The University of Iowa College of Liberal Arts & Sciences Department of English

Susan Glaspell, “The Verge” (1921)

This seems Glaspell’s most experimental play, as it was one of her last. What contemporary events or debates seem to have influenced its themes? (debates about roles of women; rhetoric surrounding WWI, accounts of scientific discoveries and evolution, concern over relationship of creativity and madness)

The Verge received quite critical reviews. Which features of the play, and especially its heroine's behavior and views, might have seemed shocking or disconcerting to the audience?

What is meant by "expressionism"? Would you say that this play was expressionist? Absurdist? Does it remind you of the works of other playwrights you have read? (e. g. Hedda Gabler, Waiting for Godot)

What is striking or unexpected about the settings? What symbolism is associated with plants? With the breakfast room and the outdoors? The not-quite-finished enclosed tower?

Glaspell majored in philosophy and the classics at college. Which topics or concerns discussed by modern philosophers appear in remarks by Claire and others?

Are aspects of the play melodramatic? Do the dramatic episodes contribute to a sense of realism or the reverse?

Why do you think Glaspell chose to write a play with 5 male and 3 female characters (excluding Hattie the servant)? Are the women as a group or the men as a group more sympathetic to Claire's temperament?

Act I

What do we know about Claire’s past and her ambitions?

Why is she preoccupied with the breeding of plants? May this be an allegory for something else? What relation does the portrayal of her experiments have to the Darwinian/scientific views of the time?

What do we know about Harry? About Dick? About Tom? What do you make of the choice of names for the chief male characters? Which of these is shown as closest to Claire in temperament and responses?

What seems to be Claire’s and Harry’s relationship? To what extent is Harry a good/thoughtful husband?

What kind of hostess is Claire? What do you make of the discussion about the egg and salt? Of her breaking of the egg?

What purpose is served by the inclusion of the character of Anthony?

How would you describe the play’s language? Which characters seem most poetic? Most philosophical?

Are there humorous elements of the play's dialogue and plot? Does this humor reinforce the play's serious themes?

What function is served by unexpected reactions and responses? Are elements of the characters' behavior intended to be absurd?

What do we learn about Claire’s past relationship with her daughter? What happens during the latter’s visit?

Why does Claire reject her daughter’s offer to learn more about her plants? How do you think the audience was expected to react to this scene?

What does she tell her daughter and others is her goal? Has she changed these from the play's beginning, and is this ominous? How does the answer the demand that what is new must also be better?

Could Claire be said to be a good mother? Wife? Hostess? Friend? Sister?

What reason does she give for destroying the Edge Vine? What symbolism seems inherent in this scene?

Does her act seem to foreshadow the play's ending? As the act ends, can you imagine a satisfactory solution to Claire's desire to go beyond what has ever been?

Act II

What shifts in tone and behavior accompany Claire’s residence in the tower? What does the tower seem to represent?

Why does she refuse the seemingly-friendly advances of her sister Adelaide? For what attitudes does she blame her sister? Do you think, based on Adelaide’s conversation, that her suspicions are justified?

How do Harry and Adelaide agree in their judgment of Claire?

In your opinion, is Claire presented as suffering from mental illness? How seriously are we to take her ideas, aspirations and judgments?

What offer/suggestion does Claire make to Tom, and with what rationale? Why does he decline to elope with her?

Are we intended to see her suggestion as a practical possibility? Had he immediately accepted, how do you think the plot might have turned out? Would there have been a satisfactory conclusion?

What do we make of Claire's response to the psychologist? Her narration of the death of her and Harry's son?

What are the implications of her statement that she would willingly cut her wrists to obtian what she seeks?

What are we to think of Claire’s statements of affection toward Dick? Do these affect our view of the preceding scene with Tom, and of the seriousness or consistency of her appeal?

How does Harry respond to her advances to Dick? Is the audience expected to feel deep sympathy for him, and if not, what undercuts this?

How does the act end, and are Claire's final statements ominous?


In the final act, how are we expected to react to Harry's desire to shoot Dick? What changes seem to have occurred in Claire’s view of her future?

Has Claire's attempt to create a new life form in "Breath of Life" succeeded? What is her response to this new creation?

What symbolism seems to accompany Claire’s strangulation of Tom?

What reasons does she give for her action, and do these seem plausible? Why doesn’t Tom defend himself right away?

How do Harry and the others respond to her act? To what extent was the ending foreshadowed, and to what extent did you find it surprising?

What do you make of the final poems which precede Claire’s last acts?

Why do you think Claire's final statements are conveyed in poetic form?

What is the significance of the play's several references to "Nearer My God to Thee"? What meaning seems added by its repetition in the play's final lines?

Why do you think Glaspell chose for her artist/inventor figure a woman who might be considered by most people to be insane? Does her illness detract from the power or interest of her ideas?

What is added to the play by Claire's unconventionality? (violates every female social norm, indeed, nearly every norm)

Is this a feminist play? An anti-feminist play? Neither?

Is it important that the play's ending is openended, in that we don't know Claire's future fate?

In your view, what is this play intended to convey? Do you find The Verge disturbing, inspiring or both? Has Claire accomplished anything significant? Are we expected to see a relationship between her creativity and her lfie "on the verge"?

In what ways does this play exhibit parallels with "The Inheritors" and "Trifles"? Are there similiarities between the three heroines and their fates?


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