Matthew Lewis's The Monk and James Boaden's Aurelio and Miranda--from text to stage.
Boaden wrote seven plays for the patent theatres during his career, the first four of which demonstrated definitively Gothic conventions. Gothic literature emerged as a specific genre as early as 1764 with Horace Walpole's novella, The Castle of Otranto. Towards the end of the century, the Gothic genre evolved into one of the earliest subcategories of the Romantic movement, populated by a plethora of novels and plays that included such conventions as the appearance of ghosts, forest bandits, and decaying castles, the depiction of forcible confinement, the threat of torture implemented by a tribunal or inquisition, family coincidence, and religious hypocrisy. Amongst the more popular Gothic works were such classics as Ann Radcliffe's 1794 novel The Mysteries of Udolpho and Matthew Lewis's spectacularly successful play, The Castle Spectre, staged at Drury Lane in 1797. Boaden adapted Benedicte Naubert's Herman of Unna (1794) into his play The Secret Tribunal (1795) which established the Gothic convention of a tribunal form of the Inquisition and in 1798 he penned an original semi-historical play entitled Cambro-Britons in which he redeems the villain with the emergence of a ghost (Cohan xvi). Boaden adapted two of Radcliffe's works: The Romance of the Forest (1791) into Fontainville Forest (1794) and The Italian (1797) into The Italian Monk (1797). While his Radcliffe adaptations were the most successful, Boaden's Gothic plays met with only modest success compared to such spectacular hits as Lewis's Castle Spectre. (1)
Concomitant with the rise in popularity of Gothic fare, was the establishment of a melodramatic formula that became pervasive on the London stage. Historians tend to define melodrama by its origins, focusing on musical underscoring as its core tenet, and how music was used to amplify emotional responses. Invariably theatre historians list Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Pygmalion (1762) as the earliest example of such melodrama. Later in the eighteenth century, melodrama had become a broader genre which usually followed a formula whereby heroes, heroines, and villains were clearly delineated, vice was punished, and virtue was rewarded, usually in the form of romantic fulfilment but only after much suffering. The formula also required a singular and unified plotline. To stray far from the formula at the end of the eighteenth century in London was to risk critical devastation.
Boaden's own formula followed a particular pattern: he adapted well-known Gothic novels into plays. Boaden's methodology with Radcliffe's work was characterized by a process in which he eliminated all of Radcliffe's capacious prose narration, but maintained the primary action of her linear plotlines. He systemically excised or externalized the psychological musings of the characters and modified narratives to ensure a formulaic, melodramatic happy ending. For example, in The Italian Monk (1797) Boaden modified the ending of Radcliffe's original, and redeemed the villainous monk, Schedoni. After Boaden had successfully staged his adaptations of Radcliffe's two most successful works, he turned his attentions to Lewis's Gothic masterpiece.
The Monk is interesting in its construction. The main plot involves a famously pious monk Ambrosio who is seduced by a highly sexualized female demon called Matilda who is disguised as a male novice named Rosario. Once Ambrosio's passions are released, he murders the young and innocent maid Antonia's mother (Elvira) so that he can imprison Antonia in the dungeon-like catacombs of the monastery cemetery and relentlessly rape her. His punishment comes in the form of the grotesque machinations of the Spanish Inquisition, later from the cruelty of Matilda, and then from Satan himself. Together they convince Ambrosio that he is beyond the forgiveness of God and trick him into signing over his soul for the false promise of extended pleasures on earth. He is immediately damned. A subplot abruptly interrupts the main plot about 100 pages into the novel and takes over the narrative for nearly as long. In it, the young noble Raymond Las Cisternas falls in love with another young beauty, Agnes. In his romantic scheming, Raymond is assisted by Theodore, a ceaselessly loyal, resourceful, and crafty page-servant. Even with Theodore's assistance, however, Agnes' jealous guardian, who is also in love with Raymond, thwarts Raymond in his romantic aspirations to Agnes. After lengthy misadventures with murderous forest bandits, the ghost of the Bleeding Nun, and the assistance of the Wandering Jew, Raymond is too late to save Agnes from the convent life forced upon her by her guardians, which starkly contrasts with the family life she had envisioned with Raymond. Agnes receives a letter from Raymond that outlines the plans for her escape into his protection. Ambrosio intercepts the letter and betrays Agnes to the Abbess. When Agnes's sexual transgressions are discovered, the Abbess has her entombed to suffer starvation and childbirth alone, only to witness her nursing infant perish in her arms. The plots come together when Raymond storms the convent with Lorenzo. In The Monk, the convent shares a common cemetery with the monastery. Antonia and Agnes are confined in the same dungeon catacombs where they are both discovered. Ambrosio murders Antonia at the moment of her salvation. Agnes barely survives. Although its ending is not a happy one, the novel is rich with the type of romance that late-eighteenth century London audiences required.
