A poem or a play?

An attempt to create a medieval mystery play using a strict rhyme form. The idea is that the play was performed by the boatbuilders of Marghas Yow (Marazion).

Written in the style of a mystery play, this differs in that the use of a narrator (Herald) has no precedent in that style of performance.

 

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“THE MIRACLE PLAY OF JONAH AND THE WHALE

(as performed by the boatbuilders of Marazion)

by

GRAY LIGHTFOOT

 

SCENE I

In a boatyard. Tools from the trade of a Boatwright are all around. JONAH, a Boatwright is sawing on a piece of wood. Enter HERALD

HERALD

Come one and all and hear our tale

Of boatwright Jonah and a whale;

See how the Lord’s will did prevail,

And shall do evermore.

In a boatyard our tale doth start;

(points)      Jonah labours with joyous heart

Enter GOD onto ‘the high place’

 

(points)        God is here; grave news to impart

Stay ‘til our tale is o’er.

Exit HERALD

GOD

Now Jonah, son of Amitai,

Lay down your tools and to me hie.

The time has come to verify

Thy faith in me as Lord.

My wish is that you go away

To the city known as Nineveh

And warn them of a judgement day

‘pon which they have my word.

The people there are full of sin

And wicked ways they frolic in.

Inform their king and all his kin

That they will feel my ire.

Tell them that they must mend their ways

And offer me their honest praise

Or Nineveh in forty days

Will be destroyed by fire.

 

JONAH

Oh mighty God! Why must it be

That you choose me to work for thee?

I am no priest; no Pharisee.

How can I do thy will?

 

GOD

Thou must and shall, for thou art blest

With goodliness and all the best

Of qualities that meet my test.

Now speak no more. Be still!

 

JONAH

But Lord I must protest my case. Nineveh is a wicked place.

Will they not scorn my Jewish face

And mock thee as a God?

Lord of mercy? I know thou art

Full of love with a bounteous heart. You will forgive them for thy part

And spare them of thy rod.

So is it not a fruitless hest

Telling the devils in their nest

To change? Yet do I know they’re blest,

For thou wilt love them still.

 

GOD

Enough now, Jonah! Enough I say!

For thou shallt go this very day.

You must obey – without delay.

Thou shall not sway my will.

Exit GOD

 

JONAH

Oh by-our-lady! What to do?

To Nineveh as martyred Jew?

Yet if I stay, I know I’ll rue

The ire of my Maker.

Away to Tarshish shall I flee.

Mayhap the Lord will not miss me.

By boat, then out across the sea;

And from Joppa shall I take her.

Exit JONAH running

 

SCENE II

A ship at sea. The ship (possibly making use of the framework or ribs of a part-built boat) should be centre stage. On the ship are The CAPTAIN and his WIFE.

Enter HERALD to one side of the stage

HERALD

So Jonah in fear of the Lord

Had found a ship in Joppa moored.

He paid his fare then climbed on board

And hoped God wouldn’t know.

But God was angry with the wright

And raised a tempest for that night.

The crew began to take affright,

While Jonah slept below.

Exit HERALD

 

CAPTAIN

By all our gods this sky is black.

‘Twas not as foretold by the wrack –

And was that not a lightning crack?

I fear the worse tonight.

 

WIFE

Oh hush your caterwauling, dear.

Your whimpers fill the crew with fear.

Be steadfast – or I’ll cuff your ear!

You shame me with your fright.

 

CAPTAIN

But wife, my bowels quake with fear;

My trembling hands can hardly steer.

 

WIFE

Here, take a cup of wine, my dear,

To calm your fearful brow.

 

CAPTAIN

How can you sup in this dire strait?

Are you not fearful of thy fate?

 

WIFE

O hold thy mouth from foolish prate

Or shall I shut it now?

What shaking limbs. Art not thou brave?

I look to thee my life to save.

 

CAPTAIN

(aside)      I’d rather ‘twere a watery grave.

 

WIFE

What say?

 

CAPTAIN

‘Twas naught, my dear.

 

WIFE

I go below to rest abed.

This pleasing wine goes to my head.

(flirting) Comest thou dear?

 

CAPTAIN

(aside)      Death holds less dread.

(to WIFE)   Who else is there to steer?

 

Enter 1st 2nd and 3rd SAILORS in panic

1st SAILOR

Good captain tell us what to do!

 

2nd SAILOR

Yes tell us for we trust in you!

