Stephen Vincent Benét was born in 1898 in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. His education came from Yale University and the Sorbonne in Paris, France. “The Devil and Daniel Webster” has a wide array of characters, each with a distinguished personality, yet an overall temperament that would be fitting of a New England community.
The main character is Jabez Stone, a wealthy New England statesman whose position was the state senator of New Hampshire. He had started out as a farmer though, but moved up in life and, when he was about thirty years of age, married the fair woman, Mary Stone- who was in her early twenties.
The fiddler, though not incredibly important, was a key character in that he provided foreshadowing. When he said, “But the very devil’s got into that fiddle of mine.”, he was foreshadowing the coming of the devil to disturb the merriments. A very key character in this play is the devil himself, which took the name of Scratch (for that was what he was called in New England communities).
He had come to steal the soul of Jabez Stone, claiming that he had a right to Jabez because of a legal contract. Last, but, not certainly, least in this story- is the great Governor of New Hampshire, loved by all, Daniel Webster. Daniel Webster was not only the governor but an excellent orator. He had a way of using words to pursued the opinion of others, sometimes by conveying feelings or emotion.
The play starts out in the ornate home of Jabez and Mary Stone, right after their wedding has taken place. The Fiddler, who sat upon a Cider Barrel, played a tune on the Fiddle, and all of the guests danced to it. Basically, it was a wedding reception. At first, there was nothing more than small talk going on, but by using even this Smalltalk, Benét very accurately described the lifestyles of the New England residents.
As the play progressed, political favor of the day was expressed as Daniel Webster arrived, associating himself with Jabez Stone. One man cried out, “Vote the Whig ticket!” and another, “Hurray for Daniel Webster!” Of course, political disfavor was also shown, as Scratch (the devil) portrayed himself as a lawyer from Boston, implying that the political party from Boston was disfavored.
Later on, after some foreshadowing by both Jabez and Mary, it is learned that Jabez had sold his soul to the devil. He had done this because of the desolate land he had to farm, it was entirely barren, and had an abundance of large stones there. In return, the devil brought him prosperity- for a time. Jabez had become state senator, married a wonderful woman, and had friends in high places.
But it did not last forever. A small climax- more like a turning point- occurred when Scratch had driven all the guests away from fear. He then left for a short time, preparing to come back at a later time to reclaim his “prize”. Daniel Webster, however, felt confidant that he could defeat Scratch in a fair trial and/or debate. As it turned out, both happened.
When Scratch came back, they had a trial- a trial with a biased jury of the undead. A great oratory debate soon followed between Scratch and Daniel Webster. It was a fierce debate, though it did remain civil.
Webster used his cunning intellect against Scratch, but in every case, either Scratch would refute his claim, or the judge at this trial, Judge Hawthorne of the Salem Witch Trials, would over-rule Daniel Webster- no matter how logical he had been. For instance, when Daniel Webster claimed that “Mr. Stone is an American citizen, and American citizen may be forced into the service of a foreign prince.”, the devil replied that he was no foreigner with “…when the first wrong was done to the first Indian, I was there.
When the first slaver put out for the Congo, I stood on her deck…”. Such a trial was impossible to win until Daniel Webster used his words to bring back memories of the undead jury- of when they had been alive and human. He appealed to them, one by one, and slowly changed the sway of the biased jury of the undead. In the end, the verdict was “not guilty”, and old Scratch was finally flung out the door.
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