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Touch and Go

D. H. Lawrence


  A Play in Three Acts



  A nice phrase: "A People's Theatre." But what about it? There's no

  such thing in existence as a People's Theatre: or even on the way to

  existence, as far as we can tell. The name is chosen, the baby isn't

  even begotten: nay, the would-be parents aren't married, nor yet


  A People's Theatre. Note the indefinite article. It isn't The

  People's Theatre, but A People's Theatre. Not the theatre of Plebs,

  the proletariat, but the theatre of A People. What people? Quel

  peuple donc?--A People's Theatre. Translate it into French for


  A People's Theatre. Since we can't produce it, let us deduce it.

  Major premise: the seats are cheap. Minor premiss: the plays are

  good. Conclusion: A People's Theatre. How much will you give me

  for my syllogism? Not a slap in the eye, I hope.

  We stick to our guns. The seats are cheap. That has a nasty

  proletarian look about it. But appearances are deceptive. The

  proletariat isn't poor. Everybody is poor except Capital and Labour.

  Between these upper and nether millstones great numbers of decent

  people are squeezed.

  The seats are cheap: in decency's name. Nobody wants to swank, to

  sit in the front of a box like a geranium on a window-sill--"the

  cynosure of many eyes." Nobody wants to profiteer. We all feel that

  it is as humiliating to pay high prices as to charge them. No man

  consents in his heart to pay high prices unless he feels that what he

  pays with his right hand he will get back with his left, either out

  of the pocket of a man who isn't looking, or out of the envy of the

  poor neighbour who IS looking, but can't afford the figure. The seats

  are cheap. Why should A People, fabulous and lofty giraffe, want to

  charge or pay high prices? If it were THE PEOPLE now.--But it isn't.

  It isn't Plebs, the proletariat. The seats are cheap.

  The plays are good. Pah!--this has a canting smell. Any play is good

  to the man who likes to look at it. And at that rate Chu Chin Chow is

  extra-super-good. What about your GOOD plays? Whose good? PFUI to

  your goodness!

  That minor premiss is a bad egg: it will hatch no bird. Good plays?

  You might as well say mimsy bomtittle plays, you'd be saying as much.

  The plays are--don't say good or you'll be beaten. The plays--the

  plays of A People's Theatre are--oh heaven, what are they?--not

  popular nor populous nor plebian nor proletarian nor folk nor parish

  plays. None of that adjectival spawn.

  The only clue-word is People's for all that. A People's---Chaste

  word, it will bring forth no adjective. The plays of A People's

  Theatre are People's plays. The plays of A People's Theatre are

  plays about people.

  It doesn't look much, at first sight. After all--people! Yes,

  People! Not THE PEOPLE, _i.e._ Plebs, nor yet the Upper Ten.

  People. Neither Piccoli nor Grandi in our republic. People.

  People, ah God! Not mannequins. Not lords nor proletariats nor

  bishops nor husbands nor co-respondents nor virgins nor adultresses

  nor uncles nor noses. Not even white rabbits nor presidents. People.

  Men who are somebody, not men who are something. Men who HAPPEN to

  be bishops or co-respondents, women who happen to be chaste, just as

  they happen to freckle, because it's one of their innumerable odd

  qualities. Even men who happen, by the way, to have long noses.

  But not noses on two legs, not burly pairs of gaiters, stuffed and

  voluble, not white meringues of chastity, not incarnations of co-

  respondence. Not proletariats, petitioners, president's, noses, bits

  of fluff. Heavens, what an assortment of bits! And aren't we sick

  of them!

  People, I say. And after all, it's saying something. It's harder to

  be a human being than to be a president or a bit of fluff. You can

  be a president, or a bit of fluff, or even a nose, by clockwork.

  Given a role, a PART, you can play it by clockwork. But you can't

  have a clockwork human being.

  We're dead sick of parts. It's no use your protesting that there is

  a man behind the nose. We can't see him, and he can't see himself.

