Trifles premiered on August 8, 1916 at the Wharf Theater in Provincetown, MA. This one act play was based on a murder trial that Susan Glaspell covered as a young reporter in Des Moines, Iowa. Using careful timing, Glaspell delivers subtle revelations that draw the audience and the reader into this play. She definitely intended to sting the conscience of her audience and challenge their perceptions of justice and morality, while also focusing on the different experiences that men and women might have to the exact same objective fact or event. The play raises some interesting questions. Does justice change with perspective? If so, is it possible to handle it fairly?
Since it’s first production in 1916 Trifles has become one of the most anthologized works in American theater history and is frequently cited as one of the great masterpieces of American theater. And It is now rightfully considered a masterpiece of the early feminist movement.
Later in her career, Glaspell also retold this play as the short story A Jury of her Peers.
This is a wonderful play that was once widely known. It shouldn’t linger as a hidden gem, and I encourage you to read this play and then share it with your friends.
by Susan Glaspell
Setting and Cast
First performed by the Province town Players at the Wharf Theatre, Provincetown, Mass., August 8, 1916.
GEORGE HENDERSON (County Attorney)
HENRY PETERS (Sheriff)
LEWIS HALE , A neighboring farmer
Click below to read the play!
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1. Both the men and the women are doing investigations of the situation. Compare the two investigations. How are they similar? How are they different? Whose methodology works best?
2. Hale says “women are used to worrying over trifles.” What’s meant by the title Trifles? What “trifles” does the title refer to? Is there irony in Glaspel’s use of the word “trifles”?
3. What is the significance of the quilt? What role does it play? Why does it recur in the dialogue?
4. How does the play function as a commentary on men and women, and the divisions between their lives?
5. Why do the women find the evidence instead of the men?
6. What does this fact reveal about what is important to women and what is important to men?
7. Why do Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters suppress the evidence they find?
8. What seems to be the point of this play?
9. Can Trifles be considered a feminist play? Explain.
10. What props on the stage have symbolic significance?
Here is a production of the play to watch!
Trifles by Susan Glaspell, a d’moiselles production in NYC (Links to an external site.)
Trifles by Susan Glaspell, a d’moiselles production in NYC
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