A tragedy in five acts.
Written by Brian Buckley; based upon the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode “The Gift,” written by Joss Whedon; retold in the style of William Shakespeare.
ELIZABETH SUMMERS, the Slayer.
RUPERT, Watcher to ELIZABETH.
LADY ROSENBERG, a witch.
ALEXANDER, a carpenter.
AURORA SUMMERS, sister to ELIZABETH.
WILLIAM, a vampire.
LADY MACLAY, a witch, paramour of LADY ROSENBERG. Recently mad.
ANYANKA, onetime fiend, paramour of ALEXANDER.
BENJAMIN, a physician, who hath some relation to GLORIFICUS.
Minions of GLORIFICUS.
Residents of SUNNY-DALE: a lad, a vampire.
SCENE, in SUNNY-DALE.
SCENE I.—An alley. Night.
Enter a Lad, fleeing, and a Vampire, giving chase.
Thy swiftness giveth me diverting sport.
Belike thy heart’s blood courseth swifter still,
Say’st thou, forbear?
Good even to the both of ye. What cheer?
Pray, succour me! Send for the constable!
Nay, get thee hence amain, impudent wench.
Perchance, are ye two presently to clash?
Forsooth, a skirmish ill becomes ye both.
Alas, hie hence!
Nay, lad, she would remain.
For me, a second meal no burden is.
Know’st thou the ancient maxim? Verily:
Assay no morsel greater than thy teeth.
What foolishness this be, I cannot say.
Then know’st thou: Slayer of the vampire clan?
Thou pratest, girl, and I conceive thee not.
Indeed? Thine ignorance no limit hath.
Then knowest thou: O God! My leg! My leg!
[The Vampire attacks. Unharmed, ELIZABETH strikes a heavy blow.]
O God! My leg!
I’ faith, thou dost digest.
[The Vampire attacks again. ELIZABETH kills him.]
Long hath it been since one such knew me not.
[To the Lad.]
The battle’s won and done. Thou must be home.
How didst thou slay so terrible a foe?
’Tis ever thus.
Yet thou art but a girl,
A sapling yet, still green in eyes and years.
I say the same, to deaf and absent ears.
SCENE II.—A shop of sorcery.
RUPERT, LADY ROSENBERG, ALEXANDER, WILLIAM, LADY MACLAY, and ANYANKA, seated around the room. Enter ELIZABETH.
Some mischief, then?
A toothèd fiend. What news?
No tidings that would please thine ear. The rite—
Tell it again.
’Tis but the same—
The Key was radiance, unform’d, alive.
Should it appear at hour and place ordain’d,
The walls between the spheres would sink to ruin,
And should this river luminous run bare,
The walls like mythic phoenix re-ascend.
Glorificus will tarry not, but hie
Once more to her infernal residence
Not caring if on earth her hell erupt.
Yet only for a little while, methought.
When rebuilt are the walls, shall peace return?
That happy future cannot be, unless
The hallow’d light hath first extinguish’d been.
Yet now the Key hath flesh, Aurora call’d.
The book declareth: Flowing blood shall part
The gates, and shut them when it runneth dry.
When innocent Aurora doth decease.
My errands will not keep—I must away!
Wherefore insist upon Aurora’s blood?
Do incantations never call for bile?
Nay, ever blood the chief of humours is.
’Tis not thy supper we are treating of.
Nay, blood is life, thou beetle-headed lout.
Else why make it our feast, my kin and I?
It drives thee, warms thee, acts upon thy lust,
And keeps thee from the grave. Perforce her blood.
Then this arithmetic is plain to read:
We needs must halt the god before the rite.
E’en now, doth not some hours, some few, remain?
Yea, if my figures not deceive. But dame—
No more; I would not hear.
I know, and yet—
Ah, nay! And nay again. Such hateful words
As thou wouldst form shall ne’er profane our lips.
Such words this sombre council cannot spare!
Should foul Glorificus begin the rite …
Say on, this stratagem we cannot spare:
Wouldst thou I slay my sister? Say it plain.
She is no kin of thine.
Nay, more than kin.
She is myself; the monks wrought her from me,
And her embrace binds tighter in my heart …
Not only artifices of the mind,
But matter, flesh. Aurora is of me,
The only fragment of myself that I …
E’en this ordeal we yet shall overcome.
Be valiant, and pray swoon not again.
In truth, should this dread ritual embark,
Then ev’ry man and beast in ev’ry sphere
Shall suffer torments to make devils weep,
Then die—nor shall Aurora have reprieve.
If that be so, the last work of her eyes
Shall be to say: Thy sister guardeth thee.
And thou shalt fail, and all perish with thee.
E’en so. Your pardon, for I love ye all.
Then must we all, perforce, prevent the rite.
In these swift hours, whose mind produceth fruit?
When thou didst say before: I love ye all …
Be still thy tongue.
Aye, trouble not thy wit.
Say, Rosenberg, thou hast some doleful spell,
I wager. Canst thou make of her a toad?
Some slimy thing we could with hammer smite?
Saist thou a toad—a slimy toad? Ah, mirth!
And what of Benjamin? A mortal, no?
An innocent, but not Aurora’s peer.
Could we not kill an ordinary man?
… O God.
It matters not. He will be hid.
The hell-god shall our adversary be.
In sooth, we need not kill Glorificus;
We need but stay her wicked gramarye.
Her door to action openeth but once.
Well said. Could we but occupy her wrath
Until the hour is past, the day is ours.
All true, yet need we greater subtlety;
Those who would vanquish gods, must cunning be.
Then save thy breath till thou more cunning be.
