The Irresistible Theatre

The Irresistible Theatre

The Irresistible Theatre

The Irresistible Theatre

Excerpt

In 1922 William Archer estimated that to bring up to date Sir Adolphus Ward History of English Dramatic Literature (which ends with the reign of Queen Anne) would entail from five to ten years of unremitting labour. Shortly before 1900 Sir Edmund Chambers contemplated "a little book" on Shakespeare, but thought it advisable to prepare the ground; the preparation took him a quarter of a century, in the course of which there appeared The Medieval Stage in two volumes and The Elizabethan Stage in four, and finally the little book came out, in two, in 1925. In 1911 DrMontague Summers discussed with Mr A. H. Bullen his projected history of the Restoration theatre, but felt that a further period of research was necessary before he could proceed; the first instalment appeared in 1934, In 1931 Professor Allardyce Nicoll brought out his Masks, Mimes and Miracles as a companion-piece to his Development of the Theatre; it has some seventeen hundred footnotes, yet in his preface he insists that it is not a work of "scholarship". Clearly, this book of mine must present itself with modesty.

Much of it is perforce what the French call a vulgarisation. It aims no higher than to introduce the general reader to the history of the English stage in all its aspects: the play in script and on the boards, the player and his quality, the playhouse and its trappings and economy: with such suggestions of historical and social background as may here and there be helpful. When I was young, and as mad about the theatre as I was uninformed, I greatly needed a book that would do this for me, comprehensively, accurately and as readably as might be. Today there is a spate of books about the stage; nevertheless, I am encouraged to think there may still be a use for this one.

It would take a more skilled hand than mine to make of it a homogeneous or even a consistently engrossing work of art. Some sections, to some readers, will no doubt appear too much like lessons, others too full of technical detail; that can hardly be helped if the book is to do its duty by its subject as a whole.

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