History of Western Theatre: 17th Century to Now/English Pre-WWII or Edwardian
The Edwardian drama refers to the reign of King Edward VII (1901-1910). The realistic mode prevalent at the end of the past century prevailed at the start of the 20th.
"The tendency of modern dramatic art is now to make the characters and the emotional and moral significance of the situations the most important elements, and to reduce the plot to a minimum. The characters in consequence are not merely presented during the early scenes, but go on developing till the end of the play, so that the spectator may have to alter his first impressions. In consequence, the faculty upon which the modern play tends to rely more and more in the spectator is no longer the power of following the indications of a complex story, but of seizing and remembering shades of character and emotion; and the spectator's pleasure depends now not so much on being unable to guess what is going to happen next as in being able to recognize that what does happen next is true and interesting" (MacCarthy, 1907 p 18-19). “The drama of today, through the influences of modern science, of contemporary democracy, of shifting moral values, of the critical rather than the worshipful attitude toward life, of an irresistible thrust toward increased naturalism and greater veracity, has become bourgeois, dealing with the world of every day; comic, verging upon the tearful, or serious, trenching upon the tragic; unheroic, suburban, and almost prosaic, yet intensely interesting by reason of its sincerity and its humanity; essentially critical in tone, proving all things, holding fast that which is good” (Henderson, 1914 p 309).
"Until the modern period, great drama has possessed not only those deeper and subtler qualities which reveal themselves to the careful analyst and which constitute its greatness, it has also possessed more generally available qualities. It has appealed on different levels. It has appealed to the connoisseur and the amateur, the critic and the public. It has functioned as mere entertainment for some and as the highest art for others. A great deal of modern art, however, including drama, does not possess this double appeal. It appeals only to those who can discern high art, just as modern entertainment frequently appeals only to those who are satisfied with mere entertainment. Scandalized, our spiritual doctors call on the entertainers to be artistic or on the artists to be entertaining. The one class is censured as low-brow, the other as high-brow. Whatever the proposed solution, wherever the blame is to be placed, the facts themselves are inexorable. A peculiar, problematic, and perhaps revolutionary situation exists. Art and commodity have become direct antagonists" (Bentley, 1955 p xv).
George Bernard Shaw[edit | edit source]
The Irish-born playwright, George Bernard Shaw (1854-1950), continued work from the previous century by becoming one of the major dramatists prior to World War II (1939-1945), whose best-loved plays include "Mrs Warren's profession" (1902, first written in 1893), "Man and superman" (1903), "Major Barbara" (1905), "Pygmalion" (1912), and "Heartbreak House" (1919).
Early critics were offended by the theme of “Mrs Warren’s profession”. Chesterton (1914) explained that the play "is concerned with a coarse mother and a cold daughter; the mother drives the ordinary and dirty trade of harlotry; the daughter does not know until the end the atrocious origin of all her own comfort and refinement. The daughter, when the discovery is made, freezes up into an iceberg of contempt; which is indeed a very womanly thing to do. The mother explodes into pulverising cynicism and practicality; which is also very womanly. The dialogue is drastic and sweeping; the daughter says the trade is loathsome, the mother answers that she loathes it herself; that every healthy person does loathe the trade by which she lives. And beyond question the general effect of the play is that the trade is loathsome; supposing anyone to be so insensible as to require to be told of the fact. Undoubtedly the upshot is that a brothel is a miserable business, and a brothel-keeper a miserable woman. The whole dramatic art of Shaw is in the literal sense of the word, tragi-comic; I mean that the comic part comes after the tragedy" (pp 137-138). For his part, Grein (1902) refused to allow the subject of prostitution in a rational discussion. “The case of Mrs Warren has been invented with such ingenuity and surrounded by such impossibilities that it produces revolt instead of reasoning. For Mr Shaw has made the great mistake of tainting all the male characters with a streak of a demoralized tar brush; he has created a coldblooded, almost sexless daughter as the sympathetic element and he has built the unspeakable Mrs Warren of such motley material that in our own mind pity and disgust for the woman are constantly at loggerheads. If the theme was worth treating at all the human conflict was the tragedy of the daughter through the infamy of the mother. Instead of that we get long arguments- spiced with platform oratory and invective- between a mother really utterly degraded, but here and there whitewashed with sentimental effusions, and a daughter so un-English in her knowledge of the world, so cold of heart, and 'beyond human power' in reasoning that we end by hating both; the one who deserves it, as well as the other who is a victim of circumstances. Thus there are false notes all the time, and apart from a passing interest in a few scenes, saved by the author's cleverness, the play causes only pain and bewilderment, while it should have shaken our soul to its innermost chords” (pp 294-295). Likewise, Henderson (1914) complained that “driven by his ineradicable sense of the ridiculous, Shaw has greatly weakened the play's effect by shattering unity of impression through the gruesome, cynical levity of Frank” (p 81). In contrast, Duffin (1939) loved Frank. "Regarded from a distance, the play appears as a setting for the three scenes: between Frank and Vivie: the babes in the wood, in the middle of Act III; the disclosure of the relationship, at the end of Act III; and Vivie’s renunciation in Act IV- with the scenes between Vivie and Mrs Warren as lower lights. As a reason for Vivie’s repudiation of her mother’s money, any other disgraceful way of getting rich would have served; but the fact that Mrs Warren is a leader in this special business makes possible also the most interesting psycho- logical problem of the play- the brother-and-sister-lover relationship. The situation is handled with such skill and sympathy by Shaw- mainly through the exquisite creation of Frank Gardner, who is among the most wonderful of Shaw’s young men- that it not only escapes all taint of unpleasantness, but actually becomes one of those gracious loves that are uncharacteristic of Shaw. Frank is not affected by the conventional idea of a necessary repulsion- he feels nothing of the sort, and does not trouble about what he ought to feel. His attempt to throw doubt on the facts of their relationship, as stated by Crofts, is undertaken merely for Vivie’s sake. She, too, declares she is unaffected by the revelation, though her denial is inconsistent with the despair and disgust she evinces when it is made, in contrast to Frank’s magnificent acceptance, which is, however, I suppose, only a romantic gesture in face of Vivie’s realistic grasp of the situation. The idyll flickers out abruptly, but its three brief scenes leave much that is beautiful upon the memory” (p 67). “Vivie is...offered 4 choices: Frank (romantic love), Praed (escape from reality into art through aestheticism), Mrs Warren (sentimental attachment to mother no matter what the mother does), and Sir George Crofts (co-opting within an evil system for the sake of money)...Vivie’s decision to join the law-firm of Honoria Fraser is neither cynical nor misanthropic. She simply makes the wisest and most mature choice available to her, a choice clearly superior to the other four” (Abbott, 1989 p 47). “Vivie, who began by reproaching her mother for her way of life, becomes gradually impressed by her energy and ability, and touched by the sacrifices she has made for her. But when she learns that her mother is still continuing to follow the same profession, her mood changes and in the final scene they face each other as enemies...Vivie...tells her that at heart she is a conventional woman, and that is why she is leaving her...What spoils this powerful drama is above all its tone, which is too light for the subject with which it is dealing” (Lamm, 1952 pp 260-261). Gassner (1954a) admitted that "Mrs Warren's Profession releases a powerful barrage, its larger purpose being defined by Shaw in his 1898 Preface with customary precision: 'I believe that any society which desires to found itself on a high standard of integrity of character in its units should organize itself in such a fashion as to make it possible for all men and all women to maintain themselves in reasonable comfort by their industry without selling their affections and their convictions'" but yet the critic moaned about the "dubious artistry of the piece; once Mrs Warren has made her forceful confession to her daughter, the action is whipped up into hopelessly thin lather concerning Vivie Warren's decisions respecting her own life, and despite affirmations of feminine independence (the New Woman!) she becomes a tiresome and chilly subject" (p 602). Likewise, Agate (1926) wrote that "there is one great flaw in the piece, which time has not altered, and that is the nature of Mrs Warren’s crime. To sin in one’s own person is one thing, to traffic in sin is another The woman’s case is too thin here, and the statement that her creatures were happier than the average barmaid or the average wife of a Deptford labourer is simply not true. Mrs Warren herself is drawn in the round, the rest of the characters are mere intellectual abstractions. Vivie, in so far as she is alive at all, is a prig, Crofts is a sawdust monster, Frank is very little removed from a scatter-brain, and the clergyman and the artist are just not anything at all" (p 233). In contrast to those critics, Mair and Ward (1939) felt that the play "made a brave and plain-spoken attempt to drag the public face to face with the nauseous realities of prostitution" (p 205). Archer (1899) felt that "the character of Mrs Warren is superb, the indictment of the economic conditions which beget Mrs Warren's and their bondwomen is thrilling and crushing, and the technique is throughout admirable, especially in the natural yet intensely dramatic manipulation of the great scenes. There are speeches whose irony takes you by the throat, both in the scene in which Mrs Warren expounds to her Girton-bred daughter the nature of her profession, and that in which Sir George Crofts, Mrs Warren's partner, in the private hotels which she manages, amplifies the mother's revelations. The former scene, to be sure, would be far more poignant if Vivie were a human girl instead of Mr Shaw's patent, imperturbable Girtonian paragon; but in that case it would be too painful for endurance. The scene with Crofts, on the other hand, gets its point from Vivie's intellectual competence...Much as I dislike and shrink from certain passages between Frank and Vivie, I have no hesitation in saying that Mrs Warren's Profession is not only intellectually but dramatically one of the very ablest plays of our time" (pp 9-10). “The characters in Mrs Warren's Profession are wonderfully well drawn, especially Mrs Warren, who is, as the author describes her, a disreputable old blackguard of a woman, but all the same she is alive and intensely interesting. But disreputable folk sometimes make better parents than the most respectable, when they make up their minds to it. They know their faults so well that they can keep them in the background. Both Frank and Vivian...are instances of their parents’ success in this respect. Mrs Warren's men friends are of the kind one might expect; at the same time they are the pick of her basket. Some may regard it as questionable taste on the author's part to have made the father of Frank a clergyman, but nature is no respecter of persons or parsons, and the author of such a play as Mrs Warren's Profession is scarcely the man to pander to superstition” (Armstrong, 1913 p 254). "There is a conflict between Mrs Warren, the well-balanced woman of business, reasonable, tenacious, active, hard-working, and ambitious, but a sentimentalist who has lived one kind of life while dreaming of another and Vivie, the true daughter of the mother, likewise well-balanced, reasonable, tenacious, active, hard-working, and ambitious, but stronger willed, positive, and realist, wishing to live a real life. There is a conflict between Vivie and Crofts, an elderly sensualist, still robust, maintaining the veneer of respectability, attracted by Vivie's youth and vigorous beauty. There is the conflict between Vivie and Frank, positive-minded but an idler, who wants a practical, sensible, and well-to-do woman for his wife, to enable him to continue his enjoyments as a gamester and a sportsman. There is the conflict between Frank and his father, the Rev Samuel, who is authoritative, irritable, and weak-willed—in fine, somewhat ridiculous, and really under his son's influence...All these conflicts taken together manifest to us also a general conflict, that between capitalist society and a moral ideal altogether different from traditional morality, one which finds no overt expression, but which is felt to exist all through the play, to which it gives a high moralizing value"(Hamon, 1916 pp 169-170). The play's "strength proceeds from the depth displayed in the consideration of the motives which prompt to action, the intellectual and emotional crises eventuating from the fierce clash of personalities and the sardonically unconscious self-scourging of the characters themselves...The tremendous dramatic power of the specious logic with which Mrs Warren defends her course; the sardonic irony of the parting between mother and daughter!...Devastating in its consummate irony is the passage in which Mrs Warren, conventional to her heart's core, lauds her own respectability; and that in which Crofts propounds his own code of honour...Mrs Warren's Profession is not only what Brunetière would call a work of combat: it is an act of declared hostility against capitalistic society, the inertia of public opinion, the lethargy of the public conscience, and the criminality of a social order which begets such appalling social conditions. Into this play Shaw has poured all his socialistic passion for a more just and humane social order" (Henderson, 1911 pp 306-307). "Mrs Warren’s Profession reads blazingly well today, mainly through its excellent construction (it is, in its revelations, closer than many plays Shaw wrote to the well-made play) and its character-drawing. Vivie, the matter-of-fact, scholastic, “new woman” daughter, is a genuine study (Shaw admitted her smoking was based on that of the real life person on whom she was modeled) and her difference from her mother, in natural temperament, education and outlook, provides the living human conflict of the play and keeps it strongly alive. Mrs Warren herself is depicted as coarse yet full of the feeling Vivie lacks. It is the kind of feeling, fairly shallow, by which Shaw does not set great store, but nevertheless portrays with compassion and skill. It is a clever and believable study and every scene in which Mrs Warren appears has a flesh-and-blood reality" (Williamson, 1916 p 112). Goldman (1914) also appreciated the mother-daughter conflict and also the irony in comparing Mrs Warren's fate with her sister's: "no, it is not respectable to talk about these things, because respectability cannot face the truth. Yet everybody knows that the majority of women, 'if they wish to provide for themselves decently, must be good to some man that can afford to be good to them.' The only difference then between Sister Liz, the respectable girl, and Mrs Warren, is hypocrisy and legal sanction. Sister Liz uses her money to buy back her reputation from the church and society. The respectable girl uses the sanction of the church to buy a decent income legitimately, and Mrs Warren plays her game without the sanction of either. Hence she is the greatest criminal in the eyes of the world. Yet Mrs Warren is no less human than most other women. In fact, as far as her love for her daughter Vivian is concerned, she is a superior sort of mother. That her daughter may not have to face the same alternative as she,- slave in a scullery for four shillings a week- Mrs Warren surrounds the girl with comfort and ease, gives her an education, and thereby establishes between her child and herself an abyss which nothing can bridge. Few respectable mothers would do as much for their daughters. However, Mrs Warren remains the outcast, while all those who benefit by her profession, including even her daughter Vivian, move in the best circles" (pp 182-183).
"Man and Superman" "retains its popularity as a comedy embodying humanity’s favorite theme for entertainment, the making of marriages by female will against the natural masculine instinct to escape the chains of a single, responsible relationship...Ann, for all the charm any actress can give her, is not an attractive creation, and close to satire in Shaw’s use of her uncomprisingly as a symbol of Victorian hypocrisy and a representative of feminine ruthlessness in sexual pursuit. If she showed the slightest interest in Tanner mentally, or appreciation of his work and its cost to him (for all work of his kind is costly in energy and mental peace), we might warm to her more; but actually Shaw is psychologically not unshrewd here, for frequently enough this is the kind of woman men of intelligence are basically attracted by, yield to, marry, and in a remarkable number of cases remain faithful to, even though they may sometimes secretly regret some deeper lack in the relationship. It is, of course, sex triumphant, a fact of life Shaw, despite his instinctive revulsion, was honest enough to recognize as overriding in action" (Williamson, 1916 pp 132-133). “The artistic effect of 'Man and Superman' is like that of Voltaire’s ‘Candide’, where a fundamentally serious point of view is expressed in a playful and improbable tale...Tanner is an extravert, a man entirely absorbed in his activities...an intellectual...and that is why in the end he becomes the helpless prey of Ann in her lust for marriage...He throws out bold truths, but with an undertone of skepticism” (Lamm, 1952 pp 272-273). “The joke on Tanner...is that all the time he is theorizing about the life force, he is being ensnared by it” (Brustein, 1964 p 219). "Tanner’s love of Ann is a sideline to his surrendering liberty as any philosopher should, for the purpose of perhaps breeding the first Nietzschean superman. Male critics often resent Ann Whitefield as an instance of the calculating woman, sometimes as a cold-blooded liar and hypocrite (Hobson, 1953, p 149). “The real artist-creator, according to Shaw, is a match for any woman bent on creating in her own more physical way...because, like her, he has a purpose. John Tanner is a talker rather than a creator, and is, therefore, quite properly captured by Ann” (Gassner, 1954b p 158). According to MacCarthy (1907), Shaw "set out purposely to write a play in which sexual attraction should be the main interest; but in his other plays also he has always made the nature of the attraction between his characters quite clear. What is remarkable about the scenes in which this is done, is the extent to which sexual passion is isolated from all other sentiments and emotions. His lovers, instead of using the language of admiration and affection, in which this passion is so often cloaked, simply convey by their words the kind of mental tumult they are in. Sexual attraction is stripped bare of all the accessories of poetry and sympathy" (p 57). "Shaw adheres first to the principle that comedy must have a fixed vantage-point, though he transforms it to suit his own purpose. He retains, too, the prerogatives and tricks of comedy, without, however, the necessity of being chained to them. He also keeps to stock types for comic purposes, but his new social philosophy gives him a new set of types. Even in incidentals he can follow well-worn grooves of the art; the Straker-Tanner relationship in 'Man and Superman' rests on the conventional master-valet set-up, given completely new vitality from the new social background" (Peacock, 1946 p 77). “Shaw’s writing was not hobbled, as Galsworthy’s was, by the self-imposed naturalistic requirement of copying the speech of floundering characters” (Gassner, 1956 p 43). In the play, "we have Violet, a practical-minded young woman, secretly married to Hector Malone, American, whose father, a multi-millionaire, is, like all the fathers in Shaw's plays, dictatorial, testy, and in the end submissive. We have Roebuck Ramsden, Ann's guardian, an elderly Radical, rather absurd with his superannuated and romantic notions, cutting a melancholy figure beside the triumphant young people of advanced ideas, represented by Ann, Tanner, Violet, and Hector. We have Miss Ramsden, Roebuck Ramsden's sister, also testy arid full of conventions. Finally, we have Octavius, poet arid lover, scorned and made a mock of by Ann, who loves Tanner, desires him, and takes him; but this defeat of Octavius the lover is the triumph of Octavius the poet, just as the defeat of Eugene the lover in 'Candida' (1898) is the triumph of Eugene the poet" (Hamon, 1916 p 181).
"Major Barbara" "revealed the master of social comedy, even if it marked no advance in content over 'Widower’s houses' (1893) with its point that tainted money is so widespread that it cannot be escaped anywhere. In a corrupted social order, everything is defiled by the same pitch, and there is no chance for individual salvation except in the cleansing of society. Cheap and easy philanthropy is as effective as painting cancer with mercurochrome. Major Barbara of the Salvation Army approaches this conclusion when she discovers that her benevolent organization receives money from distillers and munitions-makers like her father— in other words, from the very industries that produce more evil than a thousand Salvation Armies can ever cancel. Sufficiently honest to recognize a truth when she meets it, unhappy Barbara Undershaft cries out: 'My God, why hast Thou forsaken me?' and takes off her uniform. If the play marks an improvement over Shaw’s first drama, this is because Barbara is an affecting person and because the munitions-maker Andrew Undershaft is a superb character" (Gassner, 1954a pp 607-608). Shaw “can indict British capitalism and yet make the hero of his indictment an arch-capitalist like Undershaft. This is the secret of comic genius, and, at the heart of it, is common sense so resolutely pursued that it becomes startlingly uncommon sense” (Gassner, 1954b p 141). Shaw’s “first act is one of the masterpieces of drawing-room comedy. Lady Britomart, whose name from an obscure Greek divinity naturalized into English by Edmund Spenser so trenchantly combines Britannia with a martinet, is, though an estranged, a strongly compatible wife for Undershaft. And indeed, Shaw, his evolutionist’s eye on heredity, points out that Barbara is her mother’s daughter and Sarah her father’s, though in both cases against the obvious grain. It was, however, pointedly in honour of her father’s trade that Shaw chose to call Barbara Barbara. St Barbara is the patron saint of gunners. The Undershaft marriage is the uneasy but effective alliance of capitalism and the Whig aristocracy that governed the British empire” (Brophy, 1987 p 95). “Undershaft, the arms dealer, built up as a stock sinister capitalist before his entrance, proves mild, sensitive, willing to listen to everyone...Barbara’s ‘My God, my God, why has Thou forsaken me?’ is convincingly in character...[since a] Christian...facing a spiritual crisis should echo the words most familiar to her” (Chothia, 1996 pp 161-163). "Barbara’s own realization that the helping of the poor through religious channels only scrapes the surface of the problem, and there is better work for her here in her father’s factory community, in which there is every material consideration and no spiritual fulfillment. But the decision is not arrived at without bitterness, any more than Barbara’s decision to leave the Salvation Army rather than to join them in accepting the bribe of the manufacturer of the whiskey which destroys their battle to revive human dignity....What matters theatrically is that this third act of Major Barbara- like that other long discussion scene between Warwick, Cauchon and de Stogumber in Saint Joan- has such argumentative force and wit that it habitually holds its audience’s rapt attention and therefore entertains it, in the best sense of the word, no less completely than if the dramatist were indulging in popular melodramatics. This, perhaps, has been Shaw’s greatest gift to the theatre of our time. To make an audience listen, think, and actually enjoy listening and thinking, was no mean feat after four hundred years of stage concentration on conventions far removed from thought or the real business of daily life. The gap between the literary worlds of the novel and the theatre has never been so wide since" (Williamson, 1916 pp 141-142). "Barbara Undershaft finds that the authorities of the Salvation Army are content to accept contributions from a distiller whose trade is one of the most powerful influences which they have to combat. This realization brings her world crashing about her ears; she at first feels that there is nothing left to live for. But this is only the peripeteia; as usual it is to provide a solution. Not only does this overthrow or recoil give the logical victory to her father's opposing point of view far more than that, as soon as she grows calm she discovers that her real life-work, which she had supposed inextricable from her allegiance to the Salvation Army- the work, that is, of organizing social sanity and happiness—is not in fact dependent upon that allegiance, but can survive it she goes on to perform the same task amid new surroundings" (Norwood, 1921 p 179). For Goldman (1914), the play "points to the fact that while charity and religion are supposed to minister to the poor, both institutions derive their main revenue from the poor by the perpetuation of the evils both pretend to fight. It is inevitable that the Salvation Army, like all other religious and charitable institutions, should by its very character foster cowardice and hypocrisy as a premium securing entry into heaven" (pp 186-188). In writing "Major Barbara", Shaw "is stimulating in his criticism of certain tendencies in modern philanthropy, and consistent with his own individualistic philosophy in declaiming against all who make a virtue of poverty, starvation, and humility. He announces his preference for the avowed egoism of Undershaft as opposed to the masked egoism of the converters and the converted. Yet, while proposing Undershaft as a fair example of the philanthropic captain of industry, Shaw jibes at those who would accept his benefactions and condemn, in secret, his morality" (Chandler, 1914, p 348). When Snobby Price declares: 'I'm fly enough to know wots inside the law and wots outside it; and inside it I do as the capitalists do: pinch wot I can lay me ands on. In a proper state of society I am sober, industrious and honest: in Rome, so to speak, I do as the Romans do,' Jones (1962) agreed that ”only when men are safe enough from poverty and insecurity can they afford to consider questions of morality at all” (p 67). Although Williams (1965) stated that "the emotional inadequacy of [Shaw's] plays denies him major status" (p 152), this notion is disputed. For example, in the Salvation Army scene, “the conflict of soul between Barbara and Bill is described with such sincerity that even deeply religious people have been carried away” (Lamm, 1952 p 276-277). “The appearance of the drum marks the high point of Barbara’s power as a salvanionist. The drum...catches the comedy and the seriousness of Adolphus Cusins’ devotion to Barbara and to the vital force he honors in her and in all the religions he collects. He and Barbara kiss over the drum” (Goldman, 1986 p 107), a sympathetically funny moment of discovery, at least for a 1905 audience, because the gesture can only be done with their having kissed several times before. “There is a brilliant parody of a ‘cognitio’ at the end of ‘Major Barbara’ (the fact that the hero of this play is a professor of Greek perhaps indicates an unusual affinity to the conventions of Euripides and Menander), where Undershaft is enabled to break the rule that he cannot appoint his son-in-law as successor by the fact that the son-in-law's own father married his deceased wife's sister in Australia, so that the son-in-law is his own first cousin as well as himself. It sounds complicated, but the plots of comedy often are complicated because there is something inherently absurd about complications. As the main character interest in comedy is so often focussed on the defeated characters, comedy regularly illustrates a victory of arbitrary plot over consistency of character” (Frye, 1957 p 170). "Shaw, unlike Tolstoy, is both destructive and constructive. Even by the aid of the Mammon of Unrighteousness in the person of Undershaft, his mind is vigilant and alert to point the way to better things. For when Barbara visits her father’s munition works, expecting to see a group of noisome and pestilential factories surrounded by workmen’s and labourers’ hovels and slum buildings, she finds instead clean, spick-and-span, well-lighted buildings, to which is attached a garden city with all the amenities of civilization- public library, an art gallery, a concert hall, a theatre, public and private gardens, playgrounds, baths, clubs, co-operative associations, and all that helps to make life healthy, decent, and liveable" (Balmforth, 1928 p 37). "Shaw summarizes his constructive remedies for the situation at the end of the preface to Major Barbara. They are: a just distribution of property, a humane treatment of criminals, and the return of religious creeds to intellectual honesty. These three ideals may perhaps be realized when men in an influential position adopt a platform as broad and firm as Andrew Undershaft’s true faith of an armorer. Society cannot be saved until, as Undershaft paraphrases Plato, 'the Professors of Greek take to making gunpowder or else the makers of gunpowder become professors of Greek,' and until the Major Barbaras who yearn vaguely after righteousness make up their minds to die with the colors of a faith securely founded on scientific accuracy. The power obtained through fighting may become a cult and sweep away with it the petty insecurity of halfway measures, taking with it all sense of safety and security for the average well-meaning but timid citizen of the upper middle class" (Perry, 1939 p 384).
