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LANGUAGE OF THE DRAMA




The third subdivision of the belles-lettres style is the language of plays. The first thing to be said about the parameters of this variety of belles-lettres is that, unlike poetry, which, except for ballads, in essence excludes direct speech and therefore dialogue, and unlike emotive prose, which is a combination of monologue (the author's speech) and dialogue (the speech of the characters), the language of plays is entirely dialogue. The author's speech is almost entirely excluded ex-,cept for the playwright's remarks and stage directions, significant though they may be.

But the language of the characters is in no way the exact reproduction of the norms of colloquial language, although the playwright seeks to reproduce actual conversation as far as the norms of the written language will allow. Any variety of the belles-lettres style will use the norms of the literary language of the given period. True, in every variety there will be found, as we have already shown, departures from the established literary norms. But in genuinely artistic work these departures will never go beyond the boundaries of the permissible fluctuations of the norms, lest the aesthetic aspect of the work should be lost.

It follows then that^the language of plays is always stylized, that is, it strives to retain the modus of literary English, unless the playwright has a particular aim which requires the use of non-literary forms and expressions. However, even in this case a good playwright will use such forms sparingly. Thus in Bernard Shaw's play "Fanny's First Play," Dora, a street-girl, whose language reveals her upbringing, her lack of education, her way of living, her tastes and aspirations, nevertheless uses comparatively few non-literary words. A bunk, a squiffer are examples! Even these are explained with the help of some literary device. This is due to the stylization of the language.

The stylization of coHoquial language is one of the features of plays 'which at different stages in the history of English drama has manifested itself in different ways revealing, on the one hand, the general trends of the literary language and, on the other hand, the personal idiosyncrasies of the writer.

In the 16th century the stylization of colloquial language was scarcely maintained due to several facts: plays were written in haste for the companies of actors eagerly waiting for them, and they were written for a wide audience, mostly the common people. As is known, plays were staged in public squares on a raised platform almost without stage properties.

The colloquial language of the 16th century, therefore, enjoyed an almost unrestrained freedom and this partly found its expression in the lively dialogue of plays. The general trends in the developing literary language were also reflected in the wide use of biblical and mythological allusions, evocative of Renaissance traditions, as well as in the abundant use of compound epithets, which can also be ascribed to the influence of the great Greek and Latin epics.

Generally speaking, the influence of Renaissance traditions can also be seen in a fairly rich injection of oaths, curses, swear-words and other vulgarisms into the language texture of the English drama of this period. In order to check the unlimited use of oaths and curses in plays, an act of Parliament was passed in 1603 which forbade the profane and jesting use of the names of God, Christ, the Holy Ghost and the Trinity in any. stage play or performance. x

The 16th century plays are mostly written in iambic pentameter, rhymed or unrhymed. The plays of this period therefore were justly called dramatic poetry. The staged performance, the dialogue character of the discourse and the then obvious tendency to keep close to the norms of colloquial language affected the verse and resulted in breaking the regular rhythm of the metre.

This breaking of the regularity and strictness of the rhythmical design became one of the characteristic features of the language of dramatic poetry, and the language of plays of the earlier writers, who employed a strict rhythmic pattern without run-on lines (enjambment) or other rhythmical modifications, Is considered tedious and monotonous. Thus one of the most notable plays of this period "The Love of King David and Fair Bethsabe" by George Peele, in spite of its smooth musical versification, is regarded as lacking variety. True, "...the art of varying the pauses and modulating the verse without the aid of rhyme had not yet been generally adopted."2

But the great playwrights of this period, forced by the situation in which the communicative process takes place on a stage facing an audience, realized the necessity of modulating the rhythmical pattern of blank verse. Marlowe, Gr.eene, Nash, Shakespeare and Ben Jonson modulated their verse to a greater or lesser degree. Marlowe, for instance, found blank verse consisting of lines each ending with a stressed monosyllable and each line standing by itself rather monotonous. He modified the pauses, changed the stresses and made the metre suit the sense instead of making the sense fit the metre as his predecessors

had done. He even went further and introduced passages of prose into the texture of his plays, thus aiming at an elevation of the utterance. His "Life and Death of Dr. Faustus" abounds in passages which can hardly be classed as verse. Compare, for example, the following two passages from this play:

I FAUST: Oh, if my soul must suffer for my sin, ; Impose some end to my incessant pain. !'.. Let Faustus live in hell a thousand years, A hundred thousand, and at the last be saved: No end is limited to damned souls.

