My Second Best Bed

My Second Best Bed, a one-act play by Barry Syder, will be our entry to two festivals in 2019.

1. The Southern Counties Drama Festival at the Barn Theatre, Oxted, Surrey, week beginning Feb 25th. (The winner will be invited to take part in the All-England Eastern semi-final!)

2. the Sevenoaks Drama Festival (non-competitive) expected week beginning March 4th.

There are four characters:

Curate Dunstan, slightly pompous and self-righteous, but with a modern outlook
Susanna Hall, Shakespeare’s elder daughter. Intelligent and practical
Judith Quiney, Shakespeare’s younger daughter, disappointed and bad-tempered.
Anne Hathaway, Shakespeare’s widow,  showing signs of dementia. (smaller part)

 

The Script is below, and The cast is announced :

Curate Dunstan: Iain Drennan
Susanna Hall: Natalie Smith
Judith Quiney: Helena Simpson
Anne Hathaway: Eileen Warner

The director John Turnbull thanks all who auditioned

johnturnbull920@gmail.com or 07751 030288.

Script

MY SECOND BEST BED

A young Curate enters. He holds a roll of sheets of parchment. He looks around. Stepping over to the table he runs his hand over the surface – almost reverently. He seems lost in thought.

Susanna You surely haven’t come all the way from Worcester this morning?
Curate I travelled yesterday… I thought it best.
Susanna You were wise. The road to Stratford is poor at the best of times, but we have had such a wet spring. It feels as if it has been raining for weeks . Poor man, you must have had mud up to your knees.
Curate I didn’t walk, Mistress Hall! It would not be appropriate for a man in my position.
 Susanna Your position?
Curate As a representative of the church.
Susanna Our Lord Jesus seemed to think walking appropriate.
   

Susanna Hall, enters. She is wearing an apron and is carrying a basket of eggs. She doesn’t notice the Curate at first.

Susanna Mary! Falstaff is loose again… Oh, I beg your pardon sir, I…
Curate Falstaff?
Susanna The cockerel… he’s escaped from the coop. (She puts the basket on the table and takes off her apron, brushing herself down). We, er… call the cockerel Falstaff. It’s a family joke. Excuse me, I…
Curate I see. And does he live up to the name?
Susanna His appetites certainly do.
Curate (Laughing). I wonder, will he also die of a broken heart?
Susanna No, he will die of a broken neck. Now sir, if you wouldn’t mind stating your business in this house?
Curate I am Curate Dunstan, here to see Dr Hall.
Susanna He is not in. (She looks closely at him). Are you unwell?
Curate I am perfectly well, thank you. My visit concerns church business. I sent Dr Hall a message three weeks ago informing him that I would be calling this morning to discuss a very important matter. I have travelled all the way from Worcester! Please fetch Mistress Hall, assuming she is in!
Susanna I am Susanna Hall.
Curate You? I apologise, Madam, I took you for a servant.
Susanna Well, I’m sorry I resemble one. If I had been aware of your visit I’d have been better prepared to receive you.
Curate Perhaps your husband didn’t receive my message. I admit I thought it strange that he didn’t respond.
Susanna You obviously don’t know my husband! John is a good man, but so disorganised. Your message is probably marking a page in one of his medical books.
Curate This is really rather inconvenient. When are you expecting Dr Hall to return?
Susanna I’ve learned that it is best not to expect him, he simply arrives whenever he has finished his rounds. I’m afraid today he could be some time. Sir Edward Parker has the pox and seems to think my husband can provide a cure.
Curate Oh… I… Ummm… and can he?
Susanna No, but Sir Edward pays him handsomely in the belief that he can.
Curate I see.
Susanna Actually, the best treatment for Sir Edward would be for him to seek his pleasure with Lady Parker and give the whores some rest.
Curate I, er… indeed.

An awkward pause.

Curate I imagine Palestine was somewhat drier than Warwickshire, madam.
Susanna Perhaps. Still, I hope at the end of your journey you managed to find a good bed for the night.
Curate Passable. I was offered a room at a tavern. A rather low establishment, but comfortable enough for a country inn.

Another awkward pause.

