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The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail: A Play Paperback – July 10, 2001

4.6 out of 5 stars 45 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

“A superior play, a literary work as well as a theatrical experience. Thoreau would illuminate any season.” ―George Oppenheimer, Newsday

“Absolutely fascinating.” ―Richard L. Coe, The Washington Post

“There is a great deal to enjoy in this play.” ―Clive Barnes, The New York Times

From the Publisher

"If the law is of such nature that it requires you to be an agent of injustice to another, then I say, break the law." In 1849, the young Henry David Thoreau, philosopher, poet, naturalist, penned these timeless words in his Civil Disobedience. Three years earlier Thoreau had refused to pay taxes to the government, which was engaged in the Mexican War. He condemned the war as unjust--a war never formally declared, begun without Congressional authorization, a savage and bloody war fought to assuage the United States' territorial ambitions. For his courageous and unprecedented act of protest, he was thrown in jail. Thoreau was a man of the future. Over the past century, his action has had worldwide repercussions. Tolstoy was influenced by his stand, and Gandhi based his passive resistance campaign on the words of the philosopher of Walden Pond. Now, Thoreau's action take on a new relevance. The Night Thoreau Spent In Jail is an essential work for today's world.

"The play must rank among the most brilliant intellectual stimulants of a decade, perhaps even of the century."--Columbus Dispatch. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 103 pages
  • Publisher: Hill and Wang; 2nd edition (July 10, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0809012235
  • ISBN-13: 978-0809012237
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.4 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (45 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #24,553 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Michael J. Mazza HALL OF FAME on October 21, 2001
Format: Paperback
"The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail" is a play by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee, who also coauthored the classic "Inherit the Wind." "Night" is inspired by the life and writings of Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), naturalist, political radical, and seminal American intellectual figure. The play was first performed in 1970.
"Night" takes place during a night when Thoreau was jailed for an act of civil disobedience: he refused to pay a tax in defiance of the Polk administration's Mexican War. The action of the play consists of a series of interconnected, dreamlike scenes that explore Thoreau's life, ideals, and relationships. We see his theory of education, his strong opposition to slavery, his family ties, and, quite strikingly, his problematic yet enduring relationship with fellow American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson. Particularly moving is Thoreau's encounter with an escaped slave.
"Night" is a moving, even inspiring, play. Thoreau is celebrated as not merely a crucial thinker and a great man, but as a truly transcendent figure: a prophet whose voice continues to resound. Highly recommended for literature classes, reading groups, and individual readers.
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Format: Paperback
THE NIGHT THOREAU SPENT IN JAIL describes thinker Henry David Thoreau short experience in jail after not paying his taxes. Employing flashbacks within flashbacks, playwrights Lawrence and Lee take on the task of describing Thoreau's life so far. Filled with witty remarks and humorous dialogue, this book transcends what I can say about it.

After having been assigned to read this book for my AP 11 English class, I started out first assignment: Read to page 50. To my surprise, once I got to page 50, I couldn't put it down. My teacher had warned us about this scenario. She said the book was cleverly hilarious and enjoyable. Naturally--it being an ASSIGNED book--I doubted her words.

When I got into the play, within the first few words of dialogue, I was laughing out loud. The writers, whose research was obviously accurate and concise, tickled me when Ralph Waldo Emerson asked "who" his umbrella was, making a reference to his supposed contraction of Alzheimer's disease. Thoreau's teachings of God and fields and notetaking were pleasing and enriching.

Not only was I thrilled by his paradoxical dialogue,

[In a nutshell...

Thoreau to a student: Why are you taking notes?

Student: So I can remember what you say.

Thoreau: But then it's the notebook that does the remembering, not you.

(She puts away her notebook)

Thoreau: Why have you stopped taking notes?

Student: Because you said to.

Thoreau: Why would you do what I say?]

but I also took away something from it, which is a common moral you would see in books and movies today: Do things for yourself, and pay no attention to what others say or think.
Read more ›
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Format: Paperback
Henry David Thoreau may be experiencing a sort of revival as of late. His treatise on civil disobidience is a hallmark of progressive action today. Upset that his government declared an unjust war, Thoreau refuses to pay taxes to show his digust, which lands him one lauded night in jail. Thus is the basis for this extremely inventive, timely play "The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail".

Not just a night in jail, but a brave overview Thoreau's life ensues, showing snippets of his events, meetings, and philosophies that were so critical to the development of his transcendentalism. This isn't a dry biography, however. The authors weave a Thoreau that is a rich tapestry of thought and action. He is both endearing and complex, wise and unaware.

We enter the play with Henry in his cell, and begins to relive some important moments in his life. We meet Emerson and his wife, Henry's mother, and favorite brother John, as they inact with his memories and become alive themselves. The ebullience of John is obvious, which makes his passing much more severe. This play helps to maginify the brilliance of a brilliant man, while making him more human, more real.

The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail is a great read, and will springboard your interests to study this amazing thinker.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This play by the authors of 'Inherit the Wind' tells the little known episode of Thoreau's brief stay in jail for refusing to pay taxes to support the US war against Mexico. While in jail, Thoreau reminisces with a cellmate about various times in his life, which are played out on the stage around them. Included are his first meeting and subsequent friendship with Ralph Waldo Emerson, the school that he started with his brother to teach children to think and not just remember facts, and his decision to build a cabin on Walden Pond and live 'deliberately' in harmony with nature. The set is simple and easy to build, there are roles for men and women of varying ages, and many of Thoreau's beliefs and concerns are relevant to our lives today.
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Format: Paperback
The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail is a two-act play by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee. The play is a fantasy that seeks to display Thoreau’s personal and political views. It begins with Thoreau and a number of other people in a jail cell. They include Thoreau’s mother and brother, John, Ralph Waldo Emerson, his wife and small son, a man accused of burning down a barn, a young woman, Ellen Sewell and other characters who come and go. The scene also shifts over the course of the play in and out of the jail cell. Some of the comments from Thoreau include:

“The meadow is the textbook.” “Pigs are the most noble part of the population. They consume the rubble instead of contributing to it.” The famous exchange with Emerson is also repeated in which Emerson asks Thoreau what he is doing in there (the jail) and Thoreau replies, “What are you doing out there?” The play also features the contrast between Thoreau and Emerson in which Thoreau is presented as an activist who is opposed to the Mexican War and slavery and Emerson (negatively) as a thinker who agrees with Thoreau but cannot act. For example at one point Emerson agrees to give a public talk but instead sends his wife to say he needs more time to think about it. Emerson also is quoted as saying he cannot live like Thoreau; he needs comforts. The play ends with the Thoreau character marching down the theatre aisle to the sound of drums.

I found this play to be interesting at times in that it is more dramatic than reading Thoreau’s actual works. At the same time it is fanciful and one wonders how much of it is true. I rate it at three stars because it is boring in places and the authors are obviously presenting Thoreau as a hero and Emerson as a person who is unwilling to stand up for what he believes.
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