Collected Plays and Stories
CWSA. Volume 3 and 4
Note on the Texts
Collected Plays and Stories comprises all of Sri Aurobindo’s dramatic and fictional writings, with the exception of prose dialogues, verse dialogues more in the nature of poems than plays, and translations from Sanskrit drama. Writings in these three categories are published in Early Cultural Writings, Collected Poems, and Translations, volumes 1, 2 and 5 of The Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo.
Collected Plays and Stories is divided into three parts according to type of material. The first part includes the five complete plays; the second, incomplete and fragmentary plays; the third, prose fiction, complete, incomplete and fragmentary. The first two parts are arranged chronologically, from earliest to latest. The third is subdivided into two sections: Occult Idylls, a series planned by the author, followed by a section consisting of all other pieces of fiction, arranged chronologically.
The first of these plays was written around 1905, the last in 1915. Only one of them, Perseus the Deliverer, was published during Sri Aurobindo’s lifetime.
The Viziers of Bassora. The manuscript of this play was seized by the police at the time of Sri Aurobindo’s arrest in connection with the Alipore Bomb Case in May 1908. It seems to have been written a few years before that, towards the end of the period of his employment in the Baroda State (1893 – 1906).
Sri Aurobindo never saw the manuscript of The Viziers after his arrest, and he is said to have particularly regretted its loss. Once in Pondicherry he tried to reconstruct one of the missing scenes using a partial draft he had with him, but soon abandoned the effort. In March 1952, fifteen months after his passing, the manuscript was handed over to the Sri Aurobindo Ashram by the Government of West Bengal. It was transcribed and in 1959 published in the Sri Aurobindo Mandir Annual, as well as separately.
The source of the plot of The Viziers of Bassora is “Nur al-Din Ali and the Damsel Anis al-Jalis”, a story told in the Arabian Nights (thirty-fourth to thirty-eighth nights). Sri Aurobindo owned in Baroda a multi-volume edition of Richard Burton’s translation of the Arabic text (London, 1894), which he considered “as much a classic as the original”.
Rodogune. Two complete, independent versions of this play exist. Sri Aurobindo wrote the first one in Baroda between 31 January and 14 February 1906, on the eve of his departure from the state to join the national movement. In May 1908 the notebooks containing his fair copy of Rodogune, like the notebook containing The Viziers of Bassora, were seized by the police when Sri Aurobindo was arrested. Fortunately, other notebooks remaining in his possession contained much of the penultimate draft of the 1906 version. Basing himself on these passages, he was able to reconstruct the play in Pondicherry around 1912. This version was published in the Sri Aurobindo Mandir Annual and separately in 1958. It supersedes the Baroda version, which was recovered in 1952.
The plot of Rodogune derives ultimately from the history of Cleopatra, Queen of Syria, as recounted by such classical historians as Appian, Justin and Josephus. The immediate source probably was Rodogune (1645), by the French dramatist Pierre Corneille.
Perseus the Deliverer. Sri Aurobindo wrote this play during the period of his political activity, and its publication history is marked by the uncertainties of that era. A notation from the now-lost manuscript, accidentally set in type, gives 21 June 1906 as the date of the writing or copying of Act III, Scene 1. Sri Aurobindo seems to have intended the play to be published in Baroda, and parts of it were composed there by August of the same year. This plan fell through, however, and the play did not appear until 1907, when it was brought out serially between 30 June and 20 October in the weekly edition of the Bande Mataram, a journal of political opinion edited by Sri Aurobindo. The next year a book-edition was printed, but was destroyed by the printer at the time of Sri Aurobindo’s arrest. In 1942 the Bande Mataram text of Perseus the Deliverer – with the exception of three passages published in issues of the journal that were not then available, namely, all of Act II, Scenes 2 and 3, and the end of Act V, Scene 3 – was included in Sri Aurobindo’s Collected Poems and Plays. Sri Aurobindo revised this text, adding a new ending but ignoring the missing scenes of Act II. (The issues of Bande Mataram containing these two scenes were subsequently rediscovered, and in 1955 they were restored to the text.)
The plot of Perseus the Deliverer derives of course from the Greek legend of Perseus and Andromeda, the most important surviving classical source of which is the fourth book of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Notable among modern retellings of the story are Corneille’s Andromčde (1650) and Charles Kingsley’s Andromeda (1859), a poem in English hexameters with which Sri Aurobindo was familiar.
Eric. Sri Aurobindo began work on this play in 1910, shortly after his arrival in Pondicherry, and continued intermittently over a period of several years. No complete fair copy of the play survives. The fullest manuscript, a typed copy that contains the last version of Act II, breaks off in the middle of Act IV, Scene 2. Handwritten versions subsequent to the typed copy exist for Acts I and III and part of Act IV. There is only a single draft of Act V. Its interlinear and marginal revisions present unusual textual difficulties.
Eric was first published in 1960 in Sri Aurobindo Mandir Annual and as a separate book. The present text is thoroughly re-edited. As a rule, the last version of each act has been transcribed as far as it goes; where the last version is incomplete, the previous version is used for the remainder of the act. The order in which the last two manuscripts of Acts I and III were written and revised is not entirely clear. The unused versions of these two acts are reproduced in the reference volume (volume 35), along with two partial rewritings of Act IV, Scene 1, which could not be worked into the text of the play.