Susanna Sir, we can either spend several hours engaged in polite chatter, or perhaps I can try to assist with whatever business you have with my husband.
Curate I really don’t think…
Susanna Does it concern my father’s will?
Curate Well… (He glances at the roll of papers in his hand).
Susanna In which case you will be aware that John and I are joint executors. Whatever you have to say to my husband you may say to me.
Curate As you wish. I have been entrusted with the responsibility…the honour… of reading your late father’s last will and testament.
Susanna Then I can save you the trouble, for I was present at the writing of it.
Curate Really?
Susanna Of course. I attended my father throughout his final illness.
Curate Even so, I do feel I should read it…
Susanna Well, in that case please sit down, Curate, here at the table, so that you can set out your documents.
Curate I thank you, madam. (He unties the roll of three sheets of parchment, each a different size, and lays them on the table. He puts an apple on each corner to stop them rolling up again. Once more he runs his hand reverently over the table’s surface). So, your father, Mr Shakespeare, did he write here upon this very table?
Susanna This table?
Curate Yes.
Susanna This very table at which you are now seated?
Curate Did he?
Susanna No, never.
Curate Oh. (He lifts his hand).
Susanna Why do you ask?
Curate I admit I am a great admirer of your father. He is… that is, was… a genius!
Susanna Well, you do surprise me, Curate! I would not have thought you a play-goer!
Curate A guilty secret…
Susanna But one you are willing to share with me?
Curate I have not been in Worcester very long. You see, I trained for the priesthood in London, where I discovered a love of the theatre. It began when a fellow student invited me to a play at The Globe. I admit I went reluctantly…
Susanna Why reluctantly?
Curate Well, such entertainments are not in favour with the church elders who typically see the theatre as a crucible of sin and vice… (Pause). I’m so sorry, I shouldn’t have said…
Susanna (Laughing). Do you think me such an innocent?
Curate Of course not, but I don’t want you to think I am denigrating your father’s profession.
Susanna I can assure you, Curate, I am under no illusions about the nature of London theatre… indeed I have experienced all its iniquity for myself!
Curate Really?
   

 

Susanna Do I shock you? Some years ago I travelled to London with my father… I even kept house for him for a while. I saw many performances of his plays, and those of others. I admit I was sometimes more diverted by the play-goers than the play! Viewed from the lower gallery, the antics of the groundlings was entertainment in itself. Mind you, I hear the behaviour in the Lord’s Rooms was often no better!
Curate Then you will understand how that world enticed me, and the reasons why my visits had to be clandestine.
Susanna Is it not your role to walk amongst sinners, Curate?
Curate Indeed, but I fear the Bishop may not have seen it that way.
Susanna What was the play?
Curate I beg your pardon?
Susanna The play you saw at The Globe.
Curate It was ‘As You Like It’. I have seen it several times since.
Susanna How appropriate! “Well this is the forest of Arden”!
Curate “Ay, now am I in Arden; the more fool I; when I was at home, I was in a better place: but travellers must be content.”
Susanna “Ay, be so, good Touchstone”. (She places her hand on his shoulder, then awkwardly withdraws it as he reacts). So, is that why a mere curate has been sent to read my father’s will? Would the Archdeacon not sully his hands with the affairs of a deceased playwright?
Curate Yes! I mean no… I mean… Actually, I asked the Archdeacon if I could be entrusted with the task of presenting your father’s will.
Susanna So you could poke around the home of your theatrical hero and gawp at his grieving family?
Curate No! Not at all, I assure you I…
Susanna Curate, I jest! Sorry, that was cruel of me.
Curate I readily admit I was curious. How it was that this man who, forgive me, had such humble origins in this rural backwater…
Susanna Oh, don’t hold back, Curate!
Curate …came to write such fine words that captured the spirit, the emotions, the very soul of…
Susanna Steady on, sir! He wrote plays and made a good living at it, but he was no Fletcher.
Curate Fletcher!
Susanna Does that sound disloyal? It shouldn’t. I loved my father and I believe him to have been a great writer, but I honestly feel John Fletcher has an edge over him.
Curate Well, on that matter we must agree to differ.
Susanna ‘The Woman Hater’ has always been a favourite of mine.
Curate But that was partly written by Beaumont!
Susanna Aye, the poorer part! In my opinion Fletcher’s plays will stand the test of time long after William Shakespeare has been forgotten by all but his family. Actually, I have always preferred my father’s poetry to his plays.
Curate Poetry, really? I had no idea! Are his poems published?
Susanna Of course!
Curate How interesting. I should like to read them.
Susanna “No longer mourn for me when I am dead  Than you shall hear the surly sullen bell

Give warning to the world that I am fled

From this vile world with vilest worms to dwell:

  Nay, if you read this line, remember not

The hand that writ it, for I love you so,

That I in your sweet thoughts would be forgot,

If thinking on me then should make you woe.                                                         (Cont’d)

 

 (Cont’d) O! if, I say, you look upon this verse, When I perhaps compounded am with clay,

Do not so much as my poor name rehearse;

But let your love even with my life decay;

Lest the wise world should look into your moan,

And mock you with me after I am gone.”

