Strongly influenced by the German Romanticists, Samuel Taylor Coleridge began Christabel with the intention of creating a Christian morality piece. He failed. The first part of this poem is a feverish gothic vampire narrative with heavy lesbian overtones, so powerful that the ‘good over evil’ to come, never got written. It was too problematic for the poet to finish.
Using the existing material as a springboard, This version of Christabel evokes a blend of themes inherent in the Western Canon: from the gothic/romantic Promethean dilemma of the created rebelling against the Creator (as in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and our latter day Blade Runner); the classical problems of escaping ancestral birthrights and curses as in Orestes; to the ever present struggle with the by-products of colonialism and slavery —as in The Tempest.
To reset the social values resonant to Coleridge’s time, we’ve leapt forward into a distant future that mirrors the Imperial age of 18th century Europe, where noble born women were identified strongly with the wealth, property and titles they brought with their dowries. In this future, fiefdoms have become small planets and asteroids spotted throughout the universe: the advances of space age travel and cybernetics have arrived and vanished into the quotidian pace of a universe ruled by a prevalent Christian morality.
Life is not so different for this Christabel; she might as well be in the 1700’s. Betrothed to a handsome young Royal Officer whom she has never met, to make a good marriage, the onus of propriety (chiefly virginity) rests on the 17 year old Lady Christabel. She lives in a cloistered, pampered world of digitally enhanced enchanted forests, guardian spirits and a doting father…
Or does she? It seems that Christabel awakens from one nightmare into another.
With the appearance of a mysterious stranger in the woods, reality hangs in precarious balance. Suddenly she finds herself an outcast and with that, a painful awareness of the social evil that has kept her kind afloat for eons. The alternate reality of her enchanted forest is one crafted out of oppressed souls. Like Orestes she is haunted by an ancestral curse, her only survival route—to liberation is through a radical self-transformation, and as such, finds herself at the heart of a slave/machine revolt.
Other characters in Christabel while complex, have their ‘roots’ exposed. Bard Bracy, who in the Coleridge poem is the perceptive bard and envoy of the Baron, becomes compounded into a mix of Prospero’s Ariel and your basic “evil scientist” (a là Dr. Moreau). A native son to the planet and brought up in the ranks, his own peculiar taste for mischief emerges. Geraldine, the avenging spirit, harkens back to Sycorax and Bertha Mason in Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre and more recently Jean Rhys’ The Wide Sargasso Sea.
Where Coleridge’s narrative ends, a new strand is woven in to create a richer texture. The last scene in the poem leaves Christabel and her father dangerously under the spell of the mysterious and vicious Geraldine. In this extended play, Christabel’s emergent self-awareness is charted on a grid where the impulses of her body and psyche intersect: the enchanted forest. Her forest, herself—a plethora of female issues play out within the bounds of this magical topology.
These themes plotted far into the future from bygone eras are contemporary concerns. Yesterday’s imperialism has set the stage for today’s political unrest: with terrorism as its by-product. Orestes fleeing from the pursuit of Furies is not so different from a present day generation of Westerners’; dodging bullets ricocheted by the sins of the fathers. What Christabel deals with is the idea of recourse: how can the impact of these mistakes be absolved or resolved without a slaughtering of the innocents? This is the moral force that drives this screenplay.
On the aesthetic side of the spectrum, this script is powered by Coleridge’s vivid, feverish imagination—his fantabulous opium-fueled fragments of other dimensions in all their ruinous beauty. The worlds of Kubla Khan and The Ancient Mariner are all collapsed into this extension of Christabel as a tribute to the poet’s distinctive oeuvre.
Christabel© 2004, 2013 onome ekeh