In a narrative summary of the play, it appears that Boaden maintained the most important aspects of Lewis's original plot. The narrative of the novel begins with the introduction of what becomes a tertiary subplot. Young Antonia and her elderly aunt Leonella are enamoured of the monk Ambrosio's oratory skill while attending one of his sermons. They are promptly accosted by Don Christoval and Don Lorenzo. Lorenzo becomes enamoured with Antonia, while Christoval plays to the aging Leonella's ego as a distraction. In Aurelio and Miranda, Act One introduces these characters in an almost direct transfer from the novel. The first act continues loyal to the novel: Lorenzo and Christoval accost Raymond as they depart the church, after discovering a clandestine letter he has left for his lover, Sister Agnes, who is Lorenzo's sister. Aurelio, Boaden's version of Ambrosio, begins to grapple with his affection for Eugenio/Miranda, Boaden's version of Rosario/Matilda. In Act Two, Aurelio intercepts Raymond's love letter after it is dropped by Agnes, and promptly betrays her to the cruel Abbess despite Agnes's most pathetic pleas for mercy. Eugenio reveals her true identity as Miranda, and her affection for Aurelio. She uses the same ploy that Matilda used in the novel, threatening suicide to placate Aurelio. They begin their romance. The Abbess imprisons Agnes and reports to Pedro, Boaden's loose replacement for Theodore, that Agnes is dead. Pedro reports the unwelcome news to Agnes's emotionally crushed brother Lorenzo and lover Raymond. Act Three sees the advancement of Aurelio and Miranda's romance and the mtimation of its demise. Aurelio becomes rapt in the guilt of his hypocrisy. To make matters worse for Aurelio, the evil Abbess, Agatha, reports to him that Agnes has died. Boaden introduces gypsies similar to ones introduced by Lewis in the novel, one of whom, named Zingarella in the play, reads the fortunes of Antonia and Leonella. The discrete details of the plot are nearly identical to Lewis's original through Act Three of Boaden's adaptation.
Boaden discussed a three-act version of his Monk adaptation with Kemble, reporting that the actor "at once decided that he would act the monk" (Life of Kemble 387) but interrogated Boaden's three act proposal:
Why three acts? Why innovate upon established usage?--a play should be in five acts, for this sound reason among others, that it affords four pauses; and consequently the RELIEF which is necessary to the attention. In a full piece you must occupy the usual three hours, and create a heaviness by compelling the audience to listen to an uninterrupted business, or act, one hour long. Don't tell me that there may not be matter enough in your subject for five acts; because then I ask you how you expect to be endured, if you make business only sufficient for three acts occupy the time of five? (387)
Even though Boaden had already found success in the three-act structure with The Italian Monk, Boaden accepted Kemble's suggestion (Life of Kemble 370-2, 387). (2)
Subsequently, Drury Lane Theatre owner Richard Brinsley Sheridan accepted Boaden's revised five-act version (Life of Kemble 387). The original three-act version does not appear in the Larpent collection of transcripts harvested from the Office of the Lord Chamberlain. (3) However, there is no reason to believe that the overall narrative outline was different. That is to say that the last two acts were not merely tacked on, but probably represent part of a cumulative expansion of the entire narrative as Boaden had already penned it. In any case, it is in the last two acts of Boaden's play in which he seems to have had the most difficulty.
Following Act Three, Boaden deletes entire episodes from the novel, and modifies the primary one. The principal action of Lewis's original text can be broken into three parts: the opening plot involving Ambrosio, Matilda, and Antonia, in which Sister Agnes is introduced; the subplot in which the backstory between Raymond and Agnes is explained and Lewis introduces such supernatural elements as the Bleeding Nun and the Wandering Jew; and the final episode in which the two plots are joined together, Ambrosio rapes his sister, murders his mother, is tortured by the Inquisition, and is damned by Satan. Each of these can be broken into their smaller episodic parts. Individual episodes as depicted by Lewis often include the supernatural and make free use of internal psychological narration in the presentation of any "particular incident". These same incidents, when depicted by Boaden, eliminate the supernatural, and limit the presentation of the story to actions, dialogue, and external narration.
In Act Four, Boaden begins to depart from his source in what appears to be an attempt at unification to produce a singular plot. Miranda becomes suddenly fickle in her affections towards Aurelio, leaving him without either his lover or his piety. A brief retrospection on his own romantic transgression, one of the few truly retrospective soliloquies that Boaden includes, amplifies his guilt regarding his actions towards Agnes. Boaden eliminates the entire Raymond subplot that is so heavily laden with psychological introspection and jumps quickly to the narrative climax: the convent gardener, Pedro, reports to Christoval that Agnes is actually alive, although confined in the cemetery catacombs; Christoval tells Lorenzo and designs a plan to storm the convent; Lorenzo departs to inform Raymond; Old Zingaro, the gipsy father of Zingarella, informs Miranda that Agnes is alive; and Miranda rushes back to tell Aurelio. Act Five presents the inevitable conclusion. Miranda rescues Agnes's baby, and Aurelio saves Agnes from Agatha's last effort to murder her. Raymond is reunited with Agnes, Lorenzo is united with Antonia, and Aurelio, now aware of his noble origins, is free to reunite with Miranda. All of the family coincidences are also resolved. Aurelio is Antonia's long-lost sibling, Miranda is reunited with her brother Christoval, and Agnes is reunited with her brother Lorenzo; lovers and relatives are neatly tied together in a unified, romantic, and domestic finale.
