The only officer of note in the original novel is the Sergeant in charge of the search party in the opening chapters, but the presence of the Thames Police in Shafto Scott's adaptation creates a symmetry unconnected in any way with the novel's published ending. As we began with Magwitch, an escaped convict on the Marshes, so we end with the death of Magwitch near the Sluice-House on the Thames shore. In his final scene, Scott uses the gross improbability of Pip's stumbling upon Orlick by accident to fuse two distinct scenes, the rescue of Pip from Orlick's clutches (Ch. 53) and the death of Magwitch (Ch. 56), and to shift the focus from Pip's relationship with Estella to that between Pip and his benefactor. As in the 1861 adaptation in the Rare Book Dept. at the University of Cambridge Library, there is no final resolution of the frustrated romance, and no going forth from the ruined garden together.

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Pip's rescue in Dickens's novel is effected by Herbert, Trabb's Boy, and Startop, but for the sake of economy Shafto Scott substitutes the father-figures of Magwitch and Joe for the latter two. In the novel, closure is not so easily attained as Orlick escapes, and the trio elect not to pursue him as his arrest might prove fatal to Magwitch. As in the book, however, Orlick gloats over the fact uncle Provis will find not a trace of Pip, and that Magwitch may well be betrayed by old enemies to the police (although he does not specifically mention Compeyson's agency in the play). Also borrowed directly from the novel is the "stone-hammer with a long heavy handle" (Ch. 53), used with for more dramatic effect in this scene as Orlick does not merely menace Pip with it, but is felled with it by Joe. Joe doubles as the Comic Man of Victorian melodrama when he rebuts the policeman's accusation by confusing himself with the escaped convict that the Officer has identified. Improbably, Magwitch shoots the melodramatic villain through a window just as Orlick is about to murder Pip (in the novel, he is about to take a drink when the rescuers arrive). Herbert's enabling dialogue complements the humorous soliloquy of Orlick at the beginning of the scene (which removes the necessity for having Orlick entrap Pip with a letter), and plausibly establishes how he and Magwitch were able to discover and rescue Pip in the very nick of time, as the villain was about to murder him with the horrible weapon from the novel so ably utilized for Nemesis in Scott's adaptation.

There is no question in Scott's play of Pip's having to relinquish Magwitch's estate to the Crown, and no comic scene intervening between the confrontation with Compeyson on the river and the death of Magwitch in prison. As is typical of Victorian stage adaptations of popular novels, minor characters and subplots have been trimmed, and Scott does not pause in the headlong rush of the melodrama to have Wemmick marry Miss Skiffins. Although the apprehension on the river as Pip, Magwitch, Herbert, and Startop approach the Hamburg steamer would have made a sensational scene of considerable visual effect, the adaptor has chosen to avoid such a technically-complicated bit of theatrical business that the violent struggle of Compeyson and Magwitch in the Thames would have entailed.

Lines taken from the close of Ch. 56 have been adapted to the changed circumstances of Magwitch's death. He expires from a gunshot wound rather than being struck by the propeller of the Rotterdam steamer, surrounded by friends on the shore rather than in prison with only Pip attending. Pip's asking the police officer for permission to speak to Magwitch appears an incongruous adaptation of the prison governor's granting Pip permission to remain beyond visiting hours since it is obvious that Magwitch is about to die. Magwitch does indeed repent as in the novel, but his stage language is hyperbolic and literary rather than suited to his background and class, as in Dickens.

The revision of Magwitch becomes a reconstruction when we learn in the play that Magwitch not only knew of his daughter but also named her and was presumably helping to raise her prior to the story's opening. Pip in the play does not merely announce to the dying ex-convict that his daughter is living and is a lady but receives the permission of pater familias Magwitch to marry her before the grateful father expires in tableau. Magwitch is also explicitly an agent of Providence in that it is his intuition that his "dear boy" has met with some unfortunate accident that results in Pip's timely rescue.

Related Materials

References

Bolton, Philip H. "Great Expectations." Dickens Dramatized. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1987. Pp. 416-429.

Dickens, Charles. Great Expectations, ed. Edgar Rosenberg. New York: W. W. Norton, 1999.

Scott, Charles Augustus Shafto. My Unknown Friend. A Drama, in Three Acts. Being a Dramatized Version of the Novel "Great Expectations," by the Late Charles Dickens. London: John Dicks, n. d. [1872?] First performed at Wallack's Theatre, New York, 1872. Dicks' Standard Plays, Number 412. London: John Dicks, 313, Strand. N. D.


Victorian Web Theater & Popular Entertainment Charles Dickens Dramatic Adaptations

Last modified 10 June 2005