Ireland Stumbles


                                                             LIGHTS UP on Ireland & Sons, an antiquarian’s

                                                            shoppe out of a sketch by Gilroy or Rowlandson.


                                                            SAM IRELAND, 50ish dealer in antiquities, sits

                                                            behind a table, with his 19 year old son W.H.

                                                            standing silent beside him.


                                                            JORDIE stands fidgeting, auditioning his wares,

                                                            as it were. He is an ill-kempt looking man whose

                                                            main interest seems to be in securing a pint of ale

                                                            for the empty ale pot he holds. He attempts this by

                                                            an outpouring of amusing anecdotage, which

                                                            SAM notes, skeptically, in a pocket account book.



Nay, not just there in Stratford, but to this day

In all the roadside villages along the way

From Warwickshire to London, yea, the Bard

Of Avon, as they call him, was heard of –Nay,

Was known by name!— at every little courtyard inn,

For there was not a tavern even then

In any hamlet (pun intended, hehehe)

But that the tapster knew Bill Shakespeare’s name,

Long before he’d left for London to become

The Poet of the Age. So say they still in Stratford.


                                                            JORDIE pauses, then genuflects awkwardly.


I’ve heard it sworn myself, and will attest to it

Under witnesses, above my signature…


                                                            JORDIE puts the ale pot on the table, prentational. 


That this ale pot was his ale pot what wrote Lear,

And Hamlet, and the other plays he wrote.


                                                            A pause. SAM continues writing for a moment.

                                                            JORDIE clears his throat, indicates the empty

                                                            ale pot upon the table.


Can I get a pint, Gov?


                                                            SAM finishes his notes with a flourish, sets down

                                                            his notebook and smiles at JORDIE.



By all means, Jordie, you shall have an ale.


                                                            SAM addresses W.H., as if speaking to a servant.


(Go, Samuel! Fetch a drink for our good friend)


                                                            JORDIE gives the ale pot to W.H., but SAM

                                                            snatches it from W.H., and snaps at him.


Bring another ale pot.



Y-yes, F-f-father.


                                                            W.H. exits. SAM examines the ale pot.



This ale pot looks to be authentic. Kiln fired,

Of a type you’d find in Warwickshire.

But nay, I’d not part with tuppence for that tale

You and your various sources would vend

About the Bard of Avon in a drinking bout

Under a tree in Bidford Common.

crabbed from a bunch of drunkards just about

a half a hundred years after the fact.


                                                            SAM thumps the empty ale pot, listening.


There’s nothing in this. No novelty. It smacks

Of rheumy gossip, frankly. Rumor, stale,

Over-rehearsed, a shopworn tale.


                                                            SAM sets the ale pot down with a thunk.


In short, it’s second hand news.

Worth no more than a small handful of sous,

This relic of another era.


                                                            SAM rises, addressing a contrite JORDIE.


I don’t believe that Shakespeare drank

Immoderately. I don’t subscribe to the popular view

That artists must be dissolute.

I am myself a temperate man, and so

Ascribe success in business dealings to

Retaining a clear mind and good judgment.


                                                            W.H. returns with a full ale pot for JORDIE.



Ah! Thank ye kindly, Will Henry.



My son’s name is Samuel, Jordie.

Mind you don’t spill the ale, there, Sammy.


                                                            Sam turns his back on both the others.


You’ve other items, Jordie, or that’s it?


                                                            JORDIE looks at W.H., who nods at him.



Y-yes, J-j-jordie, there was something else?


                                                            JORDIE cagely draws out a document, as

                                                            W.H. shifts to stand outside his father’s eyeshot

                                                            to “conduct” JORDIE, even mouthing words

                                                            JORDIE hasn’t conned correctly.                                                     



I hesitate to show it to such eyes as yours,

As Ireland & Son—


                                                            W.H. desperately shakes his head: “NO!”



—It’s ‘Sons.’



Beg pardon: “Sons.”

…Are known as such a reputable house.



Get to the point, you avaricicious lout.


                                                            JORDIE, catching only an amiable tone and

                                                            missing SAM’s irony, looks confused.



I thank ye kindly for that, sir, I’m sure.

I’d not abuse your patronage with slurs

Upon the authenticity of such

As you’d be likely or disposed to purchase

From these, my humble hands.





