The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Cloud Nine opens with a Victorian family in Africa singing an anthem to the British Union Jack. Between stanzas, Clive introduces his perfect family of dutiful wife, son, daughter, mother-in-law, governess, and black servant.

In act 1, scene 1, Clive returns from a foray into the bush to investigate threatening drumbeats and tells Betty that Harry Bagley is coming to visit. As Maud reminds Betty of her duty to her husband, he brings in another caller, the widow Saunders. Next, Harry arrives and at first resists Betty’s overtures as those of a dangerous woman; when he begins to take her in his arms, however, she runs off. He then departs for a sexual interlude with Joshua in the barn.

In scene 2, Clive dallies with Mrs. Saunders before the family Christmas picnic and then toasts Queen Victoria and all of her dear children. During their games, Harry comments that the empire is one big happy family. Edward, meanwhile, attempts to renew their sexual relationship. When Harry resists Betty’s renewed overtures, Ellen reveals to the audience her physical attraction for Betty. Harry then conjures a string of British flags from up his sleeve as Joshua sings an English Christmas carol.

In scene 3, Clive has the stable boys flogged because they are related to the rebellious Africans. As Edward is coached in proper male behavior, Clive voices clichés about family loyalty to justify his distance from Betty for her overtures to Harry. Edward supports his mother by demanding that Joshua do her bidding, and Joshua finally obeys.

In scene 4, Clive reports that he burned a village the previous evening. Edward declares his attraction to Harry, Ellen hers to Betty; as Clive speaks of the dark side of women, Harry makes an overture to him. To save Harry from depravity, Clive insists that he must marry. Mrs. Saunders comes out, turns down Harry’s proposal and reveals that Clive has killed Joshua’s parents. When...

(The entire section is 799 words.)