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Literature Study GuidesCloud 9Act 1 Scene 2 Summary

Cloud 9 | Study Guide

Caryl Churchill

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Cloud 9 | Act 1, Scene 2 | Summary



Scene 2 takes place in an open space away from the house. Mrs. Saunders is running away from Clive, who keeps pestering her for sex. Clive insists he's had an erection for 24 hours a day since Mrs. Saunders's arrival and argues she already agreed to have sex with him. She points out that was only once—sometimes she wants to say no. She finally gives in and Clive momentarily disappears under her skirt, then reemerges to tell her he climaxed. She didn't. She pleads with him to continue and he refuses, marveling at her "voraciousness." They go back to the Christmas picnic.

Betty, Maud, Joshua, Edward, Harry, and Victoria enter, followed shortly by Clive. He opens a bottle of champagne and purposefully spills it on his pants to mask the semen stains. They toast Queen Victoria, and Ellen arrives. She and Betty play catch with a ball, but their game is interrupted by Edward, who insists Betty doesn't know how to catch. Harry, Clive, and Edward take over. Edward keeps dropping the ball, which he blames on Clive, who keeps calling him "Butterfingers." Edward throws a fit and hurls the ball away as Clive tells him he'll never be good at cricket. Betty tells Clive he has hurt Edward's feelings, and Clive retorts, "A boy has no business having feelings."

Harry starts a game of hide and seek. He is "it." The game provides a good opportunity for characters to have the following one-on-one conversations while everyone else hides:

  • Instead of counting to 100, Harry thanks Clive for allowing him to spend the holiday with his family and goes on a tangent about the true meaning of the British Empire. Clive ignores all of this and tells Harry it's time to find everyone.
  • Joshua tells Clive the stable boys are plotting something, then mentions Betty thinks Harry is "a fine man."
  • Betty tries to talk to Harry about their future. She insists she will kill herself if they can't be together, but he says he prefers her as Clive's wife, which allows him (Harry) to think about her during his travels.
  • Edward gives Harry Betty's beaded necklace, which Harry says is lovely but should be returned to Betty. Edward confesses his love for Harry, then asks if they can have a repeat of a previous sexual encounter. Though Harry protests it's a sin and a crime, he confirms they will definitely do it again. Edward pressures Harry to show him his erect penis, but Harry refuses.
  • Betty tells Ellen she loves Harry and wants to run away with him. Ellen kisses Betty and tells her how much she loves her. Betty responds, "Oh Ellen, you are my only friend."

The entire group gathers at the end of the scene.


The aspects of Mrs. Saunders's personality to which Clive is attracted starkly contrast with everything a Victorian woman is supposed to be. Clive thinks of her as "dark like this continent. Mysterious. Treacherous," and he suspects she's "the type of woman who would enjoy whipping somebody." Mrs. Saunders has not proven herself to be anything except independent, sexual, and unafraid to share her opinion; it is Clive who assigns her the role of wicked seductress. He believes wives should be virtuous and pure, while mistresses should be lusty and dangerous. Mrs. Saunders is neither of those things, but she is very different from the traditional stereotype of the Victorian wife, not only in her self-sufficiency but also in her interest in sex. She likes it and not because it's a means of producing heirs. She likes "the sensation" of intimate physical relationships, so much so she's willing to put up with Clive, whom she can't stand.

Clive's attitudes about women and sexuality mirror those of many 19th-century men, particularly in his belief that women find no pleasure in the sexual act itself. When Clive reaches his climax, he expects Mrs. Saunders to be satisfied, too. He pays no attention to her pleas for him to continue, just as he ignores her initial refusal to have sex with him. He doesn't even seem to notice she actively dislikes him. Clive's refusal to acknowledge Mrs. Saunders's wishes symbolizes the patriarchal mindset of the 19th century. Though a woman ruled the British Empire, men ruled at home without question. Clive is so used to having all the power in his relationships he can't recognize when someone tries to take it back.

Power dynamics also figure in the relationship between Edward and Harry. In the real world, Harry would be considered a pedophile for his attraction and sexual relationship with a nine-year-old. Even in a play where the boy in question is played by an adult woman, the pairing is shocking. That's the point. Homosexuality on its own was shocking—and forbidden—during the Victorian era, just as pedophilia is now. Edward's status as a minor helps modern audiences understand how unacceptable homosexual relationships were in the 19th century. Yet the characters' ages are less important in the context of the play. It is far more significant that Edward, the younger of the pair, does not hide his attraction to men while Harry, the older man, does. It is Edward who brings up the idea of resuming their sexual relationship, and it is Edward who asks Harry to literally expose himself. The message here is younger generations are more comfortable with same-sex relationships than older generations. Throughout the play Edward is the predator and Harry is the prey.

Joshua sings the song "In the Bleak Midwinter" at the end of the scene; the text is by Victorian poet Christina Rossetti. The poem was written in 1872 but wasn't set to music until 1906, five years after Queen Victoria's death. It is slightly out of time period for the first act of Cloud 9, but the lyrics are fitting for Joshua's character and the scene's themes. The song is written from the point of view of someone who wants to honor baby Jesus, the savior. The narrator has nothing to give but his love. This parallels the relationship Clive has constructed between himself and Joshua. In this case Clive, the white man, is the savior of Joshua, the black man. Just as in the song, Joshua has nothing material to give Clive as a means of gratitude, so Clive expects all of Joshua's love in return. Joshua's song is also important because it shows how deeply he has assimilated to the culture of his "benefactors." He appears to have given up his native religion for Christianity, which is another signal to Clive's family that he is more white than black and can therefore, in their racist mindset, be trusted.

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