Thursday, March 7, 2013

Yeats and Noh Theatre 2

****I define Yeats's broad goal for his Four Plays as establishment during performance of an atmosphere of 'strange intimacy.' This phrase is adapted from McFarlane who interprets Yeats's ideas as expressed in CNPJ as follows:

The over-riding concern was to achieve a distanced intimacy: to counterbalance this new intimacy of setting with a new and organic separating strangeness. This strangeness was entirely different from the 'bodily distance' which the mechanicalness and noise of the contemporary theatre created; it was to be achieved by 'human means,' by ritual, stylizations, the formalizations of the dance, by abstractive transpositions into music, by the depersonalizations of the mask ...(565). [Italics added.]

****McFarlane describes Yeats as being part of the Neo-Modernist movement in twentieth century European drama. Yeats had a "desire to liberate contemporary theatre from its continuing naturalistic constraints - physical (the 'missing fourth wall') as well as ideological (the 'slice of life')... (561)."
Yeats sought to establish a 'strange intimacy' in his plays as opposed to the 'familiar distance' evoked by contemporary naturalistic productions popular both in England and at the Abbey Theatre. Drama such as that of Ibsen, Shaw and Galsworthy was familiar because of its social subject matter and physically distanced by mechanization and its trappings (e.g. large auditoria, elaborate sets, orchestras). This familiar and distant drama was a product of the materialistic, mechanized, prose dominated age which Yeats sought to transcend with dramatic poetry.

****Noh plays neglect character just as Japanese art neglects relief/depth, being two dimensional with repeated patterns (CNPJ, 235). Yeats appreciated this focus and sought to make his characters less individual and more universal in his Four Plays.

****Yeats sought physical intimacy between actors and audience. Noh achieves this by having the audience on three sides. Yeats's went even further as can be seen from his stage directions for Hawk's Well :

The stage is any bare space before a wall...the most effective lighting is the lighting we are accustomed to in our rooms. These masked players seem stranger when there is no mechanical means of separating them from us. (207).

****Yeats saw collective interactive imaginative potential in theater which he sought to maximize by engaging the imagination of the entire audience. His innovations in technique were not used merely for their novelty factor. In his notes on Hawk's Well , Yeats wrote, "I seem to myself most alive when a room full of people share the one lofty emotion" (Alspach, 415). This one emotion is what he wished to evoke through strange intimacy at each performance of his Four Plays.
Yeats's words from "The Symbolism of Poetry" explain what this one emotion involves:

All sounds, all colours, all forms ... evoke indefinable and yet precise emotions, or, as I prefer to think, call down among us certain disembodied powers...and when sound, and colour, and form are in a musical relation, a beautiful relation to one another, they become, as it were, one sound, one colour, one form, and evoke an emotion that is made out of their distinct evocations and yet is one emotion. ...the more various and numerous the elements that have flowed into its perfection, the more powerful will be the emotion, the power, the god it calls among us. (157).
In the light of this statement, it is possible to see the Four Plays as dramatic experiments into which Yeats poured as many different "sounds, colours and forms" as he could muster in order to create a drama with musical unity[9] capable of putting his audience into a "trance like reverie" through which it could tap into the Great Memory. In Mythologies, he wrote that he wished to "immerse [my mind] in the general mind where that mind is scarce separable from what we have begun to call the subconscious" (343).

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