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55 4. Versions of freedom and the theatre in Scotland since the Union JEAN BERTON In his twelfth essay on Civil Liberty, David Hume wrote: ‘It has been observed by the ancients, that all the arts and sciences arose among free nations’.1 Whether the Scots felt free or not in the Athens of the North within the union with England is an issue open for debate. Nevertheless, the object of this chapter is to consider how a wide variety and range of conceptions of ‘freedom’ are found in Scottish drama since Hume’s time as themes emerge and re-emerge from the eighteenth to the twenty-first century. After contrasting the definitions of freedom in the Oxford English Dictionary2 and the Scottish National Dictionary,3 I dwell neither on the obvious meaning of ‘exemption or release from slavery’ nor on that of ‘exemption from despotic or arbitrary or autocratic control’, except when viewed in a modified, warped, or somewhat ironic usage. I will deal with the notion of freedom under three headings: freedom as opposed to vassalage in an occupied land; the paradox of dependence and freedom, in cases of addiction and marriage; and guilt as the worst enemy of freedom. Freedom as opposed to vassalage in an occupied land The popular tragedy, Campbell of Kilmhor,4 by J. A. Ferguson, staged during the 1914 Glasgow Repertory Spring Season, outlines Scottish rebels’ freedom of action hindered by the action of Scottish supporters of Anglo–British law. The play develops the opposition of two contrasting views of freedom, that of Scotland with England within Great Britain and that of Scotland without England, or against Hanoverian Great Britain. The underlying element in Ferguson’s drama is a pervading sense of guilt brought about by treason and greed. The tragedy openly discusses Scotland’s own responsibility in handling her freedom. By contrast, John McGrath’s The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black, Black Oil (1973), a pre-1979-referendum play, boosts 56 a sense of political independence, with a view to giving back the Scots the freedom of use of their lands5 that lie in the hands of lairds and multinationals and of their territorial waters belonging to the Crown. McGrath’s play can be contrasted with Tim Price’s pre-2014-referendum play I’m with the Band,6 performed at the Traverse during the 2013 Edinburgh Festival. In this four-character play, the band leader, Damien, standing for England, has admitted that he has sacked their company manager for failing to pay VAT for the last twelve years: ‘And now the taxman wants something like **** [mumbled figure] million pound!’ (IWB 6). Barry, standing for Scotland, decides to leave the band for good: barry: (speaking to Aaron, the Irish) The real reason is, mate, the band, which I was getting tired of anyway, is fucked. Do you understand that? It’s over. It’s fucked. And I cannot be arsed trying to make something work, that I can’t be arsed with any more anyway. I’m forty-two. (IWB 13) This treason of the manager, amplified by the action of Damien, implies that the four players will have to pay the debt, while the manager can avoid being sued. The audience is left to interpret the metaphor freely. Barry voices his long-standing plan to break free: barry: It’s the fucking Damo-show anyway, it’s always been th[at], and I’m out of it now anyway. I don’t care, even if we didn’t have massive – this afternoon making music my own in my pants has been the most fun I’ve had in, ever. / I’ve been thinking about leaving for ages and just didn’t have the guts. There’s the real reason. I got sick of being a coward. (IWB 14) Barry embodies Scotland’s flaw – lack of resolution. All of which is a cover for the nation’s political weaknesses, i.e. internecine feuding. Such a failing is at the core of John Wood’s 1883 tragedy, Rothesay,7 for the villain, Albany, according to the Duchess, is ambition’s slave: jean berton 57 versions of freedom and the theatre in scotland Desist ! Else will I curse you in your flesh and blood, Your family and store, till evil fortune, Like to a bloodhound, hunts you to the doom, And forces you to wail at God’s decrees. What! know I not you are ambition’s slave ? That Rothesay stands in your...


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