The Importance of Being
Copyright Ó by Brian Murphy, 2011
THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING
A Prefatory Paragraph
Stewart Headlam was quite famous as a radical clergyman, in
Scene 1: The pulpit of
Scene 2: The Rectory of St. Paul’s Church, October 1893. (p. 8)
Scene 3: A solitary confinement cell, Pentonville Prison, Winter, 1894. (p. 33)
Scene 1: Headlam’s drawing room-office,
Scene 2: (framed by the Act I pulpit, Autumn, 1924),
Headlam’s drawing room-office, 7 AM,
Stewart Headlam, aged 70 at the beginning and end, about 40 otherwise.
Bernard Keane [accent on first syllable], an ardent young clergyman in his mid-20’s.
Miss Angelica Smythe, an efficient secretary, pert and attractive, around 30.
GB Shaw, still full of youthful high spirits, in his early 40’s.
Emma Kingman Headlam, Headlam’s wife, an extremely, and voluptuously, beautiful woman, around 35.
Lester Kingman, Emma’s father, a very energetic 60 year old.
Mr. New Man, young.
Mary, a maid.
Ada Leverson, a brilliant middle-aged woman dubbed “Sphinx” by her famous friend Oscar Wilde.
Oscar Wilde, as he would appear emerging from prison, in 1897.
[Stewart Duckworth Headlam, the famous and controversial clergyman, white-haired and still handsome at 70, mounts a pulpit. He lights two candles and then clicks on a new electric light. The surrounding gloom is somehow inviting. He clears his throat, and with a practiced toss of his head, begins.]
"We are such things as dreams are made on,
"and our little life is rounded with a sleep."
My final sermon! How quickly it has come, and how fantastically long ago was my first sermon: thus, time’s mystery.
Some of you sat right here, in
In the latter days of the last century, I may have been moderately famous, or rather infamous, for trying to bring our Church along the lines of modern thought. Of course, in the 1880's and '90's, "modern thought" meant respect for, and hope in, Science; it meant social progress—less poverty, more education, a sharing of wealth, more happiness for all. Was it not one of humanity's Golden Ages? There was a genuine chance for enlightenment and happiness round the world in what we regarded not as cynical colonial imperialism but as an endlessly beneficent Pax Britannica.
Yes, how naive and foolish that seems today, in 1924—in what I hear they call The Age of Jazz! Have you read the poem they're all talking about by that young American, Eliot? Everything in ruins, fragments; everything unreal. Oh, I retire from a world quite strange to me.
Young men of my generation and education felt we could change the world: for we saw the Gospel of Jesus Christ in a new light.
Did we change the world?
Well, ten years ago The Great War began. Was that our answer? Oh, the War began, like all wars, with bright uniforms and high hopes and ended, like all wars, as a ruinous catastrophe.
Allow me the privilege of the old: I return to the past and bid you farewell from my era, that happy Golden Age: I wish you hope in the fears of today.
Still it persists, that question: what have I to assert?
Well, I assert: ever we must search for God, and never be certain we have found Him. In that sense, Tennyson's great lines still ring true—and more necessary than ever:
“There lives more faith in honest doubt,
Believe me, than in half the creeds."
We search for God, and this search strengthens our souls: oh yes, sometimes—I am certain of it—I have seen God.
In that Golden Age, long ago, I once spoke to a young man in prison. What began as a corporal act of mercy became a troubling, even mysterious, sighting of the Divine.
Some nights ago, I sat behind a great banquet table and heard myself eulogized; I heard praises sung and accomplishments tallied; recalled for me were the days of great controversy, when I defended Bradlaugh, yes! that atheist scientist, when I defended the theatre as innocent pleasure and the drama of Shakespeare as a source of profoundly religious wisdom, when I defended the dance as an important human art form. I was reminded of my work in education, in prison-reform, in the creation of the Guild of St. Matthew.
It was all true, yes, yes: I deny none of it, and I hope my life's-work has had but a fraction of the good ascribed to it by my friends—by so many of you.
I sat there as in a dream: such is the strangeness of time that all my daily labors, my works and struggles, melted
"into air, into thin air.”
"We are such stuff
"As dreams are made on."
As I prepare "to break my staff" and "bury it certain fathoms in the earth," I ask myself what, really and truly, deeply and truly, is on my mind.
Allow me to recall with you some aspects of my life which will not appear in my obituary which must inevitably—there'll always be a Times !—appear in due course. One wife. Many of you have known her, have known [he says her name with obvious difficulty] Emma. Three men there are: one, that boy in prison.
Another is Wilde.
Ah, I hear your groan—“not loud but deep.” Am I going to dredge all that up again? Oscar Wilde:
buried in disgrace in Paris, the man we no longer speak of. Well, tonight I wish to speak of him. From
him I learned some things harder to express than those certainties I carried
with such youthful assurance to
But in order to tell the rather surprising story of how Wilde came into my life, I must tell you another story, this about Shaw. Yes, today he is GBS, the Grand Old Man of English Literature. But he (or you? Shaw, are you sitting somewhere back there?) came into my life in the early 1890's, just before his great fame commenced. We met at the controversial plays of The Independent Theatre: he liked sitting next me when I wore my clerical cloth—The Devil's Disciple he styled himself. I admired his musical and dramatic reviews—full of intelligent life, they were; they set me stronger in my own convictions about the importance of art in our lives and in the new world I fancied we were creating.
There was one particular encounter. Of this let me speak, at last, this evening. It gave Shaw the idea for a play: that play was the first of his immensely successful works. For me . . . well, it became the story of my life.
[The Rectory of
HEADLAM. Good morning, good morning. Both. Good morning.
BOTH. Good morning.
HEADLAM. Well, well, well. And now, Miss Smythe, what have you got ready for Bernard today?
MISS SMYTHE. He is to take your schedule.
BERNARD. I am?!
MISS SMYTHE. Yes, Master Keane. You have got to do all the rounds yourself this morning.
BERNARD. And why is that, Miss Smythe?
MISS SMYTHE. That is so himself can have a day to himself.
BERNARD. A day to himself! Er, why of curse . . . I mean, of course.
HEADLAM. Ha, ha, Bernard! No, go ahead and curse! It's exactly what I deserve for loading all the work on to you.
BERNARD. But, er, why, Mister Headlam?
HEADLAM. Bernard! Mister?
BERNARD. Oh. Terribly sorry. Stewart.
MISS SYMTHE. There. You've said it.
BERNARD. Yes, I have. But, er, Stewart, I've never known you to take what they call a day "off." May I be so . . . so presumptuous? Might there be anything . . . wrong?
HEADLAM [rather struck by this view of himself]. Wrong! What do you mean, Bernard? What on earth could be wrong?
BERNARD. Why, er, er, I meant only, I mean to say, Stewart, it is so, so unusual a proceeding for you. Really, I meant nothing more. Although, really, into every life some rain, et cetera, et cetera.
HEADLAM. Yes, I see your drift, Bernard, and then must fall, et cetera, et cetera.
BERNARD. Uh, yes, yes. Exactly.
MISS SMYTHE. If I might be so presumptuous: might it not be an idea particularly apt at the moment, if, Mister Keane, you were to be about your business and start on the rounds for the day? [She hands him a piece of foolscap.] Here's the list. You may leave your notes on this shelf, for I shall certainly be finished for the day by the time you get through all that lot.
HEADLAM. Stop a moment, Bernard. I’m very nearly startled to find you think it amazing I would want to do anything other than work.
BERNARD. Well, when one's work is such as we are privileged to be called to . . . .
HEADLAM [waving this away]. Yes. Quite. But I will tell you why I am asking you to bear my fair share today. Naturally, I will return the favor. Anytime.
BERNARD. My dear Stewart: you return the favor every day.
MISS SMYTHE. Master Keane, you are beginning to make me ill.
BERNARD. Miss Smythe!
HEADLAM. Now, now, Bernard, there, there. You mustn't mind.
BERNARD. Mustn't I?
HEADLAM. Not a bit of it. It's just . . . well, it's just our Miss Smythe. Without that occasional moment of tartness, it wouldn't be Miss Smythe there at her desk at all. It certainly wouldn't be the same place without her.
MISS SMYTHE. Thank you, Mister Headlam, for the testimonial, but you make it sound as if I were slightly dead.
HEADLAM. Hah! Bernard, you see what I mean? Spares no one. And, now, let me turn to your question. My dear fellow, I daresay you feel like poor Falstaff when we first meet him. He asks Prince Hal , "what time a'day it is," and, for answer, receives four pages of brilliantly expressed scorn and abuse.
[He picks up a letter opener shaped like a scimitar and taps it on the finger nail of his left thumb. He picks up a newspaper, glances, and discards it.]
HEADLAM. My wife is coming back today.
BERNARD. Oh? Er, yes?
BERNARD. Ah, I see. Yes, of course.
HEADLAM. Do you, Bernard?
BERNARD. Well, I think so, Sir . . . .
[HEADLAM winces visibly.]
BERNARD. Sorry. Stewart. Well . . . I think [with an air taking the bull by the horns and saying it straight out] you want to be alone with Mrs. Headlam.
