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Sixteen Lines: First Line

Your Humble Blogger has sixteen lines in this play. I am thinking about blogging each of them. I mean, there aren’t that many, and if it’s too deadly dull, y’all can go back to reading about Rahm Emanuel, right? And to start it off, I’ll spice it up with a visual:

Wordle: Lines

How’s that? It’s a Wordle, of course, of all my lines. For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, the bigger words are repeated most often; it’s a trick to make rhetorical conceits and habits pop out. In this case, it revealed to me my character’s habit of referring to non-men in the generic: Woman, Child, Mother. Not a good way of thinking, but not a bad way for the actor to think about the character, in a general sort of way. And, of course, Gentle Readers will be able to discern the title of the play in the Wordle. Perhaps I should take other words that pop out and refer to the play as The Child of Sin.

Well, and here’s my first line, directed from a public platform to the prisoner in the pillory:

Hester Prynne, I have striven with my younger colleague here, under whose preaching of the Word you have been privileged to sit, that he prevail with you, here in the face of Heaven and in the hearing of the people, as touching the vileness and blackness of your sin, no longer to hid the name of him who tempted you to this grievous fall. The name! The name!

Near-Legendary Director says that the first thing one should ask one’s self about a line is whether the speaker is for it or against it. Another first thing one should ask one’s self is who it is to, and what the speaker wants from the person so addressed. Another first thing is whether it the line is in a major key or a minor key. There are other first things, too, but that’s enough to go on with.

As for whether my character is for or against the speech, he is for his younger colleague, for prevailing with Woman, for the face of Heaven and the hearing of the people, against sin, and against the unnamed tempter (who is, of course, the unnamed colleague he is for earlier in the sentence, but he is still unaware of this—as may be some portion of the audience, still). More closely touching on the meaning of the question, the speaker is speaking what he believes to be true: he is neither speaking ironically nor deceitfully. He considers this to be a straightforward account of the situation: the fall was grievous, the woman is recalcitrant, the colleague ought to prevail.

The second question, of address, is complicated. Or would be, in real life or even in a major character. As in most occasions of public address, the speaker has several audiences. He is, of course, addressing the Woman, and wants her to speak the name of the Man, both as an acknowledgment of her deference (to him, to moral and legal authority, to the Divine) and in order that the Man be appropriately punished for his Sin. He is also speaking to the Man (who may be in the crowd, and in fact is on the platform), in hopes that he will confess himself. He is speaking to his colleague, who he considers soft and who he wants to adopt a more confrontational method of admonishment. However, he also speaks to the populace assembled, and what he wants from them is more complicated. He wants to scare them straight, for one thing, to make them sufficiently afraid of being in the Woman’s place that they do not commit adultery. He also wants them to agree with him, to add their pressure on the Woman to his own. He wants them to indicate their own sense of appropriate deference to authority and his ownership thereof. He is also speaking to the Governor, who is on the platform next to him and has just introduced him, wanting the Governor to approve his statement and extend their authority together. In the real world, or in a novel, or even in the main character in a play, all of those are important components of the speech.

As a supporting character in a play, though, it is better to narrow the speech to its address to the main characters. I think, in this instance, it’s better to focus on the Woman. It’s true that the tactic of shaming and browbeating is the wrong one to get the results he wants, but his character would not bend his tactics to circumstances, seeing that as weakness and irresolution in the service of the Divine.

I should say—in the novel, the character is somewhat more fully sketched, and the portrait is of a man who is by nature kindly and sympathetic, but who by education and belief feels that nature ought to be suppressed. There seems to be some historical justification for that sketch, actually—the clergyman was noted both for zealousness in fighting apostasy and in generosity to individuals under his pastoral care. I would like to have some sense of that in the show, but there really isn’t much time to portray all of that, and it’s very important not to distract attention from the story. The supporting actors should support, after all.

Next question: my musical ear is not sophisticated, but I would say the line is in a major key. It is a brassy speech, a fanfare of sorts. I suspect I should do it as a rising pitch sort of thing, starting low and pitching each clause higher until the call for the name at the end is a blast at the top. I guess. Possibly drop the vileness and blackness clause deeper before going back up to the demand for the name. Either way, it will be important to start in the lower register.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,


Hm. What strikes me about this line is the indirectness of its approach for most of the speech, which is counterpoised against the bald repetition of "the name the name" at the end.

1) Hester Prynne
2) I have striven with my younger colleague here
3) under whose preaching of the Word you have been privileged to sit
4) that he prevail with you
5) here in the face of Heaven
6) and in the hearing of the people
7) as touching the vileness and blackness of your sin
8) no longer to hide the name of him who tempted you to this grievous fall
9) the name
10) the name

Not knowing the context of the line, I can't tell what the purpose of this mode of construction is, but it makes me wonder about what he thinks the other parties present already know about what he is going to say. Do they know where this sentence is going to end? Do they all know, or only some? What does he gain with them by setting out the context in the manner in which he does, noting all of those present and their role in the drama of the moment before bringing it round to "the name"? Would he direct different parts of the speech to different listeners? Is this characteristic of the way he talks and thinks, or does it serve a very specific rhetorical purpose here?

It's a very rich and complicated line.

Excellent questions, and worth thinking about.

The other parties present are, of course, principally the audience, especially in this scene where they are, implicitly, members of the crowd come to watch the pillorying. And this is actually (you provoked me to check) the first time that they are told that the identity of the child's father is a secret. So presumably do not know where I am headed—unless they have read the book or the wikipedia page.

You ask what he gains: what the play gains is the inclusion of the audience in the village crowd. And, I suppose, the introduction of one of the primary themes of the book, which is (to overstate it and envaguefy it) the nature of privacy. What the character gains is, presumably, a reputation for eloquence, and the respect that affords, from above and below.

I would say that (insofar as I can tell based on sixteen lines), this is a fair sample of my character's mode of public address. The villagers presumably know the details of the case through gossip, and at any rate he doesn't need them to follow his complex sentence structure (particularly since, as you point out, he follows it up with a peremptory and very clear demand for the name) to establish his authority, and his place in the chain: just below the Governor, a notch ahead of his younger colleague, well ahead of the rabble, and miles ahead of womenfolk.


I'm intrigued by the pairings:

1) [I] have striven with [my younger colleague] here
2) under [whose] preaching of the Word [you] have been privileged to sit
3) that [he] prevail with [you]
4) here in the face of [Heaven] and in the hearing of [the people]
5) as touching [the vileness and blackness of your sin] no longer to hide [the name of him]
6) who tempted [you] to [this grievous fall]

You start by making explicit the close relationship of you with your colleague. Then you reinforce the relationship of Hester with your colleague, twice, thereby implicitly drawing her into closer relationship to you. Then you expand that relationship to include Heaven and the people, before associating Hester's sin not with Hester but with the tempter. Seems smart -- if the tempter were someone other than your colleague, this approach might have worked better. I want to side with you and your colleague and Heaven and the people -- that's a lot of weight on your side.

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