BUTCHER, a man of Verona
RICARDO, his friend
SIM, in love with Surpanakha
SURPANAKHA, a famous beauty
Verona. A Street.
[Enter BUTCHER and RICARDO.]
BUTCHER: Indeed I know not, what it might mean,
This Yellow Bird some unseen hand
Hath left upon my conveyance. I look on its vacant gaze
Wrought in starched fabric, and wonder at the
Simpering evil in its countenance. What can it mean, thinkest thou?
RICARDO: Such a thing has not come to pass
For many a long year. But I recall, as my grandfather said to me
In his cups one day –
SOOTHSAYER: Master, beware the Birds of Starch.
BUTCHER: What? What sayest thou?
RICARDO: ‘Tis a wandering soothsayer, who bids you beware the Birds of Starch.
BUTCHER: Aye, and I know his tribe well. Mark me, Ricardo, that when such a man, or such men
Speak, they do so with but one desire,
The glister of the yellow metal is in their eye, as soft words slip off the tongue. What will’st thou, fellow?
SOOTHSAYER: I seek but to protect you, Master, from the Yellow Bird, the Bird of Peril. For surely you are marked, even for death.
BUTCHER: Oh? And who hath marked me?
SOOTHSAYER: The Bird is of ill omen. Nobody can say from whence it comes,
But if gold be not an object, the matter can surely
Be tracked to its lair. Gold and Silver, Master,
Can open the doors of silence. What say you?
BUTCHER: This is what I say to thee, knave: Begone.
SOOTHSAYER: I go, Master, but I will come again
As day follows night, or the sun, the rain.
BUTCHER: It’s as I said. These men have but one desire. ‘Tis perhaps
He, none other, that hath left the Yellow Bird for me to find. What thinkest thou?
RICARDO: All my thoughts, be so in shiploads full, coming in on the flood,
Cannot measure up, sometimes, to one little grain of fact. So, verily, I choose, betimes, to think not at all.
BUTCHER: What said thy grandfather, then in his cups to thee?
RICARDO: My grandsire, an old man, a good man though old
Sat one day in his cups, and beckoned with a forefinger
Twisted and gnarled as a tree of the desert
Struck by sun and wind and rain. When I drew near, he leaned close
The fumes of wine coming hard, and I would have drawn away, but he grasped me by the arm,
His hand hard as flint, and his eye, like the basilisk’s, held me. I could not draw away.
BUTCHER: And what said he? Marry, thou pullest the merest thread of talk
Into a skein of wool many thousands of leagues long,
Until I do believe, thy words could bind the earth.
RICARDO: Thou hast no soul, no heart for drama. Hear then what he said,
The Yellow Bird cometh for those who sin against the Secret Will
Of the Yellow God. And once it cometh, no man can escape his fate. I fear for thee, old friend.
BUTCHER: The Yellow God? And what be that, pray?
RICARDO: Marry, I know not, any more than thou knowest.
BUTCHER: Perhaps, we could and should
Go amongst the villains of the pier, the shrews of the marketplace
‘Mongst the strumpet and the slave, between the knife and the clap
And seek answers. But who is this who comes?
BUTCHER: Is it a spirit that I see before me
Shroud draped o’er a skeletal hand?
Come, let me spurn thee.
GHOST: Mislike me not for my complexion
The pallid livery of the silent grave
To which I am a resident, and long gone.
Bring me the darkest Igbo southern born
Where the sun boils even the testicles
And let us lie side by side in death
To prove whose skin is greyer, his or mine.
I tell thee, signors, this aspect of mine
Hath repulsed the sapient. By my death, I swear
The worst-regarded worms of my clime
Hath feasted upon my silent flesh. I would not change this hue
E’en to win the favour of my Queen.
RICARDO: ‘Tis the ghost of the Bard, methinks, come out of his casket
Where he hath lain so many years and aye.
GHOST: I be the spirit of Shakespeare.
BUTCHER: Why com’st thou then unto us, with thy visage pale, and the grave mould on thy brow?
Thou shoulds’t be sleeping the Long Sleep, the cold sleep, not walking the streets
Of fair Verona, in thy winding sheet wrapt. Why com’st thou then?
GHOST: Thou hast said it. The grave is cold, and I craved warmth and cheer. Also, this be
My natal day. ‘Tis the day I was born.
RICARDO: And what seekest thou? A mug of ale?
GHOST: ‘Twould be thin ale, indeed, that I could taste. But, tell me, why look ye so pale? Why shines the sweat upon your brows?
BUTCHER: The Yellow Bird hath come unto me
From the hand of the followers of the Yellow God. I am assured that I am lost.
