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This book is designed for students rather than for scholars or specialists. It makes little or no contribution to the present knowledge of authors and their plays. It grapples with no difficult problems of origins and solves no riddles of dramatic evolution. It enters into no competition with histories of the English drama. Its mission is the humble one of presenting in a single volume representative plays of the century and more between the Restoration of the Stuarts and the American Revolution. The introductions to the dozen dramas and the notes and bibliographies at the end of the book contain only such information as the editors deem necessary for an understanding of the circumstances of this literary output, only such interpretative comment as they consider stimulating to the reader's own critical sense. With regard to the necessity and stimulus of this editorial matter, others may well be of a different mind.
After all, the plays are the thing. Admittedly it is very convenient to have in one volume a dozen plays of an important epoch. But why the dozen here selected? The editors have been guided in their choice not by their own likes and dislikes, which happen to be strong, but by the consensus of critical and popular opinion. The Conquest of Granada is acknowledged by all as typical of the short-lived heroic drama. All for Love is deemed Dryden's best tragedy and furnishes in addition the most striking example of the Restoration treatment of a Shakespearean theme. Otway's Venice Preserved is reckoned easily first among the tragedies of the later Stuart time; indeed it finds no peer until Shelley's Cenci. For the editors' sins of omission-Wycherley and Vanbrugh—is pleaded only the enforced omission of sins. The ubiquitous Rehearsal of Buckingham has yielded-here the editors accept full responsibility—to the less accessible, equally representative, and more amusing burlesque, Fielding's Tom Thumb. No English comedy of manners vies, in the judgment of many others than Meredith, with The Way of the World by Congreve. No lighter drama of the Restoration tradition has had longer life on the stage and off than that “red leaf, the last of its clan," Farquhar's often-dancing Beaux' Stratagem. Dull beyond all conception Addison's Cato may seem to us now, yet it scored the most signal triumph of eighteenth-century classical tragedy. Sentimental comedy must be represented, and-almost as a matter of course-by The Conscious Lovers of Steele. The Beggar's Opera by Gay is the foremost of its musical genre in both time and merit. Goldsmith's She Stoops to Conquer and Sheridan's chief comedies, The Rivals and The School for Scandal, were
sure of their place. Indeed, the selection of all these twelve plays was so obvious as to demand little discrimination.
The text of each play has been derived from a careful comparison of the earliest quartos with the latest and most scholarly editions; but the present editors have unhesitatingly omitted the so-called “critical apparatus” of variant readings and proposed emendations, for the same reason that they have shunned archaic spelling and pointing—as being entirely out of keeping with the design of the book.