The game a morality play in one act by Louise Bryant

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a morality play in one act

by Louise Bryant

The following one-act play is reprinted from The Provincetown Plays. New York: Frank Shay, 1916. It is now in the public domain and may therefore be performed without royalties.






[AT THE RISE, Death is lying on the ground at left, idly flipping dice. Now and then he glances sardonically at Life who is standing at the extreme right and counting aloud.]

LIFE: (Counting abstractly) Fifty thousand, fifty-one, sixty-five, ninety-- (She goes on through the next speech.)

DEATH: Come come, Life, forget your losses. It's no fun playing with a dull partner. I had hoped for a good game tonight, although there is little in it for me--just a couple of suicides.

LIFE: (With a gesture of anxiety) My dear Death, I wish you would grant me a favor.

DEATH: (Grumbling) A favor. A favor. Now isn't that just like a woman? I never saw one yet who was willing to abide by the results of a fair game.

LIFE: (Earnestly) But I want these two, whether I win or lose. I really must have them. They are geniuses--and you know how badly I am in need of geniuses right now. Ungrateful spoiled children! They always want to commit suicide over their first disappointments.

DEATH: (Impatiently) How many times must I tell you that the game must be played! It's the law--you know it as well as I do.

LIFE: (Shrugging) O, the law! Laws are always in your favor, Death!

DEATH: There you are. I always said the universe would be in a wild state of disorder if the women had any say! No, you must play the game.

LIFE: (Indignantly) Whoever said anything about not playing? All I want is your consent to let them meet here before the game begins.

DEATH: I'll bet this isn't so innocent as it sounds. Who are they? I haven't paid much attention to the case.

LIFE: Youth and The Girl. He is a Poet, and she a Dancer.

DEATH: A strong man and a beautiful woman. (He laughs, ironically) Up to the same old tricks, eh? You sly thing, you think if they meet they'll fall in love and cheat me! (Pause.) Well, suppose I consent. What will you give?

LIFE: (Quickly) I'll give you Kaiser Wilhelm, The Czar of Russia, George of England and old Francis Joseph--that's two to one!

DEATH: Now that's dishonest. You're always trying to unload a lot of monarchs on me when you know I don't want them. Why, when you play for them you almost go to sleep and I always win. No bargaining in kings, my dear.

LIFE: I'll give you a whole regiment of soldiers.

DEATH: (With scorn) Soldiers! What do you care about soldiers? Look at your figures again. You've been losing millions of soldiers in Europe for the past two years--and you're much more excited about these two rattle-pated young idiots. Your idea of a fair trade is to get something for nothing. You love too much. With such covetness how can you ever know the thrill of chance?

LIFE: (Pleading) O I'll give you anything.

[Enter Youth, with hanging melancholy head.]

DEATH: Sshh! Too late! Here's one of them.

LIFE: (Turning) Youth! (To Death) You've tricked me. You were only playing for time.

DEATH: Come, sister. Be game. All's fair in everything but the dice. And just think. If you win this cast the other is half won. They'll meet then ...

YOUTH: (Seeint the two and starting. To Life.) Who are you?

LIFE: (Anxiously) I am Life!

YOUTH: (Bitterly) O, I am through with you ... I want none of you! (Turning his back and addressing Death) And who are you?

DEATH: (Rising with cheerful complacency) I am Death!

YOUTH: (Taken aback) Death! How different from my dream of you. I thought you were sombre, austere; and instead, you're--if I may say so--just a trifle commonplace.

DEATH: I'm not as young as I once was. One's figure, you know--

LIFE: (Delightedly) Ah!

DEATH: Look at her. A pleasing exterior, eh? And yet you wouldn't be seeking me if you didn't know better. Alas, my boy, beauty is not even skin deep.

YOUTH: That is true. (Going to Death) Ah, Death, I have been seeking you for weeks.

DEATH: Yet I am always present. Where did you seek me?

YOUTH: (Excitedly, with gestures) I tried poison, but just as I was about to swallow it they snatched it from me ... I tried to shoot myself. They cheated me; the pistol wouldn't go off.

DEATH: Well-meaning idiots!

