A Christmas Carol
McCarter play synopses are provided to help inform curious or potential audience members about the story content of our plays in production. They are fairly detailed in their description of a play’s events. Some may want to read the overview of the story of A Christmas Carol below before the performance, while others may skip the synopsis to avoid the revelation of plot points before experiencing the play in performance.
The choice is up to you!
London, 1843. It is Christmas Eve and the city is full of holiday cheer. The sweet tunes of carolers ring out through the chilly early-evening air and the spirit of Christmas seems to shimmer in the heart of every man, woman, and child. One man, however, is immune to this jollity. Ebenezer Scrooge, the cold-hearted, bitter owner of the local counting house scorns the holiday season. On this Christmas Eve, like many before, Scrooge makes it his duty to quash the joyful spirit of those around him.
It’s nearing the end of the workday when Scrooge’s nephew, Fred, visits the counting house to introduce his new wife, Lily, and to invite his uncle to their Christmas dinner. Scrooge rejects their invitation and resents their Christmas spirit, calling Christmas “a humbug.” The young couple take their leave of Scrooge, but not before offering their holiday wishes one last time. As Fred and Lily leave, the clock strikes seven and Scrooge makes a point of reprimanding his hard-working yet underpaid clerk, Bob Cratchit, for requesting Christmas day off. Scrooge begrudgingly grants Cratchit the holiday, but makes a point to remind him to be in all the earlier the day after Christmas.
Shortly after Cratchit’s departure, Scrooge heads home and is stopped by two charity solicitors in the street. The kind men humbly request a donation for the poor, but Scrooge, uninspired by the practice of charitable giving for the holiday season, refuses to make any donation. Once home, Scrooge takes out his mounting frustrations on his maid, Mrs. Dilber, and callously turns down her request for the day off.
As Scrooge prepares for bed, he is suddenly accosted by the ghost of his old business partner, Jacob Marley. Marley, who died on Christmas Eve seven years prior, explains that he has been condemned to a restless afterlife because he did not reach out to his fellow men during life. He has visited his old friend on this Christmas Eve to offer him one last chance to realize the error of his heartless and inhospitable ways. Such a realization is the only way for Scrooge to escape the miserable fate to which Marley is eternally chained. Marley warns Scrooge that he has called upon three spirits to visit him throughout the night. Marley then vanishes, leaving the shivering Scrooge to await his fate.
The first spirit arrives at ten o’clock: the Spirit of Christmas Past. In spite of Scrooge’s fear and skepticism, the youthful spirit takes him gently by the hand and begins leading him on a journey through key Christmas moments from his past. They first travel to a Christmas long ago when Scrooge was a young boy. His sweet sister, Fan, steals away from her work in a mill for a fleeting opportunity to see her brother and present him with a hard-earned Christmas gift: a beautiful snow globe. Then the spirit leads Scrooge through moments from his early career, when he worked with Marley at Mr. Fezziwig’s counting house. Despite the kindness and generosity of the dear Mr. and Mrs. Fezziwig, the two young men prove to be greedy and ruthless in their pursuit of fortune. At Fezziwig’s Christmas party, Scrooge watches as his young self meets Belle, his first love, but as the years pass, he watches ashamed as he chooses his career over a life with Belle. The Ghost of Christmas Past's last stop brings Scrooge to the chilling scene of Fan’s death when she makes Scrooge promise to take care of her son and to never let him spend Christmas alone. In a moment, the spirit is gone, and the now distraught Scrooge finds himself back in the present in his bedroom alone.
Scrooge tries to brush off his journey into the past as one horrible dream, but when the clock strikes eleven, the Ghost of Christmas Present arrives. This spirit, vowing to teach Scrooge the meaning of the words generosity and giving, takes him on a visit to the lowly, yet loving home of Bob and Grace Cratchit, and their four children Martha, Peter, Belinda, and Tiny Tim. Scrooge sees that Tiny Tim is ill, and the Ghost of Christmas Present informs him that the boy will not survive if his circumstances do not improve. Despite the family’s crowded home and meager “feast,” they revel in the joy of spending the holiday together. Scrooge is amazed to witness such pure expressions of happiness and gratitude from a family with so little. The ghost then brings Scrooge to look upon the Christmas party at his nephew’s home. Fred’s festive celebration is similarly full of revelry and love.
As the Ghost of Christmas Present’s visit comes to an end, she offers Scrooge one last lesson. On the cold streets of London she introduces him to Ignorance and Want, two helpless children, alone on Christmas Eve...hungry, shivering, and neglected by society. He asks if they have no one to help them, and the spirit reminds Scrooge of his cruel refusal to donate to the solicitor’s charity. The Ghost of Christmas Present’s work is done. She disappears into the night, and as the clock strikes twelve the Ghost of Christmas Future appears. Scrooge acknowledges that he fears this ghost more than any of the others, but humbly admits that he knows the ghost’s purpose is to do him good. Traveling into the future, the ghost brings Scrooge to look upon a passing funeral procession. They overhear as the two solicitors speak unkindly about the dead man, but the spirit won’t tell Scrooge who it is. Their next stop is to the Cratchit home where they find the family solemnly mourning the death of Tiny Tim. Scrooge implores the spirit to tell him what he can do to spare the boy’s life, but the spirit is silent. They then travel to Old Joe’s Warehouse where Scrooge watches as a host of seedy characters sell stolen goods from the house of the man who has recently died. To his surprise, Mrs. Dilber is there. She is trying to sell his precious snow globe when it shatters on the ground, destroying the happy memory of his dear sister. Scrooge is devastated by these images, but it is not until the ghost leads Scrooge to his own cold gravestone that he realizes the gravity of what this future holds. Scrooge promises the ghost that he will heed the lessons from the spirits and begs for the chance to amend his ways and change what is yet to come.
Spoiler alert! If you would like to read what happens next in the story and how the play ends, click here.
Suddenly, Scrooge finds himself back in his bedroom on Christmas morning. He is a reformed man, giddy with delight and eager to share his newfound cheer. He begins by wishing Mrs. Dilber a Merry Christmas. He then gives her a gold coin and sends her home to spend the holiday with her family. As Scrooge bursts into the streets he runs into the solicitors and shocks them with an extremely generous donation, then rushes to call upon Fred and Lily to wish them a long-overdue Merry Christmas. Enlisting their help, he showers the Cratchit family with gifts and the biggest turkey in town. Finally, in an act of true selflessness, Scrooge gives Tiny Tim his cherished snow globe, and with it passes on the love that his sister gave to him. Having been truly transformed by the spirits of Christmas, Scrooge is welcomed into the Cratchit home a new man, full of liberality and love.