"THE SEVENTH SEAL"
The night had brought little relief from the heat, and at
dawn a hot gust of wind blows across the colorless sea. The
KNIGHT, Antonius Block, lies prostrate on some spruce branches
spread over the fine sand. His eyes are wide-open and
bloodshot from lack of sleep.
Nearby his squire JONS is snoring loudly. He has fallen asleep
where he collapsed, at the edge of the forest among the wind-
gnarled fir trees. His open mouth gapes towards the dawn,
and unearthly sounds come from his throat. At the sudden
gust of wind, the horses stir, stretching their parched
muzzles towards the sea. They are as thin and worn as their
The KNIGHT has risen and waded into the shallow water, where
he rinses his sunburned face and blistered lips. JONS rolls
over to face the forest and the darkness. He moans in his
sleep and vigorously scratches the stubbled hair on his head.
A scar stretches diagonally across his scalp, as white as
lightning against the grime.
The KNIGHT returns to the beach and falls on his knees. With
his eyes closed and brow furrowed, he says his morning
prayers. His hands are clenched together and his lips form
the words silently. His face is sad and bitter. He opens his
eyes and stares directly into the morning sun which wallows
up from the misty sea like some bloated, dying fish. The sky
is gray and immobile, a dome of lead. A cloud hangs mute and
dark over the western horizon. High up, barely visible, a
seagull floats on motionless wings. Its cry is weird and
restless. The KNIGHT'S large gray horse lifts its head and
whinnies. Antonius Block turns around.
Behind him stands a man in black. His face is very pale and
he keeps his hands hidden in the wide folds of his cloak.
Who are you?
I am Death.
Have you come for me?
I have been walking by your side for
a long time.
That I know.
Are you prepared?
My body is frightened, but I am not.
Well, there is no shame in that.
The KNIGHT has risen to his feet. He shivers. DEATH opens
his cloak to place it around the KNIGHT'S shoulders.
Wait a moment.
That's what they all say. I grant no
You play chess, don't you?
A gleam of interest kindles in DEATH'S eyes.
How did you know that?
I have seen it in paintings and heard
it sung in ballads.
Yes, in fact I'm quite a good chess
But you can't be better than I am.
The KNIGHT rummages in the big black bag which he keeps beside
him and takes out a small chessboard. He places it carefully
on the ground and begins setting up the pieces.
Why do you want to play chess with
I have my reasons.
That is your privilege.
The condition is that I may live as
long as I hold out against you. If I
win, you will release me. Is it
The KNIGHT holds out his two fists to DEATH, who smiles at
him suddenly. DEATH points to one of the KNIGHT'S hands; it
contains a black pawn.
You drew black!
Very appropriate. Don't you think
The KNIGHT and DEATH bend over the chessboard. After a moment
of hesitation, Antonius Block opens with his king's pawn.
DEATH moves, also using his king's pawn.
The morning breeze has died down. The restless movement of
the sea has ceased, the water is silent. The sun rises from
the haze and its glow whitens. The sea gull floats under the
dark cloud, frozen in space. The day is already scorchingly
The squire JONS is awakened by a kick in the rear. Opening
his eyes, he grunts like a pig and yawns broadly. He scrambles
to his feet, saddles his horse and picks up the heavy pack.
The KNIGHT slowly rides away from the sea, into the forest
near the beach and up towards the road. He pretends not to
hear the morning prayers of his squire. JONS soon overtakes
Between a strumpet's legs to lie Is
the life for which I sigh.
He stops and looks at his master, but the KNIGHT hasn't heard
JON'S song, or he pretends that he hasn't. To give further
vent to his irritation, JONS sings even louder.
Up above is God Almighty So very far
away, But your brother the Devil You
will meet on every level.
JONS finally gets the KNIGHT'S attention. He stops singing.
The KNIGHT, his horse, JONS'S own horse and JONS himself
know all the songs by heart. The long, dusty journey from
the Holy Land hasn't made them any cleaner. They ride across
a mossy heath which stretches towards the horizon. Beyond
it, the sea lies shimmering in the white glitter of the sun.
In Färjestad everyone was talking
about evil omens and other horrible
things. Two horses had eaten each
other in the night, and, in the
churchyard, graves had been opened
and the remains of corpses scattered
all over the place. Yesterday
afternoon there were as many as four
suns in the heavens.
The KNIGHT doesn't answer. Close by, a scrawny dog is whining,
crawling towards its master, who is sleeping in a sitting
position in the blazing hot sun. A black cloud of flies
clusters around his head and shoulders. The miserable-looking
dog whines incessantly as it lies flat on its stomach, wagging
JONS dismounts and approaches the sleeping man. JONS addresses
him politely. When he doesn't receive an answer, he walks
up to the man in order to shake him awake. He bends over the
sleeping man's shoulder, but quickly pulls back his hand.
The man falls backward on the heath, his face turned towards
It is a corpse, staring at JONS with empty eye sockets and
JONS remounts and overtakes his master. He takes a drink
from his waterskin and hands the bag to the knight.
Well, did he show you the way?
What did he say?
Was he a mute?
No, sir, I wouldn't say that. As a
matter of fact, he was quite eloquent.
He was eloquent, all right. The
trouble is that what he had to say
was most depressing.
One moment you're bright and lively,
The next you're crawling with worms.
Fate is a terrible villain And you,
my friend, its poor victim.
Must you sing?
The KNIGHT hands his squire a piece of bread, which keeps
him quiet for a while. The sun burns down on them cruelly,
and beads of perspiration trickle down their faces. There is
a cloud of dust around the horses' hooves. They ride past an
inlet and along verdant groves. In the shade of some large
trees stands a bulging wagon covered with a mottled canvas.
A horse whinnies nearby and is answered by the KNIGHT'S horse.
The two travelers do not stop to rest under the shade of the
trees but continue riding until they disappear at the bend
of the road.
In his sleep, JOF the juggler hears the neighing of his horse
and the answer from a distance. He tries to go on sleeping,
but it is stifling inside the wagon. The rays of the sun
filtering through the canvas cast streaks of light across
the face of JOF'S wife, MIA, and their one-year-old son,
MIKAEL, who are sleeping deeply and peacefully. Near them,
JONAS SKAT, an older man, snores loudly.
JOF crawls out of the wagon. There is still a spot of shade
under the big trees. He takes a drink of water, gargles,
stretches and talks to his scrawny old horse.
Good morning. Have you had breakfast?
I can't eat grass, worse luck. Can't
you teach me how? We're a little
hard up. People aren't very interested
in juggling in this part of the
He has picked up the juggling balls and slowly begins to
toss them. Then he stands on his head and cackles like a
hen. Suddenly he stops and sits down with a look of utter
astonishment on his face. The wind causes the trees to sway
slightly. The leaves stir and there is a soft murmur. The
flowers and the grass bend gracefully, and somewhere a bird
raises its voice in a long warble.
JOF'S face breaks into a smile and his eyes fill with tears.
With a dazed expression he sits flat on his behind while the
grass rustles softly, and bees and butterflies hum around
his head. The unseen bird continues to sing.
Suddenly the breeze stops blowing, the bird stops singing,
JOF'S smile fades, the flowers and grass wilt in the heat.
The old horse is still walking around grazing and swishing
its tail to ward off the flies.
JOF comes to life. He rushes into the wagon and shakes MIA
Mia, wake up. Wake up! Mia, I've
just seen something. I've got to
tell you about it!
(sits up, terrified)
What is it? What's happened?
Listen, I've had a vision. No, it
wasn't a vision. It was real,
Oh, so you've had a vision again!
MIA's voice is filled with gentle irony. JOF shakes his head
and grabs her by the shoulders.
But I did see her!
Whom did you see?
The Virgin Mary.
MIA can't help being impressed by her husband's fervor. She
lowers her voice.
Did you really see her?
She was so close to me that I could
have touched her. She had a golden
crown on her head and wore a blue
gown with flowers of gold. She was
barefoot and had small brown hands
with which she was holding the Child
and teaching Him to walk. And then
she saw me watching her and she smiled
at me. My eyes filled with tears and
when I wiped them away, she had
disappeared. And everything became
so still in the sky and on the earth.
Can you understand ...
What an imagination you have.
You don't believe me! But it was
real, I tell you, not the kind of
reality you see every day, but a
Perhaps it was the kind of reality
you told us about when you saw the
Devil painting our wagon wheels red,
using his tail as a brush.
Why must you keep bringing that up?
And then you discovered that you had
red paint under your nails.
Well, perhaps that time I made it
I did it just so that you would
believe in my other visions. The
real ones. The ones that I didn't
You have to keep your visions under
control. Otherwise people will think
that you're a half-wit, which you're
not. At least not yet -- as far as I
know. But, come to think of it, I'm
not so sure about that.
I didn't ask to have visions. I can't
help it if voices speak to me, if
the Holy Virgin appears before me
and angels and devils like my company.
Haven't I told you once and for all
that I need my morning's sleep! I
have asked you politely, pleaded
with you, but nothing works. So now
I'm telling you to shut up!
His eyes are popping with rage. He turns over and continues
snoring where he left off. MIA and JOF decide that it would
be wisest to leave the wagon. They sit down on a crate. MIA
has MIKAEL on her knees. He is naked and squirms vigorously.
JOF sits close to his wife. Slumped over, he still looks
dazed and astonished. A dry, hot wind blows from the sea.
If we would only get some rain.