FAUST: But Faustus's offence can ne'er be pardoned. The serpent that tempted Eve may be saved, but not Faustus. Oh, gentlemen, hear me with patience, and tremble not at my speeches. Though my heart pant and quiver to remember that I have been a student here these thirty years, Oh, would I had ne'er seen Wirtemberg, never read book! And what wonders have I done, all Germany can witness, yes, all the world: for which Faustus hath lost both Germany and the world; ...

It is unnecessary to point out the rhythmical difference between these two passages. The iambic pentameter of the first and the arhythmi-cal prose of the second are quite apparent.

Shakespeare also used prose as a stylistic device. The prose passages in Shakespeare's plays are well known to any student of Elizabethan drama.

Shakespeare used prose in passages of repartee between minor characters, particularly in his comedies; in "The Taming of the Shrew" and "Twelfth Night", for instance, and also in the historical plays "Henry IV" (Part I, Part I) and "Henry V." In some places there are prose monologues bearing the characteristic features of rhythmical prose with its parallel constructions, repetitions, etc. As an example we may take Falstaff's monologue addressed to the young Prince Henry in "Hen- / ry IV" (Part I, Act II, Sc. 4).

On the other hand, prose conversation between tragic characters retains much of the syllabic quality of blank verse, e.g. the conversation between Polonius and Hamlet ("Hamlet." Act II, Sc. 2).

A popular form of entertainment at the courts of Elizabeth and the Stuarts was the masque. The origin of the court masque must have been th performances presented at court on celebrated occasions, as a coronation, a peer's-marriage, the birth of a prince and similar events. These performances were short sketches with allusions to Greek and , Latin mythology, allegoric in nature, frequently accompanied by song and music and performed by the nobility. These masques are believed to be the earliest forms of what is now known as "spoken drama." The reference to the events of the day and allegoric representation of the members of the nobility called forth the use of words and phrases alien to poetic diction, and passages of prose began to flood into the text of the plays.

But the drama of the seventeenth century still holds fast to poetic

diction and up to the decline of the theatre, which was caused by the Puritan Government Act of 1642, a spoken drama as we know it to-day had not seen the stage.

The revival of drama began only in the second half of the 18th century. But the ultimate shaping of the play as an independent form of literary work with its own laws of functioning, with its own characteristic language features was actually completed only at the end of the 19th century.

The natural conventionality of any literary work is most obvious in plays. People are made to talk to each other in front of an audience, and yet as if there were no audience. Dialogue, which, as has been pointed out, is by its very nature ephemeral, spontaneous, fleeting, is made lasting. It is intended to be reproduced many times by different actors with different interpretations. The dialogue loses its colloquial essence and remains simply conversation in form. The individualization of each character's speech then becomes of paramount importance because it is the idiosyncrasy of expression which to some extent reveals the inner, psychological and intellectual traits of the characters. The playwright seeks to approximate a natural form of dialogue, a form as close to natural living dialogue as the literary norms will allow. But at the same time he is bound by the aesthetico-cognitive function of the belles-lettres style and has to mould the conversation to suit the general aims of this style.

Thus the language of plays is a stylized type of the spoken variety of language. What then is this process of stylization that the language of plays undergoes? In what language peculiarities is the stylization

revealed?

The analysis of the language texture of plays has shown that the most characteristic feature here is, to use the term of the theory of information, redundancy of information caused by the necessity to amplify the utterance. This is done for the sake of the audience. It has already been pointed out that the spoken language tends to curtail utterances, sometime^ simplify ing the syntax to fragments of sentences without even showing the character of their interrelation.

In plays the curtailment of utterances is not so extensive'as it is in natural dialogue. Besides, in lively conversation, even when a prolonged utterance, a monologue, takes place, it is interspersed with the interlocutor's "signals of attention", as they may be called, for example: yes, yeah, oh, That's right,,so, I see;good, yes I know, oh-oh,fine, Oh, my goodness, oh dear, well, well^wgll, Well, I never!, and the like.

In plays these "signals of attention" are irrelevant and therefore done away with. The monologue in plays is never interrupted by any such exclamatory words on the part.of the person to whom the speech is addressed. Further, in plays the characters' utterances are generally much longer than in ordinary conversation.

Here is a short example of a dialogue between two characters from Bernard Shaw's play "Heartbreak House":

CAPTAIN SHOTOVER: Nurse, who is this misguided and unfortunate young lady?

NURSE: She says Miss Hessy invited her, sir.

CAPTAIN SHOTOVER: And had she no friend, no parents to warn her against my daughter's invitations? This is a pretty sort of house, by heavens! A young and attractive lady is invited here. Her luggage is left on these steps, for hours; and she herself is deposited in the poop and abandoned, tired and starving..."

