i'm just a literary tease, my reputation's on its knees.

Machinal Catholicism?

February 23, 2005

What are the implications of the religious references in Sophie Treadwell's "Machinal" ? It seems to me as if this play is offering a critique of the Catholic Church. Religion doesn't come into play until the end of Episode Four, after the birth of Helen's child - the religious dialogue within the play starts with the prescription written by the doctor in Latin.

On my first read of the play, I noticed the stage directions saying that the doctor wrote in Latin (p.30) and it stuck out to me because I thought it strange: why would the author mention specifically that the prescription was written in Latin? I mean... you wouldn't be able to see what the doctor was writing from the audience so why bother specifying?

It didn't really strike me until later when I went through the play a second time: Latin is the language of the Church. Up until this point there is no mention of God or other aspects of religion. It's as if, in some capacity, after the birth of her child, Helen found religion (only that's not exactly what I mean).

Episode Four ends with Helen's soliquoy which contains several religious references:

"heaven - golden stairs"

"everybody loves God - they've got to - got to - got to love God - God is love - even if he's bad they got to love him"

"God Mary Mary God Mary - Virgin Mary - Mary had one - the Holy Ghost - the Holy Ghost"

the act ends with the statements:

"I'll not submit any more - I'll not submit - I'll not submit -"

The next episode :

Prohibited seems almost to be a type of purgatory: It is in this act that Helen makes her decision - the one that can lead her to heaven or to hell.

One thing I found interesting is that the Second Man keeps saying "Oh, for the love of Mike." until the ladies show up and then it changes to "God." Why do you suppose that is??

Next the "aging fairy" says, "This Purgatory of noise! I brought you here to give you pleasure - let you taste pleasure." Ahh.. the joys of sin?

It's interesting: Here's what's going on -

Table 1 - Man is convincing Woman to have an Abortion. Major Catholic no no!

Table 2 - Man is trying to convince Boy to get it on with him: Homosexuality is also another major Catholic bad deed.

Table 3 - Ah the joys of Adultery and sex without marriage (or, more specifically, sex outside of the marriages).

Mix this up with some serious Drinking, discussion of Murder, and, woah baby, you've got yourself some serious trouble with the big guy. Helen is initially an innocent in the situation (First Man: "An angel. Just like an angel.") but then the angel falls and transgresses: she goes home with the man.

(more on this later)

Moira at 03:41 PM :: Comments (4) :: ::

There is also a lawywer and a priest who use Latin. You're right -- the audience wouldn't have been able to see what the prescription is -- that stage direction seems to be there for the readers. A director might choose to cast the same actor in the roles of the doctor, lawyer, and priest... and maybe even the Husband (is the husband on stage at the same time as the doctor? I don't have my copy of the play handy...)

Posted by: Dennis G. Jerz at February 23, 2005 03:45 PM

wow...what a great observation, i just skipped over that detail, but now that you mention it i can see it rather clearly....i aslo picked up on some of the religious connections, i've been looking out for them ever since discovering them in the Great Gatsby...

Posted by: Maggi Quinlan at February 24, 2005 12:38 AM

I will never understand why things are so different from reading a play to actually producing it. The point of a play, I have always believed, was so that people can see another world. Plays were not meant to be read and picked a part as we do today. If you wanted a person to read what you wrote then you would write a novela or a novel not put in specific directions to give the actors some place to go with the words you have written.

Am I alone in this?

Posted by: Tiffany at February 24, 2005 04:11 PM

Tiffany - Do you think that literature is meant to be picked apart?

Posted by: moira at February 24, 2005 05:13 PM
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