Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (1-act play)

Cast

Sir Gawain          King Arthur’s young nephew and possible heir, idealistic but untested, shy, devoted to Shelley, determined to prove himself and enhance the honour of the court – in short, the hero of the piece. This part is best played by a female actor in principal boy mode, but this is not essential.

Sir Lancelot       swashbuckling ladies’ man, Guinevere’s masochistic lover, faux-legend (because he alone can read), over-confident, cowardly

Merlin                very ancient wizard, living as a hermit in a cave, unpredictable, embittered, omniscient, still capable of flashes of magic

The Green Knight a figure of mystery, a 100%-green giant with long wild tresses, frightening and dangerous; he morphs into:

Sir Bertilak        courteous but unpredictable lord of his own manor, uxorious, sport-loving, ceremonious, apparently hospitable

Queen Guinevere (much younger than Arthur), desired by all, black-clad dominatrix, the power behind the throne, lover of Lancelot and many others (they wish)

Shelley               A farmer’s daughter, anti-chivalry, etc, plain-speaking, plain-looking, gradually blossoming as Gawain’s love-interest

Bella(donna)       Sir Bertilak’s wife, breathtakingly beautiful and dangerous, the deadly nightshade that clings to Gawain, much classier than Guinevere but, finally, no more than a cipher.

George               A schoolboy at knight school

Gringolet            A pantomime horse (optional, non-speaking)

Doubling:            The play can be performed by three men and two/three women, with Lancelot also playing Bertilak (and/or the Green Knight) and Guinevere also playing Bertilak’s wife.

Scene 1: Arthur’s court (front of stage)

Camelot, 29th December 715 AD, evening. General hubbub from behind the curtain, desultory mandolin-playing, clinking of glasses, crackers being pulled, etc.

Enter Guinevere in killer-black dress and coronet, pursued by Lancelot.

LANCELOT     Gwinny, Gwinny!

GUINEVERE   It’s Guinevere, Sir Lancelot.

LANCELOT     Gwinny! How can you say that? After the nights of passion we’ve shared! (puts arm round her)

GUINEVERE   (pulling away with derisory snort) Nights of passion? You really must learn to keep that fevered imagination of yours in check. You are no more than an ant – no, a small badger – in my eyes.

LANCELOT     (on knees, tugging at her skirt) You can’t deny what’s happened. The night we spent in the dungeon, the time you had me on the torture rack …….

GUINEVERE   All forgotten. If, indeed, they occurred at all.

LANCELOT     Look at these scars (displaying his lacerated arms). The men think that was from fighting a monster called Grendel, but we both know the truth. Gwinny, please! One more night!

GUINEVERE   (softening slightly) Ah, Lancey, my little badger ….

LANCELOT     I long to feel your stilettos deep in my chest, your crimson fingernails piercing the skin of my back………

GUINEVERE   Difficult to combine the two, but ……

LANCELOT     Your whip. Your tassels. Your mask.

GUINEVERE   You see, it could have been anyone!

LANCELOT     Your coronet, suspended on my ……..

GUINEVERE   What a repulsive image. Arthur is expecting me. I must go and behave like a queen.

LANCELOT     It’s been fifteen days. Fifteen days of non-stop partying! God, I hate Christmas. All that jollity, all that waste. We’re down to the last few twiglets. Nobody will miss us if we aren’t there. Just give me an hour, you know you want to. Half an hour. I can be very quick!

GUINEVERE   (pulling away again) So I’ve noticed …….

LANCELOT     Come back, Gwinny! I’ll do anything you ask. I’ll lick the piggery clean. Again. Any quest, any favour!

GUINEVERE   Not tonight, my little badger. Maybe tomorrow, maybe never. (begins to leave)

LANCELOT     Gwinny, come back! This is so typical! You know what? You’re a ….. you’re a SADIST, that’s what you are!

GUINEVERE   (exiting) You should be so lucky, sunshine!

Scene 2: (full stage)

Shelley, the farmer’s daughter, dressed as a skivvy, is pottering around the stage with a cloth and a duster, looking miserable.

Enter Gawain, adjusting his dicky-bow anxiously – he is dressed for a posh party. Each sees the other but pretends they haven’t. Gawain continues to fret anxiously in front of a mirror. At last he turns to Shelley who has been studiously ignoring him.

GAWAIN          Oh, didn’t see you Shelley, do I look OK?

SHELLEY        Of course you do.

GAWAIN          Not mutton dressed as lamb?

SHELLEY        I think it’s only girls who can look like mutton dressed as lamb.

GAWAIN          (anxiously) Yes, of course. Obviously. But do you think I look all right.

SHELLEY        I think you look ridiculous, Gawain.

GAWAIN          I’m glad I asked.

SHELLEY        But no more ridiculous than the rest of the knights of the sodding round table. How many evenings have you been at it?

GAWAIN          Fifteen. It is Christmas.

SHELLEY        The Hula Hoops ran out two weeks ago. You’d all kill for a Ferrero Rocher.

GAWAIN          True. Just one goblet of mead would be good.

SHELLEY        It’s a bunch of clapped-out old chauvinists telling each other their tales of days gone by. Quests and jousts. Dragons slain. All that bollocks.

GAWAIN          But it’s not bo …. it’s the stuff of legend. I just wish I had similar tales to tell.

SHELLEY        Well, I’m glad you don’t.

GAWAIN          But I’ll never be accepted as a true knight unless I do something heroic, like Lancelot and Mordred and all the others.

SHELLEY        Mordred? Hah!

GAWAIN          Look, I’m supposed to be the king’s nephew. Uncle Arthur is desperate for me to live up to the family name. I shouldn’t be partying. I should be far away, rescuing damsels in distress, slaying dragons, possibly even finding the Holy Grail itself. Then I’ll be able to look the other knights in the face.

SHELLEY        Well, good luck with all that then.

Pause. Shelley resumes her dusting.

GAWAIN          Look, what’s wrong, Shell?

SHELLEY        Please don’t call me Shell. It’s Shelley.

GAWAIN          But I always used to …

SHELLEY        We were children then.

GAWAIN          I’m sorry, Shelley. Tell me what’s the matter?

SHELLEY        Oh, I don’t know, just everything. Being a woman in a man’s world.

GAWAIN          Yes, it must be awful.

SHELLEY        You don’t know the half of it.

GAWAIN          (quietly) I wouldn’t be so sure about that.

SHELLEY        How could you? You’re one of the knights of the round table. While I have to do odd jobs to make ends meet, like clearing up after your so-called festivities.

GAWAIN          Don’t you earn enough from looking after Merlin? That’s a full-time job.

SHELLEY        Tell me about it! You should see his chamber-pot in the morning.

GAWAIN          I’d rather not, thank you.

SHELLEY        Well, you don’t have to, do you, Gawain? He’s a horrible old man. Just because he’s 143 doesn’t mean he no longer has a responsibility to take baths or stop his beard from becoming infested with rats.

