When, during the season of 1885, the exceptional success of "The Magistrate" had revived the fortunes of the Court Theatre and included that house once again among the popular places of entertainment, the future policy of Messrs. John Clayton and Arthur Cecil's management was practically determined. The essentially comic play, the farce of character and manners, was henceforth to compose the programme, and Mr. Pinero, who had suggested the new policy, and so happily inaugurated it, was naturally commissioned to provide the next play. "The Schoolmistress" was accordingly forthcoming in due time, and in the composition of this piece the author further developed his ideas as to the scope and meaning of modern farce, ideas which will be found briefly expounded in my introductory note to "The Cabinet Minister," published in the present series of Mr. Pinero's plays. "The Schoolmistress" has a very simple stage-history. It was produced at the old Court Theatre on March 27, 1886, and it immediately caught the laughter and applause of the town, the success being so decided that the play retained its place in the programme until January 22, 1887, the total number of performances in the interval having amounted to 290.
Mrs. Pierpoint and her daughter, Ethel, visit Zoe Blundell to inquire about the possibility of Leonard Ferris as a suitor for Ethel. Mrs. Pierpoint wants Zoe?s opinion because Leonard is one of Zoe?s tame robins, a group of male friends and admirers who gathers around Zoe. Unknown to the Pierpoints, Zoe?s marriage is breaking up and Leonard is sexually attracted to Zoe. Zoe at first believes her relationship with Leonard is harmless because she feels much, much older than he. Leonard is thirty-two years old, five years younger than Zoe, but he is a ?fresh, boyish young man? and Zoe is a ?mature woman.? Zoe?s husband, Theodore, is forty-six years old. Zoe?s perspective reflects society?s double standard that an older man may be interested in a younger woman but an older woman should not be interested in a younger man. After the Pierpoints leave, Leonard arrives to see Zoe and confesses he does not want to marry anyone, although he is attracted to Ethel because she reminds him of Zoe.
Born within a year of both Shaw and Wilde, Pinero was one of the most popular - and prolific - playwrights of his age. This volume contains his three best - and still most often performed - plays, each written in a different mode: The Magistrate (1885), a splendid farce; The Second Mrs Tanqueray (1893), a social problem play; and Trelawny of the 'Wells' (1898), an affectionate comedy on the inevitability of change.