A Play for the Robert Burns Club

wrote this in an hour, just ahead of a meeting of the Wester-Ross Burns Club last year. I was the narrator, Mel MacGregor was a very convincing Robert Burns and Tony Davis played William Shakespeare beautifully, in a broad west country accent. Near enough! Neither had seen the thing until I thrust the pages into their hands. Great sports and typical of our little outpost of the Burns empire. Anyway thought you might enjoy ...


Two Gentlemen in a FarOff Land.

A Short Play for The Wester-Ross Burns Club


This all takes place in a land flowing with milk and honey, a land where all the good folk go when they get tired of planet earth - or planet earth tires of them. Two men meet up, greet each other warmly, sit down for a chat  on a grassy bank alongside the slow moving Milk river. The sun shines just warm upon them and down  this sylvan glen.

Don’t ask what these two look like or what they’re wearing. They look as you want them to look and they wear what you feel they should be wearing.

Most of the language is here translated into modern English, or indeed any other language known to or preferred by the listener.  Note also that in a land of milk and honey neither time nor distance exists at all. Let us begin …

RB: Now then, Will, how’s she hangin’?

WS: That’s horrible. And I’ve told you before, my friend, I’m William, not Will and you are Robert, not Rabbie. But yes, as a matter of fact she’s hangin’ pretty well. Having said that, I’ve just been watching my ‘As You Like It’ being played on that television thing with the men dressed up as those nasty old nazis and the girls as ladies of the night. Not at all as I like it. Robert. Oh, what they do to us, once they think we’re dead and gone!

RB: Right. (Chuckles) As You Like It indeed! You know how much I used to like it. (Sighs)

WS: Strange, wasn’t it, Robert, how, ever since that lovely old Garden of Eden, sex seemed to be everything for so much of the time. Seems such a waste of your adult years there on earth, doesn’t it?

RB: Well - it’s just the way of it. The way He put is all together, yes? Pal of mine once told me; ‘it’ll pull you more than dynamite’ll blow you’.

WS: Not too too elegantly put but yes … There was this dark lady …

RB: I read all about her in your sonnets, William. Very discreet. Not like my lassies at all. No sooner I bedded them than there they were - still are - in my verse. But I don’t spend much time looking down there these days. Maybe just now and then I’ll look in on some of their Hogmanays -

WS (interrupting): Their new years eves, don’t you mean? No colloquialisms, remember?

RB: OK - sorry - I mean yes. But there’s millions of them at it with the crossing arms and holding hands and running out of words after verse one. Of course we don’t do vainglory here, William, but if we did I’d have to say there’s more at the auld acquaintance not being forgot, when all the rest of it has been, than well, than anything else written or sung by the live ones, poor things.

William holds out his hand, palm uppermost. Bees zoom in on it from all quarters, alight to deliver their succulent loads. A small pyramid of honey at once begins to grow.

WS: You must be right about that. I often wonder why I myself didn’t do more poetry in the form of song. Big, big impact. Oh yes indeed: Greensleeves; Bring On The Clowns; My Heart Is Like A Red, Red Rose; Ain’t Gonna Work No More On Maggie’s Farm.

William nods ‘enough’ and the bees disappear. He raises hand to mouth, licks up their sweet libation. Continues …

WS: Yes, strong stuff, that songbook of yours. By the way, I meant to ask you, when are all the seas due to gang dry?

RB: When? Honey, honey. Think I’ll join you with some of that.

Robert holds out his own hand. Bees arrive, get to work. He continues…

RB: The seas are going to gang dry any time now, says the boss. When they’ve warmed up their old planet enough there’s a critical point when all the oceans suddenly evaporate. Too bad.

WS: Going to get a wee bit overcrowded for us here then?

RB: Doubt it, Will - William. He tells me there’s not all that many down there will qualify when the time comes. Oh, look here, my friend!

A beautiful young lady, floating apparently on a raft of wild flowers and splayed out long blonde hair is drifting slowly by, carried by the flow of the Milk river current. 

