Act II, Scene i and ii
‘Acting is a question of absorbing other people’s personalities and adding some of your own experience’ – Jean Paul Satre
The stage was alive with people: even the crew had been costumed up to act as extra revellers. Everywhere there were masked people dancing, cavorting and generally having a pretty raucous time of it. The band had been moved on stage and were somehow managing to be playing very quietly and miming giving a spirited rendition of their score at the same time.
Frank led his household, currently comprising Severus, Alice, Claire, Lily and Eleanor, out into the midst, where they stood, enjoying the general splendour. Sirius and his men strolled past, mask-less, but dressed for the revelry; he kissed Lily’s hand as he passed, leaving her bemused. She glanced, uncertainly, at her father, but the dark Prince was already gone.
“Was not Count John here at supper?” Frank asked, peering after him with an inscrutable expression.
“I saw him not,” said Severus, following his brother’s eyes.
“How tartly that gentleman looks!” Eleanor remarked, twisting her cat mask in her hands. “I can never see him but I am heartburned an hour after.”
“He is of a very melancholy disposition,” agreed Lily, frowning.
“He were an excellent man that were made just in the midway between him and Benedick,” said Eleanor, with a wry smile. “The one is too like an image and says nothing, and the other too like my lady’s eldest son, evermore tattling.” She mimed chattering with her hand and her cousin, along with some of the audience, laughed.
“Then half Signior Benedick’s tongue in Count John’s mouth and half Count John’s melancholy in Signior Benedick’s face –” said Frank, amused.
“With a good leg and a good foot, uncle,” said Eleanor, to general sniggers, onstage and off. “And money enough in his purse,” she continued, and Lily laughed, hiding her mouth behind her doll mask. “Such a man would win any woman in the world, if’a could get her good will.”
“By my troth, niece, thou wilt never get thee a husband if thou be so shrewd of thy tongue,” remarked Frank, tolerantly.
“In faith,” laughed Severus, waving his bear mask at her. “She’s too curst.”
“Too curst is more than curst,” said Eleanor. “I shall lessen God’s sending that way, for it is said, ‘God sends a curst cow short horns’; but to a cow too curst he sends none.”
“So, by being too curst, God will send you no horns,” said Frank, and both Alice and Ursula giggled into their moon and mouse masks, which they fixed to their faces.
“Just,” said Eleanor, with a tone that she had precisely understood her uncle’s meaning. “If he send me no husband; for the which blessing I am at him upon my knees every morning and evening.” She turned to her other uncle. “Lord, I could not endure a husband with a beard on his face,” she said, grinning. “I had rather lie in the woollen!”
“You may light on a husband that hath no beard,” suggested Frank, idly toying with his skull mask.
“What should I do with him?” Eleanor asked. “Dress him in my apparel and make him my waiting gentle-woman?” Lily and the girls all sniggered while Severus and Frank looked on, chuckling. “He that hath a beard is more than a youth, and he that hath no beard is less than a man; and he that is more than a youth is not for me; and he that is less than a man,” she said, pausing for effect. “I am not for him,” she exclaimed, and the audience roared with laughter. “Therefore I will even take sixpence in earnest of the berrord and lead his apes into hell.”
“Well then, go you into hell?” asked Frank, beginning to show signs of fatherly exasperation.
“No,” smiled Eleanor. “But to the gate, and there will the devil meet me like an old cuckold with horns on his head, and say, ‘Get you to heaven Beatrice, get you to heaven. Here’s no place for you maids.’” The audience gave a rippling chuckle as her family laughed. “So deliver I up my apes, and away to Saint Peter. For the heavens, he shows me where the bachelors sit, and there live we as merry as the day is long.”
Severus rolled his eyes and turned to Lily, in good humour.
“Well, niece, I trust you will be ruled by your father,” he said, fondly.
“Yes, faith,” said Eleanor, seizing upon a new opportunity to tease her elders. “It is my cousin’s duty to make cursy and say, ‘Father, as it please you.’ But for all that, cousin,” she said, briefly clasping Lily’s hand. “Let him be a handsome fellow, or else make another cursy and say ‘Father, as it please me.’”