                          [A slight pause].
He wrote some very fine sonnets.
Curate Hmmm, I feel the fashion of sonnet form has had its day. However, I shall seek them out and I’m sure I shall enjoy reading them.
Susanna I’m sure you shall. However, in the meantime perhaps we could turn our attention to the documents you brought. That is why you are here, is it not?
Curate Of course, I apologise. Actually, I must admit I am intrigued by this will.
Susanna Intrigued?
Curate It puzzles me.
Susanna Why?
Curate Well, I… forgive me, it’s just that your mother, Mistress Hathaway…
Susanna Oh dear, has my father not bequeathed her his name?
Curate I’m sorry, of course I should say Shakespeare…
Susanna Yes, Curate you should, unless you believe a common woman unworthy of the name?
Curate Not at all, I assure you.
Susanna So, what is it that puzzles you about the will?
Curate Forgive me, but it makes scant provision for your mother.
Susanna My mother lives with me and my husband… she wants for nothing.
Curate I am certain that is the case but… well, the will barely mentions her. Just once in fact… and even that appears to have been an afterthought.
Susanna Sir, I thought you were here to read the will, not analyse it!
Curate Of course. (He picks up the will and begins to read). Ahem, “Vicesimo Quinto die Martii Anno Regni Domini nostri…”
Judith (Entering). Oh Lord, please spare us the Latin!
Susanna (To the Curate). My sister, Mistress Quiney.
Curate (Standing, perplexed). Your sister? We have already met, but I had no idea that…
Susanna You have already met?
Curate Good day, Mistress Quiney.
Judith The curate stayed at the tavern last night, and made free with my husband’s cellar, didn’t you, sir!
Susanna (Laughing). “A low establishment but comfortable enough for a country inn”! Those were your exact words, Curate, were they not?
Judith I beg your pardon?
Curate Forgive me, I hadn’t realised…
Judith Susanna, did you not think to tell me of this? Was I not to be present at the reading of my own father’s will? If a bottle of Thomas’ best sack hadn’t loosened the curate’s tongue last night I wouldn’t have known anything about it!
Curate I protest! Your husband was a generous host, but to insinuate drunkenness is disrespectful to my position.
Judith Thomas is indeed a generous host, for he even helped you up when you fell off your stool.
Curate It had wobbly legs.
Judith And so, sir, did you! I saw you attempting the stairs. So, Susanna, you have yet to answer my question. Were you trying to keep this from me?
Susanna You know the will names myself and John as father’s executors.
Judith So where is the pox doctor?
Susanna Judith! He is working. An activity with which your Thomas is sadly unfamiliar!
Judith At least Thomas runs an honest business. You won’t find him riding around the countryside peddling quack medicine.
Susanna Quack medicine? How dare you; John is one of the most respected physicians in Warwickshire!
Curate Ladies, please…!

Susanna & Judith (Together).  I apologise for my sister!

Susanna Curate, do you have any objection to my sister being present, assuming she can hold her tongue?
Curate I have no objection at all.
Susanna Then pray continue.
Curate (Sitting, he resumes reading). “In the name of God, Amen. I, William Shakespeare of

Stratford upon Avon in the country of Warwickshire…”

Judith Do we have to listen to the whole thing?
Susanna Judith! You don’t have to listen to any of it! Please feel free to take your leave!
Curate Perhaps it may save time if I concentrate on the salient points?
Susanna If you wish. I can read it properly later.
Curate Really?
Susanna Yes Curate, I can read! Does that surprise you?
Judith I can’t.
Susanna That, on the other hand, will come as no surprise.
Judith Father taught you to read. It’s not fair, you were always his favourite.
Susanna He would have taught us all! But then he went away when you were very small. Anyway, Hamnet could… just about. Lord rest his poor little soul.
Judith Hamnet was a boy, he had the benefit of schooling.
Susanna I would have taught you myself, but you were never interested!
Judith Books don’t get you a husband.
Susanna Not one like your Thomas, that’s for sure.
Judith What’s that supposed to mean?

