The Green Goddess: William Archer's Great War Play.
This play can be situated generically in the popular genre of Orientalist theatre, but historically in its post-war manifestations. Companion texts of that period include Oscar Asche's wartime Ali Baba musical fantasy Chu Chin Chow (1916), which enjoyed prolonged stage revivals and movie presence in both silent (1925) and sound (1934) formats. In 1921, Joe May directed the epic twopart film Das Indische Grabmal ('The Indian Tomb'), which starred Conrad Veidt amid lavish palace sets, plus tigers, elephants and teeming hordes of extras. Like The Green Goddess, this German spectacle involves the perils of an English couple in the territory of a charismatic and despotic Maharaja. (2) Asche's musical Mecca opened on Broadway in 1920, the year of the spectacular success of The Green Goddess, and ran in England under the title Cairo. In 1923 too was premiered James Elroy Flecker's moody poetic play Hassan, written in 1915 while the young men of Europe were being slaughtered without respite; again the East was re-imagined through the lens of late Symbolist fatalism, mysticism and jewelled sadism. (3)
Orientalism proves a durable and popular vehicle for European self-examination. After the Great War, its manifestations were no less magnificent than previously; in fact, they were amplified to excess to exploit the technological opportunities of mass popular entertainment. This traumatised Orientalism focussed upon the European west its brilliantly coloured 'Eastern' mirror, creating fragmented kaleidoscopic narratives of the public and psychic conflicts of a wounded civilisation. Schivelbusch's analysis of the 'cultures of defeat' expounds the psychic trauma and fantasy compensations of defeated nations, (4) and I would argue that, in the after math of this particular conflict, cultural transvestism, transgression and mystical atavism were explored by victor and vanquished alike. In the processing of the scale of wartime destruction in terms of both human lives and cultural confidence, Europeans once again enacted their immediate history in the garb of the East, but now the irony is dismissive, delicate, deadly, its despair and hysteria barely concealed within conventional expressive structures. This Orientalism of defeat turns its poisoned barbs inwards upon Western 'civilisation', rendering the doubled settings of 'here' and 'there' as the distorted imagery of a sinister carnival.
The cultural ironies of The Green Goddess are deployed in the exotic adventure-story setting familiar to audiences of colonial melodrama, but Archer's social critique and painful moods of moral agnosticism can also be clearly discerned. The Raja of Rukh, the play's central character, is a typical post-war ironist who shows a sense almost of relief as he prepares for a future amongst the other dethroned absolutists idling in European spa and casino resorts. While he schemes ruthlessly for his political goals and licences a popular carnival of death, it seems that beneath the Raja's sophistication all has been hollowed out: for him, the skies are empty, the stars meaningless. Even the conventional Orientalist lust for white heroines is no longer ultimately worth dying for: 'Well, well--she'd probably have been a damned nuisance.' The Raja's theatrical coevals include Noel Coward's desperately blase bright young things, the victims of a sacrificed generation; survivors of a game played for deadly stakes, but which has been seen through. While the game goes on, style is all, and Archer's audience is left uncertain whether the Raja is there to terrify them, or to seduce and entertain through his confiding complicity. The centrality of Archer's Machiavellian raisonneur, in what at first glance might pass for an imperial adventure drama peopled by various stalwart types of tweedy Britishness, gives The Green Goddess its slightly off-centre impact. Contemporary audiences appeared both intrigued and satisfied by the play's blending of the generically comfortable with contemporary cultural critique, evident in both its dramaturgy and its modern sensibility.
One significant aspect of this modernity, and typical too of popular entertainment, is the thematic and dramaturgical focus on technology. The foregrounding of wireless telegraphy, electricity and--above all--the aeroplane shows The Green Goddess to be ambiguous in its participation in the spectacle of popular modernity. At the play's sensational conclusion, the Royal Air Force (RAF) attacks the fictional sub-Himalayan independent principality of Rukh. (5) Led by a decorated young wartime ace, the bombers first aim near the temple where the ruler and population are assembled, then two more warning explosions are landed in narrow ravines closer to the crowded site. The Raja accedes to the British demands and surrenders his English captives from their impending grisly demise in a savage religious ritual. Rescue by the superior forces of Western modernity would appear to resolve all. Yet by late 1919, the date of the play's premiere in Philadelphia, aerial bombardment had for a decade been a common fate for 'natives' under European colonial rule, and indeed the rehearsal for the European conflict. The nexus of the aeroplane and the 'uncivilised' colonial informs Archer's play with fragmented and multi-directional ironies, whose contemporary connotations require some elaboration.
The Great Roc
Even before its use in the first pan-European conflict, the aeroplane was seen as the ideal weapon of colonial control, being easier and more effective than land-based punitive expeditions over difficult terrains. Since 1910 the French, Spanish and Italians had exercised air control on their North African colonies. The British so disciplined their North-West Frontier in 1915, while Egypt, Iran and Trans-Jordan were also punished by air strikes during their post-war periods of nationalist agitation. In 1919, close to the date of Archer's play, Dacca, Jalalabad and Kabul were bombed during the Third Afghan War, culminating in a singlestrike ten-kilo bomb on the royal palace: the precise fate threatened for Rukh. Archer's fictional land is sited somewhere in the remote northern foothills of the western extent of the Himalayas which, from the British perspective, borders India's strategically vital North-West Frontier. These geographically inaccessible territories, the location of Kipling's 'Great Game' with Russia for dominance of India, comprised the fortress homelands of the Empire's most recalcitrant and reluctant subjects. Rukh too is poised between Russian and British influences; its ruler favouring the former while fending off the latter. The role of air power in the future of this territory is encoded in its name, 'Rukh' being a variant of 'roc': the great white raptor bird of Eastern mythology. The aeroplane which crashes on their sacred site is first identified by its populace as a benevolent roc who brings them British hostages and hence the prospect of reprisal, but at the play's conclusion, more of these 'rocs' return to let loose on the people their deadly 'eggs'. (6)
Attacks on British patrols and 'terrorist' political resistance, plus cattle-raiding, tax evasion, or the kidnapping for ransom of British citizens were the usual offences of colonial people which earned retaliatory air strikes, and Archer employs this newsworthy knowledge in setting up the situation of his play. But in the post-war mass entertainment spectacles and in military and imperial propaganda, suburban Londoners themselves could vicariously experience faraway colonial events, with live exhibitions of the aerial destruction of native villages given at the Hendon or Farnborough Air Shows. The Green Goddess, both in Archer's theatrical text and in its cinematic adaptations, exploits the conjunctions of the military and imperial projects, technological modernity and the mass-popular spectacular. As Robert Dixon explains, while 'the post-war expansion of civil aviation [and] colonial administration were [not] forms of war, [...] these practices were able to mobilise powerful new modes of experience that originated in war, and were circulating in new and often very popular technologies of representation, such as art photography and feature films'. International audiences were excited by such glamorous feats of imperial aviation as the first London-Sydney flight piloted by the Australian wartime air ace Ross Smith, which aroused considerable public interest as the staging of The Green Goddess was being finalised. Leaving Hounslow on 12 November 1919, Smith's converted Vickers Vimy bomber flew with seeming mastery far above the contested North-West Frontier, where recently the Afghans had shot down another such plane during the Third Afghan War. (7) Metropolitan popular entertainment extolling British territorial imperialism was galvanised by huge war-themed multi-media spectaculars, with film sequences and slides accompanied by a musical and narrative commentary. The first such was Lowell Thomas's With Allenby in Palestine and Lawrence in Arabia, glorifying the Middle Eastern adventures of the latter figure, the famous English flier and ethnic transvestite T. E. Lawrence. It played at the Royal Albert Hall and the Royal Opera House from August 1919 before commencing its lengthy tour of the English provinces and the Empire. (8) It is certain that Archer knew of, and very possibly saw this spectacle in late 1919, the months when the idols and aeroplanes of The Green Goddess were as yet roiling in his thoughts and invading his dreams.
