A while back I reviewed the marvellous Three Men in a Boat, by Jerome K Jerome. Around that time, a friend recommended I follow it up with Jerome's satirical guide to late-Victorian theatre: Stage-Land.
Stage-Land was a quick read, good for a few chuckles, though not quite up to the insane brilliance of Three Men in a Boat. It profiles all the usual roles and plotlines common in melodramatic plays--the Hero, the Heroine, the Stage Child, the Good Old Man, the Lawyer, and so on.
On the Hero - "His name is George, generally speaking. "Call me George!" he says to the
heroine. She calls him George (in a very low voice, because she is so
young and timid). Then he is happy."
On Stage Law - "The only points of stage "law" on which we are at all clear are as
"That if a man dies without leaving a will, then all his property goes to
the nearest villain.
"But if a man dies and leaves a will, then all his property goes to whoever
can get possession of that will.
"That the accidental loss of the three-and-sixpenny copy of a marriage
certificate annuls the marriage.
"That the evidence of one prejudiced witness of shady antecedents is quite
sufficient to convict the most stainless and irreproachable gentleman of
crimes for the committal of which he could have had no possible motive.
"But that this evidence may be rebutted years afterward, and the conviction
quashed without further trial by the unsupported statement of the comic
man" - and so on.
On the Villain - "The stage villain is superior to the villain of real life. The villain of
real life is actuated by mere sordid and selfish motives. The stage
villain does villainy, not for any personal advantage to himself, but
merely from the love of the thing as an art. Villainy is to him its own
reward; he revels in it. 'Better far be poor and villainous,' he says to himself, 'than possess all
the wealth of the Indies with a clear conscience. I will be a villain,' he
cries. 'I will, at great expense and inconvenience to myself, murder the
good old man, get the hero accused of the crime, and make love to his wife
while he is in prison. It will be a risky and laborious business for me
from beginning to end, and can bring me no practical advantage whatever.
The girl will call me insulting names when I pay her a visit, and will
push me violently in the chest when I get near her; her golden-haired
infant will say I am a bad man and may even refuse to kiss me. The comic
man will cover me with humorous opprobrium, and the villagers will get a
day off and hang about the village pub and hoot me. Everybody will see
through my villainy, and I shall be nabbed in the end. I always am. But it
is no matter, I will be a villain—ha! ha!' "
On the Heroine - "Sometimes the stage heroine has a brother, and if so he is sure to be
mistaken for her lover. We never came across a brother and sister in real
life who ever gave the most suspicious person any grounds for mistaking
them for lovers; but the stage brother and sister are so affectionate that
the error is excusable.
"And when the mistake does occur and the husband comes in suddenly and
finds them kissing and raves she doesn't turn round and say:
" 'Why, you silly cuckoo, it's only my brother.' "
As you can see, this book is a perfect hoot. And while some of the tropes lampooned within it have fallen into disuse, I was amazed by how many remain in use! If you have a spare half-hour and want to spend it chuckling, and thinking about how storytelling has and hasn't changed over the years, I do recommend Stage-Land.
Find Stage-Land on Project Gutenberg and Librivox.