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The Scarecrow; or The Glass of Truth_ A Tragedy of the Ludicrous

The Scarecrow; or The Glass of Truth_ A Tragedy of the Ludicrous
Title: The Scarecrow; or The Glass of Truth_ A Tragedy of the Ludicrous
Release Date: 2018-05-13
Type book: Text
Copyright Status: Public domain in the USA.
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Book Cover.


Book Cover.



Macmillan & CO., Limited






A Tragedy of the Ludicrous



New York


All rights reserved


Set up and electrotyped. Published February, 1908. Reprinted February, 1911.

This play has been copyrighted and published simultaneously in theUnited States and Great Britain. All acting rights, both professionaland amateur, are reserved in the United States, Great Britain, andcountries of the Copyright Union, by Percy MacKaye. Performancesforbidden and right of representation reserved. Application for theright of performing this piece must be made to The McMillan Company.Any piracy or infringement will be prosecuted in accordance with thepenalties provided by the United States Statutes:—

“Sec. 4966.—Any person publicly performing or representing anydramatic or musical composition, for which copyright has been obtained,without the consent of the proprietor of the said dramatic or musicalcomposition, or his heirs or assigns, shall be liable for damagestherefor, such damages in all cases to be assessed at such sum, notless than one hundred dollars for the first and fifty dollars for everysubsequent performance, as to the Court shall appear to be just. If theunlawful performance and representation be wilful and for profit, suchperson or persons shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and upon convictionbe imprisoned for a period not exceeding one year.” U. S. RevisedStatutes, Title 60, Chap. 3.

Norwood Press
J. S. Cushing Co.—Berwick &Smith Co.
Norwood, Mass., U.S.A.


[Pg ix]


But for a fantasy of Nathaniel Hawthorne, this play, of course, wouldnever have been written. In “Mosses from an Old Manse,” the MoralizedLegend “Feathertop” relates, in some twenty pages of its author’sinimitable style, how Mother Rigby, a reputed witch of old New Englanddays, converted a corn-patch scarecrow into the semblance of a finegentleman of the period; how she despatched this semblance to “playits part in the great world, where not one man in a hundred, sheaffirmed, was gifted with more real substance than itself”; how therethe scarecrow, while paying court to pretty Polly Gookin, the rosy,simpering daughter of Justice Gookin, discovered its own image in alooking-glass, returned to Mother Rigby’s cottage, and dissolved intoits original elements.

My indebtedness, therefore, to this source, in undertaking thepresent play, goes without saying. Yet it would not be true, eitherto Hawthorne’s work or my own, to classify “The Scarecrow” as adramatization of “Feathertop.” Were it intended to be such, the manyradical departures from the conception and the treatment of Hawthornewhich are evident in the present work would have to be regarded as so[Pg x]many unwarrantable liberties taken with its original material; thefunction of the play itself would, in such case, become purelyformal,—translative of a narrative to its appropriate dramaticform,—and as such, however interesting and commendable an effort,would have lost all raison d’être for the writer.

But such, I may say, has not been my intention. My aim has been quiteotherwise. Starting with the same basic theme, I have sought toelaborate it, by my own treatment, to a different and more inclusiveissue.

Without particularizing here the full substance of Hawthorne’sconsummate sketch, which is available to every reader, the divergence Irefer to may be summed up briefly.

The scarecrow Feathertop of Hawthorne is the imaginative epitomeor symbol of human charlatanism, with special emphasis upon thecoxcombry of fashionable society. In his essential superficiality heis characterized as a fop, “strangely self-satisfied,” with “nobbylittle nose thrust into the air.” “And many a fine gentleman,” saysMother Rigby, “has a pumpkin-head as well as my scarecrow.” His hollowsemblance is the shallowness of a “well-digested conventionalism, whichhad incorporated itself thoroughly with his substance and transformedhim into a work of art.” “But the clothes in this case were to be themaking of the man,” and so Mother Rigby, after fitting him out in asuit of embroidered finery, endows him as a finishing touch “with a[Pg xi]great deal of brass, which she applied to his forehead, thus making ityellower than before. ‘With that brass alone,’ quoth she, ‘thou canstpay thy way all over the earth.’”

Similarly, the other characters are sketched by Hawthorne in accordwith this general conception. Pretty Polly Gookin, “tossing herhead and managing her fan” before the mirror, views therein “anunsubstantial little maid that reflected every gesture and did all thefoolish things that Polly did, but without making her ashamed of them.In short, it was the fault of pretty Polly’s ability, rather than herwill, if she failed to be as complete an artifice as the illustriousFeathertop himself.”

Thus the Moralized Legend reveals itself as a satire upon arestricted artificial phase of society. As such, it runs its briefcourse, with all the poetic charm and fanciful suggestivenessof our great New Englander’s prose style, to its appropriatedénouement,—the disintegration of its hero.

