Underworld

Below is the section in which the speaker meets his guide. [From the “Underworld” part of *The New House of Fame* by Paul “Whitberg” Burgess]

“Meeting My Guide”

Inside a bare, depressed, neglected room,
Were nameless graves with labels ‘one through nine’.
I came across a shade beside a tomb
Whose sunken eyes appeared to softly shine
and momentarily dispel the gloom.
His eyes, which gazed intensely into mine,
Suggested that he hoped I’d stay to talk
To him about the place the pallid walk.


His voice, which sliced the silence like a sword,
Then said, “Though once a legend of the stage,
For many years, I’ve mostly been ignored
Or mentioned briefly on a ref’rence page.
With England’s finest troupes, I often toured
And earned the highest honors of my age.
Who’d think an era’s great celebrity
Would be consigned to long obscurity?

Before he* held a gentlemanly staff
And fame had pushed his head to tops of trees
Beyond the reach of any tall giraffe
(or whatever novel idiom you please),
I was inducing Shakespeare’s crowds to laugh
Until they begged for breath upon their knees.
Together we were Joves to Adam’s wife:
What Will designed, I galvanized to life.

[As if displaying his ability to clown,
His language was, at times, an awkward blend
Of phrases from a modern urban town
And others from the sixteenth cent’ry’s end.
He’d call a beard “a bed of facial down,”
Then speak of “twerking” or another trend.
He knew as much of newer slang above
As Cupid’s ever known of making love.]

What’s most remembered from our Much Ado?
Why—by the heathen rites of popish mass—*
The constable who never had a clue!*
I was a hit with high to lower class,
But later Will declared, “You never grew.
You’ve always played the part of brainless ass.
I’m weary of the roles you’ve been assigned
And long for jests more gentle and refined.”*

Is William Kempe a name thy ears have heard?
I was, as modern Yankees call it, “cool.”
Before the days that Willie was “yes-sirred”,
I played the part of clown and rustic fool
[When Will required a scene or two absurd
Enough to make the groundlings grin and drool.]
But by the time he was composing Lear,
He’d caused the roles for me to disappear. “

“If you’ll remain a moment by my side,”
(He whispered in a pleading, hopeful tone
I think would pierce a tyrant’s armored hide
And soften stainless steel or solid stone)
“I’ll tell you more whilst serving as a guide
To wonders living men have never known.
…But, first,” he said, excited as a dog,
“I wish to share a witty monologue.”

Although he’d never let me have my say,
I thought with pity, “Time has done him ill.
Provided I’ll not have to give him pay
Or find a sacrificial beast to kill,
I’ll let the lonely actor lead the way…”
My thoughts were broken by these words from Bill:
“I’ll now begin my witty, pretty speech,
In which, like Horace, I’ll delight and teach.”

“Will Kempe’s Monologue
“Who’d think that Death could take so many souls
across the river Greeks once knew as Styx?
The Reaper reaps the carriers of coals.
He buries builders skilled at laying bricks
and people smiling when the cam’ra rolls
[but, when it’s off, assaulting aides with kicks].
Of spirits dead there’s such a high amount
that I’d not try to take a thorough count.

“That hair, those lashes curled by skillful hand
Will fall one day from your decaying skull.
That skin you have so diligently tanned
Will fade until it has become quite dull.
Your famous frame, your sunken ship unmanned,
In time, will be a rotting, hollow hull.
For many decades, your body will endure
without a perm or proper pedicure.”

It seemed his monologue would never stop.
I cut him short, which caused his eyes to tear.
“Cuttest thou my mind’s unripened crop?
This cut, unkind as that of any spear,
Hath made my sinking spirit drop.
…yet, mark my final pretty couplet here:
Though ‘fame’ and ‘glory’ are appealing terms,
They’ll keep no man from being food for worms.

“In Bessie’s age*, an actor who was hired
Would win the fame of being dutiful
(And other names to which he had aspired)
With lines as filled with what is beautiful
As babes are filled with grace when nobly sired
Or ships of pirates are of booty full.
But if you fancy speeches short and plain,
I’ll bind my wit with cold Concision’s chain. “

NOTES:

*He=Shakespeare. For the sake of meter, I have taken grammatical liberty with “He” and its antecedent. I realize that a possessive form, like “Shakespeare’s,” does not serve as a proper antecedent to “he” because “Shakespeare’s” is functioning here as an adjective that modifies “crowds”. In any case, readers need not assume that the stylistic quirks of characters are also those of the author;)

*Tensions between Protestant England and the Catholic world made similar irreverent oaths common in England. ]
*Dogberry—played by William Kempe, the stanza’s speaker
*Robert Armin, known for more sophisticated humor, replaced Will Kempe in the Lord Chamberlain’s Men.

*Bessie was an affectionate nickname for Queen Elizabeth I.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s