A PLAY IN ONE ACT
PERSONS IN THE PLAY
ILINA – his seventh wife (a very young girl, newly married)
SISTER ANN – Ilina’s sister (very much older)
ILINA’S TWO BROTHERS
CYRIL – a man servant
THE GHOSTS OF BLUEBEARD’S SIX FORMER WIVES
Place: A corridor in Baron Bluebeard’s castle in the mountains; the door of the secret room is right at the back.
Time: Any time in the Middle Ages – a day at the end of Winter or the beginning of Spring, from about noon till dusk falls.
IN ‘Bluebeard’ I have tried to express the conflict between beauty and life – life destroying without respite the beauty it has created. Bluebeard rates beauty above life, but life surrounds him. Ilina stands for life to which he is being drawn back. Ilina’s brothers are also life. Even the ghosts of the dead women are life.
ILINA (coming in from the right)
This castle’s filled with silence.
All round me like gigantic spider’s webs
It hangs so thickly I can scarcely move.
It wraps my feet so that I creep like this –
Creep, creep, creep with little steps.
I look behind me,
Over my shoulder, though there’s nothing there.
(She mimics herself walking with small creepy steps, turning as she goes to look over each shoulder.)
I talk in whispers too.
I’ll try to shout – ha – ho –
I can’t, it won’t go through;
The layers of silence are too old and tough;
My loudest shout is a little mouse’s squeak.
(She goes to the small narrow window at one end of the corridor.)
I wish I could hear the rain.
All day it falls straight down and down,
Straight down without a break,
(She hfts her hands above her head and lowers them, letting her fingers hang.)
And yet no sound of it comes through these walls;
It might be painted rain for all the company it is.
And painted woods –
Tall inky pines
And bare grey beech-twigs scribbled on the sky.
No wind at all,
Not even a little gust to make a noise –
I dream of noises –
And yet I used to hate the wind and storm.
But now, ah, now –
Bluebeard is always muffled in a dream,
And Sister Ann has toothache from the damp;
Yet the day must pass:
My brothers come to-night.
(CYRIL comes in from the right.)
Cyril, come here. Is this door always locked?
Yes, lady, always locked.
I hear them say that room’s his treasure room.
It is, lady.
And that it’s full of lovely curious things.
Things from the farthest corners of the world?
Have you been in there?
Yes, I have been in.
Quick, tell me then.
I’ve been in blindfold.
Blindfold! how strange! why blindfold?
Has anyone been in with his bare eyes?
Only the Baron now; old Jasper was,
But it is five years since old Jasper died.
Why were you blindfold?
What did you do in there?
Carried in treasures.
These last few years
he has got nothing new.
But until then the Baron searched the world
For treasures for this room –
Carvings of amber, embroideries,
Ivory boxes full of pearls
And blocks of jade that looked like big sea waves;
I would unpack them, Then I’d bring them here,
But always was made blindfold at the door.
Go on, talk on.
And perfumes, there was one big jar of scent,
I brought it in and there in the still air
It was too much,
It overpowered me,
I was so happy that I could lie down,
I could have died there –
Not come out again
And gone about my work.
For days the scent of it stuck to my clothes,
Mostly if I stood beside the stove
Or in the sunlight;
Then I used to sniff,
I’d try to get the feeling back again,
I’d nose along my sleeve as a cat or dog does.
But you can feel it still
If he unlocks that door for only a moment,
Going in or out, the scent of it escapes
And lumps of it will hang on the damp air,
And when the wind stirs
They blunder on to you.
(CYRIL goes out to the right.)
I got that scent.
I thought I had imagined it myself.
Here in the cold in this grey castle
These winter days
With the damp woods round
I’ve dreamed of gardens,
Down in the plains and warm
Facing the south.
I thought I had dreamed so strong I’d smelt the flowers;
And ’twas that room.
I must go in; I want to see those things.
I’ll find him now and tell him that I must.
And yet I can’t.
Why is it that I can’t?
‘Tis strange, so much is strange;
Strange, yet to-night my brothers come,
And surely sometime it will be to-night.
(ILINA goes out to the right.)
BARON BLUEBEARD (coming in from the left)
How changed I must be,
I’m so strange and slow;
I feel and from my feeling a thought comes,
And from that thought another long-drawn thought
Comes forth, and from that another,
Till the force is spent;
Then I go over all my thought again
Like a beggar with his takings.
When all this happened.
(He waves his hand towards the door of the secret room.)
Had I thoughts like these?
I can’t remember –
Feeling, darkness, and then something done –
I can’t recall the person I was then.
(ILINA looks in from the right and disappears again.)
