Special Considerations for Analyzing Drama
Excerpt from Pygmalion (1913)
by George Bernard Shaw
Since a play does not have a narrator, dialogue, or the conversation between two or more characters, becomes an essential way to reveal character. When reading drama, you should try to isolate three elements of dialogue: (1) the content of what is being said; (2) the way it is being said, including both the language and the stage directions for delivering the line; and (3) the reaction and response from other characters. In the following extract, Eliza Doolittle and Henry Higgins, come from different worlds: she is a Cockney flower girl, Higgins is a professor of phonetics (pronunciation). Higgins bets that he can “make a duchess of this draggle-tailed guttersnipe” in six months, and he wins the bet. The following dialogue takes place as Eliza realizes that she’s a fish out of water in both her new world and her old world. In this exchange, notice how the dialogue characterizes Eliza and Henry. You might want to read the lines aloud to get a better sense of the pacing and rhythm, noting that Shaw uses spacing to emphasize some words.
Eliza tries to control herself and feel indifferent as she rises and walks across to the hearth to switch off the lights. By the time she gets there she is on the point of screaming. She sits down in Higgins’s chair and holds on hard to the arms. Finally she gives way and flings herself furiously on the floor raging.
Higgins [in despairing wrath outside]: What the devil have I done with my slippers? [He appears at the door].
Liza [snatching up the slippers, and hurling them at him one after the other with all her force]: There are your slippers. And there. Take your slippers; and may you never have a day’s luck with them!
Higgins [astounded]: What on earth — ! [He comes to her]. Whats the matter? Get up. [He pulls her up]. Anything wrong?
Liza [breathless]: Nothing wrong — with y o u. Ive won your bet for you, havnt I? That’s enough for you. I dont matter, I suppose.
Higgins: Y o u won my bet! You! Presumptuous insect! I won it. What did you throw those slippers at me for?
Liza: Because I wanted to smash your face. I’d like to kill you, you selfish brute. Why didnt you leave me where you picked me out of — in the gutter? You thank God it’s all over, and that now you can throw me back again there, do you? [She crisps her fingers frantically].
Higgins [looking at her in cool wonder]: The creature i s nervous, after all.
Liza [gives a suffocated scream of fury, and instinctively darts her nails at his face]: !!
Higgins [catching her wrists]: Ah! would you? Claws in, you cat. How dare you shew your temper to me? Sit down and be quiet. [He throws her roughly into the easy-chair].
Liza [crushed by superior strength and weight]:Whats to become of me? Whats to become of me?
Higgins: How the devil do I know whats to become of you? What does it matter what becomes of you?
Liza: You dont care. I know you dont care. You wouldnt care if I was dead. I’m nothing to you — not so much as them slippers.
Higgins [thundering]: T h o s e slippers.
Liza [with bitter submission]: Those slippers. I didnt think it made any difference now.
A pause. Eliza hopeless and crushed. Higgins a little uneasy.
Higgins [in his loftiest manner]: Why have you begun going on like this? May I ask whether you complain of your treatment here?
Higgins: Has anybody behaved badly to you? Colonel Pickering? Mrs. Pearce? Any of the servants?
Higgins: I presume you dont pretend that I have treated you badly.
Higgins: I am glad to hear it. [He moderates his tone]. Perhaps youre tired after the strain of the day. Will you have a glass of champagne? [He moves towards the door].
Liza: No. [Recollecting her manners] Thank you.
Higgins [good-humored again]: This has been coming on you for some days. I suppose it was natural for you to be anxious about the garden party. But thats all over now. [He pats her kindly on the shoulder. She writhes]. Theres nothing more to worry about.
Liza: No. Nothing more for y o u to worry about. [She suddenly rises and gets away from him by going to the piano bench, where she sits and hides her face]. Oh God! I wish I was dead.
Higgins [staring after her in sincere surprise]: Why? in heaven’s name, why? [Reasonably, going to her] Listen to me, Eliza. All this irritation is purely subjective.
Liza: I dont understand. I’m too ignorant.
Higgins: It’s only imagination. Low spirits and nothing else. Nobody’s hurting you. Nothing’s wrong. You go to bed like a good girl and sleep it off. Have a little cry and say your prayers: that will make you comfortable.
Liza: I heard y o u r prayers. “Thank God it’s all over!”
Higgins [impatiently]: Well, dont you thank God it’s all over? Now you are free and can do what you like.
