The King and the Beggar Lady

An Old Tale Retold for a New Time …

This colorfully-illustrated book, now available on Amazon.com, is a new take on a tale dating to Shakespeare’s days—the one about a king who falls in love with a beggar woman. Does he woo her and marry her and make her his queen? In this retelling, the Beggar Woman turns the King’s world upside down.

From the award-winning creative team that created the cult classic The Jamais Vu Papers, this charming story-poem is written by Wim Coleman and illustrated by Pat Perrin.

A great little book for a gift or personal collection.

… now available on Amazon.com.

Is there not a ballad, boy, of the King and the Beggar?

The pompous Spaniard Don Armado asks this question of his page, Moth, in William Shakespeare’s early comedy Love’s Labour’s Lost. Moth makes this reply:

The world was very guilty of such a ballad some three ages since: but I think now ’tis not to be found …

But the ballad seemed to have reappeared a short time later, when Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet. It comes up again when Romeos’ friend Mercutio mentions Venus’s “purblind son and heir”:

Young Adam Cupid, he that shot so trim,
When King Cophetua loved the beggar-maid!

So a ballad about “The King and the Beggar-Maid” was already known when Shakespeare wrote both of these plays during the 1590s. The oldest known version appeared in an anthology in 1612. It tells the tale of the wealthy King Cophetua, who disdains women and marriage until he falls in love with a beggar named Penelophon. And just as Mercutio says, Cupid is to blame for the king’s unexpected passion:

The blinded boy that shootes so trim
From heaven down did hie,
He drew a dart and shot at him,
In place where he did lye …

The ballad unfolds in a traditional fairytale manner. The King woos Penelephon, who (of course) is overwhelmed and honored by his attentions:

At last she spake with trembling voyce,
And said, “O King, I do rejoyce
That you will take me for your choice,
And my degree so base.”

And (of course) she marries the King, and they live happily ever after:

And thus they led a quiet life
During their princely raine,
And in a tombe were buried both,
As writers sheweth plaine.

The story especially inspired artists and writers during Victorian times. The poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson, wrote a couple of stanzas about the story, which was also a subject for the Pre-Raphaelite painters Edmund Blair Leighton and Edward Burne-Jones. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (better known as Lewis Carroll) took a photograph of Alice Liddell, thought to be the model for the title character in his most famous books, costumed as the beggar-maid.

If the story has fallen from fashion, it may be because we’ve become less enthusiastic about Cinderella-like tales in which a handsome nobleman rescues a poor but beautiful (and vacuous) maiden from a life of misery and turns her into a princess.

In our own version of the ballad, we decided to turn things around a bit.

“The Mad Scene” — prologue to Wim’s award-winning new play

Here is the prologue to my latest full-length play, The Mad Scene, which was just awarded First Place in the Script category of the 91st Annual Writer’s Digest Writing Competition

The Mad Scene has been aptly described as “an Our Town about the Reign of Terror.” I’ve been developing it during the last couple of years with amazingly brilliant members of the Yorick Theatre Company, the Ridiculous Theatrical Company, and Theatre at St. John’s, as part of the Theatre at St. John’s Cyber Salon, hosted weekly by Mark Erson. The parts were read by Everett Quinton, Jenne Vath, Sally Plass, Maude Burke, and Shane Baker; Daniel Neiden directed. The Mad Scene has yet to be produced.

The entire text of The Mad Scene is available on the New Play Exchange or by contacting me personally.

*

PROLOGUE

Characters:

Marie Grosholtz/Madame Tussaud
Marie Antoinette

The scene is the Madeleine Cemetery, Paris, the night of October 16, 1793.

MARIE ANTOINETTE’s head lies in the lap of MARIE GROSHOLTZ, who will later become known as Madame Tussaud. MARIE works by the light of a lantern.

MARIE. Madame …

ANTOINETTE. There is no sky.

MARIE. … can you hear me?

ANTOINETTE. I never noticed it before.

MARIE. I must take your face.

ANTOINETTE. Carolina, look for yourself. You’ll see it’s true.

MARIE. I’m not Carolina.

ANTOINETTE. There is no sky. There are only stars. Oh, and a slender curved scimitar of a moon, hanging by … an invisible thread, I suppose. But tied to what? There’s nothing to tie it to, nothing to hang it from. There is no sky. (wincing) Don’t. Carolina, why are you touching my face like that?

MARIE. I’m not your sister. I’ve got to make a cast of your face.

ANTOINETTE. What are you smearing on my skin?

MARIE. Oil, so the plaster won’t stick.

ANTOINETTE. What a silly thing to do on such a night, with a moon and so many stars and no sky at all to gaze at. Look.

MARIE. I’m looking.

MA-Lebrun

Marie Antoinette, by Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun.

