The Heresy of Love

By Helen Edmundson

The Heresy of Love
Paperback, 112 pages Online Price:
ISBN: 9781848422391
Format: 198mm x 129mm
Imprint: Nick Hern Books
Published: 2nd February 2012
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Category: Modern drama (post-1945)

Series: NHB Modern Plays

First Staged: RSC, Stratford-upon-Avon, 2012

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A powerful drama based on the extraordinary life of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, a poet, nun and major literary figure of Mexico.

In a convent in seventeenth-century Mexico, Sister Juana strives to reconcile her love for God with her desire for a life of the mind. Her gift for writing plays and poems is celebrated by the Court, but her success creates alarm within the Church. Persecuted by a zealous archbishop, Sister Juana’s world threatens to crumble around her as everything she holds dear is jeopardised by dangerous ambitions and illicit desires.

'Superb... an instant classic'

- Daily Mail

'The great quality of Edmundson’s play is that it has the sweep, the intrigue, and the bold theatrical effects of the original Spanish Golden Age dramas... an unmistakable winner'

- Daily Telegraph

'A bold and eloquent play that confronts titanic conflicts between church and state, faith and creativity, and male and female power-structures'

- Guardian

Helen Edmundson talks about her play, The Heresy of Love, during the final days of rehearsal for the premiere production by the Royal Shakespeare Company:

Four years ago I went to see the RSC's production of The House of Desires, which was part of the Spanish Golden Age season at the Swan Theatre in Stratford. I was struck by how funny and how daring the play was. I knew it had been written by a woman in the seventeenth century, but talking to the director Nancy Meckler afterwards, I learned a little more about its creator, Sister Juana Ines de la Cruz - primarily that she was a Mexican nun, and spent almost her entire adult life in the Convent of San Jeronimo in Mexico City. 'Read about her, you'll love her' Nancy said. Four years on, my play inspired by Juana's life is in rehearsal, and almost ready to meet the world. I do love her. She is a fascinating character - extremely intelligent, extraordinarily well-read, beautiful, talented and creative. And her story is equally fascinating: having enjoyed the protection of the Viceroyal Court for many years, she finally entered into a bitter and frightening conflict with several Princes of the Church, and had to fight to defend her right to study and to write.

It took me a long time to do all the research I needed to do. There are several extant documents relating to her life - several of them written by Juana herself. And there is a wealth of material written about her - most notably and thoroughly by Octavio Paz. But there are also a lot of things we don't know, and can only speculate upon. How deep was her faith? What was the state of her heart? What did she want more than anything? Why did she make the drastic decisions she made? This was good news for me: unanswered questions meant that there was room for imagination. I also read a great deal about the life of seventeenth century nuns, and about life for people in colonial Mexico.

I decided that I wanted the play to have a flavour of a Spanish Golden Age play - of Sister Juana's own work - so I have really let my imagination go, with court intrigues, and mischievous servants, with spying, and jealousies and hidden desires, and some humour too. I have focused on one particular episode in Juana's life, so that I can write in depth about her character, and construct a story full of dramatic tension. I have also taken the opportunity to explore issues surrounding faith - about the role of women in the Church, about fundamentalism and the role of faith in emerging societies - issues which feel very relevant in today's world.

I hope the play will enjoy a long life, beyond its run at the RSC. I hope other companies will pick it up and enjoy the passion and the scale of it. It has seven strong female characters, alongside some challenging male ones -  I am sure there will be a lot of companies out there who will welcome that.

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