Everything is burned to cinders. We
won't have anything to eat this
We'll get by.
He says this smilingly, with a casual air. He stretches and
I want Mikael to have a better life
Mikael will grow up to be a great
acrobat -- or a juggler who can do
the one impossible trick.
To make one of the balls stand
absolutely still in the air.
But that's impossible.
Impossible for us -- but not for
You're dreaming again.
She yawns. The sun, has made her a bit drowsy and she lies
down on the grass. JOF does likewise and puts one arm around
his wife's shoulders.
I've composed a song. I made it up
during the night when I couldn't
sleep. Do you want to hear it?
Sing it. I'm very curious.
I have to sit up first.
He sits with his legs crossed, makes a dramatic gesture with
his arms and sings in a loud voice.
On a lily branch a dove is perched
Against the summer sky, She sings a
wondrous song of Christ And there's
great joy on high.
He interrupts his singing in order to be complimented by his
Mia! Are you asleep?
It's a lovely song.
I haven't finished yet.
I heard it, but I think I'll sleep a
little longer. You can sing the rest
to me afterwards.
All you do is sleep.
JOF is a bit offended and glances over at his son, MIKAEL,
but he is also sleeping soundly in the high grass. JONAS
SKAT comes out from the wagon. He yawns; he is very tired
and in a bad humor. In his hands he holds a crudely made
Is this supposed to be a mask for an
actor? If the priests didn't pay us
so well, I'd say no thank you.
Are you going to play Death?
Just think, scaring decent folk out
of their wits with this kind of
When are we supposed to do this play?
At the saints' feast in Elsinore.
We're going to perform right on the
church steps, believe it or not.
Wouldn't it be better to play
something bawdy? People like it
better, and, besides, it's more fun.
Idiot. There's a rumor going around
that there's a terrible pestilence
in the land, and now the priests are
prophesying sudden death and all
sorts of spiritual agonies.
MIA is awake now and lies contentedly on her back, sucking
on a blade of grass and looking smilingly at her husband.
And what part am I to play?
You're such a damn fool, so you're
going to be the Soul of Man.
That's a bad part, of course.
Who makes the decisions around here?
Who is the director of this company
SKAT, grinning, holds the mask in front of his face and
Bear this in mind, you fool. Your
life hangs by a thread. Your time is
(in his usual voice)
Are the women going to like me in
this getup? Will I make a hit? No!
I feel as if I were dead already.
He stumbles into the wagon muttering furiously. JOF sits,
leaning forward. MIA lies beside him on the grass.
What is it?
Sit still. Don't move.
What do you mean?
Don't say anything.
I'm as silent as a grave.
Shh! I love you.
Waves of heat envelop the gray stone church in a strange
white mist. The KNIGHT dismounts and enters. After tying up
the horses, JONS slowly follows him in. When he comes onto
the church porch he stops in surprise. To the right of the
entrance there is a large fresco on the wall, not quite
finished. Perched on a crude scaffolding is a PAINTER wearing
a red cap and paint-stained clothes. He has one brush in his
mouth, while with another in his hand he outlines a small,
terrified human face amidst a sea of other faces.
What is this supposed to represent?
The Dance of Death.
And that one is Death?
Yes, he dances off with all of them.
Why do you paint such nonsense?
I thought it would serve to remind
people that they must die.
Well, it's not going to make them
feel any happier.
Why should one always make people
happy? It might not be a bad idea to
scare them a little once in a while.
Then they'll close their eyes and
refuse to look at your painting.
Oh, they'll look. A skull is almost
more interesting than a naked woman.
If you do scare them ...
And if they think ...
They'll become still more scared.
And then they'll run right into the
arms of the priests.
That's not my business.
You're only painting your Dance of
I'm only painting things as they
are. Everyone else can do as he likes.
Just think how some people will curse
Maybe. But then I'll paint something
amusing for them to look at. I have
to make a living -- at least until
the plague takes me.
The plague. That sounds horrible.
You should see the boils on a diseased
man's throat. You should see how his
body shrivels up so that his legs
look like knotted strings -- like
the man I've painted over there.
The PAINTER points with his brush. JONS sees a small human
form writhing in the grass, its eyes turned upwards in a
frenzied look of horror and pain.
That looks terrible.
It certainly does. He tries to rip
out the boil, he bites his hands,
tears his veins open with his
fingernails and his screams can be
heard everywhere. Does that scare
Scare? Me? You don't know me. What
are the horrors you've painted over
The remarkable thing is that the
poor creatures think the pestilence
is the Lord's punishment. Mobs of
people who call themselves Slaves of
Sin are swarming over the country,
flagellating themselves and others,
all for the glory of God.
Do they really whip themselves?
Yes, it's a terrible sight. I crawl
into a ditch and hide when they pass
Do you have any brandy? I've been
drinking water all day and it's made
me as thirsty as a camel in the
I think I frightened you after all.
JONS sits down with the PAINTER, who produces a jug of brandy.
The KNIGHT is kneeling before a small altar. It is dark and
quiet around him. The air is cool and musty. Pictures of
saints look down on him with stony eyes. Christ's face is
turned upwards, His mouth open as if in a cry of anguish. On
the ceiling beam there is a representation of a hideous devil
spying on a miserable human being. The KNIGHT hears a sound
from the confession booth and approaches it. The face of
DEATH appears behind the grille for an instant, but the KNIGHT
doesn't see him.
I want to talk to you as openly as I
can, but my heart is empty.
DEATH doesn't answer.
The emptiness is a mirror turned
towards my own face. I see myself in
it, and I am filled with fear and
DEATH doesn't answer.
Through my indifference to my fellow
men, I have isolated myself from
their company. Now I live in a world
of phantoms. I am imprisoned in my
dreams and fantasies.
And yet you don't want to die.
Yes, I do.
What are you waiting for?
I want knowledge.
You want guarantees?
Call it whatever you like. Is it so
cruelly inconceivable to grasp God
with the senses? Why should He hide
himself in a mist of half-spoken
promises and unseen miracles?
DEATH doesn't answer.
How can we have faith in those who
believe when we can't have faith in
ourselves? What is going to happen
to those of us who want to believe
but aren't able to? And what is to
become of those who neither want to
nor are capable of believing?
The KNIGHT stops and waits for a reply, but no one speaks or
answers him. There is complete silence.
Why can't I kill God within me? Why
does He live on in this painful and
humiliating way even though I curse
Him and want to tear Him out of my
heart? Why, in spite of everything,
is He a baffling reality that I can't
shake off? Do you hear me?
Yes, I hear you.
I want knowledge, not faith, not
suppositions, but knowledge. I want
God to stretch out His hand towards
me, reveal Himself and speak to me.
But He remains silent.
I call out to Him in the dark but no
one seems to be there.
Perhaps no one is there.
Then life is an outrageous horror.
No one can live in the face of death,
knowing that all is nothingness.
Most people never reflect about either
death or the futility of life.
But one day they will have to stand
at that last moment of life and look
towards the darkness.
When that day comes ...
In our fear, we make an image, and
that image we call God.
You are worrying ...
Death visited me this morning. We
are playing chess together. This
reprieve gives me the chance to
arrange an urgent matter.
What matter is that?
My life has been a futile pursuit, a
wandering, a great deal of talk
without meaning. I feel no bitterness
or self-reproach because the lives
of most people are very much like
this. But I will use my reprieve for
one meaningful deed.
Is that why you are playing chess
He is a clever opponent, but up to
now I haven't lost a single man.
How will you outwit Death in your
I use a combination of the bishop
and the knight which he hasn't yet
discovered. In the next move I'll
shatter one of his flanks.
I'll remember that.
DEATH shows his face at the grill of the confession booth
for a moment but disappears instantly.
You've tricked and cheated me! But
we'll meet again, and I'll find a
We'll meet at the inn, and there
we'll continue playing.
The KNIGHT raises his hand and looks at it in the sunlight
which comes through the tiny window.
This is my hand. I can move it, feel
the blood pulsing through it. The
sun is still high in the sky and I,
Antonius Block, am playing chess
He makes a fist of his hand and lifts it to his temple.
Meanwhile, JONS and the PAINTER have got drunk and are talking
Me and my master have been abroad
and have just come home. Do you
understand, you little pictor?
Precisely. For ten years we sat in
the Holy Land and let snakes bite
us, flies sting us, wild animals eat
us, heathens butcher us, the wine
poison us, the women give us lice,
the lice devour us, the fevers rot
us, all for the Glory of God. Our
crusade was such madness that only a
real idealist could have thought it
up. But what you said about the
plague was horrible.
It's worse than that.
Ah, me. No matter which way you turn,
you have your rump behind you. That's
The rump behind you, the rump behind
you there's a profound truth.
JONS paints a small figure which is supposed to represent
This is squire Jöns. He grins at
Death, mocks the Lord, laughs at
himself and leers at the girls. His
world is a Jönsworld, believable
only to himself, ridiculous to all
including himself, meaningless to
Heaven and of no interest to Hell.
The KNIGHT walks by, calls to his squire and goes out into
the bright sunshine. JONS manages to set himself down from
Outside the church, four soldiers and a monk are in the
process of putting a woman in the stocks. Her face is pale
and child-like, her head has been shaved, and her knuckles
are bloody and broken. Her eyes are wide open, yet she doesn't
appear to be fully conscious.
