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Untitled Shakespeare Project

An excerpt from a work-in-progress, using verse to create a Shakespearean-style comedy set in modern New Jersey. Because Shakespeare loved writing about Italians.

by Eric Craft

ACT I; SCENE 3

Enter Caldwell.

CALDWELL

I am a man of few and simple words,

A trait that I inherit from my dad.

And not because I’m simple as my words.

I speak when I believe I need to speak,

And only to the point I mean to say.

I aim to keep my breath too well conserved.

Why use on speech what I can use to run,

To play, to lift, to sigh, to act within

the world instead of talking emptily?

When others have been speaking all my life

On what I think and feel, then why say more?

A politician’s son is one best seen,

for hearing him is seeking out loose threads

that one can pull to rip the family’s weft.

A sour soundbite tears along the bias,

One misplaced word, or love, unravels all.

Enter Brielle, eavesdropping

“Or love”—my heart, it beats against my breath

And pushes it to serve a higher speech,

My simple words not light enough to reach

The thing that forces me sigh heavenwards.

My Laurel wise, she understands how cruel

It is to have a parent politician.

And crueler still, to have our common thread

Become the shears that slice our lives in twain.

To think I’d love my family’s enemy!

The daughter of my father’s foe, so fair,

I wish to beam her name to all the Earth,

illuminate the whole world with her light

so all the world shall see that I love Laurel!

Our love a secret, violence unto us,

But if made public, all the world would talk,

Our love made stitched within a gossip’s rag,

When it should serve to sew our family’s hate

Into a greater tapestry of love,

despite what each our families might protest.

I know not where to go to for advice—

BRIELLE

I daresay, I, your sister, might suffice.

CALDWELL
You little sneak! What did you hear, Brielle?

BRIELLE

Enough that I might go to mom and tell.

CALDWELL

You wouldn’t dare, I know you’re not a rat.

BRIELLE

The rat that rode the ox and tricked the cat?

In that case, you are very wrong, for I

Was born within that year, and hence my wit.

CALDWELL

What must I do to keep you mum with mom?

 

BRIELLE

Explain me how you fell in love, is all.

Do tell the story as a luscious feast.

Begin with something small, an apertif,

To set the stage and whet my appetite.

Then second course, a salad or a soup,

So I may know what kind of meal this is.

And after keep the main course light and sweet,

But also give the story bits of meat

That when it’s done, I may then sigh content

For having eaten something worth my time.

A side or two would help to round the meal,

Provide a flavor depth to suit my taste.

And last, of course, dessert, the king of all,

A happy end that leaves me knowing all.

CALDWELL

Am I to be your chef or troubadour?

BRIELLE

So how did you and Laurel fall in love?

CALDWELL

To ask me is to ask the ocean’s birth!

It is as deep, as broad, as all consuming.

BRIELLE

Give me the apertif.

CALDWELL

                                    We met in class.

BRIELLE

That deep the ocean?

CALDWELL

                                    Canst let me finish?

BRIELLE

Fine, very well. The apertif again.

CALDWELL

We met in chemistry, paired up for lab.

I thought that she was hot, and she of me,

And so we flirted harmlessly at first.

I knew not who she was until week six,

When someone else congratulated her

For something that her mother did, which was,

Securing nomination uncontested.

BRIELLE

A spicy start. Now, soup or salad, next?

CALDWELL

I cannot say I get this metaphor.

BRIELLE

And your response?

CALDWELL

                                    I saw her face grow tense,

A practiced smile you and I know well,

Whenever given compliments for dad.

I cursed myself who had not seen it sooner.

BRIELLE

Did she know who you were?

CALDWELL

                                                And that’s our grace,

For all those first six weeks she did not know.

I asked her out that day, and we, until

The moon made set and sun grew high again,

Spoke on and on about our family woes.

 

BRIELLE

Ceviche then, the soup du jour, I see.

A cold and sour soup, and full of salt.

Now onto the main course.

CALDWELL

                                    O, very well.

I found a friend in Laurel’s boughs, and then,

A love that blossomed most organically.

Away at school, away from parents’ grasp,

We built a garden where our love could grow,

And free of pests and rot and prying eyes

of those who’d sell our story to the press,

we’d spend our time in love together there.

Our roommates all were trustees of our tale,

And evenings out stayed strictly evenings in.

A movie date of only streaming things,

And dinner dates of only take-out joints.

Yet still, the time spent caused our love to grow

That now I think it rootbound in its pot.

Think you a love like this can live in darkness?

BRIELLE

A secret love that thrives in shadow oft

proves stronger than a love which needs full sun.

For true love’s tempered in the night. Good job!

