|Table of Contents|
Table of Contents
Chapter 1. Philosophy and background
Chapter 2. Bentley’s theory of drama
Chapter 3. The presentation of the play
Chapter 4. Bentley on American theatre: Selected reviews
ERIC BENTLEY'S TY)RA14t-IC CRITICISM: BACKGROUND AND. THEORY By
DONALD Ii. (7UNNlI >,"ILXM
A DISSERTATION PJLL:SNTLD TO THE GPAIJATE COUlNCIL OF THE NIRSTIY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL JULILMNT OF THE RQIEET
FOR THE DYGREE OF DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY IJ-NITERSITTY OF FLORIDA 1981
This is for Angelyn Wood, who supported the project in every sense of the word. And it is for James R. Carlson, the most comprehensive intellect I have encountered.
I would like to thank Richard L. Green for chairing this
dissertation and for the close reading and textual advice which has helped give it form. I also want to acImowledge L. L. Zimmerman, who sparked my interest in aesthetics. To Winified L. Frazer, David L. Shelton, and Thomas B. Abbott go many thanks for serving on mT committee.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
ACKNOWLNEDGIENTS .........I.... ... .... ... iii
ABSTRACT . . . . . . . . . . . . .. vi
INTRODUCTION .... .... ............... . ..... 1
Notes . . . . . . 7
PHILOSOPHY AND BACKGROUND ......... ..... . 8
Bentley's Pragmatism and its Relation to Politics . 11 Bentley's Background in Literary Criticism ....... ....23
Bentley's Critical Philosophy: Relativism ......... 40 Notes ......... ................... ...... 48
II BENTLEY'S T'IEORY OF DRM-P ...... ............. 54
Creativity: The Nature of the Dramatist's Work . 56 Art and the Work of Art: Imitation and Expression. 65 Form ........ .. ..... ......... .72
The Function of Art ........... .. . .. 78
Ideas in Art: How the Playwright Thinks.. ..... ... 86
Realism ........... ........................ 92
Aesthetic Experience ...... ................ I.101
Notes .......... ...................... 114
III THE PRESENTATION OF THE PLAY ......... .......... 122
Theatricalism ...... ..................... ....122
Acting ........... ....................... 130
Interpretation and the Director ........... 143
Scene Design and Lighting .......... ... .... 151
Notes ...... ............ . ... .157
IV BENTLEY ON AJMERICAN THEATRE: SELECTED REVIEWS ..... 161
Miller and Williams: Two American Artists . 163 Problems in American Playwriting .............. 177
Innovation on the American Stage,. .... ...... ... 193
Notes ............ ....................... 202
CONCLUSION ............. .......... 205
Notes ............. ................... ... 215
BIBLIOGRAPHY ....... .......................... 216
BIOGRAPHICL SKETCH .......... ....................... 222
Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate Council of the
University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
ERIC BENT7LEY'S DTWATIC CRITICISM : BACKGROUND AND THEORY
Donald H. C unn ingham.
Chairman: Richard L. Green
Major Department: Speech
This study analyzes the sources and qualities of Eric Bentley's critical theory, a broad and sophisticated realism which emphasizes the sociological and psychological convergence of drama and life.
Chapter I examines Bentley's relationship to pragmatism, socialism, and Freudian psychology as they shape his humanist, positivist, and
pluralist position, his essential anti-dogmatism and faith in the power of the mind to process the facts of experience. Bentley is linked with various literary critics, including John Crowe Ransom and F. R. Leavis, to show influences on his emphasis of the concrete closeness of literature
to daily life. Bentley's view of aesthetic judgment is related to relativism, where judgment proceeds from the concrete examination of a value situation rather than from rules or subjective impressions.
Chapter II analyzes Bentley's dramatic theory in light of the categories used in modern aesthetics, focusing on the writl L-en drama as art work and the playwright as artist. In Bentley's view, the playwright explores experience through a struggle with form and content, unifying the two in a play that is both an imitation of life and an
expression of the artist's vision. Form is used to feature content, and a well-formed structure is the playwright's major concern., The function of the drama is to give pleasure and to instruct; it has the social purpose of vitalizing an insensitive (bourgeois) society. Ideas and ethical content are important to this function and enter the drama both through the formulation of ;:ui intelligible struc-11-ure and through focus on ideas as subject matter,
Bentley sees realism as the best fo rm for the dyama's necessary depiction of a dialectic of forces representative of ethical issues. Non-realistic elements will enter realistic works as a concomitant to the forming process of art. Bentley's ultimate defense of realism lies
in drama's unique presentation of human essence in living human form. The audience's engagement with this form depends on some sense of detachment in observation, though the spectator will always view realistic characters in a play with the same identification and empathy cor.-non in life.
Chapter III deals with Bentley's treatment of performance,
the presentation in the theatre of the playwright's commanding vision. The arts of the theatre are form for the drama as presented and are empty without it. He is suspicious of the power of the theatrical to
overcome the dramatic, of form over content. He recognizes acting as the central art of the theatre, and as an art, it cannot be merely
naturalistic. Neither does the actor display his ordinary personality, but should develop an aesthetic personality. The director gives proper form to the drama, making manifest the qualities of the play, He may add or subtract when the play is deficient, but he should not take on the function of playwright with extraneous interpretations and formalist flourishes. Stage design has the aesthetic function of forming an expressive image in theatrical space, but lighting has only a functional purpose, that of exposing the actor.
Chapter IV examines selected New Republic reviews as examples of the applicability of Bentley's theory to specific works. Focus is on Bentley's relationship with American theatre, his discussion of its
form/content problems and the play's correspondence with social concerns.
The Conclusion suiTmiarizes Bentley's vision of the drama as an expression of rational man's search for ethical value within a comprehensive social order and the need to continue this search in light of existing value systems.
Few would dispute Eric Bentley's position as one of the major dramatic critics in post World War II America, a position solidified by more than twenty-five years of publication about the theatre. Even before he emerged as a drama critic, Bentley had shown promise as a student of literature and intellectual history at Oxford and Yale and
had published frequently in magazines like The Kenyon Review', His first published book, A Century of Hero Worship, 1 was a study in the history of ideas and essentially his Yale dissertation.
He soon turned to dramatic criticism and produced The PI L Ight as.Thinker, 2 a book which caused some furor and a good deal of negative reaction because its original introduction called Eugene O'Neill merely
a "promising" playwright. Although the book contained a far more devastating criticism of the commercial Broadway theatre, the reference to O'Neill was seen by some as an attack on American theatre not only at its popular base, but also at its lofty pinnacle. The purpose of the book, Bentley
has recently said, "was an attempt to dignify the theatre beyond what it normally claims, to say that it is a part of culture, that it is,
among other things, an intellectual institution--or is at its best." 3 Bentley maintained that a play could seriously be about something, and this conviction brought the criticism that he was interested in a cerebral theatre, whereas he was really only extending to theatre the same close
and serious examination which was commonly afforded to poetry and fiction.
Following in the path of a critic whom he admired, F. R. Leaves, Bentley's next book was the re-evaluation of the reputation and work of an out-of-fashion author, Bernard Shaw. Bernard Shaw 4 is a thorough critical analysis of Shaw's philosophy and dramatic works.
The next book, In Search of Theatre, 5 is a collection of articles he wrote while studying the varieties of European and American theatre
first hand, often working as a director or translator, and thus expanding his knowledge of the theatre. It demonstrates an increased awareness of theatrical embodiment while it retains and refines his conuiitment to realism.
During these years Bentley also formed a close association with
Bertolt Brecht,- becoming, for some time., Brecht's chief American promoter and unofficial press agent. The association was mutually beneficial, and Bentley was affected by Brecht's theories.
Bentley's years as the theatre critic for The New Re-public (19521956) gave him a regular forum to discuss the American theatre and the occasion to review hundreds of productions. These reviews have been collected in The Dramatic Event and What Is Theatre? 6 along with several additional essays.
Perhaps his most influential work during this period and later has been his frequent editorship of play anthologies whose selections
and introductions have helped to reshape the content of drama and theatre courses in the universities and, one suspects, have had an impact on the programs of the expanding number of repertory theatres in America,
Bentley's most thorough study of the theatre, The Life of the
Drama, 7 is an examination of theatrical theory which relates, at every turn, the complex connection of the art to human psychosocial factors. Both it and his next book, The Theatre of Commitment 8 (which contains the seminal essay on political theatre), as well as his previous volumes of essays and reviews, have remained almost continually in print, and one encounters his works in class syllabi in American colleges everywhere, suggesting continued wide interest in the whole of his work, In his most recent collection of essays, Theatre of War, 9 he makes the transition from dramatic to social criticism complete, including essays
about social and political life as well as dramatic criticism,
Mr. Bentley's prominence in academic circles--and subsequent
influence--mark him as an important figure for study. His popularity suggests that his ideas and sensibilities have touched many. Even were Bentley not popular, had he written, for example, during a time
less receptive to a critic of realism, a time more willing to ignore the critic who goes against the grain, the cogency and penetration of his analyses would make him worthy of study. He is of particular interest to students of criticism and theory because he has occasionally probed into the background of his own and others' critical work to trv
to make clear some of the assumptions behind the specific instances.
Though Bentley's work is used as a basis for much critical study, there have been no major studies of his theory, save his inclusion in Will Brewer Grant, Jr.'s Varieties of American Theatrical Criticism, 1945-1969. 10 Mr. Grant's comparative study of four critics analyzes
their theories alona the lines of M. H. Abrams' concept of the "pragmatic" approach to criticism and develops Martin Gottfried's distinction between "left wing" and "right wing" orientation in criticism. In labeling Bentley as a "left wing" critic, Grant works from definition and only suggests a philosophical or political base to a critic's orientation. The present study will examine in some detail the developinent of Bentley's critical position out of the intellectual and critical climate that was his training ground.
In addition to this vital background material, this study will. provide a more extensive analysis of Bentley's dramatic theory than that of Grant's necessarily limited comparative study. Using the major areas of analysis common to the philosophy of art, I will thoroughly examine sources, standards, and implications of Bentley's rational and realist aesthetic.
Two assumptions ground the methodology of this study. The first is that a search for theory in the work of a critic is a valid preoccupation. Nbrry Krieger has spoken of the inevitable relationship bet1keen experience and theory:
. each of us carries with him, as he turns to experience a
poem, some distillate of his earlier experiences of poems that
acts as an a priori guide to his expectations, his interpretations,
and his judgments. Conscious or unconscious, informed or uninformed,
systematically worked out or ad hoc and piecemeal, this distillate
still serves him, in effect, as his literary theory--even if it
leads him to a disdain of the very notion of theory.11
If something akin to theory develops even in the general consumer of a poem or a play, then it is even more the case in a sophisticated critic who has examined his experiences in detail.
The second assumption is that Bentley's critical output may be considered as a fairly homogeneous body of work where its theory is
concerned. That is, I will be less concerned with the evolution of a theory, but will consider the major direction of Bentley's theory to have been set by the time of the publication of The Playwright as Thinker. When Bentley tells us in several introductions that his conclusions can and do change from time to time, I take it to be a publication of his
pragmatic and situational orientation, that he is adapting and adjusting his theory to contain new experiences. Generally, the major body of his theory does not change, but merely expands to include new ideas. At times Bentley A-111 accept a contradiction to his general theory, such as his conclusion that there will sometimes be a need for outright
propaganda in the theatre. Except for an occasional essay in which he examines his own theory--the essay 'What is Theatre" is the best example- -Bentley maintains a commitment to perception over philosophy. Still, he is in close touch with the precepts which guide his aesthetic
judgments, and they remain, throughout the work, consistent in the main.
This study will draw, therefore, from the major critical works in no particular order. The central importance of The Life of the Drama, his major work on theory, is unquestionable. Yet its ideas are extensions of earlier work and are echoed in later. At any rate, the developmental aspect of the theorywhere it does appear, will be noted by this method.
Chapter I of this study will trace the influence of the philosophy behind his early published works, pragmatism, as it affects his view of of art. It will then examine five critics whom Bentley has identified as influential on his development, among them John Crowe Ransom and his
New Criticism. Finally, Bentley's relativist aesthetic will be described in detail.
Chapter II will analyze the various elements of Bentley's realism
as they apply to drama and art in general. Attention will be paid to creativity and aesthetic experience as well as to those areas internal to the art work such as form and cognitive content. Chapter III will follow with. an analysis of Bentley's specific attitudes towards theatrical art: acting, directing, script interpretation, and theatricality.
Chapter IV will offer a more specific look at several critical pieces in order to examine Bentley's reactions to different kinds of content in relation to form. The Conclusion will summarize Bentley's dramatic theory and offer an evaluation of his work as a critic,
Let it be clear from the outset, however, that this study is
basically positive in its appraisal of his criticism. Though Bentley has blind spots in his appreciations, he is aware of them and has explained them with wel I -articulated theory. And in practice he is always affirmative about the power of the theatre to move and serious about the importance of the art. His theories are essential to review at this point, in the light of the literature about theatre of the late 1960's and early 1970's which explains an art in which language, script, logic, planning, traditional unity, and reality have been pared down, fragmented, or actually stripped away. It is hoped that Bentley's theories will continue to stand alongside those of recent theorists such as Richard
Schechner and David Cole in explicating a total aesthetic of the theatre.
1 Eric Bentley, A Century of Hero Worship (Philadelphia:
J. B. Lippincott Company, 1944) ...(Hereinafter referred to as Century,)
2. Eric Bentley, The Playwright as Thinker (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1967)--Hereinafter referred to as Thinker,)
3. Eric Bentley, private interview, Gainesville, Florida, February, 1978.
4. Eric Bentley, Bernard Shaw (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1976)
5. Eric Bentley, In Search of Theatre (New York: Vintage Books, 1957) (Hereinafter referred to as Search.)
6. Eric Bentley, The Dramatic Event (Boston: Beacon Press,
1954) (Hereinafter referred to as EVent-)T;Eric Bentley, What Is Theatre? (Boston: Beacon Press, 1956) (Hereinafter referred to as WhFt.7
7. Eric Bentley, The Life of the Drama (New York: Atheneum, 1957) (Hereinafter referred to as Life.)
8. Eric Bentley, The Theatre of Commitment (New York: Atheneum, 1967) (Hereinafter referred to as Comitment.)
9. Eric Bentley, Theatre of War (New York: The Viking Press, 1972) (Hereinafter referred to as War.10. Will Brewer Grant, Jr., Varieties of American Theatrical Criticism, 1945-1969 (Ph.D. dissertation, Cornell University, 1970.)
11. Murry Krieger, Theory of Criticism (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976), pp. 5-6.
12. Richard Schechner, Public Domain (New York: Avon Books, 1969); David Cole, The Theatrical Event (iddletown, Conn.: Weslyan University Press, 1975.T-
PHILOSOPHY AND BACKGROUND
We discover beauty just as we discover the physical properties of
things. Training is needed to make us expert in either line.
Differing points of view about art may be related to differing
beliefs about the world, to "intellectual, political, and social affinities." 1 -These affinities, affected at the deepest level by universal conceptions or philosophy and more directly by aesthetic training, may be examined as the basis of a particular art theory. Eric Bentley's realist, rational, anO humanist view of the drama may be traced to two such influential areas. One is comprised of his philosophical allegiance:vbith centers broadly on the pragmatism of 11illiam James and includes a compatible politics of democratic socialism. The other consists of his study of and -work in the field of literary criticism during the 1930's and 19401s.
In the following these areas are separated for purposes of discussion, and it may appear that pragmatism has been the guiding force in all of Bentley's studies. Certainly the basic precepts from pragmatism which he appears to have internalized by 1944 have been influential, but it is also likely that pragmatism functioned as a synthesizing
factor for a number of impulses already strong in the young student who came to Yale from Oxford just as war was beginning in Europe. Bentley
was an undergraduate during the "Marxist decade," which was also a time of upheaval in the literary world, and it is reasonable to expect that he was well-informed about the most progressive philosophical, political, and literary theories at an early age.
