“She never had so sweet a changeling,” says Puck of the Indian prince either stolen or adopted by the fairy queen Titania. The status of the child is the root of her dispute with Oberon, and the fallout is memorably recorded in Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
But who, exactly, is this mysterious young royal? “A lovely boy, stolen from an Indian king,” as Puck suggests? Titania insists otherwise: “His mother was a votaress of my order: And, in the spiced Indian air, by night / Full often hath she gossip’d by my side … but she, being mortal, of that boy did die; And for her sake do I rear up her boy / And for her sake I will not part with him.”
Playwright James Willaman explores this question of identity in “The Changeling,” his rollicking prequel to Shakespeare’s play. The full script follows, along with photographs of its first performance outdoors and in the round as part of the summer 2013 season of Art in the Park at Buhl Park Farm in Hermitage, Pennsylvania. Photographs by Cori Surano and L.J. Haney.
The production included a youth-arts component, and a metafictional observer (“Joe,” a swordsman of the Raja) to anchor the tale for young audiences.
Scene I: Caravan on Road Outside of Athens
SONG #1: Bell Cleansing
Mustardseed: Be forewarned, ye blacken hearted spirits
Slandering the four fair winds of this grove
By your crossing curses, foul and unworldly
By your flying fell and over-swiftly twix this world
And the dim glowering beyond from wence you came
I say, be warned! Come not near!
Peasblossom: We knoweth full and we knoweth well
That you dwell here as vulturous thieves
And cravenous curs
Comforted and emboldened
When held in the blind, unquestioning confidence
Offered thoughtlessly up
By night’s officious veil
Moth: Such love and loyalty has this mortal inspired
So that her grace, the lady of all spirits
Both the merry and malignant
Has order’d that no sprite
Save by her leave alone
Shall come within a league of this grove
Cobweb: While her beloved servant brings into this world
The Changeling child
Which she has claimed as her own
Peasblossom: Destined to so please all that look upon him
That no one, man, spirit, hero, or beast
Shall be able to refuse a thing to the boy
But will grant him his every whim
And will seek to hold him in their possession
But only my mistress, the Queen of Faries shall
Moth: The mortals do draw close and at apace
Fairies, we must away!
(Enter two of the Raja’s guards: Guyous, Xander)
Guyous: Hark! Doth mine ears decieveth me, young Xander?
Xander: Say you what old friend?
At times, I do perforce declare,
You do so grumble thusly into your begrizzled visage
That I can but guess by your aimless gesticulations
That you wish to parley
Be that so Guyous?
Doth mine ear decieveth me young Xander
Or hast not the Raja’s horn
Called us halt this evening?
Say it was so Xander!
For a powerful tiredness I do carry with these old creaking bones
Xander: I hear nothing
Guyous: What you do not hear is an exhaustion
Such an exhaustion as one of so few years as yourself can but imagine
And night last, the ground was so particuarly lumpy
And cold, remember you that Xander? That chill
So cold was I that I shivered thusly
Remember that, when I shivered thusly
Xander: How could my mind ever purge from it such a sight
Guyous: But to my point
Doth the horn of the Raja sound the halt?
Xander: Doth it?
Guyous: It doth?
Xander: It doth!
Guyous: Doth it? I must know
Xander: For troth boon companion mine
Your beard doth wag, be-wearied from our walk
Soggy, soiled by this sultry mid-Summer slog
Past and away from the poetical flow of our beauteous Indus
And forever west, west, west! We have walked
So near we are now to never known Athens
Aye! I can scout her Acropolis, there in the distance
Guyous: Huh? Speak you plainer Xander
And answer me arrow-straight
Hath the Raja’s horn sounded a halt?
Xander: Alas, my cantankerous and ill-tempered friend
I can not say if it doth or not doth
For my mind strayed too long and too close
To the thought of my most dear Roxanna
Like the needle of a compass
Without regard to which direction I go
Drawist my metal back to her magnet
And thus explains my most moving and momentous of oratories
And the absentness of a mind overthrown by tyrannical love
I doth wax the poetical
Guyous: You doth, doth you?
Xander: Oh, I doth… Oh, I doth indeed
But rest not now old bones,
For now it comes to my mind
It doth seem that the great horn of our Raja
Hast called us to halt for the evening
Guyous: It decievith not you young Xander?
If for true, I can not fully cipher this command
Welcomed and well deserved as it be
Xander: Say you, that you can not not fully cipher it?
