Our Country’s Good

by

Timberlake Wertenbaker

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Our Country’s Good: Act Two, Scene Eleven Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The Aboriginal Australian stands backstage that night. “Look,” he says, “oozing pustules on my skin, heat on my forehead. Perhaps we have been wrong all this time and this is not a dream at all.” When he leaves, the convicts pass him and Mary asks, “Are the savages coming to see the play as well?” Ketch explains that the Aboriginal Australians are dying of small pox. “I hope they won’t upset the audience,” Sideway says, and Mary starts talking about how many people have come to see the play. Noticing Duckling—who is mourning the loss of HarryLiz tells her that Dabby could fill in for her, but Duckling insists upon doing it herself. Apparently, Ross kicked her out of Harry’s tent, saying that “a whore [is] a whore.” As she explains this to the group, she begins to cry, and Mary promises to talk to Ralph about the matter.
Although the convicts themselves have benefited from kindness—since Phillip was empathetic enough to treat them as “rational” humans—they fail to extend this goodwill to the Aboriginal Australians. Instead of stopping to consider the fact that the Aboriginal population only has small pox because they—the British settlers—brought it to Australia, the convicts selfishly hope that the dying indigenous people won’t “upset the audience.” As such, the audience sees that they have failed to perpetuate the kind of compassion from which they themselves have benefited. While Mary’s relationship with Ralph has developed naturally, in this scene it becomes clear that their bond will indeed come along with certain privileges, as Mary hints at the fact that she might be able to convince Ralph to advocate for Duckling.
Themes
Theater, Liberation, and Unity Theme Icon
Love, Sex, and Power Theme Icon
Governance and Justice Theme Icon
Sideway insists that everyone practice their bow. Dabby, however, says she won’t be taking a bow and that she doesn’t want to be “noticed.” She then explains that she plans to run away in the commotion following the play’s final scene. “You can’t,” Mary says. “The Lieutenant will be blamed, I won’t let you.” However, Dabby tells her that if she mentions these plans to Ralph, she won’t act. Mary isn’t the only one upset by this development, though. “When I say my lines, I think of nothing else. Why can’t you do the same?” Arscott says. In response, Dabby says that the play is temporary, pointing out that what she wants is to return to England. Still upset, Mary says the guards won’t let them do another play if Dabby runs away.
Dabby’s plan to run away seemingly challenges the notion that the play has transformed the convicts. At the same time, the reaction of the other actors suggests that the artistic process truly has made a difference to their community. After all, they all come together to try to dissuade Dabby from running away, revealing how important the play is to them (while also demonstrating that the play has united them). The fact that the convicts are distressed by the idea of not being able to put on another play also indicates just how much they have enjoyed this experience. In and of itself, this is a significant development, since before the play they didn’t have anything to devote themselves to.
Themes
Theater, Liberation, and Unity Theme Icon
Love, Sex, and Power Theme Icon
Wisehammer doesn’t understand why Dabby wants to go back to England. “It’s too small and they don’t like Jews,” he says. “Here, no one has more of a right than anyone else to call you a foreigner. I want to become the first famous writer.” Sideway declares that he’s going to found a theater company in Australia once he’s free, assuring everyone that they can join. Everyone loves this idea, including Liz, who says she’d happily be part of Sideway’s company. “And so will I,” Ketch chimes in, and Sideway says, “I’ll hold auditions tomorrow.” In response, Dabby says, “Tomorrow,” and everyone echoes her.
Wisehammer and Sideway’s grandiose plans for the future suggest that the play has helped them visualize better lives, ones in which they are more than criminals. This, it seems, is exactly the kind of character rehabilitation that Phillip hoped to see from the convicts. It even appears as if Dabby has decided not to run away. Indeed, the play has unified this group of convicts so much that they want to convince her to follow the rules. In this way, Wertenbaker shows the audience that Phillip was right to invest himself in the idea that criminals are capable of positive change.
Themes
Punishment and Rehabilitation Theme Icon
Theater, Liberation, and Unity Theme Icon