With their own wartime experiences of being bombed by the Zeppelins, Londoners were coming to understand that the distinction between military and civilian air targets was now in effect abolished. (9) Whereas the individualistic bravado of the wartime fighter aces ensured that the post-war exploits of flyers remained highly newsworthy, in the realpolitik of bombing missions, chivalric glamour was in short supply. (10) On the imperial frontiers, no new military technology was left unexploited by an air force anxious to secure its post-war future. 'Restless natives' could expect death from the air by means of cluster fragmentation, incendiary or mustard gas bombs, launched upon their crops, herds and flocks, markets, straw-built villages, hospitals or oases. Churchill objected to 'sentimentality' about bombing and strafing fleeing civilians, and favoured using poison gas against the 'uncivilised'. (11) While the RAF gave out that, as a principle, its targets were warned before a raid (as happens in Archer's play), (12) in practice this rarely occurred and terror and error were allowed to do their work. The loss of distinction between military and civilian targets, so characteristic of twentieth-century warfare, was now considered 'obsolete and impossible' in the colonies, and during the next European war these frontier disciplinary measures were re-imported as the practice of carpet-bombing. (13) Archer, who died at the end of 1924, did not live to witness the catastrophic culmination of these trends, but his painful apprehension of the new era's confounding of the 'civilised' with the 'barbarous' is displayed clearly in The Green Goddess.
Hence, the fact that the fictional Rukh is given some warning shots, and then precision-bombed with some accuracy (moreover in a raid timed for twilight), shows a moral and technological finesse in the dark arts of colonial policing that was in scant evidence outside the world of Archer's exciting drama. 'The attack with bombs and machine guns must be relentless and unremitting and carried on continuously by day and night, on houses, inhabitants, crops and cattle ... the threat alone in the future will prove efficacious if the lesson is once properly learnt'. Thus spoke RAF Wing Commander (and ex-Indian Army officer) J. A. Chamier in 1921, (14) and thanks to his wireless set, the Raja of Rukh would appear to have been informed of the relevant international and local developments. He might, for example, have noted the decisive deployment of air power by the British in the Third Afghan War, or the massacre of unarmed civilians at Amritsar, both being notable events of 1919; thus, he seems to have 'learnt' Chamier's lesson and accordingly calls off the air raid. (15) Now, nearly a century after the premiere of The Green Goddess, the ironic anti-hero's challenge to the British airman: 'I fancied your Government affected some scruple as to the slaughter of innocent civilians' is a likely knowing laugh-line, but many in 1919 may also have responded with a wry smile. Archer maintained ambivalent attitudes to such questions, and his play also displays multiple perspectives. Upon the publication in early 1919 of Archer's unperformed propaganda play War is War, written in 1915 and set in occupied Belgium, his friend Bernard Shaw objected that Germans are not the only ones to repress civilians, citing the barbaric British record in India and South Africa. In May of that year Archer retorted that burning a few hill villages can't compare with destroying closely populated 'highly civilised' European areas. (16) But The Green Goddess, which he commenced writing only a few months later, implies just this comparison, and in various aspects his Rukh is haunted by the powerful spectre of invaded Belgium.
Defining the Civilised
The Green Goddess is shot through with unresolved ambivalences about the categories of the 'barbarous' and the 'civilised', triggered by the profound psychic and cultural shock of total war which the play processes in dramatic form. As in most popular texts, the contradictions lie wide open and remain unresolved despite their seeming narrative closure. The play's careful expository arguments leading to a neat dramaturgical resolution lightly disguise its generic claim to be an expressionistically distorted 'war play'; a popular document articulating and mirroring the tormented moral chaos of the Great War and questioning the role and effects of western industrialised discourses and technologies. Such, in any case, was the implied lesson derived by Cyril Foster Garbett, Bishop of Southwark, who preached in St Paul's on 26 February 1924 on the global spiritual losses caused by European modernity, militarism and industrialism. Mr. Archer's Raja, he declared, 'shows us an Indian prince who still conforms to the religious beliefs of his people, but who has assimilated Western culture and science, and who in reality is thoroughly sceptical without either the morality of the East or the morality of Christian teaching'. (17) Such modern secularism was shared by the disaffected colonised peoples and by post-war Western nations.
Archer's wartime work for the War Propaganda Bureau at Wellington House utilised his reputation as a staunch free-thinker and textual critic, exploiting his polemical mastery while testing his intellectual integrity. Just about every British writer of note was enlisted in this enterprise--John Buchan, Conan Doyle, Rudyard Kipling, Arnold Bennett, H. G. Wells--but not the dissident Bernard Shaw. (18) Archer did not lend himself to manufacturing that ultra-nationalist and atrocity propaganda that soon outlived both usefulness and credibility. (19) His task was to labour with all his intellectual and forensic acumen in producing numerous pamphlets to counter German cultural influence in northern Europe, where, thanks to his contacts and language skills, Archer could claim to be something of an area expert. (20) His target readership comprised influential individuals such as the prominent Danish critic and philosopher George Brandes, rather than the masses best managed through the popular press. Archer's Gems(?) of German Thought is such an academic production, an anthology sourced with original quotations to let the enemy to condemn himself, accompanied by Archer's ripostes. Yet, like all Britons on the home front, Archer had experienced the unscrupulous pragmatism of those militarists, industrialists, diplomats and press moguls who used every means of fermenting outrage to keep home and frontline energies focussed on defeating the 'uncivilised' Triple Alliance. Archer, himself a member of the cosmopolitan intelligentsia, recognised and regretted the fanaticism promoted in his own country, and publications such as Gems(?) used his considerable polemic force to analyse and denounce the ultra-nationalist German counterpart to home-grown British jingoism. But where does 'Rukh' fit into this mirrored dialectic of innocence and aggression?
Archer's radical scepticism informs the genre of the rollicking rescue drama with considerable moral uncertainty. The play's crisis commences offstage, with three of Rukh's princes being sentenced for 'acts of terrorism' in nearby British Indian territory through killing a British Political Officer: an act similar to the assassination at Sarajevo that became the flashpoint for the 1914 mobilisations. In his War is War, the play preceding The Green Goddess and to which it is a companion piece, Archer wrote on the violation of Belgian neutrality and the massacre of civilian hostages. Like Belgium, the classical casus belli, the small princedom of Rukh is a neutral nation, and at the play's end, its territorial integrity is violated and the end of its political independence is signalled. The crisis of the impending execution of their princes casts the populace of Rukh into a 'wartime' situation of heightened passions and polarities, where popular outrage and opposition to any accommodation with the 'barbaric' enemy proves useful to powerful internal interests. The characters of the fanatical Chief Priest of Rukh and his cohorts suggest the ideological institutions ambitious of increasing their power by whipping up hostile nationalist sentiment. They demand that the luckless English trio, as enemy hostages, be promptly and publicly sacrificed. The prominent dramatic role of these native Rukh potentates is clearly revealed in the two Green Goddess films and the J. C. Williamson (JCW) prompt script used in the accompanying edition, and supports the Raja's claim that he is not in fact an absolutist despot, but rules only with the consent of the ruled. The Chief Priest and his fellow Priests ('the High Church party') may be useful levers that the Raja uses to coerce his 'guests', but they also represent actual discrete ideological centres of national power equivalent to wartime press lords, state churches, nationalist ideologues or armament millionaires. Although the centrality to the text of these non-English-speaking (but certainly not mute) dignitaries can be overlooked in a literary reading as mere colourful exoticism, their intended prominence, and their menace and authority, are clear in all of the staged realisations. They are the voice of Rukh--at least of its popular pieties and official political and military passions--and the Raja must negotiate their interests as well as his own in a skilful feat of diplomatic tightrope-walking.
The popular international success The Green Goddess, with its discursive, spectacular and sonic constructions of 'us' and 'them', is, like its main character, highly ironic, sceptical and self-reflexive. The play overlays and cross-references the culturally central discourses of civilisation and barbarism by presenting Rukh as a fantastical experiential model of history's first globalised mass-mobilised war. Admiration and aversion combine in his depiction of Rukh and is evident too in his portrayal of the English characters. (21) Nonetheless, many contemporary commentators of The Green Goddess tended to fall back on the comfortable racial dichotomising of 'savage' (East) and 'civilised' (West): a reading which probably did little to hinder the play's popularity. The Australian press, in a nation then wedded to the exclusionary policy of 'White Australia', saw the Raja as a typical example of the doomed attempt to graft together philosophically polarised and racially grounded categories. 'His suave and polished exterior is merely a veneer hiding his savagery', where underneath is revealed a 'relentless, immeasurably cunning type of his own race'. (22) This is a simplified but comforting model of an artificial surface overlying a deep unchanging essence. The Green Goddess in fact complicates, folds and contorts this stratified layer-cake model into an overlapping construction wherein its two foundational concepts of 'savage' and 'civilised' are constantly being brought into startling and provoking juxtapositions.
