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Armstrong's Last Goodnight


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A: John Arden Pf: 1964, Glasgow Pb: 1965 G: Hist. drama in 3 acts; Scots dialect prose, with some verse and songs S: Royal palace, Armstrong's castle, and forest, Scotland, 1528–30 C: 30m, 7fSir David Lindsay (author of A Satire of the Three Estates), James V of Scotland's Chief Herald, is attending a meeting in 1528 of Scots and English Commissioners ‘to secure ane certain time of peace, prosperity, and bliss on ilk side of the Border’. One of the sticking points is the frequency of the borderers' cattle raids, especially those carried out by John Armstrong of Gilnockie. The Scots promise to get Gilnockie to obey the King's law, and Lindsay is charged with the task of winning him over. Gilnockie and fellow clansmen betray an old enemy, Johnstone of Wamphray, and bring about his death. Lindsay offers Gilnockie the title of warden of Eskdale if he will swear loyalty to James and refrain from further border raids. Lindsay, insisting that Gilnockie make his peace with Wamphray, is glad to hear that he is now ‘in condition of peace’. Lindsay's mistress, arriving too late to join Lindsay, lodges with Gilnockie and is roughly seduced by him. The confirmation of Gilnockie's appointment is delayed by the opposition of Gilnockie's suzerain, Lord Maxwell. The impatient Gilnockie now demands Wamphray's lands. Lindsay has a vision of a free state ruled by the borderers like a Swiss canton. However, Gilnockie has led a raid into England, and Henry VIII threatens war in retaliation. Gilnockie is promised safe conduct to meet the King, but is treacherously seized and hanged.

A: John Arden Pf: 1964, Glasgow Pb: 1965 G: Hist. drama in 3 acts; Scots dialect prose, with some verse and songs S: Royal palace, Armstrong's castle, and forest, Scotland, 1528–30 C: 30m, 7f

In this well-constructed piece, Arden explores the relationship between honourable dealing and political expediency. Like the Pope being dressed in Brecht's Life of Galileo, Lindsay's honour disappears under his herald's tabard. Gilnockie is an anarchic, immoral rogue, reminiscent of Brecht's Azdak and cousin to Arden's Sailor Sawney and Butterthwaite. Only Lindsay's anachronistic vision of an autonomous border state hints at Arden's left-wing views.

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


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John Arden (b. 1930)


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