It is widely acknowledged that Dorothy Hewett borrowed the idea of The Chapel Perilous from the Arthurian romances reinvented by Tennyson and Eliot in rather different ways. What remains, however, unacknowledged in the discussion of Hewett’s work is that Eliot took his key paradigm from Frazer who studied the old fertility rites, and from Weston who explored earlier versions of the Grail romances, where the purpose of the Quest was to regenerate the Fisher King and the land he ruled. The grail romances enjoyed huge popularity in France and Germany throughout the Middle Ages, but only in the oldest, versified versions were the fertility paradigm and the underlying signification of the Quest connoted clearly enough. Hewett, like Eliot, draws on the sources that point back to the pagan roots of humanity to critique the privileging of the death forces (repression) over the life forces (sexuality/ freedom) and the ‘waste land’ such an attitude makes of society. This is not to say that she subscribes to the ‘myth and ritual’ school uncritically. For Hewett, unlike for Eliot, the sacred and the profane co-exist dialectically and The Chapel Perilous is a notable example.

The Chapel Perilous (1971) was the second play Hewett wrote after spending a whole year reading ‘new European drama’ that commanded a fresh look at the form-content dialectic in the construction of meaning. From that miscellany of styles she had imported the devices, concepts and techniques compatible to her own vision, but making them work still felt like an experiment. The dramatic strategies she was exploring, those that contradicted the principles of naturalism, could be seen at play at Sydney’s PACT and Jane Street Theatres as well as at Melbourne’s La Mama and the Pram Factory, but in Perth Hewett felt isolated and on her own (Novakovic 2000). The only person she could discuss her ideas with was the young director, Aarne Neeme, who had assisted Philip Parsons in staging her previous play Mrs Porter and the Angel in the tiny PACT theatre in 1969. Coincidentally, Neeme had in the meantime formed a small troupe of professional actors at the University of Western Australia and the prospect of directingThe Chapel Perilous looked like a natural progression to him (Novakovic 2001), all the more so given that he was involved in the writing process throughout the play’s development.

Hewett and Neeme used to get together several times a week to go through what she had written. ‘Because I was trying out things that hadn’t been done in Australia’, Hewett stressed years later. But after completing the first act of The Chapel Perilous, she suddenly felt unable to continue:

I used to meet Aarne on the campus when I was going across to have lunch and I would actually hide behind a tree, so he wouldn’t ask me how I was getting on, because I wasn’t. And then the Pram Factory arrived in Perth like a bit of a bomb shell, put on some plays which I saw and Aarne said: ‘Let’s give them a reading of the first act’, so we did. And I also remember Jack Hibberd who has a very loud and neighing laugh, and he laughed madly all through it, which was marvellous. So, somehow, this acted like an impetus, just seeing it, and I wrote the second act quite quickly (Novakovic 2000).

The plays that the Australian Performing Group brought to the Perth Festival in February 1970 elicited a mixed response from Hewett, though. The treatment of dramatic form in Buzo’s The Front Room Boys, Hibberd’s Who? and White With Wire Wheels, and Romeril’s Chicago, Chicago convinced her that she should go on with her own experimentation with structural composition in search of the new strategies for subverting ideological and epistemological assumptions in society. But the masculine view of the world, challenged only by Hibberd in White With Wire Wheels, strengthened her resolve to question the normative ontological experience in patriarchal society by shifting the focus onto woman’s quest for truth.

