The Paradox Of Wit

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Margaret Edson’s first play, Wit, is the story of a professor of seventeenth century poetry who is in the throes of advanced metastatic ovarian cancer. Dr. Vivian Bearing is an enticing and tergiversating character, as well as, narrator. She leads us through her battle with the disease, while flaunting exemplary vocabulary, yet simultaneously navigating realistic scenery. Vivian is a fifty year old single woman, who is so focused on her life’s work (the explication of the Holy Sonnets of John Donne) that she has neglected her personal life, thus leaving her alone at the end. The author has spoken about her work, stating that Wit is about “love and knowledge, grace and redemption” (Drama for Students, The Gale Group). On the other hand, Edson has additionally said it is, “about everything that’s the opposite of grace and kindness” (The Gale Group). This contradiction can be seen as one of two things: a) a slip of the tongue, or b) a witty pun intended to strengthen the meaning of the play itself. The latter will be the focus of this essay. Looking at the word “grace”, a reader may think of a couple definitions. Does Edson refer to it as forgiveness, or as poise? Both of these terms would be relevant to this play. Vivian is an extremely poised character. She is the epitome of proper. Dr. Bearing explains everything to her audience in a condescending manner. At the very start, the audience is told, “Hi. How are you feeling today,” and then, “This is not my standard greeting, I assure you. I tend toward something a little more formal…” and this pretentiousness continues (Edson, 7). Another example of this is found on page 9, when Vivian corrects Dr. Kelekian’s usage of the word, “insidious.” Ms. Bearing is prim, proper, and poised throughout most of the play, at least, this is what she thinks of herself. She is a scholar, who isn’t afraid to tell

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