THE BUTTERFLY MOUSE
A dramatic monologue
by Dario Fo
translated by Ed Emery
For all queries regarding performance rights, please contact
Agenzia Tolnay : info [@] tolnayagency.it
For all queries regarding the text, please contact the translator at:
Original text copyright © Dario Fo
Translation copyright © Ed Emery
THE BUTTERFLY MOUSE
[The Performance Text]
Giaván Pietro. Giaván Pietro was a shepherd, or rather a goatherd. He lived up the mountain, where he worked, keeping watch over other people's sheep and goats. All year long, the lad would stay up in the mountains, come rain or shine. He stayed with his flock, and every now and then he had occasion to speak with his master. His master was an unsociable sort of man, and a terrible misogynist who had never married and would have nothing to do with women. He used to make a point of frightening young Giaván, and would-go around singing:
“Ha, young women, they have a butterfly under their petticoats... A butterfly mouse. It's soft and furry, and it doesn't fly, but it makes other creatures fly – birds, numskulls and halfwits.”
The old man succeeded in frightening Giaván Pietro so much, with other stories too, of butterfly-mice with teeth that bite, that every time a woman came up on the mountain, even if she was far off in the distance and only passing, the lad would start trembling. He used to dive in among his sheep and goats and pretend to be a guard dog.You'd hear him bark: “Bow, wow. Ruff, ruff!” For fear that they were going to come and tease him.
He was always terribly shy. But one day it happened that his master, this bad-tempered, mean-minded, rude-mannered misogynist, ended up dying, and before he died, he summoned his lawyer and signed over everything he owned to Giaván. Yes, to young Pietro! All of a sudden he found himself rich, richer than words can tell, richer than any prince or baron for miles around. He had goats of his own now, and sheep too; he had houses, and farms with stables, and land, and valleys, and vales, and woods! It was all his! And all of a sudden, from all the villages strung out along the valley, all the people who had daughters of a marriageable age came looking him out. And he used to flee up onto the mountain, to be alone with his sheep.
“But what do they want from me?!”
He was afraid, and didn't want to see them.
Well. There's also another side to this story. It concerns Don Faina, a priest who lived down in the valley. He was handsome, young, and a great one for the ladies. He had a favourite girlfriend, a lover, whose name was Alessia. She was so fresh and soft and sweet. She was like a princess out of a fairy story, she was! She had long, graceful legs which ended in two round little buttocks; she had long fingers, and a smile and a way of talking that were exquisite beyond belief!
Anyway, one day her mother, whose name was Volpaccia, came to see this priest. Now, Volpaccia was a woman who was scared of nobody. She would happily have argued with God the Father, rowed with the Virgin Mary, and if she ever got her hands on the Holy Ghost, she would probably have wrung his neck, trussed him like a pigeon, and stuck him straight in the oven. Anyway, she descended on Don Faina like a ton of bricks. She was brief and to the point:
“My dear curate, the time has come to stop dipping your wick into my daughter's little oil-pot. From now on, let's get things clear: if you want her, you're going to have to take her [He now launches into the onomatopoeic language of a pseudo-Provençal grammelot] A sv6rgula, strimasata, pruntugnusa a rebatbl-sii, sots desquercia a stopamelot fast, sbitala a fa vele nel leto col risci6n entorcinado... to la sbate, to la covre, la stropdga a slissighre of se sciape in brasun svergolit a sofegun de susciA nascondiuo de sera e matina in t'iil bosch6to a strugulAr sbiotadi de rescaldo clach6 enfrech6e entrocaj6 sbivaro...”
[Note: If this piece is performed in an English language dialect, then the grammelot section above should be rewritten, to give the sounds of that dialect.]
[Turning to the audience] That, as you are obviously aware, was pure Provençal...! [He continues the piece]
“But as from this moment, my little chatterbox, I'm warning you that, if this carries on, I'm going to grab your little ding-a-ling... pull it out of your breeches... and CUT IT OFF! You can say goodbye to my daughter's precious butterfly, because I've had ENOUGH of you going there for your free nooky!!”
