The 39 Steps: social context

The 39 Steps: social context

Context and Origin

  • “The 39 Steps” is a play adaptation by Patrick Barlow from the 1915 novel by John Buchan and the 1935 film by Alfred Hitchcock. It’s important to understand the era it was performed in and the underlying social context that influenced the plot and characters.
  • The play was produced in 2005, a modern era with debates on privacy, surveillance, politics and security. These themes are subtly reflected in “The 39 Steps”.

Historical Setting and Atmosphere

  • Set in 1930s Britain, it reflects undertones of pre-WWII tension filled with espionage and patriotism. Delve deeper into the political situation of that era, like the rise of fascism and the paranoia over potential spies.

Gender and Class Stereotypes

  • There are references to traditional gender stereotypes, which were prevalent in the 1930s. Richard Hannay, is presented as the archetypal ‘male hero’; the women characters are perceived largely in relation to him, showing the social positioning of women during the time.
  • Class distinction is another significant aspect. The difference between Richard Hannay’s gentlemanly behavior and the rural Scottish credibility is a stark contrast. Understanding British class divisions during the time will aid in understanding the humor and social commentary in the play.

Use of Theatrical Techniques and Comedy

  • It uses farcical theatre techniques and satire to highlight and challenge social norms and perceived ‘Britishness’.
  • The play combines slapstick comedy with the stiff-upper-lip stereotype of Britons. This eccentric combination tells us about the changing perspectives of British society and social values.

Theme of Identity

  • Lastly, the transformation into a stage play, with only 4 actors playing multiple roles, can be interpreted as a commentary on the fleeting nature of identity, a relevant theme for a society becoming increasingly globalized and interconnected.

Remember, exploring social context in “The 39 Steps” can provide greater insight into the themes, motivations, and behaviors of characters, and the messaging of the play itself.