Liza [pulling herself together in desperation]: What am I fit for? What have you left me fit for? Where am I to go? What am I to do? Whats to become of me?
Another important technique that playwrights use to reveal character is the soliloquy — a monologue in which a character, alone on the stage, reveals his or her thoughts or emotions, as if the character is thinking out loud. Through a soliloquy, a playwright can reveal to the audience a character’s motivation, intent, or even doubt. For example, in the following soliloquy from Shakespeare’s Othello, the villainous Iago reveals his jealousy toward Othello and his evil intent to bring him down.
Excerpt from Othello[footnoteRef:1] (1603) [1: snipe: woodcock, i.e., fool; it is thought abroad: it is rumored; my office: i.e., my sexual function as husband; do . . . surety: act as if on certain knowledge; holds me well: regards me favorably; proper: handsome; plume up: put a feather in the cap of, i.e., glorify, gratify; abuse: deceive; he: Cassio; his: Othello’s; dispose: disposition; framed: formed, made; free and open: frank and unsuspecting; tenderly: readily.]
by William Shakepseare
Iago: Thus do I ever make my fool my purse; For I mine own gained knowledge should profane If I would time expend with such a snipe° But for my sport and profit. I hate the Moor; And it is thought abroad° that ’twixt my sheets He’s done my office.° I know not if ’t be true; But I, for mere suspicion in that kind, Will do as if for surety.° He holds me well;° The better shall my purpose work on him. Cassio’s a proper° man. Let me see now: To get his place and to plume up° my will In double knavery — How, how? — Let’s see: After some time, to abuse° Othello’s ear That he° is too familiar with his° wife. He hath a person and a smooth dispose° To be suspected, framed° to make women false. The Moor is of a free and open° nature, That thinks men honest that but seem to be so, And will as tenderly° be led by the nose As asses are. I have’t. It is engender’d. Hell and night Must bring this monstrous birth to the world’s light.
Setting is different in a play because there is a physical set to consider. The playwright has to keep this in mind when writing and be realistic about what most theaters will be able to stage. In modern plays, we usually find fairly explicit information about the setting, which a director can use to create a set and which we, as readers, can use to build a mental image. In A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen, for instance, the scenery for act I is described in considerable detail:
Excerpt from A Doll’s House (1879)
by Henrik Ibsen
A comfortable room, tastefully but not expensively furnished. A door to the right in the back wall leads to the entryway; another to the left leads to Helmer’s study. Between these doors, a piano. Midway in the left-hand wall a door, and further back a window. Near the window a round table with an armchair and a small sofa. In the right-hand wall, toward the rear, a door, and nearer the foreground a porcelain stove with two armchairs and a rocking chair beside it. Between the stove and the side door, a small table. Engravings on the walls. An étagère with china figures and other small art objects; a small bookcase with richly bound books; the floor carpeted; a fire burning in the stove. It is a winter day.
[A bell rings in the entryway; shortly after we hear the door being unlocked. Nora comes into the room, humming happily to herself; she is wearing street clothes and carries an armload of packages, which she puts down on the table to the right. She has left the hall door open, and through it a Delivery Boy is seen holding a Christmas tree and a basket, which he gives to the Maid who let them in.]
In drama, symbols are intended to be visually represented on stage, making them even more clear and powerful than symbols in fiction. These symbols may be part of the setting, character, or even the plot. Let’s return to the stage directions for A Doll’s House. Ibsen opens act II by shifting the setting just slightly:
Same room. Beside the piano the Christmas tree now stands stripped of ornament, burned- down candle stubs on its ragged branches. Nora’s street clothes lie on the sofa. Nora, alone in the room, moves restlessly about; at last she stops at the sofa and picks up her coat.
Notice the change in the Christmas tree from act I to act II?
Let’s take a look at a short play. As you read it, consider the literary elements we have discussed: plot, character, setting, and symbol. Try to formulate at least two or three thematic statements that could become the thesis for an interpretive essay.
by Susan Glaspell
George Henderson, county attorney
Henry Peters, sheriff
Lewis Hale, a neighboring farmer
Scene: The kitchen in the now abandoned farmhouse of John Wright, a gloomy kitchen, and left without having been put in order — unwashed pans under the sink, a loaf of bread outside the breadbox, a dish towel on the table — other signs of incompleted work. At the rear the outer door opens and the Sheriff comes in followed by the County Attorney and Hale. The Sheriff and Hale are men in middle life, the County Attorney is a young man; all are much bundled up and go at once to the stove. They are followed by the two women — the Sheriff’s wife first; she is a slight wiry woman, a thin nervous face. Mrs. Hale is larger and would ordinarily be called more comfortable looking, but she is disturbed now and looks fearfully about as she enters. The women have come in slowly, and stand close together near the door.