Anyway, Don Faina got the general gist. All of a sudden, he had an idea. Why not try and get his Alessia married off to Giaván Pietro – as a kind of stand-in husband?! “But he's so wild and uncouth... how on earth am I going to catch him?”
So the priest bent his mind to it. It was no accident that his name was Faina – “the fox”! He sent Pietro a message to come at once to the parish church down in the valley, because he had delicate matters to discuss with him. He had to tell him of a letter that his father had left him before he died.
Anyway, to cut a long story short, the trap worked.
Giaván Pietro left his mountain. He came down the valley. He looked around and around; this was the first time he'd ever been in this village, in among all these houses. He felt as if every window in the village was glaring at him. He arrived at the church, pushed open the big front door and went inside. He felt a little dazed as he stood in the middle of the long nave, because he had come in from bright sunlight... and his eyes had not yet got used to the church, where the light was low and thick and damp. There was a high wall at his back, pierced by a rose window which scattered rays of coloured light. The sun shone through the coloured glass and scattered its reflections in long piercing shafts. All of a sudden, his eyes lighted upon Alessia. She was standing in the middle of the nave, lit up by the sunlight coming at her from all sides. God, could she really be real? Dressed up in her finest clothes, with a long, translucent veil arranged over her hair, and shining in the light of the thousand sparkling and changing colours cast by the glass window....
She was a shimmering irridescence of pink and turquoise, with traces of silver and gold and a hint of green. Her face was pale. She had two large, bright eyes, and shining black hair that hung down over her round nipples, and her whole body was so slight and slender that she looked like a vision!
“Heavens, but where has this angel hidden her wings? Oh, what bright eyes! She is more beautiful than all the processional saints painted on'the church wall! More beautiful than Rosalia, the patron saint of all of nature's flowers. Beautiful!”
At this point, Don Faina popped out of the shadows. He came over to Giaván and said:
“Do you like her? Pretty, eh! This is a young girl who has been left orphan by her father. She has a mother, though, just her mother, a good woman... if you want her... would you like to marry her?”
“Me?!! Oh... yes! I'll marry her...! Because I would never have thought or imagined that there could ever be born into this world such a creature as this, scattering everywhere such a languor of light and tenderness, that my heart is beating double-time, like a drunken jitterbug!”
“Calm down, calm down!”
“No, I will not calm down! I'm going to marry her at once, and I'm not scared of her butterfly mouse, even if it does bite me and poison me and drive me mad. I'll go mad, I don't care! I shall tie that butterfly up! I'll caress it, and ruffle it and tickle it so as to make it laugh so that it'll be nice to me...”
“Calm down, calm down. I get the message... Calm down!”
“Calm down be damned! If I want to talk, let me talk. Let me pour it all out at least once in my life! Because since the day I was born I never get the chance to say what I think, because I'm always with the sheep! But it's good to get married. And to get married straight away. I want the wedding at once!”
And so they arranged the wedding there and then. And I'm telling you, at this wedding there were musicians of every kind, with their trumpets and pipes and mandolins, and dozens of relations from a network of relations that he never even knew he had... and even people who came from beyond the valley... friends whom he'd never even met. And the tables were loaded with food and drink... and everyone was dancing, and drinking, and stuffing themselves with food... And Alessia was dancing and swirling, and dancing and swirling, and her eyes were shining like diamonds. And the priest, Don Faina, he was dancing too, dancing and smiling. And Volpaccia was dancing too. Everyone was dancing... The only one standing still and looking at everyone else dancing all around him was Giaván, because he couldn't even move. He stood stock still, as if caught in a straitjacket... He was bundled up in a tight waistcoat and a tailcoat with thirty buttons, and trousers which had him swaddled like a baby in its cradle. They had wedged his feet into a pair of shoes which made him walk like a puppet on a string, because he was not used to wearing shoes on his feet. And he watched the people dancing, dancing... And he smiled and thought: “It'll be dark soon, it'll be dark soon! The party will end for everyone else, and it will begin for me!”
And Don Faina was also thinking: “It'll be dark soon, it'll be dark soon! And this bride is going to spend her wedding night with me!”
Yes, because this rogue of a priest had had a clever idea: he had persuaded Giaván to buy a house right next door to his own house. It had a door in the dividing wall, so that when he took a fancy to be with Alessia, hopla! he could just dive through the door and straight between her sheets.
