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A: Peter Barnes Pf: 1968, Nottingham Pb: 1969 G: Com. in 2 acts; with prologue and epilogue S: Gurney Manor and other locations, England, 1960s C: 17m, 5fWhen the 13th Earl of Gurney accidentally hangs himself, his remaining son Jack inherits the earldom. Unfortunately, Jack is barking mad: he believes he is God, and is happy to spend time hanging from a cross. When he declares that all men are equal, his horrified uncle Charles declares: ‘he's not only mad, he's Bolshie!’ The family's only hope is for Jack to have a son, who could then take over the title. Jack announces that he is already married – to Marguerite Gautier, the Lady of the Camellias. Charlie arranges for his mistress Grace Shelley to appear as Gautier and marry Jack. Nine months later, while Grace is giving birth to a baby boy, Jack is overcome by a Scots madman who also thinks he is God. Confronting an 8-foot beast, Jack is restored to sanity. Jack fights against the remains of his mental illness, but the family summon the Master in Lunacy in order to have him committed. When Jack fulminates against ‘chaos, anarchy, homosexuality and worse’, the Master is fully persuaded of Jack's sanity. From being the God of Love, Jack now believes he is Jack the Ripper. When Charles's wife seduces him, he slits her open with a knife, but Tucker, the old family retainer, is exposed as a Communist and arrested for the murder. Jack speaks in the House of Lords, and his rousing speech, asserting that ‘The strong must manipulate the weak’, is cheered to the rafters. As Grace embraces the triumphant Jack, he reaches for his knife…

A: Peter Barnes Pf: 1968, Nottingham Pb: 1969 G: Com. in 2 acts; with prologue and epilogue S: Gurney Manor and other locations, England, 1960s C: 17m, 5f

Barnes's funny and vituperative dark comedy attacks the British Establishment, suggesting an unholy alliance between religion, politics, and law, and is based on the not wholly implausible premiss that preaching a gospel of love is regarded as madness, while messages of hatred and intolerance are treated as sane. Jack the Ripper is more acceptable than God.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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Authors

Peter Barnes (1931—2004) playwright and screenwriter


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