The Awakening of Sycorax
(c) 1998, Dominique Millette. (French original here).
English translation: (c) 2004, Dominique Millette
Originally produced in French by the Great Canadian Theatre Company as part of 10 x 10, an event co-sponsored by the National Arts Centre of Canada and featuring ten playwrights, performed on April 5th, 1998.
Sycorax is a witch, deceased mother of Caliban and once mistress of the island upon which was shipwrecked Prospero, Duke of Milan, according to The Tempest by William Shakespeare. The noise of the tempest invoked by Prospero has caused the appearance of the ghost of Sycorax.
The setting is a clearing where we see a rustic table, a few chairs and a primitive shelf, all of which are overflowing with books. One of the books is open on the table.
Sycorax enters on stage, her clothes in rags and covered with moss, small branches and dead leaves. She bobs and weaves a bit. She is walking with the aid of a stick, a long gnarled branch which she will use throughout the monologue. She looks around her and sighs loudly.
That was all I needed: a storm that's bad enough to wake the dead. And I was sleeping like a baby not so long ago.
With everything I see around here, I'd much rather go back and lie down in a coffin.
She shakes her head slowly.
The insults Prospero's been slinging at me. “With age and envy grown into a hoop”, eh? At my age, I had a perfect right to a few wrinkles. They gave me some character. “The foul witch Sycorax”?? Thanks a lot, buddy. As if this Prospero guy didn't lord it over everybody like a class-A jerk, especially my poor kid Caliban.
Imitating a man's voice:
“Hag-seed, hence. Fetch us in fuel – and be quick... If thou neglect'st, or dost unwillingly what I command, I'll rack thee with old cramps.”
Sycorax glances around her and pulls a face at the books all over the table, the chairs and the ground. She stoops, picks up a few of them and puts them away neatly on the shelf, while continuing her monologue.
On top of everything else, he's been leaving his books lying around ever since he got here. That really pisses me off. The guy has no respect. When I was running things, it was clean around here. Is it my fault or Caliban's if the wind brought Mister Fancy-Pants-Duke-of-Milan over? The guy takes over the place. He wants his daughter to be queen of Naples, he wants to get revenge on his brother for stealing his duchy and he uses Ariel – a spirit I conjured up first –like some kind of magic mop to do everything for him... And after all that, I'm the jerk?
She straightens herself up then leans on her stick.
I figure it's about time I told my side of the story. But I’m a ghost, so nobody can hear me and I'm invisible. This is just great. I guess people can say anything they want now. My powers sure aren't what they used to be. But I was a somebody, back in the day.
Sycorax paces back and forth on the stage.
Suffering Setebos. What have they done to my island? It was MINE. Caliban, you foolish boy, you were had. Prospero really pulled a number on you.
She stops and puts her hand on her hip.
And Prospero complains my son has a bad character. Of course, this is all my fault. I was a terrible mom. I brought him up all wrong. What about his dad? Nobody mentions him. You think it was easy being a single mom-witch? Can you say “multitask”? I had to change the diapers while I was controlling the moon and tides. As a result, the spirits I ordered around wouldn't take me seriously. I had to get mad and put my foot down. So then, of course, I was a total bitch.
She picks up an open book that's lying on the table and reads aloud from it:
“You can always recognize witches practicing black magic by their horrid appearance and evil disposition...»
She raises her head.
Bullshit. Prospero's not exactly Adonis, is he? Never mind his personality.
She resumes pacing back and forth.
What about Caliban? Was he supposed to be happy Prospero took his inheritance? Prospero might have protected him some – but who took care of Mister Duke of Milan when he got shipwrecked over here, eh? The guy wouldn't have lasted too long without my son's help. Maybe Caliban shouldn't have befriended Prospero, but the kid was all alone in the world after I died. He needed love, just like anybody would. He didn't expect to get treated like a slave. Prospero might talk on and on about how he supposedly civilized my son, but Caliban could speak before Mister the Big Fat Duke showed up. He just didn't speak the same way, that's all. “Thou wouldst gabble like a thing most brutish”, my ass. Prospero forced Caliban to talk like him just to use the kid.
