The term “well-made play” was coined in about 1825 by the French dramatist Eugène Scribe, whose ideal of tightly plotted plays (complete with exposition, peripeteia, and dénouement) had a tremendous influence throughout the nineteenth century: its eminent practitioners included Ibsen, Dumas fils, and Pinero. Rebellion against its strictures began with G. B. Shaw, who groused, “Why the devil should a man write like Scribe when he can write like Shakespeare or Molière, Aristophanes or Euripides?” Nevertheless, the genre is an attractive one and has continued to thrive, whether in or out of fashion, to the present day.

One of the masters of the well-made play was the multitalented Harley Granville-Barker (1877–1946), playwright, actor, producer, director, and Shakespearean scholar. His drama The Voysey Inheritance (1905) was a monument of the Edwardian...

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