James Robinson Planché
The Vampire, or The Bride of the Isles
Act II - Scene II. Reading
by Nunzia Cataldo
This excerpt is taken from the Romantic Melodrama The Vampire, or The Bride of the Isles by James Robinson Planché. This melodrama was first performed at the English Opera House (Lyceum) on 9 August 1820 and was first published by John Lowndes in London in the same year. It was Planché’s first success and an adaptation of a French melodrama, Le Vampire by Pierre Carmouche, Charles Nodier and Achille de Jouffry, which was first staged in Paris on 13 June 1820; this French play was itself inspired by John Polidori’s tale, The Vampyre, published in 1819 and based on Fragment of a Novel, written by Lord Byron in 1816.
James Robinson Planché was a popular British dramatist, who was born in London in 1796 and died in 1880.
His French surname reveals that his parents were the descendants of Huguenot refugees. His theatrical career provides a window into the Romantic and early Victorian stage in London.
He was a prolific playwright: he wrote 176 plays, that include melodramas, comedies, farces, revues, fairy-tale extravaganzas and burlesques of classical mythology. He was also the author of collections of verse, travel books and magazine articles and he translated French and German fairy-tales. In addition to his literary work, Planché was an important antiquary, an heraldic student and a designer of stage sets and costumes. For The Vampire; or, the Bride of the Isles he invented the “vampire trap”, so that the vampire could appear in a dream at the beginning of the play and then vanish into the earth at his final destruction. This innovation became standard theatre equipment.
This melodrama is set in Scotland, precisely on two islands of the Inner Hebrides: the first is Staffa, the second is the island facing Staffa but its name is not mentioned. The principal characters are Ruthven, Ronald (Baron of the Isles), Lady Margaret (Ronald’s daughter), Unda (Spirit of the Flood) and Ariel (Spirit of the Air).
In the introductory vision, Lady Margaret is sleeping in the Caverns of Staffa. Unda and Ariel warn her about her imminent marriage with a vampire. In a dream she sees the phantom of a young man who tries to reach her but is stopped by Ariel.
The following day Lady Margaret and her father talk about the Earl of Marsden, who wants to marry Lady Margaret. He is the master of the Castle on the coast facing Staffa. Ronald and Lady Margaret believe that he is Ruthven’s brother.
Ruthven was Ronald’s friend: he met him in Athens. One day Ruthven saw Lady Margaret’s picture and he expressed the wish to marry her. However he died to save Ronald’s life during an attack of banditti.
When the Earl of Marsden arrives in Staffa, Ronald discovers that he is Ruthven. He explains to him that he managed to survive after the attack of banditti in Greece. In reality his dead body has been chosen by a vampire, Cromal, for his reincarnation.
When Lady Margaret sees Ruthven for the first time, she associates him with the vampire seen in her dream of the previous night; nevertheless she accepts Ruthven’s proposal, since she does not want to disobey her father’s will. Then Ruthven reaches his castle with Ronald and his attendant, Robert. Robert invites Ruthven to his wedding with Effie, the daughter of Ruthven’s steward, Andrew. When Ruthven and Effie are alone together, Ruthven tries to seduce the girl. Robert defends her against him and shoots Ruthven.
Ruthven, who has been mortally wounded, asks Ronald to conceal his death from every human being till the setting of the moon, then expose his body to the moonlight and throw his ring into the sea near the Tomb of Fingal.
Lord Ronald tells his daughter that she must think no more of her marriage with Lord Ruthven who is now dead. Lady Margaret is surprised, but their dialogue is interrupted by the re-appearance of Ruthven. Ronald is terrified, because Ruthven’s return means that he is a vampire. He tries to warn his daughter about him, but he is believed mad and is seized by servants. Lady Margaret, who is under Ruthven’s spell, decides to marry him. Their marriage ceremony is interrupted by Ronald with the help of Robert, Andrew and Effie. In the meantime the moon sets and the vampire vanishes after the strike of a thunderbolt.
Vampire, or The Bride of the Isles
II. SCENE II. An Apartment in Lord Ronald's Castle. Enter LADY MARGARET,
LADY MARGARET: Bridget, I was looking for you; I am so happy.
BRIDGET: Happy, my lady! and Lord Ruthven and your father not returned? I'm frightened out of my wits about them: 'tis ten o'clock, and they were to have been back again ere sunset.
LADY MARGARET: You may dispel your fears, then; Lord Ruthven has this moment announced to me my father's return.
BRIDGET: Lord Ruthven!
LADY MARGARET: On opening the casement, just now, that looks into the garden, I saw him by the moonlight, crossing one of the walks. I call'd to him, and he will be here directly, that the ceremony may commence. We must depart for London ere day-break.
BRIDGET: So soon?
LADY MARGARET: Yes; he has explained the reason to me. The King of England wishes him to marry a lady of the court, and he has no other way of avoiding the match, but by presenting me immediately as his wife.
BRIDGET: And here comes your father, I declare. Well, my lady, I'll away and see that everything is ready. [Exit Bridget.]
LADY MARGARET: I can hardly account for my sudden attachment to Lord Ruthven, especially after the shock his introduction gave me.
