An Elisebethan Mask (Yes, that is how Pearl Curran spelled it!) is a play of 9 scenes comprising 186 typewritten pages. It takes place in England, perhaps around the 1580s and is about a very young William Shakespeare when he had not yet met his fame and fortune. The draft copy I have is dated December 1, 1932. It was edited by Max Behr, son of Herman Behr and California golf course architect and editor of Golf Illustrated and Outdoor America. Gordon Ray Young, a writer of fiction and book reviewer also intervened as editor and hounded Patience to rewrite parts of the work over a period of several years. The play was never published.
Dr. Irene Hickman in her book I Knew Patience Worth quotes a part of the dialogue, which she titles ‘The Mire Song’ from An Elisebethan Mask (When at her reading was titled “The Masque O’ Will”) which contains minor edits and additional lines compared to the draft copy I have. Hickman doesn’t say that she was present during the dictation but she states that “…someone suggested that Patience be asked to redo ‘The Mire Song’ to see whether it could be improved upon. She repeated it with improvement. Again the request- – – again improvement. Eighteen times she acceded to the same request. Then it was thought best not to ask again as there was no further room for improvement.”
It is not suggested that this play was “channeled” from Shakespeare but seems to be an effort by Patience Worth to convey something about the early life of Shakespeare and to do it in a writing style reminiscent of perhaps early writing of Shakespeare or what one might think Shakespeare plays were like. The play was still being edited in the home of Pearl Curran Wyman on June 27, 1933 when Max Behr asked Patience “Do you mean that Shakespeare is speaking through you? Patience replied “Who stirreth this puddin’? And did ever a boiler o’ the pot betell the how the puddin’ came for to be? The time it taketh? The stuff it be created o’? Yea, – but the puddin’, nay! Pearl Curran did not acknowledge that she had ever read the Shakespeare plays although her mother had taken her to see one or two (which she found boring).
I don’t know what to say about this work and I believe that the draft copy I have is not the final version; but the more I read it the more impressed I am. I don’t think it compares with the real plays by Shakespeare by any means but then again, it is impressive to think that someone with no interest in writing or poetry, no advanced formal education and no experience reading or seeing Shakespeare plays and with little or no knowledge of Elizabethan peasant life or language would be able to write this.
I must say that I cannot discount the role of Max Behr and Gordon Young in massaging the dictation, with many re-writes over several years in a way that would have made the play more reminescent of Shakespeare’s writing. ( Both men were educated writers and editors and Max Behr, a graduate of Yale, likely was exposed to the writing of Shakespeare as part of his advanced education and social position.) Rhyming, which is abundant throughout the play, was not Patience’s style and was very rare in her previous poems, plays and novels. Although very minor corrections to other dictations were previously done by Patience and/or Pearl Curran, major re-writes as were reportedly done in ‘The Elizebethan Mask’ were not part of the modus operandi of Patience Worth.
See what you think!
Starting on Page 55
DAN: Tonight, when taper wick be lit there be a throat that must be slit. A gentle task! All unsuspecting shall the knave, athout e’en a blade that might to save, walk to the trap and ne’er detecting, nor seeing the hand so sure directing, the ready blade that itcheth for its plunge, take its bare kiss and feel his body lunge back to the clay from whence it came.
Can he then tell the man, or name his name that he who doth the deed may take the blame? Nay, but another dungheap richer be. And he who bid the deed. . . then where be he? Minstrelling some lady and she applauds his gallantry! Esh! I’m sick to puke upon the rotten fare! Rather would I to snap my sword and dare the wrath of court, or yet the Queen. . . bawdy old slut who taketh not a KIng!
WILL: Ha! Ha! so sayeth youth who hath not learned him yet that truth be not a glove to fit unholy hand, rather it be an iron band that chokes the liar, cracks the necks of thief, yet, choked or dying they’ll ne’er declare disbelief, for lieing be the cloak of every thief. Ye lie, ye steal, ye lie again, then kill and killing lie ye on and on until death in its justice doth thy tung to still. Thus lieing be the everturning mill whose hopper gristeth from its spill, and ever will, the evils of the day.