Guyous: Fully cipher it I can not
For too high is the sun yet
And not to be seen in fair Luna
Slung low as she is this time of year
Dude! What’s up with the Raja blowin his horn?
Its like 4:20 or somethin’, man
Guyous: Sayeth you what swordsman?
Xander: What do they calleth you?
Xander: (to Guyous)
Guyous: (to Xander)
The tongue of silver hath he
Xander: From what great hero or god do you taketh your name?
Joe: Oh, yeah, I’m Joe
Guards #2 & #1: Joe
Joe: Yup, that’s my name
Don’t wear it out (laughs)
Guyous: (moment of silence)
Your home be some many leagues away, Joe?
Xander: You ain’t from around here, are you?
Joe: Uhm, not exactly
(arrival of the caravan)
Xander: No bandits do I see
Or armies of the Raja’s enemies
Guyous: Another calamity awaits then
Xander: But, look
Our Wizir draws nigh
What news honor’d Wizir
For what reason does the silver trumpet blow the alarm?
Guyous: Speak of the doom
That drove the silver trumpet
to blast its warning
Joe: Yeah, dude. What’s up?
Wizir: Guards! Take your positions
Doom has indeed befallen our honer’d caravan
The blood of royalty
Carried in the person of our Raja’s fair mistress
Has been spilt in two fold manner
Xander: What mean you by this Wizir?
Speak plainly for we are but common soldiers
Unschooled in such high speech
Joe: We ain’t all that bright, boss
Wizir: (To Xander)
He hails no from localities familiar to us, doth he?
Guyous: He sure doth not
Xander: He ain’t from around here
Wizir: I mean this
The Raja’s son, his first blood,
has arrived by Brahma’s mercy into this world
But as it is said
Every moment of pleasure,
Every taste of sweetness
Must be purchased with an equal measure of pain
And so it is here
For the Raja’s sweet mistress has passed from this world
And now wanders in the nightlands
Or whereforever the spirit sojourns
When this frail mortal coil expires
Xander: Oh unhappy night to have mixed such joy and sorrow
In too close a span
Guyous: And for this reason the trumpet did first sound a halt
And then an alarm?
Wizir: Indeed, for there is fresh fears growing
In the Raja’s begrieved mind
For his mistress was a devotee of the Fairey Queen
And for days on end
They would sometimes say
Titania herself would sit with our Raja’s mistress
And they would share the sweet nothingness
Of women’s council
Xander: You mean not to say that the Queen of Fairies would fly straight here
Guyous: You mean not to say that she would steal away the child
And replace it with a changeling
As fairies are sometimes wont to do
When a mortal child has seen the blessing
Of fairness and wisdom too liberally granted him
Wizir: I mean exactly that, so guards
To you posts
Xander: (as exiting)
But how does one fight the soul of the forest
Guyous: (as exiting)
I fear our swords will serve us little
Against the spirits that gamble and waft in the forest winds
Joe: Dudes, I think we’re totally screwed!
(all guards stop, look at Joe one last time, and then exit)
(Titania’s “Sleep Spell-Entrance” music begins)
Wizir: Gods of the East and West protect us (plugs ears)
What fair bells are these that wring
They are like the sweet call of Mother Earth herself
Calling me to come closer
Aye, me, mine eyes do so heavy become
And half closing I think I see some distant figure
Closing over the leagues like a great summer storm
A monsoon riding the seas at a terrible pace
Am I dreaming already? Or be this Titania that draws on?
The Fairy Queen herself arrives now
(Titania enters with attendants who begin the ritual/dance that puts everyone to sleep)
Wizir: Be this her spell that I am under
To seeketh this green and pleasure ladened ground
And to lie my head upon it thus
And to trouble this brow no more of the Changeling child or my Raja
But only of the full fancies of my tired mind
To play upon my eyelids and dance my dreams out
Onto the forest floor where I now lay
Puckina: Poor mortal
So quickly do you pass from this world
Too readily burning your precious hours in this idle and useless manner
Seems something akin to sin
Titania: Do not stray too close to the source of your empathy, Puckina
Or his idleness you may well find is contagious
(To all faires)
Find the boy!
To whom my devotress surrendered her life
By my side he will remain
And no man shall come betwix
My fair love and this last incarnation of my beloved friend
Go fairies! And fail not your Queen!
All Fairies: Yes your grace!
