- Paperback: 85 pages
- Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1st edition (March 29, 1999)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0571198775
- ISBN-13: 978-0571198771
- Product Dimensions: 5 x 8.5 x 7.8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 5.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars See all reviews (128 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #45,452 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Wit: A Play 1st Edition
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Wit is that rare beast: art that engages both the heart and the mind. "It is not my intention to give away the plot," Vivian Bearing, Ph.D., announces near the beginning of Margaret Edson's Pulitzer Prize-winning play, "but I think I die at the end. They've given me less than two hours." For two hours, this famed Donne scholar takes center stage, interrupting her doctors, nurses, and students to explicate her own story, its metaphors and conceits. Recently diagnosed with late-stage ovarian cancer, she is being treated with an experimental drug cocktail administered in "eight cycles. Eight neat little strophes." The chemo makes her feel worse than she ever thought possible; in fact, the treatment is making her sick, not the disease--an irony she says she'd appreciate in a Donne sonnet, if not so much in life.
Throughout, Vivian finds, the doctors study and discuss her body like a text: "Once I did the teaching, now I am taught. This is much easier. I just hold still and look cancerous. It requires less acting every time." As her time draws to a close, a sea change begins to work in the way Vivian thinks about life, death, and indeed, Donne. His complex, tightly knotted poems have always been a puzzle for her formidable intellect, a chance to display "verbal swordplay" and wit. Her sickness presents an entirely different challenge. A powerful, prickly personality, capable of dry asides even during a bout of gut-wrenching nausea ("You may remark that my vocabulary has taken a turn for the Anglo-Saxon"), Vivian develops a new appreciation for the simple, the maudlin, the kind. Not to give away the plot, but the final moments in Margaret Edson's debut are as wrenching--as human--as anything in recent drama. --Mary Park
“Among the finest plays of the decade . . . An original and urgent work of art.” ―David Lyons, The Wall Street Journal
“A dazzling and humane play you will remember till your dying day.” ―John Simon, New York magazine
“[A] brutally human and beautifully layered new play . . . You will feel both enlightened and, in a strange way, enormously comforted.” ―Peter Marks, The New York Times
“A one-of-a-kind experience: wise, thoughtful, witty and wrenching.” ―Vincent Canby, The New York Times Year in Review
“A thrilling, exciting evening in the theater . . . [Wit is] an extraordinary and most moving play.” ―Clive Barnes, New York Post
“Wit is exquisite . . . an exhilarating and harrowing 90-minute revelation.
” ―Linda Winer, Newsday
“Edson writes superbly . . . [A] moving, enthralling and challenging experience that reminds you what theater is for.” ―Fintan O'Toole, New York Daily News
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Top Customer Reviews
This is Margaret Edson's first and only play. W;T won the Pulitzer Prize in Drama in 1999. Ms. Edson earned a graduate degree in English from Georgetown and worked on the cancer and AIDS wings of a research hospital. Since the early 90's, she has been an elementary and/or middle school teacher in Atlanta, GA.
At the start of the play, we are greeted by Vivian Bearing, a 50 year old professor of 17th century poetry and an expert on John Donne. She speaks directly to the audience, and tells us that she has stage 4 ovarian cancer and that she dies at the end of the play. For the next two hours (for viewers, not readers), we watch her interact with her doctor, his top fellow, and her nurse. She has flashbacks to her youth, as well as to her early days of graduate school with her great mentor.
Dr. Bearing goes through a number of tests throughout the play and gets sicker and sicker. Because of Ms. Edson's strong knowledge of cancer treatment at a research hospital, she depicts it accurately and painfully. The treatment (and the lack of bedside manner of the top fellow) make her question her gruffness with her students over the years.
'One short sleep past, and then we wake eternally; death will be no more, death shall die.'
Whose fruit threw death on else immortall us,
If lecherous goats, if serpents envious
Cannot be damn'd; Alas; why should I bee?
That remember them [i.e., his sins], some claime as debt,
I think it mercy, if thou wilst forget.
W;t is a clever play, starting with its title. For wit is the weapon the great metaphysical poet John Donne used in his sonnets to approach an unapproachable God and the protagonist of this play, Vivian Bearing, Ph. D., is a Donne scholar whose great book is a study of Donne's twelve Holy Sonnets. (The book is entitled Made Cunningly.) And the use of the semicolon in place of an `I' between the first and last letters of the title echoes a remembered conversation between Vivian, still an undergraduate student, and her soon to be mentor, E. M. Ashford, on the importance of punctuation in Donne's poems.
And death shall be no more, comma, Death thou shalt die.
Nothing but a breath -a comma- separates life from life everlasting. It is very simple really. With the original punctuation restored,
death is no longer something to act out on a stage, with exclamation points. It's a comma, a pause. This way, the uncompromising
way, one learns something from this poem, wouldn't you say? Life, death. Soul, God. Past, present. Not insuperable barriers, not
semicolons, just a comma.
(I suppose a comma would have looked wrong in the title typographically, but the use of the comma still carries forward the conceit of only an item of punctuation separating the beginning of something from the end, in this case, Vivian's life.)
The play is cunningly put together, essentially a monologue that continues from beginning until near the very end of the play (Vivian's conversation with the audience about her treatment) interspersed with brief scenes of Vivian with her doctor, Vivian with the nurse and with the technicians, Vivian and the research fellow in medical oncology (who once took her course on the sonnets -"you can't get into medical school unless you're well-rounded") and scenes of remembrance Vivian as an undergraduate with her mentor, Vivian teaching). The play ends in a swirl of activity as Vivian's systems fail. So it's In (Vivian monologuing), Out (swirl of activity, interchanges with other characters), In, Out. It happens over and over again, until the final burst of activity, after which it all just . . . ends.
One of the most interesting aspects of the play is the way it captures character. Vivian, ill, discovers that the research fellow, just like her in the classroom, cares less for the people he's caring for than the subject he's studying. But, bitterly ill now, Vivian wants him to care for her, needs care. And thus, responds to the decidedly unintellectual advances of her nurse, who at least accepts that it is part of her job to comfort the frightened and ailing.
This is my playes last scene, here heavens appoint
My pilgrimages last mile; and my race
Idly, yet quickly runne, hath this last pace,
My spans last inch, my minutes last point,
My body, `and my soule
John Donne, 1609
My class of 18-45-year-old high school equivalency students were held in rapt attention.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Time was, I read almost nothing but plays, or books about plays, or books about people who wrote or performed in plays. Then, life.Read more