YOUTH: So I came here to leap into the sea!

DEATH: Very good. Only hurry. Some one might come.

LIFE: Why do you wish to die?

YOUTH: (Hotly) As if you didn't know. Did you not give me the power to string beautiful words into songs--did you not give me Love to sing to and take Love away? I cannot sing any more! And yet you ask me why I want to die! I am not a slave! Slaves live just to eat and be clothed--you have plenty of them!

LIFE: (Sadly) Yes, I have plenty of them.

YOUTH: If I cannot have love to warm me, I cannot create beauty. And if I cannot create beauty, I will not live!

LIFE: Are you sure it was Love? I think it was only Desire I gave you; you did not seem ready for Love.

YOUTH: (Passionately) Falsehoods. Evasions. What is Love, then? You gave me a girl who sold flowers on the street. She had hair like gold and a body all curves and rose-white like marble. I sang my songs for her, and the whole world listened. Then an ugly beast came and offered her gold ... and she laughed at me--and went away.

DEATH: (Laughing indulgently) That is Love, my boy. You are lucky to find it out so young.

LIFE: Now I know it was desire.

YOUTH: (To Death) Why will she persist in lying?

DEATH: (Gallantly) I am a sport and a gentleman and I must admit that Life is as truthful as I am.

LIFE: Listen, Youth, and answer me. Did your sweetheart understand your songs?

YOUTH: Why should she? Women do not have to understand. They must be fragrant and beautiful--like flowers.

LIFE: And is that all?

YOUTH: (Slightly confused) I do not know many women.

LIFE: I will show you one who understands your songs. She is coming here.

DEATH: (Harshly) To leap into the sea, like you!

LIFE: Because she is lonely--waiting for you.

YOUTH: For me! But I do not know her!

LIFE: But she knows you--through your songs...

DEATH: (Scornfully) And you have been seeking me for weeks! Are you to be fooled again by this tricky charlatan? You who have had enough of Life? There is no place for cowards among the lofty dead!

YOUTH: O Death, forgive me! Life, farewell!

[He stretches out his arms and turns towards the cliff.]

LIFE: (Crying out) Hold! We must play first.

[Youth stands as he is, with outstretched arms as they play.]

DEATH: (Jovially) So now it is you who are asking me to play! Come, Life do me a favor. Give me this one and the girl shall be yours!

LIFE: (Excitedly) No. The game must be played. It is the law!

[Death laughs. They go to center stage and throw the dice. Death frowns and grumbles.]

LIFE: (Rising with a happy smile) I have won!

YOUTH: (Dropping his arms and turning slowly. Sadly.) Then I am to live--in spite of myself. Death, I have lost you. Life, I hate you. Without Love you are crueller than Death.

LIFE: Soon the Girl will be here. Then you will think me beautiful.

DEATH: That's the comedy of it. You probably will, you know.

YOUTH: (With a gesture of revulsion) Promises. Promises. Love comes but one--

[He breaks off and stares as the Girl rushes in. She almost runs into Life, then suddenly recoils.]

GIRL: Who are you?

LIFE: I am Life.

GIRL: O, Life dear, I must leave you! I cannot bear you any longer. You are so white and so cold!

LIFE: What have you to complain of? Have I not given you Fame, and Worship and Wealth?

GIRL: What are all these ... without Love?

DEATH: (With a smile) What--you without Love? How about those who stand at the stage door every evening--and send you flowers and jewels? One of them shot himself because you stamped on his flowers. Believe me, my dear, that is all the Love there is--

GIRL: Love? No. That was Desire!

DEATH: Bah! Desire when they seek you--Love when you seek them.

GIRL: No, No. Love understands. They didn't. They wanted to buy me in order to destroy me. That is why I stamped on their flowers.

DEATH: (Humorously) Ah, the young. Incurably sentimental.

YOUTH: (Impetuously) Good. I'm glad you did.

GIRL: (Startled) Why, who are you?

YOUTH: I am Youth.

GIRL: (Drawing back) Youth, the Poet? You? O I know all your songs by heart. I have kissed every line. Always, when I dance, I try to dance them. (Looking around fearfully) But why are you here?

