Devil's Disciple, The
the best-known of G. B. Shaw's ‘Three Plays for Puritans’, first performed in Albany, New York in 1897 and published in 1901. It is set during the American War of Independence and primarily concerns Dick Dudgeon, regarded as demonic by his loveless mother and most of the other members of their conventional and pious New Hampshire community. When the British come to arrest the local minister, Anthony Anderson, Dick allows himself to be taken in his place. He is sentenced to be hanged by a military court—the proceedings watched over by the urbane General Burgoyne, who foresees the impending defeat of the British—and saved from the gallows only by the last-minute arrival of Anderson himself, now launched on a full-time career as an officer of the American militia. If the play were simply the melodrama it sometimes seems, there would doubtless be substance in the explanation of Dick's altruism offered by Anderson's wife Judith, that he has fallen in love with her. But that idea leaves him ‘revolted’. He sacrificed himself because any other action would have affronted his sense of right and wrong: ‘When it came to the point whether I would take my neck out of the noose and put another man's into it, I could not do it…I have been brought up standing by the law of my own nature; and I may not go against it.’ The self-professed diabolist is thus one of Shaw's secular saints, a puritan in a profounder sense than the woebegone churchgoers of New England.