More Burns and Shakespeare (part 4)

If you've been reading the three preceding playlets plese read on ... if you'd like to catch up, read the whole thing to date then wait until tomorrow or tomorrow when I piece it together for you and publish the results right here.


Two gentlemen in a far off land - Act 1 Scene 4

The good companions are lying side by side on the sand in the shade afforded by the last of the oaks in their enchanted forest. Before them is the down-stretch of beach, then the gently moving white edged turquoise merging into a sky blue-tinted pale. Alongside Burns lies the king of lions, panting, huge pink tongue lolling wetly between great white fangs. He’s talking (or rather, rumbling) with his little woolly friend; ‘Good here, Larry, is it not?’ ‘Yes,’ bleated Larry, ‘Though I would prefer the green green grass of home. Better for gambolling, you know.’
‘There’s a buzzing of the bees in the cigarette trees,’ growls the lion king, ‘And a soda water fountain, and a lemonade spring where the bluebird sings in that old rock candy mountain.’ His laugh is like some massive fall of glacial ice into the Arctic Ocean, the breathy expellation of it disturbing sand and flies alike.

RB: Will, what on Earth or anywhere else afforded you and I our entries into this place?

WS: No idea. None. We know only that ideas are of no importance. We feel all things through these, our senses five; we see, touch, hear, smell and taste of all things bright and beautiful - and all minus the shadow of those three great earthly agonies, the underlying themes of all our mortal scribblings.  An especially vibrant antelope is running in tight circles, now lands hump-backed, set for her next spring, four hooves close together spraying fine sand over the two of them.

WS: Steady on there, have a care young one.

RB: Unnoticing, thoughtful as always. Yes indeed. Here we are without hunger, therefore without the need to kill to eat. And without a sexual urge for there is no need here either for procreation or for senseless, home-made sensuality. And without curiosity for there is no need to know. We are forever at the age and stage at which we left your famous mortal coil, Will. We lie on this beach with others such as we have chosen at random just for now. We contemplate all things within an eternity of timelessness, a continuum of space, a pluperfectness of  tranquillity. We are at peace with and within our selves, unburdened by the negatives we carried around with us on our journeys through the days both light and dark of earthly life. We have laughter but no longer any of the fears, any of the jealousies, hatreds, remorses and sorrows, without the pain and our all too well-hid bewilderment. In short without any of the emotional ugliness that contaminated and overlaid our prior existence like some kind of poisonous shell. Here, we summon our environs at will so as to live and love its never ending beauty and we call up companionship whenever we desire from such other life on Earth as has gained entry. You summon me and me you, William, and here we are lying side by side beside the paradisal seaside with Ryoka the king of Africa nuzzling Larry the lamb of South Island; with the multitudinous microbia that swarms but harms not we nor itself nor anything else; ah yes, and here’s your well-imagined Hamlet and my real, lovely, loving young Highland Mary. So very pretty a lassie, is she not? And these gaggling geese and gloriously gambolling gazelles and anyone or anything else we wish to make apparent. A distant flying object is coming closer, leathery wings flapping with the sound of footballs slapping a brick wall. It is Robbie’s friend, the two hundred and twenty million year old Prince Pterosaur, the first of the airborne reptiles and ancestor of all the birds. Welcome, your royal highness. Why don’t you rest here with us awhile?  The giant bird-beast glides in, lands, settles down on the sand, bearing with him the acrid scent of all things living.   

WS: Ours not to reason why, wrote Alfred Tennison. With all our sciences how hard mankind has tried to find the ‘HOW?’ whilst so vainly evading that supreme of  all questions: WHY? Sighs. My venerable Prospero had it correctly, had he not? A small, white-bearded old man is standing, looking down on the pair on them. Arms spread wide he now declaims, his voice a rumble of thunder over distant hills …
Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp'd tow'rs, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
The old man, a figment of Shakespeare’s imagination, bows, fades, is gone. But the other one, the ridiculously handsome Prince of Denmark is still there, his whisper just a movement of the shifting air that stirs one million leaves of oak …
O that this too sullied flesh would melt,
Thaw and resolve itself into a dew,
Or that the Everlasting had not fixed
His canon ‘gainst self-slaughter. O God! God!
How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable
Seem to me all the uses of this world!
The great bird-beast stirs, lifts his scaly head, his metre long beak. His small eyes blink, as single tear from each exuding, rolling, dropping to the sand. From far away within the forest the quavering, heart-wrenching howl of a wolf in loneliness. Ryoka’s furry cup ears twitch, listening, hearing, unfeared and unfearing.

RB: Oh, William, William; your poor young Hamlet! You asked through him such questions in public as all fleshly men and women sometime asked themselves in private. Yes asked great questions and inspired such a great questioning in those who had the wit to hear or to read you. And all the while you were invisible. And me? My songs and verse tried in some small way to set forth answers. My own answers of course, for right or wrong - and so often wrong. I was never enough afeared of being wrong.