Forsooth, Anyanka, do not weary us
With heavy levity; hast thou no more—
Aha! The Dagon Orb!
When first Elizabeth sparr’d with the Fiend,
She found th’ enchanted glowing orb, design’d
To hold the cruel Glorificus at bay.
Deep in the cellar we possess it still.
It might drive her away, or wound her. Ah!
[Running to a case that contains a weapon.]
And troll-god Olaf’s potent charmèd mace;
Who duels a god needs godlike armament.
[ELIZABETH examines the hammer.]
That is beyond thy strength to lift—
[She lifts the hammer with ease.]
This comforts my unquiet soul. My thanks.
My mission is to serve and to survive.
A clever woman tempteth me but more.
Ah, couldst thou have but known it in our youth!
’Tis true, these bold designs whet my resolve,
And might prevail, were they to be deploy’d …
… Except, we know not where the devil lurks.
A fateful day. It calls! I must be there!
Oft madness cries what reason cannot say.
Is wisdom here conceal’d?
A fateful day!
SCENE III.—A room in a warehouse.
AURORA sitting on the floor. Enter BENJAMIN.
These minions of Glorificus declare
Thou needs must don this ceremonial dress.
And if I should refuse?
Prithee, dear girl—
And if the garment’s colour please me not?
I’ faith, I would prefer a diff’rent path.
I would prefer thou tumble on thy pate
And strangle in thine own effluvia,
So are we grasping both, unsatisfied.
The deed, I trust, will be but brief.
My lord; her bleeding must be passing slow,
The better to permit the portal to—
My thanks, and if thou cease, my thanks again.
What action yet is in my power, I shall—
Transform, I say. Be her.
I would not look on thee a minute more.
Aurora, stay thy wish, call not for that—
The fiend! The fiend! Transform into the fiend!
Wilt thou but cease—
[BENJAMIN transforms into GLORIFICUS.]
—thy shouting? Ah, but soft …
[Studying the dress.]
Wherefore thy frantic squeaking, little mouse?
What venom hast thou toward old Benjamin?
Ye both are devils; thou dost make it plain.
Thou judgest over-stern the hapless boy.
He craves to live; most men would act the same.
And mark, belike, it is by him alone
Thy sister and her lackeys still draw breath:
He is that wretched wisp of human ruth
That bids me not to murder, only maul.
Why else should my imperium condescend
To fight the Slayer like some mortal ape
When I might delve a crater in her breast?
My frailty is namèd Benjamin.
Mayhap thou art no worthy match for her.
Mark thou, thy sojourn here hath lasted hours;
Thy sister to thy rescue rideth not.
Belike she knows what folly rescue be.
She hath no fear of thee.
O nay, dear child,
’Tis of the looming ritual I speak.
For when I tear thy veins, the portals yawn,
And when thy veins are beggar’d, portals shut.
A boon for Man thy swift demise shall be.
She saith sooth, and pierceth to the quick.
Elizabeth knows all this well, I trust,
And being but thy sister counterfeit,
I wager she’ll not trouble to appear.
And if she does, think not she purposeth
Certes to succour thee.
SCENE IV.—A training room beneath the shop of sorcery.
ELIZABETH, landing blows upon a target. Enter RUPERT.
I trust thou wilt not tire thyself.
We all are still devising stratagems.
The hourglass soon will empty of its sand,
Yet we had best await the final grain.
Should we ride over-eager, and she win,
All hope t’ evade the rite shall buried be.
Then must we wait, by cold necessity.
I wot thou cannot but despise me now.
He hath my heart; yet what can I reply?
I love Aurora true.
I doubt it not.
But conscience binds me, and a sober oath
To guard this sorry globe and all it holds;
Which maketh me to voice and execute
Such deeds as others cannot do, nor should.
An thou assay to do Aurora harm,
Thou art my certain foe.
I doubt it not.
Her wrath mayhap is spent, her armour doff’d.
How many Judgement Days have dawn’d o’er us?
This half-a-dozen doth a hundred seem.
The Hand of Judgement hath I always stay’d,
And stagger’d off the field in triumph.
That all might live, I Angel sacrific’d,
And lov’d him as I wept, and call’d it good.
Ah, good—no more I recognise the word,
Nor fathom in what fashion I might live
Astride this sorry light-forsaken globe,
If living be a choice ’tween death and death.
If grace and hope of grace be stripp’d away,
Why breathe? Some cloud conceals the high design,
And ne’er these tears call Mother home to me.
O child, my daughter, though of other blood,
The dusk of childhood weighs upon thy brow.
The spirit prophesied: My gift is death.
A Slayer’s but a killer then, in sooth.
Nay, as to that, my heart will not agree.
All’s one. Should my Aurora die tonight,
This Slayer voweth nevermore to fight.
SCENE V.—The warehouse.
Enter AURORA, GLORIFICUS, and Minions.
Hark well, my friends, the knife’s grim hour arrives.
Take her, ye slaves.
[Minions seize AURORA.]
How sweet thy screams! We’ll reunite anon.
O fiend, this monstrous tow’r, which thou hast rear’d,
I now ascend, condemnèd and afeard.
SCENE I.—A cellar beneath the shop of sorcery.
ALEXANDER and ANYANKA.
What news? Have ye retriev’d the Dagon Orb?
It surely is nearby. I’ll not be long.
The need to be apparel’d doth delay.
We’ll light upon it presently! Our search
Directs us to yon nook, as yet unsearch’d.
All haste, once I have donn’d my pantaloons.
Mind ye the clock.
Certes, we’ll fail thee not.
[Offstage, RUPERT shuts a door.]
Say now, my sweet, art thou more settl’d?
