revplay 

AUTHORS: Benjamin Knight
COUNTRY: Iraq
GENRE: FolktalesRiddles

Ali-Cogia-the-Merchant-of-Baghdad

Ali Cogia & the Merchant of Baghdad Reader’s Theater Play Script for Kids

CHARACTERS

  • NARRATOR
  • ALI COGIA
  • CUSTOMER #1
  • CUSTOMER #2
  • CUSTOMER #2’s WIFE
  • SALMAN
  • SALMAN’S WIFE
  • CALIPH HAROUN EL-RASCHID
  • HAMID, a boy
  • MALIK, a boy
  • TAJ, a boy
  • PRETEND OLIVE MERCHANT

Scene 1 – Bazaar

[Stage set: The stage is divided into two sections- One side of the stage is the Bazaar, a fixed location throughout the play. The other side of the stage acts as two locations- first, it will be SALMAN’s house and warehouse, and then it will become Caliph’s Court. If you want to make a backdrop, you can paint it to show the Bazaar on one side and an interior wall on the other. Scene 5 will be a pop-up scene at the front of the stage, in front of all the set pieces.]

[The play opens at the Bazaar. there is a table on stage, which hold ALI COGIA’s wares. You can also place various boxes and baskets around to fill the stage. If you have a backdrop, this section can show market stands with various goods.]

[NARRATOR enters.]

NARRATOR:
Welcome, everyone.  This story is “Ali Cogia (pronounce: al-lee-COH-jee-ah) and the Merchant of Baghdad.”  Over 1,000 years ago a famous caliph ruled Baghdad and Persia.  His name was Haroun al-Raschid.  He’s the very same caliph – that means a king – from the book 1001 Arabian Nights.  Ever hear of that book?  Whatever.  Relax and enjoy as we present this version of the tale, brought to you by Stories to Grow by.

[NARRATOR steps forward.]

[ALI COGIA enters, excited, and stands by his table.]

NARRATOR:
(gestures to Ali Cogia)  THAT vendor seems excited.

[NARRATOR exits.]

ALI COGIA:
Friends, come closer!  Come closer and buy your wares from Ali Cogia !  I have spices, I have the finest fabrics!   

[CUSTOMER #1 enters.]

ALI COGIA:
Sir!  Sir, how about a nice meter of silk for your wife?  Come feel it, it’s so smooth you can’t even hold it without it slipping through your fingers!  Tell you what, take the whole bolt for only 10 dirham (pronounce: dir-HAM).

[CUSTOMER #1 is shocked.]

ALI COGIA:
That’s right!  The entire bolt of silk for only 10 dirham!  This is your lucky day!

[CUSTOMER #1 pays ALI COGIA and nods happily.]

ALI COGIA:
(puts away the money)  What a deal you made, sir.  What a deal!

[CUSTOMER #2 and WIFE enter.]

ALI COGIA:
Sir!  Madam!  Surely a dash of cinnamon would add a special essence to your evening meal..?

[CUSTOMER #2 and WIFE continue to walk by.]

ALI COGIA:
The finest cinnamon from faraway India!

[CUSTOMER #2 and WIFE continue to walk on by.]

ALI COGIA:
Today only, an entire jar of cinnamon for only five dirham!  That’s enough to last a year!

[CUSTOMER #2 and WIFE freeze.  They spin backward to ALI COGIA.]

ALI COGIA:
(to audience)  I thought that might catch their attention.  (to Customer #2 and Wife)  Take it!  Yours now for only five dirham.

[CUSTOMER #2 and WIFE pantomime looking very pleased with their purchase.  They buy the jar of cinnamon and leave, giving each other a high-five.]

ALI COGIA:
(to audience) Ah, greetings, friends!  Are you travelers?  Have you come far?  I have something that might interest you. 

[ALI COGIA rummages through his wares, produces a colorful jar and shows it to the audience.] 

ALI COGIA:
This humble jar is filled with earth on which walked the great Gilgamesh (pronounce: GIL-gah-mesh), the hero of the epic poem.  Worth much more than normal soil – (points to a member of the audience) how does 50 dirham sound?  No?  To be honest, I can probably give a better price.  You see, I must travel far away across the desert soon, and it would be hard to bring all these goods with me.  (gestures at his wares)

[ALI COGIA walks over to one end of the stage and talks to himself.]

