Synopsis

ACT I

Prologue: A succession of family portraits is seen at Paramore, the Wingrave family home.

Scene 1: At his military establishment, Coyle is instructing Owen and Lechmere on military tactics.  Owen expresses his dislike of war, which goes against his family tradition of armed service. Coyle tells him that he must change his attitude toward war or face his family’s disapproval.  After he leaves, Coyle questions Owen’s decision.

Scene 2: At Hyde Park, Owen reflects on his disdain for war and the strength of these feelings.  Meanwhile in London, his aunt, Miss. Wingrave, expresses her disappointment to Coyle that her nephew would refuse to do his family duty and hopes that he will change his mind when he returns to the family estate at Paramore.

Scene 3: Back at Coyle’s establishment, Lechmere, Coyle and Mrs. Coyle make one last attempt to change Owen’s mind but they are unsuccessful.  Coyle tells Owens that his aunt has instructed him to return to Paramore.

Scene 4: Owen arrives at family home to find Mrs. Julian and her daughter Kate, family friends, awaiting him along with his aunt and his grandfather, General Sir Philip Wingrave.  All are concerned at his disgrace of the family.

Scene 5: Over the next week, Owen is relentlessly attacked for his decision by Sir Philip, Kate, Miss Wingrave and Mrs Julian.

Scene 6: The Coyles and Lechmere arrive at Paramore.  They are shocked by the way Owen’s family is treating him, but regardless try to persuade him once more to come around to their way of thinking.  The tension in the house causes Coyle to talk of ghosts of the Wingrave ancestors in the house.

Scene 7: With all of the guests gathered at dinner, Sir Philip and Miss Wingrave demand that Owen adhere to family tradition.  Owen finally states that given the opportunity, he would make war a criminal offense.

ACT II

Prologue: A narrator sings of a past episode in the family, when a Wingrave boy refused to fight when challenged and was deemed a coward.  His father took him into a room and struck him, killing the boy.  Later the father was found dead in the same room but with no wounds. 

Scene 1: Still at Paramore, Owen and Coyle discuss this story as they walk by the room where the deaths took place.  Sir Philip demands a private meeting with Owen, and Coyle notes the similarities between the father in the story and Sir Philip and the son and Owen.  After the meeting, Owen says that he has been disinherited.  Mrs. Julian weeps, stating that she had hoped that Owen and her daughter would be married.  Lechmere takes the opportunity to flirt with Kate and she encourages him.  The guests disperse, leaving Owen alone to reassert his decision, saying that he has found strength in peace and not war.  Kate reappears, and they discuss with regret the loss of their future together.  However, any thoughts of reconciliation are dashed when she once again calls him a coward.  She challenges him to sleep in the “haunted” room.  Initially refusing, Owen agrees after several more taunts from Kate, saying that she can lock him in the room.

Scene 2: The Coyles discuss their unease.  Unable to sleep, Lechmere comes to tell them of the challenge that he overheard Kate give to Owen.  Mrs. Coyle expresses her concern but Coyle secretly hopes that the challenge will prove Owen’s family wrong about him.  They hear Kate scream from outside the “haunted” room.  As the entire household rushes to the door, Kate regrets the challenge she made to Owen.  When they enter the room, they find Owen lying dead on the floor as the narrator is heard once more, singing of the unwavering Wingrave boy.