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Title: The Belles of Canterbury - A Chaucer Tale Out of School
Author: Stewart, Anna Bird
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Belles of Canterbury - A Chaucer Tale Out of School" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



=A Play In One Act for Eleven Girls=




       *       *       *       *       *


  NEW YORK                  LONDON



  JUNIOR    }  _Pupils at a girls' school_
  SENIOR    }


  WIFE OF BATH     _From the Prologue_
  PRIORESS            "   "     "
  FIRST NUN           "   "     "
  SECOND NUN          "   "     "
  EMILY            _From the Knight's Tale_
  HIPPOLYTA           "   "     "       "
  GRISELDA            "   "  _Clerk's_  "


The simplicity of the costuming as well as of the stage setting makes
the play an easy one for amateurs to produce.

The dress of the four school girls should be as modern as possible.
Their hair should be elaborately arranged.

HIPPOLYTA should wear the dress of an Amazon, armor if possible, or a
short skirt, sandals laced high with crossed strings, waist to match the
skirt, a crown, and a shield on the left arm. The shield can he made by
gilding or covering a barrel-head with silver paper.

EMILY wears a long gown of pale dull green cheese cloth, falling
straight from the shoulders and girded in at the waist by a curtain
cord. She must have fair hair which should be braided down her back.

GRISELDA should wear a similar costume of pale gray and lavender, with
a tall headdress of wire covered with white gauze and tinsel.

The WIFE OF BATH wears a short skirted costume of very bright colors,
red stockings, very broad shoes, a straw hat with a broad brim and no
trimming, if possible one of the sun hats worn by farmers.

The PRIORESS and her NUNS wear black skirts and white waists. Over
this they wear black scholastic gowns such as are worn by graduates of
academies and colleges, girded in with a leather strap. A yard of white
cloth cut down one side for about ten inches, and then a circle cut out
of the center, makes the white _guimpe_ for the NUN, the curved
part being put under the chin and the two cut ends fastened on top of
the head. A second piece of white cloth is bound across the forehead for
a _bandeau_. Two yards of black material make the veil which falls
on either side of the face and down the back.


SCENE:--_A school room or in the room of one of the girls if
     preferred. If possible, a piano is included in the furnishings,
     which may be as elaborate or as simple as desired. Two entrances
     must be provided, one covered by a square framework supposed to
     represent a bookcase. Books are across the top. In front of it
     hangs a full curtain._

     _It will be very effective to have the frame-work representing
     the bookcase directly in the center of the stage at back, so that
     it is in full view of the audience. A table with books, etc., can
     be placed at one side of the stage. A few chairs can be set around
     the room but not in a way to hide the bookcase._

     _As the Curtain Rises_ SOPHOMORE and FRESHMAN _are seated at
     the table._

SOPHOMORE. Now, the Seniors weren't that way last year. You're only a
Freshman, so of course you can't judge, but I never saw so slow a class
as this year's, why they haven't said a word about the entertainment,
and yet everyone knows they ought to give us a Thanksgiving party.
(_any other festival can be substituted here_)

FRESHMAN. A party? What do they have to eat?

SOPHOMORE. They're not likely to have anything this year. If I had known
that last Thanksgiving I would have eaten twice as much. I haven't
anything to be thankful for.

FRESHMAN. But you passed in History. Why don't you tell the Seniors what
they ought to do?

SOPHOMORE. Sh--here comes one of them. (_rises and goes to meet_ SENIOR)

(_Enter_ SENIOR, _tired out, she sits down with a great sigh of relief._)

FRESHMAN and SOPHOMORE. What's the matter?

SENIOR. Matter? Why, I'm half dead thinking.

SOPHOMORE. (_giggles_) Thinking!

SENIOR. Say, did you ever hear the word Sophomoric? (_severely_)
That's the sort of a joke that was.

FRESHMAN. What were you thinking about?

SENIOR. Trying to get up some new and original kind of a Thanksgiving
party for the school.

SOPHOMORE. You darling! (_embraces her_)

FRESHMAN. We were afraid you had forgotten.

SENIOR. (_rises and joins others_) I wish I could forget for a
while but they made me chairman of the committee so I have to get up
something. If I can't think of anything better we'll have an ordinary
spread and get just what everybody likes.

SOPHOMORE. Grand! Welsh rarebit for me.

FRESHMAN. I want chocolate _éclaires_.

SENIOR. We ought to ask one of the Juniors too, that wouldn't be enough

SOPHOMORE. Ask Laurine.

SENIOR. Where is she?