ANTOINETTE. No, you’re not. You’re looking down at me. You’re in the way of my view. But where are we? Oh, we fell asleep in the gardens again, didn’t we? I was counting clouds and you were giving them names and it got dark without us knowing it. Our dresses must be soaked through with dew. Odd, I feel so … dry. We’ve got to get back to the palace. The countess must be angry. Or beside herself with worry. Poor old thing, we’re so much trouble to her.

MARIE. We’re not in your garden in Vienna.

ANTOINETTE. Of course we are.

MARIE. No. This is the Madeleine Cemetery. In Paris

ANTOINETTE. What are we doing in Paris? Don’t touch my eyes.

MARIE. I’m only closing them.

ANTOINETTE. Why?

MARIE. Because they’re not glass. I’m covering them with plaster.

ANTOINETTE. I don’t understand.

MARIE. It’s best not to talk.

ANTOINETTE. Why not?

MARIE. The dead are usually quiet. Or at least they’re supposed to be.

Exécution_de_Marie-Antoinette,_Musée_de_la_Révolution_française_-_Vizille

Execution of Marie Antoinette, Museum of the French Revolution. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license: creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en

ANTOINETTE. I’m not dead.

MARIE. Madame, you have been beheaded. You are certainly dead. Tomorrow you will be buried. It really would be best to keep quiet. You’ll upset yourself.

ANTOINETTE. You’re not Carolina.

MARIE. So I’ve been telling you.

ANTOINETTE. I’ve not been beheaded.

MARIE. You have, and it was hard to find you among so many dead, all thrown about every which way, so it’s hard to tell whose head belongs to whose body. Don’t you smell the stench?

ANTOINETTE. No.

MARIE. Death has its blessings then. I never guessed how blood and flesh could stink. It’s always such a chore, this scrounging through stench and open graves, looking for just a certain head. Your husband was even harder to find than you, and to make things worse, he was already dissolving in quicklime.

ANTOINETTE. My husband?

MARIE. But I found you. I recognized the white morning dress you wore on the scaffold, even though it was stained and caked with blood and dirt. Then your head was easy to spot, plopped right between your knees. But your face looks strange now—so thin and drawn, with a scalp of short white hair. When did your hair turn white? Oh, I hear it was after you were caught trying to escape—you and the king and your children. I can fix all this when I make your new face.

ANTOINETTE. Who are you?

MARIE. I hoped you’d remember me, madame. My name is Marie Grosholtz. I lived at Versailles nine years. I tutored Madame Elizabeth in molding wax, and I lived in her apartments and kept her company. You were very kind to me in those days, madame.

ANTOINETTE. Versailles? Madame Elizabeth?

MARIE. The king’s sister. You don’t remember. You’re confused. But don’t worry. The plaster will set, and we’ll be finished soon, and it won’t matter whether you remember or not. I needn’t tell you to keep still. You’re doing that anyway.

ANTOINETTE. There is no sky.

MARIE. I’m sure you are correct, madame.

ANTOINETTE. Oh, yes. Versailles. They tell me I’m going there. They tell me I am to become the Dauphine of France.

MARIE. If you say so, madame.

ANTOINETTE. I am to marry the Dauphin, they tell me—Louis-Auguste, some cousin I’ve never met. They say he is a clumsy boy, rather stupid, and he’s sure to grow fat, and he can’t dance at all. But then, I’m just a girl myself, and people say I am silly and I laugh more than I should and I like to dance too much. No, don’t deny it, I know that’s what they say. But he’s a boy, just a boy. I wish I could marry a man, someone wiser, someone I could trust to know …
… how to …
But it’s not up to me, is it? Nothing is up to me. And not only must I stop being an archduchess, they tell me I must stop being Austrian, and I must say goodbye to everyone I’ve ever known—even to you, Carolina, and also to Mutti—and I must forget how to speak German and speak French perfectly for the rest of my life. And when I go to France, before I meet the Dauphin in the Forest of Compiègne, I must be stripped of every scrap of my Austrian dress and be clothed anew in the manner of a French princess. Of course there will be people watching me change. It’s always been like that. I’ve never been naked alone. But in France there will be more people than ever, watching my every waking moment, and while I’m sleeping as well. I will put on my rouge in front of the whole world. It will never stop.

MARIE. There. The plaster is set. I’m almost finished.

ANTOINETTE. That pinches.

MARIE. Yes, but only for a moment, while I remove the cast.

(MARIE pulls the cast away.)

MARIE. I must leave you now.

ANTOINETTE. Where are you going?

MARIE. To where I work.

ANTOINETTE. You can’t leave me.

MARIE. I must. I’m sorry.

ANTOINETTE. I am your queen.

MARIE. France has no queen.

ANTOINETTE. Obey me.

MARIE. I must obey the National Assembly. I wish it weren’t so.

ANTOINETTE. Take me with you.

