This book attempts to provide a general conspectus of the drama's development from its earliest days in ancient Greece down to latest times. Confessedly it is prejudiced, since without prejudice no essay of this kind can be other than a mere record of facts, and the endeavour here is to present something beyond a collection of statistical information.
Judgments on individual plays and on the work of various playwrights are, therefore, coloured by the light in which the entire progress of the theatre is viewed. Still further, it must be emphasized that these judgments are based on standards or values independent of particular times and places. In a volume devoted to a period of dramatic activity restricted both in time and in place certain plays may justifiably be selected for praise because they rise above the general tone of their companions: in a book dealing with the whole development of the drama such plays may, with equal justification, be omitted or dealt with cursorily. If we take Sophocles and Shakespeare, Aristophanes and Shaw, as our standards, many lesser authors, although perhaps important for their own time and country, must of necessity be ignored.
An attempt, of course, has been made to refer to many plays which, because of their historical significance, are worthy of notice even though they may no longer make appeal to us, but always my object has been to make a distinction between such historical significance and intrinsic value. Should any reader in another country feel that I have not done justice to authors whose local fame is greater than their general esteem, I refer to my treatment of certain periods of English dramatic history, wherein numerous plays of decided interest have been weighed against others of greater importance and found wanting.
Particular difficulty has arisen, naturally, in dealing with contemporary contributions to the stage. In this region there is no perspective supplied by time to aid us; yet modern efforts are those which most attract our attention. Because of these considerations I have devoted to the dramatic work of the twentieth century perhaps greater space than would have been accorded to it had this book been written, not in 1949, but in 2049and certainly greater space than a strict balancing of worth with that of earlier times might warrant.
In this connexion another thing must be emphasized. A purely factual account of theatrical development would presumably treat of plays in all countries, East and West, according to their position in time; and it would, moreover, seek to deal with all manifestations of the art dramatic no matter where they were exhibited. Thus, for example, in a work of . . .