DAN: (Wrathfuly) The evils of the day! God, man, I say no day wert e’er so crawling, so bemeaning. for right be wrong, and wrong be right begleaning no fair harvest from the living, giving no zest e’en to giving of all a man may have for honour’s reason. Why, honour at the court? Jesu, ’tis treason! The smell of blood besicks me, and the parry with the sword be vain, for, with the all o’ it, what then the gain? Thou art as eld as I. Then think ye that the why of all of this be youth? Or what the answer then, forsooth?
WILL: (Looking afar and musingly speaking to himself)
No creed, or colour, kith or kin, may give the reason up to him.
(Suddenly turning and facing Dan, at the same time holding forth his hand.)
My hand, my lad, for ’tis a sad sad plight that England ‘s in. Alike to thee I ask ye be it sin? I have no itch to enter in to such a gaming. Mayhap this lack should be my soul ashaming. The sword! The last word in an argument when mercy’s reasoning might prevent. To kill to spill thy brother’s blood, to let his stream of life to flood by thy intrusion! Such men, like yokels in a fog begrope them out confusion, toppling them headlong ‘pon the first barrier to confront, they rush them headlong at conclusion.
(His tone changes, becoming tenderer. He removes his hand from Dan and makes a vague gesture.)
What fools! When there be pools where lilies lie. What fools when there’s the ever-changeful sky. What fools! Such battlement hath ne’er bebested day. What fools, thus to let their self give way losing the line bescribed ‘pon the brook, losing the tomes bewrit upon the sky, that open book where man may read his creed and, if he find him need for ritual and rite, behold the tapers of the night! The chanting of the stars and moon, the sun which cometh soon, and radiant bedazzling keeps its tryst, the vessel of the Holy Eucharist held high in heaven, I vow, that sinners then might bow before divinest light!
(Dan, his mouth agape, crosses himself)
‘Tis fancy, coy, coy elf. And what a game to lose thyself, beplaying with the stars and moon, fetching out of life that boon of dear forgetfulness.
‘Tis as though I kissed the Cardinal’s hem, as though I saw beyond and then . . .
(Jumping to his feet and slapping the table with his open palm)
Gad, man! A suckling thou wouldst make a man! I look upon this hand that’s run my fellows through, and then . . . I hate the thing and would be rid of it. I pray thee, leave me that I be a man! For, gad, no bladesman could or ever can bewed his God unto his most unholy day, else his staunchest tenants would give way and he would find him shaking like a wench before the filthy seething stench of such an day.
WILL: (Will reaches over and pulls him down, speaking soothingly)
Naught be the matter of today. Today be the wage, the fulsome pay of man’s own folly. And man bedeems it melancholy fare. This be not rare, for sore oppression be but the echo of man’s own confession to his lack. Why shunt it then upon another’s back? If man should play him with the moon, ‘twould be a boon. Instead, he stops that he shall tie his shoon and dallys with the hap-beflunged instant in the stead. He should to tiptoe, yea, and lift his head from out the squalid day.
Look ‘pon these lordlings at the court! The mincing apes, the baudy sport for lolling courtezans that leach the land, playthings of such a band of pirates! Gnawing rats that bleed fair England that she lay awaste her men while she doth flay the rotten grain for one small measuring of meal.
DAN: I may not feel the zeal behind my sword. I tell’e Will, there be no word that may describe the venom in this heart. How then may I beplay a part with such a motly lot?
WILL: The weevil be athin the pot of grain. No sacrifice, nor loss, nor gain may right the wrong. Man keepeth then the strong sweet silence of his faith, and leaves the day to quake. For stripling e’er doth solve the riddled universe and writhe and curse the hapless instant in his puny wrath. Dan, our words be chaff that’s blown a thousand, thousand years, the old, old fears of youth afore he knows, and aging, gad he throws his knowing to the skies. His senile tear bedries it then o’er youth’s bedaring blade and he hath a newer shade of wisdom that shall rust e’er it uttereth the trust he placed. The aged turn them ‘gainst the youth they faced and totter to the grave with no thing saved for all their gain.
DAN: That be the thing that doth to bite. I’m sick of all the logics trite that so beblears the day and predispose the youth to flaunt the truth as shoddy reason. This Will doth prove the treason age bedeals.
WILL: Thus youth doth feel