Your favourite bit, aside from the boinging Cupid have mercy!, the clichéd all the world’s a stage, and that gloomy Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything?
Mine’s got to be the frisky rat-tat-tat of love-struck cross-dresser Rosalind’s quick-fire questions.
A little game I like to play in my Lilliputian upper storey is, if she was addressing me (Cupid have mercy!), what would be my one-word answer? If I was her bosom buddy (Cupid have mercy!) Celia, that is.
Let’s remind ourselves of that randy ramble.
[Rosalind to Celia after Celia said she bumped into Rosalind’s dreamboat, Orlando…]
Alas the day! What shall I do with my doublet and hose? What did he, when thou sawest him? What said he? How looked he? Wherein went he? What makes he here? Did he ask for me? Where remains he? How parted he with thee? And when shalt thou see him again? Answer me in one word.
Ten questions in fifty-seven words. Eight hes. Two hims. You can see her glaring, eyes like dinner plates. One wonders what’s on her mind, though, really.
Your favourite bit, aside from the clichéd I cried to dream again and brave new world that has such people in’t?
Mine’s got to be Caliban’s few words while basted on booze or, as he lovingly calls it, celestial liquor.
What tickles is the characteristic hallmarks of the drunk as he tries to give the also carted Stephano and Trinculo instructions on how to polish off Prospero [Caliban’s boss].
He’s truly bowsered. Or, as the irksome and obsequious Ariel puts the state, red-hot with drinking.
It’s all here. The frowning. The determined imperative. The repetition of idea. The aggression. You don’t have to see the play to see him swaying, lurching, finger-pointing.
So, having just told them both that he’ll take them to Prospero where thou mayst knock a nail in his head, he expands on the theme.
(Why is knock a nail in his head so funny here? Why. Perhaps because it’s such an absurdly violent and premeditated (given the tools needed) thing to do, uttered by an inebriate who can hardly stand up. Perhaps it’s the euphony and alliteration in those first three syllables that make it sound such a casual and easy task.)
And so he goes on,
‘I the afternoon to sleep: there thou must brain him,
Having first seized his books; or with a log
Batter his skull, or paunch him with a stake…
New verb for me there: to paunch is to disembowel (an animal). I guess that figures, glancing down.
Or cut his wezand with a knife…
I don’t know either, nor does the dictionary. But I do know that I’d like my wezand intact. Whatever, wherever, it is.
Loosen your clothing and keep the airways free for this one.
In October 1950, Reverend G Edward Charlesworth was having his Croft Rectory in Yorkshire renovated.
When they pulled up the floor in what used to be Charles Dodgson’s [Lewis Carroll’s] nursery on the second storey, they came across a child’s secret stash of little bits and pieces.
Here are three of the treasures they pulled out. Make sure you’re sitting comfortably. Brandy balloon in reach.
One left shoe.
Remember the White Knight’s song in Through the Looking-Glass?
And now if e’er by chance I put
My fingers into glue
Or madly squeeze a right-hand foot
Into a left-hand shoe…
Oh, Lordy. Fetch the smelling salts.
One white glove.
Remember the White Rabbit in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, splendidly dressed, with a pair of white kid gloves in one hand and a large fan in the other?
Then he drops them. Alice picks them up and forgets about them until she finds, oddly, that she’s wearing one after she’s shrunk.
I can’t remember what happened to them after that, but do recall him looking for them, muttering, “Oh my dear paws! Oh my fur and whiskers! She’ll get me executed, as sure as ferrets are ferrets!“
I think one of the meanie queenie’s favourite punishments was to cut off someone’s whiskers. (Didn’t she threaten the Dormouse with as much in court later?)
Then the White Rabbit tells her to go to his house and get him some more gloves and she does and drinks that potion and gets bigger and bigger and bigger and stuck. Or something.
Mercy. Back in a sec, running a cold bath.
Remember, in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, the prize-giving after that absurd Caucus-race and Alice gives them all a comfit and there isn’t one left for her?
“But she must have a prize herself, you know,” said the Mouse.
“Of course,” the Dodo replied very gravely. “What else have you got in your pocket?” he went on, turning to Alice.
“Only a thimble,” said Alice sadly.
“Hand it over here,” said the Dodo.
They they all crowded round her once more while the Dodo solemnly presented the thimble, saying “We beg your acceptance of this elegant thimble;” and, when it had finished this short speech they all cheered.
Not the first sign of madness, but the protagonist Georges Duroy.
His blatantly ironic nickname, Bel-Ami, typifies the duplicity coursing through this deliciously unsettling book.
His secret to success in four words? Use your wily willy. Five? Erm. Get off to get on.
Well, well, old boy, I hope you realise you really do hit it off with the ladies? You must cultivate that. It could take you far… they’re still the quickest way to succeed.
And boy, does he slather on the ‘charm’. It’s a shame to see it abused so. And the trust that goes with it. Makes you shiver.
But before we look at some gems, let’s put down a marker and reflect on author Laurie Lee’s sense of pure charm (from his excellent 1975 collection of essays, I Can’t Stay Long).
Charm in a man, I suppose, is his ability to capture the complicity of a woman by a single-minded acknowledgement of her uniqueness…
… of being totally absorbed, of forgetting that anyone else exists…
… it’s what a man says that counts, the bold declarations, the flights of fancy, the uncovering of secret virtues…
… [it] strikes deepest when a woman’s imagination is engaged, with herself as the starting point, when she is made part of some divine extravaganza…
… a woman is charmed by what she hears...
So. Here’s Bel-Ami. Being cheesy about a lady’s earring.
It’s charming,… but the ear must take some of the credit, too.
When I love a woman, everything else vanishes apart from her.
Sir Percy Squirm.
And here’s His Oilyness pecking hands.
He kissed them one after the other and then, raising his eyes, he said simply: “Heavens, if only I’d met a woman like you, how happy I would’ve been to marry her!”
Le beurre ne fondrait pas dans sa bouche. (Good, eh?)
But to be honest, they’re all it. Boys and girls, some astute enough to clock it in others.
Feel the venom in this riposte to Bel-Ami from one of his long-time tootsies, Madame de Marelle. Makes your eyes sting.
You’ve behaved like an utter cad ever since we’ve known each other… you go around deceiving and exploiting everyone and everybody [ouch], you take your pleasure when and where you like and money from anyone who’ll give you it and you still want me to treat you like a gentleman.
Yee-haw. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. (Must remember to do the dishes.)
Semi-Autobiographical of Maupassant? Perhaps. The pox boxed him.