In this book Anthony Jenkins examines seven Victorian playwrights who, despite their own ideals and prejudices and the theatre's conservatism, tried to come to terms with such momentous subjects as womanliness, honour and money. The opening chapter sets the frame of reference that briefly describes the social transformation of theatre during the century and the increasing respectability of actors and playhouses. Subsequent chapters deal with the drama of Edward Bulwer, Tom Robertson, W. S. Gilbert, H. A. Jones, Arthur Pinero, Oscar Wilde, and Bernard Shaw. Each of these dramatists sought to create a theatre of ideas according to his own vision of art and society. Their work confronts and interprets the limitations of an idealized theatre, the portrayal of character, the sanctity of marriage, and the charade of social hypocrisy. The plays are examined within the social and political context of the Reform Bill, the Revolution of 1848, the Great Exhibition, royal patronage, censorship and copyright, and, above all, the 'Woman Question'.
Jenkins combines politics and theatrical history with literary criticism to shed provocative light on the struggle to relate the London theatre to the realities of Victorian England. The book contains illustrations from the period and will be of interest to students and scholars of theatre history, English literature and social history, and women's studies.