HEADLAM. Yes . . . well, that's it exactly! [His tone suggests that this is not quite how he had seen it before.] Yes. Let me tell you something, Bernard. And I want you to hear this, Miss Smythe, so please don't invent an excuse to leave the room discreetly. Now, marriage is not a state or an institution really, though we speak of it that way. Marriage, essentially, is a union.
MISS SMYTHE. More a trade than a church?
[A bell rings.]
MISS SMYTHE. Why, Mister Headlam, your eloquence is more than usually effective this morning. Admirers are gathering already.
HEADLAM [almost sprinting to the door]. Oh, bother admirers! It might be her! [Exits.]
BERNARD. May I ask you something, er, a bit personal, Miss Smythe?
MISS SMYTHE. Personal! Why, Master Keane, I am . . . I am alarmed and intrigued.
BERNARD. Do you admire him, Miss Smythe? I mean to say, do you admire him tremendously, as I do?
MISS SMYTHE. Why Bernard, yes, I do admire him, and I think, tremendously. But certainly not as you do.
[HEADLAM leads SHAW in and hangs up a mack and a long scarf. BERNARD and MISS SMYTHE do not notice and go on talking. SHAW puts a forefinger to his lips.]
BERNARD. I ask because I sense a certain reserve. I mean, he is so tremendously extraordinary.
[HEADLAM is about to enter, but SHAW restrains him and pulls him back toward the coat rack.]
MISS SMYTHE. Why, yes, I suppose he is that. We can agree on that. I think we admire him pretty much the same. But you are . . . well, you are just down from university; and I have no intention whatsoever of becoming the founding secretary of The Headlam Society.
BERNARD. But why? I don't understand. I'm sorry. But I don't. I mean, I don't know if a Headlam Society would be in, er, the best interests of us all. On the model, I take it you would mean, of The Browning Society. But, then after all if it were! Wouldn't you think it a tremendous . . . a tremendous privilege?
MISS SMYTHE. Certainly not! It would mean more work for even less pay. Probably no pay at all! Privilege!
BERNARD. Miss Smythe! I mean, how can you . . . ?
SHAW [roaring with a strange, stuttering kind of laugh]. Ha, ha, ha!
[BERNARD and MISS SMYTHE turn, each appalled at having been overheard.]
SHAW. I say, Headlam! The Browning of this latter day, this fin de siecle.
HEADLAM. Bernard, weren't you just about to be off on your rounds, my rounds, I mean to say?
BERNARD. Why, er, yes, Mis . . . Stewart.
HEADLAM. Before you go—here, for Heaven's sake, wrap this round your throat; there's a very raw east wind this morning—I want you to meet the most brilliant writer in London—Mister George Shaw. Shaw: meet Bernard Keane. Ah! But your middle name is Bernard as well. There are two of you. Is it George Shaw or Bernard Shaw?
SHAW. As yet, I haven't decided—though I hate "George." It's a name you pick when you want anonymity.
BERNARD [somewhat confused]. Well, in my case, they named me Bernard . . . and so I'm . . . Bernard. [They bow; then BERNARD recognizes the surname.] But Shaw! But, not, not, you don't mean . . . .
HEADLAM. Yes, I do.
BERNARD. . . . him.
HEADLAM. Yes, him. If you're ever to see the Devil in the flesh, Bernard, behold! Ecce Diabolo!!
SHAW. Headlam, you do me overwhelming honor.
MISS SMYTHE. Why, I've heard of you too!
HEADLAM. Shaw, Miss Smythe—our invaluable secretary. Miss Smythe, allow me to present Mister Shaw.
MISS SMYTHE. The devil you say! Aren't you the chap who took out his watch and offered to let the Almighty exterminate him in five minutes as a proof of His existence?
HEADLAM [to SHAW]. You see how it is. Your fame precedes you.
SHAW. Oh, that is mere notoriety—not fame. Yet.
BERNARD [doing his best to follow all this]. But what, er, after you took your watch out, well, what, er, happened?
[They all roar with laughter.]
HEADLAM [putting his arm round Bernard's shoulder and adjusting the scarf]. There, there, Bernard. We shouldn't laugh. But you see: Mister Shaw is still with us.
MISS SMYTHE. And, Master Keane, you may draw your own conclusions about the Deity.
BERNARD. But, but, I mean . . . . Well, I don't know what I mean. I am sorry. I am very confused. [He bursts into tears.]
MISS SMYTHE. Mister Keane!
HEADLAM. Why, Bernard!
SHAW. I have never seen such a thing! Headlam, I'll come back later.
HEADLAM. No, no, really, Shaw.
SHAW. I will. I'll take a turn in the market. Come back in three-quarters of an hour. Would that do, do you think?
HEADLAM. Well . . . perfectly.
[SHAW takes his scarf and his hat and lets himself out. BERNARD is trying to get away from MISS SMYTHE, who has attempted to pat his head.]
HEADLAM [taking charge]. Bernard, there, there, there. That'll do Miss Smythe, thank you. [Undoes the scarf.] Here. Now, I want you to sit down. Miss Smythe, perhaps you could ask young Mary to fetch us a cup of tea?
MISS SMYTHE [exiting]. Of course.
BERNARD. Mister Headlam, I am so sorry. I have made an utter ass of myself. . . I am so ashamed at having embarrassed you in front of . . . in front of your distinguished guest.
HEADLAM. Nonsense, Bernard, nonsense. Let's sit and talk this over. Can you tell me what it was, what provoked . . . ?
Mister Headlam, if that man has
proved that there is no God, if this was in the newspapers, and if everybody in
HEADLAM. Hmm. Yes, Bernard, I see.
BERNARD. Mister Headlam: do you believe in God?
HEADLAM [gasps]. Oh, of course I do, Bernard. Sometimes, we English are so proud of our sense of humor and so eager to be able go along with men and bring the Word everywhere, that we laugh where we should not and are solemn when we should smile. I believe in . . . well, what do I believe in? I hardly attend to questions like that any longer.
BERNARD [with a slight smile]. Well, you're so busy.
HEADLAM [laughs]. Ah, your sense of irony hasn't evaporated entirely, Bernard. But you're quite right.
Well, here in 1893, what do I believe in?
I believe, I believe: in God, the Father Almighty ?. . . the Creator of Heaven and Earth?
Well, yes. I believe in the divinity of creation.
BERNARD. But does that mean you believe in a divine Creator?
HEADLAM. You are shrewd today, Bernard. You come close, you come close.
BERNARD. Well? Er, Stewart?
HEADLAM. Well. Now that you press me, what can I say? No, Bernard, I do not think I believe in a divine Creator. I do not think the universe has a father in the sense that you and I have fathers.
BERNARD. But then what role . . . ?
HEADLAM. What role is left for us? I realize the danger here. Disraeli, that shrewd old fox, once addressed the Dean of Westminster—I think it was—at any rate, someone becoming alarmingly liberal with advancing years: "Remember, Sir: no dogma, no dean." Well, I shall just have to risk it. Of course, I have the luxury of independent means. I realize that. Shaw reminds me of it.
BERNARD. Er, is that to be it, then? Only people with independent incomes can be—dare I say it—atheists?
HEADLAM. Oh, good heavens, Bernard! It's only a word. All it means is that one is literally away from God—or, more precisely, one particular concept of God. You know what Shaw once told me? He said his favorite philosopher was a Frederick Nietzche.
HEADLAM. Well, exactly. I mean: who else would have a favorite philosopher no one has ever heard of? How exactly like Shaw. At all events, I mention this because he quoted a saying of this favorite philosopher of his which, I must admit, has rather stuck in my mind.
HEADLAM. It's only four words long: "God is a Conjecture."
BERNARD. That's it? But doesn't that bring the whole show down?
HEADLAM. Oh, I don't think so. In my mind, I always capitalize the "C" in "Conjecture."
BERNARD. Are you being funny?
HEADLAM. I'd rather hoped so.
[HEADLAM strides about, then puts his hands on Bernard's shoulders and seats him. He goes on:] Now then, Bernard, as I see it, we have two plain duties. The first is that we use all our powers to spread the Word. . . the Word of Justice. The second is that we use all our powers to spread the Word of . . . Joy. How much of our world is grimed over with ugliness—and therefore misery. To some of us are given the means, and therefore the challenge, to fight this.
BERNARD. But what of . . of . . . of Christianity?
HEADLAM. What do you mean, Bernard?
BERNARD. Er, er, well, I, I mean such things as sin and redemption and . . . and so forth.
HEADLAM. Well, Bernard, I denounce the sins of
rapacious capitalism and cold materialism.
And I wish to redeem our society by drawing the logically inevitable
Socialist conclusions from the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This, to me, is our calling. Not theological debate and discourse. What use is it, eh?—this endless debating the
proverbial number of angels on that damned head of that damned medieval pin, eh
Bernard? No, no, no! We are here to realize the
BERNARD. Where is Miss Smythe?
HEADLAM. Miss Smythe! Why, yes, that tea is rather long in coming, isn't it? But, Bernard, surely my views on these
matters cannot be entirely new to you.
Good Heavens! All the bishops in
BERNARD. Well, it's just I had not known they were so . . . .
