(Sir) Noël (Pierce) Coward W. Somerset Maugham - Essay

W. Somerset Maugham

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

It is in his dialogue that Mr. Coward has shown himself something of an innovator, for in his construction he has been content to use the current method of his day; he has deliberately avoided the epigram that was the fashion thirty years ago (when an early play of mine, Lady Frederick, was bought by Mr. George Tyler he told me that it was not epigrammatic enough, so I went away and in two hours wrote in twenty-four), and has written dialogue that is strictly faithful to fact. It does not only represent everyday language but reproduces it. No one has carried naturalistic dialogue further than he. (p. viii)

Dialogue has gradually been growing more natural. It was inevitable that some dramatist should eventually write dialogue that exactly copied the average talk, with its hesitations, mumblings and repetitions, and broken sentences, of average people. I do not suppose anyone can ever do this with more brilliant accuracy than Mr. Coward. My only objection to it is that it adds greatly to the difficulty of the author's task. It is evident that when he represents dull and stupid people they will be as stupid and dull on the stage as in real life and they will bore us in the same way. When he exposes his theme or joins together the various parts of his story (and I should think it was impossible to write a play in which certain explanations, of no interest in themselves, can be avoided) he will only with difficulty hold the attention of his audience. The author limits himself to characters who are in themselves exciting or amusing and to a theme which is from the beginning of the first act to the end of the last naturally absorbing. It is asking a great deal…. On the other hand I do not think it can be denied that when a scene is dramatic...

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