Susanna shrugs but says nothing.

Curate There was a son?
Judith Hamnet was my twin brother. He died.
Curate At what age did he…?
Judith We were eleven.
Curate I’m sorry. What happened?
Judith Drowned. In the river. Fishing. Our father took it especially badly. You see, he was in

London…

Susanna It made no difference! If Father had still been a glover in Henley Street, Hamnet would still have drowned. It was an accident!
Judith I know!
Curate This tragedy, I wonder, do you think it affected him as a playwright?
Susanna (Sharply). No sir, I think it affected him as a father!

A sad and awkward silence is broken at last by the Curate.

Curate Perhaps I should continue…?
Susanna Yes, please do.
Curate “Item: I give and bequeath unto my son in law… – sorry, that appears to be crossed through, my daughter Judith , one hundred and fifty pounds of lawful English money to be paid unto her…”
Judith Why has Thomas been crossed through?

 

  Why do you think?
Curate “…paid unto her in manner and form following: That is to say one hundred pounds…” …umm, there follows a rather complicated financial arrangement that I am not sure I fully understand myself!
Susanna My Father put it very simply to me. “I’ll ensure that fornicator never gets a penny.” Those were his very words… well, more or less.
Judith (To the Curate). Father didn’t get on with my husband.
Susanna (To the Curate). Barely a month after my sister married Thomas Quiney, poor Margaret Wheeler died giving birth to his child. My father was rather old-fashioned about that sort of thing.
Judith What happened between my Thomas and Margaret Wheeler occurred before we were, er… acquainted.
Susanna Then it must have been the longest pregnancy in history, for we have known the Quineys since we were children.
Judith Thomas and I were having a bad time last summer.
Susanna No Judith, you were having a bad time. Thomas was obviously having a very good time!
Curate Ahem… perhaps I should continue? “Item: I give and bequeath unto my sister Joan all my wearing apparel and I do will and devise unto her the house with appurtenances in Stratford wherein she dwelleth, for her natural life under the yearly rent of twelve shillings.”
Judith What use are Father’s clothes to Aunt Joan? Is she going to start donning his galligaskins?
Susanna She has sons, Judith!
Judith They’re children!
Curate Ahem, the will does actually go on to say: “Item: I give and bequeath unto her three sons William Hart, Michael Hart and… the other one, five pounds apiece to be paid within one year of my decease”.
Judith The other one?
Susanna You know, the middle one. Pale, quiet boy; nobody can ever remember his name.
Judith Why should he get to wear my father’s fine doublets if we don’t even know his name?
Susanna Because he is your cousin.
Judith I think it would make more sense if my Thomas chose a few items.
Susanna I would rather burn them.
Judith You are so selfish!
Curate Ladies, please!
Susanna Sorry, pray continue.
Curate “Item: I give and bequeath unto my granddaughter Elizabeth Hall, all my plate except my broad silver and gilt bowl.”
Judith Who gets the bowl?
Curate “Item: I give and bequeath to my said daughter Judith, my broad silver and gilt bowl.”
Judith (Clapping her hands). Thank you, Daddy! (She picks up the silver bowl and empties the apples out of it, but picks them up again and replaces the bowl when Susanna gives her a sharp look).
Curate Item: I give and bequeath to my fellows John Hemmings, Richard Burbage and Henry Cundell twenty-six shillings apiece to buy them rings.
Judith Rings?
Susanna Remembrance rings.
Curate “Item: I give and bequeath unto the poor of Stratford aforesaid ten pounds”.
Judith Oh, the poor will be pleased. And to my sister?
Curate “Item: I give, will, bequeath and devise unto my daughter Susanna Hall that messuage with the appurtenances in Stratford called New Place wherein I now dwell and two houses in Henley Street and all my barns, stables, orchards, gardens, lands…”
Judith Enough! Susanna, please spare the poor Curate’s breath, for it appears our father has left you the whole world! Must the poor man itemise its entire contents?
Susanna Forgive my sister. She grows restive when she is not the topic of conversation.
Judith I am merely saying that there is little point in the curate continuing when it is obvious that you are to be the recipient of everything!
Curate Well, not quite everything, Mistress Quiney. “Item, I give unto my wife my second best bed, with the furniture”
Susanna The Curate finds this intriguing.
Curate It is really none of my business…
Judith Well, that much is certainly true!
Curate I just don’t understand why a man with so much would leave his wife with so little! Unless…
Judith Unless?
Susanna Go on…
Curate Sorry, it is not my place to…
Susanna Oh, but it is your place, Curate! Will you not presently be climbing into the pulpit to instruct people how to live their lives? What to think? What to believe? How to love? I would have thought passing judgement is very much your place!
Curate (Standing). Mistress Hall! You appear to have as little respect for the church as your father had for his wife!

