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BETWEEN the years 1862 and 1865 I undertook a History of the Drama in England during the reigns of Elizabeth, James I., and Charles I. With this object in view I composed a series of essays, embracing the chief points in that history, and discussing the leading playwrights from the period of the Miracles down to that of Shirley. Having so far advanced toward the completion of this plan, I laid my manuscripts aside, discouraged partly by ill-health, partly by a conviction that the subject was beyond the scope and judgment of a literary beginner.
These early studies I have now resumed. The present volume is the first instalment of a critical inquiry into the conditions of the English Drama, based upon work which I began some twenty years ago, but which has been entirely re-handled and revised.
In the space of those twenty years the origins and evolution of our Drama have been amply treated and diligently explored by more than one distinguished and by many competent writers. Professor A. W. Ward's
History of English Dramatic Literature' supplies what was conspicuous by its absence from our libraries in 1862, namely, a comprehensive and excellently balanced survey of the works of the chief dramatists. The New Shakspere Society has instituted an original method of inquiry into questions of text, chronology, and authorship. Mr. Swinburne, Professor Dowden, and Mr. Gosse have published monographs of fine critical and æsthetic quality. Mr. W. C. Hazlitt, Mr. Churton Collins, Mr. A. H. Bullen, and the late Richard Simpson-to mention only a few prominent names—have enriched our stores of accessible documents with plays reprinted from rare copies or published for the first time from MS. Professor Arber and Dr. Grosart have placed at the student's disposition masses of useful materials, extracted from sources inaccessible to the general reader, and edited with unimpeachable accuracy.
American scholarship, meanwhile, has not been altogether idle in this field ; while German criticism has been voluminously prolific.
To mention all the men of distinction whose varied
labours have aided the student of Elizabethan Dramatic
Literature during the last twenty years, would involve too long a catalogue of names and publications.
well feel diffidence in bringing forth my own
studies to the light of day, after this computation of recent and still active workers on the subject. Elizabethan Dramatic Literature is a well-defined speciality, important enough to occupy a man's life-labours. I cannot pretend to be a specialist in this department ; nor have I sought to write for specialists. It has been iny intention to bring the history of the English Drama within the sphere of popular treatment; not shrinking from the discussion of topics which are only too familiar to special students; combining exposition with criticism ; and endeavouring to fix attention on the main points of literary evolution.
I have only to add in conclusion that the present volume has been produced under the disadvantageous conditions of continued residence in the High Alps, at a distance from all libraries except my own.
But for the generous and disinterested assistance rendered me by Mr. A. H. BULLEN, I should almost dread to print a work of this nature, composed in such unfavourable circumstances. To this gentleman, so well known by his edition of Day's works and by his series of Old Plays in course of publication, my warmest thanks are due for reading each sheet as it passed through the press, and for making most valuable suggestions and corrections, which give me confidence in the comparative accuracy
Davos Platz: Nov. 9, 1883.