Extremely Short Play #1: Thel

Extremely Short Play #1: Thel

Thel (from William Blake’s The Book of Thel, 1789) is almost a young woman, which is to say that she teeters perpetually on the banks of the river of experience, terrified of committing herself to real life—for the simple reason that to choose real life will be to choose mortality and inevitable death (ironically, her name means “desire” in Greek). Unborn, Thel is immortal. Which sounds like a good idea to her.

The characters in the play

1) Thel, a young, diaphanous shade of a girl—not even far enough along to be a virgin.
2) A highly articulate river.
3) A cheerful, philosophically shallow cloud.

As the play opens, we see Thel standing on the bank of a river. A mindless cloud floats overhead.

CLOUD:  Hi, Thel, still deciding whether or not to get real?

THEL:  I am not like thee, little Cloud, because I can smell the sweetest flowers but still feed not these selfsame flowers. 

CLOUD:  Well, I don’t feed them either.

THEL:  Yes you do, you rain upon them bright watery nourishment by which they flourish and multiply.

CLOUD (thinking about it):  Oh, yeh, right. But then I’m gone. Used up.

THEL (rather impatiently):  But then you reform and appear again as another shape! Don’t you remember?

CLOUD (happily):  Yes, of course! I’d forgotten that’s how it works. But you see, I only hold memory enough for one shape at a time. When I’ve become a new cloud, then I have to start over with a brand new memory!  The one I have now is only twenty-five minutes old!

THEL:  But if I become a mortal woman, I will probably start alright…

CLOUD:  Do it! You’ll be beautiful! You’ll be a beautiful baby! You’ll be a beautiful teenager!  You’ll be a beautiful woman!  You’ll be a beautiful…well…matron!

THEL (continuing):  …But then I will also come to an end. I will not ever acquire another shape and another and another, the way you do.

She moves closer to the river and dips her right foot in the icy water.

RIVER: That tickles.

THEL (jumping back):  It does?

RIVER (casually):  Oh yes. A little. It was sort of nice.

THEL  You never stand still.

RIVER:  No. Rivers flow.

THEL:  Through time?

RIVER:  You can’t step into the same me twice!

THEL:  But I want to remain exactly as I am—for always I want to be the same me for eternity!

RIVER:  Don’t you think that’s a little selfish?

THEL (adamant): No!

RIVER:  Come, Thel, have a little dip! See where it leads you.

THEL (terrified):  I know where it will lead me!

RIVER (calmly):  No, you don’t.

(Curtain)

 

GARY MICHAEL DAULT is a critic, writer, painter, teacher and blogger who has left the city to live in a small town on the Lake Ontario between Toronto and Montreal.

Collage by the author.

 

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this is so good. everything about it. you capture fairy tale tone and allow yourself to ask the fundamental questions. and the beautiful tension comes out. great stuff.