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).
- 1 George Bernard Shaw
- 2 Sean O'Casey
- 3 J.M. Synge
- 4 St John Ervine
- 5 James Joyce
- 6 George Shiels
- 7 John Galsworthy
- 8 Somerset Maugham
- 9 St John Hankin
- 10 Harley Granville-Barker
- 11 Githa Sowerby
- 12 JM Barrie
- 13 Hubert Henry Davies
- 14 Noël Coward
George Bernard Shaw
One of the major English dramatists prior to World War II (1939-1945) is the Irish playwright, George Bernard Shaw (1854-1950), whose best-known plays include "Mrs Warren's profession" (1902), "Man and superman" (1903), "Major Barbara" (1905), "Pygmalion" (1912), and "Heartbreak House" (1919).
In Downer’s (1950), view, “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.” (p 306)
Grien (1902), early critic of “Mrs Warren’s profession”, refused to allow the subject of brothels handled in 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.”
In contrast, Goldman (1914) commented when Mrs Warren's fate is contrasted with her sister's (Liz) in this way: "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."
In “Man and superman”, Brustein (1964) points out that “the joke on Tanner is that all the time he is theorizing about the life force, he is being ensnared by it.” Tanner is represented as the intellectual bound to fall prey to woman’s biological drive of procreation (Lamm, 1952 p 272-73) 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).
Lewisohn (1922) summarized "Heartbreak house" thus: "It is softer in tone than many of Shaw's plays; it is, for him, extraordinarely 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."
On "Heartbreak house", Bentley (1947) commented: “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.” Brustein (1964) points out that Ellie stumbles in disenchantment from romantic love, to “marriage of convenience”, to “spiritual marriage”, the latter gained by spirits (rum bottle) not the spirit.
Again Bentley: “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."
Of “Pygmalion”, Bentley (1947) commented: “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.”
There is a character named Pygmalion in "Back to Methuselah". He is a sort of Frankenstein or Pavlov. He thinks that you can put together a man by assembling mechanical parts. Henry Higgins also thinks he has made a person or at least an amenable slave when he has "assembled" a duchess. But the monster turns against Frankenstein. Forces have been brought into play of which the man-maker knows nothing. And Shaw's Pygmalion has helped into being a creature even more mysterious than a monster: a human being.
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.”
"Major Barbara" "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," Goldman (1914) noted. "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." 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). In the opinion of Williams (1965): "The emotional inadequacy of his plays denies him major status (p 152)." This notion is disputed. In the Salvation Army scene, “the conflict of soul between Barbara and BiIl is described with such sincerity that even deeply religious people have been carried away” (Lamm, 1952 p 276-77).
"Mrs Warren's profession"
Time: 1900s. Place: England.
Vivie Warren, fresh from attending mathematic studies at Cambridge University, receives the visit of Praed, her mother's friend. Her mother then arrives along with her business-partner, Crofts, followed by 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 an early 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 with her mother and his personnality, she unhesitatingly refuses. She then learns that the business relation between Crofts and her mother is ongoing. Angry at the refusal and smarting in jealousy towards Frank, Crofts reveals to both that they are half-brother-and-sister. Sick of this athmosphere, 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"
Time: 1900s. Place: England.
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. But a lifetime of happiness! No man alive could bear it: it would be hell on earth," John tells him. "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," continues John. They are interrupted by news of the elopement of Octavius' sister, Violet. They assume that her wedding ring 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 terms of evolution: the polytechnic man. Octavius narrates the outcome of his marriage proposal to Ann: she wept, a dangerous sign according to John. He 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, 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, Violet 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, Hector's father, old Malone, receives by mistake an intimate note left by Violet for her husbqnd. When he 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 his love of her. "You know that my mother is determined that I shall marry Jack," she misleadingly retorts. 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. "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," concludes John.
Time: 1900s. Place: England.
Now that her daughters, Sarah and Barbara, are respectively married and engaged to Charles and Adolphus, 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 in that institution. A client, Rummy Mitchens, interferes. Bill strikes her face, as well as Jenny's, but stops of doing the same to Major Barbara, an earl's grand-daughter. On learning of his daughter's benevolent endeavors, Andrew Undershaft is 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 points out. The entire family is curious to visit his arms plant, Adolphus judging the place to be: "horribly, frightfully, immorally, unanswerably perfect." 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 sticks to his creed: "to give arms to all men who offer an honest price for them, without respect of persons or principles-" To Barbara he has this advice: "If your old religion broke down yesterday, get a newer and a better one for tomorrow." 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 colors," she afffirms.
