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Devil's Disciple


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A: George Bernard Shaw Pf: 1897, London Pb: 1901 G: Melodrama in 3 acts S: Websterbridge, New Hampshire, 1777 C: 18m, 6f, extrasIt is 1777, and the British are having difficulty suppressing the American War of Independence. The pious and unsympathetic Annie Dudgeon is dismayed when her profligate son Dick returns to hear the reading of his late father's will. She is even unhappier when the arrogant lad, who defiantly calls himself the ‘devil's disciple’, is declared the sole beneficiary. Dick visits the local minister Anthony Anderson and is unexpectedly impressed by the churchman. When Anderson is called away, British soldiers come to arrest him, and Dick pretends to be Anderson and allows himself to be arrested. Returning home, Anderson takes Dick's coat and rides off. His pretty wife Judith visits Dick and, because of his bravery and her husband's cowardice, tells him that she loves him. Dick swears her to silence about his true identity, but when he is condemned to death by the military tribunal, she reveals that he is not Anderson. He must still hang, but as he stands on the gallows, Anderson, who has defeated a British force, rescues him. Anderson will now become a soldier, and Dick will join the Church, but promises Judith, reconciled to her husband, not to reveal her confession of love.

A: George Bernard Shaw Pf: 1897, London Pb: 1901 G: Melodrama in 3 acts S: Websterbridge, New Hampshire, 1777 C: 18m, 6f, extras

Shaw was a master at taking traditional structures and filling them with new content: despite purporting to despise the French well-made play with its tight plotting and neat resolution of complications, he exploited the form in many of his ‘problem plays’; he used romantic comedy as in Arms and the Man; and in The Devil's Disciple he drew on melodrama. The innovation here was to introduce a refreshingly unheroic hero like Dick Dudgeon, who acts bravely not from any high moral code nor because he loves Judith, but simply on impulse. Thus Dick may be seen to be the progenitor of the many enigmatic figures of modern drama who act in extreme ways without their motivation being spelt out.

Subjects: Literature.


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