The Nativity of Jesus
INNKEEPER: In the time when Cyrenius was Governor of Syria, the Roman Emperor Augustus, in his great and godlike wisdom, made a decree that all the world must be taxed; and before the tax could be levied there must first be a great census; and in order to conduct this census, each man must return to the town of his forefathers, to have his head counted. Why the heads couldn't be counted just as well in the townships and villages where they were living at the time I wouldn't know; but governments are always right, and the people are always wrong, as everybody understands, the whole world over. Imagine the upheaval! The farmer must leave his fields, the shopkeeper must leave his shop, the scribe must leave his office, and even the poor hardworking brothel-keeper must leave his brothel, while he traipses across the country to his home town and back again. Imagine the complaining! Nobody likes to be taxed in the first place, but to be turned out of your house and home and have your business ruined as a prelude to being taxed! It's a good job the Jews are so fond of being told what to do by the Romans, and a good job they're so respectful and appreciative of Cyrenius the Governor, or there might have been a certain amount of resentment. But luckily everything has passed off happily and peacefully, and as they say, every cloud has a silver lining. All these people travelling and needing somewhere to stay! What a time to be an innkeeper! And here am I, proud owner of the best inn in Bethlehem - hot meals every night, fresh bread every morning, the best wine in Judaea and a privy with a wooden seat! What a week I'm having! I've been rushed off my feet from dawn until midnight, and I've got every room full, extra guests on the roof, hammocks on the veranda, and all at prices that would make your head swim! After another week like this I could retire! God bless Cyrenius the Governor and Augustus the Emperor! Hallo, who's this?
[Enter Joseph and Mary]
JOSEPH: Are you the innkeeper?
INNKEEPER: Yes I am. But before you start, I'm afraid we're full.
JOSEPH: Oh, you're joking, aren't you?
MARY: Not you as well!
INNKEEPER: Have you tried the other inns in town?
JOSEPH: There is only one other inn in town, isn't there? The Harp of David?
MARY: We've already been there.
INNKEEPER: Well, there's also Mad Martha. She takes in guests. Have you tried her?
JOSEPH: Yes, we tried her too. She's got three people in her spare room and another four in the courtyard.
MARY: She checked with her husband Joab, but he said they couldn't fit any more in.
INNKEEPER: She hasn't got a husband called Joab.
MARY: Yes she has - she went out the back to ask him.
INNKEEPER: That's her goat.
INNKEEPER: She always discusses everything with her goat. That's why they call her Mad Martha.
INNKEEPER: Mind you, to be fair, he does give her good advice.
JOSEPH: Innkeeper, my wife Mary, as you can see, is about to give birth.
JOSEPH: Yes, really. You can see for yourself that she's heavily pregnant.
INNKEEPER: I'll take your word for it. Last time I had a woman here shaped like that, it turned out she was smuggling spirits.
JOSEPH: Well, Mary isn't smuggling spirits.
MARY: Unless you count the Spirit of the Lord.
INNKEEPER: Oh, very good. All newborn children are imbued with God's spirit. I get it. A very worthy sentiment. Praise be to God in the Highest, etc.
MARY: Yes, and in this particular case -
JOSEPH: Well, we don't need to go into all that.
INNKEEPER: Into all what?
JOSEPH: Nothing, nothing. The point is, the hour of her confinement is close at hand.
MARY: Extremely close at hand.
JOSEPH: Extremely close at hand. And she can't have her baby in the street or on a hillside.
INNKEEPER: Oh, you'd be surprised. One of the village-girls - Sarah, she's called - fifteen she was at the time - she gave birth in that olive-grove just over there.
JOSEPH: Well, I don't want my wife giving birth in an olive-grove.
INNKEEPER: Your first one, is it? She won't be so fussy once she's popped out three or four. I've known women give birth in broom-cupboards, vineyards, hay-stacks...
MARY: Ooh! Joseph, I think it's starting!
JOSEPH: Landlord, for goodness' sake! There must be something you can do for us.
INNKEEPER: Well, I'll tell you what. Call me an old softie, but you can stay in the stable if you like.
JOSEPH: In the stable?
INNKEEPER: If you like. Call me an old softie.
JOSEPH: Isn't it full of animals?
INNKEEPER: Well, I wouldn't say full. Not full. Anyway, it's warm and dry. Well, anyway, it's dry. It's not raining at the moment. And there's plenty of straw, which you're welcome to make use of. Five talents.
JOSEPH: Five talents?
