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Sixteen Lines: Twelfth Line

You may believe this or not, as you like, but the twelfth line is perhaps my favorite in the play.

Oh? How is that, good Master Dimmesdale? Make that plain, I pray you.

Why is it my favorite? Because it was in studying that line and making choices with it that I was able to come to some fundamental choices about my character’s relationship with the Man, and those choices were not only helpful to me, but to the actor playing the Man. Let me explain.

If you have been following these lines, you presumably have figured out that the Other Clergyman comes in to this scene arguing that the Child must be taken away from the Woman. He is pestering the Governmental Authority about it; he interrupts the Husband (not that he knows it’s the Husband, but still) and generally causes a fuss. The Man (and no, my character doesn’t know it’s the Man in question, but still still) is asked by the tearful Woman (yes, I do know it’s the Woman) to plead her case, which the Man has begun to do.

Two minutes later, I am completely and utterly convinced, and appeal to the Governmental Authority to rule according to my new position, the opposite of the ruling I was demanding when the scene began. This was difficult for me. People don’t act that way. People do change their minds, yes, over time, but not usually like that. It didn’t seem to be done for comic emphasis, either; that wouldn’t be appropriate for the rest of the people in the scene. I didn’t find the book helpful, either; the adapted scene is lifted nearly intact out of the book, and there isn’t any helpful explanation in Mr. Hawthorne’s narrative voice (which does happen elsewhere). So I needed a reason for my character to change his mind, and I needed a way to play that change that made sense and wouldn’t be distracting.

What I came up with is this: the Man is my character’s protégé; the older Clergyman is bringing up the younger both as an eventual replacement in the position of authority and as an ornament on the young church’s crown. This, by the way, in addition to being a common and understandable relationship that the audience should be able to relate to, is in keeping with the historical person who shares a name and a job with my character. There are several incidents of the Real Person taking visiting dignitaries to see the preaching of the young clergymen under his wing. In this scene, then, once the Man has been set the task of pleading the Woman’s case in front of the Governmental Authority, my character is likelier to be rooting for his success in that pleading than against it.

Thus, this line. My younger colleague, there, has been struggling, and is starting to put some words together in vague but coherent sentences, mostly to himself. I interrupt to encourage him to make that plain to the Governmental Authority (complete with gesture) rather than to me—the kindly advice of his somewhat stern debate coach, not the challenge of his opponent. Then, as he gathers steam and begins a nice line of oratory, I am with him, not against him.

The actor playing the Man (who has a very difficult job) found that very helpful; suddenly he’s got somebody on his side. And suddenly, instead of just desperately responding to the clearly implied blackmail, or even acting out of some affection for the Woman and the Child, he is also getting to show off for his mentor. This makes the transition from the abovementioned vague coherence into the nice line of oratory work. It also, as it happens, makes a couple of other parts of the play work better, as that relationship can inform his public actions and interactions with me when we are together.

And, really, the future of the Man (my protégé, who is tightly bound to the future of the settlement of the new world) is more important than the future of the Woman and the Child, who are after all a Woman and a Child. I mean, really. As long as she’s unhappy and everybody knows it, so that there isn’t any more adultery going around being found out about, I can live with her raising the demon child just fine.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,