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Serjeant Musgrave's Dance

sergeant arden play

a play by John Arden, first performed in 1959 and published in 1960. The title character, once ‘the hardest sergeant of the line’, is now a deserter from the Victorian army, impelled by the atrocities he has witnessed in the colonies to take exemplary reprisals in Britain. To this end he comes, with three fellow observers, to a colliery town during a lock-out, planning to use a fake recruiting meeting to shoot those he believes ultimately responsible for the ‘corruption’, specifically the local mayor, constable, and parson. The resistance of a pacifist comrade and the arrival of dragoons are among the reasons Musgrave fails in his endeavour; but Arden's more fundamental suggestion, in a play notable for its moral intricacy, is that the sergeant is trying to impose his own over-simple logic on a situation whose complexities and contradictions he has not understood.

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