katherine kerr of the Hermitage, her site

Plays and Suchlike

[The Strangers' Case] [The Mystery of the Unicorns] [The Maze of Manners] [Hodja Nasreddin, the Cunning]
[The Herald Act] [Reynard the Fox] [An Heraldic Interlude] [Masques and Masks] [King John] [The Scottish Play] [Shakespeare a la Brucie] [Henry VI]

I've written or adapted a batch of plays over the years, many in conjunction with my lord Bartholomew Baskin. The bulk of them have been light entertainment; sometimes I get the chance to do something a bit more meaningful for Canterbury Faire's Half-Circle Theatre. In most cases, the items are designed for minimal rehearsal and benefit from careful casting to suit the roles.

Here below are the texts of the plays which, unless noted otherwise, I have written, along with production and prop notes. Anyone is welcome to use this material for non-commercial production, but I'd very much appreciate you telling me how it went.

The Agrarian Plays: The Strangers' Case and The Weather Forecast

Canterbury Faire 2020 had an agrarian yeomanry theme. I ended up with not one, but two play excerpts I thought suitable as Half-Circle Theatre pieces.

The first was a serious piece I wanted to do about how we treat others. The Strangers' Case, from the Book of Sir Thomas More, pitted rioting parsnip-waving yeomanry against immigrant labourers and refugees. More on this here, including the script.

The second excerpt was a lighter piece about the weather forecast from the almanac- and rain-loving Sordido, from Ben Jonson's Every Man Out of his Humour (1599). I adapted it for Bartholomew as a short monologue and he was suitably triumphant in crowing about "lots and lots of lovely rain".

The Weather Forecast (PDF)
This is laid out to print as a double-sided A4 sheet, landscape and folded, so that it can be used on-stage as the almanac prop and script prompt.

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Moon, Moon!

Changes in the Canterbury Faire timetable have meant that, on occasion, the playbill at Half-Circle Theatre runs into darkness -- we do get reasonable light until past 9.30pm, but sometimes the playbill runs long.

The inventive Lord Lowrens Willyamson set to and produce a full moon for CFLIV, taking into account colour temperature, apparent dimensions, azimuth (the pole was very very tall) and all kinds of other technicalities. As the light faded, Bartholomew grabbed me and pointed to the ground, leaping and a-hoppin' -- we had moon shadows!

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The Mystery of the Unicorns

Here is the PDF of the play: The Mystery of the Unicorns script.

Like everyone who grew up with the Unicorn Song, I have wondered what it was that kept the unicorns from getting on the Ark. Surely not silly games....

Then I came across Unicorns! Unicorns! by Geraldine McCaughrean, which provided a reason, and the inspiration for a Half-Circle Theatre mystery play on the nature of service, this time for the Beast-themed Canterbury Faire ASLIII.

I kept fairly close to the original story, adding material from Miracle Plays, by Anne Malcolmson (Constable & Co, 1960), and bits of the original Chester Mystery Play of Noah’s Flood for extra medievalishness. Those parts mostly concerned the framing bits involving God, who, in traditional white beard and gown, appeared over the top of the stage wing to exhort Noah and fly the rainbow.

Master Nicodemus and Mistress Rowan were shoe-ins as Noah and his wife. After doing their traditional puppet show, they usually sit at stage left, so we reserved some space there for the ark and its animals.

Audience members helped out with the special effects -- some rainsticks and thundertubes I made out of various bits of tubing. The trick with rainsticks is make two twisted foil lengths (1.5x the length of the tube), then spiral them around each other, one tighter, inside the tube. Beans and rice make a good mix of sounds. Thundertubes are not period -- they use a length of steel spring attached to a diaphragm made by taping packing tape or a taut section of balloon to one end of a tube. The rumbling is very convincing. Italian architect and engineer Nicola Sabbattini had a schematic for a thunder machine in his 1638 book Practica di fabricar scene e machine ne' teatri. However, it requires 30 pounds of iron or stone balls and a set of stairs....

Sir Sebastian and young Lord Brian, as burly giraffe stagehands, carried in the various bits of the Ark and proceeded to "construct" it within the audience area. Delightfully it turns out that the Carpenters Guild were known to build an Ark on-stage as part of their mystery play performance!

Photo: Paul Morris

Our Ark was based on the woodcut in William Caxton's 1483 Golden Legend. I used cardboard and old sheets to reproduce it. The bow and stern had a gap between to allow the animals to stream across the stage and climb on board. The painted animals and upper deck from the woodcut provided a small handheld backdrop. When Noah shut up the Ark, they raised the middle portion and "sailed" away, crying for the missing unicorns.

The children and teens spent a day or two making various animal masks, under the able tutelage of Lady Greta who is a professional in this area. She was very kind enough to have volunteered her services the previous year and I shamelessly exploited her by asking for a batch of adult-sized masks for the speaking roles: the unicorns, the deer, the butterflies and the monkeys. Little did I know just how beautiful these masks were going to be!

Photo: Paul Morris

I was sneaky and cast the speaking animal parts, then asked them to find the other half of their pair, a task they most ably filled. We had a noble stag and graceful hind; floating butterflies literally dancing as the Flodd rose; and energetic monkeys capering in from behind the audience and up the trees; all were helped on towards the Ark by the unicorns in their encounters.

For the final scene, I attached prints of narwhals and hippocampi to lengths of sea-coloured organza and net, as the unicorns surviving in the waves and sea foam, rewarded for their unselfish service. This ending always made me sniffle when I read the book, hopefully some in the audience felt that way too.

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The Maze of Manners

Here is the PDF of the play: Maze of Manners script.

This play was inspired by The Marvelous Maze by Maxine Rose Schur (Stemmer House, 1995). I used to read it to my kids and think about how it could be adapted for SCA use as a form of morality play. And then Maximillian took on the theme of the labyrinth for Canterbury Faire ASLII....

The play follows the original plot of a prince hunting for a bride and seeing who could traverse his maze. In my version, the princesses each represent an SCA vice:

  • Princess Vanitas Covetalot, whose main tagline is "Look at me!"
  • Princess Dissa Courtesy: "Don't you know who I am?"
  • Princess Tardya: (always off-stage) “I’ll be there in FIVE minutes...”
  • Princess Rosa Mundi: the one who wins Prince Chevalier by out-witting him

As I typically try to do, the parts were written so they could do their lines independently to reduce the need for group rehearsals. The ladies rose to their respective parts brilliantly, as did a couple of young nixies living in the fountain in the centre of the maze.

Theseus and the Minotaur

In another theatrical entertainment that year, I organised a short dance-based item at the Feast of Theseus and the Minotaur. It was based around the poem The Minotaur by by Rachael Nicholas, which is a lovely re-telling of the myth. I made some simple Greek chorus-like white masks for Ariadne, Theseus and the Minotaur which worked well; that was after much agonising about how to make a believable Minotaur, turns out the abstract approach worked very well.

Ariadne/Alliette Delecourt moved around the feast tables with Theseus/Katherina Weyssin, trailing a ball of red string behind them. A batch of children were sent into the labyrinth as sacrifices and William de Cameron made a satisfyingly scary monster as the Minotaur. Then Theseus and the Minotaur had an aggressive dance-off in front of the High Table which involved what I assume was some very fancy sustained Italian footwork. (Katherina tells me that the fight dance was an improvised Canary, in the style of Negri and Lupi -- she offers dates and links on request.)

There was much stamping and charging and stabbing and then red fabric blood spurted and it was all over, bar following the string back to the beginning of the labyrinth. Or as the poem concluded, rather nicely:

He fought with the beast in the darkness,
till the Minotaur fell down dead,
and then Theseus retraced each step he had made,
following the line of the thread.
It takes more than a sword to slay monsters.
Without bravery a sword's just a thing,
and let's not forget Ariadne,
with her plan and her ball of red string.

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Hodja Nasreddin, the Cunning

Canterbury Faire 2017 had the theme of the Silk Road, so I looked for some suitable tie-in for a Half-Circle performance. I came across the stories of the 13th-century Middle-Eastern philosopher and cunning wise man Hodja Nasreddin. They seemed a good source for a series of set-up one-liners.

Hodja Nasreddin, the Cunning: script (PDF)

The Nasreddin stories are well-known throughout many countries and times -- from Turkey to China, Sicily to Azerbaijan. I recognised one of his stories from Aesop and another from a collection of 13th-century tales. In the central square near where we stayed in Bukhara (Uzbekistan), there was a statue of the Hodja and his long-suffering donkey, and the local puppet museum there had a whole set of puppets devoted to the Nasreddin corpus. (The locals were surprised I knew of their traditional hero.)

