to bliss,—perhaps the real bitterness of death would，
Actresses are no less respected and honored in the West, whereas in China there are positively no respectable women on the stage. Yet in the West it is a common occurrence to hear of marriages of actresses to bankers, merchants, and millionaires. Even ballet-girls have become duchesses by marriage. The stage is considered a noble profession. Often, when a girl has a good voice, nothing will satisfy her but a stage career. A situation such as this is very difficult for a Chinese to analyze. The average Chinese woman lacks the imagination, the self-abandon, the courage which must be necessary before a girl can think of herself as standing alone in a bright light before a large audience waiting to see her dance or hear her sing. Chinese actresses were quite unknown until very recently, and the few that may be now found on the Chinese stage were nearly all of questionable character before they entered the theater. In the northern part of China some good Chinese women may be found in circuses, but these belong to the working class and take up the circus life with their husbands and brothers for a livelihood.
The actresses of the West are different. They are drawn to the stage for the sake of art; and it must be their splendid daring as much as their beauty which induces wealthy men, and even some of the nobility, to marry these women. Man loves courage and respects all who are brave enough to fight for their own. In a world where self-love (not selfishness) is highly esteemed, manhood, or the power of self-assertion, whether in man or woman, naturally becomes a fascinating virtue. No one likes to be colleague to a coward. The millionaires and others who have married actresses -- and as actresses make plenty of money they are not likely to be willing to marry poor men -- meet many women in society as beautiful as the women they see on the stage, but society women lack the supreme courage and daring of the stage girl. Thus, very often the pretty, though less educated, ballet-girl, wins the man whom her more refined and less self-assertive sister -- the ordinary society girl -- is sorry to lose.
The suffragettes are too intent just now on getting "Votes for Women" to listen to proposals of marriage, but when they succeed in obtaining universal suffrage I should think they would have little difficulty in obtaining brave husbands, for the suffragettes have courage. These women, however, are serious, and I do not think that men in the West, judging from what I have seen, like very serious wives. So perhaps after all the ballet-girl and actresses will have more chances in the marriage (I had almost written money) market than the suffragettes.
I may be mistaken in my theories. I have never had the opportunity of discussing the matter with a millionaire or an actress, nor have I talked about the stage with any of the ladies who make it their home, but unless it is their superb independence and their ability to throw off care and to act their part which attract men who are looking for wives, I cannot account for so many actresses marrying so well.
What, however, we may ask, is the object of the theater? Is it not amusement? But when a serious play ending tragically is put on the boards is that amusement? The feelings of the audience after witnessing such a play must be far from pleasant, and sometimes even moody; yet tragedies are popular, and many will pay a high price to see a well-known actor commit most objectionable imitation-crimes on the stage. A few weeks before this chapter was written a number of men of different nationalities were punished for being present at a cockfight in Shanghai. Mexican and Spanish bullfights would not be permitted in the United States, and yet it is a question whether the birds or the animals who take part in these fights really suffer very much. They are in a state of ferocious exaltation, and are more concerned about killing their opponents than about their own hurts. Soldiers have been seriously wounded without knowing anything about it until the excitement of the battle had died away. Why then forbid cockfighting or bull-baiting? They would be popular amusements if allowed. It is certain that animals that are driven long distances along dirty roads, cattle, sheep, and fowl that are cooped up for many weary hours in railway trucks, simply that they may reach a distant market and be slaughtered to gratify perverted human appetites, really suffer more than the cock or bull who may be killed or wounded in a fight with others of his own kind. What about the sufferings of pugilists who take part in the prize-fights, in which so many thousands in the United States delight? It cannot be pity, therefore, for the birds or beasts, which makes the authorities forbid cockfighting and bull-baiting. It must be that although these are exhibitions of courage and skill, the exhibition is degrading to the spectators and to those who urge the creatures to fight. But what is the difference, so far as the spectator is concerned, between watching a combat between animals or birds and following a vivid dramatization of cruelty on the stage? In the latter case the mental sufferings which are portrayed are frequently more harrowing than the details of any bull- or cockfight. Such representation, therefore, unless a very clear moral lesson or warning is emblazoned throughout the play, must have the effect of making actors, actresses and spectators less sympathetic with suffering. Familiarity breeds insensibility. What I have said of melodrama applies also, though in a lesser degree, to books, and should be a warning to parents to exercise proper supervision of their children's reading.
Far be it from me to disparage the work of the playwright; the plot is often well laid and the actors, especially the prima-donna, execute their parts admirably. I am considering the matter, at the moment, from the view-point of a play-goer. What benefit does he receive from witnessing a tragedy? In his home and his office has he not enough to engage his serious attention, and to frequently worry his mind? Is it worth his while to dress and spend an evening watching a performance which, however skilfully played, will make him no happier than before? It is a characteristic of those who are fond of sensational plays that they do not mind watching the tragical ending of a hero or a heroine, and all for the sake of amusement. Young people and children are not likely to get good impressions from this sort of thing. It has even been said that murders have been committed by youngsters who had been taken by their parents to see a realistic melodrama. It is dangerous to allow young people of tender age to see such plays. The juvenile mind is not ripe enough to form correct judgments. Some time ago I read in one of the American papers that a boy had killed his father with a knife, on seeing him ill-treat his mother when in a state of intoxication. It appeared that the lad had witnessed a dramatic tragedy in a theater, and in killing his father considered he was doing a heroic act. He could, by the same rule, have been inspired to a noble act of self-sacrifice.
After all, the main question is, does a sensational play exercise a beneficial or a pernicious influence over the audience? If the reader will consider the matter impartially he should not have any difficulty in coming to a right conclusion.
Theatrical performances should afford amusement and excite mirth, as well as give instruction. People who visit theaters desire to be entertained and to pass the time pleasantly. Anything which excites mirth and laughter is always welcomed by an audience. But a serious piece from which humor has been excluded, is calculated, even when played with sympathetic feeling and skill, to create a sense of gravity among the spectators, which, to say the least, can hardly be restful to jaded nerves. Yet when composing his plays the playwright should never lose sight of the moral. Of course he has to pay attention to the arrangement of the different parts of the plot and the characters represented, but while it is important that each act and every scene should be harmoniously and properly set, and that the characters should be adapted to the piece as a whole, it is none the less important that a moral should be enforced by it. The practical lesson to be learned from the play should never be lost sight of. In Chinese plays the moral is always prominent. The villain is punished, virtue is rewarded, while the majority of the plays are historical. All healthy-minded people will desire to see a play end with virtue rewarded, and vice vanquished. Those who want it otherwise are unnatural and possess short views of life. Either in this life or in some other, each receives according to his deserts, and this lesson should always be taught by the play. Yet from all the clever dramas which have been written and acted on the Western stage from time to time what a very small percentage of moral lessons can be drawn, while too many of them have unfortunately been of an objectionable nature. Nearly everyone reads novels, especially the younger folk; to many of these a visit to a theater is like reading a novel, excepting that the performance makes everything more realistic. A piece with a good moral cannot therefore fail to make an excellent impression on the audience while at the same time affording them amusement.
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