“The Admirable Crichton” is een populair toneelstuk van James Matthew Barrie, bij ons vooral bekend als de auteur van “Peter Pan”.
The satirical play about a butler whose savoir-faire far exceeds that of his aristocratic employers was produced by Charles Frohman and opened at the Duke of York’s Theatre in London on 4 November 1902, running for an extremely successful 828 performances. It starred H.B.Irving as Crichton and Irene Vanbrugh as Lady Mary Lasenby. Op bovenstaande foto herkent men trouwens H.B.Irving as Crichton (left) and Henry Kemble as the Earl of Loam (centre).
Barrie took the title from the sobriquet (or soubriquet is a nickname, sometimes assumed, but often given by another) of a fellow Scot, the polymath James Crichton, a 16th-century genius and athlete (1560-1582). He was a Scottish polymath noted for his extraordinary accomplishments in languages, the arts, and sciences before he was murdered at the age of 21. By the age of twenty, he was not only fluent in, but could discourse in (both prose and verse) no fewer than twelve languages, as well as being an accomplished horseman, fencer, singer, musician, orator, and debater. Noted for his good looks as well as his refined social graces, he was considered to have come closest to the ideal of the complete man.
Thereafter he spent two years as a soldier in the French army before travelling to Italy in 1579. Perhaps tiring of intellectual duels, the following year Crichton entered the service of the Duke of Mantua, and may have become tutor to the Duke’s headstrong son Vincenzo Gonzaga (although some sources suggest that Crichton served only as a member of the ducal council, and did not actually teach the prince). What is beyond dispute is that while Crichton was in the Duke’s employ, Vincenzo Gonzaga became hugely jealous of him, probably from a combination of his father’s strong regard for the young prodigy as well as Crichton replacing Vincenzo as the lover of the prince’s former mistress.
On the night of 3 July 1582, after leaving this lady’s dwelling in Mantua, Crichton was attacked in the street by a gang of masked ruffians. He bested all but one with his sword, until the last man removed his mask to reveal the group’s ringleader, Vincenzo Gonzaga himself. Tradition holds that, on seeing Vincenzo, Crichton instantly dropped to one knee and presented his sword, hilt first, to the prince, his master’s son. Vincenzo took the blade and with it stabbed Crichton cruelly through the heart, killing him instantly.
The “Admirable Crichton” was mentioned as an exemplar in W.M.Thackeray’s “Vanity Fair” (p.133 in the Penguin edition) and referenced in chapter 3 of Anthony Trollope’s “The Prime Minister” (1876). In 1957 there was a British film based upon Barrie’s play directed by Lewis Gilbert and starring Kenneth More.
The epigram-loving Ernest on the other hand is probably a caricature of the title character in Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest”.
The plot may derive from “Robinson’s Eiland”, an 1896 German play by Ludwig Fulda. In this, “a satire upon modern super-culture in its relation to primal nature”, a group of Berlin officials (including a capitalist, a professor and a journalist) are shipwrecked on an island, where a secretary, Arnold, becomes the natural leader of the group. The contemporary critic Arthur Bingham Walkley, however, viewed the connection as merely a rumour: “I feel quite indifferent as to its accuracy of fact”. [Wikipedia]