Our Country’s Good


Timberlake Wertenbaker

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Our Country’s Good Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Timberlake Wertenbaker's Our Country’s Good. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Timberlake Wertenbaker

Timberlake Wertenbaker was born in New York City but grew up primarily in Basque country in the town of Ciboure, France. Her father, Charles Wertenbaker, was a journalist, as was her mother, who’s best known for the book she wrote about his death. After graduating in 1966 from St. John’s College, Wertenbaker began to write, though she soon started teaching full-time. It wasn’t until the 1980s that she moved to London and started writing plays. In 1983, she became a writer for the theater company Shared Experience before moving on in 1984 to write for the Royal Court Theatre. While writing for the Royal Court, she put out The Grace of Mary Traverse, for which she won her first award. In 1988 she debuted her most famous play, Our Country’s Good, which she adapted from Thomas Keneally’s novel The Playmaker. All in all, she has written 29 original plays, in addition to a number of translations and radio programs. She now lives with her husband (the writer John Man) in Norwich, England, where she is the Chair of Playwriting at the University of East Anglia.
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Historical Context of Our Country’s Good

Our Country’s Good takes place in the late eighteenth century, when the British government began exiling convicts to its colonies in Australia. Although Britain had previously transported its criminals to the United States, this ended with the onset of the American Revolution. To remedy England’s already overcrowded prisons, the government established its first Australian penal colony in 1788 in Sydney, which was the continent’s first British—and, for that matter, European—colony. For roughly the next eighty years, England transported male and female convicts to these Australian settlements, most often exiling people for relatively insignificant crimes, since more serious criminals were usually executed rather than embarking upon the long voyage to the colonies. The vast majority of the prisoners who were eventually set free in Australia ended up staying on the continent and making lives for themselves, which is why approximately one in five Australian citizens can trace their lineage back to former convicts. Furthermore, it’s worth noting that many of the characters in Our Country’s Good were real people, including Captain Arthur Phillip (who was the first Governor of New South Wales) and Robert Sideway (who founded Australia’s first theater company), among others.

Other Books Related to Our Country’s Good

Wertenbaker wrote Our Country’s Good as a stage adaptation of the novel The Playmaker by Thomas Kenneally. Like Wertenbaker’s play, The Playmaker is about a penal colony in Sydney Cove, Australia, where a Lieutenant works closely with a number of convicts to stage a play. In both the novel and Wertenbaker’s work, the play that the convicts produce is The Recruiting Officer, a piece of theater written by the Irish author George Farquhar in 1706. Farquhar’s play is about two military officers and chronicles their various romantic and mishaps.
Key Facts about Our Country’s Good
  • Full Title: Our Country’s Good
  • When Published: Our Country’s Good premiered on September 10, 1988
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Realism, Historical Theater
  • Setting: The British penal colonies in Sydney, Australia in 1788
  • Climax: Unable to overcome his guilt about having executed two men, Harry Brewer falls ill and dies.
  • Antagonist: Captain Watkin Tench and Major Robbie Ross

Extra Credit for Our Country’s Good

Inspiration. Searching for inspiration while working on Our Country’s Good, Wertenbaker visited a theater production put on by the inmates of a prison in West London.

Research. As part of her research, Wertenbaker read a number of journals written by convicts who came to Australia with the First Fleet (the 11 convict ships that were the first to arrive in the penal colonies).