Overture; forest sounds, roaring of lions, Christian hymn faintly.
A jungle path. A lion's roar, a melancholy suffering roar, comes from the jungle. It is repeated nearer. The lion limps from the jungle on three legs, holding up his right forepaw, in which a huge thorn sticks. He sits down and contemplates it. He licks it. He shakes it. He tries to extract it by scraping it along the ground, and hurts himself worse. He roars piteously. He licks it again. Tears drop from his eyes. He limps painfully off the path and lies down under the trees, exhausted with pain. Heaving a long sigh, like wind in a trombone, he goes to sleep.
Androcles and his wife Megaera come along the path. He is a small, thin, ridiculous little man who might be any age from thirty to fifty-five. He has sandy hair, watery compassionate blue eyes, sensitive nostrils, and a very presentable forehead; but his good points go no further; his arms and legs and back, though wiry of their kind, look shrivelled and starved. He carries a big bundle, is very poorly clad, and seems tired and hungry.
His wife is a rather handsome pampered slattern, well fed and in the prime of life. She has nothing to carry, and has a stout stick to help her along.
MEGAERA (suddenly throwing down her stick) I won't go another step.
ANDROCLES (pleading wearily) Oh, not again, dear. What's the good of stopping every two miles and saying you won't go another step? We must get on to the next village before night. There are wild beasts in this wood: lions, they say.
MEGAERA. I don't believe a word of it. You are always threatening me with wild beasts to make me walk the very soul out of my body when I can hardly drag one foot before another. We haven't seen a single lion yet.
ANDROCLES. Well, dear, do you want to see one?
MEGAERA (tearing the bundle from his back) You cruel beast, you don't care how tired I am, or what becomes of me (she throws the bundle on the ground): always thinking of yourself. Self! self! self! always yourself! (She sits down on the bundle).
ANDROCLES (sitting down sadly on the ground with his elbows on his knees and his head in his hands) We all have to think of ourselves occasionally, dear.
MEGAERA. A man ought to think of his wife sometimes.
ANDROCLES. He can't always help it, dear. You make me think of you a good deal. Not that I blame you.
MEGAERA. Blame me! I should think not indeed. Is it my fault that I'm married to you?
ANDROCLES. No, dear: that is my fault.
MEGAERA. That's a nice thing to say to me. Aren't you happy with me?
ANDROCLES. I don't complain, my love.
MEGAERA. You ought to be ashamed of yourself.
ANDROCLES. I am, my dear.
MEGAERA. You're not: you glory in it.
ANDROCLES. In what, darling?
MEGAERA. In everything. In making me a slave, and making yourself a laughing-stock. Its not fair. You get me the name of being a shrew with your meek ways, always talking as if butter wouldn't melt in your mouth. And just because I look a big strong woman, and because I'm good-hearted and a bit hasty, and because you're always driving me to do things I'm sorry for afterwards, people say "Poor man: what a life his wife leads him!" Oh, if they only knew!...