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The Prince's Shadow

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PROLOGUE

(The stage: a mattress on the floor with untidy white bedding, a wooden chair a few feet away. The floor is covered with unwashed laundry. POINS is sprawled across the bed, asleep. Enter CHORUS.)

CHORUS
This was a young gentleman of good family, but bad morals. He was one of those loyal natures who, in all ages, are to be found attaching themselves instinctively to some great man, taking their tone and colour in all things from the illustrious model. Mr. Poins cut his hair and his conscience in exact imitation of the Prince of Wales. The existing court fashions, as established by the Prince, were long hanging sleeves, pointed shoes, late hours, intoxication, and roistering. Mr. Poins followed them all with scrupulous fidelity; but was quite ready to change them for sad-coloured doublets, square toes, early rising, temperance, and respectability, at a moment's notice. He would hang upon him like a disease, as if increase of appetite had grown by what it fed on.

(Poins blinks awake, sits up with his head in his hands, letting loose a piteous grumble of hungover misery. He inspects an ambiguous drink on his bedside and, shrugging, drinks it. The CHORUS rolls his eyes, and continues.)

CHORUS
A young gentlemen of good family, but bad morals. There are men who seem born to be the opposite, the reverse, the counterpart. They live only upon condition of leaning on another; their names are continuations, and are only written preceded by the conjunction “and”; their existence is not their own; it is the other side of a destiny which is not theirs. Ned Poins was one of those men.

(Exit CHORUS.)

POINS
The bright years are behind me, and I live
In twilight, when the world is robbed of all
Its colour. E’en the morning sun is hateful,
For daylight is a place of solitude:
Young men in love, and blushing maidens fair,
And sport, and fie! fie on it all, hollow
Nonsense. What life is life? What joy is joy?
A glass full empty and a life full lived,
And what remains? Ay, me.

(Enter NELL, who surreptitiously places down her bucket of water and immediately begins to tidy the room.)

NELL
Now, how’s the head?

(Poins makes a rude gesture.)

NELL
I shall never marry well, if it is
Put about that I am sister to a
Drunkard.

POINS
You have other brothers.

NELL
And you shall have other lovers.

POINS
An impious leap, to think from brothers to lovers without pausing.

NELL
And don’t you think you’ve paused enough? The king
Was crowned two months ago, and since – in his
Sad absence – you revel, in spilling wine
And drinking sack, and even now he fares
More sportively in France, in sacking cities
And spilling soldiers’ blood across the continent.
Oh shame! My brother has no appetite
For war, no honour-winning ferocity,
No part of him has caught a breath of courage
From kingly airs, and drinking with the prince;
He may have caught some other fire betimes,
No reading, physic, learning, strategy,
No wife! No, Ned brings only Ned, and wit,
A truant disposition, like a jester,
Or fool, that kings may mock a trifling hour,
Before the weight of states turns them aside,
To solid things, and leave the past denied.

NED
And you are… a woman. Ha! Go to! Go to!
I’ll not be chid. (He turns his back as if to sleep again.)

NELL (she tops the water over his head)
Wake! Wake, you fool!

POINS
Later!

NELL
Not later, why, not tomorrow neither, but now, today, rise in the morning.

POINS (lewdly)
Rise in the morning? What, to rise early, a cock crowing at the dawn? Not after the wine I drank yesternight, in faith.
I’m yet a man, and have a man’s weaknesses.

NELL (Looks into the audience like she’s on the Office, gesturing exasperatedly)
Two months! Two months of… this! (to Poins) Am I to call a doctor?

POINS
Marry, my immortal part needs a physician, but that moves not me. Though that be sick, I die not.

NELL
To church, then, good Ned, to church!

POINS
If the church be dark, and quiet. Aye. To Church.

(She hauls him bodily from the bed, and shepherds him out the room.)

CHORUS
Now entertain conjecture of a time
Past. Each bleak morning follows some bright night,
Before the lark that sings so out of tune,
Straining harsh discords and unpleasing sharps,
The herald of the morn, his message that
Cold daylight comes to kill our former joys.
The truth, which waketh now, was once asleep,
And in that time, bold dreams ran wild, ran deep.
And young men with bad morals dined in Eastcheap.

(Exit CHORUS.)