GAWAIN          I thought you’d decided to become a teacher.

SHELLEY        I have, but I’ve got to finish the bloody PGCE first. It’s my first teaching practice next week. It’s a pretty frightening prospect. I know those boys. They’ll eat me alive.

GAWAIN          They’ll be knights themselves one day. You can set them on the right track.

SHELLEY        But I’m a woman – what do I know about anything?

GAWAIN          You’re wiser than any man, Shelley. Really, you are.

SHELLEY        Oh, Gawain!

GAWAIN          You know I think the world of you.

SHELLEY        Even though I’m just a farmer’s daughter and way below your station in life.

GAWAIN          But you can read! Do you know how many of the knights can actually read?

SHELLEY        Just old prance-a-lot Lancelot, I think. Reading wasn’t on the National Curriculum before he went to Knight School.

GAWAIN          And you can draw! I’ve got all your pictures on my wall.

SHELLEY        Drawing doesn’t pay the rent.

GAWAIN          I know. (sighs) I think the party is just starting up.

Rock music is heard in the distance.

SHELLEY        Off you go then, like a good little boy. Perhaps you’ll meet a nice young damsel.

GAWAIN          But Guinevere is the only woman invited!

SHELLEY        I was being ironic. Maybe you’re right. What you really need is a quest. Something to make you a man.

GAWAIN          A man?

SHELLEY        A real man, like your Uncle Arthur wants. Don’t worry, Gawain, something’ll turn up …

The music gets louder. Curtain.

 

Scene 3:  (full stage)

The morning after (30th Dec): the debris of the party is untouched. A bleary Lancelot, in pyjamas and flamboyant dressing gown, picks his way across it, munching loudly on a piece of toast and marmalade, scratching his backside, etc. Enter Gawain, still dressed as he was the night before, visibly shell-shocked.

LANCELOT     Chin up, Gawain old son, worse things happen at sea! (Gawain does not seem to have noticed him). Not such a bad party, all things considered. (still no reaction) No need to take it like that. (munches toast)

GAWAIN         Tell me it was all just a bad dream, Lancelot!

LANCELOT     It was all just a bad dream. (unfolding newspaper)

GAWAIN         Was it? The alternative is too horrible to contemplate. Did no one else see a gigantic green knight here in the castle?

LANCELOT     That bit was certainly real.

GAWAIN         And he challenged us all to a game. One of us would swing an axe at his unprotected head, then the green knight would have the chance to do the same in return a year and a day from now?

LANCELOT     Sounded more than fair. A year and a day. You would definitely want to have your turn with the axe first.

GAWAIN         And I was the idiot who volunteered!

LANCELOT     Yes, I was a micro-second too slow sticking my hand in the air, you lucky so-and-so!

GAWAIN         And I chopped off his head!

LANCELOT     The perfect go. Ten point zero all round the room. We were all proud of you.

GAWAIN         And that should have been the end of it. He’d been decapitated, after all.

LANCELOT     Game over. And yet …

GAWAIN         And yet he picked up his severed head ……

LANCELOT     (appearing very surprised) No!

GAWAIN         He didn’t pick up his head?

LANCELOT     (cheerfully) No, that’s the bit you’re imagining. Once the head has been severed from the body, there’s no way back. Not even for a jolly green giant.

GAWAIN         So it was all just a bad dream? He’s dead?

LANCELOT     Yup. (they look at each other for a moment)

GAWAIN         (relaxing dramatically) God, that’s a relief! You know, I really believed that I was going to have to go along to his place and have my head chopped off! The mind can play funny tricks on you, can’t it?

There is an expectant pause as they look at each other again. Eventually Lancelot can keep a straight face no longer ….)

LANCELOT     (collapsing in mirth) Gotcha! Can’t believe you fell for that one. Sorry, old son, couldn’t resist it. Of course it happened. What can I say? Bad luck, old chap!

GAWAIN         Bad luck? Do you think there’s no hope?

LANCELOT     Well, I’m making the naïve assumption that you’re like the rest of us homo sapiens and your head is attached to your body by means of various bones, sinews and arteries and when your neck is exposed to the full force of a sharpened axe wielded by some weirdo colossus on steroids – well, there can be only one possible outcome. Lights out, nurse. Unless ……

GAWAIN         Unless?

LANCELOT     Unless …… unless you die of natural causes in less than a year. Might be your best strategy.

GAWAIN         So, based on your experience of these things, there’s no hope at all?

LANCELOT     Absolutely none.  Still, look on the bright side. You can have a really cracking last year, unencumbered by any worries about the year after. Wine, women ….. more women. You’re in an enviable position.

GAWAIN         You think so? I rather thought I’d spend the year doing good works and improving myself. Learning to read, like you. No other man round here can read a word and ……

LANCELOT     An extremely bad idea!

GAWAIN         For instance, what was that book you were engrossed in the other day?

LANCELOT     You mean Beowul ….. beer, the Good Beer Guide? Not worth learning to read just for that. Look, Gawain old son, we can all help to make your last few months a bit more bearable. Who’s that totty you’ve got the hots for?

GAWAIN         Totty? That’s not my …

LANCELOT     I’ve seen you. Eying her up when you think no one’s watching. You know, that farmer’s daughter,whatsername. Shelley? Can’t see it myself. Still, takes all sorts. I could put in a good word for you …….

GAWAIN         No!! (embarrassed pause) No, thank you – I’d really rather you didn’t.

LANCELOT     You’re right, you could do a lot better than that! Anyway, can’t sit around here nattering – I’m booked in for a hot wax this morning and then I’m off to see the wizard, the wonderful wizard of Camelot – not! Ta-ra!  (exit)

Gawain addresses the audience directly:

GAWAIN         Don’t take any notice of Lancelot – Shelley’s gorgeous. Well, you’ve seen that for yourselves. And we did have something going when we were both kids – you know, swore we’d be sweethearts when we were a bit older, that sort of thing. She’s probably forgotten all that now but it meant a lot to me. (exit)

 

Scene 4: Merlin’s Cave

Merlin is not the wizard he once was. He’s now 143, with a long, straggly beard down to his waist, gnarled features and long, bony fingers, an older version of Albert Steptoe with a tall pointy hat, in fact. His cave is dank, dark and cobwebby with a few Gothic accoutrements.

Merlin enters, carrying a magic wand and a stuffed dog which he places on a table (or chair) right. From a range of about six feet, he tries to perform his magic. Each time he does so, there is a suitable sound effect, but the stuffed dog remains exactly as it is and Merlin becomes ever more frustrated.

MERLIN         Abracadabra! (waves wand) Dammit, why didn’t that work? Wrong incantation, I guess. Hocus Pocus! (waves wand) By the power of slugs and snails and puppy dogs’ tails! (waves wand) Shazam! (waves wand) It never used to be this hard! Am I getting too old for this caper? Shazam! (waves wand) Did I already try that one? I know the spell has a ‘z’ in it somewhere. Alacatraz. Zanzibar. Alzheimer’s?