[Enter LORD RONALD.]
LADY MARGARET: Well, sir, is Ruthven coming?
LORD RONALD: Ruthven! Alas!
LADY MARGARET: You sigh; what troubles you, my dear father?
LORD RONALD: Nothing. [aside] What shall I say to her?
LADY MARGARET: Every thing is prepared for the ceremony. Lord Ruthven has doubtless informed you of the pressing reason he has for our immediate departure: its suddenness at first alarm'd me; but if you will accompany us, what a charming voyage - You do not listen to me - Why, father, what's the matter?
LORD RONALD: My dear Margaret, we must think no more of this union.
LADY MARGARET: Think no more of it! Have you not been yourself the cause, and do you now -
LORD RONALD: Question me not; I cannot answer you.
LADY MARGARET: Good heavens! and Ruthven who, not a moment ago, so warmly urged -
LORD RONALD: [starting.] Ruthven, not a moment ago - what mean you?
LADY MARGARET: You frighten me; but Ruthven will soon be here, and -
[Enter LORD RUTHVEN behind.]
LORD RONALD: Ruthven is -
LORD RUTHVEN: [aside] Remember your oath.
LORD RONALD: [starting] Can the grave give up its dead! Spirit, what would'st thou?
LORD RUTHVEN: Ronald, my friend, what means this wildness?
LORD RONALD: My brain turns round! - I saw him fall - I heard his dying groan. - Fiend! - Phantom! hence, I charge thee!
LORD RUTHVEN: Alas, he raves!
LADY MARGARET: [clinging to Ruthven] My father! my poor father!
LORD RONALD: Touch him not, Margaret! Fly the demon's grasp!
LORD RUTHVEN: How dreadful is this wildness. - Ho! within there!
LORD RONALD: I am not mad. Ruthven's dead! I saw -
LORD RUTHVEN: [aside] Your oath!
[Enter Two Servants.]
LORD RUTHVEN: Your master is not well, his brain is wandering; secure him and let aid be sent for instantly.
[Servants take hold of Ronald.]
LORD RONALD: Stand off, slaves! - 'tis a fiend in human shape. - I saw him perish; - twice have I seen him perish; as I have life. Heaven saw and heard -
LORD RUTHVEN: [aside] Your oath!
LADY MARGARET: [to servants.] Oh, harm him not; but lead him gently in.
LORD RONALD: That dreadful oath! [Servants seize him.] Stay but a moment, Margaret, promise me you will not marry till the moon shall set; then, fearful fiend, I am no longer pledged, and may preserve my child.
LADY MARGARET: Oh, my poor father! [Falls into the arms of Ruthven, fainting.]
LORD RUTHVEN: Remove him gently - suddenly, I say.
LORD RONALD: No, I will not quit my child an instant; horror overwhelms me! I know not what thou art; but terrible conviction flashes on my mind, that thou art nothing human. A mist seems clearing from my sight; and I behold thee now - Oh, horror! horror! - a monster of the grave - a - a Vam -
[Falls into his servant's arms, who bear off Lord Ronald.]
LORD RUTHVEN: Remember! - She's mine! my prey is in my clutch - the choicest, crowning victim! - Ha! revive, my bride.
LADY MARGARET: Where am I? Where, where is my father?
LORD RUTHVEN: In safety, love, be sure; retired to his chamber.
LADY MARGARET: I know not what to think!
LORD RUTHVEN: Alas! I have seen him often thus, during our travels together; his reason received a severe shock on the death of my young friend, your brother.
In “The Vampire; or, the Bride of the Isles” the second scene of the last act is completely lacking in music and is set in an Apartment in Lord Ronald's Castle. The principal character in this scene is Lord Ruthven. As Ronald discovers that Ruthven is a vampire, he begins to rave and Ruthven orders two servants to seize him. Before leaving the room, Lord Ronald tells his daughter, Lady Margaret, not to marry him before the setting of the moon.
Lady Margaret is a weak heroine under the spell of her future bridegroom. Lady Margaret’s frailty is evident in her gestures: she clings to Ruthven and faints into his arms when she sees that her father is raving. She is trusting and emotional like a child - indeed her father calls her “my child” twice.
Lord Ronald is a nobleman who does not believe in vulgar superstitions; however in this scene he experiences terror when he discovers that Lord Ruthven is still alive after Robert has shot him dead. In this scene he starts twice: when he realizes that his daughter has talked to Ruthven just a moment before his arrival, and when Ruthven enters. His horror is also evident in his use of specific words (“dreadful” ,“fearful”, “horror”). In particular the word “horror” is repeated three times. Thus Ronald’s fear risks to become madness; Ronald says: “My brain turns round!", then reinforces his impression with another sentence: “Horror overwhelms me!”. Lord Ronald’s confusion is reflected in an interrupted speech (“I saw him perish; - twice have I seen him perish; as I have life. Heaven saw and heard –”). Through this form of aposiopesis, the text aims to create suspense about the action, since the audience is conscious of Ronald’s thought.