Of “Pygmalion”, Bentley (1947) wrote that “in the original romance, so lyrically revived by Shaw's friend William Morris, Pygmalion marries Galatea. Might not something of the kind be possible for Shaw, since Pygmalion is a life-giver, a symbol of vitality, since in Eliza the crime of poverty has been overcome, the sin of ignorance cancelled? Or might not Higgins and Eliza be the 'artist man' and 'mother woman' discussed in 'Man and superman'? They might if Shaw actually went to work so allegorically, so abstractly, so idealistically. Actually Pygmalion: a romance stands related to romance precisely as "The devil’s disciple' stands to melodrama or 'Candida' to domestic drama. It is a serious parody, a translation into the language of 'natural history'. The primary inversion is that of Pygmalion's character. The Pygmalion of romance turns a statue into a human being. The Pygmalion of 'natural history' tries to turn a human being into a statue, tries to make of Eliza Doolittle a mechanical doll in the role of a duchess. Or rather he tries to make from one kind of doll a flower girl who cannot afford the luxury of being human another kind of doll, a duchess to whom manners are an adequate substitute for morals...If the first stage of Higgins' experiment was reached when Eliza made her faux pas before Mrs Higgins' friends, and the second when she appeared in triumph at the ball, Shaw, who does not believe in endings, sees her through two more stages in the final acts of his play, leaving her still very much in flux at the end. The third stage is rebellion. Eliza's feelings are wounded because, after the reception, Higgins does not treat her kindly, but talks of her as a guinea pig. Eliza has acquired finer feelings...The play ends with Higgins' knowingly declaring that Eliza is about to do his shopping for him despite her protestations to the contrary: a statement which actors and critics often take to mean that the pair are a Benedick and Beatrice who will marry in the end. One need not quote Shaw's own sequel to prove the contrary. The whole point of the great culminating scene is that Eliza has now become not only a person but an independent person” (pp 120-123). “It is [Higgins] who would need the intercession of a deity to be turned from marble to man” (Freedman, 1967 p 49). “England in the early decades of the 20th century was obsessed by the matter of class status, by the gradations of the rigid social structure...Shaw observes in ‘Pygmalion’ that the right accent together with the right clothes could carry the day...that class distinctions lose their force when a decent education can transform a street vendor into a ‘duchess’, that education made available to all those with the intellectual means of profiting from it would eliminate the outworn concepts of caste and class” (Goldstone, 1969 p 17). "'Pygmalion' is a study in the transference of an individual from one social class to another. Shaw argues that, since the capacity of speech is one of the most divine of human attributes, a person who can change the sounds made by another’s voice alters at the same time the soul to which the voice gives expression; also that a person who changes the economic status of another individual is responsible for changing his mentality. Shaw makes the latter point by introducing into Pygmalion the picturesque subsidiary character of Eliza’s father, one of the 'undeserving poor'. In his unregenerate state, he prefers not to have too much money, for fear he might acquire the damning virtue of prudence. Later, when Higgins has been accidentally instrumental in procuring £3000 a year for him, Doolittle has to adopt middle-class morality and marry the 'missus', who would not tie herself up to him for life when he was poor. Doolittle appears only twice in the play, once in each of his economic incarnations" (Perry, 1939 p 389). "Shaw chuckled over the success of his play, writing that 'it is so intensely and deliberately didactic, and its subject so dry, that I delight in throwing it at the heads of the wiseacres who repeat the parrot cry that art should never be didactic. It goes to prove my contention that art should never be anything else.' He might have noted, however, that the didacticism was largely imbedded in the Dickensian characterization of that proletarian philosopher Doolittle and in his daughter Eliza herself when she emerges in her Pygmalion's studio not only as a pseudo-duchess but as a living woman. In fact, this Galatea becomes so completely alive that she disturbs the scientific equanimity of her sculptor, who is himself a vivid personality despite the mother-fixation that deprives Higgins of the conventional qualification of sexual passion" (Gassner, 1954 p 609). In the myth, Pygmalion gives Galatea life without mating; so Henry. In some respect, he has given life to her, but Eliza’s complaint is that such a life is useless to her.
Lewisohn (1922) described "Heartbreak house" as "softer in tone than many of Shaw's plays; it is, for him, extraordinarily symbolistic in fable and structure...He saw a society divided between 'barbarism and Capua' in which 'power and culture were in separate compartments'. 'Are we,' asks the half-mythical Captain Shotover, 'are we to be kept forever in the mud by these hogs to whom the universe is nothing but a machine for greasing their bristles and filling their snouts?' His children and their friends played at love and art and even at theories of social reconstruction. Meanwhile the ship of state drifted. 'The captain is in his bunk,' Shotover declares further on, 'drinking bottled ditch-water, and the crew is gambling in the forecastle'...In the result of the symbolical air-raid he sounds a note of fine and lasting hope. The two burglars, the two practical men of business are blown to atoms. So is the parsonage. 'The poor clergyman will have to get a new house'. There is left the patient idealist who pities the poor fellows in the Zeppelin because they are driven toward death by the same evil forces; there are left those among the loiterers in Heartbreak House who are capable of a purging experience and a revolution of the soul" (pp 160-161). "The immediate result of the air raid is the death of two practical men, a burglar who acts like a man of affairs and a man of affairs who acts like a burglar. These two men have interchanged functions and between them exhibit all the characteristics of predatory capitalistic finance. The relations between Boss Mangan, the employer, and Mazzini Dunn, his employee, an earnest, incompetent 'soldier of freedom', are like those existing between organized industry and the spirit of noble optimism, which had at first hoped to be the master, not the slave, in its partnership with big business. This analogy is further carried out by Mangan's desire to marry Dunn’s daughter, Ellie, brought up by her father in financial poverty, but endowed with rich spiritual possessions in the knowledge of Shakespeare"(Perry, 1939 pp 391-392). "The greatness of this play, for all its incidental coldnesses and cruelties and comic intrusions, is its oldest inhabitant, Captain Shotover, a figure rough-hewn out of his own poop like a figurehead on the prow of a ship, a King Lear without the tragedy (though certainly with hints of pathos) and still in spite of his calculated senile absent-mindedness in full command of his kingdom and his daughters. He is a prophet thundering in navigational terms of Britain’s danger, but much more than that a prophet of war through the ages, now coming like a messenger of death, on wing, to destroy mankind...At the heart is human disillusion- the disillusion of love which finds its hardness in rebuilding a life without it, and its wisdom and resignation from the aged who have experienced all things, as Ellie does from Shotover. But there is valiancy, too, in the face of the bombs that suggests at the last the human will to survive, the life force still not spent. And in this the old Shaw thunders beneath the iridescent lightning of the future. It is his work of purest imagination, in character and vision and therefore his nearest to poetry, the highest expression of genius. By it he lives on, dispelling wisdom and warning into the future. For this is a lion of a play, with a roar to waken the sleeping conscience of every generation" (Williamson, 1916 pp 172-173). It is "a magnificent comedy of humors and a powerful symbol wrapped in whimsy. Captain Shotover’s house is a Noah’s ark where the characters gather before the flood. They and the classes they represent have been making a hopeless muddle of both society and themselves. The only half-rational Hector Hushabye and his wife display the futility of the upper classes; a British aristocrat exemplifies the bankruptcy of Britain’s rulers; the capitalist Mangan represents the predatory force of Mammon. All are equally blind to the wrath of God and to the storm they have been raising unknowingly. The innocents are helpless or they must compromise like the hard-headed poor girl who is willing to marry the capitalist for his money, and the one knowing person among them, Captain Shotover, has taken refuge in eccentricity. Then the storm breaks loose and death comes raining from the skies in an air raid. The despair in the play is manifest, for Shaw’s pity and moral earnestness did not decrease with age; the harlequinade of Heartbreak House is a Dance of Death. Still, Shaw the Fabian and one-time agitator was loath to renounce all expectation of salvation through a new order. Hope was implicit in the death of the thieves of the play who are blown to pieces by the bombardment; did not many socialists believe that predatory capitalism was finished by the war just as the capitalist Mangan was finished by a bomb! Amid the wreckage Shaw’s remaining characters try to pull themselves together. The call for courage is sounded resonantly with Shaw’s customary eloquence, as is the call for action when the antagonists of society’s malefactors declare 'we must win powers of life and death over them...They believe in themselves. When we believe in ourselves, we shall kill them'" (Gassner, 1954s p 611). Bentley (1947) pointed out that “we never learn what happens to the disillusioned antagonists of such plays as 'Candida' in which Morell is at the end crushed and speechless. In 'Heartbreak house', however, we are not allowed to remain in doubt. Ellie's peace of mind is not lasting, for she finds that ‘there seems to be nothing real in the world except my father and Shakespeare. Marcus's tigers are false; Mr Mangan's millions are false; there is nothing really strong and true about Hesione but her beautiful black hair; and Lady Utterword's is too pretty to be real. The one thing that was left to me was the Captain's seventh degree of concentration; and that turns out to be’: 'Rum,' says the captain, while Hesione confesses that her hair is dyed. The play ends with an air raid that is fatal to two members of the group. Hesione expresses the wish that the bombers will come again and Ellie, 'radiant at the prospect', cries 'Oh, I hope so!' She has been thrice disillusioned once in each act, by Hector, by Mangan, by Shotover and is, in a sense, back at the beginning again, in love with romance. Only the romance which now brings color into her life is that of a kind of warfare that threatens civilization...Ellie stumbles in disenchantment from romantic love, to 'marriage of convenience', to 'spiritual marriage', the latter gained by spirits (rum bottle) not the spirit...The story of Ellie Dunn, neatly arranged in three acts, could easily have made a personal play. But if in 'Heartbreak house' her story is the center of the action it is a center not very much more important than anything on the periphery. In the theme of the play it is the group that matters. Although the method is Chekhovian, Shaw's characters are not. Chekhov's people are felt, so to say, from the inside; they are creatures of feeling, never very far from the pathetic. Shaw's are closer to traditional puppets of comedy. They are more crudely representative of classes of men, more deliberately allegorical, than Chekhov's. Later, in 'The simpleton of the unexpected isles', Shaw would frankly state that four of his people simply represent Love, Pride, Heroism, and Empire. And it has been pointed out that the Shotover daughters and their men represent the same four forces: Hesione is Love, Ariadne is Empire, Randall Utterword is Pride, and Hector is Heroism. One might add that all the other characters 'stand for things', Mangan for business and realism, Shotover for aged intellect and that, in general, one of Shaw's worst tendencies is to create characters who have no function except to illustrate a point. The burglar episode, for instance, makes a point that is repeated in Shaw's great pamphlet imprisonment...'Heartbreak House' might be called The Nightmare of a Fabian. All Shaw's themes are in it. You might learn from it his teachings on love, religion, education, politics. But you are unlikely to do so, not only because the treatment is so brief and allusive but because the play is not an argument in their favor. It is a demonstration that they are all being disregarded or defeated. It is a picture of failure. The world belongs to the Mangans, the Utterwords, and the Hushabyes. In the world where these men wield the power stands the lonely figure of old Captain Shotover, the man of mind. What he is seeking is what Shaw has always been seeking, like Plato before him: a way of uniting wisdom and power. The Fabians had tried by 'permeation' to make the men of power wise. But the men of power preferred a world war to the world's wisdom. Shotover has given them up as hopeless. He is trying to attain power by means of mind. When he attains the 'seventh degree of concentration' he will be able to explode dynamite by mere thinking. 'A mind ray that will explode the ammunition in the belt of my adversary before he can point his gun at me' will implement thought with power" (pp 137-140).
Shaw “has widened the field and scope of the drama immensely. No other living writer has covered such an enormous area, or peopled it with such a wide variety of characters. To my sense, Mr. Shaw excels in that department more than any other present-day writer, and it is largely owing to his skill in this respect that he is able to be so extraordinarily interesting and fiercely entertaining. The way in which he says a thing is always excellent, even if the thing itself is not always sound. It always sounds sound, I admit” (Armstrong, 1913 p 320). Shaw "carries out the theory of the drama of ideas by making his play an attack upon some accepted opinion and carrying a dramatic opposition into the minds of his audience" (Moody and Lovett, 1930 pp 480-481). "Shaw’s greatest foes are sham idealism and sentimentality" (Wilson, 1937 p 242). “The seeds of Shaw's structural innovation, the discussion play, may be observed in nearly all the early works. The method of the well-made playwrights may be simply described as exposition-complication-denouement; one event leads to another until the original force has spent itself. But in the Shavian play, events exist only for the discussion they may provoke. The intellectual rather than the physical complication is the dramatist's main concern, and it is Shaw's distinction that he has made the conflict of ideas as exciting as any of Boucicault's last-minute rescues. The secret may lie in the fact that Shaw is no abstract philosopher, but one who sees ideas always as a part of human problems. The essence of Bernard Shaw is his wit, the quintessence is his humanity” (Downer, 1950 p 306). Different views have appeared regarding Shaw's dialogues. Despite possessing "an ability to make people think by making them laugh", "a kind of dramatic encyclopedism, to ridicule “persons and institutions on the principle of topsy-turvy", "a penetrating knowledge of theatrical effect", and "an Olympian indifference to conventional dramatic construction", some critics resent the author's voice in the plays, resembling "a marionette show where the master of the puppets talks all the time" (Reynolds, 1949, pp 131-132). "His amazing brilliance and fecundity of dialogue ought to have given him an immediate and lasting grip of the stage. There has probably never been a dramatist who could invest conversation with the same vivacity and point, the same combination of surprise and inevitableness that distinguishes his best work" (Mair and Ward, 1939 p 206).
"No other man of letters in England since the death of Shelley was so completely devoid of a sense of guilt” (Gassner, 1954b p 148). Shaw’s “treatment of human relations, particularly between the sexes, strikes the audiences today as arch and intellectualized...By the time he was forty, he had managed to fabricate for himself a philosophy that seemed to synthesize a majority of the major ideas of the 19th century and tie them together so that everything came out right in the end...He persuaded himself that the world was being nudged forward by a Bergsonian ‘élan vital’, or life force, toward a higher consciousness and a more just society. Our job as responsible Shavians was to plug into this force and translate it into action...Possibly, then, it is this fundamentally jaunty belief in human progress that has lately caused students and audiences to shrug him off...Yet maybe, like Dickens, Shaw is to be considered one of those writers who transcend their own limitations. Certainly we can find elements in many of his plays that seem to go against the grain and give him a surprising thickness and ambiguity” (Gurney, 2004 pp 196-197). "Shaw’s plays will last; that in a century from now, they will appear on the stage more frequently than they do to-day; but if not, it will be because of their modernity. The very reason for their interest and applicability may be the reason for their remaining on the shelves...But if they cease to attract audiences, it is incredible that they should cease to attract readers" (Phelps, 1921 p 98).
"What first strikes us in the Shavian theatre is, perhaps, the frequency of excited scenes, of explosive arguments, violent protestations, gesticulations and agitations. Apart from the frequency of abstract discussions and the vigour of the dialogue there would be nothing very strange in this excitement, were not the passions and emotions, so violently displayed, represented as being also startlingly brief. This emphasis upon brevity of emotions is very characteristic, and one cause of the charge of cynicism which is so often brought against him. The typical scene is one in which the characters are represented in violent states of moral indignation, rage, perplexity, mortification, infatuation, despair, which subside as suddenly as they rise. The Shavian hero is a man who does not take all this hubble-bubble for more than it is worth. He preserves an exasperating good humour through it, however energetic his retorts may be, because he reckons on human nature being moved, in the long run, only by a few fundamental considerations and instincts. The hostility which he excites does not therefore trouble him the least. He counts upon the phenomenon, ultimately working in his favor, that puzzles Tanner in himself when confronted with Ann; that is, upon the contradiction between moral judgments and instinctive likings and respect. Valentine is not dismayed by Gloria's disapproval, nor Bluntschli by Raina's contempt for his lack of conventionally soldier-like qualities; both are confident that the ultimate decisions of these ladies will depend on other things. Even Tanner soon finds himself on excellent terms with Roebuck Ramsden, who began by abusing him as an infamous fellow. But it is not only the fact that the confidence of the 'realists' is always justified in the plays, which emphasizes the instability of human emotions and judgments; it is one of the fundamental assumptions with regard to human nature which lie at the back of the plays themselves. It is one of the chief causes, too, why they are regarded as fantastic; for the normal instability of emotion has hitherto found very little reflection in literature or on the stage; vacillations, flaggings, changes of mind and inconsequences of thought having been generally confined to characters intended to be obviously weak. But Mr Shaw represents, quite truly, characters of considerable firmness in many respects as subject to them" (MacCarthy, 1907 pp 53-54).
"Mrs Warren's profession"[edit | edit source]
Time: 1900s. Place: England.
Vivie Warren, fresh from attending mathematic studies at Cambridge University, receives the visit of Praed, her mother's friend, followed by her mother along with her business-partner, Crofts, and then Vivie's friend, Frank, with his father, a rector at the local church. After being scolded for his spendthrift life by his father, Frank reminds him of his own youthful follies, including those of a sexual nature. The father is dismayed and embarrassed after finding out that Mrs Warren is Miss Vavasar, an old flame of his. Crofts has his eye on Vivie for no less than marriage, but so does Frank. Mrs Warren is compelled to explain to her daughter about her career, rising from a hotel servant to the manager of a brothel. Thinking that this refers to events of the faraway past, Vivie considers her mother "stronger than England" and shows pride at her accomplishments. The next morning, Vivie receives a marriage proposal from Crofts. Knowing the nature of his business affairs with her mother from the past and his type personnality, she unhesitatingly refuses. She then learns that the business relation between Crofts and her mother is ongoing. Angry at the refusal and smarting with jealousy towards the more favoured Frank, Crofts reveals to both that they are half-brother-and-sister. Sick of this atmosphere, Vivie suddenly leaves her mother's house to attempt earning a living on her own as an accountant. At her office, she receives the visit of Praed, intent on experiencing art in Italy, and also Frank, followed by Mrs Warren. Despite her mother's pleadings, Vivie wants nothing more to do with her and despite her friendly feelings towards Frank, she tears up the note of his declaration of love, reaching out instead for a new life dedicated to work.
"Man and superman"[edit | edit source]
Time: 1900s. Place: England, Spain.
As a result of her father's death, Roebuck Ramsden and John Tanner are appointed as Ann Whitefield's guardians, neither of whom wanting the job, though yielding to the apparently submissive Ann. John's friend, Octavius, would like to take her off their hands by marrying her. "If it were only the first half hour’s happiness, Tavy, I would buy it for you with my last penny," John tells him. "But a lifetime of happiness! No man alive could bear it: it would be hell on earth." "It is the self-sacrificing women that sacrifice others most recklessly. Because they are unselfish, they are kind in little things. Because they have a purpose which is not their own purpose, but that of the whole universe, a man is nothing to them but an instrument of that purpose." Since Octavius intends to become a writer, a struggle may be expected. "Of all human struggles there is none so treacherous and remorseless as the struggle between the artist man and the mother woman," John continues. The two are interrupted by news of the elopement of Octavius' sister, Violet. They assume that the wedding ring she was seen to wear is false. Roebuck and Octavius agree that she should leave London, but Ann does not. "Violet is going to do the state a service; consequently she must be packed abroad like a criminal until it’s over," John wrily comments. When Violet arrives, she assures them that the ring is genuine, though she refuses to name the husband. Following a slight roadside accident in his motor car, John explains to Octavius that his chauffeur represents the new man in evolution: the polytechnic man. Octavius narrates the outcome of his marriage proposal to Ann: she wept, a dangerous sign according to John, who offers to take Ann in his car and, for the sake of social conventions, her younger sister, Rhoda, along with them. Ann objects to their submitting to social conventions. "Come with me to Marseilles and across to Algiers and to Biskra, at sixty miles an hour," John offers rhetorically. He is aghast when she accepts. An American guest of theirs, Hector, proposes to join them. John, Roebuck, and Octavius are embarrassed while explaining that such a suggestion is impossible to effect in England, since Violet is married and he is not part of the family. Hector receives this bit of news stiffly, causing further embarrassessment. When everyone leaves except Hector and Violet, she walks over to kiss him. Hector argues that they should forget about his father's objection to his marrying a middle-class English woman. "We cant afford it. You can be as romantic as you please about love, Hector; but you mustnt be romantic about money," she retorts. Meanwhile, John learns from his chauffeur that Ann's ultimate design is to marry him, not Octavius. In a garden of a villa in Granada, Spain, Hector's father, old Malone, receives by mistake an intimate note left by Violet for her husbqnd. When Malone confronts her with the meaning of the note, she deviously says that she and Hector only intend to marry. "If he marries you, he shall not have a rap from me," the irate father blares out. But Hector has enough of pretending. He informs his father of his marriage and his intention to work for a living. Malone sneers at this proposal, but when John and Octavius offer monetary help, he changes his mind. Nevertheless, Hector refuses everybody's money. Alone with Ann, Octavius declares once again he loves her. "You know that my mother is determined that I shall marry Jack," she misleadingly answers. Though seeing his depressed condition, she consoles him by saying: "A broken heart is a very pleasant complaint for a man in London if he has a comfortable income." When Anne's mother learns of Ann's comment on her wishes, she is astonished, having never formed such an idea. "But she would not say it unless she believed it. Surely you dont suspect Ann of- of deceit!" Octavius naively exclaims. But Ann believes in hypocrisy, as she tells John, who, though he loves her, too, is yet intent on resisting marriage. At the end of her resources, Ann pretends to feel faint and as the others arrive is only able to pant out: "I have promised to marry Jack." The comedy succeeds, as John would not dare humiliate her by contradicting. "What we have both done this afternoon is to renounce happiness, renounce freedom, renounce tranquility, above all, renounce the romantic possibilities of an unknown future, for the cares of a household and a family," he concludes.
"Major Barbara"[edit | edit source]
Time: 1900s. Place: England.