How nay? For if my ears deceiv’d me not,
Thou at thy destination didst arrive.
Not so. Or rather—yea, I tasted true
That fleeting burst of joy that women know,
And savorèd the calmness that attends;
But those drunk moments do but moments be,
And terror burrows in my lungs again.
Thou mayst escape that parasite, for—Lo!
Behold the queer automaton
That William did commission in his lust
For fair Elizabeth, whose form it hath.
Wherefore preserve this girl of bolts and gears?
Mayhap it pleas’d the Lady Rosenberg.
Not so; she doth not crave Elizabeth.
’Tis true, she hath crav’d diff’rently of late—
To study it.
Ah yes. For science. Aye.
Thou’rt twisted in thy mind.
And thou no less.
Thou ne’er shouldst frighten me in such a—Lo!
What startles thee?
What knave would sink so vile
As placing this to find? What loathsome hand
Would leave a plaything, like a rabbit form’d?
As if we had not drunk our fill of woe—
So foul a symbol is an augury.
O soft, my heart.
Nay, ’tis an augury.
Some minister of heaven sendeth word,
In care of rabbit: We shall perish all.
O soft, wear thou my fond embrace
And know that heaven ne’er hath stricken thee.
Thou knowest not. In years before, I fled
Whene’er a doomsday climb’d the firmament.
But now I love thee with a blinding love
That bids me couple at untimely hour
And craft designs that might dethrone a god
And stumble, sick at heart with fear for thee,
And stumble, sick at heart with fear for me—
Asham’d I fear not more for all the rest.
But verily, my cup’s already fill’d,
And overflows, and no more terror holds.
I’ve scal’d the summit of anxiety.
Wouldst thou accept a wager on the point?
Thou seest the nuptial ring I offer thee;
O sweet Anyanka, wilt thou marry me?
[She slaps him.]
From that I glean thou wilt consider it.
Thou art proposing we be wedded!
Thou art proposing for we soon shall die,
And romance follows danger in thy thought,
And when mankind annihilated is,
Thou shalt be spar’d the bond thou speakest of.
Anyanka, heart, I lift this ring because
Mankind will not relinquish breath tonight.
Thou canst not prophesy.
I can believe.
This challenge we shall meet and pass beyond,
And I’ll pass many years in levity
And would not pass a minute without thee.
O sweet. O aye.
’Tis aye, my love?
For just a little while.
Should this our paltry sphere survive, then sing,
And dance with me, and offer me thy ring.
[They embrace and kiss. Exeunt.]
SCENE II.—The shop of sorcery.
LADY ROSENBERG sits reading while LADY MACLAY sleeps. Enter ELIZABETH.
What hast thou for me, Rosenberg, I pray?
Some thoughts. Ah, notions. Rampant pondering.
Know’st thou I fare not well when trials loom?
As battle looms, I need thee, dearest friend.
My greatest cannon I dare not withhold.
Thy greatest—nay, a cannon ne’er was I.
Some doughty fellow should thy cannon be.
A cudgel am I, surely, or a stave.
Thou knowest thou art stronger than we all.
I … knew it not.
Yea, none of us but thee
Hath done so much as prick Glorificus.
So harken, knight, thou art our surest chance;
Let not thy fortitude dissolve today.
Mayhap I have the makings of a plan,
Except, in recent days, my will hath sought
To salve the madness of my dearest one.
I know my time should not be drainèd thus …
Forsooth, thy time no nobler purpose hath.
’Tis good of thee. I’ve mapp’d their essences
And reckon, should I come unto the fiend,
Perchance I might undo what she hath done—
Win back sweet reason for my sweet Maclay,
And mayhap drain the vigour of our foe.
Or mayhap it could burst our several skulls.
I’ll assay what I may.
Go now, attend the ones attending thee.
LADY ROSENBERG. [To LADY MACLAY, who has awakened.]
Dear one, be still thy soul, ’twill not be long.
LADY MACLAY. [Slaps her.]
Thou whore! I must be busy with my work!
I am … nay, am I not … ah, nay …
O heart, I’ll bring thee back to me today.
[Exeunt LADY ROSENBERG and LADY MACLAY.]
Enter ELIZABETH, RUPERT, ALEXANDER, WILLIAM, and ANYANKA.
ELIZABETH. [To ANYANKA and ALEXANDER.]
What ye have said may unlock victory.
Well done, my friends, doubt not my gratitude.
We shall have need of—
Yea, I think the same.
Doth time remain?
Yea, an thou tarry not.
I go in haste, and will fetch weapons too.
Prithee, a broadsword would become me best.
Keep thou thy wanton strokes away from me.
Mark thou, I am—
A puff’d-up carpenter?
At ninepins, too, I’ve more than middling skill.
He useth no man’s shoes, but hath his own.
On high Olympus, Jove must trembling be.
Be silent, William, pray, and follow me.
SCENE III.—Outside ELIZABETH’s house.
Enter ELIZABETH and WILLIAM.
ELIZABETH. [Entering the house.]
Yon oaken chest contains the armoury.
Take arms; I’ll fetch what else we need upstairs.
Why halt’st thou at the door?
Couldst thou but bring those weapons here outside …
Pray come within.
O undeservèd boon.
[Entering the house.]
Thy invitation wilts the barrier.
Strange ally mine, what doth thy gaze conceal?
I’ll trouble not with lesser armaments.
These axes will repel the minions’ claws
Whilst thou meet fell Glorificus herself.
Thou know’st we shall not all survive the night.
I know it, aye. A warrior’s end for me.
I charge thee—to protect my darling girl.
Till all this realm and heaven fall to ash,
E’en should they fall ere sunrise come again.
