His Majesty: The Stomach

"His Majesty: The Stomach" is a play about the effects of colonial history on players who are deflated and absurd in the wake of it. It is particular to the postcolonial history of Africa, but it is also an allegory of absolute power and the grotesque narcissism the rulers exhibit even as their empire crumbles. It is also particular to the personal history of Sony Tansi, whose recurring theme of bodily malfunctions and disease mirror not only the politics he is critiquing but his own foreshadowed death from AIDS.

 

Characters:

Péné Matéla I, King of Zama
Prince of Foiret
Prince of Fleuret
Princess Léhault
Princess Madgara
Marquis of Poinçon
Duke of Vouincy
Court instructor
Court shouter
Doctors
Court announcer
An extra


The scene takes place in His Majesty’s palace


Act I, Scene I
(The scene is in progress as the curtain is raised)


King
Poinçon!

Poinçon
Majesty! Majesty!

King
Take a good look at me, Poinçon; take a good look at me!

Poinçon
Majesty! Majesty!

King                                         
(Yelling) Take a good look at me! (Silence) Am I a man in whose face one would throw the legs of his mother?

Poinçon
No, Majesty, No!

King
(Yelling) Then why? (Silence) Why?

Poinçon
Majesty! Majesty!

King
Poinçon!

Poinçon
Majesty!

King
Doctors, Poinçon, I want doctors! Specialists. Not the phony fetishers. Doctors! Because I am a man of science, I, from my head to my toes, even my mouth, have a straight scientific mind. An (a-b)2 man.

Poinçon
Majesty! Majesty!

King
(Calm) A king. (Laughs) a real king! His majesty the king! Do you imagine me in the hut of your spirit’s hunter. (Laughs) With a pebble between my teeth and … (Laughs) and an absurd clump of grass where my crown should be.  And “dance this dance, Majesty, eat this powder, laugh this laugh, cry this cry. . .” (Angry laugh) Poinçon!

Poinçon
Majesty! (He sizes him up) Majesty!

King
Take a good look at me! (Pause) Do you see me?

Poinçon
Yes, Majesty, yes!

King
(To himself) To the fetisher’s! (Pause) A king! With all the newspapers talking about me.  With public opinion against me. Oh no, Poinçon! I have a sharp sense of honor. I was born for honor and dignity. Do you know Poinçon? That beautiful little beast called honor and dignity? (Poinçon is silent) We shall now take our leave, Poinçon, we shall take our leave.  (Poinçon bows as he leaves)

King
(Alone)He has not stopped. (Laughs) He has not stopped mistaking me for his mother! (Pause) A king! A true king!

Obviously they misunderstand me.


Curtain


Scene II


Instructor
Well, well, gentlemen! This morning’s lesson: reverence. Reverence, gentlemen, is the center of gravity for all royal matters. His Majesty’s ideal subject must perform the gesture wholeheartedly. (He performs) Majesty! Majesty! We should feel by your manners that you have placed your whole being at the king’s disposal. (To Foiret) Would you like to try, Prince?

Foiret
No dear sir! I would give His Majesty more than a simple gesture. Besides my old bones will not permit me to push such things beyond the limits of the flesh.

Instructor
The art of pleasing the king is like the art of pleasing a woman: always go to them bent in half. (Performs) Majesty! Oh you know, the king has so many people to care for that you have to fight over his love like dogs over a bone. The gesture, dear Princes, the gesture first.

Poinçon
The heart through the gesture!

Instructor
No heart without the gesture! (Pause) Behind the bow, a dignified air and a smile. This is how a good courtesan must smile at the king. (Performs) No missteps! Calculate the intensity of the gesture, the magnitude of your movements. Give a balanced mix of fear and dignity. No tropical humor! Always a tiger face, always manly, always noble!

The Duke of Vouincy
We were fine with the Republic. We were fine.

Poinçon
We will be fine with the nobility! I perceive myself to be a veritable reservoir of nobility and fidelity to the king.

Instructor
Always the step of the salamander: the left foot more voracious than the right foot. Attention gentlemen! The thighs a little bit carnivorous, the neck Mongolian, the feet absolutely scientific!

