two men in hempen homespun garb, Elizabethan c.1590.
WILL, armed with a bow, is moving stealthily into a clearing.
JACK follows, feet sore but eyes alert, stalking a place to rest.
WILL speaks in a hushed undertone as he takes up position
to await his quarry.
This green’s a place where we can find a deer.
I’ve often come upon them gathered here.
They come to take a drink from yonder brook.
Thirst drives them, they’ve no choice. Last year I took
A great six-pointed stag with just one shot.
He never knew what hit him, poor old sot.
A pause as WILL looks for deer. JACK heaves a sigh.
My Lord of Melancholy sighs, Alack!
You’re keeping awfully quiet, aren’t you, Jack?
What, do you lack for words my silent friend?
Ah, Will! You talk enough for twenty men.
I’d play to thousands, if they would but listen!
But the stage is yours, now: Speak, Tragedian!
Recite your text. This rustic comic’s done.
Pray impart unto your audience of one.
I’ve no heart for shooting any buck.
Of game here. Why should good men go hungry
Amidst plentitude? God’s blood, it makes me angry
To think our children don’t have food to eat
When there’s enough to feed our families meat
For weeks, from foraging (or poaching, call it)
A single summer’s eve in Charlecote,
With old Sir Thomas Lucy never the wiser.
He sends too few to catch us, the old miser.
An’ if they did, could they begrudge us food
When deer are so abundant in this wood?
They work for he who swears they’ll pay the price
Who poach upon his lands. You cast the dice,
Yet you’re not gaming with your life alone
But that of your wife and child.
Ah! Your poor children.
I’m sorry, Jack. How thoughtless I have been.
You’ve had to worry more about them, since—
JACK shifts. WILL stops. JACK blinks, fighting back tears.
It’s not your words alone that make me wince.
I’ll not deny, life’s not been worth a damn
For Ham and Judith, since their mother died.
Poor Judith took it hard enough, but Ham
Has ever been the quiet one who’ll hide
His private grief.
Just like his father.
I’m sorry, Will. I don’t mean to be a bother.
But what would they do if ought befell me?
I would take them, then. If that consoles thee.
You are a good, true friend, Will Shagbeard.
WILL doffs his cap. His hair is thinning, and with the growth
on his lip and chin, we recognize the future poet-dramatist.
Or ‘Lag-Beard,’ Stratford has it now, I’ve heard.
No, since Anne Hathaway, it’s shag has stuck.
Ironic. She the first girl I ever—
–Was that a crack of twigs? The birds stop singing. Both men look, but see no deer. After a moment, the birds resume, as do the men,
Does it not disturb you that her fawns shall starve
If we do take their doe?
We’ll take a buck.
Perhaps a pair of them, with any luck.
The lot of us will feast on venison.
Will you let me speak? I’ll tell you, I—
It bodes no good, to kill a denizon
Oh poo! I don’t see why.
You fear Sir Thomas Lucy? For a lark,
I’d nail satiric verses to the gate
Of Charlecote itself. This deer park
Is too large for Lucy’s men to wait
Upon the ample herd of horned lords
Who gather here. What, so he is a friend
Of Walsingham, and all of that. Towards
But Will, we do offend,
Lord Walsingham and all the rest. You speak
Of deer as ‘horned lords.’ Why then, you see
That Nature is its own domain. Why seek
To trespass here? Let’s leave the wood unto
Hm… You speak as if there were
Domains of animals and men, but you
Are making false division. Men rule where’er
Our footprints do appear. That is the way
The Good Lord has arranged our mortal sphere,
With all his creatures, great and small, the prey
To one above them.
So I fear.
Predating likewise on the weaker kind
With Man atop a Chain of Being, just
As falcons rule o’er pigeons, wolves oe’r hind
As God himself is set to rule oe’er us.
You read oe’r much in a great man’s library,
And think thereby to keep pace with the wolves.
A great man you may be one day, but nary
A bloke in Stratford prefers hawks to doves.
The metaphor’s astray. It’s not as if
When father’s trade forced me to put the knife
To some poor kid so some rich gent could wear
A better grade of gloves, it grieved my soul.
I used to make a little funeral speech.
“An ass is good as deaf when bells do toll,”
My grandam always said.
Mine, too! To teach
Some lesson, though I’m sure I don’t know what.