Now that her daughters, Sarah is married to Charles and Barbara engaged to Adolphus Cusins, Lady Britomart intends to establish them on a better financial footing. She thereby invites her long-estranged husband, Andrew Undershaft, a wealthy arms dealer, to the house. Before meeting him, she explains to her son, Stephen, his family background, never spoken of before: "The Undershafts are descended from a foundling in the parish of St Andrew Undershaft in the city. That was long ago, in the reign of James the First. Well, this foundling was adopted by an armorer and gun-maker. In the course of time the foundling succeeded to the business; and from some notion of gratitude, or some vow or something, he adopted another foundling, and left the business to him. And that foundling did the same. Ever since then, the cannon business has always been left to an adopted foundling named Andrew Undershaft." Barbara works as a major in a Salvation Army shelter, where an angry Bill Walker threatens Jenny Hill for stealing his girl-friend to work for that institution. A client, Rummy Mitchens, interferes. Bill strikes his and Jenny's face, but stops of doing so to Major Barbara as an earl's grand-daughter. On learning of his daughter's benevolent endeavors, Andrew Undershaft becomes convinced that it is not her rightful place. "Barbara must belong to us, not to the Salvation Army," he declares. "Do I understand you to imply that you can buy Barbara?" Adolphus inquires. "No," he answers, "but I can buy the Salvation Army." There is much pretense surrounding that institution. One of if its members, Snobby Price, only pretends to be saved after beating his mother, and thereby attracts money from all sorts of charitable people. Mrs Barnes, a commissioner in the Salvation Army, arrives with exciting news. "Lord Saxmundham has promised us five thousand pounds...if five other gentlemen will give a thousand each to make it up to ten thousand," she reports. But since that lord is a distiller, Barbara has scruples about accepting his money. Andrew gives them the entire five. "Every convert you make is a vote against war. Yet I give you this money to help you to hasten my own commercial ruin," he announces. The gift makes Major Barbara realize her work at the Salvation Army is a sham and so she quits. On meeting her estranged husband, Lady Britomart comes down to business: "Sarah must have 800 pounds a year until Charles Lomax comes into his property. Barbara will need more, and need it permanently, because Adolphus hasn't any property." He agrees, but with respect to Stephen, tradition prevents him from making him his heir. "He knows nothing; and he thinks he knows everything. That points clearly to a political career," he remarks. The entire family is curious to visit his arms plant, Adolphus judging the place to be: "horribly, frightfully, immorally, unanswerably perfect." Indeed, he is impressed to the extent of admitting the foundling difficulty may be got over when the following is considered: "My mother is my father's deceased wife's sister," he reflects, and so consequently legal in Australia but not in England. Andrew agrees that in such a case Adolphus may indeed be considered a foundling and so liable to take his place after his death, provided he stick to his creed: "to give arms to all men who offer an honest price for them, without respect of persons or principles-" For Barbara he has this advice: "If your old religion broke down yesterday, get a newer and a better one for tomorrow." Nevertheless, Adolphus mulls over the moral dilemma of selling arms. "It is not the sale of my soul that troubles me: I have sold it too often to care about that," he says, "I have sold it for a professorship. I have sold it for an income. I have sold it to escape being imprisoned for refusing to pay taxes for hangmen's ropes and unjust wars and things that I abhor. What is all human conduct but the daily and hourly sale of our souls for trifles? What I am now selling it for is neither money nor position nor comfort, but for reality and for power." Barbara is also tempted by the job. "I have got rid of the bribe of bread. I have got rid of the bribe of heaven," she admits. Husband and wife agree with Andrew to make war on war and war on poverty. "For Major Barbara will die with the colours," she affirms.
"Pygmalion"[edit | edit source]
Time: 1910s. Place: London, England.
After a musical performance, the Eynsford-Hills shelter from the rain under a portico. Unable to find a cab for his mother and sister, Freddy bumps into a flower-girl, Eliza Doolittle. While she attempts to sell her flowers, Colonel Pickering enters. A bystander informs both that a suspicious-looking man is writing down everything they say. The crowd begins to grow hostile or afraid, when Pickering and Henry Higgins discover they know each other from their common interest in phonetics. Henry boasts that his teaching ability is such as to pass off the flower-girl as a duchess, creating her anew, akin to what the sculptor in antiquity did with his statue, Pygmalion. The next day, Eliza turns up to pay for speaking lessons at Professor Higgins' house, since she has ambitions to work at a flower shop, which he agrees to help her with, confident to make a duchess of "this draggle-tailed guttersnipe". He and Pickering bet on the outcome with Eliza staying at Henry's household all the while. The lesson is interrupted by the arrival of Eliza's father, Alfred, a part-time dustman and full-time drunkard, pretending to be outraged at their supposed designs on his daughter. Higgins calms him down with only a 5-pound note. Henry and Pickering make a first trial of her at the at-home day of Henry' mother, when the Eynsford-Hills are invited. Despite some awkwardness in subject and choice of expression, as when she speaks of gin as "mother's milk", Eliza, to Henry's delight, is far from the flower-girl she once was. She particularly impresses the shy Freddy. After many further sessions, Eliza is ready for the embassy ball. A Hungarian guest, Nepommuck, Higgins' first student he no longer remembers, informs the guests he has detected Eliza as a fraud, only to reveal that she is surely a Hungarian of royal blood. For this and other feats, Pickering admits that Henry has won his bet "ten times over". At Higgins' house after the ball, Pickering congratulates Henry, at which the latter scoffs, declaring the entire project a bore. As they begin to retire for the night, Eliza throws Henry's slippers at his face, for her entire life has changed, no one takes any notice of her, and now what is she to do? Without much interest, Henry suggests a few things, but seeing Eliza still sorrowful and angry, declares her to be a "heartless guttersnipe". The next morning, the two worried friends discover Eliza lodged at Mrs Higgins' house, where Alfred enters, dressed for his wedding, miserable at no longer being part of the "undeserving poor", furious at Henry for having recommended him as the "most original moralist in England", now with 3-thousand-a-year and intimidated into "middle-class morality". Eliza arrives as her frustrated father leaves with Pickering. Henry and Eliza cannot agree on continuing as they did in the past, whereupon she mentions she may accept Freddy as her husband, at which Henry laughs.
"Heartbreak house"[edit | edit source]
Time: 1910s. Place: England.
Hesione Hushabye invites her friend, Ellie Dunn, at her house. No one in there household notices Ellie until Nurse Guinness eventually shows up along with Hesione's father, Captain Shotover, a captain no more, rather an eccentric inventor seeking to achieve "the seventh degree of concentration", who comes and goes unpredictably inside his own house as if in passing. Ellie confides to Hesione that she loves a man named Marcus, but out of duty to her father, Mazzini, intends to marry his boss, Mangan. Heart-broken Ellie discovers her "white Othello" to be none other than Hesione's husband, Hector, kept as a "household pet" by his wife. Ellie and Hesione are surprised by the visit of the latter's estranged sister, Lady Ariadne Utterword, aggrieved and shocked at not being recognized by either of them or by her father. The party is completed by the arrival of Boss Mangan, Mazzini, and Randall Utterword, Ariadne's brother-in-law. Alone with her in the garden, Hector flirts with Ariadne until his wife arrives, ar which point husband and wife discuss their humdrum marriage, both too cynical to be heart-broken. When speaking of her father, intent on discoveries of an undefined nature, Hesione casually mentions he keeps "dynamite and things like that" in a gravel pit. Shotover enters to discuss world affairs with Hector. The captain opines that one should kill such men as Boss Mangan and reveals his intention of discovering an engine fit to destroy all the world's armaments. Hesione flirts with Mangan, flattered by such attention, which leads him to admit to Ellie he has manipulated her father's financial affairs to obtain money from failed businesses. To his surprise, the apathetic Ellie wishes to marry him in any case. Shocked by such cynicism, he has a fit, but she hypnotizes him into sleep. When left alone in the dark, Nurse Guinness falls over him, and, when he fails to respond, thinks she has killed him. Alerted by her cries, Hesione and Ellie enter hurriedly, and, before Mangan's sleeping face, express their true opinion of the apprently heartless businessman. He starts up to reveal he had only been pretending sleep. Heart-broken, he confronts Hesione about her cruel words, at which she admits her "very bones blushed red". Suddenly, a pistol shot is heard, a burglar having been discovered upstairs. The captain blows his whistle: "All hands aloft!", he cries out, where the entire company discover the burglar to be Billy Dunn, Shotover's old acquaintance, deliberately confused by him with Mazzini Dunn, and also Nurse Guinness' estranged husband. Unheeding his pleas to get what he deserves, they refuse to hand him over to the police, but keep him in the house. Shotover agrees with Hesione that Ellie should not marry Mangan, but she, being poor, believes that to keep one's soul one must possess a considerable amount of money. Meanwhile, Randall has observed Hector's designs on Ariade and, in love with her himself, warns him to take care. When Ariadne scolds Randall for one thing or another, he breaks down weeping, broken-hearted on realizing she can never love him. In the garden at night-time, Hesione hears a "splendid drumming in the sky", an unidentified impending danger hovering over the house. The party being unconcerned by this, Ariadne and the others discuss English society. She defines two classes: "the equestrian class and the neurotic class", her tyrannical husband being the only one who can save it. The discussion becomes so personal and shameless, in Boss Mangan's view, that he starts to take his clothes off, but is prevented from going farther. When the conversation returns to Ellie's marriage prospects, she says she cannot commit bigamy, to the shock of all the company, only to say she wishes to become the captain's "white wife", considering him as her "soul's captain". The drumming in the sky gets louder. "Batten down the hatches!" the captain orders. Mangan and the robber run to hide in the gravel pit, where Shotover keeps his dynamite, into which a bomb falls, so that both are killed. "Thirty pounds of good dynamite wasted!" the captain exclaims. The nonchalant or indifferent survive the attack from above. Nevertheless, the company expect to be killed next, Hector turning on all the lights and tearing down the curtains to facilitate their end until the drumming stops, to the disappointment of Hesione, Ellie, and Hector, each hoping that the mysterious sound spelling their doom will return the following day.
Sean O'Casey[edit | edit source]
Another Irish playwright of major interest is Sean O'Casey (1880-1964), author of "The shadow of a gunman" (1923), "Juno and the paycock" (1924), and "The plough and the stars" (1926).
Hogan (1960) underlined the unequal distribution of the characters in "The shadow of a gunman". "The theme of the play concerns the difference between true and false bravery. The characters who are truly brave— Maguire, Minnie, Mrs Henderson- are not talkers, but doers. Maguire has only three speeches, Minnie in the crucial second act has only four. The characters who are falsely brave- [Donal] Davoren, Seumas, Grigson, Tommy— are all voluble braggarts." "Religion offers people like Seumas and Grigson a convenient way of sugar-coating their hostility and aggression. So Seumas can unashamedly delight in picturing Shelley 'doing a jazz dance below'. And Grigson happily justifies the exploitation of his wife in terms of Holy Writ...The English government in the form of the Black and Tans appears as an amoral force and is rightly resented. But the Irish patriots offer the characters little hope of political redemption...Like Mrs Grigson, Mr Gallogher is a victim of exploitation. His letter, comic as it is, describes intolerable conditions...The life of the tenement is contagiously and effortlessly destructive. Through some fatal mixture of personality and environment, decent characters like Mrs Henderson and egotists like Tommy Owens turn into unpleasant bullies...In one sense, Minnie offers herself of her own free will...In another, Minnie is set up as sacrificial victim...Minnie's action in this light is not so much a matter of rational decision as of impulsive gesture based on several seemingly trivial and harmless, yet mistaken, beliefs. Firstly, Minnie believes she loves Donal. Secondly, she believes that Donal is a gunman on the run. These two beliefs are intimately related. The Donal of Minnie's heart is a poet and a patriot. But her Donal is a fiction which the real Donal does not contradict because it feeds his growing vanity. Thirdly, Minnie assumes the bombs belong to Donal. Since Minnie thinks Donal is a gunman, her assumption, particularly under the pressure of a Black and Tan raid, is understandable even if it is wrong. Finally, Minnie accepts that it is heroic to die for Ireland, an idea put abroad by real gunmen and paid lip-service to by the rest of the population. Minnie's beliefs are thus a complicated and dangerous amalgam of passion, patriotism, propaganda and romantic fantasy...The sacrifice of Minnie, the exploitive relationships in the tenements, the economic political strife, the religious hypocrisy and the vacuum in the sky convey a sense of chaotic conditions and man's inadequate responses...For Maguire, language is a diversionary tactic. For Gallogher, Owens, Grigson, Shields, and Davoren, talk is a form of escape from the slums, from the 'troubles', and from a nagging sense of their own impotence...The most vital characters like Minnie are destroyed and weaker characters like Donal understand yet cannot alter the fact that their energies are being dissipated and perverted. No character escapes the general demoralization because the world O'Casey creates...is in all its aspects hostile to life" (Schrank, 1977 pp 55-60).
In “Juno and the paycock”, “it might well be argued that the characters are defeated because they pursue their own personal ends rather than considering the hopes of the others“ (Hogan, 1960, p 39). "Joxer...is always ready with a made-to-measure, custom-worn quotation to fit any occasion, whether it be a celebration of military bravery (Boyle's imaginary deeds in Easter week) or of martial valour, or of life at sea...there is the credibility gap between what is said and the speaker...the frequent inappropriateness between what is said and the situation and...what is resolved..and what [he does]" (Ayling, 1972 p 496). In "O'Casey's dialectical approach...the characters appear in a surprisingly regular series of balancing pairs: Mary and Johnny; Bentham and Devine; Mrs Madigan and Mr Nugent; Mrs Tancred and Mrs Boyle; Juno and the Paycock; Boyle and Joxer...every action in the play has its opposing reaction: the tea party intersects the Tancred funeral procession; Mary's pregnancy sets off Johnny's death; Boyle's drunken entrance in the last act qualifies Juno's exit. Clearly nothing in the play exists by itself; thesis balances antithesis...Whereas Boyle embraces a deterministic world view, Juno evolves a doctrine of free will...Boyle without money is emasculated and cannot make his family take him seriously. Group status, like family status, is determined by money. Mrs Madigan willingly loans Boyle money when she thinks he has an inheritance, and just as willingly confiscates his gramophone when she thinks he does not...A series of animal allusions emphasizes this predatoriness, the most frequent, [being] the reference to Boyle as peacock...The peacock image has the obvious connotations of pride and useless display; but more important is its association with unearned money. Juno and Maisie's outrage originates in the simple fact that Boyle's display depends on other people's work...Only in the second act, when the Boyles think they have money, do animal references become benign...[such as] Maisie Madigan's 'I remember the time when Madigan could sing like a nightingale at matin' time'...The play's title in juxtaposing 'Juno' and 'paycock', that is godliness and animality, comments not only on its two main characters, but on human nature...In attempting to insulate the family from history, Juno only contributes to Johnny's death. All the symptoms of guilt, panic, and hysteria glossed over with a cup of tea...Boyle, by making history function as a self-serving rhetorical ornament with only accidental relevance to the real world, debases it. Because the past, for Boyle, does not illuminate the present, the possibility of meaningful action is destroyed...What Johnny's death demonstrates is the interpenetration of the past and present, the public and the private through causality. Past actions continue to have consequences in the present and the future. The Civil War, the historical moment, creates Johnny's objective and subjective realities and ultimately leads to his death. Neither Boyle who debases history nor Juno who denies its scope can fully understand what happens to them or to Johnny...In terms of O'Casey's dialectical vision, the conclusion of Juno and the Paycock dramatizes the destruction of the Boyle home, but it also indicates the potential for synthesis...Mary and Juno going off together form a continuity chronologically and philosophically: they unite the past and the future with the present; and they prove that, out of betrayal and death, rebirth and progress are possible" (Schrank, 1977 pp 438-448). "In the dialogues between Boyle and Joxer, even the undefined is comic, as in the following: 'Boyle. She has her rights- there’s no one denyin’ it, but haven’t I me rights too? Joxer. Of course you have, the sacred rights of man!' What can those sacred rights of man be? Not even Joxer knows. Boyle’s comic vanity...has their vicious extension in his daughter's pregnancy, his role-playing in his self-centered assumption of the part of offended patriarch, and his sloth in the eventual exhaustion of affection and collapse of the family” (Chothia, 1996 pp 95-96). The concluding scene “is funny as the same time that it is bitter, hopeless, and terrible. It would, in fact, be difficult to find anywhere in dramatic literature so extraordinary a combination of farce with loathing and bleak despair” (Krutch, 1953 p 99).
After the Easter uprising of 1916 where The plough and the stars emblem of the Irish Citizen Army against British rule was waved aloft, the 1922 civil war was waged between the Irish Free State, accepting the treaty of partition, and the Republican Army which rejected it. The Easter rising presented as the “betrayal of the Dublin working class...absurd and inhumane” (Bloom, 2005 pp 191-194). Hogan (1960) pointed out that “there are eight main actions in the The Plough and the Stars: that of Nora, of Jack, Bessie, Fluther, Peter, the Covey, Mrs Gogan, and Mollser. These characters find themselves set in circumstances which render them powerless, and all attempt in various ways to adapt themselves to the circumstances, to ignore them, to accept them, or to change them” (p 43). The characters "are the rag, tag and bobtail of the Dublin slums, shiftless of character and romantic of temperament, great phrase-makers and soil for the most grandiose flowers of speech. Yet what a lot they are if we stop to consider them dispassionately! Consider Fluther Good, the drunken carpenter, whose abhorrence of the ‘derogatory' is only equalled by his knack of falling into it; Young Covey, the fitter, who has a passion for communism in the abstract and a practical taste in plunder and loot; Clitheroe, the bricklayer, whose patriotism and personal ambition are like a pair of horses pulling away from one another; Peter Flynn, the mindless labourer, eternally maundering about the grave of some patriot of long ago; Mrs Gogan, the charwoman, with a ghoulish delight in all the appurtenances of death and burial; Bessie Burgess, the fruit-vendor, with vileness on her tongue and something that is not vileness in her heart; Rosie Redmond, street walker and pure pragmatist...It moves to its tragic close through scenes of high humour and rich, racy fooling, about which there is something of Elizabethan gusto” (Agate, 1944 p 234). In the view of Krasner (2012), “The Young Covey...spouts aimless socialistic platitudes” (p 180), but may also be considered as socialistic truths, aimless because the man is passive and eventually as egotistical as the others, funny truths because they appear amid lies and irrelevancies all around. Gassner (1954a) commented that "the profound critic of The Nation, Mr Joseph Wood Krutch, has complained that he has never discovered 'just where the author’s sympathies lie'. This confusion exists because of O’Casey’s fairness, although the Abbey’s audience had no doubt that his sympathies were anti-Irish. He recognizes the nobility and courage of the rebels, but he resents their intoxication with romantic and superficial objectives. Through the class-conscious Covey, in fact, he presents the trenchant criticism that the patriots who fought for political independence neglected the far more immediate problem of eradicating the pressing problems of poverty and social evil that are so vividly realized in this slum tragedy. But beyond this pertinent criticism is the immediate tragedy of women who lose their men for causes that do not touch the direct and ever-present realities of eating, home building, love, and childbearing...Other tragedies transpire while the men are bleeding for something that seems abstract and remote by comparison. There is, for example, the poverty that makes termagants of some of the women; there is the shiftlessness of men like the remarkable Fluther Good and old Peter, both flamboyant patriots who talk well and drink better; there is the ailing and neglected child that dies in the tenement; there is the crowded tenement itself" (pp 569-570).
"No writer of our time has caught the whole atmosphere of working-class life more beautifully than O’Casey, or has been able to raise that atmosphere, as he has, to the pitch of tragic dignity" (Fraser, 1960 p 143). “Both Juno and the Paycock and The Plough and the Stars are bitter, brutal ironies, so strongly felt and so passionately stated that, in spite of their broad comedy and their gorgeous wit, they scorch and bruise the spectator. In both of them the sorry story of the waste of revolution is told, and innocent bystanders suffer most cruelly from its havoc. In Juno revolution creeps up those sinister backstairs, which lead from the streets of Dublin that are blood-stained from the battles of the Free Staters and the Die Hards, fairly bursting in upon what might otherwise have been a droll little character comedy about a legacy which never materialized. In The Plough it is the story that is forced to climb the stairs of the tenement house to escape the woes of a ravaged city… In Juno, where the trite little plot is more self-reliant, the course of the playwright is always clear, but in The Plough he seems lost in a pleasing labyrinth of mixed modes until suddenly, in the last act, all of his by-paths converge and his meaning rings out with a deafening clarity. He is without a rival in snatching people of the backstairs out of their pubs and tenements, and transferring them to the stage in such a way that they remain people seen in the round instead of dwindling into types observed from only one convenient angle. His plots are minor, almost incidental, and he interrupts them at will to dally with protracted interludes of character comedy, or terrifying moments of anguish. He is not above using some tricks again and again as the standard of his comic currency, repeating a word like ‘darling’ or ‘derogatory’, or a phrase like ‘God give me patience’, until he fairly flagellates his comic point” (Macgowan, 1950 p 612).
O'Casey seems "an Elizabethan reborn. Elizabethans knew how to keep their plays moving on a full, free tide of speech. No want there of either colour or action; audiences expected both and they had them. The smallest of dramatists could toss off the resounding line. The most minor parts had their burnish. Undeniably, there was a good deal of rant and fustian, but there was also this abounding vitality, this love of words that shone and rang, of continuous imagery, speeches that quickened and excited a theatre and were not plumped down like wet wool upon the spongy turf. Suddenly, in the Dublin of the twenties, the Elizabethan voice sounded again. Playgoers at the Abbey saw once more the Elizabethan juxtaposition of tragedy and farce, found a torchlight-procession of words, recognised a new, a prodigal, an exciting dramatist. Granville Barker called O’Casey’s early work plays of ‘a spontaneous realism’. They flamed into life: first The Shadow of a Gunman, then the great twin brethren, Juno and the Paycock and The Plough and the Stars, compact of the blackest tragedy and the most exuberant farce, written in a high tumble of words, rich in the unexpected epithet and lit always by a spontaneous poetic fire. O’Casey had then, and has still, faults that would be dark indeed in a routine playwright. He is too voluble. He will award the prizes of his speech- again in the Elizabethan manner- to anyone; whether the words are in character or not" (Trewin, 1951 p 187). But Williams (1965) disparaged O'Casey's use of language in comparison to Synge's. "The distance between the language of O'Casey and the language of poetic drama is considerable, but perhaps a more significant distance is that between his language and that of Synge. It is not a simple difference of status between the two as writers, although Synge's sensibility is clearly the finer; it is also a change in the language of society, a change from the speech of isolated peasants and fishermen, where dignity and vitality of language were directly based on an organic living process, to the speech of townsmen, normally colourless and drab, containing the undiscriminated rhythms of the scriptures, popular hymns, and commercial songs, which, when it wishes to be impressive, must become either drunken or hysterical, and end in extravagance" (p 171). However, one can argue that O'Casey's use of language fits the characters as well as Synge's. O'Casey is at his best debunking. Male characters especially make themselves out to be of larger soul than they are. O'Casey is weakest in scenes of dramatic tension as pointed out by Williams: "The point which seems to confirm my analysis of the nature of O'Casey's language is the routine nature of the words which pass between Jack and Nora Clitheroe as he goes to his death in the fighting: Jack. My Nora; my little beautiful Nora, I wish to God I'd never left you. Nora: It doesn't matter, not now, not now, Jack. It will make us dearer than ever to each other. Kiss me, kiss me again. This, confined to sobriety, is simply the language of the novelette." "Since the eighteenth century England has grown used to finding its best dramatists among the Irish. Sean O’Casey’s Juno and the Paycock and The Plough and the Stars showed that the Dublin Abbey Theatre group was still potent, and that the tragic poetry of life salted by rough comedy could be found among city tenements just as it had been found by Synge among the glens of Aran" (Mair and Ward, 1939 p 215).
"The shadow of a gunman"[edit | edit source]
Time: 1922. Place: Dublin, Ireland.
Without informing his landlord, Seumas, a peddler and admirer of poetry, has offered Donal, a poet, to share his apartment. The landlord complains of that and also that the rent is long overdue, but Seumas defies him and gives permission to his friend, Maguire, a member of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), to leave a bag in their apartment. Seumas and Donal next receive a visit from Tommy, who professes to be ready to die for Ireland in its troubles, although not yet called on, followed by Mrs Henderson and Mr Gallogher, who consult Donal about a letter addressed to the IRA, complaining of the foul language used by a tenant in their building. Seumas keeps the letter to see about improving it. Another neighbor, Minnie, arrives to borrow milk for tea. She sees the poet in a romantic light, feeling sure he would die for his country, thinking also that he might be "a gunman on the run". Soon, Seumas and Donal hear about Maguire's murder in an ambush at the hands of the Black and Tan, British soldiers seeking to undermine the Irish revolution for independence. Late that night, Seumas hears suspicious taps on the wall. He and Donal are then unnerved by gunshots heard from the street. They next hear about Tommy's boasts in a pub, his knowing "a general in the IRA" and his ability to "lay his hand on tons of revolvers". Very much afraid, Seumas curses his imprudence. Even more afraid, Donal searches for Mrs Gallogher's compromising letter but is unable to find it until his friend suggests his coat pocket. Both tremble worse of all after discovering Maguire's bag full of Mills bombs. Donal blames Seumas for not being on his guard while knowing the type of man Maguire was. "I knew things ud go wrong when I missed mass this morning," Seumas moans. Suddenly, Minnie rushes in to inform them that the house is surrounded by the Tans, then notices the bombs. She takes them to her room while both men stand stiff with fright. "Holy Saint Anthony grant that she'll keep her mouth shut," Seumas prays. "We'll never again be able to lift up our heads if anything happens to Minny," Donal moans. They next hear that the Tans discovered the bombs, that Minnie jumped from the lorry carrying her away, and that she was shot to death.
"Juno and the paycock"[edit | edit source]
Time: 1922. Place: Dublin, Ireland.
