Last Updated September 6, 2023.
First produced: 1922
First published: 1922
Type of work: Drama
Type of plot: Social criticism
Time of work: Early 1920's
Loyalties is a play about class prejudice, Anti-Semitism, and the honor codes of the British upper classes. Ferdinand De Levis, a wealthy young man from a humble Jewish background, is staying at a country house when he has almost £1,000 in cash stolen from his bedroom. De Levis insists on calling the police, despite his host’s objections to the scandal this will cause, and disagrees with the police inspector’s theory that an outsider stole the money. He accuses Captain Ronald Dancy, a close friend of his host. Under pressure from his host, Charles Winsor, and his fellow guest, General Canynge, De Levis agrees not to repeat this accusation in public, but when he is blackballed from an exclusive club in London, of which Dancy is a member, he changes his mind and tells several of the gentlemen there that Dancy is a thief.
In the club’s card room, Dancy challenges De Levis to a duel, but De Levis dismisses this archaic method of settling disputes and says that Dancy will have to take legal action for defamation if he wants to clear his name. Dancy, who is not rich, is worried by the expense, but his friends think this is the only honorable course of action. Dancy speaks to his wife, Mabel, and asks her to come away to Africa with him, but she insists that they should stay and fight for his reputation. She asks Dancy if he is guilty but then apologizes for doubting him, though he has not answered the question. He agrees to proceed with the legal action for defamation.
Three months later, while the case is in progress, a grocer comes to Dancy’s lawyer with information that shows Dancy was in possession of De Levis’s money, which can be traced through the serial numbers on the larger banknotes. Although he provides this damning evidence and is not part of Dancy’s upper-class group, the grocer supports Dancy and shows prejudice against De Levis and Jews in general, emphasizing the theme of Anti-Semitism in the play.
It emerges that Dancy used the money he stole from De Levis to pay compensation to the father of a girl he seduced. Dancy’s lawyer says he can no longer represent him in these circumstances and drops the case. He advises Dancy to leave England and go to Morocco to fight in the war there. Dancy hesitates and consults Mabel, who says she will come to Morocco with him despite everything he has done. As Dancy and Mabel prepare to leave, the police come to their apartment with a warrant for Dancy’s arrest. Dancy locks himself in his bedroom and commits suicide, shooting himself through the heart. He leaves a note for his friend and fellow officer, Major Colford, saying that this was the only decent thing he could do and that the situation is “too damned unfair” to his wife.
Throughout the play, the upper-class characters show loyalty to Dancy, whom they have known for many years and whom they consider one of their own. This loyalty does not alter when they discover that he is guilty of theft, which some have suspected all along. They are hostile to De Levis on both racial and class grounds, and this hostility is shared by the working-class characters such as the grocer, Gilman, and the butler, Treisure, demonstrating how widespread Anti-Semitism is in this society, as well as the depth of tribal loyalties, which trump such considerations as truth and justice.