Under Milk Wood is a radio play that was written by a writer called Dylan Thomas. Dylan Thomas was from Wales, however he spoke no Welsh and had no obvious influences of Welsh on him- however he uses a number of Welsh phrases in the play. However, Thomas’s father was an English teacher and from an early age Thomas had a love for language- this love is shown throughout the whole of the play with continual use of sophisticated writing tools, language and a detailed, descriptive style.
Under Milk Wood is about a small town called Llareggub which is peaceful and simple, located somewhere in the Welsh countryside. The play is a play for voices, which means it is written for the radio and not for the stage. It begins with the reader being swept through the village at night, listening to people’s dreams then moves on the mornings, midday, afternoon, evening and finally night again. This structure of play is called an episodic play which means there is no fixed story line but many different events happening in different episodes. The village is called Llareggub which is ‘Buggerall’ backwards.
In my opinion this title is suggesting that nothing happens in the play, however as the reader gets drawn into the play one realises that there is much more to it and it is a sophisticated piece of captivating literature. What is special about Under Milk Wood is the way in which the characters are portrayed to us. The many characters in Under Milk wood are presented to us indirectly through the Voices of the play – who tell us what they are doing at various times of the day and night; who quote their words and describe their actions to us. We watch them as the night goes by and they are asleep.
We learn about them through what the Voices tell us of their dreams: for instance we hear that Captain Cat is dreaming of Rosie Probert, which gives us insight into his character and also the relationship that existed between them. As morning comes, the Voices allow us to watch the inhabitants of the town wake up and go about their everyday lives. As they do so, more about their characters is revealed. We hear them speaking in conversations and singing, and some of them speak in soliloquy; in other words they talk to themselves and make their thoughts clear to us.
The same techniques are used as the afternoon and evening proceed; consequently we get a very close and intimate view of these characters: the Voices are able to present the innermost thoughts and feelings of a wide range of people. Because the same characters continue to appear, we have a clear view of their preoccupations and attitudes as the play proceeds. One other key aspect of importance in the play would be the continual use of Welsh language/ phrases for example names.
The name “Dia- Bread” is an example of this as Dylan Thomas is using the Welsh tradition of professions appearing through the characters names- this is effective as it helps the reader to understand/ relate to the character more. The play is communicated to the audience through the voices of others and the direct expression of the characters. For example Mrs Pugh’s gossip (pg 30) describes Polly Garter, “He’s going to arrest Polly Garter mark my words” then Mr Pugh asks “What for, dear” and Mrs Pugh responds with “For having babies”.
Already from this short passage we get a firm understanding of what Thomas wants us to think about Polly Garter, which is that she sleeps with a lot of men and has had many babies. This way of describing characters through other characters is used very effectively in Under Milk Wood as it allows Thomas to indirectly get a piece of information across to the audience at any point making it more fluent and ‘life’ like. The play generally has a wry humour in it for example; on page 29 Mr Pugh says “Here’s your arsenic dear. And your weed killer biscuit.
I’ve throttled your parakeet. I’ve spat in the vases. I’ve put cheese in the mouse holes. Here’s you’re…… …. nice tea dear. ” This use of humour is generally suited to the play as the play is not like any other play and so it sets its own boundaries- like with humour. The wry intelligent humour is attractive and makes the audience laugh and feel amused. This is a very useful tool as this makes Mr Pugh a ‘favourite’ character with the audience and Mrs Pugh the exact opposite; thus, drawing the reader closer into the play and making the reader think.
To an equal extent, though, this could just have been incorporated into the play as this was Thomas’s way of thinking and this was his preferred way of creating humour. In general the play is very cleverly written and shows a continual master of various writing techniques/ style which emphasises key points of attention in the play making the audience want to hear more. Further developing my view on the structure to the play I must say that it does not follow a common linear sequence. However, it uses the episodic sequence because Thomas can show the character more effectively through this.
By this I mean that nowhere in the play do we get a ‘whole’ picture of any particular character as one might in a linier sequence but we get snippets of information to decide ourselves on what the characters are like- this allows the audience to make their own intelligent interpretation of the play which makes the play popular as people imagine the characters to be how they would ideally like that character to appear. Aside from the initial title of nothing happening in the play it is quite the opposite. The play is packed with multiple story lines from drunks to poisoners- which captures the audience, giving multiple stories in one.
It is really a story of ‘real- life’ because essentially it is just a twenty- four hour picture of what happens in a small Welsh village in the country side, however, it is just dressed up slightly. So nothing happens in the traditional sense of a story in terms of a fixed plot with different events triggering others but in the sense Thomas wants you to view Under Milk Wood as it is, packed with many different exciting plots reflecting just what happens in every day life. Voices are extremely important in Under Milk Wood. This is evident as it is a play for radio. However it is not this simple.
In the play, the way the voices are used plays a major role, as the play is not intended to be acted, so from the voice the audience should gain a clear, precise understanding of that character. For example Mrs Organ Morgan says, “Organ Morgan, you haven’t been listening to a word I said. It’s Organ Organ all the time with you…. ” In this case Thomas has created Mrs Organ Morgan to be quite a pathetic character as this is a common line that is heard day by day so people can associate with it and Thomas can secretly command the audience to think what he wants them to think.
This shows just how important it is to fit characters into a recognisable personality that is commonly known and commonly associated with to achieve a perfect view. The use of ‘welshness’ in the play is also a key aspect of it as Dylan Thomas was born in Wales. This association with Dylan Thomas’s past seems to also be attempting to prove a point- the point that the Welsh are not entirely simple but, they are sophisticated writers.
An example of the use of ‘welshness’ is the scene where by the audience is presented with Captain Cat talking to his long dead sea- friends and the fourth drowned says, “Who milks the cows in Maesgwyn? ” The importance of this mention to Maesgwyn is very important as it literally means “fair meadow” and in earlier poems he has referred to this before, as Thomas constantly describes fair meadows, as he lived on a meadow himself as a child and refers to this to leave his mark in the passage.
Throughout the whole play this constant association of Wales is present underlining the level of importance Dylan Thomas expressed about his county/ passion/ life before he wrote his play. The setting of the play is in a place called Llareggub. Llareggub is said to be similar to the place where Thomas lived in his childhood. It is portrayed as a small sleepy village throughout the play and has a few shops dotted around the streets. What’s important about the setting is how the village behaves as a whole.
This is important because, like in Llareggub, Thomas was born in a sleepy, simple, quiet and overall picturesque village in Wales- and his was similarly named as Laughame. To emphasize this Thomas goes a step further and through Mary Ann Sailors he describes the village as a “God- Built Garden” which is associating Milk Wood as a sort of Eden which is as Thomas most likely sought to create it. The village is described to have a wood located near to it- which is again the collective picture of a nice, peaceful and calm rural setting.