The Books of To-day and the Books of To-morrow, February 1907

London Studies.

No. 1.—The Audience at the Court Theatre.

THEY’RE the Pioneers of Progress; they’re the Devotees of Art;
They’re the men with bulging foreheads: they’re a race of souls apart.
No ordinary drama can rely on their support:
It is Culture—yes, sir, Culture that they ask for at the Court.

Lesser men may like the plays that are produced for vulgar gain;
Lesser men may laugh at Huntley or be charmed by Edmund Payne;
But the audience would crush you with one vast, indignant snort,
If you showed such plays or mummers any evening at the Court.

But you must not think that every form of fun would come to grief;
They enjoy tuberculosis as a humorous relief.
And a really comic death-scene will infallibly extort
Tears of unaffected laughter from an audience at the Court.

Ah, but what they really revel in is something dark and grim.
If the hero kills his mother; or his mother murders him;
If loud shrieks (‘off left’) suggest that blood is flowing by the quart,
Then a placid satisfaction soothes the audience at the Court.

How they love it when a character brings out a gleaming knife,
Or kicks the prostrate body of his unoffending wife!
Such events come all too seldom, and such scenes are all too short
For the reckless, ruthless audience you meet with at the Court.

And when the play is ended, o’er a grateful cup of tea,
They discuss hot buns and Culture at the local A. B. C.
Then each journeys off to Balham or his Wimbledon resort,
Much refreshed in mind and spirit by his visit to the Court.



Printed unsigned; entered by Wodehouse in Money Received for Literary Work as “The Audience at the Court.”


Harley Granville-Barker (1877–1946) became co-manager of the Court Theatre in 1904 with J. E. Vedrenne, and presented several premieres of the plays of Shaw, as well as introducing the works of Ibsen, Maeterlinck, Galsworthy, and Masefield to London audiences. Shaw’s The Doctor’s Dilemma (1906) did have tuberculosis as a theme, but scarcely as comic relief. Other plays dealt realistically with social problems rather than the gory thrillers suggested by the verses above.
A. B. C.: a chain of tea-shops operated by the Aerated Bread Company.

Notes by Neil Midkiff