FRESHMAN. She told me she was going to study her Chaucer.

SENIOR. She didn't mean it. She never does.

SOPHOMORE. (_going to door and calling_) Laurine, Laurine.

JUNIOR. (_outside_) All right.

SENIOR. Maybe she's thinking up a new class souvenir to go with their
rings and hatpins and pins and banners.

FRESHMAN. Tell her we want to ask her advice, then she'll hurry.

SOPHOMORE. (_calling_) Laurine, how soon are you coming?

JUNIOR. (_beginning before she enters with a Chaucer in her hand_)
"Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote"--I came much more quickly
than I'll ever get that old stuff in my head. (_she throws the book

SENIOR. Don't you like Chaucer? We just loved him.

JUNIOR. So do all the rest of our class except me. I just can't get him
into my head.

SOPHOMORE. Poor thing! I should hope not.

SENIOR. What would you like to eat at the Thanksgiving spread?

JUNIOR. Eat! Everything you're going to have. (_suspiciously_) This
isn't one of those stupid puns on _Chaucer_ is it?

SOPHOMORE. I should say not.

FRESHMAN. We are helping make out the menu. There's Welsh rarebit and
chocolate _éclaires_ already.

JUNIOR. Have you any angel food?



SENIOR. And olives. Quick, give me a pencil so I can write it down.
(_goes to table and writes_)

JUNIOR. Hurry, before the bell rings. That's much more fun to talk about
than Chaucer. I'm glad I didn't live in his day. Imagine being praised
for not putting your fingers in the gravy and spotting up your shirt
front! I wager that old Prioress was a stick. I shouldn't want her on
our basket ball team. There isn't a sensible woman in the whole of
Chaucer so far as I can see. (_the curtain at the front of the
bookcase begins to shake slightly, becoming more violent as the_
JUNIOR _continues_) The Wife of Bath was a regular Mormon, five
husbands, that's what she had, and she wore red stockings. Such taste!

SENIOR. (_rises and goes to_ JUNIOR) Laurine, don't talk so much.
Come help us decide between dill pickle and strawberry jam, we can't
have both.

SOPHOMORE. Laurine can't help talking. Her whole class does it.

JUNIOR. And what about your class, Miss? And the angelic Seniors? They
never talk, do they. Thank Goodness, we're not like that old patient
Griselda in Chaucer. She was afraid to open her head.

FRESHMAN. I think you know a lot about Chaucer. I never will remember
all those names.

JUNIOR. Oh, there are a lot more of them. One was a silly girl named
Emily. She didn't do anything but have "hair a yard long I guess" and
for that she had two lovers. I am going to get a hair tonic. That's
how silly men were in Chaucer's day, before they learned how to play
football, or had fraternities.

SOPHOMORE. Oh, girls, if you had only seen the hero in the matinée
yesterday. He was simply grand! And he had such pretty curly hair.

(_The bell rings_.)

SENIOR. I know I could think of lots more things to eat if I only had
more time.

SOPHOMORE. Well, come on, I have to go to History. (_she starts out_)

FRESHMAN. Wait for me.


JUNIOR. Here's where I die. Where's that hateful book? It won't do any
good to lose it, there are a dozen more copies in the bookcase. (_sings_)

  "Hang Geof Chaucer on a sour apple tree,
   Hang Geof Chaucer on a sour apple tree,
   Hang Geof Chaucer on a sour apple tree,
        Our teacher marks us on!"
                                                    (_exit as she sings_)

(_The curtain in front of the bookcase shakes more violently than before.
      Then from behind the curtain comes the voice of the_ WIFE OF BATH.)

WIFE.       Ladies, I prithee harkneth for the best.
            Can Chaucer's children swich words hear, and rest?
            This is the point, to speken short and pleyn,
            We, one and all, were usèd with desdeyn.

(_She comes out of the bookcase_.)

            Come forth and whan we've made our reckoning
            That girl perchance another tune will sing.

(_Enter the_ PRIORESS.)

            What word, sweet Eglantine, would you employ
            To tell us of your vengeful wrath?

PRIORESS. (_with deep intensity_) St. Loy!

WIFE.       Then Chaucer's uttered sooth about her oath!
            Odsbodikins! That cannot do us both!

PRIORESS.   Come hider, my two nonnes to my side,
            Till that my mighty anger shall subside.

(_Enter two_ NUNS _who stand on either side of the_ PRIORESS.)

            That girl, alas! hath made my speech too tarte
            Who once was conscience al and tendre herte.
            O Emelye, whose hair is in a tresse
            Behynd your back, a yarde long.