A Dream Play and Its Ghosts
The Green Goddess is a species of dream play, not only because of its documented oneiric origin but also for the layers and fragments of Archer's varied lives as a critic, dramatic polemicist, Ibsen scholar, lover, husband, father and cosmopolitan traveller which swirl through the work. In a surreal ambiance of repressed hysteria, its characters--and indeed the audience--frequently feel themselves trapped in a nightmare that yet seems oddly familiar. Archer claimed that the situation and even some of the lines of The Green Goddess came to him on 2 September 1919 in an actual fever dream. He reports that he felt himself to be travelling in a country 'vaguely connected with India', where in fact he had spent many months of travel and research in 1912-13. His dreaming self heard gunfire, and understood that a party of Europeans had been subjected to 'torture by courtesy' by highly cultivated Indians 'who treated them well before executing them in reparation for some unspecified action by the British government'. (23) This suggests that Archer had now found his urgent and imaginatively fertile topic; the material that he recommends in his 1912 book Play-Making: A Manual of Craftsmanship as the ideal 'plot which chooses us'. The Green Goddess in fact displays many of the features which the earlier 'manual' had discerned as elements of successful dramaturgy: 'A play is a more or less rapidly developing crisis in destiny or circumstance, and a dramatic scene is a crisis within a crisis, clearly furthering the ultimate event'. (24)
During late 1919 there were many converging crises in Archer's own life. His fretful anxiety over the yet unknown fate of his soldier son Tom, who was still missing in action on the Western Front, was such as to drive him to participate in spiritualist seances. This stern Scottish non-conformist would normally disdain such supernaturalist rituals, and indeed he ironised his involvement even as he wrestled with the dubious spirits for any clue to Tom's fate. Many of Archer's most heartfelt personal emotional experiences are coded into his play, and emerge in the Act 4 discussion between Traherne and Lucilla as to the unknowable mysteries of death and life. To Lucilla he gives his own fears for his son when her children in a far place are threatened with death, and her helpless parental agony is that of Archer and his wife Frances. The tormented love triangle of Lucilla, her decent but alcoholic husband Crespin, and the 'scientist' Traherne who seeks to eliminate the bacillae of malaria (just as Archer did the bacillae of conventional dramatic taste) is a restructured version of the deadlocked situation of Archer, Frances, and Elizabeth Robins, the progressive American actor and Archer's long-time lover. Archer was too decent or perhaps conventional to abandon Frances for his soul-mate, yet The Green Goddess has passages between the seemingly doomed Lucilla and Traherne which might have found a place in Ibsen's Rosmersholm.
Oh, Lucilla, have we not been fools, fools? We have sacrificed to an idol as senseless as that--[with a gesture towards the image] all the glory and beauty of life! What do I care for a bloodless, shadowy life--life in the abstract, with all the senses extinct? Is there not something in the depths of our heart that cries out 'We don't want it! Better eternal sleep!'
Ibsen is not the play's only dramatic ghost. The central situation of civilian hostages executed as reprisals for actual or imagined attacks on an occupying power forms the matter of Archer's unperformed play War is War, written in 1915 and published 1919, and set in Belgium during the German invasion. The dilemma shared with The Green Goddess--to execute or not to execute--is given in this play to Kessler, the 'good German', who resolves his impossible situation by shooting himself rather than give the order to the firing squad to execute civilian hostages. (25) Archer's wily Oriental despot, by contrast, is no agonised moralist but a born survivor: the last man to destroy himself over a mere frustrated execution and seduction: 'a la guerre comme a la guerre', as he remarks. War is War, with its relentless dramaturgy which closes a cruel trap on its helpless civilian victims, informs Archer's popular commercial hit with its focussed construction, and its key situation of reprisals on civilians also forms part of the latter play's dream substrate.
'Barbarian, barbarism, barbarous--I am sorry to harp so much on these words'. (26) Indeed, these are major structuring principles of Archer's 1917 'report' India and the Future, as we shall see below. More immediately, they permeate his polemical wartime propaganda publications seeking to counter international German cultural influence, particularly in regions where, thanks to his work on Ibsen, Archer was well-known to those who mattered. Fair and morally fastidious, and with a keen appreciation of the strengths of German culture, the cosmopolitan Archer buckled to his task and carried it out with his usual flair and rigour. A scrupulous (if not unbiased) intellectual with a discerning mind and fluent command of written argument, Archer spent the war years producing such books and pamphlets as Colour-Blind Neutrality (1916) and Gems(?) of German Thought (1917), as well as the Belgian-themed play War is War. The first is an open refutation of Georg Brandes, the Danish literary critic and prominent Nietzschean scholar, whose book on Shakespeare Archer had translated. Brandes maintained that all sides bore equal responsibility for the war: a potentially dangerous position when posed from the vantage-point of a 'neutral, alltoo neutral' country, which demanded spirited British refutation by a credible spokesman. Brandes' 'neutral impartiality' is merely blindness to facts, Archer contends: the Central Powers are alone responsible for both the diplomatic context and actual outbreak of the conflict. In a more personal note, he adds
that that to him the war was 'a pain unspeakable'. He felt himself 'living for two years in a nightmare', yet his tract concludes that 'whatever sorrow the war has brought or may bring me, I would not for the world be a neutral'. (27)
The conscientious controversialist Archer realised that his was a highly interested exercise, but he remained loyal to his own theme and tribe, if far from uncritical of its claims and deeds. The compilation Gems(?), an anthology of bellicose or triumphalist pronouncements sourced from German philosophers, historians, ideologues and pamphleteers, paints a partial but damning picture of the inflated claims of chauvinistic militarism.
Is my anthology as it stands open to a telling 'tu quoque' by means of a selection of gems from British books and pamphlets of the type of those from which I have made my gleanings? Is it a case of the mote and the beam? I think we may be pretty confident that it is not. (28)
His evidentiary showpiece of German philosophical corruption is the current state of Nietzschean thought: 'There is no question that Nietzsche has been by far the greatest single force among the spiritual shapers of new Germany', and the aristocratic immorality of the Ubermensch in particular is, Archer maintains, no force for human progress. (29) With characteristic fairness Archer sees that the many-faceted complexity of Nietzsche's 'Superman', conceived as an evolved replacement of other-worldly Platonism and Christianity, is commonly distorted and appropriated. Archer opposes it as mere atavistic barbarism, with ample citations from contemporary German sources suggesting that, in many influential streams of European discourse, the Superman had been appropriated as the pulp fiction hero of an Aryan racialist fantasy. Archer's Raja believes--or affects to believe--in the evolution of a Superman bred from the aristocracy of East and West, while in Act 3 of The Green Goddess, the images of Nietzsche and the conqueror Napoleon are the secular icons adorning his study. The cultural polemics central to Archer's wartime polemical work thus leave their traces in The Green Goddess.
So, in a way, does his friend Gilbert Murray's drama Carlyon Sahib, performed at the Princess of Wales Theatre, Kennington, in mid-June 1899. Like Archer, Murray had strong Australian connections (he was born there to an elite pastoralist family who championed the cause of the displaced and persecuted Aboriginals) and, as Elizabeth Schafer demonstrates, he never abandoned his colonial critique of English imperial methods and orthodoxies. (30) Carlyon was written in 1892-93 while Murray was touring India. Its premiere during the runup to the second Anglo-Boer War, which initiated concentration camps as an alternative method of civilian punishment and control, was denounced by the Times as 'un-English'. (31) It reveals by gradual steps the literally toxic dimensions of imperialism. Although Carlyon, the Political Agent of the fictional Bhojal, first claims that he poisoned its water supply to prevent a massacre of the British, he in fact did so to provoke violence as a casus belli for annexing the territory by military invasion. Murray's Carlyon is more the popular idea of the amoral Superman than is Archer's suave Raja. He is portrayed as a charismatic despot who demands unquestioning obedience, defies judgement by anyone, ruthlessly removes such minor obstacles as his own illegitimate baby, and acts, he claims, for the world-historical cause of white--and his own--absolute dominion.
'You pitiful civilised crowds, I want no more of you! You haven't beaten me, but you can't understand, you can't obey!' (32)
Compared with the Raja's minor eugenic ambitions, this is genuine Superman talk.
