You are on page 1of 2


The Winslow Boy

The well-made play is an adaptation of melodrama for the literate, upper-middle class audience of the established theatre. Terrence Rattingans play, The Winslow Boy is based on an actual case that took place in 1908. Rattingan wrote it in almost 6 weeks, and it immediately became one of his most popular plays. The play tells the story of a father trying to do justice for his son, capable of doing sacrifice, just like every soldier does on the battlefield during wars. Arthur Winslow is a warrior, he does not fight against people, but against the system. Ronnie Winslow, a fourteen-year-old cadet of the Royal Naval College is accused of forgery and theft and it is expulsed from the college without being judged in a court of law and witout being given the opportunity to defend himself. From the moment his family find out the bad news, they all begin to fight for doing him justice, all believing in the boys innocence. The family focus in the play gives value to the individual experiences more than to social issues. That is one of the characteristics of Rattingans updating the well-made play, as well as his modern perception of relativity. The play itself is a catalogue of middle class values centering on the family. The well-made play almost invariably includes a difficulty between the sexes. The reason is obvious. In the 19th century, this usually meant a matter of social or class incompatibility between married or engaged persons, money, differing moral standards. In our play, it is Catherine Winslow who cannot come to terms with the men in her life. She is not convinced by sir Roberts sincerity and during their conversations, she is constantly interrogating him rather than showing admiration like everyone else does: Sir Robert Morton: My dear Miss Winslow, are you cross-examining me? She does not show much interest in love and she is ready to sacrifice her engagement in the name of justice: Catherine Winslow: How does one behave as if one is in love?/ Arthur Winslow: One does not read <<The Social Evil and The Social Good>>. One reads Lord Byron. Her position towards men is understandable due to the political context of the age. In that period, women turned to militant methods in their struggle for the vote. Eighteen years after the play is set, British women are finally granted full voting rights. The romantic conflicts of the play also revolve around Miss Catherine. She is left by her fiance, then courted by the famillys solicitor, Desmond Curry and, in the end, we get to understand that a romantic relationship could evolve between her and Sir Robert. One of the main themes of the play lays in the recurrent phrase: Let right be done! In English Law, this phrase would endorse a Petition of Right, before being brought to court. In this way, the subjects could recover property from the Crown. The play tells us the story

of a trial caused by the denial of a fundamental human right. The fathers first attempts to do justice fail because the acceptance of his request implied the admittance of the fact that the Crown did wrong, and, as the men of justice in the play state: there is no legal procedure by which a servant to the King can sue the King. They are afraid of creating a precedent, therefore the Government does not want the case to proceed. But Arhur Winslow is far from giving up. He believes in the concepts of Right and Justice (both recurrent in the play), and he succeeds in hiring one of the shrewd opposition Member of Parliament: Sir Robert Morton. He submits the boy to a test, and once he had proved his innocence, Sir Morton goes on with the case. At the House of Lords, the Petition of Rights is granted, but the hard work is just begining. The case becomes famous and subject to the curiosity of many, either approving of disapproving of it. While the play gives only indirect references to the parliament debates, the 1948 film introduces scenes from these events that are not in the play. The hero of the play is the father that is trying to clear his sons name: Arthur Winslow. As it happens to every hero of a well-made play , there are a series of ups and downs in his fortune. At the beginning of the play, he decides to do sacrifice in the name of Right. He would stop paying Dickies scholar fee (older son) and put the money aside for paying Sir Robert Morton. As the trial goes on, his health deteriorates, and he is about to give up when he realises that it could also ruin his daughters engagement with John Watherstone. But it is Catherine who stands to the words Let Right be done!, so Arthurs sacrifice becomes the sacrifice of an entire family. The Winslow Boy does not lack suspense, an important characteristic of the well-made play. It is created by a secret that is known to the audience, but not to all the characters and by stolen documents (the post order). The conflict is resolved when the secret is revealed, in our case, when justice is done. Terrence Rattingans play preserves most of the characteristics of a well-made play, the happy and open ending being one of them (we can imagine the romantic story between Miss Catherine and Sir Robert goes one even after the curtains fall). The second most important character of the play, Sir Robert Morton, is unpredictable and misterious. He takes the case as a challenge, even if he was capable of winning any case he wanted. It was not winning that mattered so much to him, but doing right. Not justice. Right. It is not hard to do justice-very hard to do right (Sir Robert Morton).