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Sixteen Lines: Fourth Line

So. The Woman has emerged from prison and begun her new life as a mother and as an outcast. After a short exchange where she is abused by the nastiest of the local women, the Other Clergyman (that is to say, my character) walks through the square and sees her with her infant:

Ah, Hester Prynne. Still silent? All the world knows thou didst not sin alone. Confess, and lessen thy pangs of guilt. How say you, now that time has done its work?

This is the first time my character speaks in private—or semi-private, anyway, as it is on the street and there are other people nearby, and I’m not foolish enough to believe they aren’t listening, even if I can’t see them.

I mentioned, I think, that privacy is one of the themes of the book; for the play, this is (perhaps necessarily) narrowed to secrecy. Each of the three characters keeps a secret (the Woman keeps two), and those secrets work to the detriment of their souls. In the book, the destructive nature of secrecy is played against the perhaps equally destructive nature of full disclosure: the question is not necessarily how to reveal everything to everybody, but what to reveal to which people. It is, I think, quite a modern question, a Facebook/Twitter question, but I wouldn’t want to adapt the whole book to that phenomenon. But in the play, there is very little difference between those secrets revealed to a particular person (perhaps the wrong person) and those revealed to the entire populace, as peopled by the audience, who are there even in the private thoughts of the three of them. As such, the rigor of the Other Clergyman’s view that confession must be public to be helpful (to the soul and to the community) is part of the character detail that falls by the wayside.

The interesting decision here is one I talked about in a different context at one point: is this the first time this character has spoken this thought, or is it a thought expressed before, perhaps in these words. This major-key minor-key business is affected by this decision, as is the for/against. Nearly-Legendary Director has instructed me that this is a weary repetition, said without expectation of success. The music of the line reflects the resignation, sadness, and frustration of the character.

A side note: as we shall see, the Woman’s silence and the unruly child she ill-raises eventually lead many of the townsfolk to believe that the Devil was the father, and thus that in some ontological sense the Woman did sin alone. It isn’t clear to me whether the Other Clergyman in this play believes in such things, in that literal sense—it is tempting, of course, to imagine the well-educated traveler as being above such superstition, but that’s a projection of our own time and place. The line, though, takes on a new meaning in that context: rather than a faintly ribald wheedling, it’s a flat denial of the rumored diabolism. This makes the otherwise familiar rhetorical stakes-upping inclusion of all the world to be, rather, a warning to the listening townsfolk that they, too, should know what all the world knows. Not a moment to be played for (we are telling the story of the Woman and the Man and the Husband) but an interesting thing to keep in mind.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,