DEATH: (Grimly) He came to throw himself into the sea!

GIRL: (Alarmed. Clutching him by the arm.) Oh, no. You must not. What would the poor world do without your beautiful songs?

LIFE: Do not be afraid, my dear, I have won.

YOUTH: (Sighing) Alas!

GIRL: Why did you want to die?

DEATH: (Slyly) His sweetheart left him.

GIRL: (Drawing back coldly) His sweetheart! So he loves someone! I don't believe you. How could any woman he loved ... when he sings so sweetly--

LIFE: His songs meant nothing to her.

GIRL: Nothing! (Going to Youth) O then she was not worth your love. She was like the men who wait for me at the stage-door; she wanted to destroy you.

DEATH: Such is Life, my dear young lady, Love is the destroyer always.

YOUTH: (Bitterly) You are right. It is all a myth--Life, Love, Happiness. I must idealize someone, something--and then the bubble bursts and I am alone. No. If she could not understand, no one could understand.

GIRL: (Eagerly) O how wrong you are! I understand. Don't you believe me? I have danced all you have sung. Do you remember "The Bird Calls?"

[She dances. Youth watches with astonishment and growing delight.]

YOUTH: How beautiful! You do understand--you do! Wings flash and soar when you dance! You skim the sea gloriously, lifting your quivering feathery breast against the sunny wind. Dance again for me. Dance my "Cloud Flight!"

GIRL: The loveliest of all! (Remembering sadly) But I can never dance for you anymore. I came here to die!

DEATH: And you'd forgotten it already! O you're all alike, you suicides. Life's shallowest little deceit fools you again--though you have seen through her and know her for what she is.

GIRL: (Hesitating) But I have found Youth.

YOUTH: (Swiftly) Yes, and Youth has found Love--real Love at last. Love that burns like fire and flowers like the trees. You shall not die. (To Death) And I will fight you for her! Love is stronger than Death!

DEATH: Than Life, you mean. Think of the great lovers of the world--Paola and Francesca, Romeo and Juliet, Tristan and Isolde. I, I claimed them all. Who are you to set yourself up against such august prcedents? (To the Girl) You think he loves you. It is not you he loves, but your dancing of his songs. He is a Poet--therefore he loves only himself. And his sweetheart, for lack of whom he was going to die. See! He has already forgotten her! (Slowly) As you will one day be forgotten.

LIFE: (To Girl) Why ask too much of me? I can only give happiness for a moment--but it is real happiness--Love, Creation, Unity with the tremendous rhythm of the universe. I can't promise it will endure. I won't say you will not some day be forgotten. What if it is himself he loves in you? That, too, is Love.

GIRL: To be supremely happy for a moment--an hour--that is worth living for!

DEATH: Life offers you many things--I but one. She pours out the sunshine before you to make you glad; she sends the winter to chill your heart. She gives you Love and Desire--and takes them away. She brings you warm quietness--and kills it with hunger and anxiety. Life offers you many things--I but one. Come closer, tired heart, and hold out your weary hands. See! What a pearl I offer--to kings and beggars alike. Come--I will give you peace!

GIRL: (Spurning him) Peace? Do you think I want peace--I, a dancer, a child of the whirling winds? Do you think I would be blind to the sunlight, deaf to Youth's music--to my sweet applause, dumb to laughter? All this joy that is in me--scattered in darkness? Dust in my hair--in my eyes--on my dancing feet? (Hesitating) And yet--and yet Life is so cruel!

YOUTH: (Going to her) My dearest. We will never leave one another.

LIFE: She is mine!

DEATH: (Sardonically) Haven't you forgotten something? The game!

LIFE: It is half-won. She too has found love.

DEATH: Ah! But in willing to die she laid her life on the knees of the Fates. So we must play for her. It is the law.

LIFE: O I am not afraid to play. This time I have you, Death.

DEATH: Have me! Ho, Ho. Nay, Life. I am cleverer than you. On this game hangs the doom of both!

LIFE: (Astonished) Of both? (Furiously) You lie, Death! I have already won Youth, he cannot die.