INNKEEPER: And I'll let you keep the donkey in there for free.
JOSEPH: Five bloody talents?
MARY: Ooh! Joseph!
JOSEPH: All right, all right.
INNKEEPER: In advance.
JOSEPH [paying him]: Daylight bloody robbery.
MARY: Is there a midwife in the town?
INNKEEPER: Well, there's Mad Martha.
INNKEEPER: People say she's very good. But she does bring Joab the Goat with her. He likes the placenta.
JOSEPH: We'll manage.
[Exit Mary and Joseph.]
INNKEEPER: Good luck! God bless you!
This is going to make my fortune. I'll be putting people up in the dovecote next.
[Enter three shepherds.]
SHEPHERD1: Are you the innkeeper?
INNKEEPER: Yes yes, that's me. But before you even start, we're completely full up.
SHEPHERD1: Full up?
INNKEEPER: I've got guests in every room. I've even got a young couple sleeping in the stable.
SHEPHERD1: Ah. We ain't a-looking for no room.
INNKEEPER: Ain't you? I mean, aren't you?
SHEPHERD1: No, we ain't a-looking for no room, are we lads?
SHEPHERD2: No, no, we ain't a-looking for no room.
INNKEEPER: Then what can I do for you gentlemen? Perhaps a drink, or something to eat?
SHEPHERD1: No, we ain't a-looking for no vittals neither, are we lads?
SHEPHERD2: No, no, we ain't a-looking for no vittals.
SHEPHERD3: I brought my own pasty.
SHEPHERD2: Ah, he brought his own pasty.
SHEPHERD3: Which I ain't a-sharing.
SHEPHERD1: All right, Nathaniel, nobody's asking you to share.
SHEPHERD3: Well I'm just a-saying.
SHEPHERD2: He never do share his pasty.
SHEPHERD3: Well I don't see as why I should.
SHEPHERD2: We calls him Generous Nathaniel.
SHEPHERD3: Well I don't see as to why I should have to share -
SHEPHERD1: All right, Nathaniel, nobody's asking you to share.
INNKEEPER: So what can I do for you gentlemen, then? I'm afraid the privy is only for paying customers.
SHEPHERD1: Oh, we don't need no privy, do we lads?
SHEPHERD2: No, we don't need no privy.
SHEPHERD3: We just done our business afore we come.
SHEPHERD1: All right, Nathaniel, there's no need for to tell him that.
INNKEEPER: Well then, if there's nothing I can do for you, gentlemen, I'll say goodnight.
SHEPHERD1: Ah. Now you hold your horses there just a moment, Mr Innkeeper, if you wouldn't mind. We got something to ask you.
INNKEEPER: Oh yes? Something to ask?
SHEPHERD1: Ah. We got something to ask him, don't we lads?
SHEPHERD2: Ah. Something to ask him.
SHEPHERD3: I ain't asking it, though.
SHEPHERD1: All right, Nathaniel. Nobody's asking you to ask it.
SHEPHERD2: He never do like to ask.
SHEPHERD3: I won't ask. I ain't doing no asking.
SHEPHERD1: Well there ain't no need for you to ask, Nathaniel. Nobody's asking you to ask. I'm a-doing the asking, aren't I?
SHEPHERD1: Well what?
INNKEEPER: What do you want to ask me?
SHEPHERD1: Oh yes. It's this here. Have you by any chance got such a thing as a baby in a manger?
INNKEEPER: A baby in a manger?
SHEPHERD1: Ah. A baby, you know, in, you know, a manger.
INNKEEPER: Yes, I understand the question. But I haven't got any babies here, in a manger or otherwise.
[The cry of a newborn baby comes from off-stage]
SHEPHERD1: Be you a-sure about that, Mr Innkeeper?
INNKEEPER: Well, I didn't have a baby here until just then.
SHEPHERD1: And be that baby, that we just heard the cry of, by any chance, a-lying in a manger?
INNKEEPER: Well, as it's only just been born, and I haven't seen it any more than you have, I don't know where it's lying, do I?
SHEPHERD2: Ah, fair's fair, Abe. He's got you there.
SHEPHERD1: True, true. Fair's fair, Mr Innkeeper. You've got me there.
SHEPHERD3: Ah, but that there new born baby's cry was a-coming from that there stable over there, warn't it?
SHEPHERD1: All right, Nathaniel, we all heard that.