  Nothing but nose. Neither can you make us believe there is a man

  inside the gaiters. He's never showed his head yet.

  It may be, in real life, the gaiters wear the man, as the nose wears

  Cyrano. It may be Sir Auckland Geddes and Mr. J. H. Thomas are only

  clippings from the illustrated press. It may be that a miner is a

  complicated machine for cutting coal and voting on a ballot-paper.

  It may be that coal-owners are like the _petit bleu_ arrangement, a

  system of vacuum tubes for whooshing Bradburys about from one to the


  It may be that everybody delights in bits, in parts, that the public

  insists on noses, gaiters, white rabbits, bits of fluff, automata and

  gewgaws. If they do, then let 'em. Chu Chin Chow for ever!

  In spite of them all: A People's Theatre. A People's Theatre shows

  men, and not parts. Not bits, nor bundles of bits. A whole bunch of

  roles tied into one won't make an individual. Though gaiters perish,

  we will have men.

  Although most miners may be pick-cum-shovel-cum-ballot implements,

  and no more, still, among miners there must be two or three living

  individuals. The same among the masters. The majority are suction-

  tubes for Bradburys. But is this Sodom of Industrialism there are

  surely ten men, all told. My poor little withered grain of mustard

  seed, I am half afraid to take you across to the seed-testing


  And if there are men, there is A People's Theatre.

  How many tragic situations did Goethe say were possible? Something

  like thirty-two. Which seems a lot. Anyhow, granted that men are

  men still, that not all of them are bits, parts, machine-sections,

  then we have added another tragic possibility to the list: the Strike

  situation. As yet no one tackles this situation. It is a sort of

  Medusa head, which turns--no, not to stone, but to sloppy treacle.

  Mr. Galsworthy had a peep, and sank down towards bathos.

  Granted that men are still men, Labour _v_. Capitalism is a tragic

  struggle. If men are no more than implements, it is non-tragic and

  merely disastrous. In tragedy the man is more than his part. Hamlet

  is more than Prince of Denmark, Macbeth is more than murderer of

  Duncan. The man is caught in the wheels of his part, his fate, he

  may be torn asunder. He may be killed, but the resistant, integral

  soul in him is not destroyed. He comes through, though he dies. He

  goes through with his fate, though death swallows him. And it is in

  this facing of fate, this going right through with it, that tragedy

  lies. Tragedy is not disaster. It is a disaster when a cart

  goes over a frog, but it is not a tragedy, not the hugest; not the

  death of ten million men. It is only a cartwheel going over a frog.

  There must be a supreme STRUGGLE.

  In Shakespeare's time it was the people _versus_ king storm that was

  brewing. Majesty was about to have its head off. Come what might,

  Hamlet and Macbeth and Goneril and Regan had to see the business


  Now a new wind is getting up. We call it Labour _versus_ Capitalism.

  We say it is a mere material struggle, a money-grabbing affair. But

  this is only one aspect of it. In so far as men are merely mechanical,

  the struggle is one which, though it may bring disaster and death to

  millions, is no more than accident, an accidental collision of forces.

  But in so far as men are men, the situation is tragic. It is not

  really the bone we are fighting for. We are fighting to have

  somebody's head off. The conflict is in pure, passional antagonism,

  turning upon the poles of belief. Majesty was only _hors d'oevres_

  to this tragic repast.

  So, the strike situation has this dual aspect. First it is a

  mechanico-material struggle, two mechanical forces pulling asunder

  from the central object, the bone. All it can result in is the

  pulling asunder of the fabric of civilisation, and even of life,

  without any creative issue. It is no more than a frog under a cart-

  wheel. The mechanical forces, rolling on, roll over the body of life

  and squash it.