DEATH: (Laughing) Ho. Ho. Youth cannot die, you say. True. But the Girl dies if I win; isn't that so? (Life nods.) Well, and if she dies, what then? He loves her, yet he cannot follow. Nay, he shall live--forever mute, forever regretting his lost love, until you yourself will beg me to take him!

LIFE: (Falling on her knees) O Death, I beg of you--

DEATH: Ho. Ho. Life on her knees to Death. No, sister. I couldn't help you if I would. It is the law. Let us play.

LIFE: (Resigned) It is the law.

[They go to the center of stage and play.]

LIFE: (Joyously) O I have won again!

DEATH: (Blackly, hurling the dice to the ground) Yes, curse the luck! But some day we'll play for those two again--and then it will be my turn.

YOUTH: Yes. But we will have lived. Until then, Death, you are Powerless. I fear you not, and I will guard her from you.

DEATH: (Shrugging) Geniuses! Geniuses!

GIRL: (To Youth) How brave--how strong--how beautiful is my lover!

[They go offstage with their arms about each other.]

DEATH: Well, it was a good game after all. You see, that's the difference between you and me; you play to win, and I play for the fun of the thing. (He laughs.) But tell me, Life; why is it you make such a fuss over dreamers and care so little for soldiers?

LIFE: O, soldiers don't matter one way or the other to me; but some day the dreamers will chain you to the earth, and I will have the game all my way.

DEATH: That remains to be seen. But how about kings?

LIFE: Kings are my enemies. Do you remember how careless I was during the French Revolution? I've always had it on my conscience, and I think I'd feel better if I told you; whenever I threw a good combination, I--juggled the dice!

DEATH: (Nodding) I'm not surprised. Heavens, aren't women unscrupulous! And yet they call me unfair ... Well, I suppose I've got to keep an eye on you.

LIFE: I warn you I will stop at nothing. By the way, what's the game tomorrow night?

DEATH: A Plague. And in that game, I regret to say you haven't a chance in the world.

LIFE: Don't forget I have Science to help me.

DEATH: Science, Bah! A fool's toy! I sweep them all together in my net--the men of learning and the ones they try to cure.

LIFE: But remember that the sun, the blessed healing sun still rises every morning.

DEATH: (Irritated) Oh, don't remind me of the sun!

[He goes.]

LIFE: (Beginning to count her losses again) Two hundred thousand, seventy-five, three hundred and ten. (Looking up.) I must never let him know how much I mind losing soldiers. They are the flower of youth--there are dreamers among them...


A Short Play by Bruce Kane

SETTING: Home plate on a baseball field.


Lights up on CATCHER and UMPIRE standing behind home plate. The Catcher pounds his mitt as the BATTER enters and steps into the batter’s box.

CATCHER: My guy’s a little wild today. Be careful on anything inside.

BATTER: I don’t need no help from you.

CATCHER: You don’t need any help from me.

BATTER: That’s what I said.

CATCHER: No, you said “I don’t need no help.” Correct English would be “I don’t need any help.”

BATTER: What are you my English teacher or somethin’?

UMPIRE: What say we play some baseball?

(The three of them prepare for the pitch)

CATCHER: It’s not correct pronunciation to drop the “g” at the end of a gerund. It makes you sound ignorant.

BATTER: Hey, who you callin’ ignorant?

(The Batter takes his eye off the ball as it pounds into the Catcher’s mitt)

UMPIRE: Steeee-rike one.

BATTER: He was talkin’ to me during the pitch.

UMPIRE: He was talking before the pitch. You were talking during the pitch.

BATTER: Well, I ain’t ignorant.

CATCHER: You aren’t ignorant.

UMPIRE: Are you ready to hit?

BATTER: You bet your [butt] I am.

(He steps up to hit. The Catcher and Umpire prepare for the next pitch.)

CATCHER: You just sound ignorant.

BATTER: Just because I speak good ole Americ…

(The batter takes his eye off the ball just long enough…)

UMPIRE: Steee-rike two.

BATTER: That’s no fair.

CATCHER: That’s not fair.

BATTER: Will you shut up?

CATCHER: I’m just to trying to help.

BATTER: Well, I don’t need no help.

