John Bull’s Other Island
is a 1904 comedic play by Irish author George Bernard Shaw. Based on Shaw’s early memories of Ireland before he settled in London, the novel satirizes Irish life and Ireland’s contemporary politics. The play follows two civil engineers, Tom Broadbent and Laurence Doyle, through their various mishaps, most of which stem from their romantic and nostalgic passions, mythological and religious interpretations of reality, and copious alcohol use. The play was met with great success in Ireland, but its narrow focus makes it somewhat esoteric by today’s standards, and therefore infrequently performed.
The play’s first act opens in the office of Doyle and Broadbent in Westminster. A cheerful Tom Broadbent returns from a trip and tells his valet, Hodson, to ready their luggage for Ireland. He asks if anyone has called during his leave, and Hodson replies that Haffigan, an Irishman with a bad reputation came looking for him, but was turned away. Just as Broadbent says he wishes they could have connected, Haffigan arrives.
Haffigan drinks a large amount of whiskey and declares that he will join Broadbent on the trip to Rosscullen, Ireland. Broadbent’s agenda is to work on a project for the Land Development Syndicate. He expects to excel at the job since the English are so much more efficient and industrious than the Irish. He nominates Haffigan, a stereotypical Irishman, to spread positive news about the project. Their conversation is cut short with the arrival of Laurence Doyle. Haffigan leaves. Doyle criticizes Broadbent for being so trusting of Irish men who turn out to be con artists. He makes fun of Broadbent for viewing most Irish people as friendly, simple, and slightly depressed, a stereotype he inherited from the English arts. Broadbent counters that the “real” Irishman is a hopeless dreamer stuck in a cycle of poverty. Nevertheless, Broadbent convinces Doyle to come to Ireland, where Nora Reilly yearns for his return.
The next scene takes place at sunset in the open fields of Rosscullen. On a pile of rocks, a man converses with a grasshopper. An observer, Patsy Farrell, panics and pleads with the priest Father Keegan to spare him from a curse. Broadbent arrives ahead of Doyle and is met by the latter’s father, Cornelius Doyle. Broadbent runs into Nora near Rosscullen’s Round Tower, where she has been waiting in the hopes of encountering Doyle. Though Nora is not warm to Broadbent, blinded by his obsession with Irish folk, he proposes to her moments later. Nora tells him he is drunk and helps him find his way home.
The next morning, Doyle and Broadbent have breakfast in the elder Doyle’s garden. Matt Haffigan joins them. Broadbent worries aloud about his encounter with Nora, which draws laughter from Doyle. Father Dempsey, Cornelius, and Barney Doran, a sadistic miller arrive. They propose that Doyle runs for Parliament. Doyle relates that he is too much of an international citizen to work for the government. However, he lists some of his political views, which include a minimum wage and the transfer of disused plots of land from negligent owners to people who will care for them. He also hopes to reduce the Roman Catholic Church’s power over Irish life; this part, in particular, worries them.
Next, Broadbent expresses his interest in running. Dempsey, Cornelius, and Doran quickly realizing that he would be easy to manipulate, declare their support. Broadbent goes to get his car to drive around campaigning. His first public act will be to transport Cornelius’s pig to Haffigan’s home after a completed sale.
Broadbent’s plan is thwarted: the pig, frightened out of its wits in the motorcar, causes such a disruption en route that the car is diverted into the middle of the street market. The car destroys Molly Ryan’s china shop and injures an elderly woman. Doran relays the occurrence to his friends, Keegan, and everyone else congregated in Cornelius’s house. Broadbent appears, lamenting the destruction the pig has left in the town. Everyone wonders about whether Broadbent will win the election.
At last, the party ends. Doyle and Nora remain alone and awkwardly try to connect. Doyle rebuffs Nora, leaving her sobbing. Broadbent enters the room, consoling Nora as she cries. He convinces her to accept his marriage proposal, then rejoices, stating that she is the best wife a politician could have. Nora feels uncomfortable becoming a public figure and shaking hands with the townspeople. However, Doyle convinces her that she made a good decision, for Broadbent will enrich her life. At the end of the play, Broadbent looks forward to making important changes to public life in the town of Rosscullen. He and Doyle both believe (rightly or not) that they have matured greatly from their experiences in Ireland.