No specific source of the plot of Eric is known. Sri Aurobindo seems to have made free use of names and events from the history of Norway in the late tenth and early eleventh centuries, a period that was the subject of much mediaeval Scandinavian literature.
Vasavadutta. This play was written in Pondicherry in 1915. The earliest extant draft is dated thus at the end: “Copied Nov. 2, 1915. Written between 18th & 30th October 1915. Completed 30th October. Pondicherry. Revised in April 1916.” The fair copy, used as the text from Act III, Scene 4, to the end, gives details of this revision: “Revised and recopied between April 8th and April 17th 1916.” Subsequently, on three or four different occasions, Sri Aurobindo began to rewrite the play, stopping at an earlier point each time. The editors have used the last version of a given passage as far as it goes and then reverted to the previous version.
A typed copy of Vasavadutta was prepared for Sri Aurobindo sometime in the late 1930s or early 1940s, and he made a few scattered revisions to it. When its publication was proposed, he demurred, saying it was “too romantic”. The play did not appear in print until 1957, when it was published in the Sri Aurobindo Mandir Annual and as a separate book.
As stated by Sri Aurobindo in his author’s note, he took the plot of Vasavadutta from the Kathasaritsagara, an eleventh-century Sanskrit story-cycle written by Somadeva Bhatta.
Incomplete and Fragmentary Plays (1891 – 1915)
The Witch of Ilni. Sri Aurobindo wrote this piece when he was an undergraduate at Cambridge. The manuscript bears dates ranging between October and December 1891.
The source of the plot of The Witch of Ilni is not known, but the play evidently owes much to Milton’s Comus and similar works.
The House of Brut. Sri Aurobindo wrote this fragment during the early part of his stay in Baroda, probably in 1899.
The idea for The House of Brut seems to have come from Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae or another chronicle of early Britain.
The Maid in the Mill. This piece was written in Baroda, probably around 1902.
The source of the plot of The Maid in the Mill was apparently The Maid in the Mill by John Fletcher and William Rowley (1647). The two plays have many characters and situations in common. Certain plays of Shakespeare and Calderón may also have influenced the plot of Sri Aurobindo’s play.
The Prince of Edur. Editorial title. Sri Aurobindo wrote the three acts of this incomplete play between 28 January and 1 February 1907, and copied them on 11 and 12 February. He was at that time staying at his family’s house in Deoghar, Bihar, during a brief respite from his political activities. The plot of The Prince of Edur is based loosely on the life of Bappa Rawal, the eighth-century Rajput hero. The scene, which includes parts of what is now eastern Gujarat, was familiar to Sri Aurobindo, who was posted in the area while serving as a Baroda state officer.
The Prince of Mathura. Editorial title. This fragment, related in theme to The Prince of Edur, was written a few years later, probably in 1909 or 1910.
The Birth of Sin. This fragment, written in the same notebook as The Prince of Mathura, must date from the same period, that is, 1909 – 10. In December 1909 a related piece, also entitled The Birth of Sin, was published in the Karmayogin, a weekly newspaper edited by Sri Aurobindo. The Karmayogin piece is more in the nature of a poem, and was published as such in Collected Poems and Plays (1942). (It is included in Collected Poems, volume 2 of The Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo.) The present draft is structured more as a drama, and is published as such here. The exact relationship between the two texts is not clear. Both obviously owe much to Milton.
Fragment of a Play. This piece was written in Pondicherry sometime around 1915. The plot appears to be based on an episode in the Bhagavata Purana.
More than once Sri Aurobindo remarked in conversation that he had written some stories that subsequently were lost. “The white ants have finished them and with them has perished my future fame as a storyteller”, he noted ironically in 1939. All his known stories and fragments of fiction are published here in two sections.
Occult Idylls. Sri Aurobindo wrote fair copies of the two pieces published in this section in the same notebook. On the first page he wrote the general title “Occult Idylls”.
The Phantom Hour. Sri Aurobindo wrote this, his only complete story, during the early part of his stay in Pondicherry, 1910 – 12, or perhaps a year or two earlier.
The Door at Abelard. This piece was written around the same time as The Phantom Hour, but was never completed.
Incomplete and Fragmentary Stories (1891 – 1912)
Fictional Jottings. Sri Aurobindo wrote down these lines on two pages of a notebook he used at Cambridge between 1890 and 1892.
Fragment of a Story. Sri Aurobindo wrote this piece around 1904, either in Baroda or while on vacation in Bengal.
The Devil’s Mastiff. Nothing is known for certain about the date of this piece, but it seems to belong to the period of “Occult Idylls” and may have been intended for that series. The manuscript was lost after being published in the Advent in February 1954.
The Golden Bird. This piece was written in Pondicherry, probably in 1911 or 1912.
As mentioned above, Perseus the Deliverer was published in the weekly Bande Mataram in 1907, and in Collected Poems and Plays in 1942. All the other pieces in the present volume were brought out posthumously. “Fictional Jottings” and “Fragment of a Story” appear here for the first time. All the texts have been checked against Sri Aurobindo’s manuscripts.