits nor presidents. People.
Men who are somebody, not men who are something. Men who HAPPEN to
be bishops or co-respondents, women who happen to be chaste, just as
they happen to freckle, because it's one of their innumerable odd
qualities. Even men who happen, by the way, to have long noses.
But not noses on two legs, not burly pairs of gaiters, stuffed and
voluble, not white meringues of chastity, not incarnations of co-
respondence. Not proletariats, petitioners, president's, noses, bits
of fluff. Heavens, what an assortment of bits! And aren't we sick
People, I say. And after all, it's saying something. It's harder to
be a human being than to be a president or a bit of fluff. You can
be a president, or a bit of fluff, or even a nose, by clockwork.
Given a role, a PART, you can play it by clockwork. But you can't
have a clockwork human being.
We're dead sick of parts. It's no use your protesting that there is
a man behind the nose. We can't see him, and he can't see himself.
Nothing but nose. Neither can you make us believe there is a man
inside the gaiters. He's never showed his head yet.
It may be, in real life, the gaiters wear the man, as the nose wears
Cyrano. It may be Sir Auckland Geddes and Mr. J. H. Thomas are only
clippings from the illustrated press. It may be that a miner is a
complicated machine for cutting coal and voting on a ballot-paper.
It may be that coal-owners are like the _petit bleu_ arrangement, a
system of vacuum tubes for whooshing Bradburys about from one to the
It may be that everybody delights in bits, in parts, that the public
insists on noses, gaiters, white rabbits, bits of fluff, automata and
gewgaws. If they do, then let 'em. Chu Chin Chow for ever!
In spite of them all: A People's Theatre. A People's Theatre shows
men, and not parts. Not bits, nor bundles of bits. A whole bunch of
roles tied into one won't make an individual. Though gaiters perish,
we will have men.
Although most miners may be pick-cum-shovel-cum-ballot implements,
and no more, still, among miners there must be two or three living
individuals. The same among the masters. The majority are suction-
tubes for Bradburys. But is this Sodom of Industrialism there are
surely ten men, all told. My poor little withered grain of mustard
seed, I am half afraid to take you across to the seed-testing
And if there are men, there is A People's Theatre.
How many tragic situations did Goethe say were possible? Something
like thirty-two. Which seems a lot. Anyhow, granted that men are
men still, that not all of them are bits, parts, machine-sections,
then we have added another tragic possibility to the list: the Strike
situation. As yet no one tackles this situation. It is a sort of
Medusa head, which turns--no, not to stone, but to sloppy treacle.
Mr. Galsworthy had a peep, and sank down towards bathos.
Granted that men are still men, Labour _v_. Capitalism is a tragic
struggle. If men are no more than implements, it is non-tragic and
merely disastrous. In tragedy the man is more than his part. Hamlet
is more than Prince of Denmark, Macbeth is more than murderer of
Duncan. The man is caught in the wheels of his part, his fate, he
may be torn asunder. He may be killed, but the resistant, integral
soul in him is not destroyed. He comes through, though he dies. He
goes through with his fate, though death swallows him. And it is in
this facing of fate, this going right through with it, that tragedy
lies. Tragedy is not disaster. It is a disaster when a cart-wheel
goes over a frog, but it is not a tragedy, not the hugest; not the
death of ten million men. It is only a cartwheel going over a frog.
There must be a supreme STRUGGLE.
In Shakespeare's time it was the people _versus_ king storm that was
brewing. Majesty was about to have its head off. Come what might,
Hamlet and Macbeth and Goneril and Regan had to see the business
Now a new wind is getting up. We call it Labour _versus_ Capitalism.
We say it is a mere material struggle, a money-grabbing affair. But
this is only one aspect of it. In so far as men are merely mechanical,
the struggle is one which, though it may bring disaster and death to
millions, is no more than accident, an accidental collision of forces.
But in so far as men are men, the situation is tragic. It is not
really the bone we are fighting for. We are fighting to have
somebody's head off. The conflict is in pure, passional antagonism,
turning upon the poles of belief. Majesty was only _hors d'oevres_
to this tragic repast.
