The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail takes place in Concord, Massachusetts, and the surrounding area. As the stage directions note, "time and space are awash here." The play starts in one time period and then abruptly shifts around to many other times and places. At all times throughout the play, Henry David Thoreau's jail cell can be seen in the background. The play starts at its latest point in time, during a Concord winter when Ralph Waldo Emerson is an old man, walking with his wife, Lydian. With his wife's help, Waldo remembers the name of Henry (Thoreau), who was his best friend. With this realization, the action shifts to Henry's jail cell, when the writer is a young man.
Henry's mother asks Henry why he is in jail, and he gives vague answers, a tactic that he uses throughout the play. Henry shows what his mother calls his strangeness by questioning the order of the alphabet. Henry's brother, John, comes into the jail cell, and their mother leaves. The location shifts to a sunny field at an earlier time, when Henry has just returned from Harvard. Henry and John talk about Henry's education, which Henry counts as worthless except for hearing the lectures of Waldo, whom he says he wants to emulate. Back in the jail cell, Henry talks with his cellmate, Bailey, who has been accused of burning down a barn; Bailey has been waiting for his trial for three months, a fact that outrages Henry.
Henry tries to talk to...
(The entire section is 1319 words.)
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