 

3rd SAILOR

All’s thrown away – the cargo too!

 

CAPTAIN

Look to your gods and pray.

For if to them we offer prayer

Then surely one of them is there

To calm the storm…allay our fear

And save us from this night.

Go to Jonah and bid him pray

Unto his lord that he might stay

This dreadful storm to ease our way

And offer us respite.

Exit 1st SAILOR

 

2nd SAILOR

Dear Captain, I much fear the worst;

That one aboard this ship is cursed.

And so before the timbers burst

We must discover whom.

 

3rd SAILOR

I’ve travelled far upon the sea.

Yet ne’er in woman’s company.

(points at WIFE) ‘Tis her that’s cursed. I beg of thee

To throw her to her doom.

 

CAPTAIN

She is my wife! I made a vow.

I cannot thus discharge her now.

 

2nd SAILOR

She’s nothing but a drunken cow.

To all the world a shrew!

 

CAPTAIN

I beg you speak not of her so.

To lose her would fill me with woe

(aside)  ‘course, here at sea, then who’s to know?

 

3rd SAILOR

And she’ll be silent too!

Exeunt 2nd and 3rd SAILORS.

 

Enter 1st SAILOR with JONAH

1st SAILOR

Good captain, hark to Jonah’s tale

Then know the reason for this gale

And storm in fear of which we quail.

For he, his Lord did scorn.

 

JONAH

Cursed are you, because cursed am I

For I far from my Lord did fly

So toss me in the waves to die

And pacify this storm.

 

CAPTAIN

Now Jonah, tell me, is this true?

As passenger you’ve paid whats due.

It is the fancy of my crew

The cursed one is my wife.

Enter 2nd and 3rd SAILORS carrying the captain’s WIFE who is shouting.

WIFE

Murder! Murder! I am to drown!

(to CAPTAIN) Command these oafs to put me down.

Or feel my hand about thy crown.

(schemes)  What of our baby’s life?

 

CAPTAIN

What’s this, my dear? Thou art with child?

 

WIFE

Why yes, my dear. (aside)  He is beguiled.

 

CAPTAIN

Methinks she is uncommon mild

In a motherly way.

I cannot kill my unborn son.

Some other notion must be done.

Let us draw lots ‘til there be one

Who shall be cast away.

 

JONAH

I tell you all to have no fear.

You will be saved if I’m not here

 

2nd SAILOR

Let’s throw him in. You need us near

To help you save the ship.

 

JONAH

You must discharge me to the brine,

Then this foul weather will turn fine.

And you shall take my God as thine

In holy fellowship.

The sailors pick up JONAH and throw him off the ship.

 

Enter HERALD

HERALD

The crew gave thanks unto the Lord.

The sea and wind no longer roared.

Peace and harmony were restored.

They all began to laugh.

The crew did cheer for all their worth.

The captain mindful of the birth.

His wife was pulling from her girth

A large and knotted staff.

She chased her husband round and round.

She beat the crew into the ground

‘til all did wish they had been drowned

Than face this termagant.

Poor Jonah lay inside a fish;

A sudden death his dearest wish.

O for Nineveh, not Tarshish

To be the supplicant.

 

 

 SCENE III

Inside the great fish’s belly. The ribs of the boat may be extended to give the impression of the ribs of the fish. JONAH is sat within the structure.

JONAH

For three days now and three nights too

Within this fish, I, Jonah who,

Forsook his Lord and, worthless Jew,

Doth now await his death.

But time spent in this fishy grave

I’ve prayed to God my soul to save.

Why pity me? A foolish knave

Who draws his final breath.

My solace has helped me to see

Observing lying vanity

I must forsake my Lord’s mercy

And offer him my soul.

Receive it Lord, if You so wish.

As for my sin you must punish

But deliver me from this fish

That I might die on soil.

 

JONAH begins to lurch from side to side.

JONAH

What sound? What’s this hullaballoo?

I am undone. What must I do?

Methinks this fish is set to spew

Me out…and onto land.

 

JONAH is thrown from the fish.

JONAH

O Lord! O Lord! Merciful King!

Most joyous praise to you I sing.

A sacrifice to you I bring.

This fish will do most grand!

Enter HERALD

HERALD

Then Jonah felt a need to please.

His Lord he knew he must appease.

He threw himself upon his knees

And asked what should be done.

 

Enter GOD upon ‘the high place’

HERALD

The Lord spoke with a solemn voice.

