The Scarlet Letter: A Play

  • by Carol Gilligan and Jonathan Gilligan
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Curtain call, July 11 2007. From left, Dan Colman, Henny Russell, Marin Ireland, Marisa Tomei, Bobby Cannavale, Karen Beaumont


  • Oct. 10–12 2019, Fullerton College Classic Dramatic Series (Fullerton CA).
    Directed by Michael Mueller (3 performances)
  • 2019–2020 repertory season, Classic Repertory Company (Watertown MA).
    Directed by Clay Hopper
  • 2016–2017 repertory season, Classic Repertory Company (Watertown MA).
    Directed by Clay Hopper
  • Nov 4–13, 2011, Prime Stage (Pittsburgh PA).
    Directed by Kate Mueller. 9 performances
  • 2010–2011 Repertory Season, National Players.
    31 performances
  • July 10–11, 2007, The Culture Project, New York City.
    Directed by Leigh Silverman, starring Marisa Tomei, Ron Cephas Jones, Bobby Cannavale, and Marin Ireland. 2 performances.
  • Aug 7–8, 2005, The Culture Project, New York City.
    Directed by Weir Harman, starring Marisa Tomei. 2 performances.

About The Scarlet Letter

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel, The Scarlet Letter is one of the most frequently assigned novels in U.S. high schools, but it is often taught as a simple morality tale about sin and hypocrisy, ignoring the deep and radical feminism of Hawthorne’s writing. Hawthorne published the novel in 1850, two years after the Seneca Falls Convention for women’s rights, and at the height of the feminist abolitionist movement led by Lucretia Mott and others. Ten years earlier, Hawthorne had joined the idealistic Brook Farm commune, which sought to establish a more just and equal way of living in which women would be freed from patriarchal strictures.

In The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne writes Hester Prynne as uncommonly perceptive and strong (Hester had “so much power to do, and power to sympathize, that many people refused to interpret the scarlet A by its original signification. They said that it meant Able; so strong was Hester Prynne, with a woman’s strength.”) and he concludes the novel with a vision that “at some brighter period, when the world should have grown ripe for it, in Heaven’s own time, a new truth would be revealed, in order to establish the whole relation between man and woman on a surer ground of mutual happiness.” Hawthorne’s Hester sees the injustice of a patriarchal society, but the clarity of her vision (like “moonlight, in a familiar room, falling so white upon the carpet, and showing all its figures so distinctly,—making every object so minutely visible, yet so unlike a morning or noontide visibility”) comes at the price of having to live outside of that society, set apart both by her own choice and the will of the patriarchs (“such a patriarchal body of veterans,” in Hawthorne’s words, full of “patriarchal privilege.”).

In adapting The Scarlet Letter for an age in which women once again challenge a new generation of patriarchs, we chose to rotate the tale and present it from a different perspective, that of Hester and Dimmesdale’s daughter Pearl, whom Hester raised to become a strong and independent woman, someone who might live a life of freedom and equality that escaped Hester and Dimmesdale.

Just as Arthur Miller’s The Crucible was reflective of a poignant moment in American history with the Army-McCarthy hearings of the 1950’s, The Scarlet Letter directly addresses hypocrisies that remain tangible in our current society. From the #MeToo movement, to gender-controlling legislation, to awakening awareness of personal bias based on systemic rhetoric, the conversations of gender are being brought to the forefront of our consciousness and our community.

As a play that asks questions without providing answers, this new adaptation from Carol Gilligan and Jonathan Gilligan masterfully weaves an old story, one that many are familiar with from our secondary education, into a current event that launches discussion, debate, and perhaps change. Finding ways to empower each other, ourselves, and future generations when our “Goodwives” and leaders feed a social media aimed toward maintaining and propagating societal norms can feel insurmountable, yet small steps can be powerful and you can contribute to either side with your choices.

— Michael Mueller, Director, 2019 Fullerton College Production

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