During a graduate playwriting workshop for my MFA with the University of New Orleans (2008), I wrote and workshopped a play titled, The Captive (working title). At the time, my life took many downward turns (business failures, my husband got cancer and died, etc.). Also, I needed to find more allies in the Native American Community to support me. I still have the good fortune to be working with Francis J. O’Brien, Jr., the former President, Aquidneck Indian Council in Newport, RI and a native language philologist/writer (Moondancer) who continues to support me with, “There is no reason for you not to proceed at this (The Captive) as a non-Native trying to make a dramatic statement to non-Native audience. Many works by non-Native exist as you know. Your motivation to get the language right is commendable and Natives –like myself– will assist.”
I have many reasons for writing this story. The first being, my ancestry goes back to the Mayflower (Allerton) and other Puritans, and Quakers who were part of these 17th Century events. I am also a direct descendant of James Hovey (and others) who fought and/or died in King Philip’s War, so I am extremely interested in this period.
But as a child, I spent many summers at a Church of Christ Church Camp near Serpent Mound in southern Ohio and something happened to me in the woods around that place. I longed to be in the woods and not in a church building with my mind and heart buried in a book.
In addition, around the time of working on my MFA, I saw Tecumseh, the outdoor drama that’s been running for 36 years near Chillicothe, Ohio and it so offended my sensibilities in the way Native Americans were portrayed (a bit insipid and dull) that I felt inspired to write something more in-line with the facts as I believed them.
As a young adult, I deprogrammed myself of the dogmatic religion I was born into (working in professional theater helped as well as touring the world singing with the forward-thinking artist, John Denver). And writing The Captive has been a cathartic release of pent-up anger and frustration over the mistreatment of indigenous societies everywhere, coupled with my angst regarding religions that disenfranchise women. My hope is for non-Natives to visualize the Weetamoe and Mary Rowlandson encounter in a way that will affect them long after they leave the theater and maybe consider ways to work on how to eliminate intolerance in our daily lives.
In a land and time not far away, a Native American Queen lived by the name of Weetamooo. Her culture had survived thousands of years until disease and a religion sparked a movement that destroyed her world in just a few generations.
A play and a future novel (2019) by Conrad Reeder, The Captive, revolves around the story of these two women from stridently different worlds who are caught up in a fight for survival during King Philip’s War (1675-76). The entire landscape of New England would be forever changed by this war. As for the two women–one survived the war, the other was reborn a legend.
Horace Walpole(1717-97) wrote a ghost story, but not just any ghost story. The dire events and super-sized shade of Prince Alfonso in The Castle of Otranto spooked the reading public, and catapulted Walpole to literary fame.
Otranto was criticized for its thin characters, and outlandish machinations (Clery, Rise 84), but others, like Sir Walter Scott, found the story “grand, tragical, and affecting, (and concluded that) applause which cannot be denied to him who can excite the passions of fear and of pity must be awarded to the author of The Castle of Otranto” (Lewis 158). The new consumer reading public snatched up every copy, and publishers since then have printed over a hundred editions.
Otranto and its ghost contributed to the birth of an entirely new type of novel, a Gothic novel which combined “the ancient and the modern” (9), flaunting a supernatural twist that stood alone, free from the dictates of religious dogma, and wound down through the centuries, sprouting many literary branches on its way to our current age, like Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula.
A distinct age of reason and enlightenment had seized the educated minds of Europe in the eighteenth century, so why would a privileged politician and part-time intellectual, albeit a dilettante, stir up a hornet’s nest, and bring back the so-called superstitious barbarism of the Gothic age when the literati had worked so hard to eliminate it, and the clerics claimed supernatural phenomena strictly their domain?
Walpole sidestepped the condemnation of clerics, and the censure of critics by going straight to the source: the reading public.
Otranto survived the criticisms because of the eighteenth century “rise of consumerism” (Clery, Rise 5). People bought the book, and the template for terror in Otranto inspired many later romantic novelists to copy its winning formula, the most famous example in the 1790s being The Monk by Matthew Lewis.
In Walpole’s opinion, “the great resources of fancy have been dammed up” (9). Walpole imagined an undeniable ghost the size of King Kong to break down that dam.
The Castle of Otranto was not the doodling of a delusional youth, but the product of a mature writer with an ax to grind. Before Otranto, Walpole published Anecdotes of Painting in England (1962), and was considered an expert on antiquarian artifacts and Gothic architecture (Lewis 167). Walpole was forty-seven when he wrote Otranto, and lived in a pseudo Gothic castle he had built from scratch. He claimed he saw a ghost in a nightmare, specifically “a gigantic hand in armour” (Clery, Intro vii). Within two months he wrote the story to keep his mind off politics with a passion likened to automatic writing (Lewis 161).
Two years before the ghost of Alfonso showed up in Walpole’s nightmare, a ghost of smaller proportions, the Cock Lane ghost of 1762, became “the talk of London” (Clery, Rise 13). Later demystified and exposed as a fraud, the ghost of a murdered woman supposedly scratched on the wall in response to questions, and attracted throngs of people from all strata of society day and night.