WS: But beautifully expressed, Robert. And forceful, give or take the dialect! Such power there was and is in your works. When we summon all the others to write that thing of which we spoke we will have no need any more for questions. No need for stories with endings whether sad or happy. Just for language as ethereal, as perfect as Hebrew John foretold: In the beginning was the Word, And the Word was with God, And the Word was God … Speaking of that, we must include Mister James Joyce in our creation. Finnegan’s Wake is a fair pedestal on which to raise our tribute statue to The Arts of Man. Now: shall we resume our perambulations? The mighty sea calls loud to me. As much once more as once it did before … Oh, how well it was, the spread of tightly creaking sail before a fair wind, the salty spray, the leaning port or starboard, that straining overseas to find some other place, to live another day.

RB: I often have wondered about that great academic mystery in my day and throughout all the remaining centuries. Where was this man Shakespeare? What was he up to with his life between the years fifteen eightyfive and fifteen ninetytwo? Of course I know now that you left your conniving, overbearing Anne and her squally newborn twins -

WS: - not willingly. I fled before both the law of the land and the wrath of my father, as well as that of my wife. I loved those babes, whether or not they happened to be of my own seed. I loved not my enforced taking of those marriage vows. Come here please. I need you here on which to rest my head. A particularly plump young goose gets up, waddles over to lay beneath his balding head. That is good, young goose. You are all right there, too? Yes, squawks the feathery pillow. Better here than there, Shakespeare, my wings plucked bare to make your wretched quills.

RB: I know you took ship from Bristol. I know that after two years of coasting around the Isles of Britain and the near shores of Europe you arrived in Venice and liked that city so much as to jump ship and stay on.

WS: Venice was in my day the commercial, intellectual and cultural capital of the world. How much I loved it there! The warmth, the wines, the romance. Ah, the romance, Robert! And the sexual; adventures, Enough to satisfy even the mortal Robert Burns, Esquire! How much there did I learn.

What did you learn, squeaked one of the ganders. Yes please tell us what you learned in Venice, echoed another.

WS: In one word, LIFE. I learned in Italy from men and women of great understanding the innermost secrets of human existence.

RB: How could people read your plays and verse or see the plays performed and not understood that your knowledge of Italy, the Mediterranean and even of the East coast of my native Scotland - not to mention your familiarity with all the facets of human behaviour - had to be in large part gained at first hand?

WS: I know not, nor would I have cared. But the sea I knew, the sea I cared for.

RB: Yes, the sea. Even though at Doctor Maxwell’s prescription it was my daily bathing in the cold Irish sea that led to my death, I too loved the sea. You know that I too came close to running away before my very own sea of troubles.

WS: Jamaica and the planter’s life. Perhaps …

RB: No regrets. But before we go I have a question for you, Will. Have you ever been tempted to re-visit the Globe?

WS: You mean my theatre in London town or the great globe itself?

RB: Either or both or even that bawdy old Globe Inn not a quarter mile from my final residence! But ‘great’, Will? That little orb of spinning rock, our earthly globe? Far indeed from being great within this mighty vast of no beginning nor any end beyond time, beyond substance.

WS: I have ventured to re-visit Earth, where on earth? you ask. Venice of course, and that little village close by Aberdeen where I spent my twentyfirst year in idleness and the writing of verse, some small part of it good verse,  and making love in the woods to a lady not unlike your Highland Mary over there. He sits up, waves to her across the tawny back of the lion. She waves back, smiling her shy smile, eyes alight with happiness. And you, Robert; you have re-visited?

RB: I have not.

WS: Perhaps that is just as well. I was there in the twenty first century soon after the beginning of The Fall. Ah, the madness that so gripped and suffocated the species, Rob. The unbearable weight of demand from our wild, wild over-burgeonment. Too many and too much. I went forward past the apocalypse and backwards to the time of the Great War. I saw that which live men could not see, I saw the Mark of Pain etched deep from skulls to skulls on to the brains of our Mankind.

RB: Thus resign'd and quiet, creep / To the bed of lasting sleep, - / Sleep, whence thou shalt ne'er awake, Night, where dawn shall never break, Till future life, future no more.

WS: T’would never be the same as was before. Oh yes. Your Nithside poem. But on the lighter side of my visitations do you know that one lady actually could see me? I never in life terrified a lady in that manner. She shrieked and called me ghost! Like the ghosts in my plays but real enough to her of the second sight. Pauses to think, then Not a single trace there now. Everything degraded and degraded until that final sigh a thousand million of those turning years ago. Only the melted rock there now of that which we called planet Earth. No longer any water so no longer any material life.

RB: ‘Til all the seas gang dry, my love, And the rocks melt in the sun.

WS: Aye, Yes indeed! Well foretold. T’would be distressing were we subject to such a knave of all our erstwhile hearts as the thing we termed ‘distress’. So glad I am that we are not. Come, let us proceed.

The two men arise, dismiss their current entourage, proceed down the beach alone, barefooted, walk into the water until it closes over their heads. They are in an echoing element so different, although one in which they feel as much at home as they did on land. The sea from which came all of life on planet Earth, its inheritance the exact wet mix of chemical salts that so lived on within the blood of man. Burns stoops to pick up a golden starfish, her tentacles slowly curling in the cup of his two hands.

RB:  We thought our species so perfect, yet there were none so perfect as is this. Three hundred and sixty seven millions of years older than mankind and there until the end. So falsely scorned by us in our short reign, Will. So falsely scorned.


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