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SWEET LAVENDER

a domestic drama in three acts by Sir Arthur Wing Pinero
First performed in 1888

This analysis of Sweet Lavender was originally published in The British and American Drama of Today. Barrett H. Clark. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1915. pp. 10-13.

Sweet Lavender is one of the most popular of Pinero's plays. In London it achieved the phenomenal record, for those days, of a run of 683 nights, and on its revival not long after, of 737 nights. Since that time it has been seen in America, Canada, Russia, South Africa, Australia, Germany, Italy, and other countries. Its success is attributable to its genial, if mawkish, sentiment, its optimism, and its kindly humor. In the light of the dramatist's later works, it appears old-fashioned and conventional in the extreme.

Probably no fitter play could be named to typify the comedy of sentiment than Sweet Lavender. Pinero called it a "domestic drama." It is not that, at least not in the sense that Giacosa's As the Leaves or Ibsen's John Gabriel Borkman are domestic dramas. Pinero's play touches merely the externals of life, deftly it is true, and with an occasional semblance of reality, but the dramatist's sympathy led him far astray both from human nature and from the truth that lies at the bottom of all things. This play should be studied first for its occasional touches of characterization, then for the skill with which the author has constructed his story.

Pinero's chief contribution to the theater of his time has doubtless been found to consist of a series of plays in which the stories are, as a whole, well thought out, interesting, ingenious, and economical in the technical sense of the term. He [has been] considered a consummate craftsman, but his comments on life and human character must take second place. He is not, however, negligible in this capacity: there are far too convincing proofs to the contrary. In the present play Dick Phenyl is a case in question. The part is an especially rich one for a good actor, and can be made even more sympathetic on the stage than it is in print. Although he shares with the other characters in the play the annoying mannerism of speaking much too often in figurative language, he is still an affable fellow. Bulger, too, and Mrs. Gilfillian, are good minor sketches. The latter is a faint approximation to the Lady Bracknell and Duchess of Berwick types of Oscar Wilde. Her speech in the first act is distinctly Wildesque: "Innocent-looking! Do you think I will have my plans -- my plans and my brothers -- frustrated by a girl with ulterior motives and eyes like saucers?"

The various works on the technique of the drama practically agree on the division of a play into five parts: exposition, development, climax, dénouement, and catastrophe. Aristotle more succinctly said that a play must have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Most plays can be satisfactorily so analyzed. Sweet Lavender presents an interesting clinical subject in its dénouement. Trace, in the third act, the numerous threads introduced in the first and second: Wedderburn's relations with Mrs. Rolt, Minnie's with Bream, Clement's with Lavender. Notice how the supposed failure of Wedderburn is smoothed over, how the coincidences are made to appear a little less improbable than they would be without the dramatic preparation. Mr. Delaney's "Come, I'll tell ye how I put the pieces of the puzzle together" is a good text for this analysis.

The end is "happy," that is, lovers are united, obstacles overcome, even at the expense of verisimilitude and the canons of ordinary morality. Undoubtedly the English public of the day demanded this and few dramatists dared face the logical outcome of a situation of the sort. Five years later, however, Pinero did carry out an unpleasant theme, fearlessly: the success of The Second Mrs. Tanqueray is but another proof of the steady intellectual advance of the British theater public. But a curious instance of the dramatist's wavering between personal conviction and his fear of the public is to be found in The Profligate (1889). Read this play, comparing the two endings: that of the acted version, which ends in reconciliation, and the original, terminating in suicide.

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