Archer's own 'Superman' play also 'dreams' Murray's activities both as the distinguished translator of Euripides, and as the committed proponent of that playwright as a living theatrical force. The construction of The Green Goddess picks up an aspect of Euripidean dramaturgical machinery: the culminating entry of the salvational deity/pilot who is the (now literal) deus ex machina. In 1904, when Murray's Trojan Women was published, Archer advised him 'Don't let Barker seduce you into putting it on the stage!' This play is about ancient history and has no associations whatever for an English audience, he writes. (33 But by 1919 he was himself distracted with grief and anxiety for the still unknown fate of his son, as is Andromache for the doomed Astyanax. In a world now filled with traumatised war widows and the nationalist retaliations of Versailles, he probably understood better the mood of vengeful hysteria on the part of victims and victors alike that Euripides (aided by Murray) was depicting. As Schivelbusch writes of the cultural processing of national catastrophes, 'In the beginning was the fall of Troy, the prototype for all Western defeats'. (34) The Euripidean dramatisation of bitter revenge and reprisal, the dehumanising effects of war and the anguish of the mothers find their oblique reflections in The Green Goddess. Its captive heroine Lucilla is the play's Andromache, whose children are threatened with death and so become virtual hostages, in no less peril than the Belgians of War is War.
Reflections of India
Archer's ideas on India itself, like his experience of Australia, were informed by first-hand contact. From late 1912 he toured the subcontinent for five months, when his married brother Charles was based in Ziarat as officiating Agent to the Governor General of high and arid Baluchistan. (35) Archer's basic conclusion in his ensuing book India and the Future (1917) (36) is that 'British rule should be openly confessed and authoritatively proclaimed to be a means, not an end'. While 'India is as yet far from being prepared to take an equal place among the civilized nations of the world', Archer considered its independence as both necessary and inevitable within a few decades, and that those British were deluded who imagined that they could and should rule their prized possession forever. (37) He typically shows scant patience with Western 'fanatical orientalizers' infatuated with the 'mystery of the East', judging them as basically mystifiers and no true friends to the people and traditions they allegedly revere. Hinduism in both its popular and literary manifestations evinced a particular revulsion in the cosmopolitan Archer, which sentiment frames the setting of The Green Goddess. Archer considers it the prime force that held the country 'vegetating, and content to vegetate, under the dominion of noxious traditions and grotesque superstitions'. (38)
His experience of India deeply challenged Archer's firm anti-religious convictions, but altered none of his foundational Protestant distaste for polytheism, ritualised devotions and 'grotesque superstitions'. (39) Compared with popular Hinduism, he proclaimed from the depths of his non-conformism, 'the devotion of the Russian or Spanish peasant is rational and enlightened'. (40) Female divinities such as Kali, the apocalyptic demon, and Kali, the goddess of time and change, who dances with her necklace of severed heads, were particularly confronting. His own Green Goddess is rendered as a despotic monotheistic deity: the centre of a state religion run by established 'Archbishops'. Her cult is as exacting as patriarchal ones have ever been, and ghosts the merciless tribal European 'gods' of nationalism, race and militarism to which millions had just been sacrificed. (41) But as Archer travelled northwards through India, its racial diversity and contrasts particularly struck him: 'It would indeed be a very careless observer who should fail to note the difference between the Bengali and the Baluch of Sind, the Madrasi and the Rajput'. (42) Rukh's comparatively 'Aryan' ruling caste hailing originally from northern India, and its more 'Mongoloid' population, seems constructed as a microcosm of this diverse sub-continental ethnic totality, rendered as a dystopian anti-Shangri-La and drawing imaginatively upon his own analytical critique of India in transition. (43)
In his travels of 1912 Archer first landed in the sub-tropical south of the country, which circumstance stamps itself upon the construction and thematics of The Green Goddess. India and the Future records at length his fascinated horror upon exploring the Meenakshi Amman Temple complex at Madurai in Tamil Nadu. Its huge gopuram gateway towers covered in countless polychrome sculptures of divine figures, animals and demons and its vast architectural scale and numerous shrines to 'myriads of monster-gods, many-headed, many-armed, often colossal' left him cold. Though The Green Goddess is set in the cool sub-Himalayan north of the sub-continent, its dramatic structure replicates the temporal and geographic sequence of Archer's own emotional encounters with India. The English visitors' first experience of Rukh (and the audience's too) is the crude but threatening temple complex carved from living rock, the huge many-armed Goddess image, and--above all--the evidence of ritual violence in the remains of slaughtered goats and the decaying smell of crushed garlands of marigolds, with the 'ground crimson with the blood of sacrifices'. The culture shocks of Tamil Nadu and his mood of sensuous overload in Madurai are repeated in a new dramatic setting, as experienced by the audience through the eyes of Traherne and the Crespins. Archer's witnessing of the sacrifice of goats in Madurai disturbed him as 'the first time I have seen innocent blood shed in the name of religion': it would not be his last such experience. (44) As we have seen, he also scorned the naivety of Western Orientalists who boosted the mythical accomplishments of the ancient civilisation. The writings of one Colonel H. S. Olcott, an Aryan enthusiast, irritated the rationalist Archer by claiming for these ancients proficiency in telegraphy (i.e. telepathy), plus aerial battles, aerial navigation, warfare by means of poisonous gases, and even the telephone, microphone and phonograph. The Green Goddess seems to echo and treat ironically these proto-technological claims. Rukh has already acquired real wireless, electricity and the phonograph, and will be thoroughly inducted into modernity by aeroplanes, with the rest undoubtedly to follow. But will such a country be necessarily 'civilised' by unequal power encounters, or merely aspire to join the arms race? 'If I had had anti-aircraft guns...', muses its Raja.
The Green Goddess almost obsessively dramatises the dialectical demonstrations, accusations and counter-accusations of 'barbarism' found in the book India and the Future, the pamphlet Gems(?) of German Thought and in the play War is War, while the themes of Euripides and Gilbert Murray also inform it. Whatever else the Raja may be--updated Oriental despot, Machiavellian manipulator, suave lounge lizard of society comedy--he is also a figure from Archer's polemical anti-German writings: a 'Prussian' in a turban. The play is the product of Archer's intellectual arguments and conclusions about the rights and wrongs of the European conflict and England's imperial mission, re-asserting what he saw as the amoral relativism of not picking one's side, while infused by his intense experiences of filial loss and romantic frustration. Thus, the play neatly hits home to the popular post-war psyche: a light but bitter fantasy reworking of Archer's pessimism about the stability of those 'civilised' principles that are proclaimed, yet so easily discarded, by all parties. The Raja's political opportunism, the murder of Watkins by the 'good' people, the bombing of the undefended city: such are the phenomena of realpolitik. Absolutist ideals--as the Raja concludes about Lucilla's role in his eugenic racial improvement scheme--prove nothing but a 'damned nuisance', while national neutrality is simultaneously sacrosanct and enviously resented. In Archer's dramatic fantasy, Rukh's nationalist carnival of blood sacrifice is averted by a last-minute intervention, such as Europe itself had so tragically failed to experience. As a conclusion to a thrilling melodrama, this satisfies popular expectations and wish-fulfilment, but this is a profoundly painful wish to which few in Archer's 1920s audiences, for all their modern knowingness, could fail to respond.
The Green Goddess Realised on Stage and Screen
After his dream experience of September 1919, Archer started without delay to sketch out his play 'The Rajah of Rukh'. He asked both Pinero and Bernard Shaw to collaborate, but fortunately Shaw was either not attracted to the theme, or understood that his penurious friend, at the age of sixty-three, may at last have produced a hot financial property. By 29 September 1920 it was completed. While Archer proclaimed to his professional colleagues that the 'desire for filthy lucre' was his prime motivation--'I want an Old-Age Pension' (45)--The Green Goddess also records the impact of deep personal and cultural experiences. But, in the manner of popular theatre, they are articulated and shared with audiences by skilful use of codes and conventions that were widely understood and enjoyed; not least by England's leading theatre critic and dramaturgical pedagogue. (46) For the key role of the Raja, Archer had in mind the lean saturnine H. B. Irving, but in October 1919 that actor died. Through the good graces of Granville Barker, the play script was sent to the modernist American producer Winthrop Ames, whose record of producing new dramas and art plays on Broadway suggested it would receive a sympathetic reading. Ames accepted the script immediately for a preview in Philadelphia prior to a New York season, and Archer attended the rehearsals.
