History of Western Theatre: 17th Century to Now/American Realist

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Among American melodramas of the late 19th century, akin to the boulevard theatre of France, James A. Herne (1839-1901) is notable for "Margaret Fleming" (1890) and "Shore Acres" (1893), Steele MacKaye (1842-1894) for "Hazel Kirke" (1880), and Alice Emma Ives (1874-1930) and Jerome H. Eddy (1834-1918) for "The village postmaster" (1894). "Hazel Kirke" resembles George Eliot's novel, "The mill on the Floss" in that in both works a miller's daughter is prevented from marrying the man she loves because of her father's financial situation.

A notable example of drama farther away from melodrama is "Guy Domville" (1895) by Henry James (1843-1916).

James A. Herne was the leading playwright of late 19th century American theatre

"Margaret Fleming"[edit]

"Margaret Fleming". Time: 1890. Place: Canton, Massachusetts, USA.

"Margaret Fleming" text at ?

Called for a consultation during Lena's childbirth, Doctor Larkin discovers that the father of the illegitimate baby is Philip Fleming, who explains he suggested to the girl an abortion and offered to pay her way out of town, but she declined both. A contrite Philip opens a bank account to his wife, Margaret, for the sum of $5,000 and to his baby girl a further $20,000 when she comes of age. He also gives his puzzled wife the deed to the house and land. Still full of guilt, Philip tells Larkin he intends to confess to his wife in a few years, but the doctor does not recommend it, because Margaret suffers from glaucoma, which may lead to blindness should she suffer under a powerful emotion. The Flemings' nurse-maid, Maria, tells Margaret that her sister, Lena, is dying of childbirth and requests to see her. When Margaret arrives, Lena is already dead. A distraught Maria discovers the father's identity by means of Lena's letter addressed to her mistress and shows it to her. Maria then waves a gun and threatens to shoot Philip, but is disarmed by Margaret. Against the doctor's advice, Margaret sends a message to her husband to come over and see the baby boy, and, taking pity on his lack of nourishment, she gives him her breast to suck. A distressed Philip leaves for Boston for a week and throws himself into the river, but is picked up in time and nursed at a local hospital. Meanwhile, Margaret loses her sight. Philip returns and is stunned on discovering his wife's blindness. He asks her whether she can forgive him. Margaret says she can, but when he touches her, she draws back. "The wife-heart has gone out of me," she admits. A despairing Philip proposes to move away, but Margaret convinces him to remain, confident that the two will eventually work it out.

"Shore Acres"[edit]

"Shore Acres". Time: 1890s. Place: Near Bar Harbor, Maine, USA.

"Shore Acres" text at ?

Because her father does not like Sam, Helen and he escape from Shore Acres in a boat. Photograph of Shore Acres, Maine

Josiah suggests to Martin Berry, owner of Shore Acres farm that he would become richer if he builds summer cottages rather than plant potatoes, trying to convince him to join his land with his own. "I'll take a mortgage on your farm for the money to start you an' you kin sell the lots," he proposes. Although Martin is uncertain about that question, he is certain about another: he does not want Dr Sam Warren as a son-in-law to his daughter, Helen, but Josiah Blake instead, postmaster and storekeeper. Sam is forced to head westward, because his advanced views on scientific matters have cost him the confidence of his backward clientele. As Sam and Helen confer, they are interrupted by Martin, who wants him to clear out. "I'm a-bringin' up my family an' I don't want no interference from you, nor Darwin, nor any o' the rest o' the breed," says the irate father. However, Sam needs to borrow $100 before he can travel. Martin's wife, Ann, as well as his older brother, Nat, are distraught on hearing that he intends to cut the farm into building lots, including land where their mother is buried. When Martin mentions that he is tired of lightkeeping, Nat proposes to keep that part of the land for himself and take care of the light-keeping. One day, $100 is stolen from Josiah's store. Josiah accuses Sam, specifying that he refused to hand over a loan him for that exact sum. Helen angers her father by defending her lover. Nat confesses to Helen that he himself gave $100 to Sam, money belonging to him and his brother to buy a tombstone for their mother. In addition, Nat gives her his mother's wedding ring to sell and requests a sea captain to take the two lovers away with him on his boat. On noticing his daughter's disappearance, Martin confronts Nat inside the lighthouse. Nat admits to helping Helen leave at the moment the lamp goes out during a storm. To prevent him re-lighting it, Martin blocks his way, but is thrown aside. At first Nat appears too old to climb the stairs and tumbles down, but he gets up and succeeds in emitting a tiny flame to save the occupants of the boat. Fifteen months later, the land company goes broke and Martin is ruined, having lost the farm to Josiah on a $1,500 mortgage and then spending the money for building lots. During a snowstorm on Christmas eve, Nat reveals to his brother that he found a baby at their doorstep. As Josiah eagerly lunges for it, Nat admits it is Helen's, returned along with Sam from out west, at which Martin contritely welcomes them. Josiah reveals that the $100 was discovered behind the safe amid a load of papers. Young Nat, Martin's son, confesses that he put it there in a fit of revenge after the hated doctor teased him. On learning about his father-in-law's financial woes, Sam offers to mortgage his house and lend the money to him, but that becomes unnecessary when news arrive by letter that Sam was successful in obtaining an army pension for Uncle Nat. "Well, everythin's all right again," Uncle Nat says.