ALI COGIA:
All in all, it’s been a good day.

[HAMID, MALIK and TAJ (together, the “BOYS”) enter, playing with a ball, and skip off the other side of the stage.]

ALI COGIA:
(calling after the Boys)  I feel good, too!  (to audienceI’ve made enough money now for my journey, and there’s some left over for when I return.  Now, all I have to figure out is how to safeguard my savings.  Hmm…  (looks at a jar of olives on his stand)  Ah!  I have an idea.  I can hide my gold coins in with these olives!  Nobody will ever think to check in there, and I can retrieve the jar when I return.

[ALI COGIA puts the gold in the olive jar and covers the gold with olives.]

ALI COGIA:
But where should I leave the jar while I’m away?

[SALMAN enter.]

SALMAN:
Greetings, Ali!

ALI COGIA:
Ah, good evening to you, Salman (pronounce: SULL-mahn)!

SALMAN:
How go the sales?

ALI COGIA:
Not bad, my friend.  I’ve sold most of my wares, and I am now free to begin my journey.

SALMAN:
(pointing at the olive jar)  But you still have your olives to sell, Ali.

ALI COGIA:
(looking at the jar)  Hmmm…  (turns to Salman)  How fond are you of olives?  (to audience)  If he does not like olives, it’s not likely he’ll open the jar and look inside.

SALMAN:
I daresay I have not had an olive in years—never much cared for the flavor.

ALI COGIA:
Ah yes, well, each to their own carpet, is that right?

SALMAN:
Quite so.   Something about the texture of olives.  Not for me.

ALI COGIA:
Well now– uh – these olives are special to me, anyway.  I could never sell them.  In fact, I was wondering if you might look after them while I’m away.

SALMAN:
How is it possible you are so attached to a jar of olives, my friend?  (chuckles)

ALI COGIA:
(laughs along)  I don’t know … I just REALLY like them …

SALMAN:
Say no more, my friend!  Hand the jar to me.  I will treat it like one of my own (pats the jar and chuckles).  No worries, Ali.  If you recall, I have a warehouse and your jar will be completely safe there.

ALI COGIA:
Just tuck it away in a corner and forget about it till I return, Salman.  

SALMAN:
No problem.

ALI COGIA:
Thank you!

[ALI COGIA picks up the olive jar and hands it to SALMAN, who reels slightly under the weight of it.]

SALMAN:
(gasping)  These are some heavy olives you have here, Ali!

ALI COGIA:
As I said, they are special.  They’re from trees more than two thousand years old.

SALMAN:
Really?  I might have to try one after all, for all that.

ALI COGIA:
No!  I mean, I would urge you not to, my friend.  If you haven’t had an olive in years, your first will be sure to give you a stomach ache.  Especially from a tree 2,000 years old.

SALMAN:
Good point.  The last thing I need is to come down with a stomach ache.

ALI COGIA:
Absolutely.  (he picks up a bag)  Well, I’d best be off.

SALMAN:
Very well.  Don’t worry about this jar.  I know just the corner in the back of the warehouse. They’ll wait till you return.

ALI COGIA:
Thank you, my friend.

[ALI COGIA exits.]

SALMAN:
(to audience) I’m sure just one wouldn’t hurt.

[SALMAN exits.]

 

Scene 2 – Salman’s House/Warehouse

[Stage set:  The other side of the stage is SALMAN’s house and warehouse.   There is a small table and two chairs on stage.  Next to the furniture there are a few stacks of boxes and rugs/blankets.  This are will also act as the Caliph’s throne room in Scenes 3 and 6.  (See Performance Notes for ideas on making furniture and boxes easy to move).]

[SALMAN and SALMAN’S WIFE enter and sit at the table, pretending to eat.  They mime conversation.]

[NARRATOR enters.]

NARRATOR:
Four years passed.  Salman, caught up in his business, almost forgot about his friend.

[NARRATOR exits.]