The play was tried out at Philadelphia's Walnut Street Theatre on 27 December and was immediately acclaimed as a hit. Ames then moved it to the Booth Theatre in New York where it premiered on 18 January 1921 and ran 440 performances up to 4 February 1922, then toured the United States until 5 May 1923. In the same year, the movie rights were bought by the Distinctive Pictures Corporation, and their lavishly realised silent film, directed by Sidney Olcott, was premiered on 14 August. The stage production then moved to London and opened at the St James Theatre on 6 September, closing on 6 September 1924 after 416 performances. Archer died on 29 December of that same year, only nine days after The Green Goddess commenced its Australian run for JCW, who had bought the play rights for $1,000. (47) The play was again filmed in the sound era, directed by Alfred E. Green as a co-production between Warner Brothers and the Vitaphone Corporation, and released in February 1930. While this movie survives, the silent version appears lost, though it has left a fair documentary trace in the form of photographic stills. (48)
In all of these American and British stage or filmed versions of the play, the role of the Raja was assumed--if not owned outright--by the English character actor George Arliss. Film historian Robert M. Fells writes that Arliss' signature role as Disraeli, which was realised on stage in 1911 and as silent (1921) and talking (1929) movies, plus later radio adaptations, tracks the major developments of early twentieth-century entertainment technology. (49) The Green Goddess can fairly be claimed as another such multi-mediated text. Arliss made his roles his own to such an extent that, as Fells demonstrates, his uncredited auteur work as a director and acting coach can be traced in all of 'his' plays and movies. Arliss's Raja competed for the 1930 Oscar against his own performance in the biographical film Disraeli, adapted from a successful stage play written for Arliss by Louis Napoleon Parker. While it was his work in this role that won him the award for best screen actor--the first British actor to be so recognised--in the opinion of contemporaries the Raja had an equal share in the glory. (50)
The long-faced and dry-voiced actor, born in London as Augustus George Andrews (1868-1946), first toured the USA in the troupe of Mrs Patrick Campbell in 1901. His lengthy career in silent and sound film produced a memorable gallery of fictional biographical portraits--many of them based on canonical stage favourites such as Bulwer Lytton's Richelieu--including Voltaire, Wellington and Russell Thorndike's parson-smuggler Dr Syn. Arliss' long apprenticeship in high-class melodrama ensured that he knew the business in all its aspects from interpretation to dressing and production. These skills he successfully adapted into the context of cinema, making a character actor into a major international star. Sheridan Morley assesses that he was the first leader of the 'Hollywood British', the English emigre actors' establishment, who at the age of sixty realised his potential capital as a well-spoken performer in the new age of talkies. Douglas Fairbanks recalls his 'immensely carefully stage-managed performance both off screen and on'. Arliss affected ultra-English aloofness from the Hollywood hurly-burly, kept his entourage and wife by his side, demanded tea at four each day, and altogether performed the part of 'visiting royalty bestowing some immense favour on Warners by allowing them to photograph him in one of his celebrated roles'. (51) Such was the studied offstage performance of quintessential English eminence over the barbarians of Hollywood that Arliss brought to his polished cinematic portraits of Oriental villainy, and which he perfected in the The Green Goddess's original American season.
By 1920 Arliss was no stranger to playing the stage Oriental despot. His first such role was the sinister Zakkuri, the Japanese Minister of War, in David Belasco's and John Luther Long's The Darling of the Gods (1902). Much later, in the Gaumont film East Meets West (1936), Arliss becomes the Sultan of Rungay and outwits the powers of both East and West who have designs on his country for military purposes. (52) While his Raja was not the 'voluble, mercurial man' who loved hearing himself talk that Archer first imagined, (53) the playwright immediately accepted Arliss's interpretation, rendering the actor an essential co-creator of the produced play and a significant factor in its mediated international successes. The Arliss heroes tend to be mature-aged men of worldly or spiritual power: slightly sinister personalities housed in a richly elaborated and idiosyncratic physical presence. The Arliss character usually prevails over his adversaries by intellectual power, iron will, cunning and suave charisma, protecting the innocent and not infrequently his country as well. The Raja of The Green Goddess is distinguished in this gallery as the one reversed portrait of a characteristic type, and the essentials of Arliss's landmark performance are preserved in the 1930 movie.
The play's published version (Knopf) has Archer's heartfelt dedication 'to WINTHROP AMES/To whom it owes so much'. Ames produced the US premiere version and supervised the London one. Its original cast was George Arliss (Raja), the American Olive Wyndham (Lucilla), Herbert Waring (Crespin), Cyril Keightley (Traherne), Ivan F. Simpson (Watkins), with Ronald Colman, then destitute in New York, being given as a favour the mime part of the Temple Priest. The suave Colman would later become the romantic gentleman hero of countless adventures where he portrayed 'the archetypal Hollywood Englishman'. (54) Simpson was a Scottish character actor who worked steadily on stage and in Hollywood films. Cyril Keightley, a handsome Australian leading man, was a Broadway star who made only one film. At age sixty-two, Waring was perhaps a little old for the bluff soldier Crespin, but was a distinguished veteran of Shakespeare, Ibsen and melodrama. In the British stage production, Arliss was partnered by Isobel Elsom, Owen Roughwood as Crespin, George Relph as Traherne and Arthur Harrison as Watkins. The British Elsom enjoyed a fifty-year career commencing in 1915, first as a silent star and later as a character actress. Relph, one of the many soldier-actors who authoritatively populated early twentieth-century entertainment, enjoyed a stage and film career stretching from 1915 to 1959, while Roughwood's work comprised distinguished stage and a few early silent film roles.
The 1923 silent film version, adapted by Forrest Halsey, featured only Arliss and Simpson from the original stage cast. Its Lucilla was the American Alice Joyce, dubbed 'the Madonna of the Screen' for her long career in romantic and maternal ladylike characters after 1910. Joyce also played the role in the 1930 movie: one of her last filmic appearances, in which she shows herself as a natural and subtle actor capable of connecting sympathetically through her innate class and dignified restraint, thus an appropriate selection for the personification of English womanhood. (55) The 1930 film retains Arliss, Joyce and Simpson, with Ralph Forbes and H. B. Warner as Traherne and Crespin. Forbes's career in dashing adventures and costume movies was then at its height: eight of his derring-do films were released in 1930 alone. This made him a logical choice for Traherne, who must project quintessentially British heroism while being constantly placed under situations of mental and physical restraint. The long-time stage veteran Henry Byron Warner, son of Charles Warner and thus a scion of British acting nobility, was prominent in the film business from its early stages in 1900, and in 1927 played no less a personage than Jesus Christ (The King of Kings). Warner's last movie The Ten Commandments (1956) found him back in biblical robes, and in Billy Wilder's ironic film-world expose Sunset Boulevard (1950) Warner had the privilege of playing himself as a Hollywood icon.
Thus was Archer's play circulated internationally; interpreted by a master character actor and framed by its filmic versions. But it was disseminated also in fictional form by the popular novelist and actor Louise Jordan Miln (1864-1933), whose 1922 novelisation of The Green Goddess was widely read, and sold at theatres. Miln specialised in popular romances set in Asian countries. Under the name of Louise Jordan, she toured widely in Asia and Australasia in the 1880-90s with her tragedian husband George Crichton Miln. (56) Their wide Eastern experience, love of the countries and peoples they found there, and pioneering work introducing Shakespeare to countries as various as Japan, China and India make these couple significant players in theatre history's late-imperial internationalising phase. (57) Miln's account follows each line in Archer's play script with precision, while her experience as an actress enables her to amplify with sympathy, care and respect the 'back stories' of Lucilla's early life, the fraught subtext of the Crespins' marriage and their relationship with her admirer Traherne; thus illuminating for the readership details of emotion and motive which performance would presumably have supplied. Miln's is in fact a finely imaginative and respectful paratextual comment on Archer's drama. (58) Thus, early audience's experiences of the play on stage were mediated through multiple texts and media: press comment, the novelisation and movies, plus the era's many Orientalist stage productions, films, musical compositions and pictorial art. For example, the Miln novel was on sale in Australia by October 1923, at which time Oscar Asche was touring the country with his Cairo, maintaining enthusiasm for the renovated Oriental. By January 1924 'Green Goddess' turbans, as worn by Arliss, were reported as being shown in American shop windows to promote the silent movie, which was released in Australia in August 1924. (59) While the Williamson stage show was touring Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide and Brisbane, this movie--possibly due to some territorial agreement with its distributors -played in the country and suburban picture palaces, such that city audiences encountered the 'canonical' Arliss interpretation only after their exposure to the stage production and/or Miln's fictionalisation.
