Playwright’s Note: The Passion of Mary

Sep 06, 2012

My obsession with Mary began in 1993 while visiting Holyrood Castle in Edinburgh. I couldn’t believe that such a young, vibrant, passionate woman could be incarcerated during the best years of her life. Over 18 years never knowing if she would be rescued, if Elizabeth would set her free or if she would die. She went from being an active, athletic woman, riding, going to battle, making daring night time escapes, then suddenly nothing but embroidery and occasional outings. I was also horrified by the death of Riccio in her own tiny chamber in Holyrood. I stood in this room and felt the presence of those murderers, saw the graphic images come to life from ghosts in the walls. I was 26 when I first found Mary, a year older then the age she was when first captured in England. I am now 45, a year older then Mary was when she lost her head. The 18 years she spent imprisoned in various English castles, is the same amount of time I had to marry, have 4 children, a career in theatre, volunteering in West Africa, traveling in Europe, South East Asia, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand and the United States.
The Passion of Mary is not a history of Mary Queen of Scots. And there is not enough room here to fill you in on her full history. See the time line if you need help with ordering the events in her life. I had to play with timelines in order to make the play work theatrically. The play starts with Mary being caught in “The Babbington Plot”. There were several rescue attempts during her 18 years imprisoned in England, some to get her out of the country, others to put her on the English throne and restore Catholicism to England. The Babbington Plot fell into the latter, but English spies originally put the plot in motion and helped it along, so that Elizabeth would finally have proof of Mary’s treason and thus a reason to kill her. In real time, there were many months between Mary getting caught for treason, her trial and eventual execution.
I did my research then threw it away to focus on her as a woman, a mother, a lover and a leader. Historians agree and disagree about so many things in Mary’s history, why she made the choices she did, whether or not she was a murderer, if she was adulterous, if she coveted the English throne, if she plotted to kill Elizabeth. My favorite book as I researched this play, is Antonia Fraser’s, Mary Queen of Scots, which I highly recommend it if you are moved to know more about her. Fraser’s biography is favorable to Mary, a camp that I’ve belonged to from the start. I’ve fallen in love with Mary and her life breaks my heart. It is unfathomable to me that a person could be forced to stop moving forward in their life, to stop running. And yet I know it can happen to any one of us if we are not careful, perhaps not physical imprisonment, but emotional. Hers is a story that fascinates and frightens me. She is an inspiration and a caution.
I’m convinced that if Elizabeth and Mary had been allowed to meet, had been able to see each other eye to eye, hand to hand, and engage as women, as cousins, rather then rival Queens, their history would have had a far more positive outcome. If they could have married each other, just imagine the possibilities. These were 2 Queens ruling at a time when men were in control, each using her own power so differently from the other: Elizabeth never marrying or having children to weigh her down in her colder more calculated reign; Mary, falling in love with the wrong men at the wrong time, following her heart and too trusting in her judgment of people. These are my opinions. Who knows how it really was?
The Passion of Mary explores a woman on the brink of death, needing redemption for her sins, needing to prove she is a good woman, needing peace and knowledge that her life has had meaning. I leave it to you to decide if she succeeds. I hope Mary moves you to find hope in despair, to make the most of a life outside of prison walls, to value and not take your loved ones for granted, to forgive and be forgiven, to love and be loved, to fail and succeed and fail again and still find peace.