Tag Archives: theatre

Colley Cibber

[from “In the Underworld” by Paul “Whitberg” Burgess]

We passed a man who seemed deprived of hope.
With trembling fingers through his powdered wig,
He wove its strands into a hanging rope.
My guide then said, “That poetasting prig
Was smoked by witty Alexander Pope
And roasted soundly as a suckling pig.
Though it’s been cent’ries since his body died,
His spirit’s always trying suicide.

You see, that’s Colley Cibber, mostly known
For being featured in The Dunciad.
In life, his wealth and stature overgrown
Were driving greater talents nearly mad.
In death, he occupies the shameful throne
Of Poets Known For Being Awfully Bad.
When Colley grows too weary of his crown,
He hangs until we come to cut him down.”

Captains of Industry and Finance

An “Underworld” scene from *The New House of Fame* (by Paul “Whitberg” Burgess)


His type is one we all too often find:
The sort to spoil a parrot or a pair
But sleep without a hint of troubled mind
When other parrots soaring through the air
Are casualties to orders, which he’s signed,
To strip the creatures’ leafy homes ‘til bare.
He’s one to lavish love upon the boar
Who’s mascot for his ham and bacon store.

He’s not—to use a popular cliché—
The type to beat a dog or harm a fly,
But, though his gentle hands aren’t apt to slay,
They’ll cause a distant swarm to starve or die
If it begins to slow or block his way
To owning all the Planet’s land and sky
[…resources which preserve his mental health
By showing how he bests the rest in wealth.]

To state the case with greater clarity:
His noble breed is one which often awes
The world with acts of private charity
Despite supporting policies and laws
That nurture social class disparity
As ill effects are nurtured by a cause
(…Or causal web of threads that intersect—
Since there’s no simple chain of cause/effect].

Before we ventured further down the hall,
I asked him, “What’s the fellow’s bloody name?”
At first, he changed the theme to Adam’s fall
To prove that ignorance should cause no shame
But soon confessed: “In sooth, I don’t recall.
Precision’s never been my fav’rite game.
My speeches are a peaceful compromise
Between the warring clans of Truth and Lies.

A bard ensures a story never starves
By seeing that it’s generously fed
With meaty bits the skillful teller carves
From flocks of sheep inside his head.
In winter, he’ll bedeck a tale in scarves
He knits from wool those mental sheep have shed.”
His speech, though crammed with sheep ‘til nearly full,
Contained, as well, a hefty share of bull.

“…and when the frost of Father Winter’s gone”
…I cut him short and said, “You have abused
My ears enough. It’s time for moving on.”
Despite my words, I often was amused
By madness that his addled brain would spawn.
He seemed a clever clown or sage confused.
His wit, at times, was straight as jets in flight,
But, other times, it was a flailing kite.

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.

“Shakespeare in the Underworld” [Complete: Parts I-III]

Selections from The New House of Fame by Paul “Whitberg” Burgess

A chat with England’s bard will make it clear
that death for stars is still a thing to dread.
I trust you’ll recognize this person here
[Unless you’ve got no brain inside your head].
That’s William Shakespeare–Britain’s treasured dear,
A man among the greatest of the dead.
Now have a conversation with the Bard
To see that death’s a fate that’s always hard.


Before the Bard could say a single word,
He was approached by Richard Number Three
(A king who’s also known as “Rick the Third”).
The Bard inquired, “What dost thou want of me?”
The Third replied, “Thou sland’ring boorish bird,
Thy song hath brought me lasting infamy.
Thy play–a dreadful toy, a trivial thing–
Hath made me seem the worst of any king.

I thank thee–balding, bitter, whoreson, hack–
For making sure that all posterity
Would think me evil with a crooked back.”
Said Will, “To thee, I gave eternity.
A famous name–which many hate to lack–
I gave thee as an act of charity.
Without my widely-read and studied play,
How many would recall your name today?”