County Attorney [rubbing his hands]: This feels good. Come up to the fire, ladies.
Mrs. Peters [after taking a step forward]: I’m not — cold.
Sheriff [unbuttoning his overcoat and stepping away from the stove as if to mark the beginning of official business]: Now, Mr. Hale, before we move things about, you explain to Mr. Henderson just what you saw when you came here yesterday morning.
County Attorney: By the way, has anything been moved? Are things just as you left them yesterday?
Sheriff [looking about]: It’s just about the same. When it dropped below zero last night I thought I’d better send Frank out this morning to make a fire for us — no use getting pneumonia with a big case on, but I told him not to touch anything except the stove — and you know Frank.
County Attorney: Somebody should have been left here yesterday.
Sheriff: Oh — yesterday. When I had to send Frank to Morris Center for that man who went crazy — I want you to know I had my hands full yesterday. I knew you could get back from Omaha by today and as long as I went over everything here myself —
County Attorney: Well, Mr. Hale, tell just what happened when you came here yesterday morning.
Hale: Harry and I had started to town with a load of potatoes. We came along the road from my place and as I got here I said, “I’m going to see if I can’t get John Wright to go in with me on a party telephone.” I spoke to Wright about it once before and he put me off, saying folks talked too much anyway, and all he asked was peace and quiet — I guess you know about how much he talked himself; but I thought maybe if I went to the house and talked about it before his wife, though I said to Harry that I didn’t know as what his wife wanted made much difference to John —
County Attorney: Let’s talk about that later, Mr. Hale. I do want to talk about that, but tell now just what happened when you got to the house.
Hale: I didn’t hear or see anything; I knocked at the door, and still it was all quiet inside. I knew they must be up, it was past eight o’clock. So I knocked again, and I thought I heard somebody say, “Come in.” I wasn’t sure, I’m not sure yet, but I opened the door — this door [indicating the door by which the two women are still standing] and there in that rocker — [pointing to it] sat Mrs. Wright. [They all look at the rocker.]
County Attorney: What — was she doing?
Hale: She was rockin’ back and forth. She had her apron in her hand and was kind of — pleating it.
County Attorney: And how did she — look?
Hale: Well, she looked queer.
County Attorney: How do you mean — queer?
Hale: Well, as if she didn’t know what she was going to do next. And kind of done up.
County Attorney: How did she seem to feel about your coming?
Hale: Why, I don’t think she minded — one way or other. She didn’t pay much attention. I said, “How do, Mrs. Wright, it’s cold, ain’t it?” And she said, “Is it?” — and went on kind of pleating at her apron. Well, I was surprised; she didn’t ask me to come up to the stove, or to set down, but just sat there, not even looking at me, so I said, “I want to see John.” And then she — laughed. I guess you would call it a laugh. I thought of Harry and the team outside, so I said a little sharp: “Can’t I see John?” “No,” she says, kind o’ dull like. “Ain’t he home?” says I. “Yes,” says she, “he’s home.” “Then why can’t I see him?” I asked her, out of patience. “’Cause he’s dead,” says she. “Dead?” says I. She just nodded her head, not getting a bit excited, but rockin’ back and forth. “Why — where is he?” says I, not knowing what to say. She just pointed upstairs — like that [himself pointing to the room above]. I started for the stairs, with the idea of going up there. I walked from there to here — then I says, “Why, what did he die of ?” “He died of a rope round his neck,” says she, and just went on pleatin’ at her apron. Well, I went out and called Harry. I thought I might — need help. We went upstairs and there he was lyin’ —
County Attorney: I think I’d rather have you go into that upstairs, where you can point it all out. Just go on now with the rest of the story.
