Under The Gaslight “Under the Gaslight,” an 1838 melodramatic play, written by Augustin Daly, presents itself to the reader in a very superficial tone. As for the title alone seems to portray this superficiality before giving the reader a chance to even begin reading act1. It is known that this play was done during a time when gaslights were becoming a modern extravagance to the theatre, this new technology was used for what were considered to be the best plays, which were usually viewed by the rich, upper-class of society, therefore being “Under the Gaslight” was the same as being under a grand spotlight. Sabino 2 As the play begins this pretentious characteristic continues to prevail. The first scene as the curtains would be opening, takes place in NewYork at the well appointed home of the Courtlands.
The people in the play obviously appear to be somewhat wealthy and only associate with high-class people, this turns into the irony of the play. This scene introduces Pearl Courtland, cousin to Laura Courtland the star of the play, and Ray Trafford who is Lauras boyfriend, perhaps soon to be fiancé, as implied by Pearl: “wont you have a cup of coffee?”Ray: “No.” Pearl: “Aint you hungry?” Ray: “No – you torment.” Pearl: “O dear! I suppose its because youre going to be married shortly to Laura.” (Drama and Performance, Daly 524) This begins laying out the plot of the story. The plot of this story is dependent upon the relationship between Ray and Laura.
As the play continues Rays true love for Laura is put to the ultimate test. He is forced to be courageous, Sabino 3 both, in the sense of coming to her rescue when her life ends up in danger, and having to risk his high societal standing once her dreadful secret from the past is revealed, that she may not really be a Courtland. If Ray stays with her he risks becoming an outcast, which is what she once descended from, besides the fact that he temporarily feels betrayed and deceived.The emotion behind this play is quite powerful and can be depicted from the most trivial lines, such as when PeachBlossom was talking to herself while cleaning. PeachBlossom: “The stove wont shine.
Its the fault of the polish I know. That boy comes here, just fills the bottles with mud, and calls it stove polish. Only let me catch him. Ah! Ah! I declare Id give it up if I didnt want to make everything look smart before Miss Nina comes in.” (Drama and Performance, Daly 530) This statement could be taken out of its literal context, and used as a comparison; Laura, thought to be stove polish is really just mud that has Sabino 4 been put into a stove polish bottle, or a retched poor girl put into a wealthy, beautiful, well respected life.I personally feel a strong sense of morality from this play, the situation really emulates the question of; which is more important, true love, people and their feelings, or social standing, what the upper class people think of you, and how much money you have? Of course as in most good stories, love conquers all in the end, but I feel that in this play Daly really makes the reader think about the struggle behind such values.