Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Mary Shelley: Proserpine

So, apparently, Mary Shelley - you know, the author of Frankenstein - wrote some plays. They were lost for a long time, but rediscovered and as part of the public domain they were published by several companies. They are usually published together as Proserpine and Midas: Two Mythological Dramas.

The voice of Proserpine in this play is very much rooted in the Romantic Era. The play takes many of its main points directly from the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, but just as Shelley writes Frankenstein from her own personal experiences, so does she twist the character of Proserpine just a little bit.

The play opens with Proserpine and Ceres (Persephone and Demeter) discussing whether or not Ceres has to leave her daughter behind on the Enna Plain in Sicily. Proserpine begs her mother to stay with her, but Ceres insists that she needs to leave to attend to a feast among the Gods and that she has been summoned there by Jove (Zeus) himself. She leaves Proserpine in the care of the Nymphs, Ino and Eunoe.

There are many long and poetic speeches in this play and for a long time Proserpine and the nymphs talk about frolicking in the meadow. As you might expect, the Nymphs fail in their attempt to watch Proserpine, and the story continues as Homer dictates.

Just before Persephone discovers she is alone, she sings:

Sacred Goddess, Mother Earth,
Thou from whose immortal bosom
Gods, and men, and beasts have birth,
Leaf, and blade, and bud, and blossom,
Breathe thine influence most divine
On thine own child Proserpine

If with mists of evening dew
Thou dost nourish these young flowers
Till they grow in scent and hue
Fairest children of the hours,
Breathe thine influence most divine
One thine own child Proserpine

It is after this song that she realizes she is alone, and so she wanders off. The nymphs return to discover their charge is nowhere to be found. And Ceres returns just in the moment before they are able to go the pet store and get the replacement goldfish. And the curtain falls.

Act Two plays out just like the Homeric Hymn as Ceres does not know the fate of her daughter and wanders the world lost and alone. And it ends with the reunion of mother and daughter. However, the Proserpine of Shelley's play seems more pleased with her marriage than the Persephone of Homer's hymn. I have to admit that I love that about Shelley's version. "This is not misery," she said, "Tis but a slight change."

There is some debate as to whether Shelley ever intended for this play to be performed, but I would really love to see this drama on stage.

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