THE KING OF A GREAT COUNTRY
THE BEGGAR: (outside) Bread. Bread. Bread. Give me some bread.
THE KING: Who is that crying in the street for bread?
THE SERVANT: (fanning) Your majesty, it is a beggar.
THE KING: Why is he crying for bread?
THE SERVANT: Your majesty, he cries for bread in order that he may fill his belly.
THE KING: I don’t like the sound of his voice. It’s annoying. Make him go away.
THE SERVANT: Your majesty, he’s already been sent away.
THE KING: Then why do I still hear his voice?
THE SERVANT: Your majesty, he has been sent away many times, yet each time that he is sent away he returns again, crying louder than before. Even yesterday, Your majesty, the beggar which you now hear crying aloud in the street was killed by your soldiers with a sword.
THE KING: Dead people cannot eat bread! People who have been killed with a sword do not go about in the streets crying for a piece of bread.
THE SERVANT: Yes, they do if they are like this beggar.
THE KING: Why, he is but a man. Surely he can’t have more than one life in a lifetime?
THE SERVANT: Listen to what happened yesterday, Your majesty.
THE KING: I am listening.
THE SERVANT: Your soldiers already hit and injured this beggar for crying aloud in the streets for bread, but his wounds are already healed. They cut out his tongue, but he immediately grew another. They killed him, yet he is now alive.
THE BEGGAR’S voice suddenly cries out loudly.
THE BEGGAR: (outside) Bread. Bread. Give me some bread.
THE KING: Ah! He is shouting again. His voice seems to be louder than it was before. Make him stop!
THE SERVANT: (fanning vigorously) A crust of bread, Your majesty, dropped from your window–that might prove a remedy.
THE KING: (angrily) I have said I will not give him a crust of bread. If I gave him a crust today he would be just as hungry again tomorrow, and my troubles would be as great as before.
THE KING: Therefore, some other remedy must be found.
THE KING: (thinking) Now let me consider. You say he does not suffer pain,
THE SERVANT: Therefore he cannot be tortured.
THE KING: And he cannot die,
THE SERVANT: Therefore it is useless to kill him.
THE KING: Now let me think. I must come up with some other way.
THE SERVANT: Perhaps a small crust of bread, Your majesty-
THE KING: Ha! I have it. I have it. I myself will order him to stop.
THE SERVANT: (horrified) Your majesty!
THE KING: Send the beggar here.
THE SERVANT: Your majesty!
THE KING: Ha! I think the beggar will stop his annoying voice and shut up when the king commands him to. Ha, ha, ha!
THE SERVANT: Oh king, I will not have a beggar brought into our royal chamber
THE KING: (pleased with his idea) Yes. Go outside and tell this beggar that the king desires his presence.
THE SERVANT: Your majesty, you will surely not do this. You will surely not soil your royal eyes by looking on such a filthy creature. You will surely not contaminate your lips by speaking to a common beggar who cries aloud in the streets for bread.
THE KING: My ears have been soiled too much already. So go now and do as I have commanded you.
THE SERVANT: Your majesty, you will surely not–
THE KING: (roaring at him) I said, Go! (THE SERVANT, afraid, goes out.)!
THE SERVANT: (returning) Your majesty, here is the beggar.
THE BEGGAR follows THE SERVANT slowly into the royal chamber.
THE KING: Ha! What a magnificent sight. Are you the beggar who has been crying aloud in the streets for bread?
THE BEGGAR: (in a faint voice, after a slight pause) Are you the king?
THE KING: I am the king.
THE SERVANT: (to THE BEGGAR) It is not proper for a beggar to ask a question to the king. Speak only when you are spoken to.
THE KING: (to THE SERVANT) You would be well to do so likewise. (To THE BEGGAR) I have ordered you here to speak to you concerning a very grave matter. You are the beggar, I understand, who often cries aloud in the streets for bread. Now, the complaint of your voice annoys me greatly. Therefore, do not beg any more.
THE BEGGAR: (faintly) I…I do not understand.
THE SERVANT: (to THE BEGGAR) The king has commanded you to not beg for bread any more. The noise of your voice is garbage in his ears and annoying.
THE KING: Yes, your voice is annoying. Your ears, I see, are in need of a bath even more than your body. I said, Do not beg any more.
THE BEGGAR: I…I do not understand.
THE KING: Uugh! He is deafer than a stone wall.
THE SERVANT: Your majesty, he cannot be deaf, for he understood me quite easily when I spoke to him in the street.
THE BEGGAR: The words of your mouth I can hear perfectly. But their noise is only a foolish tingling in my ears.
THE KING: I, your king, have ordered you not to beg any more in the streets for bread. Signify that you will obey the orders of your king by quickly kissing the floor near my feet thrice.
THE BEGGAR: That is impossible.
THE KING: Come, now: I have ordered you to kiss your lips to the floor.
THE SERVANT: (nudging him) And quickly.
THE BEGGAR: Why should I kiss my lips to the floor?
THE KING: In order to seal your promise to your king.
THE BEGGAR: But I have made no promise. Neither have I any king.
