GOOD KING WENCESLAS
a play for 10 to 14 year olds
by Jan Křesadlo
revised by VZJ Pinkava 1996
Editor's introductory notes
My father, Dr VJK Pinkava, (9.XII.1926-13.VIII.1995), was a Czech
psychologist and author who spent the last 27 years of his life in Britain. Apart from
various scientific writings he wrote a number of novels and poetry anthologies, and had an
excellent command of several languages. (For example his Magnum Opus and finale,
Astronautilia, is a science-fiction odyssey written in Homeric Greek with parallel Czech
translation in hexameter...) He wrote in English under his own name, translated from Czech
under the name J.K. Klement (his mother's maiden name) and is best known for his novels in
Czech under the pseudonym Jan Křesadlo.
His first novel, Mrchopěvci was awarded the Egon Hostovský prize in 1984, and a published English translation exists (GraveLarks) But that, as he would say, is beside the point.
This play was written in 1987 'on request' originally for performance in Bermuda, and is interesting because it was his only play written in English, in the jocular verse form popular with older children. As a psychologist, the author knew the great power of rhyme to help memorise text.
The play is meant as a school production, being undemanding in terms of set and costume. (The author's notes, illustrations and musical suggestions being provided in appendices).
Having returned to the Czech Republic, I believe it has great merit for any English-language (not necessarily school) drama group based here, not least as a seasonal tourist draw.
As well as being educational in content, and in drama production terms, the script contains the appropriate mix of individual and group scenes, including lively action, to captivate a cast of this age group. Good use could even be made of shadow projection. Equally, it could be performed pre-recorded with marionettes, sold as a video...
My editing has consisted of adding historical footnotes, substantially abridging the original Prologue (which was described as 'optional'), but keeping its informative content. I have dropped entirely the character of the Don who served as the personification of snooty and ill-informed academic opinion and a foil for the narrator's discourse, lest it be seen as gratuitous. A few minor changes have been made for improved cadence and idiom in the body of the text.
This version of the play is made available here in memory of the author, in the hope of inspiring a stage production. No copyright royalties are asked by the author's heirs for such a production, and copies of this web page may be made for the purpose of putting on the production as economically as possible. The only condition is that authorship be acknowledged and the play performed 'as is'.
All publication rights and other rights are reserved.
V Z J Pinkava,
June 1996 / Sept 2002
Cast of characters in order of first appearance
(Star markings indicate approximate importance or length of role)
** ROSTISLAS ruler of Great Moravia
. FERGAL \ two Irish monks
. Speaker of the Peasants
1st \ German Knights
* RADOMEER king's advisor
* MICHAEL COPRONYMUS emperor of Byzantium
Messenger of king Rostislas
(+ optional additional members of his party)
* CONSTANTINE \ the Slavic apostles
* METHODIUS /
** SVATOPLUK successor to Rostislas
* BORRIVOY ruler of the Czechs
LUDMILLA his wife
. 1st \
2nd \ Czech noblemen
(+ optional additional noblemen)
** DRAGOMIRA ruler of Bohemia, mother of Wenceslas
*** WENCESLAS prince of Bohemia
* VRATIVOY citizen of Prague
** PODIVEN a prisoner, later to become W's servant
** RADISLAS provincial ruler, contender for Czech throne
** ARNULF a German prince
1st \ soldiers
(+ optional additional soldiers)
** BOLESLAS brother of Wenceslas
1st \ assassins
Groups in approximate order of appearance
Children - present day
Moravian peasants, 9th century
Court of emperor Michael of Byzantium
Moravian nobles and wives
Court of king Wenceslas
(Present-day Children, Narrator, being the soul of the author)
Children: <singing "Good King Wenceslas">
Narrator: A rather intriguing Christmas Carol, don't you think?:
The text comes from an early Victorian poet John Mason Neale, 1818 - 1866. The tune comes from the springtide song: "Tempus adest floridum" first published in 1582 (1. The story itself is much older. In fact, the oldest surviving manuscript of the story dates from the 13th century in the legend "Ut annuntietur". The tale may be older still. It has been rewritten many times, for example by Enea Silvio Piccolomini, later to become Pope Pius II, in his "History of Bohemia", and by an English Jesuit named Tanner in the 17th century.
So who was Good King Wenceslas?
There were six royal Wenceslases, all told. One of them ruled under his confirmation name of Charles (IV), whose daughter Anne married the English Richard II.
Rather confusingly, the numbering starts with Wenceslas Ist in the 13th century, yet the earliest Wenceslas, referred to as Saint Wenceslas, the patron saint of the Czech nation - dates from the 10th century.
He was born in AD 907. Some say he was fifteen years old when he started to rule Bohemia.
The Czechs have inhabited Bohemia and adjacent lands from about the 5th century AD, but the first Slav state was the ninth century Great Moravia,(2 which evolved around the river Morava and its tributaries, on the northern part of the Middle Danube. At the end of the ninth century, Great Moravia fell to the Magyars and the centre of importance shifted northwest to Bohemia, marking the foundation of the medieval Czech state.(3
But I'm afraid this may be getting boring:
So, enough lessons for today,
And instead - let's have a play.
/EXEUNT children, & Narrator/
<End of Prologue>
SCENE I - CITY OF VELEGRAD, MORAVIA A.D. 863
(Rostislas, then Peasants, two Irish Monks Kevin & Fergal, Peasant speaker, later two German knights, Radomeer)
<This may be brought in as an inscription. Otherwise the scene is practically empty, without any set. Just a few pieces of furniture or features, indicating the setting.>
Rostislas <to audience>: Hi, there and there, I greet you all
you worthy Public, big and small.
I am the Great Moravian king -
but ruling is no easy thing.
King ROS-TI-SLA-US is my name
or Rostislas, to keep it tame -
I have another claim to fame.
A potted hist'ry will be shown
To let you find out on your own.
