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Cloud 9, Major Barbara & the Modern World
By Douglas Shepard (Editor in Chief, RarityGuide.com)
Published on 11/19/2009
An Essay examining connections between the plays Cloud 9, Major Barbara and the modern age.

Cloud 9, Major Barbara & the Modern World

    One of the qualities of a true and lasting play will forever be its ability to withstand the passage of time and still carry a message forward to the future generations. All this is done in the hope that what is addressed then could be avoided in the future at best or at worse, it works to warn something of the follies in the ways of life that some have chosen to follow.  The plays Could 9 and  Major Barbara both have implications on the modern world. Both can relate directly and indirectly to the grand scheme of global events. These plays indeed shift things forward to the modern times, telling of the issues at the previous turn of the century and what the author felt would make the greatest impression. In the modern times of turmoil, it is easy to forget that a lot of this has come around a few times. That there are issues in the present that date back more than just 30 years ago, but sometimes over a century. The arms dealing, the question of acceptance around homosexuality, the question of morality, all of these have bearings on the present state of the world and should never be neglected in one’s consideration of the plays in the modern era. While both were written within the past century, both remain paramount in what they critique in the modern world as they take a long and critical look at things that remain relevant to the modern world’s issues.

It’s easy to think about Major Barbara and then consider the past 8 years.  While they were exemplary of what Major Barbara espouses, it remains an active conflict and has been that way for the better part of the century. Major Barbara explores the conflict and competition between peace and war through the guises of the daughter and father, the missionary and the arms-manufacturer. It also shifts over to the fact it is easy to take what is in Major Barbara and look at most of the US Foreign relations, especially the United Nations, and see some form of connection. An example from history would be the US’s role in the Iraq-Iran conflict, “1980-88 - Iran–Iraq War. America officially neutral in war between Iraq and Iran; America flags oil tankers to protect flow of oil in Persian Gulf, and sells arms and weaponry to both sides of the conflict.” This fits all too well with Undershaft’s view on the world: “No. Money and gunpowder. CUSINS [surprised, but interested] That is the general opinion of our governing classes. The novelty is hearing any man confess it”. The United States takes arms to whomever needs them, or at least US business could. So much of the economy will thrive on a properly funded war. The United States aggressive stance also works to highlight Undershaft. Given a chance for escalation usually taken, the right to prove themselves in any regard, to take the chances and let nothing slip by.

“Ought! Ought! Ought! Ought! Ought! Are you going to spend your life saying ought, like the rest of our moralists? Turn your oughts into shalls, man. Come and make explosives with me. Whatever can blow men up can blow society up. The history of the world is the history of those who had the courage to embrace this truth.”
The United States is very easy to interpret in this regard. By no means, under the old regime, would any challenge be passed up. Undershaft represents the opportunist who will let nothing pass him by, in terms of business. By seizing them all his business flourished.

Cloud 9, a much more recent play from the 1980’s, shows underpinnings of this present-day era’s conflict of independence and struggle for equal rights and respect. The modern era’s struggle is well represented in the play as many characters are typically cast and played by their opposites (most of the men played as women, and vise-versa). So much of the play relies on the opposed gender play. Seeing each character progress through the play, some of them changing gender, some of them remaining, some just moving on, underscores the raw amount of society that binds an incredible amount of each person’s personality to conventions, so much that things would be altered drastically with just a few earlier changes. All this from Cloud 9 ties to the present day conflict of same-sex marriage and its struggle to break free of the bindings on it. That so much convention acts as a huge role in the play, it’s only too easy to see such a connection in this light. Just as the characters struggled, those vying for the honest right to marry struggle as well and ultimately, like the characters, this should make marked progress and achieve equal status to heterosexual marriage.

Both parts can be tied to the United States as well in the regard of the earlier stated Foreign policy as well as domestic struggles. Like any good play with commentary, the writers focused on what would make the longest lasting impact that they could. With issues in both that will easily be relevant for an incredibly long time to come. To look at society and reflect it back at itself is one of the key factors that these plays hold at their core. That Major Barbara takes that particular perspective on war and family is what lets it do the things it will. So much of that play rides on the undercurrent of violence and conflict, its impossible to ignore just the ever-present tension. That it last until Barbara yields to the reality of the matter and peace is lost is incredibly telling of just the reality of our own world. So much of the world is bathed red in the modern times because of the escalation of weaponry and its advancement that many who would be manufacturing armaments would never need to worry about finding any level of clientele. As well with the domestic, the restrains of society that people have made for themselves or allow others to place on them, like in Cloud 9, again speaks to many about their own struggles. While it does take a satirical twist on matters, under it all, it remains serious. The mild confusion having a physical representation in the form of the typical performer changes, making men women and women previously played by men women, gets the audience to take a deep look into their own matters through the laughter of the play.

So much of the world shows through plays and its representations. That Major Barbara looks at conflict and its important to the world through its representations can not be ignored. Cloud 9 takes a hard look at society, reflected it back at itself to make the characters realize so much. It also takes many expectations typical of plays and turns them around and plays with them. This only works to further the stated social underpinnings it is critiquing. Much of what is in the world from the days of the play’s writing remains there here. Change inspired by critique takes time and only works to inspire others to take up mantels. These plays show the reality of the world in two different lights, getting people to look at what is underneath and getting them to think about the matters in a new light.


“Timeline of United States Diplomatic History” Wikipedia en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_United_States_diplomatic_history#21st_century

Major Barbara by George Brenard Shaw

Could 9 by Caryl Churchill