“Well, niece,” said Frank, tolerantly. “I hope to see you one day fitted with a husband.”
“Not till God make men of some other metal than earth,” she retorted, with wry scorn. “Would it not grieve a woman to be overmastered with a piece of valiant dust? To make an account of her life to a clod of wayward marl? No, uncle, I’ll none. Adam’s sons are my brethren and truly I hold it a sin to match in my kindred.”
Frank ignored her.
“Daughter,” he said to Lily, gently. “Remember what I told you. If the Prince do solicit you in that kind, you know your answer.”
“The fault will be in the music, cousin, if you not be wooed in good time,” said Eleanor, lightly, not pleased at being ignored. “If the Prince be too important, tell him there is measure in everything, and so dance out the answer.” Lily laughed, and Eleanor continued, blithely ignoring Frank’s exasperated expression: “For, hear me, Hero: wooing, wedding and repenting is as a Scotch jig, a measure and a cinquepace. The first suit is hot and hasty like a Scotch jig (and full as fantastical),” she pretended to fan herself with her mask. “The wedding, mannerly modest, as a measure, full of state and ancientry; and then comes Repentance and with his bad legs falls into the cinquepace faster and faster, till he sink into his grave.”
“Cousin, you apprehend passing shrewdly,” said Frank, mildly.
“I have a good eye uncle,” she said, with a grin. “I can see a church by daylight.”
Frank shook his head over the laugher from the audience and – seeing movement in the wings – cried out, happily: “The revellers are ent’ring, brother. Make good room!”
The soldiers came in cloaked and masked, laughing and enjoying the sight of so many masked friends.
The foremost gentleman, who Eleanor knew was Algernon and was wearing a sun-god mask, held out his hand to Lily.
“Lady,” he asked. “Will you walk about with your friend?”
Lily blushed and covered her face with the doll mask.
“So you walk softly and look sweetly and say nothing, I am yours for the walk; and especially when I walk away.”
“With me in your company?” the sun-god asked, hopefully.
“I may say so when I please,” said Lily, coyly.
“And when please you to say so?” the sun-god asked.
“When I like your favour, for God defend the lute should be like the case!” exclaimed Lily, and the audience laughed along with the players.
“My visor is Philemon’s roof; within the house is Jove.”
“Why then, your visor should be thatched,” laughed Lily.
“Speak low if you speak love,” said the sun-god, drawing her aside.
As they moved away, Ferdinand Finch-Fletchley – masked as a bandit – walked with Alice, who was coquettishly toying with the corner of her moon mask. As they talked, they took centre stage.
“Well I would you did like me,” said Ferdy, a hand on her back.
“So would not I for your own sake,” Alice laughed. “For I have many ill qualities.”
“Which is one?” Ferdy asked, chuckling.
“I say my prayers aloud.”
“So much the better,” he said. “The hearers may cry amen.”
Alice took up an attitude of prayer.
“God match me with a good dancer!” she prayed, trying (and failing) to look pious.
“Amen,” said Ferdy, with gusto.
“And God keep him out of my sight when the dance is done,” Alice added, with a giggle. “Answer, clerk.”
“No more words,” laughed Ferdy. “The clerk is answered.”
He whirled her away expertly and their place was taken by an out-of-breath Claire, rapidly followed by Severus, who pinched her bottom.
As the audience laughed, Claire squealed convincingly.
“I know you well enough,” she gasped. “You are Signior Antonio!”
“At a word, I am not,” Severus said, laughing behind his bear mask.
“I know you by the waggling of your head,” laughed Claire, poking him in the chest.
“To tell you true, I counterfeit him,” said Severus.
“You could never do him so ill-well unless you were the very man,” she retorted. “Here’s his dry hand up and down. You are he, you are he!”
“At a word, I am not,” Severus repeated.
“Come, come,” said Claire, leaning in to her pursuer. “Do you think I do not know you by your excellent wit? Can virtue hide itself?” Apparently it could, since Severus pinched her bottom again. “Aiiek!” Claire cried, quickly stepping back. “Go to, mum, you are he. Graces will appear, and there’s an end. Aiiek!” she cried again, and Severus chased her around the stage, both of them laughing their heads off.
