Young Mary Shelly attempts, with the aid of half-sister Fanny and stepsister Claire, to conjure up her dead mother, Mary Wollstonecraft. Instead she calls up an enigmatic and misshapen Creature who shifts from role to role as she faces the monstrous elements in her life: the cruelty of lovers, the repressions of society, illness, loneliness and death. Especially death, who claims one after the other the loved ones in her life: mother, sister, husband, and her beloved children. In spite of all her tragedy, Mary persists in her commitment to her art and to her family and finds equilibrium and the strength to push forward into the unknown, ready to take on all the future has to offer.
Mary Shelley: Daughter of philosopher and feminist Mary Wollstonecraft and philosopher William Godwin.
Claire Clairemont: Stepsister of Mary Shelley.
Fanny Imlay: Illegitimate child of Mary Wollstonecraft.
Creature: (Claims to be Mary Wollstonecraft in his first appearance on stage) a protean creature, part time narrator of the play, he is intrusive into the scenes of others, and spends much time pondering his own creation.
Byron: Considered the greatest poet of his day and father to Claire Claremont’s child Allegra.
Leigh Hunt: Friend of Percy Shelley, witness to his funeral, rescuer of Shelley’s heart from the funeral pyre.
Mrs. Margaret Mason: Mary Wollstonecraft was her governess in Ireland which she claimed encouraged her to lead an eccentric and flamboyant life.
Prosper Merimee: An important French writer in the school of Romanticism. His novella Carmen led to the opera of the same name.
Two Faceless Figures: The figures, one in white, one in black, appear to be struggling over whether Mary, ill with smallpox, will live or die.
The play was written for MARY WOLLSTONECRAFT AND MARY SHELLEY: WRITING LIVES, an international conference presented by the Calgary Institute for the Humanities at the University of Calgary in August 1997.
Caves of Fancy is available through the CPO Website.
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Originally written for 3 women and one protean Creature played by a man in the premier production, who played five other characters. There were two ghost-like figures at the beginning of Act 3 who were played by the women who played Claire and Fanny.
The characters played by the Creature, excepting Mary Wollstonecraft, could be played by other actors. It would be preferable to present these characters as somehow emanating from the Creature. Perhaps he adds a finishing touch to each of them, adjusting Mrs. Mason’s bonnet, slipping the parcel with Shelley’s heart under Hunt’s arm, etc., and pushes them into the action.
The two ghostly figures clothed in black and white at the beginning of Act 3 could be played by anyone from the categories below. I am very flexible about casting, even in this play where the characters are historical.
There is a suicide, several deaths and some extreme language in this play.