David Bruce: George Peele’s THE OLD WIVES’ TALE: A Retelling — Scenes 4-5

— Scene 4 —

Huanebango and Booby the Clown arrived at the cross marking the crossroads. Huanebango was a braggart knightwho carried a two-hand sword: It was long and heavy and required two hands to wield it, and itwas old-fashioned.

“Gammer, who is he?” Fantastic asked.

“Oh, this is one who is going to the conjurer,” Madge said. “Let him alone. Hear what he says.”

Huanebangosaid, “Now, by Mars and Mercury, Jupiter and Janus, Sol and Saturn, Venus and Vesta, Pallas and Proserpina, and by the honor of my house — that is, my family, which is named Polimackeroeplacydus — it is a wonder to see what this love will make silly fellows risk, even in the wane of their wits and the infancy of their discretion — the decline of their intelligence and the immaturity of their judgment.”

Mars is the god of war, and Mercury is the messenger god.

Jupiter is the King of the gods, and Janus is the two-faced god of doorways.

Sol is the Sun-god, and Saturn is the father of Jupiter and other Olympian gods.

Venus is the goddess of beauty, and Vesta is the goddess of the hearth.

Pallas is Minerva, aka Pallas Athena, the goddess of wisdom, and Proserpina is the goddess of vegetation.

Speaking to himself, and calling himself “friend,” Huanebangocontinued, “Alas, my friend! What fortune calls thee forth to seek thy fortune among brass gates, enchanted towers, fire and brimstone, thunder and lightning? Beauty, I tell thee, is peerless and without equal, and she whom thou loves is precious. Do off and doff and do away with these desires, good countryman. Good friend, run away from thyself; and, as soon as thou can, forget her — that woman whom none must inherit but he who can tame monsters, achieve great deeds, solve riddles, loose and release people from enchantments, murder magic, and kill conjuring — and that is the great and mighty Huanebango!”

“Listen, sir, listen,”Booby the Clown said. “First know I have here in my hat the flurting — flaunting — feather, and I have given the parish the start for the long stock.”

He had run away from the parish where he had probably been an apprentice in order to follow Huanebango, who carried a long stock — a long sword.

Booby continued, “Now, sir, if it be no more but running through a little lightning and thunder, and ‘riddle me, riddle me, what’s this?’ then I’ll rescue the wench from the conjurer, even if he were ten conjurers.”

“I have abandoned the court and honorable company, to do my devoir — duty — against this sore — troublesome — sorcerer and mighty magician,” Huanebangosaid. “If this lady is as fair as she is said to be, she is mine, she is mine — meus, mea, meum, in contemptum omnium grammaticorum.”

The Latin means “mine (masculine), mine (feminine), mine (neuter), in contempt of all grammar.” Latin nouns have endings that indicate whether the noun is masculine, feminine, or neuter.

Booby said, “O falsum Latinum!”

The Latin means, “Oh, this is false — bad — Latin!”

He continued, “The fair maid is minum, cum apurtinantibus gibletis and all.”

He was engaging in his own false Latin. By “minum,” he may have meant “minus,” which means “less” — he may have been calling the beautiful maiden a very small person. Or possibly, he meant “mine-um,” meaning “mine.” Giblets are guts. “Cum apurtinantibus gibletis” means “with her appertaining guts.”

Huanebango said, “If she should be mine, as I assure myself the heavens will do something to reward my worthiness, she shall be allied to none of the meanest, least important gods, but be invested in the most famous stock and family of Huanebango Polimackeroeplacydus, my grandfather; my father, Pergopolineo; and my mother, Dionora de Sardinia, famously descended.”

“Hear me, sir,” Booby the Clown said. “Didn’t you have a cousin who was called Gusteceridis?”

“Indeed, I had a cousin who sometimes followed the court unfortunately and without luck, and his name was Bustegusteceridis.”

“Oh, lord, I know him well!” Booby the Clown said. “He is the knight of the neat’s-feet.”

A neat’s-foot is the back of the heel of a cow or an ox. Bustegusteceridisis a notable knight of the table — he likes to eat.

“Oh, he loved no capon — a castrated cock (rooster) — better than a neat’s-foot!” Huanebango said. “He has often cheated his boy-servant out of his dinner; that was his weakness, good Bustegusteceridis.”

“Come, shall we go along on our way?” Booby the Clown asked.

He saw Erestus and said, “Wait! Here is an old man at the cross. Let us ask him the way there — the way to the castle of the evil sorcerer.”