                                                            SAM and JORDIE stare at W.H., chagrined

                                                            at getting so worked up. SAM sighs.



Even my half-wit son is bored with you.


                                                            JORDIE draws out an impressive sheaf of

                                                            manuscript pages, tied with string.



A manuscript, this scrap purports to be.

I’m wagering that it’s no forgery.


                                                            SAM gazes at the paper with rapt interest.


I picked it up in a bookstall near Saint Paul’s.

The paper, anyway, is older, you can tell.

The ink is brown, the hand’s an antique script.



The trade in antiquities and documents

Outstrips the Tulip Bubble of a hundred years ago.

(scoffs) What am I telling you two for?

You’ve no idea what I’m talking about.



Yes sir. The T-t-t-tulip B-b-b-b-b-b-b-bubble.

Inflated the price of b-b-bulbs in Amsterdam

In the late 1600s—



–Yes, yes, yes! I am

Acquainted with it. God, how you waste my time!

I’ll give you two quid for it, Jordan.



Aw, give old Jordie three.



Two and another pot of ale, and I’ll buy your ale pot.


                                                            JORDIE hesitates only a moment before

                                                            handing his ale pot to W.H., who steps in

                                                            on cue to take it and clapping him on

                                                            the back to cue his last line as both smile.



Sold! And if you like that, there’s more of that lot.


                                                            BLACKOUT. A bit of Handel, then LIGHTS UP

                                                            on SAM seated, perusing a pile of documents.



I tell you, Sam, these Shakespeare manuscripts

Are the best blessing that’s e’err shower’d upon our house.

Can you believe the Good Lord’s bounty?



B-b-b-bless me! G-g-g-good Lord, n-n-n-o!



First just a few receipts and oddiments,

A mortgage deed with Heminges name on it,

Then a letter from Southampton! List!


                                                            SAM reads from a manuscript, pronouncing

                                                            the orthographics in what he takes to be

                                                            antique pronunciation. He’s also squinting

                                                            to read through bad glasses.


Doe notte esteeme me a sluggarde nor tardye for thus havyinge delayed

to answerre or rather toe thank you for youre greate Bountye…

[G]ratitude is alle I have toe utter and that is tooe greate ande tooe

sublyme a feeling for poore mortalls toe expresse


                                                            SAM struggles reading. W.H. takes the paper

                                                            from SAM, which SAM scoffs at but allows,

                                                            as his eyes are failing him.



Here, F-f-f-father, let m-m-me.


                                                            W.H. reads, his stutter disappearing, with

                                                            a period feel and fluency that escaped

                                                            his father’s reading.


O my Lord itte is a Budde which Bllossommes Bllooms butte never dyes.

…as I have beene thye Freynde soe will I continue aughte thatte I canne

doe forre thee praye commande me ande you shalle fynde mee… Yours…


                                                            SAM continues through his treasures, with

                                                            W.H. helpfully handing each to him in turn.



The profession of his Protestant faith!



P-p-p-poo to those who claim our Shakespeare P-p-p-papist.



A letter from Queen Elizabeth herself!



You always say “A good man will find favor.”



A wry self-portrait.



“Wymsycalle conceyte.”



A verse addressed unto his future wife, //Anne Hathaway.//



//“Ann Hatherrewaye,”// yes. Complete with a lock of her hair.



Books from the bard’s own library.



With his marginal notes.



A sheaf of “Hamblette” down in manuscript.



//The text of Lear.//



//The text of Lear.//



Yes, sir.


                                                            A pause. SAM searches before him for

                                                            the documents as W.H. provides them.



And then the unknown works I’d always suspected. Henry Two, Rowena

and Vortigern.



Is that your favorite? Vortigern?


                                                            SAM sighs deeply, quite contented.



They’re all my favorite, William.



Sir? You called me “William.”



Did I?



Yes sir.



The other Samuel died on me.



Well… yes, sir.



I don’t have a favorite, Samuel.


                                                            A spell is broken. W.H. tries to hold onto it.






But I’m happy.


                                                            SAM smiles. So W.H. smiles, wanly. Music of

                                                            Handel. BLACKOUT.