A filling dish indeed. I never knew

That you could speak so much. But what, dessert?

Your eye exclaims it wants to tell me more,

Yet I am surfeited by your sweet tale.

Alas, I have no room left for dessert,

Or even coffee. I’ll just take the check.

CALDWELL

Please hear me, Bri, for this is my request,

And why I spun so long a yarn for thee.

Upon the end of this semester past,

My Laurel and myself did both resolve

To tell our parents of our newfound love,

And work with them to strategize on how

We break the story to the wider world.

To mark this promise, here is your dessert,

Exchanged we necklaces of polished gold,

                                    Pulls necklace from under his shirt.

Each pendant of a finch, our favorite bird.

BRIELLE

Indeed, dessert almost too sweet to bear.

CALDWELL

I need advice on how to tell our dad.

Our mom I worry not on how she’ll feel,

But dad may see my love to her a threat,

Some undermining of his public image.

BRIELLE

I do not have advice that I can give.

CALDWELL

What nonsense you do speak now! None to give?

Our father’s favor is your expertise!

He is hard-hearted more with me and mom

Than ever he can be when he’s with you.

Our mom will ask for money, I for praise,

yet he will give you both without your asking.

BRIELLE

You overstate the sway I have on Dad.

There are such things that I can never get—

CALDWELL

Like what?

BRIELLE

            I do not say this to be mean,

But what you suffer now is less than me.

I hold a secret too, and one our dad

Would never think to give his blessing on.

CALDWELL

What secrets can a little sister hold

That you do suffer somehow worse than I?

Enter Elizabeth

ELIZABETH

Why Caldwell, there you are.

BRIELLE

                                                Hi Mom!

CALDWELL

 What’s up?

ELIZABETH

You told me not that you invited friends.

CALDWELL

Why would I tell you something I’ve not done?

No friends of mine are meant to come today.

ELIZABETH

Two men your age now stand within my house.

They say they play football with you at school,

but I did not plan dinner for two more.

Your sister tells me when her friends come o’er.

Tonight her best friend Alloway will join

Us all for supper too, but this I knew,

And hence have prepped a meal for five, not seven.

CALDWELL

But Mom, I did not invite any friends!

ELIZABETH

Then who are they who call for you by name?

And one said something odd about a bird?

BRIELLE

A bird? Mayhaps a finch?

ELIZABETH

                                    Why yes, that one.

BRIELLE

I think, Caldwell, that you may be mistook,

And had the date confused when you did plan

To have these two good friends of yours come o’er.

CALDWELL

But I did not make plans for any day—

BRIELLE

Then wow! Your friends surprised you, Caldwell! Yay!

A gift horse of a visitor you have,

And you were raised far better than to turn

A friend at door away without a word.

Why don’t we three all go to greet our guests?

ELIZABETH

A gracious host you are, my sweet Brielle,

I trust you’ll help me with the extra food?

BRIELLE

A dear friend of my brother is my friend,

I’ll help him sup with us to any end.

Exit.

 

ACT I SCENE 4

Laurel and Ironbound.

LAUREL

I thought that passing manly would be hard.

IRONBOUND

Men are not always so hard, neither in heart nor head. Most men do their manning quite flaccidly, never standing up for truth nor justice nor, in sooth, anything worth hardening for. Many men do float as discharged scraps, and then do die. Nay, ‘tis not so hard to play a man.

LAUREL

But if I wish to be a man less…soft?

IRONBOUND

Then harden just your heart and not your head. Move as if you are the predator in the room. Chest forward, big, eyes straight, and no sudden flighty movements that may effeminate. And keep the head pliable, that when bigger men do stalk the room they see you as a pawn worth keeping and not a prawn worth eating.

LAUREL

Thou speak as if all men were deadbeats or tools for greater men to lord over. What if I wish to be a man with a sharp mind and a soft heart?

IRONBOUND

Then you gay.

LAUREL

Is’t that simple?

IRONBOUND

Nay, but thou did ask how to play a man who runs in circles with this pack of wolves. Complain not at me if they do see you a coyote instead because you insist to keep your wits about you.

LAUREL

Do you worry we look not at all like football players?

IRONBOUND

We may not be tall, but we are svelte. And lean muscles are the trademark of the sport.

LAUREL

Lean muscles? Do you think—

Enter Elizabeth, Caldwell, and Brielle

ELIZABETH

Here is my son that you two boys do seek,

How nice that you surprise him at my home.

LAUREL (as Arlington)

Why Caldwell, you do seem as if confused,

Did not you say to meet you at your house?

CALDWELL

I seem confused because I am confused.