SHEPHERD3: And if you'd just a-give birth to a little baby in a stable, where would you stick him? Eh? That's my question. Stick him in the manger, that's my answer. With a wisp of hay and some swaddling-clothes - why, it's like it was made for him.
SHEPHERD2: Ah. Good point, Nathaniel, good point.
SHEPHERD1: Ah. Argue with that, Mr Innkeeper, if you can.
INNKEEPER: I've got no intention of arguing with it.
SHEPHERD3: That's because he can't.
INNKEEPER: If you want to know whether the baby's lying in a manger or not, why don't you go and have a look for yourselves?
SHEPHERD1: Ah. A very good suggestion, Mr Innkeeper. What do you say to that, lads?
SHEPHERD2: I say let's do it.
SHEPHERD3: But I ain't a-going first.
SHEPHERD1: All right, Nathaniel, nobody ain't asking you to go first.
SHEPHERD3: Good. Cos I ain't a-going first.
SHEPHERD2: He never do like to go first. You knows that, Abe.
SHEPHERD1: Course I knows it. I'm a-going first, ain't I?
[They set off.]
INNKEEPER: Now hold on just a minute, lads. I've got a question of my own.
SHEPHERD1: Ah, you got a question of your own, have you, Mr Innkeeper? And what might that question be?
INNKEEPER: Well, why are you looking for a baby lying in a manger?
SHEPHERD2: Ah. That's a fair question, that is, Abe.
SHEPHERD1: I never said it warn't fair, now did I?
SHEPHERD3: Well I ain't a-going to answer it.
SHEPHERD1: All right Nathaniel, nobody asked you to answer it, did they?
SHEPHERD2: He never do like answering no questions, Abe. You knows that.
SHEPHERD1: Well he don't need to answer no questions, do he? Nobody asked him to answer. I be the one what's a-going to do the answering, bain't I?
SHEPHERD1: Well what?
INNKEEPER: Why are you looking for a baby lying in a manger?
SHEPHERD1: Ah. Well that be all on account of them there angels.
INNKEEPER: Them there angels?
INNKEEPER: What angels?
SHEPHERD1: Them there angels what appeared to us all a-shiny and a-dazzling out of the night sky, just when we was a-watching of our flocks and a-minding of our own business.
SHEPHERD2: Two of them, there was.
SHEPHERD1: Ah, two of them there was, and 'Fear not' was what they said.
SHEPHERD2: Which was all very well.
SHEPHERD1: Ah. Which was all very well, but they was so shiny and bright, and they appeared so sudden-like, just when we was a-watching of our flocks and a-minding of our own business, that we was a-struck dumb with terror, so we were.
SHEPHERD3: I shat myself.
SHEPHERD1: All right Nathaniel, there ain't no need for to tell Mr Innkeeper here as to how you shat yourself.
SHEPHERD3: Well I did.
SHEPHERD2: We all shat ourselves, Abe, you know what. That's why we don't need no privy.
SHEPHERD1: Ah, well the cat's out of the bag now, so there's no point denying it. We all shat ourselves, Mr Innkeeper, and that's the plain truth.
SHEPHERD3: I don't think they noticed, though.
SHEPHERD2: They never said nothing, nohow.
SHEPHERD1: No, that's true, that is. What they did say, howsoever, was as to how a new Saviour was being a-born this very night in this here town of Bethlehem, and if we wanted to take a look at that there new Saviour, we would a-find that there Saviour a-lying in a manger in this here town of Bethlehem, a-wrapped up in swaddling clothes.
INNKEEPER: A new Saviour?
INNKEEPER: What did they mean, a new Saviour?
SHEPHERD1: Ah well, that we don't exactly know, being as how we didn't exactly like to ask, what with them being angels and all shiny and that.
SHEPHERD2: And us being struck dumb with terror.
SHEPHERD3: And having shat ourselves.
INNKEEPER: No. I see.
SHEPHERD1: So now, Mr Innkeeper, if it's all the same to you, we'll just be a-follering of your previous suggestion, and a-going and having a little look in that there stable of yours.
SHEPHERD2: The one as that there baby's cry was a-coming from.
SHEPHERD3: But I ain't a-going first.
SHEPHERD1: All right Nathaniel -
SHEPHERD3: I've a-shat myself once already this evening, and that's enough.