Day turned to night, and slowly everybody began to leave. Off they went, waving, kissing, hugging, some of them drunk and some not, and some of them full to bursting. And as the musicians were taking their leave too, all of a sudden, as if it had only just occurred to him, Don Faina said:
“Oh, what have we done! We've forgotten about her mother... Volpaccia! Somebody's going to have to take her home, right to the other side of the forest, over the river, down by the crooked bridge. We can't just leave her here.”
“You're right. But who is going to take her?”
“Why, you, of course, my dear Giaván! It's the bridegroom's honour to take his new mother home to her house!”
“Ah, it's up to me? Alright, then.”
So he got out the horse, a big old pack horse, and hoisted Donna Volpaccia up onto its back. Then as he got up in the saddle, he said to Don Faina: “Since you've been so good to me, since you're my great protector, and since you have found me this wonderful young woman to marry, Don Faina, I am going to ask you a favour. Please, don't go home yet... Keep my poor wife company, because it may even be that I shall be late getting back tonight. Stay close to her, and give her a little consolation... and if she cries, give her a little tenderness, and even a caress or too...”
“Please, do it for me!”
“I will, I will! Don't worry!”
And off he goes, on the horse, and with Volpaccia sitting on the horse's rump. They ride out through the forest, and down to the valley bottom, down where the river is, until they find a bridge. They cross the bridge, an4 come back along the other bank of the river, and, at last, they reach the Crooked Bridge, where Volpaccia lives. He offloads Volpaccia. Then, all of a sudden, he notices that his horse is limping. It's gone lame! He looks at its hoof: it's got a great big nail in it! Spiked right through!
Somebody had done it on purpose!
“What kind of terrible person could have done this to my horse?!”
The horse is bleeding from its hoof... Since it can't be ridden, he takes it into a stable, and leaves it there. He decides to go home on foot.
He says goodnight to Volpaccia, gives her a kiss, and off he goes, almost running.
He goes along the riverside. He crosses the river by the Long Bridge. Then he doubles back, through the forest. It's the depth of night. Dark, really dark. Stars are shining in the sky. The moon has come out too... And when he finally arrives at his house, who should he see coming down...?
“Oh, heavens, Don Faina! Are you still here?! How kind of you to stay up so long waiting for me!”
As he comes down, Don Faina is doing up his buttons, all the buttons on his long priest's cassock, and discreetly putting all his bits and pieces in order.
And he says:
“But my dear Giaván, how long you've been! We were worried that you weren't coming back. I have had such a time trying to console your poor wife, because she was crying. But now she has calmed down, and she is sleeping... But you must let her sleep. The poor girl has been through so much emotion with this marriage... If you wake her up now, she'll be so upset that she might get ill afterwards. So be a good boy... and let her sleep...”
“Yes, yes! I shall let her sleep. Don't worry. Thank you, Don Faina. Thank you!”
The priest goes home, and Giaván goes up the stairs. As he is about to go into another room, he happens to pass the slightly open door of the room where Alessia is sleeping... And he sees the girl, stretched out on her bed, so sweet and pale-skinned, with her long, black hair scattered and twined around her breasts, with her nipples peeping out through the locks... and his eyes follow her body down to her long, naked legs.
He stands and looks. “Oh, how beautiful! What sweetness!”
And then, gently, gently, almost despite himself, he goes into the room, to get a better look... and he sits down on the bed.
“Oh dear, my trousers are all dirty from when I was going through the forest... I'd better take them off.”
So he takes off all his clothes and stretches out on the bed next to her. “I'll stay here. I shall stay here and watch her as she sleeps, and I'll listen to her breathing... How sweetly she breathes...”
Giaván leant forward to bring his face close to her half-opened mouth and breathe in her breath. She fluttered her eyelids a little. He watched her, not knowing quite what to do...
At that moment, she„Alessia, thinking that the man next to her was that same Don Faina who, a short while previously, had been making love her, raised one arm, reached out, and touched his back... Then she snuggled up close to him... and clung on to him with her whole body, locking her legs around him. A feeling like a river in flood, overflowing its banks and flooding all around!
