The Women of Casterbridge

Written by:

Claire Ross Dunn

Cast Size:

Roles For:

  • Men: 4
  • Women: 4




Women's History

Year Written:



When a young, volatile hay-trusser in 1819 Wessex gets drunk at a fair and sells his wife and infant daughter for five guineas like little more than chattel, he sets in motion a chain of events that leads not to the women’s enslavement, but to their hard-won emancipation. Based on Thomas Hardy’s 1886 novel The Mayor of Casterbridge, this full-length play for 8-9 actors (4/5F, 4M) refocuses the story on its women.

They move to Newfoundland to live a challenging existence as the women who wait for the sailors to return while the shipping company works them to the bone. Two decades later, Newson is lost at sea and the company owner evicts Susan and Elizabeth-Jane–for what good is a pair of women? Consumptive and unable to support herself and her self-educated, purposeful daughter, Susan knows they need a man to depend upon. She suggests they track down their only ‘relative,’ Henchard. She has kept the story of her first marriage to him, and their sale at the fair, a secret. Returning to England, the women discover Henchard to be the Mayor of Casterbridge, but though he has sworn off drink, he has not tamed his tempestuous nature. Susan dies in the effort to get them resettled, and leaves Elizabeth-Jane in the care of Henchard, who interferes in her courtship with the young, dashing Donald Farfrae, and is rewarded by having Farfrae marry his own betrothed, the passionate Lucetta, who also believes she needs a man to survive.

The twists and turns in the women’s stories convince Elizabeth-Jane that self-reliance is the only path to betterment. She studies bookkeeping and the business practices of the day to become a shrewd entrepreneur. Through perseverance, she nurtures a tiny shop into a thriving enterprise, starts a new business in Newfoundland to help the sailors’ wives gain financial independence. She marries–on her own terms–Farfrae, and gives birth to a daughter, the next generation of emancipated women whose goal it is to become none other than, yes, the Mayor of Casterbridge.


Elizabeth Jane: a young woman who struggles for enlargement and education, and who discovers her desire to be emancipated and in control of her own fate. 4 years old, then

Susan: an unemancipated woman who tries to climb out of her restraints, but eventually realizes she can help the next generation of women more than herself. 21 years old, then 42
years old.

Lucetta: a sensuous, emotional woman, who will scheme and be duplicitous for her survival. Late 20s.

Mrs. Goodenough: a vendor who will do much of anything to get by. 30s, then 50s.

Michael Henchard: an ambitious, tempestuous and headstrong man ruled by ego and selfishness, but also incredible resolve. He is only able to accept women as his equal near
the end. 21 years old, then 42 years old.

Donald Farfrae: a kind and ambitious man, less ruled by his emotions and more by logic. Also represents the new man, in that he learns to accept women as equals. 25-35 years.

Richard Newson: a kind and gentle mariner. 20s, then 40s.

Mr. Grower: A practical, old-fashioned man and the town creditor, 50s-70s.

Solomon Longways: An older corn-yard worker, 50s-70s.

Abel Whittle: a somewhat daft young hay trusser, 20s.

Nance Stannidge: a busybody and know-it-all barkeep, owner of the Three Mariners Inn, 50s.

Mrs. Beasly: the Jersey Boarding House Mistress, 50s.

Young Woman from Durnover: a woman with no sense for social cues, 20s.

Lucetta’s Maid, 40s; Clergyman 20s; Waxworks Seller, 20s.

First Produced:

2018, Ergo Arts Theatre


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Two acts, full-length.

There is the possibility of adding a ninth role: a girl who plays Little Elizabeth-Jane and Little Susan. If the cost is prohibitive, the girl can be played by a puppet manipulated by cast members. If the production decides to go the puppet route, it could be helpful to play with the puppet device more throughout the production, with puppet bird(s), the horse, etc. As well, more actors can be cast as the ensemble to play market-goers, drinkers at the Inn, and so on.