BERNARD. Well, er, er, Stewart, I have the impression, almost, that you don't believe in God!
HEADLAM. "God." That is a very big word, Bernard, a very big word—a Conjecture, in fact. If a belief in a supernatural father helps anyone achieve justice and find joy, why should I quarrel about it? Alternatively, why quarrel with me? "By their fruits you shall know them."
BERNARD. Ah. A saying from the Son of God.
HEADLAM. Bernard? How'd you know Jesus didn't mean that we are all sons of God? Wouldn't that be as logical an inference, and more consonant with the Jesus who defied the God-obsessed (you might almost say, quite exactly, the God-damned) authorities of His time? Would not that be better—and, when you think about the matter carefully, even more plausible—than the image of Jesus standing on some mountain top and saying I am the Son of God, and the rest of you are miserable worms? You see, doesn't the Fatherhood of God suggest that we are all—Jesus included—brothers and sisters to each other? Surely that's the great point.
[MISS SMYTHE enters with a tea tray, followed by a florid-faced, grizzled sixty-ish man wearing expensive, but very brown, clothes. This is LESTER KINGMAN.]
MISS SMYTHE. Sorry the tea took so long, Mister Headlam, but Mary had popped out, and I found our old friend Mister Kingman hanging about the back, so I suggested he come in the front door.
HEADLAM [astonished]. Lester Kingman!
KINGMAN [deferential, tentative in the extreme]. Hallo, Stewart. How are you? Your gurl is as himpertinent as hever. I was in the neighborhood and thought . . . .
HEADLAM. In the neighborhood! Just strolling about
KINGMAN. Now then, now then, Stewart, draw it mild. Why, it's not more'n three, and, after all, it was you who told me I was no longer welcome in your 'ome. But, but, now I've no desire for a quarrel. Haven't the stomach for it any more, if the truth be known.
HEADLAM. What is it? What do you want?
KINGMAN. Why, Stewart, a touch a Christian charity? See me own daughter and see how her 'usband is gettin' on? Why, you know, you've become quite famous, you have—and no mistake. Talkin' here, talkin' there, newspaper reporters takin' down every blessed word you say. I always thought you'd make your mark, and by thunder, you 'ave, Stewart me boy, and no mistake.
HEADLAM [with a suspiciously formal bow]. The good opinion of one's father-in-law is, of course, always welcome.
KINGMAN. Of course, we've had our little differences . . . but, but, now, that's all in the past.
HEADLAM. Our "litttle differences" . . . in the past, are they? Little differences like a just wage for your employees?
KINGMAN [explosively]. My hemployees in me own business, what I created by myself and out of nothing and with not a whit of help from anyone! And then to have county councils and rich clorgymen tellin' me what I have to pay me own men! By God, it's enough to . . . .
HEADLAM. Now, now, father-in-law. They are not little differences, and obviously they are not in the past; but we've no need to argue them out now. You want to see your daughter? Very well. Take a chair. I expect her at any time.
KINGMAN. What? She's not living here with you any more?
HEADLAM. What? What are you saying? I don't understand.
KINGMAN. Well, a man's wife ought to be . . .with him . . . at 'ome. It's only decent and proper.
HEADLAM. What the devil are you talking about? Emma went to the country with her friends the Markbys. She'll be back today. Take a chair. I've some work to do.
KINGMAN. Before I'm sent to the corner, Stewart, what do you say we shake hands and let bygones be bygones?
[HEADLAM stands, irresolute for a moment.]
[EMMA, with SHAW just behind her, appears in the doorway.]
EMMA. Say yes, Stewart.
HEADLAM. Emma! My dear! [He rushes to embrace her; she laughs at his ardor.]
[EMMA consents to be embraced and whirled to the center of the room, where HEADLAM tries to help disentangle her small bags. Without touching him, she motions him away.]
EMMA. Stewart. My dear. Really. You are such a . . . . .
[She laughs. They all laugh with her. She puts things down, puts other things in place, and takes charge while they all look at her. SHAW, who has returned with her, is openly gaping and leaning against a book case—evidently for support. For EMMA is extremely beautiful: she is dressed in the height of fashion , with a necktie and masculine-feminine clothes swathed voluptuously over her generous body. Her hair—thick and a rich, dark brown—is piled imperiously up over a commanding brow. She looks at the world through clear, unblinking grey eyes, with long lashes and strong eyebrows. The men are, where the men are always to be found, in a heap at her feet.]
EMMA. Why, Father!
KINGMAN. Hallo, Emm.
EMMA. Hello, Father. It's been some time.
KINGMAN. Oh, don't say that, Emma. Didn't you just say we should forgive and forget?
EMMA [moving about the room, putting it to rights]. Oh no. I said you and Stewart should forgive and forget. But, here, you may.
[She leans forward. Her father kisses her cheek.]
EMMA. And Stewart.
[She leans forward again, and Stewart is permitted a chaste kiss.]
EMMA [going about the room]. Why, hello, Bernard. Miss Smythe.
[BERNARD bows. MISS SMYTHE tries to hide the sour look on her face.]
STEWART. My dear Emma, I am so happy you've returned! Here, let me introduce my new friend. This is . . . .
EMMA. Mister George Bernard Shaw. Quite so. Mister Shaw and I have met. In fact, we are very nearly old friends.
SHAW [talking to Headlam, but not taking his eyes off Emma]. Why yes, Headlam. I met Mrs. Headlam at a concert. Two months ago. I remember it exactly. How could one forget?
BERNARD. I have never really understood the difference.
MISS SMYTHE. You will, Bernard; one day you will.
HEADLAM. In the present circumstance, Bernard, Shaw would be envious; and I would be jealous.
BERNARD. Oh, I see: the jealous husband, and the envious . . . .
HEADLAM [rather dryly]. . . . suitor . . . would be the word, I should think.
[There is an awkward silence. Finally, SHAW, who has been so enraptured by EMMA that he hasn't noticed the awkwardness, speaks.]
SHAW. Suitor. Only one suitor? I
should think [arm outstretched, with
gallantry] the whole of
MISS SMYTHE. That would be very bad for business, wouldn't it? I mean, both the vegetable and the spiritual business would be seriously inconvenienced.
SHAW [spins around, looks at her, and roars with laughter]. Why, Headlam, you've a whole house of geniuses.
EMMA. Geniuses! In the plural? We have Stewart. One genius is enough. More than enough? Myself, I never have anything to say.
SHAW. No matter. My fellow Hibernian, Mister Oscar Wilde, assures us that beauty is a form of genius.
[He bows; she returns the bow.]
[Before another silence can begin to swell, MISS SMYTHE approaches BERNARD.]
MISS SMYTHE. Well, speaking of beauty and the bodies of men in the streets, shouldn't you be getting at last to your rounds?
BERNARD [as if she were speaking of something cosmically remote]. What? Oh. Oh, yes. Well, I suppose so. Seems rather pointless now.
HEADLAM [deliberately misunderstanding]. Now, now, Bernard, there's
still plenty of time. Get through those
SHAW. Oh, yes. In fact, I'm afraid I have some rather bad news for you: I intend never to leave.
EMMA. Well, then, this is something in the nature of a homecoming for both of us, isn't it, Mister Shaw?
HEADLAM. Emma! Well, I'd best speak to Mary about lunch. Would half past one suit everyone?
KINGMAN. Well, if I am being included here, I accept with pleasure, and ‘alf-one would suit me just admirably.
HEADLAM. Ah, what a relief, Kingman! [Bundling people as he speaks.] Miss Smythe, would you show my esteemed father-in-law the garden terrace and a copy of some paper he might enjoy . . . .
EMMA [laughing, and caricaturing her own father]. In 'is 'ouse? Waalll: all I kin say his: not bloody likely.
KINGMAN [like everyone else, genuinely shocked]. Em!! I say!!
HEADLAM [quietly]. My dear, you go too far.
SHAW [roaring with laughter]. Going too far is always the most interesting place to go.
MISS SMYTHE. Come along, Bernard. Dangerous waters here.
[MISS SMYTHE shows Kingman and Bernard out the door; she exits. EMMA, SHAW, and HEADLAM all look at each other for a moment. EMMA opens her mouth, changes her mind, and shrugs.]
EMMA. I'd best confer with Mary about this suddenly gala luncheon. Gentlemen. [She sweeps out.]
HEADLAM [after a silence]. Wonderful woman. Wonderful wife.
SHAW. Wonderful wife? Ugh. Who would want to be—or love—such a thing? Oh, Headlam, Headlam, Wilde is right: beauty is a form of genius. And she is the rarest of geniuses. We are both clods at her feet. It is right she should step over us, step on us should she wish. Oh, Headlam! Your wife . . . .
HEADLAM. Yes, dull as it sounds, she is my wife.
SHAW. Headlam: I must, as a man of honor, say it out straightaway: I am in love with her.
HEADLAM. In love with her?
SHAW. Completely. Insanely. Utterly. Absolutely and totally in love with her, with Emma—oh, how I love the sound of her name!—Emma, Emma, Emma, Emma. Oh, and Emma!
