THE ORIGIN AND SIGNIFICANCE OF THE IRISH DRAMATIC MOVEMENT
THIS BOOK is (as I have suggested in the Preface) an attempt to study the modern Irish drama, not historically, for that has been done, both by the leaders of the movement themselves and by other Irishmen better qualified for the task than a reader of another race and culture, but rather in the way in which alone an outside observer may be permitted to study it--in relation to the general achievement of drama and to the special history of the drama of the English-speaking world. This means that we must concern ourselves with essentials, not with accessories, with the nature and quality of this drama, and with such aspects of its influence and effects as are of vital enough importance to stand out in a general prospect over the whole art. And indeed this approach needs at the present day no apology. For to come down to essentials, the essentials of fact in practice and of the 'truths of the imagination' in art and criticism, is our only chance. We must ask of all things we encounter, 'Quid hoc ad Æternitatem?' And if the story of Irish drama were merely a section of interesting and amusing theatre history we might feel to-day that the answer to that question was 'vanitas vanitatum'.
But it is not. For the Irish movement produced at least two great dramatic poets and so stands justified 'sub specie æternitatis' in terms of one of the absolute values, poetic truth. Moreover, by some strange stirring of the spirit which in part eludes analysis, that poetic drama was a means of bringing back to the drama of the other English-speaking races the habit of high poetry which it had lost for two hundred years.
To understand the significance of this we must make a cast back into the history of the development of the English theatre from the time of Jacobean drama and a cast forward again into