The quest is what most reviewers of The Chapel Perilous have identified over its long history of performance as the play’s central theme. The basis for interpretation, both scholarly and artistic, commensurate with the scope of Hewett’s inquiry was already established in Jean Whitehead’s detailed analysis of the connotations configured in precisely that first performance directed by Aarne Neeme at the New Fortune Theatre, Perth, on 21 January 1971. The stage positions, Whitehead wrote, were worked into the symbolic structure with Sally, the Quester, situated centre stage, between two figures that ‘could be interpreted as “Sterility” (on her left) and as “Authority” (on her right). Sister Rosa, Judith, David and Saul all fit into the sterility image – in very different ways’ (Whitehead 1971:42). A brief reference Whitehead makes to the programme notes also indicates that an epistemological link with T.S. Eliot was publicly acknowledged, leading her to deduce that Sally’s

youthful misinterpretation of Eliot’s sexual-spiritual sterility metaphors has had something to do with her over-enthusiastic rejection of mind in favour of the supposedly unhypocritical flesh. … She [Sally] follows her preconceived grail vision with the fanaticism of St. Joan herself, whose image dominates the central set (Whitehead 1971:42).

Sally’s ordeal is the price she has to pay for following her visions.

To the epistemological chain formed by the grail vision, the quest, ordeal and sterility Whitehead adds the wasteland (a correlate to sterility), but then associates Sally with ‘the earth goddess which her particular brand of idealism puts her in danger of becoming’. Sally’s idols, D. H. Lawrence and Edith Sitwell, indeed celebrate sexuality (that in mythopoeic narratives translates into the fertility paradigm) and freedom of expression, both feared by the Authority figures she defies. The opposition she faces from both the figures on her left and her right creates a tension comparable to the opposing forces of life (Sally) and death (‘Sterility’ & ‘Authority’), as confirmed by Neeme’s choice of ‘the emotive symbolism of the death mask behind the veil’ and Whitehead’s inference from it of ‘a spiritual stalemate in which the opposites of death and immortality now seem ironically blended’ (Whitehead 1971:44).

One of the rare critics who in The Chapel Perilous saw nothing but ‘a contemporary morality play’ was Reba Gostand, whose essay “Quest or Question? Perilous Journey to the Chapel” was published five years after the Perth premiere. A reading burdened by the legacy of naturalism led Gostand to use Sylvia Lawson’s astute identification of ‘allegory that relates the solitude of the pilgrim to the solitude of the artist’ just as a starting point for the denial of the presence of mythic elements in the play. Unable to see the underlying allegorical pattern that both Lawson and the play’s first director Aarne Neeme pointed to, Gostand expected to find a ‘clear-cut distinction’ between ‘endeavour’ and ‘self-doubt’ instead of the polisemy that inheres in the allegorical meaning of the play. As a result, she downplayed the links Lawson perceived with ‘Mallory, Spenser, Sir Gawayne, medieval French lore and legend, and also with pre-Christian myths of quest going back to the Odyssey’ (Gostand 1976:289). Katharine Brisbane, on the other hand, confirms the importance of the grail motif in her overview of “Australian Drama” in The Literature of Australia edited by Geoffrey Dutton. She infers that ‘Sally fails in the end because her grail remains undefined’, and goes on to compare Hewett’s work with ‘a baroque mural with overflowing images and literary references’ (Brisbane 1976:273).

Missing from this chain of references, however, is the one that recurs in Hewett’s entire body of work focused on woman’s experience, namely Tennyson’s poem “The Lady of Shallot”. John Jenkins’ analysis of its echoes in Hewett’s collection of poemsGreenhouse demonstrates that, like The Chapel Perilous, it too is underscored by a dialectic or, as he puts it,

a parallel opposition between an imaginary Ideal (identified with the ideal love and lover of fairy tales) and the seemingly arbitrary chaos of day-to-day exigencies and the inevitability of death. … Poised between these apposed conceptual poles is the poet’s structuring imagination, through which she seeks to locate her life’s experiences in a timeless mythopoeic dimension’ (Jenkins 1981:4).

The poem Jenkins deciphers in support of his analysis is “Lancelot’s Lady” but ‘the imprisonment of woman in a basically male phallic mythos,’ he notes, functions as the thematic background to the entire collection (5).