SALMAN’S WIFE:
So how was business today?

SALMAN:
Couldn’t be better, darling.  I was completely sold out of carpets before the end of the day—I had to bring out more from the warehouse!

SALMAN’S WIFE:
Whatever accounts for the rush?  (Salman shrugs, he doesn’t know) Well, it’s good for us, that’s for sure!  I hope you’re enjoying the masgouf (pronounce: miss-GUV) I fixed for you.

SALMAN:
Always.  You grill the fish just right (his fingers to his mouth and in a kissing-like smack that conveys how tasty he thinks it is).  You know, when I was pulling out some carpets at the back of the warehouse, and noticed the jar of olives that I told Ali I’d look after while he was away.  Made me think– it might be just the thing to add to your masgouf, just once.  What do you think?

SALMAN’S WIFE:
I thought you didn’t like olives.

SALMAN:
Maybe they’re growing on me.  (thinking for a moment, then snapping his fingers) Besides, Ali hasn’t been back for… four years, I think?  I’m sure he wouldn’t mind if we used some.

SALMAN’S WIFE:
Didn’t you give your word you would look after his jar?

SALMAN:
If we take a few olives from inside the jar for our masgouf, I’m still looking after the JAR.  

SALMAN’S WIFE:
I’m sure that’s not what he meant.  

SALMAN:
Just a few won’t hurt…

SALMAN’S WIFE:
Well, I’M not taking ANY olives out of his jar. 

SALMAN:
I’m just going to go… look at it again.

[SALMAN moves to the warehouse area and is now unseen by SALMAN’S WIFE.]

SALMAN’S WIFE:
(to audience)  I hope it’s okay.  My husband’s known Ali for a long time.

[SALMAN picks up the jar of olives and sets it down on a table.  He opens the jar and looks in, and wrinkles up his nose in disgust.]

SALMAN:
Ugh!  The olives on the top have gone moldy!  (to the audience)  I guess that’s what happens when they’re 2,000 years old.  Or was that the tree they were from?   I don’t remember.  I wonder if there are fresher ones at the bottom.

[SALMAN upturns the jar and shakes out the olives over the table.  The gold coins fall out as well, and SALMAN picks one up.  He looks at it in confusion.]

SALMAN:
Gold!  (shakes the jar and more coins fall out)  More gold!  (shakes the jar and even more coins fall out)  A PILE of gold!  Ali must have hidden these coins in here!  Trying to trick me, was he?  He thinks he’s so clever.  I know!  I’ll fill up the jar with other olives.  He’ll never be able to prove it was me that took his gold—if he ever comes back at all.  My business will finally be able to expand!  (puts the jar back where it was and says to the audience)  Hey, I’m keeping the JAR safe!

[SALMAN moves back to the other side of the stage.]

SALMAN’S WIFE:
No olives?

SALMAN:
No, I decided to leave the jar alone.

SALMAN’S WIFE:
That’s my husband.  (kisses her husband on the cheek)

[They exit.]

 

Scene 3 – Bazaar

[Stage set: The stage is set up like the bazaar in the first scene, with SALMAN taking the place of ALI COGIA.  SALMAN mimes making transactions with customers.]

SALMAN:
(shouting)  Friends!  Friends!  Only the best rugs at Salman’s Carpets!

ALI COGIA:
(shouting from off-stage)  Salman?

SALMAN:
(looking in the direction of the voice)  That voice!

[ALI COGIA enters.]

ALI COGIA:
Salman!

SALMAN:
Ali!  It’s so good to see you, my friend!  (to the audience)  Not SO good.  

ALI COGIA:
Yes, my journey took longer than I expected.  It’s good to be back, though!  Say, my friend, you remember that jar of olives, don’t you?

SALMAN:
The jar?  Of course!  

ALI COGIA:
Excellent!  I’ll just pick it up, is that all right?

SALMAN:
Um.  Yes.  Of course.  The jar’s in my warehouse, in the back corner where it’s been all this time. (points to warehouse area)  Over there.

[ALI COGIA exits.  There is a pause for a few seconds, then he returns with the jar of olives.]