THE KING: Ho! He has made no promise. Neither has he any king. Ha, ha, ha. I have commanded you not to beg any more, for the sound of your voice is annoying. Kiss your lips now to the floor, as I have commanded you, and you shall go from this palace a free man. Refuse, and you will be sorry that your father ever came twenty metres of your mother.
THE BEGGAR: I have ever lamented that he did. For to be born into this world a beggar is a more unhappy thing than any that I know–unless it is to be born a king.
THE KING: (angry noise) Your tongue of a truth is too lively for your health. Come, now, kiss your lips three times on the floor and promise solemnly that you will never beg in the streets again. And hurry!
THE SERVANT: (aside) It is wise to do as the king commands you. His patience is near an end.
THE KING: Do not be afraid to soil my floor with your forehead. I will graciously forgive you for that.
THE BEGGAR stands motionless.
THE SERVANT: I said, it is not wise to keep the king waiting.
THE BEGGAR does not move.
THE KING: Well? (A pause.) Well? (In a rage) WELL?
THE BEGGAR: Oh king, you have commanded me not to beg in the streets for bread, for the noise of my voice annoys you. Now therefore I likewise command you to remove your crown from your head and throw it from your window into the street. For when you have thrown your crown into the street, then will I no longer beg.
THE KING: Pfft! You command me! You, a beggar from the streets, command me, a king, to remove my crown from my head and throw it from my window into the street!
THE BEGGAR: That is what I said.
THE KING. Why, do you not know that I can have you killed for such words?
THE BEGGAR: No. You cannot not have me killed. The spears of your soldiers are like feathers against my body.
THE KING: Ha! We shall see if they are. We shall see!
THE SERVANT: O king, it is indeed true. It is as he has told you.
THE BEGGAR: I have required you to remove your crown from your head. If you throw it from your window into the street, my voice will cease to annoy you any more. But if you refuse, then you will wish you had never had any crown at all. For your days will be filled with a terrible sadness and your nights will be full of horrors.
THE KING: This is insolence. This is treason!
THE BEGGAR: Will you throw your crown from your window?
THE KING: Why, this is high treason!
THE BEGGAR: I ask you, will you throw your crown from your window?
THE SERVANT: (to THE KING) Perhaps it would be wise to humour him, O king. After you have thrown your crown out I can go outside and get it for you again.
THE BEGGAR: Well? Well? (He points to the window.) Well?
THE KING: No! I will not throw my crown from that window, or from any other window. Obey the orders of a beggar? Never!
THE BEGGAR: (preparing to leave) Spoken like a king. You are a king, so you would prefer to lose your head than that silly circle of gold that so foolishly sits upon it. But it is well. You are a king. You could not prefer otherwise.
He walks calmly toward the door.
THE KING: (to THE SERVANT) Stop him! Seize him! Does he think to get off so easily with his impudence!
THE BEGGAR: (coolly) One of your servants cannot stop me. Neither can ten thousand of them do me any harm. I am stronger than a mountain. I am stronger than the sea. Nothing can stop me.
THE KING: Ha! We will see about that, we will see about that. (To THE SERVANT) Hold him, I say. Call the guards. He shall be executed.
THE BEGGAR: My strength is greater than a mountain and my words are more fearful than a hurricane. This servant of yours cannot even touch me. With one breath of my mouth I can blow over this whole palace. I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I will blow this palace down
THE KING: Do you hear the impudence he is giving me? Why do you not seize him? What is the matter with you? Why do you not call the guards?
THE BEGGAR: I will not harm you now. I will only cry aloud in the streets for bread to fill my belly. But one day I will not be so kind to you. On that day my mouth will be filled with a rushing wind and my arms will become as strong as steel rods, and I will blow over this palace, and all the bones in your foolish body I will snap between my fingers. I will beat upon a large drum and your head will be my drumstick. I will not do these things now. But one day I will do them. Then, when my voice sounds again in your ears, begging for bread, remember what I have told you. Remember, O king, and be afraid!
He walks out. THE SERVANT struck dumb, stares after him. THE KING sits in his chair, dazed.
THE KING: (suddenly realizing) After him! After him! He must not be
allowed to escape! After him!
THE SERVANT: (faltering) O king–I cannot seem to move.
THE KING: Quick, then. Call the guards. He must be caught and put in chains. Quick, I say. Call the guards!
THE SERVANT: O king–I cannot seem to call them.
THE KING: How! Are you dumb? Ah!
THE BEGGAR’S voice is heard outside.
THE BEGGAR: Bread. Bread. Give me some bread.
THE KING: Ah. He turns toward the window, half-frightened, and then, almost instinctively, raises his hands toward his crown, and seems on the point of tossing it out the window. But with an oath he replaces it and presses it firmly on his head. How! Am I afraid of a beggar!
THE BEGGAR: (continuing outside) Bread. Bread. Give me some bread.
THE KING: (with terrible anger) Close that window!
THE SERVANT stands stupidly, and the voice of THE BEGGAR grows louder as the curtain falls.