Dramaturg’s Note for “Amanuensis, or The Miltons” by L M Feldman

By Henry Aceves, Production Dramaturg (NewFest New Play Workshop: Amanuensis, or The Miltons)

Our playwright, L, describes Amanuensis, or The Miltons as “a tale, a grapple, a loosely-historically-based feminist fantasia.”

The most common association I have with the word “tale” is with a fairy tale: a story in which imagination takes precedence. This is a play built around the imaginations of Milton’s daughters—Deb, Anne, and Mary—and that of their father. In the prologue of Paradise Lost, Milton explains he wrote the poem to explain the ways of God to man and invokes the muses of ancient Greek poets to aid him in this massive imaginative endeavor. His daughters strive to use their imaginations to write their own tale in a way they were never able to.

John Milton Dictating “Paradise Lost” to his daughters, Mihály Munkácsy, 1862

To grapple with something is to wrestle with it. Deb, Anne, and Mary have spent their entire lives struggling to distinguish themselves from their father and his work. They wrestle with what it means to be John Milton’s daughters and how they can reconcile the man their father is at home to the man he is to the English public. Even in 2020, Deb, Anne, and Mary are only mentioned in relation to their father; as I was doing my research, it was very difficult to find sources that discuss them in-depth as unique and separate human beings. It’s through L’s rendering of them that they’re given the agency to flesh out their examinations of how their father affected their lives and give voice to them.

Milton Dictating to His Daughter, Henry Fuseli, 1794

A fantasia is defined by Merriam-Webster as a work in which “fancy roams unrestricted.” Amanuensis is unconstrained by a strict adherence to a linear timeline or excessively archaic language. L has created a timeline in which Deb, Anne, and Mary re-experience and critique their experiences in ways they weren’t able to during their lifetimes. They are building their own worlds and their own fantasias in the same way that Milton built the fantastical worlds of Paradise Lost based on the Bible.

John Milton Dictating Paradise Lost To His Daughter, Joseph Nash, mid-1800s

An amanuensis is, simply put, a scribe– someone who takes dictation and transcribes the words of others. This play is Anne, Mary, and Deb no longer having to be the amanuenses of their father. They are now the authors of their own stories.

 


Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all scheduled performances (March 26–29,2020) of NewFest New Play Workshop: Amanuensis, or The Miltons were canceled.

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