THIS collection of plays seeks to illustrate significant periods and types of English drama from 1660 to 1780. Characteristic works of dramatists from Dryden to Sheridan are accordingly grouped and discussed in broad relation to their times and tendencies. For further background, some salient passages are quoted from contemporary commentators like Dryden, Jeremy Collier, Fielding, and Goldsmith, who variously reflect different periods and aspects of critical controversy in the theatre. The choice of representative plays freely includes familiar masterpieces and examples. Thus the historic trio of eighteenth-century comedies, She Stoops to Conquer, The Rivals, and The School for Scandal, and the outstanding trio of dramatic burlesques, The Rehearsal, Tom Thumb, and The Critic, are maintained in the full force of their firm associations in dramatic history and stage tradition. Other interrelations within a given period, as in the close connection of The Rehearsal with The Conquest of Granada, or between different periods, as in the case of Restoration and eighteenth-century comedies of manners, or of early and late sentimental comedies, are considerably exemplified. In the rich field of Restoration comedy, the choice of representative dramatists includes the four grouped by Leigh Hunt in 1840, together with Etherege, their predecessor, whom Gosse may be said to have prefixed to the canon. Most of the plays in this volume were promptly established as typical stage favorites, and many of them long outlived on the stage the immediate periods and fashions which they represent in the historic development of English drama.
In printing these plays, explanatory notes for the general reader are distinctly separated from textual variants that need concern only the special student. For similar convenience, an appendix entitled TEXTUAL NOTES (pp. 913-957) segregates detailed bibliographical and textual information concerning each play, and indicates the preferred text, the specific copies of different editions collated, and the location in various libraries, British and American, of many other early and rare editions. The general method has been first to study, with especial heed to the author's sanctions and revisions, the successive editions published in his lifetime, and then to consider later reprints and critical editions. To clarify the details of factual evidence, there is supplied for each play a general history of the printed text, together with interpretation of significant collations. Bibliographical and textual data, though often sufficiently extensive to serve other purposes, are here considered less as ends in themselves than as means to establish and illustrate the main critical conclusions. In turn, these similar studies of so many representative plays will, it is hoped, combine to fuller understanding of the varying practices of Restoration and eighteenth-century playwrights and publishers, and of the methods and findings of later editors of their texts.
The bibliographical and critical sections of this volume attest our constant obligations to many libraries and scholars at home and abroad. Our debts to the officers and staffs of the British and American libraries where this work has been mainly accomplished have multiplied beyond the possibilities of individual acknowledgment. It seems, however, peculiarly fitting in a work so directly dependent on their united resources and generosity to express to them undivided gratitude. To the body of scholars whose manifold contributions to the common field are later specified, we here return like gratitude.
The editors have closely collaborated in developing this work both as a general anthology of plays and as a critical study of their printed texts. In the sections individually contributed, indicated by the editor's initials at the end of general introductions or special textual studies, some freedom of method and interpretation has seemed preferable to insistent rule. The early habit of fitting a Latin motto to a printed play might perhaps suggest for this anthology: In necessariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus caritas.