Dramatis Personae:

JOHN, PAUL, GEORGE, RINGO, MACBETH, THREE APPARITIONS, TIM

Setting:

A small cave in a remote Scottish mountainside. Sometime in the early Middle Ages. Shortly before tea time.

Enter Ringo and Paul.

RINGO:

Are you sure this is the right place? It doesn't look like The Cavern to me.

PAUL:

(Folding up his map and stuffing it into the pocket of his tunic) It's a different cavern. This is the cave where our mums meet up each week for their cookery club. They keep their stash of ingredients over there, behind that stalagmite. C'mon. Follow me to the pantry.

RINGO:

(Falling into step behind Paul) So you've been here before?

PAUL:

Just once, last week. Mum showed me where she keeps everything so we'd be able to host our guest. Or rather, her guest. Their guest.

RINGO:

Do John and George know how to get here?

PAUL:

They should. I gave them directions.

Paul leads Ringo to the rear of the cave. They start pulling ingredients off the shelves of a pantry. A mewling sound echoes back to them from the front of the cave.

RINGO:

Do you think that's…?

PAUL:

Our friend the cat lover? Probably. Hello! John? Is that you?

Enter John.

JOHN:

No. That was Tim. He's around here somewhere. Where are you, baby? Meow! Meow! Meow!

RINGO:

(In a worried voice) So Tim's still lost then, is he?

JOHN:

All who wander are not lost. I'm sure the lad's just on the prowl, sowing his wild oats.

John steps to the back of the cave to join Paul and Ringo.

JOHN:

I've brought some root of hemlock and fillet of fenny snake in my rucksack. Mum said the cavern's supplies were running low.

PAUL:

Good. (He rummages through the pantry.) Bullocks, what do you make of the little balls in this jar? Are they eyes of newts or gallstones of goats?

RINGO:

Damned if I can tell. But I think the recipe calls for both. Let's see what else we need. (He pulls a sheet of parchment out of his tunic pocket and holds it at an angle so he can read the words in the dim light filtering through the cavern's mouth.) "Wool of bat, tongue of dog, nose of Turk, Tartar's lip, lizard's leg…"

JOHN:

Ooh, I do like a nice leg of lizard with my tea. Don't you?

RINGO:

(Nodding) Taste likes chicken.

PAUL:

(Inspecting two desiccated amphibian corpses.) Which one do you suppose is the frog, and which is the toad?

JOHN:

(Holding the carcasses up to the light) Does it matter?

RINGO:

Well, it says in this recipe that we only need the frog's toe, but we use the entire toad. That's assuming, of course, that this toad is venomous and has been sweltering under a stone for thirty-one days.

JOHN:

It looks to me like both of these carcasses have been sweltering under a stone for at least that long. We should probably get the fire started.

The three men collect their ingredients and start walking towards the black cauldron sitting beneath a stalactite near the front of the cave.

GEORGE:

(Singing from just outside the cavern's entrance.) Have you seen the little piggies, crawling in the dirt?

RINGO:

No, but I heard one of them whining thrice plus once as we were arriving, so I think 'tis time.

Enter George.

GEORGE:

His royal thaneship hasn't arrived yet?

PAUL:

No, but we're running behind schedule ourselves, so it's just as well. Gather up some kindling, would you? We need to get a fire going under this cauldron.

GEORGE:

Right. I'm on it. (Exit George.)

John and Paul layer rows of wooden sticks beneath the cauldron while Ringo draws two buckets of water from a spring in the back of the cave. George re-enters the cavern with an armful of dried moss and twigs. Paul arranges the kindling around the sticks. John crouches down, strikes pieces of flint and iron together to make sparks, and blows gently on the tinder as the fire slowly catches. Paul slips some dried bark and small logs into the conflagration. Ringo pours the two buckets of water into the cauldron.

GEORGE:

How long before it comes to a boil, d'ya suppose?

PAUL:

Hell, it might be a while still. We should have started earlier.

JOHN:

Stand back, mates. I'll hurry things along. (As soon as the other men step backwards, John slips off his rucksack and pulls out a small purse filled with saltpeter, sulfur and charcoal dust. He throws the bag of powders onto the kindling. Giant flames erupt from beneath the cauldron. John admires his handiwork and smiles). So. I lit a fire. Isn't it good?

PAUL:

Great. Have we assembled all of our ingredients then?

GEORGE:

(Looking over Ringo's shoulder at the recipe) Not quite. Paul, did your mum show you where she kept the tongs for handling the poisoned entrails and blindworm's sting? I'd rather not touch either of those manky thingees, if it's all the same to you.

PAUL:

Yeah, she left a pair of tongs on the top shelf of the pantry. Go grab 'em, would you? Looks like the hell-broth is starting to boil and bubble.

RINGO:

(Calling over his shoulder) See if you can find an owlet's wing while you're back there.

GEORGE:

(Returns to the cauldron, holding the entrails and stinger in front of him with the long tongs. He drops the ingredients into the boiling water, then turns to Ringo and frowns.) Sorry, no owl wings in stock. Not even a feather.

