Themes

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John Pielmeier's 1979 Broadway show, Agnes of God, relates the circumstances surrounding the mysterious stillbirth of a child to a nun who claims that the conception was immaculate. The play explores the nexus between faith, criminality, and insanity.

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There are only three main characters in the play. The convicted mother is a novice nun named Sister Agnes, who claims to have no recollection of being pregnant or delivering the child. Mother Miriam Ruth (known as "Mother Superior") supports this testimony, alleging that Sister Agnes had a relatively sheltered upbringing. The third (and primary) character Dr. Martha Livingstone tirelessly investigates the case to determine both the paternity of the father as well the culpability of Sister Agnes. In the course of her investigation, Livingstone develops an antagonist with Mother Superior, who resents Livingstone's avowed lack of faith. At one point, Livingstone herself as a crisis of faith for which she seems, on some level, to yearn. Livingstone is treated poorly by others in the convent as a result of Mother Superior's ostracizing of the investigator because of the latter's atheism.

The lack of pragmatic resolution (as the father is never named) encourages (if not forces) the audience to accept the miraculous nature of the birth. The audience is asked to suspend its disbelief and accept Sister Agnes's final testimony that "God raped her." It is unsettling not to learn the real paternity, but, the playwright suggests, faith means different things to different people. Faith is presented as a complex theme. It is an alienating mechanism for Dr. Livingstone but a powerful, life-changing vocation for the other characters.

The play also explores the ethical implications of hypnosis for the purpose of criminal investigations. Dr. Livingstone hypnotizes Sister Agnes twice in the course of the play (though she is thwarted by the efforts of Mother Superior). It is revealed by means of Agnes's hypnosis that one (deceased) Sister Marie-Paul instructed Agnes to meet God in a bell tower, where Sister Agnes (in her testimony) claims that God raped her. The court finds Sister Agnes not guilty by reason of insanity. Insanity and faith are at first easily confused, but the former is found as...

(The entire section contains 549 words.)

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