The play's the thing - Act 3

Shakespeare andBurns ...  Two gentlemen in a far off land ... continued

 CHAPTER THREE OR ACT THREE; whichever way you want it …

RB: It falleth as the gentle - but enough I think …

WS: OK. The rain lessens, trickles to a stop. Scents of wet grasses and foliage. Drip-drip-drip. Out of the trees comes an upright shape on two legs carrying a light coloured bundle. The sky clears of cloud, lightens slowly. Slow grows the music of the dawn, of organic happiness: all the chirping, cheeping, trilling, all of it blending into the single song of this, a far off land. From deep in the forest comes the growling, coughing hiccup of a contented lion. Now the shape resolves itself into a large black man carrying a small white woman. He is crying silent tears. She is dead.

Othello:   Addressing his burden having discovered his awful mistake …
Now: how dost thou look now? O ill-starred wench
Pale as thy smock, when we shall meet at count,   (day of judgement)
This look of mine will hurl my soul from heaven,
And fiends will snatch at it: cold, cold, my girl,
Even like thy chastity; O cursed slave!
Whip me, you devils,
From the possession of this heavenly sight,
Blow me about in winds, roast me in sulphur,
Wash me in steep-down gulfs of liquid fire!
Oh Desdemona, Desdemona dead

RB: Sighs, shakes his head, his hair untouched by rain. So much error, so much love, pain and suffering. On your stage as always in your life, William. And mine. And all.

WS: Nods, shrugs his shoulders, lays back against the bank. Oh yes.

RB: And that is what you did better than anyone else; held your mirror up, daring all to take a look. Plucks and chews on a blade of sweetest raindropped grass.

WS: Chuckles. Perhaps. But it wasn’t any uniqueness. After I jumped ship and reached London and had got myself in with the so-called literati I realised that my new friend Pip Marlowe had hit on a money making formula. He said it was all in just one of his lines. Sits up, strikes theatrical pose:“Come live with me and be my love and we shall all the pleasures prove,” That’s it. Prose as poetry. All human emotion especially sex mixed in with all the other pleasures and all the many pains. I expanded on that in my plays and some of my poor verse and lived a lot longer than Pip in order to do so. I was quite handy with the old cold blade you know, but not like him, Marlowe. So quick to offend, to take offence. He was never going to live long. I looked for him here, Robert but … (sighs) nothing.

RB: Reborn to try again, perhaps? Anyway I reckon it a great shame that your perfect union should have ended like that. Sits up, the better to regard the tragic pair. This is how I would have had it, William … For I confess I was as greatly concerned with love and the act of love as with the equality of all, whether loved, lovely or those unloved. See here … Desdemona stirs, raises herself in her husband’s arms, slips to the ground and sings …
Behold, my love, how green the groves,
The primrose banks how fair;
The balmy gales awake the flowers,
Curl more thy wavy hair.

She dances lightly around Othello, smiling, gossamer dress flowing like that slow moving river of milk, stooping now and again to pluck a flower from the forest floor … I have wished only for us to be together, she murmurs, living the simple life away from the burden of State. You know, husband mine, we are all the children of Nature, are we not? A black bird emerges from the trees, swoops around her garlanded head. She sings on …

The blackbird shuns the palace gay,
And o'er the cottage sings:
For Nature smiles as sweet, I say,
To Shepherds as to Kings.

Let minstrels sweep their skilful string,
In lordly lighted hall:
I hear you play the simple reed,
Blythe where the cuckoos call.

Flotal music: King Harry’s Greensleeves. Othello reaches out, the light of love in his eyes. He takes her hand. They step soft and lightly turn as, shimmering, they fade away. The pair are a golden misted mirage, then are gone.

RB: You see, William? Her hair was like the curling mist, / That climbs the mountain-side and sighs, /  When flow'r-reviving rains are past; / And she had two sparkling roguish eyes.

WS: Oh yes, you were so much more than I the poet as well as the romantic. But my Othello was a tragedy, not a romance. You said it; I tried to mirror life and life must always be a tragedy simply because it always ends in death. Of course you and I know now that death is no tragedy but we didn’t know that there and then, did we? Only the most blameless, most at peace, most benevolent and most pious welcomed what our friend Dylan called the dying of the light - and failed to rage against it. Most of those - indeed the vast majority of good health and sound mind dreaded their dying day. However pain-filled their lives had been they wanted more of it. Very odd indeed. Chuckles. Most in my day were as convinced of this afterlife as they were afraid of it - and afraid with good reason, most of them.

RB: Atheism was still a crime in my age, tantamount almost to witchcraft. But then look. How soon did our so called science demand its own atheism! By the twenty first century how few believed in anything other than that which they could see, smell, hear, touch, or read about in their so-called newspapers.

WS: The understanding that alone lifted our kind above all others cast aside as of no importance, replaced by mere mechanics.

RB: How soon all gone. Man no more, no more machines

WS: Right. And mostly with good reason. Where most of that ‘most’ are now we know not. Reborn to try again? Perhaps. It is of no importance. But romance! I agree with you that romance was the saving grace. That and our exposure on Earth to the uplift of the so-called arts. His hands behind his head, he’s watching through slitted eyes the play of sunlight through wispy cloud, listening idly to the drone of insect life.

RB: Oh yes, romance … Tell me, who was she anyway Will, the dark lady of your lovely sonnets? She whose identity has driven so vast an academia to drink and argument over the succeeding centuries?

WS: The dark lady? I met her in Florence and later when she came to London. Her name was Bint Na’ir. She was the second wife of Abd el-Ouahed ben Messaoud, ambassador for the King of Morocco to the Court of Queen Elizabeth.  Messaoud was the inspiration for my Othello, you know. Ah yes what a fine though very wanton woman was our Bint. She certainly cut a wide swathe through the male ranks of the Globe, as much as I detested having to share her favours, even with my friends, even that Johnson. But we all needed to keep our liaisons very quiet. Disclosure would likely have been fatal and not only to the lady herself.

RB: You had many such diversions in your life on Earth?

WS: By no means as many as you, my friend. Forget not that I was so much away from house and home. However I was never tempted to try to expose my adventures in verse or in song as did you. I liked to remain as invisible as possible behind my various creations. It is through no fault of mine that generations of so-called thinkers often doubted my authorship. Grins at his friend. You know, as if we semi-educated country boys without that Cambridge label must be bereft of the finer thoughts, the dancing words? Pauses to think back, his thoughts as always apparent to his good companion, then gets to his feet. Shall we move on?

RB: Now also on his feet. But a man’s a man for all that. Yes, where shall we go, what do we find there? Your choice this time.

WS: Anywhere and anything we wish … if I am now to choose … oh, I think the sea that lies past yonder stand of oaks. Come.

RB: The billows on the ocean, / The breezes idly roaming, / The cloud's uncertain motion, / They are but types of Woman. Laughs. They set off as a black-maned lion stalks from the forest into the glade, coughs once, swinging his great head side to side, padding along behind. Beside him trots a snow white lamb, skipping sometimes, and a troupe of Thompson’s Gazelle springing in slow motion stiff-legged high into the air, avoiding on their descent by narrow margins a flock of waddling geese, an army of soldier ants, the Prince of Denmark and a lady.

WS: Who’s the lady, Robert?

RB: I called her Clarinda. She was the Love that’s like the red, red rose, as unrequited as it was, at least to all appearances. Touch of your Moorish lady, right? The entourage proceeds through a grove of massive old oak trees and out on to a scimitar stretch of achingly pale sand and an ocean turquoise, infinite.

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