PAUL:

(Tossing his ingredients into the broth.) Bullocks. I hope that won't break the spell.

A cat rushes into the cave, crashes into John, and drops a half-dead baby owl at his feet.

JOHN:

Tim! I knew you'd come back! What a good boy you are! (He breaks the owlet's neck, tears off one of its wings with his bare hands and throws it into the cauldron, then crouches down to pet the cat's forehead). And such a fine hunter you are too. You do me proud, my sweet little one.

PAUL:

(Wincing) You seemed pretty comfortable killing that poor little bird just now, John.

JOHN:

It was easy. Tim did most of the work.

RINGO:

That Tim's a regular killing machine, he is. Just look at his razor-sharp claws and teeth!

JOHN:

(Picking up the cat and holding it against his chest.) Leave my kitten alone.

Tim allows John to stroke him for a few seconds, then gently nips his hand, struggles free, and wanders into the back of the cave.

PAUL:

You know, this job that our mums put us up to is pretty brutal, when you think about it. Killing all these innocent creatures just so we can brew up some hell-broth for the king. I really don't feel comfortable with this gig.

GEORGE:

Yeah, well, there's not much we can do about it now.

JOHN:

(Licking his wounded finger.)

By the pricking of my thumb, something wicked this way comes.

A howling wind blows into the cave, ushering in MACBETH, the king. MACBETH examines the four youths and scowls.

MACBETH:

Is this a swindle that I see before me?

Four men stand where sisters three should be!

PAUL:

(Apologetically). Oh, right, sorry about that, Your Majesty. I guess you didn't get their message. Our mums couldn't make it today, so they sent the three of us in their place. (He points to himself, RINGO and GEORGE.) But not to worry. They gave us very explicit instructions.

MACBETH:

But why a quartet here, and not a trio?

JOHN:

(Bowing to the King) I'm Hecate's son, Your Majesty. My mum got right cheesed off when she found out her three younger sisters had been casting fortunes without consulting her first. So she called a little sisterly meeting this afternoon, to go over the standard Wiccan operating procedures with them once more.

MACBETH:

I do not know this Hecate. Who is she?

RINGO:

Hecate is my aunt. Actually, she's all of our aunts. Except for John, of course. She's his mum.

JOHN:

She showed up at your castle last night, Your Majesty. Uninvited and unexpected, as is her wont. And she had a few choice words with her weird sisters. You might have heard Mum haranguing the three of them.

MACBETH:

I heard no conversation twixt the hags.

GEORGE:

(Rolling back the sleeves of his tunic and growing red in the face) Now watch it there, Your Majesty! You might be king, but nobody talks that way about my mother!

MACBETH:

(Scowling once more) You sons of witches talk like common plebes.

JOHN:

(Sighing) Oh hell, I forgot. Mum told me we had to speak to the king in iambic pentameter, lest he think we were nothing but simple folk from the great unwashed.

PAUL:

(Looking at Macbeth but pointing to John with his thumb.)

I know that he's no peasant.

JOHN:

Well, help me out then, Paul. How does iambic pentameter go again?

PAUL:

(Staring into space for a few seconds, then smiling.)

You think that people would have had enough of silly love songs.

JOHN:

(Counting on his fingers): No. Sorry. That had seven iambs, plus an extra unstressed syllable.

GEORGE:

(Clears his throat, then speaks.)

Please come on back to me. I'm lonely as can be.

JOHN:

(Shaking his head.) Almost, but that had six beats.

RINGO:

(Sighing theatrically.) George spoke in iambic hexameter, inserting a caesura after the third foot. Hexameter works well for a witch's son, but not for a king.

(He cracks his knuckles, steps in front of John, Paul and George, puffs out his chest, and stands up as straight and tall as he can.)

I'll teach you lads to keep the proper beat.

Just listen to the lyrics of my song:

"I'm waiting here, just waiting here for you."

JOHN:

(Counting on the fingers of one hand.) That was bloody perfect, Ritchie! Can you keep it going? To get my rhythm rolling?

RINGO:

(Nods, then clears his throat.)

A forty acre house he doesn't see.

JOHN:

(Smiling)

You're brilliant, cousin! Now, let's tell Macbeth…

RINGO:

(Interrupting) A horse, a horse! My kingdom for a horse!

JOHN:

(Laughing) Hey nonny, Richard! The third one's a charm!

MACBETH:

(Angrily) Methinks you speak in riddles, lads. Who is

This man who waits for horses, homes and you?

JOHN:

(Sighs) I offer my apologies, good King.

We, like our mums, in riddles often speak.

But if you'll join us by the cauldron's fire,

We might upon your future glean a peek.

The king cautiously approaches the cauldron. The broth bubbles, but nothing else happens.

MACBETH:

You sons of witches mock me, I suspect!

RINGO:

(Casting a nervous glance at his recipe.)

Apologies, once more, sir. We forgot

The scale of dragon and the adder's fork.

Ringo rushes to the pantry, finds the missing ingredients, then returns to the cauldron and throws them into the bubbling broth. A crash of thunder resonates throughout the cave. An apparition of an armored head rises out of the cauldron's steam and starts to speak.