I started to string together some of the stories and then decided that they would make a good play for the children and teens at CF to do. Lady Melisande kindly agreed to direct them and ran a number of rehearsals; on the night they were great, delivering the punchlines with aplomb.

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The Herald Act

Herald Astrolabe had asked for a range of heraldic activities at Canterbury Faire AS49, so my thoughts turned to what sort of heraldic performance could be undertaken at the Half-Circle Theatre. While trawling through the Records of the Paliament of Scotland, I came across a lovely little piece of heraldic social history in the Herald Act passed by the court of James VI on August 28, 1571, Concerning heralds, macers, pursuivants and other officers that served against our sovereign lord and his authority.

From the wording of the act there clearly had been some very dodgy dealings going on, as the Act took a hefty set of brass knuckles against a batch of heralds (Islay, Rothesay, and Marchmont heralds, Carrick and Ormond pursuivants and others) for “neglecting their faith, oaths made, [the honour] of their office and allegiance owed to our sovereign lord”, as they had been holding the castle and burgh of Edinburgh against the Crown.

The Act goes on to mention how “the persons aforesaid being admonished and required by letters of our sovereign lord's late dearest grandfather and regent to withdraw themselves out of the said burgh of Edinburgh and to come and attend upon their offices, not only abstracted themselves, disparaging and contemning the said admonition and charge, but revealed the person of the messenger named Steven Storie, and by their default caused him be apprehended by the said declared traitors, rebels and conspirators, and be put in vile prison and straight thraldom”. It got worse – the Act went on to say that they would no longer be paid “their accustomed fees and duties resting from any years or times past or in times coming”.

This sounded perfect for some kind of adaptation. But what would be relevant to our lot in place of holding a castle under siege? Then evil thoughts started to gather and a lot of painting was done….

And so the Act was read, as the closing piece of the Half-Circle. I was suitably pompous as the parliamentary representative; Bartholomew, dressed in a herald’s tabard, was suitably perverse.

Concerning heralds, macers, pursuivants and other officers that served against our sovereign lord and His authority, as resides in the most noble and infinitely respected College of Heralds.

Forasmuch as albeit the truth and constancy of heralds, macers, pursuivants and other officers bearing arms ought to be unsuspected or violated, and notwithstanding that all our sovereign lord's lieges bearing that charge and office have publicly professed his highness obedience, it is certainly understood by the three estates and whole body of this present populace that those pursuivants, macers, knight-riders and heralds, and or pretended pursuivants or messengers, and messengers of arms, have neglected their faith, their oaths made, the honour of their office and allegiance owed to our sovereign lord.

And that these false miscreants have been calling themselves in the style of true heralds of old, taking up such highly regarded and well-known noble heraldic titles for themselves, such as:

At this point, Bartholomew starts his entrance, and approaches to slightly behind me, undertaking the various actions. The audience appreciated his enthusiasm and..er..vigour.

Garter King of Arms
He waves a leg in the air from behind the wing.
Secret Pursuivant
Sneaking up in true Pink Panther fashon.
Pursuivant Sinister
He holds the edge of his tabard up to his face, a la Bela Lugosi.
Limousin Herald
We didn’t do this in the end, lacking a suitable chauffeur’s hat; and yes, it was a real heraldic title like all the others.
Avantguarda Herald
I found a Mona Lisa graphic online which was a mix of Da Vinci, Picasso and van Gogh, and made up a mask on a stick, which Bartholomew whipped out of his belt.
Desirous Pursuivant
He pushed his stick back under his belt, causing his tabard to rise somewhat suggestively.
Conquista Pursuivant
He mimed the classic après cigarette.
Bourbon Herald
Swigging from an imaginary bottle.
Pisore Pursuivant
Bartholomew turns and assumes the position; I finally notice him and clout him, and he runs off-stage.

Know that these knaves have wilfully and rebelliously cast off their indebted obedience and, now being within the demense of Canterbury Faire have displayed coats of arms, bore their maces and otherwise fortified, assisted and took plain part with them in their late pretended proceedings, to the deprivation of our sovereign lord from his royal crown and authority and – of greatest import -- income. For they have exhibited no shame in committing such deeds as displaying to an innocent and unsuspecting populace such arms as should not be displayed within the sight of gentle folk.

Heraldic excrescenses as offend the eye, to wit:
Pursuivant Bartholomew brings in the following shields, which are double-sided, allowing him to circle round the stage to display to everyone; then flips them over and reverses back across stage

The infamous Stowe arms delineating the interbreeding of the Temple, Nugent, Brydges, Chandos and Grenville families
A real coat of arms with far too much marshalling.
Tenne, a horse rampant bleu celeste, crined Or, gules and purpure, maintaining two hearts gules
Otherwise known as My Little Pony.
Argent Barry Sable
If you make the bars different widths, you end up with a bar code.
Chevronelly inverted Gules and Or
This one is a real local coat of arms registered to the lovely Lord Kotek, and positively eye-watering, especially when the Or is in fluorescent yellow.

They have displayed devices protected by the force of companies of repute:
Quarterly Azure and Argent, within a bordure Sable
Sable, a melusine argent within a bordure vert fimbriated argent
Argent, three lozenges conjoined in pall inverted Gules
Gules, two arches conjoined Or

And arms that would bring disrepute to the noble art of heraldry:
Or, on a pale voided, between in pale a linden leaf vert and a fleur-de-lys azure, and in pale a mullet gules and a crescent pendant vert, in pale a heart gules, a squirrel sejant erect purpure and a mullet azure
Classic slot machine heraldry, as in a real slot machine.
Vert, three mullets proper
Three profiles of Homer Simpson with his adolescent mullet haircut.
Fieldless a dove displayed upon a billet chequy Or and gules, Between a pair of cockatrices clad in motley like a fool's, Their feathers are dimidiated with a tree eradicated, Limbed and fructed counter-compony
From the classic Herald’s Complaint song, as infamously written (and registered!) by Baldwin of Erebor in days of yore.
And most disrespectfully, Argent, an heraldic escutcheon, a bend and a bordure gules
No heralds allowed.

And the three estates aforesaid, considering the plain and manifest defection of the heralds, macers, pursuivants and messengers above-noted from their sworn faith and indebted obedience to the College of Heralds, being persons which above all other subjects by duty of their offices ought to have been irrevocable, true and constant, and considering likewise that the persons aforesaid being admonished and required to come and attend upon their offices, not only abstracted themselves, disparaging and contemning the said admonition and charge, but reviled the messenger threatening him with thralldom and uttering rude and contumely comments upon his mother.

Therefore, let it be known that our sovereign lord, with advice of his said three estates and other diverse personages of knowledge and honour, declares that those persons mentioned aforehand and all other heralds, macers, pursuivants, knight-riders and messengers of arms which are culpable of the crimes previously specified have ipso facto lost their offices of arms, decreeing their said offices presently by virtue of this act to be vacant, and they, and every one of them, to be esteemed as infamous persons hereafter and to be used and demeaned according to the law; discharging the treasurer and comptroller present and to come of all payment making to the said heralds, macers, pursuivants, messengers and all other ordinary officers of their accustomed fees and duties resting from any years or times past or in times coming; decreeing also all executions to be made by the said officers of arms pertaining to such arms in times coming null in themself, invalid and of no effect.

I didn’t actually read all that last bit. I’d arranged to be mobbed by the Hordelings halfway through. That is, the page school, run by the ever-helpful Lady Csperka, had made up a batch of Mongol banners and hats, to honour the Mongol Crown, and rampaged across the stage, giving me the cue for the final line and the close of the Theatre:

Oh no, I didn’t expect the Mongol Infestation!

We had a very good crowd response to this one, and many were surprised when I told them that the bulk of it was verbatim from period.

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Reynard the Fox: in three parts

These are the three play excerpts we used for the Braythwayte Master Theatre to honour Master Edward Braythwayte at Canterbury Faire in AS48.

The lines as presented are closely based on a play by Jeremy de Merstone, using Le Roman de Renart as a source; the general elements will also be familiar from other stories, such as Aesop.

I simplified the material a bit, especially the staging, mainly because I know it can be very difficult to get people to rehearse. Consequently it was treated in some senses as a form of commedia dell arte, with the players knowing the general direction in which the scenes should be heading, without necessarily sticking exactly to the lines as written (except for the final Reynard conclusion, which Oswyn delivered beautifully).