                                                            LIGHTS UP on SAMUEL, completely blind, sickly,

                                                            reedy voiced, coughing, clutching a cane and some

                                                            documents rolled in his withered fists, attended by

                                                            W.H. as the two confront poor JORDIE, called to

                                                            account for passing on the forged documents.



I don’t understand it. The Duke of Leicester’s signature and seal are found upon

the document, and yet the damned thing’s dated 1590.



That’s right, sir.



He died in 1588!



Could be the Duke post-dated it?


                                                            SAM, in a blind rage, swats at JORDIE with the

                                                            documents, but catches W.H. in the face, then

                                                            tosses it aside and blindly searches for another

                                                            document on the table, which W.H. swiftly puts

                                                            under his father’s grasping hand.



References to the Globe Theatre



That’s Shakespeare’s theatre, innit!



Before it was built! This Heminges signature looks nothing like authenticated Heminges autographs. Or so I’m told.



A m-matter of op-p-pinion, surely.



Shut up, son. Boswell himself had passed on this. The poet laureate.

The College of Heralds. The Duke of Clarence.



Well, then.



But they’re not right! Not right! Wrong hand and orthography, wrong history




That don’t count.


                                                            SAM rises in a rage, blind as he is, to whip

                                                            JORDIE with the paper, driving him from the room.



And now I find myself mocked? Me! A scholar!

Mocked from the pages of volumes by Malone!

Mocked from stage by Kemble at Drury Lane!

My discoveries called forgeries, crimes,

The grossest of flimsy impostures!



I got a lead on poxy skeleton, the Duke of Gloucester’s!

Marlowe’s Coronor’s Report, a portrait dated

Armada year that may be Shakespeare’s!



Get out, get out! It’s killing me, you fool!


                                                            JORDIE bows and hastens away, followed by                                                                     

                                                           W.H., who sees him out. SAM collapses, weeping.

                                                            After a moment. W.H. returns and kneels at his

                                                            blind father’s feet.



F-f-f-father… f-father… It was m-m-me.



How now?



Sir, it was m-m-me. The f-forgeries. I wanted so to p-p-please you.


                                                            SAM takes this in, nodding, then smiling.



No. Oh Lord, you are a brave lad for the trying,

And well I love you for that heart would bleed for me.

But well I know, my son, you’ve not the head for this.

No, you’re not nearly clever enough to have freighted

so much mischief. I thank ye, though.



I, s-s-sir, your son, AM that p-p-person!


                                                            SAM feels his son’s face gently, reading his tears.



No. I won’t believe it. What is it Vortingen says?


            Make me forget the place by blood I hold,

            And break the tie twixt father and his child?


No. You may be a dull boy. But you are my son. You would not wound me so.



                                                            The two sit in silence for a moment, the elder man

                                                            striving not to weep, keep his dignity; the younger,

                                                            left with nothing else to comfort him, free to do so.


In Ecclestiastic Latin, the word is scandulum :

“that on which one trips, cause of offense”

In Greek, it’s skándalon, “A trap” is more the sense.

“A moral stumbling.” “The thing that causes one to sin.”


            Woe to the world for things that cause people to stumble!

            Scandals must come, but woe to those through whom they come!

Matthew 18:7 (or is it Luke 17:1?)


“Discredit to one’s reputation” that’s what brings in

the shame. The public disclosure of one’s crime. Or sin.


                                                            A pause.


I don’t know what I did.


                                                            A pause.


I did not think myself guilty of the sin of Pride.

But Sam, if only I had heeded your advice,

And not have published.



Indeed, sir.



It’s just so hard sometimes, to know where one has stumbled.


                                                            W.H. takes this in, nodding, as

                                                            LIGHTS FADE TO BLACK.


                                                            END OF PLAY.


A True History of Prince Prospero: a variant text from the Isle of Caliban



SCENE 1: IN THE BLACK, waves and seagulls. LIGHTS UP on a lone, stunted pine.

Enter GONZALO, dressed out of Holbein, laden with over-sized atlas, map and sextant.

He is followed by MATE, a roguish seaman bearing a pennant. Both wear black armbands.

GONZALO speaks Oxford English, MATE has a Latin lilt.



What name is given to this island, mate?

These Southern Seas prove not to navigate

As easily as I have read upon the matter.



Senor Vespucci never sailed these waters.