Eleanor angrily followed a figure wearing a laughing-man mask, hands on hips, cat mask slightly askew.
“Will you not tell me who told you so?” she demanded.
“No, you shall pardon me,” her quarry said.
“Nor will you tell me who you are?”
“Not now,” said a voice that was both blatantly Remus’s and blatantly amused.
“That I was disdainful, and that I had my good with out of the ‘Hundred Merry Tales,’” she huffed. “Well, this was Signior Benedick that said so.”
The laughing man straightened slightly, clearly about to engage in espionage.
“I’m sure you know him well enough,” said Eleanor, watching Severus finally catch up with Claire, just at the edge of wings; she pulled him behind the curtain, earning a great guffaw from the audience.
“Not I, believe me,” insisted the laughing man.
“Did he never make you laugh?” she asked him, arching an eyebrow.
“I pray you, what is he?”
“Why, he is the Prince’s jester,” Eleanor said, and the laughing man began to look quite uncomfortable. “A very dull fool.” Those in the audience that had cottoned on began to laugh, and their neighbours joined in. “Only his gift is in devising impossible slanders. None but libertines delight in him, and the commendation is not in his wit, but in his villainy,” she continued, ignoring her masked companion’s mute distress; his hands were folded now, and he tapped his foot impatiently. “For he both pleases men and angers them, and then they laugh at him and beat him. I am sure he is in the fleet,” she said, and added quietly: “I would he had boarded me.”
“When I know the gentleman, I’ll tell him what you say,” said the laughing man shortly.
“Do, do,” laughed Eleanor, waving his suggestion on. “He’ll but break a comparison or two on me; which peradventure (not marked or not laughed at), strikes him into melancholy, and then there’s a partridge wing saved, for the fool will eat no supper that night.”
The band gave a practised crescendo, which faded again so that the players could be heard.
“We must follow the leaders,” she said, offering her hand.
“In every good thing,” responded the laughing man, taking her hand.
“Nay, if they lead to any ill, I will leave them at the next turning.”
He swept her off, and Sirius and Nathan, wearing devil masks, took their mark beside James, with his cherub mask.
“Sure my brother is amorous on Hero and hath withdrawn her father to break with him about it,” said Sirius, loudly; James took the bait and shot them a quick look before striving to look nonchalant. He put his mask back on. “The ladies follow her and but one visor remains,” he nodded towards Eleanor and Remus, still masked and dancing at stage right.
“And that is Claudio,” hissed Nathan, to Sirius. “I know him by his bearing.”
“Are not you Signior Benedick?” Sirius asked James, moving towards him.
“You know me well,” said James, trying to appear taller than he was, to the amusement of the audience. He cocked his head, jauntily. “I am he.”
“Signior, you are very near my brother in his love,” said Sirius in all seriousness. “He is enamoured on Hero. I pray you dissuade him from her; she is no equal for his birth. You may do the part of an honest man in it.”
“How do you know he loves her?” James asked, voice thick with emotion. Unnoticed, the stage had begun to empty.
“I heard him swear his affection,” said Sirius, and nudged Nathan in the ribs.
“So did I too, and he swore he would marry her tonight,” insisted Nathan.
“Come,” said Sirius, meddling concluded. “Let us to the banquet.”
James watched the two of them go and pulled off his mask, angrily.
“Thus answer I in name of Benedick but hear these ill news with the ears of Claudio,” he lamented, miserably. “‘Tis certain so. The Prince woos for himself. Friendship is constant in all other things save in the office and affairs of love. Therefore all hearts in love use their own tongues; let every eye negotiate for itself and trust no agent; for beauty is a witch against whose charms faith melteth into blood.” He huffed in defeat. “This is an accident of hourly proof, which I mistrusted not. Farewell therefore Hero!”
Abandoning his dance partner at the wings, Remus approached, pulling off his laughing-man mask.
“Count Claudio?” he asked, and James sighed.
“Yea, the same,” he said.
“Come, will you go with me?” Remus asked, a hand on his friend’s arm.
