My principal venue in the Medieval History forum at About.com was on a thread called "A Once and Future Language" that I started so I could teach about Old, Middle, and Early Modern English, as well as discuss trends and possible directions English might take over the next few hundred years. I commented on other threads as well, especially when discussions turned to matters that might have something or other to do with language.
The entire forum became somewhat contentious after a while because of issues like the corruption of the Medieval Roman Catholic Church. Several commenters, using the backdrop of indisputable outrages, atrocities, and shocking behaviors of the Church, went into rather extreme condemnations of all things having to do with the Church and even Christianity, itself. Although sympathetic to the essential point that the Church as an institution was corrupt, I was and remain wholly disinterested in making some sweeping condemnation of all things associated with the Church of that time. Indeed, charity and widespread good works were hallmarks of Christiantity as it was projected into Medieval Europe through Catholicism: orphanages, old age homes, hospitals, and centers of teaching and repositories of knowledge simply would not have existed had there not been monks, nuns, and faithful among the laity to see to these awful and wonderful things in that difficult time.
I stopped writing on About.com for reasons having to do with the overbearing behavior of the moderator of the Medieval History forum and the increasingly vehement, Right-wing rhetoric being spewed by moderators on political forums that kept being posted in the sidebar of the Medieval History forum.
But during my tenure as a commentera term that made "A Once and Future Language" the longest thread ever thereI provided not just instruction in the spoken and written language of our Anglo-Saxon ancestors, but also entertainment of several sorts, something I did on message boards I frequented in the 1990s, too. One of my favorite diversions was writing silly plays that I would post as comments. Readers here might recall that I published a play of sorts on AMERICAblog in late 2004, and I republished it here as a Wraith Classics installment in March of last year.
Recent comments addressed to me here and at Big Brass Blog have inspired me to resurrect one of my plays from the Medieval History forum. In bringing this one back to life, I have done some recasting, but the essential ideas and form of the play remain intact. By way of explaining the background for what readers are about to encounter, I should note that my plays at the Medieval History forum had two central characters: the Selig Wraith and the Dog. Both were spirits who lived by the River Stix, on the side where those who had just died came to be taken to eternal damnation, which was across the river. The Wraith and the Dog spent much of their time just being friends, occasionally traveling to times in history where something interesting might be going on. For the most part, they avoided major historical figures and events, though; but occasionally their curiosity would get the better of them, and they'd get into a situation they didn't much care for.
I never finished the entire series of plays, although in later works I hinted broadly at where the story arc was headed, as readers might notice in the play below. I did not get to the end point before I left the Medieval History forum, but maybe someday I shall do so here. I would have to republish more of the original plays, though, so readers here could get used to the characters and their story. Perhaps I shall do that someday, but for now I should be content to offer an updated version of one play.
Without further blather, I now present the updated, substantially expanded version of a play first published at the Medieval History forum of About.com on August 16, 2003.
Selig Wraith Productions in association with Medieval Musings Entertainment proudly presents The Trials
[Fade in scene]
[Sky in twilight; pan down to bank of wide river; water calm like glass: gloomy, murky]
[Pan toward shoreline]
[Two figures: one, a man; the other, a smaller animal]
[Voices of two conversing]
Wraith: It's quiet tonight... no traffic at all.
Dog: Kind of spooky. Of course, I suppose it's supposed to be spooky here.
Wraith: [chuckling] Well, yes. This is the river to the other side.
Dog: [shuddering slightly, looking across the river] Sometimes I wonder what it's like over there.
Wraith: I shall allow my curiosity to go unsatisfied on that matter.
Dog: It's funny: as wraiths, our lot is to appear to people shortly before their deaths, and then we escort them to the riverbank here for the boatman to take across; but we don't really know where we're sending them.
Wraith: Oh, I have a good idea.
Dog: And that's another thing: We see them before their deaths, then we pick them up on the road here to the river after they've died... but what happens to them between the time when they die and when we put them on their way to the other side?
Wraith: [staring out at the water] It's not good.
Dog: [looking up at the Wraith] Do I want to know?
Wraith: [grinning, looking down at the Dog] Whether or not you want to know, I guess I should tell you anyway.
Dog: [staring straight at the Wraith's face] I really need to stop asking you throw-away questions just to make conversation, shouldn't I?
Wraith: [laughing] Don't worry. To us, it's just a story.
