Two men and two women are in quarantine on a yacht in the West Indies, trapped in a sinister cove full of rocks “like a jaw full of ragged teeth with one sharp fang among them”: Dragon’s Mouth. Each has a strong personality: Matthew the practical businessman, Nina who loves beauty and fashion (below) , Stuart the detached academic, and Harriet the emotional but embittered personnel manager.
While they await results of blood tests, the four share their stories and argue about their views of life. They have heard by radio that one is infected, but it breaks before they can find out who it is …
Dragon’s Mouth (1951) is an experimental platform play, created by J.B. Priestley and Jacquetta Hawkes at the height of their secret love affair.
Both found Jung’s ideas fascinating; indeed, part of their delight in their romance was the Jungian feeling that their personalities complemented and completed each other. To create their characters and creative conflict, they used Jung’s four functions of the personality, each voyager representing one: Stuart Thinking, Matthew Intuition, Harriet Feeling and Nina Sensation.
Jacquetta wrote the parts of Stuart and Nina, which reflect the two sides of her personality. The contrast between Jacquetta’s cool intellect and her sensual nature crops up frequently in her writings and in comments made about her by others, e.g. Priestley’s “ice without, fire within”.
The characters realise that all the functions are valuable and that Nina’s is the most important perspective. Nina shows us why in a great speech at the end of the play. In phrases reminiscent of Jacquetta’s appreciation of deep time in A Land, Nina explains how the senses – love and the nurturing of the young – have enabled intellect, feelings and intuition to grow over the millennia. Nina had enjoyed her life and relished all it had to offer, bad as well as good. Unlike the others, she could accept death.
“I have grown fat on experience. My senses have gone out and in like bees bringing home nectar. I have joined myself with the whole world, sharing its darkness as well as its light, its trivialities equally with its splendours … I would go so far to glory in the clash of opposites”.
The play ends with the arrival of the boat bringing the results of the tests. Whatever happens, the surviving three have learned something and will try to incorporate the values of the others into their lives.