The Arthurian myths, the Beatrix from Dante, Adriane’s thread through the Cretian labyrinth, the Biblical Eden. The majority of these references concern the Arthurian legends, by way of Tennyson. This Tennysonian material is adjusted to Hewett’s own purposes just as Tennyson exploited some of Mallory’s more dramatic moments in his ‘Idylls of the King’. ‘Le Morte D’Arthur’ was itself based on a web of history, saga and religious myth woven in the Dark Ages’ (Jenkins 1981:6).

While Jenkins fails to highlight the connection between Hewett’s appropriation of mythic narratives and her belief that the life’s journey is circular (see also Hewett 1992:133, 206), he does suggest that ‘Hewett may have restored what might have been the original pagan, sexual and nature symbolism to images deriving from the cycle’ (6).

This important aspect of Hewett’s work of fiction, The Chapel Perilous included, is largely eclipsed in scholarly analyses by the prevailing interest in the social and intellectual rebellion of a creative girl who follows her urge for the realization of her potential for poetry and love (Dunstone 1979:2006). The urge Dunstone sees as both Sally’s strength and her weakness is an impulse already defined by Aristotle as a tendency towards ‘actualization of potential’, that manifests itself, for instance, ‘in a child’s insistence on becoming a mature adult’ just as a seed ‘insists’ on becoming a full-grown plant. Literary critic Kenneth Burke equates it with ‘perfectionism’, the inherent drive towards completion expressed by the language of absolutism that is characteristically used in both making myths and reading myths (See Coupe 1997:6-8). The evidence of it abounds in the play. ‘I don’t play for halves. I take it all the way’, says Sally in a repartee to Michael (Hewett 1992:171). She invokes Helen of Troy (174) after he has mocked her desire of perfect love, she aspires to ‘some kind of immortality’ (176), she wishes ‘to go back to the golden age. Primitive, savage, beautiful’ (176).

The mythopoeic perspective of The Chapel Perilous derives, for Dunstone, from ‘the Arthurian analogies which run implicitly through [the play’s] thought, imagery and structure’ (1997:206), and so it does for the majority of scholars whose object of study is Hewett’s dramatic oeuvre alone. Margaret Williams thus recognizes the identification of ‘a precocious schoolgirl’s ambitions with the legendary Sir Lancelot’s search for the Holy Grail’ to call attention to ‘the fusion of myth and personal experience in The Chapel Perilous‘ (Williams 1992:48), but then ignores the epistemological import of myth in her analysis of Sally’s ‘lonely quest’. A quotation of an excerpt from Sir Thomas Mallory’sThe Tale of King Arthur (1485) before the playtext itself in Peta Tait and Elizabeth Schafer’s collection of selected drama by Australian women authors (Tait & Schafer 1997), suggests the same key for deciphering the play. If one, however, follows Lawson, Brisbane and Jenkins’ suggestion and moves further, beyond the British sources, to consult the French and German versions of the myth as well, there emerges a spiritual and philosophical connotation of the Quest, the Chapel Perilous and the Holy Grail that can be subsumed under a single paradigm, that of fertility.

The basic narrative line in all Grail romances is the same: the hero or sometimes the heroine goes through a series of ordeals meant to test his/her faith, and a strange, life-threatening adventure in a mysterious Chapel is just one of them. The encounter always occurs on the Quester’s journey to the Grail castle. In one of the oldest versions, Gawain is caught in a storm and he takes shelter in the Chapel ‘standing at a crossways in the middle of a forest.’ Inside it there burns a taper which is all of a sudden extinguished by ‘a Hand, black and hideous, [that] comes through the window’ behind the altar. The lamentation accompanying this act is so loud and dire that the very building rocks beneath it. After making the sign of the Cross, Gawain ‘rides out of the Chapel to find the storm abated’ and the rest of the night stays calm and clear (Weston [1920] 1983:175). In the Perceval version recorded by Wauchier, the narrative opens with a heavy storm, which passes off at nightfall, and Perceval rides on in calm weather searching for the Grail castle. On the way he comes across a great oak on whose branches between ten and twenty-five candles are lit. As he comes close, ‘a fair little Chapel’ appears in its place ‘with a candle shining through the opening door’. No life-threatening event occurs this time and Perceval reaches the castle of the Fisher King the next day. When continued by Manessier, the story gets its former, eerie twist and the black hand appears again, killing the knights who dare enter the Perilous Chapel. Only after driving away the Devil with the sign of the cross and sprinkling the walls of the Chapel with holy water is the evil spell broken (in ibid.).

