Joanna Baillie, De Monfort (Drury Lane, 29 April 1800), from Seven Gothic Dramas, 1789-1825, ed. Jeffrey Cox (Athens, OH: Ohio UP, 1992).


ACT II

SCENE I

Enter a Page, richly dressed.

PAGE. madam, there is a lady in your hall,
Who begs to be admitted to your presence.

LADY. Is it not one of our invited friends?

PAGE. No, far unlike to them; it is a stranger.

LADY. How looks her countenance?

PAGE. So queenly, so commanding, and so noble,
I shrunk at first in awe; but when she smil'd,
For "so" she did to see me thus abash'd,
Methought I could have compassed sea and land
To do her bidding.

LADY. Is she young or old?

PAGE. Neither, if right I guess, but she is fair;
For time hath laid his hand so gently on her
As he too had been aw'd.

LADY. The foolish stripling!
She has bewitched thee, boy. Is she large in stature?

PAGE. So stately and so graceful is her form
I thought at first her stature was gigantick,
But on a near approach I found, in truth,
She scarcely does surpass the middle size.

LADY. What is her garb?

PAGE. I cannot well describe the fashion of it.
She is not deck'd in any gallant trim,
But seems to me clad in the usual weeds,
Of high habitual state; for as she moves
Wide flows her robe in many a waving fold,
As I have seen unfurled banners play
With the soft breese.

LADY. Thine eyes deceive thee, boy,
It is an apparition thou hast seen.

FREB. (Starting from his seat, where he has been sitting during the conversation between the Lady and the Page.) It is an apparition he has seen.
Or it is Jane De Monfort. (Exit, hastily)



ACT IV

SCENE II

The organ strikes up a solemn prelude. Enter a procession of Nuns, with the Abbess, bearing torches. After compassing the grave twice, and remaining there some time, whilst the organ plays a grand dirge, they advance to the front of the stage.

SONG, BY THE NUNS

Departed sister, whose poor remains
This hallow'd lowly grave contains;
Whose passing storm of life is o'er,
Whose pains and sorrows are no more!
Bless'd be thou with the bless'd above!
Where all is joy, and purity, and love.


Let him, in might and mercy dread,
Lord of the living and the dead;
In whom the stars of heav'n rejoice,
To whom the ocean lifts his voice,
Thy spirit purified to glory raise,
To sing with holy saints his everlasting praise.


Departed soul, who in this earthly scene
Hast our lowly sister been.
Swift be thy way to where the blessed dwell!
Until we meet thee there, farewell! farewell!


Enter a Lay Sister, with a wild terrified look, her hair and dress all scattered, and rushes forward amongst them.

ABB. Why com'st thou here, with such disorder'd looks
To break upon our sad solemnity?

SIST. Oh! I did hear, thro' the receding blast,
Such horrid cries! it made my blood run chill.

ABB. 'Tis but the varied voices of the storm,
Which many times will sound like distant screams:
It has deceiv'd thee.

SIST. O no, for twice it call'd, so loudly call'd,
With horrid strength, beyond the pitch of nature
And murder! murder! was the dreadful cry.
A third time it return'd with feeble strength,
But o'the sudden ceas'd, as though the words
Were rudely smothered in the grasped throat;
And all was still again, save the wild blast
Which at a distance growl'd--
Oh! It will never from my mind depart!
That dreadful cry all i'the instant still'd,
For then, so near, some horrid deed was done,
And none to rescue.

ABB. Where did'st thou hear it?

SIST. In the higher cells,
As now a window, open'd by the storm,
I did attempt to close.

1ST MONK. I wish our brother Bernard were arriv'd;
He is upon his way.

ABB. Be not alarm'd; it still may be deception.
'Tis meet we finish our solemnity,
Nor shew neglect unto the honour'd dead.

Gives a sign, and the organ plays again: just as it ceases a loud knocking is heard without.

ABB. Ha! who may this be? hush! It is the sound
Of one in haste.

Knocking heard again.

2ND MONK. It is the knock of one in furious haste.
Hush, hush, What footsteps come? Ha! brother Bernard..

Enter Bernard bearing a lantern.

1ST MONK. See, what a look he wears of stiffen'd fear!
Where hast thou been, good brother?