HEADLAM [walks to his desk; turns; turns back. He laughs, or—rather—tries to laugh. What emerges is an unconvincing stage laugh. Then he becomes reflective, as if he had put the humor of Shaw's declaration behind him.]. I . . . I don't know what to say. what should I say? What can I say? What does one say on such, er, occasions? I . . . I have never . . . I don't know. [The wind has been knocked out of him.]
SHAW. Headlam, you must know: I never meant this to happen. I fell in love with her the minute I saw her, before I knew she was your, or anyone else's, wife. But there it is, man: what are we going to do about it?
HEADLAM [faintly ominous]. “Think'st thou I'd make a career of doubt? To be once in doubt is to be at once resolved: and on the proof, away at once with love or jealousy.”
SHAW. Ah. you Bardolaters. If you don't know what to say, you quote Shakespeare.
HEADLAM [quietly]. Take care, Shaw.
SHAW. Headlam! Don't you see? I am beyond all that sort of thing.
HEADLAM. But I'm not. And I don't think it right to fall in love with another man's wife.
SHAW [genuinely surprised]. What ever happened to the Reverend Stewart Headlam, the fearless front-line fighter for progress? Headlam, I tell you frankly: you sound almost, well, conventional.
HEADLAM. Well, Shaw, I am sorry to disappoint you. I am not quite ready with an original ethic. I am inhibited by the fact that we are talking about my wife . . . about my, my marriage, about my life, in fact.
SHAW. Why don't we all go away somewhere? Morris is right: love is the answer. Love is all that matters. The three of us could live together. I don't mind sharing her. In fact . . . .
HEADLAM. The devil you don't! Why, thank you, Shaw. That's marvelously generous of you!
SHAW. Oh, can we not get beyond all this static, death-inducing, stultifying convention? Why should we not live together?
SHAW. Oh, can
we not get past all this conventional outrage, this humbug and huffing? This is
HEADLAM. The three of us living on coconuts and
bananas on a
SHAW. Her coconuts and our bananas. Why not?
HEADLAM. Oh, come, Shaw. "No man is an island" and all that sort of thing.
SHAW. Headlam: please stop quoting. You must search your own heart and tell me what you really and truly think.
HEADLAM. How is it that you want to run away with my wife and I feel that I am on trial?
SHAW. Well, because we want to bring you along.
HEADLAM. "We"! You've spoken to Emma about all this?
SHAW. Not a syllable. I needed to speak with you first.
HEADLAM. Yes. As a man of honor. Yes, I see.
EMMA [entering suddenly]. "A man of honor." Stewart, you always conduct conversations on the highest plane possible. No. Do not tell me of whom you are speaking. Sometimes, I think I am almost sick to death of "men of honor."
[SHAW and HEADLAM exchange a look. EMMA, bustling gracefully, does not see the look.]
MISS SMYTHE [also entering abruptly]. Mister Headlam, there's a man from the Bishop in the front office. Mrs. Headlam, your father is making the most piteous sounds: left all alone; why it's as if he had no daughter at all; that sort of thing.
EMMA [exiting]. Thank you, Angelica. I will, with everyone's leave, tend to the piteous sounds.
HEADLAM [rather uncertainly]. And I . . . well, I will see to the Bishop's man. Shaw, we will, er, discuss more. Anon.
SHAW [bowing with exaggerated grace as HEADLAM leaves]. Angelica! What an extraordinary name. It amazes me.
MISS SMYTHE [setting briskly to work at her desk]. Well, there was no thought of pleasing you when I was christened.
SHAW. Shakespeare again! Does everyone in this infernal rectory quote Shakespeare all the time? It's enough to drive one perfectly mad. You are obviously a young woman of some gifts, of some originality of thought. So you must stop quoting Shakespeare. In fact, if humanity is ever to progress, we must stop reading Shakespeare!
MISS SMYTHE. Why, I love Shakespeare!
SHAW. Well, what is life but a giving up of what you love?
MISS SMYTHE [looking up from her desk and turning round to look at him]. That's a very curious thing to say.
SHAW. You don't think it true?
MISS SMYTHE [looking back at the work on her desk]. Oh, it’s true all right.
SHAW [after a silence, during which he contemplates her back]. I see.
MISS SMYTHE. What is it you see, Mister Shaw? No! Say nothing. I am sorry I asked.
SHAW. You love him. That's why you're here. That's why you become tense whenever Emma, Mrs. Headlam, is in the room.
MISS SMYTHE. Oh, that is not true!
SHAW. It isn't?
MISS SMYTHE. The way he . . . . Well, should I ever marry—which seems extremely problematical—I should not want my husband to carry on about me in that absurd manner. Yes, very well, we can all admire the woman's good hair, tolerable figure, and fetching style. But all this uxorious raving about her! That is enough to drive one perfectly mad.
SHAW [after a pause]. Tell me why. I am intensely curious. Why do you love him?
MISS SMYTHE [turning in her chair, pausing, then: very decisively]. Well . . . why ever not? He is an intelligent man, trying to do as much good as he can. He may be even a great man. [She gives a little laugh.] Besides, he is very good looking, and I like good looking men, Mister Shaw, so there.
SHAW [warmly]. Miss Angelica Smythe: I hope that you are the harbinger of a whole new style and way of thinking. The New Woman. That's what you are. One caution, Signorina Angelicissima: pioneers are often very lonely.
MISS SMYTHE. Well, then, I've got that part of it down nice and perfect. And, Mister Shaw, what about yourself, then? Aren't you yourself pretty besotted?
SHAW [buoyantly]. Oh, of course, of course. I have never known what the phrase "I adore you" means. Now I do.
MISS SMYTHE. Mister. Shaw! That's . . . .
SHAW. Oh, I know: hopelessly sentimental, an immature infatuation, not really serious, a counter-blast to my life of rigorous control and Spartan efficiency . . . all that I know. And I don’t, even to the tiniest degree, care.
MISS SMYTHE. Mister Shaw!
SHAW. Yes, I know: revolting, and worse than revolting: in her toils, one is unmanned, finished off.
EMMA [entering]. Mister Shaw!
SHAW. Oh . . . you!
MISS SMYTHE. Mrs. Headlam! How . . . how much have you . . . ?
EMMA. Heard? I heard that Mister Shaw has been unmanned. He has my sympathies. As does his future wife.
MISS SMYTHE [involuntarily putting her hand to her mouth and laughing]. Mrs. Headlam?
EMMA. Yes, Miss Smythe?
MISS SMYTHE. Is, er, er, your father, er, comfortable?
EMMA. Well, certainly more than you two are.
MISS SMYTHE. I think I'll just, just . . . .
EMMA. Think of something else to do, some other place else to be?
MISS SMYTHE [standing and waving her hands in confusion]. Oh! [She leaves the room.]
EMMA. Well! Mister Shaw?
SHAW. Do you know this? Do you know this already?
EMMA [for the first time, looking puzzled]. Mister Shaw?
SHAW. Oh, good heavens! Don't call me that. Please.
EMMA. Well . . . then: George.
SHAW. Oh! A thousand times worse!
EMMA. You are a very difficult man to please. And what, then, should I call you?
SHAW. A secret name, one that you must give me.
EMMA. Oh, I see. A secret name!
SHAW. And you must allow me to . . . .
EMMA. I must allow you to . . . ?
SHAW [hurling himself before her, on his knees]. Say your name. Your name! Emma! Oh, the music of it—Emma, Emma, Emma. Emma, Emma. Emmmm: the beginning of the world. Know it all: I love you! I adore you! And I will always love and adore you.
EMMA [gasping]. You must . . . allow me. Excuse me. I must sit down. [She sits in Miss Smythe's chair.]
SHAW. Emma: my love for you is total, complete, imperious; it commands me; it is glorious or degrading—as you choose. Yes, it is in your hands. I am in your hands. Never have I felt such painful trembling, such fearful anxiety, such abject misery alternating with both the phenomenal and numinous glories of the ultimate ecstasies.
EMMA [having regained her composure]. I do not know what I have done to deserve such, such . . . honor?
SHAW. As Wilde said, "beauty is a form of genius." Your beauty! I would have to be a great poet to so much as begin to do it justice.
EMMA. Well, you've certainly got all the words, Mister Shaw: it's only arranging them you want.
SHAW [wincing]. Mister Shaw!
EMMA. Well, you really must allow a bit of time for me to come up with a secret name. Very well. I have it. Michael.
EMMA. You like it?
SHAW. Well, it's a bit ordinary for a secret name.
EMMA. Ah. All right, then. I believe I have it.
SHAW [with eyes closed]. Ah?
EMMA. It is the perfect name for a chap who can throw himself before a married woman, married indeed to a friend of his, and declare his love like a tenor at the opera. [She stands, then touches him on the shoulder, as if knighting him.] Arise, Don Juan.
SHAW. Don Juan!
EMMA. Don Juan. It's perfect for you. Since you are a Socialist, I shall drop the aristocratic "Don" and call you Juan.
SHAW. I don't think you are taking me quite seriously. I assure you . . . .
EMMA. Please . . . Juan. Assurances of any kind are, under the circumstances, distinctly unreassuring. There is nothing assuring about anything so unstable, so completely emotional.
