MICHAEL, though styled by Milton “of celestial armies prince,” has found his sword unequal to the task of combating the well-ordered hosts of darkness,
By thousands and by millions ranged for fight.
The author of “Michael and his Lost Angel” seeks accordingly in print consolation for the rebuffs he has experienced upon the stage. Some comfort in the midst of defeat may be found in the fact that the gods themselves fight vainly against prejudice and stupidity. I am not in the least seeking to set aside the verdict pronounced by the majority of “experts” upon Mr. Jones’s latest play and subsequently accepted if not ratified by the general public which would not be induced to see it. All I seek to do is to deal so far as I am able with the adverse influences to which it succumbed, and to explain why I think it a fine work and in many respects a triumph.
The misfortunes of “Michael and his Lost Angel” attended, if they did not anticipate, its conception. Like Marina in Pericles it had at least
as chiding a nativity
as play has often encountered. Before it saw the light a war had been waged concerning its name. That the name itself involved as some seemed to think a gratuitous insult to any form of religious connection or was even ill chosen I am not prepared to grant. Michael is not a scriptural character, and his functions, civil and militant, and his place in the celestial hierarchy are assigned him by uninspired writers. But for the use made of him in art and by Milton it is doubtful whether his name would be familiar enough to the general public to provoke a discussion. A discussion was, however, provoked and with a portion of those present the verdict was pronounced before the piece had been given. An opening scene, meanwhile, in which the very raison-d’être of the play is found, an indispensable portion of the motive began too soon and was, through the noise and disturbance caused by late arrivals, practically unheard. The difficulty thus caused was never quite overcome, and the nature of Michael Feversham’s offence and the value of his expiation were both partially misunderstood.
That the display of human passions in a sacred edifice and the lavish use of ecclesiastical ceremonial might cause offence I could have conceived, had there not been the immediately previous proof of the success of another play in which the very words of the Inspired Teacher are used with a background of pagan revelry and a lavish and superfluous display of nudity of limb. Paul of Tarsus is surely a more recognisable personage, and one more closely connected with Christian faith than a nebulous being such as Michael. While, however, the slight banter in the title of Mr. Jones’s play and the reproduction of the rather florid pageant of the highest Anglican service has in a work of earnest purpose and masterly execution wounded sensitive consciences, the presentation as vulgar as inept of a portion of the holiest mysteries of religion has been received with sacerdotal benediction as well as with public applause. Foreign opinion concerning English hypocrisy and prudery finds frequent utterance, and our witty Gallic neighbours have excogitated a word they believe to be English and take as the cant phrase of the Briton, schoking. We do at times our best to furnish foreigners with a justification for their views; and in the present case at least, we have shown our capacity to “strain at a gnat and swallow a camel.”
That the author has overburdened his work with dialogue is shown by the result, since a play that the public will not have is naturally a play unsuited to the public.
To be continue in this ebook