RICARDO: And we know not what to do.
GHOST: Perhaps together we can find a way
Let us find a tavern, you and I
And twixt us we shall think this matter dry.
Verona. Surpanakha’s House.
SURPANAKHA (singing): Tell me where my lover lies
Under what suns, what foreign skies
How beloved, how cherished
He is beloved by the flies
Who buzz around his empty eyes
And in his skull where it dries.
Let us ring my lover’s knell
I’ll begin it: Go to hell, go to hell.
SIM: What’s this? What is it you sing?
SURPANAKHA: Oh, you. Art thou back from thy voyage then? Or is it
A spirit I see? Long years I have waited, till, by the Virgin,
My very chastity belt doth grow frail with rust. Art thou a spirit? Tell me, tell me truly.
SIM: I am verily a man, thy man, and no spirit. Come, feel my flesh.
SURPANAKHA: Thou art fat, and short of breath. Perhaps my love will melt thy too, too solid flesh. Give me the key to this chastity belt. But hist! Have thy voyages brought thee much gold?
SIM: Alack, the gold I have won
Has gone to feed the pirates
That swarm the gambling dens – I mean the Rialtos
Of the world. I was assured
Each piece I earned, would bring me three
But all it did win me was,
Dust and ashes, tears and misery.
SURPANAKHA: So, say’st thou, that all these years I waited, pining, I waited in vain? All thy promises were as chaff in the wind?
SIM: Nay. I have plans to win that which I had back again. Knowest thou the villain Butcher, who preys upon the markets like a hawk on the dove?
SURPANAKHA: I have heard his name.
SIM: I have loosed an arrow in the air
Which, falling upon fertile fields
Will, I’m assured, bring forth response. I have set the foxes
Among the feathered chickens in Butcher’s coop.
It will bring me what I lost, and more,
My ship that went out on the tide
Will come sailing home again
Laden to the gunwales with gold and with grain.
SURPANAKHA: Is there villainy afoot? What hast thou done?
SIM: Were it to bring fortune, thou would’st not think it villainy.
Come, unlock that belt, and come to me.
Verona. A street.
[Enter BUTCHER and GHOST]
BUTCHER: A ship, a ship, my financial kingdom for a ship!
GHOST: Why fear’st thou? Am I not by thy hand?
BUTCHER: ‘Tis thee I fear. Thy drunkenness, thy misanthropy, thy malicious tongue, that the grave hath not stilled. That I fear. Why did’st thou say all that thou did, in yonder tavern?
GHOST: ‘Tis a sad world, where one cannot make sport with a Moor or a Jew. ‘Tis a world grown sad and old, when on one’s birthday, one cannot make a jest. Forsooth!
BUTCHER: I thought they would knife us. Marry, Ghost, I fear thee.
GHOST: Where is thy friend? He is not with us.
BUTCHER: He hath gone to fetch gold to pay for the damage thou hast wrought. Hist!
BUTCHER: Seest not thou, the Yellow Bird? What is the Bird, that causes my hair to rise and my eyes to stare?
GHOST: ‘Tis but an old man, that comes this way wrapt in a yellow cloak. No more.
SOOTHSAYER: Greetings, Master. I had said, that thou should’st see me again.
BUTCHER: Out, damned blot! Out, I say! Why, then, it’s time to screw it. Thy motives are murky! Fie, my soul, fie, a man like me, and afeared? What need I fear a stupid creation of cloth and starch
And a beggar who mouths about it? Yet who would have thought the old man
Had so much knowledge to him?
SOOTHSAYER: My motives are no murkier than thine own, sir. A little gold, and my help is assured.
GHOST: Who might ye be, fellow?
SOOTHSAYER: A poor man, an honest man, begging your reverence. Have you a coin or two for me?
GHOST: Those who hath found a home in the grave have no money.
SOOTHSAYER: I go, my Lords, but I will be back. Thou shalt see me again.
BUTCHER: What, I shall see thee again?
SOOTHSAYER: Aye, and thou shall die. [Exit]
BUTCHER: Thou speakest a lot of threats
And leav’st before thy lies find thee out. I will have at thee, villain
If I see thee again. Who’s there?
RICARDO: ‘Tis I. I have paid the Moor, I have paid the Jew
I have paid the Irishman, and the Pole
I have paid the black man and the brown.
I have paid everyone our friend hath offended
Until I have one ducat more. I am much afraid
Our friend will prove the beggaring of us all.
BUTCHER: Hast thou heard aught on the market
Of the Yellow God?