\ENTER two Irish monks & peasants of either sex and various ages.\
<The peasants go about their occupations in the background. The monks stay in the foreground.>
1st monk (Kevin): Here we have come
2nd monk (Fergal): and here we stand.
We are two monks from Ireland.
From far green Erin we have come
to teach the peasants dense and dumb
so that we convert at least some.
Earlier missions came here too.
It has been tricky, through and through
converting people high and low -
we've been around since six-o-o.
The better classes are all right
but with these here we have to fight.
Kevin: Oh brother Fergal, give it up
it's getting late and we must sup.
Fergal: No, brother Kevin, there's a show
so we must have another go.
<to peasants> Hey, people, people do come here
I'll tell you something you must hear.
Fergal: Say after me:
<They recite the Lord's Prayer in Latin>:
Pater Noster qui es in coelis -
Sanctificetur nomen tuum -
Adveniat regnum tuum -
Fiat voluntas tua -
Sicut in coelo et in terra -
Panem nostrum quotidianum -
Da nobis hodie -
Et dimitte nobis debita nostra -
Sicut et nos dimittimus -
Debitoribus nostris -
Et ne nos inducas in tentationen -
Sed libera nos a malo - Amen.
<It is not necessary to recite to the end. After each hyphen the peasants try to repeat the phrase. They do it badly. Finally the monks leave in despair.>
Peasant Speaker: Now this is really getting silly
We must repeat it willy - nilly
It's like the quacking of a bird;
we can't make out a single word!
These Christians are just stupid clods.
Let us return to our old gods!
<Peasants take crosses off their necks, bring in idols and worship them>
\ENTER two german knights, stepping out of hiding\
1st knight: Hey! They are back to pagan rites!
1st & 2nd knight<to audience>:
You see, we are two German Knights.
1st knight: We came to spy: Now we can tell
these Irish don't know how to sell
2nd knight: They can make out nor head nor tail -
this mission's really bound to fail.
1st knight: They worship idols - that's a sin.
1st & 2nd: And so, my friends, we're moving in.
1st knight: We'll say we'll bring to them Our Lord
2nd knight: but we shall do it -
<draws his sword>
with the sword!
1st knight: That way we bring them Christian Love
And grace, and blessing - from above.
2nd knight: The country's big, and rather rich
so we must come and start to preach
1st & 2nd: the charity and love of Christ.
<they make fighting movements with their swords>
2nd knight: Let's make them heathens civilised!
<they put their swords back>
1st knight: A German Mission(4 is the thing.
1st & 2nd: Now let us go and tell our king.
\ENTER Rostislas and Radomeer.\
<The peasants, seeing them, flee with their idols.>
Rostislas: We're in trouble, so I'll be brief:
It's really quite beyond belief.
The German King wants to assail.
We'll fight him - but what if we fail?
Then it would be just vain defiance.
We could not make but one alliance -
the kings would say - each one and all:
"they are just heathens - let them fall"
Of course it's just a kind of libel:
All well-bred people know their Bible.
It's just some of these peasant bods
who carry on with wooden gods.
But - this is all to no avail.
No one will help us if we fail,
and that's what war is all about:
The Germans have it figured out!
Of course they're only after loot
But that's not how it would be put.
They would move in and they would stay
until they've taught us how to pray -
or at least - this is what they'd say.
They'd say we were a savage nation
and they brought us civilization.
They'd show the gods in evidence
and all kings would thank providence:
this is the point. So how and when
to make the peasants Chris-ti-an -
when all's in Latin or in Greek?
How can we make them good and meek?
They speak no tongue but their home-grown
so Christian thought remains unknown.
Radomeer: Let them have Scriptures of their own!
and with Holy Writ in translation -
why, of course we're a cultured nation.
The Germans would have to back out
and we'd be safe - without a doubt.
Rostislas: Yes, that's the way! A clever one.
But only - how could this be done?
A Slavic scholar? There is none.
Radomeer<pensive>: This may be true. None obvious.
<lively>: Yet! Michael the Copronymus
the emp'ror of Byzantium
in his great country might have some
I'm sure there must be such a creature.
Let's ask him for a Slavic preacher.
/EXEUNT Rostislas and Radomeer/
<End of Scene I>
SCENE II - ROYAL PALACE IN CONSTANTINOPLE A.D. 863
(Michael Copronymus, attendants, messengers from Rostislas, later Constantine and Methodius)
<silent acting: Messengers greets the Emperor, kneel, read Rostislas' message from a scroll with a big seal which is then forwarded to an attendant.>
Emperor Michael: I understand what you request,
and coming here, you've done your best -
there is a man I can offer:
A very wise philosopher -
son of a General of mine, -
the splendid scholar Constantine;(5
as studious as was his father:
and - thinking of it - I would rather
along with him - too - send his brother.
A learned priest and very pious -
reverend father Methodius.
<speaks quietly to an attendant who goes away bringing back Constantine and Methodius>
\ENTER Constantine & Methodius\
<they greet the Emperor and stand by the side>
Constantine: I have heard your command, oh Sire.
It has been always my desire
to go and kindle divine fire
so I rejoice at being sent
to bring it to that continent
Methodius: I too am eager to begin
together with my next of kin.
To preach His word and combat sin.
Chief Messenger: Do you speak Slavic?
Constantine: \ Divine love.
Methodius: / That's a laugh!
<together> Why, our own mother was a Slav.
Methodius: It's natural that we can speak;
Moreover we have perfect Greek -
Constantine: which language we could hardly miss
as we have been brought up in Greece.
Methodius: And Constantine speaks many more:
I think, it may be a full score.
Constantine: I agree in all modesty.
Chief Messenger: Your Imperial Majesty .
We thank you
don't know what to say -
How such a kindness to repay.
But time is short - we can't delay.
<they salute the Emperor, and depart>
/EXEUNT Messenger(s), Constantine, Methodius/
<End of Scene II>
SCENE III - (as in Scene I)
(Rostislas, Constantine, Methodius, Peasant Speaker, peasants, later Radomeer)
<Peasants standing around etc.>
\ENTER Rostislas, Constantine, Methodius\
Rostislas <to peasants>: Now, come along, you stubborn lot
and drop your secret heathen plot.