King
Come in, Doctor; I have been waiting for you! (Bows to the doctor) When is the next operation, Doctor?

Doctor
Your Majesty must wait for last week’s test results.

King
Doctor, is it cancer?

Doctor
No, Majesty, no!

King
I want to tell you a secret, Doctor: I do not want to die. (The doctor is silent) I do not want to flounder in this imbecile flesh. No, at thirty years old I still have the right to live! I don’t want to flounder in this uncontrollable multiplication of cells. The world is too beautiful: I love the cascade of things in my nostrils and I know what the lungs are used for! (Pause) At least it’s not cancer?

Doctor
No, Majesty: it’s an illness still to be defined.

King
Make it quick, Doctor. Dig, plow, search, understand a poor man, poor meat that doesn’t want to die. Fear, Doctor,fear.

Doctor
Yes, Majesty.  Yes. (He examines him) Stick out your tongue, Majesty! Show me the back of your throat! Does the length of your backbone hurt in the evening?

King
An infernal pain! I have seen dead people: some raw and some cooked.  I haven’t found my place among them. Here, it’s often here that the pain starts. Then my stomach itches, it pushes out, out, out.

Doctor
Cough, Majesty. (The King coughs) Spit! Breathe fast and deep, stand, sit, stand, run in place.

King
It’s ridiculous that the death of a man with my blood comes only from his stomach.

Doctor
You are not dying, Majesty: I promise you will recover.

King
A full recovery, Doctor?

Doctor
Yes, a full recovery, Majesty. (Pause) We’re finished for now. But you must follow a diet: no meat, fish, absolutely nothing spicy. You must only eat green vegetables. Be careful, Majesty be careful: no alcohol. One sip and you are dead. (The king cries out in horror. More cries from the king as they give him an injection)


Curtain


Chorus led by the Princess
We will defeat you oh ungrateful stomach
We will defeat you we will defeat you
Inhumane flesh we will defeat you
Defeat you for the love of our king
His Majesty, Pené Matéla
Poor intestines and poor stomach
Poor shit and poor heart
Together, we will defeat everything
Let us defeat; No pity and no forgiveness.


Scene V [sic]
(The scene is in progress as the curtain rises)

 

Foiret
Like kids! Just like kids.

Poinçon
The bow is the center of gravity for all things royal! Yes sires! We were stupid under the Republic!

Foiret
What became of you during the Republic?

Poinçon
I was, I was . . . Ah! Such importance: . . . I am a marquis. Look at me gentlemen. Touch me if you like: I have the flesh and blood of a marquis. (Pause) The Republic, but she’s the mother of the races for power. She was leaning like an old boat, a little to the left, and each movement made civil war break out. We did nothing in twenty years of our Republic, nothing: twenty bastardly, shitty years.

Vouincy
Yes, but what were you?

Poinçon
I was. . . Oh! I am a marquis. His Excellence Monsieur le Marquis de Poinçon. No, it’s not just anyone who gets named marquis by His Majesty! Everywhere I go, I raise clouds of admiration. They fear me, they envy me, they respect me, they say to me, yes, yes Monsieur le Marquis.

Vouincy
Yes, but what were you?

Foiret
Palace chef! (Laughs) Of course he was the palace chef!

Poinçon
The Republic! Oh, when I think of it! To tell the truth, if she had lasted two more days, I would have hung myself.

Vouincy
Calm down, Monsieur his Excellence, calm down: who would cook then?

Poinçon
A hanged man! We ate one another, gobbled one another, killed one another like rats. But today, oh joy, our people, drunk on liberty, happiness, and peace, are swimming in the shining art of almost blind obedience to our king.

Vouincy
And our stomachs will be soon recognized by the UN. (Laughs)

Poinçon
Down with nostalgic people!

Vouincy
Down with pigs!

Poinçon
And who are the pigs, if you please?

Vouincy
Those who grunt.

Poinçon
Who grunts?

Vouincy
Sellouts?

Poinçon
Who is sold out?

Vouincy
Marionettes!

Poinçon
(He pulls his sword) Approach so I may stab you in the mouth! (They jab at each other) (Enter the king)

All
Majesty! Majesty!