Dramatis Personae

REYNARD the Fox: dressed in mask, fox coat, tail
YSENGRIM the Wolf: dressed in mask, wolf costume, tail
TIECELIN the Crow (can read script from off-stage): sock puppet with beak and wings
PEASANTS: 2: dressed in usual garb


Reynard and the Ham
Peasant: Bone sticking out of cloth bag labelled “HAM”, staff, scrip bag, tankard etc, hanging off every arm, around neck etc

Reynard and the Cheese
Tree branch with cheese attached to a branch (detachable)
Tiecelin: crow sock puppet

Reynard and the Fish
Sheet for holding fish and eels
Fish, made from coreboard and painted
Eels (old nylons filled with shredded paper)

Reynard and the Ham

From opposite sides, enter Reynard and Ysengrim, both hunting for food; Reynard sees Ysengrim.

REYNARD: Good morning, cousin Ysengrim! The pickings have been slim for foxes lately. I trust that they have been better for wolves; you look especially well today.aside to audience: Mere flattery, of course, but he's bigger and stronger than I am and looks too hungry to trust.

YSENGRIM: Why, thank you, cousin Reynard. Would you care to join me in my hunt? Perhaps some of my luck will rub off on you. aside to audience: The only luck I've had in days is meeting Reynard. I wonder what foxes taste like.

They approach one another cautiously; Ysengrim too smug to effectively conceal his plan; Reynard wary, looking for escape routes; circle each other, miss getting close enough to shake hands etc

YSENGRIM in range at last, leaps at Reynard: Aha!

After a skirmish, Reynard twists away, staggers stage right and drops “dead”. Ysengrim stays on the other side of the stage and looks truly repentant.

YSENGRIM: Oh, no! I've killed him! This hunger must be driving me mad! My poor little cousin! How will I be able to break the news to his family? He agreed to come hunt with me and now I've gone and killed him!

REYNARD spots something in the distance and hisses to Isengrim quietly: Ssssshhhh!

YSENGRIM didn't hear, continues to beat breast: How could I have done this to a fellow hunter? We were never really friends, but that's no excuse to go and kill him! My poor poor poor little cousin!

REYNARD louder this time: Sssssssshhhhh! Be quiet!

YSENGRIM hearing, bounds over: Reynard! You're alive! Thank the Lord and the Saints and the Heavenly Host...

is cut off by Reynard

REYNARD urgent, but not too loud: Be quiet! There's a peasant coming down the path, and he's carrying a Ham. Do you want to frighten him off?

YSENGRIM: No. Do you think we can take it from him?

REYNARD: Not in the ragged shape we're in, not by force -- he's got a staff. I have an idea though.
whispers in Ysengrim's ear briefly Got it? Ysengrim nods Good! Here he comes...

Enter a PEASANT, carrying, among other heavy bags, a ham in a bag. Ysengrim hides behind the wing. Reynard feigns a lame foot and howls softly to himself.

PEASANT: Ooh, a fox. Hmm, won't that fur look great in my cloak? Should be an easy catch.

Reynard and peasant chase, fairly slow – Reynard lame, peasant loaded with kit -- around wings, amongst audience, behind thrones etc. Think Benny Hill on valium.

PEASANT at various times in his searching, inspiring calls like “Behind you” etc: Where did he go? Where can he be? He can't be going this fast on that lame foot!

PEASANT: Darn! I can't catch him carrying all this stuff.

Unloads all the kit on stage, ham towards the front of the audience. Takes off after Reynard, who speeds up a bit, disappearing behind wings. Ysengrim comes out from hiding, snatches the Ham and takes off with it. Re-enter the Peasant.

PEASANT: That’s enough. I’ve got to get to market before it closes.
Starts reloading and notices missing ham.
What?? My ham! My ham! It's gone! Oh, woe to that fox. Next time, I'll bring my dogs.

The Peasant exits grumbling. Ysengrim reappears, carrying the empty bag, licking his chops and looking quite content. Reynard enters.

YSENGRIM heartily: Greetings, friend Reynard, and well met! You did a wonderful job! I haven’t eaten so well in many a week!

REYNARD: Where’s my share?

YSENGRIM: Your share? Er…um…I'm afraid that’s gone. These things happen. Don't worry. Maybe some other peasant will come along. Besides, what are you going to do? Beat me up? That ham has revived my strength considerably. If your dance through the woods with the peasant has done the same for you, then perhaps you might try taking me on, but I rather doubt that you will succeed.

REYNARD angry but resigned: True. You may wish, in time, however, that you had decided to follow the Golden Rule instead of playing at "Might Makes Right". I'll not forget these injuries you have done to me. Be warned!

YSENGRIM unconcerned: OK. So I'm warned. Big deal.

Ysengrim exits.

REYNARD: He scoffs, but someday he'll get what's coming to him. But if I'm to be any part of his comeuppance, I'd better find some food!

Reynard exits.

Reynard and the Cheese

Tiecelin the Crow (a hand puppet) is pecking at a cheese on a branch. Branch is held out sideways from the wing, stage left. Puppeteer can read script off-stage. Enter Reynard stage right; staggering from hunger.

REYNARD to the audience: I am truly famished. My brain grows ill from lack of food. I think I see a crow up there with a lovely luscious cheese.
looks again and double-takes:
Tiecelin! It is you. What a wonderful surprise! I was just thinking of how much I admired your father -- his luxuriant coat of sable feathers, his sure-sighted hunting style, his glorious singing voice...

TIECELIN: You've got to be kidding. Dear old Dad was a wonderful guy, but he was just a crow, not a canary. We crows are not noted for our warbling.

REYNARD: Not noted? Not noted?? Only because the other animals of the forest have no taste, and as for humans, well, they’re stuck in the Middle Ages! I happen to be a great admirer of Crow Choral work. I'd be ever so grateful if you would sing me just one crow-song like your father used to do; it would mean so much to me.

TIECELIN: Well, if you insist. I can't see how it'll hurt me. You can't jump this high anyway.
Tiecelin sings something brief -- a scale maybe; rather poorly, as might be expected.


Very good! Your father used to put a bit more emotion into it, though -- more energy and body language. I guess you just aren't up to his standards, though.

TIECELIN: You mean like this?
He launches into an overblown production of Memory; his "emoting" consists of flailing around with wings and talons, and he manages to knock the cheese off the branch, down to where Reynard is sitting.

REYNARD: You seem to have dropped something. I'm afraid I can't climb up to return it to you; I've hurt my paw and can barely walk, even. Reynard picks up the cheese, looks thoughtfully at it; suddenly eats it with gusto a la the Fantastic Mr Fox.

TIECELIN: I should have known you were up to something, you vile red trickster!

REYNARD: Well I am a fox. And foxes like to play tricks. You knew that right from the start. Come down here now, and we will sign a truce.

TIECELIN: Oh, no. No truce for me. Keep the cheese and be happy with it. I'd say "fare well", but right now I'd rather you didn't. Tiecelin flies away.

REYNARD: That was a fine meal for me, but I still must find food for my family. The sun is in the west, and the humans will be heading to their homes soon. I'll see if any of them can be tricked out of a good meal. They can be as dumb as animals sometimes...or dumber! Exits.

Reynard and the Fish

Two peasants enter stage left carrying a load of fish and eels. Reynard appears stage right.

REYNARD to the audience: Just what I've been looking for! My, my, do those fish look good! My family will have a glorious feast tonight if I get this plan to work!

Reynard flops down, playing dead.

PEASANT 1: Look! A dead fox!

PEASANT 2: Yes! A bit scrawny and rather beaten up, though.

Peasants drop load of fish next to Reynard; turn towards stage front for next lines. As they do, Reynard stealthily but obviously eats a fish or two, then starts wrapping the eels around his neck and waist and begins to sneak off stage.

PEASANT 1: True, but wouldn't that fur go well as the lining of a winter cloak?

PEASANT 2: Can't argue with that! Last winter, I'd have given this whole load of fish and most of the eels besides, just to have so fine a cloak. Let's take the fox with us. Peasants turn back to fish load

REYNARD joyously, just as leaving stage: So long! ...and thanks for all the fish!

PEASANT 2 stunned: I thought you said it was a dead fox!

PEASANT 1 also stunned, but defensive: I thought it was. Didn't you check?

PEASANT 2: Well, no. I thought you would check.