It is therefore likely that philosophy and literature interacted in Bentley along several developing lines of belief which are best described by pragmatism so that pragmatism's humanism, empiricism, pluralism, and relativism dovetail with the emphasis on realism, methodology, the concrete, and the social perspective on art which
are important to his aesthetics. Certainly these ideas can be related to Bentley's studies in literary criticism with C. S. Lewis, to his critiques of T, S. Eliot and I. A. Richards, to his association with John Crowe Ransom and the New Critics, and to his encomiastic investigation of the Cambridge (England) critic F. R. Leaves.
Pragmatism's essential empiricism and focus on the facts of experience speaks in favor of realism and the actual, the concrete, 2 It also allows the study of art, especially literature, as a kind of social document, welcoming the adoption of scientific methodologies from fields such as psychology, sociology, and anthropology in literary criticism.
The plural4StiCuniverse and humanist basis of value in pragmatism send man on an extended value search; pragmatism is a methodology
for guiding the individual through a world of actual experiences. Bentley, following F. R. Leaves, praises the methodological critic who decides
through empirical testing and pragmatic reasoning what judgments about art are most valid. That these judgments are relative to individuals and societies, based on empirically derived standards and not on absolutes,
defines Bentley's relativism which is the focus of the last part of this chapter.
In pragmatism, all life is the accommodation of sensory experience in a wild and diverse universe; art, which offers an experience specially designed to be both complete and potent, is in the mainstream of living. 3 Thus Bentley sees its purpose for the individual as active and meaningful (to the intellect as well as to the emotions, which are, in fact,
linked) rather than as passive and purely emotional as in I. A. Richards.
For Bentley, art must be engaged with society through lived
experience, and pragmatism's anti-authoritarianism and growth-orientation lead to the political side of Bentley's realism. The search for concrete and vivid experience in art becomes intertwined with ethics for,
as Stephen Pepper says, "an artist seeks out social issues because they ,,4
reflect conflicts and are sources of vivid realization of experience The best art can hardly avoid some ethical content, for it is a deep reflection on the nature of the world.
Bentley's focus on the real and concrete lead him away from the
mystical, the murky, and the abstract and towards the specific, the clear, and the crisp. His desire for social engagement and eye for ethical content lead him to consider the effete, the snobbish, the sentimental, the escapist, and the commercial beyond the pale of true art.
Like pragmatism itself, however, Bentley's realism is neither narrow nor exclusive. It is a broad avenue into which many ideas and
styles may run. Methodologically he draws from psychology, sociology, and other areas as well as the central "close to the text" formalism of the New Critics.
The purpose of the present chapter is to examine the development
of a realist aesthetic of the character suggested above, Part One will focus on Bentley's pragmatism as it appears in some early works, primarily
Century of Hero Worship. Bentley's socialism will be related to and discussed as compatible with his pragmatism. Part Two will examine Bentley's relation to the five literary critics mentioned above, with whom he has had close association or about whom he has written. Part
Three will examine Bentley's relativism as it appears as a methodology of aesthetic judgment, perhaps the clearest indication of the influence of pragmatism on his criticism.
Bentley's PraKmatism and Tts Relation to Politics
When Eric Bentley recently said that his major philosophical
interests since leaving Yale in 1941 have been "in Marxism on the one hand and Freudianism on the other," he implied that his early interest in pragmatism had come during the writing of his dissertation which was later published as Century of Hero Worship. 5 Certainly the book opens the door to a continued interest in socialism and psycholo 4 gy, an interest fed by the methodology of pragmatism. This book, a study of the intellectual movement of Heroic Vitalism in such diverse artists and thinkers as Thomas Carlyle, Friedrich Nietzsche, Richard Wagner, Bernard Shaw, Oswald
Spengler, Stefan George, and D. H. Laurrence, offers pragmatism as an answer to the philosophic dilemmas of the concerned intellectual in the modern world. Pragmatism helps Bentley sympathize with the Heroic Vitalists' quest for quality in a democratic and bourgeois world, ruled
by the marketplace. At the same time, it leads him to abhor the extreme
individualism and authoritarianism of their conclusions which, in the worst of them, consist of a denial of democratic freedom in modern society and a rush to the airy and reserved world of the hero, the superman.
The book offers a synthesis of the Heroic ITitalists' concerns with those of democratic liberalism, centering on the question of leadership: how does the democratic state develop leaders of quality, men of superior
intellect and talent? "The great question," says Bentley, "is whether ,6
democracy is in every respect anti-aristocratic His conclusion is
implicit in the statement, "Aristocracy is one of the goals of democracy." 7
Along the way to this conclusion, Bentley offers a vast analysis of the lives, times, and works of the authors studied. He demonstrates formidable powers of psychological analysis and, at every hand, touts,
in a piecemeal fashion, pragmatism. In his review of the book, Kenneth Burke called for a chapter which
would have considered systematically the philosophic points that
are continually being introduced en E at, Particularly the
scattered remarks on pragmatism Triake one wish that the author had
told us just what key propositions, in his opinion, characterize
this movement which he evidently considers of signal importance. . 8 With the whole of Bentley's critical work in mind, this can be done to some extent, for the pragmatism, far-reaching in its influence as I have suggested above, is centrally exhibited and related to the politics of
the book. It is difficult to tell how extensive a study Bentley made of William James, less so of John Dewey, for he never elucidates pragmatism but merely refers to it (as Burke suggests above). Yet perhaps the
major strokes of Jamesian pragmatism are all the more strong for having touched such a responsive chord in Bentley in so elemental a form.
Certainly pragmatism forms a core of faith for Bentley in the
book, for he is drawn to belief even though he is skeptical of it, especially absolute belief. William James stands out in high relief and is the most-quoted philosopher in the book (except for those who have direct influence on the figures of the study, such as Hegel and Schopenhauer.) Bentley often relates James and Bernard Shaw,whom he identifies as another pragmatist. As a working system, pragmatism is often seen in political terms as well as in more general terms. Since the book is about ideas as they impact on the world, it is necessarily politically oriented; the
general precepts of pragmatism often fuse with their political importance.
Bentley sees the central coherence of pragmatism's flexible methodology in the unification of activity and value, i.e., the development of value in a world which is man-centered and diverse. This he makes clear in a summation of the centralizing and synthesizing aspect of pragmatism in modern ethics:
In the matter of Heroic Vitalism, James and Shaw represent a position between the two contemporary extremes, the extremes reached by Tolstoy and Nietzsche who found the new world disgusting and saw only the alternative of outright paganism or
outright Christianity--activity without values or values without activity. James and Shaw united activity with values. They
represent what is positive in science but not what is hampered
by hard and fast categories and narrow determinism. They are
'positivists" in a broad sense but utterly opposed to mechanistic explanations of non-mechanical phenomena.. They give
status alike to Baconian experiment and to reason but surpass
the earlier rationalism and empiricism in the firm yet elastic
method of pragmatism. Their theory of truth is relativistic, but they know that what is relatively true is not necessarily
mere subjective fantasy but can be objective and worthy of a
Here, within a humanistic framework, are the positivism, empiricism, and
relativism which are central to pragmatism's world view. Value emerges
from human activity; it does not exist as absolute doctrine, whether it be the extreme of a supernatural or rationalist doctrine. Bentley supports pragmatism's humanist debunking of pure scientific determinism. Neither science nor reason can absolutely designate reality since reality is neither a unit nor an abstraction; reality depends upon human definition. Within this view, truth must be relative, but the relatively true, tested,
examined, and held up to standards, may be taken seriously and objectively (though not absolutely). Since relative truth is continually being discovered, progressivism, the developmental nature of pragmatism, is inherent in the formulation.
This is the general view of pragmatism appearing in Century. Four important ideas are repeatedly dealt with in this formulation: 1) a basic empiricism in -understanding nature and man; 2) a plural iSt4C view of the world with an abhorrence of dualities and absolutes; 3) a humanist and relativist view of value; and 4) an emphasis on mind or intellect in processing experience. Let us examine how these ideas appear in the book and elsewhere.
Bentley's empiricism is perhaps most clear in his psychological analysis of the growth of the idea of Heroic Vitalism in the individuals
studied. Bentley's research into personality is based on scientific methods, a rough Freudianism, and faith in the analytic powers of the rational intellect. Like Freud, he is concerned with mental conflict often of unconscious origin. The developmental pattern of conflict and resolution is common in Bentley's manner of thinking. He offers his psychological analysis not as shallow literary criticism, but as a key to understanding the relationship between experience and ideas:
By this time we have lost patience with the psychoanalytical method
of criticism which says: Shelley wrote that because of his Oedipus
complex, or: Carlyle worshiped heroes because of his indigestion. . .
However, we must not ignore the fact that biography is just as essential
a part of cultural history as economics or philosophy . one can show why a particular person's experience called for a certain view
of life; one can show how an idea grew in an individual. . 10
Psychology is a natural science. It offers the possibility of in-depth investigation wherein the investigator is able to discover the truth about ideas by examining them at the source. The essential conflict -resolution pattern by which men may grow is, at once, Freudian, Hegelian, and pragmatic. Where there is imbalance, balance will be sought. Opposite sides of an issue will be brought together so that the good in each side may be kept in the resolution, at least ideally.
Bentley's tone in Century is that of the enthusiastic but objective researcher. The Freudian emphasis on sex is prevalent, as are the Freudian repressions and substitutions that resolve conflict. He links Carlyle's authoritarianism to his probable sexual impotence, and he discusses the
impact of Stefan George's repressed homosexuality on his poems and followers: "Whether George . would confess to homosexuality is irrelevant except insofar as unconscious homosexuality is subtler in its manifestations than the conscious sort." 11
It is the prevalence of unresolved conflicts in character, often dealt with in their writing, which Bentley suggests led to so many illiberal conclusions on the part of the Heroic Vitalists. The most common conflict- -perhaps he would consider it a basic conflict- -Bentley finds is that betvseen "mascul ine- feminine, I I and it may have various sources. In Carlyle he sees it as stemming from the loss of Christian faith and its replacement by a faith in science which later develops into an unresolved
duality of character, the old feminine never quite dominated by the new
masculine. Bentley reads much of Carlyle as an unconscious attempt to work out this conflict. He finds similar conflicts in Nietzsche, George, Lawrence, and Wagner, linking conflict to literary and artistic production. Conflict, for example, is seen as the basis of Wagner's art: "In his music-dramas, Wagner confronts himself." 12
Bentley displays a prodigious capacity for analyzing personality as a method for understanding biographyhistory, and ideas. Psychology
is central in his study of man. Though his psychology is influenced strongly by Freud, he does not demonstrate absolute faith in Freudian theory. He remains pragmatic in his methodology. Psychology gives Bentley a method for studying development, and the active component of
psychology, psychoanalysis, promises results that also ring true to pragmatism: understanding and new levels of awareness. Psychology also helps Z>
fix the dialectical pattern in his thinking, crucial to a dramatic view cf the world.
Bentley make it clear that his abhorance of both dualism and dogmatism are grounded in his pluralist world view. He calls Carlyle's suppressed belief in Heaven and Hell "a naive and dangerous dualism which cancels the utility of Carlyle's incipient pragmatism." 13 Belief in a
dualism is by definition an acceptance of extremes, an over-simplified polarity which does not take a greater diversity and the possibility of many centrist positions into account. Dualism is thus the parent of an absolute view: "when the heaven-hell pattern pervades a man's thought it makes him an extremist, a man of insane ruthless reasoning, one ignorant
of the great civilizing principle of the golden mean." 14 Faced with an "either . or" argument or situation, Bentley will prefer some synthesis, central or combined position. He applauds the "both . and" pattern in Shaw, a bringing together rather than a splitting apart, inclusiveness rather than exclusiveness. is
Bentley clarifies his philosophical and political stand against
dualism and for pluralism when he links Romanticism with pragmatism. Bentley's view of Romanticism is mixed, separating its world view from its aesthetics. He favors the Romantic concept of man forging value in
a diverse world, fighting to keep the human spirit free from the stultifying conventions of society. This is much like pragmatism. He does not accept the dualism of the Romantic view of art in which the artist reaches out from the imperfect world to capture the eternal ideal.
Bentley approves of Romanticism's view of nature, not its metaphysics; he is impressed with its political rather than its aesthetic content.
Bentley criticizes as anti-Romantic those politically conservative
thinkers, like T. S. Eliot, because their "values are fixed, and fixity is their faith, their touchstone, and their panacea. J6 Such fixity is inimical to a pluralist view of the world with its capacity for novelty, change, and growth. He finds the hidden desire of the anti-Romantic is for
4 faith that is systematic and certain, a society that is hierarchic
and static. 'What is it they most dread? The i,,rorld of contingency,
flux, and diversity. As there is an inner connection between Romanticism and pragmatism, so there is between neoclassicism and philosophic idealism. 17
Again, Bentley is not speaking here about art but about the real world and politics. Romantic reality was pluralistic while classical reality was fixed by a higher absolute.
For Bentley, then, the pragmatism of William James is "the culmination of Romanticism!' and James is "the man who made articulate what the earlier Romantics were groping after . the = who built into a
philosophy and a method what had previously been a series of hints, images, and intuitions." is He quotes James in an impassioned statement about the
unification of ideal and real in a world where absolute laws, abstract concepts, and arguments based on absolute knowledge do not pertain: "Dramatic unities; laws of versification; ecclesiastical systems; scholastic doctrines. Bah! . those who do insist that the ideal and the real are dynamically continuous are those by whom the world is to be saved." 19
For Bentleyvalues are not pre-ordained in a world that is diverse, wild, and full of possibilities; therefore, man becomes the center of the pragmatic value search. He makes this clear when he compares what is good in Nietzsche's theory of value to James:
The positive upshot of the theory of value which we have looked
at is that values are "free," are created, are man made. Thus
the dignity of which man had been deprived by eighteenth-century
science and Darwinism alike is restored to him by Nietzsche, as
by William James. . 20
This is the humanist base of pragmatic value. It is relativist in that man made values are not taken to be mere subjective desires, but are
derived from beliefs which are tested and developed by pragmatic reasoning. This explains the crucial contribution of the rational mind to pragmatism and its search for truth. Rationality also carries a hint for a social basis for value, rather than the purely individualistic one in Nietzsche. Whereas the Romantics tended to distrust the mind and society as limiting to the free spirit, Bentley--and pragmatism--put much faith in rational inquiry and the social view.
Bentley sees the rational mind as the key for opening man's awareness of and contact with the real world. This corresponds to his concept of man, "the animal that thin s," as central to the universe. He criticizes the Heroic Vitalists for their leaps past rationality, and he cites Shaw's highly critical analysis of the Heroic Vitalists' illusions about heroism and courage as an example of how pragmatic realism may rightly debunk airy nonsense. This debunking does not, however, lessen
individual human value) for "to say so would be to reject the strivingC:1 after self-conquest by pragmatic reasoning which has been the major endeavor of mankind during the past two hundred years." 21 Pragmatism is a method of using the rational mind (which, however, is not unconnected to the emotions), and it is the Heroic Vitalists' emphasis on the "primacy of the 'Unconscious"' which Bentley soundly criticizes, saying that it produces a theory of knowledge "in which intuition is too naively exalted above reason. . ,22
It is Bentley's pervasive rationality combined with the pragmatic, socialist, and progressivist sense of the individual's connection to the group that underlies his criticism of the Heroic Vitalists and leads to
the thesis of Century: that within the context of a democratic society intellectual capacity is functionally useful, and individuals of i-tellect should be raised tr a position of leadership as a service to society as a whole. This constitutes a form of elitism., but it is not rigid and objective. The intellectual is not born, he is developed, and that which sets him apart from society is exactly what should lead him back to it, for his engagement with society is not a debt to be paid, but ideally comes from a desire to serve. The model is that of democratic socialism
wherein responsibility and sharing are the cohesive forces of society. Respect for individual liberty is balanced by the needs of the collective.
Thus the pluralism and humanism of pragmatism ground, or are compatible with, Bentley's politics. Bentley's liberalism is easily explained by pragmatism, in contrast to modes of thought which are authoritarian. The liberal mind is pluralistic, dealing with diversity through a pragmatic process of validation. The illiberal mind tends to
be dualist, understanding only one path as opposed to another: it must be this or that, with one generally labeled good and the other bad. A vast and diverse universe must be reduced to comply with the dualism, and the dualist must take extreme positions which may be the basis of dogmatism.
