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The New International, February 1936


Friede F. Rothe

The Tottering Order

From New International, Vol.3 No.1, February 1936, pp.31-32.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The Dog Beneath the Skin
by W.H. Auden and Christopher Isherwood
Random House. 161 pp. $1.50.

The Dog Beneath the Skin, called a fantastic play, is in reality a very lucid, discerning and condemning panorama of a decaying capitalistic world. In fact the whole composition is more of a panorama than a play. W.H. Auden and Christopher Isherwood have had the knowledge and perspicacity to assemble the best theatrics of the modern theatre in the manner long before pointed out by Ernst Toller in plays like Massemensch and the Broken Brow. The play begins with the middle class and the best worthies among them: the clergy and the military in search of a point of gravity to cling to (which they want and yet do not want), because having it or not having it it still means their ultimate liquidation.

By means of a lottery the best youth in a village is sent out into the wide world to find a missing heir and bring him back to his regal splendor. Our confused hero, stumbling and untutored, arrives at the Kingdom of Ostnia (democracy) where he is invited to the palace to see an execution of workers, for, as the king puts it, “having our little differences that can only be settled in this, er ... somewhat drastic fashion”. After an elaborate ceremony in Latin which had required a dress rehearsal, the king shoots the workers with a gold pistol, presented to him on a cushion. From here our hero continues his search to the Red Light district of Ostnia. This becomes a picture of not only woman’s degradation, but of a whole humanity’s sexual perversion. But the heir is still not found and the hero continues his journey to Westland. This is a hilarious and biting picture of Nazi Germany where “our leader” has a loud-speaker for a face.

So that solipsist poets and subjective lovers are not passed by, our hero comes to Paradise Park. Here modern science and medicine are dispatched. From there be wanders to the city, the center of culture. The horror of a city night life, chorus girls, gaudy restaurants and paying diners clamoring for amusement, are deftly and psychologically presented. The chorus of this act ends with:

You have wonderful hospitals and a few good schools:
The precision of your instruments and the skill of your designers are unparallelled:
Your knowledge and your power are capable of infinite extension:

In the last scene our hero and the found heir, who all this while had accompanied him under the skin of a dog, return to the village to confront the vicar and his aides. Francis – the heir – asks for volunteers to join him in the army for activity on the other side and five villagers come forth, who march off stage and through the audience. The last chorus ends with a poetic arrangement of this line from the Communist Manifesto:

To each his need: from each his power.

But the authors are not content merely to condemn a tottering order, they also include those writers who by their ideas help to preserve its remnants, by practising indifference. Thus Virginia Woolf is lampooned, who wanted a room of one’s own and five hundred pounds a year.

Do not speak of a change of heart, meaning five hundred a year
and a room of one’s own
as if that were all that is necessary.

And this for Gilbert and Sullivan:

Here come I, the Vicar good
Of Pressan Ambo, it’s understood
Within this parish border
I labour to expound the truth
To train the tender plant of Youth
And guard the moral order.

With troops of scouts for village louts
And preaching zest he does his best
To guard the moral order.

It will likely be produced in New York by a little theatre group.

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