➸ The Prologue
Deep in the forest near the gurgling brook,
Two species different as night and day
Fall prey to pride, an ever-baited hook,
And nature’s right to age-old grudge gives way.
Two champions rise to prove their families’ mights,
Through contest heralded ’till time’s far end;
But hubris proves a poison to their light,
Which budding amity cannot forfend.
These sad travails of doomèd brotherhood,
And the upset in their tribes it did inspire,
Which only in their deaths calls forth some good,
Will now before your very eyes transpire;
From which if you watch closely and with care,
Shall not forget the tortoise and the hare.
➸ I.1 Enter Gabriel, with sword and buckler, of the Tortoise clan.
GABRIEL On my word, an excellent day for a feast. The birds serenade upon sweet dappled boughs, and Nature’s green flesh births plentiful fruits. These nuts and berries shall my purpose serve.
Enter hare [Lucius].
LUCIUS Ho there, lead-legs! Late for dinner? [aside] My haunches thrum for action. I shall make sport of this.
GABRIEL Dost thou quarrel with me, rabbit? Thy twitching betrays thine intent; I will meet thee!
LUCIUS I am for thee. [Draws his sword.] I should ask if thou wilt walk, but sure thou shalt not run.
GABRIEL Fie, villain!
[They fight. Gabriel falls.]
GABRIEL O, I am grievously cut!
LUCIUS [Aside] I must confess I’d no intent to breach his shell. No good can come of this.
GABRIEL O mockery of nature, that I am stead and slow! If this not come to head, my end means naught. [Dies.]
➸ III.3 Enter Tortelion [solus].
Stars, hear me in my fervent, tender prayer
That sweet Philotes with Fortuna lie
And steer with steady hand our shaky course
To future free from ever-suppressèd love.
Wherefore I a shell and he soft fur?
Is’t our burden ne’er to loose these chains of hate?
Perchance design may smile upon our plan,
Approaching with the long-awaited heat.
The contest shall commence at yonder brook
With alarums and fanfare edging on,
But when we reach the creek’s wet finish line
We shall not shorten stride nor slow our pace
Until escape through distance hath been won.
Then, gods be merciful, we shall embark
Upon existence in some safer sphere
Where comradeship betwixt opposing parts
May prosper and forbear black enmity.
–But soft, here comes my lord.
Enter Lord Tortoise.
TORTOISE The swiftest in the land? They dare! Long hath the House of Hare abused our race; no
more. The sword of justice shan’t o’erlook the murder of our kinsman. How now, my son?
TORTELION My lord, is’t not too strong a hand to rake each hare o’er th’ coals? Hare’s heir my
rival in this feat mourns the death of our kin as his own. Belike–
TORTOISE Peace, I say! A swab-tailed,
flighty rascal every one! Our gentle cousin not a fortnight gone, and by my son forsworn! Knaves!
TORTELION Good my lord,
But mend your wounded pride. We need not battle those who share our shade. In betting on such
foolery as this, you find your faith in temperament too hot.
TORTOISE Mark me.
I am no fool; ’tis sooth that we are slow
And anchored by our leisured scaly feet,
Whilst hares are skittish, swift and boldly formed,
Thus urged to bawdiness and pageantry.
But by my troth, the Tortoise coat of arms
Will not be tarnished in such bold defeat–
To rectify the tipping of the scales,
A clandestine recourse shall be our wings.
Once dark I bid thee steal away and find
Some draught to cease the breath of Old Hare’s heir;
T’administer afore the fateful race
Through quiet death securing our esteem.
TORTELION Good Father–
By Nature, I charge thee.
TORTELION O me, that I am fettered by my blood!
Commanded by my lord I must obey,
Firm even as my heart bids me away.
➸ III.4 Enter Apothecary.
[Sings] That sir which aches and seeks relief
From prickly nettle’s thorn
Will find what wise men know as grief
When choking on his gorge.
Hey non nony, hey nony.
And I will make a pretty sum
On all who search love’s draught
For pansy changed with willow leaf
Amounts t’affection naught.
Hey non nony, hey-ho.
TORTELION Good even, sir.
APOTHECARY ’Tis even so. Were the sun’s glow good, I’d fain be a nocturn. Methinks thine eyes betray some melancholic humour– Slow o’ th’ tongue?