My task upstairs will take a moment.
[ELIZABETH begins to go upstairs.]
I know thou ne’er wilt love me, nor embrace.
[She halts and turns.]
I know I’m but a devil; but thy words
And eyes do somehow make of me a man,
And that …
My heart is spent; I give my ear.
Complete thine errand. I await thee here.
SCENE IV.—Atop the tower of GLORIFICUS.
AURORA, struggling against Minions, who bind her with rope.
Here I, a new Rapunzel, stand afeard
With hair that falls not e’en below my knees;
And where the valiant prince who looseth me?
Nay, in his stead this savage flock attends,
And far below, poor madmen ramble lost.
Ere long Glorificus will come to thee.
’Tis done; I’m bound. I cannot but await
My rescue or my blood, whiche’er my fate.
SCENE V.—The shop of sorcery.
RUPERT, LADY ROSENBERG, ALEXANDER, LADY MACLAY, and ANYANKA. Enter ELIZABETH and WILLIAM.
Doth all proceed aright?
Aye, ’tis the hour.
Pray, Lady Rosenberg, unfurl the sail.
LADY ROSENBERG. [To LADY MACLAY.]
O flow’r, hast thou some rendezvous to meet?
They barr’d the gate.
No sentry bars thee now.
Wouldst thou embark? ’Tis still a fateful day.
Mark how she shifts her gaze unquietly,
Surveying them, Elizabeth, and me.
LADY MACLAY. [To RUPERT.]
Thou art a killer! … This is all set down.
[She walks out. The others follow.]
ELIZABETH. [To LADY ROSENBERG.]
Hold fast to her, yet leave the rudder free.
This troop and I shall follow thee anon.
Each warrior hath his charge, and must dispose,
For should this rite begin, ’twill finish us.
Who cometh near Aurora, I will slay.
[Exeunt ELIZABETH and LADY ROSENBERG.]
This wound I clutch declareth still I live;
I fear lest other hurts bring diff’rent news.
Her orat’ry was no St. Crispin’s Day.
We few, we happy few …
We band of bugger’d.
E’er havoc was the tongue I utter’d best;
That crimson grammar now is put to test.
SCENE VI.—A street in SUNNY-DALE.
Enter ELIZABETH, RUPERT, LADY ROSENBERG, ALEXANDER, WILLIAM, LADY MACLAY, and ANYANKA, coming upon the tower of GLORIFICUS.
Verily. What is this thing?
The cursèd gate will open near the peak.
O cannon Rosenberg, ’tis time to blast.
Dost thou need anything?
Aye; courage, pray.
Take thou a draught of courage from my flask.
’Tis other spirit I require; but thanks.
[LADY MACLAY reaches the construction site at the base of the tower.]
All fog, all twisted murk and pools of mud,
Yet something bids me work; this mound of bricks—
How came thou hither, mortal?
Fast with me.
[She casts an enchantment. A great blast hurls all three to the ground.]
By ev’ry serpent of the nether flames,
What hath this hedge-born strumpet work’d on me?
Enter a Minion and his companion.
You look full sterling, as befits a god.
My skull is queer. She delv’d a little hole.
O fie, I want some brain I may devour.
I grovel, Empress, and present my own.
Sirrah, I said a brain, thou witless filth!
A fateful day. My errands will not keep.
I needs must find a brain. A fateful day.
[Looks at ELIZABETH.]
Methinks I ought to savour taking thine.
Then hither come, and vie for what is mine.
SCENE I.—The base of the tower. Night.
ELIZABETH and GLORIFICUS.
Art thou in pain? I’ faith, thou seem’st unwell.
Thy motley malkin pain’d me in some wise,
But shouldst thou hope to outdo e’en a flea—
I mark thou speakest still. If I were thee,
And thou wert I, certes I’d strike at me.
Voluptuous queen, pray order us; should I—
Go guard the girl who struggleth high above.
This Slayer doth but try …
’Tis queer, thy wingèd swiftness falters too.
Thy putrid witch …
It is no work of hers.
Mayhap it be the orb I hold aloft.
Wherefore that glowing ball discomfits so?
The Dagon Sphere was forg’d to parry thee;
Belike, to touch it would no blessing be.
[ELIZABETH throws the orb. GLORIFICUS catches it, unmindful. It pains GLORIFICUS, who crushes it.]
Unsightly worm, thou soon wilt rue thy rash—
An thou wouldst ope thy mouth, then sup on this.
[She lands several stern blows. They fight.]
Enter Minions and a crowd of Madmen.
1 MINION. [To the madmen.]
Stand fast! Kill anyone who dares approach.
Bear witness; let this day be glorified!
It call’d; I did but give it voice.
Lo—I am struck! This bolt calls louder yet.
[First Minion dies.]
Enter RUPERT, WILLIAM, and ANYANKA, all attacking.
A point for me, and certes not the last.
My crossbow hungers; other meals await.
O Bloody William, earn thy name to-night!
Onetime I was a vengeance fiend; and though
I have forsworn the trade, the fire remains.
My cudgel becks thee, goblins! Drink its wrath!
Such hard, bright, violent trade should be abhorr’d,
But on this night, a scholar wields a sword.
SCENE II.—Atop the tower.
AURORA stands bound and helpless.
E’er hope makes sport of mortal suffering
And spins rare fantasies to dazzle fools;
Yet ’tis no fancy, but my very sight
That spieth some commotion far below
Unwelcome to my captor’s cruel design.
Say true, Aurora, knowest thou these men
Who offer strife with desp’rate aim and true?
And mark! That girl, like unto Heracles—
Thy sister call’d—O nay! Thy sister, sooth,
Who vieth not for lucre nor for laud,
Doth chastise now, for thee, an errant god.
