The Competition for December was to “Write the first three pages of an opening scene in the style of Shakespeare”. A big welcome was given to Dr Mick Jardine, Head of English, Creative Writing and American Studies at the University of Winchester who very kindly agreed to be the adjudicator.
Mick is no stranger to the Hampshire Writers’ Society. In November 2013, he was the Special Guest when Ross Barber presented her talk “Why is Shakespeare’s Authorship doubted. And does it matter” Therefore, It was fitting that Mick was with us again last night when the main speakers, Professor Stanley Wells and The Rev Dr Paul Edmondson presented “Shakespeare beyond doubt”, a counter to Ross Barber’s argument.
The prize for the winners of December’s competition was a signed copy of “Shakespeare beyond doubt”. And to celebrate the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth, the winning entry was enacted by the Titchfield Festival Theatre Group.
1st Prize: Joan Robinson-Harris, Seeking Love Late
“This prose drama, set in an apothecary’s shop, effectively captured the style of Shakespeare; character, plot and setting are economically established, the language has energy and verve and the play has a strong sense of both the theatrical and the dramatic. It invites the audience in and whets the appetite for what is to come.”
Lord Burgoigne Pawley, general to the King.
Sir Cecil Seamin, his lieutenant
Eleanora, the Countess of Rotherford
SCENE- Partly in England and partly in Italy.
Scene I : An apothecarie’s shop. Enter the Countess veiled.
Countess: This is the shop, matching in every detail Lady Oakhampton’s description. If this apothecarie has a potion I seek, all will be well.
Apothecarie: Greetings, good madam! What ointment or tincture may this humble apothecarie provide thee?
Countess: My mistress bid me seek a potion recommended to her by my mistresses cousin’s friend, that was effective for my mistresses cousin’s friend’s husband.
Apothecarie: (aside ) Methinks this maid hath too many mistresses, and is no maid at all, but the lady herself. (to the countess)Pray tell me, in what way was this potion efficacious for your mistresses cousin’s friend’s husband?
Countess: (aside) This man is like a needle, he pierces the tapestry and makes his stitch clear. (to Apothecarie) It was a delicate matter, a matrimonial matter, a husband and wife matter.
Apothecarie: Pray, mistress, how does this man make his way in the world, that way I might understand how he presents himself?
Countess: In plain speech, he is a soldier.
Apothecarie: Forsooth, experience teaches me such men are people of direct action, whose sword rusts not in its scabbard?
Countess: Your wit, good sir, does credit to the world that tutors your knowing. A straight forward approach is a courageous path, much lauded on the field of battle, however, domestic life, nay bliss, needs something of the imagination of the poet.
Apothecarie: Ah, I comprehend you quite. The unlocking of the fantasies of the mind requires a potent brew. (Bringing forth a tincture) This tincture, composed chiefly of mushrooms and other wild and delicate roots gathered and assembled by my own hand, must be taken one hour before commencement, the party must forgo all alcohol for twelve hours, else the effects will be too strong, the speech becoming rambling and the movements madlike. Therefore, administer with all good care.
Countess: (Paying) Good apothecarie, I thank you for your pains
(Aside) With careful risk, much happiness may be gained. (Exit)
SCENE II. The same
Enter Lord Pawley and Sir Cecil
Cecil: Good my Lord, here is the very apothecarie’s shop Lord Oakhampton bid us seek out.
Pawley: Cecil, you have been my loyal lieutenant these two decades past, I am glad of your presence now. These matters of the heart are beyond my compass. I’d rather face the raving Berserker hordes than make sweet moves to Countess Eleanora, as every lover does, even though she be my heart’s desire, and our marriage set for two days hence.
Cecil: Courage, my Lord. This apothecarie will have some liquid remedy that will ease your path to wedded communion.
Pawley: Pray god you are right. Lead on.
(Entering in military fashion)
Cecil: Good morrow, Apothecarie. As quartermaster to our needs, we require something of your skills.
