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Admirable Crichton


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AT: Circumstances Alter Cases A: J. M. Barrie Pf: 1902, London Pb: 1914 G: Com. in 4 acts S: Lord Loam's manor house and a desert island, early 20th c. C: 7m, 6fIn order to appear progressive, the Earl of Loam each month invites his family and staff to a tea hour where everyone is treated equally. The butler Crichton resists this undermining of traditional hierarchies and insists on his subservient role. During a world cruise the family become shipwrecked on a desert island. In this situation it is only Crichton who is able to cope, rapidly becoming the leader of the party. Honoured with the title ‘Guv’, he is now flattered by the attentions of Lord Loam's previously haughty daughters, Mary and Catherine. Crichton opts for Mary, and the whole family enjoy an idyllic existence on their island. When a ship appears, Mary, intending to marry Crichton, begs him to ignore it, but he knows that his brief spell as head of the family is over and arranges a rescue. Back at home, traditional roles are restored, but, aware that he is now an embarrassment to the family, Crichton decides to seek a new post. In the Definitive Edition the play ends with Lady Mary about to marry an aristocrat, but confessing that Crichton is ‘the best man among us’.

AT: Circumstances Alter Cases A: J. M. Barrie Pf: 1902, London Pb: 1914 G: Com. in 4 acts S: Lord Loam's manor house and a desert island, early 20th c. C: 7m, 6f

It is a tradition of world drama at least as old as Plautus that servants are often more resourceful and inventive than their masters. This tradition is playfully exploited by Barrie (reinventing the original ‘admirable Crichton’, James Crichton, a 16th-century Scottish prodigy), while touching on serious issues of class. Significantly, Lord Loam's minimal gesture towards democracy is limited to one hour a month. Only when the family are uprooted from their social context by being stranded in the middle of the ocean can those of merit prove their superiority over those privileged by the accident of birth. Since the family, and especially the charming Lady Mary, remain reasonably likeable, Barrie's attitude was hardly revolutionary, but it was certainly subversive.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights) — Literary Studies (20th Century onwards).


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Authors

J. M. Barrie (1860—1937) playwright and novelist


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