Since the appearance of Sylvain Levi's admirable treatise, Le theatre Indian, the first adequate sketch of the origin and development of the Indian drama and of Indian dramatic theory, in the last decade of the nineteenth century, the discovery of important fragments of the dramas of Asvaghosa and Bhasa had thrown unexpected light on the early history of the drama in India, which necessitated a fresh investigation of the origin and development of the drama in the light of the new materials available, resulting in the publication of the present work by Prof. A.B. Keith in 1924.
The Indian tradition, preserved in the Natyasastra of Bharata, the oldest of the texts of the theory of drama, claims for drama divine origin. It is said that the god Brahma created a new form of literature by taking from the Rgveda the element of recitation, from the Samaveda song, from the Yajurveda the mimetic art and from the Atharvaveda sentiment; then he bade Visvakarman, the divine architect, build a play-house in which the sage Bharata was instructed to carry into practice the art thus created.
Anyway, in tracing the development of the drama, Prof. Keith, in this work, has laid stress only on the great writers and on dramatists who wrote before the end of the first millennium. of later works he has selected few typical specimens for description.
The book treats the subject in four parts, viz. The Origin of the Sanskrit Drama, The Development of the Sanskrit Drama, Dramatic Theory and Dramatic Practice spread over fourteen chapters.
Arthur Berriedale Keith (5 April 1879 – 6 October 1944) was a Scottish constitutional lawyer, a scholar of Sanskrit and an Indologist. He became Regius Professor of Sanskrit and Comparative Philology and Lecturer on the Constitution of the British Empire at the University of Edinburgh. He served in this role from 1914 to 1944.
Arthur Berriedale Keith was born in Edinburgh, the fourth child and third son of Davidson Keith (1842–1921), an advertising agent, and Margaret Stobie Keith, née Drysdale (1851–1911). All his five siblings were associated with the British Empire in Burma and India: Sir William John Keith KCSI, ICS, was acting governor of Burma in 1925, Steuart Keith (died 1925) was a session judge in Burma, Alan Davidson Keith (died 1928) was a barrister in Burma. Both of his sisters married British expatriates in the region.
Keith was educated at the Royal High School, Edinburgh, the University of Edinburgh (MA 1897; DLitt 1914), and Balliol College, Oxford (BA 1900; BCL 1905; DCL 1911). At Oxford, he took Firsts in firsts in classical moderations (1899), in Sanskrit and Pali (1900), and in literae humaniores (1901). He was called to the bar by the Inner Temple in 1904 and became a member of the Faculty of Advocates in 1921.
He joined the Colonial Office as a clerk in 1901, having ranked first in the Home and Indian civil service examinations; he was said to have received the highest marks ever. He remained in the department until 1914, except for a period with the Crown Agents from 1903 to 1905. From 1912 to 1914 he was private secretary to the permanent under-secretary, Sir John Anderson.
In 1914, he became Regius Professor of Sanskrit and Comparative Philology at the University of Edinburgh. In 1927 he additionally became Lecturer on the Constitution of the British Empire.
Keith was awarded an honorary LLD from the University of Leeds in 1936. He was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 1935 but resigned in 1939.
He is buried in Grange Cemetery in Edinburgh with his wife, Margaret Balfour Allan (died 1934). The grave lies on the south side of the central vaults, adjacent to the central archway through the vaults.