  The second is the tragic aspect. According to this view, we see

  more than two dogs fighting for a bone, and life hopping under the

  Juggernaut wheel. The two dogs are making the bone a pretext for a

  fight with each other. That old bull-dog, the British capitalist,

  has got the bone in his teeth. That unsatisfied mongrel, Plebs, the

  proletariat, shivers with rage not so much at the sight of the bone,

  as at sight of the great wrinkled jowl that holds it. There is the

  old dog, with his knowing look and his massive grip on the bone: and

  there is the insatiable mongrel, with his great splay paws. The one

  is all head and arrogance, the other all paws and grudge. The bone

  is only the pretext. A first condition of the being of Bully is that

  he shall hate the prowling great paws of the Plebs, whilst Plebs by

  inherent nature goes mad at the sight of Bully's jowl. "Drop it!"

  cries Plebs. "Hands off!" growls Bully. It is hands against head,

  the shambling, servile body in a rage of insurrection at last against

  the wrinkled, heavy head.

  Labour not only wants his debt. He wants his pound of flesh. It is

  a quandary. In our heart of hearts we must admit the debt. We must

  admit that it is long overdue. But this last condition! In vain we

  study our anatomy to see which part we can best spare.

  Where is our Portia, to save us with a timely quibble? We've plenty

  of Portias. They've recited their heads off--"The quality of mercy

  is not strained." But the old Shylock of the proletariat persists.

  He pops up again, and says, "All right, I can't have my pound of flesh

  with the blood. But then you can't keep my pound of flesh with your

  blood--you owe it to me. It is your business to deliver the goods.

  Deliver it then--with or without blood--deliver it." The Portia

  scratches her head, and thinks again.

  What's the solution? There is no solution. But still there is a

  choice. There's a choice between a mess and a tragedy. If Plebs and

  Bully hang on one to each end of the bone, and pull for grim life,

  they will at last tear the bone to atoms: in short, destroy the whole

  material substance of life, and so perish by accident, no better than

  a frog under the wheel of destiny. That may be a disaster, but it is

  only a mess for all that.

  On the other hand, if they have a fight to fight they might really

  drop the bone. Instead of wrangling the bone to bits they might

  really go straight for one another. They are like hostile parties on

  board a ship, who both proceed to scuttle the ship so as to sink the

  other party. Down goes the ship, with all the bally lot on board. A

  few survivors swim and squeal among the bubbles--and then silence.

  It is too much to suppose that the combatants will ever drop the

  obvious old bone. But it is not too much to imagine that some men

  might acknowledge the bone to be merely a pretext, and hollow _casus

  belli_. If we really could know what we were fighting for, if we

  if we could deeply believe in what we were fighting for, then the

  struggle might have dignity, beauty, satisfaction for us. If it were

  a profound struggle for something that was coming to life in us, a

  struggle that we were convinced would bring us to a new freedom, a

  new life, then it would be a creative activity, a creative activity

  in which death is a climax in the progression towards new being. And

  this is tragedy.

  Therefore, if we could but comprehend or feel the tragedy in the

  great Labour struggle, the intrinsic tragedy of having to pass

  through death to birth, our souls would still know some happiness,

  the very happiness of creative suffering. Instead of which we pile

  accident on accident, we tear the fabric of our existence fibre by

  fibre, we confidently look forward to the time when the whole great

  structure will come down on our heads. Yet after all that, when we

  are squirming under the debris, we shall have no more faith or hope

  or satisfaction than we have now. We shall crawl from under one

  cart-wheel straight under another.

  The essence of tragedy, which is creative crisis, is that a man

  should go through with his fate, and not dodge it and go bumping into

  an accident. And the whole business of life, at the great critical

  periods of mankind, is that men should accept and be one with their

  tragedy. Therefore we should open our hearts. For one thing we

  should have a People's Theatre. Perhaps it would help us in this

  hour of confusion better than anything.


  June, 1919.



  MR. BARLOW (his father).





  WILLAM (a butler).





  EVA (a maid).




  Sunday morning. Market-place of a large mining village in the

  Midlands. A man addressing a small gang of colliers from the

  foot of a stumpy memorial obelisk. Church bells heard. Church-

  goers passing along the outer pavements.