Theatrical unity is a powerful tool that dates back to its clearest articulations in Aristotle's Poetics and Francois Hedelin's The Whole Art of the Stage which defines French neo-classicism. One of its primary tenets is the unity of action which insists that a drama should follow a singular plot, and that any and all subplots must be inherent to and resolve back into the primary one. For the latter portion of Part One of Lewis's novel, the Raymond/Agnes backstory takes over the novel for about 78 pages, extending into Part Two (The Monk 104-81). Even in the novel, the plot interruption is unconventional and abrupt, and would have compromised the melodramatic formula required by the stage where a single unified plot is paramount. During Raymond's entire narrative in the novel, most of the text is in his first-person voice with only third-person interjections from the narrator. The primary narrative which surrounds it is in an entirely omniscient third-person voice. This subplot was doubly troublesome. Not only was it replete with first-person psychological musings, it compromised the linear progression of the primary narrative and could not be effectively placed elsewhere. To place it in its plot chronology would require beginning the play with this subplot and would likely have confused the audience when another plot superseded it later in the play as the primary one. To place it in the same chronology as in the novel would have been even more cumbersome to audience comprehension. Boaden may well have been particularly troubled by this construction. His earlier adaptations demonstrate his success with staging a single, unified plot. His The Italian Monk directly translates the linear progression of Radcliffe's narrative from her novel The Italian with only one major change: Boaden supplants Radcliffe's tragic ending with a happy one. In Fontainville Forest, Boaden adapts a dramatization of the entire plot with no substantial truncations or deletions, although much of her loquacious prose style is eliminated. In Life of Kemble, Boaden writes that he "admired, as everyone else did, the singular address by which Mrs. Radcliffe contrived to impress the mind with ... terrors" (313). Lewis's novel was not quite so singular. Unlike Radcliffe's plots, which tend to follow a relatively linear progression with an entirely third-person narrative, The Monk is thoroughly complex.
For all its superficial similarity to The Monk, Boaden's adaptation simultaneously eliminates the violence and immorality that could not be staged, along with its psychological intensity. Boaden believed the complex psychological elements of Gothic prose could not be effectively embodied (Cohan lvii). In his Life of Kemble Boaden admits that he had difficulty adapting the psychological aspects of prose fiction: "the pen of the dramatic poet must turn everything into shape, and bestow on those 'airy nothings a local habitation and a name'" (314). However, in all of his four Gothic works, Boaden systemically avoids the internal psychological musings of characters as they are presented in their original prose fiction forms. Rather than giving such intangible aspects of the text a local habitation and a name, Boaden mercilessly cuts the airy nothings from his adaptation of The Monk.
A close comparison of the novel with the play reveals a pattern of adaptation that goes beyond mere narrative truncation whereby Boaden systemically removes almost all passages in which the source text compromises theatrical unity or depicts deep psychological musings. In the first half of Don Raymond's story in The Monk, Lewis exercises the Gothic convention of a forest/bandit episode (The Monk 104-31) which is heavy with descriptions of the psychological terror of perilous situations. Lewis describes Raymond's internal turmoil: "Startled by the abruptness of [the cottage mistress's] action, I remained as if petrified" and "At that moment a thousand confused ideas passed before my imagination" (The Monk 116). Boaden's elimination of the episode is entirely in keeping with his philosophy on the difficulties of physicalizing and staging such inner thoughts, and his propensity for a more unified plotline. The deletion of the episode also allowed Boaden to maintain his melodramatic formula. Boaden avoided both the unresolved (but melodramatically necessary) retribution against the forest bandits, and the complication of introducing an almost complete secondary cast of characters, including a sympathetic introduction to Agnes's ultimately villainous aunt and custodian.
In Part Two of Lewis's novel, Lewis makes use of the Gothic convention of a castle/ghost episode including an innovative passage where Raymond accidentally abducts the Bleeding Nun (The Monk 133-69). He is haunted by the terrifying spectre until he is assisted in exorcising her by the Wandering Jew (The Monk 168). As with the first part of Raymond's interlude, the psychology of terror is the prosaic centre of the episode. Throughout it, his continuous first-person narrative is replete with internal musings:
I gazed upon the spectre with horror too great to be described. My blood was frozen in my veins. I would have called out for aid, but the sound expired ere it passed my lips. My nerves were bound up in impotence, and I remained in the same attitude inanimate as a statue. (The Monk 155-6)
Raymond relates a horror that could have been effectively dramatized, but does not provide for any concomitant verbalization to fully express his inner monologue. In Boaden's adaptation, Raymond's entire narrative is reduced to a single sentence that barely intimates his connection to Agnes. In Act Two, when Agnes is pleading with Aurelio to conceal Raymond's damning love letter from the Abbess, she states: "Think, I charge you, / Of that oppression, which a daughter suffers, / When buried by her parents from the world, / From social joy, from friendship, and from love!" (Boaden and Cohan 16). As with the first part of Raymond's story, the lengthy description of their psychological suffering and terror did not fit Boaden's formula of singular plots and physical dramatization, nor did the supernatural depictions in the novel coincide with Boaden's agenda for Aurelio and Miranda.