Pragmatism guides Bentley in giving importance to both the freedom
of the individual and the needs of the collective. His Marxism is not antithetical to pragmatism, at least where it does not take on the cast of an absolutism. For, as we have said, Bentley lacks the religious turn
of mind necessary for complete faith in systems such as Freud's or Marx's. Bentley has stated his caution with Communism as it is practiced by the Party in various countries, even while he remains a socialist:
Still,, there is, I believe, another constant in my viewpoint
besides liberalism: I am a socialist and have been for thirty years.
If my attitude to the Communist Party has varied, that, surely, need
not be viewed as purely my problem. Not being a member of it, nor
otherwise awestruck, I propose to judge each of its policies on its
merits. I shall be anti-Communist if that means I shall on occasion
oppose measures which this Communist Party or that advocates; I shall
not be anti-Communist if that is to imply that all decisions of all
Communist Parties are bound to be wrong or that "Communism7l is a good name for all that is bad and is therefore the opposite of a "freedom"
which embodies all that is good.23
This attitude would not be sufficient., in the eyes of most Communists, to admit Bentley into the group. Certainly his attitude toward Communist
policy is pragmatic. One must presume that his socialism is gradualist or Shavian in form.
And yet the connection betiveen Marxism and pragmatism is considerable. Bentley sees Marxism as compatible with democracy, as when he speaks of "the vast strength that came to democratic ideas from Marxism." 24 Bentley's great concern for the individual's responsibility to society
is certainly Marxist. Pragmatism and Marxism have a similar world view. Both are essentially realist and empiricist. Both are progressive and positivistic. Both extoll the importance of education. Many pragmatist philosophers have seen the two as compatible, though John Dewey is said to have considered Marxism a "theology." 25 Stripped of its revolutionary nature based on the imperatives of historical materialism and the class struggle, a nature which at times fosters complete ethical and moral subjugation to the propagation of coTmmmism, Marxism has much in conmn with pragmatism.
Bentley in essence grafts the pragmatic method onto his socialism,
judging the Party's policies individually. He is not a Marxist critic of the dogmatic sort, bending every aesthetic judgment to fairly narrow and absolute social-moral requirements. In the general view, however, Bentley's aesthetic is not far distant from the Marxist as described by Lucien Goldmann:
. the dialectical aesthetic sees every work of art as the expression . of a world vision; and . as we would expect, this vision
also expresses itself on numerous other philosophical and theological
levels, as well as on that of men's everyday actions and activity.
The essential criteria by which the aesthetic of dialectical materialism judges the value of any expression of a world vision are the inner coherence of the work of art and especially the coherence between form
and content. It also, however, has another criterion, corresponding
on the philosophical plane to that of truth, and which enables a hierarchy of values to be set up between the different aesthetic expressions of world visions. This criterion is what the artistic
theories of dialectical materialism call the "degree of realisnoll
implying by this the richness and complexity of the real social
relationships which are reflected in the imaginary world created
by the artist or writer. 26
Bentley would agree with both criteria, at least to the point where the
"hierarchy of values" would be fully fixed and dogmatically applied, Bentley remains pragmatic and pluralist in the face of dogma. Alsor-and this is critical--the political hegemony of the Communist Party seems to
lack the possibility for growth which Bentley associates with conflict, His wariness as regards Communism is understandable, as is his sympathy
for the concepts of equality and social justice which are central to both Marx and William James.
Such is the philosophical base of Bentley's realism. Like the arch-realist Aristotle, whom he resembles in philosophy, Bentley looks
for the depiction of social reality in dramatic art and finds "thought" or intellectual and ethical/value content to adhere to such a view. This is the thrust of Bentley's early pragmatism, and it is well supported by his studies in psychology and socialism.
As a drama critic, Bentley stands in close relationship to his own
thesis in Century, His book is about the responsibility of the intellectual to society, and it is clear that he considers himself to be among those
about whom he writes, The role of a critic is that of an intellectual who takes on a guiding or leading function in society. 'Me nian of superior intellect shares his taste and insight with the public in order to better the quality of art which is consumed. Century supports with an extended theory the line of work chosen by Bentley.
His most basic guide remains his anti-dogmatism, the rejection of rigidity in looking and thinking. Like William James, he is an optimistic
thinker. Bentley's is a mind well suited to enter the arena of dramatic criticism: pluralistic, complex, serious, analytic, untrammeled by emotionalism or absolutism, and sensitive to conflict and resolution as a mode of thinking.
Bentley's Background in Literary Criticism
In accord with his methodological orientation and penchant for pluralism, Bentley has not followed one school of criticism or had one particular mentor. He has said of his early studies in criticism: "I was getting very close to different critical points of view: Lewis, then later Leavis and of course Ransom. I tried to learn from them all without giving complete allegiance to any." 27 The five critics studied here do not represent all those whom Bentley has digested and from whom he has presumably learned. The three mentioned above, however, are, by his own admission, central and crucial. They are, in addition to the direct influence they have had on Bentley, representative of a climate of
literary opinion and practice in which Bentley's ideas and opinions developed. If Lewis, Leavis, and Ransom are three critics withwhom
Bentley has had a great deal of contact, Eliot and Richards are two major critics with whom he could not avoid some confrontation. He has written about all five, though less about Ransom who may, in a manner unanalyzed by Bentley himself, have influenced him most.
This study of the five critics will focus on the development of an active, realist literary theory. This is to say that Bentley relates to ideas in these five critics which are similar to those then developing in
his philosophical outlook. The nature of man and society, manys expression through art and literature, and the relationship of art to society are the general areas to which the discipline of literary criticism
offered specific insights. Bentley was predisposed to follow views which emphasized seriousness, meaning, objectivity, intellect, and the connections among various phenomena.
As a developing realist, he has been especially concerned about
the manner in which literature is a way of knowing the world of reality and the manner in which ideas, values, and emotional qualities enter the literary work. This interest has led him toward views of the objective,
cognitive, and concrete in literature. As a developing contextualist, he has been concerned about the effect of the literary work on its public and about the nature of aesthetic judgment. 28 This has reinforced his
realism and. social consciousness by directing him toward ideas of an active aesthetic experience involving both mind and emotions. It has also led him toward aesthetic judgments which are based on relativist criteria.
The general concern for the value of art lies behind all these interests. Bentley identifies the need to re-establish the importance of literature for a new age as the background of the broad movement which John Crowe Ransom called the New Criticism. 29 The continued rise of democracy and the breakdown of rigid class structure in post-industrial
Europe and America--to some extent the same pressures that led to the hero-worship of the Heroic Vitalists--removed literature from its special, aristocratic niche and led to widespread commercialism and ignorance. In a scientific age, science was seen to have a monopoly on truth; literature was relegated to the status of either a pastime or a convenient
vehicle for moralizing, This denigration of the art$ accounts for what Bentley sees as the pedagogical fervor of the New Critics:
All were concerned to assert that literature was not less important
in this unliterary age than formerly, to point from the many things
literature is connected with to the thing that it is, to defend,
as Eliot put it, the integrity of literature. 30
The New Critics' primary impulse in defending the "integrity" of literature was to consider it as a separate way of knowing the world, separate from other areas such as entertainment and morals, with which it
had been closely related. As Eliot put it, "the problem appearing in these essays, which gives them what coherence they have, is the problem of the integrity of poetry, with the repeated assertion that when we are considering poetry we must consider it as poetry and not another thing. 31 The close consideration of the literary text as literature, that is, as a way of knowing reality, gave rise to the tendency to focus exclusively on the formal coherence of the literary work which has become the earmark of the New Criticism, narrowly defined as those critics identified by Ransom or working under his banner. (Bentley, in the introduction to The Importance of Scrutiny, seems to use the term more broadly to indicate most informed modern criticism.) The New Criticism
has been called "the most influential method of our time," though it hardly constitutes a specific method other than extremely close textual reading 32
which has been called "formal ism. "
Perhaps the major thing to which literature, in the view of the New Critics, had been wedded was morals. We have seen how moral and ethical values may become involved in art, but this is not to say that literature and Morals are one. The propensity of the scientific mind,
however, was to relegate to science all cognitive knowledge and to art all affect. Along with this came the relegation of literature to the realm, not so much of morals, but of moralizing, as a method for transmitting a particular moral view. This is very different from the open value-search through experience which is a modern, orthodox (and pragmatic) view of art. Bentley notes the influence of the French critic
Remy de Gourmont on Eliot: "Llart est incompatible avec une preoccupation morale ou religiouse" 33 The reaction against moralism is influential on the New Critics' efforts to focus on the work and not on peripheral factors.
The New Critics sought to establish the importance of literature as a separate way of dealing with the world's evidence. Ransom himself developed his theories along the lines of the cognitive importance of literature. The interest in science of the period, indeed, the vast extension of the methods of science into the study of man, was also directly influential on New Criticism (broadly defined) in the infusion of methods from fields such as anthropology, psychology, and sociology into literary criticism. Modern criticism has been called "The Armed
Vision" because of its "organized use of non-literary techniques and bodies of knowledge to obtain insights into literature." 34
All five of the critics studied here share at least some of the concerns of the New Criticism, The following arrangement is roughly chronological, based on the order in which Bentley apparently studied,
luiew, or wrote about them.
C. S. Lewis
Bentlev's mentor at Oxford, Lewis was a specialist in P4edieval and Renaissance literature, a Christian, an author of fantastic tales, a philosophical idealist, and a bit of a mystic. 35 Very little of this
seems to have interested Bentley. Lewis was, however, committed to the study of meaning in literature and, in addition, probably influenced Bentley's early ideas about the relationship between psychology and literature. Bentley wrote, under Lewis, his first book-length manuscript, a study of the use of psychology in modern criticism. The ideas in this treatise, including a negative view of I. A. Richards, parallel Lewis' evaluations. It is also probable that the acrimonious debate and argumentation which prevailed at Oxford and around Lewis had a lifelong effect on Bentley.
Lewis considered literature to be a content bound up with an
artistic form. He said that "taking art as an expression, it must be the expression of something: and one can't abstract the 'something, from the expression." 36 The something which is expressed in the literary art work relates more clearly than expression in other arts to the world
outside the work: "The first note of a symphony demands attention to nothing but itself. The first word of the Iliad directs our minds to anger; something we are acquainted with outside the poem and outside literature altogether." 37 Literature, being made,.upof language, is bound to a relationship w. th reality. This sets language arts apart from the arts in general and constitutes a cornon sense semiotics in which the real world is an important component of "meaning."
Lewis, in the fashion of New Criticism, debunks critical writing
about the author: "A book ought to be judged on its oun merits rather than as a means whereby one steeps oneself in the personality of the author." 38 Lewis criticizes the simplistic return of the Freudian critic to a few basic motifs (usually sex) as reductive and of little use to criticism. Even if we could show, he says, that the enjoyment of Book IV of Paradise Lost was 90 percent sex and 10 percent interest in gardens
that 10 would still be the subject of literary criticism. For clearly the 10 is what distinguishes one poem from another-the
90 being a monotonous continuum spread under all our reading
alike and affording no ground for the distinction we actually
draw between banality and freshness, dullness and charm, ugliness
and beauty. 39
Lewis responds positively, however, to the unveiled mystery of
Jungian myth as related to literature in Maud Bodkin's seminal Archtypal Patterns in Poetry: "A much more civil and humane interpretation of myth and imagery is, however, advanced by Jung, and one which in the pages of Miss Bodkin . has found some interesting critical expressions." 40
Bentley's book on psychological criticism follows Lewis' evaluations, Bentley says,
I think my youthful poir+ of view was that Richards and Freud were
much too limited, and the answer was Jung. I was not to think that later. Maud Bodkin's book had appeared, and it opened up a lot of
literature to me; she was the heroine of my treatise, 41
In 'Later years Bentley, as he says, turned away from the somewhat mystical Jung and followed Freud's more empirical hypotheses, developing and using an extensive Freudian vocabulary in a manner unlike the reductive simplicity of that kind of Freudian criticism which Lewis rightly depreciated,
Dissent and debate were seen by Lewis as a method for testing
ideas, and so he felt that discussion of an ideological sort could only strengthen a grasp on truth. It could firm one's conceptions or even lead to synthesis. Bentley says that Lewis loved debate and that he once saw Lewis and Richards debate their views on literature. "Lewis loved the process," he says, "though Richards was not really up to the cut and parry of debate." 42
It is possible, then, that Bentley's positive attitude toward
conflict and its necessary presence in a pluralistic, growth- oriented world was learned at Oxford. His fondness for debate and dialectic., of ideas confronting ideas, seen in his admiration for playwrights like Shaw and Brecht and his mistrust of ideological vagueness, could have been easily spawned by the atmosphere of debate and argument at Oxford in the 19301s. 43
Bentley certainly developed ai-ray from Lewis in the decade after he left Oxford in 1939. In the 1948 preface to Scrutiny he criticizes Lewis for "a very unsatisfactory conception of two central matters: tradition and taste." 44 That is, Lewis reveres the old for serious
study (tradition) and leaves new literature to be read as one may, outside the area of serious inspection. Like a good pragmatist, Bentley sees tradition in a relationship between past and present and emphasizes
the need to deal critically with modern literature in order to engage one's self with contemporary life.
T. S. Eliot
Bentley acbnires Eliot's early criticism, that of the 1920 introduction to The Sacred Wood in idiich he proposed "to halt at the frontier
of metaphysics or mysticism. By 1928, when Eliot had "passed
on to a larger and more difficult subject . that of the relation of
poetry to the spiritual and social life of its time and other times," Bentley disapproves. 4S His comment on Eliot's shift is terse: "I do
not think Eliot's dealings with the 'larger and more difficult subject' have been very satisfactory." 46 Eliot's heavily Christian and increasingly reactionary politics are the obvious source of Bentley's displeasure.
Bentley damns Eliot's politics, on the philosophical level, because his pragmatism conflicts with Eliot's narrowly neoclassical,
idealist standards. Yet the difference in philosophy seems to bother Bentley only when Eliot applies these standards to society and not when
they are applied to literature. Bentley accuses Eliot of confusing his artistic gifts with social-critical gifts, leading to a grave error, "the infusion of aesthetic standards into history." 47 Certainly, however,
Bentley applies his own aesthetic philosophy (imbued as it is with social concerns) to history and society. What Bentley is perhaps saying is that he continues to appreciate Eliot's poetry while disliking his philosophy, more apparent in the social criticism than in the creative work. This may be because Eliot, a gifted poet, achieves such crisp and imagistic poetry whereas his philosophy seems to Bentley to be dogmatic, inflexible, elitist, and insensitive.
The difference may relate to Eliot's basic insights into poesy,
developed in the early criticism. There he defines his famous concept of the "objective correlative," whereby emotion enters poetry through the specific and the concrete. Poetry is not mushy, it is not gush, it is not the direct cry of emotion:
The only way of expressing emotion in the form of art is by
finding an "objective correlative"; in other words, a set of
objects, a situation, a chain of events which shall be the formula
of that particular emotion; such that when the external facts,
which must terminate in sensory experience are given, the
emotion is immediately evoked. 48
Whatever personal reasons Eliot may have had for the articulation of this concept, it demands concrete presentation in the poem, even for symbhols of the non-concrete. This is meaningful for Bentley because it begins
to link emotion--and ideas--to specific objects which may be examined by the intellect. In a similar manner Eliot suggests that the concrete is used in literature to deal with ideas: "The poet can deal with philosophical ideas, not as a matter for argument, but as a matter for inspection."4
The objectification of emotion and ideas becomes a key concept
for Bentley who quotes William Jamies to show that the aesthetic validity of Shaw's moral content lies in its concrete presence:
Wil liam James . hit upon one of the essentials of Shaw, to
wit., "the w,,ay he brings home to the eys as it were, the difference
between 'convention' and 'conscience. .. "' The difference between
convention and conscience is certainly a moral matter, but Shaw is
concrete morals .L . he is a genuine dramatist in that he
brings his matter home to the eyes . . 50
1I. A. Richards
Richard's studies in semantics and aesthetics led him to question
the "objective" nature of the concrete in literature and literature's relationship to reality and truth. Convinced that only science and philosophy used language to accurately describe reality, he developed
an aesthetic based on "synaesthesis," his term for the hypnotic state of emotional balance and harmony reached by individuals as a response to
art works. He also coined the term "pseudo -statement" to distinguish literary language from scientific; science makes actual statements,
while literature does not. The aim of science is to refer to reality, while the aim of literature is to affect the emotions:
A statement may be used for the sake of the reference, true
or false, which it causes. This is the scientific use of language.
