Jack and Henry: A Shakespearean Chimera

Act 1

"Thou art violently carried away from grace:
there is a devil haunts thee in the likeness of an
old fat man."
-1 Henry IV

An Old Fat Man

His name was Henry, and his blood was very good. His early training, in rhetoric and fencing, predisposed him to be a great lord.

When he was thirteen, his father succeeded in...taking the throne. Some of his methods were very holy; others, at best, seemed somewhat impure.

At the coronation ceremony, Henry, as prince, was given wings. At his shoulders, they were engineered to interface with the existing nerves.

As Henry flapped them, that first time, he made two promises. (1) As an heir-in-waiting, he would bring honor his country. (2) As a fledgeling angel, he would eschew sin.

Years later, Henry reneged. As a young man, he drank and gambled. He snorted at foul jokes. In the tavern, when violent music played, he stamped his feet.

When he was twenty, he began to associate with demons. Most were minor demons, who had been born in the shallowest strata of Hell. They were small, wiry creatures, with weasel-quick movements. They robbed, but they did not murder. They committed adultery, but did not have sex with the non-consenting.

His closest companion, however, came a much deeper pit. He was very very large. Had he remained in Hell, with its grueling physical duties, he might have been a very grand specimen. Exertion would have shaped his bulk-to gigantic skeletal muscles, and a hard torso.

As a resident of earth, however, this companion was simply fat. He obtained his food via a conniving sort of charm, without ever having to toil for it. Whenever he laughed or gestured, his flesh jiggled; and it continued to jiggle...then vibrate...then quiver...long after the rest of him had ceased moving.

About his elbows, there were rings of dimples. Beneath his mouth, there were multiple chins.

By earth norms, he appeared to be about sixty-five. In his face, however, the "tell-tale" wrinkles were oriented in a somewhat disconcerting way. It was difficult, that is, to understand them as proper wear-marks, since they did not seem to correspond to any rational human expression.

His name was Jack.        

In the countryside, Henry and his friends formed a nefarious band-The Prince and the Demons. They rode stolen horses. They harassed the resident clergymen. They defaced churches (and livestock) with rude pictures, written in pigs' blood. On Sundays, they crashed the rural choirs, and sang obscene lyrics, in place of the proper ones.

In the tavern, resting from their misdeeds, they often traded insults. Once (on a rather typical evening), Henry derided the others for their demon-specific appendages. The demons responded by parading themselves in a self-mocking way. Over their horns, they draped their purses. Through the loops of their trousers-like makeshift belts-they threaded their tails.

The demons, in turn, ridiculed the prince for his wings. In response, the prince fluttered the heavenly organs with an exaggerated prissiness: La, La, La. Then, with a wry snort, he clapped them shut. "I did not earn them," he insisted. To underline this point, he took a gulp of fortified wine, gargled it, then expelled it off-handedly through one nostril.

Snorting raucously, the demons applauded. Jack, clapping loudest, clamped the prince in a vigorous bear hug. The prince, smothered by armpit flab, made forceful protests: "Get off, you swollen parcel! Get off, you bolting-hutch!"

"Quiet, Hal," Jack growled good-naturedly. In response, Henry made a play of going limp (and crossing his eyes), as if he had abruptly died. "Hal! Hal!" cried Jack, in pretended concern. He slapped Henry's cheeks, then poured an entire cup of wine into his mouth. Henry, pretending to sputter, spat it back, in one discrete stream, aimed at Jack's left eye.

"He's alive!" Jack cried, wiping his face. With a great sigh (as if of relief), he dropped/pushed Henry to the ground. Then, he kicked him congenially in the gut, as if to congratulate him for being so resilient. Finally (as Henry bit his ankle), he raised his glass, to frame a toast. The other demons, belching sulfur, joined him.

"To Our Henry!" they cried "To the Heir of England!"

Act 2