‘Mary Shelley’s Body,’ the play, premiered in October of 2017 at Main Stage West theater is Sebastopol, California. The play was directed by Beth Craven. Mary Shelley was played by Sheri Lee Miller, who went on the receive a nomination for her performance from the San Francisco Bay Area Theater Critics Circle.
AN EXCERPT FROM THE PLAY
[Darkness, thick and heavy]
[Thunder rolls in from far away; the steady fall of rain, from somewhere close, can be heard.]
[Occasional flashes of lightning illuminate what appears to be a lonely graveyard.]
[Downstage is a low, stone grave. It is just high enough to sit upon. The grave is a slab-like box, carved from rock, with words etched into its sloping peaked cover]
[Another lighting bolt flashes, followed by an especially startling clap of thunder. Finally, one more lightning strike reveals what was not the last time: the dead body of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, collapsed unmoving on top of or in front of her grave, as if suddenly deposited by the storm. She might be in her 50s, possibly as young as 18 or 19, probably attired in appropriate burial dress of the early Victorian era.]
[In the middle of one more thunder strike, Mary sits up suddenly, with an enormous intake of breath.]
MARY SHELLEY: [Gasping]
I cannot breathe!!! O! God! I cannot breathe!
[Desperately fighting for breath, frightened and confused]
I feel thunder … thunder and lightning … burning me like paper. I feel as thin as paper! I cannot breathe!
[Struggles a while longer to breathe, then tentatively stops struggling. From far away, there is a faint sound of exhalation, as if from behind a dark, wet door.]
Ah … I see. Perhaps I no longer need to breathe. Perhaps … I am done with breathing. [Begins to relax]
I am, in fact … dead.
Well good God! That took long enough!
I feel so much better now!
I am free of my body. Free of my life at last!.
My hapless heart, so long deluged in bitterness, is finally still.
[She stands. Tentatively, she takes a look around, focusing in finally on the slab of stone near which she stands; moving slowly, she carefully circles the tomb]
This, then, is my grave?
“Here lies the body of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley.” “Born August 30, 1797. Died February 1, 1851.”Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley.
That was I.
“Daughter of William and Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin.”
And those were my parents.
Though he … Godwin … Papa … always so stern and disapproving … perhaps too much my father. And she … Mama … dead almost on looking at me … she was barely my mother at all.
[Ponders this, then returns to reading]
“Widow … of Percy Bysshe Shelley.”
[The words sting]
O, Shelley, my love!
I’ve no beating heart to feel with! How does your name still stir me so? For thirty years and more, I’ve had little comfort but my memory of you … that and the beauty of your poems … and, of course, your heart.
I assume it’s still in my desk.
I kept it after your cremation, placed it in the drawer, tucked away beneath my papers, along with the three little locks of hair … one from each of our dead children.
[A thought occurs]
I wonder who’ll be the one to discover them, my gruesome treasures? I suspect it will be our daughter-in-law, Jane.
It will give her a bit of a shock, that.
[She returns her attention to the grave, stroking the stone gently]
“Here lies … Mary … Wollstonecraft … Shelley.”
I have to say I’m pleasantly surprised it does not read, “Here lies Anonymous!”
That’s how my book identified me.
“Written by Anonymous.”
Fearing scandal, infamy … and poor book sales … my publisher thought it best to disguise my name, and of course my sex.
It was vexing.
From then on, I made sure my other novels … ‘Valperga,’ ‘Perkin Warbeck,’ ‘The Last Man,’ … were all published—if not under my true name—then at least under one which allowed me a modicum of pride. For the rest of my days, all my books began with the words …
“By the author of Frankenstein.”
My first success, born of happier days, too briefly tasted.
My triumph … my curse … my hideous progeny.
[Thunder and lightning]
END OF EXCERPT