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magnus limited proteus ultimatum

a play by G. B. Shaw, first performed in Polish in Warsaw in June 1929 and in English at the Malvern Festival two months later. Set in the future, it mainly involves conflict between the astute and effective King Magnus and an inept and quarrelsome Cabinet (‘like an overcrowded third-class railway carriage’) in a Britain where the most powerful institution is a capitalist conglomerate, Breakages Limited, which suppresses every invention that would challenge its programme of planned obsolescence. Magnus argues that he stands above ‘the tyranny of popular ignorance’ and for ‘the great abstractions, for conscience and virtue; for the eternal against the expedient; for the evolutionary appetite against the day's gluttony; for intellectual integrity, for humanity, for the rescue of industry from commercialism and of science from professionalism’. Nevertheless, the Prime Minister, Proteus, presses his ultimatum: if the king will not stop interfering in public affairs, the government will resign. After an interlude with his mistress Orinthia, who unsuccessfully urges him to renounce politics for a ‘noble and beautiful life’ with her, Magnus tells the Cabinet he will abdicate and run for Parliament, a prospect that frightens Proteus into withdrawing his ultimatum. The country may stutter on; but, in Shaw's antidemocratic view, only an individual with the capacity and courage of Magnus can stand up either to Breakages Limited or to an expansionist USA, which is threatening to annex Britain under the guise of rejoining the Empire.

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