But it may also be used for the sake of the effects in emotion and
attitude produced by the reference it occasions. This is the
emotive use of language. S1
Richards says that "Poetry . is the supreme form of emotive language." S2
He considers his theory to serve literature by cutting it free from the restrictive world of science: "A pseudo statement, as I use the term, is not necessarily false in any sense. It is merely a form of words whose scientific truth or falsity is irrelevant to the purpose at hand." S3 Freed from a responsibility to truth, literary art can become supremely important to the affective human being.
The concept of a literature that does not say or mean anything, based on a serene and wholly subjective aesthetics, did not find favor
with even the young Eric Bentley. In an article taken from the thesis he wrote at Oxford, Bentley viciously attacked Richards for the subjective and non-scientific nature of his account of literary value: "It is inconsistent. It is inapplicable to criticism. It is bound up with unsubstantiated psychology." S4 He attacked the root concept of "synaesthesis," offering his own view of aesthetic value: "But, it might be argued, it is the change in consciousness that one enjoys and values, not what one changes to." 55
Bentley's active, vigorous concept of aesthetic effect conforms
to his developing pragmatism and its orientation toward change, growth,
and vivid experience. It is also in the tradition of Aristotle's catharsis which posits the attainment of a balanced state as a final result of aesthetic experience but emphasizes the awareness of the change
as primary to the experience. The spectator is to feel something strongly, to move from one state to another, to achieve a kind of enlightenment through change.
Bentley attacked Richards at his weakest point, his burdensome, subjectivist aesthetic which separated literature so decisively from the real world that it left it empty.
John Crowe Ransom
There are quite striking similarities between the literary theories of Ransom and Bentley i iio was Ransom's younger college at The Kenyon Review for several years. Foremost among them is Ransom's strong belief in the cognitive importance of literature and his avowed intellectualism in aesthetics based on literature's objective, meaningful nature. RRansom believes that poetic discourse is ontologically different from science, but no less cognitive in its meaning.
Ransom's criticism of Richards is, therefore, similar to Bentley's in its source: Richards' subjective emphasis, He says that "Richards is an anti-intellectualist aesthetician, and for him the characteristic
activity of the emotions and attitudes is out of sight of their cognitions." 56 Ransom opposes this by stressing the "cognitive object" which is the distinctive, concrete presence in which the quality of the poem
resides: "The distinctiveness that we think of as attaching to an emotion belongs really to the object towards which we have it ,S7
Ransom separates poetry from science as a way of knowing reality by noting that science has a narrow and directive structure concerned only with logical relationships, argument, hypotheses, and reasoning.
It is abstract and general. Poetic discourse, on the other hand, is broad and more like the world of reality, showing a "diffuseness of interest.." and focusing on concrete objects and situations. Poetry contains both kinds of discourse: a logical argument called "structure," and a localized particularity known as "texture,", which "testifies to a diffuseness in the constitution of the world which we are undertaking to know." 58
Thus poetry is not only real, it is more real than science, for it contains the concrete situations of texture and is not limited to the
abstraction of logical structure. Like pragmatism, poetic discourse focuses on the actual, the real, the situation. Ransom uses other terms and holds other ideas which correspond. to pragmatism. He speaks of science as the "totalitarian state" and poetry as the "democratic state" (for its diversity of elements) He is no idealist, seeing good poetry as coming, not from the Romantic quest for the eternal, but from the Poet's ability to describe the world of reality more completely than the
scientist. Following his belief in the cognitive nature of poetry, he notes that "intellectual standards" should not be waived for poets. For Ransom, poets are thinkers who deal, in the form of poetic discourse, with ideas:
If a poet is a philosopher, explicitly or implicitly, treating
matters of ethical or at least human importance--apd it is
likely that he is that-the discussion of his "ideology" may
be critical in every sense in which one may be said to criticize
systematic ideas . . 59
Here is a concern that is germinal in Bentley's aesthetic: that the author is making a statement through his vision of reality, though the statement is implicit in the material.
Indeed, the influence of Ransom on Bentley seems pervasive,
especially where the importance of intellect in the literary work is
concerned. Life proceeds in the manner of art rather than science; thus art is closely related to life and lived experience. "Fiction and drama, indeed, are explicit and systematic representations of the actual occupations we have in life,"? says Ransom. 60
F. R. Leavis
Bentley says that in the efforts of the New Criticism to teach
a broad public about the importance and quality of literature, "no one has played a larger part than FR.Leavis."6 Bentley's enthusiasm
for Leavis runs deep. It is not only prompted by the desire to expand awareness and effect change, which corresponds closely to Bentley's
pragrrTinism, but it is also guided by Leavis' close relationship to all of the critical ideas prominent in Bentley: concerns about literature and society, about meaning, realism, and the concrete in literature. Leavis stands out not so much as an influence on Bentley, but as a representative of the pragmatic way of thinking as applied to literary criticism. Leavis displays strong elements of liberalism, humanism,
and empiricism, and it is easy to see how Bentley, working with back issues of Leavis' journal Scrutiny, would find Leavis an exemplary critic.
Scrutiny, begun by Leavis in 1932, was similar in many respects to Ransom's Kenvon Review for its interest in both art and political culture. Leaves announced his liberal humanism by stating the scope of ideas he found in the term "modern affairs:"
a play of the free intelligence upon the underlying issues.
This is to desiderata a cultivated historical sense, a familiarity
with the "anthropologica.111 approach to contemporary civilization
and a catholic appreciation. of the humane values. 62
The connections between art and society are, for Leavis, complex and interwoven in a manner Bentley appreciates, Literature is about man and society; it is concerned directly with lived experience. It may have both direct and indirect influence on society: direct through its value content and indirect through its application to society's awareness
of culture in general. In turn, society has an effect on literature by defining the climate in which the artist produces. Bentley certainly subscribes to Leavis' statement of the general connections between art and society:
It goes without saying that for the majority neither the
present drift of civilization nor the plight of the arts is a
matter for much concern. It is true there are many who are
interested in one or the other without seeing any connection
between, them; but it is only a small minority for whom the arts are something more than a luxury product, who believe,
in fact, that they are the "storehouse of recorded values" and, in consequence, that there is a necessary relationship between the quality of the individual's response to art and his general
fitness for a humane existence. 63
The specific connection between art and society comes through literature's direct concern for actual experience. This is mirrored in the critic by a corresponding concern for the art work as a direct experience, unmitigated by philosophical considerations. That art and criticism focus on actualities and experience gives shape to Leavis'
essential pragmatism. Thus Bentley calls him the "anti -philosophical" critic as a positive statement, for the generalities of philosophy may
hamper the artist in his approach to direct experience and may dull the perception of the critic by ossification into rigid rules or dogma. In the case of the artist, Leavis' anti-philosophical stance calls for
immediacy and actuality. In the case of the critic, it calls for relativism in aesthetic judgment, which shall be examined in the next section.
Bentley applauds Leavis' methodology which takes precedence over philosophy:
If there is a bed-rock of doctrine., an absolute, at the bottom of
his work, it is not a philosophical system, but a doctrine as to
procedure, a methodological absolute . . The assumption is
that literature means something, that the meaning or content
is bound up with the style or form, and may therefore be discovered
by the trained sensibility. 64
This formulation contains the primary elements of Bentley's view of
literature: the literary work has a meaning, inherent in the nature of language, and this meaning is closely tied to the form, Both cognitive and affective sides of man are combined in literature, and both are involved in the "sensibility," which he defines as "a discipline of the intellect and the feelings taken--as they must be taken in the arts--together," 65
Though Leavis is wary of philosophy, there is an aesthetics
inherent in his methodology as he applies it in his work. The philosopher Rene Wellek, commenting on Leavis' Revaluations, which Bentley says "reappraised so many English poets that the book as a whole amounts to a new view of the English poetic tradition," calls that aesthetic, realistic in its focus on social reality and the concrete and insensitivity to philosophical idealism in poetry. 66
Leaves, in a reply to Wellek about the position of philosophy
vis a vis poetry, offers a statement of his theory, and it is clear that the theory grows out of the contextualist concern for the realization of vivid experience directly exhibited in the work:
. traditions, or prevailing conventions or habits, that tend
to cut poetry in general off from direct vulgar living and the
actual, or that make it difficult for the poet to bring into
poetry his most serious interests as an adult living in his own
time, have a devitalizing effect, 67
By this Leavis is not denying the importance of philosophical idealism to a poet; he is merely defining the arbitrary infusion of philosophy, often by a pre-conceived system of symbols, as outside the nature of poetry. This indicates an extensive realism along the lines of Bentley. Poetry may deal with philosophy, but only through the depiction of concrete experiences from "direct vulgar living." Poetry cannot be written to illustrate philosophy in any direct way. The poetic (or aesthetic) function of language is to offer concrete experiences from
life which have "a directly evocative power." What the poet believes is not the major thing to be gotten from a poem. Hence a poet's symbols must speak through their concrete presence and not through a scheme.
Leaves' interest in actuality, adult experience, integration with a time and a society, and the unification of form and content corresponds neatly with Bentley's interest in the rational and intellectual as they appear in the real. Perhaps even more appealing to Bentley is Leavis' methodological approach and critical relativism. For Leavis, the critic makes contact with art works guided by mind and emotion, testing his reactions and looking for their source in a relationship between artistic form and the meaning he senses in the work. The
essentially pragmatic nature of this quest is appealing to Bentley, as is its unification of the intellect and the emotions in process.
I have traced Bentley's relationship to these critics at some length to show the various influences leading toward a realism which
gives prominence to objectification and intellect, the cognitive in man, but not at the expense of the emotional. Bentley's pragmatism stands as the unifying factor, bringing intellect and emotion together both within the literary work and as components of the sensibility which confronts the work. That is to say that pragmatism acts as a reasonable barrier
against extremism. Leaves' concern for the "play of the free intelligence" is prominent in Bentley both as an aesthetic method for criticism and as a general approach to life.
Bentley has made choices, and these are indicative of the empiricist pluralist, and progressivist nature of his pragmatism and socialism, He has chosen optimism over pessimism, engagement over withdrawal, relativism as a rational position between dogmatism and subjectivism, rationalism over irrationalism, democracy over authoritarianism, naturalism over idealism, growth over stasis, the Romantic world view over the Classic, relativistic belief over nihilism, and moderacy over extremism. These are his positions, pragmatically worked out and presumably in flux. Belief may not always be continuous with criticism, especially in a relativist, but it generally shows a direction and offers counsel to the perceptions.
Bentley's realism is a result of his background and his interests, and it is easy to see how the two are related.
Bentley's Critical Philosophy: Relativism
We are now at a point where we may safely indicate the general
features of Bentley's critical philosophy. Bentley says that "judgment is the summation of criticism. And some degree of objectivity is presumed by it." 68 This desire for objectivity, combined with an abhorance
of dogmatism (or absolute objectivity) and an equally strong distaste for the anarchy and "sub-human chaos" of subjectivism, leads him (naturally) toward the pragmatist value theory of relativism. 69 Relativism seeks to bring order to the realm of judgment while remaining pluralist. Its roots in pragmatist humanism are central to its flexible methodology.
The major elements of relativism which relate to Bentley are these: 1) Value is man centered. Aesthetic value does not reside in an object, but in a relationship between that object and some subject in a perceptual situation. 2) Aesthetic value is neither absolutely objective nor subjective, but partakes of some qualities of each: subjective in that it recognizes the necessary primacy of the psychological experience (liking)
in valuingand objective in that it sees the valuing process as dependent upon rational reflection upon the situation and standards. 3) Relativist standards are not fixed and absolute, but flexible and tentative. They are empirical criteria derived inductively from concrete situations.
4) Though thE intelligentt critic must accept all standards which are sensibly and intelligently derived, he may reject those which are unintelligent: untrained, hasty, or ignorant. 5) The unification of both form and content in aesthetic judgment is desirable. 6) The development of aesthetic sensitivity through training, perhaps the purpose of criticism, is emphasized.
These precepts correspond closely to Bentley's general philosophical
and aesthetic concerns. They also help systematize many of his statements about criticism. Bentley seems to be working toward a relativist stance, though this may be occasionally blurred by his argumentation, which may
be seen as a pose for purposes of debate or as the necessary result of holding on to belief in certain ideas. Tn the following I will point out Bentley's relationship as it converges with or deviates from relativism,
1. That the value situation lies in a relationship between a
work of art and a perceiving subject is inherent in the view that "literature means something." The semantic logic of meaning is that there must be a subject to interpret a sign, predicating a necessary relationship between the two. Theatrical presentation seems undeniably relational, Bentley has said that "The theatrical situation, reduced to a minimum, is that A impersonates B while C looks on." 70 The audience or perceiving subject completes the value situation.
That the subject-object relationship is full of variables marks the background to relativism's pluralism and anti-absolutism.
2. That there is a subjective ground to aesthetic value is
clear in Bentleywho sees that the immediate object of criticism is a personally perceived sense of quality that precedes rationcination. "Th. ey were -it is the finest word in dramatic criticism- -good; and the first sign of this goodness came, as it must in the theatre, in immediate pleasure." 71 He suggests that this important psychological datum may be lost in the rational and thoughtful process of critical valuation: "Theatre is more of a directly sensuous pleasure than theatre criticism would suggest. . ." 72
Bentley rejects complete subjectivity, of course, since such
anarchic atomism would deny the importance of rational mind and render criticism meaningless.
. some degree or kind of objectivity is presumed by
[judgment] . . For if all judgments are equally valid,
there is just my pre6ilection and yours and the other man's,
and we are not in the human realm at all; we are in a subhuman chaos.73
Thus he disapproves of critical impressionism, even that of a critic
whom he likes and who has "superior taste and brains," George Jean Nathan. He criticizes Nathan's subjectivism, based on a belief that great art
"should leave you gasping, not talking," because it ignores the rational or objective side of valuing. 74 This level of objectivism he finds in the critic's rational search for the qualities, inherent in the form of the work, which make it good. He calls this a "defining" process, where "'defining' means acknowledging the form of the work accepted." 75 'Bentley is even more adamantly opposed to subjectivism based on ignorance and tastelessness, which shall be seen below.
3. Bentley's comments on "defining" help delineate both the
character and process of objectivity in relativism: "the defining process . made him a critic in the fullest sense--one who udges by standards that are not imposed from without but prompted and checked by his own first-rate sensibility." 76 That is, objectivity is not brought to the aesthetic valuing process as a list of rigid rules, but is developed
within the process of liking and defining, This is a rational and empirical process.
The need for flexibility in standards is a -result of the changeable nature of experience. The dulling effect of rigid standards tends to cut
the critic off from experience and the perception of experience which are the crucial elements of aesthetic value. Bentley, perhaps influenced by Leaves' anti-philosophical criticism, recognizes the need for flexible standards:
Something a critic says that is "wildly inconsistent with his
whole theory" may be an inspiration. The drama critic must
dare to say the things that don't fit in if only because he is a reporter. He writes down -what he in fact saw or what he in
fact felt. For a dramatic critic the primary--I do not say the
ultimate--experience is live contact with the actor.77
To go to the theatre knowing exactly what a play ought to be,
unwilling to envisage a redefinition, is sheer obscurantism.78
This exemplary relativism does indicate that the inductive process of
perceiving and thoughtfully considering art works is central to the development of standards. Among other things, it allows for freshness
and novelty in art. Bentley seems willing to accept ideas from aesthetic views which are divergent from his own, as long as the central criterion of truth be met. Thouggh he favors realism, he is not dogmatic about it:
I know that there is something to learn from the anti-realistic or
"magical" school, and of itself it matters little whether, when you learn it, you turn against realism or simply broaden your definition to include the new lesson. If an anti-realist can be shown to be at
grips with reality, and not to be lost in technical dexterity, rococo
ornament, or intellectual blah, there is nothing to hold against him,79
4) The problem of how to deal with conflicting critical claims, Bentley's concern in the above quote, is dealt with in relativism by accepting all standards which meet the criterion of intelligence. That is to say that in a pluralist world there will be various ways of looking at the features of art works, based on psychological and sociological differences among men, which will generate various art theories. As long as the tendencies and beliefs which ground the theories are made clear
and shown to be reasonably and intelligently derived, a basic understanding
between individuals or groups holding differing theories may be reached.
