Characterisation in Timberlake Wertenbaker's Our Country's Good

Seminar Paper, 2005

14 Pages, Grade: 1


Table of contents

1 Introduction

2 Characterisation of different characters

3 Conclusion

4 Bibliography

5 Index

1 Introduction

In this paper I investigate the development of characterisation in the play Our Country’s Good by Timberlake Wertenbaker. The term characterisation refers to the way new characters are introduced and created. Throughout my analysis I will propose that a character has a specific trait, which I will back up with empirical evidence, such as passages from the book where characters are characterized explicitly.

This paper will also be shaped by the following central questions: Which methods are used by what means? What does the author achieve by using these techniques? Which techniques are combined with which characters and why? However, a full discussion of all the characters in the book would go beyond the scope of this paper, since the play includes 22 characters in no more than 91 pages (cf. Wischenbart, 93). This led me to a completely different approach, namely to single out two of the main characters in the play and juxtapose them in terms of characterisation and character development. But before I turn to the full analysis of my central topic, I will clarify the exceedingly important role characterization plays in drama and define the different main concepts and techniques of it.

The relevancy and great impact of the process of characterisation to the reader becomes clear when literature on the theory of drama is examined. According to Hoffmann, ‘drama depends on the presentation of fictional personalities as the principal vehicle to communicate the message the artists want to convey’ (Hoffmann, 1).

In his famous dictionary of literary terms, Chris Baldick defines characterisation in the following way (Baldick, 34):

Characterisation is ‘the representation of persons in [...] narrative and dramatic works. This may include direct methods like the attribution of qualities in the description or commentary, and indirect (or ‘dramatic’) methods inviting the readers to infer qualities from characters’ actions, speech, or appearance. Since E.M. Forster’s Aspects of Novel (1927) a distinction has often been made between ‘flat’ and ‘two-dimensional’ characters, which are simple and unchanging, and ‘round’ characters, which are complex, ‘dynamic’ (i.e. subject to development), and less predictable [...].

Pfister distinguishes explicit-figural, implicit-figural, explicit-authorial and implicit- authorial characterisation techniques. Explicit-figural characterisation includes monological and dialogical self-commentary and outside-commentary in presence and in absence of the mentioned character. Implicit-figural characterisation techniques are only partially verbal. They refer to the appearance, behaviour of the character and the context in which it operates. Another important aspect is the use and level of language. Explicit-authorial techniques refer to overt descriptions of the characters in the secondary text, such as stage directions and the dramatis personae. Authors can also use telling names to describe a character even before it enters the stage. Finally, implicit-authorial characterisation techniques stress the contrasts and parallels between one figure at different times or different figures at one and the same time. Another application of implicit-authorial characterisation is the use of interpretative names, which can be distinguished from telling names by the fact that interpretative names accord with the conventions of real names and can be easily overseen by the reader. (Pfister, 183 - 195)

In my analysis I will start to discuss the characterisation of Captain Arthur Phillip. Afterwards I will employ the very same methods on Mary Brenham and comment on the development of her characterisation. In the conclusion I will point out the main contrasts and parallels and typical techniques that go with each of the two characters.

2 Characterisation of different characters

2.1 Captain Arthur Phillip

In the following I would like to characterise Captain Arthur Phillip. According to Foster, his ‘name, while historical, evokes perhaps all that is best in conservative English tradition (King Arthur, Sir Phillip Sidney)’ (Foster, 420). Wischenbart claims that he is a ‘very static character’ (Wischenbart, 99) that does not change at all during the play. He firstly enters the stage in scene three, where ‘the men are shooting birds’(2) and are talking about the convicts. Phillip is not content with the methods of punishment. This becomes manifest in the following dialogue, where he objects to ‘the spectacle of hanging’ (3) the convicts: ‘Was it necessary to cross fifteen thousand miles of ocean to erect another Tyburn?’ (2) He also asks for a solution that is ‘more humane’ (2). Through his opinion he is contrasted very sharply to the attitudes of some other soldiers, who claim that the punishments are justified. This distinction between Captain Phillip and most of the other soldiers characterises him as ‘benevolent, unorthodox, and idealistic’ (Foster, 420) (Middeke, Our Country’s Good, 695).

When he asks Harry Brewer – a Midshipman, who’s status is definitely below him – for advice, it becomes obvious that he accepts people not because of their public respectability, but because of their loyalty and good-heartedness. In his opinion the convicts laugh at hangings, ‘because they’ve never been offered anything else’ (3). He takes the sarcastic statement of Captain Tench that they should build an opera house for the convicts as a starting point of his idea: to let the convicts perform a play (cf. 3). According to Foster, Phillip orders the performance of The Recruiting Officer ‘as a means of civilizing the convicts’ (Foster, 419) because ‘[n]o one is born naturally cultured’ (4). When Captain Tench argues that the young age of a convict proofs that the criminal tendency is innate, Captain Phillip strongly objects to it: ‘It proves nothing’ (4). Although his idea meets with open discontent from several soldiers, who worry that this project will result in disobedience and chaos, Phillip is determined to carry it out and orders Second Lieutenant Clark to organise it. When the resistance of some soldiers is getting even bigger, he again continues to realize his intention, although he ‘may fail’ and ‘may have a mutiny on [his] hands’ (59). In a conversation with Ralph he claims that Major Ross is even ‘trying to convince the Admiralty that I’m mad’ (59). This shows that he is absolutely aware of the possible negative consequences of his undertaking and does not only act because he is underestimating the situation. Captain Phillip is not only characterised implicitly, but also explicitly, for instance, when Ralph writes in his diary. He writes that Captain Phillip – as ‘Governor-in-Chief of New South Wales’ – has ‘great power vested in him’ (6). Another occasion where Phillip is described in his absence is when Harry tells Ralph that the convict ‘women are sold before they’re ten. The Captain says we should treat them with kindness’ (8). This again confirms that Phillip respects the convicts and sees them as humans.

In contrast to Major Ross and Captain Campbell who think that ‘[t]his is a convict colony, the prisoners are here to be punished and we’re here to make sure they get punished’ (18), Captain Phillip believes that his mission is to ‘supervise the convicts who are already being punished by their long exile’ (18).


Excerpt out of 14 pages


Characterisation in Timberlake Wertenbaker's Our Country's Good
University of Vienna
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Characterisation, Timberlake, Wertenbaker, Country, Good, direct
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Christoph Burger (Author), 2005, Characterisation in Timberlake Wertenbaker's Our Country's Good, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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