Wednesday, August 27, 2008

THE VAMPIRE's Scottish setting

The Bride of the Isles (as Planche's The Vampire was subtitled) was originally meant as a drama of the Greek isles. Lord Byron drew on Eastern Europe's tradition of revenants for his Lord Ruthven (see earlier post for literary pedigree). Charles Nodier's drama shifted the scene to Scotland, as Planche recollected in 1872, "with the usual recklessness of French Scotland, where the superstition never existed." Planche tried to convince producer Samuel Arnold to place the action in eastern Europe, but Mr Arnold knew Scottish music and dress were in vogue -- and he already had a wardrobe full of Scottish costumes.

The play opens in the dramatic setting of The Caves of Staffa (see above 19th-century illustration). The opening act's stage scenery was one reason theatregoers were drawn to the play in crowds. Staffa, a small island off the coast of Mull, is graced with basaltic caves, the basalt formed into regular rows of glassy dark pillars, resembling a man-made cathedral. The famous Fingal's Cave is entered here, the mouth measuring forty-two feet wide and fifty-six feet high. The cavern itself is two hundred and twenty-seven feet long. This and other caves were popular tourist attractions, inspiring Wordsworth and Keats to poetry, and Mendelsohn to his "Scottish Symphony" and "Hebrides" Overture