This understanding is in the nature of an agreement to disagree,
In the agreement to disagree, Bentley revels in the form of disagreement as a vitalizing factor in both criticism and art. It appears as a sub-species of his fondness for conflict and resolution. The important thing for critics is to have a point of view and to express it:
a man cannot keep our interest from week to week unless, in
addition to "writing well" and "being very bright," he seems to
be "getting at" something, to have an end in view. Disapprove
as much as you like of what he is getting at, provided you realize
that he wouldn't have interested you in the first place, had he not
been getting at it. Demonstrate to the world that his personal involvement has led him into this., that, and the other error, providing you grant that it also made him worth refuting. A critic not
only has the right to the "ulterior motive," the arriere pensee,
the "personal prejudice," he has to have them as a matter, so to say,
of biological necessity. 80
A point of view which does not take account of sociological relativism, especially as applied to history, will not work. He criticizes Shaw for seeing all art through his own cultural perspective: "His limitation is that he does not trouble to understand the drama of earlier periods
on its own terms."81 Art is related to a culture, to a time and a place, and the nature of that culture will affect the art. This is especially true, he says, for drama:
Even more directly than the other arts--or more crudely--the drama
is a chronicle and brief abstract of the time, revealing not
merely the surface but the whole material and spiritual structure
of an epoch. Hence the necessity of historical criticism. 82
,entley would of course be n agreement with the view that the
critic of intelligence can definitively rule out unintelligent standards
for drama. "The view that the average, untrained mind is the best judge in aesthetic matters cannot seriously and in good faith be defended," he says. 83 The commercialism which calls "good" that which pleases the
most people is an aesthetic based on ignorance, It is also a fully subjectivist aesthetic with no other criterion that liking, and when that liking is centered in the aesthetically imperceptive, the result is the elevation of bad art to a place of prominence.
If the critic is to base his judgments on popular opinion, he must be sure that the public is aesthetically aware, Thus Bentley finds fault in the 19th century French critic Francisque Sarcey who developDed
an excellent theory of drama but did not apply it well, The problem, says Bentley, came
from the single circumstance that Sarcev", analysis of modern culture was deficient. He quoted Moliere''s dictum: "there is no other rule of the theatre than that of pleasing the public"
and failed to differentiate between Molie're's public and Sardou's. 84
Hence there is good reason for the critic to understand society as well as aesthetics, and there is equally good reason to object to subjectivism as a sufficient condition for valuation.
5. There is another good reason--important in Bentley and
explained by relativism- -for the critic to have a valid analysis of society. That is the relationship of art to reality through content, The tendency
of relativism, like that of pragmatism, is to avoid dualities, and therefore art theories which emphasize content to the exclusion of form or form to the exclusion of content are generally deprecated by relativists, 8S
This, the link between art and life, is of the greatest importance
to Bentley's realist aesthetic. As a relativist, his realism is yet another
particular in the quest for a reasonable position between extremes, in this case, the extremes of formalism and moralism. By the time Bentley
wrote, the prevailing tastes had swung fror. nineteenth century moralism to twentieth century formalism (or simply "modernism"), and thus much of his argument is against formalism: "The theatre critic's concern is theatre: playwright and actor, director, scene designer, musician. But since all these work together to interpret life, the critic's approach will not be merely formal." 86 Yet he also attacks moralism,
which is a kind of dogmatism, when he sees it, for in a sense, both formalism and dogmatism remove the artist and the critic from a serious engagement with life. Formalism does so obviously by focus away from lived reality. Dogmatism rejects life by so limiting the view of reality
that the result is not, in fact, real, The view of life which enters art should not be a dogmatic one, nor should the critic deal with it dogmatically; this is basic.
Since, however, value situations from life find themselves in art, critics should be allowed to react to them--react, that is, to content--as an aesthetic matter. Bentley implies that this is not done in some cases because of the honest and challenging nature of the artist's value search.
The editor of The Reporter was recently very shocked because his
drama critic followed up an analysis of James Baldwin's Blues for Mister Charlie with some remarks of his own on the 'Negro ProT-e.
How shockTngto find either that the drama deals with life or
that a drama critic is himself alive.87
Good criticism, then, implies a capacity to deal with the social/moral
content which is an integral part of the aesthetic, especially the dramatic, work.
6. Relativism's interest in intelligence, in standards, and in a relational sense of value seems to culminate in the viei,.- that aesthetic taste and appreciation can be developed and trained, This corresponds to Bentley's interest in the essential human qualities: potential for growth and development, Rather than design works of art to appeal to the "average, untrained" public, he would prefer to recognize those human potentials and teach people to appreciate better art. He quotes Wilde and Chekhov:
Art should never try to be popular. The public should try to
make themselves artistic.
You must not lower Gogol to the people, but raise the level
of the people to Gogol. 88
This desire may be seen as the function of criticism: to raise the level of aesthetic awareness. By doing so, the critic will also aid in raising the level of art, for as the public appreciates more intelligent and sophisticated art, the artist will be called on to produce it. This is the pedagogical function of criticism that Bentley admired in the New Critics, "The critic's influence is not directly on the creative act but on public opinion (the plar%,right being, however, a member of the public), What the critic influences is morale." 89
That the critic's function is that of a teacher or guide and that the criteria used by the critic focus on intelligence, takes us back to the thesis of Century so that we may clearly see a line connecting his
thought. Bentley tends to overstate the position of the intellectual, but his function in society is clear:
Tf . there are those who champion the level of excellence it
behooves them to stand as near that level as possible. . Talk of
raising the masses is mere demagogy in the mouth of a man Aho does
not claim . to be superior. Without prior existence of standards
of excellence, without the prior existence of minority Culture, no
general development is possible. Without aristocracy, no democracy. 90
Pragmatic progressivism seems to inhabit Bentley's aesthetic, then,
in two ways: It is part of the aesthetic function of the artist to guide
by concrete value search, and it is the critic's central function to guide
the public in aesthetic matters, As we have seen, the tendentious quality
of criticism is related both to the aesthetic and to the critic's need
to gain a hearing (see Section 4).
These are the major elements of Bentley's relativist aesthetic, They
proceed naturally from his philosophical attitudes and his background in
literary studies. Their specifics will be examined in the following
1. Maurice Mandelbaunr, "Family Resemblances and Generali4.zation Concerning the Arts," in Melvin Rader, edt,, A Modemn Book of Eisthetics (4th ed.; New York: Holt,Rinehart and Winston, IncJT-173T p. 530.
2. This will not be a technical discussion of William James or of pragmatism. Most of the ideas in this section and later can be found in, William James, Pragmatism (New York: Longmans, Green, and Co,, 1908). Consider: "Pragmatism represents a perfectly familiar attitude in philosophy, the empiricist attitude. . A pragmatist turns his back resolutely and once and for all upon a lot of inveterate habits
dear to professional philosophers. He turns away from abstraction and insufficiency, from verbal solutions, from bad a priori reasons, from
fixed principles, closed systems, and pretended~abs-olutes and origins. He turns towards concreteness and adequacyr, towards facts, towards action and towards power. That means the emrpiricist temper regnant and the rationalfvst temper sincerely given up. It means the open air and possibilities of nature, as against dogma, artificiality, and the pretense of finality in truth.
At the same time it does not stand for any special results. It is a method only . 1 (p. 51).
Also: "We plunge forward into the field of fresh experience with the beliefs o-,r ancestors and we have made already; these determine what we notice; what we notice determines what we do; what we do again determines what we experience; so from one thing to another, altho the stubborn fact reamins that there is a sensible flux, what is true of it seems from first to last to be largely- a matter of our own creati"7on" ThV7-55). "On the pragmatist side we have only one edition of the universe, unfinished, growing in all sorts ofl places, especially in the places where thinking beings are at work" (p. 259).
3. This is, of course, the central feature of John Dewey's aesthetic.
4. Stephen C. Pepper, The Basis of Criticism in the Arts
(Cambridge: Harvard University7Press, 19-6), p. 67.
5. Bentley interview.
6. Eric Bentley, The Cult of the Superman (London: Robert Hale
Ltd., 1947), p. vii. (Britis- hetion of Century.)
7. Ibid., p. x.
8. Kenneth Burke, "Careers Without Careerism," Kenyon Review, VIII
(Winter, 1945), 163.
9. Eric Bentley, Century, pp. 283-4.
10. Ibid., p. 28.
11. Ibid., pp. 24 and 219.
12. Ibid., p. 168.
13. Ibid., p. 71. There is an echo here of the patterning
described by-aud Bodkin in Archetvpal Patterns in Poetry (London: Oxford University Press, 1934T, Ch. III. This book, as we shall see, had some influence on Bentley.
14. Bentley, Century, p. 71.
15. Eric Bentley, Bernard Shaw, pp. 56-58.
16. Eric Bentley, "Romanticism--A Re-Evaluation," Antioch Review IV, (Spring, 1944), 10.
18. Ibid., p. 19.
19. Ibid., p. 6.
20. Bentley, Century, p. 151.
21. Ibid., p. 201.
22. Ibid., p. 72.
23. Bentley, Commitment, p. viii.
24. Bentley, "Romanticism," p. 18.
25. George Novak, Pragmatism versus Marxism (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1975), p. 273.
26. Lucien Goldmann, "The Whole and the Parts," in Rade-3, Esthetics, pp. 423-4.
27. Bentley interview.
28. As defined by Stephen C. Pepper (op. cit., Ch. III) contextualism. has its roots in pragmatism and is oet ethically and aesthetically relativist in judgment.
29. Eric Bentley, ed., The Importance of Scrutiny (New York: Grove Press, Inc., 1948), p. X-x
30. Ibid., pp. xv xvi.
31. T. S. Eliot, The Sacred Wood (New York: Barnes & Noble, Inc.,
1928), p. vii. Bentley, it is safe to say, would go further into other things than Eliot, for example, author psychology.
32. Wilbur Scott, Five Approaches of Literary Criticism (New
York: Collier Books, 1967_,p. 179. Bentley, in the interview, denied the idea that the New Criticism was a unified movement: "There never was any thing called the New Criticism;p it was simply a rather large group of critics who looked at poems without using much history."
33. Bentley,, ed., Scrutiny, p. xiv.
34. Stanley Edgar Hyman, The Armed Vision (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1948), p. 3.
35. I am indebted to Dr. Corbin Carnell and his book Bright
Shadow of Reality (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1974) for discussion of and insight into C. S. Lewis.
36. C. S. Lewis, Literary Essays, ed. by Walter Hooper (Camnbridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969), p. xii.
37. C. S. Lewis, An Experiment in Criticism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1961), pp. -7-8.
38. Walter Hooper, Introduction to C. S, Lewis, Literary Essays, p. xiii.
39. C. S. Lewis, "Psycho -Analysis and Literary Criticism," in Literary Essays, p. 296.
41. Bentley interview.
42. Bentley interview.
43. There is a discussion in Humphrey Carpenter's The Inklings (Boston: Houghton Miff lin Company, 1979) of the Oxford ambience of this period.
44. Bentley, ed., Scrutiny, p. xxiii.
45. T. S. Eliot, quoted in Scrutiny, p. xvi.
47. Bentley, "Romanticism," p. 13.
48. Eliot, The Sacred Wood, p. 100.
49. Quoted in Scrutiny, p. xv.
50. Bentley, Thinker, p. 273.
51. I. A. Richards, Principles of Literary Criticism (New York: Harcourt, Brace, & Company, Inc., 1926), p. 267.
52. Ibid., p. 273.
53. I. A. Richards, Science and Poetry (London: Kegan Paul, 1935), Exerpted in Elesio Vivas and Murray Krieger_,The Problems of Aesthetics (New York: Reinert & Company, Incorporated, 1953), p. 585.
54. Eric Bentley, "The Early I. A. Richards, An Autopsy," Rocky Mountain Review, vii (Winter, 1944), p. 31.
56. John Crowe Ransom, The New Criticism (n.p. : New Directions,1941), p. 28.
57. Ibid., p. 20 58. Ibid., p. 42.
59. Ibid., p. 302.
60. Ibid., p. 58.
61. Bentley, ed., Scrutiny, p. xxi.
62. F. R. Leavis, "Scrutiny: A Manifesto," in Scrutiny, p. 2.
63. Ibid., p. 3.
64. Bentley, ed. Scrutiny, p. xxii.
65. Ibid., p. xxi.
67. F. R. Leavis, "A Reply to Rene Wellek," Scrutiny, p. 34.
68. Bentley, ed.,Scrutiny, p. xxiii.
69. I have extracted this view of aesthetic relativism from Bernard C. Heyl, primarily his book New Bearings in Esthetics and Art Criticism (New Haven: Yale UniversityPress, 1952T and his aritle "Relativism Again," Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, V (Spring, 1946) 54-61.
70. Bentley, Life, p. 150.
71. Bentley, What, p. 9.
72. Ibid., p. 134.
73. Bentley, ed., Scrutiny, p. xxiii.
74. Bentley, Thinker, p. 261.
75. Bentley, Search, p. 254.
76. Ibid., p. 252.
77. Bentley, Event, p. 19.
78. Bentley, Search, p. 34.
79. Ibid., p. x.
80. Bentley, What, p. 212.
81. Bentley, Bernard Shaw, p. 99.
82. Bentley, Thinker, p. 77.
83. Bentley, Search, p. 17.
84. Bentley, Thinker, p. 301.
85. Heyl argues this point based on the intensity and fullness of
the aesthetic experience: "For example, it seems to me possible and desirable to urge that artistic theories which are concerned exclusively with either content or form advocate standards which are inadequate as bases for the finest artistic judgments. Empirical evidence demonstrates to my satisfaction that the richest artistic experiences involve an appreciation of both content and form and that, therefore, significance of content as well as per-ection and significance of form is indispensable to the greatest art." New Bearings, pp. 141-2.
86. Bentley, Event, p. 16.
87. Eric Bentley, ed,, The Storm Over The Deputy (New York: Grove Press, 1964), p. 9.
88. Bentley, Thinker, p. 249.
89. Bentley, What, p. 269.
90. Bentley, Thinker, p. 250.
BEINTLEY' S THEORY OF D-WA1A
In accordance with his philosophical leanings, Eric Bentley desires a play: 1) into which an artist has poured his mental, emotional,, and spiritual efforts to form a truthful account of human experience; 2) in which that account achieves a well-formed representation of human value concretely portrayed; and 3) which will have a deep and moving effect on both the emotions and the intellect of an audience. These three areas--the process of artistic creation, the
nature of art and the art work, and the experience of the art work--make up the general field of the study of art. In the case of the drama, there is an additional element--performance--which is traditionally considered as a secondary component of those arts in which it plays a major role in the presentation of the work.
Although Bentley is aware that the playwright -writes for performance, and though he tends to unite the theatrical arts of performance
and the written work of the dramatist in one word- -"dramatic"- -his theory is basically a sophisticated emendation of the traditional view, placing the playwright and the play as the central dramatic art (focus on the playscript and its qualities). 1The presentational arts of
acting, directing, and stagecraft, the theatrical arts, are to follow the primacy of the drama.
This chapter will, examine in detail Bentley's theory of dramatic art. Some mention of performance will be pertinent to the section on Realism, but the bulk of the specific matters of theatrical presentation will be covered in Chapter III.
The categories used in this analysis, an expansion of the above
three areas, have been adapted from those most commonly employed by contemporary authors in the field of aesthetics. 2 They represent the areas of inquiry deemed fruitful to a modern understanding of art. They may be expressed as a series of questions, as I use them, to which we have already broached some answers and about whichwe desire further
knowledge. This outline shows their arrangement in the following. I. What is creativity? What motivates the artist? What is the
II, What is the nature of the work of art?