Captain Jack Boyle is unemployed but yet strutting like a "paycock" (peacock) while his wife, Juno, takes care of household matters and goes out to work for him and their invalid, son, Johnny, who a few years ago was shot in the arm and hip during an uprising against the Irish Free State. After hearing of an opportunity to work, Jack suddenly develops twinges in his legs. Happily, Jack learns from Charlie, a notary who courts his daughter, Mary, that he is the recipient of an important legacy following the death of a cousin of his. Jack means to start a new life, ridding himself of his shiftless friend, Joxer. "He'll never blow the froth off a pint o' mine again, that's a sure thing," Jack declares, but yet Joxer stays on. In view of their expected fortune, the Boyles buy furniture and a gramophone on credit. One day, Johnny is heard screaming from his room, caused by an hallucination, the sight of a recently dead neighbor praying in front of a statue and looking at him. The vision concerns Robbie, a die-hard leader of a deadly ambush against a Free State soldier who was shot in reprisal. Two months later, the legacy money has not yet arrived. A friend takes back clothes obtained on credit by the Boyles and another friend their unpaid gramophone. At the same time, Charlie leaves Mary and Juno tells Jack that their daughter is pregnant. Jack angrily throws Mary out of the house. When Juno counters that she will follow her, he suggests she do so. He then discovers that Charlie has messed up the will, for, instead of specifying his name, he only wrote "cousin", and so a large number of other claimants have shown up, which explains the notary's sudden departure. Johnny angrily accuses his father of running up credit just to pay for his beer. Mary learns of the disastrous turn in the family's fortune. Hearing Charlie has gone, Jerry, an old rival for Mary's favors, offers to care for her, but changes his mind after finding out about her pregnancy. Left alone, Johnny sees two men enter to take back the furniture, then two armed men, informed about his treachery against Robbie, come to take him away in reprisal. While Juno leaves with Mary to her sister's house, Jack and Joxer drunkenly reel in.
"The plough and the stars"[edit | edit source]
Time: 1910s. Place: Dublin, Ireland.
Violent arguments about politics are heard in the apartment of Jack and Nora Clitheroe between The Covey, a Marxist and Jack's cousin, on one hand, and Peter, a conservative and Nora's uncle, on the other. Fluther, a carpenter called to put in a new lock, also joins in the fray, calling The Covey "an ignorant yahoo", while he in turn calls him an "ignorant savage". Bessie, a neighbor, hating Nora's liberated manner, also joins in the fray by grabbing and shaking her, but Fluther breaks Bessie's hold and Jack pushes her out. In the evening, there is a demonstration of the Citizen Army bearing 'The plough and the stars'. The Covey informs Jack that this symbol was originally meant for the proletariat: "Used when we're buildin' th'barricades to fight for a workers' republic," he explains. Jack learns from Captain Brennan that he was named commandant in the Citizen Army, but the letter never reached him, because it was intercepted by Nora. He warns her never to intercept any of his letters again, takes no account of her fears, and goes out with Brennan. In a pub, Rosie, a prostitute, gives homage to the demonstration held outside. "It's up to us all, anyway, to fight for our freedom," she says, to which The Covey responds: "There's only one freedom for the' working man: conthrol o' th' means o' production, rates of exchange, an' th' means of disthribution." When she approaches him for business purposes, he becomes frightened and moves away. Peter tearfully complains to Fluther about The Covey's insults. "It's th' way he says it: he never says it straight out, but murmurs it with curious quiverin' ripples, like variations on a flute," he complains. A charwoman, Mrs Gogan, quarrels with Bessie. She hands her baby over to Peter, who does not know what to do with it, and so leaves it on the floor and cries out for Fluther to follow her. "D'ye think Fluther's like yourself, destitute of a titther of undherstandin'?" Luther cries out sarcastically. More quarrels ensue, whereby The Covey is pushed out of the bar by the barman, Rosie impressed by the way Fluther defended himself against him. "Oh, Fluther, I'm afraid you're a terrible man for th' women," she avers. The demonstration outside degenerates into a riot. From an upper window, Bessie taunts Mrs Gogan, The Covey, and Peter. "Yous are all nicely shanghaied now," she warns, at which Mrs Gogan recommends them not to answer the "Orange bitch". In the mass confusion which ensues, Bessie goes out and returns with stolen items, including three umbrellas, at which sight The Covey and Fluther hurry away to loot for their own selves, but Peter is too fearful to do so because of the sporadic shooting. Bessie and Mrs Gogan fight over a perambulator used to carry more looted items, but finally go off together. The Covey returns with a heavy sack, a piece of ham lying on top. Bessie and Mrs Gogan return with the pram filled with clothes and a table. In the melee, Brennan and Jack carry in the latter's apartment a shot comrade. Nora begs her husband to stay at home, but, in his view, she is shaming him and so he rushes away a second time. During the tumult, Fluther staggers in, carrying a huge jar of whiskey. A few days later, the consumptive daughter of Mrs Gogan dies with her stillborn baby. While The Covey, Peter, and Fluther nervously play cards in view of probable reprisals by the British army, Brennan enters to announce that Jack is dead. Nora deliriously calls for him and considers his companions murderers. The Covey and Peter panic, the former crying out to Brennan: "There's no place here to lie low, th' Tommies'll be hoppin' in here any minute " Indeed, Sergeant Stoddart declares that the men are to be rounded up to prevent sniper-fire. When Nora stands incautiously near the window, Bessie seizes her and receives a bullet for her kindness. "I've got this through you, you bitch, you," she cries out in her dying throes.
JM Synge[edit | edit source]
A third irish-born dramatist, JM Synge (1871-1909), contributed two of the best comedies of the period: "The well of the saints" (1905) and "The playboy of the western world" (1907). In both, dramatic characters prefer dreams over reality (Bickley, 1912 p 38).
In "The well of the saints", "The blind beggars, Martin and Mary Doul, are sustained in joy and self-respect by the illusion of their own beauty and comeliness. When their sight is restored by the holy water of the saint, their revealed ugliness comes near to destroying them. But when their sight fades once more, they achieve a new illusion: of their dignity in old age, the woman with her white hair, and the man with his flowing beard. They fly in terror from a renewed offer to restore their sight of the real world; although their neighbours realise that their continued blindness, leading them along a stony path, with the north wind blowing behind, will mean their death" (Williams, 1965 pp 160-161). "Rarely has the bitter conflict between reality and the ideal been more poignantly set forth" (Andrews, 1913, p 164). “The play concludes...with the wedding of Timmy...and Molly, a conclusion which reinforces the isolation of the two beggars...The saint warns Martin and Mary that when he has given them sight, they should look on self...With sight, however, they attempt to become part of ordinary humanity- a world which they find to be cruel and self-centered and one in which a beautiful face conceals a cruel heart” (Gerstenberger, 1964 pp 59-60).
"The playboy of the western world" "is a study of character, terrible in its clarity, but never losing the savour of imagination and of the astringency and saltness that was characteristic of his temper. He had at his command an instrument of incomparable fineness and range in the language which he fashioned out of the speech of the common people amongst whom he lived. In his dramatic writings this language took on a kind of rhythm which had the effect of producing a certain remoteness of the highest possible artistic value" Mair and Ward, 1939 p 208). It "is a play so unexpected in action, so racy in idiom, so perplexing in its first paradox of the murderer honored and respected, so satisfying in its final revelation of laughable, vain, miserable, heroic human nature, that to discuss it in a cursory manner is neither tempting nor fitting" (Hackett, 1919 p 195). It is "a work of true dramatic stature: lyric imagination in full satiric flower and embellished with the ribbons of some of the most beautifully cadenced speech the modern stage has known" (Nathan, 1947 p 136). The play "satirizes, with poetic sympathy, the danger that besets an airy, imaginative temperament, unballasted with culture, to lose itself in divagations of extravagant absurdity..." (Hamilton, 1914 p 142). “Christy creeps into Flaherty's inn and the fostering warmth is enough. The ‘polis' never come there; it is a safe house, so', and the crime for which he had fled in terror on the roads of Ireland since ‘Tuesday was a week', becomes maybe something big. The mystery quickens the blood of his audience, they draw nearer with delighted curiosity and, looking into his own mind for the first time by the illumination of this tribute to his art, he perceives that there is not 'any person, gentle, simple, judge or jury, did the like of me'. From that moment a glorious and brilliant magnification of his deed and his situation sets in, he has ‘prison behind him, and hanging before, and hell's gap gaping below'. Once the confession is out his audience contributes royally. They perceive that he is no ‘common, week-day kind of a murderer', but a man ‘should be a great terror when his temper's roused' and 'a close man' 'into the bargain’ (in fact, a complete Machiavellian, lion and fox together). As the legend expands at the hands of his audience, he accepts the additions, assimilating them so rapidly that they soon become part of his own memory of the event" (Ellis-Fermor, 1971 p 177). "Christy Mahon's illusion of greatness is nourished and raised to the heights by a community where the mythology of force (compare the tales they spin of Red Jack Smith and Bartley Fallon) is dominant. Yet Christy realises that it is not the deed which made him glorious, but the telling of the deed, that 'poet's talking'. And this he retains" (Williams, 1965 p 164). “The general humor of the situation lies in the fact that a timid young bumpkin, who supposes that he has killed his father, finds himself admired for his crime, and grows vain of it. The girls in particular think him a darling. But in the midst of his glory, his father appears, little the worse for a blow that had merely felled him, and determined to chastise the scapegrace. Then those who bowed before the gallant patricide turn upon him with contempt. The girls who adored only laugh. And Christy, in desperation, endeavors to live up to his notoriety by slaying his father in very truth. A bad deed actually observed, however, is less romantic than one merely told of, and the hero worshippers promptly seize upon Christy with a view to handing him over to the police” (Chandler, 1914 p 272). "Thus ends the making of a hero who is glorious only when he commits his crimes out of sight. Thus also ends the self-delusion of young Christy, who learns like other 'heroes' how quickly admirers become enemies in foul weather" (Gassner, 1954a p 560). "Let no one forget those lines with which Christy Mahon cries defiance to the Mayo folk who have known his greatness and his fall: 'Ten thousand blessings upon all that 's here, for you ve turned me a likely gaffer in the end of all, the way I'll go romancing through a romping lifetime from this hour to the dawning of the judgment day," I do not deny that these words are in a sense wrung from the playboy, but what I do hold is that they prove how vital was the genius of the man who wrote them, who saw the joy there was yet in life for this braggart wastrel just as he saw that even such a miserable boyhood as Christy's knew a kind of poacher's joy in running wild on the bogs" (Weygandt, 1913 p 161). The play is “joyous in its presentation but what it reflects is squalor, credulity, brutal cupidity- a world of drunken louts and hopelessly desperate women. The only exception is Christy Mahon...[At the end] he goes out and the spirit of romance goes with him” (Bloom, 2005 pp 191-194). When Pegeen Mike is afraid of sleeping alone, the townspeople agree that Christy is the solution, “judged by Jimmy to be brave, by Pegeen to be wise, by Philly to be such a terror to the police that they would stay away from the shebeen where illegal whiskey is sold...Christy’s retelling of the parricide in Act 2 involves some repetition...but when contrasted with the bare, prosaic account in Act 1, shows his development as a mock hero” (Benson, 1982 pp 121-124). “The major action of the play, the recognition of self, demands the second murder of the old man...necessary as an index of Christy’s transformation...At the confrontation of his father in the last act...he remembers the image of self...and acts accordingly...His isolation is complete...Upon Pegeen’s rejection...the knowledge that the realized self is of inestimable and intrinsic value gives Christy...a strange exultation, which pervades his every speech in the conclusion of the play” (Gerstenberger, 1964 pp 81-82). "When Christy enters the cottage, Pegeen Mike, the daughter of the house, has just been left alone by her pusillanimous admirer and future husband, Shawn Keogh. Shawn would not stay unchaperoned with a young girl, so great is his deference to ecclesiastical authority. Pegeen Mike, disgusted at this supreme exhibition of timidity, is only too glad when the mysterious stranger comes upon the scene, and when it transpires that Christy has murdered his 'da', she is the most interested of the group of villagers who crowd around to lionize the hero. The two are left alone and become increasingly attracted towards one another, the girl contrasting this brave and spirited young fellow with the miserable coward her parents have chosen for her, a typical specimen of a bad lot whose defects are all the more manifest now that Christy is among them" (Boyd, 1917 p 114).
"The well of the saints"[edit | edit source]
Time: 19th century. Place: East Ireland.
A blind old couple, Martin and Mary Doul, sit by the cross-road begging to survive. Timmy the smith has good news for them: "Did ever you hear tell of a place across a bit of the sea, where there is an island, and the grave of the four beautiful saints?" he asks. "There’s a green ferny well, I’m told, behind of that place, and if you put a drop of the water out of it on the eyes of a blind man, you’ll make him see as well as any person is walking the world." Two young village women, Molly and Bride, bring the water over in a can. "God bless you, Martin. I’ve holy water here, from the grave of the four saints of the west, will have you cured in a short while and seeing like ourselves -" Molly announces. When a wandering friar arrives, considered a saint, he invites Martin to enter inside the church. While Martin is on his way, Timmy anxiously asks himself: "God help him...What will he be doing when he sees his wife this day? I’m thinking it was bad work we did when we let on she was fine-looking, and not a wrinkled, wizened hag the way she is." As Martin comes out of the church, he cries out: "Oh, glory be to God, I see now surely...I see the walls of the church, and the green bits of ferns in them, and yourself, holy father, and the great width of the sky." He passes past Mary also on her way to the church without knowing her. On seeing the beautiful Molly, Timmy's intended, he feels sure she is his wife, then makes the same mistake with two other women. When Mary comes out from the church, also with her sight miraculously restored, the married couple stare at each other blankly and abuse each other's ugliness. Frustrated, he threatens her with a stick till Timmy catches his arm. Husband and wife must now work for a living, he cutting sticks for Timmy's forge, she picking nettles for Widow O'Flinn. But at least he has the blessing of seeing pretty women the like of Molly, with whom he flirts, till she complains to Timmy. "Is it a storm of thunder is coming, or the last end of the world? The heavens is closing, I’m thinking, with darkness and great trouble passing in the sky," Martin suddenly cries out as he begins to lose his sight again. Shredding rushes, Mary moans: "Ah, God help me...God help me; the blackness wasn’t so black at all the other time as it is this time, and it’s destroyed I’ll be now, and hard set to get my living working alone, when it’s few are passing and the winds are cold." Martin gropes forward towards Mary. He makes further sarcastic remarks on her looks again. Mary says he need not. "For when I seen myself in them pools, I seen my hair would be gray or white, maybe, in a short while, and I seen with it that I’d a face would be a great wonder when it’ll have soft white hair falling around it, the way when I’m an old woman there won’t be the like of me surely in the seven counties of the east," she declares. Martin hesitates: could it be true? With dismay, they hear the saint's bell and hide in the briar next to the church, though plainly visible. The saint offers them the holy water again, this time to recover sight till their dying day, but Martin and Mary turn away. Martin refuses, but Mary doubtfully accepts. Martin pushes the saint away from her, then seems to acquiesce till with a sudden movement strikes the can from the saint’s hand. "For if it’s a right some of you have to be working and sweating the like of Timmy the smith, and a right some of you have to be fasting and praying and talking holy talk the like of yourself, I’m thinking it’s a good right ourselves have to be sitting blind, hearing a soft wind turning round the little leaves of the spring and feeling the sun, and we not tormenting our souls with the sight of the gray days, and the holy men, and the dirty feet is trampling the world," he declares. Angry at anyone refusing a miracle, the village people throw objects at him, so that the couple are forced to head south, away from those who now enter the church as witnesses to Timmy and Molly's wedding.
"The playboy of the western world"[edit | edit source]
Time: 1900s. Place: Ireland.
In Michael James' shebeen, Shawn admits, to the shop-girl Pegeen's disgust, that he recently heard a fellow's groans, perhaps a man dying in a ditch, without reporting it. To protect his employee against the possible threat of this stranger, Michael proposes that Shawn should stay with his daughter all night, but Shawn, afraid of Father Reilly's condemnation of such a suggestion, refuses. Michael corners him but he escapes, leaving a coward's coat on his hands. The stranger, Christy Mahon, arrives to say he is wanted by the police for "something big". Pegeen does not believe him. "That’s an unkindly thing to be saying to a poor orphaned traveller, has a prison behind him, and hanging before, and hell’s gap gaping below," Christy asserts, who confesses he killed his father. "Bravery’s a treasure in a lonesome place, and a lad would kill his father, I’m thinking, would face a foxy divil with a pitchpike on the flags of hell," a fellow villager named Jimmy affirms with admiration. Pegeen agrees. "It’s the truth they’re saying, and if I’d that lad in the house, I wouldn’t be fearing the loosed kharki cut-throats, or the walking dead," she says. Also impressed, Michael offers him a job as a pot-boy in the shop. When alone with Pegeen, Christy is startled to hear a knock at the door. It is Widow Quin, come to take away Pegeen's "curiosity man" to her own house, as Father Reilly suggested to her. She is somewhat of a local celebrity, too, having one day struck her husband so that he died from poisoned blood, "a sneaky kind of murder" according to Pegeen. The widow will not have Christy "kidnabbed". The two women argue over who should have him. Pegeen wins. Out of curiosity to see the handsome killer, several women (Susan, Nelly, Honor, and Sara) enter the shebeen to offer him eggs, butter, cake, and pullet. To them and Widow Quin, Christy explains how he was driven to murder by his father's attempt at forcing him into an undesired marriage. "A walking terror from beyond the hills, and she two score and five years, and two hundredweights and five pounds in the weighing scales, with a limping leg on her, and a blinded eye, and she a woman of noted misbehaviour with the old and young," he assserts. His father threatened with a scythe. To defend himself, he lifted a loy. Seeing the women all gawking at him, Pegeen angrily shoos them away. She terrorizes him by suggesting they might spread around the story of this murder. While Pegeen goes out to do her chores, Shawn, intent on marrying her himself and worried about a rival, attempts to bribe Christy to leave town. Christy tries out the clothes offered him. "I’d inform again him, but he’d burst from Kilmainham and he’d be sure and certain to destroy me," Shawn ponders. Widow Quin is considering to marry him herself. A grateful Shawn promises her many gifts should she do so. While Shawn leaves to contribute to upcoming sporting events, Christy struts about with new clothes, until to his horror he discovers his father outside and runs away to hide. Old Mahon asks the widow about news of his son, giving details of his shiftlessness. "What way was he so foolish?" the surprised widow inquires, "It was running wild after the girls maybe?" "Running wild, is it? If he seen a red petticoat coming swinging over the hill, he’d be off to hide in the sticks, and you’d see him shooting out his sheep’s eyes between the little twigs and the leaves, and his two ears rising like a hare looking out through a gap," Mahon retorts with contempt. When he leaves to find his son following her directions, Christy returns. The widow laughs at him. "Well, you’re the walking playboy of the western world, and that’s the poor man you had divided to his breeches belt," she chortles. Nevertheless, she offers to marry him. However, he wants Pegeen instead with her help, to which she agrees provided he give her gifts and advantages. Despite noticing afar off a man who looks like his son being successful at sporting games, which the widow pretends not to believe, Mahon is still doubtful whether it is truly he. Christy and Pegeen are now strongly attached with each other. To her father's surprise, she refuses Shawn for the sake of Christy, "wet and crusted with his father’s blood". Michael encourages Shawn to fight him, but Shawn encourages him to do the same. Faced with his rival, Christy picks up a loy and Shawn disappears. Michael agrees to his daughter's proposed marriage, but they are interrupted by the enraged Mahon, who beats Christy as soon as he sees him. Pegeen backs off from the altercation, thinking perhaps that the old man was raised from the dead, then she discovers the truth. "And it’s lies you told, letting on you had him slitted, and you nothing at all," she cries out outraged. Humiliated by her as well as the crowd gathering around, Christy runs to the door after his father with loy in hand and seems to strike him dead. Christy returns half dazed but refuses to leave town without Pegeen. With Pegeen's help, the villagers double-hitch his arms to capture the murderer, but have difficulty in taking him away. Mahon crawls back inside and father and son go off together. With his rival gone, Shawn sees nothing to prevent his marriage now. "Quit my sight," a frustrated Pegeen says. Putting a shawl over her head, she breaks out into wild lamentations: "Oh my grief, I’ve lost him surely. I’ve lost the only playboy of the western world."
St John Ervine[edit | edit source]
Another Irish playwright, St John Ervine (1883-1971), achieved his best with "John Ferguson" (1919), a sickly farmer whose troubles worsen when he cannot pay the mortgage, his daughter is raped, and his son is guilty of murdering the violator.
"John Ferguson" "is a play written in Stoic mood. We are conscious of complete isolation from all that makes life gay and comely. John Ferguson's house is comfortable within, for Mrs Ferguson prides herself on maintaining the appearance of fortune. But it lies surrounded by lonely fields where bleak weather and a stubborn soil breed poverty and despair. The gray shadow of undeserved but inevitable misfortune broods over it from the first, and soon takes shape in the betrayal of Hannah Ferguson and the murder of the man who had wronged her. The murderer is not Jimmy Caesar, who loved Hannah and talks, as a coward talks, of vengeance. Hannah's brother Andrew, egged on by the sly malevolent chatter of Clutie John, the half-wit, took swift action while Jimmy blustered and trembled. At the end of lives of toil and upright dealing, John and Sarah Ferguson are the helpless spectators of the ruin of those fine-spirited children whom they brought up in the fear of God. The fate of the young people is ordered, not by their parents' integrity, but by the evil forces that brood in the confined life of a village-lust, cowardice and the furtive impulse's of a half-wit. And John Ferguson's faith deserts him at the moment of testing...John Ferguson's faith neither braces him to meet the facts of life, nor comforts him when action is unavailing, and for his wife it lacks potency even as a drug to deaden sorrow. The play is burdened with a sense of the futility of little lives that fret and suffer for a moment between the pangs of birth and the pains of death” (Lothian, 1922 pp 648-649).
"The play overflows with the material of character- every person and his motives are revealed relentlessly, and understanding of the moves of complex characters is immediate. There is nothing puzzling about the action of Clutie John, the wise half-wit, or of Jimmy Caesar, the coward whose life ambition is to be brave...It is correct drama, for the incidents are controlled and grow out of the characters. It is vigorous writing and a searching portrayal of the admirable, the picturesque and the despicable in Ulster-men" (Eddy, 1916 pp 466-467). "It is a play deeply felt and sincere, and in the character of John Ferguson, Ervine created a man the stage had not previously known. His faith did not brace him to meet the facts of life, nor did it comfort him when action was useless, but it was all he had to use merely as a drug to deaden his sorrow. For his wife it lacked even that. Fate plays with these little lives as Hardy made it play with Tess or Jude, and there is as much of Hardy in the play as there is of Ulster...It is John himself who makes the play great...[for] nothing can break his ‘unconquerable soul’. These Fergusons are little people, but they can show life great, life tragic, as well as the kings and the aristocrats. Their stoicism is ennobling to the audience, even if they wear no crowns and work with their hands. They do not speak a language that rises to poetry, their emotions are all subdued but they do present the Northern Irish peasant as he had never before been presented to the world. His very defects come from his qualities, his dourness, his staccato speech, his religious fanaticism, his contempt for his more soft-spoken compatriots in Ireland’s other provinces"(Malone, 1929 pp 204-205).
The play "contains a larger number of memorable characters than 'Jane Clegg' (1914); besides the patriarchal hero as noble and as simple as Wordsworth's Michael and his wife and children, there is that strange and living creature of cowardice and generosity, Jimmy Caesar, and the inimitable Clutie John. The setting gives an impression of extraordinary richness and depth; the reader feels that he has lived in that rural Ulster community, and that he is at home there" (Woodbridge, 1925 p 206). "The momentum for John Ferguson, Mr Ervine stated frankly, was derived from the Book of Job. He was intrigued by the possibilities of a lonely God-fearing figure grappling with blind forces and events that defied pious rationalization, a modern Job who still sought solace in the Scriptures and in a Divine Principle when fate so obscenely betrayed its hand. In this way John Ferguson took hold of him. But as the play unfolded in his mind, he stumbled upon Jimmie Caesar, and so fascinated was he by the maudlin, pusillanimous grocer that he felt the reins of the action snatched from his grasp by one whom he intended but for a minor part in the play. In point of fact, a play all by itself lay implicit in Jimmie Caesar. In order, therefore, to mete out common dramatic justice to the stoical John Ferguson, who had a prior lien on his imagination, he removed Jimmie by the main force of the dramatist's permissible intervention. This he did in the last act by clapping Jimmie in gaol. All things considered, the device was not altogether successful, for throughout the playing of that act the audience is fitfully haunted by the remote whine of the panicky Jimmie behind a grilled door" (Loving, 1921 p 108).