The 1930 sound film, directed by Alfred E. Green with screenplay by Julien Josephson and Maude T. Howell, was probably the last major redaction to circulate Archer's text internationally in something like its original stage form. Its name however stayed on in different contexts. In the 1938 adventure Tarzan and the Green Goddess, the object of Tarzan's quest proves to be a totem of a remote Guatemalan tribe, guarded by fanatical priests, inside of which is hidden the formula for a new explosive coveted by the villain. The play's last cinematic outing using Archer's text as its foundation was a 1943 movie Adventure in Iraq, where the crashed trio, now American, encounter a Nazi-sympathising Sheik whose people worship a snake god. The US Air Force fly to the rescue, and the Sheik retains Archer's last line. During wartime it was reported as a tactless portrait of the strategically crucial state of Iraq and its devout Muslim populace, and moreover anti-British in a context where the Axis had already worked up a propaganda motif of 'British imperialism'. (60) Thereafter the play became largely invisible to all but those theatre historians who yet marvelled at the seemingly delicious paradox of Archer, the resolute 'foe' of melodrama, writing such a successful example of that genre. (61) The play's name persisted mid-century in the context of civilian transport, lending its alliterative glamour to prestige models of British fire trucks, railway engines and double-decker trams, plus the odd cruise liner, luxury car model and racehorse, and--more recently--a salad dressing.
Local Colours and Costumes
Archer's strong Australian connections are signalled in Australia, his early melodrama of 1881. From the late 1830s his Scottish father Thomas Archer and his numerous brothers were significant pioneer pastoralists in wide regions of south-eastern Queensland. (62) Their Central Queensland base was the property Gracemere (named after Archer's mother Grace), a few miles inland from what would become the city of Rockhampton, the self-styled 'beef capital of Australia', which now occupies the Archers' old property. (63) In his early twenties William himself spent some discontented years at Gracemere, trying to adapt to his father's pioneering bush life and distracting himself by writing a melodrama set in the court of Louis XIV. A natural denizen of the urban intelligentsia, Archer was cosmopolitan in instinct, and his favourite Australian places were Sydney Harbour and the Melbourne Public Library, in honour of which institution of enlightenment he wrote a charming ode. (64) Appropriately then, the Grecian Theatre in London housed the rousing sensation drama Australia; or, The Bushrangers based on reports of the recent capture of the Kelly Gang in Victoria. The Kellys--variously seen as bush bandits or suppressed Irish insurrectionaries were an international sensation whose exploits were tracked in popular journalism over two years before their deaths in 1880, and hence were saleable material for a topical East End play, which ran for a fortnight. Eric Irvin sees this play's two advertised authors 'W.A. & A.G. Stanley' as Archer either acting alone or in some form of minor collaboration with another. (65) It brings to the metropolis thrilling and sensational accounts of colonial events and history and likely positioned itself in the context of imperial frontier drama. Archer's own death occurred on 29 December 1924, just before the Australian run of JCW's production of The Green Goddess (February-July 1925). Local fame is gold for local exploitation. In Brisbane, the press circulated the patriotic furphy of Archer's supposed Australian birth, and from the stage of His Majesty's Theatre its American star, Guy Bates Post, duly informed audiences that they could be proud of this production by a fellow Queenslander. (66)
The Australian stage production starred Bates Post as the Raja, the English classical and Shakespearean stage actor Nell Carter as Lucilla, and the soldier-actor Winnington Barnes as Crespin. Barnes, veteran of the Boer War and a colonel in the First World War, ran away from sea, deserted in Sydney, took part in such imperial adventures as the Jameson Raid, and tried also boxing and journalism. His assumption of a character such as Crespin, erratic boozer and womanizer, yet withal the symbol of British pluck and solidity, delighted audiences by seeming authoritatively to meld actor with role. (67) The Watkins was the distinguished English character actor Leslie Victor, who worked on the Australian stage and screen from his arrival in the 1907 Julius Knight company up to the late 1940s. Victor was already a skilled audience favourite who--in the classic mode of the principal character actor--threatened to steal the show from its star and producer Bates Post. The latter had performed a modern American repertoire in Australia a few years previously to some acclaim, and had just completed his first movie Omar the Tentmaker, so was considered by Williamsons as a star of sufficient international magnitude for an important lead role. His Raja was seen as 'quiet, yet decisive and effective', and 'magnetic', though his main motivation was interpreted--at least by the press if not by the actor himself--as lust for the heroine. (68) Ashton Jarry as the High Priest, who blacked up each performance from head to toe, was also commended for his powerful presence and pantomime. (69) This production, it was typically announced, 'will combine the good points of both [the American and English productions] and be more elaborate than either'. The detailed stage directions for its realisation, recorded in the annotated JCW promptbook which is one of the major staging resources for this edition, indicate that it clothed Archer's taut script with lavish sets and artfully lit cycloramas, costumes, music both Western and Asian, gorgeous colour, gongs and drums, Morse transmissions and other atmospheric sound effects, plus hordes of blacked-up extras. (70)
Archer's costume codes have the English trio smartly but soberly garbed in their professional gender, class and ethnic attire, apart from Lucilla's Act 2 Parisian gown, and these choices are variously interpreted in stage and screen versions. Traherne is costumed throughout in hacking jacket over booted trousers, while Crespin wears his military tunic plus boots and holstered revolver. Australian reviews give some indication of how the action and themes of the play were interpreted through the use of colour, beginning with the star's first Oriental costume in orange and green silk and ending with his 'pure gold' ceremonial costume for Act 4. (71) The Raja, with his five costume changes over four Acts, emerges as both the master of disguise and the focus of fashion, which is usually the province of the female star, and his stage subjects amplified the bright colours (e.g. Blue, Black and Yellow Priests, the army uniforms of the Regulars). The star's first costume was a jewel-studded 'carnation pink jacket' over trousers in 'watered blue and green taffeta', with his turban finished with an aigrette held by an impressive emerald. The smartly tailored evening dress and hunting attire of the succeeding acts, which serve to extend the character's layered and harlequinesque ethnic and moral function, required little press elaboration. Reports show that Archer's call for two costumes in the last Act, when the ruler becomes the priest, was managed by removing a cloak. Upon his entry, the Raja wore a long jewelled cape of high-keyed apricot silk, thus distinguishing this brilliant figure amidst the sombre temple interior and deep colours worn by the priests. For his second manifestation he threw this garment onto the throne before the copper-green Goddess, the contrast providing 'a beautiful colour note', and much of the tense climactic close-quarters interaction with Lucilla occurs on this draped throne. For this last sequence his revealed costume was a gold jacket and turban over deep ivory trousers with a ruby-studded belt, the coloured jewels intimating the incipient bloodshed. (72) Although Archer's text calls for the use of ritual masks for the Rukhians in the final Act, it appears that this suggestion was generally ignored in all realisations. In Arliss's 1930 film, we see his barbaric magnificence teamed with his trademark monocle, which had already become such a signature feature of the part that Post also employed it.
