"Ali Coglia & the Merchant of Baghdad"
Whootie Owl's Free Play Script
adapted from a Middle Eastern Tale from Iraq
Written by two 8th Grade Students:
Aparna and Jelena All You Do is Print the Play, Cast & Perform!
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Whootie Owl's "Ali Cogia & the Merchant of Bahgdad" Free Play Script
by Jelena and Parna, 8th graders
CHARACTERS, in Order of Appearance:
Boy / Pretend Judge
Pretend Olive Merchant 1
Pretend Olive Merchant 2
Olive Merchant 1
Oliver Merchant 2
[The stage starts out totally dark. The play starts with a judge stand that will double as an auctioneer podium in center stage. On a table next to it will be some metal pots and pans, and bolts of cloth. A spotlight switches on stage right. Enter NARRATOR stage right. She stands in the amber spotlight. A vagabond, she is dressed in beige rags. On her feet, she wears brown ballet-like slippers. This part is to be portrayed by a funny, short and slender girl.]
Over a thousand years ago, in the reign of the famous Caliph Harun al-Raschid, there lived in Baghdad a merchant who needed to travel on an extended journey.
[Enter ALI COGIA. When he enters, a spotlight is turned on him. This actor should be dressed in fine silk. His clothes must be simple, yet look expensive. He must exude a rather scholarly presence. As ALI walks over to the table, the spotlight follows him.]
He sold nearly all of his household goods and rented out his home.
[White and blue stage lights come on as a crowd of people enter. An AUCTIONEER stands at the podium and shouts out "Do we have 3 gold? 5?" and the like. People in the crowds shout out responses. This noisy scene goes on for about 30 seconds. Then, the lights go out, stage crew carts away the table, and everybody on stage except for the NARRATOR leaves stage left.]
The only thing left for him to do was to find a safe place to leave his private treasure.
-- one thousand pieces of gold.
[From above the stage, a bag filled with gold pieces falls to the floor. ALI COGIA enters stage left again with a jar about half filled with olives. While the NARRATOR is speaking, ALI acts out what she says.]
Finally, he decided to put the thousand pieces of gold into a large jar and cover the gold with olives. When he had closed the mouth of the jar, he carried it to a friend of his, who was also a merchant.
[Enter MERCHANT, followed by a SERVANT carrying a large fan and a reclining chair. This actor is to be portrayed by a rather heavyset, greedy looking individual. He should be wearing garishly expensive clothes. While ALI is talking, he will sit in the chair and be fanned.]
You know, my friend, that in a few days I plan to depart on my journey. I beg you to take charge of a jar of olives, and keep it for me till I return.
(speaking in an oily voice) Here, take the key of my warehouse and set your jar where you please. I promise you shall find it there when you return.
[He takes a key out of his breast pocket.]
So, Ali began his journey.
[In this scene, the stage should be divided by a large piece of wood. It is best if the wood has a door that actually works. On the right side of the stage, there should be a desert setting. There should be a sandy floor and palm trees placed around that part of the stage. On the left side, there should be a dining table and chairs. Make sure the jar of olives and gold is hidden on the floor in front of the stage on the left of the stairs.]
(Enter ALI stage right. He must be wearing a turban about his head, and be dressed in ragged clothes. Enter MERCHANT and his family stage left. While the family is talking, ALI should be staggering about the right side of the stage.)
Ali Coglia's journey was extended much longer than he expected. In fact, he was seven years absent from Baghdad, when he finally decided to return. All this time his friend, with whom he had left his jar of olives, neither thought of him nor of the jar. One evening this merchant was supping with his family and the conversation happened to fall upon olives. The merchant's wife mentioned that she had not tasted any for a long while.
Now that you speak of olives, you remind me of a jar that Ali Coglia left with me seven years ago. He put it in my warehouse to be kept for him until he returned. What has become of him I know not, though when the caravan came back, they told me he had gone to Egypt. Certainly he must be dead by now, since he has not returned in all this time, and we may go ahead and eat the olives, if they are still good. Give me a plate and a candle. I will fetch some of them and we'll taste them.
