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Readers Theatre

Based on "Wishbones" - A folk tale from China

Arranged by Marjorie Duby

Speakers *: Narrator 1 ; Narrator 3 ; Narrator 8 ; Narrator 2 ; Narrator 4 ; Narrator 9; Yeh Hsien's stepmother; Narrator 5; Narrator 10; Yeh Hsien's stepsister; Narrator 6 ; The young king ; Yeh Hsien (mime to the text); Old man; 2-3 messengers; Wu (Yeh Hsien's father); Narrator 7; Narrators 11 and 12
* To accommodate speaking parts, the narrator parts may be reconfigured.

Scene 1: Wu (pronounced Woo); Yeh Hsien (pronounced Yay shen); Yeh Hsien's stepmother; Narrator 1; Narrator 2

Narrator 1: Thousands of years ago, in a cave among the hills of China south of the clouds, there lived a chieftain called Wu. Wu's first wife had died, leaving a daughter, Yeh Hsien. Her father loved her dearly.
Narrator 2: But Wu's second wife, who had a daughter of her own, was unkind to her stepdaughter. Every day, she forced Yeh Hsien to chop wood and send her to draw water from deep wells in dangerous places.

Scene 2: Yeh Shien; Narrator 1; Narrator 2

Narrator 1: One day, while drawing water from a mountain pool, Yeh Hsien saw a small fish with red fins and golden eyes. Such a fish had never been seen before.
Narrator 2: Yeh Hsien caught the fish, brought it home to the cave, and put it in a bowl of water. She fed it on grains of rice saved from her own plate.
Narrator 1: Each day, the fish grew larger and larger. At last, it was too big for the bowl, and Yeh Hsien moved it into the pond that lay close-by the cave.
Narrator 2: Whenever she went to the pond, the huge fish would rise to the surface and pillow its head on the bank. But it would appear only for Yeh Hsien, never for anyone else.

Scene 3: Yeh Hsien's stepmother; Yeh Hsien's stepsister; Yeh Hsien, Narrator 3; Narrator 4

Yeh Hsien's stepmother: I should like to talk to that fish! I have often waited by the pond, but it will not appear for me.
Yeh Hsien's stepsister: What will you do about it?
Narrator 3: The stepmother thought of a cunning trick. That night when Yeh Hsien came home tired from her hard day's work, her stepmother spoke with her.
Yeh Hsien's stepmother: Poor Yeh Hsien! How shabby you look in your worn-out coat. Take it off. Let me lend you my beautiful new jacket.
Narrator 3: Yeh Hsien was astonished, but she did as she was told and put on the jacket. It felt warm and comfortable after her threadbare old coat.
Narrator 4: The next day, Yeh Hsien was sent off on a long journey into the hills to gather herbs. As soon as she was out of sight, her stepmother put on Yeh Hsien's old coat and hid a sharp knife up her sleeve.
Yeh Hsien's stepmother: Now we will see about that precious red-and-golden fish.
Yeh Hsien's stepsister: What are you going to do?
Yeh Hsien's stepmother: I am going to the pond to call the fish.
Narrator 3: The fish, believing it was Yeh Hsien standing there, leapt from the water and laid hits head on the bank.
Narrator 4: Immediately, the cunning stepmother killed it with her sharp knife. Then she took it back to the cave and cooked it for their supper.

Scene 4: Yeh Hsien's stepmother; Yeh Hsien's stepsister; Narrator 3; Narrator 4

Wu : (smacking his lips) This is the best fish I have ever tasted.
Narrator 3: His wife smiled. She did not tell her husband that it was Yeh Hsien's fish.
Narrator 4: After supper, she buried the fishbones in the dunghill outside the cave.

Scene 5: Yeh Hsien; Narrator 3; Narrator 4; Old man

Narrator 3: Imagine Yeh Hsien's sorrow when she returned to discover her fish had gone!
Narrator 4: She went to the pond and called, but in vain.
Narrator 3: As she stood weeping, an old man with unkempt hair and a ragged coat appeared as if from the sky and stood before her.
Old man: Don't cry, Yeh Hsien. Your stepmother killed the fish and buried its bones in the dunghill. But those bones are magic. Hide them, and whatever you wish for will be granted.

Scene 6: Yeh Hsien; Narrator 5; Narrator 6

Narrator 5: Yeh Hsien did as she was told, and she found, just as the old man had said, that she could have anything she wanted by wishing on the fishbones.
Narrator 6: Before long, she had jewels, finely carved jade, and embroidered silk robes hidden away in her corner of the cave.