Hale: Well, my first thought was to get that rope off. It looked . . . [stops; his face twitches] . . . but Harry, he went up to him, and he said, “No, he’s dead all right, and we’d better not touch anything.” So we went back downstairs. She was still sitting that same way. “Has anybody been notified?” I asked. “No,” says she, unconcerned. “Who did this, Mrs. Wright?” said Harry. He said it businesslike — and she stopped pleatin’ of her apron. “I don’t know,” she says. “You don’t know?” says Harry. “No,” says she. “Weren’t you sleepin’ in the bed with him?” says Harry. “Yes,” says she, “but I was on the inside.” “Somebody slipped a rope round his neck and strangled him and you didn’t wake up?” says Harry. “I didn’t wake up,” she said after him. We must ’a’ looked as if we didn’t see how that could be, for after a minute she said, “I sleep sound.” Harry was going to ask her more questions but I said maybe we ought to let her tell her story first to the coroner, or the sheriff, so Harry went fast as he could to Rivers’ place, where there’s a telephone.
County Attorney: And what did Mrs. Wright do when she knew that you had gone for the coroner?
Hale: She moved from the rocker to that chair over there [pointing to a small chair in the corner] and just sat there with her hands held together and looking down. I got a feeling that I ought to make some conversation, so I said I had come in to see if John wanted to put in a telephone, and at that she started to laugh, and then she stopped and looked at me — scared. [The County Attorney, who has had his notebook out, makes a note.] I dunno, maybe it wasn’t scared. I wouldn’t like to say it was. Soon Harry got back, and then Dr. Lloyd came and you, Mr. Peters, and so I guess that’s all I know that you don’t.
County Attorney [looking around]: I guess we’ll go upstairs first — and then out to the barn and around there. [To the Sheriff.] You’re convinced that there was nothing important here — nothing that would point to any motive?
Sheriff: Nothing here but kitchen things. [The County Attorney, after again looking around the kitchen, opens the door of a cupboard closet. He gets up on a chair and looks on a shelf. Pulls his hand away, sticky.]
County Attorney: Here’s a nice mess. [The women draw nearer.]
Mrs. Peters [to the other woman]: Oh, her fruit; it did freeze. [To the Lawyer.] She worried about that when it turned so cold. She said the fire’d go out and her jars would break.
Sheriff [rises]: Well, can you beat the woman! Held for murder and worryin’ about her preserves.
County Attorney: I guess before we’re through she may have something more serious than preserves to worry about.
Hale: Well, women are used to worrying over trifles. [The two women move a little closer together.]
County Attorney [with the gallantry of a young politician]: And yet, for all their worries, what would we do without the ladies? [The women do not unbend. He goes to the sink, takes a dipperful of water from the pail, and pouring it into a basin, washes his hands. Starts to wipe them on the roller towel, turns it for a cleaner place.] Dirty towels! [Kicks his foot against the pans under the sink.] Not much of a housekeeper, would you say, ladies?
Mrs. Hale [stiffly]: There’s a great deal of work to be done on a farm.
County Attorney: To be sure. And yet [with a little bow to her] I know there are some Dickson county farmhouses which do not have such roller towels. [He gives it a pull
to expose its full length again.]
Mrs. Hale: Those towels get dirty awful quick. Men’s hands aren’t always as clean as they might be.
County Attorney: Ah, loyal to your sex, I see. But you and Mrs. Wright were neighbors. I suppose you were friends, too.
Mrs. Hale [shaking her head]: I’ve not seen much of her of late years. I’ve not been in this house — it’s more than a year.
County Attorney: And why was that? You didn’t like her?
Mrs. Hale: I liked her all well enough. Farmers’ wives have their hands full, Mr. Henderson. And then —
County Attorney: Yes — ?
Mrs. Hale [looking about]: It never seemed a very cheerful place.
County Attorney: No — it’s not cheerful. I shouldn’t say she had the homemaking instinct.
Mrs. Hale: Well, I don’t know as Wright had, either.
County Attorney: You mean that they didn’t get on very well?
Mrs. Hale: No, I don’t mean anything. But I don’t think a place’d be any cheerfuller for John Wright’s being in it.
County Attorney: I’d like to talk more of that a little later. I want to get the lay of things upstairs now. [He goes to the left where three steps lead to a stair door.]
Sheriff: I suppose anything Mrs. Peters does’ll be all right. She was to take in some clothes for her, you know, and a few little things. We left in such a hurry yesterday.
County Attorney: Yes, but I would like to see what you take, Mrs. Peters, and keep an eye out for anything that might be of use to us.
Mrs. Peters: Yes, Mr. Henderson. [The women listen to the men’s steps on the stairs, then look about the kitchen.]