MARIE. I can’t take your head, madame. I’ll lose my own if I try. Adieu.

Madame_Tussaud,_age_42

Marie Tussaud, by John Theodore Tussaud.

ANTOINETTE. Wait! I remember! Your name is Marie! You make likenesses from wax! Elizabeth adores you! She came running to me a little while ago to show me a Virgin you taught her how to make. “Look, sister!” she said. “Look at my little wax Mother of God! I made her look just like you without meaning to, I couldn’t help it! Was that blasphemous of me, sister? Must I confess it to the abbé?” “No, sister,” I said. “No blasphemy at all …”

MARIE. Adieu, madame.

ANTOINETTE. But what will happen to me after you go?

MARIE. I don’t know.

ANTOINETTE. Oh, but you do. I’ll vanish. I’ll die. Please, I beg you. It is only by the grace and bounty of your madness that I still live. Don’t let me die.

MARIE. You’ll live again in wax.

ANTOINETTE. But will I remember … ?

MARIE. I don’t know what you’ll remember.

ANTOINETTE. Will I still be myself?

MARIE. I don’t know.

ANTOINETTE. Am I myself even now?

MARIE. I said I don’t know.

ANTOINETTE. Please stay!

MARIE. Dawn is nearing.

ANTOINETTE. We’ll watch it together!

MARIE. I must go.

ANTOINETTE. We’ll skip barefoot in the dew, watch morning burst into blossoms of light, bathe ourselves in mad mists of swirling color! We’ll worship the sun and laugh and dance like Incan priestesses!

MARIE. Adieu.

(MARIE exits, carrying her lantern.)

ANTOINETTE (dying). There … is … no … sky …

BLACKOUT.

1557px-nicolas-antoine_taunay_-_le_triomphe_de_la_guillotine

Le triomphe de la guillotine, Nicolas-Antoine Taunay

How long does it take to make an artwork?

A lifetime at least. More than that because so much is double-timed, images and words running parallel to every ordinary day, fading in and out of the corners of the mind while everything else goes on—a lifetime of double-timing between those moments of sharp intensity while the focus is entirely on the work.

Whether a simple-seeming splash of color or a living line, a brushstroke or plunges of some sharp tool … whether stitching in space or dancing in it, writing words or singing them, or bringing pure sounds into a void … the thing taking form depends on everything lived so far and imagined yet to come.

Life Forms, Eventually to Wonder
Linen and cotton yarns, handmade paper, river stones, bone beads, on a wrapped tree branch, 36 in H x 48 in. W x 17 in. deep.
An expression of my most-often-used artist’s statement: Here on this fleck among the uncountable stars something takes form, eventually to wonder why we are and what to each other.

I worked on this piece over several years, off and on and, of course, double-time. Stitchery is a very slow means of expression, so the thing itself is likely to grow a lot between concept and final form. This old needlelace technique works to create surfaces in the air and handmade paper is yet another way of making something that wasn’t there before. I like stones for their compositional value but especially because stones are ancient in our world and always seem to have something to say on their own.

— Pat


The Hoax Principle …

“… that fictional ideas, like placebos,
can attain an astounding level of reality
through sheer persuasive force.”

Who would have believed that fictional characters would simply refuse to be remaindered along with physical books? After The Jamais Vu Papers was published by Harmony Books in 1991, it sold a few thousand copies and then seemed doomed to disappear as books did when major publishers lost interest in them. Two decades later, after we got complaints that the book wasn’t available anywhere, we republished it ourselves. A small audience continues to follow our erratic story, and a modest number of copies sell every year. That seemed to be the end of the story.

We did take note that our character Llixgrijb succeeded in walking off the pages and taking on a life of his own, turning up in a variety of guises and languages. Those connections seemed amusing, probably harmless, and again we thought that was the end of it.

But the words of another fictional character from our book have taken on new life today. Imogene Savonarola, a renowned neuroscientist at the Institute of Neuroreality, “determined that the brain possesses receptors for paradox” and hypothesized the existence of a neurotransmitter which she called the “oxymorphin.” Explaining that “The oxymorphin is almost wholly dormant in modern man, except when it is occasionally sparked by direct encounter with a common metaphor,” Savonarola set about producing a chemical equivalent, creating chaotic adventures that make up much of our tale.

In another of her publications, Savonarola discusses a very timely concept: how fantasy can become empirical reality through “The Hoax Principle.”

“Flat-out lies can come true if they appeal
eloquently enough to the credulity
of both sides of the mind/brain.”

She describes false ideas as placebos, those sugar pills or meaningless procedures that can seem to cure disease if the consumer believes they are real medicine. (See Harvard report) Whatever we might think of Savonarola’s scholarship, it does seem that in our own time, an extraordinary consumption of placebos has activated the dark side the process she describes.

Pat