Here are two preachers very fine
Methodius and Constantine.
Of Gospel they know every feature
and they are here, eager to teach you.
Peasant Speaker <mockingly, after R. has departed>:
Oh, Sire, thank you very much:
here's some more of that double dutch!
I only hope they will be quick -
that gibberish just makes me sick.
Really, what do they want with us?
Constantine: Now, my good man, do stop that fuss.
Do stop, and say instead of that
what you have heard or perhaps read
about the teaching of Our Lord
to make you feel so deadly bored?
Peasant Speaker: This is a wheeze. What have you read!
Nobody has taught us as yet.
The noblemen do have their schools
though some don't use them, being fools;
but they treat us like stupid mules.
And as for listening - it's the same
they say we are the ones to blame
that we are thick, that it's just us -
but they go: "Harus, Barabus".
It's not that we are all that dense
but when they talk - they don't make sense
Constantine: All right, now repeat after us.
<He recites the Lord's Prayer in English - the peasants repeat each phrase without difficulty.>
Peasant Speaker: Oh Halleluyah, glory, glory!
Now this is quite a different story.
Now we know what it's all about
it sounds quite good - without a doubt.
If you ask me, then I would rather
think of my God as of my father
not like the nasty team we've got -
Perroon and Velles and the lot.
This prayer's giv'n me quite a stir.
Do tell us more about it, sir.
<silent acting: C & M instruct two groups of peasants who listen attentively.>
\ENTER Rostislas and Radomeer\
Rostislas: It seems to work! To God be praise.
Radomeer: Now we have entered a new phase.(6
Rostislas: Let us give thanks, and let us pray.
Radomeer: The danger's passing with each day.
Rostislas <musing>: Why have you come?
Radomeer: To civilise?
R & R: Now all will see that it's just lies.
/EXEUNT Rostislas & Radomeer/
<End of Act I>
SCENE - VELEGRAD AFTER A.D. 874(7
A HALL IN THE PALACE.
(Svatopluk, attendants, stewards, later Moravian nobles with wives, Constantine, Methodius, Borrivoy and Ludmilla)
<Svatopluk sitting on his throne, in the background servants preparing a banquet.>
Svatopluk <to audience>: Hi. I'm afraid, good Rostislas
no longer rules, nor breathes with us.
To be quite clear, I kicked him out;
and of this I am rather proud.
Who's ruling now? Do take a look.
It's me and I'm called SVA-TO-PLUK.
As for the details - those I'll spare -
it wasn't really very fair.
It's not quite suited for the stage.(8
What do you want? It's a Dark Age!
It was quite rough. But I dare say:
Such things go on even today.
You are no better - on the whole
you also fight and make heads roll.
But still, I take care of my soul.
Of course, I sin, just now and then
but I'm a baptized Chris-ti-an
thanks to the learned Constantine.
We're Christians all and doing fine.
It has been done and it will stick.
we even have a bishopric -
and our bishop is very pious:
Of course, he's the good Methodius.
All this was really rather wise.
Nowadays no-one could just rise
and invade us "to civilize"
though no doubt there'll be other lies.
But there is still one naughty boy:
He's the Czech ruler, Borrivoy.
He and his folk are heathen still
shortly I must bring him to heel!
He thinks he's some kind of a smarty.
To-night I'm throwing a big party,
so, Borrivoy, now just you wait
with Ludmilla your worthy mate
what I'll be putting on your plate.
<Guests start arriving, nobles with their wives, greet Svatopluk, get drinks, talk to each other etc. Constantine and Methodius are among the guests.>
\ENTER Borrivoy and Ludmilla\
Svatopluk <to audience>: Here:
He's arriving with his bird
Don't fluster him, now! Mum's the word.
<silent acting: Svatopluk welcomes Borrivoy and Ludmilla etc. After a while guests are asked to table and shown their places, except for Ludmilla and Borrivoy. The rest are seated, and servants start bringing food.>
Ludmilla: Now what is this supposed to mean?
Borrivoy: Please, darling, do not make a scene.
Just remain quiet, do not shout,
be dignified - and I'll find out.
Svatopluk is a funny bloke.
It may be some kind of a joke.
Hey, Svatopluk, I say, old man,
what do you mean by this here ban?
You treat me like a stinking bug
though I've come all the way from Prague
with Ludmilla, my lady wife
Give me a chair and fork(9 and knife!
Svatopluk <pointing to the floor>:
Sit with the dogs! This is your right,
and not that of a Christian knight,
or of a prince - presumptuous thing -
to share the table with your king.
Your pagan ways are rather foul
as you pray to the horn-eared owl,
you idolatrous perpetrator
who doesn't know his own creator!
I cannot stand it any more.
So eat your dinner off the floor.
<Stewards: place food and drinks on the floor for Ludmilla and Borrivoy.>
Nobles: Hear! Hear!
Borrivoy: I can see that I cannot win,
So, I suppose, I'd best give in
I wish to keep my normal place.
I wonder if you'd mind, Your Grace.
I know the doctrine. So, I say:
Please, do baptize me straight away.
Methodius <nods his agreement>
Borrivoy: And you too, Ludmilla, my dear.
Come and be baptized over here.
<silent acting: Borrivoy and Ludmilla come to Methodius who baptizes them, pouring water from a pitcher over their heads, saying something quietly, and makes the sign of the cross over them. Then B. & L. are seated at table.>
Svatopluk: OK. So finally, it is done
and heathen Nobles we have none.
So this is really very fine.
Now let us all sit down and dine.
<End of ACT II>
SCENE I - PRAGUE CASTLE AFTER A.D. 922(10
(Czech nobles, later Dragomira, later Wenceslas)
<Czech nobles sitting in a meeting. The ruler's throne is empty.>
1st noble <to audience>: You see, some forty years have passed
and you've arrived in Prague at last -
2nd noble: and we have started this here session
so's to decide about succession.