RICARDO: Nay, but I heard that Sim the villain is back in town. He hath lost much gold, ‘tis said, and is hungry to make a fortune back again.
BUTCHER: We will repair to my house
And think about this more. Master Ghost, shall we bid ye goodbye?
GHOST: I will remain with thee, not just tonight.
I will be with thee till thou should’st die.
RICARDO: Good, now you can pay for the damage he does. [Exit]
BUTCHER: Et tu, Ricardo? Then fall, Butcher!
Verona. Surpanakha’s house.
[Enter SIM and SURPANAKHA]
SURPANAKHA: And be this true? Have you actually put the fear in this Butcher
Of the Yellow Bird of Peril?
SIM: Aye, that I have. And when he be afeared enough, I will make him
An offer he cannot refuse. I learned those words from a good friend
Across the seas and far away. Maybe thou shalt meet him someday.
SURPANAKHA (aside): Your friends shall be more honest, before I meet and ponder
On their habits.
My lord, I am unworthy to meet your friends. Meanwhile, I am glad indeed
To be free of that chastity belt. But tell me, what you plan.
SIM: This –
SOOTHSAYER: My Lord and lady, may I enter? I am but a man, a poor man, yet honest.
SIM: So, what does this have to do with us, fellow? What do you desire that I do for you?
SOOTHSAYER: Why, Master, only that I should help thee, and thy beauteous lady, in thy plot against Butcher.
SURPANAKHA: What know’st thou, about the plot? If there is a plot afoot, for, verily, I know nothing.
SOOTHSAYER: ‘Tis common knowledge on the market, that the Master hath put the Yellow Bird on Butcher.
SIM: And if I have? What concern is it of thine?
SOOTHSAYER: I could help thee.
SIM: What will’st thou, for this help?
SOOTHSAYER: In a word? Revenge.
SIM: Revenge? Whom on?
SOOTHSAYER: On thy enemy, Butcher.
SURPANAKHA: On Butcher? Why?
SIM: What would’st thou do to him?
SOOTHSAYER: I’d kill him withal. If it would do nothing else, it would feed my revenge. He hath refused me gold, and hinder’d me a coin or fifty; mocked at my warnings, laughed at my threats, cooled my forecasts and bitter’d my homilies. And what’s his reason? I am a fraud. Hath not a fraud eyes? Hath not a fraud greed, hunger, senses, affectations, dimensions, fashions? If you wed us, do we not breed? If ye give us gold, do we not laugh? If you see through us, do we not cry? And if you laugh at us, shall we not revenge? If we defraud you in the rest, we will be like you in that.
SIM: Come hither, and we shall talk. [Exit SIM and SOOTHSAYER]
SURPANAKHA: ‘Tis time I should decide
Where my duty lies. Is it to myself? Or to my love
So long gone, and returned so strange? Am I to be happy
Or is he? ‘Tis time to make up my mind. Is it my happiness, pray
To which I should look at the end of day?
Verona. A street.
[Enter BUTCHER and RICARDO]
BUTCHER: Well, the Bird of Starch is come.
RICARDO: Aye, Butcher, but not gone.
BUTCHER: I have it with me. If it brings death in its wake
Why, let it do its worst.
SOOTHSAYER (Aside): I shall snicker at them, which be an insult to them, if they do bear it.
RICARDO (to BUTCHER): Where is thy friend, the ghost? Is it he that comes?
BUTCHER: No. [To SOOTHSAYER] Ho, fool!
SOOTHSAYER: Do you address me, Master?
BUTCHER: Do you snicker at me, knave?
SOOTHSAYER: No, I do not snicker at thee, Master. But I snicker, Master.
BUTCHER: Behold, I have a weapon
A better never found itself under a killer’s sky.
I have not seen the day, but await it
When with this little arm and this good sword
I shall lop the heads off more frauds
Than fifty good men and true. Be not afraid, Ricardo
‘Tis a lost fear. Let the Yellow Bird make a rush at Butcher’s breast
And I shall cut off its wings. Look what Butcher will do.
Now, how dost thou look now, thou whey faced fraud
In thy soothsayer’s garb, now I shall run ye through.
This look of thine, white with terror
Makes me smile, and laugh with pleasure.
Even like thy lying, oh clap-ridden knave
Fiends will snatch at ye, and bite ye in spite.
Blow ye about in winds, and roast thee in fires
And drown thee in the deep, deep pools
Of mud and slime. Oh Soothsayer, thou art a goner! Oh!
SOOTHSAYER: I do not fear thee, Master.
BUTCHER (drawing sword): Have at thee, villain!