This passage is typical in many ways. First of all, the matter-of-fact dialogue between the captain and the nurse gradually flows into a monologue in which elements of the spoken language and of emotive prose are merged. The monologue begins with the conjunction 'and' which serves to link the preceding question to the monologue. The question after 'and' is more of a "question-in-the-narrative" than a real question: the captain does not expect an answer and proceeds with his monologue. Then after an exclamatory 'This is a pretty sort of house, by heavens!', which is actual, common colloquial, there again comes an utterance intended to inform the audience of the Captain's attitude towards the House and the household. Mark also the professionalism 'poop' used to characterize the language of Shotover, a retired ship's captain. In fact, there is no dialogue, or, as Prof. Jakubinsky has it, a "false dialogue", or "monological dialogue", the nurse's remark being a kind of linking sentence between the two parts of the captain's monologue. These linking remarks serve to enliven the monologue, thus making it easier to grasp the meaning of the utterance.

The monological character of the dialogue in plays becomes apparent also by the fact that two or more questions may be asked one after another, as in the following excerpts:

1. "LADY BRITOMART: Do you suppose this wicked and immoral tradition can be kept up for ever? Do you pretend that Stephen could not carry on the foundry just as well as all the other sons of big business houses?"

2. "BARBARA: Dolly: were you really in earnest about it? Would you have joined if you had never seen me?" (Shaw)

Needless to say, in ordinary conversation we never use a succession of questions. Generally only one, perhaps two, questions are asked at a time, and if more are askedthen we already have a kind of emotional narrative; not a dialogue in the exact meaning of the word.

In ordinary conversation we generally find "sequence sentences" connected by "sequence signals". l These signals help^to establish the logical reference to what was said before, thus linking all sequential series of sentences into one whole.

These sequence signals are mostly pronouns, adverbs, conjunctions, as in:

"The boy has just brought the evening paper. It is at the door," or: "Up to 1945 L. was with Johnson. Since he has worked with us." It must be remarked in passing that almost any lively dialogue will hold a sequence of sentences for only a short span, the nature of lively

These also are terms suggested by Charles Fries.

dialogue allowing digressions from the starting point. How often do we hear the phrase: "What was I going to say?" or "What was I driving at?" "How did we come to talk about this?"to ascertain the initial topic of conversation which has been forgotten.

This is not the case in plays. The sequence of sentences reflecting the sequence of thought, being directed by the purport of the writer, will not allow any digressions from the course taken, unless this was the deliberate intention of the playwright. Therefore, unlike .the real, natural spoken variety of language, the language of plays is already purposeful. The sequence signals, which are not so apparent in lively conversation, become conspicuous in the language of plays. Here is an illustrative example of a span of thought expressed in a number of sentences all linked by the pronoun he and all referring to the first word of the utterance 'Dunn' which, in its turn, hooks the utterance to the preceding sentence:

"THE CAPTAIN: Dunn!. I had a boatswain whose name was Dunn, He was originally a pirate in China, He set up as a ship's chandler with stores which I have every reason to believe he stole from me. No doubt he became rich. Are you his daughter?"

The degree to which the norms of ordinary colloquial language are converted into those of the language of plays, that is, the degree to which "the spoken language is made literary" varies at different periods in the development of drama and depends also on the idiosyncrasies of the playwright himself. Here are two illustrations, one taken from Oliver Goldsmith's play "The Good-Natured Man", an 18th century play, and the other from H. Pinter's play "The Birthday Party", a play of our time.

"MR. CROAKER:.. But can anything be more absurd, than to double*our distresses by our apprehensions, and put it in the power of every low fellow that can scrawl ten words of wretched spelling, to torment us?"

Compare this utterance with the following:

"GOLDBERG: What's your name now? *

STANLEY: Joe Soarp.

GOLDBERG: Is the number 846 possible or necessary? STANLEY: Neither.

GOLDBERG: Wrong! Is the number 846 possible or necessary? STANLEY: Both."

- Almost the whole play is composed of such short questions and answers tending to reproduce an actual communicative process where the sense is.vague to the outsider. Considerable effort on the part of- the audience is sometimes necessary in order to follow the trend of the conversation and decode the playwright's purport. '

It may be remarked in passing that there is an analogous tendency in modern emotive prose where dialogue occupies considerable space.

In some of the novels it takes up three or four pages running, thus resembling a play.

In summing up, it will not come amiss to state that any presentation of a play is an aesthetic procedure and the language of plays is of the type which is meant to be reproduced. Therefore, even when the language of a play approximates that of a real dialogue, it will none the less be "stylized". The ways and means this stylization is carried out are difficult to observe without careful consideration. But they are there, and specification of these means will be a valuable contribution to linguistic science.




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