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Thursday, 30 August 2012

Cupid and Commonsense

Friday, August 30th., still in France

Before tea yesterday I finished the play, and called it "Cupid and Commonsense". It seems to me to be one of the best things I have ever done; quite as good as most of my novels.


The title is merely ad captandum.

In rhetoric an argument ad captandum, "for capturing" the gullibility of the naïve among the listeners or readers, is an unsound, specious argument designed to appeal to the emotions rather than to the mind. It is used to describe "claptrap or meretricious attempts to catch popular favor or appplause." The longer form of the term is ad captandum vulgus (Latin, "to ensnare the vulgar" or "to captivate the masses"); the shorter and longer versions of the phrase are synonymous. The word "vulgus" in Latin was a contemptuous reference, implying a rabble or a mob. The ad captandum approach is commonly seen in political speech, advertising, and popular entertainment. The classic example of something ad captandum vulgus was the "bread and circuses" by which the Roman emperors maintained the support of the people of Rome.

For a few years early in the century I was the very model of a successful playwright. From 1908 to 1913 I had five plays on the London stage. I began my dramatic career as a theatre critic, and in this capacity attended nearly every first night from 1895 to 1900. I count several West End theatrical managers and leading actors among my friends and have talked at great length with them. I have found it hard to resist the siren call of the theatre (in truth I have not tried too hard!), but why is it so fatally fascinating? I think that, unlike a novel, a play gains a life of its own once the author has surrendered it for production. The whole enterprise is immense, immersive and magnificent. Most importantly, success or failure are so terribly public and dramatic critics hold the writer's happiness in their hands. Those of you who have read my novel "The Regent", the continuing adventures of Denry Machin, (not one of my best, but passable) will recall his dramatic experiences:

Denry was shocked as well as chilled. And for this reason: for weeks past all the newspapers, in their dramatic gossip, had contained highly sympathetic references to his enterprise. According to the paragraphs he was a wondrous man, and the theatre was a wondrous house, the best of all possible theatres ... and the prospects of the intellectual-poetic drama in London so favourable as to amount to a certainty of success. In those columns of dramatic gossip there was no flaw in the theatrical world ... and even authors were benefactors of society, and therefore they were treated with the deference, the gentleness, the heartfelt sympathy which benefactors of society merit and ought to receive. And yet, the critic's final words on the actual production were: "The reception was quite favourable"!!!

"Cupid and Commonsense" was dramatised in the summer of 1907 from 'Anna of the Five Towns' in response to the request from the Stage Society for a play.

The Incorporated Stage Society, commonly known as the Stage Society, was an English theatre society with limited membership which mounted private Sunday performances of new and experimental plays, mainly at the Royal Court Theatre (whose Vedrenne-Barker management is said to have originated in the Society's work) but also at other London West End venues. Founded in 1899 "to regenerate the Drama", it followed the Independent Theatre Society in this activity. Its plays particularly included the first performances of plays that had been banned for public performance by the Lord Chamberlain. George Bernard Shaw, Harley Granville Barker, St. John Hankin, Gilbert Murray and Clifford Bax were all involved with the company. Its council decided in 1930 that the rise of other groups like the Gate Theatre meant the Society's work was complete and, though a 1930 proposal for its dissolution was defeated, it fell into abeyance on the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939. Its aims were continued post-war by the English Stage Company, the resident company at the Royal Court Theatre.

"Cupid and Commonsense" was produced on 26 and 27 January at the Shaftesbury Theatre, where, according to the Staffordshire Sentinel, it was 'cordially received'. I was especially pleased with E.F.Spence's review in the Westminster Gazette.

"Our Stage and Its Critics" by Edward Fordham Spence can be read online at: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/13408

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