Unseen by Merlin, Shelley enters, carrying a fold-up ironing board and iron. She is Merlin’s relatively new live-in carer. She sets up her ironing board back stage and she will proceed to take female clothes from a pile of washing and seek to iron them.

SHELLEY          I’m sorry, Mr Merlin. Do you mind if I get on with some ironing while you’re doing your magic practice?

MERLIN            Well, actually, I do m…

SHELLEY          Only there’s nowhere else to do it in this cave, is there? There’s no privacy at all!

MERLIN            It’s suited me perfectly well for 143 years! How can I be expected to concentrate if you’re clattering around?

SHELLEY          May I ask what you’re doing, exactly?

MERLIN            I’m using my magic powers to transform Inish there into … into …

SHELLEY          Yes?

MERLIN            (muttering defeatedly) A python.

SHELLEY          A parrot, you say? A dead parrot?

MERLIN            No, a python. A stuffed python.

SHELLEY          A python? What use is that? It’d only go round constricting people and asphyxiating them. Why waste a perfectly good poodle?

MERLIN            No reason, I just need the practice.

SHELLEY          (sighing) You know what the doctor said, Mr Merlin. You need to retire from all this wizardry nonsense. It’s bad for your blood pressure. I’ve got your statins. (she waves a bottle of pills at him) You need to put your feet up and let me look after you in your twilight years. That’s what a live-in carer is for!

MERLIN            Twilight years? I won’t allow any twilight in here. I plan to live forever – I’m a magician after all.

SHELLEY          Yes, Mr Merlin, of course you are! (opening the bottle) Just eat these.

MERLIN            (waving her away) I don’t need your pills. I make my own potions!

SHELLEY          (resuming her ironing) I wanted to be a wizard when I was a little girl, you know.

MERLIN            A witch, you mean?

SHELLEY          Well, that’s the trouble, isn’t it? A wizard is a pillar of society, trusted adviser to the king, all that malarkey. A witch, on the other hand, is a figure to be feared, an evil temptress, an outcast, someone to be thrown in the ducking pool. What sort of career option is that for a girl? It’s sexism in its purest form. I had to give up on my dreams of wizardry and become a skivvy instead. It was either that or be a dulcimer player …

MERLIN            (dreamily) A damsel with a dulcimer in a vision once I saw!

SHELLEY          … and a skivvy gets a groat a week, twice as much as a dulcimer player, so here I am. Only now they call it “live-in carer”. God, I hate ironing. (holds up a blouse, still visibly creased) That’s hopeless. (holding up the plug end of the cord) The sooner someone invents electricity the better, I say. And where are all your clothes? Don’t any of them need washing and ironing?

MERLIN            Well, I …

SHELLEY          To my knowledge, you haven’t changed that cloak for the four years I’ve been working here! No wonder it’s a bit whiffy! How long since you last changed it?

MERLIN            (after some cogitation) About 86 years, give or take.

SHELLEY          What!? You haven’t taken your cloak off for 86 years?

MERLIN            Except when I have a bath, no.

SHELLEY          And how often do you have a bath?

MERLIN            (proudly) Once every nine years. Hygiene is very important to a wizard.

There is a loud knock on the door, startling both Merlin and Shelley. Merlin shrugs.

MERLIN            Enter!

In comes Lancelot in wintry clothes. He and Merlin embrace uneasily. Unseen by Merlin, Lancelot holds his nose briefly.

MERLIN            Lancelot! Am I glad to see you! This young lady is making my life a misery.

SHELLEY          Well, thanks a bunch!

LANCELOT        (removing his cape) And I’m glad to see you too, Merlin, old friend. How are you keeping?

MERLIN            Terrible. Living for ever is a horrible burden, you know. And you don’t come as often as you used to.

LANCELOT        Being a senior knight is pretty time-consuming, you know. I’ve been busy, busy.

MERLIN            Goblet of anthrax?

LANCELOT        Ummmm, I think not. I just want to fly a few ideas past you, throw you a few curveballs.

MERLIN            I’m 143, Lancelot. I’m not sure I’d be able to catch them.

LANCELOT        Shelley, if you wouldn’t mind …

SHELLEY          Wouldn’t mind what? Oh, I see. You’d like me to … er, yes, Sir Lancelot.

Shelley edges off stage back left, curtseying ironically as she goes.

MERLIN            Sit down, sit down, son! (there is nowhere obvious to sit). Don’t worry about the ironing. Sit on that. (he does) What’s the prob?

LANCELOT        I don’t know where to start. Being a knight, Camelot, what’s it all for?

MERLIN            You know what it’s for.

LANCELOT        I don’t, not any more. Will I ever be king? There was a time when I dreamt of doing good deeds, uniting a nation, bringing together the Angles and Saxons, welcoming the odd Viking trade delegation, possibly even putting up with the Celts and those ghastly French types.

MERLIN            All laudable ideals, my boy.

LANCELOT        But the Angles, the Saxons, the Vikings, they all hate us. Camelot is not the centre of a happy unified kingdom. I blame the fiscal policy. Asking poor people to give us a groat every week, then having a draw each Saturday.

MERLIN            It’s a complete lottery.

LANCELOT        But hardly any of it goes out in prizes. The rest of it goes to “good causes”, we say. The peasants can see it’s just paying for Mordred’s holiday cottage on the island of Avalon. Camelot has become a fortress to keep out the barbarians at the door. And inside those fortified walls, everyone is plotting to dethrone the king.

MERLIN            Except you. You’re just sleeping with his wife.

LANCELOT        Arthur doesn’t mind that. I think he rather likes it. I’ve seen him hiding in the wardrobe once or twice while … (he winks ostentatiously) … it’s a sign of true nobility to be willing to share everything you have, even your wife.

MERLIN            Says the man who has never been married.

LANCELOT        I’m the one person Arthur trusts. But I know he’s just clinging on to power. Fragile coalitions here, secret pacts there, just so he can stay atop the greasy pole a little longer. Power for the sake of power. I’m tired of propping him up, Merlin.

MERLIN            Why not take a holiday? Somewhere exotic? Stonehenge, for instance?

LANCELOT        And as for Mordred … Arthur’s own nephew! More plots than a whodunit writer. He’d stab me in the back in the twinkling of an eye if I let him. Ghastly man, and yet people respond to his fascist rants. Do you know what he wants to do?

MERLIN            Yes.

LANCELOT        … he wants to seal up all the doors of Camelot so no one can get in and no one can get out. The Round Table as a closed shop. No new knights coming in and taking the old knight’s jobs – it’s positively medieval!

MERLIN            Medieval? I wouldn’t say it’s as up to date as that!

LANCELOT        Couldn’t you put a spell on him, Merlin? For old time’s sake? I’d be forever in your debt!

MERLIN            You already are, after that business with Guinevere.

