tragedy in the history of a comedy
(c) 2010 L. Lambert Lawson
They say that when the scene closes, when those purple velveteen curtains tumble down, the characters, figments only of the playwright’s imaginings, die. They are whisked away into a silent hell, a dusty box, a director’s shoe, until they, Lazarus-like, escape their earthly nap for another go. However, we live. Always. If a child closes her eyes, does the moon not still glow? A tree that falls in the woods does indeed engender a terrible crash. And I, Silvia Visconti, forever the daughter of the Duke of Milan, endure beyond the Bard’s final exeunt. How could I not, I who had survived his bastard Gentlemen of Verona?
Gentleman? Misnamed whoresons say I.
Shakespeare, a man for men, a man for a man, low-hanging fruit for fruits hung like carts and donkeys alike, cast quills like daggers at women. Shrews they were or ill-lusted mothers or worse. And I? Simply a ball to be bandied about between two doghearted dotards.
Dotard numero uno? Valentine. “I love thee,” said he.
“I love thee,” said I, the words like ash in my mouth. I had love. I knew love. Speed were more my speed. Speed the man, the varlot Valentine’s strapped young page. The wonders that boy could unfurl from his codpiece, all while strutting across the drawing room with the windows wide to the world, I shan’t dishonor with this base pen.
Dotard due: Proteus. I bore him all until he tried his hand at rape. “I’ll woo you like a soldier,” he said, though I knew the wooing and warming and straight thrusting capable of an elephant-hearted soldier; knew arms like arboreal rods and rods like arduous arbor; and knew that Proteus, his old soul, his old skin, and his old sac, could pay none of those debts. I said as much to him, but you have never neither heard nor read my venom-bound words. I, muse in Mr. Shakespeare’s head for so long, had been shuttered. My words had spilled out across his page, and his hash marks had distilled my passion into an inky, sand-dusted pool upon his parchment.
By the Bard’s hand, Proteus said, “I’ll love you against the nature of love—force ye.”
And I said, “Oh heaven!” as if, in that moment, God, who had so forsaken me, would be a valiant whom I could call upon. Heaven is a place for those who play it safe, and safety would not save me. In mine eye, only I would save me.
I had screamed, “Fuck, sir! Do not lay one hand upon my vessel, a vessel not for you, not for your eyes nor hand nor heart. My life is forfeit for your feigned love. You are that hungry lion I earlier spoke of. Your fangs drip, though not on me. Come close, fen-sucked fustilarian, and I shall divest you of your codpiece’s contents with my claws, my fangs, my delta’sfangs if need be.”
I screamed these things, and then Proteus backed away, wordless. He himself was the wordless one for the remainder of Act V, not I. Along with his manhood, I had taken his man-tongue, a blessing for all women in all eras made to sit through the ending Shakespeare had madly put on that play, on my play in that play. Broke it, he did. And broke us. Shakespeare had taken all of me away with a pen stroke. I had been left with: “Oh heaven!”
And tragedy’s encore? Valentine, hidden in the shadows and watching the base beast bare his lust at me, moved not a hair. Motionless, he, just like in my heart Is when I think upon him. Woefully, I cannot yet jettison him—not until Lucifer himself drags this worst of the Bard’s plays to Hell and we characters are, for true, destroyed so that my mind would not have to practice false love for four-and-a-half acts century after century.
What woman looks upon the landing of “The Two (milk-livered) Gentlemen of Verona” and casts it aside for the valor of the play’s first two hours? Not a one, I wager. No woman worth salt-rock. Proteus plays at rape as if it’s a game. (If a game it is, then women are unjustly cast as the flogged and whipped and flagellated actors of Hell.) Shakespeare writes Valentine the hero, as if a savior I need beyond my own barbed and slicing tongue, and he bids Proteus to unhand me, to unhinge me from his mind’s eye. “I must never trust thee more,” Proteus said to Valentine. What friend could love a friend who tried to roughly love that friend’s love? This one, dotard uno: “Once again I do receive thee honest…. All that was mine in Silvia I give thee,” Proteus said.
All that was his? He meant my delta, my womanly Nile-head, for he never had my heart.
He gave to my rapist his rape, bow-tied and ribbon-streamed.
Shakespeare gave me no comment; instead, he left me hanging like a broken marionette doll, eyes wildly spinning. Surely you thought I a deflated water-bladder. But I did notdisappear. I have not disappeared. I will not ever disappear. I raise my chin, did raise my chin, and I spit, I spit now, I spit then, spit across the Bard’s text, into every eye of every man who grants himself dominion over every woman. My body is a woman’s body, and a woman’s body is not a hand to hold at one’s masculine choosing, is not a vessel to sail down any river without the vessel’s own direction.
I spit in the eye of Proteus.
I spit in the eye of Valentine.
I spit in the eye of William Shakespeare.
I said, “I am not owned; I am not to be given. I am whole and whole, and mine own eyes shall remain. Unhand me and unlove me and undo the threads you have woven so dastardly across my life’s pelt. You are two spur-galled knaves, two star-crossed lovers meant for one another in gentlemanly love. No woman shall bear you. No woman shall smile at your sight for all shall know you for you, you urchin-snouted yous.”
And you never felt the boil in my blood or the wet of my spit leaking down the “gentlemen’s” faces for a man, a great Bard, threatened and threatened still, wrote the woman out of his play, wrote the woman out of my speech, and wrote a woman’s speech out of the play for generations of audiences who need just such a speech, who need a knowing voice in the face of hateful, lustful, entitled knaves.
History has been denied me in this “comedy.” These words are me as the actor of history’s righting. Hear me, read me, and never forget me. I am your daughter, your mother, your wife. I am your friend, your lover, your sister. I am woman in your life and woman of your love. Turn deaf and dumb to me and cast off the women in your heart. My fate is their fate if you, dear reader, ignore the tragedy in the history of a comedy.