CATCHER: Any help. “I don’t need any help.

BATTER: That’s right… I don’t need no help. (They all set up for the next pitch) You just tell your boy to bring it on.

CATCHER: Bring what on? You really need to be more precise in your use of pronouns. When not preceded by a noun, ”it“ loses all meaning.

BATTER: (turns to Umpire) If you don’t tell him to shut the…



a play in one-act

by Winthrop Parkhurst

The following one-act play is reprinted from The Atlantic Book of Modern Plays. Ed. Sterling Andrus Leonard. Boston: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1921. It is now in the public domain and may therefore be performed without royalties.





[A chamber in the palace overlooks a courtyard. The season is midsummer. The windows of the palace are open, and from a distance there comes the sound of a man's voice crying for bread.]

[THE KING sits in a golden chair. A golden crown is on his head, and he holds in his hand a sceptre which is also of gold. A SERVANT stands by his side, fanning him with an enormous fan of peacock feathers.]

THE BEGGAR: (outside) Bread. Bread. Bread. Give me some bread.

THE KING: (languidly) Who is that crying in the street for bread?

THE SERVANT: (fanning) O king, it is a beggar.

THE KING: Why does he cry for bread?

THE SERVANT: O king, he cries for bread in order that he may fill his belly.

THE KING: I do not like the sound of his voice. It annoys me very much. Send him away.

THE SERVANT: (bowing) O king, he has been sent away.

THE KING: If that is so, then why do I hear his voice?

THE SERVANT: O king, he has been sent away many times, yet each time that he is sent away he returns again, crying louder than he did before.

THE KING: He is very unwise to annoy me on such a warm day. He must be punished for his impudence. Use the lash on him.

THE SERVANT: O king, it has been done.

THE KING: Then bring out the spears.

THE SERVANT: O king, the guards have already bloodied their swords many times driving him away from the palace gates. But it is of no avail.

THE KING: Then bind him and gag him if necessary. If need be cut out his tongue. I do not like the sound of the fellow's voice. It annoys me very much.

THE SERVANT: O king, thy orders were obeyed even yesterday.

THE KING: (frowning) No. That cannot be. A beggar cannot cry for bread who has no tongue.

THE SERVANT: Behold he can--if he has grown another.

THE KING: What! Why, men are not given more than one tongue in a lifetime. To have more than one tongue is treason.

THE SERVANT: If it is treason to have more than one tongue, O king, then is this beggar surely guilty of treason.

THE KING: (pompously) The punishment for treason is death. See to it that the fellow is slain. And do not fan me so languidly. I am very warm.

THE SERVANT: (fanning more rapidly) Behold, O great and illustrious king, all thy commands were obeyed even yesterday.

THE KING: How! Do not jest with thy king.

THE SERVANT: If I jest, then there is truth in a jest. Even yesterday, O king, as I have told thee, the beggar which thou now hearest crying aloud in the street was slain by thy soldiers with a sword.

THE KING: Do ghosts eat bread? Forsooth, men who have been slain with a sword do not go about in the streets crying for a piece of bread.

THE SERVANT: Forsooth, they do if they are fashioned as this beggar.

THE KING: Why, he is but a man. Surely he cannot have more than one life in a lifetime.

THE SERVANT: Listen to a tale, O king, which happened yesterday.

THE KING: I am listening.

THE SERVANT: Thy soldiers smote this beggar for crying aloud in the streets for bread, but his wounds are already healed. They cut out his tongue, but he immediately grew another. They slew him, yet he is now alive.

THE KING: Ah! that is a tale which I cannot understand at all.

THE SERVANT: O king, it may be well.

THE KING: I cannot understand what thou sayest, either.

THE SERVANT: O king, that may be well also.

THE KING: Thou art speaking now in riddles. I do not like riddles. They confuse my brain.

THE SERVANT: Behold, O king, if I speak in riddles it is because a riddle has come to pass.

[THE BEGGAR'S voice suddenly cries out loudly.]

THE BEGGAR: (outside) Bread. Bread. Give me some bread.

THE KING: Ah! He is crying out again. His voice seems to me louder than it was before.

