Hatfield & McCoy

“…mature and emotionally compelling work…” — Chicago Sun-Times

“…a troubling and fascinating allegory about passionate people who were both noble and ignominious.” — Time Out

“…ambitious writer Shawn Pfautsch really impresses by using this colorful crew to create an American revenge tragedy..” — Chicago Tribune

“…Pfautsch has his cake and eats it too, both mercilessly parodying Shakespeare — and those who love him — and creating a genuinely tragic, emotionally satisfying Shakespearean ending.” — Chicago Reader

The Play:


Set on the violent border of Kentucky and West Virginia in 1878, the play follows the course and causes of the famous Hatfield and McCoy clan wars.  From the moral machinations of their patriarchs to the fatal love affair of Johnse Hatfield and Rose Anna McCoy, Hatfield & McCoy tells it’s tale of violence, romance and religion with poetry, folk songs and gun-play.


Twenty characters for seventeen actors; 13 men, 4 women.


Three acts, with nine original folk songs.  Approxomately 2 hr. 15 min. run time. 

Writer’s Notes:

“For all our days are passed away in thy wrath: we spend our years as a tale that is told.” — The King James Bible, Psalm 90:9

While doing research for Hatfield & McCoy, I opened up my grandfather’s old bible, the one his family had bought for him when he went away to seminary, the one he said I should have after he passed on. The ribbon bookmark was placed in the middle of Psalms and I began reading.  It was almost like fate…

From the beginning this play was about stories for me: the tales we know and tell ourselves when momentous things happen in our lives. We remember these stories as a way of decoding our place in the world and our difficult steps away from that place. We have epiphanies that the story of our life is suddenly like the story of a half-remembered book, movie or play. A character flashes to our mind and we contemplate our future. Those ubiquitous WWJD bracelets from a few years back come to mind…

The origin of this idea in Hatfield & McCoy came to me like this: one day, while doing some Internet research, I came across an anecdote. It said that the only two books on the McCoy family mantelpiece were The King James Bible and the Complete Works of Shakespeare. I began to image two families whose only resources for decoding the world around them were the poetic, severe morality of that bible and the histrionic, fatal psychology of the bard. Their mythic fates suddenly seemed possible in a real world.

I wanted to quote this anecdote at the top of these notes, it being so formative to this play, but I can’t find it anymore. I’ve turned the Internet inside out trying to recover it with no luck. It makes me wonder if it ever existed at all, and that this play’s foundation is, itself, a story I told to contemplate my future.


Further Reading:

Obligatory Link to a Wikipedia Entry
The Tale of the Devil by Coleman C. Hatfield and Robert Y. Spence
The Hatfields & the McCoys by Otis K. Rice
Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare (never hurts to brush up)

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