“Even to the next willow, about your own business, County,” said Remus, encouragingly. “What fashion will you wear the garland of? About your neck, like an usurer’s chain? Or under your arm, like a lieutenant’s scarf?” He gave James a friendly shove. “You must wear it one way, for the Prince hath got your Hero.”
“I wish him joy of her,” grumbled James, through his teeth.
“Why, that’s spoken like an honest drovier,” said Remus, surprised. “So they sell bullocks. But did you think the Prince would have served you thus?”
“I pray you leave me,” said James, hotly.
“Ho!” said Remus, eyebrows towards the heavens. “Now you strike like the blind man! ‘Twas the boy that stole your meat, and you’ll beat the post.”
“If it will not be, I’ll leave you,” said James, and stormed off stage left.
Remus watched him go, astonished.
“Alas, poor hurt fowl!” he said, to himself. “Now will he creep into sedges.” He took off his cloak and laid it aside, frowning out into the audience. “But, that my Lady Beatrice should know me, and not know me!” he said, in annoyance. “The Prince’s fool! Ha!” he scoffed, and the audience tittered. “It may be I go under that title because I am merry. Yea, but so am I apt to do myself wrong. I am not so reputed!” he stuck his thumbs in the pocket of his waistcoat and kicked at an imaginary rock on the stage. “It is the base (though bitter) disposition of Beatrice that puts the world into her person and so gives me out. Well, I’ll be revenged as I may.”
He looked up as Algernon, Hero and Leonato approached, unmasked.
“Now, signior,” said Algernon, cheerfully. “Where’s the Count? Did you see him?”
“Troth, my lord, I have played the part of Lady Fame,” Remus said. “I found him here as melancholy as a lodge in a warren. I told him, and I think I told him true,” he continued, with a smile at Lily. “That your Grace had got the good will of this young lady, and I off’red him my company to a willow tree, either to make him a garland, as being forsaken, or to bind him up a rod, as being worthy to be whipped.”
“To be whipped?” frowned Algernon. “What’s his fault?”
“The flat transgression of a schoolboy who, being overjoyed with finding a bird’s nest, shows it his companion, and he steals it.”
“Wilt though make a trust a transgression?” asked Algernon, perplexed. “The transgression is in the stealer.”
“Yet it had not been amiss the rod had been made, and the garland too,” replied Remus. “For the garland he might have worn himself, and the rod he might have bestowed on you, who (as I take it) have stol’n his bird’s nest.”
Algernon understood, and frowned, deeply.
“I will but teach them to sing and restore them to the owner,” he said, firmly.
Remus nodded, unworriedly.
“If their singing answer your saying, by my faith you say honestly,” he said, looking out into the wings (presumably at some unseen cavorting). His head snapped around at Algernon’s next comment, however; appeased, the Prince decided to tease his friend.
“The Lady Beatrice hath a quarrel to you,” he said, with a wicked grin that Remus ignored. “The gentleman that danced with her told her she is much wronged by you.”
“O, she misused me past the endurance of a block!” he scoffed, angrily. Algernon and Lily tried hard not to laugh; the audience chuckled. “An oak but with one green leaf on it would have answered her; my very visor began to assume life and scold with her. She told me, not thinking I had been myself, that I was the Prince’s jester, that I was duller than a great thaw,” he ranted, angrily. “Huddling jest upon jest with such impossible conveyance upon me that I stood like a man at a mark, with a whole army shooting at me. She speaks poniards, and every word stabs.” Algernon, Lily and Frank were beside themselves now, not even bothering to conceal their laughter; this seemed to annoy Remus even more. “If her breath were as terrible as her terminations, there were no living near her; she would infect to the North Star! I would not marry her though she were endowed with all that Adam had left him before he transgressed. She would have made Hercules have turned spit, yea, and have cleft his club to make the fire too. Come, talk not of her. You shall find her the infernal Ate in good apparel. I would to God some scholar would conjure her, for certainly, while she is here, a man may live as quiet in hell as in a sanctuary,” he continued, furiously; Algernon noticed a mask-less Eleanor and James enter at stage right, but Remus was too angry to look up. “And people sin on purpose,” he went on, “because they would go thither; so indeed all disquiet, horror and perturbation follows her.”