Mrs. Hale: I’d hate to have men coming into my kitchen, snooping around and criticizing. [She arranges the pans under sink which the Lawyer had shoved out of place.]
Mrs. Peters: Of course it’s no more than their duty.
Mrs. Hale: Duty’s all right, but I guess that deputy sheriff that came out to make the fire might have got a little of this on. [Gives the roller towel a pull.] Wish I’d thought of that sooner. Seems mean to talk about her for not having things slicked up when she had to come away in such a hurry.
Mrs. Peters [who has gone to a small table in the left rear corner of the room, and lifted one end of a towel that covers a pan]: She had bread set. [Stands still.]
Mrs. Hale [eyes fixed on a loaf of bread beside the breadbox, which is on a low shelf at the other side of the room. Moves slowly toward it.]: She was going to put this in there. [Picks up loaf, then abruptly drops it. In a manner of returning to familiar things.] It’s a shame about her fruit. I wonder if it’s all gone. [Gets up on the chair and looks.] I think there’s some here that’s all right, Mrs. Peters. Yes — here; [holding it toward the window] this is cherries, too. [Looking again.] I declare I believe that’s the only one. [Gets down, bottle in her hand. Goes to the sink and wipes it off on the outside.] She’ll feel awful bad after all her hard work in the hot weather. I remember the afternoon I put up my cherries last summer. [She puts the bottle on the big kitchen table, center of the room. With a sigh, is about to sit down in the rocking-chair. Before she is seated realizes what chair it is; with a slow look at it, steps back. The chair which she has touched rocks back and forth.]
Mrs. Peters: Well, I must get those things from the front room closet. [She goes to the door at the right, but after looking into the other room, steps back.] You coming with me, Mrs. Hale? You could help me carry them. [They go in the other room; reappear, Mrs. Peters carrying a dress and skirt, Mrs. Hale following with a pair of shoes.] My, it’s cold in there. [She puts the clothes on the big table, and hurries to the stove.]
Mrs. Hale [examining the skirt]: Wright was close. I think maybe that’s why she kept so much to herself. She didn’t even belong to the Ladies’ Aid. I suppose she felt she couldn’t do her part, and then you don’t enjoy things when you feel shabby. I heard she used to wear pretty clothes and be lively, when she was Minnie Foster, one of the town girls singing in the choir. But that — oh, that was thirty years ago. This all you want to take in?
Mrs. Peters: She said she wanted an apron. Funny thing to want, for there isn’t much to get you dirty in jail, goodness knows. But I suppose just to make her feel more natural. She said they was in the top drawer in this cupboard. Yes, here. And then her little shawl that always hung behind the door. [Opens stair door and looks.] Yes, here it is. [Quickly shuts door leading upstairs.]
Mrs. Hale [abruptly moving toward her]: Mrs. Peters?
Mrs. Peters: Yes, Mrs. Hale?
Mrs. Hale: Do you think she did it?
Mrs. Peters [in a frightened voice]: Oh, I don’t know.
Mrs. Hale: Well, I don’t think she did. Asking for an apron and her little shawl. Worrying about her fruit.
Mrs. Peters [starts to speak, glances up, where footsteps are heard in the room above. In a low voice]: Mr. Peters says it looks bad for her. Mr. Henderson is awful sarcastic in a speech and he’ll make fun of her sayin’ she didn’t wake up.
Mrs. Hale: Well, I guess John Wright didn’t wake when they was slipping that rope under his neck.
Mrs. Peters: No, it’s strange. It must have been done awful crafty and still. They say it was such a — funny way to kill a man, rigging it all up like that.
Mrs. Hale: That’s just what Mr. Hale said. There was a gun in the house. He says that’s what he can’t understand.
Mrs. Peters: Mr. Henderson said coming out that what was needed for the case was a motive; something to show anger, or — sudden feeling.
Mrs. Hale [who is standing by the table]: Well, I don’t see any signs of anger around here. [She puts her hand on the dish towel which lies on the table, stands looking down at table, one-half of which is clean, the other half messy.] It’s wiped to here. [Makes a move as if to finish work, then turns and looks at loaf of bread outside the breadbox. Drops towel. In that voice of coming back to familiar things.] Wonder how they are finding things upstairs. I hope she had it a little more red-up up there. You know, it seems kind of sneaking. Locking her up in town and then coming out here and trying to get her own house to turn against her!
Mrs. Peters: But, Mrs. Hale, the law is the law.
