REYNARD THE FOX

A play by Jeremy de Merstone, based on Le Roman de Renart

DRAMATIS PERSONAE:

REYNARD the Fox                 A PEASANT laden with goods
YSENGRIM the Wolf               2 PEASANTS pulling a Fish-cart
CHANTECLEERE the Rooster        A Human (or more than one) at the manor *
PINTE the Hen                   A Dog (or more than one) at the manor *
TIECELIN the Crow               Another Hen (or more than one) *

* not really speaking roles; the Peasants don't speak much either...

Other notes:

Lots of props and scenery: much of which can be constructed of chairs, SCA-weaponry, miscellaneous objects, and lots of imagination; some of which probably really needs to be made using more representational artistic techniques [e.g., the Ham on the rope; the fence of pointed sticks and the gap therein; the cheese (Wisconsin souvenir?); the fish and eels (old nylons filled with shredded paper?); possibly the fish-cart (large garden cart? sheet of plywood on a wagon? -- remember, an actor is not an infinitesimal mass)].

Costumes for animal characters should be basic and identifiable-at-a-glance-or-two, but not necessarily elaborate. Peasants/humans can just wear basic SCA clothes (nothing too fancy for the peasants...).

Four-footed animals should be acted on "pseudo-all-fours": on all fours when seated; crouched down, more-or-less, when walking or running; mainly for contrast when leaping about. Bird actors should bear in mind birds' capabilities and limitations.

This play is not in the public domain. It is, however, freely available for any SCA or other theatre group to perform at no charge, as long as appropriate credit is given for the source material and any modifications. (That is, if you change it in any noticeable way, say "based on Jeremy de Merstone's Reynard the Fox" and admit to what part's yours and what part's mine; otherwise, writing credit goes to me and performance/direction/production credit goes to you).


SCENE 1: THE HAM

[Early morning in the forest. From opposite sides of the stage enter Reynard the Fox and Ysengrim the Wolf, 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 finding my friend Reynard in a gullible mood. I wonder what foxes taste like.

[They approach one another; Ysengrim too smug to effectively conceal his plan; Reynard wary, looking for escape routes]

YSENGRIM [in range at last, leaps at Reynard]:

Aha!

[after a brief (or not-so-brief: director's choice) skirmish, Reynard twists away and rolls down a hill, playing dead, into some bushes near a path; Ysengrim stays at the top of the hill 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 [has spotted something in the distance and decides to stop playing dead; quietly]:

Ssssshhhh!

YSENGRIM [didn't quite hear that]:

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 [having heard it this time, bounds down the hill to the bush]:

Reynard! You're alive! Thank the Lord and the Saints and the Heavenly Host...[cut off by Reynard]

REYNARD [urgent, but not too loud]:

I said "BE QUIET!" so 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*
*[or pitchfork or whatever implement is available].
 
I have an idea though for a plan.

YSENGRIM [dubious]:

A plan?

REYNARD [emerging from the bush]:

Yes, a plan. We can work together and get the ham. I'll split it with you 60-40. OK?

YSENGRIM [grabs Reynard by the throat]:

60-40? What do you mean 60-40?

REYNARD:

Er, why, 60 for you and 40 for me! Of course! Right?

YSENGRIM [lets go of Reynard's throat]:

Right. And you'd better remember that I've killed you once today already on an empty stomach. If my stomach stays empty, I may just do it again, more thoroughly.

REYNARD:

Right. Now stay quiet; the peasant should be rounding the corner any minute now. Here's the plan:
[whispers in Ysengrim's ear briefly]
Got it? [Ysengrim nods] Good! Here he comes...

[Enter a PEASANT, carrying, among other heavy bags, a HAM on a rope. Reynard dashes out to the path from behind the bushes and feigns a lame foot (or two: there may be more ham in the Ham Episode than what hangs from the peasant's rope...); He moves away down the path slowly (trying to make the peasant think he can catch a fox on his way to market). The ploy works; after initial startlement, the Peasant responds.]

PEASANT:

Wow! Won't that fox's fur look great as a new jacket? And he's lame, too. This should be a snap!

[Once the peasant takes up the chase, Reynard heads away from the path (perhaps into the audience; director's choice), but still fairly slowly]

PEASANT:

Darn! I can't catch him in the woods carrying all this stuff. He looks half dead already, though...it can't be that long before I get him. I'll leave my bags here and come back for them when I've caught the fox.

