Trial: serious & entertaining

QUESTION: HOW DO THE PLAYWRIGHTS MAKE THE TRIAL SERIOUS AS WELL AS ENTERTAINING?

 

ANSWER: The play ‘Inherit the Wind’ written by ‘Jerome Lawrence’ and ‘Robert E Lee’ has been touted as one of the most controversial dramas of the 20th Century. The play contains myriad of characters, right from the ‘most agile mind in the 20th century’ Henry to Drummond, the charismatic ‘prophet’ Matthew Harrison Brady and the ‘newspaperman’ EK Hornbeck. By developing these characters, and by using wit, sarcasm and stage directions, have made the proceedings of the trial serious as well as entertaining.

Throughout the play, the playwrights have alternated between serious and entertaining moments to balance out this play. Majority of the light-hearted jokes come from the ‘sophisticated city dweller’, EK Hornbeck. EK Hornbeck acts as a chorus character in the play, becoming a vehicle for comic relief throughout the play. In Greek literature, a chorus group sang their lines as part of comments on the action of the play and prediction about the future. In this context Hornbeck functioned as a commentator relaying views about everyone. His attempts at mockery can be seen following his introduction as he calls a monkey ‘Grandpa’, challenging the rigid ideas of creationism. He continuously mocks the town of ‘Heavenly Hillsboro’, claiming that no ‘tree of knowledge’ grew over here. Moreover, upon invitation to the gathering of fundamentalist, he mockingly calls the whole trial a ‘show’. This witty reply to Brady adds humor to this trial and helps in making this trial amusing. Furthermore, his constant attempts at outwitting Brady and acting haughty in his presence highlights an entertaining aspect of this drama. His sarcastic comments on the jury ‘Swatting flies and wrestling with justice’ draws the audience’s attention away from the verdict of the jury, and therefore lightening the mood. Throughout the play, Hornbeck’s poetic dialogues and sarcastic comments on Brady and fundamentalism thaw the seriousness in the play and the trial.

The ‘devil’, Henry Drummond’s constant jibes at Matthew Harrison Brady make the trial enjoyable for the audience. Brady’s remark at Drummond’s apparel is followed by a quick reply, wherein Drummond claims that his style of dressing was from Brady’s hometown ‘weeping water, Nebraska’. In addition, Drummond objects to the honorary tile given to Brady as he considers this to give the prosecution an unfair symbolic advantage. However, this comments of his as laced with irony and humour. While Brady basks in the importance of the title, for Drummond, it is completely meaningless. Drummond’s ironic appropriation of Brady’s title is the second step in his humiliation of his opponent. The continuous humiliation of Brady makes the scene entertaining, as it is unusual for the protagonist to undergo continuous humiliation.

However, amidst all this mockery, there still persists the seriousness of the trial. Brady’s character throughout appears as a foil to Drummond’s code of conduct. The diversity in their characters adds tension as they clash on every small aspect of the trial. The myopic approach of the judge and makes life difficult for Drummond during the course of this task. The judge doesn’t permit a Drummond to allow an evolutionist to take the stand. To the modern audience, this adds to drama and tension as Drummond looses his chance to strengthen Cates’ stance in the trial. Moreover, when Brady was called onto the stand and falls into the trap set by Drummond, the audience is unable to comprehend the outcome of this event. Will the narrow-minded Jury actually consider Brady’s statements and hence proclaim Cates not guilty or vice versa? The playwrights continually add tension to the trial. When Brady invites Rachel to the witness stands, he manipulates her into revealing the private conversation between herself and Cates. This turns the table against the defense, who, in essence are fighting for freedom of speech. Drummond’s argument emphasizes the distinction between “truth,” which he believes every man has a right to seek for himself, and absolute values of right and wrong as determined by religious authorities. These small actions add gravity to the trial.

The radio was a relatively new machine during those days. For a radio to be used while the final verdict was being announced meant that this trial had gained nation-wide media attention. This ‘fire’, which had had been started by Cates’ had now ‘Light [lit] up the whole sky’. ‘People’s shoes were getting hot’. The usage of the radio depicts how the verdict would have a nationwide reaction. Moreover, since this was the first time a radio was being used for such a purpose, highlights the importance of the outcome. The radio and its usage add significance to the trial and embodies the effect of the verdict.

All in all, by developing these characters, and by incorporating wit, sarcasm and stage directions, have made the proceedings of the trial serious as well as entertaining.

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