You’ll find maps here are difficult to follow,

Senor… Gonzago, is it?



It’s Gonzalo.



This “island,” sir, is not on any chart,

For it defies the navigator’s art

To steer a wandering bark unto these shores,

Or learn’d astronomer to find it by the stars.

No, you’ll not find this isle on any map.

Serendip-like, we find it by mishap.


GONZALO: (aside)

A nameless rock far from a nameless coast, eh?

It’s perfect for the purpose of my master.



I did not say, sir, that the isle is nameless.

The ancients called this rock Old Setebos.

The mariner’s myth is that it disappears

In fogbanks, then magically reappears

At some other longitude and latitude.



Enchanted, then?



Bewitched’s a better word.



A legend I recall, about a sea-witch—

Like Circe, or the Sirens… Sycorax?



Exactly. Some say this her island is.



Heraclitus, he called it Caliban, yes?



And is Heraclitus a name that I should know?



Poet. Third Century BC.



I didn’t think so.

But Setebos or Sycorax, it’s all the same.

It’s just a rock, and a rock it will remain.

To give the rock a name? Here’s what I think:

I vote for Caliban. It sounds more Greek.


MATE plants the pennant. Offstage, a hautboy plays John Dowland’s “Flow My Tears.”

Enter PRINCE PROSPERO, wearing a black Doge’s cap and robes, in either arm

clutching his infant daughter, swaddled in white, and a silver urn, resting on a red pillow.



My good Prince Prospero, I did as I was bid.

You said to find a place remote. I did.

This formal dirge and burial detail owing

Unto the Duchess Ariel notwithstanding,

I must protest that we delay our voyage

When swords are drawn and at an edge

Of readiness, to be brought down upon

Your brother the Usurper.


MATE: (with pennant)

“Free the homeland.”



Your Grace well knows the customs maritime

Observable throughout recorded time

That serve in such a melancholy case.

When pressing matters make pressing need of haste,

Sagacious sailors do not make for port.



Just dump my Duchess’ ashes from the starboard poop,

And put us out to sea in a leaky cask?



A caravel was all I dare to ask

When not an admiral I found but he

Was suspect in your brother’s mutiny.



Go! Private grief is not for public scrutiny.

My duchess is dead. I have no power.

I’ll never see the son she carried inside her.

Our infant daughter pines for her mother.

I have no power. Tell His Grace my brother

That I wish him well, and leave me here.

What awaits me, awaits me. What’s past is past.





Is that a command, your Grace?



My last.


GONZALO bows, MATE kneels. Exuent. Manet PROSPERO, who kneels at the foot of the pine, laying both his burdens to either side. He weeps, beats the earth in frustration, and cries to Heaven.


Oh Angel, high or fallen, whatsoe’er

By this Rough Magic or by simple prayer

Can be so summoned, come and aid me now.

I’ve lost my love, my light. I do not know

If I possess the strength to raise our child

Alone, without her. I find I am beguiled

By grief, waylaid by woe. Even the will

Is wanting that would have me end it all.

Oh, gladly I’d change place to be entombed

Instead of he who died within his mother’s womb.

Or die he, if in dying he did not take

My dear beloved Ariel in his wake.


                        LIGHTS SHIFT. The wind comes up. We hear the recorder playing Dowland’s

                        “Come again, sweet love.” The urn’s lid flies open, releasing a cloud of ash

                        which materializes into an exotic blue-skinned jinn in a masque by Inigo Jones.

                        This is the spirit we’ll call ARIEL.



I am a jinn, a spirit bound in service

Unto thou, thou who has freed me, Magus.



What, Ariel?



My history, false or true:

It has been a dozen long and languid years

Since I appeared. What is it that placed me here?

Old Sycorax, they used to call her,

The demons who paraded ‘round her fire,

For generation after generation.

A spell was cast that cleft this pine, encasing

My poor spirit there. Now Sycorax is fled.



But you are Ariel, my wife who’s dead.



Before the time of Sycorax, I was a maid

Who never aged; at other times, the bawd

Of Setebos, this isle’s ancestral god,

Our father, our son, and our unholy lover.

A slave appears as their master sees them.

What to you, Magus, will I be or seem?



My Ariel, the wife I thought was gone.



Pity. That will not make you free me soon.