If she were beautiful –
(He waves towards the right)
Which she’s not, not as they are –
And if I felt that dread I used to feel,
To know, while I looked on, decay was thieving,
What would I do? –
The man that I am now? –
Would my dread turn to thoughts,
And my thoughts turn and show their other sides,
And I sit here delighted with their shapes,
Forgetting all that started their display?
Where once this dread of mine –
But then I had old Jasper and his drug.
Old Jasper found that drug that killed decay.
Killed even that secret imperceptible change
That one’s mind only follows –
Knowing that while things bloom they rot,
Have rotted somewhat
Even in the little half-a-millionth part
Of a single moment –
His drug killed that.
It fixed their beauty for a thousand years;
Perhaps for ever – whatever ever is,
Never is simple by comparison –
But it killed life too.
(He stands and listens. A low murmur like a chant is heard. It seems to come from the secret room.)
I hear that song again;
Does it sing in my head
Or does it come from there?
(He rings a bell. CYRIL comes in from the right.)
BLUEBEARD (beckoning to CYRIL)
Come here and listen, do you hear a noise?
A little sort of noise, a gust I think.
From time to time all day they come like that,
They run through all the chimneys and are gone.
(CYRIL goes out to the right, the low murmur becomes more distinct, and low clear voices are heard singing.)
We are so still, Stiller than the dead.
We lie in the sun’s light,
Our hair is long and bright,
But we are dead,
Stiller than the dead.
The worms that writhe and creep
About the dead
Are not such ill,
As this beauty we must keep
Who are so still,
Stiller than the dead.
(ILINA looks in at the right.)
Come here, Ilina, did you hear a noise?
There was a gust
That made the rain blow sideways for a moment:
Now it falls straight again.
(ILINA goes out to the right.)
‘Tis in my brain.
I mustn’t think so much.
I must talk more to Ilina;
On nights like these by the fire,
Or forenoons in the wood when the days grow longer.
But I’ll settle this.
(He waves his hand towards the secret room.)
This must come first.
There will be many days.
Years will go quietly.
She’s not the kind that makes time venomous.
(BLUEBEARD goes out to the left. ILINA comes in from the right. She walks aimlessly till she comes in front of the door of the secret room, then she suddenly stops and looks down at the floor.)
It cannot be. It is,
The key of this?
(She fits it into the keyhole and takes it out again.)
Shall I dare? –
Go in and wrap the embroideries about me,
And dive my arms into a trough of pearls,
And smell the scent and try the jewels on?
(She stands as if entranced by the thought, and then holding the key hgh above her head she dances, spinning round and round.)
Old woods, old walls, old silence, I defy you all.
(Then standing still again.)
What lovely pastime for a rainy day.
(She springs to the door, opens it, and, going in, closes it behind her. After a few moments she comes out, crouching as if hurt, and cries in a hoarse, suppressed voice.)
Ann, Sister Ann, Ann, Sister Ann.
(SISTER ANN comes in from the right.)
ILINA (talking in the same low hoarse scream, her words chopped by the chattering of her teeth)
Six mummy women in six long glass boxes,
And there’s an empty space, a space for me.
Six what? What is’t? You’re hurt.
Speak, child – your face –
(ILINA, crouching and shuddering, points to the door of the secret room. ANN pushes the door with her hand, goes in, and disappears from view.)
No, no, come back.
(SISTER ANN appears again. She seems stiffened. She stares in front of her.)
ILINA (in the same voice)
Six mummies and a place,
A place for me.
(ANN turns her head and stares at ILINA in the same stiff way. Then she seems suddenly to wake up.)
Ilina, listen, there’s no space,
There is no inch of empty space
On floor or walls or ceiling; quick, the key.
Quick, child, the key, the key to lock the door.
(She sees the key on the floor, picks it up and locks the door.)
Where did you find it? Here?
(She drops it on the floor.)
We must be deathly quiet till to-night; Quiet and let the very air forget us
Until to-night. To-night our brothers come.
(They go out to the right.)
BLUEBEARD (coming in from the left and standing in front of the door of the secret room)
That door wide open and the window too,
And the wind passing through it,
Ilina walking idly in and out,
And I all careless, having no concern.
I like that picture;
But they’d be in graves;
Buried in graves as if they were dead people;
And nothing left –
Beauty nor even life –
Without their beauty they should have their lives
As common people have;
For if I take their beauty from these women
They will be common people who had lives
Which I took from them.
What was life to them then?
(He waves towards the room.)
The thing they shared with earwigs and cock- roaches.
I took it easily to spare their beauty,
But if that beauty’s gone I shall have killed them.