  WILLIE HOUGHTON. What's the matter with you folks, as I've told you

  before, and as I shall keep on telling you every now and again, though

  it doesn't make a bit of difference, is that you've got no idea of

  freedom whatsoever. I've lived in this blessed place for fifty years,

  and I've never seen the spark of an idea, nor of any respo
nse to an

  idea, come out of a single one of you, all the time. I don't know

  what it is with colliers--whether it's spending so much time in the

  bowels of the earth--but they never seem to be able to get their

  thoughts above their bellies. If you've got plenty to eat and drink,

  and a bit over to keep the missis quiet, you're satisfied. I never

  saw such a satisfied bloomin' lot in my life as you Barlow & Wasall's

  men are, really. Of course you can growse as well as anybody, and

  you do growse. But you don't do anything else. You're stuck in a

  sort of mud of contentment, and you feel yourselves sinking, but you

  make no efforts to get out. You bleat a bit, like sheep in a bog--but

  you like it, you know. You like sinking in--you don't have to stand

  on your own feet then.

  I'll tell you what'll happen to you chaps. I'll give you a little

  picture of what you'll be like in the future. Barlow & Walsall's 'll

  make a number of compounds, such as they keep niggers in in South

  Africa, and there you'll be kept. And every one of you'll have a

  little brass collar round his neck, with a number on it. You won't

  have names any more. And you'll go from the compound to the pit, and

  from the pit back again to the compound. You won't be allowed to go

  outside the gates, except at week-ends. They'll let you go home to

  your wives on Saturday nights, to stop over Sunday. But you'll have

  to be in again by half-past nine on Sunday night; and if you're late,

  you'll have your next week-end knocked off. And there you'll be--

  and you'll be quite happy. They'll give you plenty to eat, and a can

  of beer a day, and a bit of bacca--and they'll provide dominoes and

  skittles for you to play with. And you'll be the most contented set

  of men alive.--But you won't be men. You won't even be animals.

  You'll go from number one to number three thousand, a lot of numbered

  slaves--a new sort of slaves---

  VOICE. An' wheer shall thee be, Willie?

  WILLIE. Oh, I shall be outside the palings, laughing at you. I shall

  have to laugh, because it'll be your own faults. You'll have nobody

  but yourself to thank for it. You don't WANT to be men. You'd rather

  NOT be free--much rather. You're like those people spoken of in

  Shakespeare: "Oh, how eager these men are to be slaves!" I believe

  it's Shakespeare--or the Bible--one or the other--it mostly is---

  ANABEL WRATH (she was passing to church). It was Tiberius.


  ANABEL. Tiberius said it.

  WILLIE. Tiberius!--Oh, did he? (Laughs.) Thanks! Well, if Tiberius

  said it, there must be something in it. and he only just missed being

  in the Bible anyway. He was a day late, or they'd have had him in.

  "Oh, how eager these men are to be slaves!"--It's evident the Romans

  deserved all they got from Tiberius--and you'll deserve all you get,

  every bit of it. But don't you bother, you'll get it. You won't be

  at the mercy of Tiberius, you'll be at the mercy of something a jolly

  sight worse. Tiberius took the skin off a few Romans, apparently.

  But you'll have the soul taken out of you--every one of you. And I'd

  rather lose my skin than my soul, any day. But perhaps you wouldn't.

  VOICE. What art makin' for, Willie? Tha seems to say a lot, but tha

  goes round it. Tha'rt like a donkey on a gin. Tha gets ravelled.

  WILLIE. Yes, that's just it. I am precisely like a donkey on a gin--

  a donkey that's trying to wind a lot of colliers up to the surface.

  There's many a donkey that's brought more colliers than you up to see

  daylight, by trotting round.--But do you want to know what I'm making

  for? I can soon tell you that. You Barlow & Wasall's men, you

  haven't a soul to call your own. Barlow & Wasall's have only to say

  to one of you, Come, and he cometh, Go, and he goeth, Lie

  VOICE. Ay--an' what about it? Tha's got a behind o' thy own, hasn't