Our Country’s Good

by

Timberlake Wertenbaker

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

Summary
Analysis
Ralph goes to Governor Phillip and tells him he wants to stop the play because his peers are against it. After considering this, Phillip tells him that making “enemies” is unavoidable when “break[ing]” from “convention.” He reminds Ralph that Socrates was executed because he annoyed his fellow statesmen by questioning their ways. “Would you have a world without Socrates?” he asks. Before Ralph can answer, Phillip continues, referencing Plato’s Meno, in which Socrates guides an uneducated slave through a handful of geometry questions. “When he treats the slave boy as a rational human being, the boy becomes one, he loses his fear, and he becomes a competent mathematician,” Phillip explains. This, he suggests, is what Ralph should do with the convicts in the play.
Yet again, Governor Phillip invests himself in the idea that everyone can change for the better, this time framing it as a matter of education. In the same way that Socrates helps Meno’s uneducated slave answer geometry questions simply by treating him as a “rational human being,” Phillip believes that the convicts will rise to the occasion if Ralph treats them like respectable and distinguished actors instead of lowly convicts.
Themes
Punishment and Rehabilitation Theme Icon
Theater, Liberation, and Unity Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Governor Phillip tells Ralph that he wanted Liz to do the play because he wanted to make an “example” of her. Although she’s “violent” and “full of loathing,” Phillip thinks she can be reformed. As such, he doesn’t want to make an example out of her by hanging her, but by allowing others to witness her “redemption.” Considering this idea, Ralph suggests that Liz doesn’t have very much “humanity,” but Phillip challenges this idea, pointing out that there’s no way to know what Liz is capable of until she’s treated with “kindness.”
Unlike Tench and Ross, who believe in using harsh and public displays of punishment to make “examples” of misbehaved convicts, Phillip wants to call attention to the positive ways in which Liz has changed. This, he knows, will spread a productive message throughout the camp, one that encourages other convicts to reform themselves and become better people.
Themes
Punishment and Rehabilitation Theme Icon
Theater, Liberation, and Unity Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Phillip talks to Ralph about how he was called out of retirement to become Governor of the penal colony. “What is a statesman’s responsibility?” he muses. “To ensure the rule of law. But the citizens must be taught to obey that law of their own will.” Expounding upon this idea, he tells Ralph that he doesn’t want to “tyrannise over a group of animals.” Instead, he wants to develop a social “contract” between the guards and the prisoners, not wanting to frighten them with punishment, which he believes only creates resentment and “terror.” He recognizes that the play itself won’t necessarily change the entire penal colony, but he hopes it will show the convicts that they’re capable of presenting themselves as respectable humans, not as reviled criminals. Ralph agrees to forge onward with the rehearsals.
Part of why Phillip wants to treat the convicts so well has to do with his desire to form a just and well-functioning society in Australia. Since he has been chosen to lead this community and thus establish the beginnings of a new culture, he’s interested in creating a system of government in which the people in the ruling class aren’t simply dominating everyone else, but working with them to foster a positive and well-functioning society. This means finding a way to help citizens become responsible individuals who know that they’re respected by the government. The way to do this, he suggests, is by helping people like Liz Morden invest themselves in the importance of the law and of the community she’s about to join.
Themes
Punishment and Rehabilitation Theme Icon
Theater, Liberation, and Unity Theme Icon
Governance and Justice Theme Icon
Related Quotes