Unlike his great contemporary George Bernard Shaw, Arthur Wing Pinero wrote very little other than plays. His nondramatic works consist of less than a dozen essays and the collected letters. The essays contain comments on theatrical technique, appreciations and criticisms of his fellow playwrights, retrospective accounts of the late nineteenth century London stage, and vignettes of his own life in the theater. The letters constitute a more substantial document; written in a style that varies from the businesslike to the witty and urbane, they provide invaluable glimpses of London theatrical life during the several decades in which Pinero was a dominant figure in British drama.
During his extraordinarily productive career, Arthur Wing Pinero wrote more than fifty plays, nearly all of which were produced and most of which were popular successes. Although his reputation is no longer what it once was, during the last two decades of the nineteenth century and the first decade of the twentieth, he was one of Britain’s most acclaimed playwrights. His prolific output was the financial mainstay of many a London theater, and his plays brought him both great wealth and international fame. The foremost performers of his day acted the roles he created, often achieving triumphs that they could never again equal. Nothing in the career of Edward Terry, for example, could match his popularity as Dick Phenyl, the amiable drunkard of Sweet Lavender.
Pinero achieved success in a variety of dramatic forms. He wrote a series of farces for the Court Theatre that brought that institution from the brink of financial collapse to immediate prosperity. The first of these, The Magistrate, set a London record by running for more than three hundred consecutive performances. The play is still occasionally revived, a retitled version having been produced in London as recently as 1983. His sentimental comedies were also immensely popular, especially Sweet Lavender, which outdid even The Magistrate with an unprecedented first run of 684 performances. More historically important were Pinero’s problem plays, which demonstrated that drama with a serious social purpose could succeed on the nineteenth century British stage. Such plays as The Profligate, The Second Mrs. Tanqueray, and The Notorious Mrs. Ebbsmith lack the intellectual subtlety and dramatic power of the works of Shaw, but they did help to prepare the way for Shaw. Although Pinero never challenged his audience’s social assumptions as directly as Shaw did, he showed that British playgoers were willing to think as well as to be entertained.
Another of Pinero’s accomplishments was his successful...
Dawick, John. Pinero: A Theatrical Life. Niwot: University Press of Colorado, 1993. Dawick provides a look at Pinero’s long history with the theater. Contains bibliography and index.
Griffin, Penny. Arthur Wing Pinero and Henry Arthur Jones. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1991. Griffin examines English drama in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, focusing on a comparison of the works of Pinero and Henry Arthur Jones. Contains bibliography and index.
Lazenby, Walter. Arthur Wing Pinero. New York: Twayne, 1972. A basic look at the life and works of Pinero. Contains bibliography.
Shaw, George Bernard. Dramatic Opinions and Essays. 2 vols. New York: Brentano’s, 1907. These reviews, published when Shaw was still a drama critic, remain among the most perceptive ever written about Pinero. Despite Pinero’s extraordinary popularity, Shaw exposed the conventionality of the playwright’s ideas and his inability to come to grips with the situations he had created.