Dorothy Hewett takes on the myth with astonishing precision. The Chapel Perilousopens with the stage enveloped in darkness and a clap of thunder under which the cast take up their positions. The questing knight is Sally Banner, who speaks in the first person singular:

I rode forward through the blackened land. I found the forests burning and the fields wasted, waiting for rain. Upon a slope I saw a glimpse of light. Then I came to the Chapel Perilous. [Loud knocking. The chant begins.] (Hewett 1992:131)

The Waste Land Sally rides across invokes the bushfires and pastures burnt by the Australian sun, and awaiting miraculous regeneration. This is at one and the same time a mythic landscape and a scene imported from the real physical world. Sally’s historical duty is explained in the myth, though.

Both Gawain and Perceval also ride, in the earlier versified versions of the romance, through the Waste Land:

From the records of his [Gawain’s] partial success we gather that he ought to have enquired concerning the nature of the Grail, and that this enquiry would have resulted in the restoration to fruitfulness of a Waste Land, the desolation of which is, in some manner, … connected with the death of a knight… (Weston [1920] 1983:12-3).

Only once the nature of the Grail is explained, ‘the waters flowed again thro’ their channel, and all the woods were turned to verdure’. The conclusion Weston draws is that the main purpose of the Quest is ‘the effect upon the land’. The hero has ‘freed the waters’ by asking the right question and the revival of the land followed. Which brings us back to Eliot.

Hewett acknowledged her debt to Eliot and Eliot acknowledged his debt to Frazer’s The Golden Bough and Weston’s From Ritual to Romance, especially the latter. From Weston he got not only the title of The Waste Land but also ‘the plan and a good deal of the incidental symbolism’. Anyone acquainted with Frazer’s and Weston’s books, he wrote, would also ‘immediately recognize in the poem certain references to vegetation ceremonies’ (Eliot 1963:80). Since the inhabitants of the Waste Land remain oblivious to the need of performing them, the feeling of renewal is never gained and the impulse towards ‘actualization of potential’ is never accomplished in the poem.

Its irony, its fascination with ‘boredom’ and ‘horror’, only articulates the loss of, and need for, ‘glory’. It is a poem which, despite its reputation for obscurity and experimentation, is thoroughly informed by what Burke calls ‘perfectionism’: it centres on the need for hierarchy, completion, order. The means to this for Eliot is the paradigm of fertility. As he himself confesses in the notes accompanying the poem, it is informed by the ‘myth and ritual’ school of interpretation (Coupe 1997:30).

Eliot indeed suggests in another piece of writing, his analysis of Joyce’s Ulysses, that writers start using ‘the mythical method’ instead of ‘the narrative method’ as a means of drawing attention to a parallel between contemporaneity and antiquity. Such a method requires a severe discipline and secretiveness, both necessary to counter ‘the vulgar chaos’ of the twentieth century: ‘It is, I seriously believe, a step toward making the modern world possible for art’ (Eliot 1975:177-8).

Coupe finds that The Waste Land is, ‘despite appearances, a story’ built by fusing and updating two mythic narratives,

that of the dying and reviving god (Frazer), and that of the quest for the Grail (Weston). Once this is realized, apparently disconnected images and incidents assume their mythic meaning; negative phenomena imply positive essences; confusion implies the need for enlightenment. However, the ‘glory’ of reviving god and of completed quest remains tragically elusive’ (Coupe 1997:31-2).

