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So, I’ve been on a writing kick recently! And New Play Project just advertised for a new upcoming show, Bad Play Project! They were asking for bad play submissions. I thought, that sounds like fun, I’m sure that I can write a bad play. But it’s harder than it looks. What constitutes a bad play? No plot? Poor characterization? Lousy dialog? Then why would someone want to see this play? It seems to me then, that to write a purposely bad play one must write a good play but in a bad way.

So, I wrote a play. It is mostly inspired by a line in the email that New Play Project sent out advertising this event. ” All the plays chosen will be performed as a staged reading, so crazy stage directions (man explodes) are entirely possible.” In my Shakespeare class earlier that week, we had been discussing the play The Winter’s Tale, and how it contains one of the most famous stage directions Shakespeare ever wrote, “Exit, pursued by a bear.” We watched a film clip of the director for the Royal Shakespeare Company talking about how hard it is to stage this, as he said “The problem is not ‘exit, pursued by a bear’ the problem is ‘enter bear’!” How do you get a bear to enter?

And this led me to thinking. And I wrote a play, “Pursued by a bear”

Let me know what you think!

SCHOLAR

Good evening and welcome to tonight’s scholarly look at The Winter’s Tale by William Shakespeare. I’ll be your scholar and host, Professor Geoffrey Spencer Hall. We begin tonight where we left off yesterday, with Act III, Scene 3, the sea coast of Bohemia, a shipwreck.

This scene is possibly one of the more famous of this somewhat less than famous work by the Bard. Here we met Antigonus, a lord of Sicilia, carrying the infant daughter of King Leontes, who has been banished by the mad king who suspects the child of being the issue and evidence of adultery on the part of his wife and queen. Antigonus cannot bear to see the young innocent child killed, so he has a plan: he will leave her on the shore in the hopes that someone will find her. And just as he is abandoning her we have the most famous stage direction ever written: “Exit, pursued by a bear.”

(Enter Antigonus, running, pursued by a bear)

ANTIGONUS

Aaaaaah! Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah! Bear! Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!

SCHOLAR

There actually is no bear.

ANTIGONUS

Wha? But I’m being pursued by a bear.

SCHOLAR

No, you’re not.

ANTIGONUS

Yes, I am. It says right there in the script, “Exit, pursued by a bear.” !

SCHOLAR

Yes, that’s what the script says, but there is no actual bear.

ANTIGONUS

Then what’s that pursuing me?

SCHOLAR

The bear is merely a symbol, it never actually existed. Shakespeare uses the bear as a symbol of Mother Nature, of nature, and of mothers in general. It is a well known adage that one must never come between a mother bear and her cubs; her rage at anyone seen to be meddling with her offspring is legendary. And here Shakespeare uses a bear to exact Nature’s revenge upon the character of Antigonus, who is in the very act of exposing a child to the elements.

ANTIGONUS

I didn’t mean to, I am bound to serve my king! I wasn’t going to kill her, I swear!

SCHOLAR

Of course you weren’t! Not after that dream you had last night.

ANTIGONUS

How do you know about my dream?

SCHOLAR

It’s in the script, you give a big long monologue about it, describing how Hermoine, the queen and mother to this child, appeared to you in a vision. How you know by this apparition that she has died, most likely from grief at being spurned by her husband, labeled adulteress and traitor by her king, and having her newborn daughter ripped from her to be disposed of. She threatened you for undertaking this act, the will of your mad king, her husband, and swore in her wrath that you would never again see your own wife.

ANTIGONUS

Wow! That’s exactly what happened! You’re good.

SCHOLAR

Four centuries of scholars have debated on this subject. In your dream you saw the mother of the child you intended to kill come to avenge the wrongs done against her, and when you were about to leave her child to be exposed and die of the elements, the ultimate angry mother figure, the bear, appears to pursue and devour you.

ANTIGONUS

You mean I’m going to get eaten, too? That sucks! I’m just doing what I’m told.

SCHOLAR

Indeed you are. It seems Shakespeare is making a point here that was way ahead of its time, and would not become official until the Geneva Convention: that soldiers are not exempt from warcrimes or crimes against humanity simply because they were following orders. You were expected to disobey inhumane orders. What are you, a Nazi?