ALI COGIA:
Either I got stronger on my journey, or this jar has gotten lighter!

[ALI COGIA opens the jar and rummages through it.  He looks concerned.]

ALI COGIA:
This can’t be right.

SALMAN:
What do you mean?

ALI COGIA:
I’m not sure how to say this.  But…

SALMAN:
What?

ALI COGIA:
Well, to tell you the truth, I hid 1,000 pieces of gold inside this jar.  It was all of my savings.  Now it’s gone!

[ALI COGIA stares at SALMAN for a few moments.]

SALMAN:
You can’t possibly think I had anything to do with this, could you?

ALI COGIA:
(evenly)  You tell me!  I left you my jar.  It had 1,000 pieces of gold inside.   Now I come back, and it’s all gone.  What would you think if you were in my sandals?

SALMAN:
How DARE you accuse me?  I, who did you a favor!

ALI COGIA:
(taking a deep breath, then speaking calmly)  Look.  Maybe you borrowed the gold as an investment for your business?  I could understand that.  All you have to do is pay it back.  At your convenience, of course.  Just write me a note that acknowledges your debt.

SALMAN:
DEBT?!  You’re the one who asked me to look after your jar of olives. I said “fine.”  I kept the jar safe in my warehouse for four years.  Now you breeze on back and claim that I owe YOU money?  You have some nerve!

ALI COGIA:
What else could I think!  It was in the back of YOUR warehouse!  No one else could have taken it!

SALMAN:
I think I know what’s really happening here.    You were always jealous of my carpet business.  There were never any gold coins in the jar.  You’re making crazy accusations to ruin my good reputation!  All to force me into giving you 1,000 gold coins!

ALI COGIA:
That’s ridiculous!  I’m taking this up with the Caliph Haroun al-Raschid himself!  He will judge which of us is telling the truth.

[ALI COGIA exits.]

SALMAN:
(to audience)  That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

 

Scene 4 – The Caliph’s Court

[Stage set:  CALIPH HAROUN AL-RASCHID sits in a large blanket covered throne, looking thoughtful.  MEMBERS OF COURT sit around the throne, in attendance to the Caliph.  ALI COGIA enters, carrying the olive jar.  He bows.]

ALI COGIA:
Great Caliph!

CALIPH:
Ahh, Ali the Merchant.  I haven’t seen you in years.

ALI COGIA:
Yes, Sire.  My business in trade took me far, far away.  Now I’m back.

CALIPH:
So I see.  What brings you here today?

ALI COGIA:
Apologies for the intrusion, Sire, I come requesting your exemplary (pronounce: eggs-ZEMP-luh-ree) judgement on a vexing issue.

CALIPH:
What troubles you?

ALI COGIA:
Sire, you see, I had to journey away from Baghdad for a few years.  So I hid my savings of gold coins in this jar of olives.

CALIPH:
All right.

ALI COGIA:
I trusted my good friend Salman to look after it.  You know, Salman from Salman’s Carpets?

CALIPH:
Of course.

ALI COGIA:
And when I returned, my gold coins were missing!

CALIPH:
So you suspect your friend of taking it?

ALI COGIA:
Yes, I’m afraid so.

[He hands CALIPH the olive jar.  CALIPH looks at it from all angles and passes it back to ALI COGIA.]

CALIPH:
Did you tell your friend that there were gold coins in the jar?

ALI COGIA:
No sir, I did not.  I hid the coins under the olives.

CALIPH:
Were there any witnesses when you gave him the jar?

ALI COGIA:
No.  No one knew about it.

CALIPH:
Did you tell anyone at all that you gave Salman an olive jar that had hidden in it your life savings?

ALI COGIA:
Of course not!  That had to be kept a secret.

CALIPH:
I’m sorry, Ali Cogia.  Without sufficient evidence, I’m afraid it can be proven that Salman took your gold.  You have to understand that as much as I would like to believe you, it’s not at all clear you ever put gold in the jar in the first place!

ALI COGIA:
But Sire!  Of course I did!  (desperate)  It was my entire life savings!

CALIPH:
(holds up one hand)  I understand your position.  Rest assured, I will dwell on this issue and consider what is fair in resolving this case.