Giaván felt so overcome that he almost fainted. He felt as if he had ten hearts, all beating at once. It was the first time that he had ever found himself with nipples pressed against his flesh... and all those delicate roundnesses in every comer... He reached out a hand and touched her... Alessia felt his hand searching across her stomach, and, still half asleep, murmured:
“Oh, but my dear holy man, don't you ever have enough of making love?”
“What do you mean, don't I ever have enough?!” asked Giaván, bemused.
“Oh!” Alessia woke up. “It's you?!” “And who else should it be?!”
“No, it's just that I was dreaming! Oh, I'm really glad that you're back... Good. Just as well. Now I can go to sleep without worrying.”
“No, listen. Look at me. I want to see your eyes...” “But what are you doing with your hands?”
“I'm caressing you, and I'm looking for your butterfly mouse. Please! Tell me, where is it?”
“No, no! Please... Please, do me a favour... No, not now! I'm so tired. Let me be. Don't wake me up...”
“Just for a minute or so, just a cuddle or two... all I want is for you to tell me where it is... and then you can sleep peacefully, because I can go and fetch it myself. Tell me, where do you keep it?”
“I haven't got it!”
“You haven't got your mouse?! You don't have a butterfly mouse?”
“No, that's not what I meant. I mean I don't have it here, at this moment... I left it at home!”
“You left it at home?!!”
“Yes. At my mother's. But look, can't you understand: think of all the upheavals that I've hadtoday: getting ready for the wedding... all the business of putting on my wedding dress, my petticoat, my shift, my bodice, my veil and my shoes... When I got 1 to church... I realised that I'd forgotten it! Left it at home! In fact, come to think of it, it was probably just as well... Imagine it – there's a great danger in church with all that pushing and shoving... Just one shove, and perhaps your petticoat comes undone, and your butterfly mouse falls on the floor, and somebody steps on it and squashes it! And then, imagine, if somebody should happen to find it, it's hardly likely that they're going to return a brand-new butterfly mouse to you, is it!”
“Oh yes, now you mention it, I suppose it is just as well that you left it at home... But if you had told me before, then when I was taking your mother home, I could have told her: `Give me her mouse...” and I could have brought it back to you... And by now we could have been playing games of love with it.”
“You're not going to beat me because I was so silly, are you? Please, forgive me, and for the moment just go to sleep. Tomorrow, or the day after, my mother will come to visit us, and she will bring a little basket with my butterfly mouse inside... Then, well rested and in our own time, we shall have our happiness.”
“But I wanted to have our happiness now, and play now! Ever since I first set eyes on you, I have been dreaming of you, and your butterfly. I dreamt that you were carrying me off, and we were flying, arm-in-arm, giving each other kisses... I can't spend our first night together like this! I'm going to your mother's, straight away! I'll get dressed again...”
“But wait! Are you mad? On a night like this... I can hear a storm coming... And in the forest there are wicked wolves that will eat you up...”
“I'm not scared of wolves... and as it is, I won't be able to sleep anyway...”
He took his jacket, down the stairs, and off he went, like a hare. “Don't worry! I'll be back soon!”
“In the forest there were wolves: HOWL...! HOWL...! He went straight through them like a bolt of lightning... With a mighty blow he killed them all stone dead! He ran and he ran, down through the brushwood. He reached the river. He should have gone all along the river bank, to get to the bridge. But no sir, he decided to go straight across. He went down into the water. He didn't even bother swimming. He went straight in, and the water closed over his head: glug, glug... He walked along the river bottom, and came out the other side. And when he came out, off he went again, running. And quick as a flash, he arrived at Volpaccia's house:
She can't hear him. She's sleeping. She's snoring.
He takes a stone. Crash! against the window pane. “Help! Robbers!” Volpaccia woke up. “No, it's me, Pietro!” “Pietro? Pietro who?”
“Pietro Giaván; the one who... your son-in-law.”
“What are you doing here? Has something happened to my daughter?”
“No, no, nothing! Don't worry! Nothing! I've just come to get her butterfly mouse...”
“Butterfly mouse...? Which butterfly mouse?” “The one that you've got!” Volpaccia glares at him.