Boaden promised to eliminate all depictions of the supernatural from the play in his advertisement for it, probably in an effort to convince both Kemble and audiences of its merit despite the infamy The Monk had garnered. (4) The advertisement for the printed edition blatantly admits that
THIS play is avowedly founded on the Romance of the MONK. The Author enters not into the discussion which that work has produced. His attempt has been to dramatise the leading incident of the Romance, without recourse to supernatural agency. (Boaden and Cohen, Advertisement for Aurelio and Miranda)
Evidence of critical reviews after the play's release suggests that the inclusion of supernatural elements in a stage-drama was frowned upon. The London Oracle and Daily Advertiser boasts that "Boaden's play of this evening, for whose success we are sincerely solicitous, is said to have the aid of no preternatural powers" (22 December 1798). Considering Boaden's previous successes, and Lewis's with The Castle Spectre, it is unclear from which social, political, or public factions censure came. (5) In any event, Boaden kept his promise, as the only hint of supernatural in the play is his reflection of Lewis's gipsy soothsayer--Boaden's is named Zingarella. As far as her supernatural abilities are concerned, she accurately describes Leonella and Antonia in their romantic pursuits but does little else (Boaden, Aurelio and Miranda 40-1).
The deletion of the ghost episode is the most bewildering aspect of Boaden's promise to eliminate the supernatural. He had experienced considerable success with the inclusion of ghosts in his previous dramas Fontainville Forest and Cambro-Britons. (6) As with Lewis's The Castle Spectre several years later, the ghost was pivotal to the success of Fontainville Forest, much to the surprise and chagrin of the theatre's management (Cohan ix). In fact, Boaden extrapolated Radcliffe's story and anticipated Lewis's bold Gothic style by removing Radcliffe's signature mundane explanations for the supernatural and representing an actual ghost on stage in his plotline. In Radcliffe's Romance of the Forest, the source for Fontainville Forest, she relegated the ghost to a dreamlike figment of the heroine Adeline's agitated and hysterical imagination. Boaden did not mollify the audience in this way. His version presents the ghost as an actual supernatural phenomenon. Considering Boaden's insistence on the value of the ghost in his adaptation of Fontainville Forest, and the almost gratuitous inclusion of a ghost in Cambro-Britons, it is difficult to understand why he forewent the opportunity to include a ghost in Aurelio and Miranda, especially since there was a ghost readily provided in Lewis's original text. (In his Life of Kemble, Boaden outlines how he was forced to defend the inclusion of the ghost in Fontainville Forest to actors and theatre managers; pared down from his original vision, he succeeded in maintaining its presence.)
Lewis and Boaden had both found success with benevolent versions of the ghost convention on stage. Boaden remarks on the powerful marketing effect of Lewis's ghost years later in his Life of Jordan, although he seems to have misremembered Lewis's actual name:
Matthew George Lewis, the son of the Deputy Secretary at War, has been familiarly, perhaps complimentarily, called Monk Lewis, from a Romance written by him, of which the genius and the indecorum are about equal. He was a scholar, fashionable in his connexions, fond of the theatre, and more than a melo-dramatic writer, though wedded to such stage effects, and skilful in producing them. He brought out, on the 14th of December, a dramatic romance called the Castle Spectre, a piece really of one scene, but that was so astonishingly beautiful, that it drew crowds to the theatre, and very nearly restored the house of Sheridan. The secret of this spectre was extremely well kept; the bill of the day gave not a glimpse of light beyond the mere title; and the actors in the piece answered to all kind enquirers as to who the spectre was, or by whom represented, "You'll see". (346-50)
Although the ghost of the Bleeding Nun is malevolent, Boaden could well have adapted her into a benevolent form. However, in Aurelio and Miranda, Boaden compromises his own Gothic formula for success, and eliminates what might have been the most spectacular part of the play. Boaden eliminates all traces of Lewis's supernatural agents, which are particularly malevolent and give rise to extreme psychological terror. The novel summons up Satan (The Monk 356-63), which would be inconsistent with the happy ending Boaden planned. Lewis narrates at length Ambrosio's fear and suffering, especially in moments of pensive waiting and anticipating torture, when he is frightened into damnation; these would have been difficult for Boaden to dramatize. Satan does not appear in the staged version, his removal allowing Boaden to keep his promise to avoid the supernatural and to omit Ambrosio's self-debate about the merits of the bargain Satan offers. As far as I can tell, only one Gothic play of this period puts a demon on stage: The Devil's Elixir (Wischhusen). Although demons were a popular mainstay of English pantomimes in the 1720s and later, there is scant evidence of their presence in the text-based melodramas present in the Larpent collection (Goff "The 'London' Dupre" 23). In Lewis's novel, Matilda summons a demon to aid in Ambrosio's rape of Antonia (The Monk 243-5), and if Peter Brooks is right that Enlightenment thinking had not quite eliminated religious superstition (Brooks 249), Boaden might well have considered such a moment unstageable.
