Jerusalem: closing pages – stimuli for discussion

The closing pages of Jerusalem (Butterworth) present a wonderfully open denouement to the play. Butterworth leaves the final outcome undecided and although reason will always indicate a victory for the forces of Society, our emotional response to Johnny’s invocation is surely some form of hope for a magical victory for the forces of Nature.

I want to leave these questions unanswered for students to discuss in class.
1: How does Butterworth use the sound effects in the stage direction on p 104 to comment on the action that has just taken place?
2: Why is Johnny so cruel to Ginger in the scene on 105/106? How does Ginger’s response develop his character?
3: Where does Marky come from and, more importantly where does he go?
4: Why does Johnny pour petrol over the caravan and then do nothing to it?
5: What does Johnny see at the end of the play?

Marky fascinates me. He appeared as though by magic in act 2 (p 62) as though summoned by the Byron drum. Once again here he simply materialises saying “I got lost”. This is strange though – the caravan is nowhere near the fair and Marky is young, at 6, to have made his way to the clearing all alone. It is also significant that he arrives just as Johnny has driven the last of the “onlookers”away. It is as though this is a moment of great import for father and son. Only at this juncture does Johnny tell what seems to be an unadulterated tale – the story of the Byron blood. We realise that this is a father passing on knowledge or lore to his only son. If Johnny suspects that the is about to be defeated, he does not intend to go quietly. He prepares a funeral pyre and presumably intends to be swallowed up by the fire that he sets. He prepares his defence – the ashes of the petition possibly acting like the sowed dragon teeth of legend to bring forth the ghost army of his ancestors. But if this defence is not successful, he has arranged his succession. Marky is primed with knowledge of his forefathers and his “noble” bloodline: he too will be treated like a King in the future Johnny checks his teeth and once satisfied that he truly is a Byron Boy, sends him on his way. The lost boy is sent to “find his mother” and wanders off into the woods. Even if he finds Dawn, Johnny is sure that he will be followed by Marky and that the unbroken line of Byrons he recites to close the play will be continued and lost to the modernising world he so despises. The boy simply walks into the woods. I do not think we fear for him – a Byron, he will be safe in the hands of his mother – nature.