Drama Is Hell
Dreamed around 1824-5 by Thomas Hood
I had a dismal dream once... which originated in the failure of my first and last attempt as a dramatic writer. Many of my readers, if I were to name the piece in question, would remember its signal condemnation. As soon as the tragedy of my Tragedy was completed, I got into a coach, and rode home. My nerves were quivering with shame and mortification. I tried to compose myself over " Paradise Lost," but it failed to soothe me. I flung myself into bed, and at length slept; but the disaster of the night still haunted my dreams:
I was again in the accursed theatre, but with a difference. It was a compound of the Drury-Lane Building and Pandemonium. There were the old shining green pillars, on either side of the stage, but, above, a sublimer dome than ever overhung mortal playhouse. The wonted familiars were in keeping of the fore-spoken seats, but the first companies they admitted were new and strange to the place. The first and second tiers,
" With dreadful faces thronged, and fiery arms,"showed like those purgatorial circles sung of by the ancient Florentine. Satan was in the stage-box. The pit, dismally associated with its bottomless namesake, was peopled with fiends. Mehu scowled from the critic's seat. Belial, flushed with wine, led on with shout and catcall the uproar of the one-shilling internals.
My hair stood upright with dread and horror; I had an appalling sense that more than my dramatic welfare was at stake, that it was to be not a purely literary ordeal. An alarming figure, sometimes a newspaper reporter, sometimes a devil, so prevaricating are the communications of sleep, was sitting, with his note-book, at my side.
My play began. As it proceeded, sounds indescribable arose from the infernal auditory, increasing till the end of the first act. The familiar cry of "Choose any oranges!" was then intermingled with the murmurings of demons. The tumult grew with the progress of the play. The last act passed in dumb show, the horned monsters bellowing, throughout, like the wild bulls of Bashan. Prongs and flesh-hooks showered upon the stage.
Mrs. Siddons--the human nature thus jumbling with the diabolical--was struck by a brimstone ball. Her lofty brother, robed in imperial purple, came forward towards the orchestra, to remonstrate, and was received like the Arch-devil in the Poem:
"He hearsHe bowed to the sense of the house, and withdrew. My doom was sealed; the recording devil noted down my sentence. A suffocating vapor, now smelling of sulphur and now of gas, issued from the unquenchable stage-lamps. The flames of the Catalonian Castle, burning in the back scene, in compliance with the catastrophe of the piece, blazed up with horrible import. My flesh crept all over me. I thought of the everlasting torments, and, at the next moment, of the morrow's paragraphs. I shrank from the comments of the Morning Post, and the hot marl of Malebolge. The sins of authorship had confounded themselves, inextricably, with the mortal sins of the law. I could not disentangle my own from my play's perdition.
On all sides, from innumerable tongues,
A dismal universal hiss, the sound
Of public scorn."
I was damned: but whether spiritually or dramatically, the twilight intelligence of a dream was not clear enough to determine.
Hood treats the dream as a simple blend of fact and anxiety. But really the dream's quite cunning. It made disaster profitable! Hood got paid for reliving his humiliation--this item became part of a magazine piece called "Dreams" and in 1826 got reprinted in a collection, Whims and Oddities. Also, the nightmare makes you sympathize. And it proves that however bad his scriptwriting may have been, Hood can write--given a vivid subject. The nightmare itself offered a way to restore his reputation--and he took it.
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