Chapter Six of Lewis's novel begins the last part of the narrative, where most of the violence and sexuality occur (The Monk 203-363). The psychological suffering depicted is not mere anticipation and terror, as with Radcliffe's novel, but fully realized horror. The Monk boldly depicts confinement, rape, torture, and the personal anguish of the psychological suffering that each entails. Ambrosio murders Antonia's mother, Elvira, by strangulation when she interrupts his first attempt to rape Antonia (The Monk 264). It is later revealed that Elvira is also Ambrosio's mother, and Antonia his sister (The Monk 361); Boaden eliminates this part of the plot. After reporting a list of the changes made for the sake of morality, the London Oracle and Daily Advertiser for 31 December reports that audiences would not have tolerated the staging of matricide for the purposes of rape and incest any more than they would have tolerated a female demon: "One of the most powerful incidents in the novel is utterly lost to the Dramatist; for what audience would endure to see a man strangling his mother because she opposed him in his incestuous design upon her daughter?" Eliminating the episode also removes the problematic psychology experienced by Ambrosio and Elvira during the murder, and by Antonia for her mother's death (The Monk 265, 267). Moreover, depiction of murder, rape, and incest would hardly have been approved by the Office of the Lord Chamberlain.
Boaden was writing in an environment of official censorship of dramatic material for the patent theatres and prose fiction was afforded a much wider liberty with ostensibly immoral material. Following the Restoration, theatre managers William Davenant and Thomas Killigrew exercised a duopoly over theatre in London but no official government censorship had been established (Brockett 2200). In 1737, Parliament was moved to implement censorial control over theatre in London (Thomas, Carleton, and Etienne iix; Conolly 2, 13). Robert Walpole tabled the Licensing Act, the provisions of which included the licensing of only two theatres in London (Drury Lane and Covent Garden) to stage "tragedy, comedy, opera, play, farce, or other entertainment for the stage for gain hire or reward", and stringent prestaging censorship of all plays through the Office of the Lord Chamberlain (Wilson and Goldfarb 276; Conolly 2,13). Theatre managers would not invest in plays that could not pass the censor, and there seems to have been little serious challenge to censorship, suggesting that licentious theatre was widely considered dangerous (Conolly 3, 102, 104, 172). Managers could reject a play before it was even sent to the Office of the Lord Chamberlain, and audiences regularly called for the suppression of plays that they found offensive on "moral, political, religious, or personal grounds" (Conolly 3, 172). The result was plays made anodyne at the point of construction. Apparently audiences did not want radical or revolutionary ideas but mere escapism that did little more than celebrate romance and maintain the status quo and so that is exactly what playwrights offered.
However, Boaden's adaptation cannot be entirely explained merely by his anticipation of official censorship, nor by his perceived demands of public sentiment. While the brutal and erotic sexuality that pervades The Monk would not have passed the censor, Boaden might well have made use of Antonia's captivity as he had Agnes's and maintained Ambrosio as the primary villain while still expunging the material from the novel that audiences would have deemed too offensive for the stage. His difficulty with the Gothic psychology in Lewis's novel, however, took Boaden in a different direction, towards a more publicly acceptable melodramatic formula in which audiences celebrated romantic relations, family reunions, and the punishment of unambiguous evil. In concert with his plot modifications, Boaden takes substantial liberties with Lewis's characters beyond simply renaming them. Rather than thoroughly individuating them, Lewis's novel gave several of his characters overlapping manners that Boaden attenuated so that they might be better distinguished, one from another. His Aurelio, like Lewis's Ambrosio, is a famously pious Monk who is seduced by a young novice who turns out to be a female seductress and both characters are subsequently haunted with intermittent desire and remorse. However, with the loss of major episodes where Lewis's characters are substantially developed, Boaden's melodramatic simplification creates characters significantly distinct from their models in the novel. Aurelio, for example, commits no other crime than his sexual transgression and is redeemed.
