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From the original cast of The Proposal, Stephanie Cozart performs at The Drilling Company Theatre in New York City.

 The Proposal

A Ten-Minute Play

(A Jane Austen Era short play
great for High Schools,
Colleges, and Universities)

By Stephen Bittrich

This play was published by Smith and Kraus.

5701 W Slaughter Lane
Suite A130-204
Austin, TX 78749

Copyright © 2006,
by Stephen Bittrich

Perform Short Plays by Stephen Bittrich

(Please note that there is a licensing fee due if you want to perform this play.)

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                                   "THE PROPOSAL"
                                   BY STEPHEN BITTRICH


                                   The sprawling grounds of Willowbrook
                                   Estate near Bishops Waltham in
                                   Hampshire, England, 1815.

            AT RISE:

                                   JULIA HIGHTOWER, 20s, handsome and
                                   proud, but clearly distraught, paces
                                   about the garden.  WILLIAM AINSWORTH,
                                   late 30ish, proud and rakishly
                                   handsome, enters the lengthening
                                   evening shadows and observes her a
                                   moment before he speaks.

                                   MR. AINSWORTH
            There you are Miss Hightower.  I was beginning to think I'd
            be called upon to fish you from the trout stream.

            Beg your pardon, I required a bit of air.

                                   MR. AINSWORTH
            Ah, yes.  Lovely evening for it. 
            And are you sufficiently pleased with the grounds of

            Of course.

                                   MR. AINSWORTH
            Splendid--then you approve?

            Who could find fault with...the grounds, Mr. Ainsworth?

                                   MR. AINSWORTH
            No indeed.  No indeed.  
            But then I derive from your careful inflection that there is
            that at Willowbrook which you could find fault with, Miss

            I--I cannot--

                                   MR. AINSWORTH
            Ah, tush, tush, not another word of it.
            Beautiful, clear night.  Did you take in the full moon rising
            above the peat bogs?

            I marked it.

                                   MR. AINSWORTH
            Dramatic indeed.  
            You know, Ms. Hightower, I rather blush to say, but the
            highlight of my trip to Sussex last summer was not the
            tedious family business which beckoned me thither, no, no,
            but rather my brief sojourn in Heathfield and the various
            social gatherings during which I was privileged to make the
            acquaintance of you and your family.

                          (with a taste of irony)
            It was a thrilling season.

                                   MR. AINSWORTH
            And during the picnic at Heathfield Park I must confess I was
            most smitten with your wonderful charcoal sketches of the
            countryside.  It is thrilling indeed to discover a woman of
            such varied and studied accomplishment.  Upon leaving there,
            I admit, I could think of not much else for sometime...but
            you...and your beautiful sketches.  

            You flatter, Mr. Ainsworth.

                                   MR. AINSWORTH
            No, indeed, I do not.  I very greatly wished to be...
            connected to you and your great talent--to have some
            ownership in it.


                                   MR. AINSWORTH
            And when your family took lodgings in Hampshire this Spring
            it seamed a fortuitous event indeed.

            Quite fortuitous.  I must return to the house, Mr. Ainsworth. 
            It grows cold.

                                   MR. AINSWORTH
            Then let me warm you, Ms. Hightower...Julia.


                                   MR. AINSWORTH
            Please, take my coat.

            I fear the chill has deeply set in.  There is no remedy you
            can provide.

                                   MR. AINSWORTH 
                          (relinquishing all false
            I grow weary of these intrigues and double entendres.  I am
            not a stupid man, Miss Hightower.  I know the particulars for
            your family's visit.  Plainly, your parents mean to parade
            you about polite society as a farmer at the county fair
            flaunts his choicest pig--

            Mr. Ainsworth!

                                   MR. AINSWORTH
            --but, and please excuse my audacious candor, you won't be
            winning any ribbons, I'm sorry to say, nor any husbands for
            that matter.  As sordid as it may be, there are scurrilous
            and unseemly tongues that wag this way and that 'round this
            tiny little hamlet.  And they wag, Miss Hightower, about you.
                          (JULIA appears almost dizzy
                           from MR. AINSWORTH's utter
                           lack of decorum)

            I'm sure...I'm sure I haven't the faintest notion--

                                   MR. AINSWORTH
            You are a marked woman.  There it is.  Sorry to be the bearer
            of ill tidings.  But there 'tis.  You may as well sew your
            old maid's weeds forthwith because no suitors of any repute
            will be knocking at your door.

            How dare you, sir!

                                   MR. AINSWORTH
            I dare, Miss Hightower.  As the first born son of the
            wealthiest man in Christendom, I dare.  Mere social
            convention is a paltry constraint for my sizeable wealth and
            stature.  The fates, however, have been less kind to you. 
            Being without a male sibling, your birthright, such that it
            is, has been entailed away, and your future, but for the
            unsecured and certainly meager offerings of an obscure male
            relative, can promise nothing more than abject poverty.

