Overture; forest sounds, roaring of lions, Christian hymn faintly.
A jungle path. A lion’s roar, a melancholy suffering roar, comes from the jungle. It is repeated nearer. The lion limps from the jungle on three legs, holding up his right forepaw, in which a huge thorn sticks. He sits down and contemplates it. He licks it. He shakes it. He tries to extract it by scraping it along the ground, and hurts himself worse. He roars piteously. He licks it again. Tears drop from his eyes. He limps painfully off the path and lies down under the trees, exhausted with pain. Heaving a long sigh, like wind in a trombone, he goes to sleep.
Androcles and his wife Megaera come along the path. He is a small, thin, ridiculous little man who might be any age from thirty to fifty-five. He has sandy hair, watery compassionate blue eyes, sensitive nostrils, and a very presentable forehead; but his good points go no further; his arms and legs and back, though wiry of their kind, look shrivelled and starved. He carries a big bundle, is very poorly clad, and seems tired and hungry.
His wife is a rather handsome pampered slattern, well fed and in the prime of life. She has nothing to carry, and has a stout stick to help her along.
Megaera [suddenly throwing down her stick] I won’t go another step.
Androcles [pleading wearily] Oh, not again, dear. What’s the good of stopping every two miles and saying you won’t go another step? We must get on to the next village before night. There are wild beasts in this wood: lions, they say.
Megaera. I don’t believe a word of it. You are always threatening me with wild beasts to make me walk the very soul out of my body when I can hardly drag one foot before another. We haven’t seen a single lion yet.
Androcles. Well, dear, do you want to see one?
Megaera [tearing the bundle from his back] You cruel beast, you don’t care how tired I am, or what becomes of me [she throws the bundle on the ground]: always thinking of yourself. Self! self! self! always yourself! [She sits down on the bundle].
Androcles [sitting down sadly on the ground with his elbows on his knees and his head in his hands] We all have to think of ourselves occasionally, dear.
Megaera. A man ought to think of his wife sometimes.
Androcles. He can’t always help it, dear. You make me think of you a good deal. Not that I blame you.
Megaera. Blame me! I should think not indeed. Is it my fault that I’m married to you?
Androcles. No, dear: that is my fault.
Megaera. That’s a nice thing to say to me. Aren’t you happy with me?
Androcles. I don’t complain, my love.
Megaera. You ought to be ashamed of yourself.
Androcles. I am, my dear.
Megaera. You’re not: you glory in it.
Androcles. In what, darling?
Megaera. In everything. In making me a slave, and making yourself a laughing-stock. Its not fair. You get me the name of being a shrew with your meek ways, always talking as if butter wouldn’t melt in your mouth. And just because I look a big strong woman, and because I’m good-hearted and a bit hasty, and because you’re always driving me to do things I’m sorry for afterwards, people say “Poor man: what a life his wife leads him!” Oh, if they only knew! And you think I don’t know. But I do, I do, [screaming] I do.
Androcles. Yes, my dear: I know you do.
Megaera. Then why don’t you treat me properly and be a good husband to me?
Androcles. What can I do, my dear?
Megaera. What can you do! You can return to your duty, and come back to your home and your friends, and sacrifice to the gods as all respectable people do, instead of having us hunted out of house and home for being dirty, disreputable, blaspheming atheists.
Androcles. I’m not an atheist, dear: I am a Christian.
Megaera. Well, isn’t that the same thing, only ten times worse? Everybody knows that the Christians are the very lowest of the low.
Androcles. Just like us, dear.
Megaera. Speak for yourself. Don’t you dare to compare me to common people. My father owned his own public-house; and sorrowful was the day for me when you first came drinking in our bar.
Androcles. I confess I was addicted to it, dear. But I gave it up when I became a Christian.
Megaera. You’d much better have remained a drunkard. I can forgive a man being addicted to drink: its only natural; and I don’t deny I like a drop myself sometimes. What I can’t stand is your being addicted to Christianity. And what’s worse again, your being addicted to animals. How is any woman to keep her house clean when you bring in every stray cat and lost cur and lame duck in the whole countryside? You took the bread out of my mouth to feed them: you know you did: don’t attempt to deny it.
Androcles. Only when they were hungry and you were getting too stout, dearie.
Megaera. Yes, insult me, do. [Rising] Oh! I won’t bear it another moment. You used to sit and talk to those dumb brute beasts for hours, when you hadn’t a word for me.
Androcles. They never answered back, darling. [He rises and again shoulders the bundle].