The heroine's costume changes--she has only two--direct her through various feminine and ethnic possibilities and moral choices. In Archer's script, Lucilla's Act 1 entrance has her in an aviator's leather coat and helmet, worn over English-type travelling dress and flying boots. The 1923 film, which, like the 1930 one, begins with footage of the flight and crash, adds flying goggles and a loose belted coloured two-piece costume under the coat, which is removed in the course of this Act. This will also be her costume for Act 4. The Australian production first placed Lucilla in leather flying gear worn over a sporty modern 'cafe au lait crepe de chine' frock and matching scarf, embroidered in cream and black with rows of steel buttons, and topped with a blue silk polo sweater: a clear construction of the vigorous modern woman. (73) Her Act 2 Parisian evening gown was of course the object of keen audience scrutiny: Archer knew that the heroine's key costume is the necessary and expected focal signifier of her inner nature and cultural value. The Australian production went for a two-toned gold frock of tissue decorated with oxidised lace, with a long hip sash weighted with pale gold pearls. Over this dress is placed the symbol of the Raja's sexual ownership and status claims: the lovely patterned Indian silk shawl. This important signifier of veiled female submission was reported as comprising figured pink roses on a black background: a fine interpretation from the viewpoints both of aesthetics and of sadistic sexual subtext. In the 1923 movie, the script's 'modest' Parisian evening dress is shown as a lightly embossed but rather bare and sleeveless patterned silk. But for the scenes in the 'snuggery', which occur in daytime, this Lucilla wears a more modest garment not unlike what Archer himself imagined for the Parisian evening model: a loose mid-toned gauzy gown with open sleeves caught with two ornaments, plus the gold locket and chain. For this Act, the play script returns Lucilla to her 'travelling dress', which is also worn in the succeeding Act 4 finale. Lucilla's costume changes indicate that her 'Arabian Nights' journey has returned her to something of the status conveyed upon her first entrance: the technological modern woman whose masculine garb conceals an elegant and graceful inner being.
The play's real centre and anti-heroine, and Lucilla's rival to the title of racial mother, is the Goddess herself. Her images, variously gigantic or domestic-sized, dominate the set design for three of the four Acts such that events take place under her gaze and in her presence. For the third Act set, her central place is usurped by the door that opens to reveal the wireless apparatus. How this 'idol' is visualised in production is vital to textual meaning. Actual multi-armed sub-Himalayan female deities (some of them green in colour) are embodiments of a Buddhist enlightened being and identified as Tara, the Tibetan version of Kwan Yin, goddess of mercy. She has sympathy for the living as 'a mother does her children', and her many arms reach out towards the suffering, and sometimes she has many heads to hear and respond to their cries better. (74) The multiple possibilities of the Goddess are ruthlessly closed down in Archer's text to construct a stridently rendered idol of that feminised 'barbarism' that so shocked and fascinated him in southern Indian regions; a visualisation also found in stage and filmic actualisations. A photograph of the set of the JCW production shows the pop-eyed Goddess garlanded in a skull necklace, with six arms and protruding tongue: legible iconography of blood-drinking goddess Kali, the night-black goddess of primal cosmic energy, time and change. (75) Despite the monopathic presentation, the Goddess's dramatic significance remains multivalent as a representation of all of the savage idols--social, religious, military, racial--to whom innocent blood is sacrificed on a global scale.
A significant aural feature of the JCW production was its representations of Oriental languages--Hindustani being one of them--which, while being as incomprehensible to the audience as they are to the English characters, conveyed their dramatic meaning through repetition and gesture. The Ruhkian speech however is a melange of some recognisable Indic words with garbled versions of Romance languages, plus other unidentifiable passages. (76) The incidental music drew on Western sources: Rimsky-Korsakov selections and Landon Ronald's compositions for Robert Hitchens's moody Orientalist play The Garden of Allah (Drury Lane, 1921), while Gounod's 'Funeral March of a Marionette', played on a gramophone, remains the sole diegetic Western musical piece. But it also used what may even be authentic Pashto tunes for the processional and offstage vocal music: numbers identified in the TS 'Ekko Moki Chini', 'Koge' and 'Shun Shun'. (77) The aural contrasts include noise-producing western technology--buzzing telegraph and airplanes, the explosions of guns and bombs--to complement the 'timeless' Oriental chants and songs. Thus, the sensuous elaborations of the performed text fused the popular Orientalist fantastic, the imperial frontier adventure and the up-to-the-moment topical documentary.
With its polished realist dramaturgy merged with a personalised re-dreaming of traumatic public histories, Archer's Green Goddess is a complex example of the internally contested discourses and experiences of post-war modernity and colonialism. In the hands of this veteran theatre-lover and dramaturgical analyst, it became a satisfyingly successful international multi-mediated hit. Ever the pragmatic polemicist, Archer's 'manual of craftsmanship' of 1912 declared his stand for lucid construction and against exclusive niche appeal: 'I am entirely convinced that the drama renounces its chief privilege and glory when it waives its claim to be a popular art, and is content to address itself to coteries'. Seven years after these professional musings on his beloved art-form, Archer in The Green Goddess was at last able to demonstrate his version of 'giving the audience what it wants': 'The dramatist should give the public what he himself wants--but in such form as to make it comprehensible and interesting in a theatre'. (78)
(1) Charles Archer, William Archer: Life, Work and Friendships, pp. 30, 205.
(2) The similarities between the plots and settings of The Green Goddess and Joe May's two-part 1921 epic are such that one wonders whether Fritz Lang and Thea von Harbou's scenario, based on her 1917 novella, was remembering aspects of Archer's play in addressing via generic Orientalism Germany's post-war defeat and disorder. Both texts show three English characters as prisoners of a Maharajah. In the film one is an architect; like Traherne, a representative of the bourgeois technological elite. This ruler worships, not a literal idol, but his own betrayed love which he seeks to monumentalise by a splendid tomb. While he requires their technological aid, the potentate's distaste for arrogant English appropriation is such that one of the trio is sacrificed in his menagerie of tigers. In both texts, the uniformed Englishman dies and the civilian male survives, and in neither does the ruler get the Englishwoman.
(3) See Singleton, Oscar Asche, Orientalism, and British Musical Comedy, pp. 140-58; Kelly, The Empire Actors; Stars of Australasian Costume Drama, pp. 102-6.
(4) Schivelbusch, The Culture of Defeat: On National Trauma, Mourning and Loss.His examples are the American South, post-1870 France and post-1918 Germany. As an example of Schivelbusch's cultural cross-identifications, he shows (pp. 237-8) that defeated Germany identified with colonial nations such as India: an insight relevant to the film Das indische Grabmal, discussed above, and also to The Green Goddess.
(5) The RAF was founded in April 1918 from the existing Royal Flying Corps and Royal Naval Air Service.
(6) The great white bird of Persian legend, large enough to carry off an elephant, was known to mediaeval Europe through 'Arabian Nights' stories.
(7) Dixon, Prosthetic Gods: Travel, Representation and Colonial Governance, pp. 48, 60.
(8) Dixon, (pp. 63-71) compares this spectacle with the Australian wartime air photographer Frank Hurley's own film Sir Ross Smith's Flight from England to Australia, which premiered in Sydney in June 1920. Further public interest in heroic wartime individuals was aroused in May 1919, when Lawrence's Handley Page Type O crashed at Rome, injuring him and killing the pilot and co-pilot. While the Green Goddess films both commence with air sequences, Archer's play starts with the aftermath of a crash, emphasising the fragility of the craft and the terror of flying in unknown territory, to conclude with the confident sound of 'our' bomber squadron.
(9) His India-based brother Charles records Archer's wartime fear of those Zeppelin raids on London, which the characters of Shaw's Heartbreak House (1920) find so stimulating and thrilling, and his witnessing the 'stick and canvas biplanes' proudly displayed at Farnborough (William Archer, pp. 313-14). Shaw's play premiered in New York at the Garrick while The Green Goddess was running at the Booth. As Charles Archer comments (p. 369), both plays end with the arrival of bombers.
(10) See e.g. Pisano.
(11) Brendon, p. 320.
(12) In the play, the bombing 'warning' precedes the parley. The 1930 sound film has the airplanes being first heard in the temple interior and registered by Lucilla, followed by an exterior shot of seven biplanes flying in formation. Cardew enters and demands unconditional surrender, then the first bomb is seen exploding in the ravine, at which the Raja accedes.
(13) Lindqvist, par. 74-112 (the book uses paragraph rather than page numbering).
(14) Cited in Corum (n.p.). The standard RAF bombers of the First World War, used also in colonial theatres, were Handley Page O series biplanes, in operation 1915-22.
(15) 'King Amanullah objected to the British about the air raids on Kabul citing British condemnation of the German Zeppelin attacks on London. In his letter to the British government he said, "It is a matter of great regret that the throwing of bombs by Zeppelins on London was denounced as a most savage act and the bombardment of places of worship and sacred spots was considered a most abominable operation, while now we see with our own eyes that such operations were a habit which is prevalent amongst all civilized people of the West"' (Third Anglo-Afghan War).
