in shakespeare and the bible

In Shakespeare and the Bible represents “Wrath” in Wilder’s cycle on The Seven Deadly Sins.

MARGET, a maid
JOHN LUBBOCK, a young attorney, twenty-seven
MRS. MOWREY, late fifties

SETTING: An over-sumptuous parlor, New York, 1898

The year is 1898 and the place is an over-sumptuous parlor in New York. Mrs. Mowbrey, a mature, wealthy woman with a history to bury, makes a plan–she’ll befriend her estranged niece and fiancé, and their subsequent marriage will provide her own entre into respectable society. Or at least, that’s what she tells the young couple.

In Shakespeare and the Bible uncovers a mystery inside a melodrama inside a meeting. Mrs. Mowbrey invites her niece, Katy and her niece’s fiancé Mr. Lubbock to her home separately and unbeknownst to each other. Mr. Lubbock arrives first, and is asked to become Mr. Mowbrey’s attorney. Katy comes later, to meet this aunt who has fallen from her family’s good graces for unknown reasons.

With all three in the room, it becomes apparent that Mr. Lubbock and Mrs. Mowbrey share something that’s not deemed proper for Katy to know. Yet Katy insists they tell her. When Mrs. Mowbrey leaves the room, insisting that they work things out among themselves, the mystery looms large. Katy discovers their secret and the true intent of Mrs. Mowbrey’s agenda hangs in the balance: Did she intend to use her wealth to buy respectability and family relations? Or exact revenge?

After much hard work with a play, which he came to see as dealing, in part, with the motif “that women need their wits about them to survive at all,” Wilder put the all but completed draft of this work aside in 1957. Thanks to meticulous research by the actor/director F. J. O’Neil, however, In Shakespeare and the Bible was finally published in 1997 in Volume I of The Collected Short Plays of Thornton Wilder. This play, along with three other one acts found in the Wilder archive, received its world premiere as the centerpiece of the Actors Theatre of Louisville’s “Wilder Rediscovered” program in the fall of 1997, directed by Tazewell Thompson. In his note on the plays, Michael Bigelow Dixon quotes this line from Two Gentlemen of Verona: “By penitence the Eternal’s wrath’s appeased,” going on to wonder whether penitence and forgiveness are in fact to be found in In Shakespeare and the Bible. How Thornton Wilder would have appreciated the question!

A Note on Publication:
In Shakespeare and the Bible was first published in 1997 by TCG in The Collected Short Plays of Thornton Wilder, edited by Donald Gallup and Tappan Wilder. It is also included in Collected Plays & Writings on Theater edited by J. D. McClatchy, published by The Library of America in 2007.