Prologue to The Comedy of Errors
Who wants a lackey that is smart,
he’ll short-change you right from the start;
you send him erranding, and he’d
steal all the best scenes, guaranteed;
what if he was crafty Jodlet
who got to woo Don John’s coquette?;1
consider Warner, the servant,
who got rich, as well Millisent;2
with such a rogue as Jeremy,
Truewit was a non-entity;3
this will not do; a lackey must
be dull enough to merit trust;
if he’s too clever, faith, he will
command the top place on the bill.
Who wants a master that is smart,
you’ll off to Tyburn in a cart;
the Pit may like someone noble,
but they’re too brisk with the cudgel;
ye gallants prefer heroes deft
as they prevent their servants’ theft;
ye swells may chouse dames to make nice,
but view askance my galliardise; 4
a master who possesses brains
outwits his Bubble, just like Staines;5
forsooth, there’s knav’ry in all trades,
but gents pluck the best escapades;6
it’s beggarly, a lackey’s lot,
a smart master cannot be taught.
1. William Davenant, The Man’s The Master.
2. John Dryden, Sir Martin Mar-All.
3. Ben Jonson, The Alchemist.
4. Peter Bellon, The Mock Duellist, in which the valet Champagne explains his thievery of his masters’ wares as an expression of French servants’ punctilio.
5. John Cooke, Greene’s Tu Quoque.
The Jester’s Pitch
Forsooth, nobody needs a jest
when life is fair, as prepossessed;
if everything was admirable
then anticks would be inutile;
in times of bonny merriment,
wisecracks are sure superfluent;
nobody needs a laugh when they’re
as happy as a millionaire;
nobody needs a somersault
when the zeitgeist makes all exult;
who needs a comic pantomime
when rapt with a merry pastime;
a jolly farce is overkill
when people surfeit on goodwill;
good times are bad for madcap folks
since good times furnish their own jokes;
nay, only when the days turn tart,
the whole world needs the cut-up’s art;
when things turn sad and life does plague,
you need someone to pull your leg;
when money’s short and dangers lurk,
that’s when comedians find work;
when kingdoms forget how to laugh,
the king needs a fool on his staff.
Finding the 21st century obsolete, Craig Kurtz versifies Restoration plays, illustrated by Anni Wilson. Excerpts appear in California Quarterly, Penn Review and (upcoming) Seems. Visit http://antickcomedies.blogspot.com/ for particulars. Kurtz and Wilson reside at Twin Oaks Intentional Community.