A close analysis of The Chapel Perilous shows that its story is built by fusing and updating the same myths, the myth of the dying and reviving god being implied in the dialectic of death and life, of sterility and fertility, of culture (religion/authority) framed as an instrument of suppression and sexuality/nature, and that it is even mirrored in the structural composition of the dialogue. Take, for instance, the following excerpt from the Prologue:

AMPLIFIER: [Canon’s voice] God knows! I’m an old man, and all that I remember is that I married my dead wife’s sister. She was a young thing then, lived with us all our married life. My wife was scarcely cold.

CANON: The forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting!

               [CHORUS responds.]

AMPLIFIER: [CANON’s voice] It was forbidden in the Anglican Church. But I received a dispensation. She had such breasts on her.

CANON: I believe in God, the Father Almighty, the maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ his only son our Lord, conceived by the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified…

               [CHORUS continues under the AMPLIFIER.]

CHORUS: Dead and buried. He descended into hell. The third day he arose again from the dead, he ascended into Heaven and sits at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty, from thence he shall come to judge the living and the dead.

AMPLIFIER: [CANON’s voice] They crucified me. There was a scandal and I nearly lost my living. Oh! I remember how they sat and giggled. Nasty little females, sitting in the pews with their wet thighs pressed together. And she amongst them … Sally Banner.

CANON: Crucified, dead and buried.

CHORUS: Crucified, dead and buried.

AMPLIFIER: [CANON’s voice] And it was all for nothing. She turned out dry as the other one.

CANON: Life everlasting…life everlasting… (Hewett 1992:133-4).

Whether Sally’s determination, her ‘courage and great heart’ are enough to ensure that she ‘win(s) through’ (131) and, by completing the Quest, reverse the state of the land from sterility to fertility, is one line of dramatic inquiry in The Chapel Perilous. It is dialectically linked with the other one – whether the state of social awareness permits an inquiry to be made into the causes of sterility and, by extension, the nature of the Grail, or not. It is at this point, however, that Hewett departs from Eliot. She refutes his premise that myth and history are opposed (Eliot 1975), maintaining instead that the sacred and the profane co-exist dialectically; in other words, she sees the world as a living organism sustained by perpetual tension, not exclusion, of opposites.

The contemporary context in which Hewett sets out to investigate the nature of the Grail is the school, whose historic role is to shape the consciousness and help create the social order myth also seeks to impose. The Chorus who interrogates Sally in the Prologue makes it clear that ‘worldly renown can avail [her] nothing in matters of the spirit’ (131); the chorus is, therefore, the voice of authority as well as the voice of wisdom. In the modern context, Sally is the Quester not simply because she has assumed the identity of a valiant knight in pursuit of the Holy Grail, but because she asks unsolicited questions that challenge the competence of reified authority to be Grail-keepers once and for all. Her recalcitrance stands in direct opposition to absolute obedience required of the medieval knight, if he was to be judged worthy enough to glimpse the mysteries within the sacred vessel. Weston makes it clear that, ‘the sickness of the King, and the desolation of the land,’ in the Grail romances, ‘are not necessarily connected as cause and effect’. Those misfortunes are sometimes ‘directly attributable to the Quester himself’ (Weston [1920] 1983:15). Small wonder, then, that Sally Banner, the hero of Hewett’s Chapel Perilous, rides on looking for the revelation of the mystery of the Grail in the context of autobiography. It is a deliberate literary strategy of a socially engaged writer, connoted by Sally’s opening lines and continued into the body of the play, and reinforced by the inclusion of facts and details from the writer’s own life. The similarity of life and fiction is indeed so striking that it has led to the banning of the play in Western Australia and the settlement out of court between Hewett and her first husband, Lloyd Davies (on the place of fact in Hewett’s fiction see Novakovic 2008 and 2006).