My duty binds my word, but not my hand.
Trickery’s false wings shall win the race,
but death shall not prevail in stealing breath
From warm within Harmello’s whiskered cheek.
APOTHECARY Speak, young tortoise.
I seek a potion of such blackened wont
To cloak a figure with the mask of death,
That in effect shall fill his veins with lead
And weigh upon his frame in lethargy;
But after liquid sleep hath run its course,
Full motion must seep back into his limbs,
A luster high return to his bright eyes,
Withall, life’s signs and vigour come restored.
TORTELION Then name your price.
APOTHECARY Five gold pieces.
TORTELION Very well.
APOTHECARY Mixes herbs.
Aside [sings]. My fav’rite draught is hyssop root,
Which cures most malady,
Unless combined with hemlock shoots,
Whence cometh tragedy.
Hey non nony, hey nony.
The physic bringing death-like sleep
Is mandrake essence stewed,
But hemlock’s cheap,
And death’s like sleep,
Near twin in colour brewed.
Hey non nony, hey-ho.
There, O shellèd one. In each ear three drops a deathly stupor makes; from darkest sleep no
creature can defend.
There is thy gold– though fiendish this my task,
May golden future its result ring forth,
And through Harmello’s veins run its swift course;
Away, my physic, come away with me,
For soon free with my dear heart shall I be.
➸ V.3 Alarum within. Enter, with pomp and Colours, Tortoise and attendants; Tortelion.
ALL Hurrah! Hurrah!
Brave victory upon our species shines,
Which saw it fit to place the laurel ’round
Our scalèd heads. The Tortoise Clan prevails!
What, shall I speak? Soft, leaden heart. All’s soon complete.
Our triumph only gilded by the youngling
Hare’s disgrace, his death hath purgèd one more
O’ his kind from ’neath these sun-dappled leaves.
ALL Hear, hear!
TORTELION I cannot keep my peace. Father,
You bade me steal this race through treachery,
And I your loyal son did acquiesce,
But I could not allow the bond of blood
To shackle me to murderous deceit.
That wicked draught which I did minister
To sweet Harmello, as he lay in rest
Served only to inspire a death-like sleep,
His healthy rousal certain as the wind.
With him I shall break free of this dark Wood
At war within itself for war’s black sake,
and going forth together hand in hand
As brothers we begin fresh life anew.
TORTOISE You dare–
MESSENGER Make way! A surgeon! The young Harmello dies!
Enter Harmello [carried].
This is not as it should be.
Wherefore deep tremors shake that frame,
and blood as red as berries trace his chin?
His eyes grow dim. O gods! Betrayed by
My own hand!
Enter Lord Hare, attendants.
HARE My son, my sole heir! Thou shell-hidden, ankle-biting coward! Crawling, rot-scaled, bad-egged villain! Thou hast poisoned my son, and thou shalt pay dearly for it.
Hare, attendants draw their swords.
TORTOISE Thou art nothing but a harebrained, finical, pink-nosed knave! I shall be glad to rid our forest of thy like.
Tortoise, attendants draw their swords. They fight. Attendants fall.
HARE O me, I am struck!
TORTOISE I die!
TORTELION [kneeling.] Harmello, sweet Harmello, speak. Thy paw is warm to touch, thy velvet nose is damp.
HARMELLO My heart, be brave.– The fates have steered us from our golden course.
I must divulge to thee the circumstance
That brought about this wretched, shameful end–
T’was my unwilling hand which poisoned thee.
HARMELLO Thou hast forsaken me.– I leave thee, sometime brother. [Dies.]
Cruel stars, who pluck us from our branching vines,
Like berries destined for some bloody cup!
Mine own betrayal courses through my veins,
A poison swiftly calling for mine end.
The corse of tortoise and the hare alike
All intermingle, strewn amidst green grass;
Thus intertwined at last in death we rest,
To nevermore this wood wrench in divide.
Brother, I set me down soft at thy side,
To lay with thee for once, for evermore,
As food for tree and bloom and all which grows
Beneath the steady pace of sun and moon.
I die at peace with that which came to pass,
And with final breaths break free with thee at last. [Dies.]