The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail
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The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail

3.77 of 5 stars 3.77  ·  rating details  ·  1,220 ratings  ·  90 reviews
A reissue of a now classic American drama.

If the law is of such a nature that it requires you to be an agent of injustice to another, then I say, break the law." So wrote the young Henry David Thoreau in 1849. Three years earlier, Thoreau had put his belief into action and refused to pay taxes because of the United States government's involvement in the Mexican War, which...more
Paperback, 112 pages
Published July 10th 2001 by Hill and Wang (first published January 1st 1971)
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While reading it as opposed to watching it may have lessened some of the play's magic, I still loved the portrayal of Thoreau and agreed with many aspects of his philosophy. A great introduction to Transcendentalism.

Also, I will remember this line forever: "I hereby excommunicate you from the Milky Way!" Ha ha.
Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee (no, not that Robert E. Lee...) have created a wonderful and exciting tribute to one of America's greatest philosophers, and this play was certainly a joy to read.

Of course, any play loses some of its magic when read, but "The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail" is still enthralling and wonderful out of context -- I can only imagine what it is like to see it live.

The play is not particularly difficult, and exists primarily as an introductory text for those interested i...more
Generally, I do not like the Transcendentalists. I think they're cheap knockoffs of the British Romantics and they're smelly hippies who think they're cool building their own cabins. How are they in any way different from the hipsters who are trying to make their houses green these days?

The answer is there is very little difference. I applaud them because they're not cheap knockoffs because according to The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail, Thoreau might get angry at me for calling him a cheap knocko...more
There are days when I am not fit to be a teacher, and today is one of them. I had a 13.5 hour day yesterday and this one may be longer. My English 11 class finished reading this play this morning. One female pronounced it "gay" and said it "sucked." A male student declared it "pointless." Again, there are some days I just am not fit to be a teacher. Despite my displeasure, I gathered enough professionalism to encourage discussion on the the writers' purpose, and to discourage the use of the word...more
May 25, 2014 Teichert rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Teichert by: My 8th grade social studies teacher
I enjoyed the format of this book because it's actually the script of a play. I haven't researched much about Thoreau other than from this book, so I'm not sure how accurate it is to reality, but I did enjoy seeing his different outlook on life and the passion and conviction with which he apparently lived each day. He really stuck to his guns even when faced with heavy opposition. A true rebel with a cause.
Jori Richardson
A very thoughtful, cleverly written play. I found the numerous elements of philosophy very well done.
Besides being philosophical, this book also combines conflictual theories and references to Politics, Psychology, Transcendentalism, and Religion. Lawrence examines with a critical eye the government, corrupt politicians, and the country's choices concerning the present Mexican War.
Well written, with complicated and deep characters. The plot line is more than a bit hazy, but the author seems to b...more
I love this play because Thoreau had many interesting things to say, but he was a long-winded and discursive writer. One of his most famous lines: "Simplify, simplify, simplify." Yes, he did repeat himself. So, the play introduces you to all the cool thoughts, stripped down to their pithiest. And also, Lawrence is a genius at finding the action in real, not-so-active events.
Mar 13, 2008 Mara rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Those who love plays, anyone who liked <i>Inherit the Wind</i>, and fans of transcendentalism
Shelves: plays, reviewed
An amazing play-I learned far more about Thoreau and his ideas from this play even than reading Walden. I do need to reread his works; part of the reason I liked the play so much more might have had to do with reading both in high school. That time was so frenzied and there was too much already trying to be crammed in my brain, that it was difficult to absorb too much.... Maybe a cop-out, but really, this play is sensational. I would love to see it acted out-the stage directions alone were inter...more
Grady Ormsby
Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee's two-act play The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail is a distillation of the life and philosophy of Henry David Thoreau. True to Thoreau's exhortation to, "Simplify, Simplify!," the stage directions call for a minimalist production in which the audience is called, "to contribute imagination." Simplification does not mean sparsity, however, because the play includes Thoreau in all his roles: as author, poet, philosopher, abolitionist, naturalist, tax resister, pacifis...more
Despite taking the format of a play, I still found this to be an interesting read. A lot of what Thoreau believed in and mused has inspired me in a way and weaved some of the views I have on the world today.

Highly recommended.
In this play, Thoreau is jailed for refusing to pay taxes because he doesn't want his money to support the Mexican/American war. The play takes from Thoreau's work and combines many years in the passing of a single night as he converses with his cell mate and has flashbacks about other times in his life. The quote that is the center of the work is, "If the law is of such a nature that it requires you to be an agent of injustice to another, then I say, break the law." The play was originally publ...more
I was able to finish this book easily in one sitting and it was a nice change of pace from the longer, heavier novels I've been reading to date. I'll call it a palate-cleanser. The play is simply written, easily accessible, and probably more appropriate for younger readers (it seems most read this while in high school); However, I certainly believe that it should be revisited from time to time just to refresh our jaded, 21st century prospectives. The play included humor and quick wit and made me...more
Maria Zapanta
Sep 04, 2013 Maria Zapanta is currently reading it
Shelves: plays
If the law is of such a nature that it requires you to be an agent of injustice to another, then I say, break the law." So wrote the young Henry David Thoreau in 1849. Three years earlier, Thoreau had put his belief into action and refused to pay taxes because of the United States government's involvement in the Mexican War, which Thoreau firmly believed was unjust. For his daring and unprecedented act of protest, he was thrown in jail. The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail is a celebrated dramatic pr...more
Lauren Truka
I find this transcendentalism piece of literature to be brilliant. Love this time period. A fast read. I enjoyed reading the play and I could really picture the different scenes!
Dec 14, 2008 The rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: high school students, thoreau fans, individualists, rand readers
Recommended to The by: Eve Balsam
Shelves: favorites, plays
Before I begin, I adore Thoreau and am therefore inherently biased about any works that surround his life or writings. This play obviously in concerned with the night he spent in jail after refusing to pay taxes (because the U.S. gov't was involved in the Mexican American War). It paints him as an individualist of the highest caliber and gives an overview of important life events. The dialogue is witty and will often make the reader laught out loud. However, the story plays out as history and ma...more
This drama provides a look into the life of Thoreau and how he withdrew from the world to Walden and decided to later leave Walden to discover more of the world. While the center of the stage has the jail cell at all times, the play is replete with flashbacks that tell the story of his young life, his argument with Emerson, and his unwavering conviction to his ideals. Any lover of Thoreau or Transcendentalism would love this book. I'm trying to determine if it is worth the read with my junior st...more
"you don't belong to anybody, sir. except yourself. least of all to me. watch out- or you'll run right into what you're running away from."

