Shanley’s thought-provoking, multi-faceted play, Doubt, can be described simply as a battle of diametrically opposed wills and belief systems (mainly that of Sister Aloysius and Father Flynn), appropriately staged primarily in a “court-room style” setting. Those reading and watching the play are, in a way, forced to come to terms with and confront their principle beliefs as they grapple with the enigmatic concepts of judgment, morality, and of course, doubt. In the contest of wills that ensues as the play progresses following the aspersions cast upon Father Flynn by Sister Aloysius, Doubt calls to attention the difficulties of navigating one’s way in a modern world enveloped in dramatic changes and moral dilemmas. By not making clear who the protagonist and antagonist of the story are, and who in fact is in the right, Shanley instead endorses a complete, bold rejection of absolutes—of all that is dogmatic, straightforward, and black and white. One scene that encapsulates the play’s central theme of conflicting mental practices, those of dogmatism/certainty and doubt, occurs early on in the play, when Sister Aloysius is speaking with Sister James about the way in which she should teach and conduct herself in front of her students. Although the relationship between Sister James and Sister Aloysius is not the fundamental focus and subject of scrutiny in the play, this brief encounter clearly shows how irreconcilably different the convictions of the two women are. Sister James, in her gentle and oftentimes passive way, is a more subtle form of Father Flynn. In this scene, the women are discussing William London in Sister Aloysius’ office. Sister Aloysius, continuing her relentless line of criticism and cynicism, urges Sister James to be skeptical when it comes to the origin of William London’s ostensibly spontaneous nosebleeds. She tells her not to let compassion dictate her judgment, and instead to practice...
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