The old and respected Shakespearean actor had taken his last bow. With a final farewell to his audience, he raised his hand and exited the stage for the last time in his long, distinguished career. Behind the scenes, he patted the pocket where he kept his lucky quill, a solid, silver writing instrument topped with a brightly colored feather. Throughout his long career he had kept it on his person during every performance, and it had always brought him luck.
“What, that’s it?” cried one of the foremost groundlings. He shook his head and muttered, “I can’t believe it.”
The actor’s ears, specially tuned to hear criticism, singled out the ne’er-do-well from the boisterous and otherwise happy crowd with one long finger. Years onstage had trained him not only to pick out the murmurs of unhappy theatre-goers, but also to command their attention with minimal effort. “You.” He said it quietly as he returned to the stage, without electronic enhancement, yet the tourist in front heard him clear as day.
The man pointed at his own chest. “Me?”
“Yes,” said the old distinguished actor. “You.”
“What about me?” said the groundling, looking around in quiet desperation. He hated being singled out.
“What about my performance did you dislike?” asked the actor.
“Well…,” hedged the tourist, unaccustomed to being called out. “I mean, I flew all the way over here to see some culture, and yeah, Big Ben was cool and I liked the wax museum but your acting was just so…”
“So what?” asked the actor, all smiles. He seemed to find the man’s discomfort amusing.
The groundling floundered.
“Listen, my good man,” said the actor, leaning down and motioning the tourist to approach the stage. “This is my final performance. I would have liked it to please everyone, but an artist should be willing to take constructive criticism. What about my performance displeased you?”
“Welllll…” floundered the man again.
“If you are suddenly shy,” said the actor, smiling as he remembered the man’s incessant stream of comments throughout the show, “you may whisper in my ear. I promise to pay attention.”
The man, leaned in conspiratorially. “Just between us?” he confided.
The actor nodded.
“I thought your acting was kind of over the top.”
“Really? And that’s…” He watched the man intently. “No, that’s not it. Is there more?”
“It was still so boring!” He looked up sheepishly. Criticizing the actor in the anonymity of the audience had been easy, but to his face? That was a harder, even though the old guy did seem to be rather personable and had, in fact, asked for it.
“So ‘over the top’ should at least be exciting?” said the actor pleasantly. “Like this?” He flourished his lucky quill from the depths of his costume, and said in a soft, dangerous voice,”Is this a dagger which I see before me?” Quick as thought,he leaned over and plunged the feathered instrument’s point into the startled critic.
The man reeled back screaming from his attacker, then ripped the blood-soaked plumage from his shoulder, gasping in pain and fear as a mass of men tackled the actor onstage. The older gentlemen did not resist but regarded his captors benignly, then returned his gaze to the victim still standing before the stage. “Was that exciting enough? After all, I told you this was my final performance.”
“What, I, you…,” the wounded man held up the crimson-covered quill. “‘Is this a dagger which I see before me!’” He shook the weapon in the air. “‘Is this a dagger which I see before me!’ What, are you kidding me! It is… the bloody business-”
“Ah, you were paying more attention than it seemed. How nice,” said the actor as they hauled him away, a grin plastered across his broadly beaming face.
**written for the prompt “hero: Thou” and “villain: tourists” on the six minute story site, though I did not post there.