LANCELOT        For ever in your debt again. Please!

MERLIN            I’ll, er, see what I can do. (consulting his watch) But don’t forget I know exactly what you’re thinking, Lancelot.

LANCELOT        You do?

MERLIN            You know I do. You may be Arthur’s great white hope, his blue-eyed boy, but I see through all that. No one has been plotting more than you. But remember: what goes around, comes around.

LANCELOT        I don’t know what you mean.

MERLIN            I think you do. (shooing him out of the door) It’s the witching hour, I’m afraid, and I’m expecting some other visitors, so …

Both exit. Blackout.

 

 Scene 5: Schoolroom (full stage)

We are in a prep-school for the sons of knights. We see a single boy, George, sitting at an old-fashioned school desk, waiting for the lesson to begin. He is ogling a magazine called Mediæval Bæbes. There is a din of other boys talking and arguing. He puts the magazine quickly inside the desk as the teacher comes in. The din lessens only slightly.

Enter Shelley, in gown, with pile of dog-eared exercise books.

SHELLEY       Shurrup the noise, 3G …… (just as much racket as before – no sign they’ve noticed her arrival) SHUT IT!!!!!!! (gradual grudging silence). Right, some Geography homework to give back ….. (throwing exercise books off the front of the stage as she speaks) Stonehenge should be right at the centre of the map of the world, Tarquin. Eh? (listens to the imaginary Tarquin) No, you can’t sail off the edge of the world. Neville …… no map at all; George (hubbub increasing again), ten out of ten.

GEORGE        Thank you, Miss.

SHELLEY       And where was your homework, Sidney? Stop tweaking Neville’s ear or … (weakly) or you’ll be in big trouble. Right, shurrup the lot of you. It’s a very important lesson, today. If you are to become Knights of the Round Table – hard to imagine, I know – then, it may be the most important lesson of all …..

GEORGE        (to imaginary neighbour) She’s going to tell us the quickest way to like kill people and run away again.

SHELLEY       Today it’s the cross-curricular subject of courtly love. It’s part biology ……

GEORGE        The birds and the bees at long last! Cool!

SHELLEY       Part sociology, part psychology, so listen carefully. Courtly love, or l’amour ourtois, as the French call it ….

GEORGE        You didn’t mention modern languages, miss!

SHELLEY       Yes, thank you, George. Courtly love is …. How shall I put this … a secret special feeling between a man and a woman. Yes, Neville? (she cups her ear). Like Mum and Dad? No, probably not like your mother and father, Neville.

GEORGE        (aside) Depends who his father was, doesn’t it?

SHELLEY       (while writing bullet-pointed ARISTOCRATIC, RITUAL, SECRET, ADULTEROUS, LITERARY on the blackboard or via a PowerPoint slideshow) Courtly love is always aristocratic; it’s the love shared by knights and ladies of noble birth, none of your riff-raff.

GEORGE        So it might be a top knight – Sir Lancelot, say – and, um, a queen, just fr’instance?

SHELLEY       An unlikely example, Tarquin, but yes. The lady might well be of higher birth. Anyway, courtly love is full of little rituals – handkerchiefs being dropped, little jobs being performed, sonnets being written, and so on. The lady is the master, the man the servant who satisfies her every whim ….

GEORGE        And what does the man get out of it, miss?

SHELLEY       Would you please stop interrupting, George! Sidney, take that paint-brush out of your ear and give it back to Gareth. Courtly love is secret. It must not be declared to the world. If the world finds out, it’s all over. Number 4 – I hope you’re all making a note of this! (George scribbles furiously) – courtly love is adulterous. Number 5……

GEORGE        Hang on, miss, what’s “adulterous”?

SHELLEY       It means …erk … it means it takes place between two adults. None of you lot are old enough. What’s that Tarquin? (cups her ear again). Is it when a man creeps into a lady’s bedroom while her husband is like safely out of the way, and they …… certainly not, Tarquin! The courtly lovers exchange small gifts, read poems, etc, as I said before. In fact, that brings me to the final point: courtly love is always literary.

GEORGE        Lots of talking in French!

SHELLEY       Quite probably, yes.

GEORGE        And do we have to do all of this when we get older? Ugh! (he blows a raspberry)

SHELLEY       George, don’t do that! It can be a little messy, I agree. But I think you’ll find there are a few compensations, which you’ll understand when you’re a little bit older. What’s that, Sidney? No, 69 is just a number. No, Neville, there’s no need to demonstrate with Gareth. Right, I think that’s everything there is to say about courtly love – I won’t be mentioning it again. So, who can sum up the lesson for me?

GEORGE        (hand shooting up) Miss, miss!

SHELLEY       Anyone? (looking round for others to volunteer, then reluctantly) All right, George?

GEORGE        Courtly love is a quasi-legitimisation and sublimation of an apparently transgressive social practice involving the pseudo-reversal of gender-based norms, a tokenistic semiology and eventual reinforcement of masculine hegemony and existing socio-economic paradigms. And it’s a great chance for us lads to get our leg over.

SHELLEY       Yup, that’s about it.

 

Scene 6: Guinevere’s boudoir (front of stage)

Guinevere is draped on a long couch in bath-towel, coronet and shades. She sips from a purple cocktail, complete with umbrella and all the trimmings. Sir Lancelot is patiently painting her toe-nails an even more lurid shade of crimson.

LANCELOT     Thursday?

GUINEVERE   (wearily) Shiatsu.

LANCELOT     Friday?

GUINEVERE   Tae-kwondo.

LANCELOT     The weekend?

GUINEVERE   (studying her fingernails) Feng shui.

LANCELOT     What, all weekend?

GUINEVERE   It’s a feng shui workshop. Don’t forget the little one!

LANCELOT     Bloody Japanese  imports. When am I going to get to see you, Gwinny?

GUINEVERE   Sometime, never.

LANCELOT     Gwinny, I dream of you over me, like some gigantic golden eagle, about to sink your talons deep into my lilywhite flesh, the blood oozing ……

GUINEVERE   (bored) How poetic!

LANCELOT     I want to shout our love out from the rooftops!

GUINEVERE   (freezing) I would have you flayed and thrown in a vat of boiling oil.

LANCELOT     Now you’re talking!

GUINEVERE   No, seriously, Lancey, my little badger, if you so much as breathe a word of our harmless little trysts, I’ll… I’ll…

LANCELOT     Yes …. ?

GUINEVERE   I’ll … doh! How do you punish a man who loves being punished?

LANCELOT     (cheerfully) Keep trying? I’ll tell you what would be really wicked…… (he whispers in her ear and a smile spreads slowly across her face as the lights fade)

Scene 7: Up on Prog Rock (front of stage)

Shelley, well wrapped up against the chill wind (sound-effects?) is up on Prog Rock sketching. She is just finishing her last sketch. As she gathers her stuff and begins to cross the stage, a dainty embroidered handkerchief falls unseen to the ground from her back pocket. Simultaneously, Gawain appears suddenly from behind her.

