The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The Marriage takes place in an oppressive, shadowy landscape; the ruins of a disfigured church can be discerned in the background. The notion that the scene is a dreamscape is suggested by Henry’s first speech and is reinforced by subsequent scene shifts from the battle-torn landscape of northern France to the faintly emerging structure of walls and outlines of rooms from which a country manor house in Poland comes into view. This manor house is simultaneously a cheap roadside inn. The characters who appear in this dreamscape are also subject to Henry’s dream and consequently respond to Henry’s thoughts as if he were the internal director. Since the characters are dream projections, however, they often take on a grotesque, threatening existence of their own.

In act 1, Henry, a Polish soldier in France, sees his childhood home, his parents, and his betrothed in a dream. In the outer fringes of his dream, he is accompanied by Johnny, his childhood friend and companion at the French front. At first Johnny functions as Henry’s guide to the dream-constructed interwar Poland; later, however, he joins the other characters as a courtier in the inner dream.

As Henry and Johnny come upon what appears to be a cheap dive, Henry, through Johnny’s suggestions, recognizes the inn as his ancestral home in Poland and, in a travesty of recognition scenes, the slovenly innkeepers as his parents. A festive dinner of horse guts and cat urine is served with due ceremony, and Henry finds himself subject to old rituals and forms. The father reestablishes a semblance of authority by forbidding Henry to lift his spoon until he, as father, has commenced eating. As the shadowy inn acquires concreteness, Henry recognizes Molly, the servant, as his former betrothed. Thereupon, the Drunkard at the head of other drunkards enters and propositions Molly. The father tries to prevent him, and the Drunkard starts to harass and insult him. In terror, the father announces that he is as “untouchable as a king.” Action freezes as Henry assumes the role of the son of a king and kneels to pay homage to his father, thereby transforming him into an “untouchable king” and making him invulnerable to the Drunkard’s “touch,” or pointing finger. The father, in turn, proposes that by his sovereign power he intends...

(The entire section is 948 words.)