JONS and the KNIGHT stop and watch in silence. The soldiers
are working quickly and skillfully, but they seem frightened
and dejected. The monk mumbles from a small book. One of the
soldiers picks up a wooden bucket and with his hand begins
to smear a bloody paste on the wall of the church and around
the woman. JONS holds his nose.
That soup of yours has a hell of a
stink. What is it good for?
She has had carnal intercourse with
the Evil One.
He whispers this with a horrified face and continues to splash
the sticky mess on the wall.
And now she's in the stocks.
She will be burned tomorrow morning
at the parish boundary. But we have
to keep the Devil away from the rest
(holding his nose)
And you do that with this stinking
It's the best remedy: blood mixed
with the bile of a big black dog.
The Devil can't stand the smell.
Neither can I.
JONS walks over towards the horses. The KNIGHT stands for a
few, moments looking at the young girl. She is almost a child.
Slowly she turns her eyes towards him.
Have you seen the Devil?
The MONK stops reading and raises his head.
You must not talk to her.
Can that be so dangerous?
I don't know, but she is believed to
have caused the pestilence with which
we are affected.
He nods resignedly and walks away. The young woman starts to
moan as though she were having a horrible nightmare. The
sound of her cries follows the two riders for a considerable
distance down the road.
The sun stands high in the sky, like a red ball of fire. The
waterskin is empty and JONS looks for a well where he can
They approach a group of peasant cottages at the edge of the
forest. JONS ties up the horses, slings the skin over his
shoulder and walks along the path towards the nearest cottage.
As always, his movements are light and almost soundless. The
door to the cottage is open. He stops outside, but when no
one appears he enters. It is very dark inside and his foot
touches a soft object. He looks down. Beside the whitewashed
fireplace, a woman is lying with her face to the ground.
At the sound of approaching steps, JONS quickly hides behind
the door. A man comes down a ladder from the loft. He is
broad and thick-set. His eyes are black and his face is pale
and puffy. His clothes are well cut but dirty and in rags.
He carries a cloth sack. Looking around, he goes into the
inner room, bends over the bed, tucks something into the
bag, slinks along the walls, looking on the shelves, finds
something else which he tucks in his bag.
Slowly he re-enters the outer room, bends over the dead woman
and carefully slips a ring from her finger. At that moment a
young woman comes through the door. She stops and stares at
Why do you look so surprised? I steal
from the dead. These days it's quite
a lucrative enterprise.
The GIRL makes a movement as if to run away.
You're thinking of running to the
village and telling. That wouldn't
serve any purpose. Each of us has to
save his own skin. It's as simple as
Don't touch me.
Don't try to scream. There's no one
around to hear you, neither God nor
Slowly he closes the door behind the GIRL. The stuffy room
is now in almost total darkness. But JONS becomes clearly
I recognize you, although it's a
long time since we met. Your name is
Raval, from the theological college
at Roskilde. You are Dr. Mirabilis,
Coelestis et Diabilis.
RAVAL smiles uneasily and looks around.
Am I not right?
The GIRL stands immobile.
You were the one who, ten years ago,
convinced my master of the necessity
to join a better-class crusade to
the Holy Land.
RAVAL looks around.
You look uncomfortable. Do you have
RAVAL smiles anxiously.
When I see you, I suddenly understand
the meaning of these ten years, which
previously seemed to me such a waste.
Our life was too good and we were
too satisfied with ourselves. The
Lord wanted to punish us for our
complacency. That is why He sent you
to spew out your holy venom and poison
I acted in good faith.
But now you know better, don't you?
Because now you have turned into a
thief. A more fitting and rewarding
occupation for scoundrels. Isn't
With a quick movement he knocks the knife out of RAVAL'S
hand, gives him a kick so that he falls on the floor and is
about to finish him off. Suddenly the GIRL screams. JONS
stops and makes a gesture of generosity with his hand.
By all means. I'm not bloodthirsty.
He bends over RAVAL.
Don't beat me.
I don't have the heart to touch you,
Doctor. But remember this: the next
time we meet, I'll brand your face
the way one does with thieves.
What I really came for is to get my
We have a deep well with cool, fresh
water. Come, I'll show you.
They walk out of the house. RAVAL lies still for a few
moments, then he rises slowly and looks around. When no one
is in sight, he takes his bag and steals away. JONS quenches
his thirst and fills his bag with water. The GIRL helps him.
Jöns is my name. I am a pleasant and
talkative young man who has never
had anything but kind thoughts and
has only done beautiful and noble
deeds. I'm kindest of all to young
women. With them, there is no limit
to my kindness.
He embraces her and tries to kiss her, but she holds herself
back. Almost immediately he loses interest, hoists the
waterbag on his shoulder and pats the GIRL on the cheek.
Goodbye, my girl. I could very well
have raped you, but between you and
me, I'm tired of that kind of love.
It runs a little dry in the end.
He laughs kindly and walks away from her. When he has walked
a short distance he turns; the GIRL is still there.
Now that I think of it, I will need
a housekeeper. Can you prepare good
(the GIRL nods)
As far as I know, I'm still a married
man, but I have high hopes that my
wife is dead by now. That's why I
need a housekeeper.
(the GIRL doesn't
answer but gets up)
The devil with it! Come along and
don't stand there staring. I've saved
your life, so you owe me a great
She begins walking towards him, her head bent. He doesn't
wait for her but walks towards the KNIGHT, who patiently
awaits his squire.
The Embarrassment Inn lies in the eastern section of the
province. The plague has not yet reached this area on its
way along the coast.
The actors have placed their wagon under a tree in the yard
of the inn. Dressed in colorful costumes, they perform a
The spectators watch the performance, commenting on it
noisily. There are merchants with fat, beer-sweaty faces,
apprentices and journeymen, farmhands and milkmaids. A whole
flock of children perch in the trees around the wagon.
The KNIGHT and his squire have sat down in the shadow of a
wall. They drink beer and doze in the midday heat. The GIRL
from the deserted village sleeps at JONS'S side. SKAT beats
the drums, JOF blows the flute, MIA performs a gay and lively
dance. They perspire under the hot white sun. When they have
finished SKAT comes forward and bows.
Noble ladies and gentlemen, I thank
you for your interest. Please remain
standing for a little longer, or sit
on the ground, because we are now
going to perform a tragedia about an
unfaithful wife, her jealous husband,
and the handsome lover -- that's me.
MIA and JOF have quickly changed costumes and again step out
on the stage. They bow, to the public.
Here is the husband. Here is the
wife. If you'll shut up over there,
you'll see something splendid. As I
said, I play the lover and I haven't
entered yet. That's why I'm going to
hide behind the curtain for the time
(he wipes the sweat
from his forehead)
It's damned hot. I think we'll have
He places his leg in front of JOF as if to trip him, raises
MIA's skirt, makes a face as if he could see all the wonders
of the world underneath it, and disappears behind the gaudily
SKAT is very handsome, now that he can see himself in the
reflection of a tin washbowl. His hair is tightly curled,
his eyebrows are beautifully bushy, glittering earrings vie
for equal attention with his teeth, and his cheeks are flushed
He sits out in back on the tailboard of the wagon, dangling
his legs and whistling to himself.
In the meantime JOF and MIA play their tragedy; it is not,
however, received with great acclaim. SKAT suddenly discovers
that someone is watching him as he gazes contentedly into
the tin bowl. A woman stands there, stately in both height
SKAT frowns, toys with his small dagger and occasionally
throws a roguish but fiery glance at the beautiful visitor.
She suddenly discovers that one of her shoes doesn't quite
fit. She leans down to fix it and in doing so allows her
generous bosom to burst out of its prison -- no more than
honor and chastity allow, but still enough so that the actor
with his experienced eye immediately sees that there are
ample rewards to be had here.
Now she comes a little closer, kneels down and opens a bundle
containing several dainty morsels and a skin filled with red
wine. JONAS SKAT manages not to fall off the wagon in his
excitement. Standing on the steps of the wagon, he supports
himself against a nearby tree, crosses his legs and bows.
The woman quietly bites into a chicken leg dripping with
fat. At this moment the actor is stricken by a radiant glance
full of lustful appetites.
When he sees this look, SKAT makes an instantaneous decision,
jumps down from the wagon and kneels in front of the blushing
She becomes weak and faint from his nearness, looks at him
with a glassy glance and breathes heavily. SKAT doesn't
neglect to press kisses on her small, chubby hands. The sun
shines brightly and small birds make noises in the bushes.
Now she is forced to sit back; her legs seem unwilling to
support her any longer. Bewildered, she singles out another
chicken leg from the large sack of food and holds it up in
front of SKAT with an appealing and triumphant expression,
as if it were her maidenhood being offered as a prize.
SKAT hesitates momentarily, but he is still the strategist.
He lets the chicken leg fall to the grass, and murmurs in
the woman's rosy ear.
His words seem to please her. She puts her arms around the
actor's neck and pulls him to her with such fierceness that
both of them lose their balance and tumble down on the soft
grass. The small birds take to their wings with frightened
JOF stands in the hot sun with a flickering lantern in his
hand. MIA pretends to be asleep on a bench which has been
pulled forward on the stage.
Night and moonlight now prevail Here
sleeps my wife so frail ...
VOICE FROM THE PUBLIC
Does she snore?
May I point out that this is a
tragedy, and in tragedies one doesn't
VOICE FROM THE PUBLIC
I think she should snore anyhow.