Steele Mackaye portrayed how the determination to marry sometimes ends in happiness

"Hazel Kirke"[edit]

"Hazel Kirke". Time: 1880s. Place: Blackburn, Lancashire, England.

"Hazel Kirke" text at http://www.archive.org/details/hazelkirkedomest00mack

Seven years ago, Dunstan Kirke, a miller, was saved from financial ruin by Squire Aaron Rodney. In return, Dunstan encouraged his 14-year-old daughter, Hazel, to plight her troth to him, which she did. Aaron paid for her education so that she may do him honor as the lady of Rodney Hall. One day, Dunstan saves Arthur Carringford from drowning near his mill. Unknown to everyone, Arthur is a lord. After his accident, he is nursed back to health by Hazel. To Aaron's grief, a romantic attachment develops between the two. While Hazel distributes flowers to Arthur and a friend, Aaron stares inside her basket and utters: "Emblems of my hopes; nothing but leaves, dead and withered leaves." When Dunstan's wife, Mercy, discovers this attachment, she asks her to forget him, but Aaron, staggering towards a chair, interrupts them: "I know that you love her- that she loves you! Nay, ye need not be afeer'd, lass: I'm not the man to rail at or curse ye-I shall only-". He is more coherent when confronting Arthur: "I have written to your mother, Mr. Carringford, begging her to call you away from here- I know the pride o' your race, sir. Your mother will never consent to your marriage with Hazel, and I warn ye- if ye seek to dishonor her, there is no living power will prevent me from murdering ye." When Dunstan discovers that Hazel wants to marry Arthur instead of Aaron, he disavows her. Hazel marries Arthur in Scotland, or so they think before Arthur's servant discloses that the Scottish ceremony occurred on English ground and is thereby void. While Arthur attempts to set this matter right, his dying mother, Lady Danvers, discovering her son's illegal marriage, implores Hazel to forget Arthur. "My husband had a ward (Lady Maud), whose fortune he wrongfully used and lost," she informs her. "Upon his dying bed, he confessed this to me, and made me promise to hide his shame by marrying our only son to that ward." Feeling betrayed by Arthur, Hazel leaves abruptly. Lady Danvers dies. Because of his daughter's treachery, Dunstan is forced to abandon his mill to Aaron to pay for his debts. Worse news yet: he catches a fever in the midst of this unhappiness and after it goes away, he loses his sight. When Aaron beholds Hazel seeking to return to her parents, he shows that he still wants her. "Keep the old promise- become my wife," he pleads. She accepts provided her father consents, but the resentful man does not. In despair, Hazel throws herself in the water but is rescued by Arthur. He later reveals his wish to do everything he can to make the marriage possible. "Well, I ordered my solicitor to settle my estate and satisfy every claim of Lady Maud's against my grandfather if it took the last penny he had in the world," he reveals. Poor but at least together, Arthur and Hazel prepare to marry again, this time with Dunstan's consent, but this becomes unnecessary because the servant was mistaken as to where the marriage occurred and it is therefore legal after all.

"The village postmaster"[edit]

"The village postmaster". Time: 1852. Bridgewater, New Hampshire, USA.

"The village postmaster" text at http://archive.org/details/villagepostmaste00ives

A postmaster's views on whom her daughter should marry differs from her daughter's. Photograph of a United States postmaster of the 1860s

