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Cloud 9

Caryl Churchill

Study Questions and Suggested Essay Topics

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Study Questions

Discuss Churchill's choice to have actors play characters opposite their own sex. What are the theatrical and thematic implications of this choice?

In a purely theatrical sense, Churchill's cross gender casting brings out the comedy of the play. She amuses the audience by choosing a man to play the wife of a homophobic Clive. One might also find humor in Clive's attempts to force son Edward, played by a woman, to act more like a man. Churchill's casting choices also create a stage image of contradictory status relationships. Normally, one would expect Betty to be weaker than Clive, making her less powerful than he, both physically and socially. However, it is quite possible that the man playing Betty is physically larger than Clive, raising the issue of how a society really determines status.

Thematically, the cross-gender casting suggests sexual confusion. The characters of the first act are not in touch with their sexual identities. Their identities have been manufactured by Clive, and their appearance (as cross-dressers) makes this all the more evident. For Act II, Churchill instructs that the roles be switched so that actors play roles of their same sex (this rule applies to all but Cathy). With this change, Churchill asserts that the characters are drawing nearer their true identities. Cathy, played by a man (and often by the same actor that plays Clive), suggests that the past has been incapacitated. Clive and that which he represents have become childlike and helpless in the second act.

How do the characters introduced for the first time in Act II represent the changes that have taken place between acts?

With her new characters, Churchill quickly informs her audience that Act II is an entirely different world from Act I. Their language, especially the speech of Lin and Gerry, is blunt and colloquial. At least at first, these characters exhibit no allegiance to the past. Lin and Gerry are openly homosexual, implying a liberation that did not exist in Clive's Africa. These new characters serve the dramatic purposes of pulling the characters of Act I toward their sexual destiny. Lin, Gerry, Cathy, and Martin create a world in which the protagonists must learn quickly in order to survive.

Martin represents the challenges of being a straight male in modern London. He yearns to have some control in wife Victoria's life, but, at least in theory, does not want to be as controlling as her father was. Additionally, Martin represents a reversal of traditional ideas of male sexuality. Unlike Clive in his tryst with Mrs. Saunders, Martin's primary objective is to please his wife. This does not mean, however, that Martin has no concern for his sexual status. While Clive derives power from pleasing himself, Martin intends to empower himself by satisfying a woman.

Discuss Betty's rediscovery of masturbation. How does this relate to her search for identity?

Betty's finding pleasure in masturbation represents an abandonment of any guilt she might have felt for pleasing herself. Betty has spent a large part of her life pleasing others, in every sense. At the end of the play, Betty's physical act of pleasing herself, masturbation, parallels her efforts to please herself in other ways, by finding work or by buying a house for her children. Doing things for herself allows Betty the opportunity to find out who she really is and what she really likes to do. The masturbation monologue also suggests that Clive's oppressive treatment of Betty forced her to deny her natural tendencies. She mentions that she used to masturbate as a child, but that she stopped when her mother (Maud, another symbol of the Victorian era) caught her. Her taking up masturbation again represents a return to her true self, a self that has been missing since childhood. In finding the "fun" of masturbation, Betty has found that life, too, can be "fun" if one is true to oneself.

Suggested Essay Topics

Explain Harry's frenetic sexual activity in Act I. What are his motives in seeking sex with so many different people?

Explain Churchill's choice to have Clive return at the end of the play. Why is he no longer "proud to be British?"

Discuss Lin's role as a parent. How do her views about life and sexuality play out through Cathy?

Describe Clive's comparison of Betty's "dark lust" to the "treachery" of the natives. How, in his mind, are the two equal?

Explain how Churchill's writing process of basing a script on workshops with actors and directors might have influenced the story of Cloud 9?

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