The Curate walks a few paces, his back to the women. Susanna takes the silver bowl from the table and is about to throw it but Judith grabs her arm.

Judith No! Not my bowl! (Susanna sits at the table on the chair the Curate has just vacated, her head in her hands). I’m sorry Curate, but you must understand that in making assumptions about our parents you are treading a well-worn path! (She picks up a page of the will and pretends to read). Item: Ann was eight years older than William.
Susanna (Looking up). She probably seduced him.
Judith Item: Susanna was born five months after the wedding.
Susanna She definitely seduced him!
Judith Item: He went away to live in London.
Susanna He couldn’t wait to get away from Stratford! She stifled him!
Judith Item: He was a success!
Susanna She was a nobody!
Judith He was a genius!
Susanna She was stupid!
Judith He was handsome!
Susanna She was ugly!
Judith He loved London!
Susanna He hated Stratford!
Judith His family missed him!
Susanna He didn’t give them a second thought…

Susanna & Judith (Together).  Peasants!

Curate I see that the wit of the father continues to live on the lips of his daughters! However, although I haven’t had the honour of meeting Mistress Hathaway, there was surely an enormous intellectual and social gulf between your father and mother.
Susanna You assume that because he was a writer.
Curate No, I assume that because she is a woman. (The sisters exchange a glance. Judith picks up

the bowl, shrugs, and hands it to Susanna but she places it back on the table). I mean no offence. It is simply the nature of things. God chose to bestow a great gift upon your father. It is only natural that such a man would become incompatible with a wife of such humble origins.

 

  My father’s origins were no less humble. In fact I would go so far as to say my father made a very good marriage. The son of a bankrupt glove-maker was hardly a catch!
Curate A glove maker?
Susanna Our grandfather’s occupation, not exactly a noble profession, and at that time business was not at all good due to… well, let’s say some financial misfortune.
Curate Really?
Susanna Our mother had… opportunities, that would have offered a more comfortable life.
Judith John Bundy was courting her… and he had land all around Stratford.
Susanna But she chose our father, despite his poor prospects.
Judith My mother and father married for love, not for gold!
Susanna Although my sister has a rather naive view of marriage, she does speak the truth. Our parents were fortunate that poverty ensured they were free to choose whosoever they wished.
Curate I can understand why you would believe that. Any daughter would want to imagine her parents in a happy and harmonious relationship, but I find it hard to believe.
Judith Why?
Curate Tell me, what makes a man who has found marital bliss abandon his family and run away to London?
Judith We were not abandoned!
Susanna He did not run away!
Curate But he did leave.
Susanna My dear Curate, Stratford is hardly a place for actors and playwrights!
Curate My point exactly! Frustration at having his creativity stifled, and a need for intellectual equivalence must have driven him to take such a decision.
Susanna Actually, he was driven by my mother. Although you have scant regard for her intelligence, or of any woman come to that, my mother recognised and encouraged my father’s gift more than anybody. It was she who saw the opportunity and insisted that he grasp it.
Curate Opportunity? What opportunity?
Susanna When I was a child, The Queen’s Men came to Stratford. They asked the bailiff’s permission to perform a play in the market square. As if they needed permission! They were the Queen’s very own company! Although I was only about five years old I remember it clearly. It was of course the first time I had seen a play. There was such excitement in the town! The noise of the drums and trumpets as the company paraded through the streets! The vibrant colours, their red velvet jackets! You can’t imagine what an impression they made upon the people of this quiet market town. I watched the performance from my father’s shoulders. We were both completely transfixed by what we saw. After the performance my father made himself known to the players and spoke to them at length. I recall that I had never seen him so… animated!
Judith When they returned to the house, father performed whole scenes from the play for us… all from memory.
Susanna You can’t possibly remember that, Judith, you and Hamnet were only two years old!
Judith I do remember it!
Susanna The Queen’s Men were in town several days and it transpired that due to, er… an incident, they had lost one of their company.
Judith They were in Thame before they came to Stratford and an argument led to a drunken brawl between two of the leading actors. John Towne stabbed William Knell to death!
Curate Goodness, the poor man!
Judith My father used to say that the death knell for Knell’s death was a ring of opportunity for him! Ha, so funny!
   

