M. Coquelin delivered a lecture yesterday afternoon in Sanders Theatre on "Art and the Comedian." He spoke, in part, as follows:
The comedian is an artist whose art is undefinable. The art of the sculptor is in marble; the musician, in sounds; the painter, in the brush; but the art of the comedian is in nature, and as such, has no limitation. Many great writers, including Victor Hugo and Lamartine, speak in praise of this art. The great aim and ambition of the art of the comedian, is to create. The person of the artist's creation laughs, weeps, hopes and sighs with us, because he lives with us, as a friend and compatriot. It is not the author alone who creates. The actor, by interpretation, creates also. He fits into the part and gives it individuality, making the part and the individual one.
The creations of all arts, once created, remain a part of memory. An artist should aim to please the eye and to transport his audience by the presentation of the character. If he succeeds in this, he is indeed an artist. Comedy, as such, is essentially an art of civilized man, and develops in proportion to the development of man. The true actor must know the intention of the author, and the type of character he wishes to represent. He has seen life, imbibed its feelings; his character opens as he studies; he dons his costume and gradually merges into the character he would create. If an artist wishes to reproduce nature he must be a student of nature. Few geniuses are born and they are generally erratic, but incessant and faithful work with genius will always produce an artist.
The first aim of the comedian is to amuse; the audience is to be pleased. The stage is not true life, and the artist must exaggerate those parts which he may wish to emphasize. In another way, the stage differs from real life. An actor need never feel. Emotion should always be ruled by intellect. It is never necessary to experience what one acts. It is art that conveys the impression of reality to the audience, not feeling.
The Grecian actor held a high place in Grecian society, and in the middle ages the stage was supported by the Church. Later, the standards of the stage became lowered and by the time of Moliere, when French comedy reached its culmination, the stage was held in general disrepute. Moliere himself was banished by the Church. This prejudice has decreased but even now some of it remains. Comedians are admired but are held at a distance.