They’ll be dead people, a wicked man.
‘A wicked man,’ is that what they would say
Down in the village or in any town?
No, it can’t be like that:
This castle’s large:
Ilina’ll walk through all the other rooms,
All through the woods:
This room must be walled up,
Made fast as solid stone,
As if it had no hollow space within.
They shall be beautiful in secret there
In that deep-scented darkness
With all their treasures;
I’ll bequeath them all:
They’ll be luxurious and rich.
(A low murmur is heard coming from the closed door.)
Only another gust.
(The murmur grows louder and voices are heard singing.)
We have no graves
Like the dead
Who spend their lives and die
And lie in graves.
We have no graves.
Is there no bed
In the ground
Where we might lie
Under the sound
Of the grass that waves,
The long grass overhead
Upon the graves
Of the dead.
Each time it grows more loud
And the words are clearer –
More outside me;
It can’t be in my head.
I must call someone.
There, it dies away.
(He goes out to the left. ILINA comes in from the right, walks a few steps, starts and looks round as if something touched her, listens, walks again, turns round and stands peering round in every direction, and listening, as if trying to penetrate some mystery with her eyes and ears.)
How little one can see, or smell, or hear.
SISTER ANN (coming in from the right)
To-night will come, but you will have gone mad.
These six inside most likely remained sane.
You’ll come with me and rest.
Who knows but one of these
Was resting when she was made one of these.
(ILINA points towards the door of the secret room, and, in doing so, she totters.)
You’re weak, eat something. Come;
This sugared cake.
A cake. It could be hidden in a cake,
In any mouthful, I not knowing which.
Then leave the cake,
But you must drink this wine.
Wine, wine, how many drops are in that cup?
One drop perhaps enough;
No, no, not wine.
Let us be calm and quiet this short time;
‘Tis nearly dusk; to-night our brothers come.
All those separate moments till to-night,
And any single moment may be it,
The next one now, the sixth, the ninety-ninth –
No, no, I might guess right.
Go, Sister Ann,
Run to the window while there still is light;
Tell me what you see.
SISTER ANN (going to the window)
The shapes of pines
And the grey sky
And the straight falling rain.
What do you hear?
Not a sound.
Not to see, not to hear,
Yet it’s all around me.
I am deaf, I am blind.
(She rushes out to the right, followed by SISTER ANN.)
BLUEBEARD (coming in from the left)
They shall be beautiful in secret there,
But can they be?
In that dark space?
What will be left there?
I know if I break the walls again I’ll find them –
Their beauty too,
Brought back by the light or made new
By my eyes in the light.
Made new, made new;
Then what will have been in the dark?
Material precise and ready,
Measured and weighed and gauged and strained and sifted,
Waiting for eyes and light.
What shall I do?
Shall I build a tower in a lonely place
And set relays of sentinels to look at them –
Eyes on them night and day,
Making their beauty moment upon moment.
Mere eyes? Cows too have eyes.
Would a cow’s eyes help?
And would eyes help alone by being human?
Eyes could pay
In minus quantities or small instalments.
No, no, this room must stay.
My eyes alone can pay them their life’s worth.
(The corridor grows very slzghtly dim, the dusk is beginning to gather. The door of the secret room opens slowly and one after another six beautiful women come out. They glide rather than walk. They are otherwise motionless. They wear brilliant dresses and jewels, their arms hang straght by their sides, their hair is spread on their shoulders or hangs in plaits.)
BLUEBEARD (putting out his hands as if to press them back)
Go back, go back again,
Till to-morrow, even,
I’ll do what is most right,
I’ll think again,
I’ll think to-morrow,
No, to-night I’ll think,
This moment now I’ll think,
I’ll think, but I am weary,
I must sleep.
ILINA’S TWO BROTHERS (rushing infrom the right)
Yes, you shall surely sleep, vile murderer.
(They stab him several times and rush out again. BLUEBEARD falls on the floor. The six women glide towards him, one behind another; they begin to move round him in a wide circle. BLUEBEARD keeps turning his eyes to look at them. Slowly, with an almost imperceptible movement, beginning with the first and passing from one to another, their heads turn towards him. In the same way their bodies begin to lean towards him. Their necks stretch towards him. The circle they make round grows smaller. Their expression grows tense. Their eyes grow eager. BLUBEARD still turns his eyes to look at them, but more feebly. He dies. They cease to stretch towards him. Their bodies relax. They seem to be about to glide away as they came, when suddenly, as if a string connecting them snaps, they separ- ate; like pieces of crumpled paper caught in a gust they scatter, each with a different movement in a different direction. The curtain begins to fall and has fallen before they come to rest.)