PEASANT 1: Well, it's too late now. It's too dark to follow him, and we've still got most of the fish to take back to the village. Come on. The peasants exit. Reynard returns for closing monologue to audience.

REYNARD: Now you've seen my day; I, for one, am pleased at its conclusion.
If you're looking for a moral, I'll clear up your confusion:
Life is sometimes hard, and no-one always wins;
Just do your best at every test
and learn life's outs and ins;
Flatter, cajole, be honest, be true,
Make of life what's best for you;
When you're riding high,
straightforward or sly,
Remember the bumps and the rocks,
And whatever you
may say or do,
Never trust a fox!

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An Heraldic Interlude

I came across reference to this scene from Ben Jonson's Every Man Out of His Humour, and it just cried out to be turned into an excerpt for Half-Circle Theatre.

Props: Coloured arms and crest with blazon on back; Chair and book

Sogliardo: a social climber, very satisfied
Puntavalo: somewhat dismayed lesser gentry

Puntavalo is sitting on-stage reading a book. Enter Sogliardo waving a rolled up sheet of parchment with patent artwork on it, clearly very pleased with himself.

SOG. By this parchment, I have been so toiled with Herald Pied-Mantle yonder, you will not believe! They do speak in the strangest language, and give a man the hardest terms for his money, that ever you knew.

PUNT. But have you arms, have you arms?

SOG. I'faith, I thank them; I can write myself “gentleman” now. Here's my patent, it cost me thirty pound, by this breath.

I cheated and made the crest a supporter to the side so the arms were printed fullsize A4 and the crest likewise.

Hands patent to Punt who unrolls it, does a double-take and attempts to be kind.

PUNT. A very fair coat, well charged, and full of armory.

SOG. It has as much variety of colours in it, too, as you have seen in a Landschenect's coat.
(leaning over and pointing)
How like you the crest, sir?

PUNT. (frowning) I understand it not well, what is't?

SOG. (proudly) Marry, sir, that is your boar without a head, rampant. A boar without a head, that's very rare!

PUNT. Ay, and rampant too!

(He hands the patent back to Sog, who smiles at it; then aside to audience)
I commend the herald's wit, he has decyphered him well: a swine without a head, without brain, wit, anything indeed, ramping to gentility. It is the most vile, foolish, absurd, palpable, and ridiculous escutcheon that ever this eye survised.
(to Sogliardo)
You can blazon the rest, signior, can you not?

SOG. O, ay, I have it in writing here of purpose; it cost me two shilling for the tricking.

PUNT. Let's hear it.

SOG turns the sheet around to read the blazon, revealing the arms to the audience.

SOG. [reads carefully] "Gyrony of eight pieces; azure and gules; between three plates, a chevron engrailed checquy, or, vert, and ermins; on a chief argent, between two ann'lets sable, a boar's head, proper."

PUNT. How's that! on a chief argent?

SOG. [reads] "On a chief argent, between two ann'lets sable a boar's head proper." (turns patent towards Puntavalo)

PUNT. 'Sblood, it's a hog's cheek and puddings on a pewter plate!

SOG. How like you them, signior? What think you my motto should be? Master Shakespeare has just taken his as "Not Without Right".

PUNT. In that case let your motto be, 'Not without mustard'. (making large sign in air with hands)

SOG looks slightly puzzled; exits looking at sheet. PUNT shakes head and addresses audience.

PUNT: Ah Pied-mantle. Were he a learned Herald, I would tell him he can give Arms and Marks, he cannot give Honour, no more than Money can make a Noble: It may give Place, and Rank, but it can give no Vertue.

Outcome: Master William Castille was kind enough to make up the emblazon for me, commenting that he was very pleased no-one was trying to register it as it made him nauseous!

Bartholomew and I did a couple of run-throughs in the hour before the curtain rose. It went well and we got the expected response when the emblazon was turned towards the audience.

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Masques and Masks

In ASXXXX, the ball at Canterbury Faire was announced as a masque. As one interested in period theatre, I immediately thought of the allegorical plays; the ball organiser, as a dancer, was thinking of dance with costume. And so I put this piece of research together as a brief introduction to the background of masques and masked balls and masks, which are inter-related.


de Ardescote, Lady Meliora Leuedai; Mask Making 101 - A History of Masks and Instructions to Create One
Mickel, Lesley; Glorious spangs and rich embroidery: costume in the masque of Blackness and Hymenaei; Studies in the Literary Imagination (Fall 2003)
Mohler, Frank; The development of scenic spectacle; a site devoted to the study of Renaissance and Baroque theatrical spectacle
Roseblade, C.E.; The Elizabethan origins of the masque
Saslow James; Medici Wedding 1589: Florentine Festival as Theatrum Mundi ; New Haven: Yale University Press,1996.
Strong; Roy; Festival Designs by Inigo Jones. An Exhibition of drawings for scenery and costumes for the court masques of James I and Charles I; Washington, D.C.: International Exhibitions Foundation, 1967.

Mask Making
Papier-mache recipe
Full online tutorial on leather mask making
Making commedia masks
Tips and advice for making masks

Masques, sometimes referred to as disguisings, were relatively complex theatrical productions, usually of an allegorical nature. They were reasonably interactive, with members of the Court participating, and often finished up with everyone dancing. Some see them as a precursor development of what later became the high operatic tradition, as they had elaborate costumes, purpose-written songs, something along the lines of an uplifting libretto, set designs and significant props. The masque could, thus, be seen as the interactive multi-media event of its day. Architects and engineers were needed as much as scriptwriters and costume designers.

The first requisite for the masque was a pleasant and entertaining story in verse, preferably with mythological or allegorical characters. There was of course some dialogue and declamation, but these matters were relatively unimportant. Far more significant were the tableaux, music, the ballet, the elaborate settings, the gorgeous costumes and scenery, stage appliances, and surprises in mechanical effects. The actors were members of the aristocracy, sometimes of the royal family. They wore masks, spent huge sums upon their costumes, and lent their halls and treasures of art to enrich the scenes. Little else was required of them, as actors, but to look beautiful and stately. The success of the masque depended upon the architect, the scene painter, decorator, and ballet master. In the course of time considerable importance was given also to singing and instrumental music.
Theatre Database: Court Comedies and Masques

Masques were popular on the Continent, with strong development of the form in Italy and also at the French Court, where the royal mistress Diane de Poitiers sponsored and starred in a number in the mid-1500s. Henry VIII's Court also had a range of what has been described as "spectacular entertainments" with a series of masques and disguisings modelled along Italian lines, introduced from Italy as early as 1512. In 1527, Henry celebrated a royal Martinmas with a masque, reported by French historian Martin Bellay, who was part of a diplomatic mission:

We were on Saint Martins Day invited by the King to Greenwich to a Banquet the most sumptuous that ever I beheld, whether you consider the dishes, or the Maskes and Playes, wherein the Lady Mary the King's Daughter acted a part.

There was a distinction between the various theatrical forms, with the events of the celebration being listed as including: "a joust; the performance of a politico-religious play Cardinalis Pacificus by John Rightwise performed by the Children of Paul's; a disguising or pageant which included a fountain with a mulberry and hawthorn tree; and four masques in which not only the eleven-year-old Princess Mary participated, but her father as well".

The early masques drew on older legends and iconic characters, sometimes with a thinly diguised political intent. Masques involving the May Queen, for example, were a means of building up national identity, emphasising peace and prosperity and even predicting a bright future for the country. Roseblade notes that "masques were typically an 'offering to the prince' combining pastoral setting, mythological fable, and ethical/political debate. Symbolic rituals in the masque affirmed social bonds and royal power; the play itself being an offering".

The cult of Elizabeth saw her represented in various goddess forms, in masques and elsewhere, though masques themselves fell out of favour in England during her rather parsimonious reign. She was happy for her nobles to take on the financial burden of producing a number of over-the-top masques to entertain her, and smaller-scale events were part of the usual welcoming celebrations when Elizabeth went on progress.

Shakespeare's use of masque emphasised its link with the traditional festival drama that had grown up during the cult of "Gloriana" (Queen Elizabeth). These celebrations and festival-like performances established 'points of contact' between the monarch and the people. Elizabeth, on progress round the country, was often presented as the presiding genius of a country festival. It linked to the traditions of pastoral and morality play as well as carnivals in which masks were worn, as the touring Italian actors of the Commedia dell'Arte wore them.
Roseblade;The Elizabethan origins of the masque

Roseblade remarks that these "embryonic masques also brought in favourite elements of Elizabethan courtship games, featuring poor shepherds, goddesses, young nobles who suffered for love, all in a poetic, pastoral, romantic language and setting". Typical characters involved the Green Man, the Lady of the Lake, a token Savage, Titania and Oberon. Such characters could have elabroate costumes and masks for those playing the parts.