Okay, so Caliban was enough of a jerk to try to feel up that little Miranda. And I don't blame her for objecting to that. Even if the kid is my son, I can see he's an ugly mutt. It might not be his fault, but there you go. He looks exactly like his dad. I didn't really want him but I couldn't get rid of him before he was born. Eventually, I felt sorry for the kid. It's a done deal.
I know where Miranda's coming from, though. Caliban's dad was disgusting. He was twice as powerful as I was and twice my age. He gave me a potion and when I woke up, I could see what had happened. That's how I ended up with Caliban.
She stops and crosses her arms.
Of course, everybody said that was all my fault too. When I was Miranda's age, people said I was beautiful. I never knew whether it was supposed to be a compliment or a curse. I was accused of seducing every man who came my way. Sure. Half the guys accusing me of trying to seduce them were regular gargoyles, especially Caliban's dad. I wouldn't have approached them for all the money in the world if I could have decided otherwise. Of course, it would piss them off twice as much when I told them that to their faces, which is one of the reasons I ended up in exile over here.
She shakes her head again
That Miranda kid is pathetic, almost as much as my son. Poor little babe in the woods. It doesn't even enter her pretty little head that she might have the right to rule as much as her father does. Of course, Prospero didn't exactly get her used to thinking for herself. You can tell.
She takes a book out of the shelf and reads the title out loud:
“Assorted spells to ensure absolute power... “ Looks like Miranda never read any of those. Poor kid. She has no idea what she's really in for. Her good-looking Ferdinand looks like a lot of fun on first impression, but just wait about five years. He'll start running around, once Miranda has his kids. Queen Miranda's going to weave all these nice tapestries in her castle, waiting for the king to come home to a cold pheasant dinner. At least she'll have a castle. I wasn't so lucky when I got stuck over here.
Love, love, love. It isn't like I haven't been there. I bought into the whole fairy tale, hook, line and sinker. I fell in love with the best-looking male witch anyone ever saw. Beautiful Romanex... I would have done anything for him, at first. What I really didn't understand at the time was how much I upset him when I wanted to do my own thing. He just took it for granted that I would want to take care of HIS needs, HIS spells, and HIS curses. I never would have had any time to take care of my own clientele with all that. I wouldn't have had the time to save my native town during the war, either. That's the only reason I was left alive instead of getting burned at the stake.
People got scared of me and my magic. It figures. My magic was exactly what saved them in the first place. I'd studied for ten years: magic from A to Z. “Get an education”, people said to me. “You'll have a better future.” So I studied plants, diseases, meteorology, spells, classic incantations, the whole enchilada. I could have controlled an entire continent.
My great love affair didn't last long with Romanex. I was putting on airs, getting too full of myself, he said. According to him, my job was to contribute to his personal glory, not mine. Turns out he'd chosen me because he wanted to use my abilities as much as he wanted to use me like some kind of decoration. So: when I neglected to improve his career, he suddenly decided I was pigheaded, disagreeable, difficult, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. Then he went and told everyone else what he thought of me.
Things didn't quite turn out the way he expected. Once everyone knew the two of us were fighting, all the male witches started chasing me around. I felt like a walking target.
Romanex turned on me right away. He didn't believe me when I told him I didn't want Caliban's dad. He wasn't the only one. Everyone said I would say anything and destroy anyone just to look better than other people...They even said none of the male witches would really want me because I was such a pain in the ass, and that I was the one who seduced Caliban's dad so I could steal his powers.
Things went from bad to worse. Little witches gossiped constantly about me. Every time they did something wrong, it was all my fault. When the people in my home town denounced me, Romanex was the first to encourage them. I'd trusted him so much – all for nothing. So much for love.