A. In what way is the art work imitation., in what way expression?
B. What is the nature of form in the work? How is it related to
C. What is the function of art? To please? To teach?
D. How does the question of belief enter the art work?
How do ideas and moral values become involved?
E. What is the nature of realism in art? How does Bentley
relate the su'r;. ct matter and the materials in dramatic and
III. What is the nature of aesthetic experience? What does the
spectator get from art? How does one look at a play?
Although the field of study of this chapter is divided into various areas and sub-areas, each one focusing on a particular facet of art and the artistic exchange, they are all based on Bentley's
essential view of the drama and all elaborate a number of ideas which are central and important to that view. There is, therefore, some necessary overlap in the following discussion. Intellect and mind, theme and ideas, expression, and purposiveness appear, for example, more than once. Realism appears in every section. Each idea is examined from various points of view to develop a full picture of Bentley's theory.
Creativity: The Nature of the Dramatist's Work
Bentley's view of creativity starts, as does much of his
theory of the drama, with psychology. 3 The dramatist is motivated by a desire or need to deal with his experience of reality by remaking and objectifying his vision in a formal structure called a play. In this he is guided by the force of culture and his society, though he will always be searching for new ways of seeing the world. Bentley separates the creative process of art from that of craft or pastime to explain that the quality of the former is one of direct struggle and exploration as opposed to the execution of a fully pre-conceived design. The artist is out to discover something, to go beyond the conventional view of the world, so he does not write to explain what he has already thought out. For this reason, the artist Tnust.remain, in some sense, pluralistic, for dogma will have a deadening effect
on the search for value in concrete terms which is the artist's main work.
The psychology of the artist, the creative temperament, focuses on a desire to test reality, to continue a personal search for the essence of things beyond the point when most people adopt a conventional
outlook. Bentley suggests that the artist is not at ease with the world, that he suffers under an inquietude which compels him to examine the world, and this attitude of challenge is exactly what is disturbing
(and therefore interesting) when it pervades the art work:
The artist, if not maladjusted, and I believe he is not, is not
well adjusted either; perhaps we should follow Peter Viereck's suggestion and invent a third category, that of the unadjusted
man, the healthy rebel . . Artists are disturbing, unsettling people, not by what they preach but by what they are,
conservatives like Dante and Shakespeare being far more hsturbing
than our little revolutionaries. The greater the art, the
greater the upset. 4
The artist focuses on reality through his experience of it.
Personal experiences, secondary experience like the study of art and ideas,, and the imaginative experience of fantasy combine as the -raw material for the artist. Bentley specifies the need for something greater than just personal experience as a guide for the forming process of art: "In addition to memories, you need culture, all art being a crystallization of personal experience and second-hand experience," He defines culture in such a way as to show that the playwright is not a copier of older methods, but a creative artist, aware of the lessons of the past: culture "at its worst means: find out how it was done a hundred years ago and do it again, but at its best means: a sense of tradition." 5
The complex psychology which impels the artist to deal with his experience is the subjective phase of creativity; its objective phase is the formulation of the drama. It is a process, first, of ordering and objectifying experience: "For the dramatist . to imitate an action is to find objective equivalents of a subjective experience.
An action is defined in terms of incidents and events of something undefined that lurks inside the dramatist.", More than this, it is
a process of refining and enhancing experience to achieve the quality of art, for it is not enough simply to repeat experience: "W hile the artist transforms fantasies into a higher reality, the journeyman. playwright is doomed, like the neurotic himself, to live with them." 7
For Bentley, Strindberg exemplifies the process of refining
objectification in the relationship between art and experience. Bentley notes that Strindberg's massive autobiographies are "the raw material for Strindberg's art works." Since his novels are "a rough attempt to impose form upon the chaos of his experience," and the plays are his "central achievement," it is clear that Bentley sees this progression as elaboration in the quality of art. 8 Strindberg's work also serves as example of the insufficient objectification of subjective experience: his dream plays "carry symbolism well over the borderline of the public and intelligible into a private realm to which we need a biographer's passport."
Bentley suggests that the playwrTight is indeed working with.
many of his own feelings, needs, repressions, and fantasies, and that
only by clearly working through them to the point of the objective can they be made into raw material and, then, proper art. O'Neill's
problem, for example, is not that he lacks the motivation of the true artist; O'Neill is involved in a search and an exploration of reality
and experience. His difficulty is an inability to successfully work through personal material which is especially charged with feeling:
He is no Broadway playwright writing to entertain, to make
money, or to be one of the boys, Nor is he a man of letters
with an interest in the whole give-and-take of literary,
political, or scientific discussion. He lives, as it were,
in a trance, writing and rewriting the story of the two
Jameses, Ellaand Eugene. Or parts of the story. or the
story at a remove. 10
It is Bentley's view of the play as a kind of commune cation we have seen it in the "literature means something" attitude- -which enforces a need for objectification, for making inner experiences
"public." This same view grounds his desire that the playwright transform experience into a "higher" reality. This is the creative basis of the view that the dramatist has a content to express in a
form. Bentley generally speaks in terms of the substance or content being communicated in a play "Eliot's 'conception' is clear, noble, and mature, his 'communication' uncertain, irregular, a, d incomplete. O'Neill's 'communication' is rapid, strong, almost overwhelming, his 'conception' is rude, simple-mindedgaga.1' 11
For purposes of critical discussion, one suspects, Bentley speaks as though the creative process might be one of dressing up already in-hand emotion and ideas, finding a form for preconceived
content. Or, conversely, that the process is one of fitting content into nearby form. If art is a search, an exploration, then it is reasonable to expect the content and form to be discovered together, for the vitality of art lies in our sensing the quality of the search:
"The pulse of the drama," says Bentley, "beZins to beat at the moment ,,12
the playwright begins to struggle with his experience The true art work is wrought by an organic process which unites planning and execution; what the artist struggles to discover are both form and content. 13
Bentley is aware of many levels of problems in the pre-thought-out
play. The commercial product play is pre-conceived, "is not a writer's exploration of reality but just a calculated arrangement of effects." 14 Since it is well-crafted along traditionally conceived lines, it can attain a perfection which is unlike art itself: "The commercial play is the Swiss watch of dramaturgy. When properly manufactured, it is perfect, as only a piece of machinery can be perfect."1 Bentley
suggests that while the commercial craftsman writes "with the audience consciously in mind," filling out a plan, the artist writes according to the dictates of his creative discovery, "in the faith that there will be an audience for good work." 16Instead of the divorce between art and craft which comes in the production of commercial pastime plays, Bentley prefers the unification of art and craft with the latter the servant of the former:
The artist has learned his craft, but is never content to
be a craftsman. The craft serves the art or, as Goethe put
it, one only writes out of personal necessity. The endings of
plays, for example, are not a gamble on the audience's response.
They are a matter of what the playwright feels to be necessary. 17
Bentley is not theoretically concerned that some would prefer "craft and pastime over art and e--, brat ion," but that there is a tendency in some to "confer a higher status on the lower phenomenon, raising craft above art, or so defining art that, to all intents and purposes, it is craft." 18 The craft work, since it often achieves a high level of gloss, is easily mistaken by the unwary as a better product than the art work which tends to be rough and exhibit the vital qualities of e-ploration and struggle.
Since the work of craft can be pre-conceived, it will lack a subtle, intuitive quality necessary to art. Bentley calls this imagination: "Reality cannot Simply be transfer-red from history to the stage. It has to go through the imagination of the playwright." 19 Bentley does not define the imaginative process, but what he has in
mind seems to be the kind of intuitive conceptual leaps which are common in art and are not the product of rational thinking. The craftsman, concerned with the effect of his work on the audience, will strive logically for the right effect; the artist will intuit
connections in his work that could never be ratiocinated. The craft work is "reasonably figured out" while the art work is "imaginati-vely grasped." 20
Imagination may be linked with the term "spiritual curiosity" to define the elusive nature of exploration in the work of art. Spiritual curiosity seems to be a strong desire to know the essence of things, a part of the artistic temperament. Bentley introduces
the term when he notes that the art/pastime dichotomy fails to explain the artistry in such "pastimes" as the farces of Labiche which he finds more artistic than the serious works of Dumas fils. He says that at
this point the "critical terminology lets us down," and that, at any rate, he is trying to measure "the degree, not of earnestness, but of spiritual curiosity." 21 Combined with an imaginative capacity for transferring experience into art, spiritual curiosity pervades the extremely brilliant pieces of Labiche-they are the highest expression of a form--more than the serious expositions of Dumas fils, Serious intentions alone do not make art, Bentley suggests, nor do non-serious
intentions necessarily preclude it. Spiritual curiosity suggests that it is not conscious intention that defines the achievement of the artist; it, like the capacity for imagination, is something which must be pre-existent in the artist.
Another quality which Bentley finds necessary for artistic exploration (it may also help explain the artistry of a Labiche) is audacity. Bentley calls this the "moral quality the artist . needs above all others." The explorer must be audacious, must have daring, must be something of a fanatic. For those artists who work "comfortably within their established resources," Bentley reserves "the harshest adjective in the critical vocabulary: innocuous." 22 It takes a kind of creative curiosity aligned with an audacious spirit in order to bypass the ordinary and search for the new, the essential, and the extra-ordinary in life,
Curiosity and audacity, as traits in the artist, will lead to a vision of the world as, on some level, pluralistic, because everyt1ling will be questioned. The artist will avoid the pre-conception of ideas which is more a component of craft than art and acts as a limiting factor to the artistic search,
Such is the case with the modern "drama of ideas," which
Bentley realizes must be a true discussion, a working-out in dramatic terms and not merely an explanation of a previously thought-out point of view. The didacticism of pre-digested thought lacks vitality:
Gerhart Hauptmann once remarked that the playwright must never re-word thoughts which he or his character has already thought: dramatic dialogue must only present thoughts in the process of
being thought. Which is a other way of saying that the playwright must not be directly didactic, for it is the didactic writer--out, not to learn, but to teach--who concentrates on
finding effective form for thinking that was finished long ago. 23 This is to repeat that the playwright is not a relater of ideas but a discoverer of form, and the thought or content is a part of this form.
A common instance of the problem of already-thought-out ideas is the case of the artist who has fixed and certain ideas about the nature of the world, ideas which do not admit further struggle. Bentley has identified this problem in the later work of Brecht:
He is one of those writers who search less and less after what I have been calling the human essence, because they
are more and more convinced that they have already found it . .
The only artists today who remain artists after conversion to causes which claim a monopoly of the truth are those who
are not wholly convinced. 24
This is both a theoretical deduction and an empirical observation by Bentley who notes that Brecht's Communism was a vital artistic force while he lived in capitalist democracies, but was seemingly less so when he went to socialist Germany. Theoretically, it would indeed be difficult for absolute certitude to pervade the mind of an artist as here defined, especially if that absolutism were reinforced by a social/political surrounding. The artist, in complying with that surrounding would be making the same concession to an audience as that made by the entertainer, however much he believed that concession necessary and right.
Bentley suggests that the artist must retain the vision and nature of the Jamesian pluralist no matter what he believes. The
artist's own beliefs and values--and those of the world around him-must be continually probed and tested in the light of experience. Otherwise, belief becomes dogma and constricts experimentation. As an example of how an artist may remain committed to a political belief and still function as an artist, Bentley offers the case of Shaw. Shaw, he notes, "realizes . that neither socialism, nor capitalism, nor feudalism, nor any other such 'ism' can be the basis of an art,
even so social an art as comedy." The reduction of all conflict to good socialists against bad communists (or vice versa, depending on one's point of view) is too simplistic for the artist. Shaw saw that
the human comedy consisted too obviously of such facts as
that socialists are not angels nor capitalists devils. And
Shaw's interest as an artist has always been in the human
situation as he found it and not simply as he desired it. 25
It is the abhorance of doctrine even in a revolutionary like Shaw which leads to Bentley's admiration of him as a pragmatist. An inability to accept the finality of the social and moral answers of the
world's "isms" leaves the artist in a state of continual search and struggle and is helpful in explaining his sense of inquietude and his
What is the artist searching for? Bentley suggests that it is a particularly human truth: "The 'serious' modern playwright is, or should be, engaged . in the search for human essence." 26
Art and the Work of Art: Imitation and Expression
Bentley, in accordance with his tendency to unite disparate views, sees the drama as both imitative and expressive. His desire to maintain a view that art imitates reality is based on at least
two factors. One is the undeniable connection he sees between drama and life. The second relates to his predisposition towards realism: imitative theories of art tend to support realism while expressive theories open the door to a much greater emphasis on non-realism (thus the predominance of expressive theories over imitative in the past two hundred years). Bentley of course sees much in art which is expressive, which is clearly central to his belief that the play has a content expressed in a form. Bentley unites imitation and expression by seeing imitation as the basic methodology of drama and expression as its central function or purpose.
Bentley sees the importance of the imitative nature of drama as related to the dramatic qualities of life itself and the desire of human beings to make life dramatic:
It is not just that life seems dramatic to us. We wish it to be dramatic; therefore, it is; this particular wish being insistent and imperious. Even our constant complaint that life
is boring testifies to our refusal to be bored. We insist
that every twenty-four hours be a drama in twenty-four acts, 27
Because life contains dram, Bentley concludes that Aristotle's concept of mimesis is correct, that regardless of the fact that "Greek scholars
are always explaining that, for Aristotle, imitation does not mean imitation . it does." Where life itself is dramatic, the "sheer
imitation" of life is not "unsound in principle." It is only because of the paucity of actual drama in life that sheer imitation has "possibilities [which] are extremely limited in practice." Imitation
lies, for Bentley, at the core of the drama, for all drama reflects back on very basic human impulses: "The flowers of dramatic art have their roots in crude action." This is the reason for his examination in Life of the lower or rougher forms of drama, of melodrama and farce, for they are closely linked to elemental psychology: "The art of the drama is firmly grounded in human nature, and to be human is to revel in mishaps and disasters." 28
It is the desire to find more drama in life that is the first
suggestion that imitation cannot be strict or simple. Much of life proceeds on the dramatistic model, and so Bentley suggests that the
drama is an extension and refinement of a -Drocess continuous with lived reality. According to his analysis, dreams, desire, fantasy--all manner of events from the interior and exterior lives of human beings--are infused with a desire for the dramatic. The propensity of the dramatist to focus on the unusual and the extreme in life is the result of
imitation, the reflection of just those areas from which the most "dramatic" situations will proceed: "If the raw material of plot is events, particularly violent events, the raw material of character is people, especially what is regarded as their cruder impulses." 29
The drama may be inextricably bound to life, but distillation of art from raw material is a special kind.of imitation. Drama offers a cohesion and an authenticity that is difficult to sustain in life, for in life there is seldom any protracted dramatic action, which is why in life we fall back on the fantasy, a kind of personal art form. The same applies to art: "Fantasy makes possible a continuity and
wholeness in both [play and novel] which actuality would preclude. Truth is stranger than fiction, for fiction makes sense in a way that truth does not." 30
Not only is drama more cohesive than life, it delivers up the kind of authentic encounters and meaningful events that real life seems designed to avoid:
This is the paradox of "drama and life": life is dramatic
but its drama cannot be defined and presented without departures
from life's usual procedures. In our usual "life as it is
lived," inhibitions reign. Meetings do not often become encounters. Nor could they: it would be too inconvenient, too
exhaustincr. Rather than encounter and face people all day, one
needs devices for keeping them at arms' length, Courtesy,
etiquette, mores, conventions are names for such devices . .
Life on stage is not inhibited, it is acted out; which is one
reason we can only stand a couple of hours of stage life at
a time. 31
Since our desire to make life more dramatic is frustrated by social
conventions, we turn to the imitative faculty to deal with our lives, or selves. If we break social convention on stage we may be dramatic. Similar behavior off stage may be considered neurotic or worse. There
is a strong implication in Bentley's use of imitation that the imitation which is art is something more or better than life itself.