Ralph comes backstage and gives last-minute directorial advice to the actors before realizing that Caesar is missing. As Arscott goes looking for him, Ralph gives Duckling his condolences and tells her she doesn’t need to act in the play, but Duckling insists, saying, “[Harry] liked to hear me say my lines.” Walking over to Mary, Ralph compliments her beauty, and she tells him she had a dream in which she had three children. “If we have a boy we will call him Harry,” Ralph says. “And if we have a girl?” Mary asks. “She will be called Betsey Alicia,” Ralph answers. Just as he says this, Arscott returns with Caesar, whom he found lying drunkenly on the beach.
At the beginning of Our Country’s Good, Ralph was primarily interested in directing the play because he wanted to impress Governor Phillip. Now, though, the experience has made him into a more compassionate person, as he goes out of his way to empathize with a convict, telling Duckling that he’s sorry about Harry’s death. This isn’t the only way he has changed, as evidenced by the fact that he’s finally in a loving relationship, one in which he actually feels comfortable seeing his partner naked (which apparently wasn’t the case in his actual marriage). He still feels a bit guilty about having cheated on his wife, though, which is perhaps why he makes the rather confusing decision to name his and Mary’s daughter after Betsey Alicia—a gesture that calms his conscience more than it actually honors his wife.
Themes
Theater, Liberation, and Unity Theme Icon
Love, Sex, and Power Theme Icon
Guilt, Regret, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
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Caesar tells Ralph that he can’t act because his ancestors will be “angry” with him for being “laughed at” by the audience. Nonetheless, Ralph forces him to participate, reminding him that he’s the one who wanted to be in it in the first place. “I’m nervous too, but I have overcome it,” Ketch says. “You have to be brave to be an actor.” Ralph then tells the drunken convict that his own ancestors wouldn’t be happy to see him in this play, either. “But our ancestors are thousands of miles away,” he says. He then threatens Caesar by saying that he’ll hang him if he doesn’t act, and Caesar finally “pulls himself together.” Having heard this reference to hanging, Ketch turns to Liz and tells her that he wouldn’t have been able to hang her.
The fact that Ralph forces Caesar to go through with the performance is worth noting, since he originally didn’t want Caesar to be in the play. This demonstrates the extent to which Ralph has come to see the actors as a cohesive group. Although Caesar doesn’t have any lines and wasn’t supposed to be part of the cast, he has been with the group throughout rehearsals and thus bonded with them. Similarly, Ketch seems to have finally endeared himself to the other convicts, who at the very least have stopped making hateful comments about him. In turn, Wertenbaker once again emphasizes the unifying effects of the artistic process.
Themes
Theater, Liberation, and Unity Theme Icon
Wisehammer reminds Ralph of his prologue. Reading it aloud backstage, he pronounces lines such as: “True patriots all; for be it understood, / We left our country for our country’s good.” When he finishes, Ralph notes that Major Ross will have a “fit” if he hears this, and though he admits it’s quite good, he tells Wisehammer it’s too political for the audience. Because of this, Sideway assures Wisehammer that they can use the prologue in the “Sideway Theatre.” Wisehammer is disappointed, but Ralph tells him that the theater is like a “small republic,” which “requires private sacrifices for the good of the whole.” Having said this, he gives the actors one last encouraging speech, telling them that they’re “on their own” now. Finally, Arscott goes onstage to deliver his opening monologue, which receives cascades of laughter and applause from the audience.
The title, Our Country’s Good, is drawn from Wisehammer’s prologue (itself a quote attributed to the real-life George Barrington, a famous pickpocket sent to Australia), which provides a commentary on the fact that the convicts in the penal colony have been expelled from their home country. This, Wisehammer somewhat ironically asserts, is for their “country’s good,” since they are supposedly nothing but a band of criminals and lowlifes. However, the eloquent style of this prologue and the apparent success of the play suggest that England was wrong to write them off as incapable of contributing productively to society. Governor Phillip has recognized their potential, however, thereby turning their isolation in Australia into a new beginning rather than a hopeless internment.
Themes
Punishment and Rehabilitation Theme Icon
Theater, Liberation, and Unity Theme Icon
Governance and Justice Theme Icon
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