One-Act Plays
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a play in one-act

by August Strindberg

The following one-act play is reprinted from Poet Lore. Volume XVII. Autumn, 1906. It is now in the public domain and may therefore be performed without royalties.


BISKRA, Arabian maiden
YOUSSEF, her lover
GUIMARD, lieutenant of Zouaves



[An Arabian marabout's burial chamber with a sarcophagus in the center on the ground. Here and there, prayer rugs; in the right corner, a charnel house. Door in the background with curtains; window-openings in the back wall. Little heaps of sand here and there on the ground; an aloe that has been torn up, palm leaves and alfa-grass in a heap.]

[BISKRA enters, the hood of her burnoose drawn over her face, and a guitar on her back; throws herself down on a rug and says a prayer, her arms crossed over her breast.]

[Outside, the wind blows.]

BISKRA: La ilaha ill allah!

YOUSSEF: [enters hurriedly] The simoom is coming. Where is the Frenchman?

BISKRA: He will be here in a minute.

YOUSSEF: Why did you not strike him down at once?

BISKRA: I did not, because he must do it himself. If I had done it, the white men would kill our whole race, for they know that I was the guide, Ali, although they do not know that I am the maiden, Biskra.

YOUSSEF: He must do it himself? How shall that come to pass?

BISKRA: You do not know that the simoom parches the brains of the White men like dates, and that they see terrible things, which makes life so hateful to them that they rush out into the great unknown.

YOUSSEF: I have heard something of this kind, and at the time of the last engagement, six Frenchmen laid violent hands on themselves before they reached their destinations. But do not rely on the simoom today, for snow has fallen on the mountains, and in half an hour all may be over.-- Biskra! Can you still hate?

BISKRA: Can I hate? -- My hatred is boundless as the desert, burning as the sun and stronger than my love. Every moment of enjoyment which they stole from me when they killed Ali, has gathered like the poison under the tooth of the viper, and what the simoom can not do, I can do.

YOUSSEF: Well said, Biskra, and you will accomplish it. My hatred has withered like the alfa-grass in autumn, since my eyes have seen you. Take of my strength, and be the arrow to my bow.

BISKRA: Embrace me, Youssef! Embrace me!

YOUSSEF: Not here, in the presence of the holy one; not now -- later, afterward. When you have earned your reward!

BISKRA: Proud sheik, proud man!

YOUSSEF: Yes -- the maiden who shall bear my offspring beneath her heart must prove herself worthy of that honor.

BISKRA: I -- no other -- will bear Youssef's offspring. I Biskra -- the despised, the hideous, but the strong.

YOUSSEF: So be it! Now, I go down to sleep beside the spring. -- Need I teach you the secret arts, you learned from the great marabout, Sidi-sheik, and have practiced in the markets since you were a child?

BISKRA: You do not need to. -- I know all the secrets necessary to scare a cowardly Frenchman out of his life; the coward who creeps upon his enemy and sends his lead balls in advance of him. I know everything -- even to ventriloquism. And what my arts can not accomplish, the sun will, for the sun is with Youssef and Biskra.

YOUSSEF: The sun is the moslem's friend, but there is no dependence to be placed on him: you may burn yourself, girl. Take a drink of water, for I see that your hands shrivel up and -- [has taken up a rug and now goes down for a bowl of water which he hands to Biskra].

BISKRA: [puts the bowl to her lips] And my eyes begin to look red -- my lungs to grow parched -- I hear -- I hear -- you see, the sand is even now sifting through the roof -- and the strings of the guitar sing -- the simoom is here! But the Frenchman is not!

YOUSSEF: Come down here, Biskra, and let the Frenchman die by himself.

BISKRA: First hell and then death! Did you think I would falter? [Pours the water out on a heap of sand] I will water the sand, then revenge will grow. And I will dry up my heart. Grow, hate! Burn, sun! Suffocate, wind!

YOUSSEF: Hale to thee, Ibn Youssef's mother, for thou wilt bear Youssef's son, the revenger! Hale!

[The wind increases; the curtain before the door blows in; the room is illuminated by a red glow which, during the following, changes to yellow.]

BISKRA: The Frenchman is coming, and -- the simoom is here! -- Go!

YOUSSEF: In half an hour you will see me again. There is your hourglass. [Points to a sand heap] The sky measures time even for the hell of the unbelievers.

[GUIMARD enters, pale, staggering and confused; he speaks in a half whisper.]

GUIMARD: The simoom is here! -- Where do you think my comrades have gone?

BISKRA: I led your comrades westward toward the east.

GUIMARD: Westward toward -- the east. -- Let me see. -- Yes, that's right, in the east and -- westward. -- Let me sit down on a chair and give me some water.

[BISKRA leads GUIMARD to a sand heap, makes him lie down on the ground with his head on the sand heap.]

BISKRA: Are you comfortably seated?

GUIMARD: [looks at her] I am seated a little crooked. Put something under my head.

