In the following pages, an endeavour is made to tell, in scale and with a due regard to proportion, the story of English drama from its beginnings in the miracle play and morality to the performance ofSheridan Critic, in the year 1779. A concluding chapter presents a sketch of the course of the drama since that time, in outline and by way of suggestion, and no more. To have completed the book on the same scale would have demanded another volume. But a better reason for the course here pursued is to be found in the circumstance that, by the time of Sheridan, almost the last vestige of the original dramatic impulse had been lost, the impulse that begot Marlowe and Shakespeare and carried the great traditions of their art over the Restoration and into the next century; and when the modern revival came, inspired by a renewed appreciation of the great Elizabethans, it was manifestly not a revival on the stage, but in a new species of literature, the drama of the study, as different from the original parent stock as the novel is different from it or from the drama capable of successful presentation on the stage.
English drama may be likened to a strand in which two threads, among many, are conspicuous: the thread which designates the actable play and the thread which designates that quality to which we give the indefinable term literature. In the days of Elizabeth, these two threads were, for the most part, so interwoven and twisted together that they gave to the cord that strength and unity that we recognise in the great dramas of that time. So complete, we may well believe, was their adaptation to their own stage -- which, be it remembered, was not our stage -- that, in reading them merely or seeing them reproduced under different conditions, we feel that they have inevitably lost something of their original charm. But the thread of literature and that of actability (shall we call it?) tended, from the first, to fall apart. There are plays of Shakespeare's own time that are inconceivable acted; there are also . . .