Some time before 1901 Kipling wrote part or all of a play or plays in Jacobean style, of which the central character is "Gow", a powerful soldierly figure in a fictitious kingdom. He becomes a king-maker after hard battles and devious plots, and dies by his own hand at the moment of triumph. We do not have the full play, if it was ever completed, but some scenes attributed to it were published by Kipling in association with various of his tales:
The Act and Scene numbers give the impression of an existing dramatic structure, but they may simply have been invented to give verisimilitude to an otherwise unconvincing attribution, by a writer who was a master of parody and subterfuge.
'Act II Scene 2'
Here we first encounter the dramatis personae: a King, soon to lose his son and perish shortly after; an ambitious, and perhaps murderous, young Queen; Ferdinand, a crafty courtier; and his close friend Gow, the central figure, a powerful soldier and leader of men, strong, quick witted and fast with a deft deception or a dagger. In true Jacobean tradition, the drama abounds in murderous plots and sudden deaths
The King is in the garden with Ferdinand. They talk about a young hawk, which Ferdinand feels is ready for the hunt, like the young Prince, or the young Kim. The King, like Colonel Creighton, is less sure. Then Gow comes in with a gardener, bearing the body of the Prince. He had fallen from the window of the Queen's chamber. Perhaps he has been murdered, certainly they had been lovers. Gow's story, to keep the guilty secret from the King, is that the Prince has died picking nectarines from a high wall. He stabs the gardener, lest he reveal the truth.
Soon after, the Queen comes in, and the grieving King dies, perhaps poisoned. Gow gets away swiftly, fearing the Queen's enmity, and seeking the Duke.
'Act III Scene 2'
The city has been sacked, There has been a love affair revealed, a mysterious death, and a hanging, on the authority of the self-righteous Duke. As in "Mrs Bathurst", we are uncertain about precisely what has happened. Apart from the presence of Gow there is no clear relationship with the preceding and later scenes, indeed this could have been written for a different play, though with the same central character.
'Act IV Scene 4'
Gow is commanding an army, facing the forces of the Queen, high on a snowy mountain pass. However, he is prevented from reaching the head of the pass by the local priests of the Mountain Men, who have settled in this remote area, lack any traditional ties, and are immune to reason, like the American people in "The Prophet and the Country". 'There are none beside ourselves', they declare, 'to lead the world'. In the end Gow triumphs through a stratagem which takes his forces round by a lower road, and forces the enemy to retreat.
'Act V Scene 3'
There has been a battle in the snow, and Gow has been victorious. The Queen has fled and Gow has brought the crown of the kingdom to the young Princess. She wishes to honour Gow, who has protected her throughout the campaign, and is now making her the monarch. But he rejects her for Lady Frances, who has always been his true love, and who - as she tells him in a letter - is dying. Gow sees her ghost in a vision, and to join her, kills himself, like Sergeant Godsoe in "A Madonna of the Trenches".
However, as Lisa Lewis points out:
Gow dies with his mission completed, the decisive battle won and the rightful queen on the throne. There is no conflict between love and duty. Godsoe deserts the fighting to join his “immortal” love with the outcome (of the war) still hanging in the balance. The disparity opens up the possibility that “Gow’s Watch” is a counter-statement to a prose story about “How a Man may go to see Life and meet Death there” [quoted from the heading to chapter 8 of “From Sea to Sea” (p. 278).]Some critical comments
"Gow's Watch" has attracted little attention from Kipling's critics and biographers, apart from Angus Wilson, who writes (p. 331):
He was probably much influenced by his friendship with George Saintsbury, the literary historian, whom he saw in his retirement at Bath each year of the war when he took Carrie there for spa treatment ...It is clear from a letter he wrote to Herbert Stephen about Songs from Books in October 1913, before the genesis of "The Madonna of the Trenches" and "The Prophet and the Country", that Kipling had worked on various dramatised scenes based on the character of "Gow":
If you'd tell me the whole tangle of "Gow's Watch," I'd be your debtor. It's an ungodly hash of (a) a play that I began (b) another play that I began under another name (c) two extracts from a third play that I didn't begin at all and (d) a lying ascription to Lyden his Irenius which has already brought me much woe. But to save myself I can't disentangle it.And in the notes to his magisterial 2013 Cambridge Edition of the Poems of Rudyard Kipling Thomas Pinney is sceptical about the origins of the 'scenes' of "Gows Watch" linked to post-war stories:
The aptness with which the various parts used to preface different stories fit those stories indicates that they were written in the first place for those differing functions, and not as parts of a single inspiration.But, leaving aside the 'tangle' Kipling referred to in 1913, Susan Treggiari writes in KJ 306:
The more I look at these 'fragments', the cleverer (as parodies) and more moving (as commentary on the human condition and especially in their relation to the stories of the Great War) they seem to be.
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