[As with other monologues on this site, you are welcome to use the following piece for auditions or in the classroom. Public performances require my express permission and may be subject to royalties/licensing fees.]
from AFTER THE PROLOGUE, loosely adapted from Chaucer’s Wife of Bath’s Tale.
(ALISON enters and checks out the audience. She is pleased with what she sees.)
An audience. Do you know how long it’s been since I’ve had an audience? A living, breathing, gossiping with their neighbors, audience?
(Pauses to do the math)
Six hundred and twenty-six years. Give or take a few months.
You do know me, don’t you? Alison—the gap-toothed pilgrim lady? From The Canterbury Tales?
Right. “The Wife of Bath.” That’s me. A good woman from the city of Bath, on a pilgrimage to Canterbury, with—like everybody else—a story to tell. But you may not remember my story.
What you remember, most likely—if you remember anything—is the prologue to my story. Naturally. Because of the queynte and so forth. And the husbands. Five of them. Which was a lot even in those days. My last husband, Jankin, the clerk, he was my favorite. Twenty years younger than me, and oh, so handsome … With Jankin, I was never stingy with my queynte, believe me. Queynte. It’s a beautiful word, isn’t it? Like the thing itself. So you are forgiven for dwelling on the subject.
But it’s a pity you don’t remember my story. Because it’s an excellent fable with a very wise moral—and even a happy ending. If you can believe it.
So listen up.
(A storytelling mood is established, whether by lighting, music, gesture, costume, tone of voice, or all of the above.)
In the good old days when Arthur was our king,
Yes, he of whose great deeds the poets sing,
When fairies wandered freely everywhere,
Then was the elfin queen both wise and fair.
In joyful company she often danced,
And any man who saw her was entranced.
Adventuring one day, a handsome knight
Laid eyes on her and loved her at first sight.
But quicker than the breathing of a sigh,
The elf-queen fled into a grove nearby.
The knight rode after her, but she was gone.
And in his frantic chase he came upon
A pretty thing, a girl who, I’m afraid—
(Abruptly, ALISON breaks out of story-telling mode.)
Don’t you just love iambic pentameter? And rhyming couplets? They make everything sound so … fabulous. Even a rape scene. Because, of course, a rape is what’s about to happen.
(She holds up her fingers one at a time, counting the stresses.)
A pretty thing, a girl who, I’m afraid,
(Holding up her open hand)
Got it? Five strong beats. That’s iambic pentameter.
(She closes her hand into a fist.)
Now we’re onto the next line.
(Slowly, holding up one, then two, then three fingers)
When he was done, she was …
Wait for it … Wait for the rhyme …
When he was done, she was no more a maid.
See what I mean? Once the pattern has been established, you can’t help but desire to experience its completion.
Now, we segue to the court of King Arthur where the wretched, sinful knight has been apprehended for his foul deed and condemned to death. But the queen begs for mercy … in a manner of speaking.