Dog: [sitting down] Let me get comfortable, here; I have a bad feeling I won't have occasion to be comfortable again for quite a while after this story.
Wraith: [looking absently back out over the water] Long ago, I had the same question as you about what happened to people right after they died, but before I caught up with them on the path down here to the river. I knew something significant had occurred because the souls were always so... so vacant by the time I found them again. Against my better judgment, I decided that I would follow one of my victims from the moment he died until he got to the path down here to the river.
Dog: This was before we met, right?
Wraith: Yes. In fact, had you been with me at that time, I'm sure I would have dragged you along on that misadventure.
Dog: "Misadventure"?! Now, I know I'm going to be sorry I asked about this.
Wraith: I went where I wasn't supposed to, I can tell you that much. My victim's soul walked right into this darkness that immediately became bright light directly in front of him.
Dog: Ah! The legendary light people see right after they die.
Wraith: I presume so. It makes sense... but that bright light comes from the end of a corridor that opens into a big room.
Dog: A room? What kind of room?
Wraith: Well, I got into the room, and there were all of these chairs behind a finely varnished wooden rail. The front of the room wasn't a front at all; it was a bright, grey fog... I mean, really bright. It took me a minute for my eyes to adjust to all that light; but finally, I began to make out what looked like two men standing with their backs to me. They were facing that bright mist. And over to the side was a cage, and the dead guy's soul was standing in the cage.
Dog: You're describing a courtroom of some kind.
Wraith: [nodding] Yes, but not just any courtroom.
Dog: Good Heavens! You saw a judgment! Cool!
Wraith: Not cool.
Dog: [Sitting back down] Uh-oh. What happened? And who were the two men standing there?
Wraith: To put it in context for you, my friend, those two were the big dogs.
Dog: Okay, now I have to hear this story.
[Fade to black]
[Scene opens in courtroom]
[Two men standing, facing bright fog; soul cowering in cage off to side]
[Man standing on left takes step forward, clears his throat, speaks into the bright fog]
Satan: My Lord, it is my pleasure to represent the prosecution in the matter of the dispensation of the soul before us this day.
[Man on right takes step forward]
Jesus: My Lord, I represent the soul of the deceased, coming as he does before this Court to be granted entry to Heaven.
Satan: I must object to this proceeding, Lord: counsel for the Defendant is related by blood to You; this presents a clear and compelling conflict of interest; I, therefore, move for summary judgment in favor of the Prosecution.
[Brief, uncomfortable silence.]
[Voicealmost youthful, barely audiblereturns from fog]
God: Are you representing to this Court that the Lord God cannot be trusted to be objective at all times and in all matters?
Satan: [Straightening, looking serious] I would certainly not represent any such thing, my Lord... I am merely noting the appearance of a conflict of interest. I am certain that the Lord our God will always render a decision that is perfectly and everlastingly just.
God: Then proceed.
Satan: Yes, my Lord. [pauses briefly and looks down as if to think for a moment... looks back up] Your Honor, the facts are typical: a mortal human who has led a sinful life without honest and genuine shame during said life, having feigned salvation but never having sought redemption at any level of credibility whatsoever at any time in any place. All representations he would make to the effect that this Court should have mercy upon him must be dismissed for lack of demonstrable evidence during his life that he truly, in his heart, believed in You. His claims to the contrary are craven lies to save his soul from eternal damnation. This man was cruel, vicious, and unrepetent; he was, in fact, proud of his meanness and put it on display in ways that caused death and suffering to many, many thousands.
Jesus: My Lord, I stipulate that this man was a sinner; I further stipulate that these sins on more than several occasions reached gravity beyond...
Satan: [interrupting] Then we can move for summary judgment in my favor.
Jesus: No! The stipulation of sin is nothing more than an admission of the obvious: this soul belonged to a mortal human.
Satan: [Looking at Jesus] You seek to dismiss a recognized cause for conviction as nothing more than the "nature of the beast," or some such nonsense?
Jesus: [Still looking straight ahead] Each person is born with sinoriginal sin, if nothing else. If sinfulness were sufficient for conviction, all peoples in all times would be delivered to you upon death. We would have no need for judgment.
God: Where are you going with this argument, Yeshua?
Jesus: Grace was given to man as the means by which, though he be sinful and lost, he might also be saved.