3rd noble: Our Borrivoy was quite a guy,
but all people must age and die
4th noble: and so did he, left us alone
'til Vratislas came to the throne
5th noble: Spytignyev had been in between
but he was scarcely ever seen,
2nd noble: a sickly man.
3rd noble: He died.
4th noble: And since,
old Vratislas had been our prince.
1st noble: He too has died.
2nd noble: They change so fast.
3rd noble: Mediaeval people just don't last.
1st noble: Since nine hundred and twenty one
his widowed wife has had a run
on behalf of her minor son.
2nd noble: Supposedly with our advice
but she's the cat, and we the mice.
4th noble: Extremely stubborn.
3rd noble: Forceful, strong.
1st noble: We cry "Stop!"
2nd noble: She drags us along.
3rd noble: You see the lady's quite a fighter
All together: If only she were a bit brighter!
1st noble: - but as it is it makes me shudder.
2nd noble: Some brainy guy should hold the rudder.
3rd noble: Let's not get into politics,
but we are really in a fix.
1st noble: A few more things I should relate:
Svatopluk's Great Moravian state -
his realm's collapsed: and you can bet
the Germans once more pose a threat.
2nd noble: Yet Dragomira, 'gainst the odds
wants to restore the ancient gods -
to reason she would never listen.
1st noble: She won't allow the monks to christen,
3rd noble: she even wants to throw them out.
5th noble: You tell her, she just starts to shout.
All together: She is as stubborn as a mule;
we don't know what she's trying to pull.
1st noble: The Germans are just o'er the hill.
2nd noble: So far they have been sitting still,
3rd noble: but that's the water for their mill.
4th: \ She thinks she's taking a firm stand
5th: <together> but actually she plays their hand.
1st noble: Fortunately - and good for us -
All together: we have the young boy Wenceslas.
3rd noble: It's about time that he be seen.
4th noble: In a few days he'll be fifteen.
5th noble: By our laws he will be of age
4th & 5th: And on the political stage.
1st noble: He is as good as he is bright.
All together: So we hope he will rule all right.
<the nobles are obviously embarrassed and a bit frightened, they greet her with some hesitation>
Dragomira <sitting down on the throne>:
Now, my dear fellows, I have come
into this hall to tell you some:
Soon Wenceslas will be of age
and on the political stage;
He is a Christian lunatic
and as such, rather weak and meek.
For me - as mother - this is sad,
but now's the time it must be said -
although he looks quite strong and tall
he is not like a prince at all:
He's got some kind of saintly looks
he likes just prayers and his books
he never liked to hunt nor fight
and I think he's not all that bright.
Why - he is just a simple fool.
and I think him unfit to rule.
Fortunately we have with us
our younger son, good BOLESLAS
who's spirited as boys should be
and full of merriment and glee -
courageous too - a spearman fair
- already he has killed a bear -
and he is still a tiny mite!
He never backs out of a fight.
Admittedly, he's a bit wild -
but a prince mustn't be too mild.
High spirits are the sign of class.
Not like that stupid Wenceslas.
With his head full of mad religion
he looks just like a frightened pigeon.
The succession is up to us.
We'll give the throne to Boleslas!
We'll carry on a little while
till he's grown up to rule in style
and Wenceslas may be a monk.
1st noble: But Boleslas is just a punk!
We do not need some butcher fool,
we need a clever man to rule.
2nd noble: The man to guide and lead our nation
must at least have some education.
1st noble: You say Wenceslas is a freak
but he can read and write in Greek.
2nd noble: Also in Latin.
3rd noble: And in Slav.
1st noble: You say he's stupid - that's a laugh.
You don't know what the world's about.
Suppose you've thrown the clergy out
as you intend: that's even better.
Suppose Boleslas gets a letter.
How will he know what there is writ?
I can't read either, I admit,
as hardly any one of us.
All together: I think I go for Wenceslas.
Dragomira <in anger>: How dare you?! Hold your tongue, you fools!!!
I am the one who makes the rules!
I am the one who's in control!
Just one more word and heads will roll!!
Wenceslas: God bless you all. I wish to stay.
Perhaps I may begin today.
I don't think that a few days matter
and in this way it will be better.
We have a lot of things to change
and many more to rearrange,
to carry out, to take apart -
so let us make an early start.
Hi, mother. Would you mind, Your Grace
to let me have my rightful place?
Dragomira: What do you mean, you stupid brat?
I am not stepping down as yet.
1st noble: Now Dragomira, I must say
we back him up and come what may!
<noblemen rattle their swords>
Dragomira <reluctantly steps down from the throne>
Wenceslas <taking her place>:
Thank you. Now just before we part
I think no-one should get too smart.
Just a couple of years ago
when two assassins had a go
at Ludmilla, my dear old granny.
Some people say - and they are many -
- if you believe them - and why not,
that it was some kind of a plot.
She was a Christian, kind and hearty;
they say, it was the Pagan Party.
These men were hired. We may find
who was the mastermind behind...
But, of course, at your kind request
I may well let the matter rest.
So mother, you sit on your goods,
and, please, don't hire more such hoods (!).
<Dragomira departs quickly, but lingers in the background>
Nobles: Now this is looking good for us.
Long live and rule good Wenceslas!
He is as shrewd as he is bright
and wise; He'll put the country right.
Dragomira <in the back, before actually departing>:
You brat! You think that you have won!
But I still have another son
Just wait - in no time you'll be done.
<End of Scene I>
SCENE II - (setting as before)
(Wenceslas with his entourage - in which we see some priests and monks, Architect, later Attendant, Vrativoy and Podiven)
<one of the attendants is holding a big book inscribed: PEOPLE'S JUDICIAL LAW>(11
Wenceslas <sitting on the throne, inspects a scroll of parchment which he has been given by the Architect>:
Now, I think I approve of that.
