The Art of Illustration – Illustration Of Modern Plays

IT is worth considering whether a better service might not be performed to Literature and Art, and the illustrator be better employed, if publishers were frequently to issue illustrated editions of modern plays.

Many people find a difficulty in reading these, as they lack the objective dramatic sense, which is one of the simplest the illustrator can be called upon to supply. The Dramatis Personoe in themselves provide ample opportunity for character drawing ; and even in the most conversational comedy of manners, it is likely that there will be found almost an excess of incident.

Many unacted plays might by this means reach a considerable public ; and those, either unsuited to the times or crowded out of the theatres, might find a permanent and acceptable form. It is probable that most of the best plays find no place upon the boards and failing to do so, fail also of any chance of success with the book publishers, remaining for ever coffined in the desk of the writer. The illustrator could remedy this by supplying the dramatic side, the action and the character that the public cannot, without the actors’ aid, visualize for itself. Let the illustrator perform the actors’ and producers’ functions, and a quite large and increasing public might be found for a bulk of dramatic literature of a higher class than is usually to be seen upon the boards. The general dramatic taste would be raised to a higher level, as its interest in, and better understanding of, dramatic literature was fostered, and our stage would be in every way strengthened. Authors now devoted to the novel form might be induced to write dramatically if they could feel sure of a reading public independently of stage production. The illustrator would not so constantly find himself treading the author’s descriptive ground all over again ; for in the dramatic form all useless description of place, character, and costume is omitted. While such descriptive writing is frequently hampering rather than helpful to the artist, it is the lack of this that distresses the accustomed novel reader who picks up a play. This gap is better filled in by the illustrator than by the novelist. Usually a story is written without a view to illustration ; so that if it is so treated we have an almost inevitable redundance. On the other hand, a play is always written with the actor in mind, whose place, if the play is unacted, the illustrator can fill with equal adequacy.