le roi, le rat et le fou du roi


Editions Lansman, Paris 2002

Translated from the French by Joyce Nettles

2 men




Somewhere, in one of the corners of the world where democracy has certain difficulties in finding its way out of the mysteries of power, a King and his fool will be soon whipped off under the cheers of the masses. At the first level of this morbid carnival, the old courtiers and their suite. How will they face the death? And why is the destiny of the fool related to the King’s? Maybe the rats will bring a new point of view granted that... they accept to speak.

Characters :

The King
The Fool
The rats

The curtains open to reveal a dark room that resembles a prison cell. There is one door, and a barred window. The door opens with a metallic clang, and two people are pushed brutally onto the stage. The first is the king. He is on a kind of mobile throne, a bit like a wheelbarrow. He wears a weird crown, more like a birthday cake covered with candles, though only one is lit. It appears that he has been subjected to some terrible humiliation. The second is the Fool. He looks like a mummy, as he’s been encased in toilet paper. Round the lower part of his face is a red ribbon tied in a bow, making him look like a birthday present. The door closes with the same metallic clang. Two seconds later, it opens again. The real crown, together with the flute that the Fool played in the prologue, are thrown onto the stage, at the feet of the two men. The flute breaks into two as it falls. The door closes again, this time for good. The Fool wails and struggles like a madman. The King, though, seems calm and dreamy, in a room lit only by the one candle burning on his "crown".


The King – Am I dead?

The Fool moans again, and struggles even more, rolling on the ground.

Tell me I am dead, Triboulet.

The Fool manages to release his left forearm.

(Speaking as if detached from the real world.) Why do I always have to put up with your antics, Triboulet? It’s torture.

The Fool manages to release his left hand.

Phooo! What’s that stink in here? Is it the stench of the people’s misery? Or of the earth’s entrails rising up through the sewers. Maybe the people learned that their King is dead and all vomited.

The Fool continues to struggle like a wild beast, and eventually frees both his feet.

Oh! And now this terrible headache is starting up again. It’s like I’ve got two heads in one skull. Do you think that’s possible, Triboulet?

The Fool moans, struggles some more, and starts to undo the ribbon that’s preventing him from speaking.

Some people are born with only one kidney, or with just one lung… Sometimes, hens lay eggs that have two yolks… So, nature could perhaps create two heads in one skull… Triboulet, why don’t you answer me when I’m speaking to you?

Roaring like a wild animal, the Fool finally manages to remove the gag and he spits out several bits of toilet paper that had been stuffed into his mouth.

Unless I have two brains. Maybe my first brain has started to grow a second brain… That would explain why my head’s getting bigger… That kind of thing happens in nature. Don’t our milk teeth get pushed out of their sockets by second teeth?

Completely ignoring the King, the Fool, angry almost to fever pitch, starts to free his right hand. He lets out a cry.

(Still in a dreamlike state.) Is that you belching, Triboulet? Are you belching or crying? You’re crying? Like me. It’s all right, Triboulet, it’s all right. You cry. It’ll help. And let me say I deeply regret not having made you a knight. You deserved it, for all your loyal stupidity. At the very least I should have had a medal engraved with your likeness, or given you a little fiefdom…

Now completely free, the Fool leaps like a cat and hurls himself against the door, determined to break it down with the force of his body.

The Fool – Shit, shit, shit! Arseholes!

The King (still dreamy) – But now that I’m dead, I can’t do anything. My crown is as worthless as a pig’s bladder that’s been blown up and filled with dried peas. Do you know, Triboulet, I’d like them to bury me dressed in a suit of yellow and green, the colours of madness…

The Fool (paying no attention whatsoever to what the King is saying, but directing his every word to those supposedly behind the door) – Open up this minute, you bastards! Guard, open up immediately! Enough’s enough!

The Fool takes a few steps backwards, re-gathers his strength, and charges once more at the door.

That’s enough larking about! Do you understand?

The King – And instead of my sceptre, I will hold a cap and bells in my grave, Triboulet… And you can sing all about it in your songs. Do you understand? Triboulet, I’m talking to you. Can you hear me?

The Fool (beating the door with his fists) – I haven’t done anything! I’m one of you! Long live the people! Long live the revolution! Open up! Open up, do you hear? Down with the King! Open up! I’m just a fool… Open up, in the name of God. I’m only a fool… You have no right to do this to me! I made you laugh… I made you laugh, you scabby bastards… Come on, open up! Long live the people!

The King (taking off one of his gloves and throwing it at Triboulet’s head) – Oh do shut up, Triboulet, I have such a headache.

The Fool (ignoring the King and still focussed on those supposedly behind the door) – I made you laugh… Don’t forget that I made you laugh… Even now, I can hear you, behind the door, laughing…

The King (taking off his shoes and looking at them in his hands) – Yes, that’s maybe why my head is splitting… I must have two brains in here. (He taps his forehead with one of his shoes.) What do you think, Triboulet? (He throws one of his shoes at Triboulet’s head.) Is it possible that I’ve got one brain embedded in the other? I wouldn’t be at all surprised, actually. The people have a short memory, so it’s normal that the King should have two brains.

The King throws the second shoe at Triboulet’s head. Demented, humiliated, Triboulet crawls around the base of the wall on all fours. He stops at the window. He hiccups. He stands up and tries to look through the window, but it’s too high.

The Fool (jumping up to try and get a grip on the bars, and still shouting at those supposedly outside) – Let me out of here!

The King – Have a little dignity, Triboulet…

The Fool – You can’t soil your hands with the blood of an innocent fool!

