Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Once every month, the philanthropic Earl of Loam gives expression to his views on human equality by forcing his servants to have tea with him and his family in the great hall of Loam House in Mayfair. It is a disagreeable experience for everyone concerned, especially for his butler, Crichton, who does not share his master’s liberal views. Lord Loam alone enjoys the occasion, for he is the only one who remains in his station. He orders his daughters and his nephew about and treats them exactly as he treats his servants on the other days of the month.
Lady Mary, his oldest daughter, is a spirited young woman who resents her father’s high-handed methods with his family. Her indignation reaches a climax one day when Lord Loam announces that his three daughters are to have but one maid among them on a yachting trip on which the family is about to embark. Lady Mary is furious, but she assumes that her maid, Fisher, will go along. When Fisher learns that she is expected to look after the two younger sisters in addition to Lady Mary, she promptly resigns, and the two maids attending Catherine and Agatha follow suit. Lord Loam is left without any servants for his projected cruise, for his valet also resigns. Although his pride is hurt deeply, Crichton finally agrees, out of loyalty to his master, to act as his valet on the trip. Moreover, he persuades Tweeny, the housemaid upon whom he casts a favorable eye, to go along as maid to Lord Loam’s daughters....
(The entire section is 910 words.)
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The Admirable Crichton deals with the questions of social hierarchy and personal loyalty, and with the problems of human behavior and the ordering of human society. Barrie's suggestion that the British social structure might be flawed, that the lords and ladies might in some ways be inferior to mere servants, seemed subversive to Barrie's audience, and caused minor sensation. The theatre-going public saw his portrayal of weak, foolish aristocrats as a critical attack on the British social system. The play causes no such sensation today in the democratic United States. But the theme of the natural selection of leaders is found in the most ancient works of literature and is as relevant today as when Barrie's play was first performed.
(The entire section is 120 words.)