This opinion causes mirth in the audience. JOF becomes
slightly confused and goes out of character, but MIA keeps
her head and begins snoring.
Night and moonlight now prevail.
There snores -- I mean sleeps -- my
wife so frail. Jealous I am, as
never before, I hide myself behind
this door. Faithful is she to her
lover -- not me. He soon comes a-
stealing To awaken her lusty feeling.
I shall now kill him dead For
cuckolding me in my bed. There he
comes in the moonlight, His white
legs shining bright. Quiet as a
mouse, here I'll lie, Tell him not
that he's about to die.
JOF hides himself. MIA immediately ends her snoring and sits
up, looking to the left.
Look, there he comes in the night My
lover, my heart's delight.
She becomes silent and looks wide-eyed in front of her. The
mood in the yard in front of the inn has, up to now, been
rather lighthearted despite the heat.
Now a rapid change occurs. People who had been laughing and
chattering fall silent. Their faces seem to pale under their
sunbrowned skins, the children stop their games and stand
with gaping mouths and frightened eyes.
JOF steps out in front of the curtain. His painted face bears
an expression of horror. MIA has risen with MIKAEL in her
arms. Some of the women in the yard have fallen on their
knees, others hide their faces, many begin to mutter half-
All have turned their faces towards the white road. Now a
shrill song is heard. It is frenzied, almost a scream. A
crucified Christ sways above the hilltop.
The cross-bearers soon come into sight. They are Dominican
monks, their hoods pulled down over their faces. More and
more of them follow, carrying litters with heavy coffins or
clutching holy relics, their hands stretched out
spasmodically. The dust wells up around their black hoods;
the censers sway and emit a thick, ashen smoke which smells
of rancid herbs.
After the line of monks comes another procession. It is a
column of men, boys, old men, women, girls, children. All of
them have steel-edged scourges in their hands with which
they whip themselves and each other, howling ecstatically.
They twist in pain; their eyes bulge wildly; their lips are
gnawed to shreds and dripping with foam. They have been seized
by madness. They bite their own hands and arms, whip each
other in violent, almost rhythmic outbursts. Throughout it
all the shrill song howls from their bursting throats. Many
sway and fall, lift themselves up again, support each other
and help each other to intensify the scourging.
Now the procession pauses at the crossroads in front of the
inn. The monks fall on their knees, hiding their faces with
clenched hands, arms pressed tightly together. Their song
never stops. The Christ figure on its timbered cross is raised
above the heads of the crowd. It is not Christ triumphant,
but the suffering Jesus with the sores, the blood, the
hammered nails and the face in convulsive pain. The Son of
God, nailed on the wood of the cross, suffering scorn and
The penitents have now sunk down in the dirt of the road.
They collapse where they stood like slaughtered cattle. Their
screams rise with the song of the monks, through misty clouds
of incense, towards the white fire of the sun.
A large square monk rises from his knees and reveals his
face, which is red-brown from the sun. His eyes glitter; his
voice is thick with impotent scorn.
God has sentenced us to punishment.
We shall all perish in the black
death. You, standing there like gaping
cattle, you who sit there in your
glutted complacency, do you know
that this may be your last hour?
Death stands right behind you. I can
see how his crown gleams in the sun.
His scythe flashes as he raises it
above your heads. Which one of you
shall he strike first? You there,
who stand staring like a goat, will
your mouth be twisted into the last
unfinished gasp before nightfall?
And you, woman, who bloom with life
and self-satisfaction, will you pale
and become extinguished before the
morning dawns? You back there, with
your swollen nose and stupid grin,
do you have another year left to
dirty the earth with your refuse? Do
you know, you insensible fools, that
you shall die today or tomorrow, or
the next day, because all of you
have been sentenced? Do you hear
what I say? Do you hear the word?
You have been sentenced, sentenced!
The MONK falls silent, looking around with a bitter face and
a cold, scornful glance. Now, he clenches his hands, straddles
the ground and turns his face upwards.
Lord have mercy on us in our
humiliation! Don't turn your face
from us in loathing and contempt,
but be merciful to us for the sake
of your son, Jesus Christ.
He makes the sign of the cross over the crowd and then begins
a new song in a strong voice. The monks rise and join in the
song. As if driven by some superhuman force, the penitents
begin to whip themselves again, still wailing and moaning.
The procession continues. New members have joined the rear
of the column; others who were unable to go on lie weeping
in the dust of the road. JONS the squire drinks his beer.
This damned ranting about doom. Is
that food for the minds of modern
people? Do they really expect us to
take them seriously?
The KNIGHT grins tiredly.
Yes, now you grin at me, my lord.
But allow me to point out that I've
either read, heard or experienced
most of the tales which we people
tell each other.
Even the ghost stories about God the
Father, the angels, Jesus Christ and
the Holy Ghost -- all these I've
accepted without too much emotion.
He leans down over the GIRL as she crouches at his feet and
pats her on the head. The KNIGHT drinks his beer silently.
My little stomach is my world, my
head is my eternity, and my hands,
two wonderful suns. My legs are time's
damned pendulums, and my dirty feet
are two splendid starting points for
my philosophy. Everything is worth
precisely as much as a belch, the
only difference being that a belch
is more satisfying.
The beer mug is empty. Sighing, JONS gets to his feet. The
GIRL follows him like a shadow.
In the yard he meets a large man with a sooty face and a
dark expression. He stops JONS with a roar.
What are you screaming about?
I am Plog, the smith, and you are
the squire Jöns.
Have you seen my wife?
No, I haven't. But if I had seen her
and she looked like you, I'd quickly
forget that I'd seen her.
Well, in that case you haven't seen
Maybe she's run off.
Do you know anything?
I know quite a lot, but not about
your wife. Go to the inn. Maybe they
can help you.
The smith sighs sadly and goes inside.
The inn is very small and full of people eating and drinking
to forget their newly aroused fears of eternity. In the open
fireplace a roasting pig turns on an iron spit. The sun shines
outside the casement window, its sharp rays piercing the
darkness of the room, which is thick with fumes and
Yes, it's true! The plague is
spreading along the west coast. People
are dying like flies. Usually
business would be good at this time
of year, but, damn it, I've still
got my whole stock unsold.
They speak of the judgment day. And
all these omens are terrible. Worms,
chopped-off hands and other
monstrosities began pouring out of
an old woman, and down in the village
another woman gave birth to a calf's
The day of judgment. Imagine.
It hasn't rained here for a month.
We'll surely lose our crops.
And people are acting crazy, I'd
say. They flee the country and carry
the plague with them wherever they
The day of judgment. Just think,
If it's as they say, I suppose a
person should look after his house
and try to enjoy life as long as he
But there have been other things
too, such things that can't even be
Things that mustn't be named -- but
the priests say that the woman carries
it between her legs and that's why
she must cleanse herself.
Judgment day. And the Riders of the
Apocalypse stand at the bend in the
village road. I imagine they'll come
on judgment night, at sundown.
There are many who have purged
themselves with fire and died from
it, but the priests say that it's
better to die pure than to live for
This is the end, yes, it is. No one
says it out loud, but all of us know
that it's the end. And people are
going mad from fear.
So you're afraid too.
Of course I'm afraid.
The judgment day becomes night, and
the angels descend and the graves
open. It will be terrible to see.
They whisper in low tones and sit close to each other.
PLOG, the smith, shoves his way into a place next to JOF,
who is still dressed in his costume. Opposite him sits RAVAL,
leaning slightly forward, his face perspiring heavily. RAVAL
rolls an armlet out on the table.
Do you want this armlet? You can
have it cheap.
I can't afford it.
It's real silver.
It's nice. But it's surely too
expensive for me.
Excuse me, but has anyone here seen
Has she disappeared?
They say she's run away.
Has she deserted you?
With an actor.
An actor! If she's got such bad taste,
then I think you should let her go.
You're right. My first thought, of
course, was to kill her.
Oh. But to murder her, that's a
terrible thing to do.
I'm also going to kill the actor.
Of course, the one she eloped with.
What has he done to deserve that?
Are you stupid?
The actor! Now I understand. There
are too many of them, so even if he
hasn't done anything in particular
you ought to kill him merely because
he's an actor.
You see, my wife has always been
interested in the tricks of the
And that turned out to be her
Her misfortune, but not mine, because
a person who's born unfortunate can
hardly suffer from any further
misfortune. Isn't that true?
Now RAVAL enters the discussion. He is slightly drunk and
his voice is shrill and evil.
Listen, you! You sit there and lie
to the smith.
I! A liar!
You're an actor too and it's probably
your partner who's run off with Plog's
Are you an actor too?
An actor! Me! I wouldn't quite call
We ought to kill you; it's only
You're really funny.
How strange -- you've turned pale.
Have you anything on your conscience?
You're funny. Don't you think he's
Oh, you don't.
Maybe we should mark you up a little
with a knife, like they do petty
scoundrels of your kind.
PLOG bangs his hands down on the table so that the dishes
jump. He gets up.
What have you done with my wife?
The room becomes silent. JOF looks around, but there is no
exit, no way to escape. He puts his hands on the table.
Suddenly a knife flashes through the air and sinks into the
table top between his fingers.
JOF snatches away his hands and raises his head. He looks
half surprised, as if the truth had just become apparent to
Do you want to hurt me? Why? Have I
provoked someone, or got in the way?
I'll leave right now and never come
JOF looks from one face to another, but no one seems ready
to help him or come to his defense.
