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Theatre / Androcles and the Lion

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Androcles and the Lion is a play by George Bernard Shaw, first performed in 1913.

The play retells the fable of Androcles, a Roman fugitive who befriends a lion after pulling a thorn out of its foot, is recaptured and sentenced to be thrown to the wild beasts in the arena, and is saved when one of the wild beasts turns out to be the same lion.

In Shaw's retelling, Androcles is a member of the early Christian church who is persecuted by the Roman authorities for his beliefs; Shaw uses the situation to explore his views on religion, faith, and hypocrisy. The published version of the play includes a prefatory essay longer than the play itself, in which Shaw expounds his views in more depth.

A film adaptation, directed by Chester Erskine and starring Jean Simmons, Victor Mature, and Alan Young as Androcles, was released in 1952.

This work contains examples of:

  • Anachronism Stew: The Christians are heard singing "Onward Christian Soldiers" when brought to the Colosseum, a hymn written in 1865.
  • Blood Knight: For all his efforts, Ferrovius is unable to master pacifism. He even kills a gladiator, rather than getting martyred. In the end, he admits that Mars is his god.
  • Corrupt Church: The Emperor, though elevated to divinity, believes in the Roman gods "no more than... any educated man in Rome." Indeed, all that educated Romans have to do with their religion is making token sacrifices to Diana or Jupiter, and that lets them stand on the outside of the arena where Christians who refuse to burn the incense are thrown to the lions.
  • Grand Inquisitor Scene: A scene in which the Roman Emperor asserts that he is actually a Christian evangelist — since Christian martyrs inspire converts, the more Christians he kills, the more Christians he creates.
  • A Handful for an Eye: Following an offstage fight between Secutor and Retiarius, Secutor enters from the arena covered in dust and asks if it is fair for Retiarius to win by throwing dust in his eyes. Caesar replies that there's no rule against it.
  • Illegal Religion: The main characters are a group of Christians about to be thrown to the lions for their religion.
  • Pantomime Animal: The lion is portrayed by a human actor in a suit.
  • Straw Hypocrite: Caesar admits that the practices of the religion he nominally leads are meaningless.
  • Turn the Other Cheek: Ferrovius allows Lentulus to strike him on the other cheek so he can demonstrate that he is a true Christian. He then seizes Lentulus and asks him to turn the other cheek when he strikes him.

Alternative Title(s): Androcles And The Lion