DIDO FORSAKEN: Duties of the Ruling Class

Peter Barnes gained almost instant recognition, from relative obscurity with his play “The Ruling Class” in the late 1960′s.  The play came at the height of the 1960s counterculture movement, when the youth of the western world began to openly question the establishment. Barnes’s irreverent portrayal of upper class eccentricity, greed, and deviance fit in perfectly with the movement’s ideals.Barne’s ideas and facility with character, a broadly contextual critique on the sense of entitlement and the syndrome of Prince and Princess, have made The Ruling Class an enduring  statement.

Elegante au Palais Royal av Michel Garnier 1787

Its acerbic wit and tightly woven plot openly criticize England’s social hierarchy, specifically targeting the foibles and greed of the upper—the ruling—class. Barnes’s play peels back the veneer of respectability to reveal the ugly underneath, the rot that can exist at the very core of a life of privilege. The protagonist of the drama, Jack, the Fourteenth Earl of Gurney, is insane: he thinks he is Jesus Christ. His creed of Love proves completely unacceptable to the rest of the Gurney family, who try to get him committed so that they can take over the family estate….

---During the Regency period in London, dandyism was a revolt against the extravagance and ostentation of the previous generation, and of sympathy with the new mood of democracy. It became, however, a competitive sport and this revolt against prior tradition became a revolting development. Immaculate personal cleanliness, crisp and clean linen shirts with high collars, perfectly tied cravats, and exquisitely tailored plain dark coats (similar in many respects to the "macaroni" of the earlier eighteenth century) became the fashion, epitomized by George Bryan "Beau" Brummel (1778-1840). Imitators followed but few possessed Brummel's sense of panache. Many, if not most, over-reached.---

In 1785,when Prince George first took Mrs. Fitzherbert to Brighton to spend the summer in what they thought of as “abject poverty” , he rented a small neat farmhouse from Thomas Kemp, who afterward built the splendid Georgian terraces of Kemptown. The Prince could not live in any building without letting his imagination begin to work on it. Already, his palace in London-Carlton House- had been more responsible than any other extravagance for his monumental debts. So in the intervals of his amorous delights, and when he was tired of the cruel practical jokes in which he took such schoolboyish delight, he paced about his farmhouse.

James Gillray Illustration.----Charles James Fox, eloquent parliamentarian and influential Whig, assured the House of Commons on April 30, 1787, that he knew on “immediate authority” that the Prince of Wales’s marriage to Mrs. Fitzherbert “not only never could have happened legally but never did happen in any way whatsoever.” In a parody of Sir Joshua Reynolds’s epic painting The Death of Dido, Gillray portrays the Roman Catholic Mrs. Fitzherbert as Dido, the Carthaginian queen abandoned by Aeneas, seated on a funeral pyre, surrounded by emblems of “popery” (an examination of the “log” pyre also reveals phallic references). The Prince sails off into the distance, while Mrs. Fitzherbert’s royal regalia are blown away by William Pitt, First Lord of the Treasury and Prime Minister, and Henry Dundas, a member of Parliament and ally of Pitt’s. The Prince states, “I never saw her in my life, Never,” while his shipmate Fox repeats, “No never in all his life.” The Prince’s reward for this memory lapse was reconciliation with the King and payment of his debts.---

In the Prince’s mind, he knocked down walls and threw out bow windows, transforming the modest construction into a charming marine pavilion, suitable for a prince wallowing in marital bliss. Within eighteen months, one hundred and fifty workmen, under the direction of the Prince’s architect, Henry Holland, had turned dream into reality. Holland’s structure possessed the simplicity and elegance that Georgian architects achieved so effortlessly. Its central feature was a circular salon that was flanked by two wings with bow windows. The building veered toward austerity, and the only whimsey it contained was the Prince’s bedroom where a vast mirror enabled the Prince, and presumably Mrs. Fitzherbert, to lie in bed and watch not only the sea but their friends strolling up and down  the Steine, as the wide grass lawn of Brighton was called- a quaint, but no doubt restful, pastime.

Gillray.1787.---On the secret marriage said to have taken place between the Prince of Wales and Mrs. Fitzherbert. Fox is giving away the bride; while Burke, in the disguise of a Jesuit, is performing the ceremony. There are several allusions to the Romanism of the lady. Lord North, who appears to have acted as the driver in their "trip," has fallen asleep. They are said to have been married by the Rev. Samuel Johnes.---

…A film seemingly out of its time, tilting at windmills such as the aristocracy, the church, foxhunting, the House of Lords. Who cared about these symbols of Old England after the swinging Sixties? And yet, however much it parodies a traditional farce – mad earl, bibulous butler and sadistic German psychiatrist – both play and film appeared between the great Profumo-Keeler society sex scandal of 1963, which rocked the British government, and the mysterious disappearance of Lord Lucan in 1973, after apparently murdering his nanny in mistake for his wife. Here life, and indeed death, seemed to imitate art, even in its most caricatured form….(Christie)

The Prince’s Brighton friends were an odd bunch: Beau Brummel for example , lived for clothes and spent the entire day dressing, parading, undressing, and parading again- as fastid

and as pure in his private life as in the cut of his coat. Others, like Lord Barrymore, never washed; his own and his brother’s fame rested partly on their practical jokes- propping up coffins in doorways, then ringing the doorbell, was a favorite- and partly on their wild extravagance, due mainly to excessive gambling and lavish theatricals.

