Preface to Mordred: a Tragedy in five Acts


    THE Arthurian story is one of the most remarkable in human history or literature. There is strong reason to believe that modern scholars have been wrong in their attitude toward what is commonly called mythology.
    I believe that it will yet be acknowledged that what is now regarded as pure myth is in reality degenerate history, and that what has been considered mere fable and the out-growth of the child-like imagination of primitive peoples is rather the time-dimmed account of great civilizations of the early world.
    This is a question which I am dealing with in a work treating of the origin of mankind.
    But whether Arthur is regarded as a great historic figure, as the traditions of my race claim him to be, or as a mythological personage, there is something in the story akin to those themes of the great Greek Tragedies, and of the greater Shakespearean dramas, which associates it with what is subtly mysterious and ethically significant in the history and destiny of mankind. Like the divine literature of the Hebrews, all of these great world-dramas and epics—for in a sense they are both—lift the thought and imagination to a loftier plane, and are concerned only with man’s personality in his relationship to those more sublime and terrible laws of being which mysteriously link him to deity.
    Those who may superficially judge this play as gloomy must, for the same reason, condemn Hamlet, Macbeth, Faust, and the Greek Tragedies. The story of Arthur and Mordred, as I give it, is found in Malory’s relation [Page 11] .

    I make no pretence to rival so great a word-artist as Tennyson. But when we enter the field of tragedy, literature ceases to be a mere matter of words or mated vowels. The great human problem confronts us. Therefore, with all of its imperfections, I send this play, which was written in 1893, and first published in 1895, forth once more into the world of readers, trusting that it may find a place in the great collection of literature which has grown about the wonderful personality of Arthur [Page 12].