Please, husband, do not commit so base an action. You know that nothing is more sacred than what is committed to one's care and trust. Besides, do you think the olives can be good, after they've been kept so long? They must be all moldy and spoiled. Besides, if Ali Coglia should return and find that they had been opened, what would he think of your honor? I beg of you to let them alone.
Nevertheless, after supper, the merchant entered the warehouse, found the jar, opened it and found the olives moldy. But to see if they were all in the same condition to the bottom, he shook the jar and some of the gold pieces tumbled out.
(MERCHANT performs this action)
The merchant noticed at once that the top only was laid with olives, and what remained was gold coin.
He immediately put the olives into the jar again, covered it up, and returned to his wife.
(Merchant performs this action.)
Indeed, wife, you were in the right to say that the olives were all moldy for I found them so, and have made up the jar just as Ali Coglia left it. He will not notice that they had been touched, if he should ever return.
In the days ahead the merchant thought only about how he might appropriate Ali Coglia's gold to his own use, and yet escape detection in case his old friend should return and ask for the jar. The next morning the merchant went and bought some olives of that year, and then secretly went and emptied the jar both of the old moldy olives and of the gold. Then, filling the jar entirely with new olives, he covered it up and put it in the place where Ali Coglia had left it.
[MERCHANT walks onstage with a bottle of freshly filled olives, and takes away the old bottle.]
[Stage is set as such: center stage is a judge's podium. The jar of fresh olives remains where it was before. Stage left, near the front of the stage, there are two chairs.]
About a month later, Ali Coglia arrived at Baghdad. The next morning he went to pay a visit to his friend, the merchant, who expressed great joy at his return after so many year's absence.
[Enter ALI stage left. He walks up to the chairs where MERCHANT is already sitting.]
My friend! How good it is to see you again!
And you as well!
Now, about the jar of olives I left with you . . .
Aha! That has been of no inconvenience, I can assure you. Here is the key to the warehouse. Let you take it and find your jar of olives.
[MERCHANT takes key out of his breast pocket, the stage goes dark. A spotlight turns on where the jar of olives has been hidden. Enter ALI into the spotlight. He takes the jar of olives while the narrator is talking and follows her words.]
Ali Coglia went into the merchant's warehouse and found his jar. But on opening the jar, and putting his hand down as low as the pieces of gold had lain, he was greatly surprised to find no gold pieces in the jar. At first he thought he might perhaps be mistaken, and to discover the truth, he poured out all the olives, but without so much as finding one single piece of gold.
Is it possible?!!
[ALI walks up to the chairs, and lights shine on that portion of the stage.]
My good friend, be not surprised to see me come back so soon. I know that the jar of olives is the same one I placed in your warehouse, but with the olives I put into the jar a thousand pieces of gold, which I do not find. Perhaps you might have used them in your business; if so, they are at your service till it may be convenient for you to return them. Only give me an acknowledgment of my loan to you, after which you may repay me at your own convenience.
Friend Ali Coglia, when you brought your jar to me, did I touch it? Did I not give you the key of my warehouse? Did you not carry it there yourself? And did you not find it in the same place, covered in the same manner as when you left it? And now that you have come back, you demand one thousand pieces of gold. Did you ever tell me such a sum was in the jar? I wonder you do not demand diamonds or pearls! It is easy enough for you to storm into my house, make a crazy accusation, insult me, and tarnish my good name. Be gone!
[Enter JUDGE, and many other people. The judge stands at the podium, the people crowd around it.]
Ali Coglia speedily summoned the merchant to court.
[ALI and the merchant walk over to the podium, arguing all the way there.]
Judge, my good man, I accuse this merchant of having stolen my thousand pieces of gold, with which I left him.
Have you any witnesses?
(rather shamefacedly) No . . . I did not take the precaution because I believed this man to be honest!
It's true that I had kept Ali Coglia's jar in my warehouse, but I had never once meddled with it. As far as I knew, the jar contained only olives.
Look Ali, I know you're a good man, but the fact is there just isn't any evidence. I have to dismiss this case.
