A Twentieth Century Drama Coursework on Journey’s End by R C Sherrif

In 1914 two main power blocs dominated Europe, the Triple Alliance which Germany, Austria and Italy were part of, and the Triple Entente which Britain, France and Russia. The Event, which caused the war to start, was the assassination of the heir to the Austrian Throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand on a state visit to Bosnia. As the assassin was Serbian, Austria Declared war on Serbia and due to Germany supporting Austria and Russia supporting Serbia both of these powers were brought into the war along with France and later Britain because of an attack on Belgium by Germany.

In the four years of war the casualties were enormous as both sides tried to push the enemy back. Neither side gained much land in the slaughterous charges that were continually applied by each. The resulting deaths were devastating. I will be writing about the play, journey’s end that was written by R. C. Sherriff in 1928. The play is based in 1918 and influenced by R. C. Sherriff’s real life experiences as an officer in the east Surrey Regiment. He was wounded in the battle of Passchendack in 1917.

The Conditions of the First World War are presented in a very true way in the play, to what they would have been like in real life. The play is not based on the actual fighting and tactical side of the war, although it does take part, and takes place over a short period of time when the English are preparing for the big push from the Germans. The play is based on the actual lives of the men in the dugout, how they feel, their relations, their relationships, who they get on with in the dugout and how they cope with the war outside.

This gives the main structure for the play. A lot of detail is given about these things in the stage directions, and the characters talking about things like the sleeping conditions for example. We are told in the stage directions that there are two rooms for sleeping, the beds are made from wooden frames and wire netting, and that the soldiers sleep in their clothes and rest their heads on their backpacks “he puts the pack as a pillow on Stanhope’s bed and spreads out the blanket”.

The dug out is gloomy, has earth walls, low doorways, and a lack of furniture as we are again told in the stage directions in the scene brief at the beginning. The characters don’t comment on the dugout much but quite often talk of the sounds of fighting outside and how loud or quiet, hard or soft the ‘Boche’ are attacking “Everything’s farly quiet. Bit of sniping somewhere to our left: some rifle grenades coming over just on our right. ” Some of the officers find ways to pass time such as trotter, who in Act one draws 144 circles on a piece of paper and every hour he crosses one out until the big attack.

The officers often talk about their home and past experiences and read to pass time like when Osborne and Raleigh were waiting for the call to go and do the raid on the Germans “My home’s down there. A little place called Allum Green, just outside Lyndhurst”. The food served in the dugout is cooked by a servant soldier named Mason who cooks quite well according to trotter “he’s not a bad cook, could be a lot worse” but they all did complain about the taste of onion in their tea. To keep their morale up they crack jokes about things.

Like when Trotter makes a joke about the cutlets “Well it won’t let me cut it! ” and also about some of the things each other does, like when Stanhope drew a picture of trotter being blown up at the end of his 144 circles. The dugout and the army is a female free environment and the men satisfy their lust by making the making the most of local women and displaying posters on the walls. My first impression of Stanhope when we were given his description in the stage directions made me think that he wasn’t a very strong figure to look up to as a leader.

With him being very thin and tall, little more than a boy with attractive features I thought he sounded a bit feeble. As a captain in the first world war Stanhope would have worn a suit very similar to the one in the photograph, green cotton overcoat, cap with battalion emblem at the front or a helmet when on the line, large belt and shoulder strap, strong black leather boots, long knee length cotton socks and green cotton trousers. This uniform is typical of a higher-ranking person in the British army around the year 1918.

Although I am given no description of his uniform I can say that this would probably what I would advise as costume if I was a costume designer for the play. “His uniform, though old and war-stained, is well cared for” this is all we are told about his uniform, and is at the start of the play as he enters for the first time. Stanhope is the company commander or captain, a born leader from an English public school who had played Cricket and Rugger well and is a great inspiration to his men at the front line.