Megaera. Well, if you’re fonder of animals than of your own wife, you can live with them here in the jungle. I’ve had enough of them and enough of you. I’m going back. I’m going home.
Androcles [barring the way back] No, dearie: don’t take on like that. We can’t go back. We’ve sold everything: we should starve; and I should be sent to Rome and thrown to the lions —
Megaera. Serve you right! I wish the lions joy of you. [Screaming] Are you going to get out of my way and let me go home?
Androcles. No, dear —
Megaera. Then I’ll make my way through the forest; and when I’m eaten by the wild beasts you’ll know what a wife you’ve lost. [She dashes into the jungle and nearly falls over the sleeping lion]. Oh! Oh! Andy! Andy! [She totters back and collapses into the arms of Androcles, who, crushed by her weight, falls on his bundle].
Androcles [extracting himself from beneath her and slapping her hands in great anxiety] What is it, my precious, my pet? What’s the matter? [He raises her head. Speechless with terror, she points in the direction of the sleeping lion. He steals cautiously towards the spot indicated by Megaera. She rises with an effort and totters after him].
Megaera. No, Andy: you’ll be killed. Come back.
The lion utters a long snoring sigh. Androcles sees the lion and recoils fainting into the arms of Megaera, who falls back on the bundle. They roll apart and lie staring in terror at one another. The lion is heard groaning heavily in the jungle.
Androcles [whispering] Did you see? A lion.
Megaera [despairing] The gods have sent him to punish us because you’re a Christian. Take me away, Andy. Save me.
Androcles [rising] Meggy: there’s one chance for you. It’ll take him pretty nigh twenty minutes to eat me [I’m rather stringy and tough] and you can escape in less time than that.
Megaera. Oh, don’t talk about eating. [The lion rises with a great groan and limps towards them]. Oh! [She faints].
Androcles [quaking, but keeping between the lion and Megaera] Don’t you come near my wife, do you hear? [The lion groans. Androcles can hardly stand for trembling]. Meggy: run. Run for your life. If I take my eye off him, its all up. [The lion holds up his wounded paw and flaps it piteously before Androcles]. Oh, he’s lame, poor old chap! He’s got a thorn in his paw. A frightfully big thorn. [Full of sympathy] Oh, poor old man! Did um get an awful thorn into um’s tootsums wootsums? Has it made um too sick to eat a nice little Christian man for um’s breakfast? Oh, a nice little Christian man will get um’s thorn out for um; and then um shall eat the nice Christian man and the nice Christian man’s nice big tender wifey pifey. [The lion responds by moans of self-pity]. Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. Now, now [taking the paw in his hand] um is not to bite and not to scratch, not even if it hurts a very, very little. Now make velvet paws. That’s right. [He pulls gingerly at the thorn. The lion, with an angry yell of pain, jerks back his paw so abruptly that Androcles is thrown on his back]. Steadeee! Oh, did the nasty cruel little Christian man hurt the sore paw? [The lion moans assentingly but apologetically]. Well, one more little pull and it will be all over. Just one little, little, leetle pull; and then um will live happily ever after. [He gives the thorn another pull. The lion roars and snaps his jaws with a terrifying clash]. Oh, mustn’t frighten um’s good kind doctor, um’s affectionate nursey. That didn’t hurt at all: not a bit. Just one more. Just to show how the brave big lion can bear pain, not like the little crybaby Christian man. Oopsh! [The thorn comes out. The lion yells with pain, and shakes his paw wildly]. That’s it! [Holding up the thorn]. Now it’s out. Now lick um’s paw to take away the nasty inflammation. See? [He licks his own hand. The lion nods intelligently and licks his paw industriously]. Clever little liony-piony! Understands um’s dear old friend Andy Wandy. [The lion licks his face]. Yes, kissums Andy Wandy. [The lion, wagging his tail violently, rises on his hind legs and embraces Androcles, who makes a wry face and cries] Velvet paws! Velvet paws! [The lion draws in his claws]. That’s right. [He embraces the lion, who finally takes the end of his tail in one paw, places that tight around Androcles’ waist, resting it on his hip. Androcles takes the other paw in his hand, stretches out his arm, and the two waltz rapturously round and round and finally away through the jungle].
Megaera [who has revived during the waltz] Oh, you coward, you haven’t danced with me for years; and now you go off dancing with a great brute beast that you haven’t known for ten minutes and that wants to eat your own wife. Coward! Coward! Coward! [She rushes off after them into the jungle].
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00