Most period masks look to be relatively simple dominos or half-face/full-face masks, made primarily out of moulded leather. The bulk of them appear to be black or brown, rather than decorated in any complicated fashion. One relatively common Italian mask for women was the bauta, which had a button at the back - the mask was kept on by clenching the button between the teeth (said to be a popular mask with husbands!). An alternative explanation is that this allowed the mask to be quickly removed and replaced when making a hasty assignation behind an arras….

The Commedia dell'Arte masks were in their familiar forms by the 1500s, but again fairly plain in terms of their decorations. One form still extant is that of the Punch puppet, of Punch and Judy; it dates back to Pulcinella, a stock character from the Commedia dell'Arte. Other common characters who had masks associated with them included Arlecchino (Harlequin), Il Capitano (The Captain) and Il Dottore (the Doctor).

Bear in mind that the extremely elaborate masks now often associated with Venetian Carnivale are, for the most part, 17th and 18th century. That said, the use of rich fabrics in masks, associated with the turn of the year celebrations, got to the point where some authorities issued edicts to limit the waste, regulate masquerading and control when masks could be worn.

Masques, as entertainment, really had their heyday just slightly out of period, with keen support from the Jacobean court from 1603 onwards. As previously, many of the costumes reflected court fashions, but with Inigo Jones' designs they reached new heights of extravagance and display -- low-cut necklines, false sleeves, tight bodices, and full skirts over farthingales, together with the use of richly decorated materials. Additional bling came in the form of furs, stuffed animals, jewels, flowers to produce an eye-catching array.

Inigo Jones costume design for Atalanta

This type of costume reflected the basic style of the Italian masque, and was known as à la nimphale, with "short skirts and mantles layered over diaphanous shifts, allowing the limbs to be glimpsed through the fabric, with calves visible in the hiatus between buskins and the hem of the shift" (Lesley).

The costumes were designed to be highly exotic, often representing some rather torrid interpretation of the garb of Ancient Times of Other Lands. Pastoral and Neo-Classical themes were particularly popular. This gave the ladies an excuse for diaphanous clothing, with layers that would float and lift, with bare or barely covered flesh exposed in strategic, and seldom-seen, areas such as the upper arm or calf. The see-through covering to the mid-calf was often teamed up with a skirt with a knee-length hemline. In some cases the upper body was equally skimpily clad, with some of Jones' designs showing clear indications of nipples peeping above the corsoletted torso; the latter was sometimes made more exotic with the representation of body armour topped with a highly plumed helmet tht would make a centurion blush. Ladies seemed to delight in portraying themselves as fearsome warrior queens or staunch wenches of the past, such as Panthelesia or Atalanta.

Rather than masks, many of the later masquers had extremely elaborate head-dresses, involving stylised helmets, plumes, feathers and suchlike. See these Examples of Masque Costume in the late 16th & Early 17th Centuries, on Drea Leed's site, collected from Saslow's and Strong's works on the subject.

Not only were the costumes designed to be as luxurious and highly decorated as possible, they were also intended to titillate through the use of a Renaissance impression of Neo-classical dress, hence the layers of sheer fabric that permitted glimpses of flesh, the shortened sleeves and hemline that exposed a surprising amount of leg (from mid-calf to knee), and, in some cases, a bodice neckline that dropped below the nipples.

Canterbury Faire Masque Ball

In the spirit of the period masque, I decided I'd do a version of the late-period Italian masque costume, which basically consisted of my nice satin corset, a chemise and my satin petticoat, over which I had a large rectangle of green-gold shot organza artisically draped across one shoulder in the style of a Scottish plaid. (As a Scots Borderer I am the despair of the fashionable ladies, as I find a plain plaid very comfortable and really easy to sew…). Shocking, but I did keep my hemline low in the interests of modesty, and my neckline somewhat higher than many masque costumes.

I combined that with a plain white Venetian Columbine domino, as part of the disguising - while many masque outfits had headdresses rather than masks per se, the spirit of the event encouraged the use of masks, and they're fun in any case. Besides, it's great to be able to mention that I got it in Venice last time I went there (gratuitous place-dropping, I know).

My stock line was "I am but a simple shepardess." The coronet on top was, of course, worn to ensure that no-one took me at my word and attempted to put me out in a nasty dirty field; this shepardess was strictly an indoor one for the Court. Henry VIII, in his disguisings, sounds as if he took umbrage if anyone failed to penetrate his disguises and pay him due royal respect; of course, you had to pretend to be fooled or he'd take umbrage (the Tudors were all like that!).

It certainly proved a very comfortable and cool costume to wear for a ball. If we can establish a tradition, I''ll add more length and layers to get closer to the period style. As a last-minute addition to the wardrobe it worked well, but does really need more work.

A number of years later we had a challenge to wear a suitable head-dress for an event. My masque confection was inspired by Inigo Jones once more, and made out of scrap material, a polystyrene ornament shape and the ever-handy organza.

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King John

Production Notes

I adapted this from a scene from Shakespeare's King John. It's reasonably short, requires only four actors, and amusing, so suits the sort of minimal rehearsal approach, though would benefit from a little bit of attention paid to staging. I originally did it way back in ASXX-something, intended as an item for a visit from King John of Caid, but we didn't get to perform it. It has now been ressurrected many years later, with casting modifications as a Half-Circle Theatre offering. There are some staging indications within the text; the main thing is to avoid having backs to the audience.

Queen Elinor: mother to King John King; should have a veil and crown
King John: straightfoward, mildly amused; crown, throne, sword
Philip: elder half-brother to Robert Faulconbridge and bastard son to King Richard I; a big hail-fellow-well-met, bluff, hearty type
Robert Faulconbridge: son to Sir Robert Faulconbridge: straight guy, very earnest and determined; smaller and skinnier than Philip

The Play

Eli.: My son and liege, here is the strangest controversy come from the country to be judged by you that I e'er heard: shall I produce the men?

K. John.: Let them approach.

[Enter Robert Faulconbridge and Philip, his bastard brother, each trying subtly to upstage the other and arrive at the throne first.]

K. John.: What men are you?

Phil. [getting in his words before Rob].: Your faithful subject I, a gentleman, born in Northamptonshire and eldest son, as I suppose, to Robert Faulconbridge, a solider, by the honour-giving hand of Coeur-de-lion knighted in the field.

K. John [turning to Rob.]: What art thou?

Rob.: The son and heir to that same Faulconbridge.

K. John.: Is that the elder, and art thou the heir? You came not of one mother then, it seems.

Phil.[ nudge, nudge, wink, wink]: Most certain of one mother, mighty king, that is well known; and, as I think, one father -- but for the certain knowledge of that truth I put you o'er to heaven [crosses self] and to my mother: of that I doubt, as all men's children may.

Eli.: Out on thee, rude man! thou dost shame they mother and wound her honour with this diffidence.

Phil.: I, madam? No, I have no reason for it. That is my brother's plea and none of mine; the which, if he can prove, a' pops me out at least from fair five hundred pound a year. Heaven guard my mother's honour and my land!

K. John.: A good blunt fellow. Why, being younger born, doth he [gesturing to Rob.] lay claim to thine inheritance?

Phil.: I know not why, except to get the land. But once he slander'd me with bastardry: But whether I be as true begot or no, that still I lay upon my mother's head. But that I am well begot, my liege -- fair fall the bones that took the pains for me! Compare our faces [waving between the two of them] and be judge yourself. If old Sir Robert did beget us both, and were our father and this son like him, O old Sir Robert, father, on my knee [He drops theatrically with hands in prayer mode] give heaven thanks I was not like to thee!

Eli. to K. John: He hath a trick of Coeur-de-lion's face; the accent of his tongue affecteth him. Do you not read some tokens of my son in the large composition of this man?

K. John.: Mine eye hath well examined his parts and finds them perfect Richard. [To Rob.] Sirrah, speak, what doth move you to claim your brother's land?

Phil.: [interrupting] Because he hath a half-face, like my father. With half that face would he have all my land; a half-faced groat five hundred pound a year!