King
You quarrel in this place?

Poinçon
No! Majesty no!

King
Prince of Fleuret!

Fleuret
Majesty! Majesty!

King
Go wait in the red chamber.

All
Majesty! Majesty!


Scene VI


Fleuret
(Alone) Majesty! Majesty! To the toads! To the crabs! To the dogs! Even to the ants! To all the bastards of the earth. To all that moves. Yes, I am capable of saying Majesty even to the lizards. To the monkeys! To the salamanders! Majesty, with a bow to support it! So why rebel?  Majesty to each part of his body!  Majesty, seriously. (The king arrives) No, Foiret, no!  Majesty! (Bows)

King
A second bow Fleuret! You forgot the second bow!

Fleuret
Majesty! Majesty!

King
Good. Do you know, Prince, that in this palace the king only receives subjects he esteems and trusts.

Fleuret
(Mechanically) Majesty! Majesty!

King
Your heart’s nobility and your courage have conquered me, Prince. In return I will thrust upon you my love and my confidence: I am making you governor of Kaboramana Province. I know that a hand such as yours will put order in this part of our beloved homeland.  And then . . . and then, Prince, I hope that you will teach them your science and your noble art of obeying the king. You have no reaction, Prince?

Fleuret
Majesty! Majesty!

King
You will assume your duties right away after the funeral of Sir Momalanti, assassinated by the ignoble mountain people of Kaboramana. These children of Gehenna, with their bad Republican attitudes, you will treat them as they deserve!

Fleuret
(Eager to leave) Majesty!

King
My second bow, Prince, you have forgotten my second bow!

Fleuret
Majesty!  Majesty!

King
You may leave! (He leaves)

Foiret
(Outside) What happened, my son?

Fleuret
Leave me alone.

Foiret
I want to know!

Fleuret
The king has suddenly fallen in love with me: he thrust his esteem and confidence upon me.

Foiret
The esteem of a pig! The esteem of tigers!

Fleuret
He made me governor of Kaboramana, the region that is most hostile to his power, where six governors have been cowardly assassinated in two years.

Foiret
The esteem of snakes! But you will not go.

Fleuret
I will go.

Floiret
Never.

Fleuret
I will go: that is enough! Let’s not speak of it anymore!

Foiret
(Taking his shoulders) My son! In this country, to exist you must choose to exist. Here, to exist you must want to exist. You must exist by hitting. I already quoted to you this French poet that I like, did you forget?  He said: we must choose between dying while crushing or dying while crushed.

Fleuret
Die while crushing! Die while crushing!  No! I will die crushed.

Foiret
This is the death of dogs, my son.

(The king arrives)

The two of them
Majesty! Majesty!

King
Prince of Foiret, have you learned of your majesty’s decision regarding the new functions of the Prince de Fleuret?

Foiret
Yes Majesty, yes, but the Prince of Foiret estimates that the Kaboramana is a region. . .

King
Keep your estimations to yourself, Prince of Foiret. A king must decide alone; by himself, for himself. “Estimatiocracy” will never be part of this court. Do you understand, Prince?

Foiret
Yes, I understand, Majesty.

King
The bow, please.

Foiret
Majesty!

King
The second bow!

Foiret
Majesty! Majesty!

King
To obey, Prince of Foiret, to obey! A true subject of His Majesty must obey with his eyes closed! To obey! To obey seriously!


Act II, Scene I
(Hymn to the stomach)


Announcer
His Majesty, Pené Matéla I, King of Zama, King according to the will of the sky and the earth, King according to the will of our ancestors, King according to the will of God! (All rise)

Poinçon
(As most senior member of the court) Hail to the King!

All
Hail to the king!

Poinçon
Hail to the kingdom!

All
Hail to the kingdom!

Poinçon
Hail to Africa and her niece, Madagascar!

All
Hail to Africa and her Madagascar! (Applause)

King
(After taking his place) We want to start over!

All
History from zero!

King
Start over!

All
The world from zero!

King
Start over! Start over!

