PLAY #35: CHARTING THE FUTURE (JAN 4)

London.

13 June 1215.

KING JOHN sits near a great tree, the ANKWERWYKE YEW.

A document sits on a table in front of him.

 

ROBIN HOOD and MATILDA de BRIOUZE enter, defiant both.

 

KING JOHN

Is this an ambush?

 

ROBIN HOOD

More’s the pity, no. If it were an ambush you’d have an arrow through your neck by now: don’t think a Crown can protect you from Robin Hood.

 

KING JOHN

You’re not real!

 

ROBIN HOOD

That’s what the barons always say, right before I thump them.

(sits at the table)

Don’t worry, Johnny, I’m not about to clock you.

 

KING JOHN

Is this a dream?

 

ROBIN HOOD thumps KING JOHN playfully.

 

ROBIN HOOD

There, you go, proof of my corpus. Though you won’t be getting your hands on this body just yet.

 

KING JOHN stands.

 

KING JOHN

This is an outrage. You’re a myth. And you (MATILDA de BRIOUZE), I killed you already.

 

MATILDA de BRIOUZE

You imprisoned my son and I; we starved to death in your cells. You may squawk victory but I call it the hunger strike of the wronged.

 

KING JOHN

Can you go on speech strike?

 

ROBIN HOOD

Now, Johnny, play nice. We’ve come to help you ensure your legacy.

 

MATILDA de BRIOUZE

Speak for yourself. I’ve come to ensure that this bitter little man pays for what he did. You murdered your own nephew. You hounded me when I dared to cry foul. You snatched my little boy from the safety of the air and squeezed the life out. Now, justice demands her tithe.

 

KING JOHN

Don’t you dare touch me! I’ll have you both killed in as many ways as are necessary to ensure that your ghosts are pulverized to pulp.

 

MATILDA de BRIOUZE

I’m not after your blood. Your words will suffice.

 

ROBIN HOOD

Johnny, why don’t you sit down and enjoy the…well, fresh air. You’d think there’d be a better spread for a King, wouldn’t you? I suppose, times are tough, can’t be having a King’s face stuffed with pheasant while he gives all this power to the peasants.

 

KING JOHN

I will not be ceding any power to anybody.

 

MATILDA de BRIOUZE

That’s what you think. You’ll try and weasel out of this, of course you will. You’ll arrange a Papal Bull that denounces the Magna Carta. You’ll distance yourself from the liberties that this document imagines. But justice has windy ways too. Your sad little life can be measured out in months: the worms will be feasting on you before the end of next year. And this piece of parchment will outlive you by decades and centuries. Nobody will talk much of sad King John, the monster who killed his little nephew. But everybody will remember Magna Carta, the Great Charter that cowered the King beneath justice.

 

KING JOHN

How do you know all this?

 

MATILDA de BRIOUZE

One of the few advantages to being dead: access to all streams of time.

 

ROBIN HOOD

Tempting, death is, alright. It’s not as if there’s any food for you to miss out on here.

(beat)

You really couldn’t have organized some roasted boar? Not to worry, once you sign this, you’ll be giving some of the forests back to the people, which would be generous except for the whole part where you tried to profit from selling woods that weren’t really yours. Article 47, I translate:…all forests that have been created in our reign shall at once be disforested. After today, all those gamboling things in the forest will be my pick for dinner. Not that outlaws pay much attention to the law anyway, sort of a contradiction, right?

 

KING JOHN

I won’t sign this.

 

MATILDA de BRIOUZE

That’s why we’re here. To help you over that bump of self-doubt.

 

ROBIN HOOD

You don’t even have to sign it. The royal seal is all you need.

 

KING JOHN

If I am to die in a year, then why should I be bothered about peace now? I have no desire to be remembered for a contract.

 

ROBIN HOOD

It’s not bad, as contracts go. Bit on the dry side, but there’s some stirring stuff: Chapter 39, say: No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed (ha!) or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgment of his equals or by the law of the land.

 

KING JOHN

You think ‘free man’ applies to thugs like you?

 

ROBIN HOOD

It will. That’s the thing with words, Johnny, they run away from you. Multiply like mad. In a couple of years, this bit of paper will already have bred another: The Charter of the Forest of 1217, a magnificent document that your sprog will seal with his baby-spit, making sure that the woods are for common use, not just things to be cut or carved at the whims of kings. By the next century, peasants will be using this (the Magna Carta) to fan rebellion’s flames. Eight hundred years from now people will still be battling to preserve it.

