Act I






Act I


Or: What a woman wants.


By Richard Kennedy and Mark Lambert


Lebewohl (God Speed) Kunstdruck von Edmund Blair Leighton

A synopsis of ACT I






Queen Guinevere is on stage alone. She has just sent Sir Launcelot out the window, hearing that the  Chorus is approaching, singing CAMELOT. “Shining kingdom without blot…” The Chorus and Gwen gossip for a few moments about a saucy hairdresser, and the Chorus clearly hints of Gwen’s affair with Launcelot. Gwen scolds them. “Don’t be dangerous, darlings. You could nod your heads right off your shoulders.”


  They hear the bugle of Sir Gawain, and he enters the court, bringing the news that in the Swamp of   Englewood there dwells an evil knight by the name of Gromer, who is cheating the noblemen of   Camelot out of their lands and estates. King Arthur is due at court, and the company is in suspense  of his arrival. They sing:  EXPECTING THE KING TO ARRIVE; “There is nothing so pleasant as royalty’s presence….”


 King Arthur enters. Apparently he knows of Gwen’s dalliance with Lancelot. “Guinevere, where were you gone since waking, to hurry off so fast?” “To the pews, my lord, I went to mass.” “Oh, the priest saw you not.” “I sat in back.” Gawain breaks in with his dire news of the villain Sir Gromer. It is decided that Arthur must go to Englewood Swamp, hunt the fellow down and kill him. The company sings of Arthur’s prowess in arms, both short and long: EVERY INCH A KING. Chorus: “What other man in Camelot can inch for inch outmatch the king, we haven’t any inkling. We put the question to the Queen. How say you, Gwen?” Gwen: “I’m thinking.”


 There is worse news than the doings of Sir Gromer. There is a rumor going around about the divine right of kings, which prompts the song DIVINE RIGHT. “It may sound odd, but whatever he wants is wanted by God!” And now Arthur must pump up for the coming battle with Gromer, and all sing the rousing song, GO TO WAR. “Bang batter, clang clatter, gory guts and bloody splatter.” Arthur and Gawain go off, leaving the Chorus and Gwen to muse in song on the violence of men, so different from their own sweet natures: WHAT A WOMAN WANTS. “If women ruled there’d be nothing but doves…” However, the song ends with a sort of wrestling match between the ladies.








A large frog is sitting on a stump in the fetid clearing. The hag Ragnell approaches, dancing to measures of a tango, quite a foul creature altogether. The frog was formerly a prince. Ragnell is likewise under a spell. She was once beautiful. Ragnell speaks for both of them. “No changes, eh, your grace, still green and slimy?” In accord with the usual drill in such cases, both Ragnell and the frog need a kiss to break the spells and restore their fortunes.


Ragnell is the sister of Sir Gromer, and she has been working a scheme to get Sir Gawain as her husband, and thereby her kiss. King Arthur arrives, singing, ready for the battle. Ragnell confronts him, warning him of high enchantment at this time and place, so he may be certain that Sir Gromer will “open him like a French door.”


And now the dreaded Sir Gromer comes on with his great axe and faces Arthur. “Here’s my deed to what I claim, a sword to cut your gizzard, an axe to cleave your brain.” They fight. Ragnell gets behind Arthur and drapes her green flowing scarf over Arthur’s head and he falls in a trance, his head on the stump, but Ragnell stays his execution. She proposes to Gromer that he should let the king go with a riddle to solve, give him a year, and failing of the answer the king must forfeit his head and all else he owns. The riddle is this: What does a woman want most in all the world?”


“Oh, shame!” says the king, “my life at prize in a child’s game with this churl.” But to live for the moment, he makes the deal and departs. Brother and sister gloat and share the whispered answer to the riddle, laughing that the king will never guess it. Gromer: “So what are the toads up to these days?” Ragnell: “Philanthropy, brother.” Gromer: “Philanthropy? What have toads to give, sister?” Ragnell: “Warts, brother.” And off they go in a sort of tango.








 The Queen is on her throne in a deep, troubled study. The Chorus is somber, knowing this to be the day that the king may die. “Aquarius to Capricorn, and so the years turn past. When one must keep a date with death, how quickly somersaults the hour glass.” Gwen is backed by the Chorus singing AFTERNOON CAKES AND TEA. “Why do I ponder this dread circumstance a lot? Quiet, my heart, I must not think of Launcelot….”


 King Arthur comes on with a dispatch bag full of answers to the riddle, “What does a woman want the most in all the world?” This is the collected wisdom of Camelot, written on scraps of paper. There is banter on the subject, and Arthur departs for Englewood Swamp. Gwen and the Chorus reprise AFTERNOON CAKES AND TEA. Gwen: “I would gladly die or give my body to the rack, if my love could save him, yet how well I look in black.”


 The song is interrupted by an explosion of weather. A tremendous blast of thunder and lightning blows out the window shutters and the curtains lash inward like whips, while the women crowd together in amazement and fear.




Act I