The Chapel Perilous reinvented in the play is, importantly, a ‘profane’ institution divested of its former mysterious glow. But Sally’s is still a timeless journey many a brave and inquisitive spirit has traveled in the past in a heroic attempt to ‘burn’ and then rebuild the chapels of social order that control human desire, that delusory anticipation of perfection. Paradigm, perfection and possibility are, of course, the key aspects of myth (see Coupe 1997:1-13). All three inform Hewett’s discourse of woman’s body, of instincts vs. the mind, of biology vs. religion. In this play perhaps more explicitly than in any other, body is the proud object of pleasure, rather than of sin and repentance. The obvious insistence on sexuality as a biological instinct is supported by the underlying myth of the Grail, itself informed by the fertility paradigm. Therefore, the insistence on virginity in the fable of the Knights of the Round Table stands in direct opposition to, and indeed contradicts the purpose of the Quest. In the prose Perceval, the motif of the Waste Land disappears already, but the task of the hero is still to find out what the Grail is and, by so doing, restore the Fisher King ‘suffering from extreme old age, to health, and youth’. In later versions, even the nature of the question changes: the hero no longer asks what the Grail is, but whom it serves (Weston [1920] 1983:14-5). In such a context, the social function of the art of performance acquires paramount importance. For, that whom the Grail serves is the people, the audience.

The trajectory from essence (what the Grail is) to function (whom does it serve?) is also Sally’s trajectory. Act One thus inquires into the causality of sexuality and subjectivity, Act Two into the nexus between politics and subjectivity. Freud, whose work Hewett studied at the University of Western Australia, defines sexuality as the life instinct and, by implication, as essence; while politics shifts the emphasis from the personal to the social sphere, placing the subject in the service of a proffered ideal. Sally’s youthful acts of rebellion that inquire into the nature of the Grail are all poised dangerously between perfection and iconoclasm. Even when fuelled by the ego, her desires are frustrated ‘by the burden of idealism which they impose on others’ (Dunstone 1990:206). And this is the qualification that seems to fit Sally best: she is the embodiment of an idealist who roams the epochs, a timeless figure driven by the urge for completion and unity, by her desire for totality. Kenneth Burke posits that ‘for both originators and interpreters, myth might offer, for the duration of the narrative, not just a provisional paradigm but an approximation to totality’ (Burke 1971:100). Sally’s repeated defeats, however, challenge her ideal and this element of doubt is the corrective Hewett maintains throughout the play in order to subvert certitude, discourage judgmental attitude and, above all, point to the horizon of possibility.

The central theme of The Chapel Perilous, Sally’s frustrated efforts ‘to evoke an absent plenitude of being’, is closely related to the controversies surrounding human sexuality; that is, the very life principle investigated in the play not only through the Quester figure, but through the authority figures in general, notably that of the Canon. The parallel between the Canon and the old and ailing Fisher King in the Grail romances is stark and is rendered in sharply ironic, sometimes outright funny, openly subversive terms. The statement that Sally ‘has a scandalous reputation’, for instance, closes with ‘kiss me, kiss me, kiss me…kiss me harder’ after which the Canon climbs onto altar to get toSALLY (Hewett 1992:199). The context created by the dialogue, the mise-en-scène and the setting of this scene is characteristically dialectical. At the plane of the obvious, it implies the court of judgment; at a more subliminal level, it is a sign of the reproductive energy of god. Through the Canon figure Hewett undermines epistemological certitudes at all levels of signification. His assessments of Sally’s character voiced at several points in the play are markedly inconsistent and often contradictory. The Canon also opens the admonitions to the hysterical Sally: she has climbed the chapel tower; it looks like she is going to jump (140). The effect he triggers is that of infinite mirroring of identity achieved by montage. What is more, it is rendered by a realistic device – the multiple voices of the crowd. But since the mirroring is just one segment of the larger scene and does not extend beyond it, there is little possibility of overall epistemological confusion. Thus, while urging the audience to doubt and question everything, the play as a whole has firm epistemological foundations.