Satan: [Becoming more pointed] "Grace"? A sleight of hand to save the lost soul? Does this "Grace" also undo the damage that poor, lost soul did in life? Does this "Grace" also protect Heaven from the corruption of a soul such as this?
God: The Court is pleased that you are so concerned with the purity of My House, Lucifer; but you will maintain decorum before me.
Satan: [casting eyes down, putting hands together at fingertips] My apology, dear Lord. I cannot but respond, though, to the claim that, by fiat of "Grace" or some other special dispensation, the sinner is forgiven of all that he has done: this soul belonged to a monster.
Jesus: Through me, he is forgiven.
Satan: [fighting back gleeful smile] And how is that done, might I ask my honored opponent, here?Could it be that the Son is withholding evidence from this Court?
Jesus: [looking right at Satan] How dare you? I...
Satan: [interrupting] Setting aside his nature as a liar, which I should note compelled him in life to be the most pious of speakers in the hallways and streets, at what point did this miserable, human scum everEVER!really accept you as his personal lord and saviour? WHEN?!
Jesus: [leaning toward Satan] When did I EVER pose that such was the categorical price of absolution? WHEN?! Do not put words into my mouth!
Satan: [throwing his head back, clapping his hands together] Lo, Jesus! Your own disciples put words into your mouth. Why? Because you left them to find their own way. Every lunatic, heretic, liar, charlatan, and soothsayer flowed into the vacuum you gave the world as your parting gift. What's the matter: was it going to get too complicated trying to make everyone "go and sin no more"? Send your weaklings out, but be sure they know they're nothing but a bunch of sniveling cowards because they didn't stand up to the whole goddamned Roman Legion on your behalf.
Jesus: People are the victims of the time in which they live. What am I to do of your demons who debase my believers as if it is my will, when it most decidedly is NOT?
God: [voice becoming more mature, feminine] Do not stand before Me, Jesus, and claim moral ambiguity. They have ALWAYS known right from wrong! ALWAYS!
Jesus: And they have always known the pain of mortal flesh that, by its very nature, separates them from You.
Satan: I am touched by your pity for their sad, sad loneliness... so isolated are they that they must wallow in sin to feed their poor, miserable flesh.
Jesus: I was one of them. I thought I was alone on the cross. [looking into the fog, leaning forward] Do you hear me?ALONE!
Satan: Do not wail your pathetic lamentation in my presence, Jesus. Would you like to feel my separation from God... WOULD you? Eternal... everlasting... unrelenting darkness? And all the while, the mortals bathe in the sunlight of life... and all the while, even to the very last second of that life, they can hold up their hands and say, "O Jesus! You are my personal lord and saviour! Forgive me my sins! I am yours, I am yours, I am YOURS! [dramatic pause] [in mocking voice] And now, Jesus, please open those gates to Heaven, that I might sing the praises of our worthy Lord God forever and ever and ever."
Jesus: That is why I died for them.
Satan: Are you that stupid, son, or do you actually believe you died for some reason other than that you were nothing but a mere human? People die... they suffer, and then they DIE. That's what became of you, O Great Savior who had the book of your life written by your sycophants whose own lives were so bereft of meaning they needed your bleeding wounds to show them the way forward.
God: ENOUGH! Be silent and hear My judgment.
God: [voice again youthful, soft] In the matter of this soul, My holding is thus. The facts are as presented, this soul having been of a mortal body and having committed sins such as to have fallen from My Grace. The issue is whether this soul shall be admitted to Heaven or be damned to eternal Hell. My ruling is that this soul shall be condemned to everlasting punishment. My reasoning is that the living person whose soul is before Me failed in his life to merit the Grace of God. Thus has Yahweh spoken.
[Satan looks up, smiling; Jesus stares at the ground, visibly shaking]
[Fog dims, becomes impenetrably dark]
Satan: [looking over at convicted soul in cage; then looking back at Jesus] Such a good proceeding.
Jesus: [turning his back on Satan and the Convicted] Take your spoils and leave.
Satan: Oh, I shall; but first I must go down the hall for a few minutes. [almost obvious affectation] Just keep an eye on my prize until I return.
[Satan walks toward door at back, slows down by shadowy figure sitting in chair]
Satan: [passing Wraith in chair, leans over, whispering, grinning] I just love this part.
[Long, dead silence]
[Jesus standing motionless with back to the Convicted]
Convicted: [hands on bars of cage, quietly, tentatively] Jesus?