Get up so everyone can hear you.
Trembling, JOF rises. He opens his mouth as if to say
something, but not a word comes out.
Stand on your head so that we can
see how good an actor you are.
JOF gets up on the table and stands on his head. A hand pushes
him forward so that he collapses on the floor. PLOG rises,
pulls him to his feet with one hand.
What have you done with my wife?
PLOG beats him so furiously that JOF flies across the table.
RAVAL leans over him.
Don't lie there moaning. Get up and
I don't want to. I can't.
Show us how you imitate a bear.
I can't play a bear.
Let's see if you can't after all.
RAVAL prods JOF lightly with the knife point. JOF gets up
with cold sweat on his cheeks and forehead, frightened half
to death. He begins to jump and hop on top of the tables,
swinging his arms and legs and making grotesque faces. Some
laugh, but most of the people sit silently. JOF gasps as if
his lungs were about to burst. He sinks to his knees, and
someone pours beer over him.
Up again! Be a good bear.
I haven't done any harm. I haven't
got the strength to play a bear any
At that moment the door opens and JONS enters. JOF sees his
chance and steals out. RAVAL intends to follow him, but
suddenly stops. JONS and RAVAL look at each other.
Do you remember what I was going to
do to you if we met again?
RAVAL steps back without speaking.
I'm a man who keeps his word.
JONS raises his knife and cuts RAVAL from forehead to cheek.
RAVAL staggers towards the wall.
The hot day has become night. Singing and howling can be
heard from the inn. In a hollow near the forest, the light
still lingers. Hidden in the grass and the shrubbery,
nightingales sing and their voices echo through the stillness.
The players' wagon stands in a small ravine, and not far
away the horse grazes on the dry grass. MIA has sat down in
front of the wagon with her son in her arms. They play
together and laugh happily.
Now, a soft gleam of light strokes the hilltops, a last
reflection from the red clouds over the sea.
Not far from the wagon, the KNIGHT sits crouched over his
chess game. He lifts his head.
The evening light moves across the heavy wagon wheels, across
the woman and the child. The KNIGHT gets up.
MIA sees him and smiles. She holds up her struggling son, as
if to amuse the KNIGHT.
What's his name?
How old is he?
Oh, he'll soon be two.
He's big for his age.
Do you think so? Yes, I guess he's
She puts the child down on the ground and half rises to shake
out her red skirt. When she sits down again, the KNIGHT steps
You played some kind of show this
Did you think it was bad?
You are more beautiful now without
your face painted, and this gown is
You see, Jonas Skat has run off and
left us, so we're in real trouble
Is that your husband?
Jonas! The other man is my husband.
His name is Jof.
Oh, that one.
And now there's only him and me.
We'll have to start doing tricks
again and that's more trouble than
Do you do tricks also?
We certainly do. And Jof is a very
Is Mikael going to be an acrobat?
Jof wants him to be.
But you don't.
I don't know.
Perhaps he'll become a knight.
Let me assure you, that's no pleasure
No, you don't look so happy.
Are you tired?
I have dull company.
Do you mean your squire?
No, not him.
Who do you mean, then?
Do you, really?
Yes, I understand rather well. I
have often wondered why people torture
themselves as often as they can.
Isn't that so?
She nods energetically and the KNIGHT smiles seriously. Now
the shrieks and the noise from the inn become louder. Black
figures flicker across the grass mound. Someone collapses,
gets up and runs. It is JOF. MIA stretches out her arms and
receives him. He holds his hands in front of his face, moaning
like a child, and his body sways. He kneels. MIA holds him
close to her and sprinkles him with small, anxious questions:
What have you done? How are you? What is it? Does it hurt?
What can I do? Have they been cruel to you? She runs for a
rag, which she dips in water, and carefully bathes her
husband's dirty, bloody face.
Eventually a rather sorrowful visage emerges. Blood runs
from a bruise on his forehead and his nose, and a tooth has
been loosened, but otherwise JOF seems unhurt.
Ouch, it hurts.
Why did you have to go there? And of
course you drank.
MIA's anxiety has been replaced by a mild anger. She pats
him a little harder than necessary.
Ouch! I didn't drink anything.
Then I suppose you were boasting
about the angels and devils you
consort with. People don't like
someone who has too many ideas and
I swear to you that I didn't say a
word about angels.
You were, of course, busy singing
and dancing. You can never stop
being an actor. People also become
angry at that, and you know it.
JOF doesn't answer but searches for the armlet. He holds it
up in front of MIA with an injured expression.
Look what I bought for you.
You couldn't afford it.
But I got it anyhow.
The armlet glitters faintly in the twilight. MIA now pulls
it across her wrist. They look at it in silence, and their
faces soften. They look at each other, touch each other's
hands. JOF puts his head against MIA'S shoulder and sighs.
Oh, how they beat me.
Why didn't you beat them back?
I only become frightened and angry.
I never get a chance to hit back. I
can get angry, you know that. I roared
like a lion.
Were they frightened?
No, they just laughed.
Their son MIKAEL crawls over to them. JOF lies down on the
ground and pulls his son on top of him. MIA gets down on her
hands and knees and playfully sniffs at MIKAEL.
Do you notice how good he smells?
And he is so compact to hold. You're
a sturdy one. A real acrobat's body.
He lifts MIKAEL up and holds him by the legs. MIA looks up
suddenly, remembering the knight's presence.
Yes, this is my husband, Jof.
JOF becomes a little embarrassed and rises. All three of
them look at one another silently.
I have just told your wife that you
have a splendid son. He'll bring
great joy to you.
Yes, he's fine.
They become silent again.
Have we nothing to offer the knight,
Thank you, I don't want anything.
I picked a basket of wild strawberries
this afternoon. And we have a drop
of milk fresh from a cow...
...that we were allowed to milk. So,
if you would like to partake of this
humble fare, it would be a great
Please be seated and I'll bring the
They sit down. MIA disappears with MIKAEL.
Where are you going next?
Up to the saints' feast at Elsinore.
I wouldn't advise you to go there.
Why not, if I may ask?
The plague has spread in that
direction, following the coast line
south. It's said that people are
dying by the tens of thousands.
Really! Well, sometimes life is a
May I suggest...
(JOF looks at him,
...that you follow me through the
forest tonight and stay at my home
if you like. Or go along the east
coast. You'll probably be safer there.
MIA has returned with a bowl of wild strawberries and the
milk, places it between them and gives each of them a spoon.
I wish you good appetite.
I humbly thank you.
These are wild strawberries from the
forest. I have never seen such large
ones. They grow up there on the
hillside. Notice how they smell!
She points with a spoon and smiles. The KNIGHT nods, as if
he were pondering some profound thought. JOF eats heartily.
Your suggestion is good, but I must
think it over.
It might be wise to have company
going through the forest. It's said
to be full of trolls and ghosts and
bandits. That's what I've heard.
Yes, I'd say that it's not a bad
idea, but I have to think about it.
Now that Skat has left, I am
responsible for the troupe. After
all, I have become director of the
After all, I have become director of
the whole company.
JONS comes walking slowly down the hill, closely followed by
the GIRL. MIA points with her spoon.
Do you want some strawberries?
This man saved my life. Sit down, my
friend, and let us be together.
Oh, how nice this is.
For a short while.
Nearly always. One day is like
another. There is nothing strange
about that. The summer, of course,
is better than the winter, because
in summer you don't have to be cold.
But spring is best of all.
I have written a poem about the
spring. Perhaps you'd like to hear
it. I'll run and get my lyre.
He sprints towards the wagon.
Not now, Jof. Our guests may not be
amused by your songs.
By all means. I write little songs
myself. For example, I know a very
funny song about a wanton fish which
I doubt that you've heard yet.
The KNIGHT looks at him.
You'll not get to hear it either.
There are persons here who don't
appreciate my art and I don't want
to upset anyone. I'm a sensitive
JOF has come out with his lyre, sits on a small, gaudy box
and plucks at the instrument, humming quietly, searching for
his melody. JONS yawns and lies down.
People are troubled by so much.
It's always better when one is two.
Have you no one of your own?
Yes, I think I had someone.
And what is she doing now?
I don't know.
You look so solemn. Was she your
We were newly married and we played
together. We laughed a great deal.
I wrote songs to her eyes, to her
nose, to her beautiful little ears.
We went hunting together and at night
we danced. The house was full of
Do you want some more strawberries?
(shakes his head)
Faith is a torment, did you know
that? It is like loving someone who
is out there in the darkness but
never appears, no matter how loudly
I don't understand what you mean.
Everything I've said seems meaningless
and unreal while I sit here with you
and your husband. How unimportant it
all becomes suddenly.
He takes the bowl of milk in his hand and drinks deeply from
it several times. Then he carefully puts it down and looks
Now you don't look so solemn.
I shall remember this moment. The
silence, the twilight, the bowls of
strawberries and milk, your faces in
the evening light. Mikael sleeping,
Jof with his lyre. I'll try to
remember what we have talked about.
I'll carry this memory between my
hands as carefully as if it were a
bowl filled to the brim with fresh
He turns his face away and looks out towards the sea and the
colorless gray sky.
And it will be an adequate sign --
it will be enough for me.
He rises, nods to the others and walks down towards the
forest. JOF continues to play on his lyre. MIA stretches out
on the grass.
The KNIGHT picks up his chess game and carries it towards
the beach. It is quiet and deserted; the sea is still.
