Loyalties Essay - Further Critical Evaluation of the Work

John Galsworthy

Further Critical Evaluation of the Work

In an early essay on dramatic theory, John Galsworthy stated that the playwright’s best and most honest approach is to present to his audience the true picture of life as he sees it, without fear or favor, and let the audience draw its own conclusions. Few of his plays follow that dictum as completely and effectively as Loyalties. Indeed, he has so balanced his sympathies that anyone searching the play for vindication of a particular viewpoint—such as an attack on anti-Semitism—is certain to be disappointed. Loyalties is not about prejudice as such; it is, as the title implies, about “loyalties”—their nature, their effects, and their excesses.

What is the line, the playwright asks, between “prejudices” and “loyalties”? To what extent is loyalty to a set or class or group or profession a necessary social virtue? And at what point do these same loyalties become questionable, even dangerous? Using the rarefied atmosphere of cultivated upper-class British society in the 1920’s, Galsworthy subtly explores these questions in all their complexity and ambiguity, while at the same time telling a powerful personal story of wasted talent and inadvertent self-destruction.

Galsworthy chooses to focus his conflict on anti-Semitism because the ambiguous position of the Jew in upper-class English society makes him the perfect catalyst for a play in which all of the “loyalties” present in such a group are to be tested. Because of his money and social contacts, Ferdinand De Levis, associates with the group, but, because of his race, he is barely tolerated by it. When he accuses Ronald Dancy, one of the most accepted and well-liked...

(The entire section is 687 words.)