This is not to say that Bentley desires a drama which presents some ideal of life. Psychologically, we do want life to be dramatic, but Bentley differs from those who propose that drama should present idealized models for behavior- -idealized often being a code word for dogmatically imposed moral conventions. Bentley is actually more strictly "imitative" than that, for he does not want to impose teaching from the outside but bring into dramatic focus the drama of life, of
the real. He wants to discover the ethical within the process. The proponents of a morally ideal theatre want to manipulate life to their own ends while Bentley wants to show the real life that is beneath the convention.
The changes made in "sheer imitation" are to highlight the real. Mmt life offers in unusual instances and limited quantities, art and drama promise in abundance. The artist begins with life, but his sense of focus transports him beyond sheer imitation. 32
There is another sense in which imitation pervades Bentley's
thinking, also bound up with psychology. Not only do we want to make life dramatic, we want to see things we know--not in the comfortable sense of common knowledge, but in the revelatory sense that all art
eventually shows us the world and ourselves in it. This is the base from which Bentley explains the importance of myth in the arts:
The point of any myth is to provide a known element as a starting
point and preserve us from the vacuum of absolute novelty. Art
is a matter of satisfying certain expectations, and myth sets up expectations with a minimum of fuss, Art is also . a matter,
not of cognition, but of re-cognition; it does not tell you
anything you didn't know (the telephone directory can do that),
it tells you something you "know" and makes you realize. 33
This also explains the importance of type characters in drama, a form in which much ground must be covered in a short time. Types hasten our understanding, and the great dramatic types hasten our recognition and revelation. For though characters begin as apart from ourselves, the great dramatic characters become representatives of important forces in life, Some character types (Hamlet, Othello, Alceste) have become so relative to the large questions in life that they are termed archtypes, 34
Through this concept of re-cognition, Bentley is able to reconcile
the concrete and individual with the universal. He unites Bergson's modern concept that "All art aims at what is individual" with
Dr. Johnson's "Nothing can please many and please long but just representations of general nature" by a simple combination: "An artist's 'just representations of general nature' are, in each case, thoroughly individual." 35
This view of imitation contains a core of expression. Not
the artist's self-expression per se, but the expression inherent in a
personal vision of reality. Where imitation is guided by the hand of the artist and the human desire to make the material o-E life both dramatic and representational, there will be a necessary expression,
even in the most objective of works. This is because imitation is a method, but it is not just copying, for it is imitation and more: the transformation of raw material (from life) into drama that has the explosive and revelatory quality of art.
The creative act is an expressive act, so that as the artist struggles with life to make a work of art, one may sense the vision
which funds this labor. Bentley quotes Henry James to the point: "When vigorous writers have reached maturity, we are at liberty to gather from their works some expression of a total view of the world they have been so actively observing. This is the most interesting thing their works offer us." 36
Because art is expressive, it cannot attain the objectivity of science, but because it must include a communicable vision of reality,
it cannot be wholly subjective either. There is a continuum between
scientific objectivity and complete subjectivity which includes elements of both and is the territory of art: "I mean that no work of art is wholly 'objective' or 'subjective.' It is a matter of emphasis," he says. 37
It is significant that Bentley does not see expression in terms of ideas or theme but in terms of vision, and that vision is expressed in terms of an overall feeling. The expression of the work is not a
separate part of the whole, nor even a particular idea. It is integral with the structure, detail and style of the play. He explains Shaw's deviations from naturalism (which he admired) as the objectification of a feeling or sense about the world:
He [Shawl must have intuitively understood something which, as
a critic, he failed to grasp: that plot does not merely reproduce external reality. The violence and intrigue in
Shakespeare, which Shaw the critic declared extraneous, provide the objective correlative of Shakespeare's feelings about life,
and the "idiocies" of the plot of Man and Superman provide an
objective correlative for Shaw's sense oT modern life, 38
Bentley is aware of expressiveness as an important element
in many levels of dramatic and theatrical art. In fact, the quality of expressiveness seems to define Bentley's sense of beauty. The function of art is to be expressive, and this function resides not only in the total art work, but in the various materials that go into
the making of the work: language, the actor, the settings, and the like. The expressive is active and judgmental; it is forceful and evocative,
Of Bert Lahr he writes that "his personality , expresses a criticism of life. . 39 Likewise,, he sees expressiveness in the comedy of Chaplin: "About any film of his, however slight, there is an air of menace. . 40 Expression takes precedence over simple
attractiveness in the actor so that "the agile body is a truer archetype of theatre art than the beautiful one." 41 In fact, the traditional sense of beauty often fails to explain, for Bentley, the expressive power of the non-beautiful: "I am almost ready to state that a great theatrical voice is always an ugly one." 42 Bentley is clearly drawn toward the expressive as an especially potent example of the real
just as he prefers the imperfection of art to the perfection of craft: "Commercial art is as smooth,. rounded, and unexceptional as an egg, while true art by contrast has something offensive about it, something imperfect and, possibly, maddening." 43
Although Bentley limits dramatic expression to the nature of
its human materials and their realistic portrayal of human life (this is to be discussed in detail in the section on Realism), he recognizes the expression possible in other forms of theatre such as the puppet
theatre, the musical, and the dance. He speaks of the "dignity of puppet art" as being fostered by the "ritual expressiveness of the few
positions that are possible." A dance number from a musical may have purely formal expression: "How the 'serious' theatre would come alive if anything ever happened there like that lovely moving pattern of limbs and umbrellas in fading light which is the dance in the rain from On Your Toes." 4S He sees in the dance the possibility of ritual
expression, the formalism of the "ecstatic theatre" which is "concerned with life still unliv-d. unindividuated, primordial, life unfiltered, still in the well spring." 46
No doubt Bentleyls interest in Aristotle and the depth of
his insight into the psychology of drama-in-life have led him to see much truth in the imitative quality of dramatic art, Imitation
alone, however, does not explain the actual, full nature of art as Bentley sees it, The concept of expression is necessary to do this, and it is central to his thinking.
Bentley is concerned about form both as the shape and structure of the drama and as the overall mariner of the play's composition, or
style. His basic view that the drama contains material from life which has been formed leads him to see the form and content dimensions of the play as united. Drama, indeed all art, must be well formed, but
form should not be emphasized to the exclusion of content, He tends, however, to emphasize content over form, seeing form as the method by which content is -revealed. Bentley offers insight into the sources of form as style, and though he demands that form not be imposed from the outside, he sees the modern realistic style as sufficiently broad
to allow a great latitude of formal expression. He rejects two levels of formalism, both the conservative focus on form as an escape from true value search and the avant-gardist extremism which, in its search for new form and its focus on form, often leaves the content dimension unexplored. As the structure of the drama Bentley sees form as basic to the art, for it is in the elaboration of the structural form (the plot) that he locates the primary source of the spectator's satisfaction.
The general function of form, for Bentley, is to give presence to an important content; the playwright's search is not merely formal. His statements that the artist must search for "the right theatrical form for the intentions of the play, ,47 and that "form must be left
fluid so that a theme may be allowed to find whatever form suits it best" suggest the primacy of content. 48 Likewise, for the viewer of the play form should recede and content should be featured. Bentley is pleased when "form is so perfectly handled that it disappears, and we confront the content in its nudity." 49 Theme or content is the impulse which drives the form.
Bentley is aware that form as style is partly an historical
matter, influenced not only by personal and aesthetic concerns but also by culture and environment:
Each time a work is written a proper form has to be found.
Form is a fluid but not an arbitrary thing. It corresponds to the mind of the artist, which is in part molded by place and time. Although, therefore, an age may bring forth many
forms, all of which represent its nature as well as the nature
of the individual poet, there may well be one or two particular
forms which are predominant. SO
Bentley offers the example of naturalism as an artistic movement which interacted profoundly with the beliefs and values of the late nineteenth century and, in add--Ition, had the very positive effect of loosening the bounds of dramatic form of the period,
Naturalism,, Bentley notes, did not receive its primary force from aesthetic theory, but from social concerns. When he says that "like all powerful literary movements, naturalism was not chiefly
aesthetic but ethical," he implies that the values which the naturalists found in society were inherent in their aesthetic vision which was
expressed in a particular dramatic form (or, in their case, a particular abhorrence of form)> S Their ethical desire to depict the truth about society led them to throw down both the pompous sentimentality and the rigid form of the "well-made" play, to deny all artifice, and to preach the direct portrayal of life, both its lower-class squalor and its bourgeois hypocracy.
The ethical force of naturalism's veracity had the effect of
loosening the formal strictures of the "well-made" play in which a concept of form had become a rule, a method of judging drama by exterior and formal norms. This exterior formalism tended to ignore content: if a play had three tightly fitting acts with proper builds, climaxes, and
resolutions,, then it was a good play. Under the influence of naturalism's theoretical disregard for form, "the more gifted artists benefitted in that they found to hand a more malleable mediumn [i.e., form] than their fathers had found." But they were not without form. Artists like Chekhov were influenced by naturalism to develop a subtly formed realism. Chekhov's tightly controlled form is confusing to the uninitiated, says Bentley, because perception of form tends to dwell on the obvious and "a new form always seems formless to the conservative mind." 52
Bentley supports the predominance of realistic form in the modern world on both aesthetic and historical grounds: 1) it is the form most likely to recede, least likely to obtrude on dramatic content; 2) it is a loose form, both broad and centrist, flexibly combining the ethical
force and anti-dogmatism of naturalism with the formal complexity of more traditional dramatic structure and experimenters like Brecht who developed a "new form of realism;" and 3) ours is a sophisticated and scientific age. In a complex world there will be many forms and much
experimentation as artists explore formal expression and as new movements in art and philosophy excite new concepts in form to follow new ideas. Form willhowever, tend to return to the broad realistic center since formal extremes, once done, often need not be done again: 'Ile often find that inventors of 'new' forms in modern literature carry a formula as far as it can ao." 53
Bentley's insistence that the drama have both form and content is the source of his criticism of both avant-garde and conservative/
commercial formalism (which he often calls "theatricalism") Any emphasis on style/form at the expense of content/life is negative for Bentley. And since content for him must be in terms of the specific concrete, formalist abstraction is a particular problem.
Bentley is not insensitive to the goals of the modern formalist search in the theatre which he recognizes as a "going back to the beginning, scraping back, as Stark Young once put it (he was a painter) to the design." 54 But he is concerned that such admirable search may leave the social and human element behind, Formalism tends to abstract human concerns, even when the search is serious, Bentley criticizes the expressionists and O'Neill for attempting "to seize life in its essence but without its content." S5 The formalist tries to get at the essentials directly, while Bentley looks for the essentials through
particulars. When the search is not serious, as in conservative formalism, emphasis on form becomes an excuse for no significant search at all, as in the "well-made" plays of Sardou, the Baroque of Nazi Germany, and in Russian socialist realism.
The form/content relationship must contain a vital content;
otherwise there is little to support the form. This notion is combined with the idea that form must follow the nature of the content, and the two help Bentley deal with various specific aesthetic problems. For example, when an author has much to express and cannot find a valid artistic form, the expression is vitiated: "At the present, Sartre's only notion of an instrument to enforce his ideas is melodramatic cliche. ,56 This is content with bad form, There is also the problem of a once-valid form from which the content or vitality has gone. This may be seen in old art forms which are kept alive from the outside. Bentley speaks of a Chinese theatre which is "still interesting as a
-relic, as an unfamiliar form from which we can learn something, but lacking in substance, an empty shell." 57 A similar problem exists with copy productions: "The details were so definite that one had the impression the play was already embalmed and being preserved for posterity." 58
Perhaps the most essential form/content problem concerns the presence of ideas or meaning in a play which Bentley says should not be injected from the outside but should grow as a part of the form., must be organic to the structure. Tt is common on Broadway, Bentley notes, to attempt to give stature to a commercial play by such injection: "The formula for serious drama is: non-serious drama plus a small dose of 'modern ideas."' 59
Form, in addition to being the overall style, is also the spine of the drama. It is the arrangement of the plot and more, for the
patterns of the play are complex and exist on many levels, The dramatist works on the form of the play in order to affect the audience, and, as usual, Bentley emphasizes the rational, formed background to the
sensation of the emotional elements of the play: "In a play no twinge can be inflicted on an audience which is not a part of an intelligent, intelligible pattern and has meaning as such." 60 In this way, Bentley
relates the primary effect of the play to pattern or form, and thus it is the importance of form which influences both Bentley's and Aristotle's emphasis on plot.
Form at this level is not merely the sequence of events in the
play, but can be seen as the central achievement of the playwright and his major purpose. It is the building of a pattern which will draw an audience into the events, and in this matter Bentley's view is much like that of Kenneth Burke who relates form to "the psychology of the
audience." For Burke, "form is the creation of an appetite in the mind of the audience and the satisfying of that appetite."61 This is quite similar to Bentley's definition of suspense: "Not merely ignorance
as to what will happen next, but an active desire to know it, a desire that has been aroused by a previous stimulus." 62 At its most sophisticated--in artistic works--Bentley describes how audience psychology is
not hinged so much on "information for the head as reassurance for the heart." 63 The conclusions of great plays, those which do not depend
for their enjoyment on knowing the ending, are generally known in advance,
We do not want to "find out" the ending, but by formal complication,
see it come about. Burke deals explicitly with this: '%Ie cannot take recurrent pleasure in the new (in information) but we can in the natural (in form). 64 He calls the use of form "eloquence" and says it is "the end of art, and thus its essence." 65 Bentley tends to agree that formal excellence is the essence of the aesthetic, though perhaps not the end of art.
The Function of Art
Bentley deals characteristically with the classical dualism which lies at the center of discussion about the purpose of art. 66 Rather than belabor the question of whether art's function is to teach or to please, he hastens to accept both and finds ways to unite them, He concludes that "to teach" is an important and central function of art, and, in addition, he demands pleasure as a part of the aesthetic experience. At the extremes of the dualism he does not deny the need for some simple pastime or some hard propaganda; he merely opposes making these extreme stances the central concept for a theory of the drama. By taking a position in favor of some level of didacticism in drama, of some rational/intellectual content, Bentley goes against both the dogmatism of the commercial theatre, founded on the base concept of the public as dull and without any higher wish than a moment's distraction, and the dogmatism of blatant propaganda which considers the public witless and unable to weigh an issue. In this we see a pragmatic humanism which desires a positive effect from drama upon people.
Bentley's -theory, in short, is that the drama uses pleasure to accomplish a kind of teaching-through-experience which may itself be highly pleasurable. For Bentley, pleasure is not a simply defined word, Likewise, he views society as complex and fragm-ented. It is the fragmented quality of the modern social order, exacerbated by the pressures
of commercialism, which is the foundation of Bentley's interest in a drama in which points of view--ideas--are discussed openly. This discussion, in the form of conflict, is the foundation of Bentley's desire for purposiveness and his leaning towards the teaching function of art.
Bentley states a very general purpose for art, based on its
relation to society and, particularly, his analysis of society's needs:
Bringing things alive would, I think be widely recognized today
as the purpose of the arts in general, a purpose doubly worthy and urgent in a civilization like ours which is actually less a
civilization than a massive assault on all forms of vitality,
not to mention life itself. 67
This purpose is at variance with the direction of modern society to cheapen not only the arts but much else besides by making "entertainment" the model for much human activity. Here, "entertainment" means, not just pastime, but "a pleasing titillation of the senses and of that small part of the brain which the simplest jokes call into play, Entertainent is an infinitely complex industry devoted to the evocation of the crudest responses."6 Such entertainment, along with the crude propaganda of salesmanship which accompanies it, has a deadening effect rather than a livening one in that it fosters cheapness, simple mindedness, thoughtlessness, and insensitivity. It is therefore anti-human,
whereas art is about "teaching the human heart it-can exist again, that it can be brought back to life." 69 The end of art is to teach this in a general way; it is a Romantic purpose. It is not directly didactic.
