This book is not intended to be a work of 'scholarship.' It aims at appealing to all interested in the theatre--not merely to those whose profession is scholarly research; and, while every endeavour has been made to render it as accurate and as comprehensive as possible, it does not profess to deal in exhaustive detail with any of the special aspects of its theme. The sub-title, Studies in the Popular Theatre, indicates its general scope. The subject, of course, has not remained entirely neglected in the past. Apart from writers of essays and books on individual problems and selected periods, such authors as Magnin in France and Dieterich and Reich in Germany have devoted wide surveys, not indeed to the whole of the field, but at any rate to considerable portions of it. A resurveying of the extant materials and an attempt to provide a kind of perspective arrangement of the various items of evidence seemed, however, to be demanded for several reasons. In the first place, there is no work in English which essays in any way to deal with the subject, although this consideration in itself appears of minor importance compared with the others. Relatively little use has hitherto been made of the exceedingly important pictorial evidence provided by almost all the centuries covered in this book. Sporadic efforts, it is true, have been made in this direction, and many of the relevant illustrations have been collected for the classical and for the Renascent epochs respectively; but neither have all the most important documents in this kind been so utilized nor has any examination been devoted to these in their entirety, from the earliest pre-Periclean times to the seventeenth century. Apart from this, there does not seem to be any one work which definitely carries the survey (even without the assistance of pictorial evidence) from ancient Megara through medieval Rome to Renascent Mantua. Reich's valuable contribution, to which every writer on this subject must be deeply indebted, is devoted almost exclusively to the classical period and to that which immediately followed; Dieterich confines himself to a few special problems; and recent writers on the commedia dell' arte have been more eager to affirm or to deny classical influence, without fully investigating the subject, than to consider the problems impartially and at length.
The commedia dell' arte is that portion of the whole theme to the knowledge of which the most important additions have been made in recent years. The discovery of various collections of scenarii, the finding of fresh pictorial evidence, and the results of many other researches in Italian archives have given an entirely new orientation to our study of the improvising players and of their art. A history of the commedia dell' arte, of course, was far beyond the scope of this volume, and no suggestion of such is intended here. On the other hand, since there does not at present exist, even in Italian, a truly comprehensive survey of this theatrical type in which all the recent researches are used, and since the commedia dell' arte throws considerable light by analogy on earlier forms assumed by the popular theatre, it seemed necessary to cover the ground here in summary form. We still await both the exact and scholarly history of the improvised comedy and the critical study of its influence on English drama of the seventeenth century; such works would, of course, discuss in detail much that is here hurried over, and would stress certain aspects of which it was not within the scope of this book to treat. No doubt, too, a still further sifting of Italian archives would necessitate the reframing of theories concerning some of the companies and many of the individual players. All that was possible here was the utilization of as much of the recent contributions to the subject as . . .