And yet, one day, you’ll see me for who I am.


                                    ARIEL kisses PROSPERO. From the place where PROSPERO struck the earth,

                                    a figure sits up –the manifestation we call CALIBAN.



Oh many years of study it shall take

Before thou shouldst a proper human make.



It lies not in our power, but in his sympathies.



Damnation ! Oh, we’ll be here centuries!


                                    CALIBAN falls back to earth, frustrated. PROSPERO rises appalled.



What thing is that?



Yo ho, what thing is this ?

A perfect poesy, all innocence!


CALIBAN sees the baby-bundle between him and PROSPERO. ARIEL retrieves it, staring at PROSPERO, shaking her head, and holding a finger to her pursed lips.



I’ll ask again, what thing are you?




I’m Caliban. Doest thou not know me, Da?


CALIBAN hugs PROSPERO, who freezes. ARIEL hugs the baby, who cries. BLACKOUT. END OF SCENE 1.


                                    SCENE 2. LIGHTS UP. INTERIOR OF A CAVE. ARIEL stands center, wearing

an apron and nursing the baby, quieter now. In her other hand, she holds a mirror, in which she admires herself. PROSPERO kneels at her feet, consulting a book and working with flash paper. After a poor effect, he checks his text; after a good one, he makes a note. ARIEL flashes reflected light from the mirror on him. 



I could make fire for you easier.




Fire is a man’s work, though I thank you, wife.



Her name was Ariel.



Yes, Ariel.



What would the boy’s name be, had he seen life?


                                    CALIBAN enters, a good boy, eager to help, and deposits a bundle of logs.


Caliban! Look, mother, I found firewood.

What, haven’t got the fire started quite yet, Dad?



No, boy, I lack your mother’s patient skill.

Don’t you have something else to do?

(to ARIEL:) Your son’s a pill!



Isn’t he your son too?


                        PROSPERO ignores them, busy with his spells. CALIBAN scowls, now a sullen teen.



There’s naught but meanness I can see in him.



He’s lost his love. Love is what makes them human.

I know that it is hard to understand.

He loves you, but he thinks he lost you –Caliban!


                        CALIBAN exits, muttering to himself. PROSPERO continues with his spells, oblivious.

                        ARIEL flicks the cloth, and the infant disappears, the cloth now a prop for the following

                        —by turns a face-towel and shoulder wrap for MIRANDA, who enters as a petite girl

                        carrying a teddy bear larger than she is. With ARIEL’s help, she transforms before us

                         from toddler to teen.


Our children grow –What is she, two?— so quick!

She’s taking solid food, she’s walking, talking.

Before you know it, now she is six.

She’s off to school, she’s eight, she’s ten, a gawking

Adolescent. She’s twelve already. So quick.

To keep them at that age, now that’s a trick!


                        ARIEL spreads the cloth on the ground for a picnic. MIRANDA sits with the teddy bear.                                   

                        CALIBAN enters, bearing a tea-service. PROSPERO works with flash paper, oblivious.




You really only need the one, you know.

The one spell. I await your bidding.

Where is Miranda?



Oh, I let her go

Collecting shells with Caliban.



You’re kidding.



With scores of spells, I’ve got that rascal bound –

Enough to render even Caliban obedient.



Ah! “Give him boundaries.” Haven’t you found

That’s less effective than it is expedient?


ARIEL watches as MIRANDA places a bandana on the teddy bear as bib.

                        CALIBAN puts a bandana on his own head and sits cross-legged on the cloth

                        as MIRANDA takes out flash cards, holding them up for CALIBAN.



“A.” “A” is for At One Ment.



It’s “Atonement.”



“Atonement.” What’s Atonement?



It says the moment

Of Grace that we derive from Worldy Acts.



Oh. Worldly acts, eh?



Yes. Of Grace.



That sucks.

“B.” “B” is for Beat It, Dude.






beeby-beeby-beeby-beeb!— “Attitude.”




Cal! Be serious. “C.”



“C” is for Caliban!


                        MIRANDA glares at CALIBAN. It does no good. He does a little dance.


Can-Can Caliban! Stole a kiss and away he ran! Can-Can Caliban!



Cal! You’re not playing right!



I’m sorry, Randy.

…Not speaking to us now? Oh that’s just dandy!