I have been waiting for you.
Pardon me. I was detained for a few
moments. Because I revealed my
tactics to you, I'm in retreat. It's
Why do you look so satisfied?
That's my secret.
Of course. Now I take your knight.
You did the right thing.
Have you tricked me?
Of course. You fell right in the
What are you laughing at?
Don't worry about my laughter; save
your king instead.
You're rather arrogant.
Our game amuses me.
It's your move. Hurry up. I'm a little
pressed for time.
I understand that you've a lot to
do, but you can't get out of our
game. It takes time.
DEATH is about to answer him but stops and leans over the
board. The KNIGHT smiles.
Are you going to escort the juggler
and his wife through the forest?
Those whose names are Jof and Mia
and who have a small son?
Why do you ask?
Oh, no reason at all.
The KNIGHT suddenly stops smiling. DEATH looks at him
Immediately after sundown, the little company gathers in the
yard of the inn. There is the KNIGHT, JONS and the GIRL,
JOF and MIA in their wagon. Their son, MIKAEL, is already
asleep. JONAS SKAT is still missing.
JONS goes into the inn to get provisions for the night journey
and to have a last mug of beer. The inn is now empty and
quiet except for a few farmhands and maidens who are eating
their evening meal in a corner. At one of the small windows
sits a lonely, hunched-over fellow, with a jug of brandy in
his hands. His expression is very sad. Once in a while he is
shaken by a gigantic sob. It is PLOG, the smith, who sits
there and whimpers.
God in heaven, isn't this Plog, the
Are you sitting here sniveling in
Yes, yes, look at the smith. He moans
like a rabbit.
If I were in your boots, I'd be happy
to get rid of a wife in such an easy
JONS pats the smith on the back, quenches his thirst with
beer, and sits down by his side.
Are you married?
I! A hundred times and more. I can't
keep count of all my wives any longer.
But it's often that way when you're
a traveling man.
I can assure you that one wife is
worse than a hundred, or else I've
had worse luck than any poor wretch
in this miserable world, which isn't
Yes, it's hell with women and hell
without them. So, however you look
at it, it's still best to kill them
off while it's most amusing.
Women's nagging, the shrieking of
children and wet diapers, sharp nails
and sharp words, blows and pokes,
and the devil's aunt for a mother-in-
law. And then, when one wants to
sleep after a long day, there's a
new song -- tears, whining and moans
loud enough to wake the dead.
JONS nods delightedly. He has drunk deeply and talks with an
old woman's voice.
Why don't you kiss me good night?
(in the same way)
Why don't you sing a song for me?
Why don't you love me the way you
did when we first met?
Why don't you look at my new slip?
You only turn your back and snore.
Oh hell. And now she's gone. Rejoice!
I'll snip their noses with pliers,
I'll bash in their chests with a
small hammer, I'll tap their heads
ever so lightly with a sledge.
PLOG begins to cry loudly and his whole body sways in an
enormous attack of sorrow. JONS looks at him with interest.
Look how he howls again.
Maybe I love her.
So, maybe you love her! Then, you
poor misguided ham shank, I'll tell
you that love is another word for
lust, plus lust, plus lust and a
damn lot of cheating, falseness,
lies and all kinds of other fooling
Yes, but it hurts anyway.
Of course. Love is the blackest of
all plagues, and if one could die of
it, there would be some pleasure in
love. But you almost always get over
No, no, not me.
Yes, you too. There are only a couple
of poor wretches who die of love
once in a while. Love is as contagious
as a cold in the nose. It eats away
at your strength, your independence,
your morale, if you have any. If
everything is imperfect in this
imperfect world, love is most perfect
in its perfect imperfection.
You're happy, you with your oily
words, and, besides, you believe
your own drivel.
Believe! Who said that I believed
it? But I love to give good advice.
If you ask me for advice you'll get
two pieces for the price of one,
because after all I really am an
JONS gets up from the table and strokes his face with his
hands. PLOG becomes very unhappy and grabs his belt.
Listen, Jöns. May I go with you
through the forest? I'm so lonely
and don't want to go home because
everyone will laugh at me.
Only if you don't whimper all the
time, because in that case we'll all
have to avoid you.
PLOG gets up and embraces JONS. Slightly drunk, the two new
friends walk towards the door.
When they come out in the yard, JOF immediately catches sight
of them, becomes angry and yells a warning to JONS.
Jöns! Watch out. That one wants to
fight all the time. He's not quite
Yes, but now he's just sniveling.
PLOG steps up to JOF, who blanches with fear. PLOG offers
I'm really sorry if I hurt you. But
I have such a hell of a temper, you
know. Shake hands.
JOF gingerly proffers a frightened hand and gets it thoroughly
shaken and squeezed. While JOF tries to straighten out his
fingers, PLOG is seized by great good will and opens his
Come in my arms, little brother.
Thank you, thank you, perhaps later.
But now we're really in a hurry.
JOF climbs up on the wagon seat quickly and clucks at the
The small company is on its way towards the forest and the
It is dark in the forest.
First comes the KNIGHT on his large horse. Then JOF and MIA
follow, sitting close to each other in the juggler's wagon.
MIA holds her son in her arms. JONS follows them with his
heavily laden horse. He has the smith in tow. The GIRL sits
on top of the load on the horse's back, hunched over as if
The footsteps, the horses' heavy tramp on the soft path, the
human breathing -- yet it is quiet.
Then the moon sails out of the clouds. The forest suddenly
becomes alive with the night's unreality. The dazzling light
pours through the thick foliage of the beech trees, a moving,
quivering world of light and shadow.
The wanderers stop. Their eyes are dark with anxiety and
foreboding. Their faces are pale and unreal in the floating
light. It is very quiet.
Now the moon has come out of the
That's good. Now we can see the road
I don't like the moon tonight.
The trees stand so still.
That's because there's no wind.
I guess he means that they stand
It's completely quiet.
If one could hear a fox at least.
Or an owl.
Or a human voice besides one's own.
They say it's dangerous to remain
standing in moonlight.
Suddenly, out of the silence and the dim light falling across
the forest road, a ghostlike cart emerges. It is the WITCH
being taken to the place where she will be burned. Next to
her eight soldiers shuffle along tiredly, carrying their
lances on their backs. The girl sits in the cart, bound with
iron chains around her throat and arms. She stares fixedly
into the moonlight.
A black figure sits next to her, a monk with his hood pulled
down over his head.
Where are you going?
To the place of execution.
Yes, now I can see. It's the girl
who has done it with the Black One.
The SOLDIER nods sourly. Hesitantly, the travelers follow.
The KNIGHT guides his horse over to the side of the cart.
The WITCH seems to be half-conscious, but her eyes are wide
I see that they have hurt your hands.
The WITCH'S pale, childish face turns towards the KNIGHT and
she shakes her head.
I have a potion that will stop your
She shakes her head again.
Why do you burn her at this time of
night? People have so few diversions
Saints preserve us, be quiet! It's
said that she brings the Devil with
her wherever she goes.
You are eight brave men, then.
Well, we've been paid. And this is a
The SOLDIER speaks in whispers while glancing anxiously at
(to the WITCH)
What's your name?
My name is Tyan, my lord.
How old are you?
Fourteen, my lord.
And is it true that you have been in
league with the Devil?
TYAN nods quietly and looks away. Now they arrive at the
parish border. At the foot of the nearby hills lies a
crossroads. The pyre has already been stacked in the center
of the forest clearing. The travelers remain there, hesitant
The soldiers have tied up the cart horse and bring out two
long wooden beams. They nail rungs across the beams so that
it looks like a ladder. TYAN will be bound to this like an
eelskin stretched out to dry.
The sound of the hammering echoes through the forest. The
KNIGHT has dismounted and walks closer to the cart. Again he
tries to catch TYAN'S eyes, touches her very lightly as if
to waken her. Slowly she turns her face towards him.
They say that you have been in league
with the Devil.
Why do you ask?
Not out of curiosity, but for very
personal reasons. I too want to meet
I want to ask him about God. He, if
anyone, must know.
You can see him anytime.
You must do as I tell you.
The KNIGHT grips the wooden rail of the cart so tightly that
his knuckles whiten. TYAN leans forward and joins her gaze
Look into my eyes.
The KNIGHT meets her gaze. They stare at each other for a
What do you see? Do you see him?
I see fear in your eyes, an empty,
numb fear. But nothing else.
He falls silent. The soldiers work at the stakes; their
hammering echoes in the forest.
No one, nothing, no one?
(shakes his head)
Can't you see him behind your back?
No, there is no one there.
But he is with me everywhere. I only
have to stretch out my hand and I
can feel his hand. He is with me now
too. The fire won't hurt me. He will
protect me from everything evil.
Has he told you this?
I know it.
Has he said it?
I know it, I know it. You must see
him somewhere, you must. The priests
had no difficulty seeing him, nor
did the soldiers. They are so afraid
of him that they don't even dare
The sounds of the hammers stops. The soldiers stand like
black shadows rooted in the moss. They fumble with the chains
and pull at the neck iron. TYAN moans weakly, as if she were
Why have you crushed her hands?
We didn't do it.
Ask the monk.
The soldiers pull the iron and the chains. TYAN'S shaven
head sways, gleaming in the moonlight. Her blackened mouth
opens as if to scream, but no sound emerges. They take her
down from the cart and lead her towards the ladder and the
stake. The KNIGHT turns to the MONK, who remains seated in
What have you done with the child?
