The Birds

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The following script “THE BIRDS” by Aristophanes, was adapted and sent to Kidsinco by Michael Nolan.  This script may not be republished in any other website, blog, or forum, without Mr. Nolan written consent.

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THE BIRDS

CHARACTERS:

NARRATOR

MESSENGER

PI

CHORAGOS

SECOND MESSENGER

IRIS

HERALD

PARRICIDE

CINESIAS

LAWYER

 

SCRIPT: 

 

 

NARRATOR:  Birds! the sacrifice is propitious. But I see no messenger coming from the wall to tell us what is happening. Ah! here comes one running himself out of breath as though he were running the Olympic stadium. (Exit)

 

MESSENGER: Where, where is he? Where, where, where is he? Where, where, where is he? Where is Pi, our leader?

 

PI:  Here am I.

 

MESSENGER: The wall is finished.

 

PI:  That’s good news.

 

MESSENGER: ‘Tis a most beautiful, a most magnificent work of art. The wall is so broad that Proxy, the Braggart, and Theo could pass each other in their chariots, even if they were drawn by steeds as big as the Trojan horse.

 

PI: ‘Tis wonderful!

 

MESSENGER: Its length is one hundred stadia; I measured it myself.

 

PI: A decent length, by Poisidon! And who built such a wall?

 

MESSENGER: Birds–birds only; they had neither Egyptian brickmaker, nor stone-mason, nor carpenter; the birds did it all themselves; I couldhardly believe my eyes. Thirty thousand cranes came from Libya with a supply of stones, intended for the foundations. The water-rails chiselled them with their beaks. Ten thousand storks were busy making bricks; plovers and other water fowl carried water into the air.

 

PI: And who carried the mortar?

 

MESSENGER: Herons, in large bucketss.

 

PI: But how could they put the mortar into buckets?

 

MESSENGER: Oh! ’twas a truly clever invention; the geese used their feet like spades; they buried them in the pile of mortar and then emptied them into the buckets.

 

 

PI: Ah! to what use cannot feet be put?

 

MESSENGER: You should have seen how eagerly the ducks carried bricks. To complete the tale, the swallows came flying to the work, their beaks full of mortar and their trowel on their back, just the way little children are carried.

 

PI: Who would want paid servants after this? But tell me, who did the woodwork?

 

MESSENGER: Birds again, and clever carpenters too, the pelicans, for they squared up the gates with their beaks in such a fashion that one would have thought they were using axes; the noise was just like a dockyard. Now the whole wall is tight everywhere, securely bolted and well guarded; it is patrolled, bell in hand; the sentinels stand everywhere and beacons burn on the towers. But I must run off to clean myself; the rest is your business.

 

CHORAGOS: Well! what do you say to it? Are you not astonished at the wall being completed so quickly?

 

PI: By Zeus, yes, and with good reason. ‘Tis really not to be believed. But here comes another messenger from the wall to bring us some further news! What a fighting look he has!

 

SECOND MESSENGER: Oh! oh! oh! oh! oh! oh!

 

PI: What’s the matter?

 

SECOND MESSENGER: A horrible outrage has occurred; a guardian sent by Zeus has passed through our gates and has penetrated the realms of the air without the knowledge of the jays, who are on guard in the daytime.

 

PI: ‘Tis an unworthy and criminal deed. What guardian was it?

 

SECOND MESSENGER: We don’t know that. All we know is, that she has….WINGS!.

 

PI: Why were not guards sent against him at once?

 

SECOND MESSENGER: We have dispatched thirty thousand hawks of the legion of Mounted Archers. All the hook-clawed birds are moving against him they cleave the air, so that it resounds with the flapping of their wings; they are looking everywhere  away; indeed, if I mistake not, he is coming from yonder side! (Exits in fear)

 

 

PI: All arm themselves with slings and bows! This way, all our soldiers; shoot and strike! Some one give me a whip! 

 

(Choragos hands Pi whip)

 

 

PI: Thank you.

 

CHORAGOS: Don’t mention it, Sir.

 

 

PI: Quite thoughtful, I must say.

 

CHORAGOS: My pleasure, Sir.

 

PI: Tell me, Choragos, are we paying you well?

 

CHORAGOS: Indeed, Sir. Why just last week you gave me a sizeable pelican egg.

 

PI: Ah, yes, yes, and how did you like it?

 

CHORAGOS: Scrambled, Sir. Quite tasty.