He called, “Ho, you gaffer! Please tell me where the wise man — the conjurer — dwells.”

A gaffer is an old man — a grandfather.

In this society, a “wise man” or a “wise woman” was someone with knowledge of the occult.

Huanebango requested, “Please tell us where that earthly goddess — the commander of my thoughts, and the fair mistress of my heart — keeps her abode.”

“Fair enough, and far enough from thy fingering, son,” Erestus said.

To “finger” something means to “seize” something. It can also mean a certain kind of sexual act.

“I will follow my fortune after my own fancy, and act according to my own discretion,” Huanebango said.

“Yet give something to an old man before you go,” Erestus requested.

“Father, I think a piece of this cake might serve your need,” Huanebango said.

“Yes, it would, son,” Erestus said.

“Huanebango gives no cakes for alms,” Huanebango said, referring to himself in the third person. “Ask those who give gifts for poor beggars.”

He then pretended to speak to Delia: “Fair lady, if thou were once enshrined in this bosom, I would buckler — defend and shield — thee!”

He then imitated the sound of a military trumpet: “Haratantara.”

He exited.

Booby the Clown said to Erestus, “Father, do you see this man — Huanebango? You wouldn’t think he’ll run a mile or two for such a cake, or care for a pudding. I tell you, father, he has kept up such a begging of me for a piece of this cake! Whoo! He comes upon me with ‘a superfantial substance, and the foison — plenty — of the earth,’ that I don’t know what he means.”

What did Booby the Clown mean? Probably the meaning was nonsensical. “Superfantial” could be a mistake for “superstantial,” a philosophical term that means “formally existent, but not physically existent.” A substance is physically existent, and so a superstantial substance is a contradiction in terms.

Booby the Clown said, “If he came to me thus, and said, ‘my friend Booby,’ or some such, why, I could spare him a piece with all my heart; but when he tells me how God has enriched me above other fellows with a cake, why, he makes me blind and deaf at once. Yet, father, here is a piece of cake for you, for the world is hard.”

He gave Erestus some cake.

Erestus said, “Thanks, son, but listen to me:

He shall be deaf when thou shall not see.

“Farewell, my son:

Things may so hit,

Thou may have wealth to mend thy wit.”

In other words:

Things may so happen that

Thou may have wealth to make up for your lack of intelligence.”

“Farewell, father, farewell,” Booby the Clown said, “for I must make haste after my two-hand sword — Huanebango — who has gone ahead.”

He exited.

— Scene 5 —

Sacrapant the Conjuror, alone in a room in his castle, said to himself, “The day is clear, the sky bright and gray. The lark is merry and sings her notes. Each thing rejoices underneath the sky, except for me, whom Heaven has in hate, wretched and miserable Sacrapant.

“In Thessaly I was born and brought up. My mother was named Meroe, she was a famous witch, and by her cunning knowledge I from her did learn to change and alter shapes of mortal men. There in Thessaly I turned myself into a dragon and stole away and kidnapped the daughter to the king, fair Delia, the mistress of my heart — the woman I love — and I brought her here to revive the man — me who seems in appearance to be young and pleasant to behold and yet in reality is aged, crooked, weak, and numb. Thus by enchanting spells I deceive those who behold and look upon my face. But I may as well bid youthful years adieu because she does not reciprocate my love.

“See where the woman comes from whom my sorrows grow!”

Delia, carrying a pot in her hand, entered the room.

“How are you now, fair Delia?” Sacrapant the Conjurorasked. “Where have you been?”

“At the foot of the rock for running water, and gathering roots for your dinner, sir,” Delia said.

“Ah, Delia, thou are more beautiful than the running water. Yet thou are far harder than steel or adamant!”

Adamant is a legendary mineral noted for its hardness.

“Will it please you to sit down, sir?” Delia asked.

“Yes, Delia,” Sacrapant the Conjurorsaid. “Sit and ask me for whatever thou want. Thou shall have it brought into thy lap.”

“Then, I ask you, sir, please let me have the best food from the King of England’s table, and the best wine in all France, brought in by the greatest scoundrel in all of Spain,” Delia said.

“Delia, I am glad to see that you are so pleasant and joking,” Sacrapant the Conjurorsaid. “Well, sit thee down.”

He cast this spell:

“Spread, table, spread;

“Meat, drink, and bread,

“Ever [Always] may I have

“What I ever crave,

[“Whatever I crave,]

“When I am spread:

“With meat for my black cock,

“And meat for my red.”

Witches often had black cocks (roosters) and black cats as their familiar attending spirits.

