The Verge was one of Susan Glaspell’s first fulllength plays and is considered by many to be the most complex of her career. The play grew out of Glaspell’s recognition of the way in which Victorian society left some women feeling trapped in roles for which they were unsuited. Because of the play’s non-realistic speech patterns and expressionistic elements, it was dismissed by most critics as being muddled and confusing. It has recently been ‘‘rediscovered’’ by feminist theorists, however, who see the work as an important contribution to theater history. At the time of the play’s first production in 1921, women were still expected to stay at home and be dutiful wives and mothers. This mindset was meeting with increased resistance. Many women began to voice dissatisfaction with their lack of opportunities and tried to change the situation. Thus, the feminist movement began to take hold. Other women rebelled by retreating into despondency, depression and, sometimes, madness. The Verge also reflects the fascination with Freudian theory that was sweeping the United States at the time. Freud had delivered his first U.S. lectures in 1909, and his theories of psychoanalysis and dream interpretation were widely discussed in many popular publications of the day.
The Verge is a somewhat difficult play to comprehend upon first reading. Characters sometimes speak in sentence fragments and have strange syntactical patterns that are closer to poetry than to everyday speech. The play also employs a heavy dose of symbolism to deliver its message. If one pays careful attention to the visual and poetic elements contained within the text, however, the work reveals a fascinating portrait of a woman trapped in a situation that slowly pushes her to madness.
The Verge opens on a setting that is not easily recognizable. The place is dark except for a bright shaft of light that emanates from a trap door in the middle of the floor. The shaft illuminates a strange, twisting plant. A violent wind can be heard swirling outside. It is clear that this is a strange, and perhaps threatening, space. Suddenly, a buzzer sounds, and Anthony emerges from the trap door. He picks up a telephone and is instructed by Miss Claire to check the temperature in the room. He does so and reports back to her that the temperature is dropping and that the plants are in danger. She says something on the telephone that eases his concern, and he retires back down into the trap door. The curtain is briefly drawn upon this scene. A moment later, it opens to reveal the setting as a greenhouse. It is now a winter morning, filled with sunshine, but the snow is blowing and piling up outside. The frost has made abstract patterns upon the greenhouse glass giving the room a somewhat creative atmosphere. Inside, there are strange plants filling the shelves and lining the walls. Of particular interest is a plant that creeps along the low back wall of the greenhouse. Its leaves are described as ‘‘at once repellent and signifi- cant.’’ It is clear that this room is not a typical greenhouse but is a botanical laboratory, used for experimentation in creating new plant forms. Anthony is at work preparing soil, but he stops briefly to check the thermometer. Pleased with the current temperature, he returns to his work. The buzzer sounds, but Anthony ignores it.
Harry Archer enters from outside the greenhouse, snow blowing in violently, and Anthony requests that he immediately close the door so as not to harm the plants. Harry inquires why Anthony did not answer the buzzer and discovers that Claire has told him not to so he will not be disturbed in his work. Harry inquires why the house is freezing cold, and Anthony explains that Claire has had all of the heat diverted to the greenhouse so that the plants will not be harmed. Anthony mentions that it is very important to have heat for the plants at present because the Breath of Life is about to flower. Harry opens the door once...
(The entire section is 1,999 words.)