GAWAIN         Shelley! I think you just dropped this! (picks up the hanky and hands it back to her)

SHELLEY       (taking it) God, how embarrassing, I hope you don’t think ….

GAWAIN         (genuinely puzzled) You hope I don’t think what?

SHELLEY       Well, you know, that I dropped it on purpose or anything.

GAWAIN         (stilted, keeping his distance) Good lord, no, I saw it slip out quite accidentally. (embarrassed pause) What a …. what a nice day it is!

SHELLEY       Bloody freezing! (they laugh nervously. Pause.)

BOTH             Lovely. Super. Sorry, after you ……

SHELLEY       (eventually) No, I was just saying what a lovely view you get from up here on Prog Rock.

GAWAIN         (trying to admire it) Ye-es.

SHELLEY       Kestrels, merlins, red kites, martlets, great auks, all sorts, depending on the time of year. (they walk a few steps) Look at those skylarks – what blithe spirits they are!

GAWAIN         I suppose so.

SHELLEY       I’m sorry, Gawain. Here’s me rattling on about the beauties of nature when you’ve got that terrible thing hanging over you.

GAWAIN         (unconvincingly) Oh that! The axe? Nearly forgotten it. Long way off. 297 days.

SHELLEY       Gosh, is that all? Time flies when you’re ……

GAWAIN         Having fun?

SHELLEY       No, no, I didn’t mean …… you know what I mean!

GAWAIN         I do indeed, but I’m not. (further embarrassed pause). Shell?

SHELLEY       (too quickly) Yes?

GAWAIN         Shell …… (looking anywhere but at her) I wouldn’t have the nerve to say this if it wasn’t for the fact that I have so little time left …..

SHELLEY       Yes, yes ……

GAWAIN         And I’m pretty sure I know what the answer’s going to be. And I don’t want to say anything that’s likely to put our friendship at …..

SHELLEY       Look, just spit it out will you!? (they face each other now; their eyes lock)

GAWAIN         Shelley, I …… (freeze)

SHELLEY       Oh, Gawain!

Suddenly she can bear it no longer and rushes towards him, dropping her sketchbook as she goes. She kisses him passionately, despite the clashing of noses, and he’s just beginning to respond with a little more freedom when she pulls away.

GAWAIN         You knew!

SHELLEY       Oh, Gawain, I’ve always known. (they kiss again in utter joy)

GAWAIN         (breaking away briefly) I hope you didn’t think I was being too forward?

SHELLEY       No, Gawain, I can safely say that thought never began to even contemplate crossing my mind.

GAWAIN         Only I really don’t know if I’m going to come back from this … this thing … alive. Come December 30th, I’ll be dead. I feel I have to make the most of every moment that’s left to me.

SHELLEY       We will, my love, we will.

GAWAIN         You mean, you’ll marry me?

SHELLEY       Marry you? Good lord, no. But I’m certainly up for a bit of how’s your father. Oh look, a convenient grotto …

They scamper off the stage, hand in hand, Shelley leading the way.    Curtain.

 

Scene 8: (in front of curtain)

Shelley is marking some schoolbooks. George rushes in.

GEORGE        Miss, miss, I need your help.

SHELLEY       What on earth’s the matter, George?

GEORGE        Haven’t you heard? Sir Lancelot’s gone missing. It’s been a couple of days now. The Queen has offered me a reward of a silver farthing if I can find him.

SHELLEY       He’s probably nipped off on another quest.

GEORGE        Isn’t a bit cold for quests?

SHELLEY       Last year, he told us how he defeated Grendel, the sea monster. And now he says he’s been challenged for a re-match by Grendel’s mother.

GEORGE        Grendel’s mother?

SHELLEY       You’re right, it does seem a bit unlikely. Maybe he’s called in on King Pele the Grail Guardian and saved his daughter, Elaine, from a vat of boiling water in which she has been imprisoned by a magic spell for several years. Again.

GEORGE        How did this Elaine survive for several years in boiling water?

SHELLEY       Search me. Lancelot is always a bit vague on some of the key details.

GEORGE        Help me find him, miss!

SHELLEY       As it happens, I definitely heard some strange sounds coming from the pig-sties.

GEORGE        Oink, oink, perhaps?

SHELLEY       No, sort of like a man suffering. Listen.

They stop to listen and in the distance there is the sound of Lancelot groaning. Shelley tries to lead George by the hand and find a way through the stage curtain but George hangs back.

GEORGE        I daren’t go and have a look in case it’s a troll.

SHELLEY       There’s no such thing as trolls, George.

GEORGE        Or a werewolf! I think it was that pig-sty over there.

SHELLEY       No harm in taking a look inside …

Shelley and George go to back half of stage via centre curtain. There is a scream from Shelley. No one is visible as the following conversation is heard.

GEORGE        Why hasn’t he got any clothes on?

SHELLEY       George! Cover your eyes!

GEORGE        Spoilsport!

SHELLEY       OK, let’s get these ropes untied. How long have you been here, Lancelot?

LANCELOT     (weakly) Two days. Why didn’t she come for me?

GEORGE        He’s gone rather blue.

LANCELOT     It’s been sub-zero. I was almost gone.

SHELLEY       Come on, Lancelot, put this round you. Let’s get you back to a warm fire.

Shelley re-emerges from front of curtain and addresses the audience.

SHELLEY       We’ve found him. You can all go home now. Nothing to see here. You’re certainly not going to see Sir Lancelot completely starkers?!

GEORGE        (also re-emerging but looking back) But he’s not completely starkers, is he miss?

SHELLEY       Well, OK. He may have been wearing a small gloved puppet. I didn’t really see.

GEORGE        A gloved puppet? Is that what it is?

SHELLEY       Yes. (sheepishly) A badger. (George sniggers). This is a serious business! But it’s just as well he’s wearing it. I’m afraid frostbite seems to have badly affected his other extremities.

Enter Guinevere, out of breath.

GUINEVERE   Oh God! Am I too late?

SHELLEY       It’s all right, your majesty. We’ve found him. He’s OK.

GUINEVERE   There’s been so much happening, I … I …

SHELLEY       Yes, your majesty?

GUINEVERE   (defeated for a moment, then standing tall and proud) I don’t know what you’re sniggering at, young man. Sir Lancelot had behaved very badly and he needed some firm discipline. As his queen, it fell to me to impose the necessary punishment. Now, is there anyone else who requires similar chastisement?

GEORGE        No thank you, your majesty (edging towards exit).

GUINEVERE   If I hear a word from anyone! Shoo! Shoo! (she shoos George and a very reluctant Shelley off-stage and exits behind them).

 

Scene 9: Camelot’s Courtyard

Enter Shelley, pulling Gringolet, the pantomime horse, Merlin (in his tallest pointy hat) and Gawain, struggling under the weight of his armour and protective clothing.

SHELLEY       Now, are you sure you’re wrapped up warm enough, Gawain?