As there be many boys upon the team,

I struggle to remember your two names.

LAUREL (as Arlington)

How canst you, friend, forget dear Arlington?

The fourth string wide receiver on the team?

IRONBOUND

--And Ironbound! The striker, and star player.

LAUREL (as Arlington)

The striker? Sure you mean the kicker, dude.

IRONBOUND

We all do kick the ball, ‘less I seem gauche

To claim my stardom higher than my team.

In sooth, good sir, you teach me a good turn,

that we are all but kickers in the end,

and glory is the team’s or none at all.

BRIELLE

Do tell me which footballer be your fave?

IRONBOUND

Ronaldo is the greatest athlete, yes,

But Pele is the one who holds my heart.

ELIZABETH

I feel I know these names but not from where.

BRIELLE

They are but players from a different league

Than you may be familiar with, for dad

Will follow teams American but not

The national football conference, where they play.

ELIZABETH

You know I never once have cared for sports.

I oft forget which teams are baseball ones.

BRIELLE

We speak of football…

ELIZABETH

                                    Baseball, basket, too.

It’s all the same except when Caldwell plays.

Remember you these boys, my Caldwell dear?

You seem as if you struggle to remember?

LAUREL aside

Can Caldwell not see through this my disguise?

I knew I should have texted him before.

Surprise, I see, thou art a wickedness

When both surpriser and surprised are dumb.

CALDWELL

Remember you our cold homecoming night?

When we did play against Kentucky’s team?

LAUREL (as Arlington)

A game most fraught beneath the Friday light

And victory far and distant as a dream.

CALDWELL

But coach did not believe that we would lose,

LAUREL (as Arlington)

He knew that you would be the night’s big star,

CALDWELL

And during time out said “I had to choose:

LAUREL (as Arlington)

To hide and fail or show them who you are.”

You ran with minutes left upon the clock

Into a team that thought you were a fool.

CALDWELL

I stood my ground, ran past attempts to block,

And claimed the winning touchdown for our school.

And as I lay there, having done my part—

LAUREL (as Arlington)

A goldfinch came and landed on your heart.

BRIELLE

You mean the bird?

CALDWELL

                                    ‘Tis strange as it is true.

The bird and what my coach had said to me

Are known to those I played with and none else.

Please do come in and spend the day with me,

My mother, sister both are making food!

LAUREL (as Arlington)

I thank you kindly for you pains in this,

And I apologise for lack of notice.

It is a pleasure meeting Caldwell’s mom.

ELIZABETH

You are most welcome, and polite to boot.

A gentle heart, and yet, your mind is sharp,

To offer me such earnest pleasantries.

Why don’t you three all run off to the yard

And bask in what is left of this nice day?

IRONBOUND

But Madam, if I may, where is your husband?

I am, unlike so many in my town,

A fan of both his work and his great taste.

I hope he may become a fan of mine.

ELIZABETH

Brielle can show you where his study lies,

He sits in endless meetings there this day,

And sure I am that he can meet with you

But only if my daughter make him stop.

Brielle, Ironbound, Caldwell and Laurel exit severally.

When Thetis watched her son Achilles rage

To bury Hector at the gates of Troy,

I wonder did she think he raged for war,

Or glory, triumph, any manly thing

Before she learned it was for love of boys.

And now my Caldwell’s Patroclus is come

As this young saucy twink named Arlington.

Deny it I cannot, between those two

There is a bright and burning passion there

That wouldst make Pride flags fade in modesty,

A pastel backdrop to their flaming love.

And how could I have missed the signs from him?

Through high school had he girlfriends that he loved

In every way that teenage boys can do,

Though not in ways that parents won’t consent.

Shouldst I allowed him nearer women’s flesh?

‘Tis sinful, nay, as much as being gay—

O! Gay! He went to school and now he’s gay!

The cool pope did decree that being gay

Is not a sin if he don’t act upon’t!

Progressive though I thought this when I heard,

that is to tell a bird ‘tis sin to fly.

In cages birds can live with wings both clipped,

But is that hell a life that’s worth it’s heav’n?

I could not bear to see my child so.

But how to tell his father, or my dad,

or that guy down the street who thought Trump won.

Need I stand up against the folks that once

I spoke in grim accordance with on this,

That same-sex love is something to protest

and shame, however much they claim their pride?

I never thought my child could be gay,

And now a Christian’s mind and Mother’s gut

Do fight in rough contention o’er my heart.

It may still be that I imagine it.

Brielle will know the truth that I can’t see;

I will to her to ask her what she thinks

Before I start to act on my suspicions.

The rest of it is simply give it time,

And now to dinner and a glass of wine.

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