Moon-Crossed: a play in play with All’s Well That Ends Well

Moon-Crossed was originally written as an entry for the American Shakespeare Center’s “Shakespeare’s New Contemporaries” competition. Each year, the ASC selects five of Shakespeare’s plays; playwrights then choose one to use as an inspiration or basis for their new work, responding to, parodying, or otherwise engaging with the work. For the 2019 competition, one of the plays was the “problem play” All’s Well That Ends Well. Ostensibly a comedy, All’s Well has long been considered problematic: it includes nonsensical, “fairy-tale” logic; a forced marriage; a bed-trick, in which Bertram is fooled into sleeping with Helena without his consent; and a strangely abrupt ending in which Bertram’s loathing of Helena suddenly becomes love.

As I thought about ideas for addressing the play, it occurred to me that I could employ several tropes from both the early modern period and the present. Why does Bertram hate Helena so? Clearly, she’s a monster. In making her a real monster, I was able to take into consideration early modern beliefs about women’s monstrosity and men’s fears of women as unnatural, enigmatic, and devious. It also allowed me to consider the ways in which women’s power and influence is used in early modern drama: Helena, Madame Capilet, and Diana must all resort to some levels of cunning to survive, as were many women during the period, and are frank about the roles their wealth, bodies, and minds play in that use of power. Finally, by making Helena a real monster, I could bring humor into an otherwise mostly humorless play. The recent popularity of works like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter made it clear to me that there was plenty of room for werewolves in Shakespeare, and noble werewolves at that.

Moon-Crossed also let me play with lines and ideas from All’s Well That Ends Well, other Shakespeare plays, and medieval and early modern writings. Many lines come directly from All’s Well That Ends Well; other text comes from or is in reference to Hamlet; King Lear; Macbeth; A Midsummer Night’s Dream; Much Ado About Nothing; the Malleus Maleficarum; the King James Bible; and Marie de France’s “Bisclavret.” Other influences and references come from Charles Perrault’s fairy tales; the concept of “ghost characters,” who appear in lists of roles but have no spoken lines; the television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly; Billie Holiday; Warren Zevon; Shakira; and Charles Addams.

In keeping with the ASC’s practices of universal lighting and minimal staging, Moon-Crossed needs no costumes or lighting equipment and only a few props.

Moon-Crossed is offered for use under a Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 International license. Anyone can perform the work for free without my permission; if you want to stage a commercial performance, please contact me for a standard contract at kendraleonard at pm dot me. If you or your class decide to put it on, in whole or in part, please let me know! Enjoy!

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