GAWAIN         I can hardly breathe under this lot, Shell.

SHELLEY       There’s a ridge of low pressure coming in from the north, according to the shipping forecast. And you’ve got your packed lunch? You’ll need to make sure you’re eating properly.

GAWAIN         I don’t think it’s going to make much difference when the time comes.

MERLIN         You really don’t have to do this, Gawain.

GAWAIN         But I want to. No one has ever let the Round Table down before. How could I be the first? I made a vow.

SHELLEY       (trying to embrace him) Oh, Gawain! I’m not sure I can bear to let you go.

GAWAIN         (bravely) Don’t worry, Shell, I hope to be gone for just a few days.

SHELLEY       (almost in tears) You’ll miss all the Christmas festivities! Oh, Gawain, we’ll pray for you!

GAWAIN         Thank you. (they kiss, reluctant to let each other go.) Shelley, dearest, whatever happens … well, I will always love you.

Sir Lancelot, wearing his best Christmas jumper, saunters in.

LANCELOT     Ah, Gawain. It is Gawain, isn’t it? Auf wiedersehen, old son. King Arthur would have come down to wish you the very best of luck …

GAWAIN         I sense a “but” coming on …

LANCELOT     … but he’s busy writing his Christmas speech. You’ll miss that.

GAWAIN         The king’s speech is as much a part of Christmas as turkey and mistletoe.

LANCELOT     We are both proud and envious of you. Yours is one of the most momentous and dangerous quests that ever faced the Knights of the Round Table. I wish I were going myself …

MERLIN         Well, off you go, then.

LANCELOT    … but I can’t do everything. I must conserve all my energy for my life-or-death struggle with Grendel’s mother next year. It is time for younger men to go in search of glory. You will bring great honour to this court.

GAWAIN         (genuinely overwhelmed) It is an honour to represent you all.

LANCELOT     (shaking his hand lengthily) Gringolet is a wonderful horse. (horse neighs). He will not let you down. And our cartographers have drawn you the very best map possible ….

GAWAIN         I have it here. (he gestures to his breast pocket)

LANCELOT     … although unfortunately the Green Chapel is not actually marked on it …

GAWAIN         I’m sure I’ll find it.

LANCELOT     … or indeed anything much else.

GAWAIN         I can always ask. I’m not due there for about a week. Not till dawn on the 30th, a year and a day after the first blow.

LANCELOT     And a very fine beheading it was too. But we too are making a comparable sacrifice. The king has decided to postpone the start of our Christmas party until you come back or until … well, you know!

GAWAIN         That really wasn’t necessary.

LANCELOT     Send us a postcard! Chin up. Good luck, my boy.

MERLIN         (to Shelley) He’ll need a bit more than that.

GAWAIN         Goodbye everyone!

Gawain mounts Gringolet with great difficulty and the horse attempts to bear him off-stage, followed by the other three.

 

 Scene 10: In Sir Bertilak’s castle

Boxing Day, Sir Bertilak’s castle. Gawain, still wearing nearly all his clobber, is enjoying a glass of wine, constantly replenished before he has had the chance to make much of a dent in it. Bertilak and Bella also have glasses but they are rarely seen to drink. Each is attired in (medieval) evening dress (much smarter than Gawain) and Bella looks particularly striking in her classical low-cut gown, elaborate hair-do, jewels, etc. As she replenishes his glass, she leans extravagantly over Gawain. He tries hard but fails to avert his gaze.

GAWAIN         This is most awfully kind of you, Sir … Sir Bertilak, did you say?

BERTILAK      No, no, not at all. It’s the least we can do at Christmas, especially on a night like this.

BELLA            I’m sure you would do the same for us. I don’t think we’ve met before. My name is Lady Belladonna but you may call me Bella (offers a hand to kiss, but he clumsily ends up shaking it, nearly spilling his wine in the process).

GAWAIN         Delighted to meet you.

BELLA            Let me pour you some more wine. It’s from an island on the edge of the world called Madeira.

BERTILAK      And you can call me Bertie – Bertilak is such a mouthful. Make yourself at home. If I were to make a wild stab, I would guess that you are from the court of King Arthur.

GAWAIN         Yes, I …

BELLA            And perhaps you are out on one of those famous “quests” we’ve heard so much about?

GAWAIN         Yes, I …

BERTILAK      … but you were temporarily lost …

GAWAIN         Yes, I … (pause, but this time he is not interrupted) I was looking for the Chapel of the Green Knight … (much nodding of heads)

BERTILAK      Ah yes, the Green Knight. (chuckling) Odd chap, eh Bella?

BELLA            (sharing the joke) He certainly is, Bertie!

GAWAIN         You mean, you know where he lives?

BERTILAK      Why, it’s not two score leagues from here! What’s that in kilometres?

BELLA            It’s not half a day’s journey! We can give you precise directions. Have some more Madeira, my dear.

GAWAIN         (gulping) That’s very kind of you, only …

BELLA            When are you expected?

GAWAIN         Oh, not for three or four days, but …

BELLA            Then why not stop here as our honoured guest until you have to go?

GAWAIN         No, no, I couldn’t possibly …

BERTILAK      (much more sinister, suddenly) No, we absolutely insist! (softening again) You must treat our castle as if it were your own, Gawain. Everything that’s mine … (Bella leans over to replenish the glass again; Gawain can’t take his eyes from her cleavage) … is yours. Just help yourself. And tomorrow we go hunting! There’s wonderful sport to be had.

BELLA            As long as you avoid those nasty hunt saboteurs, Bertie.

BERTILAK      It’s ridiculous, isn’t it? As if we are going to suddenly wipe out the entire population of British bears, lynxes and wolves!

GAWAIN         Of course not.

BERTILAK      So you’ll join me and my men tomorrow morning for some sport?

GAWAIN         To be frank, Bertie, I’m absolutely cream-crackered. I’d rather just have a lie-in.

BELLA            (exchanging glances with her husband) That’s very understandable, isn’t it, Bertie? I shall still be here. I can, um, look after our guest. (more wine-pouring)

BERTILAK      Well, Gawain, if you insist …but anything we bag while we’re out hunting will be our gift to you, our guest of honour.

GAWAIN         But what can I give in return?

BERTILAK      Well, I don’t know. Anything you have bagged in the same period? (laughs) No matter. Let’s go on through to dinner, Gawain, and you can tell us all about this little “quest” of yours …. (shepherding him out)

GAWAIN         It’s quite a long story, I’m afraid. It was last Christmas time and we were all having a bit of a do and along came this large, green knight, not sure of his name, and … (ad lib as his voice trails away off-stage)

The curtain closes, the lights go down and then up only slightly as the curtain reopens. It is three days later (29th Dec 716). Gawain is snoring on the couch, still in most of his armour. Enter Bella in a flimsy nightie and negligee, held in place with a green belt, possibly singing ‘I got you, babe’. She tiptoes towards the couch and leans across the sleeping figure.