BISKRA: [arranges the sand under his head] There, now you have a cushion under your head.

GUIMARD: My head? My feet are certainly there! -- Aren't my feet there?

BISKRA: Certainly they are.

GUIMARD: I thought so. -- Well, now give me a foot-stool under -- my head.

BISKRA: [drags up the aloe and puts it under GUIMARD's knees] There, there's a foot-stool for you.

GUIMARD: And then, water! -- Water!

BISKRA: [takes up the empty bowl, fills it with sand and hands it to GUIMARD.] Drink, while it is cold.

GUIMARD: [sips from the bowl] It is cold -- but it doesn't quench my thirst. -- I can not drink -- I loathe water -- take it away.

BISKRA: That is that dog that bit you.

GUIMARD: What dog? I have never been bitten by a dog.

BISKRA: The simoom has made your memory shrivel up, -- beware of the delusions of the simoom! Don't you remember the mad greyhound that bit you on the next to the last hunt in Bab-el-Qued?

GUIMARD: On the hunt in Bab-el-Qued? Yes, that's right! -- Was it beaver-colored?

BISKRA: A bitch? Yes! There, you see! And she bit you in the calf of your leg. Don't you feel how the wound stings?

GUIMARD: [feels for the calf of his leg, sticks himself on the aloe.] Yes, I feel it. -- Water! Water!

BISKRA: [hands him the bowl of sand] Drink! Drink!

GUIMARD: No, I can not! Holy Virgin, Mother of God! -- I have hydrophobia!

BISKRA: Do not be alarmed. I will cure you and drive out the demon by the power of music. Listen!

GUIMARD: [screams] Ali! Ali! Not music! I can't bear it! And what sort of use can it be to me?

BISKRA: Music tames the malevolent spirit of the snake, do you not believe that it can rule the spirit of a mad dog? Listen! [Sings to the guitar.] Biskra-Biskra, Biskra-Biskra, Biskra-Biskra. Simoom! Simoom!

YOUSSEF: [from below] Simoom! Simoom!

GUIMARD: What are you singing? Ali!

BISKRA: Was I singing? Look at me, I shall put a palm-leaf in my mouth. [Takes a palm-branch between her teeth. Song from above.] Biskra-Biskra, Biskra-Biskra, Biskra-Biskra.

YOUSSEF: [from below] Simoom! Simoom!

GUIMARD: What hellish delusion is this?

BISKRA: Now I shall sing.

BISKRA and YOUSSEF: [together] Biskra-Biskra, Biskra-Biskra, Biskra-Biskra! Simoom!

GUIMARD: [springs up] Who are you, you devil, who sing with two voices? Are you a man or a woman? Or both?

BISKRA: I am Ali, the guide. You do not recognize me, because your senses are bewildered; but if you wish to escape from your delusions of eye and mind, believe me, believe what I say, and do what I command.

GUIMARD: You do not need to ask me to believe, for I see that everything is just as you say it is.

BISKRA: Now you see, idolater.

GUIMARD: Idolater?

BISKRA: Yes! Take out the idol that you carry on your breast!

[GUIMARD pulls out a medallion.]

BISKRA: Tread it under foot and call on God, the only true God, the merciful, the compassionate.

GUIMARD: [hesitating] Saint Edward, my patron saint!

BISKRA: Can he protect you? Can he?

GUIMARD: No, he can not! -- [Aroused.] Yes, he can!

BISKRA: We will see.

[She opens the door, the curtain blows and the grass stirs.]

GUIMARD: [holds his hand over his mouth] Shut the door!

BISKRA: Down with your idol!

GUIMARD: No, I can not.

BISKRA: Look, the simoom does not touch a hair of my head, but you, unbeliever, it kills! Down with your idol!

GUIMARD: [throws the medallion on the ground] Water! I am dying!

BISKRA: Pray to the only true God, the merciful, the compassionate!

GUIMARD: How shall I pray?

BISKRA: Say the words after me.


BISKRA: God is the only true God, there is no other God but him, the merciful, the compassionate!

GUIMARD: 'God is the only true God, there is no other God but him, the merciful, the compassionate!'

BISKRA: Lie down on the ground.

[GUIMARD lies down reluctantly.]

BISKRA: What do you hear?

GUIMARD: I hear a spring gurgling.

BISKRA: Now you see! God is the only true God, and there is no other God but him, the merciful, the compassionate! -- What do you see?

GUIMARD: I see a stream gurgling -- I hear a lamp shining -- in a window with green shutters, -- on a white street ...

BISKRA: Who sits at the window?

GUIMARD: My wife -- Elise.

BISKRA: Who stands behind the curtain and puts his arm around her neck?

GUIMARD: That is my son -- George.

BISKRA: How old is your son?

GUIMARD: For years, on Saint Nicholas day.

BISKRA: And he can already stand behind the curtain and put his arm around the neck of another man's wife?

