“The Elephant Man”

“The Elephant Man”

The Elephant Man


Bernard Pomerance’s award-winning play was based on the life of Joseph (also known as John) Merrick, a Victorian-era British man born with a bone disease that caused his limbs and skull to become grossly oversized. His condition made him a freak show attraction and a witty favorite of the aristocracy, but he never realized his dream of feeling normal.



1[Whitechapel Rd. A storefront. A large advertisement of a creature with an elephant’s head. ROSS, his manager.] 

2ROSS: Tuppence only, step in and see: This side of the grave, John Merrick has no hope nor expectation of relief. In every sense his situation is desperate. His physical agony is exceeded only by his mental anguish, a despised creature without consolation. Tuppence only, step in and see! To live with his physical hideousness, incapacitating deformities and unremittingpain is trial enough, but to be exposed to the cruelly lacerating expressions of horror and disgust by all who behold him—is even more difficult to bear. Tuppence only, step in and see! For in order to survive, Merrick forces himself to suffer these humiliations, in order to survive, thus he exposes himself to crowds who pay to gape and yawp at this freak of nature, the Elephant Man. 

3[Enter TREVES who looks at advertisement.] 

4ROSS: See Mother Nature uncorseted and in malignant rage! Tuppence. 

5TREVES: The sign’s absurd. Half-elephant, half-man is not possible. Is he foreign? 

6ROSS: Right, from Leicester. But nothing to fear. 

7TREVES: I’m at the London across the road. I would be curious to see him if there is more genuine disorder. If he is a mass of papier-maché and paint however— 

8ROSS: Then pay me nothing. Enter sir. Merrick, stand up. Ya bloody donkey, up, up. 

9[They go in, then emerge. TREVES pays.] 

10TREVES: I must examine him further at the hospital. Here is my card. I’m Treves. I will have a cab pick him up and return him. My card will gain him admittance. 

11ROSS: Five bob he’s yours for the day. 

12TREVES: I wish to examine him in the interests of science, you see. 

13ROSS: Sir, I’m Ross. I look out for him, get him his living. Found him in Leicester workhouse. His own ma put him there age of three. Couldn’t bear the sight, well you can see why. We—he and I—are in business. He is our capital, see. Go to a bank. Go anywhere. Want to borrow capital, you pay interest. Scientists even. He’s good value though. You won’t find another like him. 

14TREVES: Fair enough. [He pays.] 

15ROSS: Right. Out here, Merrick. Ya bloody donkey, out! 

16[Lights fade out.] 


17[TREVES lectures. MERRICK contorts himself to approximate projected slides of the real Merrick.] 

18TREVES: The most striking feature about him was his enormous head. Its circumference was about that of a man’s waist. From the brow there projected a huge bony mass like a loaf, while from the back of his head hung a bag of spongy fungous-looking skin, the surface of which was comparable to brown cauliflower. On the top of the skull were a few long lank hairs. The osseous growth on the forehead, at this stage about the size of a tangerine, almost occluded one eye. From the upper jaw there projected another mass of bone. It protruded from the mouth like a pink stump, turning the upper lip inside out, and making the mouth a wide slobbering aperture. The nose was merely a lump of flesh, only recognizable as a nose from its position. The deformities rendered the face utterly incapable of the expression of any emotion whatsoever. The back was horrible because from it hung, as far down as the middle of the thigh, huge sacklike masses of flesh covered by the same loathsome cauliflower stain. The right arm was of enormous size and shapeless. It suggested but was not elephantiasis, and was overgrown also with pendant masses of the same cauliflower-like skin. The right hand was large and clumsy—a fin or paddle rather than a hand. No distinction existed between the palm and back, the thumb was like a radish, the fingers like thick tuberous roots. As a limb it was useless. The other arm was remarkable by contrast. It was not only normal but was moreover a delicately shaped limb covered with a fine skin and provided with a beautiful hand which any woman might have envied. From the chest hung a bag of the same repulsive flesh. It was like a dewlap suspended from the neck of a lizard. The lower limbs had the characters of the deformed arm. They were unwieldy, dropsical-looking, and grossly misshapen. There arose from the fungous skin growths a very sickening stench which was hard to tolerate. To add a further burden to his trouble, the wretched man when a boy developed hip disease which left him permanently lame, so that he could only walk with a stick. [to MERRICK] Please. [MERRICK walks.] He was thus denied all means of escape from his tormenters. 

19VOICE: Mr. Treves, you have shown a profound and unknown disorder to us. You have said when he leaves here it is for his exhibition again. I do not think it ought to be permitted. It is a disgrace. It is a pity and a disgrace. It is an indecency in fact. It may be a danger in ways we do not know. Something ought to be done about it. 

20TREVES: I am a doctor. What would you have me do? 

21VOICE: Well. I know what to do. know. 

22[Silence. A policeman enters as lights fade out.] 

23Excerpted from The Elephant Man by Bernard Pomerance, published by Grove Press.