Show & Tell 2: Extreme telling

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Excerpts from four of the most-famous plays in English, all pure telling.

A Raisin in the Sun, Lorraine HansberryAct I, Scene 2

MAMA:  You something new, boy. In my time we was worried about not being lynched and getting to the North if we could and how to stay alive and still have a pinch of dignity to… Now here come you and Benetha–talking ’bout things we ain’t never even thought about hardly, me and your daddy. You ain’t satisfied or proud of nothing we done. I mean that you had a home; that we kept you out of trouble till you was grown; that you don’t have to ride to work on the back of nobody’s streetcar–You my children–but how different we done become.

Act III, Scene 1

WALTER: Talking ’bout life, Mama. You all always telling me to see life like it is. Well–I laid in there on my back today… and I figured it out. Life just like it is. Who gets and who don’t get. Mama, you know it’s all divided up. Life is. Sure enough. Between the takers and the “tooken.” I’ve figured it out finally. Yeah. Some of us always getting “tooken.” People like Willy Harris, they don’t never get “tooken.” And you know why the rest of us do? ‘Cause we all mixed up. Mixed up bad. We get to looking ’round for the right and the wrong; and we worry about it and cry about it and stay up nights trying to figure out ’bout the wrong and the right of things all the time… And all the time, man, them takers is out there operating, just taking and taking.

.

Death of a Salesman, Arthur MillerAct I

WILLY: Bernard is not well liked, is he?

BIFF: He’s liked, but he’s not well liked.

HAPPY: That’s right, Pop.

WILLY: That’s just what I mean, Bernard can get the best marks in school, y’understand, but when he gets out in the business world, y’understand, you are going to be five times ahead of him. That’s why I thank Almighty God you’re both built like Adonises. Because the man who makes an appearance in the business world, the man who creates personal interest, is the man who gets ahead. Be liked and you will never want. You take me, for instance. I never have to wait in line to see a buyer. “Willy Loman is here!” That’s all they have to know, and I go right through.

LINDA:  Then make Charley your father, Biff. You can’t do that, can you? I don’t say he’s a great man. Willy Loman never made a lot of money. His name was never in the paper. He’s not the finest character that ever lived. But he’s a human being, and a terrible thing is happening to him. So attention must be paid. He’s not to be allowed to fall into his grave like an old dog. Attention, attention must be finally paid to such a person. You called him crazy–

BIFF: I didn’t mean–

LINDA: No, a lot of people think he’s lost his–balance. But you don’t have to be very smart to know what his trouble is. The man is exhausted.

HAPPY: Sure!

LINDA: A small man can be just as exhausted as a great man. He works for a company thirty-six years this March, opens up unheard-of territories to their trademark, and now in his old age they take his salary away.

HAPPY: I didn’t know that, Mom.

LINDA: You never asked, my dear! Now that you get your spending money someplace else you don’t trouble your mind with him.

BIFF: Those ungrateful bastards!

LINDA: Are they any worse than his sons? When he brought them business, when he was young, they were glad to see him. But now his old friends, the old buyers that loved him so and always found some order to hand him in a pinch–they’re all dead, retired. He used to be able to make six, seven calls a day in Boston. Now he takes his valises out of the car and puts them back and takes them out again and he’s exhausted. Instead of walking he talks now. He drives seven hundred miles, and when he gets there no one knows him any more, no one welcomes him. And what goes through a man’s mind, driving seven hundred miles home without having earned a cent? Why shouldn’t he talk to himself? Why? When he has to go to Charley and borrow fifty dollars a week and pretend to me that it’s his pay? How long can that go on? How long? You see what I’m sitting here and waiting for? And you tell me he has no character? The many who never worked a day but for your benefit? When does he get the medal for that? Is this his reward–to turn around at the age of sixty-three and find his sons, who he loved better than his life, one a philandering bum–

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Act II

BIFF: And I never got anywhere because you blew me so full of hot air I could never stand taking orders from anybody! That’s whose fault it is!

WILLY:  I hear that!

LINDA:  Don’t Biff!

BIFF: It’s goddam time you heard that!  I had to be boss big shot in two weeks, and I’m through with it!

WILLY:  Then hang yourself!  For spite, hang yourself!

BIFF:  No! Nobody’s hanging himself, Willy! I ran down eleven flights with a pen in my hand today. And suddenly I stopped, you hear me? And in the middle of that office building, do you hear this? I stopped in the middle of that building and I saw–the sky. I saw the things that I love in this world. The work and the food and time to sit and smoke. And I looked at the pen and said to myself, what the hell am I grabbing this for? Why am I trying to become what I don’t want to be? What am I doing in an office, making a contemptuous, begging fool of myself, when all I want is out there, waiting for me the minute I say I know who I am! Why can’t I say that, Willy?

WILLY:  The door of your life is wide open!

BIFF:  Pop! I’m a dime a dozen, and so are you!

WILLY:  I am not a dime a dozen! I am Willy Loman, and you are Biff Loman!

BIFF:  I am not a leader of men, Willy, and neither are you. You were never anything but a hard-working drummer who landed in the ash can like all the rest of them! I’m one dollar an hour, Willy! I tried seven states and couldn’t raise it. A buck an hour! Do you gather my meaning? I’m not bringing home any prizes any more, and you’re going to stop waiting for me to bring them home! … Will you let me go, for Christ’s sake? Will you take that phony dream and burn it before something happens?

.

King LearAct I, scene 2

EDMUND:  Thou, nature, art my goddess; to thy law

My services are bound. Wherefore should I

Stand in the plague of custom, and permit

The curiosity of nations to deprive me,

For that I am some twelve or fourteen moon-shines

Lag of a brother? Why bastard? wherefore base?

When my dimensions are as well compact,

My mind as generous, and my shape as true,

As honest madam’s issue? Why brand they us

With base? with baseness? bastardy? base, base?

Who, in the lusty stealth of nature, take

More composition and fierce quality

Than doth, within a dull, stale, tired bed,

Go to the creating a whole tribe of fops,

Got ‘tween asleep and wake? Well, then,

Legitimate Edgar, I must have your land:

Our father’s love is to the bastard Edmund

As to the legitimate: fine word, — legitimate!

Well, my legitimate, if this letter speed,

And my invention thrive, Edmund the base

Shall top the legitimate. I grow; I prosper:

Now, gods, stand up for bastards!

Hamlet

HAMLET:  Seems, madam! nay it is; I know not ‘seems.’

‘Tis not alone my inky cloak, good mother,

Nor customary suits of solemn black,

Nor windy suspiration of forced breath,

No, nor the fruitful river in the eye,

Nor the dejected ‘havior of the visage,

Together with all forms, moods, shapes of grief,

That can denote me truly: these indeed seem,

For they are actions that a man might play:

But I have that within which passeth show;

These but the trappings and the suits of woe

(But note Hamlet is making a point about King Claudius’ lack of true feeling.)

Act 2 scene 2

HAMLET:  I will tell you why; so shall my anticipation

prevent your discovery, and your secrecy to the king

and queen moult no feather. I have of late — but

wherefore I know not — lost all my mirth, forgone all

custom of exercises; and indeed it goes so heavily

with my disposition that this goodly frame, the

earth, seems to me a sterile promontory, this most

excellent canopy, the air, look you, this brave

o’erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted

with golden fire, why, it appears no other thing to

me than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours.

What a piece of work is a man! how noble in reason!

how infinite in faculty! in form and moving how

express and admirable! in action how like an angel!

in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the

world! the paragon of animals! And yet, to me,

what is this quintessence of dust? man delights not

me: no, nor woman neither, though by your smiling

you seem to say so.

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