Jack Straw (1912) by W. Somerset Maugham - First Edition

Jack Straw (1912) by W. Somerset Maugham
Jack Straw (1912)
W. Somerset Maugham

Jack Straw (London: Heinemann, 1912)

Jack Straw, a play by W. Somerset Maugham, first performed on 26 March 1908 at the Vaudeville Theatre, later revived in 1923, and more recently saw the light of day again at the Elmwood Theatre as a production of the Linden House Theatre Company, was written in 1905, after Lady Frederick was repeatedly turned down by managers and out of frustration Maugham changed his strategy of writing a part to attract a leading lady to a leading man instead.

However, the strategy did not bring him acceptance. It was only after the accidental success of Lady Frederick that Jack Straw was brought on stage. There and then it saw 321 performances.

Jack Straw. A Farce in Three Acts

Jack Straw (1908) by W. Somerset Maugham - Act I
Jack Straw (1908) - Act I
W. Somerset Maugham

Contemporary reviews witness the success of the play. We see typical Maugham characters like Lady Wanley and Ambrose Holland, resembling Miss Ley and Frank Hurrell in The Merry-Go-Round (1904), detached and clearheaded bystanders always at the margin of the actions, but this time they have a big hand in triggering the events.

Piqued by the Parker-Jennings’ snubbing of Rosie Abbott, Lady Wanley and Holland decide to play a prank on them. Knowing the Parker-Jennings’ weakness for titles, they coerce Jack Straw the waiter to masquerade as an aristocrat, which he duly chooses the Archduke Sebastian of Pomerania, who has been mentioned shortly before as missing for the past four years.

Powered by his own motive, fused by the attraction towards Ethel Parker-Jennings, Jack Straw plays his part well to get himself invited and enjoys all the luxury and humble service that the snobbish nouveau riche offers, for indeed the Parking-Jennings came to wealth only recently from a dead uncle, too soon, or too late, for Mrs. Parker-Jennings to recover her aitches.

Maugham fills the play with antics and it soon occurs to the reader/audience that it may well not be a masquerade after all. The suspense is sustained till the end.

Maugham slips in a reference to Loaves and Fishes, a play that he wrote two years before in 1903, not produced until 1911, mentioning that the Honourable Mrs. Spratte (by the way, that would be Gwendolen Durant, the rich brewer’s daughter married to the Bishop of Colchester) is among the guests of the Parker-Jennings’ party.

I suspect that at the beginning of his writing career, Maugham has the intention of forming an internal world by the use of the same characters in different works, such as Miss Ley in Mrs. Craddock and The Merry-Go-Round, Frank Hurrell in The Merry-Go-Round and The Magician.

A recurring comic technique is the use of misquotes.
Jack Straw
I forget if Napoleon was one of my ancestors, but I feel just like him at this moment. “J'y suis, j’y reste.”
In point of fact it was MacMahon who said that.
He does the same in The Bishop’s Apron with Canon Spratt, who is full of wise sayings from dubious sources, and in the ending of The Moon and Sixpence.

Flippant but not devoid of reason:
Jack Straw

You know, if I had been a royal personage and disguised myself as a waiter in order to be by your side you’d have thought it very romantic. Why should it shock you when it is a waiter who for the same reason assumes the royal personage?
I enjoyed the reading of Jack Straw. It is still my ambition to see one of Maugham’s plays acted. Just have to be in the right place at the right time!

Jack Straw - First Edition

Jack Straw (1908) by W. Somerset Maugham - Act III
Jack Straw (1908) - Act III
W. Somerset Maugham

The first edition is published in 1912 and in accordance with Heinemann's usual format. The first US edition is published by the Dramatic Publishing Co.

As with other Maugham’s early plays, prices are not cheap, but it is still available.

How to cite this:

Jack Straw at AbeBooks