 

PI: Ah, good, good. Er, and just by-the-by, should the pelicans ever drop in, let’s keep this little conversation to ourselves, hmmn? And ixnay on the ambledscray, eh? Pelicans are uncommonly sensitive about their offspring.

 

CHORAGOS: Mum’s the word, Sir.

 

PI: Good show, good show…..now where was I? Oh, yes……All arm themselves with sling and bows! This way all our soldiers; shoot and strike!

 

CHORAGOS: War, a terrible war is breaking out between us and the guardians! Come, let each one guard Air, the son of Erebus, in which the clouds float. Take care no immortal enters it without your knowledge. Scan all sides with your glance. Hark! methinks I can hear the rustle of the swift wings of a god from heaven.

 

(Iris enters as if landing)

 

PI: Hi! you woman! where are you flying to? Halt, don’t stir! keep motionless! not a beat of your wing!–Who are you and from what country? You must say whence you come!

 

IRIS: I come from the abode of the Guardians of Olympus. gods.

 

PI: What’s your name?

 

IRIS: I am swift Iris.

 

PI: Irish?

 

IRIS:  Iris. As of the eye. As in “Guardian of the air”?

 

PI: In a pigs eye.

 

IRIS: What do you mean?

 

PI: Let a buzzard rush at her and seize her!

 

IRIS: Seize me! But what do all these insults mean?

 

PI: Woe to you!

 

IRIS: ‘Tis incomprehensible!

 

PI: By which gate did you pass through the wall, wretched woman?

 

IRIS: By which gate? Why, great Zeus, I don’t know!

 

PI: You hear how she holds us in derision. Did you present yourself to the officers in command of the jays? You don’t answer. Have you a permit, bearing the seal of the storks?

 

IRIS: Am I awake?

 

PI: Did you get one?

 

IRIS: Are you mad?

 

PI: No head-bird gave you a safe-conduct?

 

IRIS: A safe-conduct to me, you poor fool!

 

PI: Ah! and so you slipped into this city on the sly and into these realms of air-land that don’t belong to you.

 

IRIS: And what other roads can the Guardians travel?

 

PI: By Zeus! I know nothing about that, not I. But they won’t pass this way. And you still dare to complain! Why, if you were treated according to your deserts, no Iris would ever have more justly suffered death.

 

IRIS: I am immortal.

 

PI: Er, well….You would have died nevertheless!–Oh! ‘twould be truly intolerable! What! should the universe obey us and the Guardians alone continue their insolence and not understand that they must submit to the law of the strongest in their due turn? But tell me, where are you flying to?

 

IRIS: I? The messenger of Zeus to mankind, I am going to tell them to sacrifice sheep and oxen on the altars and to fill their streets with the rich smoke of burning fat.

 

PI: Of which Guardians are you speaking?

 

IRIS: Of which? Why, of ourselves, the Guardians of Olympus.

 

PI: You?

 

IRIS: Are there others then?

 

PI: Men now adore the birds, and ’tis to them, by Zeus, that they must offer sacrifices, and not to Zeus at all!

 

IRIS: Oh! fool! fool! Rouse not the wrath of the Guardians, for ’tis terrible indeed. Armed with the brand of Zeus, Justice would annihilate your race; the lightning would strike you as it did Licimus and consume both your body and the porticos of your palace.

 

PI: Here! that’s enough tall talk. Just you listen and keep quiet! Do you take me for an idiot  and think to frighten me with your big words? Know, that if Zeus worries me again, I shall go at the head of my eagles, who are armed with lightning, and reduce his dwelling to cinders. I shall send more than six hundred pigeons clothed in leopards’ skins up to heaven against him; As for you, his messenger, if you annoy me, I shall begin by stretching your wings asunder.

 

IRIS: May you perish, you wretch, you and your infamous words!

 

PI: Won’t you be off quickly? Come, stretch your wings or look out for squalls! (Threatens her with club)

 

IRIS: If my father does not punish you for your insults…

 

PI: Ha!… but just you be off elsewhere to roast younger folk than us with your lightning. (Pi chases her off stage, brandishing his club)

 

CHORAGOS: We forbid the Guardians, the sons of Zeus, to pass through our city and the mortals to send them the smoke of their sacrifices by this road.

 

PI: ‘Tis odd that the messenger we sent to the mortals has never returned.

 

HERALD: (Bowing) Oh! blessed Pi, very wise, very illustrious, very….gracious, thrice happy, very… Come, prompt me, somebody, do.