Ali Coglia, extremely upset to find that he must accept the loss of so large a sum of money, returned to his lodgings and drew up a petition to seek justice from the Caliph himself. He forwarded his petition to the officer of the palace, who presented it to the caliph himself. The caliph told the officer to notify Ali Coglia that an hour would be scheduled for the next day for the complaint to be heard at the palace. The officer was also told to notify the merchant to appear.
[Lights out. Then a spotlight turns on to follow the CALIPH and GRAND VIZIER, both disguised, who enters from stage right. In the middle of the stage, there are some children in rags.]
CHILD 1 / PRETEND JUDGE:
Let's play courtroom! (CHILDREN cheer) The court will now hear the case of one such Ali Coglia.
[Children argue over who is to play what part]
NARRATOR: And so this pretend Ali Coglia proceeded to explain everything about the case.
[PRETEND ALI pretends to speak after bowing low while NARRATOR is talking. When he is done, PRETEND JUDGE turns to PRETEND MERCHANT]
And you, my good man? What have you to say?
And so the pretend Merchant proceeded to give the same reasons as the real one had.
And I am fully prepared to take an oath.
No so fast! Before you give your oath, I should like to see the jar of olives.
[PRETEND ALI COGIA bows low, walks away and in a few moments returns. He pretends to set a jar before the PRETEND JUDGE.]
This is the very same jar I left with the merchant.
Is that true?
(PRETEND MERCHANT nods}
They are fine olives. Let me taste them.
[He pretends to eat some.]
They are excellent, but I cannot think that olives will keep seven years and be so good. Therefore we must call before this court some olive merchants, and let me hear what is their opinion.
[Two boys, posing as olive merchants, present themselves.]
Tell me, how long will olives keep fit to eat?
PRETEND OLIVE MERCHANTS:
Sir, no matter how great the care taken of them, olives will hardly be worth anything the third year, for then they have neither taste nor color.
If that is so, look into that jar and tell me how long it has been since those olives were put into it.
[The two PRETEND OLIVE MERCHANTS pretend to examine and to taste the olives]
PRETEND OLIVE MERCHANTS:
They are good.
But, Ali Coglia himself said he put them into the jar seven years ago.
PRETEND OLIVE MERCHANTS:
Sir, we can assure you they are of this year's growth, and we will maintain that any olive merchant of repute in Baghdad will say the same.
[PRETEND JUDGE points an accusing finger at PRETEND MERCHANT.]
You are a rogue! And deserve to be punished!
[The CHILDREN then conclude their play, clapping their hands with great joy. Seizing the feigned criminal, they pretend to carry him off to prison.]
Now you see, the caliph had the answer. He told his grand vizier to bring the boy (who had played the pretend judge), the jar of olives, and two real olive merchants to him the next day. So the next day Ali Coglia and the merchant pleaded one after the other at the palace before the boy, whom the caliph had seated on the throne beside him.
I will swear my statement under oath!
BOY (the actor who played the PRETEND JUDGE):
It is too soon. It is proper that we should see the jar of olives.
[At these words ALI COGIA presents the jar and places it at the CALIPH'S feet.]
Is this in fact the jar that had been left in you warehouse for seven years?
[MERCHANT nods. BOY opens the jar. CALLIPH looks at the olives, takes one and tastes it, giving another to the BOY. Real OLIVE MERCHANTS enter.]
These are very good olives, and of this year.
Ali Coglia had said that it was seven years since he had put the olives in the jar. Therefore, the jar must have been tampered with since that time.
The wretch who was accused saw plainly that the opinions of the olive merchants would convict him. He confessed to his crime, and revealed where the thousand pieces of gold were hidden. The fortune was quickly located and restored to Ali Coglia. The caliph sternly told the merchant that it was good for him that he decided to confess and to return the gold; that otherwise he would have received one hundred floggings in addition to his sentence of ten years in prison. The caliph turned to the judge who had tried the case before and advised him to take a lesson from the child so that he would perform his duty more exactly in the future. Embracing the boy, the monarch sent him home with a purse of a hundred pieces of gold as a token of his admiration.
[All come out and bow.]
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