WIFE. (_aside_) I guesse.

(_Enter_ EMILY.)

PRIORESS.   O Emelye, let that hair's golden ray
            Shine on our vengeance ere another day.

EMILY.      The path of duty plain is to be seen.

(_Enter_ HIPPOLYTA, _the queen._)

EMILY.      Ladies, this is Hippolyta, the queen.

(_They all bow, the_ PRIORESS _with delicate grace, the_ WIFE _with a
clumsy courtesy_.)

EMILY.      My sister is a famous Amazon.

HIPPOLYTA.  I have no grievance, but I want the fun.

PRIORESS.   In courtesye lay ever my desire.

(_Aside to_ NUNS.)

            How charming with a real queen to conspire.

FIRST NUN.  Madame, your smiling is full simple.

SECOND NUN. And coy.

WIFE.       Come, how can we that saucy wight destroy?

EMILY. (_musingly_)
            She, as a servant, would befit my station.

FIRST NUN. (_to_ PRIORESS) Or feed your hounds.

(_The_ SECOND NUN _nods in agreement_.)

PRIORESS. (_catching sight of the_ WIFE'S _look of disapproval--aside_)
Or scour _her_ reputation!

WIFE.       Pray, madam, if it's all the same to you
            Perhaps the rest would like a word or two.

PRIORESS.   I fear you ask too little, for I know
            That you have answered "yes" five times or so!

WIFE.       A spiteful thing! Perhaps if you'd had _one_,
            He might have taught you how to curb your tongue.

(_There is a weak cry from the bookcase._)

EMILY.      Surely 'twas not to quarrel that we came.

(_A second cry from the bookcase_)

PRIORESS.   Hark. 'Tis a voice I hardly dare to name.

(_Enter from behind the curtains_, GRISELDA.)

ALL. (_as_ GRISELDA _appears_) Griselda!

HIPPOLYTA. (_disapprovingly_)
            You for patience always quoted!

GRISELDA.   'Twas only to my Duke that was devoted.
            Now, further patience would but be disgrace.
            I move we put that Junior in our place!

(ALL _signify emphatic agreement._)

ALL.        Where is she?

FIRST NUN.  That, alas, we none can tell.

SECOND NUN. Heaven help us!

(_A bell rings outside._)

PRIORESS.   Hark! the ringing of the bell.

(_They draw into the background as the_ JUNIOR _comes in. She throws the
     Chaucer on the floor. All the Canterbury characters jump and cry out
     an if in pain as it hits the ground._)

JUNIOR. I knew that I didn't know a word of that Chaucer lesson. I don't
believe English people ever spoke like those old Canterbury pilgrims.
If I studied a year I'd never know whether a letter was silent or wasn't
silent. _I_ think it ought all to be made silent, and I think we ought
to be allowed to read George Barr McCutcheon or somebody interesting
instead of old fogies that died in--Dear me! When did old Chaucer die

(_The_ PRIORESS _comes forward with dignity and speaks to the evident
wonder of the_ JUNIOR.)

PRIORESS.   Mademoiselle, were you from Stratford-at-the-Bowe,
            Where I learned French, some manners you might know.

JUNIOR. Bats in my belfry all right.

PRIORESS.   Alas, my child, try while that you are yonge
            To make your Englishe sweet upon the tonge.
            You should speak always in fair Charity.

WIFE.       Yea, but how harshly did you speak of me!

JUNIOR. I'm blessed if I know what you are, so how could I say anything?

HIPPOLYTA.  We are Dan Chaucer's children, he who hath
            But love for all men.

WIFE.       I'm the wife of Bath.
            What did you say of me? What did you say?

(JUNIOR _looks around wildly_.)

EMILY.      Look out, be careful, or she'll run away.

JUNIOR. Honest, you've got me so muddled I don't know what I'm doing.
Do you want me to believe that you're people out of a book? Why those
old Canterbury Tales' characters never did live, Chaucer just made them
up. If you aren't somebody dressed up to tease me, I've got 'em.

PRIORESS.   Ladies, hear that which maketh the last straw.
            I plead for justice and demand the law.
            Not live, when we are deathless? Chaucer, dear,
            I pray that you that heresy can't hear!

HIPPOLYTA.  Hark one and all, while judgment I pronounce:
            If that this maid her treason will renounce,
            Most humbly on her knees our grace beseech,
            And duly quote some lines of praise for each,
            Then we will pardon grant? Do all consent?

(_All bow._)

            If not, _unto the bookcase she is sent_.