SHAW. Well, stability is something you of course already have. Marriage, I have been assured, is filled with stability. But is that not the problem? Monogamy being monotonous?
EMMA. And you want to save me from a fate worse than monotony?
SHAW. No! I want you to save me. My life is in your hands. Of course, [he coughs] I realize that is a cliché.
EMMA. Your life? My hands! How did we get to this point?
SHAW. “The blind bow-boy's butt-shaft.”
HEADLAM [entering]. Ah. So you've told her.
EMMA [rising, a bit icily]. Stewart! You know of this?
HEADLAM. Yes. Shaw was kind enough to confide in me his . . . regard and . . . and affection.
EMMA. Ah well. Our friend's outpourings go something beyond regard and affection. Well? What are we to do about all this? Am I to choose between you? The two of you make bids? I let you know with whom I shall honor my . . . hand, shall we say?
SHAW. No! Why think in such conventional, such limited ways? The three of us should live together. Why ever not? Let us find new ways of living, new ways of thinking about living. We say we are advanced people, progressive, forward-looking: well, we should look, progress, and then advance there.
EMMA [with a small, giddy laugh]. The three of us! All live together! You know, I really think I must be dreaming this.
SHAW. This is far more real and meaningful than any dream could be.
EMMA. You know, I feel I have passed beyond the normal bounds of meaning and reality.
SHAW. An indispensable first step.
HEADLAM. The first step heading where exactly?
SHAW. To where ever our eccentric destiny may take us. The main thing is that we must be ready, eager to embrace all of life's possibilities. Headlam, do you not see what this means? It means we are the first children in a new generation of mankind.
HEADLAM. Oh, Shaw, how I wish I could look at it as you do. Like Emma, I feel I have passed beyond . . . .
SHAW. Well, you see—both of you—we have already done so.
EMMA. Have we indeed?
[SHAW and HEADLAM turn to look at her; for a moment, they had forgotten her presence.]
HEADLAM. Er, well, you see, my dear . . . .
course we have! In how many households
EMMA. Juan! Juan indeed! We have created a new civilization? [She laughs.] All that has happened is that a number of words have been uttered. Words! Nothing more.
SHAW [genuinely puzzled]. Emma, what do you mean?
HEADLAM. My dear, my dear: after all, "in the beginning was the Word."
EMMA. Stewart, I must tell you something: I have never known what that means.
[MISS SMYTHE and KINGMAN enter, arguing, oblivious to the tense triangle.]
MISS SMYTHE. No, Mister Kingman, I certainly do not agree. I may not be as crankily Socialist as everyone else is around here, but I most certainly do think "the laborer is worthy of his hire.”
EMMA. That's another. What could that possibly mean? I once heard Stewart preach a sermon on the text "She despised him in her heart." [She laughs.] There were, as I recall, several practical applications to everyday life. [She laughs again.]
SHAW. Why, Emma, [HEADLAM visibly starts at the use of her first name] you're becoming rather agnostical, aren't you?
KINGMAN [benignly]. Well, yes, yes, that's all very well, but I think we can say that sentiments of that kind are very beautiful and very idealistic , and so forth and so on, and about as useful and practical as . . . as that flaming picture over the hearth. What is that picture, anyway?
HEADLAM. Titian. A reproduction, of course. It's called "The Assumption of the Virgin."
KINGMAN. Oh! Em! Is that proper? Is it respectable? The world has changed much in my time, and make no mistake. Well, well, please excuse us, gentlemen. We were arguing economics and justice and things of that nature. Must be the helevated atmosphere of the place. [He laughs comfortably.]
MISS SMYTHE [now sensing the strain]. Excuse the interruption. Mr. Kingman, would you be willing to assist in a small matter? Dreadful nuisance . . . but a drain in the scullery . . . and we don't want to call a plumber . . . and I remember that before your present greatness, you were . . . .
KINGMAN. Quite a 'andyman, as our American cousins say. Well, I daresay I can hearn me place at the luncheon table. I'm proud to be a working man, and I don't care who 'ears it. [Puts his arm out ceremoniously; Miss Smythe bows and takes it.] Em, gentlemen, I am, as you see, being taken quite in hand by your Miss Smythe. There'd be worse fates, eh?
[MISS SMYTHE takes his arm and the two walk off, laughing. Despite their own situation, the three look at the departees in bemused disbelief.]
EMMA. Well, Mister Shaw—Juan, I mean—what do you think of that? Perhaps all five of us should live together?
[SHAW looks a little nonplussed; HEADLAM looks a little worried. There is a moment of silence.]
EMMA [closes her eyes; then opens them]. Stewart: what do you have to say about all this? For instance . . . oh, things such as our marriage? Things of that sort?
HEADLAM. Emma, you know, I trust, that you have my heart. I would never ask you to be bound by some mere legal quibble, which is, really, what, from one point of view, I suppose, all that marriage is. I have always admired your independence, your sense of freedom. I would never seek to constrain, much less imprison, you.
EMMA. Very beautifully said, Stewart.
[HEADLAM bows his head.]
SHAW. Don't be a fool, Headlam. She's being ironic.
EMMA [turning to, almost on, SHAW]. It was beautifully said, and Stewart is no fool . . . my dear Juan.
SHAW. Emma, my dear Headlam: please accept my apologies.
HEADLAM. Nonsense, Shaw, nonsense. How embarrassing to be talked about in this fashion. Please. Both of you. I beg you. However, what are we to do?
EMMA. I have a suggestion: why don't the two of you live together? And, after luncheon, I shall go home with my father.
SHAW. What? You have two men ready to blow their brains out for your sake—and you want to go back home with your father!
HEADLAM. Emma, my . . . dear: I am quite out of my depth here, and I confess I don’t know what the right thing to do is . . . or . . . or what to say.
EMMA. Stewart! You don't know the right thing! You don't know what to say? You cannot find it in The Bible or Das Kapital? Oh, in that case, we have come a long way indeed. I don't know that I can call it a new civilization. But it is a . . . very civilized civilization.
HEADLAM. Emma . . . .
SHAW. Really, Emma, you should draw it mild—as the saying has it.
EMMA. Mild! Mild? I must admit that I am learning something about myself, my marriage, my life in this parsonage—as you like to call it, Juan. You know, at times, I wonder why all women don't run from their homes screaming. Senor Don Juan, do you remember that play at which we met? At the Independent Theatre? A Doll's House? That's the story. That's my story, and I never knew it until this minute. How could I possibly progress to anything when I am trapped in this place and the only whiff of freedom comes in the form of a besotted lover who wants to make me a completely disreputable woman.
And he isn't even drunk! There is something so absurd about having a lover who is a teetotaler.
SHAW. Headlam! You don't mean to say you have alcohol in this parsonage?
HEADLAM. I don't mean to say anything at all.
EMMA. Of course there is no alcohol. Do you know what I have come to think? I am too sober. Shaw—Juan, I mean—you are drunk on your words. Stewart, my dear, you could never be drunk. Do you remember the last time father favored us with a visit? He took Miss Smythe out to supper and gave her champagne. Your concern? You were afraid, you said, that she might sing in the streets. When you said that, I simply laughed . . . and then I realized that I could do that: why, I would love to sing in the streets.
SHAW. Marianne! Lead us on to freedom!
SHAW. Ah, Marianne is the name of the legendary woman always pictured as leading the French revolutionaries on to victory.
EMMA. She is usually portrayed with one breast, if not two, exposed.
HEADLAM. Oh, yes, I know the one you mean.
amused]. Do you really,
Stewart? And is this what I am to
do? Expose my breasts and lead the two
of you out into
HEADLAM [shaking his head]. Really, I don't know whether this has gone too far or . .
SHAW. Headlam: Emma is trying to laugh all this away. Aren't you?
EMMA. Well, Shaw, and what do you think I should I do?
SHAW. Expose a breast and let us see what happens.
HEADLAM. Shaw! Now, that is enough! This has gone too far: this is my wife, Sir.
SHAW [sighing]. Well, evidently, we haven't gone far enough. We have to begin all over again if you're going to indulge in this outdated gallantry—chivalry based on seeing your wife as chattel. We are mired hopelessly in conventionality. This is what we are trying to change.
HEADLAM. Well, yes, of course. We want to change things, but we must beware of change for the sake of change.
EMMA. Why ever not?
HEADLAM. Really, my dear . . . .
EMMA. Stewart: please do not address me as "my dear."
HEADLAM [amazed]. My dear, why ever not?
EMMA [her mood breaking, she laughs]. Ah, Stewart, Stewart.
SHAW [a bit alarmed]. Headlam. Emma. Are we not rather straying from the point? And we have Miss Smythe and Mister Lester Kingman expecting lunch.
HEADLAM. Yes, it is nearly time for lunch, so I propose that we . . . .
EMMA. Lunch? Ah, yes, lunch! I see the new civilization must wait. We have three men who require lunch! Four, when Bernard returns. Why, of course, as soon as Miss Smythe and Mary and I have served the meal, and the men pronounce themselves satiated, why then we can come back to the subject—the New Life, the new civilization.