ANTIGONUS

What’s a Nazi?

SCHOLAR

Never mind.

(Sound cue: Bear roar and crashing through trees)

ANTIGONUS

What was that?

SCHOLAR

What was what?

ANTIGONUS

That roaring and crashing sound I just heard? Is that the bear coming to get me?

SCHOLAR

Don’t be ridiculous! I’ve told you there is no bear.

ANTIGONUS

I know, I know. It’s a symbol. But I’m pretty sure I just heard a bear.

SCHOLAR

No, you didn’t. But even if you did, I mean, even if there was an actual bear in the play, it is not pursuing you as much as it is being pursued.

ANTIGONUS

What does that mean?

SCHOLAR

Bear-baiting was a very popular form of public entertainment in Shakespeare’s day. Bears would be brought in and chained to a stake in the middle of a pit or theatre-like arena called a bear garden, and then trained hunting dogs would be loosed upon it until either the bear or the dogs were dead. And people would take bets on which would win the fight.

ANTIGONUS

That’s cruel!

SCHOLAR

Not in Shakespeare’s day, which is also yours, so shut up! It was much enjoyed by royalty and commoners alike. The only evidence we have of people disapproving of the sport in Shakespeare’s time only complained that it was being performed on Sundays, which the Puritans saw as ‘breaking the Sabbath’.

ANTIGONUS

And what does that have to do with me, and my imminent doom?

SCHOLAR

There is no doom! That bear in the play is not pursuing you, it is being pursued by dogs for sport! Shakespeare has written this bear into the play as either a clever social commentary or a cheap appeal to the audience’s baser pleasures.

ANTIGONUS

You mean, that this bear is chasing me because it is trying to exact revenge upon an Elizabethan society which revels in bear-baiting? It’s gonna eat me to stop me from siccing my dogs upon it and killing it?

SCHOLAR

That’s one theory, yeah. The other is that Shakespeare knew that bear-baiting was so popular and sought to give his public what they wanted: cheap entertainment in the form of a bear attack.

ANTIGONUS

A bear attacking me is entertainment?!

SCHOLAR

Sure, it’s funny! In a morbid, schadenfreude sort of way.

ANTIGONUS

Taking pleasure in my pain? Is that what Nazi is?

SCHOLAR

Close enough. Anyway, are we clear now that the bear is simply a symbol, or a figment of the mind? Something meant to encourage scholarly debate?

ANTIGONUS

If you say so. Though it sounds to me like scholars are kinda grasping at straws, here.

SCHOLAR

What do you mean by that?

ANTIGONUS

Well, it’s been four hundred years since these plays were written, right?

SCHOLAR

Yeah …

ANTIGONUS

And there has been this ‘scholarly debate’ since pretty much the beginning, right?

SCHOLAR

Yes. Learned men have been discussing the deeper themes and meanings ever since the first performance of William Shakespeare’s first play.

ANTIGONUS

Which means, that by now, you’ve probably run out of new intelligent things to say about them.

SCHOLAR

Wait a minute. These works are so universal, so wonderful-

ANTIGONUS

That there will always be new things to discuss? Do you really believe that? Or are you just trying to justify your career?

SCHOLAR

Well, maybe you’ve got a point. But it doesn’t change the fact that scholars agree that the bear in this play is not an actual bear but a symbol of something much more important!

(Bear growls and tree branch breaking sounds get louder)

ANTIGONUS

Oh, you mean that bear? That bear getting very dangerously close here, is just a symbol? A symbol of what?

SCHOLAR

Of … Of …. Of deeper themes. Of deep intellectual meaning. Of … Of irony and wit and scholarly stuff!

ANTIGONUS

Right. It looks to me like it’s just a hungry bear.

SCHOLAR

Which is exactly what it is! But it’s only hungry because it’s been starved to make it more aggressive when they send the dogs at it. It is a SYMBOL!

(Enter Bear, growling.)

SCHOLAR

Bear! Aaaaaah! Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah! Bear! Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!

(Exit. Pursued by a bear.)

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