ALI COGIA:
(bows frantically)  Oh, thank you!  Thank you, sire!

[ALI COGIA exits, still bowing.]

CALIPH:
(to himself)  Hmm, how can I be sure that what Ali says is true?  What evidence could I have missed?  Maybe the gold TURNED INTO olives.  No, that’s not possible.  I’ll go get some air and think about it.

[CALIPH exits.]

 

 

Scene 5 – Streets of Baghdad

[Stage set: On a quiet corner, HAMID, MALIK and TAJ throwing pretend rocks at a wall  (See Performance Notes on how to create a round substance that is safe to throw onstage.).  Eventually, HAMID stops and turns to the others.]

HAMID:
We’ve been doing this for ages.  I’m bored.

MALIKE:
What else can we do?

TAJ:
Backgammon?

HAMID:
My backgammon board broke.  And I’m the only one who has one.

TAJ:
Hey, let’s play courtroom!

MALIK:
Courtroom?  That doesn’t sound like fun.

HAMID:
It is if we act out Ali Cogia’s case of the missing gold!

HAMID:
It’s all everyone’s talking about.

MALIK:
My mother says she’s sure that Salman the Rug Merchant stole the coins in the jar!

TAJ:
My mother says SHE’s sure Ali Cogia the Spice and Fabrics seller is making it all up!  There were never any gold coins in the first place!

[CALIPH enters, disguised in a hooded robe.  The children do not see him.]

HAMID:
Ooh!  I want to be the Caliph!

CALIPH:
(to audience)  Everyone wants my job!  They can take it!

MALIK:
I’ll be Ali Cogia, then.

TAJ:
Why do I have to be Salman?  He’s a thief.

MALIK:
You’re the thief—you stole my pita bread yesterday.

TAJ:
You weren’t eating it!

MALIK:
It was still mine!

HAMID:
(sits on the ground and bangs on the floor)  Court in session!  Bring in Ali Cogia!

MALIK:
(bowing to Hamid) Here I am, Your Honor!

HAMID:
Tell me the situation, Ali Cogia.

MALIK:
I hid my gold in a jar of olives four years ago, and Salman stole it!

HAMID:
(looking off-stage and clapping twice)  Bring me Salman!

TAJ:
It is I, Salman, Sire!

HAMID:
(to Taj)  Oh, there you are.  Is it true that you stole Ali Cogia’s gold?

TAJ:
No!  Definitely not.

HAMID:
(shouting to nobody in particular)  Bring me the olive jar!

MALIK:
(miming handing over something to Hamid)  Here you go, sire.

HAMID:
Hmmm… (he mimes looking around an invisible jar, then pretends to look inside it) The olives in the jar are fresh!

TAJ:
Y-yes sire, why wouldn’t they be?

HAMID:
Olives don’t last any more than two years.  Ali was away for four!  You must have tampered with the jar and replaced the olives!

TAJ:
Ah, you got me!

CALIPH:
(walking towards the children)  You there!  Boy!

HAMID:
Me, mister?

CALIPH:
Yes, you.  I’ve been watching your little game.  I have something to say about your depiction of the Caliph.

[CALIPH removes his hood, revealing his identity.]

BOYS:
(together)  Uh oh!

[MALIK and TAJ run away.  HAMID stands, trembling.]

HAMID:
I’m sorry, Caliph!  Don’t have me flogged!

CALIPH:
What?  No, of course not.  I just wanted to commend you on your excellent judgement.

HAMID:
What?

CALIPH:
Yes, in fact, I’d like you to judge the actual case that you just acted out.

HAMID:
The actual case?

CALIPH:
Join me in court tomorrow, child.  For one day you will possess the power of the Caliph Haroun al-Raschid!

 

Scene 6 – The Caliph’s Court

[Stage set:  As in Scene 4, CALIPH sits on his throne.  HAMID stands by his side.]

CALIPH:
(clapping twice)  Send them in!

[ALI COGIA, holding the olive jar, and SALMAN enter.]

SALMAN:
(nervously)  With all due respect, sire, I thought you decided this case lacked sufficient evidence.

