At last! Shakespeare's long-lost St George
Thursday 24 April 1997
Well, there is! Experts have recently uncovered the remains of a hitherto unknown Shakespeare play which is on the very subject of St George and the Dragon. It is called, as you might expect, The Two Georges of Smyrna.
Would you like to see an extract?
Well, too bad, because here it is.
The scene is a back street of Smyrna, some time between the invention of Christianity and the modern day. Enter George, a knight errant, with his attendant dragon.
George: We have journeyed many a mile together
Before we came to this fair town named Smyrna.
And now we seek a place to lay our weary heads,
Which is not quite so easy as it sounds,
For every door on which we knock for help
Has got a sign saying: "Dragons not welcome here".
Why do they like you not?
Dragon: I cannot tell.
We dragons are a harmless lot, God wot.
We puff and blow and make a lot of noise,
And cause a little fire from time to time.
Why, I myself once burnt a haystack down
While laughing at a joke. My gusty breath
Being full of sparks did catch a corner of the hay
And moments later there was nothing left.
But every dragon has a tale like this.
Thereafter are we careful with our breath
And never cause another fire again.
Not so with humankind, whose carelessness
Leaves every town ablaze from time to time.
George: Yes, yes, I know. We humans are to blame
For everything that happens in this world,
Yet somehow shift the blame to dragons.
This is the constant burden of your plaint.
Dragon: And it is true, as you have oft confessed!
George: You may be right, but that is not the point.
Dragon: What is the point, oh holy one-to-be,
Oh martyr on the make, oh future saint?
George: The point is seeking lodgings for the night,
And that would be a simple thing to find
Did I not have a dragon at my side!
Dragon: Oh, now I start to catch your general drift!
I cramp your style, is what you mean to say!
I, who have saved your life so often in the past,
Am now a little surplus to your wants!
Upon the road I am your trusty friend
But here in town a mere embarrassment!
George: Now, look, old dragon friend...
Dragon: No, say no more!
I'll take your hint and make myself right scarce.
I have have a cousin here in Smyrna, a dragon like me,
With whom I may perchance find room to stay.
I'll search him out and bother you no more.
Tomorrow you can buy a horse and then
You'll look just like a normal knight again.
George: Nay, fair dragon, take not offence at me!
We have endured so many dangers, me and thee,
That being bound together in a common plight,
We should not be parted by a trifling fight.
Dragon: Ye cannot soften me with all this rhyme.
Perhaps we'll meet again some other time.
The dragon tosses his head proudly and goes off without a second glance. George scratches his head ruefully.
George: Alas, I do repent me of my hasty tongue,
Which yet again has far outrun my thought.
But night draws on and I have still no bed,
And nowhere in Smyrna to lay my weary head.
Yet hold! Have I not a long-lost cousin
Whose name is also George, here in this town?
I think I have! Him will I search for now!
Enter a second dragon, who starts on seeing George and then hails him
2nd Dragon: Why, master, are you here again so
George: What mean you, fool? I've ne'er been
2nd Dragon: Oh, master, that's a sorry tale to tell...
Well, it's quite clear what's going to happen, isn't it? George and the dragon have both got identical cousins in Smyrna and there's going to be a lot of incredibly unfunny mistaken identity before everything is cleared up. So I think we'll quietly lose the manuscript again.
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