Thursday, December 17, 2015


William Archer (1856-1924) began writing a new play in September 1919 with the working titled of “The Raja of Rukh”.  He sent a draft to his close friend, George Bernard Shaw, since he wanted Shaw to collaborate with him on this play.  Shaw felt Archer should rely on his own talent to complete the play, so Shaw declined to assist Archer with the play’s development.  Eventually Archer settled into completing this melodramatic play and he renamed it The Green Goddess. He claimed his sole intent was to entertain the British public and provide himself with some retirement money.

Since Archer’s motivation was based on writing a popular theatre entertainment, he created a plot built on adventure bolstered with thrills. It was the type of play that allowed audience members to forget their individual feelings of loss, grief and hardship resulting from World War One. Archer established an exotic setting for this play—a remote Himalayan province named Rukh that is ruled by a Raja.  The Raja is an unusual gentleman who mixes his culture with western practices since he was educated in England. He earned his degree in Moral and Political Science at Cambridge University. He has many attributes of an aristocratic British citizen. He enjoys the plays of George Bernard Shaw as well as employing an English valet named Watkins. The Raja with a foot in both worlds is able to comment on his world as well as the current injustices of colonialism. 

At the beginning of Act One, a small airplane has crashed on a treeless mountain.  The pilot, Dr. Traherne and his two passengers, Major Crespin and his wife, Lucilla, emerge from the wreck.  They are watched by a group of natives and a Priest from the local temple.  The Raja arrives on the scene “dressed in the extreme of Eastern gorgeousness.”  The Raja informs his three “guests” that he knows his three brothers, who are in India, have recently been sentenced to death by the colonial government for a political crime they committed there.

Act Two takes place in a large old-fashioned room in the Raja’s palace. Crespin and Traherne ask Watkins, the Raja’s valet, questions about their exact location in relationship to India.  Lucilla enters the room in evening attire supplied by the Raja. It is during this act that the three intruders learn they are being held hostage by the Raja.  He plans to sentence them to the same penalty that his brothers will face in India. 

Act Three is set in The Raja’s private quarters that are furnished in modern, European splendor. It is the next day and the Raja is concerned that the three guests will discover his wireless room that is in this section of the palace.  He also wonders if the men have any knowledge related to wireless messaging.  It is this situation that dominates most of the act, but Crespin knows how to use the wireless and eventually, he does so. He is shot by the Raja as the act ends.

Act Four is when Dr. Traherne and Lucilla are to be sacrificed to the Green Goddess.   They are saved at the last moment by British soldiers and airplanes that scare the native population by bombing the surrounding fields. One airplane lands to take the British citizens back to India.

This play was extremely successful on both sides of the Atlantic.  The audiences were highly entertained by the play’s exotic location that was distinctly oriental. British theatre had used Orientalism as an ingredient in drama for centuries. This type of play traditionally utilized exotic sets and costumes to provide a dazzling spectacle.  It also allows for other elements that add to the spectacle such as the Green Goddess. She is the exotic deity of Rukh and she is represented by a colossal statue that represents barbaric justice. Her statue is green, but there are traces of gold on her crown, her ornaments and her throne. 

Orientalism also allowed audiences to quickly determine “We” (good) and “They” (evil).  India was included as a prominent Oriental setting for many melodramas as early as the nineteenth century. While Rukh is not India, it has many characteristics that are borrowed from that culture. Since India was still part of the Empire at that time, the Rukh setting allowed Archer to make comments about personal and social justice.  The audience is entertained while it also receives commentary regarding love, marriage and other social concerns as well as comments pointing to the decline and weakness of the Empire.

The Green Goddess was not written with the intent of being a war play, but it reflected the anxieties and griefs that were part of life in Great Britain following World War One. It is a hostage drama and the penalty is death.  The three hostages have done nothing wrong, but their punishment is based on “an eye for an eye” type of justice or a “war is war” philosophy.   The play contains a scene with aerial bombing to scare the Rukh government, religious leaders and civilian population. Wireless radio transmission plays a crucial role in the action of this drama just as it did during the war. The military of Rukh are evident throughout the play and British military arrive at the conclusion of the play. The elements of war abound in this play, but audiences could enjoy it without the idea of it being about real events related to a specific war.

No comments:

Post a Comment