The King (speaking as "the people") – Oh, but we can.

The Fool (angry) – I’m not talking to you. (At last he manages to get hold of the bars, but he isn’t able to pull himself up enough to see out of the window.) I’m just an innocent fool. Don’t you understand?

The King (speaking, again, as the people) – No.

The Fool (still speaking to those supposedly on the other side of the window) – I want to speak to the judge! I want to speak to the prison governor. Let me out! Stop this farce at once!

The King – Tell me a joke, Triboulet. Tell me something funny… And stop hiccupping. Come here, and massage my temples…

The Fool – Your Majesty, please don’t speak to me because I’m not speaking to you. Everything is over between us! I’m a free man now. And I want to get out…

The King – Then try a little patience, Triboulet. You’ll be free as soon as you manage to relinquish yourself of your skin.
Humiliated, defeated, the Fool approaches the Kind and starts to massage the soles of his feet.

The Fool (whimpering) – I want to get out, I want to get out, don’t you understand?

The King (still dreamily) – Is it, in your opinion, possible to have a brain that, under the pressure of so much disgust, gives birth to a spare brain… And this second brain has to grow so horribly quickly, that it bursts through the cranium and causes this intolerable pain…

The Fool (still massaging the King’s feet) – Don’t think about it any more, your Majesty. It’s the thinking that’s giving you a headache. You’d do better to call the guards and get them to let me out of here.

The King – The old sick brain is dislodged by the new one, but then the new one is immediately struck down with disgust too, and so a third one starts to push up, and push up… and that makes the pot overflow…

The Fool abandons the King’s feet and goes again to the door.

The Fool (beating furiously on the door) – I don’t want to be locked in here with a madman. I have the right to my own cell. I insist that you give me my own cell!

The King gets up, with the grandiosity of a monarch wounded or in pain, and drags himself to the door. He, too, starts to beat on it.

The King – Let my fool out immediately!

The Fool – Tell them I’m innocent.

The King – My fool is innocent.

The Fool – Tell them who you are.

The King – It’s your King speaking to you.

The Fool – Louder! Louder!

The King – My fool is innocent!

The Fool (lighting a second candle on the King’s crown, and whispering to him what to say.) – I insist he is freed immediately!

The King – I insist he is freed immediately!

The Fool (in a whisper) – Remember that it’s he who made you laugh!

The King – Remember that it’s he who made you laugh!

The Fool (lighting a third candle, and whispering) – And he can still make you laugh if you let him. The revolution needs a fool. If you want your revolution to succeed, then look after the King’s fool. Every revolution that turns its back on the old fools is heading for disaster, for failure…

The King (though not entirely against Triboulet’s idea) – Triboulet, a little respect, please. I may not say that.

The Fool – Say it anyway, your Majesty. It really doesn’t matter; nobody can hear you.

The King – I’m very sorry, Triboulet, but you really can’t ask that of me.

The Fool lights another two candles.

The Fool – Please, your Majesty, just for me…

The King (shouting) – Every revolution that turns its back on the old fools is heading for disaster, for failure…

The Fool – You see, it wasn’t that difficult, was it?

The King (enthusiastic now, he continues at shouting pitch) – Kill me if you must. Kill your King, but, for the sake of your country, save the king’s fool. He will always entertain you!

The Fool (touched, almost blushing) – Your Majesty, I never expected so much of you…

The King (climbing back into his wheelbarrow throne) – But you deserve it, you really do. You have been a simply wonderful fool.

The Fool – Your Majesty, honestly, you’ll make me cry.

The King – It’s only with your help that I was able to steady myself against the feelings of intoxication I got when I looked into the abyss of the inane trappings of my power.

The Fool – Oh, how sad that nobody’s around to hear you say that. (He beats at the door.) Is there somebody there? Answer me! I’m not asking for anything, just that you listen.

The King – Your humour was my only honest mirror. Your fooling was the highest possible eulogy for liberty. And, moreover, it was the only form of freedom that I ever knew…

The Fool – Oh, that’s wonderful… wonderful… I beg you, your Majesty, don’t speak any more… Don’t torture me further. It hurts me, it hurts me to know that the ears of history are not hearing your words. The King confesses, and – shit – where is everybody? Guard, say if you’re there! (To the King) Nobody! History has tiny ears, like a pig… But where are they, dear God? Where are they?

There is an enormous crash from outside, and the cell is lit by what seems like an explosion.

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Laissant dans cette pièce une grande liberté d'interprétation aux comédiens et aux spectateurs, le prolifique Visniec livre une pièce un brin désarçonnante qui se regarde comme une fable onirique, conte imaginaire et poétique dans un moyen-âge au coeur de l'actualité. Quelque part dans une geôle insalubre, un Roi déchu et son bouffon vont bientôt passer à la trappe sous les vivats de la foule. Le roi, que guette la potence, se confesse et avoue volontiers du bouffon la vraie utilité. Au premier rang de ce carnaval morbide, les anciens courtisans et leurs ouailles. Comment vont-ils affronter la camarde ? Et pourquoi donc le destin du fou est-il lié à celui du Roi ? Peut-être les rats, à la présence inquiétante, apporteront-ils un point de vue nouveau à condition... qu'ils acceptent de prendre la parole.

(Gérard Moncy, Théâtre Anagramme, Lyon)

Company Clin d’Oeil, St. Jean de Braye, France, 2002, directed by Gérard Audax ; Festival d’Avignon off 2004, at Le Chien qui fume Theater


English (translation Joyce Nettles)


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