 

Susanna (Hurriedly). When news of this… tragic incident reached my mother she immediately said “William this is your chance! God has provided you with this opportunity, you must not let it pass you by!”. My father was reluctant. He found the prospect of leaving us unbearable. But my mother insisted he go to the inn and seek out the actors once more. Soon it was settled that he would join the players. Not as a direct replacement for

William Knell obviously, an experienced actor had stepped into his shoes, but as a junior member of the company.

Judith Remember how father wept when the time came for him to leave?
Susanna He often said that his courage would have failed him, but for mother’s strength.
Curate Well, it couldn’t have been easy for him to leave such a young family to fend for themselves.
Judith We never had to fend for ourselves!
Susanna We actually wanted for little whilst father was away. As soon as money was earned he sent most of it home to us. He lived very frugally in London, renting the cheapest rooms that he could find. Even when he became successful he continued to lodge in that sparsely furnished room above the haberdashers shop in Cripplegate.
Judith And he sent us presents and the most sweet, loving letters to mother.
Curate But Mistress Hall, you said you kept house for him?
Susanna Well, a slight exaggeration. I went to London to care for him when he fell ill through overwork and… well, self-neglect. I almost wept when I saw the squalor he was living in. He just wasn’t looking after himself. His days were either spent performing or dealing with theatre business and then he sat up all night writing.
Judith He would often forget to eat and sometimes in the morning his friends would find him slumped at his writing table where he had finally fallen asleep in the early hours.
Susanna He was a successful playwright. He could have lived comfortably with servants to take care of his every need, but he chose to send his money home to Stratford.
Judith So you see, Curate, we were hardly abandoned!
Susanna I finally persuaded him to employ a maid. I chose her myself. Elizabeth Stangroom… such a fearsome woman! She would place food on the table with one hand whilst whipping away his pen with the other. Poor father was scared to death of her, so he never argued! I have often wondered how may fine lines were lost due to Beth Stangroom’s mutton stew!
Judith She kept the candles in a locked cupboard so he couldn’t write at night!
Susanna She insisted he rent better rooms… so he did!
Judith And when Richard Burbage turned up drunk and made a lewd remark she threw him into the street and kicked him all the way down Bishopsgate!
Curate She sounds a formidable woman.
Susanna She certainly was! But my father became surprisingly fond of her. When he retired from the theatre, he brought her back to Stratford with him and paid her a pension. You’ll find her grave in Holy Trinity churchyard.
Curate What prompted your father’s return to Stratford?
Judith His family, of course! He always intended to come back!
Susanna Success as a playwright brought him wealth which allowed him to invest in property. He bought this house, and others, and land. I suppose because of his own father’s misfortune, he always strived for financial security, and when he felt he’d found it he left London and the theatre and came home.
Curate Remarkable!
Judith Why so? Why is it remarkable that a man would want to return to his home, his loving wife, his family, after being away from them for so long? Surely it is the most natural thing in the world!
Curate But at the height of his success?

 

Judith Is there any better time? My father believed in luck. Luck had provided him with the opportunity to join the Queen’s Men. Luck took him to London, ensured he met the right people, brought him success. Most of all, luck allowed him to survive when plague had taken so many. He began to think that at some point his fortune was bound to change, and like a wise gambler he felt it was better to quit the game when he was winning.
Susanna The death of Hamnet, our brother, at such a young age had nearly broken our father. The fragility of life and thoughts that some tragedy might carry away another of his children, or his beloved wife, was an ever present worry while he was away from us.
Curate I see.
Judith (Angrily, almost shouting). For goodness sake, Curate, why is it so hard for you to believe that he loved us!
Curate I apologise. You are a family in grief and I have been tactless. I hope you will excuse my brashness and will be kind enough to put it down to my lack of experience.

Anne Hathaway enters. She wears a nightgown and nightcap. She is barefoot and she appears confused, slightly distressed.

