Post-modernism may have a penchant for ambiguity that often manifests itself in the indeterminate ending, which compels the reader to assume the role of author in order to bring closure to the narrative, but the cinema and the stage find such ambiguity highly unsatisfactory. Hence a number of playwrights, including Dickens's own son, Charles, determined to solve the mystery. Where they left off in the early twentieth century is the starting point for the film adaptations of The Mystery of Edwin Drood, some of which borrow heavily from these early dramatizations.
On 4 November 1871, in Walter Stephens' dramatic adaptation of the novel for London's Surrey Theatre, John Jasper murdered his nephew and was then tracked by Datchery, who turned out to be Helena Landless in disguise. Like the brutal villain Jonas Chuzzlewit in the 1843 Dickens novel Martin Chuzzlewit, the more subtle Jasper poisoned himself rather than face a trial, incarceration, and capital punishment for his crime.
The following year, on 22 July at the Britannia Theatre, London, in G. H. Macdermott's adaptation, the detective Datchery turned out to be Bazzard, the sardonic clerk of the lawyer, Mr. Grewgious, in disguise. While under the influence of opium, Jasper confessed having murdered his nephew--however, Edwin had survived this attempt on his life. When he miraculously returned as from the dead, Jasper suffered a heart attack, literally dying of fright.
In 1880, Charles Dickens Junior, who had assumed the editorship of his father's weekly literary journal All the Year Round, and Joseph Hatton dramatized the novel, but their script was never produced on stage. In this version, having strangled Drood, Jasper attempts to eliminate his second rival for Rosa's affections, Neville Landless, in the same manner. With the assistance of the opium-vendor, Princess Puffer, Grewgious acquires proof against Jasper, who poisons himself just as the police arrive to apprehend him for murder and attempted-murder. Less information is available about Robert Hall's drama Alive or Dead (1880), performed at the Park Theatre, Camden Town, London on May 3.
In 1907-8, J. Comyns Carr's four-act play based on the novel opened at His Majesty's Theatre, Cardiff, on 4 January, produced by celebrated actor-manager Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree. There followed a series of newspaper reviews and articles based on interviews with Tree in such organs as the Daily Telegraph (London), the Daily Chronicle, and the Morning Post. The play enacts Carr's theory that Jasper attempted to act upon his murderous impulses while under the influence of opium, and that Drood, overhearing his uncle's ravings, was able to escape. The play ran for one month. Less is known about another dramatic adaptation in 1908, that by C. A. Clarke and S. B. Rogerson, produced at the Osborne Theatre, Manchester, in March, and reviewed by J. Cuming Walters on March 10 in the Manchester City News.
Walters, J. Cuming. The Complete Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens: The History, Continuations, and Solutions (1870-1912). Il. Luke Fildes and Frederic G. Kitton. London: Chapman and Hall, 1912.
Last modified 4 July 2005