The Dog Beneath the Skin (play summary)

In this post I will try to give a brief summary of the play; I will post another piece soon (hopefully later today) to highlight some issues that struck me while reading. It is not my intention here to provide an analysis of the play; for that I need to do lot more work and read some secondary literature.

The Dog Beneath the Skin is a rather dense and elaborate piece. Before it could be performed it actually had to be cut down because of its length (Mendelson, 1988). It is therefore not easy to provide you with a very elaborate summary; in short the story goes like this:

            The village Pressan Ambo was for a long time ‘controlled’ by the family of Crewe. This family owns most of the land in the village and is very much respected by the villagers. The last male of the Crewe family that is still alive (Francis) ran away from his father many years ago, and since the father has died some years ago the village is desperately searching for Francis. Every year man from the village is chosen to leave the village and search for Francis; however none of them have ever returned. This year Alan is chosen, and if he can bring Francis back he may marry Francis’ sister Iris.

            The moment Alan has just been selected a dog shows up. This dog has been in the village for many years and has lived with various villagers. It clearly has a strong will of its own and decides to join Alan on his trip to Europe to find Francis.

            On their trip Alan and the dog (whom he calls Francis) travel through Europe to find clues about where they could find Francis Crewe. Just as Alan has found out that he should return to England since Francis may have never even left the island he gets in trouble in a hotel because he has used a lot of their resources and has to pay a large bill (most likely caused by the dog, but the play never reveals whether this is true). At that moment the dog reveals itself to Alan, it was Francis Crewe who was disguised as the dog. Francis has thus been with Alan all the time (and, as it turns out, has also been in the village all these years).

            Together they escape from the hotel and go back to England, back to Pressan Ambo. In Pressan Ambo Iris is just about to get married with someone else, she doesn’t want to, but since it seems unlikely that Alan will ever returned she is forces to do it. When Alan and Francis reveal themselves again in the village it becomes clear that not only Francis was pretending to be someone else, but in the times he lived with the villagers as a dog he also discovered things about the villagers. The mentally unstable Mildred Luce then kills Francis after he is accusing her of lying. The Villagers decide that, instead of revealing all the truth, it is better to pretend like nothing has happened. Francis is put back in his dogskin so that they can say Mildred only killed the dog who tried to attack her. And Alan leaves the village again.

            Two journalists who Alan met during his trip and accompanied him for a long time help the villagers to hide what has happened. Since the story is too absurd they will not report about it, and since the media doesn’t pay any attention to it, it is just like it never even took place.

Mendelson, E. (2007). Textual Notes: The Dog Beneath the skin. In W.H. Auden: Collected Poems. (revised edition) (553 – 597). London: Faber and Faber.


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