Monday is “Grab Bag” day here at Entertainment Legends Revealed, with each Monday featuring a different area of the world of arts and entertainment (that is not featured on the other four days of the week, that is). They’ll eventually repeat, but for now, we’re still on the initial installments of each of the various “Grab Bag” legends!
This is the first in a series of examinations of legends related to plays and their playwrights and whether they are true or false.
PLAY LEGEND: Henrik Ibsen wrote an alternate happy ending to A Doll’s House.
STATUS: Sadly True
A Doll’s House was published by Henrik Ibsen in 1879.
Here is a portrait of Ibsen…
The play was the first of Ibsen’s works to be a massive hit, and it is likely still his most famous work.
The play centers around Nora, a wife and mother who slowly realizes that, all throughout her life, she has been treated as almost like possession – first by her father and now by her husband.
She dramatically, and quite controversially for 1879, leaves her husband and children at the end of the play, responding to her husband’s pleas that the only chance to save their marriage would be if they could completely change their the way they approach their life and marriage, which she says would take “the greatest miracle of them all.”
As she leaves, her husband takes some solace in the hope that said miracle could take place and the play ends with her slamming the door, punctuating her exit.
It was definitely a controversial ending for the time – a woman leaving her family?
It was SO controversial that when it was going to be staged in Berlin, the famous actress Hedwig Niemann-Raabe said she would only play the part of Nora if the ending was changed. Having an actress of Raabe’s stature take the part was a major coup for Ibsen, but he, of course, did not approve of the idea of changing the ending of the play.
Raabe felt that she, as a mother, could not possibly fathom a mother leaving her children, so she could not believe that any woman would. The production of the play actually began rehearsing with an ending that they had come up with. That was enough for Ibsen, and he begrudgingly re-wrote the ending of the play to give it a “happy” ending.
Here is that ending….
NORA …Where we could make a real marriage out of our lives together. Goodbye.
(Begins to go)
HELMER Go then! (Seizes her arm.) But first you shall see your children for the last time!
NORA Let me go! I will not see them! I cannot!
HELMER (draws her over to the door, left) You shall see them. (Opens the door and says softly.) Look, there they are asleep, peaceful and carefree. Tomorrow, when they wake up and call for their mother, they will be – motherless.
NORA (trembling) Motherless….!
HELMER As you once were.
NORA Motherless! (Struggles with herself, lets her travelling-bag fall and says.) Oh, this is a sin against myself, but I cannot leave them, (Half sinks down by the door).
HELMER (joyfully, but softly) Nora!
The curtain falls.
Ibsen referred to the new ending as “a barbaric act of violence.”
The new ending was only used a few times, and ultimately, Raabe was convinced that the original ending was much better.
However, the new ending was the one that was used when the play made its way to the United States in the late 19th Century, along with some other additions (like an Irish woman who was played as comic relief).
Thanks to Egil Tornqvist’s Ibsen: A Doll’s House (Plays in Production) for the revised ending.
PLAY LEGEND: The Pulitzer Prize Committee chose to award no Pulitzer Prize for Best Drama in 1963 rather than to give it to Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
STATUS: Again, Sadly True
Edward Albee’s play, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is one of the more remarkable works of drama in the 20th Century.
The play was first staged in 1962.
The story takes place at the home of George and Martha, a history professor at a college and his wife, the daughter of the president of the college. They have taken a new professor and his mousy wife out to dinner and are now back at George and Martha’s place for more drinks. The night continues as George and Martha slowly descend into a tirade of increasingly violent behavior towards each other.
Albee wished to take a darn look at the “standard” American couple and show the darkness hidden behind a typical white heterosexual couple in the early 60s.
The play opened to widespread acclaim.
It won the 1963 Tony Award for Best Play.
However much acclaim it attracted, though, it attracted the same amount of controversy. The play contained copious amounts of profanity and sexual references. In 1962-63, that was still quite shocking.
It was SO shocking that it resulted in a similarly shocking result when the 1963 Pulitzer Prizes were awarded.
The way the Pulitzer Prize works is that there are committees for each category, and they send in their recommendations and the overall committee chooses the winner, almost always taking the sub-committee’s recommendation, as the whole concept of the sub-committee is to have experts in a field pick that field’s winner.
Well, in 1963, the Best Drama committee unsurprisingly picked Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? as the Best Drama.
However, the advisory board (at the time, the trustees of Columbia University) decided that Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was just too vulgar, and actually REJECTED the pick, so in 1963, there was no award for Best Drama.
Pretty shocking and sad.
PLAY LEGEND: William Shakespeare left Stratford-on-Avon in the mid 1580s because he was arrested for poaching deer.
STATUS: Most Likely False
For centuries now, there has been one part of Shakespeare’s life that just doesn’t seem to be accounted for.
He was married at age 18 to the 26-year-old Anne Hathaway in 1582. They had three children, born in 1583 and 1585.
The next time anyone has definitive information about Shakespeare is when he popped up on the London theater scene in 1592.
Every story that has come about to explain what happened in those seven years originated years after Shakespeare’s death, but one particular popular one involved deer poaching.
As the story goes, and this was offered up by four separate biographies of Shakespeare in the 1700s, Shakespeare, who had a grudge against Sir Thomas Lucy of Charlecote, which was right across the river to Stratford. Shakespeare mocked Lucy in two separate plays.
So the legend is that Shakespeare was caught deer poaching on Lucy’s deer park at Charlecote and left Stratford for London to avoid punishment (an alternate to this legend includes Shakespeare being caught and whipped and then sent from Stratford).
It’s not a ridiculous proposition, in that it would explain nicely why he left his family behind, and people DID poach deer, of course.
However, the key sticking point is that Lucy did not HAVE a deer park at Charlecote.
Secondly, whipping was banned as a punishment for poaching deer in the late 16th Century.
In addition, the idea that Lucy would be the Justice over a case in which a guy poached deer off of Lucy’s property seems fishy, even for the 1500s.
Like most Shakespeare scholars, I’m just about convinced that the poaching story is just that, a story. And it’s a good one, but I just don’t buy it.
Okay, that’s it for this week!
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments, particularly other themes for future grab bag Mondays! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org