[She boils over.] All I ever hear is this talk of the New Woman, of progress and change and development and freedom. The talk, you may have noticed, is all from men. Women are permitted a certain amount of freedom, yes, if there is a certain style, if they don't go too far, if they don't challenge the men.
Oh, God! What a picture, what a vision of a future! And do you want to know how it affects me? It enrages me. I don't know if all women do so, but I am always biting my tongue; worse, I want to hurt myself, cut myself, anything but stay on this road, two feet wide, that I must stay on.
Stewart, late one night, we
were coming from the Bishop's palace and crossing
It's enough to make any woman hate . . . well, it is enough to make me hate men.
[She pulls her necktie off.] God, how I hate the lot of you! [She begins to unbutton her blouse.] So you two men would like me to lead you on to something, some new freedom. Very well. [She opens her shirt: spectacular revelation.]
HEADLAM [tries to cover her]. Emma! For God's sake, think who you are! Shaw, would you please leave us?
SHAW [rooted to the spot, stunned by EMMA’S beauty and gesture]. I . . . cannot.
EMMA [ending the tussle with HEADLAM by angrily pulling away from him, then coolly buttoning her shirt]. Mister Shaw need not leave. I will be leaving you, Stewart. The two of you should live together. But this is over at last. I am sorry, Stewart. Indeed, I am very sorry. I will agree to any terms you wish regarding a separation, or even a divorce. You are a good, a genuinely good, man. You deserve better. Shaw here does not. In any case, I am very sorry . . . because I cannot imagine what the pair of you will do about lunch. Good bye. [She goes out. The door slams.]
HEADLAM [dazed]. Lunch? Lunch. No. No. Emma is right. She is always right. I cannot imagine what we are going to do about . . lunch.
SHAW. She certainly got the wrong idea out of Ibsen, didn't she? The wrong moral, the wrong course of action! This will never do. Headlam: think, man, think. What are we going to do about this? How are we going to think about it? This is entirely the wrong thing. We must rewrite this.
HEADLAM. Rewrite this? My dear Shaw, I think you are as mad as a hatter. What are we going to do about . . . anything . . . about lunch?
SHAW [airily]. Oh, I shouldn't worry about that, old man. Let's go in. [He puts his arm round HEADLAM'S shoulder.]
HEADLAM. But . . . whatever are we going to say?
SHAW [his stuttering laugh is more than usually wild]. My dear fellow: we'll think of something. We always think of something. Right now, we must bend our energies on thinking of something else, something new, something other-than-this.
[With SHAW'S laughter, the two exit and the stage darkens. Immediately, there are rasping sounds of cell doors closing and clanging metal and other sounds from a prison, and Scene 3 follows immediately.]
[A solitary confinement cell. Misty darkness. MR. NEW MAN sits and stares. HEADLAM enters.]
HEADLAM. Good morning.
NEW MAN. You are not Mister George Bernard Shaw. [His voice has a slightly Irish lilt.] I will not speak with anyone who is not Mister George Bernard Shaw.
HEADLAM. Why not?
NEW MAN. I will not tell you because I will not speak with you.
HEADLAM. I ask only because I am curious.
NEW MAN. I will not speak with you.
HEADLAM. Ah. Well, the thing is, you see, I know Mister Shaw.
NEW MAN [interested, in spite of himself]. Hmmm? You know him? Now, you actually know Mister George Bernard Shaw?
HEADLAM. I do.
NEW MAN. Well, and who are you then?
HEADLAM. My name is Stewart Headlam.
NEW MAN [pointing to his collar]. Well, you look like a bloody priest.
HEADLAM. Quite true.
NEW MAN. And you and Shaw are friends?
HEADLAM. Well, yes, we are; but it is rather . . . more complicated than that.
NEW MAN. Indeed? Why did he send you?
HEADLAM. Oh, he didn't send me. Mister Shaw is abroad at present. He knows nothing of this.
NEW MAN. Then why ever did you come to this terrible place?
HEADLAM. Well, visiting the sick and imprisoned is one of the prescribed duties of the clergy. The more pertinent question is why you came to this terrible place.
NEW MAN. Oh, I am here because all the other places are so much more terrible. Here at least is solitude. Out there? —Ah, the pain of other people.
HEADLAM. Well, of course, there are in human relationships many . . . disappointments.
NEW MAN [with a sob]. Disappointments!
HEADLAM [briskly]. Yet man is an inherently social being—indeed, a political animal, as Aristotle put it.
NEW MAN. Well, there's little enough doubt about the animal part. The other animals are much luckier—except for those unfortunates who come into contact with our miserable species; for, when they do, we kill, butcher, and eat them; and when we don't need their flesh for our bellies or their fur for our skin, we perform experiments on them—experiments of such diabolical ingenuity and malevolent cruelty as to make the angels weep.
HEADLAM. Ah. But, er, what does my friend Shaw have to do with all this?
NEW MAN. Why,
he is the only person in
Only Shaw has a vision of the future. Only he knows that with brains and freedom from the superstitions of the past, we can save ourselves.
NEW MAN. Yes. Religion, Law, Science: things of that sort.
NEW MAN. Yes! Modern Science first exposed Religion as a pretentious sham . . . and then turned itself into one! Shaw alone understands that. It isn't just the horrors of vivisection and the fraud of vaccination. At bottom, Science thinks that we are little machines humming along—and humming pointlessly at that—inside of a great big machine called the Universe. And Science will name and oil the parts, and everything will then continue to hum along: pointlessly.
HEADLAM [after a brief pause]. You are obviously a man of intelligence and deep reflection. May I ask you a question?
NEW MAN. You may.
HEADLAM. Why are you in this terrible place? What did you do?
NEW MAN. I fell afoul of the Law.
HEADLAM. Could you not be a little more . . . ?
NEW MAN. Specific?
HEADLAM. Well, I don't wish to be . . . .
NEW MAN. Intrusive?
HEADLAM. But I cannot imagine what a man of your intelligence and culture could possibly have done to be here. What terrible crime . . . ?
NEW MAN. I
took my clothes off in
[A long silence.]
HEADLAM. I see.
NEW MAN. Do you?
HEADLAM. Well . . . no.
NEW MAN. It was a warm day, do you see.
NEW MAN. It
was a very warm day, and I had just
come from hearing Mister Shaw lecture at Hyde Park Corner, and I had walked all
the way to Piccadilly. I thought of Mister
Shaw's defiance and courage, and I pondered his assertion that we must remake
the whole of
I was suffused with happiness. More poetry came to me. I fear I uttered these lines positively aloud
as I walked along
"Has anyone supposed it lucky to be born?
"I hasten to inform him or her it is just as lucky to die.
"Every kind for itself and its own, for me mine male and female,
"For me lips that have smiled, eyes that have shed tears,
"Undrape! you are not guilty to me!"
I was seized by a feeling of utter and overwhelming
Besides, it is so ridiculous. Why should the sight of a naked man be so terrifying, so utterly horrifying? The naked human body is an object of study. . . so long as it's safely dead in a laboratory; and veneration . . . so long as it's piously framed in a museum.
HEADLAM. What, er, happened exactly?
NEW MAN. Oh, horror, horror. Ladies screamed. I believe one actually fainted—dead away, right down and smacked the very paving stones. Men shouted at me and hurried their women away from the sight. It was as if no greater obscenity or human outrage could be imagined.
HEADLAM. And how long was it before . . . ?
NEW MAN. Oh, minutes. And not very many of them. It was Piccadilly. Plenty of policemen. And it wasn't as if [he laughs] I was trying to hide anything.
HEADLAM. What happened?
NEW MAN. A policeman blew his whistle and knocked me to the ground. Then there was an army of them. Bloody pervert, they called me. Hauled me up, covered me with a scratchy blanket, and off to gaol. Been here ever since. And, you know, they'll never let me out.
HEADLAM. What do you mean?
NEW MAN. Well, they don't know what to do with me, you see; and I don't really want to leave. To go where, for the love of God? And why? I thought perhaps Mister Shaw . . . . But, no. They'll put me in a mental hospital. They let you take your clothes off in places like that! There it's perfectly normal—because they think you're perfectly insane.
Perhaps I am. Do you think I'm insane?
HEADLAM. I'm a priest, not a doctor.
NEW MAN. Priests used to be consulted on such matters.
HEADLAM. Well . . .when it might be a case of diabolic possession.
NEW MAN. Well . . . perhaps it is. Can you help me?
HEADLAM [after a long pause]. You are an intelligent man. You want to challenge contemporary society's
conventions and restraints. You are not
insane. You are not possessed by the
Devil. However, my young friend, you are
perhaps possessed by the devil's disciple—as Shaw rather likes
to style himself. Here is what I think I
have learned from what you have said this morning: if you are, in any sense,
"possessed," it is by a hope, a hope for a new civilization. You are not crazy, but taking your clothes
NEW MAN. Yes. That’s about it. I must say, you have limned the matter perfectly. Now I am less surprised that you and Mister Shaw are friends. Forgive me for having underestimated you.
NEW MAN. Tell me, Father Headlam: would Mister Shaw have been able to help me?