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, his own creation, as the sculptor in antiquity did with his statue, Pygmalion. The next day, Eliza turns up to pay for speaking lessons at Professor Higgins' house, as 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 house 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 a 5-pound note. Henry and Pickering make a first trial of her on 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" to her aunt, Eliza, to Henry's delight, is far from the flower-girl she was. She particularly impresses the shy Freddy. At last, 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? Henry without much interest suggests a few things, but seeing Eliza still sorrowful and angry, declares her to be a "heartless guttersnipe". The next morning, in Mrs. Higgins' drawing room, the two worried friends discover Eliza lodged at her 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. Does Henry truly care for her? Will Eliza accept his eccentricities? No one can tell.
Time: 1910s. Place: England.
Ellie Dunn is invited at the house of her friend, Hesione Hushabye. No one notices her until Nurse Guinness eventually shows up, and Hesione's father, Captain Shotover, a captain no more but 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 their estranged sister, Lady Ariadne Utterword, aggrieved and shocked at not being recognized at first 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. Hesione and her husband 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 her 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 has 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, where the entire company discover the burglar is 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 to Mangan that he starts to take his clothes off, but is prevented from going farther. When the conversation turns 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 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.
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). "The plough and the stars" drama concerns events surrounding the Easter uprising of 1916, where the starry plough flag was waved, emblem of the Irish Citizen Army against British rule.
Trewin (1951) enthused on the power of O'Casey's language: "He seemed to be an Elizabethan re-bom. 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 m character or not, just as Shakespeare’s innomkiate gentlemen flame for a moment only and fall to silence." (p 187)
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."
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) the anion occurs during the 1922 civil war between the Irish Free State, accepting the treaty of partition, and the Republican Army which rejected it.
In "The plough and the stars”, Hogan (1960) points out that “there are eight main actions in the play: that of Nora, of Jack, of Bessie, of Fluther, of Peter, of the Covey, of Mrs. Gogan, and of 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)
Williams (1965) compares O'Casey's use of language 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) But 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."
"The shadow of a gunman"
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. Seumas' friend, Maguire, a member of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), obtains permission 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 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. Seumas 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 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 on 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," prays Seumas. "We'll never again be able to lift up our heads if anything happens to Minny," moans Donal. 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"
Time: 1920s. Place: Dublin, Ireland.
Text at http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=9725938 http://www.archive.org/details/selectedplaysofs00ocas https://archive.org/details/fivegreatmoderni00unse https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.159873
Captain Jack Boyle is unemployed but yet strutting like a peacock (pronounces paycock) 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 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 reveals to 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"
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. He cries out for Fluther to follow her. "D'ye think Fluther's like yourself, destitute of a titther of undherstandin'?" he 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 says. 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. Brennan and Jack carry in the latter's apartment a shot comrade. Nora begs her husband to stay at home, but she is shaming him in his view 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 reveal 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 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.
J.M. Synge (1871-1909) contributed two of the best comedies of the Edwardian period: "The well of the saints" (1905) and "The playboy of the western world" (1907).
Williams (1965) summarizes "The well of the saints" thus: "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." (p 160-161)
The same author summarizes "The playboy of the western world" thus: "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…(p 164). 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." For Chandler (1914), “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.” (p 272)
Ellis-Fermor (1971) emphasizes the resilience of the protagonist: “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 rime 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." (p 177)
The relation between Christy and Pegeen Mike has been justly praised by Boyd (1917): "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." (p 114)
"The well of the saints"
Time: 19th century. Place: East Ireland.
An old blind 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 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-" announces Molly. When the 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. On seeing the beautiful Molly, 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, they 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 her intended, 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 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 says. 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"
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 arrives, Christy Mahon. He says 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," asserts Christy. He 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 asserts 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 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, he 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," assserts the murderer. 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 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. Shawn leaves to contribute to upcoming sporting events, while Christy struts about with his new clothes, but, as she opens the door, to his horror he sees 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?" inquires the surprised widow, "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," says Mahon 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 gives 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, he 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 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 and the crowd gathering around, Christy runs to the door after his father with the loy in hand and seems to strike him dead. He 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," says a frustrated Pegeen. 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," she cries.
St John Ervine
St John Ervine (1883-1971) was at 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.
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 had 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 agrees 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, 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 announce to 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 about to be 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 he is the murderer and his intention 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’ lost liberty. Instead, he takes his coat and cap and leaves in Hannah’s company.
Famous as a novelist, the Irish writer James Joyce (1882-1941) contributed a drama of interest with "Exiles" (1918), concerning marital relations much in the manner of Ibsen.
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 tell him that his wife only felt pity for him. Regretting his disloyal attempt at seducing his wife, Robert swears he wishes 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?" asks Richard. 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 and kisses her hair. Richard eventually accepts the 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 comes in 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.
Of interest as well is the Irish dramatist, George Shiels (1881-1949), with "The new gossoon" (1930). 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"
Time: 1930s. Place: Rural Ireland.