SIM: What, art thou drawn against this hartless hind? Turn to me, Butcher. Thou hast bad breath.
RICARDO: Good signors both, why don’t ye have calm? Say, why? Ye are exceeding wroth. Must it be so?
SIM: Signor Butcher, many a time and oft
On the markets you have treated me
To the rough edge of your business sense.
And I have borne it all with an angered shrug
For vengeance is the badge of my jibe.
You call me capitalist, profit-gouging sprog
And refer to me as an asset-stripping swine
And all because I believe greed is good.
Well then, what shall I say to you? Shall I say
“Put up the steel at your side
It is possible
A capitalist and a liberal can be friends?”
BUTCHER: I am as liable to say that again
And treat thy profits so
For since when did thy evil thoughts
Ever touch upon the plight of the weak and poor? Thou art a villain.
And thou art fat.
Give us the foils! Come on!
SIM: Lay on, Butcher, and damned be he who first cries, Hold! Enough!
[They begin to fight. Enter GHOST]
GHOST (to RICARDO and BUTCHER): Good friends both, I was seeking ye. I was afeared that you were lost. What happens here?
SIM: Who art thou, then?
RICARDO: He is the ghost of the bard of Avon.
SOOTHSAYER: That he is, Master. But he hath no powers, but the power to harm the purses of his friends.
GHOST: I seek only a good time. ‘Tis my natal day, after all.
BUTCHER (to SIM): Caught ‘twixt Bird and Bard. You can have him, and welcome.
SIM: I think not. Thou art cursed, Butcher. I take my leave of thee. [Exit SIM and SOOTHSAYER]
GHOST: ‘Tis not the birthday I imagined. Where shall we go? Is there a masque, signors? Are there wine, women and song?
RICARDO: Not unless thou will’st that we both die unhappy and young.
Verona. A street.
[Enter SIM and SOOTHSAYER]
SOOTHSAYER: Double, double, toil and trouble
You’ve turned your plans to rubble.
Fields of golden grain to stubble.
SURPANAKHA: Lord, I heard that thou had fought with Butcher in the marketplace
I was afraid that he hath killed thee.
SIM: Woman, thou can’st see I am alive and well.
SURPANAKHA: Lord, I am only a woman, stupid and weak.
I am afraid you are hurt. May I touch you? May I?
SIM: You can go kill Butcher for me, if you really want to help me, wench.
SURPANAKHA: That’s not an office for a lover, my Lord. [Stabs SIM] There, now I’ve done it.
SIM: How much sharper than a serpent’s tooth
Is the poison of a woman! [Dies]
SURPANAKHA: Here lies the stupidest schemer of them all.
Who would make an empire
Of the extortion of other’s gold
And that through fear. I am well rid of him. [To SOOTHSAYER]
Go now, run away,
Before I make my second killing of the day.
SOOTHSAYER: I’m going, I’m going. [Exits]
SURPANAKHA: Friends, humans, countrymen, lend me your ears
I came to murder Sim, not to praise him
The chastity belt he made me wear chafed my parts raw
The food he gave me was oft hard as stones.
So let us leave aside Sim. The noble Butcher
Thinks there is a Yellow Peril out for his blood.
If there is so, ‘tis a grievous danger
And grievously will Butcher endure it
Here, in fair Verona,
For Butcher is an affluent man.
He hath brought much gold back home
Which did his brimming coffers fill
Did this bring about the Yellow Peril?
While this Sim hath died, Butcher hath prospered
He’s ripe for sucking dry, sure enough
And this in Butcher is attractive,
For Butcher is an affluent man.
Ye all will see, in a few days
I will bed him and wed him
And he will not refuse. This is attraction.
And Butcher is to me attractive
For Butcher is an affluent man. [Exit.]
GHOST: What have we here? A piece of mortal earth. Rise!
SIM’S GHOST (Rising): The quality of death is much changed
It filleth me with the gentle gain from heaven
And the fire of hell beneath. I am twice blessed
Blessed by Him that gave and Her that took.
‘Tis flightiest in the flightiest; it becomes
The knife-handed strumpet better than her gown...
GHOST: Hold thou. I need a companion
Now that the two I was with
Have banished me. They aver that they would rather
Live a thousand years in purgatory
Rather than see me again. Marry, ‘tis strange
For I thought I was merely bringing joy
To their dull and spackled world.
SIM’S GHOST: What would’st thou with me?
GHOST: Thou will be my boon companion, my birthday gift. Come what may
We will never be apart, be it night or day.
More than a mere lover, much more than a friend
‘Tis the beginning, there will be no end.
Copyright B Purkayastha 2011