Lord Ruthven is an ambiguous character: his two-faced behaviour towards Lord Ronald and Lady Margaret is disclosed by stage directions (see the alternation of “aside” and “aloud”). As regards his relationship with Lord Ronald, on the one hand he reminds him of his oath, on the other hand he treats him as a mad man. Ruthven tells him: “Ronald, my friend, what means this wildness?” and then he asks servants to secure him: “Your master is not well, his brain is wandering; secure him and let aid be sent for instantly”. As regards Lady Margaret, he calls her “love”, “lovely Margaret”, “sweet Margaret”, and “my love”, but when she faints he reveals his real intentions in a clear expression: “She's mine! my prey is in my clutch - the choicest, crowning victim!”.
In effect, the vampire is a monster with a double identity: his spirit belongs to a vampire called “Cromal the bloody”, while his body belonged to Lord Ruthven, who died in Greece after the banditti’s attack. Interestingly, the figure of the vampire is always the same from the beginning to the end of the melodrama. And his image changes according to the perception of the principal characters. At the beginning Lady Margaret considers him a negative person, because she associates him with the vision of the previous night. Then she is attracted by him and is very happy to marry him, but she does not know the reason for her joy, because her first impression about Lord Ruthven was extremely hostile. She says: “I can hardly account for my sudden attachment to Lord Ruthven, especially after the shock his introduction gave me.” On the contrary Lord Ronald at first likes him, because he saved his life, but then understands he is a very dangerous being. In the second scene of the last act Lord Ronald calls Lord Ruthven: “spirit”, “fiend”, “phantom”, “demon”, “fiend in human shape” and “nothing human”. In the end, when servants are seizing him, he has a clear image of Lord Ruthven and he says: “A mist seems clearing from my sight; and I behold thee now - Oh, horror! horror! - a monster of the grave - a - a Vam –”. Significantly, the word “vampire” is interrupted as the servants drag him away.
Lord Ruthven is the only wicked character of this drama and his real antagonist is the passing of time. This drama and this scene in particular show two completely different conceptions of time: a Christian idea of linear time and a pagan and oriental idea of cyclic time. Linear time has a beginning and an end, while cyclic time shows a repetition of events. Linear time can be noticed in the vampire’s haste to marry Lady Margaret. He knows that he is doomed to destruction if he does not wed a virgin before the setting of the moon. He has explained to Lady Margaret that he wants to marry her as soon as possible to avoid his marriage with a lady of the English court. Furthermore, according to him, they must immediately depart for London after the marriage. Accordingly, this scene is full of precise expressions of time; for example: “'tis ten o'clock”, “they were to have been back again ere sunset”, “we must depart for London ere day-break”, “our immediate departure”, “a moment ago”, “Ruthven will soon be here”. Cyclic time is instead connected with the nature of vampires, who enter the dead forms of other men and are periodically doomed to suck people's blood in order to prolong their existence. The perfect symbol of cyclic time is the moon, that is mentioned three times in this scene. And the moon is intimately connected with the nature of the vampire: on the one hand, it is helpful for this monster, because its light allows him to revive; on the other hand it signals his destruction if he does not marry a virgin and suck her blood before the setting of the moon. In the end Ruthven does not satisfy this condition and dies. Consequently linear time prevails over cyclic time and good triumphs over evil.
MARGARET: Is't possible? I never knew him thus.
LORD RUTHVEN: Rely upon the melancholy truth; but 'twill not last; so cheer thee, lovely Margaret.
LADY MARGARET: Alas, I need your consolation! How wild a fancy seized him that you were dead; and his request, too, not to marry till the moon had set. - Well, I will not.
LORD RUTHVEN: [aside] Ha! [aloud] Sweet Margaret, you will not sure repent?
LADY MARGARET: Why, my good lord, so short a delay cannot be of consequence, and 'twill appease him probably - and such a slight request.
LORD RUTHVEN: I reverence your motive, but if you love me, Margaret -
LADY MARGARET: You cannot doubt it.
LORD RUTHVEN: Upon that love, then, my repose, my happiness, my life depends; swear to me, dearest Margaret, to forget these idle terrors, and to be mine - mine only - for ever.
LADY MARGARET: I do, by Him who reads all hearts, to be thine, and thine only, for ever.
LORD RUTHVEN: Oh, happiness! Receive this ring, and let it be a sacred pledge between us. [Places it on her finger.]
LADY MARGARET: Ha!
LORD RUTHVEN: [smiling] Her fate is seal'd, she cannot now retract. - You shudder; what ails my love?
LADY MARGARET: A strange sensation runs throughout my frame, tears fill my eyes, and my heart beats as though 'twould burst my bosom. - Methinks my father's voice still rings in mine ears, 'Wed not before the moon shall set.'
LORD RUTHVEN: [aside] The hour approaches - no time is to be lost. [aloud] Think no more, I beseech thee, of these wanderings of the imagination, but let us hasten to consecrate the ties which unite us. Every arrangement must, by this time, have been made. Retire, my love, to your chamber; compose your spirits; and Ruthven then will lead thee to the altar.
[Music. Exeunt Ruthven and Lady Margaret.]