WhitbyA “chessboard” drama centered on powerful historical players.

The Venerable Bede, famed chronicler of English history, is having a rough morning. It’s a cold winter’s day in A.D. 728 and he’s due to complete a chapter on the Synod of Whitby – a pivotal event in Anglo-Saxon history when scheming kings, queens and bishops decided the fate of Northern Christianity.

What’s written in the history books, however, is only the beginning of the story…

  • Staged reading at the Annisquam Library – July 2010
  • Reading at Zero Point Theater – November 2012

EXCERPT

ACT I, Scene 1

(Day. A dimly lit monastic cell in the monastery of Saint Paul’s, Jarrow. There is a slanted desk with a piece of vellum on it, a stool, an inkhorn, a sharp knife and a quill pen on the corner of the stage. It is early winter in the year A.D. 728. Bede, 59-years-old, a vigorous man who has survived the plague, enters. He is dressed as a monk and carries a wax tablet on his belt. He is feeling the effects of the cold.)

BEDE
(beating his arms with his hands)

Laud my foot. Praise be that I still have feet after that debacle. When, pray tell, my lord, are you planning to admit Brother Ecgbert to the divine kingdom? The man appears to have no control over wits or bowels.

(BEDE sees the desk and sighs.)

Yes, yes, I know, bless me father, three lashings and the curse of chilblains forever more.

(BEDE sits down at the desk and picks up the knife and the quill pen.)

Right. Book Three. Chapter 25.

It is very hard to write history when you can’t feel your toes.

Especially English history.

Not that I am complaining.

Much.

The trouble is, of course, I want it to be good. No, not just good, important. Definitive. Alive in hearts long after I’m gone. My old, old sin. Lucifer would be proud.

Right. Mustn’t grumble. Application, Bede, application. Winter sceal geweorpan, weder eft cuman. We hope. Chapter 25: Anno Domini 664. How the controversy arose about the due time of keeping Easter.

ACT I, Scene 2

(A.D. 664. The courtyard of HILD’s double monastery in Northumbria. At the time the monastery was called Streaneshalch; today it is called Whitby. The Abbess HILD enters, walking briskly across the stage. Enter King OSWIU from the opposite side.)

HILD
Well, good morning, my lord.

OSWIU
Abbess.

HILD
I trust your accommodations are satisfactory.

OSWIU
Most. With one possible exception. Am I to take the straggly crown of hawthorn hung over my door as a decorative touch or an insult?

HILD
A reminder.

OSWIU
Ah, I had forgotten.

HILD
The perils of old age.

OSWIU
And what’s that? Thyme?

HILD
Sage.

OSWIU
For my bedroom?

HILD
For the pain.

OSWIU
It is very good of you to agree to be the host for our little affair.

HILD
To hear is to obey. And you are fooling no one, my lord, with your flattery. Wilfrid and your son arrived yesterday, both breathing fire.

OSWIU
Wilfrid?

HILD
Your son’s abbot at Ripon. He is here to argue for the Roman tradition.

OSWIU
Ah. I have a vague recollection of a weedy boy being fondled by my sainted wife.

HILD
He has grown into a fine, weedy man. And you mock me again, my lord. You know full well who he is. In fact, I’d imagine his expulsion of Celtic monks from Ripon has a lot to do with your presence.

OSWIU
You have not changed, Hild. You are still the mayflower you were thirty years ago.

HILD
I have God to thank for that.

OSWIU
And I am an old man grown wrinkled by the cares of my kingdom. Still, at least I am here.

HILD
I have God to thank for that too.

(Enter COLMAN. He is dirty and in pain.)

OSWIU
Christ enters the fortress of peace. How was your journey?

COLMAN
My bones hurt.

OSWIU
In Northumbria it’s the custom that the bishop rides the ass and not the other way around.

COLMAN
Mary’s lame. Took fright at one of your blasted roosters and pitched me into a ditch.

HILD
Oh my poor cuckoo. I’ll get you a poultice.

OSWIU
The man’s Irish, Hild, get him a drink.