The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The Lost Colony eloquently recounts the story of the 117 men, women, and children of the doomed English settlement at Roanoke Island, North Carolina, who disappeared without a trace in 1588 after a yearlong struggle to settle the coastal wilds. Far from dwelling on the failure of the enterprise, the play offers an uplifting retelling that connects the daring of these first New World settlers (the Roanoke community predated Plymouth by more than thirty years) to the eventual success of the American experiment.

The prologue begins with a thundering organ solo followed by a sweeping choral rendering of “O God That Madest Earth and Sky.” A minister in full vestment intones a prayer recalling the heroic Roanoke settlers and reminding the audience that this seaside amphitheater is, in fact, on the very site of that original settlement (the play was written to be performed at a specific site). The stage then comes alive with the vivid spectacle of the harvest dance of the native Roanokes, interrupted by the arrival of the initial English scouting cortege, who claim the land for the queen. An exchange of gifts and gestures of friendship promise cooperation.

The action shifts to London, specifically the happy confusion outside a tavern by the queen’s gardens. Old Tom, a beggar and drunkard who, like the Shakespearean fool, is given to witty insights, anticipates the arrival of Sir Walter Raleigh. With great pomp, the queen herself arrives and, after listening to Raleigh and sampling the New World curiosity known as tobacco, sanctions a settlement. Amid the celebration, John Borden, a dashing tenant farmer, exchanges tender words with Eleanor White, whose father owns the lands he farms. She is, however, already promised to Captain Ananias Dare, a union more appropriate to her social position.

The disastrous first attempt at settling the island by a military contingent dispatched in 1585 is rendered dramatically in scene 5. The English ambush the unsuspecting Indians during a dance ritual and kill their chief. After a period of escalating hostilities, the chorus explains, the settlement’s leaders returned to England, leaving only fifteen soldiers behind to...

(The entire section is 897 words.)