[The Peasant divests himself of most of his wares (including, of course, the Ham), and takes off into the woods after Reynard, who speeds up a bit; Once the Peasant is well away from the Ham, Ysengrim comes out from hiding, snatches the Ham and takes off with it. The Peasant is still intent on fox-hunting, while stumbling through the woods.]

PEASANT [at various times in his searching]:

Where did he go? Where can he be? He can't be going this fast on that lame foot! [etc.]

[Reynard makes his way back to the path, waits for the Peasant to almost catch up, and then takes off at high speed down the path and out of sight. The Peasant goes back up the path to his belongings and sees, or, rather, doesn't see, the missing Ham. He is not pleased.]

PEASANT [reloading the remaining wares (pots & pans, vegetables, etc.)]:

My ham! My ham! It's gone! Oh, woe to that fox who tricked me out of my ham. He will come to no good end, that's for certain. Well, I'd better get on to market before all the villagers have bought their goods from someone else. Next time, I'll bring my dogs.

[The Peasant disappears up the path, continuing his grumbling... Ysengrim reappears, carrying the rope upon which the Ham had hung. The ham is nowhere to be seen. Ysengrim is licking his chops and looking quite content. Reynard enters.]

YSENGRIM [heartily]:

Greetings, friend Reynard, and well met! You did a wonderful job! My family has not eaten so well in many a week!

REYNARD:

I see you have brought the rope. Where is my share of the ham?

YSENGRIM:

Your share? I'm afraid that your share has gone to feed my wife and pups. 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 it, but I rather doubt that you will succeed.

REYNARD [resigned, but angry]:

Alas, but I must agree with you. You may wish, in time, however, that you had decided to 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.]


SCENE 2: REYNARD AND CHANTECLEERE

[The barnyard of Sir Constant's manor. Across the back and one side is a palisade (fence with points on top) with a gap near the back (just big enough for a fox to fit through). Immediately in front of the gap in the fence is a patch of large cabbages (just large enough for a fox to hide behind). A couple of chickens, including Pinte, the Head Hen, are out in front milling around, pecking at the ground and generally behaving like chickens (what else?). Chantecleere the Rooster sits on a fence (or something fairly, but not extremely, high), snoozing. He awakens, disturbed.]

CHANTECLEERE:

Cock-a-doodle-dooo!
Dame Pinte, my dear wife, may I have a word with you?

PINTE:

Yes, my Lord. How may I serve you?

CHANTECLEERE:

I've just had a dream, a nightmare of sorts. I know that you are skilled at divining the meaning of such ominous portents, and would have your opinion of my dream.
 
I dreamed that someone was clothing me in a furry red jacket, too tight by far, with buttons and stays of gleaming white bone jabbing me all over: they made my back and neck quite sore. The collar was especially poorly made, and hurt my neck badly. This jacket had a white lining underneath, also of fur; and all of the fur was turned to the outside of the garment, and a great plume of red and white fluttered out behind. The tightness increased and as I leaned my head back to gasp for breath, I saw not the sky above me, but the ground, moving by very rapidly; and the jacket enfolded me yet tighter and all went black and then I woke up.
 
Pray tell me, good wife, what do you make of this dream of mine?

PINTE:

My Lord, it's a sad omen you have seen. This jacket with red and white fur on the outside was none other than a vicious fox; the stays and buttons of bone digging into your back and neck were his teeth; the flowing plume, his tail. Seeing the ground above you shows that the fox was carrying you upside down on your way to your doom. I fear that before this very noon you will be caught by a fox and killed, unless you come inside with me to hide.

CHANTECLEERE:

You must be crazy! To take a mere dream so seriously! And to imply that I, Chantecleere, could not hold my own against a mere woodlands pest such as a fox! You try to humiliate me! I see now that your skill at interpreting dreams is MUCH over-rated; perhaps you can see the truth behind mere hens' dreams, but the dreams of a rooster are beyond the reach of your talent. I am in NO danger. That much is clear. I'll come to no harm in the jaws of a fox today!

[Chantecleere goes off in a huff to another part of the yard.]

PINTE [calling after him]:

My Lord, I pray to God that you are right. [to the audience]: But I KNOW that I am right, and he is not!

[Pinte goes back to pecking with the other hen (or hens). Reynard appears on the outside of the palisade. He snoops around a bit, getting a feel for the enemy's defenses (literally--he feels the sharpness of the pointed sticks)]

REYNARD [talking to himself; i.e., to the audience]:

It appears that Sir Constant keeps his chickens well guarded. An array of pointed sticks. Well-placed thorn-bushes. Ahhh... the gate is open a little! Ohhh... there are dogs right next to it. I MUST have a juicy chicken to eat. How should I go about it? If I climb the fence, the thorns will flay my hide and the pointed sticks at the top will pierce me. If I get a running start and LEAP over, I will surely be seen, and the alarm will be out before I bag my catch! There MUST be some SNEAKY way in!