Jesus: [almost looking over his shoulder, then looking away] The trial is over.
Convicted: But you said you love me... and... you forgive me.
Jesus: [shaking, almost choking on tears] Of course I do.
Convicted: [crying, clenching bars] Then save me. Please!
Jesus: [clenching teeth to speak] The ruling has been made.
Convicted: But you're God! You make the rules!
Jesus: [looking straight up, fighting tears] I do not "make" the rules; I am the rules. You have just declared me your personal savior; you have just recognized me as the Lord your God... and yet, all of this you have done when Faith no longer matters. Such is the way of the dead, believing that Grace can exist in the absence of Faith.
Convicted: And so you would forsake me in the same hour that your father forsook you? I cannot believe that you would let that happen ever again... I just cannot bear that thought. [brief silence] It was just... I just did what I thought was right.
Jesus: [openly crying] So did I.
[Door at back opens; Satan re-enters]
[Walks past Jesus, heading for cage]
Satan: [patting Jesus on the shoulder] We simply must stop meeting in the Wilderness like this, my friend.
[Cage opens; the Convicted steps out]
Satan: [taking the Convicted by hand, leading soul toward impenetrably dark fog] Come now; it is time we begin your eternity of everlasting torment... [looking over shoulder, winking at Jesus] Say goodbye to Jesus... [mockingly] Your client says, 'Bye-bye', Jesus.
[Zoom camera to follow Satan and the Convicted into the fog]
[Fade to black]
[Return scene to Wraith and Dog at bank of river]
Wraith: As he disappeared into that fog, Satan laughed hysterically... and Jesus wept. I found the soul coming down the pathway to the river. Just like all the others we find here, he didn't have a single word to say. Just another miserable soul going to Hell. Funniest part is, the guy had been the kingor ruler or somethingof a country in the 21st Century.
Dog: He was a king?!
Wraith: Well, I thought so. I had gone to visit him several days before his death because he was such a horrible and powerful man that I was afraid he might actually be a harbinger of the End Time.
Dog: Well, was he?
Wraith: Sort of. But I appeared to him instead of to the one who was at the nexus of the Tribulation... so I got the wrong fellow.
Dog: And Satan's plan went forward, then.
Wraith: Actually, no. Satan had no interest in bringing the world to an end in that time. That's why Satan was acting like this was just another hapless soul waiting to be dragged into Hell. He certainly didn't want God to think an agent of the Apocalypse was standing right there in front of Him.
Dog: Now I'm totally confused.
Wraith: So was I: I could have sworn Richard Cheney was the king of that country, and that's why he was the one I needed to visit. Turned out he wasn't the king, and he wasn't the one I should have visited at all.
Dog: It was a ruse?
Wraith: Completely. I thought the putative king was just a puppet, but it turned out he really was the powerful leader, and it was he, and he alone, who was dragging the world to the end of all things. And to this very day I can't believe I didn't see the Mark on George W. Bush.
Dog: That was the name of the one who bore the Mark?
Wraith: And I didn't have a clue... then again, neither did Satan.
Dog: [shaking head violently] Good grief! That's still giving me chills, too. You actually had Satan walk right by you... and he grinned at you?! YE GODS, Wraith!
Wraith: Yep. And I'm here to tell you that I am resolved never to get that close to Lucifer again... That's why you and I are staying on this side of the river.
Dog: And we're not going upstream to that century you were talking about, either, are we?
Wraith: [looking west] That place isn't there anymore anyway.
Dog: [ears going straight up] Holy cow, Wraith! Can we go somewhere and drink about a keg of ale to calm my nerves?
Wraith: [smiling broadly] How about some ale from London... early 14th Century?
Dog: [wagging tail] Perfect! That sounds like enough centuries between us and whatever you were talking about that I don't want to know about. And while we're on our way, can we have a bit of poetry to get us going?
[Wraith and Dog walking east along river bank]
[Pan camera up as Wraith begins poem]
[Fading voice, echo chamber effect]
Counts the hours, th' wayward soul;
passion's sinner awaits th' toll.
Drink life's bounty, suffer an' die;
Christ will abide! This be thy lie.
Alone thou wert, before thy birth;
soon to be ashsuch is thy worth.
Precious souls, know not their fates.
Live, love, an' laugh: thy grave awaits!
[Fade to black]
[Cut]©2003, Selig Wraith.
And the Dark Wraith takes a bow.