“Mmm. Look, here she comes…”
Remus took a long look at Eleanor before turning back to Algernon.
“Will your Grace command me any service to the world’s end?” he pleaded; Eleanor raised a curious eyebrow. “I will go on the slightest errand now to the Antipodes that you can devise to send me on; I will fetch you a toothpicker now from the furthest inch of Asia; bring you the length of Prester John’s foot; fetch you a hair off the great Cham’s beard; do you any embassage to the Pygmies –” he ranted, getting angrier with every impossible task, “- rather than hold three words’ conference with this harpy!” he’d practically shouted the last word, and Eleanor visibly flinched. “Have you no employment for me?” he begged his Prince, but Algernon was still nearly crying with laughter.
“None, but to desire your good company,” he said, wiping his eyes.
“O God, sir, here’s a dish I love not!” Remus cried, hotly. “I cannot endure my Lady Tongue!” he snapped, and stormed off, nearly barging into Eleanor as he went. She stared after him.
“Come, lady, come,” said Algernon kindly, seeing that his friend’s abrupt departure had upset her. “You have lost the heart of Signior Benedick.”
Eleanor gave him a slightly pained smile.
“Indeed, my lord, he lent it me awhile, and I gave him use for it, a double heart for his single one,” she said, looking down. “Marry, once before he won it of me with false dice; therefore your Grace may well say I have lost it.”
“You have put him down, lady; you have put him down,” said Algernon.
“So I would not he should do me, my lord, lest I should prove the mother of fools,” she said, a little subdued. “I have brought Count Claudio, whom you sent me to seek.”
“Why, how now, Count?” asked Algernon, soberly. “Wherefore art thou sad?”
“Not sad, my lord,” said James, tightly.
“How then, sick?”
“Neither, my lord,” James answered, tersely.
“The Count is neither sad, nor sick, nor merry, nor well,” observed Eleanor. “But civil Count, civil as an orange, and something of that jealous complexion.”
“I’faith, lady, I think your blazon to be true,” said Algernon, thoughtfully. “Though I’ll be sworn, if he be so, his conceit is false.” He lifted Lily’s hand towards James, and she smiled shyly over at him. “Here, Claudio,” Algernon continued. “I have wooed in thy name, and fair Hero is won. I have broke with her father, and his good will obtained. Name the day of marriage, and God give thee joy!”
James’s face lost its darkness like the dawn breaking through a storm; he stared, astonished and delighted, at Lily.
“Count,” said Frank. “Take of me my daughter, and with her my fortunes. His Grace hath made the match, and all grace say amen to it!”
“Speak, Count,” Eleanor teased. “‘Tis your cue.”
“Silence is the perfectest herald of joy,” said Claudio, taking Lily’s hand and kissing it lightly; she blushed and smiled prettily. “I would be but little happy if I could say how much. Lady, as you are mine, I am yours. I give myself away for you and dote upon the exchange.”
“Speak, cousin,” Eleanor interrupted with a smile. “Or (if you cannot) stop his mouth with a kiss and let not him speak neither.”
Lily and James smiled at her, then turned to whisper to one another, heads close together.
“In faith, lady, you have a merry heart,” remarked Algernon, with a smile.
“Yea, my lord; I thank it, poor fool,” said Eleanor, returning his smile. “It keeps on the windy side of care.” She watched her cousin and her fiancé with a wry smile. “My cousin tells him in his ear that he is in her heart.”
“And so she doth, cousin,” said James, with patience.
“Good Lord, for alliance!” sighed Eleanor, watching them kiss with a glad smile. “Thus goes everyone to the world but I, and I am sunburnt. I may sit in a corner and cry ‘Heigh-ho for a husband!’”
“Lady Beatrice,” said Algernon. “I will get you one.”
“I would rather have one of your father’s getting,” said Eleanor. “Hath your Grace ne’er a brother like you? Your father got excellent husbands, if a maid could come by them.”
“Will you have me, lady?” Algernon asked; both he and the audience seemed to be holding his breath.
Eleanor was plainly startled, but she recovered herself quickly.
