American Literature of the Sea and Great Lakes

THE ADMIRAL (first perf. 1924; pub. 1927). Although best known for the religious allegory The Servant in the House (1902), Charles Rann Kennedy (1871-1950) also wrote a series of theatrical exercises that used well- known historical events to explore contemporary issues and to refocus theatrical attention on the actor and the playwright and away from overly elaborate spectacle. This series of nine plays, each written for three actors, focused on such figures as Dante, Job, King Arthur, and Jesus. One of these, The Admiral, hailed by George Bernard Shaw as a magnificent play, explores the price and profit of discovering new worlds. The characters are the Sailor, later identified as Christopher Columbus*; the Queen, revealed as Isabella and depicted as the first modern woman and a staunch defender of religious freedom; and the Girl, an unnamed young woman who is Columbus’ adviser, mistress, and mother of his four-year-old son.

As the play opens, the Girl tells the Queen, not realizing who she is, about how the King has thwarted the Sailor’s grand plans. Columbus enters, denouncing the popinjays who stand in his way. He tells the women of his glorious plans for using the resources of the New World and for bringing Christ to the natives. Enthralled by his vision and by the story of how he conquered his childhood fear of the sea, the women decide to do what they, as women, can do for him. The Girl will wait patiently, a beacon for him to steer home by. The Queen will sell her jewels to outfit his expedition. The Sailor will bring civilization to the New World and riches to the old. The play ends with all three looking into the future, lost in dreams of glory and visions of Columbus’ journey across the sea and his discovery of great lakes and rivers that will unify nations. [See also DRAMA OF THE SEA]

Brian T. Carney