"The Ferguson family, in whose kitchen the four acts take place, is made up of strong natures. John Ferguson is an aged and Bible-reading invalid. He is a fanatic with redeeming qualities...Even to save the farm John Ferguson would not dream of urging Hannah into a wretched marriage...After Henry Witherow, the wicked landlord, has ruined Hannah, John Ferguson stumbles out into the night to prevent a wrong being avenged by a murder and to warn Witherow that his life is in danger...Only at the very end is this faith shaken- when his son Andrew confesses himself Witherow's murderer...The money which arrived too late to prevent two tragedies may prevent a third...Mrs Ferguson is a simple, motherly soul. Handsome, full-blown Hannah is a headstrong, passionate girl, attracted perhaps in spite of herself, for a moment, by the masterful ways and imposing person of Witherow. But when he jokes coarsely about her beauty and mocks at her possible marriage with Caesar, the coward, she strikes him in the face and orders him from the house. Andrew, the son, is a sensitive, thoughtful boy. He had studied for the ministry, but his father's resources gave out before this could be accomplished. He has little but conscientious effort to bring to farm work...James Caesar, the village grocer, is the most skillfully drawn character of the play. He has been repeatedly wronged by Witherow. But although forced to stand by and see his people turned out of their home, he only brags of the revenge he will one day have upon his tormentor. His tongue is his only weapon. He is oily and cringing and at best a sensualist...But when Hannah cannot endure his caresses, and sustained by her father goes to tell Witherow that the money will not be forthcoming, when the girl he loves has been the victim of bestial brutality, even then, Caesar does not dare to kill the oppressor...Clutie John, a beggar, is made a vital force in the development of the story; for Clutie paints such a vivid picture of Caesar's uselessness as an avenger and of Witherow's blackness of heart, in disjointed but eloquent words, that Andrew seizes his gun and sets out to do the work himself. When the tragedy has been accomplished and Andrew has gone down to the jail with Hannah to give himself up to justice, thus releasing Caesar from the suspicion of having committed the murder, John Ferguson again turns to his Bible for consolation in supreme distress" (Wright, 1919 pp 43-45).
John Ferguson[edit | edit source]
Time: 1919. Place: Rural County Down, Ireland.
John Ferguson has been too sick to attend effectively to his farm and has no money to pay for the mortgage on it. His son, Andrew, has tried his best since failing to complete his course as a minister of religion but the contribution of this slight, delicate-looking lad to farm-work has been weak. To continue living on the farm, John expects to receive a loan from his brother living in America, but has received no word from him as yet. John’s daughter, Hannah, is courted by James Ceasar, owner of a grocer’s shop, but she shows no interest in him. When Henry Whiterow, who possesses the mortgage on the farm, comes over to claim his money, the Fergusons admit that they have nothing. Henry counters that he must foreclose. Despite Hannah’s reluctance to have anything to do with him, James proposes to pay their mortgage provided she agree to marry him. Feeling cornered and loving her parents, Hannah reluctantly accepts. But when left alone with James, she is so disgusted by his attempt to kiss her that she backs down from her promise. “I can’t thole him, da,” she says sobbing. Her mother, Sarah, tries to dissuade her from refusing him, but John and Andrew defend her choice. Hannah walks over to Henry’s house to inform him that they cannot pay the mortgage, while the rest of the family tell James that Hannah has changed her mind about marrying him. As James tries to overcome his disappointment, Hannah re-enters in a distracted state after being raped by Henry. “I was a poor trembling creature,” James declares rushing off, “but I’ll tremble no more.” Fearing the man might kill Henry, John asks his son to prevent it, but he refuses, so that John himself leaves the house in the hope of preventing murder. Andrew’s late-night meditations are interrupted by Clutie John, a weak-brained derelict whom the family harbored for the night. Clutie suggests that it is Andrew’s duty to protect his sister. Andrew decides it is so and leaves the house with a gun in his hands. The next day, James returns to the Fergusons to admit his disgrace. He had first headed for Henry’s house without a weapon, then walked over to his house to get one. But on the way back, he tripped in a field and when the gun went off, he could no longer move the rest of the night. To everyone’s surprise, Clutie returns to say that Henry has been found shot through the heart. Fearing to be charged with murder, James requests the Fergusons’ help, but John, suspecting him as the murderer, declares that he must surrender to the law, which he is forced to do. Two weeks later, James is in prison on the point of being tried for murder when Andrew is told that John’s brother has at last sent the money for the farm. Appreciating the irony of the situation, Andrew announces that he is the murderer and intends to surrender to the law. A stunned John tries to dissuade him from it, proposing that he take the money to join his brother in America, but Andrew declines, feeling remorse at the thought of James lying in prison for his crime. Instead, he takes his coat and cap and heads for the police station in Hannah’s company.
James Joyce[edit | edit source]
Yet another Irish writer and famous as a novelist, James Joyce (1882-1941), contributed a drama on marital relations much in the manner of Ibsen: "Exiles" (1918), in particular "When we dead awaken" (1899) on the subject of "the nature of love as predicated on the personality of the artist...Both male protagonists are artists who have returned to their homelands from exile- Rubek is a sculptor, Richard Rowan a writer. The main opposition in Exiles, the satyr-like Robert Hand, is a more refined Irish descendent of the Gyntian bear-hunter, Ulfheim. Of Joyce's two women, Bertha Rowan, simple, loyal, generous, a server like Irene, yet seems to reflect Maia's childlike qualities; while Beatrice Justice, the intellectual, is rather vague and negative in quality, perhaps a projection of the bleaker qualities of Irene- one who is denied self-fulfillment" (Macleod, 1945 pp 891-894).
In "Exiles", Tindall (1963) found confusion in intent. “Conflicts are the stuff of drama, and Richard has them in abundance, externally, between self and circumstance, internally, between feeling and idea or between parts of self. There are moral, social, and psychological conflicts, all centering in him. So furnished, the play about Richard should be better than it seems. A trouble may be overabundance of conflicts, each good in itself, but each conflicting with the others. None emerges to claim our notice as each cancels others out. Moreover, a conflict of conflicts, though intricate, subtle, and worthy of admiration may be too complicated for audience or reader to follow. Puzzled rather than moved, we are lost in the intricate diffusion. Beatrice, Bertha, and Robert are no better off. Even Richard, trying to know himself, seems disconcerted by the mess” (p 111). Joyce “has failed to make his characters conscious of what fate has in store for them. Had he made these men fully aware of what their lives held for them, the roles fate meant them to play, and he, furthermore, made them struggle valiantly against it, then if they had won in the end we should have had great comedy, and if they lost we should have had sublime tragedy. Consciousness would have made of them such responsible human beings as would have engaged our sympathies to the utmost; whereas unconsciousness has left them feeble victims blindly wallowing to no purpose” (Solon, 1970 p 150).
Other critics were happier with the conflicting elements. “One of the qualities which delighted me in Exiles was that evidently nothing would induce Mr Joyce to make his characters less complex and interesting than he saw them to be. He would rather obscure his theme than do that, and though a fault, it is a fault on the right side- on the interesting side. The second respect in which he has learnt from [Ibsen] is his practice of intensifying our interest in the present by dialogue which implies a past What a little scrap of people’s fives a dramatist can show us- just an hour or two! In life, it is usually what has gone before that makes talk between two people significant…Richard is tormented by misgivings about himself. Is not there something in him (for ties, however precious, are also chains) which is attracted by the idea that Bertha might now owe most to another- now, at any rate, that their own first love is over? How far is he sincere in leaving her her liberty? Is it his own that he is really thinking of? Bertha taunts him with that. And Bertha’s relation to Robert: what is that? I think it is the attraction of peace. To be adored, to be loved in a simpler, more romantic, coarser way, what a rest! Besides, Robert is the sort of man a woman can easily make happy; Richard certainly is not. Yet, just as she decided between them years ago, in the end it is her strange, elusive lover who comes so close and is so far away whom she chooses. But was she Robert’s mistress? The dramatist leaves that ambiguous. He does not mean us to bother much one way or another about that. Richard says at the end he will never know what they were to each other; but I do not think he is thinking of divorce court facts. He means how completely Bertha still belongs to him. Bertha tells Robert to tell Richard everything; but does he? She also tells him to think of what has passed between diem as something like ‘a dream’. That, I think, is the line on which one must fix one’s attention to get the focus. Robert is happy; quite content with that. Perhaps because less hot for certainties in life than Richard, he thinks he has enjoyed a solid reality. I do not know” (McCarthy, 1970 pp 141-143).
"Exiles is a play in which two men are struggling to preserve each his own essential integrity in a confusing situation where rules of thumb seem clumsy guides; and between them is a bewildered, passionate woman- generous, angry, tender, and lonely. To understand Bertha, one need only remember that she has lived nine years with Richard Rowan in that intimacy of mind and feeling which admits of no disguises, merciful or treacherous, that she has known all the satisfactions and disappointments of such an intimacy. Her nature cries out for things to be simple as they once were for her; but she, too, has eaten of the tree of knowledge and knows that they are not...The scene in Act II between the two men is wonderful in its gradually deepening sincerity. Hand is a coward at first, but he gets over that. Then Richard is tormented by misgivings about himself. Is not there something in him (for ties, however precious, are also chains) which is attracted by the idea that Bertha might now owe most to another- now, at any rate, that their own first love is over? How far is he sincere in leaving her her liberty? Is it his own that he is really thinking of? Bertha taunts him with that. And Bertha’s relation to Robert- what is that? I think it is the attraction of peace. To be adored, to be loved in a simpler, more romantic, coarser way, what a rest! Besides, Robert is the sort of man a woman can easily make happy; Richard certainly is not. Yet, just as she decided between them years ago, in the end it is her strange, elusive lover who comes so close and is so far away whom she chooses" (MacCarthy, 1940 pp 210-212).
Aitken (1958) underlined two frames at work: "in the drama of the artist versus Ireland, Richard's 'archetype' stands pitted against those of his wife and friends all together, and in the second drama there is a four-way struggle in which each strives to retain his integrity and yet achieve union...Richard, to begin with, is a writer without an audience, and a potential leader without a voice (he has no position in Ireland, and his books, significantly, do not sell). Currently sleeping alone, he is thus, effectively, divorced from his wife. Robert Hand is a writer with an audience (to which he could introduce Richard if Richard would let him), but the futility of his idealism, emphasized by the comical terms in which it was presented, and his desire to be led by his friend, signals his essential mindlessness...Bertha is formless...and lost, and she appeals in vain to the shaping spirit of her husband for guidance. Beatrice's timidity has isolated her from Robert, while her weak, feminine love for Richard alienates him; the emotional Bertha, suspicious of her intellect, holds her at a distance" (pp 43-44).
"The condition of exile...is not so much banishment from the heart or the home as banishment from spontaneity...In Richard's presence, everyone forgets...what he wanted, or thought, or remembered...a character who exerts a pull on those around him, drawing them toward the place of his incertitude...Richard dislodges Robert, Beatrice, and Bertha...he insists that they confront their own inability to articulate a permanent principle for their lives...Robert enunciates a principle of behaviour based in a half-hearted liberalism" (Voelker, 1988 pp 501-513). "Robert is the creature of [Richard's] youth...Richard, the ape of God, has made Robert; he has made Bertha and he sets them in a country-house with a garden, his new man and new woman...Each inquisition of the isolated person exposes that...each is alone" (Kenner, 1952 pp 393-395).
"Because each of the four major characters constructs his or her own narrative, and because all four in some sense exclude the other three, all are finally exiled into mutually exclusive worlds...Richard and Robert speak to each other at cross purposes- out of different worlds. Robert angles to occupy Richard so that the would-be lover can meet Bertha at his cottage, while Richard wears the 'iron mask' not only of his bitterness towards the Ireland that will accept him only if he lives by its own rules but also of his understanding of Robert's machinations to keep him in Dublin so that Bertha will be available for the journalist's pleasure...Robert's self-pity and self-contempt only strengthen the reader's sense of Robert's conventionality- his care not to offend the populace, whether writing one of his 'leading articles' or spreading rumors to adjust public opinion and insure the stay of Richard and Bertha in Dublin...When Bertha is most delighted by Robert, he reminds her of Richard...Bertha's final speech shows her rejection of [Richard's] always inadequate plan. She lives not in the throes of doubt but in the time 'when we met first'" (Herr, 1987 pp 190-203).
Richard “is utterly incapable of making love to a woman or of loving one unless he is or has been in love with a man to whom he is attached; for this reason he connives at his life-long friend’s, Robert Hand’s wooing of his wife and urges her- nay, goads her on to be unfaithful to him. The author subtly and delicately leads us to infer that Richard and Bertha are living a life of abstinence ever since his betrayal of her nine years before and that he gives her full freedom only that they might thus be reunited...He delights in putting himself in situations that entail a great deal of anguish for him, and he compels his wife to give him the fullest details of his friend’s assaults upon her honor. That he can be cruel too on occasion is not at all surprising; by virtue of the law of bi-polarity the masochist is also a sadist. The portraits of the wife, the friend, the other woman and even the child are interesting characterizations that will repay careful study. They are all intensely individualized and unquestionably human though not conventional. Archie, aged eight, is one of the few life-like children to be found in literature and is introduced into the play very effectively“ (Tannenbaum, 1970 pp 151-152).
“Bertha is the first notable woman character that James Joyce has created. She is a subtle character. We get the suggestion that she has had little education, yet she carries herself with real simplicity and dignity. For all her contact with the super-subtle Richard, she remains unspoiled, alluring, unconventional, faithful. She has her outbreaks and she knows where to strike at Richard. Her simplicity and her good sense are shown in her last dialogue with Beatrice Justice, the woman who is able to understand her husband’s mind and work” (Colum, 1970 p 145).
“What first strikes one upon consideration of Exiles is the irrelevance of God. There is simply no need for Him. The characters’ exile and sorrow is the human one of incompatible desires and unrealized hopes, a sorrow suffered in a universe with God in all times as well as in a universe without Him. Their longing is not for God and their exile is not from Him” (Bandler, 1970 pp 159-160).
"Exiles"[edit | edit source]
Time: 1912. Place: Dublin, Ireland.
After several years of self-imposed exile out of Ireland, Richard Rowan, a writer, has decided to return. He receives the visit of Beatrice, music teacher to his 8-year-old son. She had once loved Richard, breaking off from a friend of hers because in her eyes he seemed only a pale reflection of him. Her cousin, Robert, a journalist and Richard's boyhood friend, carries in a bunch of roses for Richard's wife, Bertha. To keep Bertha near him, Robert begs her to use her influence on Richard so that he comes to accept a local university position. He then asks her to come over to his cottage this very evening, but she promises nothing. When Richard re-enters, Robert immediately mentions he has spoken to the vice-chancellor on his behalf, a man who believes that Richard is most qualified to obtain the chair of romance literature. The vice-chancellor has invited Richard over to dinner this evening. He accepts the invitation. After Robert leaves, Bertha divulges to her husband how his supposed friend flirted with her and invited her to his cottage. Knowing about her husband's extramarital relation with another woman, she asks him whether she should go to him. "Decide yourself," he coolly answers. He unexpectedly shows up at Robert's place to inform him that his wife only felt pity for him. Regretting his disloyal attempt at seducing his wife, Robert only wishes that his friend could curse him. "You are so strong that you attract me even through her," he specifies. "Have you the luminous certitude that yours is the brain in contact with which she must think and understand and that yours is the body with which her body must feel?" Richard asks. Nonplussed, Robert returns the question. Richard replies that it was once so and that if he believed this was true in Robert's case, he would go away. Out of feelings of guilt, he fears that her acceptance of his adulteries has made her life "poorer in love". When a knock on the door is heard, Richard reveals it is his wife. Unnerved, Robert proposes to leave the room. "Solve the question between you," Richard proposes. As Bertha enters, Robert hurries in a panic towards the porch in the rain without an umbrella. "Bertha, love him, be his, give yourself to him if you desire, or if you can," Richard suggests before leaving. A drenched Robert tells her that Richard longs to be delivered from every bond and that the two of them together is the only one not yet broken asunder. "I am sure no law made by man is sacred before the impulse of passion," he adds while kissing her hair. Richard eventually accepts the university position. Next morning, a distraught Beatrice informs Bertha that her cousin, after publishing a favorable article on her husband, shows signs of preparing to move away, for which she feels guilty, having encouraged him to favor the writer's return. An equally distraught Bertha sends a written message to him to prevent such a possibility. Alone with her husband, Bertha asks him whether he wants to know what happened last night. "You will tell me. But I will never know," he retorts. After reminding her she is free to do as she wishes, he walks into his study as Robert arrives to tell her he is going away. He then tells Richard he failed in his mission, but the latter doubts whether that is true. A still hopeful Bertha asks that her husband return to her.
George Shiels[edit | edit source]
A sixth Irish dramatist, George Shiels (1881-1949), described the impact of the young in "The new gossoon" (1930), the name derived from the French 'garçon' (boy), a "charming peasant comedy graced by one of the most delightful rogues of the stage- Rabit Hamil, a very Autolycus of a poacher" (Gassner, 1954a p 571).
George Shiels also wrote "Professor Tim" (1925), in which a geology professor pretends to have turned into a drunken fool to know more about his sister's family and her abusine ways. In "Paul Twyning" (1922), a plasterer becomes involved in family squabbles while seeking to promote a marriage between Dan, who regularly cowers before his father, and Rose, defenseless according to the whims of her own. In "The passing day" (1936), John Fibbs passes the happiest day of his life, also his last, by leaving trivial sums in his will to wife and nephew. In "The jailbird" (1936), a released convict, unjustly condemned, experiences great difficulty in being re-integrated back into town-life. In "The rugged path" (1940), father and son follow the difficult choice of denouncing a murderer in view of town pressure against denouncing anyone, rather than the easier way of keeping silent. In the sequel, "The summit" (1941), the murderer nevertheless goes free because of insufficient evidence and a feud breaks out between the accused and the informers.
"The new gossoon"[edit | edit source]
Time: 1930s. Place: Rural Ireland.
Text at ?
Given hunting rights on the mountain once owned by a farmer named Cary and now by Ellen, his widow, Rabit Hamil is angry at seeing a sign put up on the property stating that trespassers will be prosecuted and dogs shot. Knowing that Rabit, whom she generally looks down on, is a friend of Mag, her servant at the farm, Ellen discharges her. Although discontented with the work required of her, Mag protests by revealing that Ellen's son, Luke, is also to be found there. When Rabit confronts Luke about the sign, he declares that in a few more days he will reach 21 years of age and become the master of the place and that the sign will remain. A frustrated Rabit reveals to Ellen that her son in part obtained his motorcycle, leather jacket, helmet, and goggles, from the proceeeds of her secretly sold sheep. Angry at her son's riding after dark with the machine, Ellen promises to uphold Rabit's hunting rights. Wishing to marry Mag at the same time as getting rid of his daughter, Sally, he boasts of the latter's accomplishments about the house, all lies, in the hope that Luke will marry her. Sally accuses Luke of falsely promising marriage to her, which he denies. Rabit counters by threatening to take him to court. To keep Luke from seeing another girl-friend, Biddy Henly, at least for one night, Sally removes the plug from the motorcycle and gives it to his mother, who wants him around the house when her brother, Peter, comes over to speak with him about his wild behaviors. When he arrives, his old childhood friend, Rabit, arrives soon after in an angry mood because Luke pushed his daughter over to the hedge with his motorcycle for carrying his possibly incriminating love-letters to her. To subdue Rabit's anger, Ellen reminds him that she nursed his wife on her death-bed and bailed out his son from jail after he stole money from his employer. When Sally learns of the nursing, she promises to burn the letters. Worried about Luke's way of living, Peter reveals to the servant-man about the farm, Ned, that he intends to doctor the will so that his sister will still own the farm when his nephew reaches 21. To avoid a clash, Ned advises him to leave without speaking to Luke. Yet Peter bares his teeth against Luke, who sharply answers back. Fed up over the entire business, especially concerning the matter of the new head of the farm, Ned quits, news which dismays Ellen. To counter Luke's claim, Peter advises her to check over the exact contents of her dead husband's will. As Rabit and Mag plan their wedding, Biddy enters along with her father armed with a cudgel to threaten Luke, so that Rabit gives him wrong directions about where to find him. Learning about Henly's intention but not about Rabit's, Luke chases out both Rabit and Mag. When Henly returns, Sally defends Luke by specifying that his daughter's frolicsome manner was at least partly responsible for Luke's doings. A grateful Luke takes the will from his mother's hand and tears it up to follow Sally. However, Sally, likewise grateful to Ellen for her past kindness, refuses to leave the area, agreeing instead to live with him in a nearby farm bought by his mother, who agrees to marry Ned while Rabit and Mag separate.
John Galsworthy[edit | edit source]
Among other British dramatists of interest, John Galsworthy (1867-1933) stands out as a social critic, especially for "Loyalties" (1922). Galsworthy’s plays are rife with legal questions, in particular the contrast between legal and moral justice and how class-conscious legal and moral judgments are (Lamm, 1952 p 286-87). In “The silver box” (1906), a man of the higher class robs as a joke his girlfriend’s purse, stolen in turn by a man of a lower class, who takes as well a silver box. When the woman challenges her young man, the father pays for it, but when the lower-class man is caught, only he is punished. “Strife” (1909) concerns a conflict between owners and factory workers. An agreement is refused on both sides, but after strife, suffering, and a fatality, both sides agree with the original plan. In Lamm’s view (1952), the play reflects that in society “there is less and less room for men of conviction and strong ideas” in favor of “moderate men who win the day with comprises and half measures” (p 289). Galsworthy also wrote "A little bit of love" (1915) when "the curate Strangway refuses either to hold or persecute his wife, who has gone to the man she always really loved, the people of the parish rise up against Strangway as a coward and a pagan. They despise a man who will not fight for what is his own" (Lewisohn 1922 p 170). Next in line comes "The skin game" (1920), "who touches pitch shall be defiled" is the motto of 'The skin game'...The pitch that defiled the Hillcrists and the Horn blowers was not in either of them but in the conflict that arose between them" (Lewisohn, 1922 p 170-172).
"Loyalties" is "distinguished for its objective exposition of antisemitism in genteel English circles and of social alignments in general. The over scrupulous playwright left the issues too neatly balanced from the social standpoint but not from the psychological one owing to his firm characterization" (Gassner, 1954a p 618). This objectivity occurs because Dancy’s friends consider an attack against Dancy’s honor as an attack against theirs. Gassner (1968) further comments that ”it requires no great imagination to understand that the provocativeness of Loyalties was reduced to absurdly small dimensions by Hitler’s gas ovens...The effect on the nobly intended work of a gentlemanly liberal like Galsworthy was inevitably that of an earthquake on a mud-hut” (p 667). Not inevitably when one considers the date of the play and the action. When Loyalties was first presented on stage in 1922, Hitler was irrelevant; the play shook the theatre-going public across the British isles. "In this drama, as in all his novels, as in all his other dramas, Mr Galsworthy is constantly seeing and portraying how conflicting loyalties both are right; he is never interested in the larger loyalty and cannot keep his eye on it through consecutive chapters or through a single act; he is forever presenting the two or more sides and taking none" (Overton, 1924 p 15).
"In the first sixty lines, an enormous amount of ground is covered; we learn what people are slaying with the Winsors, we are given portraits of the two principal characters, as well as a thumbnail sketch of Mabel, also a plan of the sleeping quarters of the guests which will have its importance a little later; a significant incident, which prepares the way for the theft, is described, and, finally, the theft itself is announced" (Dupont, 1942 p 102). “The robust and full-flavoured dramatic elements of the play were so strong that the public could, if it chose, enjoy them without bothering its head about the rest- an opportunity of which, it must be added, it was quick to avail itself. The point is clinched by the fact that the three of the four Galsworthy plays of which this is true The Skin Game, Loyalties, and Escape- were the outstanding commercial successes of his dramatic career” (Marrott, 1936 p 516).
