Since I know a lot of community theater groups do Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol, I decided to share, as I write them, notes I write to myself about the beats in the play. We’re doing a version textually very close to the original, as most productions and films do (yes, even the muppets were pretty close to the original!), so perhaps others doing productions might be curious.
Or maybe you saw or are going to see the show here in Brattleboro and might be curious about one actor’s thought process.
Stave I — Two parts:
Part A: Scrooge now:
As clearly described in the prolog, Ebenezer Scrooge is a stony, cold man; a bitter man. He is a “man of business”; a man who weighs all things by their monetary value: a greedy, hoarding man. He is an accountant in the narrowest sense of the word: A man who determines the worth all things by their numerical values down to the half-penny; a man who has decided that this must supersede all other values, that he must be guided by this principle in every situation.
Scrooge owns a Counting House, the 19th century equivalent of an accounting firm. He is not precisely a money changer, a man who lends money at exorbitant interest, but he definitely demands payment of debt, both debt owed to others or owed directly to himself. To collect these debts, he demands the enforcement of the poor laws. As we learn in the scene with Caroline and her husband Joseph, Scrooge forces people who are in desperate situations into yet far more miserable situations. He self-justifies that he is just dealing with a situation that exists — that money is what’s necessary to live a decent life — not creating that situation. As we’ll see when we later see Scrooge as he was as a young man, this is the argument he used, we learn a bit later, when he was a very young man. He therefore is self-righteous in his mean-spiritedness almost to the point of it being an object of pride and self-respect.
Bob Cratchit, his Clerk, is a perfect foil. To the audience, Cratchit is a decent man (we will later discover him to be an exceptionally compassionate father and husband) trying to eke out a living in a miserable job. To Scrooge, Cratchit is no more than an expense, a mark on the debit side of the ledger Scrooge keeps so assiduously. Scrooge must constantly remind Cratchit that this is what Cratchit is to him, must negate him as a human being and demand that Cratchit survive on the pittance Scrooge pays him. Scrooge knows that jobs of any kind are hard to come by and exploits this knowledge in constantly putting the screws to Cratchit.
It also must be said that Scrooge gets considerable glee out of being such a bastard. Like many a greedy person, he enjoys turning the screws on others, enjoys, in his own hard, cold way, debunking Christmas, deflating the spirit of others. This is likely the only form of “pleasure” he allows himself. Everyone else’s glee gets under his skin. Everyone running around so goddam happy. He isn’t. They haven’t got pots to piss in but they’re happy and he’s got hoards of money and he’s miserable. So the least he can do is burst the bubble of these people who are too goddamn happy, of whom his nephew is a prime example.
Thus, when the businessmen come and want money from him, he must thing: “Help the freaking poor! Right, I’m spending my life trying to get money from these people and now I’m supposed to just give it to them? No thank you!”
All of this demands that he shut down and continue to keep shut down what makes us human: empathy
Part B: Jacob appears:
From the moment Scrooge looks up at the knocker, an abrupt change.
Here as vision or reality is the person who Scrooge looked up to and emulated and based his whole way of looking at things on. Jacob was “ahead of scrooge,” we will learn later in terms of cynically and maniacally focusing on the bottom line.,
And here before Scrooge is that very man, Jacob Marley, in the heavy, heavy chains. “Oh, the misery!” Jacob says.
And Jacob says don’t you feel the chains that are on you already? The chains are there already. “Is their pattern strange to you?” Jacob asks.
This is the beginning of Scrooge’s awakening. He keeps trying to deny it, to push it back. The whole play to its climax,
Marley: Marley tells Scrooge that Scrooge is wrong in the deepest sense. Jacob Marley tells him that he, Scrooge, has so cut off his empathy that he is already barely human and oblivious even to his own suffering.
Marley does not spell it out but the message is clear: Scrooge must endure the agonizing pain of coming out of his self-imposed anesthesia and see the reality of himself for what it is, if he is not to die into nothingness. Of course wandering the earth year after year carrying enormous chains on your back and unable to do anything about anything is likely a whole lot worse than just nothingness.
But whether it is the damnation of living a malevolent life or the damnation of eternal chains, Scrooge sees that this is his only hope for release.
And then Marley just goes off, telling Scrooge he’ll never see him again. “That’s it! Sayonara, sweetie, you’re on your own!”
Scrooge actually feels a twinge of loss as Marley leaves, chains and all. Something he had not felt even when Marley died.
Stave II: The Ghost of Christmas Past
Scrooge has, of course, no idea whatsoever of what “being visited by a spirit” might be like. He knows that it’s got to somehow link up about Jacob Marley’s warning, something about how he’s got it all wrong in life, so he constantly struggling between of trying to dismiss what’s coming at him and absorbing it. Christmas Past looks harmless enough, certainly not the “dreadful apparition” that he calls Marley.
And his first experience is pleasant. He is brought back to a time and place where he felt the full range of human emotion: “thought, hopes, joys, and cares” that he now pushes away into the past with “long, long forgotten.” (This could obviously mean a nostalgic remembrance, but if his transformation is to be gradual, not instantaneous, then it makes more sense that he is defending himself against seeing how different life was for as long as he can.)
He faces the same conflict when he sees himself as a child and remembers how he didn’t mind being alone, didn’t like being with his classmates, and loved books. In our adaptation, Scrooge is asked if he still loves the characters from books. Scrooge again pushes his feelings back, asserting that he is beyond such “impractical…unnecessary indulgences.”
He begins to soften seeing his younger sister, Fan. Though he recognizes the self he still is in his younger self’s obstinance in being unwilling to even consider if his father has changed or if anyone can really change, become a better person, foreshadowing the change that he, Scrooge, must undergo. Yet he softens seeing Fan. He softens even toward his nephew, Fred, to whom he was so harsh in Stave I.
He again feels more childlike pleasure at seeing Fezziwig than his present adult personality would allow, showing that he is already beginning to feel differently. Scrooge does not quite get what’s going on. He does not realize when he sees scenes of pleasure and feels a bit of pleasure himself that he has forgone all such pleasure in his current life as a miserly and mean “man of business.”
But soon he is to see something that he cannot bear to see: the woman he loved from youth to young man, for seven years, as the spirit relates.
Now the pain is unbearable and the only way Scrooge can see to stop it is for the spirit to release him, to stop showing him these visions of the past and to bring him home again. He says this even at the risk that he may have failed to witness what was required for him to see and grasp if he were to avoid Marley’s fate.