“‘My poor, dear, pretty Feathertop,’ quoth Mother Rigby, with a ruefulglance at the relics of her ill-fated contrivance, ‘there are thousandsupon thousands of coxcombs and charlatans in the world made up of justsuch a jumble of worn-out, forgotten, and good-for-nothing trash as hewas, yet they live in fair repute and never see themselves for whatthey are. And why should my poor puppet be the only one to know himselfand perish for it?’”

Coxcombry and charlatanism, then, are the butt of Hawthorne’s satire inhis Legend. The nature of his theme, however, is susceptible of an[Pg xii]application far less restricted, a development far more universal, thansuch satire. This wider issue once or twice in his sketch he seems tohave touched upon, only immediately to ignore again. Thus, in the verylast paragraph, Mother Rigby exclaims: “Poor Feathertop! I could easilygive him another chance and send him forth again to-morrow. But no!His feelings are too tender—his sensibilities too deep.

In these words, spoken in irony, Hawthorne ends his narrative with anundeveloped aspect of his theme, which constitutes the starting-pointof the conception of my play: the aspect, namely, of the essentialtragedy of the ludicrous; an aspect which, in its development,inevitably predicates for my play a divergent treatment and a differentconclusion. The element of human sympathy is here substituted for thatof irony, as criterion of the common absurdity of mankind.

The scarecrow Feathertop is ridiculous, as the emblem of a superficialfop; the scarecrow Ravensbane is pitiful, as the emblem of human bathos.

Compared with our own ideas of human perfection, what human rubbishwe are! Of what incongruous elements are we constructed by time andinheritance wherewith to realize the reasonableness, the power, thealtruism, of our dreams! What absurdity is our highest consummation!Yet the sense of our common deficiency is, after all, our salvation.There is one reality which is a basic hope for the realization ofthose dreams. This sense is human sympathy, which is, it would seem, a[Pg xiii]more searching critic of human frailty than satire. It is the growthof this sense which dowers with dignity and reality the hollowest andmost ludicrous of mankind, and becomes in such a fundamental grace ofcharacter. In a recent critical interpretation of Cervantes’ greatwork, Professor G. E. Woodberry writes: “A madman has no character; butit is the character of Don Quixote that at last draws the knight out ofall his degradations and makes him triumph in the heart of the reader.”And he continues: “Modern dismay begins in the thought that here is notthe abnormality of an individual, but the madness of the soul in itsown nature.”

If for “madness” in this quotation I may be permitted to substituteludicrousness (or incongruity), a more felicitous expression of mymeaning, as applied to Ravensbane in this play, would be difficult to devise.

From what has been said, it will, I trust, be the more clearlyapparent why “The Scarecrow” cannot with any appropriateness be deemeda dramatization of “Feathertop,” and why its manifold divergencies fromthe latter in treatment and motive cannot with any just significancebe considered as liberties taken with an original source. Dickon, forexample, whose name in the Legend is but a momentary invocationin the mouth of Mother Rigby, becomes in my play not merely thecharacterized visible associate of Goody Rickby (“Blacksmith Bess”),but the necessary foil of sceptical irony to the human growth of the[Pg xiv]scarecrow. So, too, for reasons of the play’s different intent, GoodyRickby herself is differentiated from Mother Rigby; and Rachel Mertonhas no motive, of character or artistic design, in common with pretty,affected Polly Gookin.

My indebtedness to the New England master in literature is, needlessto say, gratefully acknowledged; but it is fitting, I think, todistinguish clearly between the aim and the scope of “Feathertop” andthat of the play in hand, as much in deference to the work of Hawthorneas in comprehension of the spirit of my own.

P. M-K.

Cornish, New Hampshire,
  December, 1907.

Program of the play as first performed in
New York, Jan. 17, 1911, at the Garrick Theatre

Charles Frohman, Manager









(Note—The following characters are named isthe order in which they first appear)

Blacksmith Bess (Goody Rickby) Alice Fischer
Dickon, a Yankee Improvisation of the Prince of Darkness Edmund Breese
Rachel Merton, niece of the Justice Fola La Follette
Richard Talbot Earle Browne
Justice Gilead Merton Brigham Royce
Lord Ravensbane (The Scarecrow) Frank Reicher
Mistress Cynthia Merton, sister of the Justice Mrs. Felix Morris
Micah, a servant Harold M. Cheshire
Captain Bugby, the Governor’s secretary Regan Hughston
Minister Dodge Clifford Leigh
Mistress Dodge, his wife Eleanor Sheldon
Rev. Master Rand, of Harvard College William Levis
Rev. Master Todd, of Harvard College Harry Lillford
Sir Charles Reddington, Lieutenant Governor H. J. Carvill
Mistress Reddington  }   his Zenaidee Williams
Amelia Reddington  } daughters Georgia Dvorak

Time—About 1690  Place—A town in Massachusetts

Act I.—The Blacksmith

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