A Royal Divorce

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A play by W.G. Wills and G.G. Collingham, depicting the romantic relationship and political divorce between Napoleon and his wife Josephine.

Confusion about the authorship

Establishing the authorship of this play has been an interesting and rather complex matter. The play is often attributed to one, or both, of two people, namely W.G. Wills (1828–1891) and/or C.C. Collingham [sic], depending on the sources consulted.

Wills, a recognized and very experienced Irish dramatist, novelist and painter, was undoubtedly one of the authors of the play, which he apparently completed shortly before his death in 1891, the year in which it was performed at the Olympic Theatre in London.

This attribution relies on the fact that the play is also referred to quite often in Joyce's Finnegans Wake where it is ascribed to Wills alone, as it is in newspapers reports one finds on performances in Australia at the start of the 20th century. Margot Bryant, Freda Godfrey's biographer, also refers to Wills alone when she discusses the play.

On the other hand "C.C. Collingham" is only noted in a number of film websites, where the name is listed as the author (or co-author) of a play that was the source of the 1926 British historical drama film directed by Alexander Butler, (There is also a later film in sound, released in 1938, but the authors there are listed as Miles Malleson and Jacques Théry. There is no mention of the Wills and Collingham play[Wikipedia[1]]). On the IMDb site[2], the name is in fact quoted as one of three authors: C.C. Collingham, Walter Summers, W.G. Wills.

One source however, Alan Goble's The Complete Index of Literary Sources in Film , suggests (correctly, it turns out) that the text, published in 1891, is actually by BOTH authors. Why then is Collingham so often ignored?

Besides Wills's obvious reputation, a key problem seems to be a mistake that was made with the initials, for it appears that the intials of the second author are in fact not "C.C." , but "G.G." and that the real author is G.G. Collingham, the nom de plume of Mary Helen White (d.1923), also a known playwright in London. This is evident when one consults the publicity material for the play, including the 1891 posters by Albert Morrow for the first performance in 1891, which say clearly: "A Royal Divorce. Playwright: W.G. Wills. Playwright: G.G. Collingham. Olympic Theatre, London. 10.9.189."[3] .

The third author (Summer) mentioned in the IMDb website is listed in the United States Copyright Office's Catalogue of Copyright Entries as the writer of the scenario for the 8 reel film.[4], hence he was most probably what we today would call the scriptwriter for the film.

Performance history in South Africa

The play was first performed in South Africa by Leonard Rayne in 1899, and was to become one of Rayne's greatest successes, Napoleon being his most memorable role, repeated countless times. It was also his final role before his death in 1925.

Translations and adaptations





Alan Goble's The Complete Index of Literary Sources in Film [5]




Bryant, Margot 1979. Born To Act: The Story of Freda Godfrey. Johannesburg: Ad Donker.

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