This particular scene contributes one more important signifier that recurs in various forms: it connotes a circuitous quest of the condemned individual who has traveled the distance from the profane to the sacred and back. This is an individual who has spent most of her time in the court of judgment, yet whose spirit searches the horizon for the Revelation or ‘a new heaven’ on earth ruled, like in the myth of the Apocalypse, from the holy city of Jerusalem. This association is connoted by the verses from Blake’s poem repeatedly sung by the school Girls, like a refrain: ‘Bring me my bow of burning gold/Bring me my arrows of desire/…/I will not cease from mental fight/Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand/Till we have built Jerusalem’ (Hewett 1992:135, 163, 208). A confirmation of this proposition can even be found in an explicit form:

SALLY: I believed it, I believed it all: Russia, the holy city, Jerusalem (203).

The very last song the schoolgirls sing in the chapel is exactly ‘Jerusalem’.

For all its density of social and political discourses, The Chapel Perilous maintains its mythic context throughout using a wide variety of dramaturgical devices for that purpose. Arguably the most important one is the stage directions that either ask for circular dances to be performed, or instruct the actors to go round and round one object and then the other, since this is how Hewett connotes the underlying ritual. And through the ritual, she highlights the evening effect of time on all things human. History and eternity are locked in a tension that never subsides, as Canon confirms in the closing scene:

CANON: As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be.

ALL: World without end. Amen (208).

Other devices are also connotative, rather than denotative. Soon after the suicide attempt, for instance, there follows Sally’s marriage scene and the disappointing night at Hotel Bohemia after which Sally is wheeled offstage on a bed like a victim on a triumphal chariot. Of several Nature cults Weston describes, ‘the custom to carry a figure representing the Vegetation Spirit on a bier, attended by mourning women [and] after a mock death, carry the revivified Deity, with rejoicing, back to the town’ (Weston [1920] 1983:53) is especially relevant to us, since the bed is the main prop in Act One, and is used in a way patently similar to the use of a bier described by Weston. The context obtained by comparative analysis is consistently that of the dying and reviving god, which has its roots in the vegetation ceremonies believed to have the power to ensure the cyclical revivification of nature. Hewett’s playtext provides ample evidence that her emphasis on woman’s sexuality is also bound up with the fertility paradigm, and the cyclical rejuvenation of nature as a key to life. Its traces can even be found in other, seemingly unrelated mythical references, such as the song Boys and Girls sing in unison with Authority Figures, ‘Land of Hope and Glory’, while march[ing] ceremonially around the stage. Their Promised Land is ‘Mother of the free’ (167). The values expected to be found in the Promised Land are, indicatively, discussed between Sally and Judith, the Quester’s object of desire dialectically represented as an embodiment of her alter-ego. For the reader familiar with Hewett’s juvenilia, it becomes increasingly evident that Judith is her omnipresent character revived under various alliterations of the name of Judas, in the ongoing exploration of the Christ-Judas paradigm (see Hewett 1941). According to mythographers, Christ himself is the dying and reviving god who embodies the fertility paradigm.

The dilemma Hewett had about the closure of The Chapel Perilous, whether to make Sally bow or not, was therefore an ideological, rather than a creative problem. The very essence – whether the inquiry into the nature of the Grail continues or is abandoned – depended upon it. The steps that needed to be taken in the early 1970s and the steps that need to be taken now are quite different. The horizon of possibility changes for every generation. Those who cannot help being the questing knights will also have to undergo terrible ordeals in search of the Grail castle and will have to ask the ritual question of the chalice, ‘Whom does it serve?’. They will finally have to understand that ‘the wounded “Fisher King” and the “Waste Land” are one. Only by doing so will the healing powers of the Grail be effective: the waters freed, the monarch healed and fertility restored’ (Coupe 1997:28). The loss of old mythic narratives makes this task doubly difficult. To what extent the audience will be aware of the epistemological link between Sally’s Quest, the fertility paradigm and the circuitous journey of humanity depends entirely on the director.


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