[He finds the small gap in the fence]

Aha! I must be quick and get in without anyone seeing me.

[Reynard goes through the gap and dives behind the cabbages, which rustle. He is thereby concealed effectively. The hens don't quite see what has happened, but are alarmed anyway, and squawk and cackle and flap around a lot more than is really called for, as hens are wont to do. Chantecleere is aroused out of his sulk.]

CHANTECLEERE [coming over to the hens]:

All right, now, what's all the fuss about?

THE HENS [still excited]:

Something moved! Over by the fence! In the cabbage patch!

[Chantecleere gives the cabbage patch a long hard look, then the hens, then the cabbage patch again, and back to the hens.]

CHANTECLEERE:

You're imagining things! It's just a gust of wind fluttering the cabbage leaves. You're so silly you might as well be geese! Even if there WAS something out there, I'd take care of it, or else raise the alarm. Go back to whatever you were doing and try to have some sense! [muttering, stomping off to his roost, but doesn't bother to climb up onto it]: Hens! Sometimes, I don't know why I even bother...

PINTE [to the other hen(s)]:

Say what he likes about fussy hens, but I, for one, am heading for the chicken coop right now! I'd rather be safe than sorry!

[The hens head off-stage towards safer areas. Chantecleere yawns and dozes off. Reynard pokes his head up once or twice to see if the coast is clear. It appears to be. He takes his chance.]

REYNARD [leaping out from behind the cabbages]:

Aha!

[Chantecleere is a light sleeper, apparently, and gets up on his roost quickly, just as the fox gets to where he had been dozing a moment before. He is not quite out of the fox's reach, but his spurs are a sufficient deterrent that the fox doesn't dare try for him; clearly it's time for trickery -- the rooster could easily summon help.]

REYNARD [trying to be ingratiating]:

My dear friend Chantecleere, don't be afraid! You are wrong to greet me with fear in your heart. I would not do you any harm! [to the audience]: Those wicked spurs and that nasty beak of his make sure of that, unless I can catch him unawares!

CHANTECLEERE:

Ha! You expect me to believe that you intend no harm to me and my hens?

REYNARD:

Why not?
[to the audience]: He'd better believe it, or else he'll call for help, and I'd be a fur-piece around Sir Constant's lady's neck! [back to Chantecleere]: I've just come to pay a visit and compliment you on your remarkable singing every morning. When I'm in this valley at sunrise, I always look forward to hearing you crow.

CHANTECLEERE [starting to fall for it]:

You really like it? You're not just saying it to trick me into becoming your dinner?

REYNARD:

Oh, yes, I like your songs indeed. They remind me so much of your famous father's sunrise melodies. Now, THEY were something grand. Of course, your father crowed so well and so loudly that one didn't even have to be in this valley to hear him. The whole countryside, for miles around, could hear his music! And sometimes, when he'd close his eyes tight, then NO cock could outcrow him, try as he might!

CHANTECLEERE:

Thank you for praising my father: what I still don't understand is why you should bother.

REYNARD:

I grow old, you see -- the white hairs on my chest -- and was just reminiscing about the times that were best. How could I harm you? The son of the rooster whom I so admired? Please sing me a song for old times' sake.

CHANTECLEERE:

All right, now, stand well back. [Reynard backs off, maybe a foot] Cock-a-doodle-doooo! Cock-a-doodle-dooooooooo! [and other appropriately rooster-like sounds (does anybody out there do rooster imitations?); he is careful though, to keep at least one eye open to watch Reynard with. When he is done, Reynard does not look too impressed]

REYNARD:

Weeelllll, that's not toooo bad. But if that's the best you can do, I fear that I may never hear the like of your dear father Chanteclin again in my lifetime. His voice was much stronger; at least, it was when he shut his eyes and CONCENTRATED on his singing....

[Reynard makes as if to turn away and leave, dejectedly.]

CHANTECLEERE:

Wait! Let me try that again! I KNOW I can do it at LEAST as well as my father could!

