The Original of Jaques

Slide1

 

                                            IN THE DARK, sounds of birds in a forest. LIGHTS UP on

                                                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.

 

WILL:

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?

 

JACK:

Ah, Will! You talk enough for twenty men.

 

WILL:

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.

 

JACK: (plainly)

I’ve no heart for shooting any buck.

 

WILL:

You lack the heart to shoot a hart? But there’s no lack

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?

 

JACK:

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.

 

WILL:

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.

 

JACK:

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.

 

WILL:

Just like his father.

 

JACK:

I’m sorry, Will. I don’t mean to be a bother.

But what would they do if ought befell me?

 

WILL:

I would take them, then. If that consoles thee.

 

JACK:

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.

 

WILL:

Or ‘Lag-Beard,’ Stratford has it now, I’ve heard.

 

JACK: (chuckling)

No, since Anne Hathaway, it’s shag has stuck.

 

WILL:

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,

 

JACK:

Does it not disturb you that her fawns shall starve

If we do take their doe?

 

WILL:

We’ll take a buck.

 

JACK:

Will.

 

WILL:

A nice round haunch for you to carve.

Perhaps a pair of them, with any luck.

 

JACK:

Will.

 

WILL:

The lot of us will feast on venison.

 

JACK:

Will you let me speak? I’ll tell you, I—

It bodes no good, to kill a denizon

Of Charlecote—

 

WILL:

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

Such ‘gentlemen’—

 

JACK:

But Will, we do offend,

We do usurp, as much as Thomas Lucy,

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

The deer.

 

WILL:

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.

 

JACK:

So I fear.

 

WILL:

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.

 

JACK:

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.

 

WILL:

The metaphor’s astray. It’s not as if

I’ve no respect for animals. I swear,

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.

 

JACK:

“An ass is good as deaf when bells do toll,”

My grandam always said.

 

WILL:

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.

 

 

JACK:

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.

 

JACK:

Once, long ago, when I still thought like you,
I chanced to come to rest under an oak

Whose ancient roots drank deep upon the bank

Of this same stream where we do tarry now.

A stag burst forth from underneath the brush

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

In sight.

 

WILL:

               You made a moral of this, did you?

 

JACK:

A thousand metaphors. The needless stream

Of tears that we call life, it did not need

This augmentation. Leave it to itself.

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,

The only witness to this testament,
No friends else to stand venireman

To this injustice.

 

                                                Another beat of silence. There are no birds. They’ll not come back.

 

WILL:

My friend, you suck the joy out of a hunt

The way a varmint robs a bird’s nest.

JACK:

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

Than jibes to make them op’ their minds and think.

What are you laughing at?

 

WILL:

I smiled perhaps.

I cannot help it. Oh, the image oddly suits:

My Lord of Melancholy as a Jackanapes.

 

JACK:

At best, most men are merely fortune’s fools,
We stumble on, we mouth with sound and fury,

We stumble off the stage again.

 

WILL:

A fool?

Nay, I’d sooner play the lover’s role.

 

                                                WILL turns his back, hugs himself, and makes kissing sounds.

JACK:

The lunatic, mad poet, better suits you.

 

                                                WILL turns around, facing JACK, and regards his friend.

 

WILL:

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.

 

JACK:

Will you be heading back to London, then,

To try your hand at acting once again?

 

WILL:

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.

 

 

JACK:

Perhaps your destiny is poet, Will.

You even prate in blank verse.

 

WILL:

Not until

A provident God sees fit to make it so.

 

VOICE: (off)

I found the poachers! Over here! What ho!

                                                WILL and JACK look offstage, toward to source of VOICES OFF.

 

JACK:

The Providence of God has spoken, man.

And us here on the bottom of that Chain

You spoke of.

 

VOICE: (off)

What ho, I say! Come quick!

 

                        WILL moves about, fending off panic. JACK remains calm.

 

WILL:

In Lucy livery! They bear pikes.

 

JACK:

Sir Thomas Lucy’s men. One’s got a crossbow.

A couple of recusants, Heaven knows

What they’ll do when they catch us.

 

WILL:

That’s nonsense!

Make for the gate, or else we’ll hop the fence.

 

JACK:

It’s too late, Will.

 

WILL:

It’s not. Make for the gate.

 

VOICE: (off)

Will you come on?

 

WILL:

Why do you hesitate?

JACK:

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.

 

VOICE: (off)

                                                Hey, bring the dogs~

 

WILL:

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.

 

JACK:

You run. I’ll hold them off for you. I’m done.

 

WILL:

Don’t be a fool!

 

VOICE: (off)

     I’ve got one in my sights!

 

JACK:

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.

 

WILL:

Oh God, Jack! No!

 

VOICE: (off)

     I got one! I got one!

 

JACK:

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!

 

VOICE (off)

My bow is broken. Hurry! The other will escape!

 

JACK:

Go, Will, go. Don’t be a Jackanapes.

 

WILL:

No.

 

JACK:

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.

 

VOICE: (off)

He’s getting away! He’s getting away!

 

 

WILL:

I’ll live to put this right somehow. Someday.

 

                                                WILL exits, leaving the body. We hear the bayings of hounds.

 

 

                                                END OF PLAY.

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