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Given hunting rights on the mountain once owned by a farmer named Cary and now by Ellen, his widow, Rabit Hamel 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 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 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.
Among other British dramatists of interest is John Galsworthy (1867-1933), 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).
In “Loyalties (1922), Dancy’s friends consider an attack against Dancy’s honor as an attack against theirs. Dupont (1942) points out the compactness of its opening scene: "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." (p 102)
Galsworthy also wrote "A little bit of love" (1915). As summarized by Lewisohn (1922): "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." Next in line comes "The skin game" (1920). As summarized by the same critic, "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."
Of Galsworthy in general, Lewisohn (1915) remarks: "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."
Time: 1920s. Place: England.
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 the 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, mentions to Winsor, but not to 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," answers De Levis. Nevertheless, three weeks later, in a London club, Major Colford announces to his fellow members what De Levis has told him. "He's saying it was Ronald Dancy robbed him down at Winsor's. 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. Confronting Dancy before members of their club, De Levis accuses Dancy, who wishes to settle the matter with weapons, has no explanation of the points raised against him, and curses him 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 when he was blackmailed, 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.
Though more famous as a novelist, Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) wrote several plays, including "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- the adventure. I step aside." Even graver to the Whartons, John also 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, she specifiess, 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 though weaker than "Penelope" (1912) in that a wife shows exceptional patience to save her marriage, except that the husband commits adultery and yet the matter is treated more like a light comedy than "Caesar's wife", as if a husband's straying were more trivial.
Time: 1910s. Place: England.
Lady Grayston, known as Pearl among her friends, 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 tells, but yet leaves 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
St John Hankin (1869-1909)'s main contribution is "The return of the prodigal" (1905). Trewin (1951) writes: "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 ’Frisco. 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,” responds Eustace, “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," says the rector’s wife, "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." (p 63-64) In Downer's (1950) view, “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.” (p 317)
"The return of the prodigal"
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. He was 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 on learning he coolly ordered expensive new clothes for himself and arranged to have the bill sent to his care. He 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 tells him they have already tried that strategy, which amounted to a dismal failure. Instead, he 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," cynically retorts Eustace, "and I won't write." Sam writes a cheque as a first installment and contemptuously waves it away.
Harley Granville-Barker (1877-1946) contributed an important social drama of people at work with "The Madras house" (1909). In Downer's (1950), view, [the author] "depicts an ideal couple who have escaped "from the farmyard world of sex" to the greater realization of their possibilities as human beings.” (p 314) Lewisohn (1915) remarks: "In The Madras House, however, which represents the latest point in Mr. Barker's development, 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."
Trewin (1951) writes: "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 rebelhon 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." (p 81)
Downer (1950) “Granville-Barker presents a picture of a society totally organized around money, peopled by those whose survival depends on a submission to its laws and values. Mr. Voysey maintains his reputation as an honest business man by being extra-skillful at fraud, hypocrisy, and sham. And this is the "inheritance" which he, and his society, pass on to his son, Edward. At this point, one might expect a dramatic renunciation of his inheritance by the idealistic Edward; as the conscience of his family, he might acrifice himself, confess the state of affairs, and expiate the family sin in prison. But Granville-Barker is looking at life, not at the works of his predecessors. The heroic act is frequently irresponsible and selfish; the Voysey world cannot be so conveniently ignored.” (p 313)
"The Madras house"
Time: 1900s. Place: England.
Philip Madras and his uncle Henry Huxtable prepare to sell over their clothing shop, Roberts & Huxtable, to an American financier, Mr State. For this purpose, they will soon meet with Philip's father, Constantine, separated from his wife, Amelia, 30 years ago due to adulterous relations on his part 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.” Henry has heard 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 not 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, Rebecca. "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 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 (1876-1970) contributed to the period with a fine family saga, "Rutherford and son". 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."
"Rutherford and son"
Time: 1910s. Place: Grantley, North Yorkshire, England.
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 young age, 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. He is nevertheless outraged that John wants to keep the formula secret until he buys the invention from him and leave 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 is not confident in 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.
In a lighter comic vein, J.M. Barrie (1860-1937), the Scottish playwright, achieves fame with "Peter Pan" (1904). Wilson (1951 p 149-150) wrote: "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'."
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 her a kiss, an acorn button, which she puts on. Despite Tinker Bell's irritation at their increasing friendliness, Peter shows them 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 on her heart. While Wendy is still unconscious, they 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 make them believe 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, 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 him 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
Also with the lighter comic touch is Hubert Henry Davies (1869-1917) with “The mollusc” (1907).
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, he wants to take charge of the matter, but quickly realizes his difficulty. When he 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 stay put and order people about. 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 her. "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.
Even lighter in the comic vein is Noël Coward (1899-1973) with "Private lives" (1930).
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 their current spouses 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 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 the 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.