All About Theater

How to Write a Play,
Théodore de Banville 

My dear friend:

Like all questions, the question of the theater is infinitely more simple than is imagined. All poetics, all dramatic criticism is contained in the admirable dictum of Adolphe Dennery: "It is not hard to succeed in the theater, but it is extremely hard to gain success there with a fine play."

To see this clearly you must consider two questions which have no relation to each other:

1. How should one set about composing a dramatic work which shall succeed and make money?

2. How shall one set about composing a dramatic work which shall be fine and shall have some hope of survival?

Reply to the first question: Nothing is known about it; for if anything were known every theater would earn six thousand francs every evening. Nevertheless, a play has some chance of succeeding and earning money if, when read to a naïf person, it moves him, amuses him, makes him laugh or weep; if it falls into the hands of actors who play it in the proper spirit; and if at the public performance the leader of the _claque_ sees no hitch in it.

Reply to the second question: To compose a dramatic work which shall be fine and shall live, have genius! There is no other way. In art talent is nothing. Genius alone lives. A poet of genius combines in himself all poets past and future, just as the first person you meet combines in himself all humanity past and present. A man of genius will create for his theater a form which has not existed before him and which after him will suit no one else.

That, my friend, is all that I know, and I believe that anything further is a delusion. Those who are called "men of the theater" (that is, in plain words, unlettered men who have not studied anywhere but on the stage) have decreed that a man knows the theater when he composes comedies according to the particular formula invented by M. Scribe. You might as well say that humanity began and ended with M. Scribe, that it is he who ate the apple with Eve and who wrote the 'Legendes des Siècles,' Good Luck!

Yours truly,

Théodore de Banville

Théodore de Banville (1823-1891) was a poet rather than a playwright. Altho he composed half-a-dozen little pieces in verse, the only one of his dramatic efforts which really succeeded in establishing itself on the stage, was 'Gringoire,' a one-act comedy in prose; and this met with a more fortunate fate than its more fantastic companions only because Banville revised and strengthened his plot in accordance with the skilful suggestions of Coquelin, who "created" the part of the starving poet.


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