The Corn Is Green

by Emlyn Williams

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The Play

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 989

The Corn Is Green is set solely in the living room of a house in a remote Welsh mining village in the latter half of the nineteenth century. When the first act opens, two local people, the genteel Miss Ronberry and the chapel-going Mr. Jones, are unpacking books and putting them on shelves in preparation for the arrival of the new owner. They are joined by the bluff and hearty Squire.

All three are astonished when, instead of the man they had assumed the new owner to be, Miss Moffat arrives and announces in a down-to-earth, uninhibited way that she has inherited the house. Her housekeeper, the Cockney Mrs. Watty, and Mrs. Watty’s pert young daughter, Bessie, arrive separately.

After being patronizingly questioned by the Squire, Miss Moffat innocently asks him what he does for a living. He is insulted and storms out of the room. Miss Ronberry explains that as the owner of the Hall he is a gentleman and does not work. In a passionate statement about the need for education in a severely deprived area, Miss Moffat declares that she intends to set up a school for miners’ children and will buy the barn next door to accommodate it. She recruits Miss Ronberry and Mr. Jones as her assistants.

Scene 2 opens six weeks later. The living room has been partially rearranged as a classroom. It soon becomes apparent, however, that Miss Moffat’s project is foundering. Local business interests have objected to it, and the owner of the barn has refused to sell. Five onstage young miners, led by Morgan Evans, who have joined the school, are rude and churlish. When the Squire arrives in a triumphant mood, Miss Moffat realizes that he has been using his influence to sabotage her scheme. She calls him a “greedy good-for-nothing, addle-headed nincompoop,” which relieves her feelings; but when he has gone, she faces the fact that she must close the school.

Regretfully leafing through some work done by the young miners, she comes upon a passage of exceptionally imaginative prose written by Morgan Evans. Elated by the discovery of one outstanding talent, she makes inquiries about Morgan, learns that he is an orphan and although rough-and-ready, is willing to learn, and proclaims that despite everything she will keep the school open in her living room. The newly acquired school bell clangs joyously to mark the end of act 1.

Two years have passed when act 2 opens. The living room is now cheerfully overcrowded with desks and chairs; books are overflowing everywhere. Morgan has been making great academic strides, and Miss Moffat is determined to get him a scholarship to university, but she needs the Squire to sponsor him. The Squire comes to the school on her invitation, and she uses hitherto unexplored womanly wiles and flattery to entice him to back Morgan’s application. Her ploy is successful.

Miss Moffat is about to find Morgan to tell him the good news, but he comes in and roughly informs her that he is going back to the mines. He accuses her of manipulating him and using him to fulfill her own ambitions. It is evident from hints dropped by Bessie Watty that he has taken to drink. Later, Bessie catches him in this rebellious mood and stokes his discontent. The curtain falls as the two young people clasp each other in a passionate embrace.

When the curtain opens on scene 2, three months have passed. Miss Ronberry and Mrs. Watty are preparing the room for Morgan’s entrance examination. Miss Moffat and the Squire are to act as proctors. Miss Moffat is extremely nervous on behalf of her protégé and is horrified when Bessie, who has been working away, returns unexpectedly to announce that she is pregnant and that Morgan is the father. Miss Moffat physically restrains her from meeting Morgan.

Act 3 opens seven months later. The room is less cluttered because the school now operates in the converted barn. From dialogue between Miss Ronberry and Mr. Jones it becomes clear that the entire village is waiting for news of Morgan, who is expected home after traveling to Oxford for an interview. When he returns, he says that the results will be sent by mail. Then, in a key speech, he tells the Squire and Miss Moffat that his visit to Oxford has changed his life. He now understands the value of articulate conversation, not only for small talk but also as a means of conveying ideas, and he movingly thanks Miss Moffat for what she has done for him.

Miss Moffat’s dreams for Morgan are once more put in peril when, shortly after he has left the room, Bessie arrives full of self-confidence and announces that she gave birth four weeks ago. She says that she has an affluent boyfriend who would marry her if it were not for the baby. She has therefore come to claim Morgan in marriage. In despair, Miss Moffat offers Bessie money to go away, and Mr. Jones surprises everyone by offering to marry her. Bessie refuses both options. Mrs. Watty comes to the rescue by suggesting that Miss Moffat should adopt the baby. After much protestation, Miss Moffat agrees, provided that Bessie swears she will never bother Morgan again.

Bessie leaves in triumph, but it is too late; Morgan has learned the truth from the Squire. He tells Miss Moffat that he must, for duty’s sake, forego Oxford and marry Bessie. At this moment, a telegram arrives with the news that Morgan has won the scholarship. Left alone with him, Miss Moffat urges him to accept it, not only for his own sake but indeed for the sake of the whole world; she believes that he has a truly great future. Morgan finally agrees, and Miss Moffat bids him a permanent good-bye, since it would be wrong, she tells him, for him to have any future contact with the baby.

Dramatic Devices

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 295

The play is written in traditional three-act form; the first and second acts are divided into two scenes each, with a quick drop and rise of the curtain between them. The period and the social level of the house are indicated by the furnishings, which are described in detail in the stage directions. Rearrangements of the furniture for each scene indicate the passage of time and the progress of the school. Considerable dramatic craftsmanship is involved in the construction.

Although the plot is melodramatic, the author has wrung maximum suspense from its convolutions. Tantalizing questions are raised at key points to keep audiences guessing about what will happen next, but each crisis is quickly resolved so that they are never unduly alarmed. The play’s main expressiveness arises less from particular aspects of narrative or innovative production techniques than from its strong characterizations, especially those of the straight-talking, no-nonsense Miss Moffat and of Morgan, the rough, callow young miner who matures under her influence.

Humor emerges from some of the supporting roles, especially that of Mrs. Watty, the housekeeper, a reformed petty criminal who has become an evangelical Christian and whom Miss Moffat has taken under her wing. Her feckless daughter Bessie, although a ruthless young predator, is allowed to state her own viewpoint with considerable persuasive charm. Mr. Jones, the fiercely religious chapel-goer, confounds stereotype expectations by displaying eagerness to take risks in the cause of humanity.

The atmosphere of Welshness comes not only from Morgan Evans and Mr. Jones but also from several male, female, and child characters helping or attending the school. Their English is embellished with Welsh idioms and accents; they sometimes speak Welsh to one another, and their onstage and offstage songs emphasize the musical qualities of the Welsh people.


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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 44

Sources for Further Study

Dale-Jones, Don. Emlyn Williams. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1979.

Findlater, Richard. Emlyn Williams. London: Rockliff, 1956.

Matlaw, Myron. “The Corn Is Green.” In Modern World Drama: An Encyclopedia. New York: Dutton, 1972.

Williams, Emlyn. George: An Early Autobiography. New York: Random House, 1961.

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