THE SERVANT: Hunger is as food to the lungs, O king.

THE KING: His lungs I will wager are well fed. Ha, ha!

THE SERVANT: But alas! his stomach is quite empty.

THE KING: That is not my business.

THE SERVANT: Should I not perhaps fling him a crust from the window?

THE KING: No! To feed a beggar is always foolish. Every crumb that is given to a beggar is an evil seed from which springs another fellow like him.

THE BEGGAR: (outside) Bread. Bread. Give me some bread.

THE SERVANT: He seems very hungry, O king.

THE KING: Yes. So I should judge.

THE SERVANT: If thou wilt not let me fling, him a piece of bread thine ears must pay the debts of thy hand.

THE KING: A king can have no debts.

THE SERVANT: That is true, O king. Even so, the noise of this fellow's begging must annoy thee greatly.

THE KING: It does.

THE SERVANT: Doubtless he craves only a small crust from thy table and he would be content.

THE KING: Yea, doubtless he craves only to be a king and he would be very happy indeed.

THE SERVANT: Do not be hard, O king. Thou art ever wise and just. This fellow is exceedingly hungry. Dost thou not command me to fling him just one small crust from the window?

THE KING: My commands I have already given thee. See that the beggar is driven away.

THE SERVANT: But alas! O king, if he is driven away he will return again even as he did before.

THE KING: Then see to it that he is slain. I cannot be annoyed with the sound of his voice.

THE SERVANT: But alas! O great and illustrious king, if he is slain he will come to life again even as he did before.

THE KING: Ah! that is true. But his voice troubles me. I do not like to hear it.

THE SERVANT: His lungs are fattened with hunger. Of a truth they are quite strong.

THE KING: Well, propose a remedy to weaken them.

THE SERVANT: A remedy, O king?

[He stops fanning.]

THE KING: That is what I said. A remedy--and do not stop fanning me. I am exceedingly warm.

THE SERVANT: (fanning vigorously) A crust of bread, O king, dropped from yonder window--forsooth that might prove a remedy.

THE KING: (angrily) I have said I will not give him a crust of bread. If I gave him a crust to-day he would be just as hungry again to-morrow, and my troubles would be as great as before.

THE SERVANT: That is true, O king. Thy mind is surely filled with great learning.

THE KING: Therefore, some other remedy must be found.

THE SERVANT: O king, the words of thy illustrious mouth are as very meat-balls of wisdom.

THE KING: (musing) Now let me consider. Thou sayest he does not suffer pain--

THE SERVANT: Therefore he cannot be tortured.

THE KING: And he will not die--

THE SERVANT: Therefore it is useless to kill him.

THE KING: Now let me consider. I must think of some other way.

THE SERVANT: Perhaps a small crust of bread, O king--

THE KING: Ha! I have it. I have it. I myself will order him to stop.

THE SERVANT: (horrified) O king!

THE KING: Send the beggar here.


THE KING: Ha! I rather fancy the fellow will stop his noise when the king commands him to. Ha, ha, ha!

THE SERVANT: O king, thou wilt not have a beggar brought into thy royal chamber!

THE KING: (pleased with his idea) Yea. Go outside and tell this fellow that the king desires his presence.

THE SERVANT: O great and illustrious king, thou wilt surely not do this thing. Thou wilt surely not soil thy royal eyes by looking on such a filthy creature. Thou wilt surely not contaminate thy lips by speaking to a common beggar who cries aloud in the streets for bread.

THE KING: My ears have been soiled too much already. Therefore go now and do as I have commanded thee.

THE SERVANT: O great and illustrious king, thou wilt surely not--

THE KING: (roaring at him) I said, Go! (THE SERVANT, abashed, goes out.) Forsooth, I fancy the fellow will stop his bawling when I order him to. Forsooth, I fancy he will be pretty well frightened when he hears that the king desires his presence. Ha, ha, ha, ha!

THE SERVANT: (returning) O king, here is the beggar.

[A shambling creature hung in filthy rags follows THE SERVANT slowly into the royal chamber.]

THE KING: Ha! A magnificent sight, to be sure. Art thou the beggar who has been crying aloud in the streets for bread?

