The Play

(Comprehensive Guide to Drama)

When the curtain rises for act 1 of The Night of the Iguana, the audience sees the broad verandah of the rustic Costa Verde Hotel in the midst of a tropical jungle. The midday is clear and sultry. Down the hill on which the hotel is situated can be heard the excited voices of numerous women, and it is this disturbance that brings a stout, swarthy woman around the turn of the verandah and into the audience’s direct view. She looks down the hill a moment and suddenly recognizes one of the people, a man; she laughs and calls his name—Shannon. The woman is Maxine Faulk, she and her late husband Fred are old acquaintances of T. Lawrence Shannon. Having climbed the hill, Shannon tells Maxine that he had hoped to see and talk with Fred, because he feels emotionally unstable and Fred’s conversation was always helpful at such times.

Once an ordained Episcopal minister but expelled from the church for heresy and fornication, Shannon has been a tour guide for ten years, the last five with Blake Tours, and he is now guiding a busload of schoolteachers from Baptist Female College, Texas. Shannon’s immediate problem is that he has had sexual relations with the youngest of the women; the woman in charge of the group, Judith Fellowes, is outraged and intends to report him. His need for Fred’s companionship has prompted him to abandon the tour’s scheduled route and stops, and now he cannot persuade Fellowes to accept stopping for a time at Maxine’s hotel. Although he has in his pocket the ignition key for the bus, the women are refusing to get out of the vehicle—except for Fellowes, who soon storms the hill and demands to use the hotel telephone to call the headquarters of Blake Tours in Texas. While Fellowes is on the telephone, Maxine shaves Shannon’s face, tells him that he can have Fred’s room permanently, offers him Fred’s shoes and socks, suggests that he let the women leave without him, and makes it abundantly clear that she wants sexual favors from him. What she does not want is two more customers who arrive at the hotel—Hannah Jelkes and her grandfather, Jonathan Coffin, the two of them penniless, she a portraitist and he a ninety-seven-year-old poet in a wheelchair. Shannon convinces Maxine to take them in for at least this one night.

Act 2 opens upon the same day several hours...

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Dramatic Devices

(Comprehensive Guide to Drama)

That all the play’s central action takes place on the hotel’s verandah not only minimizes scenic or set demands but also allows Tennessee Williams to communicate two central motifs: that individuals are essentially separate or divided from one another, and that an individual’s internal wars are manifested externally as wars between people.

Along the back wall of the verandah are several doors to separate rooms or cubicles. The doors themselves are screened with mosquito-net curtains, which are, during the night scenes, made transparent by lights within the rooms; thus, the occupant and interior of any given room are visible to the audience during part of the second act and all of the third. While the walls of these separate rooms are necessary and beneficial, they are also—figuratively speaking—causes of alienation insofar as they become emotional and psychological barriers between people. Hannah, although respecting people’s rights to their separate rooms, believes in the necessity of escaping such divisions and breaking through “gates” for open communication between people, even if what is gained is only—instead of one-night stands—“One night . . . communication between them on a verandah outside their . . . separate cubicles.”

By arranging for all the play’s central action to take place on the section of the verandah hotel guests must cross on their way to the beach, Williams can introduce and bring into focus at...

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Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Costa Verde

Costa Verde. Hotel in Mexico, its name literally means “green coast” in Spanish. Williams describes it as rustic and bohemian, situated at the crest of a hill that overlooks a beach. He also notes that it is important to recognize that this is not the Mexican coast of his present, but of the early 1940’s—the temporal setting is as important as the spatial, given the important role of the German tourists and their blatant Nazi attitudes.

The entire play takes place on the roofed veranda at the front of the hotel. The rest of the setting is presented only as hints: background noises, glimpses of light and motion, shouts by the principal characters to unseen servants. Behind this wide veranda upon which folding tables are placed for supper, there is a row of small cubicles, each shrouded with mosquito netting. During the night scenes, they are lighted from within and serve as miniature interior stages within the main stage. Williams masterfully uses this constrained setting to keep the focus of his story tightly on the problems of the tormented characters.

Historical Context

(Drama for Students)

The early 1960s marked a transitional time in American history. In 1961, for example, President Dwight D. Eisenhower left office. The new...

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Literary Style

(Drama for Students)

The Night of the Iguana is a drama set in Mexico in 1940. All the action takes place in one location: the veranda of...

(The entire section is 568 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Drama for Students)

1940: The United States watched the beginnings of World War II and considered intervention. Eventually the country was drawn into the...

(The entire section is 293 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Drama for Students)

Research the history of American and German expatriates in Mexico during World War II. Why were people like Shannon, Hannah, and Maxine drawn...

(The entire section is 106 words.)

Media Adaptations

(Drama for Students)

The Night of the Iguana was adapted as a film in 1964. This version was directed by John Huston and starred Richard Burton as Shannon,...

(The entire section is 33 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Drama for Students)

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, a play by Tennessee Williams first performed in 1955, also concerns a character, Brick, who is plagued by...

(The entire section is 132 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Drama for Students)

Brustein, Robert. ‘‘A Little Night Music,’’ in the New Republic, January 22, 1962, pp. 20-23.


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(Great Characters in Literature)

Arnott, Catherine M., comp. File on Tennessee Williams. New York: Methuen, 1987. This brief overview is aimed at secondary school students and others who may be unfamiliar with Williams’ work. It is easily accessible and, although brief, accurate and well written.

Bigsby, C. W. Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, Edward Albee. Vol. 2 in A Critical Introduction to Twentieth-Century American Drama. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1985. Bigsby is one of the best-informed critics of modern drama. In this volume, he offers sound interpretive insights into Williams’ writing career and into his standing among mid-century...

(The entire section is 226 words.)