JUNIOR. Say something about each one of you! I never could in the
world. That's why I hate Chaucer so. (_as she says hate Chaucer the
characters all cringe_) I never could learn the old stuff, (_as she
says old stuff they sigh and raise their eyes in silent protest_)

FIRST NUN.  It will go hard with thee for that same sin.

(SECOND NUN _nods to these words._)

EMILY.      Prithee, delay no longer but begin.

(_The_ JUNIOR _looks around until her eye meets the_ PRIORESS.)

JUNIOR. Are you the Prioress?

PRIORESS.   I am y-clepèd Madame Eglantine.

JUNIOR. What rhymes with Eglantine? Wine? (_the_ PRIORESS _looks duly
shocked_) Thine? Divine? I know. It's something about singing through
your nose the _service divine_.

FIRST NUN. The seemly way to sing.

SECOND NUN. The seemly way.

GRISELDA. Here, Eglantine, you can't take up all day.

PRIORESS. I'd prove my vocal method without peer.

HIPPOLYTA. Perhaps she could.

WIFE. Suppose she does it here!

JUNIOR. Never mind. Miss Eglantine. Did they call you Sister in those
days? Never mind. I'll play your accompaniment on the piano.

ALL. Piano?

JUNIOR. Why, yes, Oh I never thought that you wouldn't know that.
There's a piano.

(_The following passage can be omitted if a piano is not convenient_.)

(_They go over looking curiously at it. The_ WIFE _touches the keys by
     accident_. ALL _jump at the sound._)

JUNIOR. What do you want to sing?

PRIORESS. (_slightly affected_)
            Alas, I cannot sing without my notes.

WIFE.       Surely that is a line each reader quotes!

JUNIOR. Do you know the _Yama-Yama Girl_? (_substitute any popular

(_The_ PRIORESS _looks blank_.)

JUNIOR. Nor even the _Merry Widow_?

PRIORESS.   Why 'tis a thing that Chaucer never had,
            In his day seemly widows all were sad.
            You speak of folk of whom I have no ken.

FIRST NUN.  One song, Madame, you know.

SECOND NUN. O, try it then!

(_The_ PRIORESS _sings to the tune of the Old English Ballad,
"Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes_.")

  Oh! We are Chaucer's children here,
    And well we love his name
  We live in hearts that hold him dear,
    Are nourished by his fame.
  Oh, listen now, while thus we sing
    Our songs of olden days,
  When court and king and common folk
    United, voiced his praise.

  When I was once a little lasse
    At Stratford-on-the-Bowe
  I hastened daily to my classe,
    My one dream was to know.
  I studied there, full seemly deep,
    With ne'er the smallest hint
  That other maids would some day weep,
    At seeing me in print.

  I thought of nothing but my booke,
    To make my mind grow fair
  So I'm afraid I never took
    The pains to do my hair!

(_She looks at the_ JUNIOR'S _hair_.)

  Perchance if now I went to school,
    And sought its culture wide,
  Of _coiffures_ strange I'd learn the rule,
    And scorn what was inside.

  Oh, gentle Chaucer, could you see
    The world around us here,
  Perhaps you'd change your poetry
    And call no pilgrim _queer_
  And could you see the ladies' dress,
    And what they wear the while,
  You'd know what made the critics guess
    You had a _simple style_.

WIFE. (_to_ EMILY)
            Look at her smile upon that silly miss!
            Look, Emilye, did we come here for this?
            As to her singing, well, I have heard worse!
            I fear her verses will make her perverse.

            To punish her would make my conscience prick.

GRISELDA.   O Madame, be not flattered, think of _stick_.

PRIORESS.   Alas 'tis true!

EMILY.      Fire up your dying wrath.

            What can you say about the Wife of Bath?

JUNIOR. I don't know. I can't remember anything.

WIFE. (_severely_)
            Did you not say my hosen were of red?

JUNIOR. Well, they are, aren't they?

WIFE.       And what of that? Is that a case for scorn?
            My gear is eke as fine as e'er was worn.

EMILY. What about me?

JUNIOR. (_puzzled_) Who are you? I just _can't_ remember.

HIPPOLYTA.  Do you not recognize her by her hair?

EMILY.      'Tis falling out because of grief and care!

JUNIOR. Then I suppose you're Emily. But who is that? (_points to_

GRISELDA.   Ignorance!! (_she stamps her foot_)

ALL.        Griselda! You impatient!

