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Great Catherine

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Great Catherine

by George Bernard Shaw

Genre: Comedy
Format of Original Source: Play
Recommended Adaptation Length:

Candidate for Adaptation? Not Reviewed


From an online synopsis: A short play about the visit of a very proper English officer to the court of Catherine the Great. The latter engages in some amusing love play with the captain (whose fiancée is with him in St. Petersburg), then moves on to other things as her imperial prerogative dictates.

An excerpt:

CATHERINE [springing energetically out of bed and seating herself on the edge of it]. Flogged! I! A Liberal Empress! A philosopher! You are a barbarian, Naryshkin. [She rises and turns to the courtiers.] And then, as if I cared! [She turns again to Naryshkin.] You should know by this time that I am frank and original in character, like an Englishman. [She walks about restlessly.] No: what maddens me about all this ceremony is that I am the only person in Russia who gets no fun out of my being Empress. You all glory in me: you bask in my smiles: you get titles and honors and favors from me: you are dazzled by my crown and my robes: you feel splendid when you have been admitted to my presence; and when I say a gracious word to you, you talk about it to everyone you meet for a week afterwards. But what do I get out of it? Nothing. [She throws herself into the chair. Naryshkin deprecates with a gesture; she hurls an emphatic repetition at him.] Nothing!! I wear a crown until my neck aches: I stand looking majestic until I am ready to drop: I have to smile at ugly old ambassadors and frown and turn my back on young and handsome ones. Nobody gives me anything. When I was only an Archduchess, the English ambassador used to give me money whenever I wanted it–or rather whenever he wanted to get anything out of my sacred predecessor Elizabeth [the Court bows to the ground]; but now that I am Empress he never gives me a kopek. When I have headaches and colics I envy the scullerymaids. And you are not a bit grateful to me for all my care of you, my work, my thought, my fatigue, my sufferings.

THE PRINCESS DASHKOFF. God knows, Little Mother, we all implore you to give your wonderful brain a rest. That is why you get headaches. Monsieur Voltaire also has headaches. His brain is just like yours.

CATHERINE. Dashkoff, what a liar you are! [Dashkoff curtsies with impressive dignity.] And you think you are flattering me! Let me tell you I would not give a rouble to have the brains of all the philosophers in France. What is our business for today?

NARYSHKIN. The new museum, Little Mother. But the model will not be ready until tonight.

CATHERINE [rising eagerly]. Yes, the museum. An enlightened capital should have a museum. [She paces the chamber with a deep sense of the importance of the museum.] It shall be one of the wonders of the world. I must have specimens: specimens, specimens, specimens.

NARYSHKIN. You are in high spirits this morning, Little Mother.

CATHERINE [with sudden levity.] I am always in high spirits, even when people do not bring me my slippers.


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