 

PI: Get to your story!

 

HERALD: All peoples are filled with admiration for your wisdom, and they award you this golden crown. (Hands Pi the crown)

 

PI: I accept it. (Preening) But tell me, why do the people admire me?

 

HERALD: Oh you, who have founded so illustrious a city in the air, you know not in what esteem men hold you and how many there are who burn with desire to dwell in it.  This is what is happening down there. Finally, there are more than ten thousand folk who are coming here from earth to ask you for feathers and hooked claws; so, mind you supply yourself with wings for the immigrants.

 

PI: Ah! by Zeus, ’tis not the time for idling. Go as quick aspossible and fill every hamper, every basket you can find with wings. Bring them to me where I will welcome those who present themselves.

 

CHORAGOS: This town will soon be inhabited by a crowd of men.

 

PI: If fortune favours us.

 

HERALD: (lying down for a nap) Folk are more and more delighted with it.

 

PI: Come, hurry up and bring them along.

 

CHORAGOS: Will not man find here everything that can please him–wisdom, love, the divine Graces, the sweet face of gentle peace?

 

PI: Oh! You obstinant servant! Won’t you hurry yourself? Let a basket of wings be brought speedily. Come, beat him as I do, and put some life into him; he is as lazy as a donkey. We must prepare!.

 

HERALD: (deep in idle thought) Begin by putting this heap of wings in order; divide them in three parts according to the birds from whom they came; the singing, the prophetic and the aquatic birds; then you must take care to distribute them to the men according to their character……

 

PI:  (To Herald) Oh! by the kestrels! I can keep my hands off you no longer; you are too slow and lazy altogether. (beating him off stage with whip)

 

(Enter Parricide)

 

PARRICIDE: Oh! might I but become an eagle, who soars in the skies! Oh! might I fly above the azure waves of the barren sea!

 

PI: Ha! ‘twould seem the news was true; I hear someone coming who talks of wings.

 

PARRICIDE: Nothing is more charming than to fly; I burn with desire to live under the same laws as the birds; I am bird-mad and fly towards you, for I want to live with you and to obey your laws.

 

PI: Which laws? The birds have many laws.

 

PARRICIDE: All of them; but the one that pleases me most is, that among the birds it is considered a fine thing to peck and strangle one’s father.

 

PI: Aye, by Zeus! according to us, he who dares to strike his father, while still a chick, is a brave fellow.

 

PARRICIDE: And therefore I want to dwell here, for I want to strangle my father and inherit his wealth.

 

PI: But we have also an ancient law written in the code of the storks, which runs thus, “When the stork father has reared his young and has taught them to fly, the young must in their turn support the father.”

 

PARRICIDE: ‘Tis hardly worth while coming all this distance to be compelled to keep my father!

 

PI: No, no, young friend, since you have come to us with such willingness, I am going to give you these black wings, as though you were an orphan bird; furthermore, some good advice, that I received myself in infancy. Don’t strike your father, but take these wings in one hand and these spurs in the other; imagine you have a crest on your head and go and mount guard and fight; live on your pay and respect your father’s life. You’re a gallant fellow! Very well, then! Fly toThrace and fight.

 

PARRICIDE: By Bacchus! ‘Tis well spoken; I will follow your counsel. (exits)

 

PI: (shouting after him) Act wisely, by Zeus!

 

(Enter Cinesias a poet)

 

 

CINESIAS: “On my light pinions I soar off to Olympus; in its capricious flight my Muse flutters along the thousand paths of poetry in turn…”

 

PI:  This is a fellow will need a whole shipload of wings.

 

CINESIAS: (singing) “…and being fearless and vigorous, it is seeking fresh outlet.”

 

PI: Welcome, Cinesias, you lime-wood man! Why have you come here a-twisting your game leg in circles?

 

CINESIAS: (singing) “I want to become a bird, a tuneful nightingale.”

 

PI: Enough of that sort of ditty. Tell me what you want.

 

CINESIAS: Give me wings and I will fly into the topmost airs to gather fresh songs in the clouds, (singing) “ in the midst of the vapours and the fleecy snow.”

 

PI: Gather songs in the clouds?

 

CINESIAS: ‘Tis on them the whole of our latter-day art depends. The most brilliant dithyrambs are those that flap their wings in void space and are clothed in mist and dense obscurity. To appreciate this, just listen………

 

PI: Oh! no, no, no!