The event was likened to theatre and “commercial exploitation” (Clery, Rise 15). David Garrick’s successful play at Drury Lane, The Farmer’s Return, was representative of the enormous attention given to this ghost. Essentially, the play mocked the credulity of city-folk, a reversal of the belief that only ignorant country-folk believed in ghost stories (Clery, Rise 16).
Walpole believed that “a god, at least a ghost, was absolutely necessary to frighten us out of too much senses” (Walpole, Letters Vol. 3 381), a slam against didactic “sensibility” novels of the day, like the wildly popular Samuel Richardson’s Pamela and Clarissa. Many Englishmen agreed with Walpole. In a Preface to Faliero, Lord Byron praised author Walpole for not writing another “puling (whiny) love-play” (Walpole, Letters Vol. 1).
One can imagine the slightly built Walpole in a trance, hovered over his manuscript with a Victor Frankenstein-like intensity in the act of creating a monster. Sunlight filters through a gothic stained glass, casting an array of colors over Walpole’s shoulder as it inches across the floor on a summer evening in 1764. The room around him dims, until the only light is from an oil lamp shining on the page he feverishly scribbles on into the wee hours. He later writes his friend Cole that his “hand and fingers were so weary, that he could not hold the pen to finish the sentence” (Clery, Intro vii).
The intensity of physical pain and sexual tension in Otranto must have had a cathartic affect on Walpole, and offered a release for pent-up imaginative fantasies, or a sedative for his nerves and brain. Burke wondered if these fanciful thoughts were “a sort of delightful horror (or) exercise necessary for the finer organs” (Burke 123).
Even with all the praise, Walpole did not see the immediate success of the genre Gothic. He admitted to Mme du Deffand, “I have not written for this century, which wants only cold reason” (Lewis 161). Yet, under the guise of offering a new literature, Walpole indulged his creative urges, and in the process formed a template for a ghost, and a storyline that did not vaporize into the questionable ether, nor direct the reader’s loyalties toward a particular religious dogma. Some laughed at the ghost of Alfonso for its ‘machinations’, but Walpole was unmoved. “If I have amused you by retracing with any fidelity the manners of ancient days, I am content” (Walpole, Letters Vol. 3 378).
Walpole’s murderous shade is a device of dynamic “terror, the author’s principle engine” (6). With a ghost of such an “immense magnitude” (112), its existence cannot be ignored, or denied. The phantasmal ghost of Alfonso still lives on as a relic of an early attempt to scintillate, possibly scare, or simply entertain. Most likely, future generations will continue to be haunted by dank castles, creepy ghosts, miraculous events, and romantic terrors. The human need for romance and mystery seems bottomless.
Botting, Fred. Gothic. New York: Routledge, 1996. Print.
Burke, Edmund. A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and
Beautiful. 1754. Ed. Adam Phillips. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1990. Web.
Byrne, James M. Religion and the Enlightenment: From Descartes to Kant. Louisville:
Westminister John Knox P, 1997. Web.
Clery, E.J. The Rise of Supernatural Fiction: 1762 – 1800. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1995. Print.
—, Introduction. The Castle of Otranto: A Gothic Story. By Horace Walpole. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1996. vii–xxxiii. Print.
Daniels, Barry V. Revolution in the Theatre: French Romantic Theories of Drama. Westport: Greenwood P, 1983. Web.
Finch, M. B. and Allison E. Peers. Walpole’s Relations with Voltaire. Modern Philology 18.4. (1920): 189-200. Web.
Johnson, James William. Horace Walpole and W. S. Lewis. The Journal of British Studies 6.2. (1967): 64-75. Web.
Johnson, Samuel. The Critical Opinions of Samuel Johnson. Ed. Joseph E. Brown. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1926. Web.
Lewis, Wilmarth Sheldon. Horace Walpole. New York: Pantheon, 1961. Web
Sandner, David. Ed. Fantastic Literature: A Critical Reader. Westport: Praeger, 2004. Web
Shakespeare, William. Hamlet: Prince of Denmark.Complete Works of William Shakespeare. Contr. Germaine Greer, Anthony Burgess, Alec Yearling, and PeterAlexander. Glasgow: HarperCollins, 1994. 1079-1125. Print.
Voltaire. Candide: or Optimism. Intro. and trans. John Butt. London: Penguin, 1947. Print.
—, Philosophical Dictionary. Ed. and trans. Theodore Besterman. London: Penguin,Print.
Walpole, Horace. The Castle of Otranto: A Gothic Story. 1764. Ed. W. S. Lewis. Oxford:Oxford UP, 1998. Print.