Rob.: My gracious liege, when that my father lived, your brother did employ my father much…

Phil. [interrupting and smirking]: Well, sir, by this you cannot get my land: your tale must be how he employ'd my mother. [digs him in the ribs or slaps on back]

Rob. [ignoring the interruption]: And once dispatch'd him in an embassy to Germany, there with the emperor to treat of high affairs touching that time. The advantage of his absence took the king and in the mean time sojourn'd at my father's; where how he did prevail I shame to speak, but truth is truth. Large lengths of seas and shores between my father and my mother lay, as I have heard my father speak himself, when this same lusty gentleman was got. Upon his death-bed he by will bequeathe'd his lands to me, and took it on his death that this my mother's son was none of his; and if her were, he came into the world full fourteen weeks before the course of time. Then, good my liege, let me have what is mine -- my father's land, as was my father's will.

K. John.: Sirrah, your brother is legitimate -- your father's wife did after wedlock bear him, and if she did play false, the fault was hers; which fault lies on the hazards of all husbands that marry wives. Tell me, how if my brother, who, as you say, took pains to get this son, had of your father claim'd this son for his? In sooth, good friend, your father might have kept this calf bred from his cow from all the world. [Gestures to slit throat] In sooth he might. Then, if he were my brother's, my brother might not claim him; nor your father, being none of his, refuse him. This concludes: my mother's son did get your father's heir; your father's heir did get your father's land.

Rob. [indignantly]: Shall then my father's will be of no force to dispossess that child which is not his?

Phil. [elbowing in ribs]: Of no more force to dispossess me, sir, than was his will to get me, as I think.

Eli.: Whether hadst thou rather be a Faulconbridge and like thy brother to enjoy they land, or the reputed son of Coeur-de-lion, lord of thy presence and no land beside?

Phil.: Madam, an if my brother had my shape, and I had his, Sir Robert's his, like him, and if my legs were such riding rods [comparing bits and pieces and prancing a tad], my arms such eel-skins stuff'd, my face so thin that in mine ear I durst not stick a rose lest men should say "look, where the three-farthings goes!" And, to his shape, were heir to all this land, would I might never stir from off this place, I would give it every foot to have this face; I would not be sir Nob in any case.

Eli.: I like thee well. Wilt thou forsake thy fortune, bequeath thy land to him and follow me?

Phil: Brother, take you my land, I'll take my chance. Your face hath got five hundred pound a year, yet sell your face for five pence and tis dear. Madam, I'll follow you unto the death.

Eli.: Nay, I would have you go before me thither.

K. John.: What is thy name?

Phil.: Philip, my liege, so my name is begun -- Philip, good old Sir Robert's wife's eldest son.

K. John.: From henceforth bear his name whose form thou bear'st. Kneel down Philip [Phil kneels], but rise more great [knights him], arise Sir Richard and Plantagenet!

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The Scottish Play

Production Notes

This one is designed to be run by two people, one on-stage (Taggart) and one off (Narrator), with the rest of the cast made up by four people selected from the populace.

The Cast
Duncan Taggart, The Detective
Prince Duncanbane, The King's Son
Duncan FitzDuncan, The King's Butler
Lady MacDuncan, The King's cousin's wife
Gunnar Duncanson, The Visitor from Orkney

There are no special requirements for the cast, beyond the ability to speak loud enough to be heard. It helps if Gunnar Duncansson can do a broad Scots accent to the point of being unintelligible.

Tell the whole cast separately that they are to die noisily at the end of the play after they have drunk a toast. Prep Prince Duncanbane to deliver his line to the audience before talking to Taggart, and FitzDuncan his line before the toast.

The full play should be printed double-sided and, ideally, ring-bound at the top so that as you flip the pages Taggart can read his lines and the correct ones for the cast member he's speaking to are on the back so they can read them.

The following props help:

  • crown for Prince Duncanbane
  • yokel Viking hat for Gunnar Duncanson
  • double-sided flipchart with script for Taggart
  • entrance line for Duncanbane
  • finale lines for FitzDuncan
  • Narrator's script

The Play

Narrator: The Baskin-Kerr Travelling Players and its cast of highly trained thespians, present: The Scottish Play - dum da dum dum
[dum da dum dum - a la Dragnet]

Narrator: O horror, horror, horror! Our noble Lord, King Duncan, lies murdered in his bed, his silver skin laced with his golden blood, and his gashed stabs ruin's wasteful entrance, someone hath unseamed him from the nave to the chops, his gashes cry for help and smoke with bloody execution....

Taggart: [Offstage] Oi!

Narrator: Er...King Duncan has been murdered and we have called in Duncan Taggart, the greatest detective in the land to unmask the murderer.

Taggart: I'm Duncan Taggart,and I am here to solve the worst and bloodiest crime since Donald the First slew Kenneth MacAlpine the Venomous, no, since Donald the Second drew the guts out of Cuilean, or since...Och never mind, tis a terrible nasty crime and I am here to solve it. Bring on the first suspect.

[Enter FitzDuncan]

Narrator: The King's Butler was recently threatened with dismissal. Duncan FitzDuncan is said to be a bastard who indulges in immoral practices.

Taggart: When you first found the king, was he still alive?

FitzDuncan: He was dead and done.

Taggart: Dun like a dun cow?

FitzDuncan: Aye.

Taggart: Glad that's joke's done. Who, beside you, had access to his privvy chamber?

FitzDuncan: The Gentlemen of the Chamber.

Taggart: And they would be?

FitzDuncan: Bessie's Andrew, Bangtail Graham, Red Sandy Dodd, Sim's Will Crosier, Archie Give-it-them, Angus Bell-the-Cat, Jock of the Peartree, and Lock-the-Door Larriston.

Taggart: What does Larriston do?

FitzDuncan: He locks the door of course - (shake fist) Here are the bloody padlocks.

Taggart: Never shake thy gory locks at me.

[FitzDuncan starts blubbering]

Taggart: C'mon mon, screw your courage to the sticking point.

FitzDuncan: Where's that?

Taggart: Next to the ballpoint, but I think we'll draw the line at that. Next!

[Enter Lady MacDuncan]

Narrator: Lady MacDuncan is a notorious social climber, third in line to the throne, and counting....

Taggart: Lady MacDuncan, you do realise that with King Duncan's death, someone has unleashed the dogs of war.

L. Mac: Out out damn Spot!

Taggart: Tell me, where do you hail from?

L.Mac: The battlements.

Taggart: No no, where are you from?

L. Mac: Lowder.

Taggart: [louder] Where are you from?

L. Mac: Lowder.

Taggart: [shouting] Where are you from?

L. Mac: Lowder - it's just south of Cawdor.

Taggart: You were the last to see the King alive. What was he doing?

L.Mac: He called for crumhorns and let the sounds of music creep into his ears, then retired to his chamber complaining of an ague.

Taggart: Sounds like a bad case of minstrel cramps.

Taggart: I have three questions I want answered. When was the King returning to Edinburgh? When was his son due to arrive? And what day do you plan to leave the castle?

L.Mac: Tomorrow, and tomorrow and tomorrow.

Taggart: I heard you the first time.

L. Mac: [indignantly] Who are you to question me so harshly?

Taggart: My name is Duncan Taggart, private eye. My friends call me King of the Dicks. My enemies call me the biggest dick in the land. But my lady friends call me the best dick money can buy.

L. Mac: [sultry] Perhaps we could meet up after all this. Do you have an email address?

Taggart: Just the facts, ma'am. Next!

[Enter Duncanbane]

Narrator: Prince Duncanbane, the King's son and heir, has been growing noticeably impatient to take over the reigns of government, possibly because of his lack of funds.

DB: [loudly to the populace] Friends, Scotsmen, Sassenachs, lend me your money.

Taggart: By the pricking of my thumbs something wicked this way comes.

DB: Are you trying to stitch me up?

Taggart: No but I'll have this case sewn up before long. What were the last words the King said to you?

DB: He said "You'll be the death o' me, Duncanbane".

Taggart: Aha, why'd he say that? What were you doing at the time?

DB: We were tossing the haggis I'd cooked. I think it must have been off.

Taggart: And did you hear anything suspicious last night?

DB: I did hear Lady MacDuncan say "double, double, toil and trouble".

Taggart: You mean she's a witch?

DB: Nay, she was losing at backgammon.

Taggart: And what about you, Prince Duncanbane? Is this a dagger I see before me?

DB: [looks at waist] Nay, tis a 45-calibre claymore.

Taggart: That's about the size of it. Next!

[Enter Gunnar Duncanson]

Narrator: Gunnar Duncanson is a visitor from far-off Orkney.

Taggart: Can you describe what happened on the night of the murder?

