What the Butler Saw Characters

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First produced: 1969

First published: 1969

Type of work: Play

Type of plot: Farce

Time of work: The 1960’s

Locale: A psychiatric clinic in England

Characters DiscussedDr. Prentice

Dr. What the Butler SawPrentice, a middle-aged psychiatrist. Prentice is an unscrupulous man who does not hesitate to use his position as a doctor to seduce Geraldine Barclay, who is applying for a job as his secretary. He also refuses to tell the truth, despite the trouble this causes Geraldine with Dr. Rance. It was this same lustful lack of scruples that led him to interfere with an unknown chambermaid at the Station Hotel many years before, resulting in her conception of Geraldine and Nick.

Dr. Rance

Dr. Rance, a psychiatrist sent from the government to check on how psychiatric clinics are being run. He is a brutal, power-mad doctor, and he tries to certify everybody as insane, though it is obvious that he is the only one who is truly mad.

Mrs. Prentice

Mrs. Prentice, Dr. Prentice’s wife. During a brief stint as a chambermaid at the Station Hotel, she was raped in a linen cupboard during a power outage (hence her inability to recognize her attacker as her fiancé, Dr. Prentice). She is a blasé, disillusioned woman who belongs to a lesbian women’s group. The failure of the Prentices’ marriage is attributed to the fact that Mrs. Prentice refused to consummate their marriage during their wedding night.

Nicholas (Nick) Beckett

Nicholas (Nick) Beckett, a page boy from the Station Hotel, now an applicant for the job as Dr. Prentice’s secretary. Nick is an accomplished typist and blackmailer with an insatiable sexual appetite, exemplified by his attempted rape of Mrs. Prentice (his mother) and the accomplished molestation of “a section of the Priory Road School for girls” on the same night. He turns out to be Geraldine’s twin brother and the Prentices’ son.

Geraldine Barclay

Geraldine Barclay, an applicant for the position as Dr. Prentice’s secretary. A young, attractive girl, she is trusting and believes in telling the truth. Although she is the only person with any morals (except, perhaps, for Sergeant Match), she gets the brunt of Dr. Rance’s abuse, as when he cuts off all of her hair. Her ignorance of the whereabouts of pieces missing from a statue of Winston Churchill seems symbolic of her purity and naïveté. Ultimately, it is revealed that she is Nick’s twin and the Prentices’ daughter.

Sergeant Match

Sergeant Match, a policeman looking for Geraldine Barclay and Nicholas Beckett. His more important mission, however, is to find Geraldine and Sir Winston’s missing parts; of lesser interest is his charge to find the molester of the girls from Priory Road School. Having accomplished his main task, which is of national importance, Match has no qualms about forgetting everything else he has witnessed, though this willingness may be related to the large amount of narcotics that Dr. Prentice has given him.

BibliographyBigsby, C. W. E. Joe Orton. London: Methuen, 1982. Deals with Orton’s stylistic and thematic qualities in the context of contemporary European drama.Charney, Maurice. Joe Orton. London: Macmillan, 1984. Places Orton’s work in the farcical tradition that goes back to origins in Greece and Rome.Innes, Christopher. “Joe Orton: Farce as Confrontation.” In Modern British Drama, 1890-1990. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1992. Introduces Orton as a playwright of his time.Lahr, John. Prick up Your Ears. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1978. Traces influences on Orton’s development as a dramatist.Orton, Joe. The Orton Diaries. Edited by John Lahr. London: Methuen, 1986. An entertaining account by Orton about himself, written during the last year of his life.
Categories: Characters