<Architect makes as if to depart>
Wenceslas: Wait, wait, we haven't finished yet;
We must keep building even faster
so listen to me, my good master:
Please, make for me one more design
a lovely church, quite large and fine
which will stand on the castle hill
for all to see: this is my will.
Whoever sees the new creation
must know we are a Christian nation
unless his head be full of wool
and near that church we'll build a school
and then a hospice for the sick
Now, go ahead, and please be quick.
<Architect bows and departs>
Wenceslas: Now the next issue: Law and Order
So listen, what I have to order.
and carefully do write it down:
So far, each castle and each town
has had the licence and the power
to put anyone in a tower
or on the gallows or whatnot
torturing, maiming and the lot
and to take any brutal measure
according to some squire's pleasure.
I wish this practice to be stopped.
So legal powers will be dropped
where there is not a learned judge:
Sure, some of them will bear a grudge
but of course, Christian charity
goes beyond popularity
and I would rather they get lost
than being liked at any cost.
<to a cleric>
You, go, sound out the situation
and bring me back the information
within a fortnight's time or so
and then we'll have a proper go.
Attendant: Sire, the parties to be tried
are at the door waiting outside.
Wenceslas: All right, my man, let us begin
it's about time - so bring them in.
\ENTER Vrativoy and Podiven\
<Vrativoy holds Podiven tied on a rope>
Vrativoy: Hail, Wenceslas, prince just and wise!
as you may easily surmise
the case here is a clear-cut crime
a shameful waste of royal time
and , if it were not for this slime
who wants to be tried by the king -
- but since it's such a simple thing
we have decided that he might
as, after all, it is his right;-
although he's just a common man.
He wants the spotlight when he can.
Wenceslas: Now, what's the case?
Vrativoy: It's plain: this man
who bears the name of PODIVEN
owes me ten pounds and cannot pay.
So, by our law, he had to stay
chained in my house, in case he may
avoid the debt and run away.
All regular, as you see, Sire,
now - fifty days are to expire
since he'd been sitting in the cold
- no money yet - he's to be sold.
He's got no case at any rate.
the law here is just clear and straight.
Wenceslas: Yes, I'm afraid that you are right
this is the Roman Law alright
<points to the big book>
which, translated by Constantine
is valid in this land of mine.
This slavery thing is such a shame
and basically I am to blame
that it still counts: Perhaps not quite
- you can't change all things overnight.
Even the priests say that it's fit
because it is in Holy Writ
I don't believe it, not a bit.
I think what they say is
... just nonsense.
They say "slaves may not be set free
because of Matthew: 23" -
The notion is quite untenable:
It's put there as a parable
so that a point may be illustrated
not that it should be imitated!
I hope one day to make it better:
Meanwhile myself, I'll buy your debtor.
<He throws a sack of money to Vrativoy and orders an attendant to untie Podiven. Attendant obeys>
Wenceslas <to Podiven>:
Cheer up, man. It's like this, you see
I've bought you and I set you free.
Go free and live!
Podiven: I wish I could
You see I have no livelihood.
Wenceslas: Is that so? You're free, anyway -
but if you wish, then you may stay.
But! No more gambling, no more bets!
Try to stay clean and out of debts.
<End of ACT III>
SCENE I - THE CASTLE OF KURIM between A.D. 925 & A.D.929
(Radislas of Zlitse, Arnulf, Page)
<Radislas and Arnulf sitting at a table and drinking wine from Roman-style goblets: Page refilling their goblets from a jug.>
Arnulf: Now 'Ratslas', I am your advisor
on behalf of the German Keiser,
Henry the Fowler, or the First.
Hey, boy, here, here, oh what a thirst!
<he drinks avidly>
Where were we. Oh yes, with the Keiser.
Ratslas, you should be a bit wiser.
Now if you will give us a hand
you will be ruling all this land.
You must admit that's a fair bid -
because we do not want that kid!
We thought he would just shake and break
but he's as cunning as a snake.
First we thought we would intercept
because of wooden gods they kept
and that the Czechs may be
<takes a slow sip>
But this whole plan has been subverted
just quietly and without fuss
by that sly brat, that Wenceslas.
For Christians here you needn't search:
And now, he's building a new church
on Castle Hill - it's quite a size -
as if he wished to advertise
that pagan times are dead and gone.
So Christianising is not on.
This caused the Keiser some regret
Of course, we are not finished yet:
With our good aim we do abide.
So we thought we would goad his pride:
We'd ask for tributes to be paid..
He would refuse - and we'd invade.
But d'you know what? He said ok!
- and so back home we had to stay.
So now he sends us every year
some silver and a herd of steer.
He can afford it - nasty titch! -
the country's small, but filthy rich.
We don't think this is good enough
but we don't want to play it rough.
So - you yourself, Ratslas, will fight
on behalf of the German Might!
And I can promise - when it's over
You, Ratslas, will be in the clover:
After you've done for us that stunt
You'll be "der Fuerst von Boehmerland!"
Radislas: Well. I suppose, it will be easy
the boy seems to be a bit queasy.
He may be cunning, even bright,
but has no stomach for a fight.
I admit he's got a good mind
but you know - he's the churchy kind.
He always serves the poor and needy,
the clothes he wears are rough and seedy,
he bakes the oblates for the Mass,
and makes the wine, treading the press.
Thus very strangely he behaves.
He even wants to free all slaves!
Of course, he met with opposition
from the priests of the latin mission
and so as yet he wouldn't dare.
Only that "masters must be fair"
he wants to moderate, to mince,
I tell you, he's not like a prince!
He even wouldn't have a drink.
I think he's some kind of a kink,
as he has never had a wife.
He really leads a funny life!
Why! Wenceslas is just a freak.
I'll fight him. He won't last a week!
<they strike their goblets and toast each other>
<End of Scene I>
SCENE II - NIGHT, A MEDIEVAL MILITARY CAMP.
(Soldiers, Podiven, later Wenceslas and Scribe)
<Soldiers, in 10th century outfits sitting on the ground preferably at a campfire. In the background tents or at least one tent for Wenceslas to appear from. Podiven is among the soldiers.>
1st soldier: We've got what we've been looking for.