She sighs with bitterness and melancholy.
I was exiled here, in the middle of nowhere. At first, there was nothing around me. It was practically a desert, with two or three shriveled up trees. I cultivated some beautiful forests, dug three big lakes, created five rivers. I planted every flower in the world here, thanks to my secret formula micro-climates. I created dozens of species of parrots, a handful of different types of monkeys, several families of deer and wild cats, five branches of marsupials, and tons of other creatures. It was tough going. I used up all my powers at maximum intensity. I had to rest often.
With all that work I did, Prospero waltzes in here and chops down some trees to build a house and make a fire. Why can't that guy just live in a nice cave, like I did? And why can't he use rocks instead of all that wood for his house? Since when does a magician – a REAL magician– need any wood for his fire? It's MY wood, too.
She takes a few more books from the table and chairs and adds them to the shelf.
Maybe I should just burn all of his paperwork. At his age, I'd memorized all of MY incantations, instead of letting everything lie around like that.
Ariel isn't much better, with his holier-than-thou act. That little hypocrite was such a pissy snob back then. He didn't want to take any orders from the likes of me. He was constantly talking about the great magicians of yore who'd had him at their service: the Wise Man Balthazar, or the Great Simon. Well excuse me. Why not “the Great Sycorax, who saved her home town”? Of course, I've been forgotten. Almost. In most encyclopaedias, I'm known as “the mother of Caliban,” as if the only thing I ever did was pop a kid out. Then again, I wasn't the Duke of Milan, was I? I was just a witch, with a baby in tow.
On top of everything else, Ariel thought I wasn't doing my job right. He wanted my island. I wasn't stupid. He was always ready to criticize:
She imitates the voice of an annoying young man:
“The rivers aren't flowing in the right direction. The flowers don't match. It shouldn't rain so much all the time. It's too hot around here.”
Speaking in her own voice, she continues:
I got fed up, especially when Ariel started changing the weather without warning people. He killed my squirrels, some orchids and all kinds of bushes. It took me months to fix everything. I had to lock him up for good. I'm not surprised if Prospero thought his little protégé was a pathetic sight. Yes, I did lock Ariel up in a tree. Not very comfortable, I admit: but just try and lock up a spirit otherwise. There's just no other way to do it.
That's not the only thing. Ariel didn't like Caliban, who was just too butt-ugly for Mister Spirit of the Air. He really bullied my kid, just for being different. Caliban developed a real complex because of him. I should have gotten rid of Ariel a lot sooner. I tried to tell Caliban: “Come on, honey. Ariel isn't better than you. Don't cry because of him.” But I didn't convince him. By the time Prospero got here, he treated my kid with a little respect at first. Caliban was so grateful that someone was being nice to him, he was ready to do just about anything. I can understand that. It was just a real shame.
I never could help Caliban. I tried everything to make him look better: potions, incantations, lotions, enemas, herbs, a better wardrobe. Poor kid. His dad's ugliness was really makeover-resistant. He would feel even worse afterwards, when the treatments didn't work.
When I think of Ariel's reactions to all my efforts...He thought it was a riot. His attitude toward my son alone would have been enough to justify what I did to that pissant little spirit-head.
No, I certainly don't regret having put Ariel in his place. The only thing I regret now is that I'm invisible. It's a real drag being just a ghost. If only Caliban could see me, at least. We could change everything.
Wait a minute…
She looks around her.
Maybe there's something in one of these books I can use. You never know. Even if I do think Prospero's only half the magician I was. There might have been some innovations in the field since I've been gone…
She scans the covers of various books rapidly and avidly, then pauses in triumph
She reads aloud.
“Tempests for Dead Dummies: the conjuring of freezing rain storms by the dead, undead, novices and various spirits who do not take human form.”
Perfect. Now they're going to see what a REAL storm looks like.
She strikes the floor with her staff as the sound of thunder is heard and a flash of lightning appears in the background.