“You've come to get my mouse...?!! Haven't you had enough with my daughter's?!”
‘No, I don't want your one... I mean your daughter's one, the one that's in your house... because she left it behind. No, don't get angry with her! She got confused, because of all the business of having to put on her petticoat and her shift... and her bodice and her dress, and her veils... and so she forgot her butterfly. And anyway, when you think of it, it's probably just as well, because she might have dropped it in church, and in the confusion, somebody might have ended up stepping on it and squashing it! And what's more, wheil,people find a new butterfly mouse, they're hardly likely to give it back to you, are they?!”
All of a sudden, Volpaccia realised what was going on. She realised the trick that they had played on the lad, and she understood what kind of idiot she now had for a son-in-law! She bit her lip so as not to laugh full in his face... She turned away from the window, went to the back of her bedroom, and burst out laughing against the wall. Then she pulled herself together, went back to the balcony, and said:
“That girl is so stupid! She's always forgetting something, leaving things all over the place! She leaves her shoes on the stairs, and her clogs under the bed, and once she even left her butterfly mouse hanging on a nail next to the holy water basin in church, along with her rosary...”
“But don't get angry with her... Try to understand! It's just the confusions of a day so full of emotion...”
“You're too good, Giaván! Almost a fool to yourself! That Alessia of yours is so stupid! Just imagine if the cat had found the mouse and had eaten it... You'd end up with my daughter's mouse half chewed...! Anyway, I'll go and have a look. Oh, good! We're lucky this time. It's in the... blackbird's cage!”
“The mouse, in the cage with the blackbird?!”
“No, the blackbird's not here. He's out!” And she pointed at her son-in-law down below... “Dum-dum!”
“Please, let me see my wife's little mouse inside the cage...”
“What? Do you really expect a girl's mother to hang out a cage and show everybody passing in the street her daughter's little butterfly mouse?! `Look at this! Look at this!” No, even you must not look at it, Giaván! You must promise me that.”
“Yes, yes, I promise!”
“I shall give you the mouse in a wicker basket...”
The mother went and fetched a basket which had some woolly flock inside it. She covered it with a towel, and then, tying a string to the basket's handle, she lowered it down from the window. “Come on, promise!”
“I promise. I promise never to look at my wife's butterfly mouse!”
“There, then. Take this basket. You give it to Alessia, and she will know where to put her mouse. Understand? You mustn't look at it before you reach home! Off you go!”
Off went Giaván, with the basket in his hand, running like a weasel! He wanted to cross the river the same way as before, but then he thought: “No, I'd better not, because I might get the mouse wet.”
So he walked all along the river bank, right down to the bridge. Then he crossed the bridge, and came back on the other side. He was out of breath, so he sat down for a moment on a big old tree-trunk lying on the ground.
“Whew, what a run! Haha! Finally I'm within reach of my happiness...” And he eyed the basket. “When I get home I shall reap my happiness! But just a moment... I promised Volpaccia that I wouldn't look at it, but I never promised that I wouldn't touch it, did I... Maybe I could just give it a little stroke...”
So he pushed his hand into the basket, under the towel, and felt in among the flock with his fingers. There, inside the woolly material, there was a tiny mouse that had climbed in there so as to enjoy the warmth. Giaván suddenly felt it...
“Hey! I can feel it! Oh what a lovely mouse! Hey! It's breathing... Its heart is beating! I knew that my wife was a woman of heart, but I never knew that she also had a heart in her butterfly mouse!”
But at that moment: presto! The little mouse jumped out of the basket, hopped down, and ran off into the grass.
“Oh goodness! Oh God! The mouse has run away... Now my wife won't have a butterfly mouse! Now how am I going to get it back? Here, come here...! Coochie-coochie...! How do you call women's butterflies? I don't know! There it is! Coochie-coochie... Come back into your basket. Look, I won't touch you any more! Pleeease! Where have you disappeared to now?”
At that moment, a woodcutter was passing, with a great big axe over his shoulder:
“What are you doing? Have you found an animal there?”
“No. I'm calling my wife's mouse, her butterfly mouse, because it's run away!”
