Bartleby the Scrivener by Herman Melville, dramatized by Robert Arnold

Contact Us

Download Part 1 of Bartleby from Chatterbox Audio

Download Part 2 of Bartleby from Chatterbox Audio

Chatterbox Audio Theater, 14 September 2007
This straightforward version of Herman Melville's classic tale began in jocular style, with the narrator (Robert Arnold), recalling Bartleby's (Bill Short's) early career in the legal firm. Daily life was quite entertaining, particularly when Bartleby's coworkers Turkey (Matt Reed) and Nippers (Kyle Hatley) led such eccentric lives. Turkey was at his best in the mornings, until he went out at lunchtime to sup a jar or two; from then on he was almost unbearable. Nippers was definitely an afternoon person; no one dared speak to him before twelve o'clock. After considerable effort, the Narrator had become used to their ways, but he found it difficult, almost impossible to cope with Bartleby's repeated phrase: "I would prefer not to."
Through this strategy director Arnold emphasized how daily life in the legal firm was dominated by role-playing. No one actually said what they felt; they adopted certain persona instead. Bartleby refused to play that kind of social game, and acted upon his instincts. The word "prefer" assumed considerable significance: Bartleby neither rebelled against nor criticized anyone, but remained committed to his particular view of life.
As the story progressed, however, so the tone gradually changed. Incident piled upon incident; the Narrator moved his chambers, leaving Bartleby to life a solitary life in the old premises. Although Bartleby harmed no one, he was considered a threat to social stability; many characters complained to the Narrator that he needed to be removed as soon as possible. Director Arnold used this conflict to emphasize how conformist most societies actually were; anyone daring to embrace alternative lifestyles was deemed subversive.
In the end Bartleby passed away in jail; as the Narrator looked at his wasted corpse on a bier, his tone changed abruptly. Whereas once he had filled the airwaves with an endless stream of chatter, he now fell silent. After a pause lasting only a few moments - but which seemed agonizingly long in dramatic terms - he observed that the scrivener was nothing more than "a sad example of humanity." If only those people - including the Narrator - had stopped talking and listened, then perhaps Bartleby might have survived.
Alternately farcical yet profoundly moving in tone, this was perhaps the best version of Melville's tale I have hitherto heard. All credit to dramatist/ director Arnold and his hard-working cast for their efforts.