HEADLAM [after a small pause]. No. I think not. Mr. Shaw is a rarity and real genius, but . . . .
NEW MAN. Bit too much larger than life?
HEADLAM. Something along those lines, certainly.
NEW MAN. Well, there it is. And here's another line of poetry to describe my poor place in this vale of tears: "wandering between two worlds, one dead, the other powerless to be born."
HEADLAM. Perhaps I should take my leave, Mister Newman.
NEW MAN. Actually, you know, that's not my real name.
NEW MAN. No point in your knowing. One dead; the other . . . powerless to be born. Well, I will return to my somewhat constricted solitary wanderings. And yourself, Father Headlam?
HEADLAM [surprising himself]. Oh, my wanderings will be nearly as solitary and only slightly less constricted than your own. I will see what can be done in your case. Your being here for something so . . . absurd, so . . . harmless . . . well, it's quite monstrous. [He begins to walk away, then comes back.] It is passing strange that we put a man in prison because he does not want to wear clothes! Why, after all, do we wear clothes? We wear clothes because it's cold. In the tropics, people don't wear clothes. So, some of our species moved north, turned pale, and had to supplement tender white skins with clothes for warmth.
NEW MAN. It is a painfully clear case of making a virtue of necessity.
HEADLAM [roars]. Exactly! Exactly! So it’s no longer for warmth that we wear clothes, oh no: now, we cover the shame of our nakedness. Cold weather is turned into shame.
NEW MAN. In a cold climate, of course, when the rich have all the skins, the poor probably would feel shame as well as cold.
HEADLAM. That's a very Bernard-Shaw sort of insight. Shawian. Shavian.
NEW MAN. Thank you.
HEADLAM [after a pause, during which they have looked at each other meditatively]. Actually, Mister Newman, a second thought . . . .
NEW MAN. Yes?
HEADLAM. My second thought amazes me: A part of me envies you. I feel sorry that I have to leave this place while you are permitted to stay in it.
NEW MAN. Permitted! [It is his turn to laugh.]
HEADLAM. Perhaps I mean that here, one can, at last, be Hamlet “bounded in a nutshell and king of infinite space.”
NEW MAN. Were it not for those dreams.
HEADLAM. One's dreams, one's thoughts: oneself. In this nutshell, you have the chance to know yourself. [He turns to go.] Thank you, Mister Newman. You've held a mirror up to nature.
NEW MAN [waves his arms, taking in the entire theatre]. Oh, Father Headlam, here, it is here, in this nutshell, and only here, that we have true freedom.
[HEADLAM exits. MR. NEW MAN begins wandering. Does he take his clothes off? House lights come up half for the Intermission. He wanders through the theatre and slips away unobtrusively before Act II begins.
Inheritor of two sturdy incomes, yielding a
whopping 2,000 pounds a year, HEADLAM has given up trying to wrest an ordinary
ecclesiastical appointment from his ever-frowning bishop. Although generally
described as "silenced," he has gone on talking very volubly, indeed
vociferously. To effect the largest
possible megaphone he could devise, he has created the Guild of St. Matthew,
the stated goal of which is "the realization of the
So MISS SMYTHE and BERNARD KEANE are still installed in his household. His offices have always resembled a home more than a place of business. MISS SMYTHE'S up-to-date typewriter is on a rather low round table with a comfortable upholstered chair snugged invitingly against it. BERNARD has his own table with a straight back chair; by the fireplace, he also has his own reading chair—at the side of which is another table covered with his papers and books.
However, it is the
It is early Monday morning—, in fact—on
BERNARD. Look at this! The Police News in the home of the Reverend Stewart Headlam!
MISS SMYTHE. Oh, well, young Master Keane, it's you that are reading it. I merely bought them. But, then, how could one not? There were great mountains of newspapers just outside the Holborn Street Station. I went right along the whole lot and bought one of each. News agent thought I was potty. There are editions coming out every hour it seems! It's so curiously exciting, though, isn't it?
BERNARD. That's one of his words, isn't it? "Curiously."
MISS SMYTHE. Mr. Headlam's?
BERNARD. No, no! [Showing her the front page of the Police News.] His. Here look:
"Closing Scene at the Old Bailey."
A picture of him in the dock and images above: "1882: Oscar Wilde
as a lecturer in
MISS SMYTHE. Well, he always wanted to be famous.
BERNARD. Ambition achieved! There's nobody more famous today.
MISS SMYTHE. Infamous, certainly.
[They pause and devour more of the papers, skimming, stopping, gasping, tossing aside, laughing aloud.]
BERNARD. Listen! [He reads with rhetorical flourishes.] "It is on all grounds unfortunate that the jury should have failed to arrive at a decision upon the charges brought against Oscar Wilde and his fellow prisoner. The gravest stigma continues to attach to the two men who for five days have stood in the dock; society feels that a gross public scandal has not yet been probed to its depths; and that a great mass of loathsome evidence must once more be heard in open court."
Heavens! "A great mass of loathsome evidence." Miss Smythe . . . well, . . . .
MISS SMYTHE. Yes, Bernard?
BERNARD. Well, it's very difficult to discuss this with a . . . .
MISS SMYTHE. Lady? Me? Remember our friend Shaw—of the George Bernard variety? He assured me—thank you very much—that I was no lady but was, rather, a New Woman. We New Women smoke cigarettes, make our own money, don't care tuppence about convention, wear clothes that shock because they are so practical and masculine-looking. And we talk about anything. Even money. Ask anything you like.
BERNARD. Don't laugh at me, Miss Smythe. Please. I can't bear that. You see, I have read all the newspapers, like everybody else, and I see that they talk about this "love that dare not speak its name," and references to this man Wilde kissing or not kissing some boy . . .but I . . . I must confess that I feel as if I'm the only adult person in all of London who doesn't really know, er, exactly . . . .
MISS SMYTHE. What all this "loathsome evidence" is actually about?
BERNARD [relieved]. Yes, er, exactly.
MISS SMYTHE [with a shrug]. Well, talking about physical matters is much easier than talking about money, actually. Are you ready, Bernard?
BERNARD. Ummm, I think so.
MISS SMYTHE. The "great mass of loathsome evidence" refers to sexual congress between men. Or . . . among men. Depending.
MISS SMYTHE. Er, Bernard? Which is your school?
MISS SMYTHE. Ah. Doctor Arnold's. The moral one. I thought that might explain it.
BERNARD. Actual, ah, relations between men ? Just, ah, . . . men?
Yes. Not the usual arrangement. [Mostly to herself:] Of course, they
tell me that in some parts of
BERNARD. I . . . I don't know what to say.
MISS SMYTHE. Well, unless the press arrive, Bernard, it isn't really necessary for you to say anything at all. I'll let you know when you need to issue a statement. No, no, Bernard: I am not laughing at you. In point of fact . . . do you know Mrs. Patrick Campbell? I mean: do you know who she is?
BERNARD. The actress?
MISS SMYTHE. The very one. Well, she is supposed to have said, apropos Oscar Wilde and the whole crew of them , "I don't care what they do—just so they don't do it in the streets and frighten the horses." [She laughs.]
BERNARD [shaking his head mournfully]. Those actresses.
MISS SMYTHE. Oh, Bernard.
[HEADLAM enters unseen at the rear; he is busy with the circulars on a small vestibule table.]
Well, I'm sorry if you think me the perfection of priggishness, as you
always like to say. But just listen to
this. [He picks up the paper with a flourish.] Here it is—The Morning,
[He mouths the words with a smacking satisfaction:] "The satisfaction which society is due!" That is a very noble and awe-inspiring phrase, in my opinion.
MISS SMYTHE. Is that "awe-inspiring" or "saw-inspiring," Bernard?
BERNARD. Miss Smythe, please! Can you never be serious? Listen. There's more:
"Ought the prosecution to stop there? That is a very grave question. Whatever may be the truth as regards Wilde
[He reads the following with great emphasis.]
"If there is a widespread canker in our midst, as the authorities seem to believe, it cannot too soon be thoroughly cauterized."
Now, Miss Smythe, you may quote some foolish actress who says she does not care what they do; but, from what you tell me, this is all even more terrible than I had dreamt! I think there is a widespread canker.
MISS SMYTHE. Hmmmm. I say: what exactly is a canker?
HEADLAM [suddenly tossing the circulars in a wastebasket and coming from the back]. Canker. An ulcerous sore. A source of spreading corruption.
MISS SMYTHE. Oh!
BERNARD. Mister Headlam! Stewart, I mean. Good morning. So you agree with me? This dreadful business is a source of spreading corruption?
HEADLAM. No, Bernard, I do not. A good morning to you both. No, Bernard, for the moment all that I will agree to is that such is the definition of "canker." I looked it up because I chanced upon that same leader in The Morning myself. [He shows them another copy of the same paper.] I read it because I was looking for the luncheon schedule at the Gaiety Restaurant. You see? The leading article is just below it.
MISS SMYTHE. Yes. You know, it is very strange, but during the whole of this past month I have noticed that no one ever actually reads about the trial: they just happened to see something about it while they were looking up something else—say, oh, information on church services.
