The Beginning of Grammar (work in progress)


Title: The Beginning of Grammar
Status: work in progress
Genre: Avant-garde comedy
Running time: 70 minutes plus length of death scenes
Cast size: 3
Tag line: Hath not a Jew ice?
Blurb: Three characters wander through the ruins of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice seeking answers to antisemitism, violence and bad grammar.

This is a work in progress and will certainly change before it is ready for production. Performance without written permission of the playwright is strictly prohibited.

A 10-page excerpt follows:

          THE BEGINNING OF GRAMMAR

a maladaptation of Shakespeare’s
The Merchant of Venice
in one act

by

Chas Belov

Copyright © Charles Belov. All rights reserved.

#288

CHARACTERS (in order of name length)

THE JEW, a person, any race or gender

THE FALL GUY, a person, any race or gender

THE PERSON WHOM BY BAD GRAMMAR UPON IS PUT, a person, any race or gender

SETTING

This stage.

TIME

Now.

Diversity in staging of the various death scenes is encouraged.

There is no requirement that stage actions have any relationship to the dialog.

That said, there is no smoking in this play.

On the second page of dialog, increment ____th each time (1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, etc.) the play is read, rehearsed or performed for a particular production.

“Donde termina la gramática empieza el arte”
(Where grammar ends, art begins.)

Pedro Henríquez Ureña
Obra critica
, Mexico, DF:Fondo de Cultura Economica, 1960: 662.

          THE BEGINNING OF GRAMMAR

     (THE PERSON WHOM is alone on stage.)

          THE PERSON WHOM
     (As QUINCE)
Is all our company here?
     (Pause)
Is all our company here?
     (Pause)
It is curtain time. Is all our company here?
     (As BOTTOM)
You were best to call them generally, man by man,
according to the scrip.
     (As QUINCE)
Here is the scroll of every man’s name, which is
thought fit, through all Athens, to play in our
interlude before the duke and the duchess, on his
wedding-day at night.
     (As BOTTOM)
First, good Peter Quince, say what the play treats
on, then read the names of the actors, and so grow
to a point.
     (As QUINCE)
Marry, our play is, The most lamentable comedy of The Merchant of Venice.
     (Pause)
That’s not right. Aside from a surplus of grammatical errors I don’t find The Merchant of Venice particularly lamentable.
     (Pause)
I wasn’t supposed to have the first word. Where is everyone?
     (Pause)
It is now past curtain time. Where is the curtain? Why don’t theatres have curtains any more? There’s a certain majesty with curtains, an enforcement of the fourth wall. I believe theatre went astray when it did away with the curtain. I believe that-please excuse me. I shall have to begin. Hope for the best.
     (Pause)
When shall we three meet again
In thunder, lightning, or in rain?

When the hurlyburly’s done,
When the battle’s lost and won.

That will be ere the set of sun.
Where the place?
Upon the heath.

There to meet with-wait! That’s the Scottish play.
     (Pause)
Call here my varlet; I’ll unarm again:
Why should I war without the walls of Troy,
That find such cruel battle here within?
Each Trojan that is master of his heart,
Let him to field; Troilus, alas! hath none.

     (Pause)
That is the most lamentable comedy of Troilus and Cressida.
     (Pause)
If music be the food of love, play on;
Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken-no, no, no! It is so irresponsible. And this is the ____th time it’s happened, including rehearsals. You would think that they would show some professionalism. They leave me here to struggle with the script until I remember my first line.

     (Pause)
Get out here! I am not doing this on my own!
     (Pause)
This is so embarrassing. When one goes to theatre, one expects a certain level of quality, of production valu-wait! Quality! It is not my first line; it is some way into the play. It is well past curtain time. It will have to do. Let us begin.
     (Pause)
The quality of mercy is not strain’d.
It drops like…

     (Pause)
It drops like…
     (Correcting)
Droppeth…
     (Pause)
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blessed:
It is blessed by he who gives and by he who takes.
     (Mis-correcting)
It blesses twice. It blesses he who gives and he who takes.
Blessed. Blesseth. Him. That.
It is twice blessed:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
It is…
Which is it? Is mercy doing the blessing or not? “It is twice blest.” That means two things or people or whatever are blessing mercy, right? But then it says that mercy is doing the blessing. Is it both blessing and being blessed? I mean, Portia is in effect blessing mercy with her speech, but Portia is just one person. Who else is blessing mercy? Or is Portia blessing mercy twice? If so, the other blessing is outside the auspices of this play.
     (Pause)
Not this play, The Beginning of Grammar. I mean The Merchant of Venice.
     (Pause)
‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest. It becomes
A throned monarch.
     (Correcting)
It becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown.
His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein does…does…doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this scept-red…
     (Correcting)
But mercy is above this sceptred sway;
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute of God…no…to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show like…likest God’s
When mercy seasons justice.
Therefore, Jew,
Though justice be thy plea, consider this,
That, in the course of justice, none of us
Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy;
And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
The deeds of mercy. I have spoke thus much
To mitigate the justice of thy plea;
Which if thou follow, this strict court of Venice
Must necessarily…
     (Correcting)
Must needs give sentence ‘gainst the merchant there.
     (That was supposed to be an entrance cue)
Must needs give sentence ‘gainst the merchant there.

