Androcles and the Lion By Aurand Harris Play Synopsis Androcles and the Lion, the story of a slave who befriends a Lion, is a refreshingly antic, irreverent treatment of Aesop’s fable, written in the style of Italian Commedia dell’Arte. A group of players set up the stage and give a perfor- mance capturing many of the Commedia’s stock characters: the miserly Pantalone, the bragging Captain, the romantic Lovers, the trickster, and the endearing Lion. As the play skyrockets with zany comedy, it also grows with the warmth of friendship. This centuries-old tale is one of the most popular children’s plays ever written, with its enduring themes of freedom and friendship. Biography of Playwright: Aurand Harris Aurand Harris was born in Jamesport, Missouri on July 4, 1915. He attended the University of Kansas City, Northwestern University, and Columbia University. He has worked as a teacher at Grace Church School in New York City, in addition to serving short terms as playwright-in-residence at several universities throughout the United States. Harris’ accomplishments are many. In the 1970s, he received an award established to recognize playwrights who have written a body of plays that lift up the field of children’s theatre. He was given this award again in the 1980s and is the only playwright to win the Charlotte Chorpening award twice. Some of his other works include, The Tobey Show (a vaudevillian show), Rags to Riches (a melodrama story), and The Arkansaw Bear (what he called his ‘death’ show, performed a USQ in 2002). However, he sometimes also adapted traditional stories such as Pocahontas, or well-known stories such as The Magician’s Nephew. Harris is currently America’s most-produced children’s theatre playwright. The children’s theatre world lost this great person and playwright in the spring of 1996, when he passed away at the age of 82. His plays though, will live on forever. Androcles and the Lion, By Aesop Fable Synopsis “Gratitude is the sign of noble souls.” A slave named Androcles once escaped from his master and fled to the forest. As he was wandering about there he came upon a Lion lying down moaning and groaning. At first he turned to flee, but finding that the Lion did not pursue him, he turned back and went up to him. As he came near, the Lion put out his paw, which was all swollen and bleeding, and Androcles found that a huge thorn had got into it, and was causing all the pain. He pulled out the thorn and bound up the paw of the Lion, who was soon able to rise and lick the hand of Androcles like a dog. Then the Lion took Androcles to his cave, and ever day used to bring him meat from which to live. But shortly afterwards both An- drocles and the Lion were captured, and the slave was sentenced to be thrown to the Lion, after the latter had been kept without food for several days. The Emperor and all his court came to see the spectacle and Androcles was led out into the middle of the arena. Soon the Lion was let loose from his den, and rushed bounding and roaring towards his victim. But as soon as he came near to Androcles, he recognized his friend, and fawned upon him, and licked his hands like a friendly dog. The Emperor, surprised at this, summoned Androcles to him, who told him the whole story. Whereupon the slave was pardoned and freed, and the Lion let loose to his native forest. Biography of Aesop Aesop is the most famous fabulist of all time, and a figure shrouded in mystery. However, it can be cautiously said that Aesop was a slave in the 6th century B.C., that he came from Phrygia and lived in Samos, and that he was known for his ability to craft “fables.” Though obscure and inaccessible, we still have an ancient account of Aesop, which describes him as an ugly mute slave that was granted the power to speak and craft fables in return for his generosity to one of the attendants of goddess Isis. This same account implicates Aesop in a series of wild adventures and witty fables which demonstrate, above all else, that he can outwit and out-philosophize the philosopher who owns him. Originally, Aesop designed his fables to explain the different processes of the natural world. The modern stories we know, that teach morals to children, developed throughout the centuries. Aesop himself became the man we attri- bute these tales to – the icon of children’s fables. PLAY ANALYSIS By Dr. Lois Mueller Aurand Harris has created a multi-layered tapestry of psychological principles that affect human behav- ior in a play that appears, on the surface, to be a simple story of good triumphing over evil. Pantalone, the cruel miser is pitted against Androcles, the saintly slave who repeatedly sacrifices his own needs to serve others. Although Androcles is ordered around as if he is, “only a name,” he finds his own way to get even by passive-aggressive maneuvers. For example, he acts as if he is running to do his master’s bidding, until he is out of sight and then slows his pace to suit himself. He even orchestrates the very thing that Panta- lone fears most, the elopement of his niece, Isabella and her suitor, Lelio and most importantly, the loss of her dowry of gold. In helping the young lovers, Androcles also begins his journey to find his own identity, something the narcissistic Captain is unable to do. The Captain relies on his uniform and props to determine who he is. It is not surprising that he is undone by the power of suggestion. In a most entertaining manner, he gets so caught up in his boastful stories and by the suggestions of others, that he foolishly loses himself and what little power he has. The Lion introduces yet another principle of human behavior by singing, “show the world how you feel” i.e. Roar! When Androcles meets the Lion, the story heats up as we learn how pre-conceived notions or preju- dice leads each to expect the worst of the other. When the Lion needs help, it is Androcles’ kindness and self- lessness that melts the prejudice away. Androcles teaches us that, “when someone needs your help, you can’t run away,” even if it is inconvenient or risky to do the right thing. The Lion shows us how it takes courage to trust another, even to let them help you. We see that soon one good deed leads to another. Androcles finds in his new friendship with