DEATH turns around and looks at him.
Don't you ever stop asking questions?
No, I'll never stop.
The soldiers chain TYAN to the rungs of the ladder. She
submits resignedly, moans weakly like an animal and tries to
ease her body into position.
When they have fastened her, they walk over to light the
pyre. The KNIGHT steps up and leans over her.
For a moment I thought of killing
the soldiers, but it would do no
good. She's nearly dead already.
One of the soldiers approaches. Thick smoke wells down from
the pyre and sweeps over the quiet shadows near the crossroads
and the hill.
I've told you to be careful. Don't
go too close to her.
The KNIGHT doesn't heed this warning. He cups his hand, fills
it with water from the skin and gives it to TYAN. Then he
gives her a potion.
Take this and it will stop the pain.
Smoke billows down over them and they begin to cough. The
soldiers step forward and raise the ladder against a nearby
fir tree. TYAN hangs there motionlessly, her eyes wide open.
The KNIGHT straightens up and stands immobile. JONS is behind
him, his voice nearly choked with rage.
What does she see? Can you tell me?
(shakes his head)
She feels no more pain.
You don't answer my question. Who
watches over that child? Is it the
angels, or God, or the Devil, or
only the emptiness? Emptiness, my
This cannot be.
Look at her eyes, my lord. Her poor
brain has just made a discovery.
Emptiness under the moon.
We stand powerless, our arms hanging
at our sides, because we see what
she sees, and our terror and hers
are the same.
That poor little child. I can't stand
it, I can't stand it...
His voice sticks in his throat and he suddenly walks away.
The KNIGHT mounts his horse. The travelers depart from the
crossroads. TYAN finally closes her eyes.
The forest is now very dark. The road winds between the trees.
The wagon squeaks and rattles over stones and roots. A bird
JOF lifts his head and wakes up. He has been asleep with his
arms around MIA's shoulders. The KNIGHT is sharply silhouetted
against the tree trunks.
His silence makes him seem almost unreal. JONS and PLOG are
slightly drunk and support each other. Suddenly PLOG has to
sit down. He puts his hands over his face and howls piteously.
Oh, now it came over me again!
Don't scream. What came over you?
My wife, damn it. She is so beautiful.
She is so beautiful that she can't
be described without the accompaniment
of a lyre.
Now it starts again.
Her smile is like brandy. Her eyes
PLOG searches for beautiful words. He gestures gropingly
with his large hands.
Get up, you tear-drenched pig. We'll
lose the others.
Yes, of course, of course. Her nose
is like a little pink potato; her
behind is like a juicy pear -- yes,
the whole woman is like a strawberry
patch. I can see her in front of me,
with arms like wonderful cucumbers.
Saints almighty, stop! You're a very
bad poet, despite the fact that you're
drunk. And your vegetable garden
They walk across an open meadow. Here it is a little brighter
and the moon shimmers behind a thin sky. Suddenly PLOG points
a large finger towards the edge of the forest.
Do you see something?
There, over there!
I don't see anything.
Hang on to something, my friends.
The hour is near! Who is that at the
edge of the forest if not my own
dearly beloved, with actor attached?
The two lovers discover PLOG and it's too late. They cannot
retreat. SKAT immediately takes to his heels. PLOG chases
him, swinging his sledge and bellowing like a wild boar.
For a few confusing moments the two rivals stumble among the
stones and bushes in the gray gloom of the forest. The duel
begins to look senseless, because both of them are equally
The travelers silently observe this confused performance.
LISA screams once in a while, more out of duty than out of
You miserable stubbleheaded bastard
of seven scurvy bitches, if I were
in your lousy rags I would be stricken
with such eternal shame about my
breath, my voice, my arms and legs --
in short, about my whole body --
that I would immediately rid nature
of my own embarrassing self.
Watch out, you perfumed slob, that I
don't fart on you and immediately
blow you down to the actor's own red-
hot hell, where you can sit and recite
monologues to each other until the
dust comes out of the Devil's ears.
Then LISA throws herself around her husband's neck.
Forgive me, dear little husband,
I'll never do it again. I am so sorry
and you can't imagine how terribly
that man over there betrayed me.
I'll kill him anyway.
Yes, do that, just kill him. He isn't
even a human being.
Hell, he's an actor.
He is only a false beard, false teeth,
false smiles, rehearsed lines, and
he's as empty as a jug. Just kill
LISA sobs with excitement and sorrow. PLOG looks around, a
little confused. SKAT uses this opportunity. He pulls out a
dagger and places the point against his breast.
She's right. Just kill me. If you
thought that I was going to apologize
for being what I am, you are mistaken.
Look how sickening he is. How he
makes a fool of himself, how he puts
on an act. Dear Plog, kill him.
My friends, you have only to push,
and my unreality will soon be
transformed into a new, solid reality.
An absolutely tangible corpse.
Do something then. Kill him.
He has to fight me, otherwise I can't
Your life's thread now hangs by a
very ragged shred. Idiot, your day
You'll have to irritate me a little
more to get me as angry as before.
SKAT looks at the travelers with a pained expression and
then lifts his eyes towards the night sky.
I forgive all of you. Pray for me
SKAT sinks the dagger into his breast and slowly falls to
the ground. The travelers stand confused. PLOG rushes forward
and begins to pull at SKAT'S hands.
Oh dear, dear, I didn't mean it that
way! Look, there's no life left in
him. I was beginning to like him,
and in my opinion Lisa was much too
JOF leans over his colleague.
He's dead, totally, enormously dead.
In fact, I've never seen such a dead
Come on, let's go. This is nothing
to mourn over. He has only himself
And I have to be married to her.
We must go on.
SKAT lies in the grass and keeps the dagger pressed tightly
to his breast. The travelers depart and soon they have
disappeared into the dark forest on the other side of the
meadow. When SKAT is sure that no one can see him, he sits
up and lifts the dagger from his breast. It is a stage dagger
with a blade that pushes into the handle. SKAT laughs to
Now that was a good scene. I'm really
a good actor. After all, why shouldn't
I be a little pleased with myself?
But where shall I go? I'll wait until
it becomes light and then I'll find
the easiest way out of the forest.
I'll climb up a tree for the time
being so that no bears, wolves or
ghosts can get at me.
He soon finds a likely tree and climbs up into its thick
foliage. He sits down as comfortably as possible and reaches
for his food pouch.
Tomorrow I'll find Jof and Mia and
then we'll go to the saints' feast
in Elsinore. We'll make lots of money
Now, I'll sing a little song to
I am a little bird Who sings whate'er
he will, And when I am in danger I
fling out a pissing trill As in the
It's boring to be alone in the forest
The terrible night doesn't frighten
He interrupts himself and listens. The sound of industrious
sawing is heard through the silence.
Workmen in the forest. Oh, well!
The terrible night doesn't frighten
Hey, what the devil... it's my tree
they're cutting down.
He peers through the foliage. Below him stands a dark figure
diligently sawing away at the base of the tree. SKAT becomes
frightened and angry.
Hey, you! Do you hear me, you tricky
bastard? What are you doing with my
The sawing continues without a pause. SKAT becomes more
Can't you at least answer me?
Politeness costs so little. Who are
DEATH straightens his back and squints up at him. SKAT cries
out in terror.
I'm sawing down your tree because
your time is up.
It won't do. I haven't got time.
So you haven't got time.
No, I have my performance.
Then it's canceled because of death.
Your contract is terminated.
My children, my family.
Shame on you, Skat!
Yes, I'm ashamed.
DEATH begins to saw again. The tree creaks.
Isn't there any way to get off? Aren't
there any special rules for actors?
No, not in this case.
No loopholes, no exceptions?
Perhaps you'll take a bribe.
The tree falls. The forest becomes silent again.
Night and then dawn.
The travelers have come to a sort of clearing and have
collapsed on the moss. They lie quietly and listen to their
own breathing, their heartbeats, and the wind in the tree
tops. Here the forest is wild and impenetrable. Huge boulders
stick up out of the ground like the heads of black giants. A
fallen tree lies like a mighty barrier between light and
MIA, JOF and their child have sat down apart from the others.
They look at the light of the moon, which is no longer full
and dead but mysterious and unstable. The KNIGHT sits bent
over his chess game. LISA cries quietly behind PLOG'S back.
JONS lies on the ground and looks up at the heavens.
Soon dawn will come, but the heat
continues to hang over us like a
I'm so frightened.
We feel that something is going to
happen to us, but we don't know what.
Maybe it's the day of judgment.
The day of judgment...
Now, something moves behind the fallen tree. There is a
rustling sound and a moaning cry that seems to come from a
wounded animal. Everyone listens intently, all faces turned
towards the sound. A voice comes out of the darkness.
Do you have some water?
RAVAL'S perspiring face soon becomes visible. He disappears
in the darkness, but his voice is heard again.
Can't you give me a little water?
I have the plague.
Don't come here. If you do I'll slit
your throat. Keep to the other side
of the tree.
I'm afraid of death.
No one answers. There is complete silence. RAVAL gasps heavily
for air. The dry leaves rustle with his movements.
I don't want to die! I don't want
No one answers. RAVAL'S face appears suddenly at the base of
the tree. His eyes bulge wildly and his mouth is ringed with
Can't you have pity on me? Help me!
At least talk to me.
No one answers. The trees sigh. RAVAL begins to cry.
