Four Walls and One Passion
In The Song of the Lark, Willa Cather draws attention to Alexandre Dumas, père‘s claim that in order to make a drama, he needed only four walls and one passion.
In context, Dumas’ was comparing his own method with that of Victor Hugo:
Hugo was lyric and theatrical; I was dramatic. Hugo required for his effects the introduction of organ music and chorus, of tables covered with flowers and black draped coffins. He needed elaborate scenery, costumes, stage effects, secret doors and stairs, rope ladders and traps. I needed only four walls, four boards, two actors and one passion . . .
Cather considered Dumas’ statement as one of the elementary principles that guided her own output as an artist, a version of minimalist modernism which is still being developed and refined in areas of contemporary theatre. Beckett’s Not I comes to mind.
Being reminded of all this, I find myself wondering if old Dumas didn’t overstate his method a little. Do we really need those four walls, for example, or isn’t the passion itself all that is required?
Willa Cather expanded her thesis a little when she said:
“Whatever is felt upon the page without being specifically named there—that, one might say, is created. It is the inexplicable presence of the thing not named, of the overtone divined by the ear but not heard by it, the verbal mood, the emotional aura of the fact or the thing or the deed, that gives high quality to the novel or the drama, as well as to poetry itself”