THE BEGGAR: (in a faint voice, after a slight pause) Art thou the king?

THE KING: I am the king.

THE SERVANT: (aside to THE BEGGAR) It is not proper for a beggar to ask a question of a king. Speak only as thou art spoken to.

THE KING: (to THE SERVANT) Do thou likewise. (To THE BEGGAR) I have ordered thee here to speak to thee concerning a very grave matter. Thou art the beggar, I understand, who often cries aloud in the streets for bread. Now, the complaint of thy voice annoys me greatly. Therefore, do not beg any more.

THE BEGGAR: (faintly) I--I do not understand.

THE KING: I said, do not beg any more.

THE BEGGAR: I--I do not understand.

THE SERVANT: (aside to THE BEGGAR) The king has commanded thee not to beg for bread any more. The noise of thy voice is as garbage in his ears.

THE KING: (to THE SERVANT) Ha! An excellent flower of speech. Pin it in thy buttonhole. (To THE BEGGAR) Thine ears, I see, are in need of a bath even more than thy body. I said, Do not beg any more.

THE BEGGAR: I--I do not understand.

THE KING: (making a trumpet of his hands and shouting). DO NOT BEG ANY MORE.

THE BEGGAR: I--I do not understand.

THE KING: Heavens! He is deafer than a stone wall.

THE SERVANT: O king, he cannot be deaf, for he understood me quite easily when I spoke to him in the street.

THE KING: (to THE BEGGAR) Art thou deaf? Canst thou hear what I am saying to thee now?

THE BEGGAR: Alas! I can hear every word perfectly.

THE KING: Fft! The impudence. Thy tongue shall be cut out for this.

THE SERVANT: O king, to cut out his tongue is useless, for he will grow another.

THE KING: No matter. It shall be cut out anyway. (To THE BEGGAR) I have ordered thee not to beg any more in the streets. What meanest thou by saying thou dost not understand?

THE BEGGAR: The words of thy mouth I can hear perfectly. But their noise is only a foolish tinkling in my ears.

THE KING: Fft! Only a--! A lash will tinkle thy hide for thee if thou dost not cure thy tongue of impudence. I, thy king, have ordered thee not to beg any more in the streets for bread. Signify, therefore, that thou wilt obey the orders of thy king by quickly touching thy forehead thrice to the floor.

THE BEGGAR: That is impossible.

THE SERVANT: (aside to THE BEGGAR) Come. It is not safe to tempt the patience of the king too long. His patience is truly great, but he loses it most wondrous quickly.

THE KING: Come, now: I have ordered thee to touch thy forehead to the floor.

THE SERVANT: (nudging him) And quickly.

THE BEGGAR: Wherefore should I touch my forehead to the floor?

THE KING: In order to seal thy promise to thy king.

THE BEGGAR: But I have made no promise. Neither have I any king.

THE KING: Ho! He has made no promise. Neither has he any king. Ha, ha, ha. I have commanded thee not to beg any more, for the sound of thy voice is grievous unto my ears. Touch thy forehead now to the floor, as I have commanded thee, and thou shall go from this palace a free man. Refuse, and thou wilt be sorry before an hour that thy father ever came within twenty paces of thy mother.

THE BEGGAR: I have ever lamented that he did. For to be born into this world a beggar is a more unhappy thing than any that I know--unless it is to be born a king.

THE KING: Fft! Thy tongue of a truth is too lively for thy health. Come, now, touch thy forehead thrice to the floor and promise solemnly that thou wilt never beg in the streets again. And hurry!

THE SERVANT: (aside) It is wise to do as thy king commands thee. His patience is near an end.

THE KING: Do not be afraid to soil the floor with thy forehead. I will graciously forgive thee for that.

[THE BEGGAR stands motionless.]

THE SERVANT: I said, it is not wise to keep the king waiting.

[THE BEGGAR does not move.]

THE KING: Well? (A pause.) Well? (In a rage) WELL?

THE BEGGAR: O king, thou hast commanded me not to beg in the streets for bread, for the noise of my voice offends thee. Now therefore do I likewise command thee to remove thy crown from thy forehead and throw it from yonder window into the street. For when thou hast thrown thy crown into the street, then will I no longer be obliged to beg.

