Friday, June 23, 2017

Thus Ends the World, Scene 1

To give myself a bit of a break from blogging during my busy summer, I'll be sharing again a short play that I composed last year, called "Thus Ends the World." It's set in the 14th century on a fictional estate near the English town of Norwich, and follows a family wrestling through tragedy. It will also include an appearance from one of my favorite figures of the Christian tradition, the anchoress/mystic Julian of Norwich. Unlike most contemporary play-writing, I've composing this play in verse, which was the classical model--Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Shakespeare, etc.: they all wrote plays in poetic form rather than in the realism of prose. I've also opted for an antiquated affectation to the language, not for the sake of being pretentious, but because it seems to fit the historical frame, the poetic nature, and the philosophical temper of the play. I hope you enjoy it.


Thus Ends the World

Cast of Scene 1:

Richard, lord of the Yarbury estates
Charles, Richard’s dying son
Ailred, Richard’s steward
 
Scene 1
[Richard standing at his son’s deathbed]
Richard: How comes this deathly hand against my door?
                                                                                                            [Touching his son’s face]
How, bless├Ęd Lord, and why?                                     
See how he labors for breath!
Every moment is a thousand agonies for him—
Aye, and for me, a thousand thousands.
Charles! How vainly hopeful sounds your name upon my lips!
A name which rang for me of the highest hopes and noblest loves…
You were the fire in your father’s heart.
And now there are but embers,
the flickering tongues of a hard and mocking heaven.
What black fate, that takes all my brightness and warmth
and leaves naught but smoke’s dark desolation!
[Enter Ailred]
Ailred: Pardon, my liege.
Richard: Pardoned and pardoned again, faithful Ailred.
                                                                                                            [Turning back to his son]
            My heart is full of pardons…
            But will no one pardon me?
Ailred: He still fares ill?
Richard: More with every minute. He slips away like fog.
Ailred: The doctor comes, not but an hour away.
Richard: Too long.
            And the lady of the house?
Ailred: A messenger was sent. We know not when she comes.
Richard: She will fly hence.
A mother’s love is unbounded by mortal constraints.
Ailred: Indeed, just such a woman is the lady.
            She will be here, my lord.
Richard: I will not be able to see her face, Ailred.
My heart will fail me. How can I look
upon that death-raked visage, wild in empty hopes,
when once I saw it light with the tenderness
of a hundred gentle suns?
You see my Charles now on his deathbed, nearly a man,
But once he was so small and fragile
that his cries would have melted a mountain of stone.
And when my wife looked on his ruddy little face,
there was unmeasured wonder in her eyes.
Ailred: My lord, I remember.
Richard: And I cannot forget.
How small he was, yet as wide as the universe to me!
His hands were but a fingertip’s breadth,
and their touch was worth all the king’s gold.
How, old friend—how, if I have loved him so—
how could God have loved him less?
Ailred: Doubt not that God loves him.
These are days of shadow,
and perhaps love’s light is only seen,
brightsome and full,
beyond the shadowed vale.
Richard: Truth; you are wise.
            These are days of darkest shadow;
            Am I so proud as to believe that they will not fall on me?
Ailred: It is not pride, my lord.
            All men hope for a brighter share.
Richard: The world is spinning to its grave. So say all the learned men.
            We stand on the edge of dust and Judgment.
Up rise the ranks of the fabled Khan, perhaps again, as of old.
We have heard the tales together, no?
And together we have trembled.
They follow not Christ, nor Moses,
nor even Mahomet, but only blood and blade.
And if not the Golden Horde, then next the Seljuq Turks.
The great kings fall, and so too soon may we.
I open my eyes on a world where only Prester John is free,
and the grave has swallowed all other Christian men,
to wait until eternity.
And if one hammer-blow was not enough,
God has sent a second.
The first has brought us to our knees;
The next will kiss us to the ground.
Ailred: You speak the plague.
Richard: Aye, the plague.
How many millions of lives, burnt in Aesclepius’ hell?
And now it comes again to us.
The bells ring in Norwich like the clamor of the forge;
How long until our own bells sound?
Ailred: There are reports of a case on the estate lands.
            Yarbury is trapped in the jaws of fear;
            Thus the doctor’s absence. Where he cannot heal,
            still he would console.
Richard: Consolations are but a pleasant chime,
The sound of the ladle ringing hard against
The vacant side of an empty water-drum
While we all die of thirst.
Ailred: Enough, my lord.
            She comes.
[Enter Mary, Lady of the estate]

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