Letter to Schiller – 8 Jan 2014

Dear Schiller,

After last night’s rehearsal of Act 3, I think I had a better feel for what you meant by “Pity and Fear” in On the Tragic Art. As we finished the Queen meeting, I realized that there are basically two ways we could approach that scene: with hope or with dread – and tense anticipation seemed like a better choice for pulling the audience through that scene. But what did this mean from a practical sense?

It now seems to me that this Fear, of which you and the other romantics speak so highly, must mean something akin to “suspense” in the modern sense – like Chekhov’s gun or Hitchcock’s bomb – a sort of dreaded anticipation of what’s to come, by seeing the worst possible outcome and expecting it to happen, but being unsure when or how. The destination is certain but the journey is not. I suppose it’s similar to the internal tensions of Shakespeare or Corneille, and I can see why you spoke so clearly about why the play should omit extraneous elements of history in pursuit of its poetic effect.

This all became even more abundantly clear when we reached the Mary/Mortimer scene in the Park. The failure of Leicester, and the violent passions of Mortimer make Mary’s last hopes utterly collapse. Because Mary’s awful discoveries are shared by the audience, it allows her dread and despair to be experienced by the audience sympathetically – hence Pity.

What strikes me so poignantly about your (and Mr. Oswald’s) approach to this aesthetic principle is how very raw and visceral it is. Pity and Fear aren’t mere set dressing of mood, but philosophical dictates of dramatic action, choice, and urgency. Indeed, your essays really don’t treat at all on tone, mood, or theme, as the Gothics so often did (I’m looking at YOU, Castle of Otranto). I also take note of your desire for the play to be driven by circumstances beyond the will of any individual character, and as we work acts 4 & 5 tonight I’m excited to shall see how the characters “act in opposition to their inclination” as you say!

John Heimbuch
Minneapolis MN USA
8 January 2014

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