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John Ferguson


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A: St John Ervine Pf: 1915, Dublin Pb: 1915 G: Trag. in 4 acts S: Rural Ireland, 1885 C: 8m, 2fOld John Ferguson, an invalided Ulster farmer, is deeply religious, finding consolation in the Bible when his life seems in ruins. Because his son Andrew is not managing the farm very well, a bullying neighbour Henry Witherow is threatening to foreclose their mortgage. There are two hopes: a cheque from Ferguson's brother in America; or Ferguson's daughter Hannah will have to marry the well-to-do local grocer James Caesar. She agrees to go out with him, but recognizes that she could not bear to marry such a repulsive individual. While Caesar furiously demands of the family that Hannah should marry him, Hannah runs in distressed, announcing that Witherow has raped her. Caesar strides off, planning to exact revenge. Despite Fergusons's admonitions about Christian forgiveness, Hannah's brother Andrew, aware that Caesar is too cowardly to do anything, leaves with his gun. The following morning Witherow has been shot, and, despite protesting his innocence, Caesar is arrested for his murder. Hannah responds by being kind to him for the first time. The cheque arrives from America, but too late: ‘One man's dead and another's in jail because uncle forgot the mail day.’ Finally, Andrew admits that he killed Witherow, and despite his mother's urging him to run away, gives himself up and faces hanging.

A: St John Ervine Pf: 1915, Dublin Pb: 1915 G: Trag. in 4 acts S: Rural Ireland, 1885 C: 8m, 2f

St John Ervine, who managed the Abbey Theatre 1915–16, directed John Ferguson, probably his finest play, while he was there. As a Northern Irish Protestant, Ervine was keen to extend the Abbey repertoire beyond its limited repertoire. He sacked the whole company and resigned over the Easter Rising. John Ferguson has undeniably melodramatic moments, but its image of unmoving Presbyterian faith remains powerful.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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St John Ervine (1883—1971)


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