The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Agnes of God is a tragedy. Sister Agnes, a twenty-one-year-old nun, is accused of strangling her newborn child and discarding it into the wastebasket in her convent room. Her pregnancy and the birth of the child were kept secret, until Agnes is discovered unconscious and bleeding profusely outside her room. Sister Agnes professes no knowledge of the baby’s birth or death, offers no reason for the presence of the body in her room, and, until she is hypnotized, claims to have no recollection of ever conceiving. Mother Miriam believes Agnes exists on a different spiritual plane from others, shrouded in an innocence that she views as miraculous.

Mother Miriam is also highly protective of Agnes, afraid of how court-appointed psychiatrist Dr. Martha Livingstone might dissect Agnes’s psyche and diminish or destroy her fragile spirit. Mother Miriam tells Dr. Livingstone, “I don’t want that mind cut open.” The psychiatrist comes to the convent to evaluate Sister Agnes’s sanity. As a trained professional Dr. Livingstone wants to help the “hysteric” Sister Agnes; she is convinced that this pregnancy is not an immaculate conception, that Agnes is a seriously disturbed person who is psychologically scarred from childhood trauma, and that a sexual encounter produced the pregnancy. She is initially open to the idea that someone other than Agnes may have killed the baby, as she seeks to uncover a logical explanation to the crime and to help Agnes confront realities not rooted in religious doctrine, but in the doctrine of psychological well-being that emanates from love and the empowerment of self.

The play portrays two different hypnosis sessions in the second act. The first session reveals a childhood of tortured abuse, and complicated denials emerge from Agnes and Mother Miriam. The second hypnosis constitutes the climax of the play, when there is finally a confession about the baby’s birth and death, as well as a rapturously...

(The entire section is 802 words.)