THE KING: Fft! Thou commandest me! Thou, a beggar from the streets, commandest me, a king, to remove my crown from my forehead and throw it from yonder window into the street!

THE BEGGAR: That is what I said.

THE KING. Why, dost thou not know I can have thee slain for such words?

THE BEGGAR: No. Thou canst not have me slain. The spears of thy soldiers are as straws against my body.

THE KING: Ha! We shall see if they are. We shall see!

THE SERVANT: O king, it is indeed true. It is even as he has told thee.

THE BEGGAR: I have required thee to remove thy crown from thy forehead. If so be thou wilt throw it from yonder window into the street, my voice will cease to annoy thee any more. But if thou refuse, then thou wilt wish thou hadst never had any crown at all. For thy days will be filled with a terrible boding and thy nights will be full of horrors, even as a ship is full of rats.

THE KING: Why, this is insolence. This is treason!

THE BEGGAR: Wilt thou throw thy crown from yonder window?

THE KING: Why, this is high treason!

THE BEGGAR: I ask thee, wilt thou throw thy crown from yonder window?

THE SERVANT: (aside to THE KING) Perhaps it were wise to humor him, O king. After thou hast thrown thy crown away I can go outside and bring it to thee again.

THE BEGGAR: Well? Well? (He points to the window.) Well?

THE KING: No! I will not throw my crown from that window--no, nor from any other window. What! Shall I obey the orders of a beggar? Never!

THE BEGGAR: (preparing to leave) Truly, that is spoken like a king. Thou art a king, so thou wouldst prefer to lose thy head than that silly circle of gold that so foolishly sits upon it. But it is well. Thou art a king. Thou couldst not prefer otherwise.

[He walks calmly toward the door.]

THE KING: (to THE SERVANT) Stop him! Seize him! Does he think to get off so easily with his impudence!

THE BEGGAR: (coolly) One of thy servants cannot stop me. Neither can ten thousand of them do me any harm. I am stronger than a mountain. I am stronger than the sea!

THE KING: Ha! We will see about that, we will see about that. (To THE SERVANT) Hold him, I say. Call the guards. He shall be put in chains.

THE BEGGAR: My strength is greater than a mountain and my words are more fearful than a hurricane. This servant of thine cannot even touch me. With one breath of my mouth I can blow over this whole palace.

THE KING: Dost thou hear the impudence he is offering me? Why dost thou not seize him? What is the matter with thee? Why dost thou not call the guards?

THE BEGGAR: I will not harm thee now. I will only cry aloud in the streets for bread wherewith to fill my belly. But one day I will not be so kind to thee. On that day my mouth will be filled with a rushing wind and my arms will become as strong as steel rods, and I will blow over this palace, and all the bones in thy foolish body I will snap between my fingers. I will beat upon a large drum and thy head will be my drumstick. I will not do these things now. But one day I will do them. Therefore, when my voice sounds again in thine ears, begging for bread, remember what I have told thee. Remember, O king, and be afraid!

[He walks out. THE SERVANT, struck dumb, stares after him. THE KING sits in his chair, dazed.]

THE KING: (suddenly collecting his wits) After him! After him! He must not be allowed to escape! After him!

THE SERVANT: (faltering) O king--I cannot seem to move.

THE KING: Quick, then. Call the guards. He must be caught and put in chains. Quick, I say. Call the guards!

THE SERVANT: O king--I cannot seem to call them.

THE KING: How! Art thou dumb? Ah!

[THE BEGGAR'S voice is heard outside.]

THE BEGGAR: Bread. Bread. Give me some bread.

THE KING: Ah. [He turns toward the window, half-frightened, and then, almost instinctively, raises his hands toward his crown, and seems on the point of tossing it out the window. But with an oath he replaces it and presses it firmly on his head.] How! Am I afraid of a beggar!

THE BEGGAR: (continuing outside) Bread. Bread. Give me some bread.

THE KING: (with terrible anger) Close that window!

[THE SERVANT stands stupidly, and the voice of THE BEGGAR grows louder as the curtain falls.]


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