All
Mankind from zero! (Applause)

(King signs for the notary)

Notary
(Reading)  Juano-Marie Escarinas Jean of God Trépassar Doshimento, the senior member of His Majesty’s court, the Spiritual Director of His Majesty’s objects, Minister of oil, in charge of His Majesty’s stomach and legs, Director of the White-Slush-Fund, High Commander of the hungry, Marquis of Poinçon, His Majesty’s council turns the floor over to you.

Poinçon
Majesty, gentlemen of the court, honorable council! As I take the floor, I vibrate with the same pride that vibrates through all of you. The Kingdom of Zama will no longer crawl: it will rise, it rises. (Applause) With the exception of the surrounding Republics—Republic, the word is too big—I’ll call them Republicettes (applause)—every country in the world knows of our tender kingdom. Pride, gentlemen, great pride! (Applause) Everyone knows what the latest French drilling has done to us, oh! I won’t mention the numbers because they are mind-blowing. But know that we have more than twenty thousand years of oil beneath our feet (Applause) Because nowadays, what oil wants, the world will want (Applause); I have spoken. (Applause)

King (Enthusiastic)
Poinçon, I make you Prince! (Bows from Poinçon, applause. The king signs for the notary)

Notary
Marianetta Bienvenu of Sahibhar, Vice-Minister delegate to Tradition and Art, Director of His Majesty’s Lawns, in charge of His Majesty’s Stables, Co-Minister of Past Generations, in charge of His Majesty’s lips, head, and neck, Doctor Chalet, you have the floor.

King
No! Du Chalet has been arrested for disobeying the king. (Signs)

Notary
Bianito Obramoussando, Co-Director of his Majesty’s Wardrobe, in charge of his Majesty’s Gray-Slush-Fund, Commander of the Fessets’ Order, Duke of Vouincy, speak!

Vouincy
De Vouincy has nothing to say.

Notary
Prince of Fleuret!

Fleuret
Fleuret has nothing to say!

Notary
Cypriano Ramoussa, Minister of Schools, in charge of atomic energy as soon as it will be available, Knight of the Damned, Prince of Foiret, I give you the floor.

Foiret
Majesty, gentlemen of the Council, I am a protestor and like all protestors I will get straight to the point.  Recall, yes gentlemen, recall when we replaced the Republic with the Kingdom, we said: we will be a new man; we will think with a new mind, we will see with new eyes. And we called this “Our Cause.” Tell me, gentlemen, tell me, Majesty: what is left of “Our Cause” in this forest of buzzing titles?

King
Be quiet, Foiret!

Foiret
Where is our cause in this jungle of curtseys?

King
Foiret, I demote you: instead of being Prince, you will only be a Count.

Foiret
Honor, Majesty, honor! The completion of man! The man who has learned the use of lungs!

King
Foiret, you are no more than a Viscount!

Foiret
Let me tell you, Majesty: Count, Sub-Count, Sur-Count or simply Almost-Count of Foiret, I will be a failed one, nonetheless.

King
(Rises) Protest! Protest! (Shouting) Protest, protest before the king is the most serious offense that one can commit in this country! (He screams) On your knees, Foiret, on your knees!

Foiret
No, Majesty! A corpse cannot get onto its knees. (He leaves)

King
My friends! My children! My dear subjects! This is a moment in our history when more than ever we need each other. My brothers, we will not be torn. Let us focus.

Notary
The king has the floor.

King
Now, gentlemen, let’s talk about this rebel stomach. You know that a kingdom’s future lies in the entrails of the king. Offspring. (He points to his stomach) This beast does not want to give me any offspring. So much care! So much capital! So much love! So much understanding, oh God, that we have sunk into this near-ocean! But this stupid meat doesn’t want to obey.

Poinçon
Majesty! We will not be conquered by your stomach!

King
Do you hear it?  It is jumping; it is coming; it is pointing; it is shouting; it is going to bring me down.

Announcer
The new medical delegation has just arrived directly from Canada.

King
Ah! The work of the council is adjourned, gentlemen; my guard, take me away. (He hums)


Curtain


(In the blue room, four doctors, two nurses. All perform bows and salutes)


King
Welcome to this forest of pleasure where unfortunately (points to his stomach) this rebel meat is going to make flesh stains.

