Saturday, November 2, 2013

The Play's the Thing: The Life of King Alfred in Three Acts

It had been a long time since I wrote a play. In fact, I can't remember writing one since my early teenage years when my siblings and I put on a production of Saint George and the Dragon to accompany our medieval feast and amuse the grandparents. 

The occasion of this most recent play was Reformation Day, the Protestant celebration that occurs on October 31 in place of (or concurrently with) Halloween. Our church tends to pick a different Reformer each year to commemorate on that day--John Knox, John Calvin, or the main man himself, Martin Luther--but this year things went rather far afield. Departing from the usual sixteenth century subjects, the organizers of the event elected to celebrate the life of Alfred the Great, the king of Wessex who fought the Vikings and started a great Christian reformation in England. Not THE Reformation, but a reformation nonetheless.

And being much more interested in the ninth century than I am in the sixteenth, I offered to write a play for the event. I finished it up in August and gave it to Lauren Shearer, a quite brilliant young woman, who adapted it and directed it with a motley crew of amateur actors, many of them under the age of twelve. 

Photo by George Shubin
Scene following the Battle of Edington:
Alfred: There is one more thing—you must give up your old gods and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Will you do this, Guthrum.

Guthrum: (pausing, then making up his mind) Yes, lord, we will. I give my solemn oath and pledge.

Nobleman 1: (shocked) But Your Majesty, how can you trust him? When have the Vikings ever kept their oaths before? Would it not be better to kill them all while we have the chance?

Alfred: And if we do kill them, then we are no better men than they. No, friend, we have been given God’s grace and we must show that grace to others—even to our enemies. And if we can teach them His Word, then, and only then will these Vikings learn to keep their own word. (going forward and raising Guthrum to his feet) Come, Guthrum, let us go to the church. The bishop will baptize you this very day and I will stand your godfather for the ceremony. 
All in all, it was a great success. The battle scenes were so harrowing that my almost-two-year-old had to be taken out screaming. My favorite part was the ending song performed by the whole cast, lyrics written by King Alfred himself and music written by my sister Angela.
When the enemy comes in a’roarin’ like a flood,
Coveting the kingdom and hungering for blood,
The Lord will raise a standard up and lead His people on,
The Lord of Hosts will go before defeating every foe;
Defeating every foe.  
For the Lord is our defense, Jesus defend us,
For the Lord is our defense, Jesu defend. 


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