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IRIS

a drama in five acts by Sir Arthur Wing Pinero
First performed in 1901

This analysis of Iris was originally published in The British and American Drama of Today. Barrett H. Clark. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1915. pp. 19-23.

In The Second Mrs. Tanqueray Pinero is content with placing before his audience a situation, and selecting a certain group of personages to work it out. In Iris, although there is a situation, we are inclined to believe that the author wished to draw the picture of a woman, struggling with a situation, rather than a situation in which people struggle to extricate themselves. The earlier play was more of a story, the later, a painting. No such painting, it is true, as Hedda Gabler, still it is as near to it as this dramatist ever came. Iris is justly acclaimed as one of the best technical feats of Pinero, for the story is simply and interestingly told, the character of the heroine carefully limned, the logical needs of the theme rigidly supplied.

In the case of Iris, the exposition is of especial importance. Every step she takes in her downward course throughout the play is dependent upon (1) the conditions of the will, and (2) her character. These two points must be indelibly impressed upon the mind of the audience, or what follows will be unconvincing. Take careful note of the innumerable references to Iris's temperament; the opening scene, between Miss Pinsent and Kane, is full of them, and when Iris herself enters she adds to our store of knowledge. Kane's "... it is only fair to assume that your husband, knowing how greatly your happiness depends upon your personal comfort, was actuated by a desire to safeguard you" is peculiarly significant. Iris even goes so far as to quote some of the terms of the will.

Does Pinero succeed in convincing you of the probability of the conditions? Does he prepare a sufficiently solid foundation upon which to build the rest of the structure? Is the exposition of Iris more economical or less so than that of The Second Mrs. Tanqueray? In what way is it superior to that of Sweet Lavender? Compare it with the exposition of Mid-Channel.

Pinero has selected a character more subtle and more difficult to portray than Mrs. Tanqueray: Iris, a weak woman, taxes the dramatist's powers far more than Paula, whose very strength forms, as it were, a point of resistance against which to build situations. Positive wills, active agents, are the stuff of which drama is made, while passive and negative ones present numerous obstacles for the maker of plays. In The Second Mrs. Tanqueray the conflict of wills furnishes ready-made material, in Iris the lack of will, the drifting of the heroine, forces the dramatist at every turn to invent situations; it calls upon him to exert all his ingenuity to keep the story moving.

Compare the two plays from this standpoint. Notice how carefully Pinero has built up his situations, and how each one reveals some side of the character of Iris.

The curtain falls nine times during this play. Nowadays it is the usual custom not to divide an act into scenes. What were Pinero's reasons? Does this division in any way detract from the dramatic effectiveness or the unity of the play? Is it a confession of weakness? Could the dramatist have managed as well without this frequent division? Does the process add to the interest and suspense?

Pinero is a master of dramaturgic devices. One example will here suffice: shortly after the opening of the fourth act occurs the following stage direction:

(After some hesitation, he produces a bunch of keys and removes from it a latch-key. Weighing the key in his hand meditatively, he walks towards the settee; then he turns and tosses the key upon the table. . . . She picks up the key and, rising, drops it into a vase which stands upon the mantelpiece. The key strikes the bottom of the vase with a sharp sound. Having done this, she resumes her seat and sips her tea.)

The significance of the act is doubly impressed upon the audience; first Maldonado's detaching the key and throwing it upon the table, and second Iris's dropping it, "with a sharp sound," into the vase. This is a stroke of dramaturgic genius: it advances the plot and reveals character in a most masterly fashion. Find other instances of this in Iris.

In the last act Pinero has the courage which he lacked in Sweet Lavender, and which some critics declare he made Paula Tanqueray commit suicide in order to escape: the courage to show the logical consequence of his story. Trenwith's return is bitter, as it should be, Iris's confession is wrung from the depths of her being. There is at least an element of true tragedy in Iris's final effort to retain Trenwith, and in her query, "Would the home have been ready for me?" and his answer, "Yes." Then comes Maldonado's denunciation of his mistress; she must leave. This, too, savors of tragedy, but after she leaves, and "Maldonado utters a fierce cry and, with one movement of his arm, sweeps the china and bric-à-brac from the mantelpiece . . . overturns the table with a savage kick; then, raising a chair high in the air, he dashes it to the floor and breaks it into splinters . . ." -- is this in keeping with the spirit of the last scene? Of the whole play?

Eugene Walter's The Easiest Way is in many respects similar to Iris. Compare the two plays.

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