Mrs. Hale: I s’pose ’tis. [Unbuttoning her coat.] Better loosen up your things, Mrs. Peters. You won’t feel them when you go out. [Mrs. Peters takes off her fur tippet, goes to hang it on hook at back of room, stands looking at the under part of the small corner table.]
Mrs. Peters: She was piecing a quilt. [She brings the large sewing basket and they look at the bright pieces.]
Mrs. Hale: It’s a log cabin pattern. Pretty, isn’t it? I wonder if she was goin’ to quilt it or just knot it? [Footsteps have been heard coming down the stairs. The Sheriff enters followed by Hale and the County Attorney.]
Sheriff: They wonder if she was going to quilt it or just knot it! [The men laugh, the women look abashed.]
County Attorney [rubbing his hands over the stove]: Frank’s fire didn’t do much up there, did it? Well, let’s go out to the barn and get that cleared up. [The men go outside.]
Mrs. Hale [resentfully]: I don’t know as there’s anything so strange, our takin’ up our time with little things while we’re waiting for them to get the evidence. [She sits down at the big table smoothing out a block with decision.] I don’t see as it’s anything to laugh about.
Mrs. Peters [apologetically]: Of course they’ve got awful important things on their
minds. [Pulls up a chair and joins Mrs. Hale at the table.]
Mrs. Hale [examining another block]: Mrs. Peters, look at this one. Here, this is the one she was working on, and look at the sewing! All the rest of it has been so nice and even. And look at this! It’s all over the place! Why, it looks as if she didn’t know what she was about! [After she has said this they look at each other, then start to glance back at the door. After an instant Mrs. Hale has pulled at a knot and ripped the sewing.]
Mrs. Peters: Oh, what are you doing, Mrs. Hale?
Mrs. Hale [mildly]: Just pulling out a stitch or two that’s not sewed very good. [Threading a needle.] Bad sewing always made me fidgety.
Mrs. Peters [nervously]: I don’t think we ought to touch things.
Mrs. Hale: I’ll just finish up this end. [Suddenly stopping and leaning forward.] Mrs. Peters?
Mrs. Peters: Yes, Mrs. Hale?
Mrs. Hale: What do you suppose she was so nervous about?
Mrs. Peters: Oh — I don’t know. I don’t know as she was nervous. I sometimes sew awful queer when I’m just tired. [Mrs. Hale starts to say something, looks at Mrs. Peters, then goes on sewing.] Well, I must get these things wrapped up. They may bethrough sooner than we think. [Putting apron and other things together.] I wonder where I can find a piece of paper, and string. [Rises.]
Mrs. Hale: In that cupboard, maybe.
Mrs. Peters [looking in cupboard]: Why, here’s a bird-cage. [Holds it up.] Did she have a bird, Mrs. Hale?
Mrs. Hale: Why, I don’t know whether she did or not — I’ve not been here for so long. There was a man around last year selling canaries cheap, but I don’t know as she took one; maybe she did. She used to sing real pretty herself.
Mrs. Peters [glancing around]: Seems funny to think of a bird here. But she must have had one, or why would she have a cage? I wonder what happened to it?
Mrs. Hale: I s’pose maybe the cat got it.
Mrs. Peters: No, she didn’t have a cat. She’s got that feeling some people have about cats — being afraid of them. My cat got in her room and she was real upset and asked me to take it out.
Mrs. Hale: My sister Bessie was like that. Queer, ain’t it?
Mrs. Peters [examining the cage]: Why, look at this door. It’s broke. One hinge is pulled apart.
Mrs. Hale [looking too]: Looks as if someone must have been rough with it.
Mrs. Peters: Why, yes. [She brings the cage forward and puts it on the table.]
Mrs. Hale: I wish if they’re going to find any evidence they’d be about it. I don’t like this place.
Mrs. Peters: But I’m awful glad you came with me, Mrs. Hale. It would be lonesome for me sitting here alone.
Mrs. Hale: It would, wouldn’t it? [Dropping her sewing.] But I tell you what I do wish, Mrs. Peters. I wish I had come over sometimes when she was here. I — [looking around the room] — wish I had.
Mrs. Peters: But of course you were awful busy, Mrs. Hale — your house and your children.