[With this, he closes his eyes up really tight and bellows forth a mighty crow, cut short a bit when Reynard leaps up and grabs him, and starts to carry him away in his mouth. Chantecleere squawks and cries for help. The hens flutter back on stage, also squawking and crying for help. Pinte may be heard to exclaim "I told him! I told him! He just wouldn't listen to me!" a couple of times. Reynard heads offstage, around the audience. A human (Sir Constant, his wife, or a servant, or more than one -- whoever can be cast) and at least one dog are on his trail almost immediately, calling the fox names (watch the language! there may be kids in the audience and we wouldn't want to shock them by revealing that adults know those words, too). A chase ensues (going on for as long as the director wants it to). Such cries as "Which way did he go?", "Here!", "No! Over this way!", etc., from the human(s). At some point, Chantecleere stops squawking.]

CHANTECLEERE [to the audience]:

It's curtains for me if I can't think of something quick!

[At last, the human(s) and dog(s) more-or-less have Reynard cornered.]

CHANTECLEERE:

I am really surprised, my lord Fox, that you should allow yourself to be abused in this fashion! They should treat you with respect. You captured me fair and square! Why should they insult you so? Why do you not tell them off? I would hate to be eaten by someone held in such low regard! Of course, if you PREFER to be chased like a COMMON THIEF and made a fool of by mere DOGS...

REYNARD [his vanity working faster than his brain, opens his mouth and calls over his shoulder at the human(s) and dog(s)]:

He's MINE now! I got him fair and...

[Chantecleere has lost no time in fluttering up a tree to safety]

...square.

CHANTECLEERE:

While we have life, we have setbacks! Life's unfair, that's just the way it goes!

REYNARD:

And shame on he who doesn't know when to keep his foolish mouth closed.

CHANTECLEERE:

And shame on he who doesn't know when to keep his eyes open to danger. Nobody is so wise that he never makes a mistake -- and it would be a BIG mistake for YOU to wait here for the hunters...

REYNARD:

Uh...Right.

[Reynard leaves as the human(s) and dog(s) arrive and retrieve the rooster.]


SCENE 3: THE FOX, THE CROW, AND THE CHEESE

[A tree in the woods, occupied by Tiecelin the Crow, who has rested a large chunk of cheese (stolen, of course) on a branch and is eating it bit by bit as Reynard shows up.]

REYNARD [to the audience]:

I am truly famished. My brain grows ill from lack of food. Much as I hate to repeat a ploy, I cannot think of anything original just now...
[to Tiecelin]: Tiecelin! 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, after all, he WAS just a CROW. We 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 [dubious]:

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.]

REYNARD:

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 a production number, and actually doesn't sound half bad, but 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.

[He hobbles about a little bit. Tiecelin is not entirely fooled, but willing to trust his own maneuverability in avoiding the fox, should this turn out to be a trick.]

TIECELIN:

All right. Stand back. I'm coming down for it. [to the audience]: After all, I can fly faster than HE can jump.

[Tiecelin heads for the cheese; Reynard leaps for Tiecelin, who eludes him narrowly and returns to his branch.]

TIECELIN:

I should have known you were lying, you vile red trickster! Now I've lost some feathers for my trust! Reynard is a false friend and a sneak! The whole forest shall hear of this outrage!

REYNARD:

Oh, come on, now. I meant you no real harm. After all, 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. That's all you're getting from ME today! I can always steal another cheese. I often do. I steal them and eat them, and they just make more. I'd say "fare well", but right now I'd rather you didn't.

[Tiecelin flies away. Reynard goes over to the cheese.]

REYNARD:

This will make 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!

[Heads off into the woods with the cheese.]


SCENE 4: REYNARD AND THE FISH-CART

[A road through the woods, around sunset. Two men appear (peasants; perhaps a man and a woman, or two women), pulling a cart loaded with fish and eels. Reynard appears from another direction.]

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 goes to the side of the road ahead of where the fish-haulers are, and flops down, playing dead (quite well, after the battering he has endured on this day)]

PEASANT 1:

Look! A dead fox!

PEASANT 2:

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

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 cart-load of fish and most of these eels besides, just to have so fine a cloak. Let's take it with us.

[The peasants lift Reynard (lotsa luck) into the back of their fish-cart and continue on their way. Reynard lies low for a few moments; then he surreptitiously starts eating some of the smallest fish. He wraps some eels around his neck and waist; then he bails out.]

REYNARD [joyously]:

So long! ...and thanks for all the fish!

[Reynard quickly exits through the woods.]

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 to see if it was alive when we put it in the cart?

PEASANT 2:

Well, no... I thought YOU would check.

PEASANT 1:

Oh, 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 return to their job, and are soon out of sight. Reynard returns briefly.]

REYNARD [to the audience]:

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 noone 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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