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The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail

3.77 of 5 stars 3.77  ·  rating details  ·  1,478 ratings  ·  108 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
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.
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
Randy Reus
I would have probably enjoyed this more if I'd read in in high school instead of as an adult. It's a good introduction to Thoreau, Emerson, civil disobedience, and Transcendentalism, but it's a little disjointed at times. Trying to fit so much of Thoreau's life into a short play taking place in one night means way too many dreams, flashbacks, and quotes for my taste. And, speaking of quotes, sometimes the play reads like Lawrence and Lee picked their favorites, and wrote the play around them. E ...more
Bardha Ajeti
"If the law is of such nature that it requires you to be a agent of injustice to another, then i say, break the law".

Thoreau refused to pay taxes because he did not believe in the government’s involvement in the Mexican war. For this, he was thrown in jail. This play depicts a man’s quest to find justice in America and take a stance for something he believed in.
Thoreau's characterization is beautiful and accurate, and the structure of the play gives readers a sense of how and why Thoreau is such a man of principle and of paradox. Among the cast of characters we meet are his mother, who is ever fretting over her son's unconventional behavior and views, "Waldo" (i.e. Emerson), who is resoundingly upstaged by Thoreau in both conviction and action, his brother John, Thoreau's kindred in spirit as well as blood, and Sam, the local marshal who is tasked with ...more
Snagged from the English dept book room because it's on the "approved" list for grade 11. This is an easy read and could supply the half-conscious reader with enough support for writing on Thoreau and his ilk. I especially enjoyed the humor and the way the authors drew clear parallels between two unpopular wars (Mexico and Vietnam). I also found the conflict with Emerson interesting -- Emerson a thinker too timid to rock the boat, Thoreau a man determined to go his own way and be himself. This 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
Jan 17, 2015 Ellie added it
Shelves: top-25
This play is about the night that Thoreau spent in jail. Obviously. ;)

We read this play in Honors English last year during our unit on transcendentalism. I adored reading it. Every scene had at least one significant statement to make and I fell in love with the way Henry David Thoreau's character was written.

Fun fact: Parker Elliot pronounced Thoreau's name like a combination of "Thor", the superhero, and "oreo", the snack cookie. It was hilarious.
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
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
Out_of_Bounds Reading
So, I had to read this for class, and I am glad I did. This was very thought provoking and at some points humorous. Overall, it was an okay book. I think I would have rather seen the play than read it though, because the scenes would have stand out a bit more to me.
Loved this play about Thoreau and Emerson! I read it to help Ben with a project for English 3 and enjoyed the refresher on Henry David's Transcendentalist ideals especially his dedication to nonconformity!!!! FUN, quick read; I praise the instructor's selection for teens!
Perhaps a bit heavy-handed in it's treatment of "marching to a different drum", but that bluntness is tempered by how deftly Lawrence uses the physical space of the stage to interweave space, time and language into a meditation on Thoreau's life.
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
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
A bit obscure and disconnected, but intentionally. The artistic vision of the playwrights is admirable, and they successfully captured all of Thoreau's philosophies and personage. Would love to see on stage someday.
This short play captured the essence of Thoreau. It touches on his philosophy and his relationships with the people closest to him. The author brings both wit and strength of character to his homage of the great dissenter.
Read in high school, saw it in bookstore for a couple bucks, picked it up. Read again years later. The plot is kind of hard to grasp you have to use your imagination. It's a playwrite I believe. It's interesting.
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 Mallory rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: high school students, thoreau fans, individualists, rand readers
Recommended to Mallory 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
not great! just ok! but i had a lot of fun reading it because my friend and i have a dumb inside joke about thoreau. that's a guaranteed way to enjoy this play
"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
This is definitely the best play I've read so far. The ideas were very interesting and I found myself holding on for the next page.
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
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
A good, easy to approach play if you are interested in a historical fiction about Thoreau's life.
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