JUNIOR. Are you the one they used to call "Patient Griselda"? I never
should have known you. And who are you? (_to_ HIPPOLYTA)

HIPPOLYTA.  You did not mention me so I excuse
            Your ignorance. And yet your suit you lose.
            Come, ladies, come, draw close while we confer,
            The instruments of Justice must not err.

(_They draw together and hold a whispered consultation, the_ JUNIOR
_vainly trying to pinch herself into reality_.)

JUNIOR. I know it's all a dream, but I just can't wake myself up.

HIPPOLYTA.  For her mad crime, she's judged and in disgrace
            The sentence is to put her in our case.

(_They take hold of the_ JUNIOR _and begin pushing her toward the
bookcase at the back of the stage_.)

JUNIOR. Why, I thought you were only joking.

PRIORESS.   Chaucer alone it is, with whom we jest.
            Come, nonnes both, and push her in with zest.

JUNIOR. Oh, let me stay out. Don't make me go into that stuffy bookcase.
There never will be room for me with all those other books. It will
squeeze what little I do know out of me.

(_Relentless, they push her behind the curtains into the bookcase. Her
voice grows weaker, finally dying away._)

WIFE.       Life sentence is not much to pay for this.

PRIORESS. (_to her_ NUNS _who nod in agreement_)
            _I_ think a little mercy not amiss.

EMILY. She's quite filled up the space that once was ours.

HIPPOLYTA.  How are we going to pass our leisure hours?

            Perhaps she'll sing again.

SECOND NUN. Perchance she will.

            Say something quick, that we may hold her still.

EMILY.      Hark, did I hear a pleading little voice?
            Ah, ladies, in her punishment rejoice!

JUNIOR. (_meekly, in a weak, timid tone from behind the curtain_)
Dear ladies all, whom Father Chaucer loved, Hippolyta, and Emily, Mrs.
Wife of Bath and Sister Prioress, and the two nuns, and Griselda and
anybody else I haven't mentioned, I'm sorry, and I'll never do it again.

HIPPOLYTA.  Justice and law demand your punishment.

PRIORESS.   My tender heart would bid me cry "relent".

JUNIOR. (_crying_)
            Please, ladies, for sweet Chaucer's sake.

(_They look at each other, moved by the mention of Chaucer's name_.)

JUNIOR.     O Chaucer, you who loved all people, come to my aid!

HIPPOLYTA.  Sorrow has taught the maid the surest key,
            That will unlock our hearts to charity.

PRIORESS.   Come forth, you are forgiven for your crime,

WIFE.       Our duty's done, to leave it is full time.

JUNIOR. (_enters out of bookcase_) I'm sure I'm much obliged and if
you'd only stay awhile longer I'd like you to meet some of the other

HIPPOLYTA.  We thank you for your courtesy indeed,
            Since _you_ believe, there is no further need.

(_They start toward the bookcase_.)

GRISELDA.   From all my mates some lesson you might learn.

EMILY.      Forget us not, in case we ne'er return.

JUNIOR. Let me see, what I can learn from each: (as _she speaks each
name, the character disappears in bookcase_) Griselda,--patience;
Hippolyta,--courtesy; the Good Wife--red stockings--well, that clothes
don't matter. Emily--no _rats!_ (_hides her face for a moment_) The
Prioress--(the two NUNS _disappear_)

PRIORESS.   Read the last line that Master Chaucer penned
            About me, and believe it without end!

(_She disappears. The_ JUNIOR _looks at the bookcase curtain which
slowly stops swinging._)

JUNIOR. The last line! (_she picks up the book she has thrown upon the
floor and finds the passage_)

  "And thereon hung a brooch of gold full sheen,
  On which there was first writ a crownèd A,
  And after _Amor Vincit Omnia_."

_Amor vincit omnia_, love conquers all. I believe I do love Chaucer
now. And to think they all live!


SENIOR. What on earth have you been doing?

JUNIOR. Talking to the Canterbury Pilgrims.

SOPHOMORE. (_tapping her head_) Sand in her gear box.

FRESHMAN. I should think it would make her crazy to study that queer
English so hard!

SENIOR. Poor dear! I'm going to make some fudge, that will make her feel

(_They start out of the room._)

JUNIOR. Oh, girls!

(_They stop and turn around. The_ JUNIOR _starts to tell them,

JUNIOR. They'll never believe it. But _I_ know.

SENIOR. What did you call us back about?

(_The_ JUNIOR _catches sight of the bookcase_.)

JUNIOR. (_with a little smile they do not understand_) Oh, nothing,
I'm just glad that isn't a sectional bookcase!

(_The others look at her blankly._)


       *       *       *       *       *

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