"Rowlandson’s Exhibition Staircase cartoon has a given date of 1800. The ladies’ tumble down a steep, crowded staircase forcibly reminds us that underdrawers were still a fashion consideration for the future."

And then there was Letty Lade: anyone who was particularly foul-mouthed the Prince would describe as “swearing like Letty Lade.” She had lost her virtue to “Sixteen-String Jack,” a highwayman hanged at Tyburn in 1774, enjoyed for a short time the bed of the Prince’s brother, the Duke of York, and finally married Sir John Lade, who finished life supremely happy as a public coachman on the London-Brighton run.

…The truth is that Barnes’ play, at least, was very much a product of the rupture of 1968, and its political message is that, beneath a veneer of modernization, very little had changed in Britain. An advocate of hanging and flogging (“we’ve forgotten how to punish,” Gurney proclaims to a rapturous House of Lords) will always be more welcome to the Establishment than a gently deluded religious mystic. But Barnes was never merely a cynic or a polemicist: steeped in the history of drama from the Jacobeans and Shakespeare’s rival Ben Johnson to Artaud and Brecht, he wanted to challenge English audiences’ cozy relationship with their theatre of “reassurance.” So the violent gear-changes from comedy, to pathos, to horror, are central to his eruption onto the British stage in the ’60s, along with such figures as John Arden, Edward Bond, and Peter Nichols...(Christie )

George Cruikshank. Brian Sewell:...but in none did the production of erotica reach the industrial levels of Paris and London. Is pornography a creature of cold climates? In Britain there seem to have been no borderlines between bawdy wit, obscenity, scatology and gross offence, nor between these and politics and social comment; it was thus possible for a wide British public to be, as it were, familiar with the buttocks and other private parts of the princes and panjandrums who were their rulers. In the window of the printsellers whose shops spread from the City to St James’s, even the illiterate could see that their King was mad, their Prince Regent an increasingly fat fool, their Prime Minister as greedy and violent as Napoleon, and that the fashionable society for which they slaved was preposterous and ripe for ridicule....

Many of the Prince’s friends were obsessed and ingrown characters. Great wealth and absolute social security combined to create a hothouse atmosphere in which human characters could flower like monstrous orchids- vivid, splotched, nightmarish, haunting. Brighton was for them a paradise, where for months on end they could forget the real world of lawyers, tradesmen, stewards, politicians, and above all, the threats and later the horrors of war.

Zoe Brennan:Hayes dressed her girls in French silks and lace and promised they would 'satisfy all fantasies, caprices and extravagances of the male visitor, carrying out their every wish'. Inspired by the explorer-of-the-day James Cook's accounts of Tahitian erotic rituals, she organised a tableau in which '12 beautiful nymphs, unsullied and untainted', were to be publicly deflowered by 12 young men as in 'the celebrated rites of Venus'. Later, the high-paying audience was encouraged to participate. For her part, Hayes, a former teenage prostitute, amassed a fortune of £20,000 - a sum a working man would have to work 500 years to earn. At the upper echelons of this debauched pecking order were the high courtesans, the kept mistresses of rich and powerful men. They could earn up to a hundred guineas a night. Sally Salisbury was the most famous London courtesan of the time. She was famed for her high spirits and glittering wit and led a blazing but ultimately tragic life. Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1219347/Sin-city

The Prince and Mrs. Fitzherbert had begun their life in Brighton determined to live sparely. That resolution quickly vanished and his debts mounted: by 1795, to well over half a million pounds. Furthermore, there was no immediate heir to the throne. All his brothers either lived in sin or, like himself, had contracted marriages that no one would recognize: although George III had plenty of bastard grand children, the direct succession to his house seemed to be in jeopardy. And the Prince’s love for Mrs. Fitzherbert had withered to habit and habit itself had grown brittle.

…This fascination had undoubtedly been stoked by the previous decade’s new views on perversion and madness. In France, the Marquis de Sade had been culturally rehabilitated; while in Britain, under the influence of “existential” psychiatry, madness was increasingly seen as a social construct. R. D. Laing’s account of schizophrenia as essentially family-induced—a logical response to irrational pressures—was proving influential as a counter argument against advocates of ECT and drug treatment; and this is the backdrop to The Ruling Class’ elaborate staging of Jack’s madness and its “cure,” through a surreal confrontation with his opposite, the “electric messiah.”… ( Ian Christie )

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