Friday, February 12, 2016


By the beginning of the second decade in the twentieth century, Alfred Noyes (1880-1958) a British poet, was widely known in the United States and Canada. His popularity was the result of his poems being accessible and memorable such as his poem The Highwayman. His first American lecture tour was in 1911 and his second began in 1913. This was a six month tour that included several major Canadian cities.

It was in 1913 that Noyes’s short play Rada was selected for presentation by the Mac Dowell Club in New York City. The play was one of the featured events for the club’s Christmas Festival held at the Astor Hotel on December 16, 1913. This was a significant annual event for the club that promoted study and appreciation of all the arts. The addition of Alfred Noyes to this annual festival caused the New York newspapers to provide information regarding his play.

The major issue discussed was concern with a play that portrayed a war situation taking place on Christmas Eve. The New York Times on December 7, 1913 ran a full-page spread with the headline: “Noyes Writes Christmas Play for M’Dowell Club.” The subheading: “English Poet’s ‘Rada’ Is a Grim Christmas Tragedy and a plea for ‘Peace on Earth, Good Will Toward Men”. The article mentions that Noyes wrote this play especially for this group. “. . . the young English poet has been able to make of his brief drama a powerful sermon for Peace—the essence of the Christmas spirit.”

The play is set in a village home somewhere in one of the Balkan countries. It is a time of war and two enemy soldiers are holding the family members hostage—the husband, who was the village doctor, had been killed earlier in the day. The title of the play, Rada, is the name of the doctor’s wife. She is the protagonist of this drama, who is determined to protect her twelve year old daughter from being ravished by the drunken Rumanian soldiers. There is also in the household an old, half-witted school master, who spouts platitudes related to war. The New York Times article states that “when the curtain goes up it will be upon the things that war really means—desolation, sorrow, the sacrifice of the innocent, the brute in man liberated by killing and rapine, the stupid and unnecessary tragedy that is the aftermath of battle. The striking thing about this play is its reality, its simplicity.”

Newspaper stories about this MacDowell Club event appeared across the country. Rada received a lot of publicity, however once the Christmas event was concluded the script was not available. In September of 1914, it was reported in the New York Tribune that Frederick A. Stokes Company, Noyes’s American publisher, will print a book version of “Rada” as soon as possible. By this date, World War One had commenced. From newspaper articles in the United States, I have noted that Frederick A. Stokes Company publication of Rada occurred during the last half of November, 1914. This publication presented the possibility for clubs, college players and others across America to present either readings of the play or staged productions. I have read announcements regarding such events.

Prior to the Methuen and Company LTD. publication of the play in Great Britain and a second release by Frederick A. Stokes Company in America, Noyes desired to do a rewrite since he felt it was originally a sketch rather than a complete one-act play. Also current events required changes to make the play relevant. This new book version of “Rada” was available by March,1915. The title of the play is lengthened to introduce a new location for the drama: Rada A Belgian Christmas Eve. Obviously, changing the location of the play introduced a different enemy soldier who was now German instead of Rumanian. The other characters are the same as is the basic situation and the resolution of the plot.

In addition to the new setting and designated enemy army for this play, Noyes added three poetic sections--Dedication, Prelude and Intercession (Epilogue). Reviewers in the United States frequently state that these three pieces represent “three of the best things he has ever written on war subjects.” The book also includes “Four Illustrations After Goya.” This is the version of the play that I read.

The London Times reviewed the Methuen publication on March 9, 1915 and it comments that Noyes “ends his drama (which is not without its moments of great emotional beauty) on a note of submissive hope.” It further mentions that the two final verses of the Intercession are meaningful. One other reviewer in a Birmingham newspaper echoed the American reviewers thought that the Prelude and Epilogue were some of Noyes’s strongest work to date.

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