2nd soldier: Now at last we have got a war!
3rd soldier: You all said Wenceslas was yellow.
I've always known he's quite a fellow -
you see those manners mild, benign
are the true adventurer's sign.
Hear this, so you may always tell:
The COWARD can just brag and yell.
Of that the HERO has no need
as he proves himself by his deed.
Podiven: Well, I think he's one of the Saints.
I can recall some strange events
since I've been servant to our prince.
I'm not that easy to convince
but there were things - just - mighty odd.
I'm sure he is a Man of God.
1st soldier: You don't mean that?
Podiven: I do, too right!
God is with him and shows his might
although He does it out of sight.
2nd soldier: Perhaps he knows some magic spell.
Podiven: No, it's from God. Sure, I can tell.
3rd soldier: What can you tell?
Podiven: A little story -
How God through him has shown his glory:
It was last winter, I believe
the second day past Christmas Eve -
the day that's sacred to Saint Steve; -
and which our audience here may
refer to as the Boxing Day.
It was already after dark,
and the frost biting like a shark.
I am about to crawl in bed -
but he just sends me out for bread
and meat and wine and firewood.
I'd opt out if only I could.
You see, he'd been up in the steeple
and saw one of his dear poor people
collecting twigs: And it was done!
So we were out, and out of fun.
I thought that soon we both must freeze
for there began an icy breeze
it grew in force. And pretty soon,
it drove the clouds over the moon.
I had a running nose and cough
and soon also our lamp went off -
and all around the deep white snow
quite hard to walk in as you'll know
so - I was getting rather giddy
and cursed all the dear poor and needy
wishing I were back in my bed.
but Wenceslas just strode ahead
against the wind that blew in force.
You know, he's as strong as a horse.
And as the wind grew even stronger
I doubted I could go much longer
fin'ly I gave the prince a shout.
and then he stopped, and turned about
and then I tells him I'm worn out.
I felt so bad that I would cry
I told him we were doomed to die,
I swore at him. He only smiled.
He wasn't cross, just gentle, mild,
I told him we were going bust,
but Wenceslas: "In God we trust."
He said there was no turning back
and bid me follow in his track
I did. And - believe it or not -
the prince's footprints - they were hot!
It was like sitting by the fire.
So sure, there's something to admire.
We made it: Brought the wretch his snack
and then in safety made it back
So here I am - fit as you please
but without him I sure would freeze
The tale is true - in every bit.
A marvellous story, isn't it?!
\ENTER Wenceslas, stepping out of his tent\
Wenceslas <looking around and at the sky>:
Oh, what a splendid quiet night.
Yet tomorrow we'll have to fight.
Tomorrow is the day of battle.
People will die like slaughtered cattle.
This silent, deep and starry sky -
tomorrow many men will die
some of them slowly, in great pain
never to see these stars again.
Thus men have always been misled:
The masters quarrelled, servants bled
just for their master's cause - and hence
these battles don't make any sense.
Perhaps it may change in the future.
But anyway - I'm not a butcher!
I'll stop the slaughter - only how?
Get me a Scribe!
<Podiven runs away and after a moment returns with a sleepy cleric with a quill behind his ear, a scroll of parchment and a bottle of ink by his belt.>
\ENTER Podiven and Scribe\
Wenceslas: Now. my good Scribe, sit down and write.
<Scribe sits near the fire and prepares for dictation>
Wenceslas <pacing up and down, dictates>:
Dear Radslas - re: the morrow's fight -
I do not deem it at all right -
that we should judge ourselves so high
above our men - to let them die -
at our request and our behest -
and for our selfish interest. -
And so, dear Radslas, be so brave -
to fight without a single knave -
between the camps - nine - on the hour -
there to decide who shall have power
over both armies. - For the right -
to rule this land we two shall fight. -
So none might die but one of us -
Yours very truly - Wenceslas.
<to the Scribe>
Ok. That's all. Now dry your quill
and then we shall append the seal.
<which they do, Wenceslas pressing his signet ring on the wax etc.>
Wenceslas <to Podiven, giving him the letter>:
You take a white flag and a lamp
and run to Radislas's camp.
Wenceslas: To-morrow morn I'll have to fight
So I bid you a sweet goodnight.
<He disappears in his tent>
<End of Scene II>
SCENE III - MORNING. A FIELD OR PLAIN.
(Radslas, later Wenceslas)
\ENTER Radslas, in 10th century armour and arms - (may be riding a horse)\
Radslas <to audience>: Good Morning to you and God bless
Now I am really in a mess.
I had to think of my good name,
but I'm against this all the same.
I don't agree with Wenceslas.
Physical fighting's not for us.
It's the same as in peaceful days -
hard work is for the knaves and slaves,
but a gent with his lofty mind
manages them and stays behind.
I don't think he'll fight, anyhow.
Why should he turn to fighting now?
He serves at Mass, and does naught else -
like the monks, praying in their cells.
- his challenge doesn't look like that -
It can't be courage - he's plain mad!
I think I'll kick him like a ball -
provided he'll turn up at all.
\ENTER Wenceslas <dressed similarly, on horseback if R. is etc>\
<Radslas shows signs of fear..>
Almighty God, Thou know'st my mind,
know'st I could not have stayed behind,
thou know'st that I don't wish to kill -
but if I have to then I will.
<He directs his spear against Radslas and charges at him>
Radslas <falls off his horse, goes down on his knees, drops his spear etc.>
Wenceslas <points his spear at Radslas's throat>
Radslas: Put it away, or I will choke!
I meant it only as a joke.
I only wanted to have fun -
Surely, no harm to you's been done.
<He unties his belt and throws down his sword>
Wenceslas <retracting his spear, dismounts, takes R. by the hand and helps him up>:
Oh, brother, don't covet my throne
but be contented with your own.
For contentment is Divine bliss.
God be with you, and go in peace.