Scene 7: Wu (Yeh Hsien's father); Yeh Hsien's stepmother; Yeh Hsien's stepsister; Narrator 5; Narrator 6; Yeh Hsien

Narrator 5: Soon, it was Cave Festival time, when the people of the hills south of the clouds gathered to celebrate and make music.
Narrator 6: Yeh Hsien's father and her stepmother and stepsister set out to join the feasting.
Narrator 5: But Yeh Hsien was left to guard the fruit orchard behind the caves.
Narrator 6: Her father was sorry to leave her, but he did not dare say anything, for fear of his wife.
Narrator 5: Yeh Hsien longed to go to the Cave Festival. No sooner was her family out of sight than she took of her everyday clothes and dressed herself in a shining blue-and-purple robe, with violet silken slippers upon her small feet.
Narrator 6: All these the magic fishbones had brought her.
Narrator 5: Then she set out for the festival.

Scene 8: Wu (Yeh Hsien's father); Yeh Hsien's stepmother; Yeh Hsien's stepsister; Narrator 7; Narrator 8; Yeh Hsien

Narrator 7: How Yeh Hsien enjoyed herself!
Narrator 8: She ate sweet bean cakes, laughed, and listened to the music, tapping her feet in their new violet slippers.
Narrator 7: She was dazzled by the lights of a hundred lanterns.
Narrator 8: Later, as her eyes became used to the lights, she glanced about and saw her stepmother and stepsister looking at her in a puzzled way.
Narrator 7: Perhaps they recognized her!
Narrator 8: Seeing their frowns, Yeh Hsien grew frightened.
Narrator 7: She ran away.
Narrator 8: As she fled, a silken slipper fell from her foot.

Scene 9: Yeh Hsien's stepmother; Yeh Hsien's stepsister; Yeh Hsien, Narrator 9; Narrator 10

Narrator 9: When her stepmother came home, she found Yeh Hsien asleep beneath a mulberry tree, wearing her everyday clothes once more.
Yeh Hsien's stepmother: How could I have imagined that the beautiful woman in the blue-and-purple robe at the festival was my wretched stepdaughter and your stepsister.
Yeh Hsien's stepsister: Yes. You are correct.

Scene 10: Narrator 9; Narrator 10; messengers; the young King of T'o Huan (pronounced Toe Hwan); Yeh Hsien's stepmother; Yeh Hsien

Narrator 9: Now, not far from that place lay the Kingdom of T'o Huan.
Narrator 10: After the festival, the cavepeople found Yeh Hsien's violet slipper and took it to the King of T'o Huan, who at once bought the precious object.
Narrator 9: The young king commanded all the women of his household to try on the slipper.
Narrator 10: But it proved too small for even the tiniest foot.
The young King of T'o Huan: I will find the lady to whom this slipper belongs! She shall be my queen!
Narrator 9: He sent out messengers with the precious slipper to search the countryside.
Narrator 10: At last, they came to Wu's cave.
Narrator 9: First, Yeh Hsien's stepmother tried on the slipper.
Narrator 10: It was far too small for her.
Narrator 9: Next, her daughter thrust it on her foot.
Narrator 10: But it was too small for her, too.
Narrator 9: Last of all, Yeh Hsien tried the slipper.
Narrator 10: It fitted her tiny foot perfectly.
Narrator 9: While her stepmother and stepsister watched in astonishment, Yeh Hsien ran to her corner of the cave.
Narrator 10: She put on the matching violet slipper and her fine blue-and-purple robe.

Scene 11: messengers; Narrator 11; Narrator 12; the young King of T'o Huan; Yeh Hsien

Narrator 11: Then the messengers took her back to the young King of T'o Huan.
Narrator 12: The young king made her his wife and queen of all the land.
Narrator 11: And what happened to those magic fishbones, Yeh Hsien's wonderful wishbones?
Narrator 12: She took them with her to T'o Huan. But the king wished for so much jade and jewelry and silk and gold during the first year of their marriage that at last the fishbones refused to grant any more of his desires.
Yeh Hsien: Husband, you have worn out their magic.
Narrator 11: The king was deeply ashamed. He buried the fishbones near the seashore.
Narrator 12: Later the tide washed them away.
Narrator 11: They have never been found to this day.

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Last modified: March 1, 2017. Copyright 1999 - Marjorie Duby. All rights reserved.