(exit in all directions)
Titania, say not that you are here for my child!
But to come as a comfort and as a fellow be-grieved party
To share in our misery this day
And not to take away the blood of my blood
To replace my most royal offspring
First born boy of mine by any woman on this earth
And replace it with a low and encumbered changeling child
Such a creature shall not be called my son
Shall not take this crown from my head
When death calls me to my reunion with my belov’d mistress
Be you a God of the East or West
You spirit of the forest
I will not allow you
Titania: Who are you, mortal! To speak to me in this manner!
Raja: A father once begrieved today
That shall not be deprived too of the one bit of solace this dark day offers
My son will not go with you
Titania: I am not so hard of heart that your words do not touch me deeply
But the boy has been claimed by me for fairy kind
We will not surrender him
Such is my love for the boy that it outstrips your own
I am of a substance you can not fathom
My wisdom redoubles your own
And so too my heart
If you so love him with all of your heart
Raja: I do
Titania: But still the vastness of my heart doth dwarf your own
And so my love is the greater, the deeper,
And I shall have the child by this right
(Fairies enter with the child)
Titania: Had you any trouble Moth, Cobweb, Mustardseed?
Moth: No, my Queen
Cobweb: There was not a single mortal oppos’d us, your grace
Mustardseed: In truth, we saw not one of the Raja’s guards
Who, as we have heard, doth carry swords blessed
With the waters of the sacred river
Which bid them to cut even the flesh of fairy kind
Moth: This had given us much trepidation, my Queen
Peasblosoom: But they are nowhere spied
Puckina: Doubtless they fell under the spell of our song
And sleep in their mugs and dice
Raja: Not so!
Raja: For my fair mistress did give me full council
And often spoke she of your magic
Proud Queen of the Fairies
And how it doth enter through the ears
And for this reason, me and my so armed men
Did plug up our ears
Even my trusted Wizir who only plays this moment at sleep
On your very feet my Queen!
Get my child!
(Battle ensues for child. Fairies win)
Titania: Fairies! Skip hence to my bower
Where we shall sooth the troubled brow of our new changeling child
(All fairies but Puckina exit)
Puckina: Dear Raja
I feel for thy deep wounded heart
And I hold in admiration your pride and fierceness
Fired as it is by devotion and loyalty
But I beg of you to let this matter fall from your mind
Titania is, to the aspect of her mind at least,
Now the mother of this child
And she shall not be parted from him
Like and creature of the wild
She is at her most dangerous
When the protection of a child is the issue
I beg of you, proud Raja,
To allow this matter to slumber
Your undoing, and the end of your kingdom
Lie on the road ahead
If you you follow in pursuit of the boy
He is beyond your mortal powers great Raja
Be well, I take my leave
Raja: On the ashes of my father
On the earth of my fields
On the stone of my castles
On the swords of my soldiers
I swear to you this day
That, even if he be-ith beyond my reach
That he shall not lie within yours
For there is one who can yet grapple with thee
Be it one of your own kind then
That deprived you of your prize
And delivers to me my vengeance
Wizir, gather your instruments of conjuring
Ready your potions and your words
Call from my stores and stables any sacrifices you need
And, as you once bragged to me you could,
Cast upon the floor of the forest
The magic circle that can summon to me
Oberon, King of the Fairies!
The fell instrument of my bedreaded satisfaction
Wizir: By your command my lord king
Please stand aside my liege
For outside the circle only
Can I provide for your safety and well-being
Yet inside, aye, there will be gateway
To the world of the spirits
Flower’d floor of the forest
Fall away from your true self into shadow
A world before our eyes
Yet hidden to our sight make plain
Make pliant, make answerable to me!
I call from this dim and vibrant plane
Oberon, king of the Fairies
You dare to use your dark arts to summon me!
Oh, how thy soul will pay the price
In the cold, dark, horror of the houses of the dead
If your incantations be whimsical
If your spells are cast here merely out of curiosity
For, by the crown of light on my temple
Trifling with the King of the Fey is not a pittance
And must be paid for in pain
Answer me now mortal!
Raja: (coming forward)
My fellow king
Greater than me that thou art
Still I carry a heavier heart
And in it news that shall make us brothers in suffering
Raja: What does a King detest more than all else?
Oberon: If thou hast summoned me here to ply me with riddles!