Apothecarie: My skills and knowledge are at your Lordships’ service. (Aside) Forsooth, this be the very soldier the maid spoke of, his military bearing distinguishes him as such. (To Pawley and Cecil) What ointment, pill, potion or tincture, may it please your Lordships to command?
Cecil: The general here must confide in you his manly difficulty, which is no difficulty at all but the merest trifle, only this merest trifle weighs somewhat on the generals mind and mars the prospect of his forthcoming nuptials.
Apothecarie: My Lord general, are you able to say, man to man, in strictest confidence, what this trifle is that so disturbs your future satisfaction?
Pawley: I perceive you have much of the intelligencer about you, you hear the words and understand the story that is not stated.
Apothecarie: The general flatters my humble learning.
Pawley: I however am a man of plain speech, and I give you good notice that should you speak one word of our conversation to any living soul, that very moment will mark the end of your apothecarie-ing days. Do you take such orders.
Apothecarie: Your words have a Trapist of me in this business.
Pawley: Then herein lies the problem. I am to marry these two days a lady. Though she be an acknowledged beauty and a lady of great virtue, I cannot fill that husbands part which is to be a lover to his lady. From a youth I was always in barracks and on battlefields and have always conducted myself as a soldier, which fits well for government and the world of men. With the soldiering life one must needs associate with characters of low morals, and women of low morals also. So to be brief, having spent all my time with prostitutes and bawds, I do not know how to make love to a virtuous lady, I would therefore, have you give me some subtle potion to administer to my good lady that, within the secret confines of our bedroom, renders her more loose, and less virtuous, for our mutual enjoyment.
Apothecarie: Your Lordship makes all clear. I have a potion here that must be administered one half hour before use in water, it has the effect of making the person most affectionate in every way. Take care however to always keep the lady in your sight, for should she see another man, she will be affectionate to him, whether he be stranger or no, for one hour.
Cecil: Thanks good apothecarie, I salute you.
Pawley: The battle of the bedchamber must be fought with this
Ere my lady and I are brought to wedded bliss.
2nd Prize: David Lea, First Do No Harm
“This scene is Shakespearean in its powerful sense of drama, exploiting to the full the inherent tension of the courtroom setting and fashioning some memorable lines of blank verse. The play suggests a modern Faustus dilemma and taps into a topic of urgent contemporary significance, what to do with aged bed-blockers (otherwise known as parents and friends).”
- CHORUS 1 Female Very elderly, masked.
- CHORUS 2 Male Very elderly, masked.
- DR WISE In his fifties.
- COUNSEL FOR THE (PROS) Middle-aged. Could be
- PROSECUTION male or female.
Photographs of Dr Wise’s thirteen ‘victims’ are projected onto a back-cloth with their printed obituaries. Nine are already there. As the CHORUS figures read the last four obits, the images of the dead join the others. (Alternatively, given the resources of the R.S.C, thirteen masked old people appear out of the gloom from deep Upstage: the thirteen chorus members are Dr Wise’s ‘victims’.) Dr WISE is Centre Stage, confined and lit by a single spot. The Counsel for the Prosecution (PROS) is able to move about the stage at will. The dialogue is written in blank verse.
CHORUS 1: Rachel Vivienne Colebrook
Died aged 73 years. After a long battle with cancer, she left us peacefully at the end.
A wonderful wife, mother and friend
Donations to Cancer Research
DR WISE: Diamorphine.
CHORUS 2: Victor Charles Stanley Forester
Passed peacefully to his rest aged 89 years
Beloved husband of Margaret and a loving grandfather. Thanks to Winnie and staff at Oakwood and to Dr Wise
DR WISE: Insulin
CHORUS 1: Monica Hilda Easterby
At Oakwood Nursing Home after a short illness aged 78
Mum and Dad are together again at last
Always in our memories – Keith, Sheila, Theo and Jade
DR WISE: Nembutal
CHORUS 2: Eric Leslie Thorogood, “Les”
Will be much missed by family and friends, particularly those in the golfing and racing fraternity.