—, The Letters of Horace Walpole, Earl of Orford: Volume 2. Ed. Peter Cunningham. London: Putnam, 1840. Project Gutenberg. 3 Apr 2007
—, The Letters of Horace Walpole, Earl of Orford: Volume 2. Ed. Charles Duke Yonge.London: Putnam, 1890. Project Gutenberg. 3 Apr 2007
What do Anne Boleyn and Weetamoo of Colonial New England have in common? They were both Queens and both had their heads chopped off.
The Captive presents the story of Weetamoo, a Native American Queen in 17th century New England, who led her Pocasset braves (the ones who survived the scourge of European diseases) in battle against the invading English and their Native Allies during King Philip’s War (1675-76). The Colonial Army was organized under the auspices of the United Colonies, a body formed to combat Natives that evolved into an enduring institution, eventually challenging their overlord, the British Crown, a hundred years later in the American Revolution.
King Philip’s War (Metacom) was the last concerted effort of coastal northeast Woodland Nations to expel the English, in particular the Puritans, and they nearly succeeded. This singular event ignited a firestorm that swept over the entire North American Continent, annihilating ancient cultures, entire eco systems, and the animals they supported. For eleven weeks and five days in early 1676, when a Confederation victory was not assured, Mary Rowlandson, a Puritan Preacher’s wife, was Weetamoo’s slave.
This true encounter has been brought to life on stage in context with the events of their time. The metaphorical story of Annie and Joshua gives voice to the dispossessed. Musical instruments, period songs, and dialogue lifted from historic journals all combine with the thrill of spectacle into a dramatic play in two acts: THE CAPTIVE
13 July 2007 –Val and I took the bus from Madrid to Mérida to see Fedra, yet another adaptation of the twisted, tragic Greek love story about a woman (Fedra) who madly adores her stepson, Hippolytus (Fran Perea), an unrequited love, the outcome of which dooms Hippolytus to death. Playwright: Juan Mayorga. Director: José Carlos Plaza. Ana Belén, a truly talented singing star born in Madrid, plays the sexy, unhinged Fedra with adroit skill.
The spectacle of a modern production in an ancient Roman theatre was one of the highlights of my UNO playwriting residency this summer. (the other: the reading of my play, Graffiti, at Chaminade in Madrid). Even sitting on sharp rocks in the top row of slave seats didn’t bother too much, especially since we’d been warned and had come prepared with seat cushions. (Me & Val)
Agrippa built this Teatro Romano in 18 B.C.E.. Mérida was founded as a Roman outpost circa 25 B.C.E.; commissioned by the Emperor Augustus from whom the name of the city, Emérita Augusta, was taken.
Except for the ice in the drinks at the bar, the venue does not offer much 21st century luxury. The show started at 11pm—to avoid the heat. The summer heat in Spain immobilized my body, a draining, dry, insidious heat. Just to keep moving, I was forced, at times, to drink copious amounts of refreshing tinto de verano, a mixture of red wine, and something like 7-up with the all-important ice.
Since I am familiar with Euripides’s story (428 BC) about the lustful Phaedra titled, Hippolytus, I was able to follow along with the plot, all in Spanish. Through the ages the story has been retold by Seneca, Racine, and the bilbaíno, Unamuno. But this version, premiered at the Classical Theater Festival of Merida, was obviously written for Belén—long, longggg monologues. In truth, the other main characters had their time in the spot, but Belén owned center stage. However, in conversing with an educated male of Mexican/American heritage, I was impressed with his confession, “the performance brought tears to my eyes.” Belén’s numerous, long soliloquies didn’t ruin the drama for him.
Since Mayorga won the National Theater Award last month for Fedra, and received 30,000 euros from the Ministry of Culture, the play, and most definitely Belén struck a chord in the hearts of many. But even Mayorga admitted, “It has been said that I have written this work for Ana Belén, […], but it is not true.” The “author” doth protest too much. Fedra Review
Regardless, the production and set stunned me with the extraordinary mix of ancient and modern. A large red rectangular (or trapezoid?) shaped backdrop was placed upstage dwarfing the actors and used as a prop from time to time, to lean on, crouch next to, and so on, and a diagonal line cut into it illuminated with a laser light during intense moments.
The stage lights were strategically placed to highlight the various headless statues and half-ruined columns, and the excellent surround music track of eerie voices, coupled with occasional fog, added depth to the sword fight and tragic end. Bravo!!! The crowd wildly applauded during curtain call and rewarded the cast with a vibrant standing ovation–a welcomed event for me after sitting two hours on rocks (cushion notwithstanding). The pageantry of the event overwhelmingly carried the night.
The theatre seats about 6000 and the adjacent amphitheatre could have held 15,000 on a good day in the province of Augusta Emerita. Other productions at the 2007 festival: The Persas, Lisístrata, Adiós, Brother Cruel, Andrómaca, The Banquet of Orfeo, The Troyanas, Metamorphoses, , Orestíada, Antígona, Orión, & Electra.
The next day Val and I toured the relic of an amphitheatre adjacent to the theatre, where many gladiators and animals met their bloody death to entertain the local population; obviously one, if not the ancestral origin of the bullfight staged in Spain today.