WS: Ophelia! That’s my Ophelia, Robert. (Breaks into song) Isn’t she lovely, made for love.

Robert springs to his feet, flings his arms wide (forgetting the accumulation of honey which runs all down his arm) declaims …RB:

Ophelia, thy charms my bosom fire,
And waste my soul with care;
But ah! how bootless to admire,
When fated to despair!

Yet in thy presence, lovely Fair,
To hope may be forgiven;
For sure 'twere impious to despair
So much in sight of heaven.

WS: Heaven! That’s a nice one.

He’s looking down at his hand in the grass. A tiny fieldmouse has hopped on and is nibbling away at the last trace of honey.

WS: Hey, just look at this little chap. Is he not enjoying himself! Oh, but he’s gone in a flash!

RB: That was my wee timorous beastie, you ken? Oh, Timmy, little Timmy.

I'm truly sorry man's dominion
Has broken nature's social union,
And justifies that ill ‘ opinion
Which makes thee startle
At me, thy poor earth-born companion,
And fellow mortal.

William rises to join his standing friend. Ophelia is seen swimming ashore, climbing out of the river, smoothing back her long golden tresses.

WS: But your tiny friend is not mortal, Robert, any more than are you or I. We are here all immortal, remember?

RB: She isn’t - wasn’t; your Ophelia, no? But I often wondered … she was, like, someone you knew, William? Down there?

WS: Of course. Every character one created was like someone you knew. Ophelia was actually Beatrice, a farm girl in the village where I grew up.

RB: Laughs.

By the by, gentlefolk. I should have told you: ‘human’ emotions are all here in this place - provided they’re the positive ones - joy, satisfaction, love (non-carnal of course) etc. No negative waves. No fear or hatred or anything downbeat, right?

Meantime the young lady Ophelia has taken off her filmy dress and now stands there naked, wringing out the milk. The two in conversation take little notice.

RB continues: You know we were so much alike, William. You had a fancy for this Beatrice / Ophelia? Of course you did. So alike. We both of us impregnated young girls when still not far out of our minority. What was it you had your Othello say? “One that loved not wisely but too well”? And we both worked on farms before gravitating to the big city, both earned a measure of fame in our own lifetimes, both learned so much from books without doing overmuch in the way of schooling, etcetera.

WS: Yes, and we both used things of long ago on which to weave what they called our tapestries of words. You used Scottish traditional songs. Me, I used Ovid and those other good old storytellers.

RB: But you ended up moneyed and comfortable and I died poor and most uncomfortable. It’s very hard, even here, to think charitably about that doctor who told me to swim in the sea every freezing day. Yes, you ended up better than me. You were the better businessman, William. But it’s a funny thing, I seldom had any money but never felt like a poor man, ever. Hungry yes, but poor? Never. A man’s a man for all that and all that.

WS: We are such stuff as dreams are made on. But comfortable in death? No, sir. I died of exposure after a night out in an alehouse near Stratford with my old compatriot, Mister Ben Johnson. You know, the one who wrote my epitaph: “Not for our time but for all time”? Found in a ditch! What an inglorious ending. Not exactly any flights of angels taking me to my rest. I just arrived here all by myself. Don’t quite know how.

RB: Ah, William Shakespeare - Man of mystery! But all’s well that ends well.

WS: One of these days we’ll have to write something together. Play, poem and song all in one. By Robert Shakespeare and William Burns. Come on, let’s go find some of the others. (Calls out) Come with us, Ophelia. No, no need to bother with the dress.

The three of them wander off across the meadow and into the trees, singing together, Should old acquaintance be forgot, And never …but no crossed arms.

The sun has not moved in the sky, nor will it move in this land where the trees never shed their leaves and the birds never cease to sing and where there are no noxious people nor any of the trials and tribulations that come with noxious people. So there are none of the human problems that William Shakespeare and Robert Burns had spent their earthly lives trying their very best to explain, justify or cover up with words of such an everlasting beauty.









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