INNKEEPER: Don't ask me what that was all about. Shiny great angels appearing out of the night sky to three shepherds? I never heard such nonsense. Why would angels appear to three shepherds? They'd want to appear to somebody important, wouldn't they? And a new Saviour being born in a manger? Saviours don't get born in mangers. Saviours get floated down the Nile in baskets made of bullrushes, like Moses, and then they get found by Pharaoh's daughter and adopted and brought up in a palace. They don't get born in a stable in Bethlehem in the middle of nowhere. Those lads have been sharing round the old magic mushrooms, if you want my opinion.
[Enter the Three Kings]
MELCHIOR: I say! You there, my good fellow!
INNKEEPER: Oh! At your service, my lord!
MELCHIOR: Would you happen to be the proprietor of this delightful establishment by any chance?
INNKEEPER: I am, my lord! Welcome to my humble premises. All I have is at your command.
MELCHIOR: That's frightfully civil of you, old boy.
INNKEEPER: Are you looking for rooms? I have excellent rooms available. There are other people in them at the moment, but say the word and I'll have them thrown out onto the dungheap, where they belong. They are vermin by comparison with your lordships.
MELCHIOR: No no, my dear chap, we simply wouldn't dream of it. We wouldn't want to cause any bother.
CASPAR: In any case we're meant to be staying with Herod.
BALTHAZAR: He of the big beard and the big belly. His concubines are like flamingos in a lagoon.
MELCHIOR: Frightfully nice chap, Herod. Have you met him? Awfully impressive palace. Oodles of architecture. Gold, marble and so forth. Stairs here, arches there. Have you been?
INNKEEPER: No, my lord, a lowly innkeeper such as myself -
MELCHIOR: Oh, you simply must visit, dear boy, you simply must. He's an absolute card. Frightful temper - threatening to kill one and so forth - rolling his eyes and biting the carpet - tremendous fun. An absolute hoot.
CASPAR: The man's a complete turd.
MELCHIOR: Oh, now now, he couldn't be a nicer chap in his way.
BALTHAZAR: His eyes were like two black whirlpools in an ocean of tallow.
MELCHIOR: Well, true.
BALTHAZAR: His lips like two brown snakes writhing in a jungle of pubic hair.
MELCHIOR: But a charming man, perfectly charming. I say, what an absolutely super little inn you do have. Have you worked here very long?
INNKEEPER: All my life, my lord.
MELCHIOR: Really? How extraordinary. Good for you. I don't suppose you'd happen to have such a thing around here as a new-born king of the Jews? We've rather set our hearts on finding him.
INNKEEPER: I'm afraid not, my lord - er - isn't Herod himself the King of the Jews?
MELCHIOR: Oh, absolutely. Completely. He most certainly is the king, no dispute about that. And a jolly good king he is too.
CASPAR: If you like being ruled over by an incompetent bell-end.
BALTHAZAR: The elephant and the lion are mighty, but the bee lives in a house of gold.
MELCHIOR: The thing is, dear boy, we just happen to take rather an interest in the stars and all that sort of thing - astronomy and whatnot - and the stars are jolly well chock-full of portent just at the moment, all about a new King of the Jews being born, apparently just around here somewhere. And I must say he couldn't have chosen a more charming spot.
CASPAR: What are you talking about? The whole place is falling down. Look at that stable. If my camel farts, the walls will collapse like a house of cards.
BALTHAZAR: The kingdom we seek is not of this world. The one we find will not be another king like Herod. He will be humble and obscure. Emperors and potentates will ignore him. Sometimes, it takes a dung beetle to push the sun across the sky.
CASPAR: What does that mean? You've been talking bollocks all the way from Samarkand.
INNKEEPER: So it's a baby you're looking for? As it happens we do happen to have one on the premises.
MELCHIOR: You do! What a splendid piece of luck!
INNKEEPER: I expect you've come many miles in search of this baby.
MELCHIOR: I can't tell you, dear boy. We've travelled from the very ends of the earth. Deserts, mountains, sea-voyages and who knows what else. Jolly exhausting, I can tell you. One's boots and pantaloons are simply worn to tatters.
INNKEEPER: And now you've come to the right place, what a shame it would be to miss out. For lack of the right information.
MELCHIOR: Oh, quite. Heavens forbid. Too frustrating for words.
INNKEEPER: So the person who gave you the right information would doubtless merit a handsome reward.
CASPAR: Oh for crying out loud. Give this chiselling bastard some money, Melchior.
MELCHIOR: Oh, I see what you're driving at. Very well. Here's gold for you, old chap.
INNKEEPER: A thousand thanks, my lord. You will find the baby in that stable.
BALTHAZAR: The farmer reaps only what he has planted, but the magpie gathers the harvest of the Almighty.