                          (after a beat, regaining her
            And yet...I do not tremble, Mr. Ainsworth.

                                   MR. AINSWORTH
                          (after a beat, taking her in)
            And yet you do not.  There is much to be admired in you,

            And much to be abhorred in you.

                                   MR. AINSWORTH
            And still...such an abhorred man as I might yet be your
            I like you, Julia.

            Mr. Ainsworth, you've said quite enough.

                                   MR. AINSWORTH
            Yes, I like you.  You are as handsome a specimen as ever I've
            seen, lively and energetic, talented in music and art,
            intelligent almost to a fault.  These attributes, I daresay,
            when matched with my own myriad graces, could well produce
            exceptionally pleasing off-spring.

            Thank you for you astute observations, Mr. Ainsworth, but
            despite your previous reference to prized livestock, you'll
            be surprised to learn, I am no farm animal.  Producing
            "exceptionally pleasing off-spring" is not my life's chief

                                   MR. AINSWORTH
                          (ignoring and pressing on)
            Be assured, I am not looking for love, Julia, and I am quite
            certain that you do not love me.  However, I do require a
            wife, a partner, in the business of expanding my honorable
            lineage.  It is a grand, unbroken line spanning centuries
            before me, and I am called upon to bid adieu to the
            temptations and distractions of my youth and perform my
            familial duty.  I see you as a worthy candidate.

            Mr. Ainsworth, though your described partnership of
            convenience is no doubt brimming with fruitful promise, you
            will be shocked to discover your eloquent declaration of
            affection met with rejection.  I hope the disappointment will
            not linger with you for long.  Good evening, sir.
                          (SHE starts to leave, and HE
                           cuts her off)

                                   MR. AINSWORTH
            Julia, certainly you are not ignorant of what I can offer a
            woman such as yourself.  Not that I care a jot for social
            mores, but you cannot be completely unaware that your very
            reputation has recently been called into question.  Your
            association with a local artist, a certain Monsieur Legard,
            whose name alone inspires suspicion, is fatty meat for the
            maw of outrage, namely, the elder matrons of Bishops Waltham.

            My association with the gifted Mr. Legard is of my concern

                                   MR. AINSWORTH
            Unjust, I know.  Your guilt in this, real or imagined, has
            set you alone and adrift at sea.  And I alone am your last
            hope for security, Ms. Hightower.

            Really, Mr. Ainsworth, I think you missed your calling. 
            Prize pigs, gristle filled maws, adrift at sea.  It seems you
            have a bent toward the poetic.  But perhaps you should have
            said, "I alone might offer a sturdy mast and sail"...or "I
            alone am a fruitful uncharted isle in your course" or better
            still "I alone am the God Poseidon deigning to grant fair
            seas for your passage home."

                                   MR. AINSWORTH
            Perhaps I might have.

            Mr. Legard, whom, as you have intimated, is of French
            heritage is in fact as true an Englishman as you or I. 
            He is my friend, and his skill with either brush or chisel is
            equal to anything I have seen displayed in the National
            Gallery.  I admire his talent.

                                   MR. AINSWORTH
            Yes, I agree he is talented.  I've seen his nudes.  He's an
            eye for detail.
                          (SHE starts again to leave.  HE
                           grabs her arm)

            Mr. Ainsworth, you will let go my arm!

                                   MR. AINSWORTH
                          (pulling her close)
            The deal is sealed, Ms. Hightower.  Your parents have already
            accepted my offer of matrimony and despite social proprieties
            dictating the contrary, have accepted a generous gift of real
            estate in this accord.  You have been sold--

            --I will not bow--

                                   MR. AINSWORTH
            Nay, but you will!  As I said, Miss Hightower.  You have been
            sold.  I possess the painting!

            Wh-what did you say?

                                   MR. AINSWORTH
            I possess the painting.  I've bought it.  And I think you
            must know the one I mean.


                                   MR. AINSWORTH
                          (quiet and vicious, in her ear)
            It did not come cheaply.
            You now sit precariously on the edge of ruin.  If you do not
            accept my magnanimous offer, you will suffer the pangs of
            social ignominy only an itinerant leper might endure. 
            Moreover, I am quite certain that Mr. Legard will never in
            his short career see profit from a single painting in all of
            Hampshire.  You will give me satisfaction.
                          (SHE crumbles to her knees and
                           begins to cry.  The
                           Willowbrook Rectory bell tolls
                           6 times during the course of
                           the following exchange)

            Have you no heart?  Have you no soul?  I--I love him.

                                   MR. AINSWORTH
            I know.
            The rectory bell begs the question...will we be married?

                          (after a pause)

                          (The lights fade to black)
                          (END OF PLAY)

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Script created with Final Draft by Final Draft, Inc.

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