My Respect for Jacob Marley
I saw the Citadel's A Christmas Carol last night and it was the last production of this version after 19 years. Lots of stage magic and a giant cast of like 40 people! Limelet Daryl for getting me a ticket.
For a long time I was on the side of, oh jeez why do we keep doing this, it's another dead old white writer dude taking up space, featuring a shitty old white dude taking up space and then I assistant directed Michael Shamata in 2011 and the story had a profound impact on me. That adaptation and production truly allowed me to meet Jacob Marley.
Jacob Marley is one of, if not my favourite European white male characters ever. He gets to say some pretty incredible lines like "captive bound and double ironed" and "I wear the chain I forged in life, I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it. " and of course ""Business! Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!"
There is so much to unpack in this last line but first let's investigate Marley's return. After being Ebenezer's shrewd business partner in life Jacob Marley dies on Christmas Eve 7 years prior to when the story takes place. He is condemned to restlessly walk the earth as a ghost wearing the chains, padlocks and weights of the selfish life he lived roaming with the "incessant torture of remorse".
Given the one opportunity to return to the earth reality he chooses to go back and warn his friend. "I am here to-night to warn you that you have yet a chance and hope of escaping my fate. A chance and hope of my procuring, Ebenezer." Man alive to have a friend like that?! What an immense amount of love.
What I really love about Jacob's character is his transformation, the conciliation between what he was with Ebenezer and what he learned and journeyed to as a Spector. It's so anti-colonial, "Mankind was my business" that message is so potent, to me it's so Indigenous, it's value-centric and community centered. "Charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence were all my business." This this this this.
Mercy and benevolence particularly stand out for me.
Jacob then goes on to arrange a night of hauntings for his old pal to ensure that he too transforms his way out of ego, selfishness, greed and unconscious living. The other really compelling characters for me are Ignorance and Want.
"This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased."
The presencing of mankind's self-obsession with believing we can do whatever we want and have no impact or consequence on others is truly ignorant. This device of humanizing these two in the form of children is pretty genius to me. Again, it's a very Indigenous understanding that as adults we're responsible for the stewardship and care of the next generation and our actions in the now will write their future for them. If we remain ignorant and our wants reflect the individual then we have doomed our children to come.
This haunting in the story is very real and always scares me.
Jacob ends his rationale with this, "the dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!" That line evokes such a moving image and feeling of the connectivity and urgency for me to serve the community. To take off any blinders that I'm ignorant off that keep me self-obsessed with the insignificance of my "business". To broaden my scope and bear witness to the ocean and be responsive to the needs of the community.
Jacob Marley can in some productions only be on stage for moments and can get lost in the "ghostliness" which for me is a missed opportunity because we need to fully get his humanity, his truth. For me Jacob is the most real and we need to see him and be reminded of his provocation, always. Which is why I really love Shamata's adaptation because the actor playing Marley also plays the 3 ghosts so Jacob's presence is always there. It's really powerful.
All this being said - cast a woman or non-binary person as Scrooge and Jacob and Bob and them all really. If we're going to keep resurrecting old dead white dudes like Dickens and Marley let's make them relevant and reflective of the world today and use them to work towards equity.
The message in Carol that is the most powerful to me is that of Jacob Marley. So I think it would be hauting to stage that instead of seeing Tiny Tim being raised at the end, we're left with Marley, breathing heavy and restless with smoke and fog around him as he tirelessly roams the stage and stares us down as we leave the theatre - that would be terrifying but I think effective.
"The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. Oh Jacob Marley! Heaven, and the Christmas Time be praised for this. I say it on my knees, old Jacob, on my knees!"
p.s for a while now I've wanted to adapt a Muppets Christmas Carol to a stage play and have people play muppets, who played humans. I don't think thats confusing at all and I fucking love that movie. Like this is gold.