BERTILAK      (offstage) Honey, I’m home!

Bella panics and falls on top of Gawain who wakes up. She struggles to retain her dignity but the green belt finishes across his face. She hurries off-stage on the other side. Lights up. Bertilak finally comes in waving his sword excitedly.

BERTILAK      Gawain, you lazy so-and-so! Still in bed! Call yourself a knight?

GAWAIN         (hiding the belt behind his back) I’m sorry, Bertie. Didn’t hear the alarm. Have you finished hunting already? Did you catch a bear?

BERTILAK      No, but we finally nailed this pesky fox. (he holds up a mangy fox-pelt) You know, the one that has been leading us a merry dance the last three days. This trophy is all yours.

Keeping one hand awkwardly behind his back, Gawain does his best to accept the prize.

GAWAIN         I am humbled and honoured once again. Your generosity as host has known no bounds. I am sure it will be even tastier than that badger you bagged yesterday. I shall be for ever indebted to you.

BERTILAK      Have you nothing for me? No trophies you can trade?

GAWAIN         Embarrassingly few. Just three night-night kisses (still hiding the belt, he delivers the three kisses, slowly and deliberately, indeed with a revealing passion).

BERTILAK      Steady on, Gawain, this is just a manly thing!

GAWAIN         Sorry, Bertie, didn’t want you to be short-changed. And this will be the last time. I must arrive at the Green Chapel at dawn tomorrow.

BERTILAK      You seem to be hiding something behind your back. Do you have something to exchange after all?

GAWAIN         (after a pause, showing the belt) I … I … it’s nothing really.

BERTILAK      My wife’s belt? What is the meaning of this?

GAWAIN         Um, it has no meaning at all …

He is relieved to see Bella enter, slightly more demurely dressed now.

BELLA            Dawn?! Good morning, husband dearest. And Gawain, are you to leave us today? Surely you will stay with us a few days longer.

GAWAIN         I couldn’t possibly impose myself …

BELLA            Nonsense! I have enjoyed our little tête-à-têtes. I feel we are just getting to know each other.

BERTILAK      And it’s icy cold at the moment – you’ll catch your death!

GAWAIN         (sighing) I might well do that.

BELLA            A few more days can’t do any harm!

GAWAIN         (weakening) I … I … (looking from one to the other). I tell you what, can I ask the audience?

BERTILAK      It’d mean using up one of your lives …

GAWAIN         (alarmed) Would it? Oh, I see. Won’t take a moment. (he strolls to the front of the stage and addresses the audience directly.) OK, audience, what should I do? Should I (a) fulfil my appointment with the Green Knight at daybreak tomorrow, (b) pootle off from here but go straight back to Camelot and say the Green Knight didn’t turn up, (c) stay here as a grateful guest, keeping well away from Bella, then head back to Camelot, or (d) stay for a while and enjoy a little “courtly love” with Bella while her husband’s out?

OK, hands in the air, please – (a) head off for my date with the Green Knight? (counts hands, if any), (b) toddle off back to Camelot? (count and react), (c) live it up with Sir Bertilak? (count). And finally (d) get my end away with the bootilicious Bella? (counts and attempts to put the result in percentage terms, then goes back to Bertilak and Bella.) OK, it seems that XX% of the audience …

BELLA            (very enthusiastic) That’s quite a high percentage.

GAWAIN         Yes, XX% think I should … I should …

BERTILAK      (more fiercely) Yes?

GAWAIN         That I should … go for (d). But that would be utterly wrong. If being a knight has taught me one thing, it is that you must be true to the vows you have made. (audience boos?)

BELLA            Even if it costs you your life?

GAWAIN         Even so. I’m going for (a).  I’m off to the Green Chapel.

BERTILAK      Final answer? You’ve still got 50/50.

GAWAIN         Final answer.

BERTILAK      That’s a brave decision. Audience, give Gawain a big hand. (pause, looking at watch) OK, let’s take a break now. We’ll be back in a few moments to find out whether Gawain made the right decision or not.

 

Scene 11: At the Green Chapel

30th December 716 AD, dawn. Time for the dry ice machines, if the budget stretches that far, to suggest the bleakest of wintry scenes and the Green Knight’s grassy dell and grotto or “chapel”. First we see Gawain, in full armour plus Bella’s belt, then Gringolet, being reluctantly led. Gawain is scrutinising his map and scratching his head.

GAWAIN        What do you think, Gringolet? The six-figure grid reference is definitely about here and you can see the green chapel symbol on this new map that Sir Bertilak gave me. But there’s no chapel here. Gringolet?

Gringolet shrugs his shoulders (if he has any).

GAWAIN        Well, you’re a fat lot of use. (checks his watch) Perhaps the Green Knight is dead and gone? He did look as though he was suffering from verdigree and a year is a long time. Perhaps my magic love-taken (indicating Bella’s belt) has warded him off? Or maybe I’m just a bit early? I think I’ll ask this chap….

Some improvisation may be necessary to allow Bertilak time to disguise himself as the Green Knight but eventually a figure emerges from the murk. Gawain slowly realises that it is the Green Knight. And tries belatedly to hide behind Gringolet.

GREEN Kt     Sir Gawain, welcome to the Green Chapel!

GAWAIN        (showing himself) Ah, good morning, Mr … Mr … I’m sorry, I don’t think I ever picked up your name exactly.

GREEN Kt     I am the Green Knight.

GAWAIN        Yes, yes, I know, but …

GREEN Kt     … and I am glad to see that you have fulfilled your promise.

GAWAIN        Well, I, I, aim to …

GREEN Kt     … enough of the small talk, I think. It is time for you to face the full weight of my axe.

The Green Knight displays his enormous (rubber) axe, touching the blade with his index finger. He winces and licks the blood off his finger, then waits expectantly, but Gawain seems rooted to the spot.

Green Kt       Come on, come on, we haven’t got all day!

Slowly and very reluctantly, Gawain goes down on his knees in front of the Green Knight and leans his head forward.

Green Kt       I can’t even see your neck through all that armour!

Shaking visibly, Gawain slowly removes his helmet and adjusts his armour so that his neck becomes visible. He bends down again, looking at the ground. The Green Knight raises his axe high above the target.

GREEN Kt     Ready? (no reply) Are you ready, Sir Gawain?

GAWAIN        I am ready.

GREEN Kt     Right. On a count of three. One … two … THREE!

He brings the axe down rapidly but Gawain, who can’t see it, jerks away from the impact and the Green Knight stops the axe an inch or two above the target. Gawain gets up, feeling his neck.

GREEN Kt:    How disappointing! I really thought better of you, Sir Gawain.

GAWAIN        I’m sorry, did I move slightly?

GREEN Kt     Just a little. I don’t think that’s really in the spirit of the game, is it?

GAWAIN        Well …

GREEN Kt     No, it definitely isn’t. I must ask you again to prepare to meet your fate. The wheel has come full circle.

