Thursday, January 18, 2007

Queen Isabella, Live on Geraldus

I’ve been doing some in-depth research, and deep in the stacks of the university library, I found the following hitherto untranslated transcript of an encounter between a Geraldus de Springerus and the dowager queen Isabella some time in the late 1340’s.

As background to this exciting discovery, it appears that in the decadent years between the Battle of Crécy and the advent of the Black Death, Geraldus de Springerus was an itinerant entertainer who traveled throughout England. His “shows,” as they were called in the common parlance, were widely attended by the lower elements of the populace, and featured “guests,” sometimes from the same rank as the audience, sometimes of a much higher social standing. Oddly, the latter sort of guests do not seem to have regarded their appearance alongside Springerus as demeaning. This suggests a hitherto unrealized fluidity among social relations at the time and, I hope, will provide a fruitful ground of study for researchers in decades to come.

The translation presented a challenge, as the shows were conducted in a peculiar mix of Norman French and Middle English, depending upon the status of the guest. Furthermore, there are lacunae where the transcriber appears to have simply given up the attempt to record the goings-on, instead simply writing, “Fisticuffs.” This implies that quite often, the passions of the audience may have become extremely heightened.

Many more transcripts await translation. In the meantime, I hope this modest contribution to medieval studies will be met with interest.

Geraldus: Welcome, ladies and gentlemen. Today the theme of our show is “Misunderstood Women.” I’m very pleased to have with me today our dowager queen, Isabella, over from Castle Rising, where she spends most of her time these days.

Isabella: But only because I want to.

Geraldus: Yes, your grace. We had another guest lined up, one Mistress Margery, who wanted to address accusations that she had been making people’s sheep die, but she had—er—a conflict and could not make it after all.

Audience Member: Because we burned the witch!

(Cheers and claps from audience. There is a single boo toward the back, followed by fisticuffs.)

Geraldus: (To Isabella) They’re a tough crowd today, your grace.

Isabella: (To Geraldus) Tough crowds? You’re looking at a woman who escaped the Scots single-handedly. Well, with some help from my knights, of course. (To the crowd). You’ve heard the stories about me. I took a lover. I had my husband murdered. I had my brother-in-law the Earl of Kent executed on trumped-up charges. I kept my son the king and his wife poor while my lover and I got richer and richer. I did everything possible to keep my lover in power and my son from being king on his own.

Geraldus: And those stories aren’t true, your grace?

Isabella: Of course they’re true. Do I look like a weakling to you? But no one understands why I did them. And that’s why I’m here, to set the record straight.

Geraldus: And that’s why I’ve brought you here, your grace. To—

Isabella: Oh, just keep quiet. (To the crowd) I put up with my no-good husband for years. I kept quiet when he gave all of my jewels to Gaveston. I listened while he talked about digging ditches. I never said “I told you so” when he lost to the Scots. I put up with the two Hugh le Despensers for as long as anyone possibly could. I was the best wife in the world. I was.

Woman in Audience: I hear you, girl!

Isabella: So what was I to do when a man like Roger Mortimer came along? Say no, thank you, I’d rather stay with my sodomite of a husband?

More Women in Audience: No way, girl!

Isabella: And the money. I couldn’t have Mortimer see me in rags, now could I? Or let him look shabby, could I? And the land—I needed places to entertain him in properly, didn’t I?

Even More Women in Audience: Damn straight!

Isabella: And my son. You think having a boy that age glaring daggers every time I so much as smiled at Roger Mortimer was pleasant? I couldn’t do anything to please the little wretch. (Dabs eyes.) I did try so hard to be a good mother to him. I got him on the throne, didn’t I?

Women in Audience: Awwww!

Isabella: And that stupid brother-in-law of mine was a meddler, pure and simple. If he’d minded his own business—

Man in Audience: So why’d you kill that poor bloke your husband?

(Fisticuffs between man and surrounding women.)

Geraldus: (after a long interval of fisticuffs) Well, that is a perfectly valid question, your grace.

Isabella: I— Well, because he was a bloody nuisance!

(Cheers from women in audience)

Geraldus: Well. We’ve got a very special surprise for you now, your grace.

(A curtain at the back of the platform is pushed aside and a man wearing a monk’s habit steps out and pulls his hood back. Isabella stares in horror at him.)

Isabella: You’re—you’re—

Edward II: Your husband, my dear.

Isabella: You’re not dead.

Edward II: Still smart as a whip after all of these years.

Isabella: But I went to your funeral!

Edward II: You went to a porter’s funeral. I killed him and escaped. I’ve been wandering all around Europe ever since, dressed like this.

Isabella: I held a splendid funeral for a damned porter? I’ve been paying to have masses said for a damned porter?

Edward II: That’s it.

Isabella: Well, this is just outrageous and in extremely poor taste.

Edward II: And you call the red-hot poker business good taste? I thought you would have been more subtle, frankly.

Isabella: That was Mortimer’s idea.

Edward II: (in a high voice) Oh, that was Mortimer’s idea. That’s right, blame it on your boyfriend. Oh look now, she’s sulking. She always was good at sulking.

Isabella: Well, I hope you don’t think you’re going to take your throne back.

Edward II: And deal with the Scots and your French relations again? Lord no, Ned’s welcome to it. I can do all of the rowing and thatching and ditch digging that I please now.

Isabella: Well, if that just isn’t absolutely delightful.

Geraldus: Folks? Why don’t you show there are no hard feelings? An embrace for the audience?

Isabella: [Editor’s note: This passage contains obscure words that appear to be strikingly scatological and obscene. Further analysis by specialists is needed here.]

(Isabella stalks off the platform.)

Edward II: Good riddance. Now that she’s gone, can you find a slot for me sometime? How about “Men Who Lost Their Thrones and Don’t Really Mind”? I hear that David Bruce is available.

Geraldus: It’s going to be hard, but—let’s see. I’ve got your niece Joan of Kent coming up on “Women Who Just Can’t Say No to Marriage,” and your son’s scheduled too, on “Men Who Want to Be King of France.” And there’s “People Who Worry About That Pestilence Thing Coming to England.” But I’ll think of something. I’ll have my people send a messenger to your people.

(All of you people who commented on my previous Isabella post are to blame for this one.)

7 comments:

Alianore said...

Great, I love it. ;) I hope you're going to make this into a series! Pretty please??

Gabriele C. said...

ROFLOL, that one should have come with a beverage alert.

I'm tempted to suggest this post for the next Blog Carnivalesque. Who says it has always to be the serious, academic stuff. :)

Daphne said...

That is so funny! You really should become a writer. :)

And I second the series idea, especially after your contribution on Richard III.

Susan Higginbotham said...

Thanks, ladies!

Carla said...

Gabriele - why not? I've already suggested the Richard III playlet to him :-)

Susan - great stuff! Look forward to more if you've got any other ideas! (And I've never even seen the original)

Susan Higginbotham said...

Thanks, Carla (and I appreciate the suggestion)!

Sarah said...

Very funny! Loved all the "fisticuffs"... and the part about David Bruce. Hee.