Thursday, October 12, 2017


Edward Knoblock (1874-1945), born in New York City, was in 1917 a renowned playwright on both sides of the Atlantic, when he wrote Tiger! Tiger!  He was the first American to establish an international reputation as a playwright when his play Kismet became a sensation in 1911. Many of his dramas were produced in London, New York and major cities throughout Europe.
When Great Britain declared war against Germany, Knoblock was residing in London. He immediately began to use his writing skills to create plays for British organizations.  His short plays varied from recruiting sketches to raising funds for British War Relief or demonstrating how to protect one’s home and neighborhood during enemy attack.

Knoblauch became a British citizen in 1916, and changed his surname to Knoblock, eliminating the Teutonic spelling and sounding elements. His new citizenship permitted him to become a member of the Intelligence Department in Britain’s War Office. It was during his Sunday duty at the Intelligence Department, when the office was usually quiet that he wrote Tiger! Tiger!

This play is set during the years of World War One. Act I begins in the spring of 1914. It is set in the London chambers of Clive Couper, a Peer of the Realm.  He is a man “of thirty-six or seven; intellectual, rather than physical; a man who appreciates the really fine things of life.” His dwelling shows “great refinement and taste.”  Scene one takes place after dinner. Couper is entertaining his friend Stephen Greer, a kindred type, but older by twenty-five years.  Evelyn Greer, Stephen’s daughter, is playing the piano and singing in another room. Greer urges Couper to marry Evelyn. The scene ends as Couper decides to walk his two friend to a taxi stand.

Scene two is in the same location ten minutes later. Couper returns to his chambers and he is accompanied by a young woman that he has just met on the street. She is a working class person. He is fascinated by her and eventually urges her into his bedroom.

Scene three takes place a half hour after the end of the previous one. The woman’s name is Sally and Clive is enamored. As she is about to leave, Freddie Staunton arrives for a nightcap. He is bachelor friend of Couper’s and about twelve years older. Sally leaves and the two men have a nightcap.

Act II takes place in March, 1916. The location is the same and the time is 9:30 in the evening. The Greers are expected to join Clive for late supper. Couper has continued his relationship with Sally over the past two years, but has never revealed it to anyone. Couper has become a very active, vocal member of the House of Lords since the beginning of the war. He attributes his new work ethic and values to Sally’s influence. When Sally arrives unexpectedly, Clive strives to not let his secret relationship be revealed to the Greers.

Act III, scene one is set in a Red Cross office.  It is several months following Act II. Freddie heads this unit. He requested Sally to come so he can discuss her relationship with Couper. Freddie believes he is protecting his friend’s reputation.

 Scene two is set in the servants’ area of the home where Sally works as the cook. Her servant status was considered by Couper’s class to be near the bottom rung of society. The father of two young girls that Sally is attached to comes to see her. He asks her to marry him, but she refuses his proposal.

Scene three is in Couper’s chambers two nights later. Since it is Tuesday evening, Sally is scheduled to arrive. Freddie drops in first. It becomes known to Couper that Freddie was meddling in his life. Later Sally and Couper have an argument. He declares that he will join the military and go to France.

Act IV. Couper’s chambers, one year later. Couper died in France and his chambers are being dismantled by Evelyn, Freddie and his housekeeper. Sally has been contacted to come today since Couper left her one of his belongings. Evelyn tells Sally about Couper’s final moments of life.

In this play the war is a secondary influence on the immediate lives of the characters. The playwright depicts the war as “out there” meaning in the French trenches. The influence of the war is on those characters in the play who go to France. It either alters one’s goals in life or it takes one’s life.

Tiger! Tiger! was a daring statement relating to the relationship between men and women of the different British classes during the years of World War One. Knoblock states in his 1939 biography titled Round the Room, that the “uncertainty of life led to a relaxation of all former standards.”  Tiger! Tiger! examines a number of social issues—class behavior, role of women in society, influence of war on individuals as well as the major theme that explores the role of sexual passion in men and women and how it governs one’s life choices. 

The play’s title references William Blake’s 1794 poem The Tiger (The Tyger). Knoblock uses the tiger as a symbol of sexual instinct. Although references to sexual relationships outside of marriage were not censored for stage presentation at this time, it was daring to present this progressive topic.

Prior to its London production, Tiger! Tiger! opened on November 12, 1918 in the United States on Broadway. It became known as a controversial play and as a result it was a box hit. After its New York run, it toured the United States through the fall of 1920. The play premiered at London’s Strand Theatre in early June of 1920. 

The production history of this polemic drama will be discussed in my following post.

Photo: The Graphic, June 5, 1920.

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