THE BEGGAR: (outside) Bread. Bread. Bread. Give me some bread.
THE KING: Who is that crying in the street for bread?
THE SERVANT: (fanning) Your majesty, it is a beggar.
THE KING: I don’t like the sound of his voice. It’s annoying. Make him go away.
THE SERVANT: Your majesty, he’s already been sent away.
THE KING: Then why do I still hear his voice?
THE SERVANT: Your majesty, he has been sent away many times, yet each time that he is sent away he returns again, crying louder than before. Even yesterday, the beggar which you now hear crying aloud in the street was killed by your soldiers with a sword.
THE KING: Dead people cannot eat bread! People who have been killed with a sword do not go about in the streets crying for a piece of bread.
THE SERVANT: Yes, they do if they are like this beggar. Your soldiers already hit and injured this beggar for crying aloud in the streets for bread, but his wounds are already healed. They cut out his tongue, but he immediately grew another. They killed him, yet he is now alive.
THE BEGGAR’S voice suddenly cries out loudly.
THE BEGGAR: (outside) Bread. Bread. Give me some bread.
THE KING: Ah! He is shouting again. His voice seems to be louder than it was before. Make him stop!
THE SERVANT: (fanning vigorously) A crust of bread, your majesty, dropped from your window–that might prove a remedy.
THE KING: (angrily). If I gave him a crust today he would be just as hungry again tomorrow, and my troubles would be as great as before.
THE KING: Therefore, some other remedy must be found.
THE SERVANT: Perhaps a small crust of bread, your majesty-
THE KING: Ha! I have it. I have it. I myself will order him to stop.
THE SERVANT: (horrified) Your majesty!
THE KING: Send the beggar here.
THE SERVANT: Your majesty!
THE KING: Ha! I think the beggar will stop his annoying voice and shut up when the king commands him to. Ha, ha, ha!
THE SERVANT: Oh king, I will not have a beggar brought into our royal chamber
THE KING: (pleased with his idea) Yes. Go outside and tell this beggar that the king desires his presence.
THE SERVANT: (returning) Your majesty, here is the beggar.
THE BEGGAR follows THE SERVANT slowly into the royal chamber.
THE BEGGAR: (in a faint voice, after a slight pause) Are you the king?
THE KING: I am the king.
THE KING: (To THE BEGGAR) I have ordered you here to speak to you concerning a very grave matter. You are the beggar, I understand, who often cries aloud in the streets for bread. Now, the complaint of your voice annoys me greatly. Therefore, do not beg any more.
THE BEGGAR: (faintly) I…I do not understand.
THE SERVANT: (to THE BEGGAR) The king has commanded you to not beg for bread any more. The noise of your voice is garbage in his ears and annoying.
THE BEGGAR: I…I do not understand.
THE KING: Uugh! He is deafer than a stone wall.
THE SERVANT: Your majesty, he cannot be deaf, for he understood me quite easily when I spoke to him in the street.
THE BEGGAR: The words of your mouth I can hear perfectly. But their noise is only a foolish tinkling in my ears.
THE KING: Your behind will be tingling if you do not follow my orders. I, your king, have ordered you not to beg any more in the streets for bread. Signify that you will obey the orders of your king by quickly kissing the floor near my feet thrice.
THE BEGGAR: That is impossible.
THE KING: Come, now: I have ordered you to kiss your lips to the floor.
THE BEGGAR: Why should I kiss my lips to the floor?
THE KING: In order to seal your promise to your king.
THE BEGGAR: But I have made no promise. Neither have I any king.
THE KING: I have commanded you not to beg any more, for the sound of your voice is annoying. Kiss your lips now to the floor, as I have commanded you, and you shall go from this palace a free man. Refuse and you will be sorry that your father ever came within twenty metres of your mother.
THE BEGGAR: I have ever lamented that he did. For to be born into this world a beggar is a more unhappy thing than any that I know–unless it is to be born a king.
THE SERVANT: (aside) It is wise to do as the king commands you. His patience is near an end.
THE KING: Do not be afraid to soil my floor with your forehead. I will graciously forgive you for that.
THE BEGGAR stands motionless.
THE KING: Well? (A pause.) Well? (In a rage) WELL?
THE BEGGAR: Oh king, you have commanded me not to beg in the streets for bread, for the noise of my voice annoys you. Now therefore I likewise command you to remove your crown from your head and throw it from your window into the street.
THE KING: Pfft! You command me! You, a beggar from the streets, command me, a king, to remove my crown from my head and throw it from my window into the street!
THE BEGGAR: That is what I said.
THE KING: No! I will not throw my crown from that window, or from any other window.
THE BEGGAR: (preparing to leave) Spoken like a king. You are a king, so you would prefer to lose your head than that silly circle of gold that so foolishly sits upon it. But it is well. You are a king. You could not prefer otherwise.
He walks calmly toward the door.
THE KING: (to THE SERVANT) Stop him! Seize him! Does he think to get off so easily with his impudence!
THE BEGGAR: My strength is greater than a mountain and my words are more fearful than a hurricane. This servant of yours cannot even touch me. With one breath of my mouth I can blow over this whole palace.
THE KING: Do you hear the impudence he is giving me? Why do you not seize him? What is the matter with you? Why do you not call the guards?
He walks out. THE SERVANT struck dumb, stares after him. THE KING sits in his chair, dazed.
THE KING: (suddenly realizing) After him! After him! He must not be
allowed to escape! After him!
THE SERVANT: (faltering) O king–I cannot seem to move.
THE KING: Quick, then. Call the guards. He must be caught and put in chains. Quick, I say. Call the guards!
THE SERVANT: O king–I cannot seem to call them.
THE KING: How! Are you dumb? Ah!
THE BEGGAR’S voice is heard outside.
THE BEGGAR: Bread. Bread. Give me some bread.
THE KING: Ah. He turns toward the window, half-frightened, and then, almost instinctively, raises his hands toward his crown, and seems on the point of tossing it out the window. But with an oath he replaces it and presses it firmly on his head. How am I afraid of a beggar!
THE BEGGAR: (continuing outside) Bread. Bread. Give me some bread.
THE KING: (with terrible anger) Close that window!
THE SERVANT stands stupidly, and the voice of THE BEGGAR grows louder as the curtain falls.