     (Pause; THE FALL GUY enters)

          THE PERSON WHOM
     (It’s about time!)
Must needs give sentence ‘gainst the merchant…there!

     (THE PERSON WHOM kills THE FALL GUY. THE FALL GUY dies. THE PERSON WHOM exits. THE JEW enters.)

          THE JEW
How like a fawning pelican he looks!
I hate him for he is a Christian,
But more for that in low simplicity
He lends out money gratis and brings down
The rate of usance here with us in Venice.
If I can catch him once upon the hip,
I will feed fat the ancient grudge I bear him.
He hates our sacred nation, and he rails,
Even there where merchants most do congregate,
On me, my bargains and my well-won thrift,
Which he calls interest. Cursed be my tribe,
If I forgive him!
     (Pause)
That wasn’t very sympathetic, was it?
     (Pause)
If I can catch him once upon the hip?
     (Pause)
Do I know judo?

     (THE JEW tries to drag THE FALL GUY’s body away and cannot.)

          THE JEW
Well then, it now appears you need my help:
Go to, then; you come to me, and you say
“Shylock, we would have moneys:” you say so;
You, that did void your rheum upon my beard
And foot me as you spurn a stranger cur
Over your threshold: moneys are your suit
     (Correcting)
Moneys is your suit.
What should I say to you? Should I not say
“Hath a dog money? is it possible
A cur can lend three thousand ducats?” Or
Shall I bend low and in a bondman’s key,
With bated breath and whispering humbleness, Say this;
“Fair sir, you spit on me on Wednesday last;
You spurn’d me such a day; another time
You call’d me dog; and for these courtesies
I’ll lend you thus much moneys?”
     (Pause)
Woof. Woof.
     (Pause)
I am Sir Oracle,
And when I ope my lips let no dog bark!
     (Pause)
Woof.

     (THE JEW tries unsuccessfully to arouse THE FALL GUY.)

          THE JEW
I do know of these
That therefore only are reputed wise
For saying nothing; when, I am very sure,
If they should speak, would almost damn those ears,
Which, hearing them, would call their brothers fools.
Peace, ho! the moon sleeps with Endymion

And would not be awakened.
     (Correcting)
Awaked.
     (Long pause; correcting “pelican”)
Publican! He looks like a fawning publican!

     (THE JEW exits. THE FALL GUY sits up, and at some point stands.)

          THE FALL GUY
     (To audience)
I pray you, tarry: pause a day or two
Before you hazard; for, in choosing wrong,
I lose your company: therefore forbear awhile.
There’s something tells me, but it is not love,
I would not lose you; and you know yourself,
Hate counsels not in such a quality.
But lest you should not understand me well,—
And yet a maiden hath no tongue but thought,—
I would detain you here some month or two
     (Pause)
With quite a few intermissions, perchance…
     (Pause)
Before you venture for me. I could teach you
How to choose right, but I am then forsworn;
So will I never be: so may you miss me;
But if you do, you’ll make me wish a sin,
That I had been forsworn.
     (To a male member of the audience)
Sir, you are very welcome to our house:
It must appear in other ways than words,
Therefore I scant this breathing courtesy.
     (To a female member of the audience)
I wish your ladyship all heart’s content.
Fair thoughts and happy hours attend on you!
     (Turning attention back to the stage)
What, is Antonio here?

     (THE PERSON WHOM enters.)

          THE PERSON WHOM
Ready, so please your grace.

     (Pause.)

          THE FALL GUY
Between you and I…

     (Pause.)

          THE PERSON WHOM
Between you and me…

     (Pause.)

          THE FALL GUY
Between you and I…

          THE PERSON WHOM
Between you and me…

     (Pause.)

          THE FALL GUY
Between you and I…

          THE PERSON WHOM
     (Overlapping “I”)
Me!

     (Pause.)

          THE FALL GUY
Between you and I.

     (Pause.)

          THE PERSON WHOM
Between you and me!

     (Pause.)

          THE FALL GUY
All debts are cleared between you and I, if I might but
see you at my death. Notwithstanding, use your
pleasure: if your love do not persuade you to come,
let not my letter.

          THE PERSON WHOM
All debts are cleared between you and me, if I might but
see you at my death. Notwithstanding, use your
pleasure: if your love does not persuade you to come,
let not my letter.
     (Pause)
Let not my letter what?

          THE FALL GUY
Persuade you to come.

          THE PERSON WHOM
Let not my letter persuade you to come?

          THE FALL GUY
Exactly.
All debts are cleared between you and me, if I could
see you at my death. Notwithstanding, use your
pleasure: if your love do not persuade you to
come, let not my letter persuade you to come either.
     (Pause)
All debts are cleared between you and I.

          THE PERSON WHOM
Between…

          THE FALL GUY
Look, are you correcting Shakespeare?

          THE PERSON WHOM
Correcting errors is the beginning of grammar.

          THE FALL GUY
This play is The Beginning of Grammar.

          THE PERSON WHOM
Then this play is correcting errors.

