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.
“THE MIRACLE PLAY OF JONAH AND THE WHALE
(as performed by the boatbuilders of Marazion)
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
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.
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.
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?
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!
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.
Enough now, Jonah! Enough I say!
For thou shallt go this very day.
You must obey – without delay.
Thou shall not sway my will.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
But wife, my bowels quake with fear;
My trembling hands can hardly steer.
Here, take a cup of wine, my dear,
To calm your fearful brow.
How can you sup in this dire strait?
Are you not fearful of thy fate?
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.
(aside) I’d rather ‘twere a watery grave.
‘Twas naught, my dear.
I go below to rest abed.
This pleasing wine goes to my head.
(flirting) Comest thou dear?
(aside) Death holds less dread.
(to WIFE) Who else is there to steer?
Enter 1st 2nd and 3rd SAILORS in panic
Good captain tell us what to do!
Yes tell us for we trust in you!
All’s thrown away – the cargo too!
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
Dear Captain, I much fear the worst;
That one aboard this ship is cursed.
And so before the timbers burst
We must discover whom.
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.
She is my wife! I made a vow.
I cannot thus discharge her now.
She’s nothing but a drunken cow.
To all the world a shrew!
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?
And she’ll be silent too!
Exeunt 2nd and 3rd SAILORS.
Enter 1st SAILOR with JONAH
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.
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.
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.
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?
What’s this, my dear? Thou art with child?
Why yes, my dear. (aside) He is beguiled.
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.
I tell you all to have no fear.
You will be saved if I’m not here
Let’s throw him in. You need us near
To help you save the ship.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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’
The Lord spoke with a solemn voice.
‘Tis meet and right that you rejoice
But do you think you have a choice?
To Nineveh! Be gone!
The Palace at Nineveh. The KING and Queen are on their thrones with a number of courtiers standing around them. A minstrel is playing.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
So God did show his mercy fair
And all the people who lived there
Were brought within the Shepherd’s care –
Forever to protect.
In the desert. JONAH is sitting on a rock.
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’
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?
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.
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.
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
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.
Why art thou angry? Tell me. Why?
You ask me why for death I cry.
Well did that tree deserve to die?
It lived for just one day.
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.
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