The Vital Lie is the first book to examine the reality-illusion conflict in modern drama from Ibsen to present-day playwrights. The book questions why vital lies, lies necessary for life itself, are such an obsessive concern for playwrights of the last hundred years. Using the work of fifteen playwrights, Abbott seeks to discover if modern playwrights treat illusions as helpful or necessary to life, or as signals of sicknesses from which human beings need to be cured. What happens to characters when they are forced to face the truth about themselves and their worlds without the protection of their illusions? The author develops a three-part historical analysis of the use of the reality-illusion theme, from its origins as a metaphysical search to its current elaborations as a theatrical game.