Stanhope had been out on the front line for just under three years and came straight from school when he was 18. He has commanded his company for a year. He had left a potential fianci?? behind at home named madge who was Raleigh’s sister. He may have lived near Raleigh but we are not told in the play. Stanhope at heart, after so many years of nerve battering fighting has grown to be afraid, or has always been afraid of the war and in a conversation with Hibbert He declares this “Every little noise up there makes me feel-just as you feel… ” “I hate and loathe it all.

Sometimes I feel as I could just lie down on this bed and pretend I was paralysed or something-and couldn’t move-and just lie there till I died-or was dragged away. ” Stanhope Copes with this situation and feeling by “doping” himself with whiskey “without being doped with whiskey-I’d go mad with fright”. I think that this is not a good example to set for his men and may make them feel even more afraid of their situation to think that their captain is a drunkard. To other people Stanhope seems to have a very strong personality but inside he is weak and afraid.

Over time this fear and fighting has worn away at his nerves. The Officers have different views of him as we are told at the beginning before Stanhope has appeared, when Osborne and Hardy are talking. Hardy was commenting on how much of a ‘freak show’ Stanhope was and about his bad drinking habits. Despite this Hardy still looked up to Stanhope due to his good leadership. Osborne was very close to Stanhope and Stanhope often called him ‘Uncle’. Osborne stood up for Stanhope when Hardy made a bad comment about him. Stanhope confesses to Osborne about his troubles and treats him as someone to talk to.

This is why Osborne understands Stanhope more, and why he stands up for him, we have proof of this in act one: Osborne: And because he stuck it till his nerves have got battered to bits he’s called a drunkard. Hardy: Not a drunkard; just a – just a hard drinker; but you’re quite right about his nerves. They are all to blazes. Last time out resting we were playing bridge and something happened – I don’t remember what it was; some silly little argument – and all of a sudden he jumped up and knocked al the glasses off the table!

Lost control of himself; and then he – sort of – came to – and cried – Osborne: Yes I know. Hardy: You heard about it? Osborne: He told me. Stanhope shows great leadership throughout the play and when talking to officers and lower ranking people he speaks strongly with a great tone of authority and nobleness. Like when Hibbert declared he had to leave due to neuralgia. Stanhope saw through Hibbert though he knew Hibbert was scared and wanted to escape his fear. He realised Hibbert felt the same as himself.

Stanhope confesses his own fear as a parallel to this in a very cunning act which eventually resulted in Hibbert being convinced to stay and overcome his cowardice as Stanhope was. I thought this was an excellent method, to use his own case as a parallel to make Hibbert feel guilt which in turn made him realise his selfishness and decide to back down. I think that Stanhope is a very good leader and probably the main character in the play from how the other characters talk about him and how he talks to the other characters. Here’s what the other characters think of him:

Raleigh looks up to Stanhope as an older friend, a sort of hero to grow up to be like. Raleigh thinks the best of Stanhope and reacts to everything he say’s as if he is a god, does everything he say’s and gets very upset when Stanhope asks to see the letter that he is sending home as he may have found it embarrassing. Raleigh is afraid he may disapprove of what he has written. Stanhope was thinking that Raleigh would write home saying how much he has changed, about his bad drinking habits and other negative things and was scared Raleigh’s sister may be disappointed with him.

Osborne treats Stanhope as a leader. While always looking up to him and admiring the way he has coped with the war over such a long time, he stands up for him and speaks and understands and listens to Stanhope when he is distraught and needs a shoulder to cry on. Stanhope sees him as an older understanding friend and Osborne sees him as a respectable admirable man who needs some support to cope. Trotter treats Stanhope as his rightful leader and does not quibble or complain to any of his requests or orders. He is loyal to him as a superior officer.

Hibbert looks up to Stanhope but continued to challenge him and show a hidden strength that Stanhope is proud of. When the conversation where Hibbert wants to leave end s Hibbert backs down and admires him more for his caring but still strong leadership, understanding and support, his respect increases. The Colonel respects Stanhope’s feelings and views greatly even being a superior officer. He is taken aback when Stanhope lashes out at him when he is thinking of the rewards of the Raid rather than thinking of the men lost in the raid in, act three, scene one.