"if you call on me to pay for a rifle, sam, it's the same as asking me to fire it! you're making me as much a killer as the foot-soldier who crashes across the border into faraway mexico, charges into his neighbor's house, sets fire to it and kills his children!"

"that's why you didn't hear him. you missed the eloquence of his silence."

"sometimes the light get...more
Mar 14, 2008 Bob rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Anyone
Recommended to Bob by: My English Teacher
This book isn't something you should read, it's something that you should takes notes over and simply look at Thoreau's life. He shows us what are rights are, and that we should keep them even if he have to go to jail.

This book shows Thoreau's mind even better then Walden(Also a great book by Henry David Thoreau) I should also add that I don't agree with everything Thoreau says, but I truly respect him for someone who commanded peace and equality between all humans.

In overall i recomend this bo...more
Nate Goddard
I would give this book a two and a half out of five. I thought the structure of this book was hard to follow because it was written as a play. I often found myself struggling to visualize the scene of what was going on thoughout the book. I thought the main character related to Marting Luther King Jr because he said,"IF the law is of such a nature that it requires you to be an agent of injustice to another, then I say, Break the law." I believe they related so much because they both believed tha...more
Geoff Wyss
This play is more interesting as a document of its time (1971) than as any sort of resource for learning more about Thoreau, Emerson, and Transcendentalism. It makes use of the broadest strokes of Transcendentalist thought to rouse its audience against Vietnam. The only real interest here is in structure, which floats quite fluidly in and out of real time to remembered (and simultaneous) scenes on other parts of the stage. Having said that, I'm thinking seriously about using it for my Eng. III c...more
This is perfect for teaching students that there are different ways of seeing the world. I'm using this play after teaching Julius Caesar to show that there are other ways to handle power struggles besides murder/assassination and suicide. Our actions and words show the world who we are. By increasing our vocabulary, use and understanding of rhetoric and persuasion we can avoid the use of physical force to solve our problems. Please read this book, you'll really enjoy it and it is a quick read.
I think I bought this at a church rummage sale about 3 years ago, and it has just sat in my bookcase ever since. This is a great, quick read (as are most plays), and it was an interesting way to (concisely) learn about HD Thoreau. It would be interesting to see this play performed because it's so minimalist and really puts the onus on the audience to imagine. This is also a good read in terms of themes regarding civil disobedience. I'd recommend this.
I had higher hopes for this play, considering the title. But there were one too many anachronisms. And there wasn't really a hard press on the point of exactly WHY Thoreau ended up in jail. Yea, it mentioned that he refused to pay his taxes, but it seemed as if it was only in passing regarding why he refused to pay his taxes. Anyway, seemed like a good subject, but very little of the transcendentalism expected of a subject like Thoreau.
This play is fantastic! It was written in 1971, but I had never heard of it until recently. I love the way it incorporates lines from Emerson's and Thoreau's writings. It seems to use the stage economically by using lighting to facilitate quick back-and-forth scene changes that characters step into and out of. The text does a great job exploring the tensions between working within vs. outside the law and being a part of vs. apart from society.
While well-written, I didn't find Throreau as sympathetic as I was suppose to. I found him a self-important and annoying idealist, which affected how I interpreted numerous elements of the play.
Cindy Gu
A fun read considering it's required for the English curriculum. Though in the beginning it's a bit confusing because you're not used to the flashbacks, but by the end you'll be expecting them. In this play you meet many different characters whom all have distinct personalities and qualities. You also learn about transcendentalism and Thoreau's strong feelings towards it and the actions he takes to retain his beliefs.
First performed in 1970, it's easy to see how the playwrights were using Thoreau's stance against the war with Mexico to mirror their stance on the Vietnam war. However, it's still a good read. Interesting to see how the play keeps moving forward and backward in (Thoreau's) time and place. It would be interesting to see how the play is staged with such sparse sets and props. A good one to read at least once.
Danny McGarry
This play is about Thoreau's beliefs and how he got to his beliefs in his life. Thoreau is one of my favorite philosophers because of his stances on learning and on transcendentalism. This play talks about that and gives history about what happened. I think it's interesting to see where these philosophers are in their lives when they form these ideas and this play does a very good job of that.
J.M. Slowik
Apr 27, 2012 J.M. Slowik rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Optimists
Shelves: drama, classic
Reads like a relic of more hopeful times. The US government abstaining from senseless wars? A culture celebrating true freedom and individuality? Keep dreaming, Henry.

Also, oddly, he seems to be one of the forefathers of "intelligent design" theory by parroting the watchmaker argument, as well as starting the whole "don't pay your taxes if you think the government is evil" thing.
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