SCENE III.—The base of the tower.
LADY ROSENBERG and LADY MACLAY, lying separately on the ground.
I live. I touch’d the fiend and still I live,
Although my ears as yet make dim report—
A meagre price for saving—O! For she!
’Twas all for she, and faith, I sight her there.
[Goes to her.]
As in a swoon she lies; ’tis but a swoon,
For worse I could not bear. O angel mine!
O aye, ’tis me, thy voice is balm—
But is it thee? O angel, is it thee?
I wander’d down a bleak uncharted lane
And knew not certain e’en that I was lost,
Nor how to weep, as I am weeping now.
O heart. I found thee. O, I found thee, heart.
I’ll find thee always, wander as thou mayst.
Hath ev’ry pain dissolv’d, and heaven come?
All heavens dim compar’d with thine embrace,
So kiss me, heart, and seek no other place.
[Exeunt LADY ROSENBERG and LADY MACLAY.]
Enter ELIZABETH and GLORIFICUS, still fighting.
Hark thou, I reckon health returns to me,
And waxing, maketh interest in thee wane.
Alas for thee, for presently wilt thou—
[GLORIFICUS kicks ELIZABETH’s head, which flies off.]
Mark ye the gears all cluster’d in her neck!
Ah zounds! The Slayer was but a device!
Did all ye know she was but a device?
And naught but rubbish now!
[Enter the true ELIZABETH.]
[Deals GLORIFICUS a heavy blow with the troll-hammer.]
If god thou art, then shouldst thou brighter be.
Elizabeth! I’m high above thee here!
Dare I believe? Aurora’s voice descends
From such a lofty perch, I scarce can spy
My darling girl. I plunge into the tow’r!
Arrest thy legs—thou hast not vanquish’d me!
[ELIZABETH battles GLORIFICUS whilst trying to ascend the tower.]
Thou lost thy hammer-toy, thou cheeky doll.
What wilt thou use to strike this anvil now?
[A great wrecking ball blasts through the wall and strikes her. Enter ALEXANDER, controlling the wrecking ball device. Exit GLORIFICUS.]
Whatever is at hand will do as well.
The puff’d-up carpenter hath fell’d a pin.
My hammer! Thou returnest to my hand;
Doubt not we’ll best the fiend. I go to her.
Enter RUPERT, WILLIAM, and ANYANKA.
Do any of ye reck our bold advance
Hath much the same direction as retreat?
The thought had tarried briefly in my head.
If brave Elizabeth for time enough
Can keep Glorificus in melee trapp’d,
Our fortune in the field is trifling fare.
The rite begins anon, or ne’er at all.
Enter ELIZABETH and GLORIFICUS, still fighting, ELIZABETH prevailing.
ELIZABETH. [To GLORIFICUS.]
I crash like thunder, fall on thee like rain.
Whilst yet I stand, thou shalt no Key obtain.
SCENE IV.—Atop the tower.
AURORA remains bound. Enter the Doctor.
Good now, I know thee! Loose these ropes, I pray—
Make haste, for heaven’s pity, ere she comes.
She hath met some delay, so I discern,
And if Her Majesty cannot be here
When cries the clock the long-awaited hour …
My saviour is her slave. An icy wind
Foretells the end of mercy, and of me.
O child, dost thou delight in sleight of hand?
Behold! This gleaming dagger hath appear’d
Betwixt my fingers, eager for the show.
O haste, make haste, ye rescuers below!
SCENE I.—The base of the tower.
RUPERT, WILLIAM, and ANYANKA crouch behind cover. Enter ALEXANDER.
How fares the fight?
An even match, it seems.
We have not seiz’d Aurora, nor have they.
Yet gazing up at yon forbidding height
Do I espy someone beside the girl.
Then must we saddle fear, and charge the field.
That tactic we have tried, and been rebuff’d.
LADY ROSENBERG. [Offstage.]
Say, William, canst thou hear my voice aright?
I warrant some bewitchment is at play,
For by my troth, I hear, yet see thee not.
LADY ROSENBERG. [Offstage.]
Is someone with Aurora at the crest?
I know not who, but yea.
Speak’st thou to us?
LADY ROSENBERG. [Offstage.]
Make way to her amain, and tarry not.
I fain would try, were foes not barring—
LADY ROSENBERG. [Offstage.]
WILLIAM. [Rushing forward. Aside.]
Some Moses doth this sea of foes divide;
More handiwork of Rosenberg’s, I trust.
All’s one, so long as I ascend apace.
SCENE II.—Atop the tower.
AURORA and the Doctor.
Forsooth, the blessèd moment draweth nigh.
What new mischief can this be?
I saw thee kill’d, and dead thou shouldst have stay’d.
The dead condemns the dead.
Come on, thou imp,
The even’s fair, so spar with me a round.
I do have other business to attend.
We shan’t be long.
Belike thou sayest sooth.
[WILLIAM attacks. The Doctor stabs him.]
O William, saviour, nay!
Yet stand I still, with vampire’s fortitude.
Thou, Doctor, I forbid to touch the girl.
No scent of human soul do I detect.
Wherefore this human child concerneth thee?
I bear an oath to she who bears my love.
Dost thou indeed? I serve a lady too.
[The Doctor fights WILLIAM and bests him.]
Thou nobly tried; I’ll tell thy lady.
[The Doctor pushes WILLIAM off the tower. Exit WILLIAM.]
O William! Ne’er hath seraph flown so tall
As thou hast rais’d thy valour with thy fall.
SCENE III.—The base of the tower.
