The Summing Up, XXXVI

It’s a quotable Maugham chapter, but infused with wonderfully informed about British theater of the early twentieth century Maugham. He’s got a lot to say about how a play works and the importance of an audience. A play, Maugham writes, is by very definition dependent on the audience. It is “a piece of writing in dialogue devised to be spoken by actors and heard by an indefinite number of persons.” So he goes into how a change in audience regionally may have an effect, but he has a number of rules for the audience and he doesn’t think those change often. They’re fairly good rules—his conclusion is the audience’s “chief desire is to be assured that the make-believe is real,” which is about right. I’m not going into the rest of them because these rules aren’t for writing prose, poetry, or even an essay. Maugham’s very specific about the theater. Makes me hope he’s got a book or novel just about it. He talks about how to engage the audience a little—“probability is a variable factor,” which I both love and hate—and ends with an anecdote about how he thought women’s sexual liberation would force the male jealousy trope out of drama or tragedy, solely to be utilized for comedy. It wasn’t a well-received prediction, so Maugham got to be as disappointed in his fellows as we get to be today.

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