BERN. I've seen a horrid sight!

ALL. (Gathering round him and speaking at once.) What hast thou seen?

BERN. As on I hasten'd, bearing thus my light,
Across the path, not fifty paces off,
I saw a murther'd corse stretch'd on his back,
Smear'd with new blood, as tho' but freshly slain.

ABB. A man or woman?

BERN. A man, a man!



EPILOGUE [spoken by Mrs. Siddons]

Ere yet affection's Tears have ceas'd to flow
I come to cherish, not forget my woe.
No kindred heart will bid me check the tear;
A Sister's love may claim protection here.
Dire is the passion that our Scenes unfold
And foreign to each heart of British Mould
For Britons sons their generous code maintain
Prompt to defend and slow in giving pain.
Warm in the Battle, yet the contest o'er
They deem the vanquish'd to be foes no more.
Sure with compassion then this night they'll view
De Monfort's fate, its ruthless court pursue;
And mourn a nature once by honour grac'd
By one foul deed's atrocious guilt defac'd.


To court your smiles and win your hop'd applause
Ah! let me proudly boast my Sex's cause.
A Female Muse triumphant has design'd
A paragon indeed of woman kind!
Has in this fair majestic portrait wove
Commanding Wisdom, and devoted Love
And bade e'en strength and tenderness agree
In maiden meditation--fancy free.


Yet, tho' she fail'd a Brother to controul
And soothe the frantic troubles of his Soul,
Still be the Lesson of to-night imprest
To wake the judgement and to calm the breast,
To check by strong example's potent spell
And each advance of subtle passion quell.


E'en in those happier times where restless rage
Nor dark revenge, no fatal conflicts wage,
Where mild reflection heals the transient strife
And smoothly flows the tranquil stream of life:--
Yet may our Muse with timely voice impart
Some wholesome lesson to the erring heart,
May check full vengeance for a past offence
And from the suff'ring mind remove suspence.

Thus turn not heedless from the Scene tho' pass'd
Nor view in vain destructive passion's blast,
But cherish ties, for which 'tis life to live;
Enjoy the good your love and kindness give;
banish from Friendship each offendingfear,
And from confiding Love the doubtful tear.


Such the bright picture which the contrast shews,
Such the reverse of hatred's deadly woes.
Thus let us bid the scene's dread horror cease
And hail the blessing of domestic peace.


Paul Ranger, 'Terror and Pity Reign in Every Breast': Gothic Drama in the London Patent Theatres, 1750-1820 (London: Society for Theatre Research, 1991) 61-62.

From 1794 William Capon was senior designer at Drury Lane. As an enthusiast for mediaeval architecture, he brought to his work a scholarly desire to represent on stage buildings with historical accuracy. He was responsible for the gothic convent chapel which featured in Joanna Baillie's play De Monfort, one of his most spectacular constructions. Thomas Campbell described the setting as "representing a church of the fourteenth century, with its nave, choir, and side aisles, magnificently decorated, and consisting of seven planes in succession" [Life of Mrs. Siddons]. The vista, fifty-two feet in depth, receded to the back of the scenic area, using all of the available sets of grooves. It was made the more mysterious by Baillie's direction that the setting was almost dark (4.2). Some of the conventional gothic motifs played on the setting: a stormy wind beat on the windows of the church and in the distance, by the light of torches, a newly dug grave could be discerned. Theatrical capital could be made from processions of monks or nuns, and the formality of these Baillie used to a purpose:


Enter a procession of Nuns, with the Abbess, bearing Torches. After comich, aided by the heavy splendou ensured that ceremonial in the chapel should be effectively spectacular. He himself had been a seminarian at Douai Abbey in France and had experienced at first-hand some of the memorable externals of the religious life. Furthermore, as acting manager of Drury Lane, he took a pride in drilling the processions so that they became faultless, a concern for professionalism which met with occasional criticism from his actors.

Performances of De Montfort [sic] received a mixed reception, but Capon's church setting was universally acclaimed. "The interior perspective of the convent," wrote Thomas Dutton, ". . . ranks among the grandest scenes the stage can boast" [Dramatic Censor]. . . . [A]fter the production of De Monfort the church was adapted for several further gothic plays.