(16) Shaw (19 April 1919); William Archer, Daily News and Leader, 13 May 1919, in Whitebrook, pp. 327-8.
(17) See Sanders, 'A Converted Civilisation'. This address was given in St Paul's on 26 Feb for the Foreign Missionary Service.
(18) See Sanders.
(19) See Messinger. Arthur Ponsonby's expose Falsehood in Wartime: Propaganda Lies of the First World War was not published until 1928, and confirmed what many already suspected about the British atrocity propaganda of which Goebbels was a keen student.
(20) Whitebrook (p. 420) lists about a dozen of these produced between 1915 and 1918, ranging from denunciation of U-boats to praise of Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points, including critiques of neutrality and of the German 'Villain of the World-Tragedy'.
(21) Archer's own experience of racial diversity in the Indian subcontinent led him to pronounce that, while belonging to a culturally belated culture, its inhabitants are basically 'sunburnt white men'; ourselves yet not yet ourselves. In Sri Lanka he marvelled at the 'noble carriage, dignity and distinction' of a people who seemed 'incomparably the finer breed of men' than the 'trivial mob' of 'potato-faced' expatriates. India and the Future, pp. 23, 28-9.
(22) 'Love, Mystery, Vengeance'; 'The Green Goddess: Colourful Drama the York'. The former review is of the stage, play; the latter of the silent film.
(23) Whitebrook, p. 359.
(24) Play-Making, pp. 25. 36.
(25) In the 'Preface' to War is War (p. vi), Archer explains that his hero is named Kessler because he had 'an agreeable German acquaintance' of that name. This was Graf Harry Clement Ulrich Kessler (1868-1937), German cosmopolite, diplomat and art patron, whom Archer met several times in the 1900s in the company of Shaw, Granville Barker, Lillah McCarthy, Gilbert Murray, etc. See Kessler pp. 394, 439-40.
(26) India and the Future, p. 38.
(27) Colour-Blind Neutrality, pp. 9, 52-3.
(28) Gems (?) of German Thought, p.2.
(29) Archer, Gems (?) of German Thought, p.7.
(30) See Schafer.
(31) Schafer, pp. 120-1.
(32) Carlyon Sahib, p. 153.
(33) Letter to Gilbert Murray (18 October 1904), in Charles Archer, p. 276.
(34) Schivelbusch, p. 1.
(35) Whitebrook, p. 295. Baluchistan now forms part of Pakistan but during the Raj was divided between Iran, Afghanistan and British India.
(36) He submitted his completed MS to Curtis Brown on the fateful day of 4 August 1914, which was published in May 1917 when the war's end was in sight and postwar problems like India could be given attention.
(37) India and the Future, pp. 18, 5 (emphasis in original).
(38) India and the Future, pp. xvii, 25-6.
(39) Whitebrook, p. 8, reports that the Archer parents were raised in the Walkerite and Glasite breakaway sects of the Church of Scotland, and William's strict observant upbringing filled him with life-long loathing for religion and religious observances, and for established churches in particular.
(40) India and the Future, p. 77.
(41) There is in fact a many-handed green-coloured goddess in the Himalayan region. She is the Tibetan Green Tara, goddess of mercy and compassion, a Boddhisattva or enlightened being who may enter Nirvana but elects to remain to help others. She may be a syncretism of Buddhist thought and the Hindu goddess Durga. It is unknown whether Archer encountered either images or devotion to this being (Tara [Buddhism]).
(42) India and the Future, p. 40.
(43) While James Hilton's novel of an idyllic Himalayan utopia was published in 1933 and today far better known than Archer's play, fantasy projections of an Orient polarised as the locus of either the benevolently utopic or the savagely dystopic desires of the West are endemic to its discourse, and the two texts can be seen as parties in this conversation.
(44) India and the Future, pp. 36, 37, 80
(45) Charles Archer, pp. 363-4.
(46) His book Play-Making: A Manual of Craftsmanship has gone into many editions since its 1912 publication.
(47) Whitebrook, p. 378. The Firm of JCW originally had Godfrey Tearle in mind for the star part before it was clear that the Ames USA/UK production with Arliss had much more life in it ('A Score of New Plays').
(48) The Arliss Archives is an excellent on-line pictorial source for this film.
(49) Fells, p. 2.
(50) The Awards section of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences shows that the Academy rules at that time allowed for an actor to be nominated for more than one performance in a year, and while Arliss' actual award was announced for Disraeli, it is unclear why The Green Goddess was not also named.
(51) Morley, pp. 83-5.
(52) Fells, p. 186. This film is based on a play The Lake of Life by Edwin E. Greenwood.
(53) Charles Archer, pp. 373-4.
(54) Morley, pp. 55-66.
(55) Hopwood, 'Alice Joyce Biography'.
(56) Louise Jordan Miln records the couple's Eastern work in When We Were Strolling Players in the East. George Crichton Miln's Australian performances in Shakespeare are analysed in Irvin, 'George Crichton Miln: An Individualist on the Australian Stage'.
(57) Kobayashi, 'Touring Companies in the Empire'; 'Shakespeare Wallah'.
(58) Louise Jordan Miln's, novelisation The Green Goddess gives her ideas of Lucilla's sheltered early life as the only daughter of an English clergyman, her unbending morality and her marriage to Crespin, whose developing alcoholism is handled with some sympathy; of the Rajah's varied household of women and his love for his baby heir; of Watkins' wife, the Ayah, who mourns him sincerely and dies seeking his mangled body. She adds such domestic details as the Raja's solo nocturnal death watch for his brothers the day before their execution; the people's excited preparations for the religious sacrifice; and adds that the Executioner will be rewarded by having four young girls of his family admitted to the royal harem.
(59) 'Stage and Screen'.
(61) For example Irvin, 'William Archer: The Prophet of Ibsenism at the Feet of False Gods'.
(62) For the Australian activities of this large internationally dispersed Scottish-Norwegian clan, see O'Keeffe, 'Archer, Thomas (1823-1905)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http:// adb.anu.edu.au/biography/archer-thomas-1469/text1863, accessed 31 December 2013.
(63) The Gracemere cattle sale yards are one of Australia's largest such facilities. The homestead is still extant.
(64) Charles Archer, p. 63.
(65) Irvin, 'William Archer', pp. 11-12, advances the possibility that 'A. G. Stanley' might have been Archer's old collaborator E. R. V. Dibdin, who together with Archer wrote farces and comic operas from 1878 as 'E. V. Ward'.
(66) Brisbane Courier, 4 July 1925, p. 9; 'The Green Goddess', 13 July 1925, p. 10.
(67) 'Winnington Barnes'; 'Wonderful Career'.
(68) Sunday Times, 21 December 1924, p. 3.
(69) 'Some Fine Studies'.
(71) 'The Green Goddess. Thrilling Oriental Drama'.
(72) 'The Green Goddess. Skilful Melodrama'. The 1930 film reverses this: he enters in Act 4 in a splendid light-coloured costume with pearls and turban of the same shade, and for the sacrifice adds a dark turban and long dark cloak with an embroidered snake design. This is discarded when Traherne attacks him.
(73) 'The Green Goddess. Successful First Night'.
(74) 'Tara Buddhism'.
(75) The World's News, 17 January 1925, p. 5. The Hindu deity's complex iconography depicts her with variously two, four or ten arms ('Kali').
(76) Advice on the 'Rukhian' dialogue used in the JCW production, itself most probably sourced from the UK production, has been kindly supplied by Adam Bowles (Brisbane), Valerie J. Roebuck (Manchester), Camillo Formigatti (Cambridge) and Richard Salomon (Washington).
(77) Pashto is the language of the Pashtun people, whose territories include parts of modern Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
(78) Play-Making, pp. 11, 15.
Veronica Kelly works in the field of late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century theatre and entertainment. She is the Australian Co-Researcher on the Leverhulme Research Project 'British-Australian Cultural Exchange: Live Performance 1880-1960', based at the University of Warwick. She is the author of the book The Empire Actors: Stars of Australasian Costume Drama 1880s-1920s (Sydney: Currency House, 2009) and of numerous publications and play editions involving the repertoire, industry and performers of popular theatre and variety in the late imperial period. She is a former Editor of the journal Australasian Drama Studies and Emeritus Professor at the University of Queensland.
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|Publication:||Nineteenth Century Theatre and Film|
|Date:||Dec 22, 2013|
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