The blood of a red cock (rooster) was sometimes used for medicinal purposes.

A friar entered with a joint of beef and a pot of wine.

“Here, Delia, will you fall to and eat?” Sacrapant the Conjurorasked.

“Is this the best meat in England?”


“What is it?”

“A joint of English beef, meat for a king and a king’s followers.”

“Is this the best wine in France?”


“What wine is it?”

“A cup of neat — undiluted — wine of Orleans, which has never come near the brewers in England,” Sacrapant the Conjuror said.

Brewers in England diluted wine before they sold it.

“Is this the greatest knave in all Spain?” Delia asked.


“What is he? A friar?”

“Yes, a friar indefinite — of no particular order — and a knave infinite,”Sacrapant the Conjuror said.

Delia said, “Then, I ask you, Sir Friar, tell me before you go: Who is the very greediest Englishman?”

“The miserable and most covetous usurious moneylender,” the friar answered.

In this society, moneylenders were Jews.

“Hold thee there, friar,”Sacrapant the Conjurorsaid. “Keep that opinion.”

The friar exited.

“But, quiet! Who have we here? Who is coming?” Sacrapant the Conjurorsaid. “Delia, away, be gone!”

Delia’s two brothers entered the grounds of the castle.Sacrapant saw them through a window, and they saw Delia.

Sacrapant the Conjurorsaid, “Delia, leave! For we are beset by two men.”

He said to himself, “But Heaven — or Hell — shall rescue her for me.”

Delia and Sacrapantthe Conjuror exited.

“Brother, wasn’t that Delia who did appear, or was it only her shadow — her ghost — that was here?” the first brother asked.

“Sister, where are thou?” the second brother called. “Delia, come again! He — that is, me — calls, who grieves because of thy absence.”

He then said to Calypha, his brother, “Call out, Calypha, so that she may hear and cry aloud, for Delia is near.”

An echo repeated the last word: “Near.”

“Near!” the first brother said, “Oh, where? Have thou any news — any tidings?”

An echo repeated the last word: “Tidings.”

“Which way is Delia, then?” the second brother asked. “Is it that way, or this?”

An echo repeated the last word: “This.”

“And may we safely come where Delia is?” the first brother asked.

The echo did not repeat the last word but said, “Yes.”

The “echo” was not an echo: The echo was the sorcererSacrapant, who was laying a trap for the two brothers.

The second brother asked the first brother, “Brother, do you remember the White Bear of England’s wood? He prophesied:

Start not aside for every danger.

Be not afraid of every stranger.

Things that seem are not the same.”

The first brother replied, “Brother, why don’t we, then, courageously enter?”

“Then, brother, draw thy sword and follow me,” the second brother said.

Sacrapant the Conjurer revealed himself. Lightning flashed and thunder sounded. The second brother fell down.

“What, brother, do thou fall?” the first brother asked.

“Yes, and thou, too, Calypha,” Sacrapant the Conjurer said.

As a Thessalian sorcerer, he knew the brothers’ names.

The first brother fell down.

Sacrapant the Conjurer ordered, “Adestes, daemones!”

The Latin means, “Come, demons!”

Two Furies — avenging spirits — arrived from out of Hell.

Sacrapant the Conjurer ordered, “Away with them! Go carry them straight to Sacrapant’s cell, there in despair and torture to dwell.”

A cell is a room or an apartment.

The twoFuries exited with the two brothers.

The two brothers had followed the White Bear’s prophecy. So far, the results seemed bad, but more events would follow.

Sacrapant the Conjurer said, “These are the sons of Thenores from Thessaly; they have come to seek Delia, their sister.”

He had been born and raised in Thessaly, had fallen in love with Delia, who was the sister of the two brothers, and so had recognized the two brothers.

He continued, “But, with a potion I have given to her, my magic arts have made her forget who she is.”

Sacrapant the Conjurer removed a section of turf and showed a light enclosed in a glass container.

He said, “See here the thing that prolongs my life. With this enchantment I can do anything. And until this light fades and dies, my magical skill shall always endure.”

He prophesied:

And never shall anyone break this little glass.

Except she who’s neither wife, nor widow, nor maid.

So then cheer thyself; this is thy destiny:

Never to die — but by a dead man’s hand.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


Buy the Paperback

This is an easy-to-read retelling of George Peele’s “THE OLD WIVES’ TALE.” It is a play within a play. An old wife tells a fairy tale to visitors. As she tells the tale, the characters come to life and act out the fairy tale.





FREE eBook: davidbrucehaiku #14 (pdf)




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