The village postmaster, Seth, has nothing against John, the Methodist parson's son, as a son-in-law for his daughter, Miranda, except for two reasons: he has not proven himself and he aims higher for her. "I've spent a sight eddicatin' thet girl, an' the man thet marries Mirandy Huggins hez got to be somebody. He's got to be a good clus communion Baptist, too," he concludes. In contrast, when asked by Ben, a lawyer, he shows no objection of his courting her. Ben specifies that a man should court one woman at a time and John has been seen with Mary, a seamstress. Ben also has been courting Mary, but, in view of his improved prospects, he tells her he wants to break off their relations. Mary answers bitterly and pleadingly: "As fer the love that ken stand one side for money, it's a poor sort thet I wouldn't own to. It ain't the sort I had for you, Ben. Ye know that well." When John approaches Miranda, she shows no sign of being interested in him, thinking he loves Hattie, though their engagement was broken off. John is easily discouraged, all the more so in thinking Miranda loves Ben. At Seth's farmyard, John tries out an invention of his: a feeder to a threshing machine while Seth's sister, Samantha, is being courted by the shy sexton, Ebenezer. Out of mischief, Seth's young son, Tom, throws apples on his head in the midst of his difficulties, then does the same to his aunt, till, bearing too heavily on the tree-limb in his eagerness to listen, he loses his balance and hangs on dangling between the two. Samantha grabs him by the collar and walks him in the house, but the interruption is enough to discompose Ebenezer. To be rid of Mary, Ben pretends to want to marry her out of town and offers her money to travel. Overjoyed, she believes him and takes the money. When John mentions to Miranda news of Hattie's marriage, she is surprised at his cheerful voice, till, to her contentment, he explains he does not love her. Discouraged at his inability to get anywhere with Miranda, Ben tries to push John in the threshing machine, but is knocked down by him. John then leaves town for several months to perfect his invention. When he returns, Ben is about to marry Miranda, who has had no word from John throughout this period, the same as he. Aiming to avenge herself on her forsworn lover, Mary explains to John that while Seth was ill, Ben replaced him at the post-office, insinuating he may have intercepted their letters. When this is found to be true, Seth announces to John with Miranda consenting: "Take her with my blessin'." .

Henry James wrote a compelling drama about Guy Domville, a man who abandons priesthood only to become ensnared in family conflicts. Portrait by John Singer Sargent (1856-1925)

"Guy Domville"[edit]

"Guy Domville". Time: late 18th century. Place: England.

"Guy Domville" text at https://archive.org/details/guydomvilleplayi00jame

Guy Domville, a poor nobleman and tutor to Mrs Peverel's son, wishes to quit his position and become a priest. Mrs Peverel is disappointed. She loves him and is loved in turn by Frank Humber, who asks Guy to recommend him as her husband. Their talk is interrupted by Lord Devenish, who informs Guy that as a result of a cousin's death he is next in succession as the sole heir and master of the Gaye estate. Guy reluctantly accepts to abandon the priesthood. Although he tries his best to recommend Frank, Mrs Peverel declines the offer, waving away Frank's presence. "Don't speak to me, don't look at me, only leave me," she exclaims to the abashed lover. But she is astonished to hear from Lord Devenish that a plan to marry off Guy is already in the works, to the daughter of a cousin of his. "We've particular need of him in another place to lead a young lady to the altar: Mrs. Domville's daughter by her first marriage," he reveals. "The amiable and virtuous Miss Brasier, a bride in a thousand, a Catholic, a beauty, and a fortune." At Mrs Domville's villa, she receives the unwelcome visit of George Round, lieutenant in the king's Navy and her daughter's rejected suitor. He is aghast on learning from Lord Devenish that the marriage ceremony is due this very night, the result of an agreement between he and Mrs Domville, so that if Guy marries her, she will marry him in turn and become Viscountess Devenish. When George meets Guy, he asks him to deliver a package for Mary Brasier. She receives it in suppressed agitation, a ring she once gave to George. When George returns, he pleads with Mary to abandon Guy, mystified about George's presence at the villa but agreeing to drink wine with him, in excessive amounts in his case as he suspects the worst. Harassed by George, Mary reluctantly admits that she does not love Guy but hesitates to follow him because such a move would harm Devenish's prospects of marrying to overcome heavy debts. Pushed to the limit, George reveals to the horrified Mary that Devenish is her father. She thereby leaves Guy to follow George. On learning this, her mother and Denenish are aghast. Yet to Devenish, the contract stands. "How does it stand when you've not performed your task?" asks a bewildered Mrs. Domville. "My task, madam, was not to hold Mary, it was to hold Guy," he counters, now endeavoring to marry Guy to the woman they suspect he secretly loves, Mrs Peverel, and thereby beget heirs so that the Domville name can be continued. In Mrs Peverel's white parlor, Frank tells her he is leaving the country. Their talk is interrupted by Devenish, who informs her of the failed marriage. Knowing that she loves Guy, Devenish asks her to convince him to forsake his former idea of becoming a priest. He reveals to the stupefied Mrs Peverel that Guy never loved Mary but loves her. When Guy comes in, he notices Devenish's white gloves lying about and guesses that he intends to further other plots. After meeting Frank set to go away, Guy once more pleads Mrs Peverel to accept him as her husband, but in her disappointment she is unable to reply. "I'm the last, my lord, of the Domvilles," Guy defiantly announces to Devenish before leaving for France.