In a sense, however, it is didactic, which puts it in the mainstream of Western art theory. Bentley notes that "in the course of Western history, the didactic view of art has predominated." 70 He mentions ironically that "it was not Karl Marx but Samuel Johnson who said: 'It is always a writer's duty to make the world better."' 71 But since Aristotle posited "pleasure" as the purpose of poetry, Bentley is careful to quote both Aristotle and S. H. Butcher to show that Aristotle's concept of pleasure was neither simple nor simple-minded: pleasure includes an active phase, a learning phase, and learning is the highest form of pleasure. 72
Bentley relates the force of purposiveness in modern drama not to any change in the nature or purpose of art, but to changes in. society which have the effect of bringing out certain directions in art. Against Brecht's most didactic theorizing ("The main thing is to teach the spectator to reach a verdict") Bentley places Longinus' ancient dictum, "the effect of genius is not to persuade or convince the audience,
but rather to transport them out of thems elves." In this manner he gives credence to both views, the didactic and the sublime, for he is aware that "the modern drama . has been much more inclined to persuade and convince than was premodern drama, nor am I one of those who regret
Modern, fragmented society needs an art which will have an active and positive effect, a didactic effect; in some sense, art will help establish balance and direction in society, perhaps through the indentification of values.
There is some radicalism--but not a great deal--in Bentley's
unification of Brecht and Longinus, of didacticism and intense pleasure, of intellect and emotion. In his view,, the unification of pleasure and
learning opposes a widely-held notion that learning must be separate from lived experience. This is based on a dichotomy-that between thought and feeling-.7which Bentley denies. The dualism implies that "lart is emotional, while learning is intellectual." 74Bentley argues that not only is much emotion involved in the learning process, but
that even painful emotion ("to learn from painful experience") is closer to pleasure than to no feeling at all. His point about learning and pleasure is amply supported by educational theory, and we need go no further than Aristotle's theory of the purpose of tragedy to find a view of art in which emotional balance, perhaps even emotional enthrallment, is brought about by the aesthetic experience of pain. It follows that some kind of pleasure is presumed by all art, not merely as its
purpose, but as a psychological prerequisite for attention. As Bentley says, "that one should pay attention without pleasure, in art, is never intended. . 117
The broad view that the function of art is to return man to his humanity is active and purposive. It means that the playwright
cannot simply give the audience what they want to hear, that which will make them complaisant. Bentley opposes the theory that the play
"mirrors the picture people have of themselves," and that "writing verse is almost like taking the blood pressure of the age." 76 According to Bentley, realism, like Hamlet's "holding the mirror up to nature," does not show men as they want to be or want to be seen, but as they actually are. It is a normative mirror, and its purpose is to expose the truth. As the artist has become the conscience of society, he may also offer to the eyes models which are intended to shock or jolt us out of complacency, to reintroduce interaction between individuals and values. This is what Bentley has in mind when he says, "I should like to oppose to this idea of a poet who merely takes the blood pressure of the age the idea of a poet who raises the blood pressure of the age." Such a poet would find an audience because of the active pleasure to be had from his works:
Where is there more fun--in a comfortable play that gives
auntie back her picture of auntie or an uncomfortable play which, while it may annoy auntie a bit, also intrigues her,
tickles her, interests her,, livens her up, and perhaps
even shakes and moves her. 77
We must add that "auntie" would have to be open, curious, and willing to undergo this kind of artistic experience--but these are merely the attitudes necessary for any learning experience.
Broadly speaking, then, Bentley's didacticism posits a social function for art. The artist and the art work tend to stand in confrontation with society's tendency to relax into doctrinaire ways. To overcome the humdrum and the meaningless, the artist must deal with the individual and social issues of the time, knowing that these are not necessarily limited to one age, but may be relative to many.
Art promotes an awareness on the part of the spectator which is necessary in a true society. Rudolf Arnheim describes it clearly: "One aspect
of the wisdom that belongs to a genuine culture is the constant awareness of the symbolic meaning expressed in concrete happening, the sensing of the universal in the particular .,,7 8 Bentley's purpose is to have people see this function in art, to understand the implications and insights of art works. Art has the function of letting us look at ourselves and the world.really.
Considering this extensive didacticism, one would expect Bentley to find favor with the politically or socially engaged artist but not with the un-engaged aesthete, Although this is generally true, Bentley, in the essay "The Theatre of Commitment," shows how the aesthete may be seen as engaged. He does this by focusing not only on his works but also on the social situation in which the works were produced, and in this way he is able to re-define alienation as engagement, In the proper political context, the follower of ars Zratia artis may be, if not committed', then one step away from it. He gives the example of Pasternak's aestheticism as virtual commitment in the face of Stalin. He offers Oscar Wilde., who said art was "perfectly useless" because "lie didn't want art reduced to the role of little moralistic mottos. Wilde's rejection of art's utility raised art to the highest place in life, and Wilde "was the most committed of men. He not only preached anarchistic socialism, his parading of the aesthetic way of life was his form. of direct action." Bentley uses this extensive sociological view to show that his general concept of didacticism is valid for all art, for he concludes that "all serious authors" are committed, 79
As a sub-heading to his overall didacticism, Bentley is interested in the direct relationship between politics and art. When he uses the term Commitment, capitalized, he means politically committed, where
the artist's "Political views enter into his art," Political cornitment in art seems to be a more forceful form of art as Bentley usually sees it, for it is directly critical: "Relative to the general social situation, the literature of Commitment is radical. It is a literature
of protest, not approval, of outrage, not tribute." Commitment is the result of an extreme situation in which the artist finds it necessary to mix social action and art directly, such as when the art is in danger of being made a servant to dogma (Bentley gives the example of classicism in Hitler's Germany), 80
Because the Committed artist is still basically an artist,
Bentley does not belittle the propaganda in Brecht's plays by saying, as many do, that Brecht is an artist only "in spite of" the propaganda. Bentley is aware that Brecht's polemics and his broader vision often set up a tension, but he prefers not to see the propaganda as conscious and the vision as unconscious. How, he asks, can an intellectual playwright be admired only for his unconscio,"s production? He would rather see Brecht as a shrewd artist with an all-encompassing vision, a serious
Marxist, yet, like Shaw, keenly aware of the ironies and contradictions of life. Brecht was able to remain ceTmitted without losing sight of the art of drama. Certainly what the author has on his mind may be a valid element in a play when it is rendered concretely, in the manner of art rather than in the manner of polemic. 81
But Bentley concludes that there may be a time for polemic.
Extreme social turmloil may bring about a situation in which the artist "may be called upon to drop the pen and take up, if not the sword, then whatever is the most effective implement of direct action. The years
1942-45 were such times, if such times ever were." And there are times when it is not more, but less violence which is called for--precisely
the situation in 1966 when this essay was written:
One could say the need was for civilization, just that,
One could say: education. But there is an urgency which neither word suggests, and therefore one must out with it
and say: there is a need for propaganda. 82
Civilization, education, propaganda--this is a continuum of increasing specificity. I doubt Bentley is reversing his former criticism of the
non-artistic nature of propaganda; he is perhaps accepting propaganda as part of the materials of the artist. The expression of outrage at
a political situation can be effectively dramatic, as in Hochhuth's The Depiaty or in Picasso's more completely realized Guernica. Bentley says that The Deputy is a success because "the purpose of this kind of
play is to commu~unicate a sense of outrage. And it has commrunicated a sense of outrage." 83 That is, Hochhuth's play may be seen as an exploration of a situation fused with an emotion, not out to teach, but to arouse. Certainly the play effectively propagandized only those previously inclined to its thesis.
Although this judgment seems extra-aesthetic, it may also be
defended on grounds suggested above. In the manner of a good pragmatist and relativist, Bentley has seen fit to re-examine a situation anid expand
his aesthetic. He is accommodating a dramatic experience in which he senses quality. This is not a repudiation of aesthetic criteria, but
a redefinition. He is not calling art propaganda or vice versa. He is exploring the conditions of art within the framework of a purposive aesthetic, searching for works and situations which interact in some aesthetic way with political belief and a sensed need for action. If the artist expresses, then nothing seems to limit the material of his expression. That material may include, for example, a reaction to the outrageous in life.
The artist's outrage at a particular social situation is the
closest Bentley comes to admitting a strong element of direct personal expression into the art work, and this is allowable only under the general condition that the artist render his expression in dramatic terms. How this is done is the focus of the next section.
Ideas in Art: Hc the Playwright Thinks
Bentley does not think the drama is exclusively any one thingcertainly not, of themselves, ideas and the intellect from which they proceed. 84 Yet he defends the proposition that intellect and ideas
are a valid part of the drama. As he erases the please/teach dualism, so he erases the intellect/emotion dualism and denies the polarity of
the view that drama must either "make statements or give great experiences." Drama flows from the whole man, and like "all art draws on both the intellect and the feelings, and presupposes that the two work, not at loggerheads, but in harness." 85
Ideas, which are endemic to language, are unavoidable in the drama. In addition, all emotion and ideas in drama proceed from
ordered, intelligible patterns. The coherence of structure necessary for the transmission of vivid experiences suggests a forming mind-and a receiving mind capable of processing the artistic structure.
Plays, though full of emotion, do not transmit emotion in directly emotional terms. The unique emotion which comes from a particular play
is the result of unique experiences presented by the play in concrete terms and a meaningful, intelligible pattern which must be processed
by the mind. In this way, all drama contains intellectual elements, even if every play does not contain the specifically featured content of ideas that may appear in a play by Shaw or Pirandello.
There are, then, two levels of thought which may appear in a play: 1) the forming process that emanates from the complexities of
mind and both reflects and expresses them and 2) the content dimension of the art work which may have thought as a part of its subject matter,
may focus on thought as an important aspect of the human being to be expressed in the drama. The former is an aspect of all drama--all art-and may be seen as embodying the greater purpose of drama, the transmission of "wisdom," or as Bentley prefers, "Lebensweisheit." 86 The latter corresponds to the ideas in the "drama of ideas" as presented in modern sociologically and philosophically oriented drama.
No element of thought or idea in a drama can be the result of the mere translation of ideas into a play, a fact which may be deduced from Bentley's distinction between craft and art. Thought enters the
play as the playwright struggles with the material of the drama, The playwright "thinks" with plot, character, action, dialogue, and the like, rather than directly in philosophical ideas. The play is not a rhetorical message, a thesis to be proven, a moral tale, or anything other than a work of art.
The abstract quality of philosophy is contrary to the concrete depiction of life which the play needs, and Bentley deplores this abstraction in the writing of DeMotherlant and Sartre:
In the plays of both authors there are too many "key speeches,"
speeches after which one can say "Oho, so that's what the
play's about," speeches which would not be necessary if the
drama had been concentrated in the action and the characters. 87
The art of the drama consists, that is, in creating valid and intense actions and characters that ring true. Ideas cannot be -rafted on or
stuck into a play--they come out of the other elements and are embodied in the for_ii and matter of the play. Bentley decries the tendency not to do the real work of the dramatist: "You imagine that all you need to do is refer to 'schizophrenia' and you are exempt from the onerous duty of creating a schizoid character. You imagine that all you need to do is refer to religion many, many times and you have dramatized faith," 88
Since Bentley's method as a critic is often to look for the theme or content in a play and then to discuss its embodiment in the
dramatic elements of character and structure, he points out the pitfalls in imposing a theme in a play: in bending material to make a point, the
playwright may destroy the integrity of the drama, Making a statement is not as important as dramatic development. Bentley shows the problem of the mechanical forcing of theme in the case of the playwright who
must make his play indicate a particular theme but can do so only at the cost of oversimplifying his characters to make them fit a predetermined mold, to the extent that character "becomes a dull thing and of no imaginative interest." This oversimplification results in melodrama., and "bad melodrama [that in which "the moral is too earnestly insisted"] does not cease to be bad when you call it Socialist Realism." 89
Where thought and ideas are to be a focus of the content, the playwright must take care. He should not set out to prove an idea or
thesis in a play since the ideas that are in "drama of ideas" must be dealt with in terms of conflict, and the process of proving may cause the dramatist to cheat: "To prove a thesis in a play is no better than
cheating: all the playtvright has to do is stack the cards. And to concentrate on a purpose of this kind is to exclude all the traditional and mandatory substance of a play." 90 Bentley cautions that in the process of dealing with ideas one must remember that they are a part of a work of art which has its ownnon-discursive, methodology.
As opposed to the pitfalls in attempting to get ideas into drama, Bentley describes the two basic methods (corresponding to the two levels
of thought) by which intellect enters the drama. The first is common in dramatists from Sophocles and Shakespeare to the present, who do not
focus on ideas, but rather deal poetically with nature. These dramatists often write within a secure and unified world view. They are not like the rhetorician who writes to put existing thoughts into better expression, to take ideas and give them the best possible form, The poet/
dramatists want "to get at a thought before it is fully thought," so that "the word-finding and thought- thinking proceed together." Thought
and form are bound together in the original dramatist, and the thought inheres to choice of words, building of actions, and creation of characters. Bentley offers, as he often does, Shakespeare as the pinnacle of this
kind of dramatist, noting that even the philosophical borrowings in his plays seem new because they are so experienced. "This is one reason why Shakespeare means more to us than those who would teach us more, He takes us back to a point before that at which 'teachings' are formulated. 91 Shakespeare "thinks" in the form of drama and poetry. His language and action are vivid and lead to vivid experience; but they are also shot through with vivid ideas.
The second method for dealing with ideas in drama is to make
them the principal focus of the play, as in the modern "drama of ideas." Bentley says that whereas Moliere may be seen to "use ideas but not make his drama out of them, in the drama of ideas "the ideas are questioned and it is by the questioning . that the ideas become dramatic, for
never is there d-rama without conflict." Bentley posits a sociological reason for the predominance of idea conflict in modern drama in that a
conflict of ideas "might be particularly appropriate to a world without a common faith, philosophy, or idea." 92
In this world where there are no fixed beliefs, no arguments
from authority, and no cohesive community to which the drama may appeal, the drama of ideas will be important and useful, It offers the playwright an arena in which he may work out the truth of ideas concretely through character, dialogue, and actionusing the dramatic method of
conflict and resolution or dialectic. The playwright may, in the finest works, forge new values. Bentley takes ideas to mean ethical ideas and he, like Shaw, is interested in "Tbsenism" because moralityy was in Ibsen something to be discussed and worked out, not something given. Morality is not only to do right but to discover what is right . . ??93 The methodology of the drama of ideas is close to that of pragmatism,
and both presume a pluralistic world. For this reason Bentley says that both Ibsen and Shaw use a "flexible pragmatism close to that of William James." 94
Bentley identifies two kinds of discussion of ideas in the drama,
both evident in the work of Shaw, First is "the discussion of problems for their inherent interest" (as in "Don Juan in Hell") Second and more common to the stage is "discussion as an nomination of conflict between persons." 95 In both types of discussion of ideas, the thought content
is embedded in character and situation if the play is good. In both, ideas are being worked out, as in life, rather than merely paraded before an audience. Bentley thinks Shaw used both methods superbly for, given Shaw's philosophy, the outcomes are never obvious, For this reason Bentley defends Shaw against those who find him non-dramatic, all "ideas," by pointing out how Shaw is able to sympathize with both sides,, "not as a matter of fairmindedness . [but as] a matter
of a particular mentality, a particular way of observing life. Shaws way is the dramatist's way. For him, ideas perform like characters," 96 Shaw concretizes, and is therefore a genuine dTamatist.
Bentley sees the play as having valid elements of thought in terms of ideas and statements that eminate directly from the action and the characters, and in addition a greater thought which is the wisdom of the playwright: "Thought, def ined as an aspect of a play, is only an aspect of a play, but ..there is a broader definition of the term according to which it might truly stand as the aim and object of playwriting." Bentley feels that this greater sense of thought was described well by Hebbel when he said that "in drama no character should ever utter a thought; from the thought in a play come the speeches of all the characters.",97
The experience of the play as a play, then, comes first in Bentley's theory, but it is not an empty sensation: "Drama has to
do both with conveying an experience and with telling truths about it." Meaning, along with the didacticism implied by it, is close to Bentley's
ultimate interest in and purpose for art, and is what leads him to rate art so highly as a human endeavor in a fragmented world: "All art serves as a lifeboat to rescue us from the ocean of meaninglessness- -an extraordinary service to perform at any time and more than ever today when religion and philosophy prove less and less able to perform it.",98
Bentley has expounded a cogent view of realism based, as we
have seen, on a particular view of society and the world, Many features of Bentley's realism have previously been discussed in a piecemeal fashion; here they will be examined more coherently as his support for