<turns around, mounts his horse and departs>
Radslas <collects his belt, spear, readjusts his clothing etc., obviously embarrassed.>
Don't you go thinking I'm a skunk.
True, I thought he was like a monk
and in this I was sadly wrong.
He is a fighter - fierce and strong.
Still - I would fight him - on his own.
But then - he wasn't quite alone.
Well - you see - when I saw him ride -
he had an angel on each side.
They guarded him - he was their boss -
and on his forehead shone a cross -
a cross of rays of dazzling light:
so - of course - then I couldn't fight.
I was outnumbered! - Anyway,
at least that's what I'd better say.
<mounts his horse>
<End of ACT IV>
SCENE - MORNING. THE CASTLE OF BOLESLAS.
28 SEPTEMBER A.D. 929(12
(Boleslas, later Wenceslas, and assassins)
<On the ramparts.>
\ENTER Boleslas, armed with his sword\
Boleslas: Hi there, my name is Boleslas
the brother of good Wenceslas.
You've heard of me before, I bet -
but so far we hadn't yet met.
<waves his hands>
D'you like my castle? Well - I do!
Recently built. It is still new.
And I tell you: it wouldn't stand
if it were not for my strong hand!
You see - I asked each local squire -
as there was no workforce to hire -
to help me out, and now and then
send me a few of their own men
to carry stones - this kind of chore -
and then I asked for a few more.
But - you've never seen such a nation!
They send to me a delegation
saying there are their fields to mow
and would I let their peasants go.
I took aside the man who led,
and I chopped off their speaker's head.
And after that - with no resistance -
I always had their kind assistance,
until the castle was made ready.
You see: one must be strong and steady.
I don't mind token violence:
these "human rights" just don't make sense.
Firstly they shout that you are rotten
but pretty soon it's all forgotten -
sometimes it's over in a week.
Most people are just full of cheek
like with that headless squire of mine:
the castle stands - and all is fine.
And guess who's come to stay with us?
My saintly brother Wenceslas!
I am not kidding: He's within.
In this here place of gore and sin!
Why? You see - one must move with fashion
and not stick with an old obsession:
I have a son - dear little thing -
so there will be a christening.
And lo: To see this pious deed
Wenceslas came to me with speed:
we're reconciled to say the least.
Last night, I threw for him a feast -
most guests still drunk, and on one heap
in the great hall, and fast asleep.
But brother Wenceslas, I guess
will now be up, to go to Mass.
\ENTER Wenceslas, unarmed, carrying a prayer book.\
Boleslas: There he is, heading over here.
Good morning, Wenceslas, my dear!
Good morning, brother, I am glad
you're up, after the night we had -
last night the party was just fine:
good company, good food and wine
and above all, I liked your mead.
So thank you, very much indeed!
Boleslas: I like to serve you, brother dear
at any time -
<he draws his sword>
so take this here!
<swings the sword at Wenceslas, who avoids the blow, drops the book, grabs Boleslas's sword arm with both hands and tries to twist the sword out of it. A struggle. Finally Wenceslas overpowers Boleslas, strikes him to the ground, kneels on him and points the sword to his throat.>
Wenceslas: Well, Boleslas, what do you say?
Now I could kill you straight away -
which I will not, it's not my way.
It's just your temper. Take a walk -
first you calm down, and then we'll talk.
<He lowers the sword, puts it down, releases Boleslas, picks up his book and walks away.>
Boleslas <picks up the sword and swings it>:
Hey, help, hey, help, hey, come to me!
Here ! To the rescue
<A group of armed men, apparently prepared jump out of hiding and attack Wenceslas.>
Wenceslas <fending off the blows with the book>:
Now I see
this was a full scale plot all right.
With empty hands I cannot fight,
my friends are sleeping - there is none
to help me fight - so I must run.
<He runs offstage, assassins follow, Boleslas remains on stage. There is noise etc., after a while the assassins return, wiping their swords.>
Boleslas: Well? Is it over?
1st assassin: He's done for.
2nd assassin: We got him at the chapel door.
3rd assassin: He ran for sanctuary - you see -
Boleslas <interrupts sarcastically>:
The door was locked? Why, ..
<with mock surprise>
- Here's the key !!
<Boleslas shows the key, they laugh.>
Boleslas <stepping forward, to audience>:
It has been done. Brute force again
awhile at least will rule and reign
triumphant over heart and brain.
His life and ours didn't rhyme -
born as he was - before his time -
so he is gone and I am here.
It will be many a long year
before St. Wenceslas's mission
will come to at least some fruition.
And even then, we Boleslases
will sit among all social classes
pursuing our own selfish gain,
and causing misery and strain.
Yet - at all levels, high and low -
there'll be some changes - although slow.
<pointing to audience>
Thus, in your time, murderous passion
is off the stage, slaves - out of fashion.
People like me are losing ground -
The argument seems to be sound
that - viewing it in the long run -
My men have lost, and he has won.
<choir may resume singing G.K.W.>
Author's Remarks, Comment & Hints re Performance
St.Wenceslas is the patron saint of Bohemia, as St.George is that of England. Wenceslas however is a proven historical figure, whose remains lie in the Prague cathedral. At one time, the Royal Crown of Bohemia used to be deposited on the skull of St.Wenceslas, when not worn by a ruling king.
The events represented in the play or narrated by the characters are mostly historical or based on tradition. Some of the more picturesque features, such as the conversion of Borrivoy, or Wenceslas' single combat with Radslas are drawn from the Chronicle of Dalimil (late 13th century). Some passages, for example where Svatopluk reprimands Borrivoy for worshipping "the horn-eared owl" are close translations of the Chronicle.
The violent nature of some of the events reported cannot be removed. In particular, the murder of St.Wenceslas would be difficult to omit. None of these episodes have been invented by the author, and their treatment has been made as decent as possible. The decapitation of the negotiating Squire by Boleslas is reported by Dalimil, and is recounted in the play by Boleslas himself as a means of characterisation. Indeed he came down in history as "Boleslas the Cruel".
