Lucy Vickery presents this week’s competition.
In Competition No. 2682 you were invited to submit an extract from the diary of a Shakespearean character who has woken up to find him or herself transported to the present day.
John O’Byrne, Frank Osen, Gillian Ewing and Josephine Boyle impressed this week but top honours go to George Simmers, who nets £30. His fellow winners, also printed below, get £25 each.
Next week’s competition slot will be given over to a celebration of the 2,000th crossword so the results of Competition 2683, After the Dance, will appear in the issue dated 12 February.
Indeed, Princess, ’tis a strange country we are in, for though this be Forest Gate by all the signs, yet see I no forest, nor no gate neither. You bade me enquire for the swain who has despoiled all surfaces here-abouts with his markings and his remarkings, and therefore have I contacted his agent, for he is a graffiti artist much praised here, most expeditiously sought after, and paid more for these his efforts than was the knight who sold his honour thrice over to buy codfish. To this agent I remarked that I thought this art nothing, and that a fool could better it with a greater nothing, whereat he straightway placed me under contract. I too am an artist now, and to that end have taken this Audrey for my muse, or more truly my amusement. ’Tis a strange country indeed, princess, but one where fools thrive wonderfully.
These naked legs and arms so writ upon —
you’d say the painters were in want of canvas
and that these bitch wolves were a moving
easel, sporting dragons and their open-arse,
and such a scurvy, bosomy ebullience
for all to let their eyeballs feast on till the lust
swells like a bursting boil to steep the brain.
And steam and fire erupting from the street!
I sped poor Bardolf for a capon
and some sack — I fear a steamy hole has oped.
And Jack, poor Jack, lost like a swag-bellied
horse and me dodging all these steel-eared
vipers and nose-ringed nabobs of the night.
God’s Blood! Give me a purse to get my fancy
back to good thievery away from these
witches of the oily calf and stapled tongue.
A pox on it! My very fibres tremble. To wake in Hell, yet like no Hell that was ever writ, can undo a man, be he ever so steeped in villainy. What lifetime’s endeavour of roguery and vice could deserve this monstrous show — a fantastical new planet peopled by whores, madmen and sticky-fingered dissemblers, yet withal a giddy merry-go-round of mechanical marvels? The gods in its pantheon are mummers and minstrels, some scarce past childhood, whom a hireling pack of scribblers and acolytes attends upon like slavish, bowing courtiers and whose fornications light up the public prints, while amid the carnival death strides in ironclad battalions, a diabolical energy. Marry, such change might unhinge the brain and send the wits scattering. And yet ’tis not so changed, after all. What my dazed eyes show me is lechery, lechery, still wars and lechery. Nothing else holds fashion.
A plague upon it, though there be a thousand on ’em as pass for old, yet think not they of my spade. Faith, there’s none shall roast in hell, for they are hotter here than sparks, and at the first sign of the everlasting, they are scattered to the four winds. That there be any remains to be seen, remains to be seen. ’Tis a grave matter when there be no matter for the grave: there’s your philosophy, and ’tis not deep as was wont. Those that are ground down have no grounds for complaint, and though they pass through my fingers, they pass not through these hands. They are too quick for me, i’ faith: no sooner fit for my business, then are they unable to pay the price of my toil. There is a toll on my toll: though be they nobody, they be no body neither.
Bill Greenwell/The Gravedigger
June the twenty-second — I awake
Into what seemeth like a dream: no Quince,
No Snout nor Snug nor Flute nor
But unfamiliar faces and a wench,
As sour as Titania is sweet,
Who bid’st me say what sort of job I seek
And where my talents lie. ‘Forsooth!’
‘No labour do I seek. I am by trade
A worthy weaver and a thespian
Admired by dukes and commoners alike.’
‘Next please!’ says she, dismissing me
As though I were an ass! And thus
I wander streets as weird as might be found
In some midwinter’s nightmare, past belief.
O Peter Quince! I trow thou could’st not
A ballad half so mad as this, my plight.
TV or not TV, this is the question:
is it a far-off vision or a dream?
But if such dreams may come when both
drink in reality, what fearsome scenes
are yet to be? And who are these that
in unfamiliar tones, spectres that pass
before our eyes and seem to savour life?
They tell me that my finger at a push
may banish these illusions but who knows
to what strange hell we send them by our
And if by such devices we deny
these harmless spirits life, we may conclude
our own existence may be likewise closed
when some spectator chooses so to act
and render purposeless our puppet deeds.
Better perhaps to let such magic be.
No. 2685 pillow talk
You are invited to submit a marital dialogue in verse (16 lines maximum). Please email entries, where possible, to email@example.com by midday on 9 February.