Enter ELIZABETH and GLORIFICUS, still fighting. ELIZABETH hits her foe with the hammer.
My pain thou ne’er couldst fathom, mortal beast.
I need not fathom what I needs must cause.
[Hits her again.]
Thou canst not slay me, creature.
Nay, but mark,
My arm hath not yet e’en begun to tire.
[Hits her again.]
Thou art a god. Ordain it so.
[Hits her again and again. GLORIFICUS transforms into BENJAMIN.]
Say to she whose life thou hast,
’Tis done. Her hour is past. She must away.
And mark—yea, mark—if e’er again she rise
To trouble me, my warriors, or my kin—
’Tis done, I mark thee well. O aye, ’tis done.
But ne’er ’tis done for me, or darling, thee.
Canst thou stand up?
A moment still I need.
Yet wot I well she might have kill’d me then.
O nay, she ne’er could kill thee, Benjamin.
And one day would Glorificus return
And mete out vengeance with infernal wrath
On dear Elizabeth and all the world.
Elizabeth, not ignorant of this,
E’en so could not extinguish human life.
She is a hero. And that lucid grace
Belongs to her alone.
Alone? But I—
[RUPERT strangles BENJAMIN.]
Whose hands do right, and whose belong to hell,
Shall history and prophets only tell.
SCENE I.—Atop the tower.
AURORA and the Doctor.
Weep not; my dagger doth but liberate
Thy potent blood, which greater purpose hath.
O, the pain! Elizabeth!
Against my skill, the Slayer’s pow’r should prove—
[ELIZABETH pushes him off the tower, to his death.]
Elizabeth, I’m sorely hurt,
And see, my cursèd blood drips far below.
I have thee; come, I’ll let no harm befall.
Elizabeth, O sister, it begins.
The portal opens, darkly radiant.
The city shivers mortally; the streets
By lightning are impal’d, and all the men
Cry out for heroes, who but ponder mute.
What devils, from what squalid catacombs
Emerge like maggots into sacred air?
The shatter’d earth imperils all below.
Anyanka, Alexander, Rosenberg,
Maclay, and Rupert—William, even thou,
Ye all deserve to live—or if ye die,
A better death than this unhallow’d blight
That wracks the land in spite of victory.
Too much, too much. This hateful bleak abyss
I cannot bear. A hero? O! inside,
I’m yet a child, and fain would rescued be.
Alas, and pardon. Would that tears avail’d.
All’s one—nay, halt, what art thou doing, love?
I needs must jump into the sorcery.
’Twill kill thee.
Aye. O sweet Elizabeth,
I know the wretched logic of the rite.
I know that I alone may halt it.
I must. Look thee what falls upon the world:
Yon lightning-laurel’d dragon, fresh reveal’d,
Is but a vanguard of this chaos fount.
Thou must release me. Blood hath summon’d this,
And this will end with end of blood alone.
’Tis wrong to hold thee, wrong to let thee go.
Thou knowest which is worse. O give me leave
Ere weeping rends my heart and my resolve!
Thou knowest that the portal needeth blood.
The portal needeth—hark, what saist thou?
’Twas but tonight, at council, William said,
Yea: Ever blood the chief of humours is.
And did I not once take thy bloody hand
And say: ’Tis Summers blood, like unto mine.
Thou’rt me; the monks did weave thee from my thread.
And O! that desert fire, ancestral voice,
That prophesied to me: Death is thy gift.
Now see, the sun that into heaven climbs,
Doth bid me grasp the fire that sears the sky.
The hero’s mantle resteth easy now.
Death is my gift, Aurora, unto thee.
Elizabeth! O, nay!
Dear heart, I must.
I need thee, sister, more than sister, pray.
O listen, an thou love me. Time is short.
Nay, ’tis no sin to weep, but listen well.
[Whispers something to AURORA for several moments, kisses her, then turns away.]
[Aside, to self.]
Now cast off doubt and flesh, take hold of fate,
And pierce with Slayer’s heart the final gate.
[Runs and leaps off the tower into the portal. It closes. She falls to her death.]
The storm thou quench’d still screameth in my breast.
What’s left? To sordid earth I must descend;
And what on earth shall e’er Aurora mend?
SCENE II.—A graveyard. Day.
RUPERT and AURORA in formal attire.
Stand fast with me. It is a worthy stone.
Elizabeth Anne Summers, twenty years,
Beloved sister and devoted friend,
Who often sav’d the world. A worthy stone,
But only granite. Cold imposter, yea,
Unhappy heir to she whose pulse I knew.
It is not her. She’s gone. It is not her.
Then speak not of the body nor the stone,
But speak of her. Speak whatsoe’er thou wouldst,
For silence sickeneth my heart of late.
Though speech and silence sicken me alike,
I fain would speak of her, an thou wouldst hear.
That bitter night, my sister said to me:
I love thee, and forever thee I love,
Yet here is work that I must certain do.
Tell Rupert … O, tell Rupert, I have cut
The Gordian knot at last, and I am well.
And tell my friends I love them; yea, I do,
And thou must care for them and comfort them—
And they, one for another, and for thee.
Thou needs must find thy strength, Aurora, love.
’Tis heavy, aye, to seek yon mortal gate,
Yet heavier far, each hour and day, to live.
Be strong, be stout of heart, and live, for me.
I’ faith, I know not rightly what to say.
There is no answer to the night, but day.
Here ends the tragedy of Summers’ Fall.
What the heck is this thing?
I took an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer—specifically, the season 5 finale, “The Gift”—and rewrote it in the style of a Shakespearean play.
Okay but why?
