How old is that play?

Nearly every play in the Lacy catalogue – 1468 of them to be exact – now has a date of first performance, either explicitly given in the front matter of the text, or (for about 100 other cases) diligantly extracted by me from Nicoll’s “Handlist”. These dates supply a terminus ad quem for the play’s composition : it cannot have been written after its first performance. Similarly, although the individual volumes are not dated, we may reasonably assume that the volume itself cannot have been printed before the latest “first performance” date it contains. This is not an entirely satisfactory procedure if we want to track changes over time, since the number of volumes allocated to a particular year varies over the 38 year period, but it is the best I can do.

Nevertheless, I thought it might be interesting to plot for each volume how many of the plays it contains are recent, not so recent, or positively antediluvian. One hypothesis might be that the proportion of recently composed material declines over time, whether because less of it is available for Lacy to reprint, or because the bourgeois drawing room for which the later volumes are primarily intended prefers its drama antiquated. Another might be that the proportion of old warhorses in each volume is pretty much consistent over the whole life time of the Acting Edition.

Here’s my first attempt at visualising the data. It shows that there are a few volumes round about the start and end of the 1860s when the quantity of older material seems to shoot up, but that for the most part each volume contains a majority of material less than 10 years old. It also, however, suggests that the amount of new material in the 1870s starts to decline.

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