The Owl Was a Baker’s Daughter

 The Owl Was a Baker’s Daughter is about Charles Lamb and his sister Mary.  The time of the action is the late 1790s and early 1800s and for the set Nigro writes that, in addition to a punishment stocks with holes for wrists and ankles, “a few old chairs, one a rocker, and a sofa will do, and a cabinet with silverware.”  We hear the sound of a ticking clock as lights come up on Charles and Mary sitting by a fire.  In the upstage shadows we can see Mother, Father, Aunt Hetty, and Jane, all sitting.  Charles says that Coleridge told him that his wife is trying to kill him.  Mary tells Charles that she knows she is a terrible burden to him but she is very grateful that he did not put her in Bedlam.  She tells him that there is a witch in the parlor with them but Charles says they and the cat are the only ones in the parlor.  He leaves and lights come up on the others.  Father speaks of being a butler for old Mr. Salt, Mother wants the cat, Aunt Hetty has difficulty remembering a parrot’s name, Jane talks about ducks, and the conversation becomes a hodge-podge of humorous misunderstandings.  But we learn that Coleridge’s wife has given birth, although Mother insists that Coleridge cannot be the father because he couldn’t stop talking long enough to put it in her.  Frustrated, Mary throws a spoon at Jane and then more silverware at the other characters.  She grabs a carving knife and stabs Mother in the heart, twice, threatening Jane who runs out, bumping into the re-entering Lamb.  He takes the knife from Mary, and as the lights go to black we hear the sounds of moans and shrieks, a madhouse cacophony.

     The lights come up on Lamb visiting Mary who is in a straight jacket.  She asks if they are going to hang her, but Lamb tells her the verdict was lunacy and that she will stay in the madhouse until she is better and can be brought home.  Mary says she is sorry for hitting Father in the head with a fork but that putting a knife in Mother’s heart was the only joy she has felt.  Lamb says he remembers his own temporary insanity fondly and swears he will never leave Mary. As he goes off, lights go to black, madhouse cacophony again, then lights up on Lamb, slightly drunk, in the stocks speaking to Mary in the straight jacket.  He enacts a story about having dinner with Wordsworth, Keats, Haydon, and “old deaf Landseer,” to whom he shouts parts of their conversation.  Lamb talks of a “red blubbery fellow,” possibly “old Ritchie,” who, according to Lamb, describes himself as a controller of stamps.  Lamb concludes his story by telling Mary that they are a pair that the world has never seen, she in a straight jacket for madness and he in the stocks for public drunkenness.  The light fades, allowing Lamb and Mary to go off stage where she gets quickly out of her straight jacket and runs back onstage carrying a package of books of Tales from Shakespeare, the book she and her brother wrote together.  They see that her name has been left off the title page.  Charles is angry and wants to punch Godwin, but Mary urges him to let it go and take a copy to Hazlitt, stopping to have a drink with Coleridge.

     Lamb asks Coleridge to stop wailing and Mary comes in asking if a crowd has died in the parlor.  Coleridge says that Wordsworth has broken with him and wishes he had married a woman like Mary.  She suggests he write to Wordsworth and to his wife.  Coleridge complains of the man from Porlock who knocked on the door as Coleridge was writing down his masterpiece about Kubla Khan.  When Mary says he must face his demons like everyone else, Coleridge leaves.  Lights fade and come up on Mary and the upstage group.  Mary says she is haunted by the fear that she will be ill again.  Mother wants the cat and asks Mary if she also murdered Aunt Hetty.  Aunt Hetty says she is right there, and Mary tells Mother that she had a nightmare that Mother had come back from the dead to ask her questions, like an oral examination at a university.  Mother then fires a series of questions that Mary answers, after which Mother tells Father that she had carnal relations with Old Salt every Friday for seventeen years.  Lamb, from the darkness, asks Mary whom she is speaking to, and the light changes so that the others are in the shadows.  But the voices upstage keep talking to Mary and she tells Lamb that she has to go back to the madhouse, that they will walk along the street on Christmas Day and pretend that they are sane.  The ghost people watch them go and Mother, after wishing them Merry Christmas, calls for the cat as the lights fade out.

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