FIRST APPARITION:

Macbeth! Macbeth! Macbeth! Beware Macduff,

Beware the Thane of Fife. Dismiss me. Enough.

The Apparition descends back into the cauldron. John elbows Paul and whispers in his ear.

JOHN:

The little ghostie fucked his iambs up.

Paul smiles and shrugs, then turns towards the king and points at the cauldron.

Paul:

Another comes, more potent than the first.

Thunder clashes. A second apparition – a bloody child – rises from the cauldron.

SECOND APPARITION:

Macbeth! Macbeth! Macbeth!

MACBETH:

I hear thee! Speak!

SECOND APPARITION:

Be bloody, bold, and res'lute. Laugh to scorn

The pow'r of man; for none of woman born

Shall harm Macbeth. Now I have said my piece.

The apparition descends back into the cauldron.

MACBETH:

Then live, Macduff! What need I fear of thee?

I'll sleep in spite of thunder.

Another clash of thunder rumbles through the cave. A third apparition – a child crowned, with a tree in his hand – rises from the cauldron.

What is this

That rises like the issue of a king,

And wears upon his baby-brow the round

And top of sov'reignty?

George & Ringo (Together):

Take heed, it speaks!

THIRD APPARITION:

Be lion-mettled, proud, and take no care!

Macbeth shall never vanquish'd be until

Great Birnan wood to high Dunsinane hill

Shall come against him.

The third apparition descends back into the bubbling broth.

MACBETH:

That will never be!

Who can impress the forest, bid the tree

Unfix his earth-bound root? Sweet bodements! Good!

Yet still my heart doth throb to know one thing:

Pray tell me, if your art can tell so much,

Shall Banquo's issue e'er the Kingdom rule?

JOHN:

Good king, I beg thee, seek to know no more.

MACBETH

Deny me not! I will be satisfied!

Or an eternal curse shall fall on you!

Another crack of thunder. A parade of eight ghostly kings arises from the cauldron, each bearing the face of Banquo. They march through Macbeth's body, then vanish into thin air. Macbeth shudders. Then, with a piercing howl, Tim the cat runs towards the assembly from the dark recesses of the cave. He leaps onto Macbeth. The king tries to push him away. Tim scratches Macbeth's hands, then runs back to John's side.

MACBETH:

(Rubbing his freshly bloodied hands together and trembling)

Out, damn'd spot, I say! Who would have thought

The old man to have had so much blood in him?

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,

Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,

To the last syllable of recorded time;

And all our yesterdays have lighted fools

The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!

Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,

And then is heard no more. It is a tale

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,

Signifying nothing.

Macbeth stares at his bleeding hands, starts to weep, and exits the cave solemnly. John picks up Tim and starts stroking him. Tim snuggles up against John's chest and purrs.

JOHN:

Well, cousins, I don't know what that was all about, but the king certainly seemed to be having some trouble with his iambic pentameter just now. Perhaps that explains his tears.

RINGO:

(Nodding in agreement.) Tricky thing, keeping a steady rhythm going for such a long soliloquy, with no mistakes. But I wouldn't be too hard on the poor bloke. Not everyone can pound out a perfect beat like we Beatles can.

PAUL:

Right. The king must have just been upset about the slips in his cadence, because the apparitions foretold nothing but good fortune for him. The only possible threats that could stand in his way are a man not born of woman and a moving forest. So what does he have to worry about?

GEORGE:

(Shrugging) Well, I dunno. You know our mums and their penchant for riddles. There might be more to those fortunes than meets the eye.

John releases Tim. The cat runs to the remains of the dismembered owlet, scoops the carcass off the floor and carries it in his mouth to a dark corner of the cave.

JOHN:

I think my Tim has the right idea. All this cooking and spell-casting has made me hungry. Anyone fancy stopping by my cottage for a spot of tea? I've got some lizards' legs in my larder.

RINGO:

(Looking into the cauldron and grimacing.) As long as you're not planning to serve any goat's gallstones, adder's fork or toad venom as starters.

PAUL:

Righto. You blokes can eat the lizard, but I fancy a bite of beetroot myself. Would I be imposing if I asked for that instead, John?

JOHN:

I think mum's got a stock of turnips and radishes set aside for the winter. Will those do?

PAUL:

(Nodding) But what should we do with this bubbling hell-broth?

JOHN:

Let's leave it for our mums to clean up. You never know. They might want to save the leftovers for another day. I'll smother the fire, though, before we go.

John starts kicking dirt over the kindling, then calls to his cat. Tim rushes back to his side, trailing a cloud of feathers in his wake. Tim licks his lips and paws, then walks to the cave's entrance and sits down on his haunches while he awaits John.

GEORGE:

If I didn't know better, John, I'd say that cat is your familiar.

JOHN:

(Putting his index finger to his lips.) Sshh! Don't let him hear you say that. Tim thinks I'm his familiar.

The four cousins kick more dirt at the glowing embers until they dampen the last of the fire, then leave the cave, with Tim walking silently behind them.

Fin–

Inspired by William Shakespeare's tragedy "Macbeth" (1606)