“No, my lord,” she said, gently. “Unless I might have another for working days; your Grace is too costly to wear every day.” She smiled gently, and Algernon chuckled, saved from embarrassment. “But I beseech your Grace pardon me, I was born to speak all mirth and no matter.”
Algernon shook his head.
“Your silence most offends me,” he said, quietly. “And to be merry best becomes you, for out o’ question you were born in a merry hour.”
“No, sure, my lord, my mother cried,” said Eleanor, a little sadly. “But then there was a star danced, and under that was I born.” She stood, and began to take her leave. “Cousins,” she cried. “God give you joy!”
The players (who had trickled back onstage as the scene unfolded) watched her go.
“By my troth,” said Algernon, sadly. “A pleasant-spirited lady.”
“There’s little of the melancholy element in her, my lord,” said Frank, genially. “She is never sad but when she sleeps, and not ever then; for I have heard my daughter say she hath often dreamt of unhappiness and waked herself with laughing.”
Everyone laughed at that, both onstage and off.
“She cannot endure to hear tell of a husband,” observed Algernon, with a small smile.
“O, by no means!” cried Frank. “She mocks all her wooers out of suit.”
“She were an excellent wife for Benedick,” said Algernon, to general disbelief; the audience chuckled along with them.
Frank stared at his Prince in amazement.
“O Lord, my lord! If they were but a week married, they would talk themselves mad!”
“County Claudio, when mean you to go to church?” asked the Prince, looking very much like a man who was Up To Something.
“Tomorrow, my lord,” said James, happily. “Time goes on crutches till Love have all his rites.”
“Not till Monday, my dear son,” cried Frank. “Which is hence a just sevennight; and a time too brief too, to have all things answer to my mind.” The waiting-women were nodding emphatically, but James looked troubled.
“Come, you shake the head at so long a breathing,” said Algernon, smiling. “But I warrant thee, Claudio, the time shall not go dully by us. I will in the interim undertake one of Hercules’ labours, which is, to bring Signior Benedick and the Lady Beatrice into a mountain of affection th’ one with th’ other.” The players laughed, taking the audience with them. “I would fain have it a match, and I doubt not but to fashion it if you three will but minister such assistance as I shall give you direction.”
“My lord, I am for you, though it cost me ten nights’ watchings,” agreed Frank, amiably.
“And I, my lord,” said James, with a determined nod.
“And you too, gentle Hero?” asked Algernon.
“I will do any modest office, my lord, to help my cousin to a good husband,” said Lily, dimpling prettily.
“And Benedick is not the unhopefullest husband that I know,” said Algernon, to general amusement. “Thus far can I praise him: he is of a noble strain, of approved valour and confirmed honesty. I will teach you how to humour your cousin, that she shall fall in love with Benedick; and I,” he added, to James and Frank. “With your two helps,will so practice on Benedick that, in despite of his quick wit and his queasy stomach, he shall fall in love with Beatrice.” He grinned. “If we can do this, Cupid is no longer an archer; his glory shall be ours, for we are the only love-gods. Go in with me, and I will tell you my drift.”
Eleanor broke the kiss she and Remus had been sharing as the players left the stage, laughing; the scenery shifted again, dizzyingly, back to the well-furnished room of Don John.
“It is so,” cried Sirius, striding onstage unhappily. “The Count Claudio shall marry the daughter of Leonato.”
“Yea, my lord,” said Nathan, following him. “But I can cross it.”
Sirius span, angrily.
“Any bar, any cross, any impediment will be medicinable to me,” he spat. “I am sick in displeasure to him, and whatsoever comes athwart his affection ranges evenly with mine. How canst thou cross this marriage?”
“Not honestly, my lord,” said Nathan, with a grin. “But so covertly that no dishonesty shall appear in me.”
“Show me briefly how,” instructed Sirius, his head to one side.
“I think I told your lordship, a year since, how much I am in the favour of Margaret, the waiting-gentlewoman to Hero,” said Nathan.
“I remember,” nodded Sirius.
“I can, at any unseasonable instant of the night, appoint her to look out at her lady’s chamber window.”
“What life is in that to be the death of this marriage?”
“The poison of that lies in you to temper,” said Nathan, leading his Prince back offstage.