I love Buffy—it’s my favorite show. I also love writing. And this Shakespeare guy seems to be pretty okay too (or so I hear). So it just seemed like a fun project to try.
Buffy and Shakespeare, though. Isn’t that a little ridiculous?
I wouldn’t blame you for thinking so. But they’re a better fit than you might expect. There are Shakespeare references all throughout Buffy. This very episode, in fact, contains a line from Shakespeare’s Henry V.
Did you get this idea from that Star Wars guy?
“That Star Wars guy” would be Ian Doescher, author of Shakespearean versions of Star Wars Episodes I–VI (with VII probably on its way). Certainly this project is very similar to his, and I knew about his project before starting mine. I can’t remember if I actually got the idea from him, but it seems likely.
Are you some sort of expert on Shakespeare?
I am not, as I’m sure a real expert could tell by reading. I’ve only read maybe a half dozen of his plays, and I’ve taken no formal classes on him since high school.
That said, I did give myself a crash course in his style, I’ve done some fairly in-depth reading on Elizabethan England, and I’ve read lots of other centuries-old English literature, such as Paradise Lost. Also, as a professional editor, I do know a thing or two about English.
How long did this take you?
A few weeks.
How long is the text?
Around 6,000 words. If printed, roughly 30 pages. If it were prose, it’d be a long-ish short story.
How did you pick the episode?
First, I wanted an episode people really like, so I started with the twenty or so that always come up in fan discussions of favorite or best episodes.
I also wanted something from the latter half of the series, where the characters and relationships have had more time to develop, and later additions like Anya and Tara have become full-fledged members of the team. That disqualifies lots of early standouts like “Innocence,” “Passion,” “Helpless,” and “Doppelgangland.”
Since the whole project is about turning a Buffy episode into something new, I wanted a “normal” episode to start with, something that wasn’t already twisting the basic Buffy concept in some way. That eliminated episodes like “Once More, With Feeling,” “The Body,” “Hush,” “Storyteller,” “Restless,” and (to a lesser extent) “Conversations With Dead People” and “Normal Again.”
And finally, I wanted to do an episode that I personally love, which eliminated “Chosen.” (Sorry! I know a lot of people love that one, and that’s fine, just not my thing.)
With all that in mind, “The Gift” seemed like the best choice. It’s also a good balance of humor, action, and emotional depth, and it’s dark without being bleak. It even feels rather Shakespearean to me. So that settled it.
Why did you change the character names?
Most of the names in Buffy would be out of place (anachronistic) in Shakespearean times, and I thought it would give the work a more authentic flavor to pick names better suited to the era. That said, it was also just a fun thing to do, and in some cases the fun part overrode the historical accuracy part.
Details on each name change:
- Buffy—In the TV show, “Buffy” is not a nickname. There’s every indication that “Buffy Anne Summers” is on her birth certificate. But etymologically, “Buffy” comes from “Elizabeth,” which was a very common female name back then. And since Queen Elizabeth was the most important person in England at the time (hence “Elizabethan England”), it was an especially good fit for Buffy, the most important person in the show.
- Spike—His given name was William, so that one was pretty straightforward.
- Willow and Tara—These had no Elizabethan equivalents I could find, so I just went with last names and called them Lady Rosenberg and Lady Maclay respectively. I know they’re not actually ladies in the 1500s sense (rich, high-society, aristocratic types), but it still felt appropriate to me.
- Giles—From a historical accuracy perspective, leaving him as “Giles” would have made sense. The surname was around back then. And his first name, Rupert, was not common in England (though it did exist). But since everyone else was getting a change, I felt Giles shouldn’t be left out, and “Rupert” just sounds old-fashioned to me. So Rupert it was.
- Xander, Ben—I just expanded these to the full forms, Alexander and Benjamin, both of which were common in Shakespeare’s day. Actually, Ben was common too, but I thought Benjamin sounded more dramatic.
- Anya, Glory—Likewise, I just expanded these to their full forms, Anyanka and Glorificus. Neither was used in Elizabethan England (as far as I know), but they sound like cool names for an ex-demon and a hell-god. “Glorificus” has the added flare of sounding Latin, a language widely used at the time.
- Dawn—This was the biggest change. Everyone else kept their original name, in one form or another. But “Dawn” is different. It’s strikingly anachronistic, but I couldn’t use a longer or more formal version of the name, because there isn’t one (as far as I could tell). I couldn’t use her last name, because “Summers” is Buffy too. And we never learn her middle name. What to do? It turns out that “Aurora” is both the Latin word for dawn and the goddess personifying it, so although no Elizabethans actually had this name (that I know of), it might have been familiar to some of the more educated types. Plus, it sounded cool. “Aurora” it is.
What about that title, Summers’ Fall?
Originally I was just going to name the play after the episode: The Gift. But I figured it’s a separate thing, so it should have its own identity.
Shakespeare’s tragedies (and histories) are all named after their main characters, very simply: Othello, Romeo and Juliet, Richard III. His comedies’ titles are more varied and descriptive: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Tempest. So this play, undoubtedly a tragedy, should just be called Elizabeth if I’m following that rule.
But that’s boring, and not very distinctive. So I decided to keep the tragedy convention of using the hero’s name, while working in the descriptiveness of the comedies (some of which were pretty serious, by the way). Summers’ Fall also indulges Shakespeare’s (and my) love of puns, while hopefully not sounding silly. The title even works as a sort of echo to Winter’s Tale.
Can you explain what some of these strange words mean?
If something doesn’t make sense language-wise, it’s probably (1) an archaic word, (2) a modern word used in an archaic way, or (3) an archaic idiom. Generally the meanings aren’t too hard to look up—even a modern unabridged dictionary should have them. I imagine you can guess most meanings from context anyway, especially if you’re familiar with the episode.
