The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail


The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail : A Play
by Jerome Lawrence, Robert E. Lee

I am finishing up a unit on the Transcendentalists, and I thought this year, I would try The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail with one of my classes. We are getting ready to start studying it. I just finished it yesterday. I have to say that if you want a good introduction to Thoreau, this is perfect. I am wondering if my students will find it a little hard to follow, because it’s written in a stream-of-consciousness style as Thoreau spends his night in jail, thinking back on important life moments. I liked it, but it did take some getting used to. It was also a very quick read. Some of Thoreau’s lines in the play were taken directly from his writings.

I found I was very curious about how this was staged. If you have seen it performed, I’d love for you to describe it in the comments. It seems that it could be difficult to convey the notion that we are seeing inside Thoreau’s head on a stage. Movies have camera tricks and edits that accomplish the “dream sequence” type feeling, but I’m not sure how it would work on stage.

If you like Thoreau and the other Transcendentalists, you’ll probably like this play. Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee also wrote Inherit the Wind, a play based on the Scopes Monkey Trial (and also my ex-husband’s favorite play).