Boaden eliminates almost the entire Antonia plot, and with it the primary sexual impetus of Ambrosio's transgression. The London Oracle and Daily Advertiser for 31 December 1798 took the view that "We have here then the pride, the rigor, and the frailty of Ambrosio, but none of his vicious excesses; he commits no crime to shock sensibility, and there is nothing in his character repugnant to virtue". In the novel, Antonia's rape is fully and graphically realized:
[H]er alarm, her evident disgust, and incessant opposition, seemed only to inflame the monk's desires, and supply his brutality with additional strength. ... He clasped her to his bosom almost lifeless with terror, and faint with struggling. He ... proceeded from freedom to freedom, and, in the violence of his lustful delirium, wounded and bruised her tender limbs. Heedless of her tears, cries, and entreaties, he gradually made himself master of her person, and desisted not from his prey, till he had accomplished his crime and the dishonor of Antonia. (The Monk 321)
The text of The Monk celebrates the salacious rape of Antonia and implicates the reader in prurient fear and lust. The description is more reminiscent of a violent pornographic fantasy than of an escapist melodrama where good always triumphs. Boaden alters this section of the plot substantially to coincide with his formulaic melodramatic happy ending: Antonia undergoes no tribulation and her romantic link to Lorenzo is rewarded. In fact, Antonia's presence in the play seems entirely extraneous and may represent nothing more than Boaden's efforts to be loyal to the original plotline as far as possible. In Fontainville Forest, the inclusion of Mme LaMotte's jealousy also seems extraneous but can be forgiven by the audience as the necessary truncation of a lengthily developed psychological episode in the book, included in the play out of loyalty to the plotline they loved and with which they were familiar. The irrelevant inclusion of Antonia in Aurelio and Miranda has the opposite effect, serving only to remind audiences of Boaden's elimination of one of the most compelling aspects of the novel, her rape and murder (Cohan xxxviii).
In the novel, both the villain Ambrosio and the villain Abbess are duly punished. However, the villain Ambrosio is painted in delightfully ambiguous colours, seduced by Matilda, and foiled by the fate of his own repressed personality. His torture at the hands of the Inquisition is so brutal that it is difficult to read even his vague reminiscences and his belief that he is beyond redemption is psychologically terrifying (The Monk 350-5, 357-8, 360, 362). Ambrosio is made even more sympathetic when he is tortured by Satan himself: impaled through the head, dropped from a dizzying height onto a rocky precipice, left to suffer in agony for days, and washed away by a river to eternal damnation (The Monk 362-3). Ambrosio is a romantic lover foiled by an inescapable seductress, and he experiences genuine guilt for condemning Agnes (The Monk 72, 86, 102-4, 238, 352-3, 361). Boaden appropriates Ambrosio's more sympathetic virtues, manipulates the ambiguity of Ambrosio's villainy into a romantic hero, and eliminates the unstageable torture.
An unredeemable villainy more conveniently fitted the melodramatic formula. Perhaps the most chilling episode in the novel ascribes the greatest crime to the Abbess, although she escapes the extended torture visited upon Ambrosio with her more immediate, albeit still torturous, death (The Monk 302). She has Agnes entombed to suffer pregnancy and birth in a state of starvation and Boaden's play is fairly loyal to this section of the novel. In the novel, Agnes is rescued by Raymond but the baby is already dead (The Monk 341, 344). Boaden maintains the rescue by Raymond but includes the participation of both Aurelio and Miranda, allowing her to save the baby (Boaden Aurelio and Miranda, 63-4). Aurelio is made a hero and his torture and damnation are foregone. The story fits well with the melodramatic structure required by the stage: a simple hero, his lover, and a villainess, in a unified romantic plotline. The Abbess's crime against Agnes resolves itself back into the major plotline as a vehicle for Aurelio's guilt, and a family coincidence. This section of the novel has little explicit material that would need to be censored from the stage.
In the character of Matilda, villainy proved a more complicated problem for Boaden to resolve. Boaden's version of her, Miranda, is exempted from demonic motives and becomes a heroine. The London Oracle and Daily Advertiser for 31 December 1798 held that "Neither would Matilda be an interesting character on the stage, supposing, for a moment, that an evil spirit, disguised in the habiliment of a female, for purposes of so shocking a nature, would be suffered there". By modifying the demon Matilda into the heroine Miranda, Boaden eliminated a supernatural element, provided the melodramatic lovers with a happy ending, and respected the taboo against a female demon appearing on stage. However, providing a happy ending could itself attract condemnation:
Theatre Drury Lane A Play called Aurelio and Miranda, the production of Mr. Boaden was performed for the first time at this theatre on Saturday evening ... The plot, with most of the incidents, is taken from MR. LEWIS'S Romance of the Monk, but the conclusion is directly the reverse, as the amour between Aurelio and Miranda, (the Ambrosio and Matilda of the original) terminates in a happy manner.... [W]e are at a loss to find an apology for the conduct of Mr. Boaden in taking such a work for his prototype, and becoming a secondary instrument in the office of polluting the public taste. The horrible events with which the original abounds, are in the present piece either omitted or very much softened down, its obscenity is considerably weakened, and its infernal machinery is entirely suppressed. But much of its poison is retained ... However objectionable MR. LEWIS'S composition may appear, it is at least marked with consistency in the catastrophe, for guilt is followed with adequate punishment; but in the present play, the author seems to have forgotten, that to reward virtue and punish vice is the great end of the drama. In this he has completely failed. The offenders, such as they are, are made happy, a breach of the most sacred vows is encouraged, and the tale of seduction is told in a plausible and justifiable way. The example is of a most pernicious tendency, for what is seen on the stage makes a deeper impression than what is read in the closet.... it can only be considered the miserable patchwork of a vitiated taste, and a distempered judgment ... The conclusion of the Piece, which is spiritless and destitute of all interest, excited a considerable degree of disapprobation, and it was with great difficulty that MR. KEMBLE succeeded in obtaining silence for the purpose of announcing the Play for a second representation. (Evening Mail 28-31 December 1798)
The same article appeared in Lloyd's Evening Post (28-31 December 1798). Paradoxically, the more explicitly horrible version of the story could also be defended as the more moral.
