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MID-CHANNEL

a play in four acts by Sir Arthur Wing Pinero
First performed in 1909

This analysis of Mid-Channel was originally published in The British and American Drama of Today. Barrett H. Clark. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1915. pp. 24-28.

As an example of the highest technical skill, of sound characterization, of a story well and interestingly unfolded, Mid-Channel must assume a position in the front rank of this dramatist's many works. It is one of the truest specimens of domestic drama produced in England.

Pinero once said that after toiling at the superb exposition of The Thunderbolt, he was determined not to go to the trouble of avoiding every possible incongruity and short-cut usually employed in conventional expositions, so that when he came to the opening of Mid-Channel he decided to convey the necessary information to his audience in a straightforward and more or less conventional manner. It was scarcely worth his while to conceal what must be obvious to nearly all his auditors: the effort to lay before them as quickly as possible that part of the character and part history of his personages which must be known before the play proper can begin. Consequently, almost the same ground is covered in a dozen pages which it took over sixty to cover in the preceding play.

If the exposition of Mid-Channel is rather conventional, compact, obvious, would the play have gained by the insertion of a long and possibly more skilful exposition? In other words, what is gained by the method here adopted? And what is lost?

The question, What is tragedy? is considered in The Continental Drama of Today. Paul Hervieu says: "It is a play every part of which aims to create suspense, deep thinking, and pity. It is accompanied no longer, as of old, with magnificent draperies; it is a thing of the day, logical, prosaic, no longer bloody . . . the ways of fate are no longer manifested, as with the Greeks, in dreams, visions, or presentiments. Nowadays we try to show how the struggle for existence bears down inexorably upon those who are imprudent, too weak to defend themselves, those whose passions are stronger than their will power." This of course is peculiarly applicable to the plays of M. Hervieu himself, who has written tragedies according to his own formula. The French dramatist, as a rule, makes plays out of the human passions; with him the passions are usually sufficient in themselves to explain failure and tragedy. With the Anglo-Saxon this is not enough: if passions do work havoc with human lives, he is unwilling to offer that as the sole reason for failure; he must add external circumstances. Pinero in Iris, however, accounts for the woman's ruin by her passion and her weakness, chiefly the latter, but he is careful to furnish a convenient Maldonado, who is an external force. The French dramatist can make his character declare, "C'est plus fort que moi!" and proceed with the happy assurance that he has sufficient motivation. Pinero is not an emotional dramatist, in the sense that Donnay and D'Annunzio are emotional; he must account for failure in some other way. In Mid-Channel, Zoe gives us the reason for her failure and her husband's. She says: "It was doomed from the moment we agreed that we'd never be encumbered in our career with any -- brats of children."

Nearly all Pinero's "dramas" are tearless: they are dramatic, effective, terrible at times, and possibly horrible, but only in the rarest instances, lachrymose. Perhaps this [was] the result of his English environment, and perhaps out of the fear that the British public [disliked] any display of the deeper emotions, but Pinero prefers to be intellectual, in contradistinction to emotional, and wishes his plays to rest upon logic rather than upon passion. But it must be remembered that his characters are nearly all English.

The "Raisonneur" is a stock figure in many of the plays of the nineteenth century, and in the plays of Dumas fils assumes an importance at times greatly out of keeping with the piece. In England, especially in the plays of Pinero and Henry Arthur Jones, he reappears as the middle-aged, kindly man-of-the-world, the adviser who invariably sets matters straight and administers stiff doses of good advice to the characters of the play, as well as to the audience. He is at once a dramatic expedient, a foil, and a relief-figure. In the hands of the actor for whom the part is written, he becomes a congenial link, as it were, between the audience and the characters. Some of the more striking instances are to be found in The Liars, Mrs. Dane's Defence, The Case of Rebellious Susan, and Dolly Reforming Herself, of Jones. In Mid-Channel it is Peter Mottram. Here, besides bringing about the temporary reconciliation between man and wife, he gives out the theme of the play, and offers a welcome relief to the sordidness of the rest of the piece.

Is there a character corresponding to Peter in The Second Mrs. Tanqueray? In Sweet Lavender?

The suicide in Mid-Channel is as inevitable as that of Hedda Gabler or Justice. The dramatist has left no possible escape for the unfortunate woman. Trace the steps leading up to the catastrophe. Is there a point in the play where matters could have been satisfactorily arranged? Could a logical change of heart have taken place in Theodore? Zoe being as she was, and Theodore remaining obdurate -- in strict accordance with the character as we know him -- could a reconciliation be made plausible?

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