Mrs. Hale: I could’ve come. I stayed away because it weren’t cheerful — and that’s why I ought to have come. I — I’ve never liked this place. Maybe because it’s down in a hollow and you don’t see the road. I dunno what it is, but it’s a lonesome place and always was. I wish I had come over to see Minnie Foster sometimes. I can see now — [Shakes her head.]
Mrs. Peters: Well, you mustn’t reproach yourself, Mrs. Hale. Somehow we just don’t see how it is with other folks until — something turns up.
Mrs. Hale: Not having children makes less work — but it makes a quiet house, and Wright out to work all day, and no company when he did come in. Did you know John Wright, Mrs. Peters?
Mrs. Peters: Not to know him; I’ve seen him in town. They say he was a good man.
Mrs. Hale: Yes — good; he didn’t drink, and kept his word as well as most, I guess, and paid his debts. But he was a hard man, Mrs. Peters. Just to pass the time of day with him — [Shivers.] Like a raw wind that gets to the bone. [Pauses, her eye falling on the cage.] I should think she would ’a’ wanted a bird. But what do you suppose went with it?
Mrs. Peters: I don’t know, unless it got sick and died. [She reaches over and swings the broken door, swings it again, both women watch it.]
Mrs. Hale: You weren’t raised round here, were you? [Mrs. Peters shakes her head.] You didn’t know — her?
Mrs. Peters: Not till they brought her yesterday.
Mrs. Hale: She — come to think of it, she was kind of like a bird herself — real sweet and pretty, but kind of timid and — fluttery. How — she — did — change. [Silence: then as if struck by a happy thought and relieved to get back to everyday things.] Tell you what, Mrs. Peters, why don’t you take the quilt in with you? It might take up her mind.
Mrs. Peters: Why, I think that’s a real nice idea, Mrs. Hale. There couldn’t possibly be any objection to it, could there? Now, just what would I take? I wonder if her patches are in here — and her things. [They look in the sewing basket.]
Mrs. Hale: Here’s some red. I expect this has got sewing things in it. [Brings out a fancy box.] What a pretty box. Looks like something somebody would give you. Maybe her scissors are in here. [Opens box. Suddenly puts her hand to her nose.] Why — [Mrs. Peters bends nearer, then turns her face away.] There’s something wrapped up in this piece of silk.
Mrs. Peters: Why, this isn’t her scissors.
Mrs. Hale [lifting the silk]: Oh, Mrs. Peters — it’s — [Mrs. Peters bends closer.]
Mrs. Peters: It’s the bird.
Mrs. Hale [jumping up]: But, Mrs. Peters — look at it! Its neck! Look at its neck! It’s all — other side to.
Mrs. Peters: Somebody — wrung — its — neck. [Their eyes meet. A look of growing comprehension, of horror. Steps are heard outside. Mrs. Hale slips box under quilt pieces, and sinks into her chair. Enter Sheriff and County Attorney. Mrs. Peters rises.]
County Attorney [as one turning from serious things to little pleasantries]: Well, ladies, have you decided whether she was going to quilt it or knot it?
Mrs. Peters: We think she was going to — knot it.
County Attorney: Well, that’s interesting, I’m sure. [Seeing the bird-cage.] Has the bird flown?
Mrs. Hale [putting more quilt pieces over the box]: We think the — cat got it.
County Attorney [preoccupied]: Is there a cat? [Mrs. Hale glances in a quick covert way at Mrs. Peters.]
Mrs. Peters: Well, not now. They’re superstitious, you know. They leave.
County Attorney [to Sheriff Peters, continuing an interrupted conversation]: No sign at all of anyone having come from the outside. Their own rope. Now let’s go up again and go over it piece by piece. [They start upstairs.] It would have to have been someone who knew just the — [Mrs. Peters sits down. The two women sit there not looking at one another, but as if peering into something and at the same time holding back. When they talk now it is in the manner of feeling their way over strange ground, as if afraid of what they are saying, but as if they cannot help saying it.]
Mrs. Hale: She liked the bird. She was going to bury it in that pretty box.
Mrs. Peters [in a whisper]: When I was a girl — my kitten — there was a boy took a hatchet, and before my eyes — and before I could get there — [Covers her face an instant.] If they hadn’t held me back I would have — [catches herself, looks upstairs where steps are heard, falters weakly] — hurt him.
Mrs. Hale [with a slow look around her]: I wonder how it would seem never to have had any children around. [Pause.] No, Wright wouldn’t like the bird — a thing that sang. She used to sing. He killed that, too.