the Lion that he is free to be treated kindly for the first time in his life. When he is captured by Pantalone and the Captain, to be fed to a lion, his friend the Lion emerges to save him and to chase the villains instead. We see that Pantalone and the Captain are the true cowards and thieves not Androcles whom they accuse. We learn that they have stolen and sold a man and that, “no one can own another man.” When the crowd turns on the Lion, Androcles returns the favor and protects him. In the end, everyone gets what they deserve– the cowardly Captain, who boasts of bravery, receives a dangerous assignment abroad. Pantolone, the nasty miser, loses his money and his slave. The Lion is free to roam and Androcles is finally free to raise his head, “to be a man” and to define his own life. Dr. Lois Mueller – Dr. Lois Mueller is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist who works with children and their families as well as other adults. She has written an advice column for the Clearwater Sun Newspaper and has hosted a call-in advice radio program on Talk Radio WPLP, Pinellas Park and WPSO, New Port Richey. She has been quoted in numer- ous newspapers and magazines and on radio and TV programs as an expert in psychology. Dr. Mueller practices in Port Richey, Florida. COMMEDIA DELL’ ARTE Commedia dell’Arte is the foundation for numerous theatrical conventions such as clowning, improvisation, pan- tomime and slapstick. Otherwise known as “The Comedy of Art” or “The Comedy of Professionals,” Commedia dell’Arte began in Italy around the fourteenth century (1300). Commedia is improvisational theatre that uses stock characters and plots as a foundation to glean truth from human emotions, and often poke fun at popular conventions of the time. A commedia troupe or guild would often be comprised of ten skilled actors proficient in various skills such as acrobatics, music, pantomime, juggling and weapon wielding. Throughout the plays, there would be various lazzis, or bits of business wherein the most skilled of actors would perform a series of physical stunts often aimed at mocking other characters. As with Androcles and the Lion, it is common for commedia pieces to revolve around the innamoratia, or the lovers, and their conviction to be married. Other stock characters include: il capitano - a swashbuckling soldier who boasts about his escapades abroad, yet is ultimately shown to be a man of bravado. Pantalone is a miserly old man from Venice who hordes his wealth and is generally outsmarted by his daughter or servant. And finally, arlecchino, who is infamously known for his childlike demeanor and antics. Every character except for the innamorati wore leather masks that corresponded with the character archetypes they portrayed. Androcles and the Lion is a fantastic example of the Commedia dell’Arte and the celebration of these colorful characters, for all of these characters show the universal human story we all participate in. Class Discussion Continue your experience of Androcles and the Lion by engaging your class in a discussion about what they saw or learned from the play. Here are several class discussion topics that your class can brainstorm together, or write about in their journals. •Did you feel scared when the Lion appeared? Or when Androcles was captured? Why? Fear is common to all people. How have you felt fear? How did you overcome it? •Androcles helped the Lion and after they became friends. Do you have a best friend? How did you become friends? •Pantalone is a greedy miser, he likes to hoard money and keep it for himself. Have you ever seen someone be greedy? What happened? Have you ever seen someone give money away to help others? What did they do? •In every play there are conflicts and obstacles that must be overcome. Androcles and the Lion’s friendship was strengthened because they helped each other overcome their obstacles. Has there ever been a time a friend needed your help? Was it hard to do the right thing? •The search for freedom is a major theme in the play. Androcles is held in slavery by Pantalone. Isabella is held captive in her house by the Captain. But at the end of the play, the Lion concludes that “no one can own another man. The world was made for all equally.” How would you feel if you lived in a place where you weren’t free? •Throughout history, many countries have kept slaves – as Androcles was kept by Pantalone. Slavery even existed in America. The Lion says “no one can own another man.” So, why shouldn’t we own one another? •There were many different types of characters in the play. There was the greedy Pantalone, the boastful Captain, Androcles the trickster, Isabella and Lelio were the lovers, and the courageous Lion. Who were your favorites? Why? Could you use those character types in a story? •What happens to the characters after Androcles is set free? Could you write the next scene of this play? CREATE A CHARACTER CLASSROOM ACTIVITY Use the figure below as a tool for your students to create CREATE A CHARACTER their own unique characters. As you work with your students to create plays, one of the elements they will need are strong characters. As playwrights, your students’ job is to give the characters the dialogue. However, allowing them to create what the character looks like is a great exercise to open their imaginations. Marcella Beckwith is the costume and scene designer for Androcles and the Lion. When she set out to create the characters, here are several questions she asked herself to design the costumes and visually bring the characters to life: • When does this play take place? Time period, season, even the time of day affects what a character wears. • Where does this play take place? The physical setting affects how characters look: from different countries, different climates, or simply being outside or inside. • Who is this character and what are they doing? The character’s age, status, wealth, and whether they are working in an office, playing sports, or dressing to impress – all can affect the character’s appearance. For example, below are several character sketches from Androcles and the Lion. You can easily recognize the difference between the Captain and Isabella. Each one is specifically designed from the play.