 

GOD

‘Tis meet and right that you rejoice

But do you think you have a choice?

To Nineveh! Be gone!

Exit JONAH

 

 

 

 SCENE IV

The Palace at Nineveh. The KING and Queen are on their thrones with a number of courtiers standing around them. A minstrel is playing.

Enter HERALD

HERALD

Jonah now was joyous once more.

But soon was weary and footsore

He walked for three long days before

He saw the city’s fires.

(to KING et al)  Gracious majesties, courtiers too

Without awaits a wand’ring Jew

Who begs to preach to all of you.

If Majesty desires.

KING

Be gone then fool and let me muse

The weight of tedious interviews.

They do go on these tiresome Jews

With their singleton god.

But we have naught to entertain.

Our minstrel plays the same refrain.

(he yawns)  Debauchery? Oh…not again.

I’ll give the Jew the nod.

 

HERALD

My sov’reign King and Queen of all.

People assembled within this hall;

Before you now, I Jonah call

(aside) Who smells most strong of fish!

 

JONAH

Most gracious sire. Please hear my tale

Of three days spent within a whale

With fear of death from storm and gale

For I opposed God’s wish.

 

HERALD

Then Jonah told them of God’s power;

His threat to them of fireball shower.

The frightened king began to cower

Fearing the end of days.

 

KING

Let I, and all my people, wear

Sackcloth and ashes, shirts of hair;

Let us refrain from unclean fare

And moderate our ways.

Then maybe God will change his mind

(for Jonah tells us he is kind)

And might, we pray, be disinclined

If we pay our respect.

 

HERALD

So God did show his mercy fair

And all the people who lived there

Were brought within the Shepherd’s care –

Forever to protect.

 

 

 

 

SCENE V

In the desert.  JONAH is sitting on a rock.

 

Enter HERALD

HERALD

Our prophet wanders far away

And in the desert goes to stay.

Upon a rock he sits all day –

A martyr to his pride.

Nineveh is an honest place;

It’s people now are full of grace;

Yet Jonah wears a sullen face.

His anger burns inside.

 

Enter GOD upon ‘the high place’

GOD

Jonah – why are you sitting there?

Beneath this sun you will, I fear

Be burned alive. I hold you dear

And will not let you die.

Be of good cheer. Thy work is o’er.

Return to your tools and toil once more.

Why do you scowl? Is your heart sore?

What are you troubled by?

 

JONAH

O Lord, it grieves me much I know

To say to you I told you so.

Recall then that I would not go

To preach unto that town.

My reason was that thou art kind.

I knew you had no death in mind.

Merciful God thou art, I find,

Who would not cast fire down.

 

GOD

I shall not let you suffer so.

Above your head a tree will grow

To shade you ‘til the sun is low

While musing on your fate.

A tree appears to grow behind JONAH.

 

Enter HERALD

HERALD

So as night fell and day returned

The prophet Jonah was not burned.

What pondering? What had he learned?

Our Lord would test him yet.

Enter a worm

 

HERALD

A worm, which ‘neath the tree slithered,

Chewed the root so that it withered.

Heat from which he’d been delivered

Now burned poor Jonah sore.

The cruel east wind the Lord had raised

Seared Jonah’s skin ‘til he was crazed.

Anger raged, ‘neath a sun that blazed.

He wished to live no more.

 

GOD

Why art thou angry? Tell me. Why?

 

JONAH

You ask me why for death I cry.

Well did that tree deserve to die?

It lived for just one day.

 

GOD

It does thou well to love that tree

For it was not cared for by thee.

Thou laboured not. Yet thou scorns me

For taking it away.

Now put your mind to Nineveh;

Of six score thousand people there –

Each one of which I made with care.

Should I raze that city?

Or should I forgive and rejoice

About their true and righteous choice?

They now adore me with one voice

That is worth my pity.

 

HERALD

Now Jonah saw just what God meant.

The Lord forgives those that repent.

He knew the reason he was sent

Preaching to their nation.

The Lord brings comfort to us all;

Even those who ignore his call.

Their salvation brings most of all

Cause for celebration.

Good people as your way you wend;

For now our tale is at an end.

If you’ve enjoyed it – tell a friend!

So next time there’ll be more here.

Yet think on this, behind your doors

This message from us troubadours –

God’s love’s greater than all of yours!

IN EXCELSIS GLORIA!

© gray lightfoot