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The Black Cat A Play in Three Acts   By: (1839-1916)

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Printed by Hazell, Watson, & Viney, Ld., London and Aylesbury.


Mr. Grein has asked me to write a preface to THE BLACK CAT. I cannot myself see much occasion for this. Why should an author be called upon to make a speech before the curtain? Because, I presume, people want to have something to talk about besides the play itself, and an author must surely have "views." Well, it is a day of views and of talk.

THE BLACK CAT was produced at the Opera Comique on December 8th, 1893, at one of the Independent Theatre Society's performances. It had a certain succès d'estime before a special audience, for whom, however, it was not written; and it has not been performed since.

The critics were wonderfully kind. They actually praised the play; some reluctantly, some with a reckless enthusiasm which quite astonished me. I had expected a much less pleasant reception.

The main objection they made to the thing was that it had a tragic ending, which they kindly suggested I had tacked on to my comedy, to appeal to the morbid taste of an "Independent" audience. Unfortunately I had done nothing of the kind. The play was conceived before the Independent Theatre had come into existence. The end was foreseen from the beginning; the tragedy being implicit in the subject. The tragic motive lay deeper than the death of the heroine, who might have been allowed to live, if that last symbolic pageantry had not had its dramatic fitness. Given the characters and the circumstances, the end is the absolutely right one.

Of course the circumstances might have been altered, and a sort of reconciliation patched up between husband and wife. But this would be a somewhat flat piece of cynicism, only justifiable on the ground taken by the Telegraph , that modern actors cannot play, and ought not to be expected to play, modern tragedy.

The conventional "happy ending" demanded by sentimental critics to suit the taste of sentimental playgoers, the divided parents left weeping in each other's arms over the recovered child, would also be quite possible. But surely even a modern dramatist may for once be allowed to preserve a grain of respect for nature and dramatic art? This would be an outrage against both. It would not be decent comedy, it would be mere burlesque, as sentimentality always is to the judicious.

The only other alternative I see is the exodus of the wife, with or without her child; or of the husband, with or without his mistress. But this would be rank Ibsenism, and outrage British morality, which would be still more dreadful. Only a "practical dramatist" could cut the Gordian knot, and at the last moment introduce the erring Mrs. Tremaine, still charming in the garb of a Sister of Mercy, to bring down the curtain upon a tableau of Woman returning to her Duty, and Man to his Morality. And I, alas! am not a "practical dramatist."

Still, if the play had been an experiment, I might have further experimented with it, and rehandled its ending. But it was not in its main lines an experiment. It was a thing seen and felt; and so it must remain, in its printed form, at least "a poor thing," it may be, "but mine own!"

After the performance, came the managers, wanting to see the play, and asking why I had not shown it to them before. Well, it never occurred to me that any of them would seriously have considered the production of a piece so far off the ordinary lines. They had not, like the enterprising Director of the Independent Theatre, undertaken the dreadful trade of educating the public. As a matter of fact, they fought shy of a piece in which "the new hysteria" was studied, and which ended badly, or at least sadly.

A Comedy of Sighs , produced at the Avenue last spring, was really an experiment on the taste of the British public... Continue reading book >>

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