Perhaps the most confusing word for the uninitiated is “an.” It can have the modern meaning (e.g., “an artist”), but it can also mean “if” (e.g., “An he tries, he will fail”).
What rules did you follow in “translating” into Shakespearean style?
- Blank verse—That’s probably the single biggest change. Blank verse is unrhymed iambic pentameter—that is, ten-syllable lines with a syllable stress pattern like da-DA da-DA da-DA da-DA da-DA. For example: “That’s probably the single biggest change.” A lot of English naturally falls into this pattern, so it’s not a terribly demanding form. Shakespeare himself wasn’t strict about following this (generally considered a feature, not a bug), but I was, because I’m crazy like that.
- Rhyming couplets—The end of every scene is a rhyming couplet (a pair of lines that rhyme). They pop up in a few other places too, where I thought it might be dramatic or fun.
- Elizabethan grammar and vocabulary—“Thou art” instead of “you are,” that sort of thing. (Which is more complicated than you might think, by the way.) And I tried to use words according to their old meanings, and avoid modern words. That said, I’m sure my efforts were far from perfect.
- British spellings, not American—Because, you know.
Why do verbs sometimes end in –s (“he speaks”) and sometimes in –eth (“he speaketh”)?
Of course, –s is the modern form, and –eth was used in Shakespeare’s time. But it turns out that the –s form was used back then too, and that Shakespeare used the two forms more or less interchangeably, sometimes both in the same sentence. Since the –eth form usually has one more syllable than the –s form, my choice was usually dictated by meter.
Why is it sometimes “you,” sometimes “thou,” sometimes “thee,” and sometimes “ye”?
All four match the meaning of the modern word “you,” but they have different connotations.
You use “you” or “thou” depending on who you’re talking to. “You” is respectful and somewhat formal—you might say it to your boss, your lord, or a client you want to impress. “Thou” is informal and implies that someone has equal or lower status—you might say it to your friend, your kid, or your pet. (Many modern languages, such as Spanish, still preserve this distinction.)
The Scoobies are an informal group, so “thou” is almost universal here. “You” only comes up when a minion is addressing Glory or Ben.
“Thee” is the same as “thou,” except “thee” is a grammatical object, while “thou” is a grammatical subject. So “thou speakest to me” but “I speak to thee.”
Finally, “ye” is for addressing more than one person. It’s like “y’all,” only without the Southern twang.
What resources did you use for this project?
My main guide to the language was the invaluable website Shakespeare’s Words.
For questions on the formatting of stage directions, character names, and so on, I looked to my own one-volume, illustrated, old-style copy of Shakespeare’s complete works.
My source material was this excellent transcript of the episode. I also consulted the shooting script on occasion, and naturally I re-watched the episode itself on Netflix.
I did learn a few things from reading Ian Doescher (the aforementioned Star Wars guy).
And of course, my dictionary and thesaurus got plenty of use, too.
If you’re wondering about that image at the top, which is meant to look something like an old-style engraving, it is of course just a doctored screenshot. The engraving effect came from Picture to People, which is classy enough to offer its services free, without license, restriction, or watermark. I also did a lot of adjusting in Paint.NET (which is likewise free, unrestricted, and wonderful).
I found an error! Are you shocked?
I am not. As I said, I did my homework, but I’m no expert. I’m sure there are lots of errors.
If you do find an error, feel free to let me know. I can’t promise I’ll get around to correcting it, but I’ll at least take a look.
What did you change from the original episode?
Of course there’s the obvious: language, meter, stage directions, etc. But I did change a few other things too.
You may notice the characters sometimes say lines with no direct equivalent in the episode. In nearly all cases, this happens when the episode conveys something important visually, rather than through dialogue. Obviously I can’t do that here, so I have to render it somehow in text.
Sometimes the visual thing is action. Stage directions like “ELIZABETH fights GLORIFICUS” have their place, but Shakespeare’s stage directions were minimal, and I’ve tried to honor that. So some characters self-narrate, so we know what they’re doing.
Other times the visual thing is emotion. In a lot of places, we learn how a character’s feeling only by their facial expression, so I do my best to render into dialogue what I imagine they’re feeling, often as an “aside” to the audience.
Beyond that, I’ve also made some minor changes to the structure, and to other little details, for practical reasons. Oh, and I ended the story on a slightly more hopeful note (though it’s still very sad). I never thought it was right that the last image of the season was Buffy’s tombstone.
So the final product follows the episode very closely, but it’s not quite the same.
Did you leave any anachronisms on purpose?
A few. “Wrecking ball” isn’t a term that Shakespeare would have recognized, but I decided not to worry about it too much. I also left in “shpadoinkle,” but it’s hard to call that an anachronism when it doesn’t even make sense today. There are probably some others I can’t think of right now.
What was the hardest part about doing this?
Well, I was constantly second-guessing myself. Did that word exist back then? Did people use it that way? Is that valid grammar? Did Shakespeare even use that form of punctuation? Am I formatting scene descriptions and stage directions correctly? Was there any single “correct” format? And on and on.
I learned a lot, though.
What was the best part about doing this?
My favorite part was rendering the episode’s most poetic moments—whether they had dialogue or not—as literal poetry. You can judge for yourself how well I succeeded, but it was a wonderful challenge regardless.
Will you be doing more episodes?
I don’t have any immediate plans, but it’s possible. I’ll have to see what people think about this one first.
Have you written any non-Shakespearean Buffy stuff?
I wrote a novella called “The Witch and the Dragon,” set 32 years after the end of the TV series. You’re welcome to check it out.