 

CINESIAS: By Hermes! but indeed you shall. (Singing) “I shall travel through thine ethereal empire like a winged bird, who cleaveth space with his long neck…”

 

PI: Stop! No more, please.

 

CINESIAS: (singing) “..as I soar over the seas, carried by the breath of the winds…”

 

PI: By Zeus! but I’ll cut your breath short.

 

CINESIAS: (singing) “…now rushing along the tracks of Notus, now nearing Boreas across the infinite wastes of the ether.” (PI beats him) Ah! old man, that’s very cruel, truly!

 

PI: What! are you not delighted to be cleaving the air?

 

CINESIAS: To treat a dithyrambic poet, for whom the tribes dispute with each other, in this style!

 

PI: Will you stay with us and form a chorus of winged birds?

 

CINESIAS: You are making game of me, ’tis clear; but know that I shall never leave you in peace if I do not have wings wherewith to traverse the air. (Exits angrily)

 

(Enter a Lawyer)

 

LAWYER: What are these birds with downy feathers, who look so pitiable to me? Tell me, oh swallow with the long dappled wings.

 

PI: Oh! but ’tis a regular invasion that threatens us. Here comes another of them, humming along.

 

LAWYER: Swallow with the long dappled wings, once more I summon you.…. Where is he who gives out wings to all comers?

 

PI: ‘Tis I, but you must tell me for what purpose you want them.

 

LAWYER: Ask no questions. I want wings, and wings I must have.

 

PI: Do you want to fly straight to Athens?

 

LAWYER:  I? Why, I am an accuser in that city, a LAWYER…

 

PI: (sarcastically) A fine trade, truly!

 

LAWYER: A hatcher of lawsuits. Hence I have great need of wings to prowl round the cities and drag them before justice.

 

PI: Would you do this better if you had wings?

 

LAWYER: No, but I should no longer fear the pirates; I should return with the cranes, loaded with a supply of lawsuits by way of ballast.

 

PI: So it seems, despite all your youthful vigour, you make it your trade to denounce strangers?

 

LAWYER: Well, and why not? I don’t know how to dig ditches.

 

PI: But, by Zeus! There are honest ways of gaining a living at your age without all this infamous trickery.

 

LAWYER: My friend, I am asking you for wings, not for words.

 

PI:  ‘Tis just my words that give you wings.

 

LAWYER:  And how can you give a man wings with your words?

 

PI: ‘Tis thus that all first start.

 

LAWYER: All?

 

PI: Have you not often heard the father say to young men in the barbers’ shops, “It’s astonishing how Pi’s advice has made my son fly to horse-riding.”–“Mine,” says another, “has flown towards tragic poetry on the wings of his imagination.”

 

LAWYER:  So that words give wings?

 

PI: Undoubtedly; words give wings to the mind and make a man soar to heaven. Thus I hope that my wise words will give you wings to fly to some less degrading trade.

 

LAWYER: But I do not want to.

 

PI: What do you reckon on doing then?

 

LAWYER: I won’t belie my breeding; from generation to generation we have lived by lawyering. Quick, therefore, give me quickly some light, swift hawk or kestrel wings, so that I may summon the islanders, sustain the accusation here, and haste back there again on flying pinions.

 

PI: I see. In this way the stranger will be condemned evenbefore he appears.

 

LAWYER: That’s just it!

 

PI: And while he is on his way here by sea, you will be flying to the islands to despoil him of his property.

 

LAWYER: You’ve hit it, precisely; I must whirl hither and thither like a perfect humming-top.

 

PI: I catch the idea. Wait, i’ faith, I’ve got some fine leather wings. (takes out a whip) How do you like them?

 

LAWYER: Oh! woe is me! Why, ’tis a whip!

 

PI: No, no; these are the wings, I tell you,that set the top a-spinning.

 

LAWYER: Oh! oh! oh!

 

PI:  (cracking the whip) Take your flight, clear off, you miserable cur, or you will soon see what comes of quibbling and lying. Come, let us gather up our wings and withdraw. (Exits)

 

NARRATOR:

In my ethereal flights’  I have seen many things

new and strange, and wondrous beyond belief.

There is a tree called congress,  Belonging to an unknown species;  it has no heart, is good for nothing

and is as tall as it is cowardly.

In springtime it shoots forth laws,  instead of buds
and in autumn – it strews the ground  with verbage

in the place of leaves.

 

THE END

 

AUTHOR: ARISTOPHANES

(Adapted for high school performance)

 

 

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