CALIPH:
(to Salman)  That was what I said the other day, yes.  But, I missed a special insight.  Since then, I have found somebody with the insight I lacked.

[CALIPH and HAMID swap places, and HAMID sits on the throne.]

SALMAN and ALI COGIA, together:
A child?!

SALMAN:
Surely, you’re joking.  This is a boy!

CALIPH:
(glowering at Salman)  The Caliph does not joke.

SALMAN:
(bowing hastily)  Yes of course, Sire.

CALIPH:
(to Hamid)  Child, judge this case the way you did when you were pretending.

HAMID:
(to Ali Cogia)  Ali Cogia, bring me the olive jar.

[ALI COGIA looks skeptically back and forth between CALIPH and CHILD #1, until finally settling on CHILD #1.]

ALI COGIA:
Yes, Caliph.

[ALI COGIA hands the olive jar over to HAMID, who opens the top and looks at the olives inside.]

HAMID:
(smells the olives)  The olives on top are fresh!

SALMAN:                                                      
Of course, everything stays fresh in my warehouse!

HAMID:
That may be true, but olives don’t last longer than two years, and Ali was away for four!  You must have tampered with the jar and replaced the olives!

CALIPH:
And there we have it — proof!  Salman, you are guilty of stealing Ali Cogia’s gold!

SALMAN:
No, I- I- okay, well maybe.  Look, Ali Cogia was away for so long, I thought he was dead!

CALIPH:
And you saw fit to steal from a dead man?  Salman, what did you do with the gold?

SALMAN:
(hanging his head)  I hid it under a boulder outside of town.

CALIPH:
(to Ali Cogia)  Ali Cogia – your gold will be restored to you immediately.  (to Salman)  But there is still the matter of the thief Salman’s punishment.

SALMAN:
(groveling on his knees)  Please spare me, Sire!

CALIPH:
Since you confessed, I will spare you the 100 floggings.  However, you must still serve 10 years in prison.  (to Hamid)  What say you, my young Caliph?  Anything to add?

HAMID:
And he has to get me a new backgammon board.  (pauses a moment) And one for each of my best friends.  Malik and Taj.

CALIPH:
Then it is settled!  And for the wise and noble child that solved this case, (he produces a small bag of gold coins, which he gives to Hamid) a purse of gold pieces.

HAMID:
(in awe)  Sire!  Thank you!

CALIPH:
May you grow up to know the respect you earn!

HAMID:
A thousand and one thanks, Sire!

[ALL bow.]

[NARRATOR enters.]

NARRATOR:
Isn’t that nice? Oh, and here’s a knock-knock joke about olives.  Knock, knock. (gestures to audience until members say, “Who’s there?”)  Olive.  (gestures to audience until members say, “Olive who?”)  Ah-LOVE you!  (audience groans) Hey, I’m just passing it along!  Ah, yes.  And so our story is ended.

[NARRATOR bows and exits.]

[If you have a curtain, close it now. If you do not, fade the light. If you have no stage lights, all actors come onstage and bow to the audience.]

end

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SOURCE

The play script, "Ali Cogia & the Merchant of Baghdad," was adapted by Benjamin Knight from a story of the same name found at www.storiestogrowby.org/story/ali-cogia-the-merchant-of-baghdad/and further described at the end of the story. ©1998 Elaine Lindy. All rights reserved.


FOOTNOTE


Under the reign of
Caliph Haroun al-Raschid (c.764-809) the city of Baghdad, already a major capital of the Muslim world, reached its intellectual and economic peak. Scholars and artists from various parts of the empire and beyond flocked to Haroun al-Raschid's court to enjoy his patronage. The caliph was the hero of the Thousand and One Nights, a series of tales which portray the fabulous life in Baghdad in the ninth century. An able general, Haroun al-Raschid greatly extended his empire. He carried on diplomatic relations with China and with Charlemagne, emperor of the Franks. Baghdad fell to the Mongols in 1258, and so thorough was the destruction wrought by them that hardly any traces remain of the city's former splendor.


See also A Turkish Judge for another story about the Caliph Haroun al-Raschid.