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The Devil's Disciple is the only play by George Bernard Shaw set in America, and takes place during the time of the Revolutionary War. It is the fictitious story of Richard Dudgeon, an American hero. It was first published in Shaw's 1901 collection Three Plays for Puritans (which also included Captain Brassbound's Conversion and Caesar and Cleopatra).

  • Richard Dudgeon is secretly a rebel, and is considered by his family and friends to be The Devil's Disciplebecause he has turned his back on Puritanism, his distaste for religion, and his rebellious character. The main reason, however, why he became "devilish" is because of his disgust at his mother’s rigid piety. As an act of defiance, he fled this pious lifestyle for a life of freedom. In Act I, however, upon his father’s death, Dick returns home to hear his will being read. His wickedness is shocking to everyone, but none more so than Judith Anderson, wife of Anthony Anderson.
  • In Act II, there is a shift in perception of Richard: he becomes a hero. While visiting Anderson's home, Dick is suddenly left alone with Judith while Anderson is called out to Mrs. Dudgeon's deathbed. Neither Dick nor Judith finds their impromptu meeting comfortable, and Judith expresses her disapproval of Richard’s lifestyle to him. British soldiers then enter the Anderson household, arresting Richard and mistaking him for Anderson. Richard plays along with the soldiers, but also swears Judith to secrecy, asking her to ensure that her husband does not disclose the true nature of the mistaken identity. Anderson arrives and hears what has happened. This is a turning point within the play, and he seems to turn into a different man. He cries for money and a gun and he rides off, leaving Judith alone. Judith then sees her husband as being a coward, and now regards Richard as being a hero.
  • In Act III, Judith visits Dick. She is curious to know whether he has acted out of love for her, but Richard refutes this. He explains that, in fact, he was overcome by a sense of decency and doing the right thing. Richard is then later sentenced to be hanged. General Burgoyne appears for the first time here, and makes a number of satirical comments about the American Revolution. Dramatically, Judith reveal that Richard is not Anderson, but her revelation is fruitless and it is decided that Richard should still be hanged. Burgoyne is informed that that American rebels have taken command of a nearby town, and he realises that he, along with his troops, are facing danger. He is told that the rebels are sending a man to negotiate with the British. Climactically, Burgoyne demands that the hanging be instantly stopped, as the rebel has arrived. The rebel is revealed to be Anthony Anderson! In an instant, he has turned from being a man of the cloth to a man of action and adventure. Anderson asks that Richard is spared, and General Burgoyne acquiesces. The Americans celebrate, and the British leave.
  • The play is a MELODRAMA.
  • This means that the play is very exaggerated in order to heighten an audience’s emotional involvement with it and in its characters. There is much melodrama in the play, both through the words and through the actions of each of the characters.
  • There are many examples of melodrama in the play. Find 5 of your own. Don’t refer to things generally: instead, quote.
  • For example, “She tried to look at Richard, but turns away with a frightful shudder, and falls on her knees in prayer” (Judith), p.92;
  • “Essie screams with terror and falls on her knees, hiding her face”, p.67; and
  • “Judith, with a sudden effort, throws her arms around him; kisses him; and swoons away, dropping from his arms to the ground as if the kiss had killed her”, p.59
  • George Bernard Shaw disliked the concept of Puritanism, which is the idea of being compelled to follow one fixed, rigid, laid-down law. The character of Richard allows us the opportunity to consider Puritanism, and we are prompted to ask ourselves whether he has been a noble man or a fool, particularly when comparing his actions to those of Anthony Anderson.
  • Mrs Dudgeon, Richard’s mother, embodies all that GBS despised. To him, she is “the barren form and observances of a dead Puritanism”, Act I, p.23.
  • Typically, this form of Puritanism disapproved of entertainment, such as theatre and film.
  • Puritans also demanded PIETY (religious devotion) at all times.
  • Now read pages 1-15 and take as many shorthand notes as you can on Puritanism and what you understand it to mean within the context of the play. Don’t talk about it generally – refer to it in the play and discuss what it means in The Devil’s Disciple. This is an integral part of the play. You shall, in pairs, be presenting to the class a short 1- 2 minute talk on Puritanism on Monday, so this is your opportunity to prepare for it.
  • Write a profile of Richard Dudgeon, Anthony Anderson and Judith Anderson.
  • Use quotations from the play to back up your points.
  • Remember, someone is portrayed best through their actions. Refer CLOSELY to the text, i.e., quote, to back up every point.
richard as a hero
Richard as a hero?
  • Every melodrama has a hero. Richard is the clear hero in Acts I and II of TDD, and this is clear from the way that he dominates the full play and overshadows all other characters.
  • Lawyer Hawkins talks of him being “cock of the walk”.
  • Although in Act III his demeanour is different, he still has the moral upper hand when arguing with General Burgoyne.
richard as a hero1
Richard as a hero?
  • However, by the end of the play, who do we consider to truly be more heroic: Anthony Anderson or Richard?
  • Richard has become significantly more resolute, and there is doubt as to whether he has allowed himself to be swayed by a romantic notion of becoming a hero. Why would he give himself up so willingly for Anderson? What would he do this? Does it make any sense?
richard as a hero2
Richard as a hero?
  • Anderson, it could be argued, is the true hero of Act III. He is a “man of action” rather than a “man of the cloth”, and indeed, Richard states “Minister – I should say Captain. I have behaved like a fool” (p.95).
  • Revisit p.95 again and examine the dialogue between Richard and Judith. Judith sees him as being a hero, but does Richard really believe that he is a hero? Or is he just feeling sorry for himself? Is Anderson the true hero of this act?