          THE FALL GUY
That’s a faulty syllogism.

          THE PERSON WHOM
This play is not correcting errors?

          THE FALL GUY
The title of this play is The Beginning of Grammar.

          THE PERSON WHOM
Then the title of this play is correcting errors.

          THE FALL GUY
It is no such thing! Between you and I…

          THE PERSON WHOM
Between you and me!

          THE FALL GUY
Between you and me…

          THE PERSON WHOM
Why do you give up so easily?

          THE FALL GUY
It’s my line.

          THE PERSON WHOM
What, you think you are limited to your lines?

          THE FALL GUY
I am constrained by my fate.

          THE PERSON WHOM
Constrained…

          THE FALL GUY
That’s what I said.

          THE PERSON WHOM
I wasn’t correcting you.

          THE FALL GUY
I thought corrections were the beginning of grammar.

          THE PERSON WHOM
No, they still are the beginning of grammar.

          THE FALL GUY
I thought this play was The Beginning of Grammar.

          THE PERSON WHOM
This play is The Beginning of Grammar.

          THE FALL GUY
This play is entitled The Beginning of Grammar.

          THE PERSON WHOM
This play is titled The Beginning of Grammar.

          THE FALL GUY
I am entitled to say “entitled.” My title is the Duke or Duchess of Earl.

          THE PERSON WHOM
Which is it?

          THE FALL GUY
If I am male, I am Duke. If I am female, I am Duchess.

          THE PERSON WHOM
And if you are neither.

          THE FALL GUY
I am “The Fall Guy.”

          THE PERSON WHOM
Your name is “The Fall Guy.”

          THE FALL GUY
That’s what I said.

          THE PERSON WHOM
You said you were “The Fall Guy.”

          THE FALL GUY
Was, is, and ever shall be.

          THE PERSON WHOM
But I am “The Person Whom By Bad Grammar Upon Is Put.”

          THE FALL GUY
And you were, are, and ever shall be.
     (Pause)
I am Launcelot, your boy
that was, your son that is, your child that shall
be.

          THE PERSON WHOM
Will be.
     (Pause)
It will be for his gentle daughter’s sake:
And never dare misfortune cross her foot,
Unless she do it under this excuse,
That she is issue to a faithless Jew.
Come, go with me; peruse this as thou goest.

          THE FALL GUY
Peruse what as I goest. Go-eth? As I go.

          THE PERSON WHOM
Well, thou shalt see, thy eyes shall be thy judge,
          THE difference between
     (Correcting)
difference of old Shylock and Bassanio:—
What, Jessica!—thou shalt not gormandise.

          THE FALL GUY
Gormandise?

          THE PERSON WHOM
Make a pig of oneself.

          THE FALL GUY
Is that good or bad?

          THE PERSON WHOM
It increases the supply of pork.

          THE FALL GUY
But we’re Jewish.

          THE PERSON WHOM
It’s an economic issue.

          THE FALL GUY
Supply your present wants and take no do-it

          THE PERSON WHOM
Doit!

          THE FALL GUY
Take no doit
Of usance for my moneys, and you’ll not hear me:
This is the kind I offer.
     (Correcting)
This is kind I offer.
     (Pause)
And what’s doit?

          THE PERSON WHOM
Well, if any man in
Italy have a fairer table which does—
     (Correcting)
doth offer to swear
upon a book, I shall have good fortune.

          THE FALL GUY
Good sentences and well pronounced.

          THE PERSON WHOM
The man that hath no music in himself,
Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds,
Is fit for treason
     (Correcting)
treasons, stratagems and spoils;
The motions of his spirit are dull as night.

          THE FALL GUY
In such a night
Did Thisbe fearfully o’ertrip the dew
And saw the lion’s shadow ere himself
And ran dismay’d away.

     (Pause.)

          THE PERSON WHOM
The substance of my praise wrongs this shadow.
     (Correcting)
Doth wrong.
     (Pause)
In underprizing it, so far this shadow
Doth limp behind the substance.

          THE FALL GUY
Alack the day, I know you not, young gentleman:
but, I pray you, tell me, is my boy, God rest his
soul, alive or dead?

          THE PERSON WHOM
Do you not know me, father?

          THE FALL GUY
Alack, sir, I am sand-blind; I know you not.

          THE PERSON WHOM
Nay, indeed, if you had your eyes, you might fail of the
knowing me: it is a wise father that knows his

own child. Well, old man, I will tell you news of
your son: give me your blessing: truth will come
to light; murder cannot be hid long; a man’s son
may, but at the length truth will out.

          THE FALL GUY
You killed me in cold blood.

          THE PERSON WHOM
Put on a sweater.

          THE FALL GUY
I walked on stage and you killed me.

          THE PERSON WHOM
Who says such a falsehood?

          THE FALL GUY
It’s true!

          THE PERSON WHOM
That’s ungrammatical! I asked you a “Who” question. You must respond with a person’s name.

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One Response to “The Beginning of Grammar (work in progress)”

  1. Making my own goalpost « Exit, Pursued by a Lark Says:

    […] first drafts of and began editing three more full-length plays: The Beginning of Grammar, My Visit to America and Evil […]

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