The Ruling Class Characters
by Peter Barnes

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Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

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Jack Arnold Alexander Tancred

Jack Arnold Alexander Tancred, the fourteenth earl of Gurney. Declared a paranoid-schizophrenic by the medical profession, he has been institutionalized for seven years because he believes that he is God, the God of love who deals in compassion and justice. As the gentle J. C., he is the object of contempt and victimized by his family, who hope to inherit his estate. After a “cure,” which involves his meeting another mental patient who thinks he is the Messiah, he becomes Jack the Ripper, a malevolent and murderous man ruling with ruthless absolute authority. As a sadistic autocrat, he is regarded as a perfectly normal member of society, eventually taking his seat in the mummified House of Lords. As Jack, he represents in the extreme the attitudes of the ruling class about themselves and those below them in rank and in gender.

Daniel Tucker

Daniel Tucker, the Gurney manservant. A would-be lower-class revolutionary who despises the upper classes that he serves, he nevertheless remains with them, although he is incredibly insolent after he receives a sizable inheritance from the thirteenth earl of Gurney. His habit of servility accounts for the perpetuation of an unjust and dangerous class system. It even leads to his accepting a conviction for a murder that Jack commits.

Sir Charles Gurney

Sir Charles Gurney, the brother of the thirteenth earl of Gurney and uncle to Jack. Disappointed by not being named Jack’s guardian, which would have given him control of a substantial estate, he plots with his wife to marry Jack to his mistress, who would bear an heir. Charles is a pompous, self-righteous member of the upper classes.

Lady Claire Gurney

Lady Claire Gurney, the wife of Charles. A bored, self-indulgent, totally amoral woman, she beds many men, including Herder, right under her husband’s nose. She is tremendously attracted to Jack, responding sexually to the danger that she senses in him after his cure. In the middle of her seduction of him, he kills her, associating her in his mind with the prostitutes who were the victims of Jack the Ripper.

Grace Shelley

Grace Shelley, the mistress of Charles and the wife of J. C. A lower-class actress, she assumes the role of Marguerite Gautier, Alexandre Dumas’ Lady of the Camellias, to whom J. C. has pledged his love. An acquisitive and conniving woman, she uses their child to cement her own fortunes and not those of the other Gurneys. At the chilling conclusion of the play, Jack murders her in the middle of a passionate kiss.

Dr. Paul Herder

Dr. Paul Herder, a thin, cold-mannered German psychiatrist. He prostitutes himself professionally and sexually to obtain a grant for his research on the brains of laboratory rats. He takes part in Charles’s schemes to delude Jack, and he seduces Claire. He is also a buffoon: He spouts psychological and medical jargon, all the while completely misdiagnosing Jack’s mental state and the horrendous outcome of his cure.


McKyle, the demented, self-proclaimed Electric Messiah. Claiming to exert his will on others through electrical charges, he is like an electroshock treatment for Jack, who is forced to give up his delusion about a God of love existing in this world.

Kelso Truscott, Q. C.

Kelso Truscott, Q. C., the Master in Lunacy and an Old Boy Etonian. Cleverly complimented and reminded of his class loyalty, he declares Jack as the Ripper recovered and totally sane.


(Drama for Students)

See Bishop Bertram Lampton

Detective Inspector Brockett
Called in after the murder of Claire, Detective Inspector Brockett discovers Lenin’s books in Tucker’s suitcase and therefore arrests him for the murder.

Detective Sergeant Fraser
Fraser is Brockett’s assistant.

Sir Charles Gurney
Brother to the late Earl and uncle to Jack, the new Earl, Charles considers it is his family duty to get rid of Jack and take over the estate. He bickers with his wife Claire about how to eliminate his nephew and enlists the aid of his mistress to marry Jack and produce a...

(The entire section is 1,712 words.)