The Colonel takes this into account when he realises his selfishness and how Stanhope felt having lost men and his fellow officer Osborne. A key scene where Stanhope is greatly involved is scene two Act three. The scene starts with Trotter Stanhope and Hibbert thinking of past stories after their champagne and chicken dinner to celebrate the raid success. An actor would play this part in a drunken, but aware manner with them all cracking up with laughter after every comment and throwing themselves around as they did it.

Then the scene goes on and the mood changes at the comment of Raleigh not wanting to celebrate with the men this shocked Stanhope and made him angry which spoilt the evening. This would be acted in an arrogant and flippant manner with a slight sharpness to his tone of voice. Near to the end of the scene when Raleigh has returned we see a number of emotions which are made more dramatic because Stanhope is drunk. He would start off with a sharp tone off voice then sarcasm then when Raleigh continues to refuse the dinner that has been saved he gets very angry and sarcastic.

Stanhope consistently tells Raleigh to sit down and eat his dinner, maybe treating him as a school child. Stanhope then flips and would storm around the room shouting his head off picking on Raleigh, taking out his stress and tension on him. This, to gather effect, would have to be played by an actor who was capable of working himself up into a state with a moment’s notice. Stanhope after this is very touchy to everything Raleigh does, like when Raleigh looks at him. Stanhope snaps back at Raleigh, which is when Raleigh reveals his feelings of disgust at the thought of the officers celebrating when they have lost a friend.

Stanhope then reveals his feelings and a counter and say’s he does it to try to forget because otherwise he will only mourn and feel a lot worse. The scene ends with Stanhope left shouting at Raleigh to get out he has obviously given up forgetting about what has happened and would probably be left crying. Journey’s end has all the ingredients to make it a very successful dramatically: a handful of clearly delineated characters, some humour, some reminiscence, a flawed hero, agonising death scene and a shattering climax.

Although the wording is now dated the dialogue is easily understood and the message about sacrifice and comradeship is clear. It is definitely a very moving play, with the death of young Raleigh in his first week at the front line, in the arms of a friend whom he had hero-worshiped as a schoolboy. The company commander, Stanhope, is a leader from an English public school who had played cricket and rugger well and is now a great inspiration to his men at the front. Stanhope’s drinking clearly dramatises the stresses of war.

As well as the obvious relationship – and source of conflict – between Stanhope and Raleigh, Stanhope also has a close relationship with Osborne, the ‘uncle figure’ in the play. It seems inevitable in my view that Osborne, the richest character culturally, and Raleigh, the boy with everything to live for, should be doomed. Their deaths emphasise a point made often in the First World War letters home and in diaries – the irony of death. Sometimes a man survives luckily for years while others seem fated to die.

The whole problems of cowardice and desertion during the war are glanced at in Journey’s end. Hibbert’s cowardice is dealt with by Stanhope who offers his own weakness as a parallel. The play also emphasises the class differences between the officers and the lower ranks. Mason the soldier-cook is the source of most of the humour in the play. We do not laugh at Mason but we laugh with his because he is clever enough to make the most of an impossible situation. It is still made clear that Mason is a servant and that it is his duty to stay awake and wake the officers so that they may go on watch.

Stanhope’s fury after he finds that Raleigh has been dining with the men is a complex reaction to Raleigh’s being there at all, especially since he, Stanhope, has his drinking problem to hide. Raleigh is innocent, ignorant and does not answer back and is so keen to be a good soldier and so his death seems inevitable. Raleigh’s character represents the young men who were as good as slaughtered in their hundeds of thousands in the Great War. I can conclude that this play is an emotional display of the feelings, comradeship, and the affects of the war on the officers at war.

The play’s significance and reason behind it is to bring in to the light how, and what it was like for the men at war emotionally. The cast would have a varied array of characters from the fruity, humour of Mason to the seriousness leadership and flaws of Stanhope. I enjoyed reading and studying this play and have learnt how to interpret world war one jargon and scripts of this period with great understanding. I now feel confident in arranging my essays in a suitable manner for the future.

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