Wednesday, June 26, 2019

413. Ricketts and Shannon as Robert Ross's Characters (4)

When The Tribune announced that the writer Stephen Phillips (1864-1915) was working on a new play on Faust, Robert Ross answered with a version of his own: 'A Little Doctored Faust' (Masques & Phases, pp. 209-223). 

Ross starts with a quote from the dramatist:

Stephen Phillips
In the version of Faust which I am going to prepare there will be nothing spectacular, nothing to overshadow or intrude upon an immortal theme. As to how I shall treat the story, and as to the form in which it will be written, I am not yet sure—it may be a play in blank verse, or in prose with lyrics. 

Ross's prologue transports us to The British Museum where Phillips got a special room to work on his play, implying that he intended to use earlier plays about Faust. Indeed, Goethe, Marlowe and the composer Gounod join him there, and Phillips tells them:

Of course, I treat you as material
On which to work; but then I simplify
And purify the story for our stage.
The English stage is nothing if not pure.
For instance, we will not allow Salomé.

Wilde's Salomé was banned on the basis of an old law that prohibited the depiction of  Biblical characters on the stage - there were performances in Paris and some private ones in London, the first public performance took place in 1931. 

Faust (1908)
When Phillips's version of Faust was published two years later, in 1908, the title page mentioned a co-author, J. Comyns Carr, and the subtitle was: 'freely adapted from Goethe's dramatic poem'.

In 1906, Ross wrote his version that consisted of the British Library prologue - one remembers of course that Goethe's prologue to Faust was set 'In Heaven', - followed by two acts that are as compact as the introductory scene. The issue of authenticity is ridiculed:

. One of your lines strike my familiar spirit.
Surely, that does not come from Stephen Phillips.

Marlowe. No matter; I may quote from whom I will.
Shakespeare himself was not immaculate

And borrowed freely from a barren past.

But how barren was Philipps's past who could take his lines from the likes of Goethe and Marlowe? 

Act I brings us to Faust's Studio where Faust speaks to a servant, using Phillips's words:

Faust. If anybody calls, say I am out;
I must have time to see how I will act.
As to the form in which I shall be written,
I must decide whether in prose or verse.

Eugène Delacroix, 'Méphistophélès apparaisant à Faust' (from Goethe, Faust. Paris, Charles Motte, 1828)
National Gallery of Victoria]
Mephisto enters and tells he is not impressed by the British audiences and their so-called love for the theatre.

Mephisto. The stage is now an auditorium,
And all the audiences are amateurs,
First-nighters at the bottom of their heart.
What do they care for drama in the least?
All that they need are complimentary stalls,
To know the leading actor, to be round
At dress rehearsals, or behind the scenes,
To hear the row the actor-manager
Had with the author or the leading lady,
Then to recount the story at the Garrick,
Where, lingering lovingly on kippered lies,
They babble over chestnuts and their punch
And stale round-table jests of years ago.

Mephisto and Faust agree to pay a visit to Lord and Lady Walpurge - she an 'intellectual', and:

The husband rich, dishonest, a collector
Of objets d’art, especially old masters.
He got his title for his promises
To England in the war; financed the raid

The party, says Ross, is not very sophisticated, attended by second-rate literary people, an Irish peer, and some well-known musicians. But then, the Princess Salomé is announced by the footman. He has misheard her name and announces her as:

'Er 'Ighness the Princess Swami.

A Lady Journalist, talking to Faust, remarks:

Fancy having that woman here. She is not recognised in any decent society, she is nothing but an adventuress; talks such bad French, too.

(Oscar Wilde had been criticised for his French when the first edition of the play was published.) But Faust answers that the Princess has many admirers in Germany.

Lady Journalist (hedging). I wonder where she gets her frocks? They must be worth a good deal.

Faust. From Ricketts and Shannon, if you want to know.

Lady Journalist. Dear Doctor, you know everything! Let me see: Ricketts and Shannon is that new place in Regent Street, rather like Lewis and Allenby’s, I suppose?

Faust. Yes, only different.

Lewis & Allenby, London (1866) [image: Victorian web]
Lewis and Allenby were famous silk mercers and retailers of ladies' clothing.

In the next two pieces by Ross, 'Shavians from Superman' and 'Some Doctored Dilemma',  Ricketts and Shannon would, again, play a role.

[This modest series of Robert Ross blogs commemorates his birth 150 years ago.]