CASPAR: For goodness' sake put a sock in it, Balthazar.
BALTHAZAR: Sometimes silence is the loudest speech of all.
MELCHIOR: What a delightful fellow that innkeeper is.
CASPAR: God give me strength.
[They go out.]
INNKEEPER: Well! What a day's work this has been. [He jingles the coins in his hand.] Perhaps I should go and see this baby for myself, as so many people seem to be turning up asking about it. On the other hand, if I stay here, there's no telling how much I could make. I could set up a hot food stall.
[Enter Gabriel and Michael.]
GABRIEL: Fear not!
INNKEEPER: Good evening, gentlemen. How can I help you?
GABRIEL: Be not afraid!
INNKEEPER: All right.
GABRIEL: Well, you can be a little bit afraid if you like. Most people are.
INNKEEPER: Are they? Why?
GABRIEL: Because we're very bright and shiny.
INNKEEPER: Well, you're dressed in white.
GABRIEL: Very bright and shiny white.
INNKEEPER: I've seen brighter and shinier.
GABRIEL: No you haven't. Just look at us. We are obviously not of this world.
INNKEEPER: Well, I wouldn't say that.
MICHAEL: Shall I show him my mighty sword?
GABRIEL: No, I don't think there's any need for that.
MICHAEL: I could smite something. An olive-tree, for example. Or a rock. I could rend it from top to bottom. Then he'd see.
INNKEEPER: Yes, that would be spectacular. People would come running.
MICHAEL: There you are, he'd like to see it.
GABRIEL: No, I don't think displays of force would be fitting. Remember, we come with a message of peace. Peace on earth and goodwill to all men.
MICHAEL: What if a squadron of angels suddenly appeared in the sky, and blasted all the trees in that olive-grove with white-hot beams from their eyes? That'd show him.
INNKEEPER: Yes, that'd certainly show me. And it'd draw a huge crowd.
MICHAEL: There you are, he agrees.
GABRIEL: No, no, that wouldn't be appropriate at all. A heavenly host singing hosannas to God in the highest would be much more the ticket.
MICHAEL: Carrying mighty swords?
GABRIEL: I don't think so. Carrying harps, and possibly dulcimers.
MICHAEL: Gah. Dulcimers. The most girly of all musical instruments.
INNKEEPER: But what can I get for you gentlemen? Some hot food? Perhaps a drink?
GABRIEL: Nothing, thank you.
MICHAEL: We don't really go in for food and drink. And we don't carry any ready money.
INNKEEPER: No ready money?
GABRIEL: Afraid not.
INNKEEPER: Oh. Well, er, were you wanting to know the whereabouts of a certain baby?
MICHAEL: We know that already.
INNKEEPER: Oh. Do you?
GABRIEL: Yes, for we are his heralds. We come to announce the birth of a new saviour, a new king of the Jews, a heavenly babe, the Son of God, and you will find this babe lying in a manger, wrapped in swaddling-clothes.
INNKEEPER: Yes, he's in that stable over there.
MICHAEL: We already know that.
INNKEEPER: Well it's my stable.
MICHAEL: It doesn't matter whose stable it is.
INNKEEPER: It does if lots of people start turning up, wanting to see him, because I'm entitled to a percentage of the take.
MICHAEL: This is a spiritual matter, not financial.
INNKEEPER: Oh come on. Nothing brings in money like religion. Have you been to the Temple at Jerusalem?
GABRIEL: From this day forth everything will change, for he has come to establish the Kingdom of God upon earth. He brings a message of peace and hope to all the nations. The lion will lie down with the lamb. There will be no more wars, no more poverty, no more greed and exploitation.
MICHAEL: See. No more greed and exploitation.
INNKEEPER: Who's talking about greed and exploitation? I'm talking about legitimate business and a fair percentage of the take.
GABRIEL: Little man, you have no idea what's happening in that stable. When you stand before God the Father at the end of time, and he asks you why, when his only Son came down to earth, all you could think about was how to exploit the situation for the sake of profit, what will you say to him?
INNKEEPER: I'll tell him it was my way of praising him.
GABRIEL: Yes, I believe you will. And now I think it's time for some hosannas.
MICHAEL: I'll fetch a squadron of angels.
INNKEEPER: If you could just get them to sing right above the stable. That ought to pull in a big crowd.
[Gabriel and Michael go out. The heavenly choir begins to sing.]
INNKEEPER: Oh, this is going to make my fortune!