Caste (play)

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Engraving of T. W. Robertson

Caste is a comedy drama by Thomas William Robertson, first seen in 1867. The play was the third of several successes by Robertson produced in London's West End by Squire Bancroft and his wife Marie Wilton. As its name suggests, Caste concerns distinctions of class and rank. The son of a French nobleman marries a ballet dancer and then goes to war. When word arrives that he has been killed in action, his mother tries to wrest the child from his penniless widow.

History[edit]

The play was based on the short story "The Poor Rate Unfolds a Tale", written by Robertson in 1866 for Rates and Taxes, a Christmas publication edited by Tom Hood.[1][2]

The play was first seen on 6 April 1867 at the Prince of Wales' Theatre, produced by Squire Bancroft and his wife the actress Marie Wilton, to whom it was dedicated. They had produced Robertson's plays Society in 1865 and Ours in 1866. These plays have a novel naturalistic style, in which the characters behave like real people, with settings and stage properties that add realism to the drama; the actors were in sympathy with this style, and the plays were successful. Caste, in the same vein, was particularly enduring; during the next few years it was revived three times at this theatre, totalling 650 performances under the Bancroft management.[2][3]

W. S. Gilbert's one-act farce Allow Me to Explain (1867) ran as a companion piece to Caste.[4] The popularity of Caste led to further Robertson and Bancroft successes: Play (1868), School (1869), and M.P. (1870).[5] A reviewer of the opening night of the play wrote:[2]

Society and Ours prepared the way for a complete reformation of the modern drama, and until the curtain fell on Saturday night it remained a question whether Mr. Robertson would be able to hold the great reputation which those pieces conferred upon him. The production of Caste has thrown aside all doubt. The reformation is complete, and Mr. Robertson stands preeminent as the dramatist of this generation. The scene-painter, the carpenter, and the costumier no longer usurp the place of the author and actor. With the aid of only two simple scenes, a boudoir in Mayfair and a humble lodging in Lambeth, Mr. Robertson has succeeded in concentrating an accumulation of incident and satire more interesting and more poignant than might be found in all the sensational dramas of the last half century. The whole secret of his success is truth!

Original cast[edit]

Marie Wilton, the play's dedicatee

Story[edit]

Captain George d'Alroy, whose father was a French marquis, marries Esther Eccles, a ballet dancer, against the advice of George's friend Captain Hawtree. George, who has to go with his regiment to serve in India, leaves Esther well provided for.

Esther's father, a drunkard, loses the money on horse-racing, and Esther gives birth to a son. They receive news that George has been killed. George's mother, the Marquise de St. Maure, who is contemptuous of Esther, wants to take her child from her, but Esther refuses.

Esther is helped in her difficult situation by her sister Polly and Polly's young man Sam Gerridge. She is eventually relieved when George, who has not been killed, returns. The Marquise is reconciled to Esther.

Film and television[edit]

A film was made of the play in 1930; it featured Sebastian Shaw as George d'Alroy and Hermione Baddeley as Polly Eccles, and was directed by Campbell Gullan. Michael Powell (who later made films with Emeric Pressburger) was an additional uncredited director. The period of the play was moved to 1914-15.[6][7]

A TV play of Caste was made in 1954 by the BBC; it featured Robin Bailey as George d'Alroy and Jill Bennett as Polly Eccles.[8]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Full text of Society and Caste edited by T. Edgar Pemberton (1905) via www.archive.org. Accessed Feb 2014.
  2. ^ a b c d Savin, Maynard (1950). Thomas William Robertson: His Plays and Stagecraft. Providence, RI: Brown University Press. Retrieved Feb 2014.  via www.archive.org.
  3. ^ Ward, A. W.; Waller, A. R., eds. (1907–21). "T. W. Robertson". The Cambridge History of English and American Literature: An Encyclopedia in Eighteen Volumes 8. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 20–1. ISBN 1-58734-073-9. Archived from the original on 3 May 2011. Retrieved Feb 2014. 
  4. ^ Robinson, Arthur. "Allow Me To Explain", Gilbert and Sullivan Archive, 27 November 1996, accessed 27 February 2014
  5. ^ Ward, A. W.; Waller, A. R., eds. (1907–21). "T. W. Robertson". The Cambridge History of English and American Literature: An Encyclopedia in Eighteen Volumes 8. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 20–1. ISBN 1-58734-073-9. Archived from the original on 3 May 2011. Retrieved 3 May 2011. 
  6. ^ Caste (1930) Internet Movie database. Accessed Feb 2014.
  7. ^ Caste (1930) The Powell and Pressburger Pages. Accessed Feb 2014.
  8. ^ Caste (1954) Internet Movie database. Accessed Feb 2014.

External links[edit]