|Captain Brassbound's Conversion|
Poster for the Federal Theatre Project production of Captain Brassbound's Conversion (1937)
|Written by||George Bernard Shaw|
|Date premiered||16 December 1900 (Stage Society)|
|Place premiered||Royal Strand Theatre|
|Subject||An aggrieved captain is persuaded to forego revenge|
Captain Brassbound's Conversion (1900) is a play by G. Bernard Shaw. It was published in Shaw's 1901 collection Three Plays for Puritans (together with Caesar and Cleopatra and The Devil's Disciple). The first American production of the play starred Ellen Terry in 1907. The play explores the relationship between the law, justice, revenge and forgiveness.
ACT I, Mogador, Morocco. Sir Howard Hallam, a judge, and his sister-in-law, Lady Cicely Waynflete, a well-known explorer, are at the home of Rankin, a Presbyterian minister. Rankin, knows Sir Howard as the brother of an old friend, Miles Hallam, who moved to Brazil after marrying a local woman. Sir Howard tells Rankin that his brother's property was illicitly seized after his death by his widow's family, but Sir Howard has now recovered it. Lady Cicely decides to explore Morocco with Sir Howard. They are advised to take an armed escort. This can be organised by Captain Brassbound, a smuggler who owns a ship called Thanksgiving. When Brassbound arrives, he warns Sir Howard that in the mountain-country justice is ruled by codes of honour, not law courts.
ACT II, A Moorish castle occupied by Brassbound. Marzo, an Italian member of Brassbound's crew, has been wounded in a feud. Lady Cicely is tending to him, initially to Brassbound's irritation, but she wins him over. Sir Howard complains that Brassbound is behaving more like a jailer than a host; Brassbound says that Sir Howard is his prisoner. Brassbound explains that he is the son of Sir Howard's deceased brother, Miles. He blames Sir Howard for the death of his mother and for tricking him out of his inheritance by legal technicalities. He intends to hand over Sir Howard to a fanatical Islamist Sheik. He tells Sir Howard that he presides over an unfair justice system that punishes the poor and weak. Now that Sir Howard is powerless he will receive the justice of revenge. Lady Cicely intercedes and argues with Brassbound that his own code of honour is at least as brutal as the legal system he condemns. Brassbound wavers, and eventually agrees to give up revenge. When the Sheik arrives he offers to buy back Sir Howard, but the Shiek will only accept one price – Lady Cicely. Cicely agrees, but at this point the local ruler appears, having learned of the transaction. He frees Sir Howard and arrests Brassbound.
ACT III, Rankin's house. Commander Kearney is to preside over a court of inquiry into Brassbound's actions. Sir Howard says he cannot interfere, but Lady Cicely persuades him to let her tell the court all that happened on the trip. She uses all her powers of persuasion to convince Commander Kearney that Brassbound is innocent of any crime. Kearney agrees to release Brassbound. The liberated Brassbound declares his devotion to Lady Cicely, and says he wishes to marry her. Lady Cicely is powerfully drawn to Brassbound, and fears that she may succumb to his charisma. As she is about to agree, a gunshot is heard. It is the signal from Brassbound's crew that his ship is ready to depart. He leaves immediately, leaving Lady Cicely to say "What an escape!"
Shaw explained that the topic of the play was the relationship between law and justice. He commented that "one of the evils of the pretence that our institutions represent abstract principles of justice, instead of being mere social scaffolding, is that persons of a certain temperament take the pretence seriously; and when the law is on the side of injustice, will not accept the situation, and are driven mad by their vain struggle against it".
Shaw added that his information about Morocco came from Cunninghame Graham's book, Mogreb-el-Acksa (Morocco the Most Holy), "without which Captain Brassbound's Conversion would never have been written". The story of the legal dispute over the estate was derived from information provided about a similar case given to him by a Frederick Jackson, of Hindhead.
The play was first performed at the Stage Society on 16 December 1900, at the Strand Theatre. A production in Manchester at the Queen's Theatre followed on 12 May 1902. The first London production was at the Royal Court, 20 March 1906 with Ellen Terry as Cicely Waynflete and Frederick Kerr as Brassbound.