 

KING JOHN

I will not authorize such dissent.

 

MATILDA de BRIOUZE

History is not yours to author. Nor is this document.

(beat.)

Justice is fecund. She’ll spore document after document over the years, rights after rights, what a legacy for the man who wished only to crush!

 

KING JOHN

You’d surrender your lands to Yorkshire yobs like this so, would you?

 

MATILDA de BRIOUZE

This document is about restraining the power of the monarchy.

 

KING JOHN

You see, she’d skewer you in a second if you dared to trespass in her trees.

 

MATILDA de BRIOUZE

I would not deny my children their inheritance.

 

ROBIN HOOD

Johnny’s right, you have a fair amount of lands yourself, Mathilda. And here’s me thinking this charter was about justice for everybody.

 

MATILDA de BRIOUZE

Robbery is not called justice.

 

ROBIN HOOD

Except when it’s the rich that are doing the robbing.

 

KING JOHN

Don’t fret, Matilda, I’m sure that this charter has excellent protections for women who embroil themselves in battle.

 

MATILDA de BRIOUZE

This charter wouldn’t exist if you hadn’t mistreated me so. And ‘freeman’ can be as capacious as ‘mankind.’

 

KING JOHN

I’m sure Mr. Hood will agree: your gang has excellent opportunities for women.

 

ROBIN HOOD

Don’t get carried away, Johnny, I’m more of an incrementalist myself. And article 54 has it right: no man shall be imprisoned on the appeal of a woman unless it’s her husband.

 

KING JOHN

Would you had heeded the advice of this law, Matilda, your meddling might not have been so fatal.

 

MATILDA de BRIOUZE

I see through your tricks. You wish to divide us so that we lose ourselves to squabbling.

 

ROBIN HOOD

The classic trick of the powerful: get your enemies to fight over their values while you keep on taking all you can. We’re not going to fall for it. Anymore. Sign, seal, spit, do whatever you’re supposed to do so I can kill some venison.

 

KING JOHN looks at the Magna Carta.

Looking, looking, looking…

 

ROBIN HOOD

Come on, Johnny-boy, do the right thing.

 

MATILDA de BRIOUZE

Consciences haven’t been invented yet. And if they had, this creature would be the least likely candidate to possess one.

 

ROBIN HOOD

Could you try reining in the massive hatred? I know you’re dead, but some of us have things riding on this decision.

 

MATILDA de BRIOUZE

You have nothing to fear. He’ll seal it.

 

KING JOHN

Finally, some truth from that fine mouth of yours. I will endorse this great charter. Far be it from me to shy from pomp or grandiosity.

 

KING JOHN seals the Magna Carta.

 

KING JOHN

Atta-boy! I knew you’d come through.

 

MATILDA de BRIOUZE

We should leave. The barons will be returning.

 

KING JOHN

Don’t you want to know why I’ve sealed this?

 

MATILDA de BRIOUZE

Our work is done.

 

KING JOHN grabs the arm of MATILDA de BRIOUZE.

 

KING JOHN

I’ve sealed this Great Charter because of how much it means to you both. And how very, very little it will change the material conditions of our world. I delight to think of its influence over time, its words gathering pomp like dust, its promises eroded further and further, the lives of the powerful continuing unscathed, this piece of paper as insubstantial as the air, as the clouds which we will carve up as effectively as the rest of the commons.

(beat.)

There’s no weapon crueler than the gift. You’re both welcome.

 

ROBIN HOOD

You’re wrong! People-

 

MATILDA de BRIOUZE

Leave it. Our work is done. History hums her own tune: it is not for us to pen it.

 

MATILDA de BRIOUZE and ROBIN HOOD leave.

KING JOHN smiles at the audience.

 

KING JOHN

I leave you with everything! Forests, rivers, rights. Rights, rights, rights, everybody has rights, the commons are ours, take all you want!

 

KING JOHN leaves with a flourish.

 

There is still the ANKWERWYKE YEW.

Pause.

The ANKWERWYKE YEW.

Pause.

The ANKWERWYKE YEW…

Ankerwycke-yew-at-Runnyme-002

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