Duncanson: Braeside ush Wester Clunie Fliskmillan ort Glenduckie.

Taggart: I see. And then what happened?

Duncanson: Inverlochy mac Erclestoun Rory Sta Mor Ballykissangell.

Taggart: And what didya make o that?

Duncanson: Glenbogle.

Taggart: Ach, t'is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury signifying nothing.

Taggart: I will gather all the suspects together now, so that I may reveal who murdered King Duncan. But first we will drink a toast in memory of the late King. [mimes filling up goblets]

FitzDuncan: Drink provokes the desire but takes away from the performance.

Taggart: You can say that again. [mimes meaningfully for FitzDuncan to repeat the line]

FitzDuncan: Drink provokes the desire but takes away from the performance.

Taggart: To King Duncan.

[raises glass, all drink, all die; Taggart takes crown off Prince Duncanbane and places slowly on head]

Narrator: All hail he who shall be King hereafter - King Duncan Taggart.

Taggart: As you can see, I had a cunning pla..urgh [dies]

Duncan: [entering from amongst audience, takes up crown and says loudly to audience] There can be only one!


Further Notes

This ending may read a little oddly, but that's because the final Duncan was a real one, a high-profile member of the populace who we prepped to come out of the audience at the end and do the Highlander line. If you've got a Duncan of your own, use him; otherwise you can leave the final line off.

And the bit about the dun cow refers to a much-repeated line in the Mummers' Play we have done almost every year at Yule, so those who remember it groan appropriately. Feel free to add in your own jokes. Did you spot the lines from Shakespeare? And those names of the Gentlemen of the Chamber are real Scots Borderer name. And you may even be old enough to recognise the references to Stan Freburg's Dragonet.

To make it easier to prep the cast, give them character cards beforehand:

Prince Duncanbane The King's Son, wears a coronet
Come on when your introduction is being read and say loudly to the populace " Friends, Scotsmen, Sassenachs, lend me your money".
Read your lines off the flipchart Taggart has.
Gather with the others when Taggart calls you all together.
When you toast the King, you die horribly from poison.
Stay dead.

Duncan FitzDuncan The King's Butler, shifty
Come on when your introduction is done.
Read your lines off the flipchart Taggart has.
Gather with the others when Taggart calls you all together.
When Taggart fills your goblet say "Drink provokes the desire but takes away from the performance". When you toast the King, you die horribly from poison.
Stay dead.

Lady MacDuncan The King's cousin's wife, snooty Come on when your introduction is done.
Read your lines off the flipchart Taggart has.
Gather with the others when Taggart calls you all together.
When you toast the King, you die horribly from poison.
Stay dead.

Gunnar Duncanson The Visitor from Orkney, unintelligibly Scottish
Come on when your introduction is done.
Read your lines off the flipchart Taggart has.
Gather with the others when Taggart calls you all together.
When you toast the King, you die horribly from poison.
Stay dead.

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Shakespeare a la Brucie - or Not Much To Do About Anything

Production Notes

This play was written a long time ago by the Baskin-Kerrs with input from a friend, Alan Millar. We've done it a number of times - careful selection of the cast helps a great deal. A big burly chap makes a good Juliette, no requirements for Romeo or Brutus.

You need to prep a lot (a LOT!) of props with the lines stuck to them; this includes the cast! Number them in order and be sure that the Director has a numbered list with a note as to where the line can be found.

The Director needs to move the cast about, point them at the right lines and non-verbally encourage them to ham it all up as much as possible. If you're old enough to remember Bruce Forsyth and the Generation Game you'll know what I mean.

Suitable props: a table, mugs/tankards, a waitress order book, a couple of plates, some buns

The Play

[Juliette is waiting, looking impatient.]

J: Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo -- has thy hot-rod failed thee?

[Brutus enters]

B: Juliette, I have a hunger fit for a king, what repast does the tavern offer today?

J: Eye of newt, toe of frog

B: Bah! Throw your physic to the dog, I'll have none of it!

[MacDuff enters]

M: Hail good Brutus, you look worried -- what weighty concern bends your brow?

B: To feed or not to feed, that is the question.

M: Well then, how about some bacon? It's French.

B: No, thank you sirrah, I don't like France's bacon.

M: Well, then, get thee to the bakery, wench, and bring us some bread.

J: What is your order?

B: Stand not upon the order of your going, but go at once!

[Juliette exits]

B: Have you heard, there's something rotten in the state of Denmark?

M: Yes, they say they've loosed the dogs of war.

B: Why's there's one now, out, out, damned Spot!

B: Hark, what delight from yonder window bakes -- it is the bun, and Juliette is the yeast!

J: I brought you three buns, and a fresh young chicken -- so fair a fowl I have not seen.

B: But hold, there are three buns here and only two of us.

M: Eat two, Brute.

B: This is not enough -- we need more food. A course, a course, my kingdom for a course!

M: I agree, sirrah, bring on the hog!

[Juliette produces a plate]

M: Is this a pork chop I see before me?

B: A little more than skin, and less than kine. There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in this recipe!

M: How now Juliette, what of dessert?

B: Yes, you know what they say, use every man after his dessert!

J: Alas, the quality of the trifle is not strained.

B: Out, out, vile jelly! Where is thy custard now? I carry too much weight as it is -- oh, that this too, too solid flesh would melt.

M: If our bellies are distended, think but this, the feast is ended.

M: Prithee why so pale Juliette, what ails thee?

J: A little touch of Henry in the night.

B: Aye, and every inch a King.

J: No, 'twas much ado about nothing. A twit, a palpable twit!
[Sadly]: Never was a story of more woe, than this of Juliette and no Romeo.

B: Methinks she doth protest too much.

J: Alas, I am undone!

B: [Eagerly] Well then, let us help you with that -- once more unto the breach, dear friend. Lay on Macduff and happy be he who first cries "hold, enough"!

J: [Sternly] Let us not speak of country matters. [Looks at Brutus] How now, something is troubling you my lord Brutus.

B: [Looking ill] A plague on these pickled herrings, they have winded me.

M: [Backing away]: Oh, thy offense is rank, it smells to heaven!

J: Farting is such sweet sorrow.

B: By the pricking in my tum, something wicked this way comes -- I fear I am poison-ED. [Falls down] This potent poison quite o'crows my spirit. So farewell friends, thus Brutus ends, adieu, adieu, adieu.

J: Good night sweet prince, may flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.

M: But hold, he yet breathes - mayhap twas wind and Brutus lives again.

J: I didn't expect this sudden resurrection!



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Henry VI's Last Day

Production Notes

I wrote this for Canterbury Faire AS37, which had the theme of the Wars of the Roses. We didn't do it then, but we did finally manage to put it on a couple of years later as part of the Half-Circle Theatre production.

The play was adapted from the lovely story Neither Pity, Love nor Fear by Margaret Frazer (Royal Whodunnits, Ed. Mike Ashley; Robinson 1999). That story posed quite a different, intriguing view of Henry VI, and cried out to be made into a play. Think of Francis Urquhart as played by Ian Carmichael in House of Cards, and that's how I see this Henry.

I set it for two players, one the King and the other the Narrator. The idea was that we would use lighting to flip attention from one to the other, with minimal props, maybe just a prie-dieu for the King (to provide a space and maybe a place to hold crib pages). We ended up, in lieu of lighting, with Bartholomew on his own, holding a prayer book with the lines inside, and me doing the Narrator voice-over from back-stage.

The Play

Narrator offstage: Picture a room, a place apart in the Tower of London. In it a man worn to leanness, his face ageless, out of the world around him. This has been his prison cell seven years, or is it eight now? A small room, big enough in which to pray, big enough in which to wait for his death.

A room comfortable enough, for it houses Henry, king of England, the sixth of that name, king by title, not by right. But not too comfortable, for why worry about the comfort of a man no longer King, a man thought mad.

Henry: Now Ned is dead, they'll have my head. No profit in killing a king, your prisoner, if it only makes his son, free and with all his wits, king of England in his stead. But now Ned is dead. Edward, Prince of Wales. Ned. She hated it when I called him that. His mother, my lady wife, the queen. How she raged against the name.

Narrator OFFSTAGE, light French accent: If he were Louis or Charles or Henri, how much more easily France will accept him for king when the time comes?

Henry: That was how great a fool she thought me, to try that, when France was already three years lost to any English rule. And now Ned is dead and soon I will follow. I wonder how they mean for me to die and by whose hand.