Raja: No! Certainly not my dread Oberon
I mean to say that we, as kings
Hate above all else those that would deny us what we hold dear
Raja: And not out of pure vanity or low hunger
But because we are kings
And our desires are kingly
Hence, they should not be denied
When they are so
It boils the blood does it not?
Yet that was what has happened this night
But, the memory wounds me too closely
For to tell of the happenings of this abysmal nocturne
Oberon: Tell me gentle King
What so weighs upon you brow?
Wizir: My Lord Oberon
This night the newly born child of mine Raja
Has been stolen away from this very caravan
From the fading arms of the Changeling’s mother
Who, from the exertions of his deliverance onto this earth
Could but watch as her son, and the Raja’s heir
Was swept away just as her life itself ebbed onto the forest floor
Oberon: A Changeling Child, you say
Wizir: Yes, my lord Oberon
Raja: My only son, my brother-king
Oberon: I know who did this
And even as I grieve for you
You must know, Mortal, that this is the prerogative of the Fey
Of my kind
The wisest, the most blessed among you
Rightfully are the Fey, and so ours to possess
Truth be told, had I known of the child
I myself would have claimed him for my henchman
Raja: Oh, if that were true my Oberon
For it is one thing to picture in the eye of my mind
The blood of my blood flying through the forest
Chasing down the stag, battling with thine enemies
It is one thing my Oberon to picture him in the world of men
Even if those men be the spirits of the forest
For this, in truth, is a great honor
And I could raise my head high
When my fellow Rajas asked me of my son and heir
And I could say, “he rides upon the summer wind
Spear in had, mighty and fell at the side of dread Oberon”
But to have to answer that “he dances in moonlight revels
And waits him hand and foot on the Fairy Queen
Surrounded by the intellect dulling babble of soft silk and gossip
This is surely more then I can bare gentle Oberon
And so, if I can but dare to ask such a being as you,
If I can request and entreat you to take the boy for yourself
Oberon: This would enrage my Queen Titania to no end
For she is no less royal than we
And used to, in all things, having her way
Wizir: You mean not to say, most fell Oberon
That you would bend your mighteous will to that of a woman
Queen or no?
Oberon: Attempt not to twist me not around you finger, Wizir
For I have not yet settled on your fate
For so besmirching my honor as to using your base magic
To summon me here
Wizir: I, of course, meant no disrespect my Lord
Oberon: But still and all, your words have not fallen far from the mark
And the story of your Raja has indeed moved me
The Changeling does belong by my side
To rampage the steppes and careen great rivers who own no names
My dear Raja, I shall give your son the greatest of gifts
The Changeling shall be mine henchman
Wizir, I break your circle, and release you from my dreaded judgment
You are free, and I am away to Athens
Where my Queen draws close for the wedding of great Theseus
With whom I suspect her of illicitous love and affection
Oh, the Changeling will serve a double purpose
To enliven my retinue, and to punish my Queen’s wandering affection
Raja: Well conjured, my Wizir!
Wizir: Well played my Lord,
I believe your vengeance will unfold most calamitously
For the Fairy Queen
I predict that the woods surrounding gentle Athens
Will be the scene of a fanciful and treacherous play
If we could but sit quietly in a hushed audience and watch it unfold
Raja: But dear Wizir, we are in luck
For see there upon yonder hill?
This is immortal Athens then upon that hill
And even, I think, I hear the voices of Theseus and Hippolyta
Hide thyself Wizir, and we shall take it in
As if from the balcony of a be-silenced theater
Begin: A Midsummer Night’s Dream
James Willaman suffers from RAS or Restless Artist Syndrome. His condition compels James to tour almost constantly, both nationally and internationally, with a wide array of musical acts, from an Elton John impersonators to Austin based singer-songwriters. Recently, James has begun to focus on original material, recording A Trip to the City with Terry Dach in 2012, and releasing his first solo CD, The Mystery is Here, in late 2013. In his work with the Walnut Lodge over the last 14 years, James has also written several plays including two musicals. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Literature from Westminster College (2005) and a Master’s Degree in the field of Islamic History in South and Central Asia from The University of Wisconsin (2008) learning both Farsi and Urdu in the course of his studies. Check him out at jameswillaman.com/.
Cori Surano- “Through the years, I have expanded my vision and creative expression. I have been moved to feel, think and dream by the world that I see around me. Hopefully, I have conveyed that in the images I create… and my desire is that you are moved, as well.” See more of her photography at corisurano.photoshelter.com/