Thursday, November 8, 2007

The Devil's Disciple
The Devil's Disciple is the only play by G. Bernard Shaw set in America. This historical play takes place in the time of the Revolutionary War and is the fictional story of Richard Dudgeon, an American hero. It was published in Shaw's 1901 collection Three Plays for Puritans (together with Captain Brassbound's Conversion and Caesar and Cleopatra). A film version was made in 1959.

Dudgeon is secretly a rebel, and is considered by his family and friends to be the "Devil's disciple" because of his rebellious personality and unfaithfulness to religion. The main reason why he has turned so "devilish" is because of his rude and inconsiderate mother's rigid piety, which has deterred Dudgeon from following in her footsteps. In Act I, however, Dick returns home upon the death of his father to hear the reading of the will. His wickedness appalls Judith, the wife of the town's minister, Anthony Anderson.
In Act II, Richard is in fact the hero. While visiting Anderson's home, Dick is left alone with Judith while Anderson is called out to Mrs. Dudgeon's deathbed. Neither Dick nor Judith finds the tête-a-tête comfortable, but when British soldiers enter and arrest Dick, mistaking him for Anderson, Dick allows them to take him away, knowing that they will hang him. He swears Judith to secrecy lest her husband give the secret away. But when Anderson hears what has happened, he seems to turn into a different man: calling for money and a gun, he rides away. Judith believes her husband to be a coward, while Dick, whom she despised, is a hero.
In Act III, Judith visits Dick and asks him if he has acted from love. He gently explains that he does not love her, but has acted out of an unexpected decency. During the military trial, Dick is convicted and sentenced to be hanged. This scene introduces General Burgoyne, a Shavian realist, who contributes a number of sharp remarks about the conduct of the American Revolution. Judith interrupts the proceedings to reveal Dick's true identity--but to no avail: he will be hanged in any case. News reaches Burgoyne that American rebels have taken a nearby town, so he and his troops are in danger. The rebels will send a man to negotiate with the British. The final scene of the play is the public square where Dick will be hanged. Like Sidney Carton in Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities, Dick prepares to meet his death. At the last minute, Burgoyne stops the hanging because the rebel has arrived. It is Anthony Anderson, who has become a man of action in an instant, just as Dick became a man of conscience in an instant. Anderson bargains for Dick's life, and Burgoyne, who has just learned that reinforcements that he had expected will not arrive, agrees to free him. As the Americans rejoice, the British go away, knowing that they face certain defeat.

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