Reading Time: 5 minutes

Hugh Chesterman is a British author who wrote several children’s books in the 1920s and 1930s. He and his friend Basil Blackwell edited a children’s magazine, The Merry Go Round, published in Oxford. He has to his credit a few famous and much-anthologised one-act plays, and The Pie and the Tart is a noted one among them.

The play unfolds with the two hungry vagabonds devising a clever scheme to satisfy their appetites. Through deception and wit, they trick a baker and his wife into giving them an eel pie and a cranberry tart, providing entertainment and humour to the audience.

Summary

It is some time during the 15th century in Paris when two cold and starving vagabonds -Pierre and Jean -are outside Gaultier’s cake shop. They are desperate for a meal. The 23 holes in Pierre’s tunic don’t interest Jean as the hollow in his stomach is far more significant. With no other choice left, the two friends resort to begging. Pierre goes to the cake shop and knocks on the door. Upon seeing a beggar, Gaultier answers the knocking at the door, gets irritated, and dispels a poor and hungry Pierre. 

Dejected, he returns, and Jean tries his luck by knocking again. This time, a stout woman appears at the door; Marion, Gaultier’s wife, proves to be no different than her husband and rejects Jean’s begging. A while later, Gaultier leaves the shop as if to go out but remembers something and goes back towards the shop. He tells his wife that he will be having dinner with the Mayor and asks her to fetch him the eel pie he has cooked. However, Gaultier realises that it is not suitable for a man of his position to be seen carrying an eel pie. He asks Marion to deliver it, but she refuses and tells him to send someone to deliver it.

They decide that Gaultier will send a messenger, and to prove he is the right person, the messenger will kiss Marion’s hand. Jean, who had managed to eavesdrop on this entire exchange, formulated a rather ingenious plan to satiate his hunger. He includes Pierre in his plan, and they execute their scheme. Jean sends Pierre to act as the messenger. Pierre goes to Marion and does as instructed. He lies about Gaultier sending him to deliver the pie and attempts to kiss Marion to prove his authenticity. However, Marion is convinced and does not let him kiss her hand. She hands him the pie and tells him to be cautious. A very awestruck Pierre leaves with the pie and reckons himself dreaming after having such a delicious meal.

Very elated, Jean and Pierre devour the pie and become greedy for some more. Pierre recalls seeing a very tempting tart sitting on a shelf in Gaultier’s shop. While the two are hatching a plan to get the tart, an angry Gaultier returns as his dinner gets cancelled. Marion is surprised to see her husband return early and learns that Gaultier was stood up by the Mayor. Gaultier demands to have the pie for dinner, and Marion informs him that she already gave it to the messenger sent by him. This further infuriates Gaultier, and he accuses Marion of having eaten it.

Applying the same action plan for the second time, Jean returns to Marion, asking for the tart and lying that Gaultier sent him as the pie was not enough. Well aware of his lie, Marion continues his act and asks him to wait while she fetches it. However, her angry husband comes rushing this time and begins to trash Jean with a cudgel. Gaultier demands the truth from Jean, and Jean discloses that it was his friend who sought this plan. Jean persists that his friend had the best intentions and was unaware of such chaos ensuing. Gaultier threatens Jean to either present his friend or be hanged for stealing. 

Jean tells Pierre that Marion will only give the tart to the person she gave the pie. Pierre, confident because of his previous success, stylishly goes to get the tart. He is met with the same wrath from Gaultier. But Pierre stands firm that he delivered the pie to the Mayor. Gaultier not buying his lie reveals that the Mayor is out. However, Pierre is not deterred and continues to elaborate on his story. Pierre says that the Mayor has returned and is awaiting Gaultier’s presence. This lures Gaultier, and he quickly hands the tart to Pierre to carefully deliver it to the Mayor. 

A satisfied Pierre returns to Jean with the tart, and the play ends with Jean playfully running away with the tart and Pierre chasing him.

Characters

Pierre

He is a beggar roaming the freezing streets of 15th-century France. Poverty-stricken but is witty and happy. He is logical, tactful and good with words. He is talkative.

Jean

He is Pierre’s companion and is in the same condition. He is penniless and is miserable. He is shrewd, lazy and talks less. He is not as tactful or jolly as Pierre.

Gaultier

He is a pastry cook and a simple man who is always angry. He is also proud. He never thinks twice before speaking or doing something.

Marion

She is a baker and the obedient wife of Gaultier. They run a cake shop together. She is younger than her husband, stout and attractive. She is not a kind woman. She could be witty at times and is a good actor.

Themes of Deception and Survival

The vagabonds’ trickery to gain a meal highlights the lengths to which individuals will go to satisfy basic needs, suggesting commentary on poverty and resourcefulness.

Humour as Social Commentary

The use of humour serves to entertain and as a vehicle for social commentary on the era’s economic disparities and class tensions. The play contains satirical elements, which use wit to comment on societal issues and human behaviour, such as hunger, poverty, and the lengths people go to fulfil basic needs. The play’s premise of using deception to obtain a meal introduces humour through witty dialogue, clever antics, and situational comedy.

Character Dynamics

The interplay between the vagabonds and the baker couple illuminates various aspects of human nature, from gullibility to cleverness, enriching the comedic value of the play. It also offers insights into the dynamics of different social classes and individuals facing challenging circumstances.

Moral Ambiguity

The play invites reflection on moral judgment, posing questions about right and wrong in situations of need and desperation.

The Pie and the Tart is praised for its clever storyline and engaging humour. The play captivates audiences with its sharp wit and the vagabonds’ resourcefulness. Chesterman’s ability to create a light-hearted narrative that showcases human ingenuity in the face of need is particularly notable, making the play an enjoyable comedic piece that resonates with its audience. The play uses the universal language of comedy to explore the social dynamics of Parisian streets and the timeless theme of survival through clever means.

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Devika Panikar
δάσκαλος (dáskalos) means the teacher in Greek. Devika Panikar has been teaching English Language and Literature since 2006. She is an Assistant Professor with the Directorate of Collegiate Education under the Government of Kerala. She teaches at the Government Colleges under this directorate and is now posted at the Government Law College, Thiruvananthapuram. This website is a collection of lecture notes she prepared by referencing various sources for her students’ perusal. It has been compiled here for the sake of future generations.

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