"The theme of this play in three acts and seven scenes dramatically one of the author’s most effective- may be said to be intemational. In every country, and every caste, in politics, in all national, racial and religious questions, in ail corporations, unions and cliques, in all marriage, family, amical and social relations, does the conception of loyalty of faithful adherence, of esprit de corps crop up. Repeatedly, the problem arises: if one of ourselves puts himself into the wrong, is guilty of a shady action, how fair are his social equals, his intimate friends and relatives, under an obligation to warn and advise him, to shield him and parry his assailant. For, if his unprincipled behaviour becomes public, not he alone is compromised thereby; it may lead to the exposure, and humiliation of the whole community, family, or what not of which he is a member, the closer and stronger the tie of friendship or blood, the higher the opinion we have of the person implicated, the more difficult is for us to believe in his guilt ! We reject all suspicion as long as possible. But too often we find that such sticking together leads in the end to the hushing up of shady actions. Often the culprit goes scot-free if, however, his opponent be powerful and pertinacious enough to unveil the true facts of the case, and bring him before a court competent to deal with him, he ends by being broken and defeated. And the same society, which before shielded him well, must leave him in the lurch so soon as the truth is revealed. Better, then, to warn him at the outset, help him as best we can, but not blindly follow him through thick and thin… The great interest of this drama, the technique of which is masterly from first to last, consists in the attitude taken by each individual to the accusation brought against the leading character...De Levis has many antipathetic traits: he is proud, hyper-senstitive, dogmatic, revengeful, a boaster; still, he is a man who would fain live at peace with his fellow men. 'It is indeed hard to decide which of the two shows up better or worse- this young Jew or the officer who, after all steals, lies, insults, keeps everything from his wife, deceives his friends, and would like to exercise an atavistic club-law, and yet, in spite of all, has about him a queer halo of coinage and adventure...It is his unbridled temperament, his inconsiderate willfulness, his arrogant nature which have brought him to this pass. During the war, he was in his element; after the war, he is at a loose ends, his resolute strength come to grief against his adversary’s courage of conviction and brain power, and this it is which finally drives him to his death… Twisden, the lawyer, has been caustically and falsely criticized. A lawyer, they say, has no right to abandon his client’s cause...We have here a lawyer of the old school, bred in the great pre-war tradition of professional honour and integrity. Through Gilman, the truth must have come out. To say noting of the fact that de Levis would have forced the issue a second time...It jars curiously that, in some quarters, the author's great dexterity in the manipulation of the scenes, the telling power and peculiarly strong dramatic effect of this play have been taken amiss. It is very seldom that a writer not only understands the theatre but can also create a drama of ideas. In Galsworthy we find this combination, rare to-day, yet this is sometimes put to the debit of his reputation. Theft, police, cross-examinations, court of justice, suicide, elements, despised of some, are absolutely essential in Loyalties for the furthering of the theme. They are not the end but the means to the end. The theft here is as little a vulgar theft as that in The Silver Box, and the more striking the drama of the piece, the more surely has the writer gained his end; i.e. to stir up the audience, to make them reflect, to awake in them a new perception and conscience, more humanitarian sentiments and deeper sympathy” (Schalit, 1929 pp 294-303).
Wilson (1937) criticized that, in general, "an undoubted flaw is the lack of humour in Galsworthy’s writing. This may have been due in part to his sense of discipline. It was more likely temperamental. At all events his work, so true to life, so admirably constructed and so essentially dramatic, does reveal here and there a certain stiffness and want of spontaneity. This is his only serious fault and it shows itself chiefly in the dialogue. His plays are so impartial that they seem almost artificially balanced and the characters appear at times to speak with reluctance. Yet there is nothing cold about Galsworthy. He wrote chiefly of a limited social class, but he dealt with wide social problems" (p 237). "The special note of Galsworthy's art is its restraint. His vision is wonderfully keen and clear and sober. He is intensely watchful not to overstep the modesty of emotions and events. He is never showy, never violent, never a special pleader. In his plays the forces of life themselves come into conflict and grow into crises with all the quiet impressiveness of an operation of nature. A man commits a crime; he is tried and punished. Workingmen strike and are forced to compromise. The inheritors of two sharply divided social traditions are on the point of marriage, and the division is seen to be too deep. A woman flees from a wretched union and wears herself out against the hard prison-walls of the social order...In choosing the angle from which, at a given moment, to envisage life, Galsworthy is fond of selecting such living incidents as have in themselves the inevitable structure of drama...Galsworthy has not always, of course, been able to attain such magnificent severity of structure. Life itself forbids it. But he has always striven to approach it, economising his strength for the creation of character" (Lewisohn, 1915 pp 209-211).
"Loyalties"[edit | edit source]
Time: 1920s. Place: England.
Text at https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.214030 http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/4765 http://www.fullbooks.com/Loyalties-from-the-5th-Series-Plays-.html http://books.google.fr/books?id=ATetNPyPs1MC
As an invited guest in Charles Winsor's country house, his friend, De Levis, informs him he has just been robbed of money kept in his room and obtained by selling a horse. De Levis believes the thief is Ronald Dancy, who jumped from his balcony to his and back again. Another guest, General Canynge, tells Charles, but not the inspector called to the scene, that though Dancy denied he went out in the rain, his sleeve is observed to be wet. Nevertheless, Canynge declares to De Levis: "No one who makes such an insinuation against a fellow-guest in a country house, except on absolute proof, can do so without complete ostracism. Have we your word to say nothing?" "I'll say nothing about it, unless I get more proof," De Levis answers. Nevertheless, three weeks later, in a London club, Major Colford announces to his fellow members what De Levis has told him about the robbery. "He's saying it was Ronald Dancy robbed him down at Winsor's," says Colford. "The fellow's mad over losing the price of that filly now she's won the Cambridgeshire." De Levis avers that, contrary to his assertion, Dancy knew of the sale of the horse. In front of members of their club, De Levis accuses Dancy, who wishes to settle the matter with weapons, has no explanation on the points raised against him, and curses De Levis as a "damned Jew". Lord St Erth pronounces De Levis' membership suspended. Trembling with rage, De Levis resigns. As this concerns the honor of the club, the members encourage Dancy to take court action for defamation of character, which he does. Three months later, Jacob Twisden, Dancy's lawyer, discovers that his client used one of the bank-notes of the sale of the horse when he was blackmailed by another man, proving he is the culprit. As a result, Twisden drops the case and recommends that his client leave the country. Hearing of Dancy's difficulties, De Levis has a change of heart and goes over to speak with him. "I came to say that- that I overheard- I am afraid a warrant is to be issued. I wanted you to realise- it's not my doing. I'll give it no support. I'm content. I don't want my money. I don't even want costs. Dancy, do you understand?" Despite this plea of leniency, left alone at his house, before the police can enter, Dancy shoots himself to death.
Somerset Maugham[edit | edit source]
Though more famous as a novelist, Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) wrote several plays of interest, particularly "Our betters" (1923). Maugham also wrote "The unknown" (1920). On three-week leave from World War I, John returns home to the house of his parents, the Whartons, to marry Sylvia. His parents' friend, Charlotte Littlewood, has recently lost her second son to the war and is now alone. To the surprise of the Whartons, Charlotte wears no mourning clothes and plays bridge. When questioned about these, she answers: "I feel that I have nothing more to do with the world and the world has nothing more to do with me. So far as I’m concerned it’s a failure. You know I wasn’t very happy in my married life, but I loved my two sons, and they made everything worthwhile, and now they’re gone. Let others take up the adventure. I step aside." Even graver to the Wharton's view, John expresses disbelief in God. Sylvia is dismayed and no longer wants to marry him. John is aghast. "You are not the John I loved and promised myself to," she asserts. "It’s a different man that has come back from abroad. I have nothing in common with that man." She nevertheless tries to have him regain his faith by concealing his father's death and saying he would want him to go to communion. Although he accedes to her wish, she fails of her purpose. Maugham's psychological insight is all as keen in showing the results of restraining one's jealous emotions in "Caesar's wife" (1919), in which Violet loves Ronald, about to receive a promotion to an important secretary's position thanks to the recommendation of her husband, Arthur, a counsel in Egypt. Afraid of being unfaithful, she requests her husband to use his influence so that his nephew will obtain the post instead, so that Ronald can accept a position in Paris. When he demurs because Ronald is the better man, she specifies that the man loves her. Arthur receives the information coolly. Even after telling him she loves Ronald in return, he prefers to do what is best for the Foreign Office. "I put myself in your hands, Violet," he declares. "I shall never suspect that you can do anything not that I should reproach you for- I will never reproach you- but that you may reproach yourself for." She does not disappoint. The play is similar to "Penelope" (1912), in which a wife shows exceptional patience to save her marriage except when the husband commits adultery. The matter is treated more like a light comedy than "Caesar's wife", as if a husband's straying were more trivial than a wife's, the old double standard rearing up.
"Our betters" is a "satirical title that might be supposed to refer to the upper classes. Actually the reference is to rich Americans who buy their way into British society. The women are the daughters of American industrial royalty. They search out impecunious gentlemen of title and pay their debts in return for a marriage ceremony. Then, titled themselves, and bored by their husbands, they tread the primrose path, unembarrassed by any respect for marital obligations. The men are of the same breed. Thornton Clay, who dines out in the best houses on the strength of scandalous stories about either his friends or his relatives, is ashamed of being an American. In nasal tones he boasts of not having a trace of American accent. His clothes are aggressively Savile Row. When Fleming Hervey, a young American who does not think that the Middle West is the Ultima Thule of civilization, arrives, Thornton Clay devotes himself at once to the congenial task of trying to turn him into an imitation Englishman” (Hobson, 1948 p 21).
Maugham “lashes with contempt the American expatriate who buys his or her way into a London society which reprobates while it accepts. It is a sordid and ugly picture, limned in with hard, brittle strokes. Explicitly a comedy, the play is implicitly a terrifying tragedy. It wears a grin that is cadaverous, on a second glance. The young American visitor, who revolts at the empty round of dissipation, is a stereotyped figure, whose function is to voice the protest of the play. Through him the author sits in judgment on his characters, and it is this moral consciousness that flaws the authenticity of the comedy as a specimen of the manners type” (Sawyer, 1931 p 227). "The play itself is a mercilessly amusing picture of a rootless, fruitless, extremely vulgar, smart set of people, a much paragraphed, photographed set, whose habits are luxurious, whose standards are common and cynical, whose love-affairs, relieved by a certain engaging candour, are canine. And who are the ladies with high-sounding names? They are American heiresses who have married for rank...Our Betters is rather a sardonically detached comedy, an exposure in the manner of Maupassant of one luxuriant corner of the social jungle" (MacCarthy, 1940 pp 235-236).
It is "a devastating satire on the snobbery of American expatriates and their English set. The American girl, Bessie Saunders, is so aghast at the society into which she is being introduced by her titled sister that she takes a boat home. Here are noblemen like Lord Bleane who are eager to lay their coronets at the feet of every American heiress, duchesses like de Surennes whose maiden name in Chicago was Miss Hodgson and who favor good-looking boys less than half their age, and expatriated fops like Clay who speak condescendingly of 'you Americans in America'...A scintillating satire on the leisure class and on snobbishness or 'the spirit of romance in a reach-me-down', 'Our Betters' is one of the best comedies of manners since the Restoration" (Gassner, 1954a p 625). The play “shows how heartless and degenerate is the world in which his cunningly contrived comedy so skilfully moves. At times he seems to have returned to the moods of Restoration comedy, though one feels that he lacks gaiety, and that he despises these puppets who provide the wit which he contorts with a genial malice” (Evans, 1950 p 134). "This fine comedy is the play of Maugham most nearly comparable with the theatre of Wycherley and Congreve. It satirizes in masterly fashion the empty morality of a section of the London aristocracy at the time of the First World War. In the character of Pearl Grayston, one of the most unpleasant women ever introduced to the London stage, Maugham concentrates all his venom. The cold-hearted emotional imbroglio and her relations with her stockbroker admirer is managed with consummate theatrical skill, and the way in which the threatened social fabric is preserved after the degrading climax gives a specially cutting edge to the implications of the title...Our Betters must always rank very high as an unpleasant comedy of manners" (Reynolds, 1949 p 168).
“Our Betters is directly in line with the glittering comedies of manners of the Restoration...The satire and cynicism of the play, suggested by the title, suited the post-war mood of disillusion; its hard, merciless wit and its absolute freedom from sentimentality pleased a new generation who felt themselves duped and cheated by their emotions...There are characters in Our Betters who are decadent and some who are perilously close to degenerate; but at no time does the play pretend to picture anything more than a tiny fragment of society...The author maintains a remorseless detachment throughout, which by no means indicates a callous lack of sympathy or understanding, but which gives an anti-septic cleanliness to the comedy...Although the straight-laced affected to be shocked by it, Our Betters is as relentlessly moral as Mrs Warren’s Profession. The two decent young Americans, who are minor characters, do not dull the hard polish of the comedy. The characters and situation offer numerous possibilities for tragedy or sentiment, but the play does not swerve from its comic course. It ends on a note of laughter not muffled by repentance or censure…The repartee is more brilliant than ever, but it fits the characters and situation and dims when removed from its content. When Clay, the snobbish opportunist, remarks: ‘Poor Flora with her good works! She takes to philanthropy as a drug to allay the pangs of unrequited love!’, we must know both Clay and Flora to appreciate the humour. When the princess asks: ‘Has it ever occurred to you that snobbishness is the spirit of romance in a reach-me-dowm?’ we feel that years of her own experience prompt the question; it is not merely a bon mot transferred from the playwright’s notebook. For purposes of dramatic contrast, and not from any didactic motive, the cynical humour pauses occasionally for the commonsense comments of the two young Americans and Lord Bleane, who serve as an unobtrusive chorus. They do not seriously touch the comedy. Our Betters is cynical, satirical, and hard, but diverting and funny” (Cordell, 1954 pp 107-110).
“Mr Maugham, in this brilliant and almost heartless comedy, has rewritten one of Henry James’s short stories in the manner of Congreve...And he is really much nearer to Congreve than he is to James...This play is really extraordinarily deft, and its matter is handled with any amount of style. Think, for a moment, of the way in which heavier-handed, more ‘sincere’ playwrights would have treated that cold, calculating blonde, Lady George Grayston, that lightning calculator with the air of an inconscient featherbrain...How would any one of these playwrights have treated that dark and common beauty, the duchess de Surennes, divided between passion and parsimony, torn between her sentiment- forgive the word- for Gilbert Paxton and that blackguard’s drain upon her purse?” (Agate, 1924 pp 118-121). The play contains "two groups of parvenus: the native and the transatlantic...Of the latter it is said: ‘They’ve got too much money and too few responsibilities. English women in our station have duties that are part of their birthright, but we, strangers in a strange land, have nothing to do but enjoy ourselves.’ The whole play is a comment on the quality of that enjoyment. It is this savage irony which makes Maugham a comic writer of the school of Jonson” (Greenwood, 1950 p 168). “Our Betters...is generally, and rightly, considered his masterpiece and it is likely to make his name known to theatregoers as yet unborn” (Stokes, 1950 p 157).
"Our betters"[edit | edit source]
Time: 1910s. Place: England.
Lady Pearl Grayston leads a very active social life. While talking to her sister, Bessie, she suddenly remembers having invited twelve people over to dinner. "Does George know?" asks Bessie "Who is George?" asks Pearl. "Don't be absurd, Pearl" Bessie admonishes, "George, your husband." "Oh! I couldn't make out who you meant," she answers. One of Pearl's friends, Minnie, requests from her a favor: finding a position for her lover, Tony. Pearl is told he has no gift for languages, cannot type or take shorthand, and has no head for figures. "Well, the only thing I can see that he'd do for is a government office," Pearl concludes. Another of her friends, Flora, is organizing a concert for charity. Pearl agrees to have her own lover, Arthur, help out with tickets. "But don't harrow me with revolting stories of starving children. I'm not interested in the poor," she specifies. "I have plenty of heart, but it beats for people of my own class." The unprincipled Tony, showing few signs of gratitude towards Minnie, begins to flirt with Pearl. "You're somebody else's property," she informs him while leaving him with a perhaps. A few months later, Tony complains to Minnie of often being embarrassed to ask for one of her automobiles instead of having one of his own. When he shows signs of wanting to end their relationship, she panics and offers him one. Though pleased about the gift, Tony soon proposes to meet Pearl inside her tea-house, to which she agrees. This is observed by Minnie. During a game of poker, Minnie pretends to have forgotten her bag in the tea-house. Bessie offers to get it for her. When she returns, she appears so upset that Arthur guesses the reason why. When Pearl enters, Minnie looks over at her in angry triumph. Nevertheless, the next day, Minnie becomes downcast at Tony's intent of leaving her, and so offers to marry him and yield him independent means. Pearl refuses to allow Minnie to leave her house even in a luggage-cart until she explains she obtained a job for Tony in the Education Office, where he is to do nothing from ten to four o'clock. To appease the furious Arthur, Pearl violently rubs her cheeks to appear pale, but then agrees to their separation and refuses to receive any more money from him. Moved at this apparent weakness, he forgives her, but Bessie does not. She leaves her sister and refuses to marry a lord she once had an eye on, to avoid living as shamefully, in her view, as her sister does.
St John Hankin[edit | edit source]
St John Hankin (1869-1909)'s main contribution is "The return of the prodigal" (1905).
Reynolds (1949) complained of "The return of the prodigal" as the "acme of cynicism" whereby "the conventional ending of 19th century melodrama is turned upside down...There is no point in destructive criticism of society unless a remedy is suggested" (p 146-147). But other critics consider that Hankin has more than cynicism to offer. “In The Return of the Prodigal a very dumpy, conventionally correct parvenu family, the Jacksons, suddenly find their political and social aspirations jeopardized by the return of a ne’er-do-well son, whose sang-froid and embarrassingly clear appraisals of the family furnish excellent comedy” (Sawyer, 1931 p 216).
"The Return of the Prodigal...is still a well-proportioned comedy with several recognizably human personages, many quivers of a wit that is both theatrical and civilized, one excellent serious scene for a stay-at-home sister whom life is passing by, and always an unwavering sense of style. Hankin presents a prodigal son who is not ashamed of himself, and who returns for a few days to the heart (more or less) of his wealthy-manufacturing people in Gloucestershire, only to strike off again, as charmingly insolent and unredeemed as when he arrived. He is a prodigal, that is to say, who neatly inverts the old conventions such as 'People in the Colonies always do write for money' (Lady Faringford). Eustace prefers to seek the fatted calf in person. In his time he has flicked at many professions from liner steward to driver of a cable car in San Francisco. When he has returned to Chedleigh and deflated his pompous father and brother (that pair of insolent balloons), he moves once more into the unknown- at least London- with 250 pounds a year, to be paid quarterly. 'Make it three hundred, father,' Eustace adds, 'and I won’t write.' The play, I suppose, lacks certain things. It has no part to tear a cat in...Much of Hankin’s wit, unlike much of Wilde’s, derives from the situation and is always in character. Observe Mrs Jackson, the prodigal’s mother, who manages to be at once literal and fluffy. 'He allowed my girls to begin French directly they went to school, at Miss Thursby’s,' the rector’s wife says, 'but I’m bound to say they never seem to have learnt any. So perhaps it did no harm.' 'Yes,' Mrs Jackson answers comfortably, 'I’ve always heard Miss Thursby’s was an excellent school.' 'The Two Mr Wetherbys', 'The charity that began at home'...and 'The Cassilis engagement' are other works of Hankin that should have more than the tribute of a sigh. We have heard too much about his cynicism. He may often look at society with a detached amusement, but he can also besiege and reach the heart" (Trewin, 1951 p 63-64).
MacCarthy (1907) pointed out that the author "puts forward a good case for a real ne'er-do-weel, who has about him no touch of the stage romance which usually surrounds such a character" (p 16). “Such a plot is of course a direct violation of all the laws of theatrical propriety, but Hankin insisted upon its verisimilitude. If a tragedy must come to a realistic conclusion, he reasoned, so also may comedy. The Jackson family are middle-class, like the Voyseys, with middle-class ideas and ideals, and are the slaves of middle-class morality. An intelligent man who genuinely comprehends himself and his family and refuses to exaggerate the importance of money or money-making will inevitably become master of the situation. Eustace, therefore, is permitted to have his own life as a character and is not forced into the stereotype of the repentant prodigal gratefully chewing on that fatted calf which is a symbol of his submission to familial convention” (Downer, 1950 p 317). "The scapegrace son is generally either a romantic or a sordid figure. Here he shows the most disarming effrontery and, disdaining the offer of a job, coolly blackmails his father into making him an allowance. Such is the comic theme of a play which also contains a highly moving, yet restrained portrait of the prodigal’s sister, who fills the thankless role of the unwanted woman" (Wilson, 1937 p 254). The play "evinces real observation and artistic sincerity. It is the story of a wastrel who really is a wastrel; he is not a victim of circumstances or a rough diamond, or a good trusting fellow betrayed and badgered by his villainous rival through three acts, only to save the heroine from a burning mill in the fourth. No; he is by birth inefficient- a gentleman, good-natured, and discreet, but material prosperity flees from his most crafty stalking. There are such people, and Hankin gives us a first-rate study of one of them, a study both amusing and pathetic, unmarred by a cowardly happy ending" (Norwood, 1921 pp 77-78). “Violet...is revealed as trapped...by the social proprieties attaching to marriage and social intercourse...She registers her situation: ‘we are to be great people, but you don’t find Sir John Faringford’s son proposing to me...so the great people won’t marry me and I mustn’t marry the little people.’...Unlike her wastrel bother, she has no means of relaxing her father’s iron authority” (Chothia, 1996 pp 72-73).
"The first characteristic of Mr Hankin as a dramatist is that he is easy to act; his characters are very clearly drawn, and the emotions and situations with which his plays deal are within the reach of a very moderate range of experience. The parts do not call for 'temperament' or imagination in the actors so much as intelligence and sympathy, which are easier to mind. His other qualities are lightness of touch, an original humour, the power of weighing character in a very even balance, and dexterity in introducing into a very ordinary series of events which the audience is certain will be evolved along the most natural lines an element of surprise and suspense. 'The return of the prodigal' shows all these qualities at their best...This may seem a slender theme for a play, and the solution of a problem into which the spectator has entered with an almost parental perplexity by the allowance of £250 may sound flat, but the denouement is not flat and the suspense is kept up till the last. The dialogue is most spirited and natural, and often extremely amusing. The prodigal excites a good deal of sympathy, because he is moved by the sympathy of his mother and sister, and because he is miserable and aware of his own feebleness, which he makes the justification of his claim, as he really believes himself incapable of earning a living; while a scene between brother and sister, very touching in its matter-of-factness, makes one feel that father and son are fair game, by revealing that her prospects of a free and happy future have been ruined by being dragged by them into a society where for her there is little chance of marriage. Stella Faringford will probably marry Henry Jackson. Some kind of a love-liking springs up between her and the prodigal in the course of the four acts, just enough to make the sense of his own incompetence harder to bear and the conclusion of the play doubtful" (MacCarthy, 1907 pp 20-22).
“In St John Hankin is much of the intellectual curiosity and honesty of Shaw in approaching contemporary social life, but while the latter is shaking his fist, the former is merely shrugging his shoulders. In his detestation of bourgeois cheapness of mind and soul, Hankin never forgets that he is writing plays and not theses, and therefore does not exploit his characters by subjecting them to his dictation, but allows a. social truth to evolve from what they do and say… It is characteristic of him that he should champion the under dog, the social misfit, who protests against the conventionality of the comfortably adjusted and the unrespectability of the respectable. He likes audacious people who disturb the sanctified peace of society. And yet, uncompromising as he is, he has not quite the philosophy to let his sense of the comic rise above his irritation. He is a little prejudiced in his very gesture of eschewing prejudice. Hankin never broke through into a full, clear utterance...But he was a substantial workman, who, unafraid and clear sighted, brought healthy ideas into comedy. His milieu is not primarily that of the aristocracy, but in his observation, in his moral inconclusiveness, and in his amused cynicism he is eminently qualified as exponent of the comedy of manners” (Sawyer, 1931 pp 213-214).
"The return of the prodigal"[edit | edit source]
Time: 1900s. Place: Gloucestershire, England.
Henry Jackson, a prosperous textile manufacturer working with his father, Sam, is at the point of asking Stella Faringford in marriage, when she interrupts and asks him to forbear for awhile. Family and friends learn that Eustace, Sam's other son, sent to Australia with a thousand pounds as a misfit, was discovered by a servant lying on the ground near the house, having apparently fainted. He is led in unconscious. Sam asks Henry not to delay in obtaining Stella's hand, since the Faringford influence may be decisive in his candidacy for a seat in Parliament. Eustace is examined by the family doctor, unable to detect, as he humorously tells his brother, that his fainting fit was feigned, to draw pity on his person, since he returns as a prodigal with nothing to show out of the money he previously received. Sam has had enough of his son's loafing about the house, especially after learning he coolly ordered expensive new clothes for himself and arranged to have the bill sent to his care. Sam orders him out of the house. Eustace counters that, should he be forced to leave, he will make a scandal of the treatment he receives, reducing his father's chances to win his seat in Parliament and compromising Henry's marriage prospects with Stella. "I don't like work," he comically informs them,"so there's nothing left but to beg." They negotiate. Sam proposes to send him back to Australia with another thousand pounds, but Eustace reminds him that they have already tried that strategy, which amounted to a dismal failure. Instead, the prodigal wants an annual stipend of 300 pounds, which Henry finds attractive, because, should his brother cause trouble, all they need do is cancel the allowance. Sam insists on 250 pounds and politely asks him to write sometimes. "Make it 300, father," Eustace retorts cynically, "and I won't write." Sam signs a cheque as a first installment and contemptuously waves it away.