Boaden's modifications of plot and character are highly apparent in his version of the "catastrophe": the rescue of Agnes that makes a hero and heroine of Aurelia and Miranda and the discovery of his heritage which enables their successful romance. In performance, the first audience had an unintended and comic reason to doubt Miranda's heroism. In her Memoirs of Mrs Crouch, Maria Julia Young reports that "The audience became so noisy, in fact, that its hissing unnerved Mrs. Siddons during her last important scene, when she finds Agnes (Mrs. Powell) in the vaults" which caused her to exit angrily and knock the wooden baby's head off by accident (304). The True Briton for 31 December 1798 alludes to the gossip about the baby's wooden head being knocked off: "The taking away the child of Agnes gave a ludicrous air to a solemn scene, and the Audience testified some mirth on the occasion". Instead of relieved gasps of melodramatic joy, the play ended "to the accompaniment of laughter unrivaled since the production of Tom Thumb" (Peck 32; Genest 410). The audience, it seems, could not resist making light of the production.
Boaden was unable to create a plot that was satisfactory in its resolution of the catastrophe. In his Memoirs of Mrs Siddons, he reflects on this problem in adapting the novel:
I therefore here notice, in the first place, a play of my own, called Aurelio and Miranda, produced on the 28th of December, 1798. It was remarkable for the utter failure of the fourth and fifth acts the three first being rather powerful in the interest. With the experience of twenty years more, since the subject first struck me, I wonder how I could consent to the feeble arrangement of the plot, which is its vital defect. The passion of love to be treated in the dress of a monastic order is a frightful anomaly. Mrs. Siddons, to appearance, was a young monk, passionately enamoured of the superior, Aurelio. The whole piece partook strongly indeed of the nature of the Spanish romantic drama, and was drawn from the impure source of the novel entitled The Monk, by Mr. Lewis. (425)
Had Boaden included the episodes he chose to cut he would have substantially compromised the needs of a singular plotline, and he would have been required to include depictions of the supernatural. Boaden was further constrained by official censorship, and the public sensibility that supported such censorship. In concert with these restrictions was the larger structural restriction of needing a unified and linear narrative with a melodramatic happy ending for the lovers.
Lewis's novel did not adapt readily into the melodramatic formula that had come to dominate the stage. Boaden simplified and accelerated the first part of the original narrative, and abruptly truncated it after this first section of the novel, replacing the other two sections with a formulaic and contrived happy ending. He had successfully married the forest/bandit and castle/ghost conventions into a single plot line with his earlier Fontainville Forest, and abandoned them in Aurelio and Miranda, even though the original text afforded opportunities for each of them in the secondary plotline surrounding Raymond's misadventures. Following Aurelio and Miranda, he entirely replaced his successful Gothic formula with exclusively melodramatic romance and his last two plays, The Voice of Nature (1802), and The Maid of Bristol (1803) were met with even less success. In response he ceased writing for twenty years and never again attempted a play (Cohan xliii-xliv).
Boaden's corpus of works represents only a single example of the many difficulties playwrights of the late eighteenth century faced when adapting prose fiction for the stage within the official, social, and conventional confines of the London theatrical environment. Even though official theatre censorship in London was not as stringent as in such other places as Paris, the notion that London enjoyed dramatic freedom is not accurate. Playwrights in London experienced far more freedom, but only by comparison, and it seems only on an official level. The late eighteenth century call for melodramatic convention, and social standards of propriety in London at the time, created an unofficial and uncompromising set of parameters that had to be satisfied, and provide a specific environment in which to examine the difficulties of adapting prose fiction for the stage. Boaden's construction of Aurelio and Miranda is a result of the interaction between the difficulties in adapting any prose fiction, and the commercial, social, and political environment in London for which the adaptation was intended.
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Bayer-Berenbaum, Linda. The Gothic Imagination: Expansion in Gothic Literature and Art. Rutherford NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 1982.
Boaden, James. Aurelio and Miranda (1798). Larpent Collection. Item 1232 at the Huntington Library, San Marino CA. CD-Rom.
--. The Life of Mrs Jordan. 2nd ed. London: Bell, 1831.
--. Memoirs of Mrs Siddons. London: H. Colburn, 1827.
--. Memoirs of the Life of John Philip Kemble. London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, Brown and Green, 1825.
Boaden, James, and Steven Cohan. The Plays of James Boaden. Eighteenth-century English Drama, no. 5. New York: Garland, 1980.