Mrs. Peters [moving uneasily]: We don’t know who killed the bird.
Mrs. Hale: I knew John Wright.
Mrs. Peters: It was an awful thing was done in this house that night, Mrs. Hale. Killing a man while he slept, slipping a rope around his neck that choked the life out of him.
Mrs. Hale: His neck. Choked the life out of him. [Her hand goes out and rests on the bird-cage.]
Mrs. Peters [with rising voice]: We don’t know who killed him. We don’t know.
Mrs. Hale [her own feeling not interrupted]: If there’d been years and years of nothing, then a bird to sing to you, it would be awful — still, after the bird was still.
Mrs. Peters [something within her speaking]: I know what stillness is. When we homesteaded in Dakota, and my first baby died — after he was two years old, and me with no other then —
Mrs. Hale [moving]: How soon do you suppose they’ll be through looking for the evidence?
Mrs. Peters: I know what stillness is. [Pulling herself back.] The law has got to punish crime, Mrs. Hale.
Mrs. Hale [not as if answering that]: I wish you’d seen Minnie Foster when she wore a white dress with blue ribbons and stood up there in the choir and sang. [A look around the room.] Oh, I wish I’d come over here once in a while! That was a crime! That was a crime! Who’s going to punish that?
Mrs. Peters [looking upstairs]: We mustn’t — take on.
Mrs. Hale: I might have known she needed help! I know how things can be — for women. I tell you, it’s queer, Mrs. Peters. We live close together and we live far apart. We all go through the same things — it’s all just a different kind of the same thing. [Brushes her eyes, noticing the bottle of fruit, reaches out for it.] If I was you I wouldn’t tell her her fruit was gone. Tell her it ain’t. Tell her it’s all right. Take this in to prove it to her. She — she may never know whether it was broke or not.
Mrs. Peters [takes the bottle, looks about for something to wrap it in; takes petticoat from the clothes brought from the other room, very nervously begins winding this around the bottle. In a false voice]: My, it’s a good thing the men couldn’t hear us. Wouldn’t they just laugh! Getting all stirred up over a little thing like a — dead canary. As if that could have anything to do with — with — wouldn’t they laugh! [The men are heard coming down stairs.]
Mrs. Hale [under her breath]: Maybe they would — maybe they wouldn’t.
County Attorney: No, Peters, it’s all perfectly clear except a reason for doing it. But you know juries when it comes to women. If there was some definite thing. Something to show — something to make a story about — a thing that would connect up with this strange way of doing it — [The women’s eyes meet for an instant. Enter Hale from outer door.]
Hale: Well, I’ve got the team around. Pretty cold out there.
County Attorney: I’m going to stay here a while by myself. [To the Sheriff.] You can send Frank out for me, can’t you? I want to go over everything. I’m not satisfied that we can’t do better.
Sheriff: Do you want to see what Mrs. Peters is going to take in? [The Lawyer goes to the table, picks up the apron, laughs.]
County Attorney: Oh, I guess they’re not very dangerous things the ladies have picked out. [Moves a few things about, disturbing the quilt pieces which cover the box. Steps back.] No, Mrs. Peters doesn’t need supervising. For that matter a sheriff ’s wife is married to the law. Ever think of it that way, Mrs. Peters?
Mrs. Peters: Not — just that way.
Sheriff [chuckling]: Married to the law. [Moves toward the other room.] I just want you to come in here a minute, George. We ought to take a look at these windows.
County Attorney [scoffingly]: Oh, windows!
Sheriff: We’ll be right out, Mr. Hale. [Hale goes outside. The Sheriff follows the County Attorney into the other room. Then Mrs. Hale rises, hands tight together, looking intensely at Mrs. Peters, whose eyes make a slow turn, finally meeting Mrs. Hale’s. A moment Mrs. Hale holds her, then her own eyes point the way to where the box is concealed. Suddenly Mrs. Peters throws back quilt pieces and tries to put the box in the bag she is wearing. It is too big. She opens box, starts to take bird out, cannot touch it, goes to pieces, stands there helpless. Sound of a knob turning in the other room. Mrs. Hale snatches the box and puts it in the pocket of her big coat. Enter County Attorney and Sheriff.]
County Attorney [facetiously]: Well, Henry, at least we found out that she was not going to quilt it. She was going to — what is it you call it, ladies?
Mrs. Hale [her hand against her pocket]: We call it — knot it, Mr. Henderson.