Two Nineteenth-Century Plays from Trinidad
Martial Law in Trinidad and Past and Present
- Published: March 2021
This fourth volume in the Caribbean Heritage series presents the texts of two short plays, first written in Trinidad in 1832 and 1852–53. The author of Martial Law in Trinidad was E.L. Joseph, an English-born long-time resident of Trinidad, who later published a novel, Warner Arundell: The Adventures of a Creole, and the first history of the island. The author of Past and Present is not known, but may have been G.N. Dessources, a mixed-race Trinidadian who probably wrote Adolphus, a Tale around the same time. (Annotated editions of Warner Arundell and Adolphus, a Tale have been republished as part of the Caribbean Heritage series.) These plays shed considerable light on the social evolution of Trinidad in the crucial decades just before and after the end of slavery in the 1830s. Their publication also contributes to our understanding of the early emergence of theatre, and a local indigenous literary tradition, in Trinidad – and by extension, in the British Caribbean – during this period. This scholarly edition includes a preface by the Trinidadian novelist Lawrence Scott, a biographical note on E.L. Joseph, contextual introductions to each play, a note on language usage and explanatory annotations to the plays.
Note on the Language of the Plays xiii
Martial Law in Trinidad, by E.L. Joseph
Introduction to Martial Law in Trinidad......... 3
A Biographical Note on Edward Lanza Joseph. 10
Martial Law in Trinidad 21
Annotations to Martial Law in Trinidad 53
Past and Present, by Anonymous
Introduction to Past and Present 63br>
Past and Present 73
Annotations to Past and Present 99
Select Bibliography............ 109
The provenance of the copies of the plays used for this edition is some- what foggy. In archiving her professional materials, Lise Winer found two old folders with photocopies of printed versions of the plays. Each was marked with “E.L. Joseph” as author. The photocopies and folders have no indications whatever of their source, and the originals had obviously not been in very good condition. For a while, we proceeded on the assumption that the authorship was as cited. However, a reference in Past and Present to Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin made it clear that this play could not have been written before 1852, although there were certainly great similarities of style between the two works. There is, however, abundant documentary evidence for Joseph’s authorship of Martial Law in Trinidad (hereafter Martial Law).
A search for holdings of the plays yielded copies only in the archival collection of Errol Hill, the late Trinidadian dramatist and scholar, at Dartmouth College and another photocopy of Martial Law in the West Indiana collection of the University of the West Indies Alma Jordan Library. The two plays, in folders each marked with the title and “E.L. Joseph”, were clearly from the same source as Winer’s copies. Hill does make some references to Martial Law (see discussion in “Biographical Note on E.L. Joseph”, pp. 17, 19), but apparently never transcribed the plays or wrote about them in much detail. We have been unable to find the original source of these copies, and suspect they may only turn up eventually by serendipity.
We know from contemporary reviews of the performance that Martial Law was staged for the public (see “Biographical Note on E.L. Joseph”, pp. 18–19). We are not sure, and indeed doubt, that Past and Present was openly performed, because of its controversial portrayal of the marriage of a formerly enslaved black man to a white woman. Even for Martial Law, we do not know how, for example, “Snowball” was portrayed: possibly by a white or mixed-race actor, possibly in blackface or a mask (see “Biographical Note on E.L. Joseph”, p. 18).
These two plays are valuable as rare examples of nineteenth-century Trinidadian literature: they have both historical and literary merit, as well as being of interest linguistically and dramatically. They are also, of course, full of references and assumptions that were much clearer and more familiar to their audience at that time than at present. Substantial annotations have been made in order to facilitate comprehension and appreciation by modern readers. Where a phrase or reference remained unclear, we have so indicated our limitations.
In both plays, illegibility of words or phrases – and, in the case of Past and Present, indication of the character speaking – was a problem. We have tried to make the best possible hypotheses about these missing bits, and to supply plausible fill-ins indicated by brackets. Where this was not reliably possible, ellipses are indicated by [. . .]. For the sake of clarity, therefore, any stage directions originally enclosed by brackets were changed to parentheses.
Special mention must be made of spelling in regard to E.L. Joseph’s Martial Law. As discussed in the biographical note, Joseph was publicly criticized for being “ignorant not merely of the rules of grammar but of orthography”. Whether Joseph was ignorant or careless is not clear; he certainly was an accomplished (and relentless) wordsmith and punster. Many words at the time had variants which are no longer extant, such as dowry ~ dowery, deuce ~ duce; these have generally been left as in the original, especially if repeated. Some spellings in both plays are in the contemporarily new “American” style, such as honor rather than honour, and likewise have been left as is. However, some words are spelled in a way for which there is no accepted precedent, such as assassin; these have been silently corrected. More importantly, in a few cases in Past and Present the editors have had to omit totally illegible words or phrases, indicated by [. . .]; in some cases it has been possible to make a plausible substitution, in which case the suggestion is indicated by [ ].