Harley Granville-Barker[edit | edit source]
Harley Granville-Barker (1877-1946) contributed an important social drama of people at work with "The Madras house" (1909), "that incomplete work of genius which is more exasperatingly characteristic of its time than any play written in our day in the English language" (Woolcott, 1922 p 113).
Early critics such as Andrews (1913) dismissed Granville-Barker's plays as drab. "Mr Barker finds nothing too commonplace, too dreary, nor too impertinent to be included in the conversation of his characters. Through long pages of perhaps characteristic, but utteriy unimportant, talk struggles a thin thread of narrative, scarcely strong enough to hold the piece even loosely together. All this is deplorable; for nothing worth while is accomplished; the stage is brought no nearer to reality, and a vital illuminant- if the metaphor may be so manipulated- is almost cunningly concealed, like Gratiano's reasons, in a bushel of chaff. It is not the art that is true to life, but rather the life that is in no wise true to art. 'The Madras House', for example, a play without hero, heroine, or plot, sets forth, in the familiar atmosphere of middle-class English life, the varying English views upon the woman question" (pp 142-143). “Complex in theme, bold and original in treatment, it may be best described as a satire on the thwarted lives led by women in England in the first decade of the century” (Evans, 1950 p 128). "In The Madras House...there is not even the pretense at a plot. Nothing takes place from act to act except conversation. There are themes enough,- certainly, enough for a season's output,- but they are only so many expressions from various angles of a sex-ridden society, and if Mr Barker believed in one thesis more than another, his conviction is not so clear as is the state of things he has satirized. A household of six unmarried daughters; a drapery-establishment where the employees live in, Constantine's retirement to the east to keep a harem so that his mind need not be distracted during hours of serious business,- all contribute to a fantastic picture of contemporary life from the point of view of sex" (Haskell, 1918 pp 288-289). “The Madras house manufactures women’s clothes...Sex is commercially profitable, very profitable...The dramatic characters shift in every act. Only one of them appears in all four...The play is amazing in its broadness and seeming completeness” (Moderwell, 1972 p 218). The play has no "plot, or rather the formal plot is strangely sundered from the genuine interest of the play; it recounts merely the sale of a great costume business to a commercial but romantic American. On this a magnificent fabric of discussion, mainly about the social position of women. Female assistants in large shops, the living-in system, the life of the normal married woman in England, the effect on men's work of the presence and co-operation of women- these topics are handled with brilliant originality and fluent eloquence. The study is made dramatic by the contrast between Henry Huxtable and his partner Constantine Madras. Huxtable is positively steeped in home affections and Victorian stolidities, feels that he could not be happy in heaven without antimacassars and a marble clock. Madras is elaborately contrasted with him at every point. Not only has he so revolted against English home life that he has deserted his wife and son many years ago, Mr Barker, in order to provide the external point of view, has actually converted him to Mohammedanism, and conferred upon him a house and harem in an Arabian village. This person's comments on the Englishman's attitude towards women are both novel and deadly, provoking a healthy reaction or commanding revolution. The upshot is that women are a disturbing and destructive factor in the ordinary business of the world confined to the house in the Eastern fashion, they would perform their function of brightening life and soothing the wearied soul" (Norwood, 1921 pp 90-91).
"The Madras house" "consists of four juxtaposed episodes. The life of every character is shaped by his or her particular relationship to the couture firm...There is no resolution to any of the characters in marriage, divorce or suicide, and even the pregnancy of Marion Yates and her refusal to name the father of her child results in no denouement" (Chothia, 1996 pp 60-61). "This piece reveals no definite beginning and the author has deliberately planned it in such a way that it shall show no end. Structurally, this work is, so to speak, a succession of four middles" (Hamilton, 1914 p 94). "The play is organized as a presentation of social problems with a deliberate plan of non-development. The "playwright adopted a loose form that enabled him to play with problems like a master rather than a journeyman of the theatre of ideas. Clever satirization of a respectable draper’s household and of another middle-class prison, a drapery establishment or 'industrial seraglio' where the employees 'live in' and must abstain from marriage, is supplemented by the pointed whimsy of the wife-deserting Constantine Madras who has become a Mohammedan. To the worthy pater familias Huxtable with his half dozen cowed and unmarried daughters Constantine paints the advantages of polygamy; all the daughters could be taken care of by a single man! Moreover, the segregation of women would promote a rational life and society: 'From seventeen to thirty-four- the years which a man should consecrate to the acquiring of political virtue- wherever he turns he is distracted, provoked, tantalized by the barefaced presence of women. How’s he to keep a clear brain for the larger issues of life...All politics, all religion, all economy is being brought down to the level of women’s emotions.' This is the bee in Constantine’s turban, and it buzzes agreeably. Only his serious-minded son Philip, who concerns himself with human misery and fears that 'we good and clever people are costing the world too much' is a proper foil to both the easy-going Constantine and the smug Huxtable. The drapery establishment of which he is part owner recalls both Carlyle’s dour fulminations against the dandiacal English habit and Ruskin’s views on art. Philip wants an 'art and a culture that shan’t be just a veneer on savagery', something that must come 'from the happiness of a whole people'. Therefore he is going into politics. Neither lightness of treatment nor weight of thought is absent in this rambling but fertile comedy of ideas" (Gassner, 1954a pp 619-620).
"The rhythm of action- emphasis and suppression in the service of unity of effect- is abandoned. Each act ends in the midst of a conversation; so does the whole play, and the stage-direction remarks: 'she doesn't finish, for really there is no end to the subject.' All of which means that Mr Barker seeks to follow the broken rhythm of life- the helpless swaying hither and thither of human talk, the pause of embarrassment or sudden blankness which leads to irrelevant changes of subject. In addition, he seeks to illustrate, as in the second act of The Madras House, the fact that human affairs run parallel to each other and have often no connection except the accidental one of a single man or woman's being a participant in each. Thus the scandal among the employees of the house and the sale of the house to the American, Eustice P State, have nothing in common except that Philip Madras must, necessarily, give his attention to both. Each, to be sure has, upon reflection, a bearing upon the theme of the play which is, once more, the problem of sex. But from the aspect of fable and structure The Madras House marks a point at which the avoidance of artifice touches the negation of form. Negation of form! Having written the words, I am almost ready to retract them. For in truth The Madras House is one of the most fascinating of modern plays. Its strange inconsequentialities of structure, its act endings which trail off into a natural silence or simply blend with the ceaseless hum of life seem but to sharpen the peculiar tang of art and thought, extremely keen and personal, that exhales from the play. The thesis of The Madras House is no less arresting than its form. The gradual emancipation of woman in the West has led to the constant, enervating preoccupation with the instinct of sex. Society, politics, education- all bring men and women into contacts which are, consciously or not, sexually stimulating. The vast industries that serve the adornment of even the most cultured of modern women prove these very women to be primarily bent upon emphasizing the sexual appeal. To this menace there are two effective retaliations: one, that of the elder Madras, to segregate women as in the Orient, and let men do their work in the world in virile cleanness; the other, that of the younger Madras, to force our civilisation to be less of a 'barnyard' in spirit, to wring from it a culture that is not simply a veneer over sexual savagery" (Lewisohn, 1915 pp 203-205).
"Has anybody noticed, I wonder, that each of the four married women in this play is an awful warning against marriage? First there is Katherine Huxtable, a British matron bound in triple hide of ignorance, prejudice and convention. Second is Amelia Madras, whose placid obstinacy of self-martyrdom would drive any man into sin. More awful still is Mrs Brigstock, that embittered, jealous, charmless spouse with one eye fixed on the main chance and the other on her husband’s discomfort. Last there is Jessica Madras, who must come down to the office instead of telephoning and cannot see why she should not be taken out to lunch, who feels herself neglected and chooses her husband’s best friend as the repairer of that neglect" (Agate, 1926 p 235).
"The 'Madras house' "shows two cross-sections of early-twentieth-century society, the first being a respectable suburban home at Denmark Hill, and the second the drapery store of Messrs Roberts and Huxtable. In each the primitive natural feelings of the inmates have been repressed" (Reynolds, 1949 p 139). "This is a study in repression (there are seventeen women in a cast of twenty-five): the repression of the younger generation of suburban Denmark Hill- the suburbs had a bad time in the New Drama- and of the drapers’ employees of that harem of industry, Messrs Roberts and Huxtable’s at Peckham, and of ‘the Madras House’, the Bond Street dress-shop that gives a name to the piece. It contains an invigorating debate on the place of women in society. It is acute and it is courageous. This is one of the most notable plays of rebellion in a rebellious period when so many lids were being lifted from so many cauldrons, when we heard both a singing and a growling in the air, and suffragettes had become front-page news" (Trewin, 1951 p 81).
"When the situation between his characters reaches the most serious pitch, instead of speaking impulsively out of themselves, they tend to transfer their predicament to the plane of generalities, discussing it as one not peculiar to themselves but to many (vide the dialogue between husband and wife with which The Madras House closes). In short the drama of Granville-Barker is that of a man to whom the significance of life has been most excitingly revealed, not at moments when, so to speak, he has banged up against other human beings, but when intimacy has taken the form of sounding the depths of experience together, and the condition of mutual proximity has been on both sides a high personal detachment...We can get a bird’s eye view of a gigantic theme much too big for treatment in a single action drama. He has constructed his conversation drama with a skill which it is a delight to remember afterwards. I can understand a spectator thinking that the dramatist was spending too much time on the construction of a realistic atmosphere, but on reflection these little touches, like the perpetual polite introductions of the many daughters of Mr Huxtable (Admirable, perfect Mr Aubrey Mather!) to Major Thomas, are superfluous. Not at all. They suggest the dire extent to which human relationships in that household have been fossilized into prim formalities, just as the mannequin show illustrates the 'moral' and commercial exploitation of sex interest...Thus the play is a scheme of ingeniously contrived talk through which illuminating rays from different temperamental quarters are thrown on the theme. Old Madras is a man to whom sex is the spice of life, but he does not like the whole of life to be flavoured with it; the sentimental American, Mr Eustace Perrin State, wants every dish saturated with it— but in a diluted, romantic form; old Huxtable has thought all his life that the proper thing to do was to ignore it- and a nice mess the Huxtable family have made of that. The point of view of the desiccated Miss Chancellor is given, and- wonder of wonders- she is properly allowed to keep her dignity; in the hands of a lesser draughtsman she would have been just a poor old cockshy; the young mother who has thrown her cap over the windmill gives hers; the cramped and harried Brigstocks exhibit the predicament into which industrial civilization has forced them" (MacCarthy, 1940 pp 215-219).
"The Madras house"[edit | edit source]
Time: 1900s. Place: England.
Philip Madras and his uncle, Henry Huxtable, prepare to sell their clothing shop, Roberts & Huxtable, to an American financier by the name of State. For this purpose, they will soon meet with Philip's father, Constantine, separated from his wife, Amelia, 30 years ago due to his adulterous relations with several of his employees. Amelia wishes to see him, too. "I am his wife still, I should hope,” she tells her son. He went away from me when he was young. But I have never forgotten my duty. And now that he is an old man, and past such sin, and I am an old woman, I am still ready to be a comfort to his declining years, and it's right that I should be allowed to tell him so.” Recently, Henry has heard news that two of their employees, William Brigstock and Marion Yates, were seen kissing at work by the housekeeper, Miss Chancellor. News of improper conduct quickly spread around, all the more so since William is married and Marion unmarried but pregnant. Although William's wife, Freda, believes her husband innocent of adultery, Henry wants to sack both. In his office, Philip asks Marion to explain what happened in front of William and Miss Chancellor. ”And when I told him- all I chose to tell him as to what had happened to me, I asked him to kiss me just to show he didn't think so much the worse of me. And he gave me one kiss - here,” Marion explains while pointing to her forehead. Miss Chancellor believes that she is lying, that they are in fact lovers, but Philip is prepared to let the matter drop. However, husband and wife consider the accusation slander and insist on a public retraction, which Philip refuses to consider. “How is Mr Brigstock to remain in the firm if Miss Chancellor does?” Freda retorts. Miss Chancellor is outraged, Freda threatens her with a lawsuit, Miss Chancellor threatens to leave the firm unless believed. "It would be good manners to believe her,” Philip tells Miss Chancellor. “We must believe so much of what we're told in this world.” Philip’s friend and State’s representative, Major Thomas, arrives for the business meeting. He amuses Philip by requesting him to be invited less often at his house and see less of Philip’s wife, Jessica. "Phil, I don't like women, and I never did," Thomas confesses, "but I'm hardly exaggerating when I say I married simply to get out of the habit of finding myself once every six months in such a position with one of them that I was supposed to be making love to her.” The owners agree to sell the company to State, who waxes poetical over the new line of women's dresses he intends to exhibit. "It is the middle class woman of England that is waiting for me, the woman who still sits at the parlour window of her provincial villa, pensively gazing through the laurel bushes. I have seen her on my solitary walks. She must have her chance to dazzle and conquer," he muses enthusiastically. He thinks that the economic independence of women is the next step in civilization. Constantine disagrees, having converted to Islam. Henry is disgusted at this bit of news. "I've not spoken to you for thirty years, have I? That is I've not taken more notice of you than I could help. And I come here today full of forgiveness and curiosity to see what you're really like now and whether I've changed my mind or whether I never really felt all that about you at all and damned if you don't go and put up a fresh game on me! What about Amelia? Religion this time!” he exclaims. Constantine opines that the world's interest is best served by keeping women at home. "From seventeen to thirty-four, the years which a man should consecrate to the acquiring of political virtue, wherever he turns he is distracted, provoked, tantalized by the barefaced presence of women,” he declares. “How's he to keep a clear brain for the larger issues of life? Women haven't morals or intellect in our sense of the words. They have other incompatible qualities quite as important, no doubt. But shut them away from public life and public exhibition. It's degrading to compete with them, it’s as degrading to compete for them.” Furthermore, he accuses the affronted Henry of keeping "an industrial seraglio". "What do we slow-breeding, civilized people get out of love and the beauty of women and the artistic setting that beauty demands? For which we do pay rather a big price, you know, Tommy. What do we get for it?" Philip asks Major Thomas. At this, Thomas is utterly at sea. When Constantine encounters Amelia, she lets him know she wants to follow him to Arabia. He refuses. She then asks him to stay in England in a different house than hers. After being refused again, she exits while looking at him hatefully. When Philip asks his father was there no other way to treat her, he answers: "Was I meant to pass the rest of a lifetime making her forget that she was as unhappy as people who have outlived their purpose always are?" Philip receives a letter from William's solicitor for compensation to the slanders his client was exposed. As suspected, he learns his father was Marion's lover and humiliated because she refused his money. He advises his son to sack William and Marion, though offering him monetary compensation and her a position later on at the new company. Philip acquiesces. To Jessica, he cheerfully conveys Thomas' message. She angrily thanks him for it. He concludes that they must live less expensively and that he contribute to society with meetings at the town council, but she, on her side, does not know what to do with herself. "You don't always let us have the fairest of chances, do you?" she asks.
Githa Sowerby[edit | edit source]
Githa Sowerby (1876-1970) contributed a fine family saga during this period with "Rutherford and son" (1912),
"Rutherford and son" is "a drama of domestic tyranny centering around the granite figure of the industrialist Rutherford whose children escape his tyranny only after being virtually broken by him. Dramatic power is also furnished by excellent characterizations of an old sister who fears him, a frustrated daughter who runs away with his foreman, and a weak willed son who can only free himself by abandoning his wife and his child and breaking his father’s cash box. Only the son’s wife remains, and it is she alone who finally masters the hard old man now that he wants an heir to the house of Rutherford and is in need of such affection as he can find" (Gassner, 1954a p 621).
Andrews (1913) complained that "Miss Githa Sowerby...sets before us with notable vitality and force the ruthlessly dominant male. Like [Elizabeth Baker's 'Chains' (1909)], this play is gloomy, sordid, and depressing, admirable in characterization and dialogue, and almost devoid of action. Its popularity, in the face of its hard and repellent subject-matter, surely adds point to Molière's reflection that 'the business of amusing honest folk is a strange one' (p 145). In contrast, George (1914) described the play along with Houghton's "Hindle Wakes" (1910) as the "finest recent instances of stage realism...In both plays life is represented not as it might be, which would be romance, but as it is. In both the atmosphere is extraordinary; in both the position of woman, alliance, motherhood, responsibility, seriously figure. But there is no strain, there is hardly any preaching; the characters seldom explain themselves, and throughout they reveal themselves. And there is passion, enthusiasm, suffering,and hope, all the things the common men understand" (p 57).
Goldman (1914) described the main character in the following way. "John Rutherford, the owner of the firm 'Rutherford and Son', is possessed by the phantom of the past- the thing handed down to him by his father and which he must pass on to his son with undiminished luster; the thing that has turned his soul to iron and his heart to stone; the thing for the sake of which he has never known joy and because of which no one else must know joy,- 'Rutherford and son'...Not only the Rutherford children, their withered Aunt Ann, and old Rutherford himself, but even Martin, the faithful servant in the employ of the Rutherfords for twenty-five years, is 'dedicated', and when he ceases to be of use to their Moloch, he is turned into a thief and then cast off, even as Janet and John...Janet knows her father better than John; she knows that 'no one ever stands out against father for long- or else they get so knocked about, they don't matter any more.' Janet knows, and when the moment arrives that brings her father's blow upon her head, it does not come as a surprise to her. When old Rutherford discovers her relation with Martin, his indignation is as characteristic of the man as everything else in his life. It is not outraged morality or a father's love. It is always and forever the House of Rutherford. Moreover, the discovery of the affair between his daughter and his workman comes at a psychologic moment: Rutherford is determined to get hold of John's invention- for the Rutherfords, of course- and now that Martin has broken faith with his master, his offense serves an easy pretext for Rutherford to break faith with Martin" (pp 236-241).
"Rutherford and son"[edit | edit source]
Time: 1910s. Place: Grantley, North Yorkshire, England.
Text at https://archive.org/details/cu31924013224666 https://archive.org/details/rutherfordsonpla00soweiala https://archive.org/details/rutherfordsonpla00soweuoft https://archive.org/details/rutherfordsonpla00sowe
Because of a coal miners' strike, John Rutherford’s glass-works factory is short on coal. Other problems have led to uncertainties regarding the survival of the company. Rutherford’s most trusted workingman, Martin, informs him that he caught an employee, Henderson, with his hand in the till. Despite his youth, Rutherford dismisses him. Rutherford’s son, John Junior, has invented a new type of metal alloy which, according to him and Martin, might be worth a fortune. Without having studied the matter, Rutherford downplays its importance. Rutherford is nevertheless outraged that John wants to keep the formula secret until he buys the invention from him and then leaves with the money, so that no one would be left to manage the company, since his other son, Richard, is the local clergyman. Having been offered a curacy in another region, Richard asks his father permission to go. “Wear your collar-stud at the back if you like, it's all one to me,” Rutherford answers indifferently, “You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear: you were no good for my purpose, and there's an end. For the matter o' that, you might just as well never ha’ been born except that you give not trouble either way.” He is only annoyed when Richard tells him he has promised Henderson’s mother to speak on behalf of his son for another chance to stay in his employ. Although Rutherford hears her plea, her son’s dismissal is a foregone conclusion. Before going, however, she blurts out rumors concerning an underhand relation between Martin and his daughter, Janet, which he sternly disapproves of. Alone with Martin, Rutherford requests the content of the alloy. Although aware of his treachery towards John, Martin promises to hand it over to him the following day. Rutherford then tells Janet he wants her out of his house and the next day, once he obtains the content of the alloy, fires Martin. When a broken Martin reveals to Janet that he must go, she tries to make him see the positive side. “You're free,” she declares, "free for the first time since you were a lad mebbee to make a fresh start.” “A fresh start?” he echoes affronted. “Wi' treachery and a lyin' tongue behind me?” He offers her money so that she can live in another village, but, recognizing that he has little interest in starting anew with her, she refuses and leaves the house. When John learns of Martin’s treachery, he steals money from his father’s cash-box and proposes to go away with his wife, Mary. However, Mary doubts her husband’s ability to care for her and her young son and has no wish to return to her former occupation. Instead, she proposes to Rutherford that she remain in his house to raise the son as his his heir and eventual owner of the company. He accepts.
Charles McEvoy[edit | edit source]
Charles McEvoy (1879-19) wrote a fine domestic drama in “David Ballard” (1907), a play described as “severely realistic” by Dickinson (1917a p 170) about a man who wants to become a writer despite a lack of encouragement from his family.
“David Ballard”[edit | edit source]
Time: 1900s. Place: London, England.
David Ballard returns home dispirited from the nature of his work as an office worker in a store to his mother (Ellen), father (Simon), sister (Gladys), younger brother (Percy), and cousin (Mercy). “I’ve been drawn to this horrible, ghastly drudgery at the store and I can’t see any end to it,” he confesses to his mother. “I’ve no time for study, or quiet thought, or serious work of any kind.” For he wants to become a writer. She attempts in vain to encourage him, after which Simon, now retired, returns to reminisce about the 42 years he spent at work, a matter objected to by a Gladys uninterested in “talk shop”. Their lodger, Darwin Snodge, a portrait painter, arrives to pay his rent. When the family and Darwin hear that David intends on leaving the house and quitting his job, everyone except Mercy tries to convince him otherwise. “My boy, if you’d only stop there at your work patiently and try to cultivate a liking for it,” Simon pleads, “you’d soon get a substantial raise and everything would look rosy again.” David obtained a 10-shilling raise, but still wants to quit. In Darwin’s view, the lad lacks “patience, perseverance and hope”. “You can’t do good work unless you’ve got the stomach behind you to put into it,” he specifically advises. Because he has no intention of starving, David asks for a loan of 5 pounds, but is refused. As a result, he rushes out, at which only Mercy is glad. As Gladys and Darwin celebrate their engagement in a restaurant, Simon breaks down in tears after learning that his son left their home exactly one year ago. He is further innerved after spotting out the window David himself looking like a derelict. Darwin thinks the old man imagined it. “I foresaw this all along,” Gladys affirms. “I said we’d no business to bring him with us.” It is David, overwhelmed with shame but defiant. He has been unable to make a living out of writing. “Exactly as I predicted,” Darwin notes. Although Mr and Mrs Ballard want him back to the house, Gladys does not. However, Darwin objects to having his future brother–in-law “walking about the streets like that”. Percy agrees. One year later, David has taken over the job once held by his father, now dead. While Gladys fusses over her twins, Percy takes Mercy apart to tell her something, but they are interrupted by a Gladys in a frenzy because her cousin ignored her call. Percy begs Mercy to help him restore 700 pounds he took out of the till at work, which he has used to amuse himself with the higher social classes. David advises her to refuse his brother such a loan. Gladys interrupts a second time, exasperated at Mercy’s slackness in helping out with her babies. She reveals that Mercy is not her cousin after all, but an orphan the family picked up out of charity. “You will leave this house within an hour, creature,” she commands. Mercy is willing as David receives the news that one of his poems has won a 100 pound prize, to be handed over to his brother, Mercy advises. David reluctantly agrees and, having finally spoken of their love of each other, leaves the house in her company.
Horace Annesley Vachell[edit | edit source]
Horace Annesley Vachell (1861-1955) offered a worthy bank drama with Jelf’s (1912) when finances conflict with personal relations.
Jelf’s[edit | edit source]
Time: 1910s. Place: London and fictional Shepperford, England.
