Movie Analysis : ' Vinegar Tom ' Essay
I wanted to write a play about witches without any witches in it; a play not about evil, hysteria and possession by the devil, but about poverty, humiliation, and prejudice.
– Caryl Churchill on Vinegar Tom (qtd Kritzer 87)
Vinegar Tom is a one-act play featuring twenty-one scenes punctuated by seven songs. Before analysing the individual characters, it is important to understand the setting and structure. The action of the scenes takes place in a small seventeenth century British village – the time of “the last major English witch hunts” (Churchill qtd Basourakos 280). Conversely, Vinegar Tom’s production note advises the songs are contemporary, performed by the actors out of character and out of costume (133). In the style of Brecht, the songs emphasise the scenes as individual episodes and challenge, rather than underscore, the action.
In “The Dramas of Caryl Churchill: The Politics of Possibility” (1983), Helene Keysarr describes the village as “a society whose misogyny is so grotesquely rampant in its condemnation of certain women as witches” (210). Also in Brechtian style, each character represents an opposing viewpoint or opinion. The treatment of the five accused witches – Alice, Susan, Ellen, Joan, and Betty – serves to highlight the compounding forces of gendered oppression and poverty, as discussed bellow.
Alice’s status as a working class single mother makes her an easy target for sexual and economic exploitation at the hands of her…