Anne Susanna! I heard shouting!
Susanna (Going to her). Mother! You are… not dressed!
Judith Sorry, mummy, it was me being noisy. Did I wake you?
Anne Judith, what time is it?
Judith Nearly midday.
Anne Oh dear, so late? Susanna, I must go home now.
Susanna You are home mummy. This is your home.
Anne No, I must go back to my home. William might come back… he will wonder where I am. I must be there when he comes home.
Judith Don’t worry, mummy, all is well.
Anne But your father is coming home today. Yes… I think it is today. Is it today? What day is it?
Susanna It’s Thursday, mother.
Anne (Apparently noticing the Curate for the first time). Who is this?
Curate (Bowing). Mistress Hathaway, I am honoured to make your acquaintance.
Susanna The Curate is here on business, mother.
Anne What business? Does he bring a message from William? Have you come here from London, sir?
Curate I… well, no.. That is, dear lady I regret I… your husband is…
Judith …at rest.
Anne Good. He needs to rest. He works so hard. My husband William is a great playwright and poet, sir. He is in London, though. I think he is… Do you know him?
Curate I am… familiar with his work, madam.
Anne Do you think it very fine?
Curate I do indeed.
Anne (Sitting on the bench). Ah, such poetry. (She pauses to remember). Those lips that Love’s own hand did make…
Judith (Sitting next to her). Your sonnet, mummy.
Anne Breathed forth… breathed forth… I don’t remember…
Judith Breathed forth the sound that said “I hate” To me that languished for her sake.
Anne But when she saw my woeful state

Straight in her heart did mercy come,  Chiding that tongue that ever sweet

Was used in giving gentle doom, And…

Susanna (Sitting next to her). And taught it thus anew to greet:

“I hate,” she altered with an end That followed it as gentle day

Doth follow night, who like a fiend

From Heaven to Hell is flown away.

S, A & J (Together). “I hate” from hate away she threw

And saved my life, saying “Not you”. (They laugh together).

Anne Dear William. He courted me with those lines, sir.
Judith ‘Hate away’… Hathaway… do you see, Curate?
Susanna There’s no need to labour the joke, Judith.
Judith I wasn’t sure the Curate had picked it up!
Curate Thank you for your concern, madam.
Anne (Standing). And now my dears, I need to go home. Your father will wonder where I am. What is the time Judith? I feel so tired…
Judith Sit down, mummy.

They sit down on the bench again. Judith puts her arm round her mother who rests her head on Judith’s shoulder.

Curate (Standing). I think I should leave you now.
Susanna (Crossing to him). Thank you, Curate. I am sorry if my sister and I were a little hard on you.
Curate It was no more than my impertinence deserved.
Susanna And your curiosity?
Curate Was inappropriate. I see that now.
Susanna Perhaps, but was it satisfied? Do you now see the reasoning behind my father’s bequest?
Curate “I give unto my wife my second best bed…”.
Susanna The best bed was for guests. The bed shared by my father and mother, where their children were made from love, and born, the bed in which he died. The bed in which she now sleeps alone. That is the second best bed. You have seen the confused state of her mind. There was little point in leaving her money, property or gold. She will live comfortably in our loving care for the rest of her days. But the bed, well that will always be their special place, where they were alone together in each other’s arms, sharing love and dreams and peace.
Curate I understand. Goodbye, Mistress Hall. (He bows and exits).

Susanna turns and stands behind the bench, her hand on her mother’s shoulder. The three women remain holding each other as the lights slowly fade. There is the soft music of a lute in the background, over which is heard a recording of the following lines in a man’s voice.

Man’s Voice     “I give unto my wife my second best bed”. Let fools think what they will,

Only you, my wife, my love, will know That bed is where, as a trembling youth

I held you in my arms and dared to share my dreams.

That bed is where you nursed those dreams and gave them life.

That bed is where love lives. That bed is where I hold you now Yes, trembling still!

My soul rests here beside you And forever will.

Fade to black.

THE END

 

Audition Pieces

Susanna, Curate   p 3 I have been entrusted…- p4 “..not seen it that way

Curate, Susanna,   Judith – p6 “Perhaps I should continue…p7 “…thank you, Daddy!”

Anne (and all  ) p11 “Susanna, I heard shouting… p12 “…sit down Mummy.”

A flavour of 'The Tempest' - Our most recent production

My Second Best Bed

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