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In the present collection, for the first time, representative English plays from the earliest period to our own generation are included in one volume. The drama in our day shows a vitality, an originality and a literary excellence unknown for two centuries; and partly in consequence of this, the drama of the past is being studied and read in our schools and colleges, and among people at large, to such an extraordinary extent as justifies such a convenience as this. In a single volume of readable form it is obviously impossible to include all celebrated or influential plays, or plays of all types. Some long periods with few plays of high excellence, such as the nineteenth century, are difficult to represent adequately at all in so small a collection. As to principles of choice, a collection merely of the best plays would be deficient in balance and in meaning for the student; one merely of typical plays would be deficient in attractiveness and interest for the reader. Choice must be made on practical and not purely theoretical grounds, by a series of checks and balances; now one consideration will prevail, now another. Probably no two editors would independently agree, and it is impossible to content every reader. In the present case the principal considerations have been excellence, influence and historical importance, representative and typical character (for a body of drama or for an age), and the importance of the type. Occasionally the mere celebrity of a play or its author has been allowed to turn the scale. Lyly's Mother Bombie was chosen, rather than one of his other plays, as exemplifying the strong Latin influence which helped to transform the medieval into the modern drama; Marlowe's Edward II as one of his best plays and as exemplifying the plays on English history written by so many besides Shakespeare; Dryden's Conquest of Granada rather than All for Love as being more influential, original and characteristic; Bulwer's Lady of Lyons as extremely popular in its day, and as characteristic of a long and barren period which it would be unsatisfying to leave almost unrepresented. It is unnecessary to explain the entire omission of Shakespeare; in so small a collection it was the only way to do him full justice and honor.
The editorial matter is meant to be, as Bacon said of his Essays, “certain brief notes, set down rather significantly than curiously." The introductions, while giving the necessary facts, are devoted rather to criticism and interpretation of the plays in themselves and in reference to their time. The foot-notes are meant simply to answer tersely questions which any attentive reader not familiar with a play or with the language of its time is likely to ask. The brief bibliography mentions general works, important or convenient editions, some historical and critical studies, and biographies. Here is recorded the source for the text of the several plays, and also, for supplementary reading, other plays of like character, and a few of types unrepresented in the collection. All pains have been taken to make the texts both accurate and readable; in no case have careless and popular modern editions been followed, yet in general textual problems and apparatus have been disregarded. Even in the medieval texts no changes have been made, except as consistently as possible to modernize the spelling (even at the cost of slightly increasing the original roughness of verse and rime); the reader may rest assured that he is getting, as the modern reader very properly wishes, that which the author wrote and that only. Elsewhere also the spelling, punctuation and capitalizing have been modernized, and some latitude has been allowed as to stage-directions. It should be added that Mr. Martin is mainly responsible for the editing of the medieval and Elizabethan plays, except for the introductions to Jonson and Webster; and Mr. Tatlock for those and for the remainder of the volume.
The editors find pleasure in thanking those who have lightened and otherwise assisted their work. They are particularly obliged to Professor W. A. Neilson, who generously allowed them to make use of certain of his texts, the best there are for numerous Elizabethan dramas; and to Marjorie Fenton Tatlock, for constant assistance and advice. They heartily thank Professors J. M. Manly, R. W. Bond, and G. R. Noyes, C. F. McClumpha Esqre., G. A. Aitken Esqre., M. V. O., and Professor Dr. F. Lindner for gracious permissions to use texts of the miracle plays and Everyman, of Dryden, Otway, Steele, and Fielding. They also thank various fellow literary-students who advised as to the choice of plays.
J. S. P. T.
R. G. M. 1 In The Chief Elizabethan Dramatists (Houghton, Mifflin and Co., 1911).