Jeffrey N. Cox, Introduction to Seven Gothic Dramas, 1789-1825 (Athens, OH: Ohio UP, 1992) 52-56.

Baillie's plays engage the standard Gothic settings. . . . It is not, however, her use of Gothic settings or properties or even her portrayal of the male hero that is most interesting in her plays; it is her investigation of the depiction of women in the Gothic. . . . I would go further to suggest that her plays explore the power that literary representations--and particularly dramatic ones--have to fix women within a particular cultural gaze. Her plays do not merely offer alternative images of women; they offer a critique of various conventional modes of dramatizing women, particularly those modes we identify with the Gothic. A play such as De Monfort stands with Lewis's The Captive as part of their period's contribution to a tradition of feminist theater. . . .

De Monfort /i> appears at first as a straight-forward Gothic psychological thriller. It uses Gothic settings (dark woods and a convent), characters (the inwardly troubled De Monfort, the villainous Conrad), and atmospherics (lightning flashes, screaming owls, tolling bells) to provide the backdrop for its close investigation of the passion of hatred. . . . [T]he play explores the tensions in De Monfort's mixed character, and it evokes a divided response in us. The play appears largely conventional if we focus on De Monfort and his story. However, the play has another central figure, De Monfort's sister, Jane. While it is always assumed that he is the protagonist of the play, that it is named for him, Jane is also a De Monfort and in many ways is the dominating presence in the play. Her role is far less conventional, and Baillie's treatment of her reveals the play's revisionary stance toward its Gothic tradition.

While Baillie has the first appearance of each of her three main characters,--Jane, De Monfort, and Rezenvelt--prepared for us by secondary characters, there is a striking difference between what we hear about De Monfort and Rezenvelt and what we are told about Jane. The men are defines through past actions; anecdotes are retold to reveal their characters. We are given only physical descriptions of Jane, seen through the eyes of men. It is as if we are being told how to view Jane, as if our gaze was being directed. Jane would seem to exist as an object of male contemplation and erotic fascination.

However, when she appears, she is not what we have been told to expect. Men describe her as a great beauty, but we find from a page that she is older, perhaps plainer than we have been led to believe. She is called queenly but appears in humble garb at a fashionable ball. The men seem captivated by her, but she is clearly uninterested in attracting them. Of course, these expectations are created by men. The three central male characters--De Monfort, Rezenvelt, and their mutual friend Count Freberg--are all obsessed with Jane. Freberg becomes so fixated on his image of Jane as a beautiful and tempting woman that he arouses the jealousy of his wife. Rezenvelt is also drawn to Jane. He ignores her obvious discomfort at his attentions and the agony they cause her brother and persists in a flirtation with her. His preconditioned vision of her as a possible erotic object is stronger than the evidence of her actual presence and responses. De Monfort himself, clearly emotionally involved with his sister at a depth the play does not explore, also comes to view her as a possible partner for Rezenvelt. De Monfort's jealousy is fed by the Iagoesque machinations of Conrad, until he ceases to see Jane for what she is, but, Othello-like, sees her through the eyes of others.

Baillie works to make her audience self-conscious about the way in which the male gaze seeks to capture Jane but fails to do so. The simple contradiction of what we are told of Jane and what we see already begins to undermine our confidence in the conventional roles men want Jane to play. Baillie goes further by drawing attention to the fact that it is Mrs. Siddons playing Jane De Monfort. Siddons's friend and biographer Thomas Campbell felt that the play's first full description of Jane was a "perfect picture of Mrs. Siddons" [Life of Mrs. Siddons]. Such a comment suggests that audiences were made aware of the actress behind the character, with all the culturally encoded responses Siddons, the actress, evoked. Such self-consciousness breaks the dramatic illusion and the power of dramatic stereotypes by making the audience think about Siddons and her conventional roles. The men in the play want Jane De Monfort to be a typical Siddons character: emotionally responsive, powerfully attractive, passive. They want her to be the spectacle at the center of their narrative, the object over which they fight--both in the social realm of flirtation and in actual combat. She, however, simply refuses to play that role. It is not she but the men who are dominated by their emotions. She is the calm one, the one who exercises self- control.


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