I am going to die. I. I. I! What
will happen to me! Can no one console
me? Haven't you any compassion? Can't
you see that I...
His words are choked off by a gurgling sound. He disappears
in the darkness behind the fallen tree. It becomes quiet for
a few moments.
Can't anyone... only a little water.
Suddenly the GIRL gets up with a quick movement, snatches
JONS'S water bag and runs a few steps. JONS grabs her and
holds her fast.
It's no use. It's no use. I know
that it's no use. It's meaningless.
It's totally meaningless. I tell you
that it's meaningless. Can't you
hear that I'm consoling you?
Help me, help me!
No one answers, no one moves. RAVAL'S sobs are dry and
convulsive, like a frightened child's. His sudden scream is
cut off in the middle. Then it becomes quiet.
The GIRL sinks down and hides her face in her hands. JONS
places his hand on her shoulder.
The KNIGHT is no longer alone. DEATH has come to him and he
raises his hand.
Shall we play our game to the end?
DEATH raises his hand and strikes the KNIGHT'S queen. Antonius
Block looks at DEATH.
Now I take your queen.
I didn't notice that.
The KNIGHT leans over the game. The moonlight moves over the
chess pieces, which seem to have a life of their own.
JOF has dozed off for a few moments, but suddenly he wakens.
Then he sees the KNIGHT and DEATH together. He becomes very
frightened and awakens MIA.
Yes, what is it?
I see something terrible. Something
I almost can't talk about.
What do you see?
The knight is sitting over there
Yes, I can see that too and I don't
think it's so terrible.
But do you see who he's playing with?
He is alone. You mustn't frighten me
No, no, he isn't alone.
Who is it, then?
Death. He is sitting there playing
chess with Death himself.
You mustn't say that.
We must try to escape.
One can't do that.
We must try. They are so occupied
with their game that if we move very
quietly, they won't notice us.
JOF gets up carefully and disappears into the darkness behind
the trees. MIA remains standing, as if paralyzed by fear.
She stares fixedly at the KNIGHT and the chess game. She
holds her son in her arms. Now JOF returns.
I have harnessed the horse. The wagon
is standing near the big tree. You
go first and I'll follow you with
the packs. See that Mikael doesn't
MIA does what JOF has told her. At the same moment, the KNIGHT
looks up from his game.
It is your move, Antonius Block.
The KNIGHT remains silent. He sees MIA go through the
moonlight towards the wagon. JOF bends down to pick up the
pack and follows at a distance.
Have you lost interest in our game?
The KNIGHT'S eyes become alarmed. DEATH looks at him intently.
Lost interest? On the contrary.
You seem anxious. Are you hiding
Nothing escapes you -- or does it?
Nothing escapes me. No one escapes
It's true that I'm worried.
He pretends to be clumsy and knocks the chess pieces over
with the hem of his coat. He looks up at DEATH.
I've forgotten how the pieces stood.
But I have not forgotten. You can't
get away that easily.
DEATH leans over the board and rearranges the pieces. The
KNIGHT looks past him towards the road. MIA has just climbed
up on the wagon. JOF takes the horse by the bridle and leads
it down the road. DEATH notices nothing; he is completely
occupied with reconstructing the game.
Now I see something interesting.
What do you see?
You are mated on the next move,
Did you enjoy your reprieve?
Yes, I did.
I'm happy to hear that. Now I'll be
leaving you. When we meet again,
you and your companions' time will
And you will divulge your secrets.
I have no secrets.
So you know nothing.
I have nothing to tell.
The KNIGHT wants to answer, but DEATH is already gone.
A murmur is heard in the tree tops. Dawn comes, a flickering
light without life, making the forest seem threatening and
evil. JOF drives over the twisting road. MIA sits beside
What a strange light.
I guess it's the thunderstorm which
comes with dawn.
No, it's something else. Something
terrible. Do you hear the roar in
It's probably rain.
No, it isn't rain. He has seen us
and he's following us. He has
overtaken us; he's coming towards
Not yet, Mia. In any case, not yet.
I'm so afraid. I'm so afraid.
The wagon rattles over roots and stones; it sways and creaks.
Now the horse stops with his ears flat against his head. The
forest sighs and stirs ponderously.
Get into the wagon, Mia. Crawl in
quickly. We'll lie down, Mia, with
Mikael between us.
They crawl into the wagon and crouch around the sleeping
It is the Angel of Death that's
passing over us, Mia. It's the Angel
of Death. The Angel of Death, and
he's very big.
Do you feel how cold it is? I'm
freezing. I'm terribly cold.
She shivers as if she had a fever. They pull the blankets
over them and lie closely together. The wagon canvas flutters
and beats in the wind. The roar outside is like a giant
The castle is silhouetted like a black boulder against the
heavy dawn. Now the storm moves there, throwing itself
powerfully against walls and abutments. The sky darkens; it
is almost like night.
Antonius Block has brought his companions with him to the
castle. But it seems deserted. They walk from room to room.
There is only emptiness and quiet echoes. Outside, the rain
is heard roaring noisily.
Suddenly the KNIGHT stands face to face with his wife. They
look at each other quietly.
I heard from people who came from
the crusade that you were on your
way home. I've been waiting for you
here. All the others have fled from
The KNIGHT is silent. He looks at her.
Don't you recognize me any more?
The KNIGHT nods, silent.
You also have changed.
She walks closer and looks searchingly into his face. The
smile lingers in her eyes and she touches his hand lightly.
Now I can see that it's you. Somewhere
in your eyes, somewhere in your face,
but hidden and frightened, is that
boy who went away so many years ago.
It's over now and I'm a little tired.
I see that you're tired.
Over there stand my friends.
Ask them in. They will break the
fast with us.
They all sit down at the table in the room, which is lit by
torches on the walls. Silently they eat the hard bread and
the salt-darkened meat. KARIN sits at the head of the table
and reads aloud from a thick book.
"And when the Lamb broke the seventh
seal, there was silence in heaven
for about the space of half an hour.
And I saw the seven angels which
stood before God; and to them were
given seven trumpets. And another..."
Three mighty knocks sound on the large portal. KARIN
interrupts her reading and looks up from the book. JONS rises
quickly and goes to open the door.
"The first angel sounded, and there
followed hail and fire mingled with
blood, and they were cast upon the
earth; and the third part of the
trees was burnt up and all the green
grass was burnt up."
Now the rain becomes quiet. There is suddenly an immense,
frightening silence in the large, murky room where the burning
torches throw uneasy shadows over the ceiling and the walls.
Everyone listens tensely to the stillness.
"And the second angel sounded, and
as it were a great mountain burning
with fire was cast into the sea; and
a third part of the sea became
Steps are heard on the stairs. JONS returns and sits down
silently at his place but does not continue to eat.
Was someone there?
No, my lord. I saw no one.
KARIN lifts her head for a moment but once again leans over
the large book.
"And the third angel sounded, and
there fell a great star from heaven,
burning as it were a torch, and it
fell upon the third part of the rivers
and upon the fountains of waters;
and the name of the star is called
They all lift their heads, and when they see who is coming
towards them through the twilight of the large room, they
rise from the table and stand close together.
Good morning, noble lord.
I am Karin, the knight's wife, and
welcome you courteously to my house.
I am a smith by profession and rather
good at my trade, if I say so myself.
My wife Lisa -- curtsy for the great
lord, Lisa. She's a little difficult
to handle once in a while and we had
a little spat, so to speak, but no
worse than most people.
The KNIGHT hides his face in his hands.
From our darkness, we call out to
Thee, Lord. Have mercy on us because
we are small and frightened and
In the darkness where You are supposed
to be, where all of us probably are...
In the darkness You will find no one
to listen to Your cries or be touched
by Your sufferings. Wash Your tears
and mirror Yourself in Your
God, You who are somewhere, who must
be somewhere, have mercy upon us.
I could have given you an herb to
purge you of your worries about
eternity. Now it seems to be too
late. But in any case, feel the
immense triumph of this last minute
when you can still roll your eyes
and move your toes.
I shall be silent, but under protest.
(on her knees)
It is the end.
JOF and MIA sit close together and listen to the rain tapping
lightly on the wagon canvas, a sound which diminishes until
finally there are only single drops.
They crawl out of their hiding place. The wagon stands on a
height above a slope, protected by an enormous tree. They
look across ridges, forests, the wide plains, and the sea,
which glistens in the sunlight breaking through the clouds.
JOF stretches his arms and legs. MIA dries the wagon seat
and sits down next to her husband. MIKAEL crawls between
A lone bird tests its voice after the storm. The trees and
bushes drip. From the sea comes a strong and fragrant wind.
JOF points to the dark, retreating sky where summer lightning
glitters like silver needles over the horizon.
I see them, Mia! I see them! Over
there against the dark, stormy sky.
They are all there. The smith and
Lisa and the knight and Raval and
Jöns and Skat. And Death, the severe
master, invites them to dance. He
tells them to hold each other's hands
and then they must tread the dance
in a long row. And first goes the
master with his scythe and hourglass,
but Skat dangles at the end with his
lyre. They dance away from the dawn
and it's a solemn dance towards the
dark lands, while the rain washes
their faces and cleans the salt of
the tears from their cheeks.
He is silent. He lowers his hand. His son, MIKAEL, has
listened to his words. Now, he crawls up to MIA and sits
down in her lap.
You with your visions and dreams.
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