Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1241
Scene I The opening scene takes place in London Hospital: Dr. Treves, the new lecturer in anatomy, presents his credentials to the hospital administrator, Carr Gomm. A salary is settled upon, and Gomm makes a mysterious reference to the salary serving as an excellent consolation prize.
Scene II In a store, Ross is collecting money for a viewing of John Merrick, who is described as a freak of nature. Treves enters and says he will not pay if it is all a trick; but after seeing Merrick, Treves pays Ross. They agree that Treves will pay Ross a fee to take Merrick for a day to study his condition.
Scene III While conducting a lecture, Treves shows slides of Merrick while describing the exact nature of the deformities. Merrick is also present and demonstrates his infirmities when asked. A voice from the audience tells Treves that he cannot permit Merrick to return to the freak show.
Scene IV In Brussels, the pinheads are being prepared to sing by the Man. Ross and Merrick enter, and Merrick tells the pinheads that he has earned a lot of money, which Ross is holding. Merrick also says he is happy. The Man enters again and tells the pinheads to sing.
At that moment a policeman enters and orders the show stopped. Ross comes back and tells Merrick that he has become a liability. After stealing his money, Ross turns Merrick over to the conductor, who agrees to drop Merrick at Liverpool Station in return for a little money. The scene ends with Merrick saying he has been robbed.
Scene V Merrick arrives in London, and a policeman and the conductor have to hide Merrick to protect him from the mob. Merrick tries to speak, but his words are difficult to understand; the policeman and conductor think he is an imbecile. They find Treves’s card in Merrick’s pocket and send for the doctor.
Scene VI Treves interviews Nurse Sandwich, whom he hopes will be able to care for Merrick. A number of other nurses have been too revolted by his appearances to care for him. Although he claims to have vast experiences in Africa with terrible diseases, Miss Sandwich is just as frightened and bolts from the room.
Scene VII The bishop and Gomm talk about Merrick’s aptitude for biblical instruction. The bishop feels it is his Christian duty to help Merrick with religious instruction. He is also pleased that Treves is a Christian.
Scene VIII Treves informs Merrick that he has a home for life and that he will never have to go on exhibition again. Treves badgers Merrick to acknowledge how lucky he is. He repeatedly forces Merrick to thank him and to admit that, while there are rules to follow, those rules will make Merrick happy. It illustrates that Treves sees Merrick as a child and not capable of real thought.
Scene IX Treves brings in an actress, Mrs. Kendal, to meet Merrick. Treves informs her that Merrick is very lonely that he needs to be more socialized. Mrs. Kendal asks about Merrick’s disorder and whether his sexual function has been inhibited. Treves is embarrassed to discuss sexual matters with a woman, but he finally admits that Merrick is normal in that way.
Scene X Mrs. Kendal comes to visit Merrick and they discuss Romeo and Juliet, a play she has acted in several times. They engage in a spirited discussion of Romeo and Merrick is revealed to very much an intellectual capable of deep thought.
Mrs. Kendal is very impressed with his ability to explore beyond the obvious and tells...
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Treves that Merrick must be introduced to some of her friends. She shakes Merrick’s hand as she leaves and he is heard sobbing in the background as she exits.
Scene XI Merrick is working on a model of St. Phillip’s Church. He is visited by several important members of society, each leaving a Christmas gift for him. After they leave, Treves and Merrick discuss the model he is building and the illusion of perfection.
Scene XII Several of Merrick’s visitors, including Mrs. Kendal, Gomm, and the bishop, think Merrick is like each of them. All of them fail to see that Merrick has a definite personality of his own.
Scene XIII Lord John and Treves are talking; the details are not given, but it appears that John may be a swindler of sorts. Merrick overhears and is worried that he may lose his home in the hospital if all the money is gone.
Scene XIV Merrick complains to Mrs. Kendal that he has never even seen a woman’s body unclothed. She begins undressing. Merrick turns to look at her just as Treves enters. As a proper Victorian gentleman, he is shocked that Mrs. Kendal has shown Merrick her body and he orders her to cover herself.
Scene XV Ross returns and asks Merrick to help him; he has read that Merrick has important visitors and he suggests that Merrick begin charging each of these people to visit. Merrick reminds Ross that he robbed him and refuses to be a part of his plan.
Scene XVI Treves tells Merrick about a patient he operated on and who came back from the dead. Merrick, who is clearly hurt by Mrs. Kendal’s being sent away, begins to question Treves about the women he operates on and how he feels about seeing their naked bodies.
When he asks Treves if Mrs. Kendal might return, Treves replies that she would not choose to do so. The scene ends with Treves muttering to himself that he does not want her present to see Merrick die.
Scene XVII Treves dreams that Merrick has come to borrow him from Gomm and takes him back for examination. Gomm, who is disguised as Ross, describes Treves as a dreamer.
Scene XVIII The dream continues: Merrick is lecturing and describing Treves as self-satisfied and incapable of truly giving of himself. He also describes Treves as sexually repressed and focused more on controlling his emotions than on being able to empathize with those around him. This scene mirrors the earlier one where Treves presents Merrick at a lecture.
Scene XIX Treves informs Gomm that Merrick is dying. Treves notes the irony that as Merrick has finally managed to achieve a more normal life, his body is failing him. The bishop steps away from Merrick, where the two have been praying, and tells Treves that he finds the depth of Merrick’s religious belief moving.
Treves appears to be in despair over the meaninglessness of his life and grieving for something lost. As Treves collapses into weeping, Merrick places the final piece in the model of St. Phillip’s that he has constructed.
Scene XX Snork brings Merrick his lunch. After he eats, Merrick falls asleep sitting up—only that way will keep the weight of his head from killing him. In a dream, the pinheads enter, singing, and lay him down. Merrick dies and Snork enters to find the body.
Scene XXI Gomm reads a letter he will send to the newspaper announcing the death of Merrick in his sleep. The letter contains a brief summary of how the hospital attempted to make Merrick’s life easier. The remaining funds, previous donated to care for Merrick, will be donated to the hospital’s general fund. The play ends with the reading of the letter.