GAWAIN        (kneeling once more and displaying his neck) I will be brave. I will be brave.

The Green Knight raises the axe once more, emphasizing its huge weight. With a roar he begins to bring it down but once again Gawain flinches away from the expected blow. The Green Knight stops dead in mid-swing. Gawain jumps up again.

GREEN Kt     This really is not cricket!

GAWAIN        I’m sorry, Mr … er … Green Knight. It’s just that I could have sworn that I saw something moving. Just over there. Hard to be sure in the morning mist …

GREEN Kt     I can assure you that we are completely alone. I am disappointed in you, Gawain. The honour of the Round Table is at stake.

GAWAIN        I know – I’ve let King Arthur down. I’ve let myself down. But it’s quite a stressful business, having your head chopped off.

GREEN Kt     Tell me about it! You just have to pick yourself up and move on.

GAWAIN        I’m grateful for your advice, really I am. It’s always good to talk to someone who has been there and done it before you. (unctuously) Should I say my prayers again?

GREEN Kt     Look, don’t push it, sunshine. It’s time to meet your Maker, whoever He may be.

GAWAIN        (sighing) This really is it, then …

For a third time Gawain goes down on his knees, bares his neck, etc. He closes his eyes and mouths a prayer as the Green Knight laboriously raises his axe. With a blood-curdling roar, he begins the downswing and this time Gawain stays completely still. The rubber axe just skims Gawain’s neck on the way past before burying itself in the stage. The Green Knight struggles to dislodge it from the imaginary turf. Gawain opens his eyes. Disbelievingly, he finds that his head is still attached to his body. He feels his neck and finds the spot where the axe has passed. There is a small wound and he licks the blood from his fingers.

GAWAIN        Gosh, I’m still alive. I’m still alive!! I’m sorry – did I flinch again?

GREEN Kt     No. I have taken my turn. You are free to go. The honour of the Round Table has been upheld.

GAWAIN        I’m not dead!

GREEN Kt     You’re nicked, that’s all. And it seems you were right – we did have an audience!

Through the dry ice comes Shelley, racing towards him, then George, with Merlin wheezing somewhat behind. Shelley embraces Gawain so violently that she is in danger of causing more damage than he has sustained so far.

SHELLEY      Gawain! You’re still alive! My hero! I love you. Still alive – I’m so happy.

GAWAIN        (winded) Shelley? What on earth are you doing out here in this god-forsaken place? Have you been following me?

SHELLEY      (uncertainly) No-o.

GAWAIN        These are the Badlands of Cheshire. There are ogres and dragons and professional footballers at every turn. It is far too dangerous a place for any girl!

SHELLEY      I know, I know. But how could I bear it, watching everyone opening their presents on Christmas Day, knowing that you were out in the ice and snow, perhaps freezing to death …

GAWAIN        (guiltily) Ah, yes …

SHELLEY      … so I begged Merlin to help me. He said “abracadabra”…

MERLIN         Shazam, actually.

SHELLEY      … and teleported us all here.

GAWAIN        Teleported?

SHELLEY      That’s right. Isn’t he brilliant?

MERLIN         Well, no one has yet invented a satellite-based tracking system so I had to improvise. Sometimes the old ways are the best. Anyway, here we are, just in time for your ordeal.

SHELLEY      Oh and George came too. (George waves diffidently) Not sure why.

GAWAIN        That’s nice.

SHELLEY      You’re bleeding, Gawain! It’s lucky I thought to bring an Elastoplast. (she produces the tiniest strip of Elastoplast, unpeels it and places it lovingly on Gawain’s neck) There!

GAWAIN        Thanks, Shell. But I’ve absolutely no idea why I’m still alive. That enormous axe, my lilywhite neck – what went wrong, Mr Green Knight? (the Green Knight shrugs, shamefacedly) Was it a matter of poor technique? Did you have trouble seeing the target through all this dry ice?

GREEN Kt     (more menacing, wrenching the axe up again) Look, I’ll have another go if you’re not careful!

MERLIN         I think you’ve got some explaining to do, young man.

GREEN Kt     Indeed I have…

The Green Knight takes off his mask, his wig and other aspects of his disguise to reveal the fact that he is in fact Sir Bertilak. His voice reverts to Sir Bertilak’s. Meanwhile Bella emerges through the gloaming on the other side to join the party. Gawain and Shelley watch open-mouthed.

MERLIN         As I thought, Sir Bertilak! But who put you up to this? It was Morgan le Fay, wasn’t it?

BERTILAK      (chuckles non-committally) Arthur’s wicked half-sister, disguising herself as my beautiful Belladonna? If that’s the story you wish to believe …

MERLIN         What alternative is there?

BERTILAK      Perhaps I am sent here by one of your gods to show you the meaning of true honour and fidelity? You are very lucky indeed that it was Gawain who was left to represent you …

SHELLEY       Gawain, my hero!

BERTILAK      … I suspect that anyone else (gesturing to the audience as well as the cast) would have fallen short in the face of so many temptations. Gawain stayed three nights in my castle and was subjected to the most beguiling of temptations (looking at Bella) …

SHELLEY       Oh, he was, was he?

BERTILAK      … but he resisted them all. His virtue remained intact. There was just the slightest of slips at the end.

SHELLEY       Oh, there was, was there?

BERTILAK      … when Gawain accepted a very small token of affection, the belt he is wearing round his waist. That tiny slip corresponds to the wound on his neck.

BELLA            Lady Shelley, you are a fortunate young woman indeed.

SHELLEY       Don’t I know it!

GAWAIN         So you’ll marry me now, Shell?

SHELLEY       (breaking away from him and freezing for a second) You stupid boy – of course I will!

She hugs and kisses him passionately while the cast [and audience?] cheers, then there is a group hug and general celebration. Gawain pulls off the green belt and throws it over his shoulder, perhaps into the audience.

GAWAIN         I don’t suppose the Green Chapel is licensed for wedding services? Merlin can put on his Druidic robes …

MERLIN         I was defrocked, I’m afraid. I wonder if there is a lesson we should learn from all this?

BERTILAK      There are many lessons. Man is part of nature not set against it. If you destroy the green things, the flora and the fauna, nature will come back ever stronger. After winter comes spring. You should give up your superstitions and quit searching for some imaginary ideal – the truth is all around you. Don’t treat strangers and foreigners as enemies. Live in peace with your fellow man.

SHELLEY       Yes, yes, that’s all very well but there’s a party going on back at Camelot. We need to do some serious celebrating. It’s time to get legless because Gawain is not headless. Merlin, could you teleport us all back there?

MERLIN         (taking out his wand) I’ll give it a go. Shazam!

Blackout. Curtain. Music. Walkdown, etc, and so on.

 

AUTHOR’S NOTE

Music to accompany this play, written and recorded by Gross Domestic Product, may be heard here  (copyright © PriSm records).

 

Advertisements