So, the strike situation has this dual aspect. First it is a
mechanico-material struggle, two mechanical forces pulling asunder
from the central object, the bone. All it can result in is the
pulling asunder of the fabric of civilisation, and even of life,
without any creative issue. It is no more than a frog under a cart-
wheel. The mechanical forces, rolling on, roll over the body of life
and squash it.
The second is the tragic aspect. According to this view, we see
more than two dogs fighting for a bone, and life hopping under the
Juggernaut wheel. The two dogs are making the bone a pretext for a
fight with each other. That old bull-dog, the British capitalist,
has got the bone in his teeth. That unsatisfied mongrel, Plebs, the
proletariat, shivers with rage not so much at the sight of the bone,
as at sight of the great wrinkled jowl that holds it. There is the
old dog, with his knowing look and his massive grip on the bone: and
there is the insatiable mongrel, with his great splay paws. The one
is all head and arrogance, the other all paws and grudge. The bone
is only the pretext. A first condition of the being of Bully is that
he shall hate the prowling great paws of the Plebs, whilst Plebs by
inherent nature goes mad at the sight of Bully's jowl. "Drop it!"
cries Plebs. "Hands off!" growls Bully. It is hands against head,
the shambling, servile body in a rage of insurrection at last against
the wrinkled, heavy head.
Labour not only wants his debt. He wants his pound of flesh. It is
a quandary. In our heart of hearts we must admit the debt. We must
admit that it is long overdue. But this last condition! In vain we
study our anatomy to see which part we can best spare.
Where is our Portia, to save us with a timely quibble? We've plenty
of Portias. They've recited their heads off--"The quality of mercy
is not strained." But the old Shylock of the proletariat persists.
He pops up again, and says, "All right, I can't have my pound of flesh
with the blood. But then you can't keep my pound of flesh with your
blood--you owe it to me. It is your business to deliver the goods.
Deliver it then--with or without blood--deliver it." The Portia
scratches her head, and thinks again.
What's the solution? There is no solution. But still there is a
choice. There's a choice between a mess and a tragedy. If Plebs and
Bully hang on one to each end of the bone, and pull for grim life,
they will at last tear the bone to atoms: in short, destroy the whole
material substance of life, and so perish by accident, no better than
a frog under the wheel of destiny. That may be a disaster, but it is
only a mess for all that.
On the other hand, if they have a fight to fight they might really
drop the bone. Instead of wrangling the bone to bits they might
really go straight for one another. They are like hostile parties on
board a ship, who both proceed to scuttle the ship so as to sink the
other party. Down goes the ship, with all the bally lot on board. A
few survivors swim and squeal among the bubbles--and then silence.
It is too much to suppose that the combatants will ever drop the
obvious old bone. But it is not too much to imagine that some men
might acknowledge the bone to be merely a pretext, and hollow _casus
belli_. If we really could know what we were fighting for, if we
if we could deeply believe in what we were fighting for, then the
struggle might have dignity, beauty, satisfaction for us. If it were
a profound struggle for something that was coming to life in us, a
struggle that we were convinced would bring us to a new freedom, a
new life, then it would be a creative activity, a creative activity
in which death is a climax in the progression towards new being. And
this is tragedy.
Therefore, if we could but comprehend or feel the tragedy in the
great Labour struggle, the intrinsic tragedy of having to pass
through death to birth, our souls would still know some happiness,
the very happiness of creative suffering. Instead of which we pile
accident on accident, we tear the fabric of our existence fibre by
fibre, we confidently look forward to the time when the whole great
structure will come down on our heads. Yet after all that, when we
are squirming under the debris, we shall have no more faith or hope
or satisfaction than we have now. We shall crawl from under one
cart-wheel straight under another.
The essence of tragedy, which is creative crisis, is that a man
should go through with his fate, and not dodge it and go bumping into
an accident. And the whole business of life, at the great critical
periods of mankind, is that men should accept and be one with their
tragedy. Therefore we should open our hearts. For one thing we
should have a People's Theatre. Perhaps it would help us in this
hour of confusion better than anything.