Our Country's Good : How Does Theatre Convey the Exploration of Identity ?

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Wertenbaker’s dramatic exploration of identity in Our Country’s Good - How does theater convey the exploration of identity?

The play Our Country’s Good, written by Timberlake Wertenbaker, illustrates the characters’ exploration of identity, whether through their belonging to a society, through theater and thus language, or through the social experiment the setting up of the play represents.

The word drama, first used in the course of the 16th century, comes from the Greek drama, meaning “action”, or “to do”. In Wertenbaker’s Our Country’s Good, one of the aims of drama is to exhibit a picture of human life, and consider some of the difficulties a human being experiences in his life, such as finding one’s genuine identity. Our Country’s Good enables the spectator and the reader to follow the main characters and the way they evolve thanks to the play’s influence. As Whisehammer states “a play should make you understand something new”, that is, in this case, understanding and choosing who one really is.

In his play, Wertenbaker explores one of the main universal issues: the way an individual builds his identity according to the society he belongs to. Indeed, any human being is influenced by the values of his society, but is still able to develop his own identity within it. Our Country’s Good, thanks to the characters chosen by the author, as well as the setting of the play, enables an in-depth exploration of this theme.

First of all, the characters all identify to a certain extent to the British society, as it is their mother-country and the civilization they belong to. This is mirrored in Act two Scene one with Liz’s black humor, when she answers Arscott’s claim that “There is no escape!” by “That’s English. You know things”, which shows they deeply identify to England. They both tell Caesar, who wants to escape, that he has to “think English”, and realize he is ensnared in Australia. This highlights the characters' identification to England, as they constantly relate to it, and want to build a genuine English society in Australia, in order to recall their roots. Some officers like Tench, for instance, out of cruelty but also customs, say that erecting a Tyburn “would make the convicts feel more at home”. However, all these characters have been, in their own way, outcast from this society. Indeed, the convicts are despised and unwanted because they’re considered as criminals or prostitutes, and come from the lowest ranks of society. The officers are outcast as well in a way, as they’ve been “hauled to [Australia] because they blame [them] for losing the war in America”, as Ross says Act two Scene ten. Most of them, like Ralph, are in Australia against their own will, as they are far from their families, cut from their mother-country and prone to sins such as infidelity, as many officers are “setting [the female convicts] up as mistresses” ; a lack of faith ; injustice such as with the case of Liz act two scene ten… To some characters, England is a part of them and they cannot manage to be happy far from it, such as Ross or Whisehammer who says: “Seven years and I’ll go back”. Some, on the other hand, have experienced a radical change in their identity, which thus contrasts between that of a typical English man, like Caesar, who thrives to go to Madagascar with his ancestors and leave England, as well as Liz, who says “I hate England”. As well as recalling them their English roots, the setting up of The Recruiting Officer helps the convicts understanding and perhaps accepting English society and its values, in order not to feel outcast anymore, “They will become members of society again, and help create a new society in this colony”. The misunderstanding between officers and convicts can be seen in Act two Scene seven, when Whisehammer says “It’s easier to understand Plume and Brazen than some of the officers we know here”, but also earlier in the play in Act one Scene eleven. Indeed, during this rehearsal, the...
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