Boaden, James and John Litchfield. The Secret Tribunal: A Play, in Five Acts. Philadelphia: James Humphreys, 1797.
Booth, Michael R. English Melodrama. London: H. Jenkins, 1965.
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Brockett, Oscar G. History of the Theatre. 2nd ed. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1974.
Brooks, Peter. The Melodramatic Imagination: Balzac, Henry James, Melodrama, and the Mode of Excess. New Haven: Yale UP, 1976.
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(1) In his Life of Kemble, Boaden reminisces about the staging of Fontainville Forest at Covent Garden: the "often-renewed plaudits, when the curtain fell, told me that the audience had enjoyed" it (326). For Fontainville Boaden considered "the author's receipt very considerable indeed" (Boaden, Kemble 326). In her Memoirs of Mrs Crouch, M. J. Young reports that in 1797 The Italian Monk "was highly applauded throughout" (2:265) and in the Life of Mrs Jordan, Boaden remembers that "I am sure the liberal payment of Mr. Colman was of great service to me. It was over one-third of nine nights" (1:338). Cambro-Britons played twelve times at the Haymarket in 1798 and was revived the following two years (Cohan xxvii). The success of these plays convinced Kemble to work with Boaden on Aurelio and Miranda at Drury Lane. It ran for a total of six nights as compared to Lewis's The Castle Spectre which was one of the most successful plays of its era. "It ran about sixty nights, and continued popular, as an acting play, up to a very recent period" (Lewis and Baron-Wilson 211).
(2) Boaden reports that his first attempt to work with Kemble was flatly rejected. When Boaden offered Kemble Fontainville Forest, Kemble replied that "at Drury Lane Theatre 'they did not want plays; the treasures of our ancient authors were inexhaustible'" (Kemble 2.96-97). Fortunately, Thomas Harris of Covent Garden picked up the play (Kemble 2.100). It was not until Boaden had staged two other mild successes that Kemble entertained Boaden's Aurelio and Miranda at Drury Lane (Kemble 387).
(3) The Examiner during the time of the French Revolution was one John Larpent. Fortunately for historians and posterity, Larpent performed the strange service of relocating all of the original manuscripts (including censor notes) to his home. The collection contained every manuscript kept on file. L. W. Conolly reports that the office was not in the habit of returning any manuscript from the inception of the office in 1737 until the end of Larpent's tenure in 1824 (4). From that point of departure they have come down to us intact and are currently housed at the Huntington Library in San Marino, California.
(4) The fourth edition of Lewis's The Monk came out some time in 1798, at near the same time that Aurelio and Miranda hit the stage at the end of the year. Lewis had become remorseful: his father was embarrassed, S. T. Coleridge attacked him, and T. J. Matthias attempted to have him face trial (Lewis, The Monk 398-402). In Lewis's self-bowdlerized edition, words such as "ravisher" are replaced with more benign words such as "intruder" or "betrayer", Tust" becomes "desire", "desire" becomes "emotion"' and so forth. It is not surprising, then, that Boaden's version was equally cautious in its adaptation, although there is no evidence that he had seen the fourth edition while writing Aurelio and Miranda and the chronology makes it unlikely.
(5) Varied ticket pricing at the patent theatres suggest that they catered to a growing middle-classed demographic but also reserved seating (with congruent pricing) for upper- and lower-class patrons as well. Evidence for the demographics of newspaper readerships is more ephemeral.
(6) The Whitehall Evening Post issue 7140 (25-27 March 1794) reports of the author of Fontainville Forest "so much unmoved was he by a protest from Mrs. Pope--would have died rather than have GIVEN UP THE GHOST". The article also states that the play was met with general approbation. The World issue 2260 (26 March 1794) goes so far as to claim that "To say the Author has done justice to the story, would be saying very little indeed, in comparison with what he deserves. There was, perhaps, never a Piece before produced in every particular so dramatically correct", and that "TERROR and PITY were never more successfully excited". It seems both Boaden and the viewing public had a penchant for the Fontainville spectre. Passages in Life of Kemble demonstrate the terrifying effect the Fontainville Forest ghost had on the audience that would certainly have been served by the ghost in The Monk.: "the whisper of the house as [the ghost] was about to enter,--the breathless silence, while he floated alo[n]g like a shadow--proved to me, that I had achieved the great desideratum". When the curtain fell, the audience broke into "often-renewed plaudits" (Kemble 326; Thorp 482).
David Christopher recently graduated with a Master's Degree in Theatre History from the University of Victoria and also holds an honours degree in English and a bachelor's degree in Economics, both from Carleton University. He participated as a speaking delegate in the 2010 Pacific Northwest Renaissance Conference and looks forward to doing so again in 2011. David Christopher was a founding member of the Victoria Shakespeare Society and has acted with that organization variously for several years. Currently he is the co-owner and artistic director of KeepItSimple Theatre Productions in Victoria, BC, Canada.
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|Date:||Oct 1, 2011|
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