The 'footprint miracle' is an integral part of the saint's legend, and by no means a latterday invention. The Prologue should suffice to convey the basic facts. Enea Silvio Piccolomini offers a "natural" explanation of the marvel. He "reports" (as fact, not his opinion) that the saint went barefoot in penance, and his feet bled - cut by the ice, so that the servant was able to warm his own feet on the fresh blood in the footprints. (Alternatively sensations of warmth mat be easily produced by suggestion.)
Radslas' battlefield Vision is treated by medieval sources as objective fact. The play offers a more pragmatic explanation: An excuse or the hallucination of a primitive warrior bewildered after being challenged to single combat by a physically immature boy.
The only non-historical event of any importance in the play is Podiven's redemption from slavery.
Though Podiven was indeed the name of Wenceslas' servant, who was devoted to his master, there is no specific record that he, like others, was 'bought out' by Wenceslas. It is also only conjecture that Wenceslas used the Slavic version of Byzantine law, as supplied by Constantine for Great Moravia, though this is quite likely.
The spelling of some of the Slavic names has been accommodated for the English-speaking user, like Borrivoy (Borivoj), Peroon (Perun) etc.
It should be noted that the first syllable is always the one ephasized in Czech. The pronunciation ought to be aided by the rhyming context.
Fortunately, the more awkward sounds of modern Czech (one is cited in the Guinness book of records for its difficulty), are not involved. They were not part of the spelling in the 10th century.
Many Slavic male personal names end in "-slav" (corresponding to "-kles" in ancient Greek names). Those such names which are known in the English-speaking world have been modified to end in "-slas", via Latin "-slaus". (Wenceslas is modified from "Vyenceslav"(13). To maintain consistency, other, less well known names have been treated in the same way (Boleslas, Rostislas, Radslas), with occasional syllabic additions for reasons of metre.
Costumes and related matters
Although the characters in the play have been 'contemporised' to some extent, (e.g. Borrivoy and his wife eating with a knife and fork...) it would be preferable to preserve the historical setting.
In the play itself the following guidelines apply:
The Irish monks are Benedictines
The Byzantines are dressed according to their status.
The Slavic 'middle-class' are dressed basically the same as Britons
from the Anglo-Saxon period
The armed men wear pointed helmets with nose guards, and chainmail.
However, typically Saxon and Celtic features like horns or wings on helmets, tartan etc must be avoided
(excepting German knights and Arnulf.)
The Moravian peasants in Act I differ from peasant Britons of the same period:
They are dressed rather like Russian peasants used to (smocks with belts), but men do not have beards, instead they wear long moustaches, and plait their hair. To avoid the complicated footwear used, all may be barefoot.
Wenceslas: There are some traditional features to his clothing,
based on old manuscripts. he is frequently shown in a fur hat - the hide of some small animal, legs dangling by the side of the face in ornament. (In later illustrations this is idealised to ermine, but 11th century illustrations suggest the lynx.) If shown on horseback, the horse should be white.
His Coat of Arms is a black (she) eagle, in flames, on a silver background (or "argent"):- it should adorn his shield, a small 'W' flag on his spear, his throne, tent, etc.
Set & Music
For performance in church it would be sufficient to have a few objects such as a throne, a table, and inscriptions brought on by the children to set the scene. I have not provided songs as it seemed to give the play a different character. The 'silent acting' passages could be accompanied by old motets, or the simple arrangement of a very ancient religious song (among the appendices).
If desired, the play could begin with the audience joining in to sing GKW, or sing the carol at the end.
Editor's explanatory footnotes
referenced in the text
1 - in the collection Piae Cantiones. The title translates as "flower-time is here"
2 The name was coined by the Byzantine emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus (AD913-959)
3 The name Bohemia comes from the Latin 'Boiohaemum', home of the Boii, an earlier Celtic tribe.
4 in AD 864 a thwarted German crusade ended in a peace treaty with Rostislas
5 Who later took the monastic name of Cyril - the father of the Cyrillic script.
6 Constantine and Methodius invented the Glagolic script and standardised the Slavonic language based on the Macedonian dialect. The language is the foundation of present-day Church Slavonic, as used in the Eastern Orthodox Christian church. C&M obtained permission from pope Hadrian II to serve Mass in Slavonic.
7 some sources date these events at around AD 884.
8 In a power struggle sponsored by the neighbouring bavarian-german tribe of the Franks, Svatopluk, Rostislas' nephew overthrew him in AD 870 and had him imprisoned and blinded, but then broke ranks with the Franks and remained in charge of a largely independent Great Moravia. In 882-884 he seized Bohemia, and the Great Moravian Empire at that time reached across parts of present-day Hungary and Austria, Western Slovakia, Silesia, Bohemia and adjacent territories further north.
9 see Author's notes. A conscious modernisation of medieval table manners.
10 date revised from the author's original AD 925, to fit the presently-accepted chronology
11 The authors' original translation "Law to Judge People by" is more literal, but seems awkward in English. The legal codex in question is Byzantine law, which was translated into Slav by Constantine.
12 This date is from the Chronicle of Dalimil. Recently historians suggest AD935 as being more likely.
13 The name Wenceslas comes to us via the latin as one translation of the Czech name Václav, which has two sub-forms, Víceslav and Vyenceslav. Vyenceslav means 'crowned with a garland' - another, more ordinary translation via the Greek would be Stephen. The other form, Víceslav, like its exact Greek equivalent Polycles means 'much renowned' or 'renowned for much', which has no obvious translation.
List of Appendices
Appendix I Costume illustrations:
Appendix I1 Byzantine Costumes
Appendix I2 Moravian and Czech gentlefolk
Appendix I3 Radslas' coat of Arms
Appendix I4 Man dressed for Battle
Appendix I5 Some features of St Wenceslas
Appendix II Music:
Appendix II1 A St Wenceslas moteto of the 15th Century, and continuation.
Appendix II2 A traditional arrangement of prayer.