ASIDE TO AUDIENCE: To use the word "good" loosely. To use the word "my" most randomly.

He was my archbishop for six years but turned from me to Edward of York when the power went that way, and turned back when Warwick managed to return me to the throne, and now back to King Edward since Fortune's wheel has spun that way.

Come on someone's purpose, but not to be my murderer. There's no need for archbishops to be given that kind of task, though likely when it's done he'll grant absolution to the instrument.


Narrator: It was thought you should know his grace King Edward returned to London today.

Henry ASIDE: As if I hadn't heard the cheering from the streets beyond the Tower. I look at the velvet richness my lord archbishop wears. I remember such richness and its weight from my coronation when I was seven years old, and already seven years a king. Royal robes and ceremony and men's expectations all weighing on me, no tears allowed because I was the king. My mind aching and my heart empty even then, from years of being king.

Narrator: His grace the king asked me to come and see that all is well as may be with you.

As well as may be, considering I am unkinged, imprisoned, my son is dead and shortly I'll be too, as my good archbishop knows as well as I do. But death won't come by his hands, so he's no use to me.


Henry: After a while he goes away to tell his king that Henry of Lancaster, once King Henry VI, is as witless as ever, beyond feeling even the loss of his kingship or the death of his son.

Their trouble is that they think I ought to care, that I must care. Not understanding that caring was driven out of me years ago by those who told me: You are king, you must do this. You are king, you must not do that.

Foremost was Warwick, who ruled my youth and forced me into the shape he thought I ought to be, until finally he was grown old and ill and wanted only to be left to die in peace, among familiar comforts.

So I sent him to be governor of the war in France. Forced him to go where he did not want to go, forced him to be what he did not want to be. Made sure he understood, with no word said between us, that I did it purposefully And left him there to die.

He did. That was the first death I managed.

Not that anyone knew. Instead they thought me a weakling fool who twice in his life slipped out of his senses into unreason, and never recovered more than a corner of them.

I meant to be a good king. I tried, but I grew up with a brace of uncles and a pack of lords baying to govern me and England both. They fought to bend or break me into the shape they wanted. If I'd been weaker I might have bent, become the king they wanted. Instead...I broke.


Narrator: He was in a sun-rich garden, his wife great-bellied with the child she'd been desperate to have.. Three lords with her yammering that the French war was going badly, something must be done, do it now, do it now, do it now...

His throat closing, his chest constricting, a blackness sweeping into his head...then nothing. For a long while, nothing.

Then a slow graying back to knowing, Knowing that he was, then who he was. Then aware it was no longer summer, but winter and Christmas near to hand, A Christmas more than a year from the summer he remembered, with the French war long since lost and a boy-child put into his arms. His son, they said.

Henry: I was still king, but men walked wary of me after that. I left them to their uncertainties. Why not? It gave me a little peace and I still had my game. It wasn't a difficult game, not when my lords all worked so hard to make it easy for me. All I needed to do was to let them take what they wanted - power, money, pride of place - and then watch what they became and what they did to each other.

If they came to their deaths because of their choices, how much of the fault was mine? How much fault do I bear for the ends I helped some of them too, as assuredly I helped my lord Bishop of Chichester, Bishop Moleyns.

A man who should never have been let near power or money, his desire for both too strong for there to be hope he'd ever make wise use of either. So I made him clerk of the royal privy council. He couldn't help but reach for the power, and when he did, I didn't stop him. And being far more greedy and corrupt than he was intelligent, he made small attempt to hide what he was from anyone. I remember…


Narrator: Your Grace, the soldiers at Southhampton have been waiting for their pay now for nigh on three months. They are rioting in the town, fighting over scraps of food. Someone has to be sent to tell that that the money has somehow gone and they must be patient.

Henry: I saw to it Bishop Moleyns was sent.

He was afraid to go. They all thought I was too simple to understand, too wrapped up in prayers to know why my lord bishop was afraid to go. He dared not tell me why, and so he went, and the soldiers mobbed him and beat him to death. And somehow no-one was ever brought to justice for his murder.

A king's indifference can heavily weigh down what ought to be the course of justice, and if the king is as simple as everyone knows him to be, no-one looks twice at him for having done it because surely he didn't know what he was doing.

I think the Duke of Suffolk felt that something was wrong, but he wasn't clever enough to make out what, not in the little time he had left by then. Parliament was demanding he be arraigned for treason, and he was most grateful when I arranged for him to secretly take ship for France.

Why did no-one ever question how a royal ship came to be waiting for him, and how its captain took the duke and threw his body on Dover Beach, and afterwards nothing was ever done about it?

It's as if, by then, none could see when I made things happen.


Narrator: The visitor is a tall, well-formed man, in a velvet doublet, his hair flattened where the crown bore down on it as he rode through London. Edward of York, king by right of inheritance and force of arms.

Henry: I have a sudden hope - who should kill a king, than the king who profits by his death? But I doubt he is here to do it.

TURNS, SITS DELIBERATELY, SPEAKS ASIDE: You do not sit in a king's presence and I make it worse by GESTURES TOWARDS CHAIR giving him leave to sit, thus ensuring that he won't. A suffusion of red starts up his face and before he can speak, I speak to him, knowing full well it is a discourtesy to speak to a king before he speaks to you.

DIRECT: "It's most kind of you to come, my lord, to bring me condolences on the death of my son. And how does my lady wife in your keeping? Well, I trust?

ASIDE: Knowing full well she isn't, held prisoner by a man she hates, with her only child dead and all her hopes with him.

DIRECT: And you want to ask after my own health? It's very well, I thank you. You know I killed your father, don't you?

Narrator: My father died in a battle you weren't even at.

Henry: ASIDE: True, when my queen and her lords broke the Christmas truce at Wakefield, I was half the country away.

DIRECT: But I made it happen. If I hadn't for years betrayed your father almost every chance I had, there would have been no battle for him to die in.

ASIDE: For one moment he almost believes me. He should. It's true.

You don't know up from down or today from yesterday. My father died because your wife's a bitch and you're a fool.

TURNS AWAY, KNEELS: If he's not to be my death., he's of small interest to me. And so finally he goes. Leaving me to wish he was a lord of mine, that I might set his ambitions against his stupidities and watch while they brought him down. At least he's left me with no doubt he'll have me dead soon. It's only a matter of time. But I'm so tired of waiting.

Narrator: Warm day draws into cool evening, the windows blue with twilight, and another enters. Slight-built, dressed with a richness that tells his rank as plainly as the chain of white-enamelled roses around his shoulders.

Henry: For a moment, I think it is my Ned, but this youngling is farther from being a boy than I first thought.

Narrator: My lord brother when he was here meant to ask you....

Henry: Ah this must be the youngest York son - Richard, Duke of Gloucester. My poor queen, among the things she hated most about the duke of York were his four sons. All she has was me and Ned, with all the whispers that he wasn't likely mine.

Narrator: ...he meant to ask you if there's aught you need.

Henry: ASIDE: There's nothing, nothing beyond wanting to have it done with, and this boy is not here for that.

DIRECT: Would it be possible for my lady wife to be brought to see me?

Narrator: I'll see to it my lord

Henry: Does he guess? I ready myself...


Henry: I don't know how long it is since Gloucester left. I have been at my prayers. There are so many departed souls to pray for, my son's among them.

I never betrayed I heard the rumours that he wasn't mine but neither did I do aught to quiet them. I even sometimes, as if unwitting, said or did things to add to men's doubts, and took pleasure in my lady wife's raging discomfiture at anything she ever heard against her honour and her boy.

Brought out of France to be my queen when I was sixteen, because my lords said our marriage would bring about peace in France, and because I thought that here would be someone who cared more for me than for my kingship. I was wrong.


She fought for years against who I am and what I couldn't give her. She's hated me for years because I failed to be the king she wanted me to be.

Ned was the only heart's desire she ever gained from our marriage, and now he's dead, and she has grown old. And I still live. And she hates me still.

What a pity that she's always had more passion than wit. I know what I must to say to her, to command her passion one last time.

DIRECT: "My lady, I'm sorry your bastard's dead."


Narrator: No need to see the woman reach for the great candlestick in both hands. No need to see her raise it up and swing it down with all her hatred, rage and grief behind it.


Narrator: King Henry, the sixth of that name, died in the Tower of London in May 1471, of "displeasure and melancholy" it was said. When his skeleton was examined 450 years later, his skull was found to be badly fractured.


Still not sure if I need that last line from the Narrator. What do you think? Tell me.

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