My name’s Miranda.



But you call me Cal!

What’s up with that, Ted? It’s just you and me, pal.



Don’t call him Ted! Don’t try to make me laugh!

You with your attitude, that stupid scarf!

An artless jackanapes, a tart-tongued knave,

The ape of fashion and a willful slave!

You’re nothing but a— You’re ridiculous!


                                    CALIBAN, hurt to the quick, takes this with dignity.



That doesn’t make you more. It only makes me less.

I’m not your slave, and you’re the one who’s willful.


                                    MIRANDA melts into CALIBAN’s awkward arms.



I’ve not shamed you. I’ve only shamed myself, Cal.

I’m sorry. Cal! I love you so. I do.


                                    MIRANDA kisses CALIBAN.



You hurt me with your words, but kiss me too?

Oh, so that is love. But it’s not sublime.

It’s painful. If that’s what Father feels, I pity him.



I’m sorry, Cal. I love you.




Do you, Half Sis?



Why do you call me that?



Because… of… THIS!


                        CALIBAN jumps on MIRANDA and tickles her. Frisky turns amorous. CAL stops.



It’s alright, Cal. It’s alright. You don’t have to stop.



She’s what, fifteen now? Sixteen? All grown up.



But me, I can’t. I can’t. If I were human,

Why, I would fill this isle with Calibans.


                        Roused by the tussle, PROSPERO discovers the two kids.



Unhand my daughter, fiend!



But father, we—



Be silent, girl! I trusted you, but now I see

You’re not the son I lost! You’re nothing to me!

You’re worse than nothing! You’re—



I’m Caliban.



A monstrous fiend! A wretch! A thing! Inhuman!



You’d rather see her topped by some young gentleman?



A sharp-tongued monster! Well, monster, learn your place.

I’ll master you! I’ll scar your back and brand your face

To make you look the monster that you are.


                                    ARIEL steps forward, holding the mirror. It glints in the light.



With all this smoke, great Magus, where is the mirror?




Mirror? Behold what thou has monstered forth.



Behold what you have brought forth for yourself.

If he’s a monster, I’m a monster, too.



I don’t know what you’re talking about.



You do.


A flash of lightening, no sound yet.


If you don’t see it yet, you really ought to know.

I told you when you came here, Prospero.

I’m not your wife, your Ariel.



Who are you, then?



My name was sometime Sycorax.



And him?



Some call me Setebos. But you can call me Cal.



And I am your grown daughter, your Miranda.


                                    There is a distant roll of thunder.



Fate intervenes. The time has come for candor.

A tempest is now rising, which will bring

The past come sailing back to you, to fling

Your enemies upon the rocky verge

You’ve built around yourself. Now Fate will urge

The issue of forgiveness, not just of others,

Of faithless councilors, usurping brothers,

The men who took your kingdom, stole your wealth,

But of that hatred in you –you, yourself.


                        Lightning flashes once, again. The mirror glints in PROSPERO’s eyes.








Your loss was grievous, and it made you hard.

A hermit in a cave, obsessed with an arcane art,

Without a thought to your poor daughter’s love

For strange new worlds that you’ve grown weary of.


MIRANDA: (putting her arm around CAL)

Made you deny the boy that you’d called son.

Made you reject a love that you’d once won.


CALIBAN: (putting his arm around ARIEL)

Made you neglect the woman you adored.

Made you abuse her, treat her like a chore.


ARIEL: (holding the mirror up to PROSPERO)

Made you do terrible things, while you decried

The monster in the glass you darkly scried.


Thunder, growing louder. The mirror glints in PROSPERO’s eyes.



I see a powerful magic raised against me.

But you’ve not reckoned with my potency.


Lightning, closer now. PROSPERO pushes ARIEL and CALIBAN.


Chant spells, make signs, do what you can.

Do your worst, I’ll stand it, as I am a man.


                                    Thunder, closer now. PROSPERO draws a whip from his belt.








ARIEL hands the mirror to MIRANDA. She holds it toward the audience,

beyond which she has just sighted something. Thunder and lightning.



Think you that ought will stay me in my rage?

Bethink you, what can spare you from my whip?



What turns an angry man into a sage?



A ship!


                                    THUNDER. LIGHTNING. RAIN.