“Your wife's mouse?!”
“Yes, why, haven't you got a wife?” “Yes.”
“And hasn't she got a butterfly mouse herself?” “Yes, of course she has!” “And doesn't she ever run away?” “Who, the butterfly, or my wife?”
“No, the butterfly mouse, silly! Don't you see? What happened was that my wife had left it at home because of the confusion, and also because it's dangerous to have your butterfly mouse with you in church, because it might fall on the floor, and someone might give you a push and... squashed! I went to my wife's mother's house, and I said to her: `Could you please give me the mouse?T “Whose, mine?’No, not yours, your daughter's, you know, my wife's.’And supposing the cat's eaten it?” Anyway, it turned out it was in the blackbird's cage, but luckily the blackbird wasn't there. So I said to her: `Show it to me out of the window.” And she got angry... “No, promise that you won't look at it.” She told me: `Promise.” And I said: `I promise!” But I never promised not to touch it. So I touched it with my fingers, under the towel... Then, hopla! out it jumped; it was frightened, you see. It's the first time I've ever touched a butterfly mouse... I don't know how you're supposed to hold them... Anyway, now it's hiding down there, and if you would be so kind as to help me, we could surround it and catch it. Please, do me a favour, go round the other side of it... that way it'll run towards me and I can catch it. But you mustn't look at it, eh... don't look at my wife's mouse, will you! Hey, why are you walking off? Where are you going?”
But the woodcutter was off! Off through the forest, hacking away with his big axe, clearing trees left and right in order to make himself a path!
“Oof! This world is full of stupid people! Now the mouse is scared. Where is she? Oh, good... now I've got you trapped!”
The mouse had gone near to a ditch full of water.
“Now I'll catch you, because you're scared of water, aren't you... Look out...! Splosh! It's drowning...! My wife's mouse is drowning... ! No, it's swimming! My wife's butterfly is swimming! What a wonder! Now I'm going in too. I'll go into the ditch, and I'll get it.”
Splosh! He dived in. He was within an ace of drowning... He grabbed onto a branch... Anyway, to cut a long story short, two hours later Giaván Pietro came home, dripping with sweat, and crying. He arrived at his front door, and at precisely that moment he saw Alessia coming down the stairs, all young, freshly combed, clean as a baby, and well rested. She sees the lad...
“My husband! What has happened? What happened to you?”
“A terrible thing! I've lost your mouse! Your mother told me not to look at it, but I decided to have a feel of it, and it got frightened, and she was frightened by the axeman too, that stupid man who went running off hacking down trees...”
“Calm down, husband... Come over here. Relax. Tell me what happened. Bit by bit. Don't cry...”
Alessia took a great big blanket and wrapped him up in it. “Now, calm down and tell me what happened...”
And Giaviin Pietro told her. He told her once, he told her twice, and on the third time she understood what had happened, and she couldn't find it in herself to laugh. She couldn't laugh. She felt a great shame, and a remorse. She felt soiled. She felt like some brazen prostitute. She felt disgusted with herself for everything she had plotted together with that dirty pig of a priest.
Because trying to make a fool of a young lad who is so simple-minded and kind and sweet is like murder! Damn that FaIna! She felt dirty inside.
“Don't cry any more! I'm the one who should really be crying! Don't cry any more, dearest! I have some good news for you: the butterfly mouse has come back. All by herself!”
“No. I don't believe you! You're just saying that because you're kind and you want to cheer me up... But I deserve to be nailed up by the head, fool that I am!”
“Don't cry, I said! She's come back, I promise you. Give me your hand... Come and feel for yourself. There, you feel her...?” She took his hand under her petticoat.
“It's come back! There it is! It's the mouse, I recognise it! Goodness, what a run she's had! She got back before me! Oh, sweet mouse, she's had to run such a long way today. And she's had so many frights: first in the cage, then the cat, then jumping down in the grass, then swimming, then running again... Poor thing! Let's let her rest. We'll play our games of love tomorrow!”
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Please be aware that this translation can only be performed with explicit permission in writing from the agency representing Dario Fo and Franca Rame, the Danesi-Tolnay agency in Rome.
Last updated: 3.viii.2012