Chief of the Mission
We hope to cure you, Majesty.

King
I shall give you my Kingdom in return.

Chief of the Mission
Canadian medicine is the most advanced in the world, your Majesty.

King
Oh doctor! Everyone has been here: French, Italians, Russian, Chinese, English, Belgians. Oh, this list bores me to death. They come, they always cut something. I wonder if there is still a piece of real intestine in there. If you can see with your learned eye, everything has become rubber, or old paper.

Chief
Lie down here, Majesty, so I can sound you. (The king stretches out; the four doctors listen to his stomach)

King
Do you hear it, Doctor?

Chief
Yes, Majesty.

King
What is it saying?

Chief
It’s growling.

King
That is its job! I’m going to disappear, disappear with such a beautiful face! With so much talent, with the face of this infernal girl tacked onto a corner of my heart. (Pause) Princess, love me as I love you.

Chief
We will cure you, Majesty.

King
Oh! They all talked like you. No one did what they said; I’m going to disappear. (Pause) Anyway, I’ve already disappeared; all that’s left is to disappear for real!

Chief
Tomorrow, we’ll bring you the first test results. Now, we’ll take a little blood. (Thick drops around his belly button) (Pause) Some of your urine.

King
Wait! (He goes and comes back with a bottle) Here, Doctor!

Chief
A bit of your uhhhh!!!

King
Wait! (He goes and returns with a cup) Here.

Chief
A bit of your sweat. (Same game) A bit of your saliva!

King
Wait! (He starts to leave, then stops).  No (Pause), no (Pause), no, you, I recognize you. Well, I recognize all of you. You and you, and you. Even the nurses. You are the same ones that have been coming for a year.

Chief
Majesty. . .yyyyy!

King
Silence! (Pause) You are fooling me! You’re all going to pay! Guards! (They advance) Arrest these demons! Tear them up like old rags for me; kill them slowly for me. Give their meat to my female leopards and then hang the corpses for me!


Final scene


Master of Ceremonies
Ladies and Gentlemen! The day has arrived when His Majesty, Pené Matéla, our king, will marry the total babe, Princess Hénault, the girl with big hair. (Applause) Before the wedding ceremony, His Majesty will show off her innumerable qualities. (Applause) You all know, we all know that His Majesty, Pene Matéla, is the greatest singer of our time. (The king sings: applause) His Majesty, Pene Matéla, is the best dancer in the kingdom (The king dances: applause) His Majesty, Pene Matéla, is the greatest poet of our time!

King
Wait, wait, what happened to that poem I wrote yesterday evening thinking of the beautiful princess? (He empties his pockets) Oh, here it is! (Reads) Princess, let us see if the kiss on the branch of our bodies is not the morning, flowering like a rose over the branches in the royal garden. Let us see Princess, let us see. (Applause) Admit it! This here is a very good poem! (Applause)

M.C.
His Majesty is the wisest person of our century.

King
Oh yes, yes, I am only bothered by my stomach. Tortured by this stupid meat, but otherwise I’m a wise man.

M.C.
His Majesty is the greatest eater of our time.

King
Bring those dishes at the end of the ceremony. I’m going to marry while my stomach is empty. (The princess arrives) Here she is! (He throws himself on his knees before her) Sun! Sleep! Tender flesh that wanders in my flesh! Girl, child, unnameable beauty, even on this feast day, suffering still puts the night into your eyes?

Léhault
Die then, filth, die from me and my smell! (She stabs him several times) Die! (The guards want to stop her but the king stops them)

King
Don’t forbid her anything! Let her be! My body is an extension of hers! (He falls) No, you have not killed me! And I have not stopped loving you! Ha, my sweet! Why have you killed the World? Why have you killed the earth? No! I have not stopped loving you. (He dies)


Curtain, the end.

The translator thanks DJ Tshibasu for his assistance.

Sa majesté le ventre © Sony Labouti Tansi, extract from L’autre Monde, Revue Noire Publisher, Paris. Translation copyright 2010 by Kristin Prévallet and Raymond G. Hounfodji. All rights reserved.