After spending several years on a ranch in California, Richard Jelf has taken over the family business in a London bank for the past 6 months. His friend, Archie Mull, takes the opportunity to ask to be invited at Richard’s house in Shepperford along with Sir Jonathan Dunne, chairman of the Amalgamated Association of Bankers and father of his intended, Dorothy, without mentioning he is coming, since the prospective father-in-law is against the marriage. As the friend of Richard’s uncle and founder of the bank, Sir Jonathan is relieved to hear that Richard along with Adam Winslow, chief clerk and senior adviser, are proceeding along conservative lines, unlike the “wildcat speculations” of other banks such as Palliser’s. Remembering his friend’s request, Richard invites Jonathan over at his house and he accepts. Richard next receives the visit of Archie’s mother, the countess of Skene and Skye, desperate for money but relieved by Richard at the level of 500 pounds. In return, the countess advises him as to deportment and dress to fit in London society. More advice as to clothes is provided by James Palliser, head of the family bank in financial difficulties. James is surprised to hear that Richard is engaged to be married to Fenella Mull, Archie’ sister and, unknown to Richard, James’ lover, whose offer of marriage was repulsed by her mother, the countess of Skene and Skye. Richard offers to help James out of financial difficulties by inviting him over at Shepperford to meet Sir Jonathan, which James gladly accepts. Still fond of her old lover, Fenella asks Richard to help James out of his bank’s troubles. Richard agrees and offers Fenella a pearl necklace and diamond tiara, which frightens her to the point of requesting him to stow them till their wedding day. At Shepperford, Richard offers to settle down a nervous Archie by pretending to be Jonathan in a made-up dialogue favoring the young man’s offer of marriage to his daughter. But when the true Jonathan arrives, the result is the contrary, as Dorothy’s father declares he will only accept the idle youngster provided he obtain a responsible position, which is secured when Richard offers Archie the position of manager at his California ranch. Richard also rescues Dorothy from some difficulty while punting on the water. Unaware of the identity of her rescuer, Dorothy reveals the close relation that existed between Fenella and James along with inadequacies in Richard’s choice of clothing. When James meets Fenella, he tells her that he needs to keep their past relations quiet in view of Richard’s offer of help and yet attempts to win her back. On meeting her intended, Fenella notices changes in Richard’s appearance. “I like the man who does fine things, not wears them,” she reassures him. Next evening, Dorothy announces her engagement to Lady Sken and Fenella and her gratitude at what made it possible, Richard’s offer of Archie’s employment. “Too much consideration for one's father is a sort of reversion to type,” the countess declares, “a sentimental mistake.” “That sounds awfully immoral, Lady Skene,” Dorothy comments. “I lived in an absurd age which preached morality as successfully as it practiced the other thing,” the countess replies. Fenella reads that according to the London Observer, Jelf’s has come to the aid of Palliser’s. Meanwhile, unaware of Richard’s ignorance in the matter, Archie blurts out the existence of the past relation between Fenella and James. But when Richard inquires about whether Fenella had any past relation, she denies the existence of any. She discovers that the article in the London Observer was conveyed by James without Richard’s consent, an item which alarms Adam Winslow to the point of his tendering his resignation unless Richard retracts the article. Against Jonathan’s advice, Richard refuses to retract it but demands to find out the nature of the current situation between James and Fenella. James admits that he still loves her and intends to marry her, while Fenella remains committed to neither. The news of Jelf’s position sets off a panic reaction among its clients, threatening to take out their accounts in massive numbers. The situation becomes even more threatening when Jonathan, a vital depositor, shows up with the possibility of removing his own account at Jelf’s. More impending disaster appears when a bookmaker threatens to take out his large account unless Richard submits to being blackmailed for a small amount by a friend of his, a newspaper editor who felt insulted recently after Richard declined to meet him personally but instead passed him off to Adam. Richard declines to be blackmailed. Despite the double threat, Fenella stands by Richard and Richard stands firm, a move which pays off when both the bookmaker and Jonathan support him as well, considerably relieving the anxieties of the large band of customers ready to cancel their accounts.
Frederick Hazlitt Brennan[edit | edit source]
Frederick Hazlitt Brennan (1901-1962) attracted attention with a rough war-time comedy-drama, “The Wookey” (1941).
“The Wookey”[edit | edit source]
Time: 1939-1940. Place: London, England.
Text at ?
Just released from prison for indecent exposure during a show, Genevieve heads for the house of her sister, Bella, but first encounters her nephew, Ernie, hiding a dachshund from his mother inside the bed of his sister, Primrose. In view of the likelihood of war, Gen offers Bella her house in Lynmouth, but she declines. In storms Walt, anxious to marry Gen, but she rejects him. Refusing to accept her answer, he pulls at her and the two women defend themselves with difficulty until Bella’s husband, Horace, nicknamed the Wookey, enters and throws him out. To protect his family from scandal, Horace insists that his sister-in-law marry Walt. She backs down. Horace shows Primrose the present he brought over for his wife: a section of an iron fence tied with roses, while Ernie gets a used air-rifle. To his father, he reveals the hidden dachshund, saved from stoning by the local boys. Holding the dog with one hand, Horace spanks his son with the other for hiding it in the wrong place, but permits him to keep it. He hands over to his daughter a gift of French lingerie and, while heading for his bath, Rory, Irish first mate of Horace’s tug-boat, carries in with Hector, Bella’s cousin, and Mr Archibald another present for his wife: a brand-new toilet bowl, at the sight of which Bella pretends to be reserved as Constable Simpson enters with Cheltenham, Air Raid Precaution warden, arrived to check on the equipment given to the family, which they have carelessly handled. A scowling Horace tears a gas mask to shreds. “They mucks about till ‘Itler gets strong enough ter bomb us, then they sends us thrupenny marsks and biscit tin back’ouses,” he challenges. For his negligence, despite Horace’s three medals from the previous war, Cheltenham hands him a summons. Wanting no part of this war, Horace heads for the pub. In the Wookeys’ back-yard a year later, Rory courts Primrose and kisses her as Horace enters. “Less of it,” he commands. Primrose informs her father that the government has issued boats for the war, a matter that fails to interest him. Although as a mate Rory’s work has been satisfactory, Horace refuses to consider his offer of marriage for the moment. “Your qualifications and character needs further testin’,” he declares. Consistent with his views, Horace refuses to hand over his boat to Dr Lewisohn and factory workers for the conduct of the war, but accepts the same when Gen begs him to bring back her husband with the retreating army. But Walter dies and Horace and Rory have been gone for three weeks. Because of the bomb threat, Ernie is sent on his way to Wessex. But soon Horace and Rory return with a bath-tub and firearms, the delay caused by the time spent in prison for debt to the oil company because of their inability to pay the petrol and lubricant for going back and forth from Dunkirk to save the soldiers. Moreover, the oil company seized the boat. Horace rushes out after learning that Ernie has been taken away. But the boy escapes and hides in an out-house. When Horace discovers his son, he gives him a 10-bob note for hiding but several thwacks for letting his dog bite the vack woman. Amid the writing of a letter to Winston Churchill to get his money back, a fire bomb drops on the house but he manages to smother it in sand. Angry at the damage to his house, he now offers his “qualified support” to the British cause. After Horace is named chief fire warden, more bomb attacks follow so that Ernie is eventually found by rescue workers under the stairs surrounded by rubble, his dog injured and his mother dead. Instead of heading for a shelter, his father remains with him in the cellar, where Rory the Irishman draws ire from the British for his discouraging remarks. For his service at Dunkirk, Horace obtains the king’s civilian medal but no word on recovering his boat. He criticizes all aspects of the British conduct of the war and, to minimize the damage, allows his basement to become an official shelter while he commands his family to head towards Lynmouth, though he himself only pretends to go.
JM Barrie[edit | edit source]
In a comic vein, JM Barrie (1860-1937), the Scottish playwright, achieved lasting fame with "Peter Pan" (1904).
"In the year 1904 came Peter Pan, and it had an insane success. This is no spring flower, or hothouse plant; it is a hardy perennial, and will delight thousands of spectators after we shall have all made our exit from the planet. It is one of the most profound, original, and universal plays of our epoch...Barrie created a character, a personality; Peter Pan is an addition to literature and an addition to humanity. He is a real person, already proverbial and it seems incredible that he can ever be forgotten" (Phelps, 1920b p 837).
The playwright "knows how children revel in the game of make-believe, with what elaborate care they will build up the machinery for their romances, and he has carried out the splendid idea of bringing all the resources of the stage to the service of a whimsical tale, in which sprites and pirates, red Indians, wolves, and crocodiles, are mingled in moments of rich amusement or participate in deeds of derring-do such as Fenimore Cooper or George Henty have made familiar to the bigger boys. There is a pleasing softness, and just a tinge of sadness, about much of this story of Peter Pan” (Agate, 1947 pp 133). "Peter Pan is perhaps the most escapist play ever written, and the reality that is so resolutely avoided in this charming fantasy is the entire adult world" (Gassner, 1954a p 623). For Andrews (1913), the play "is in reality not a drama, but a strangely iridescent poetic pantomime, full of bizarre and tender gayety. It is sometimes difficult, indeed, to determine when Mr Barrie's intention is serious and when merely humorous. Perhaps as a result of this peculiarity, his plays often fail to create an impression of depth or solidity. He is particularly felicitous in the portrayal of the lighter phases of feminine character, though he has rarely achieved a full-length study of a truly womanly woman" (pp 156-157).
"'Peter Pan' captivated the grown-ups and even more so the most hardened critics. The Stage said of it: 'Mr Barrie has entered fully into the joys and delights of childhood days, and he has peopled his newest fantasy with the choicest personages from the pages of Marryat or Cooper, side by side with the heroes of our youth, who interpret incidents which only the most elastic imagination could conceive. The whole is impregnated by the nimble wit and facile fancy which the eminent dramatist has at command and the blend of humour and pretty sentiment constitutes a piece that no one, old or young, should resist.' The Illustrated London News said that it combined the child's passion for make-believe and the average little girl's maternal instinct and described it as 'an artfully artless play which has all the pretty inconsequences of an imaginative child's improvisations'" (Wilson, 1951 p 149-150). Wilson (1937) has a harsher view of the protagonist. "Peter is a pathetic figure clinging desperately to a pretence. Normal children (and even adults who are not insufferably intellectual) indulge in day dreams. But they know perfectly well that the world of their fancy is not a real one. Peter will not give up his dreams and becomes a kind of waif" (p 247).
"Peter Pan"[edit | edit source]
Time: 1900s. Place: London, England and Never Land.
Before being put to bed, the three children of Mr and Mrs Darling (Wendy, John, and Michael), ask many of the usual questions. Thus Michael: "Mother, how did you get to know me?" and "At what time was I born, mother?" She does not answer the first question but only the second. "At two o'clock in the night-time, dearest," to which, worried, he answers: "O, mother, I hope I didn't wake you." She tells her husband she saw a boy's face at their window three floors up. The boy escaped but the window cut his shadow, which she shows him and then returns it inside a drawer. He was accompanied by a ball of light. After the parents leave, Peter Pan and Tinker Bell fly up to the children's room. He retrieves his shadow, sown on by Wendy, who proposes to kiss him, too. He holds out his hand for it, to Wendy's disappointment. In return, he offers what eh considers a kiss, an acorn button, which she puts on. Despite Tinker Bell's irritation at their increasing friendliness, Peter shows the children how to fly and they go away to Never Land, where a pirate, Captain Hook, is seething for revenge, because on one of their encounters he fell and a crocodile ate off one of his arms and would have eaten the rest of him had it not swallowed an alarm-clock, since which time he hears its ticking now and then. Peter's companions at Never Land receive a false message from the vengeful Tinker Bell, whereby they are commanded to shoot Wendy down as she flies overheard. One of these, Tootles, succeeds in striking her down with an arrow. She looks dead, but, to everyone's relief, was saved from grievous harm by the acorn button placed over her heart. While Wendy lies unconscious, the boys build a house all around her and she agrees to keep house for them, as a sort of substitute mother. Meanwhile, the pirates attack a band of Indians led by Tiger Lilly, saved by Peter, who, imitating the captain's voice, orders the pirates to release her. The pirates next attack the children, but Captain Hook is unable to conquer them and forced to escape on hearing the ticking of the alarm clock. However, Peter and Wendy find themselves standing on a rock with the water level rising. She succeeds in flying away on a kite, while Peter hesitates on what to do next, at no point afraid, even of death. "To die will be an awfully big adventure," he considers, but eventually succeeds in flying away by unfurling his shirt like a sail, naked and victorious. Though acting as the boys' father, a worried Peter seeks reassurance from Wendy that it is all pretense, to which she droopingly responds: "Oh yes." Eventually, the Darling children recognize they must return home, Peter's companions wishing to follow them, but not Peter himself. All except Peter are captured when the pirates convince them that Tiger Lilly has won the battle against them by beating her tom-tom. However, thanks to Peter's abilities in warfare, one by one the pirates are killed in their ship. At last, Captain Hook confronts Peter but is unable to get the better of him in a sword-fight, neither can he blow them all by firing a powder magazine, all the more discouraged in seeing Peter play on pipes while sitting on a barrel in the air. Overcome by grief, Hook deliberately prostrates himself in the water and is swallowed down by the crocodile. During all that time, Mrs Darling has kept the window open for her children's return. To keep Wendy with him, Peter asks Tinker Bell to bar the window, but when the mother appears, he opens the window and flies out, enabling the children to enter. As years go by, Peter regularly comes back to the house. One day, Wendy asks him: "You don't feel you would like to say anything to my parents, Peter, about a very sweet subject?" "No," he answers. Eventually, his adventures are so many that he forgets who Tinker Bell is. Wendy asks him whether he will one day forget her, too, but, soaring away, he does not answer.
Hubert Henry Davies[edit | edit source]
Also with the lighter comic touch is Hubert Henry Davies (1869-1917) with “The mollusc” (1907).
In “The mollusc”, "the author has given his attention more to the moment than to the magnitude of his theme, though he has consistently portrayed a certain spineless phase of languid indolence with telling effect. Perhaps for the portrait intended, a quicker conflict would not serve as well. Certainly no character development is demanded, for the chief trait of his heroine is her utter void of worthwhile attributes" (Anthony, 1914 p 489).
“Davies’ most memorable contribution to our modern drama is primarily a character study, but Mrs Baxter in The Mollusc (1907) is so sentient a creation that she becomes the symbol of a class of women in society who coax and wheedle their way through the world. She is a potential comedy of manners in herself. Placid, unvexed, she makes flunkeys of her family and her friends but exacts the service with an indolent amiability that is disarming. She embraces routine and serenity and evades responsibility with the ardor with which some people welcome adventure. Her brother, Tom, brings into the serenity of the Baxter household a quickening presence that awakens the Mollusc to at least a momentary sense of her womanly duty. The author has been shrewd enough to bring his play to an indeterminate conclusion and has thereby enhanced its comic potency. Can the mollusc ever slough its shell? The comedy attracts our attention also by the neat adequacy of its technique. With a cast of only four characters, the situations are never forced. It is the comedy of manners in its most intimate form, as contrasted with the An Ideal Husband or Our Betters” (Sawyer, 1931 pp 217-218).
"Mrs Baxter, according to Tom, began to display a family tendency toward molluscry, a syndrome that leads to avoidance of physical and emotional effort and engagement and to a clinging hold on home base and things as they are...Fancying Miss Roberts himself from their first meeting, Tom takes it upon himself to reverse his sister's down ward spiral. Although Tom's confrontational and manipulative tactics are not exactly successful, in the end, relationships improve once interpersonal pressures and counter-pressures have been exerted... Each character's perspective and the intersubjectivity of the four characters are important to the plot. For example, when the Baxters and Miss Roberts try to recall the details of the upcoming arrival of their long-awaited guest, the dialogue, as Mrs Baxter tries to remember where she left brother Tom's letter, reveals their psychological interdependence...This tangled, claustrophobic, and yet quite funny familial situation welcomes Tom, who is just returning from visiting the wide-open spaces of Colorado" (Crochunis, 2008 pp 309-310). "For Mrs Baxter, ‘the rest which is glorious is that of the chamois couched breathless in its granite bed, not of the stalled ox over his fodder’. Ruskin’s aphorism might be the moral of Mr Davies’ charming play if anything so dull as a moral could be attached to so delicate a work of art” (Walbrook, 1911 pp 136-137).
“In sharp distinction to Hankin’s trenchant social criticism is the geniality and charm of Hubert Henry Davies’ social picturing, with just a fillip of satire here and there, a blending of elements that bespeaks the Robertson tradition. Davies is a master of gay and graceful comedy of middle-class manners, finding its setting in a natural world, not in an effulgent, artificial one. If his range of experience is limited, his dramatic performance is sound. He has the genuine enthusiasm of the recorder of manners for the kaleidoscopic social scene. He maintains consistently an amused, detached attitude that is rarely tinged with scorn. Like Hankin he is an observer of men but in him a lambent humor replaces wit. His comedies have caught the contagion of his own affability, but it is a geniality that does not degenerate into the sentimental. They are luminous with a warm glow of sunshine, not with the icy glitter of Maugham, let us say. It is this sympathy of his that enkindles his characters and endears them to us in a way that was impossible for Sutro or Hankin” (Sawyer, 1931 p 217).
“The mollusc”[edit | edit source]
Time: 1900s. Place: Rural England.
Richard Baxter is disagreeably surprised to learn that the governess of his two young daughters, Miss Roberts, wants to quit her job. "I think you need a governess with a college education, or, at any rate, some one who doesn't get all at sea in algebra and Latin," she declares. His wife, Dulcie, is also disagreeably surprised. After Miss Roberts hands over a footstool to make her more comfortable, she suggests that her husband may help out with the Latin. "I read Virgil at school. I haven't looked at him since," he responds. "Why teach the girls Latin?" she then wonders. When her brother, Tom, arrives from a lengthy journey in the state of Colorado, USA, he is charmed by Miss Roberts and quickly expresses the wish that she stay. He also quickly sizes up his sister's manner about the house. "She's a mollusc," he announces to Richard. "People who are like a mollusc of the sea, which clings to a rock and lets the tide flow over its head, people who spend all their energy and ingenuity in sticking instead of moving, in whom the instinct for what I call molluscry is as dominating as an inborn vice." She appears to be moving but it is only the waves that beat her about. In view of Richard's inability to change her, Tom wants to take charge of the matter, but quickly realizes the difficulty. When Tom suggests that he and his sister should prepare a bouquet of flowers, he winds up doing all the work. She resists moving about for the least reason, such as a picnic, preferring to order people about while staying put. She is displeased on observing Tom express interest for Miss Roberts and attempts to interfere. "I find your attitude towards my brother Tom a trifle too encouraging," she says to Miss Roberts. "Last evening, for instance, you monopolised a good deal of the conversation and this morning you took a walk with him before breakfast and altogether it looks just a little bit as if you were trying to flirt, doesn't it?" An angry Miss Roberts denies it and withdraws. Tom realizes what she has done and becomes angry, too. He opens his heart to Richard. "You married to her?" says the dismayed husband. "Oh no, oh no, I couldn't bear that." Tom is stunned on learning that Richard loves Miss Roberts, though, according to him, in a platonic fashion. When Richard opens his heart to Miss Roberts, it only distresses her and more than ever she wants to leave the house. When Richard sees her distress, he tries to comfort her and is discovered by his wife in a compromising position. She promptly arranges to appear sick, so that Richard and Miss Roberts, to Tom's disgust, take turns in taking care of her. "To a mollusc there is no pleasure like lying in bed feeling strong enough to get up," he comments. He gets her to move only after suggesting that her husband may be enjoying himself in the governess' company. On reintroducing the subject of his love to her and his desire to return to Colorado, Miss Roberts' pride falters and she confesses she wants to go with him. Dulcie then realizes that the only way to save her marriage is for her and Richard to engage equally in various activities together.
Noël Coward[edit | edit source]
Even lighter in the comic vein is Noël Coward (1899-1973) with "Private lives" (1930).
The first act “contains a great deal of skillfully modulated and finely shaded emotion, and it is nothing to the point that we do not approve of the people who are moved, that they do not belong to the world’s workers, and that this place of travail will be no better for their having passed through it...The second act shows the pretty creatures tearing each other to pieces. The third shows Victor and Sybil quarrelling not wittily, but as people without breeding quarrel. And under cover of this brawl the prettier pair steal hand in hand away...Mr Coward’s genius consists in this, that he catches admirably the conversational tone of the day, the fool-born jests of the wise, the world-weary banter of the modish restaurant’s most privileged table” (Agate, 1944 pp 244-245). “Much of the fun and poignancy of the play resides in the absurdly symmetrical action...Amanda goes in from the terrace, saying she will bring the cocktails out; a moment later, Elyot comes out on to his carrying cocktails...Amanda and Elyot both try to substitute a commonsense marriage for the intensities and endless quarrels of their earlier failed relationship” (Chothia, 1996 pp 150-152).
"In Private Lives two honeymoons are entertainingly contrasted. The relation between Amanda Prynne and Elyot Chase is based upon the only kind of attraction which, in the dramatist’s opinion, matters between man and woman; while their respective relations to their lawful spouses are represented as unreal and conventional...We are told what Chapter I of the lives of Amanda and Elyot was like: their marriage had ended after exasperated quarrels in divorce and in their remarriage to other partners. Though we only watch on the stage Chapter II, namely the first three days of their joint lives after they have come together again, having just bilked their just-wedded partners, this glimpse shows that Chapter III will probably repeat Chapter I. We watch scenes of rapturous tenderness modulate into the exchange of such sentiments as 'you damned sadistic bully’, “you loose-living wicked little beast!' and finally into a scrimmage on the floor...So, although his play apparently ends happily, and the story is so deftly and amusingly conducted that the audience actually envies Mr Coward’s lovers, no one can agree with Amanda’s pronouncement upon their predicament: 'we may be all right in the eyes of heaven, but we look like being in a hell of a mess socially.' No: they are in a hell of a mess all round, and it is a proof of Mr Coward’s adroitness that he has managed to disguise the grimness of his comedy and to conceal from the audience that his conception of love is desolating and false...Mr Coward’s gift as a dramatist, as I have occasion to repeat whenever I write about him, is that his dialogue has the rhythm of modern life, which is more broken and much quicker than that of twenty years ago. He understands, too, that it is more important that a joke on the stage should be spontaneous than witty. If it is also a brilliant piece of wit so much the better, but the important thing is that it should seem spontaneous" (MacCarthy, 1940 pp 244-245).
Mair and Ward (1939) unduly draped themselves in moral robes in summarizing the Coward cannon. “The most discussed younger dramatist between the World Wars was Noel Coward, who at times reflected and at other times seemed to initiate the moral mood of the moment. His work had little intellectual content, being concerned mainly with auto-parasitic types who feed upon their own nerves and desires. The wit is thin and febrile; the characters are bloodless and aimless creatures caught in a moral vacuum. It is a drama of disgust, more bitter in the mouth (but also more moral in intention) than the Restoration drama, where the playwrights were disgusting without being disgusted and gave sign of being weighed down by the enormities of the small world scanned by them. That world was, indeed, a world of pure artifice, insusceptible to moral law. Noel Coward’s plays are excellent theatre even if poor literature; and in this connection it must be acknowledged that inasmuch as it is the function of a playwright to fit his material to the requirements of stage entertainment, it is no fatal sign of inferiority if he comes short of meeting the sterner but duller demands of textual study” (pp 214-215).
"Private lives"[edit | edit source]
Time: 1930s. Place: France.
Elyot and Sybil are on their honeymoon. On the terrace of their hotel, Sybil becomes curious about his former wife, Amanda, which irritates him. As they go inside their room, Amanda, by coincidence, comes out on the terrace with Victor, her new husband, also on their honeymoon. When Elyot notices Amanda, he quickly tells Sybil they must go away, but she refuses. Likewise, Amanda insists that she and Victor go, a request he considers unreasonable at this hour. Elyot and Amanda confront each other. Though still angry, they are yet swayed by the romantic music around them. "Extraordinary how potent cheap music is!" she comments. Both recognize that, even after five years of divorce, they are more in love with each other than with their respective spouses, and so they abandon them and leave together for Paris. At her apartment, Amanda and Elyot renew their old lost love, but he is startled on hearing her say she did not expect him to be celibate "anymore than I was", and is irritated about her "yap-yap-yap-yapping" about Victor, at which she cries out "Sollocks" as a sign that they should stop arguing at that point. As he cuddles up to kiss her, she says: "It is so soon after dinner," infuriating him. She complains about his drinking and he about her gramophone-playing, until the "Sollocks" danger signal no longer works and they hit each other as the bewildered pair of Victor and Sybil, having located their whereabouts, enter their room. The following morning, Amanda is wearing her traveling clothes and carrying her suitcase on her way out, but Victor convinces her to stay awhile. He demands to know Elyot's intentions, who answers he does not know. As discussions heat up, Elyot, wearing his traveling clothes and carrying a suitcase, is on his way to Canada, but Victor convinces him to remain as well. Sybil decides not to divorce Elyot for a year, and neither will Victor divorce his wife. All four seek to make light of the situation, Elyot and Amanda being more flippant, to the extent that an aggravated Victor scolds Elyot, who is defended by Sybil. While Victor and Sybil quarrel, Elyot and Amanda again slip away together.