Donations to Battersea Dogs’ Home
DR WISE: Nembutal
PROS: Dr Wise, your memory is most precise:
The victim and the means of death, the place
The time and the device by which you hid
Your crimes from prying eyes are carried still
In mind so subtle and so cunning that
Thirteen lives have ended at your hand.
But why recall in such particularity
The endgame of the souls you part
From bodies at your will, if not to hold
Them still for later satisfaction and delight,
To examine them at leisure and to take
A future pleasure in the snuffing of the light?
DR WISE: I remember them and what I did because
It is no small thing to be an agent
In another’s death. I do not take it
Lightly now; nor did I then. They live in me
And me in them.
PROS: You speak as though a priest in holy orders:
As though their passing were a sacrament.
And yet we know that you believe in nothing:
In nothing that we recognize as God,
In nothing more than your own earthly power
To wield the tools of Chemistry and Science;
And exercise dominion for yourself.
You are a murderer.
“Thou shalt not kill,”
The bible says: the law of God on which
Our human law now stands.
DR WISE: I had it in my hands
To ease another’s pain when I could see
The ways and means of medicine had so outstripped
Our moral sensibility as to allow
Indignity, and suffering and pain.
Science strives officiously to keep alive
Those who have by far outlived their natural span
And whose life is then a burden to themselves,
To those who love them and to those they love.
PROS: And by what right are you to choose the manner
And the time at which these “burdens” shuffle off
Their mortal coils. You plead “Not Guilty”
To the charge of murder as ‘tis defined:
But you have killed “with malice aforethought,
When in sound mind and good discretion”
Fellow creatures that had not themselves the means
To choose the way that they were heaven-sent.
DR WISE: I have had time to study my predicament
And how it stands in law while waiting for my trial
And shall conduct my own defence. I do admit
That I have killed unlawfully, but still refute
The charge of murder. My “learned friend” will know
Full well the quote to which he now alludes:
“When a person of good memory and discretion
Unlawfully kills any reasonable
Creature with malice aforethought that is murder”: *
Of those that perished by my hand, but three
Could be described as “reasonable”:
They had, long since been stranded and in
Need of constant care to stay alive at all,
Their reason long since lost beyond recall.
PROS: And who appointed you the arbiter
Of life and death, omniscient, divine?
DR WISE: The judgements and the actions were both mine,
Made from compassion, not from malice.
I knew my actions were against the law
I also knew the law was wrong.
I knew that I could face arrest and trial,
As I do now; the vilifying press; the bile
Of common gossip on family and friends,
My reputation’s ruin and a life in jail.
PROS: (To the audience)
And be assured that we shall ask for “life”
And ask for it to mean exactly what it says.
Dr Wise, at least, does have a life.
His patients now have none: no pulse, no breath,
No choice about the manner of their death.
* William Blackstone in his Commentaries on the Laws of England set out the common law definition of murder, which by this definition occurs when a person, of sound memory and discretion, unlawfully kills any reasonable creature in being and under the king’s peace, with malice aforethought, either express or implied.
The rest of the play moves between scenes of the trial and flashbacks, which illustrate the circumstances of some of the deaths. The final death that results in the arrest of Dr Wise is explored in scenes that establish a parallel time-line with those of the trial. The masked chorus figures comment on the action when in mask, but also play other parts in other scenes, unmasked.
The scenes in court are always written in blank verse, as are the lines of the chorus. Flashbacks are written in prose.
Highly Commended: Anne Eckersley, Apologies to Henry and Others
“Written with comic zest, this culinary tour de force is highly entertaining and transports something of the Elizabethan kitchen into the world of Nigella Lawson; an all-round Christmas treat!”
The prizes were signed copies of “Shakespeare Beyond Doubt”, together with a signed Certificate of Adjudication from Dr Mick Jardine.
The competition secretary thanked everyone who had entered the competition, and invited members to enter next month’s competition, which is to write 300 words for a Magazine Article, entitled “A Secret place in Wessex”. Heidi King, editor of View magazine, will be the adjudicator. The winning entry may be featured in the magazine.