Though I respect the natural world, I just don’t think
That animals are sensible, that’s all.
No more than men are.
There’s a distinct crack of twigs. The birds have stopped again,
but the men, deep in the dialogue, do not heed it. They resume.
Of this same stream where we do tarry now.
Upon the other bank, an arrow in his breast.
Great sighs he heaved, and though he saw me there,
He lay down on the ground to catch his breath.
Before his armed pursuers could catch up
With him, and bring him to that final sigh
We make on earth, that men call expiration.
So close was I that I could see the tears
He wept. Nay, do not laugh. Tears such as you
Or I would weep were we to find ourselves
Alone, an arrow in our breast, no help
Of tears that we call life, it did not need
It will become a Thames of tragedies,
Enough to fill a folio, full up.
This one poor deer, was a testament
To all that sorrow. And there I stood,
To this injustice.
Another beat of silence. There are no birds. They’ll not come back.
The way a varmint robs a bird’s nest.
Compact of jars, I cannot sing the tune
That you would hear. I fear I am a motley fool
Whose leaden entertainment falls on ears
That would hear better japes to make them laugh
I smiled perhaps.
I cannot help it. Oh, the image oddly suits:
My Lord of Melancholy as a Jackanapes.
We stumble off the stage again.
Nay, I’d sooner play the lover’s role.
WILL turns his back, hugs himself, and makes kissing sounds.
The lunatic, mad poet, better suits you.
WILL turns around, facing JACK, and regards his friend.
And you, an honest courtier, sage councilor.
If I should e’er turn poet, I would pen
Just such a featured role for you, my friend.
Will you be heading back to London, then,
To try your hand at acting once again?
It’s hard to get your foot in at the door.
London’s mobbed with actors. I did no more
Than hold the patron’s horses at the gate.
Perhaps your destiny is poet, Will.
You even prate in blank verse.
A provident God sees fit to make it so.
I found the poachers! Over here! What ho!
WILL and JACK look offstage, toward to source of VOICES OFF.
The Providence of God has spoken, man.
And us here on the bottom of that Chain
You spoke of.
What ho, I say! Come quick!
WILL moves about, fending off panic. JACK remains calm.
In Lucy livery! They bear pikes.
Sir Thomas Lucy’s men. One’s got a crossbow.
A couple of recusants, Heaven knows
What they’ll do when they catch us.
Make for the gate, or else we’ll hop the fence.
It’s too late, Will.
It’s not. Make for the gate.
Will you come on?
Why do you hesitate?
If I stay here, they’ll stop to take me in.
I’ll take my meals in Lucy’s dungeon.
By all deserts, I’ll not ‘scape being flogged.
But you, you’ll get off clean.
Hey, bring the dogs~
No! You and I, we’ll meet up at that tavern.
You know it well, just down the road in Malvern.
I’ll stand you for a cup or two of sack.
We’ll have a laugh, we two. We’ll toast our luck.
The sign’s the Prancing Stag. You know the one.
You run. I’ll hold them off for you. I’m done.
Don’t be a fool!
I’ve got one in my sights!
You’d better run. They’ve got me dead to rights.
We hear the twang of a bow, the whistle of a missile
and the sickening thunk of an arrow as it catches JACK.
He turns, and we see it square between his shoulder blades,
a mortal wound.
Oh God, Jack! No!
I got one! I got one!
Don’t be a fool, Will. Run, man, run!
Don’t stop till you get to London –or beyond.
Send money for my children. Go! Begone!
My bow is broken. Hurry! The other will escape!
Go, Will, go. Don’t be a Jackanapes.
Remember me. Report my cause aright.
Adjust the facts to suit your story. As You Like.
Or What You Will. God bless you, Will, my lad.
You know, young poet, you’re not half-bad.
An’ you should ever write of me, say this:
A poet of a sort your friend Jack was. Jack… is.
This last comes out garbled, with the blood rising in his gorge,
sounding more like “Jaques.” It is the last word he speaks.
WILL cradles him a moment, then lets him gently but quickly
so the ground, then stands. He hesitates only a moment longer.
He’s getting away! He’s getting away!
I’ll live to put this right somehow. Someday.
WILL exits, leaving the body. We hear the bayings of hounds.
END OF PLAY.