GUIMARD: He can not -- but it is he!

BISKRA: Four years old, with a blond moustache!

GUIMARD: A blond moustache, did you say? -- Oh, that is -- Julius, my friend.

BISKRA: And he stands behind the curtain and puts his arm around your wife's neck!

GUIMARD: Oh, the devil!

BISKRA: Do you see your son?

GUIMARD: No, I no longer see him.

BISKRA: [imitates the ringing of bells on her guitar] What do you see now?

GUIMARD: I see the ringing of bells -- and I feel the taste of a corpse -- it smells in my mouth like rancid butter -- ugh!...

BISKRA: Don't you hear the deacons singing, as they carry the body of a child to the grave?

GUIMARD: Wait! -- I cannot hear it -- [dejectedly] but if you wish it? -- There -- now I hear it!

BISKRA: Do you see the wreath on the coffin they are carrying between them?


BISKRA: There is a violet ribbon on it -- and on the ribbon is printed in silver -- 'Farewell, my beloved George! -- Thy Father.'

GUIMARD: Yes, there it is! -- [Weeps] My George! George! My beloved child! -- Elise, my wife, comfort me! -- Help me! [Feels around him.] Where are you? Elise! Have you left me? Answer! Speak the name of your beloved!

A VOICE: [from the roof] Julius! Julius!

GUIMARD: Julius. -- My name, yes -- what is my name? -- Charles is my name. -- And she calls Julius. -- Elise -- dear wife -- answer me, for your spirit is here, -- I feel it -- and you solemnly promised me never to love any one else ...

[The voice laughs.]

GUIMARD: Who laughs?

BISKRA: Elise! Your wife!

GUIMARD: Kill me! -- I do not want to live any longer. I loathe life as I do sauerkraut in Saint-Doux -- do you know what Saint-Doux is? Pig's fat. [Spits.] I have no spittle -- Water! Water! If you don't give it to me, I shall bite you.

[Full fury of the storm without.]

BISKRA: [keeps her mouth closed and coughs] Now, you are dying, Frenchman! Write your last will, while there is yet time. -- Where is your notebook?

GUIMARD: [pulls out a notebook and pen] What shall I write?

BISKRA: A man thinks of his wife when he is dying -- and of his children.

GUIMARD: [writes] 'Elise -- I curse you! Simoom -- I am dying...'

BISKRA: Now sign it, or it will be worth nothing.

GUIMARD: How shall I sign it?

BISKRA: Write: 'La ilaha ill allah!'

GUIMARD: [writes] It is written. May I die now?

BISKRA: Now you may die, a cowardly soldier, who has deserted his comrades. -- And you shall have a beautiful funeral, jackals shall sing your body to its grave. [Beats the attack on the guitar.] Do you hear the drums calling -- to the attack -- the unbelievers who have the simoom and the sun with them, push forward -- out of their ambush -- [Strikes her guitar.] The shots fall along the whole line -- the French are not able to load again -- the Arabs send scattered shots -- the French flee!...

GUIMARD: [starts up] The French do not flee!

BISKRA: [blows the retreat on a flute which she has drawn forth.] The French flee when the retreat is blown.

GUIMARD: They retreat -- it is the retreat -- and I am here -- [Tears off his epaulettes.] I am dead. [Falls to the ground.]

BISKRA: Yes, you are dead. -- You do not know it, but you have been dead a long time. [Goes to the charnel house, takes out a skull.]

GUIMARD: Am I dead? [Clutches his face.]

BISKRA: A long time! A long time! -- See yourself in this mirror. [Shows him the skull.]

GUIMARD: Ah! That is I.

BISKRA: Don't you see your prominent cheek-bones -- don't you see how the vultures have eaten out your eyes -- don't you recognize the hole made when you had that double-tooth drawn on the right side -- don't you see the dimple in your chin where your little pointed beard grew that your Elise loved to stroke -- don't you see where your ear was, the ear that your George used to kiss in the morning at breakfast -- don't you see where the axe was applied to your neck -- when the hangman beheaded the deserter!...

[GUIMARD, who has looked and listens with horror, falls down dead.]

BISKRA: [who has been on her knees, rises after she has examined his pulse. Sings.] Simoom! Simoom! [Opens the door, the draperies flutter, she holds her hand over her mouth and falls over backward.] Youssef!

[YOUSSEF comes up from below. He examines GUIMARD, looks for BISKRA.]

YOUSSEF: Biskra! [Sees BISKRA, lifts her up in his arms.] Are you alive?

BISKRA: Is the Frenchman dead?

YOUSSEF: If he is not, he soon will be. Simoom! Simoom!

BISKRA: Then I live. But give me water.

YOUSSEF: [carries her to the steps] Here! -- Now, Youssef is thine!

BISKRA: And Biskra will be the mother of thy son! Youssef, great Youssef!

YOUSSEF: Strong Biskra! Stronger than the simoom!


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