THE KING OF A GREAT COUNTRY
A chamber in the palace overlooks a courtyard. The season is midsummer. The windows of the palace are open, and from a distance there comes the sound of a man’s voice crying for bread. THE KING sits in a golden chair. A golden crown is on his head, and he holds in his hand a sceptre which is also of gold. A SERVANT stands by his side, fanning him with an enormous fan of peacock feathers.
THE BEGGAR (outside). Bread. Bread. Bread. Give me some bread.
THE KING (languidly). Who is that crying in the street for bread?
THE SERVANT (fanning). O king, it is a beggar.
THE KING. Why does he cry for bread?
THE SERVANT. O king, he cries for bread in order that he may fill his belly.
THE KING. I do not like the sound of his voice. It annoys me very much. Send him away.
THE SERVANT (bowing). O king, he has been sent away.
THE KING. If that is so, then why do I hear his voice?
THE SERVANT. O king, he has been sent away many times, yet each time that he is sent away he returns again, crying louder than he did before.
THE KING. He is very unwise to annoy me on such a warm day. He must be punished for his impudence. Use the lash on him.
THE SERVANT. O king, it has been done.
THE KING. Then bring out the spears.
THE SEBVANT. O king, the guards have already bloodied their swords many times driving him away from the palace gates. But it is of no avail.
THE KING. Then bind him and gag him if necessary. If need be cut out his tongue. I do not like the sound of the fellow’s voice. It annoys me very much.
THE SERVANT. O king, thy orders were obeyed even yesterday.
THE KING (frowning). No. That cannot be. A beggar cannot cry for bread who has no tongue.
THE SERVANT. Behold he can—if he has grown another.
THE KING. What! Why, men are not given more than one tongue in a lifetime. To have more than one tongue is treason.
THE SERVANT. If it is treason to have more than one tongue, O king, then is this beggar surely guilty of treason.
THE KING (pompously). The punishment for treason is death. See to it that the fellow is slain. And do not fan me so languidly. I am very warm.
THE SERVANT (fanning more rapidly). Behold, O great and illustrious king, all thy commands were obeyed even yesterday.
THE KING. How! Do not jest with thy king.
THE SERVANT. If I jest, then there is truth in a jest. Even yesterday, O king, as I have told thee, the beggar which thou now hearest crying aloud in the street was slain by thy soldiers with a sword.
THE KING. Do ghosts eat bread? Forsooth, men who have been slain with a sword do not go about in the streets crying for a piece of bread.