Richard glared and turned to walk away.
Then, William took a seat and breathed a sigh
And said these weary words I’ll now relay:
“A second death I’d volunteer to die.
I deeply loathe this place of gloomy gray,
And passage out of here I’d gladly buy.
Although my body long ago decayed,
It seems my spirit’s not allowed to fade.”

I never rest. Each moment seems to bring
Complaints from ev’ry lady and her lord,
From ev’ry princess, baron, queen, and king
Whose fame on page and stage has ever soared—
Instead of being some forgotten thing
That future ages knew not and ignored.
If I had known they’d never let me be,
I never would’ve written history.”

“Thou’ hast not come, I hope, with foul design…
In other words, to ask about my work:
‘The plays and poems–are they truly thine?
Above the questions never cease to lurk.’
Some claim that visions from a source divine
Reveal the Bard was Russian or a Turk,
While others say he served our Holy Lord
Or was a pirate living by the sword.”

“Another says, ‘Well, ev’rybody knows–
As royal flower comes from royal bud–
No lowly peasant ever could compose
Those works that hint at none but noble blood.
Our culture’s greatest poetry and prose
Was fathered only by a noble stud.
He who composed those lines we read today
Was never making gloves to earn his pay.’

‘Perhaps the credit Will so long has taken
Belongs to Earl of Oxford, Ed de Vere—
If not a king, a queen, or Francis Bacon.’
Said Will, “For love of peace, I’ll shake no spear
At silly theories that they’re fond of makin’,
But lies have harmed old Ed and Frank, I fear—
They both believe they wrote A Winter’s Tale,*
And their debate has grown a little stale.”

*De Vere, believed by some conspiracy theorists to have been “Shakespeare,” died several years before the composition of A Winter’s Tale.

“I’d also keep the scholars out of here:
[‘If Bottom turned by magic to an ass
Is, like I think, a bawdy pun on “rear,”
I’ll teach my Early English Drama class
That Will was saying slyly, “I am queer”
And scenes in drag express his inner lass.’]
[‘Does Lear suggest it’s choice or iron fate
That makes a person bi, or gay, or straight?’]

“One critic claims I had a proto-commie’s voice,
While others say that freer enterprise
Was doubtlessly my economic choice.
He thinks I served the state with pretty lies,
She says rebelling made my heart rejoice.
They make me what they love or most despise…
The real “me” critics think they can define
Is not contained in any written line. “

“Another blow from fickle, frightful fate
Are bards I often am assaulted by.
How deep’s the well of bitter rivals’ hate!
I’d thought with death that jealousy would die,
But writers foul, along with writers great,
Despise that I’m one critics deify.
Although the fault is surely none of mine,
It irks them that my name’s become divine.”

Although there’s truth in much of what he said,
It seemed he wanted only to complain.
His whiny ways began to hurt my head.
As much as this confession causes pain,
I admit that, from England’s bard, I fled
As people flee from falling acid rain .
I went in search of other famous ghosts
And hoped they’d serve as better spirit-hosts.

“Shakespeare in the Underworld”

[Part I: a selection from The New House of Fame by Paul “Whitberg” Burgess]

“A chat with England’s bard will make it clear
that death for stars is still a thing to dread.
I trust you’ll recognize this person here
[Unless you’ve got no brain inside your head].
That’s William Shakespeare–Britain’s treasured dear,
A man among the greatest of the dead.
Now have a conversation with the Bard
To see that death’s a fate that’s always hard.
 

Before the Bard could say a single word,
He was approached by Richard Number Three
(A king who’s better known as “Rick the Third”).
The Bard inquired, “What dost thou want of me?”
The Third replied, “Thou sland’ring boorish bird,
Thy song hath brought me lasting infamy.
Thy play–a dreadful toy, a trivial thing–
Hath made me seem the worst of any king.

I thank thee–balding, bitter, whoreson, hack–
For making sure that all posterity
Would think me evil with a crooked back.”
Said Will, “To thee, I gave eternity
A famous name–which many hate to lack–
I gave thee as an act of charity.
Without my widely-read and studied play,
How many would recall your name today?”