HEADLAM [caught out, roars with laughter]. Ah, Angelicissima! Well, there is, to be sure, some truth in what you are saying. I confess—well, now that you've caught me out, I might as well confess it—I do have a great interest in this Trial of the Century as the press are calling it. I have even attended some of last week's proceedings at the Old Bailey. I do confess it. But I assure you both: I was looking at the restaurant schedule. You see, I am planning to take Mrs. Headlam there today for luncheon.
MISS SMYTHE and BERNARD [simultaneously]. Mrs. Headlam!!
HEADLAM. Yes. She is coming here today. Consider: I have not seen her in—what?—nearly two years.
BERNARD. Well, er, Stewart, that is wonderful. Does this betoken . . . ?
HEADLAM. All it betokens, Bernard, is luncheon—possibly
at the Gaiety in the
MISS SMYTHE [looking up from the newspapers]. But, Mister Headlam, you have managed to truly surprise us—and that twice over—Mrs. Headlam's coming here, and your going to the Old Bailey. Did you really get into the court?
HEADLAM. I did indeed.
I have a friend in
BERNARD. Ah, you always have a friend somewhere. But do tell us. What was it like? Were you there when Mr. Wilde made his remark about not kissing a boy because he doesn't like to kiss doormats?
MISS SMYTHE [with the impatience of an aficionado]. No, no, Bernard. That was in the first trial—when he tried to sue Queensberry. That line about the boy not being beautiful enough to kiss was Wilde's fatal mistake, trying to be smart. The first trial . . . .
HEADLAM. Yes, yes, it was the first trial, and, no, I was not then present. But I must also confess I have read all the papers with intentional assiduity.
BERNARD [eagerly, with an almost unconscious parody]. He was asked if he had ever kissed some boy. And he answered, "Oh, dear me, no: he was not possessed of a beautiful face, I'm afraid." Imagine!! [He strikes an "Aesthetic" pose:] Not a beautiful face, I'm afraid!
HEADLAM. Well, that is almost what he said.
MISS SMYTHE. What did he say?
HEADLAM. It was more . . . "oh dear no, he was a peculiarly plain boy. I pitied him for it." I remember the alliteration of "pitied" and "peculiarly plain."
MISS SMYTHE. Yes. He seems to like words of that sort—peculiarly and curiously.
HEADLAM. Well, there's nothing illegal about liking adverbs.
BERNARD. But there is something illegal about . . . about . . . all this loathsome business.
HEADLAM [as always, unashamed by the utterance of the cliché]. Please, Bernard, remember that in this country a man is innocent until adjudged guilty. And Oscar Wilde has not been found guilty. Indeed, The Morning's article goes on to say that Wilde is still in prison only because they have not yet raised bail. And, mind you, this accusation involves a misdemeanor! One would have thought, from the way everyone’s carrying on about this, that he'd murdered a policeman. Mr. Justice Charles has set a preposterously high bail; and Wilde is still, as we speak, in prison; evidently such friends as he has left are attempting to raise bail now. All this about a man who has not been found guilty!
MISS SMYTHE. He will be.
Certainly he will. This is
HEADLAM. You both seem so certain about this. Have you ever met him?
BERNARD [shocked]. Certainly not!
MISS SMYTHE. Nor I. Of course not. But have you ever met him, Mr. Headlam?
HEADLAM. Well, I hardly claim that I know him, but, yes, I have met him—twice.
MISS SMYTHE [after a pause]. Well? Can you not tell us the manner of it?
HEADLAM. The first time I met him . . . ? Ah, yes, it was at an opening at the Grosvenor Gallery. He is very tall, you know—quite unmistakable. I don't know how I knew him; I suppose his picture must have been in the illustrated papers even in those days. Someone—I can't remember who it was, now—introduced us. What struck me was the way he had been so totally absorbed in the paintings: he was standing in front of a wall almost entirely covered with Burne-Jones pictures. Wilde's own absorption made him seem a little mystical and ethereal himself—as if he were in a Burne-Jones painting.
MISS SMYTHE. Well, it wasn't his ethereal propensities that brought him to the Old Bailey.
HEADLAM. Angelica. Really. Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.
MISS SMYTHE. Well, in this case, I think I might, without any hypocrisy whatsoever, heave a rock in good conscience.
BERNARD. Really. It's too loathsome, all of it.
HEADLAM [shakes his head]. This lack of sympathy and just plain, good old Christian charity is uncharacteristic of both of you. Something about loving the sinner . . . the saying goes?
BERNARD. But this is no ordinary case. As you say, it is The Trial of the Century. Now we discover what kind of a people we are.
HEADLAM. Yes, Bernard; I suppose that is perfectly true.
MISS SMYTHE. What was the other occasion?
HEADLAM. Other occasion?
MIS SMYTHE. The other occasion, Mister Headlam, on which you met this man Wilde.
HEADLAM. "This man Wilde." Well, well.
The second occasion was at, of all places, a Naval Exhibition.
BERNARD. A Naval Exhibit!
HEADLAM. Yes, it was even more astonishing to see Wilde there than Shaw. But one would have hardly imagined a Naval Exhibition's attracting either of them.
[There is a knock at the door; it is opened; and the maid, MARY, enters.]
MARY. Excuse me, Mister Headlam; but there is a lady and a Mister Shaw to see you.
HEADLAM, BERNARD, MISS SMYTHE [in chorus]. Shaw!
MARY [taken aback]. Why, yes, Sir. He claims he’s a friend of yours and insists he must speak to you on a matter of great urgency.
HEADLAM. Well, well, well. Quelle coincidence! Please, Mary, be so kind as to show the lady and Mister Shaw in.
MARY [with a curtsey]. Certainly, Mr. Headlam.
SHAW [rushing right past an astonished MARY, who opens her mouth to announce him; but before she can utter a syllable:] Headlam! Here's the damnedest thing! Here is the damnedest thing! And you are the only one who can help.
HEADLAM [shakes hands; his left hand goes up to stop the torrent]. Good morning, Shaw. You remember my secretary Miss Smythe? And Bernard Keane?
SHAW [looking at them wonderingly]. Who? What? Oh, yes, yes, of course. [Shakes hands.] How are you Bernard? Angelica, is it not?
MISS SMYTHE. It is indeed. How do you do, Mister Shaw?
BERNARD [gives a little bow]. Mister Shaw.
SHAW [introducing the rather short lady breathlessly trailing behind him]. And this is Ada Leverson. Headlam, I believe you know. [He points.] Bernard, Miss Smythe.
HEADLAM. Mrs. Leverson, it's very nice to see you again. Here, please, take a chair. Mary, please bring us tea, would you? [MARY curtsies and exits.] Now, Shaw, here, take this—it's Bernard's favorite chair—and tell us—unless it's confidential—what this is all about. This is not about Mrs. Headlam, is it?
SHAW [obviously amazed]. Mrs. Headlam! Good God, man: what could Emma possibly have to do with this?
HEADLAM: Well, of course, I don't yet know what "this" is.
SHAW [thrown off track for a moment]. Well, no, of course not. Why, er, why [suddenly almost evasive] that is, what would make you think that . . . ?
HEADLAM. Well, one day, two years ago . . . .
SHAW. Ah! Yes, I see what you mean. Well, yes, we tried, after that slightly catastrophic day, Emma and I, to continue being friends—rather, I tried—but one day she flew into a temper, and I've not seen her since. It's been nearly two years. She told me I was a soulless automaton. Worse, she quoted Oscar Wilde, who said that I had not an enemy in the world and that none of my friends liked me. [He laughs.] I always rather enjoy hearing someone quote that. I dwell in the suburbs of Oscar's fame. But Emma—oh—she meant to hurt. And succeeded. [Dreamily:] Ah, two years ago. [Impatiently:] However, that is not what I need to speak to you about.
HEADLAM. Ah, yes. And is this confidential? Bernard and Angelica could . . . .
SHAW. No, no. Confidential? It's the most public thing in the world. In fact, it's about Oscar Wilde.
BERNARD. Another coincidence! We were just speaking of . . . him.
course you were. There are special editions of all the papers—except The Times, of course. And Queensberry! Why the man is running round
MISS SMYTHE. Are you serious, Mr. Shaw?
SHAW. I am
always serious, Miss Smythe, Angelica. Never anything else. But see here, Headlam. Here is the situation. You know—everyone does—that Wilde's name has
been removed from the posters advertising his own plays—two plays running at
the same time in the
HEADLAM. Yes, yes. As Bernard says, we were just discussing the case.
SHAW. Well, what you may not know is that all of his friends, even that loathsome Bosie who urged him into the whole terrible thing . . . .
MISS SMYTHE. Lord Alfred Douglas, who urged Wilde to sue the Marquess
of Queensberry. Queensberry is
BERNARD. Ah, yes, I see. Of course. Sorry for the interruption.
HEADLAM. Go on, Shaw.
the situation is this: almost literally, Oscar, the most popular man in
I found him then to be exactly what everyone has described—the most wonderful talker in the world. Really: he seemed quite inspired, and there was no vast audience, no journalists, just the three of us—you remember—and yet he seemed quite divine—words, in perfect cadence, flowed forth, his incomparable brain taking the stuff of everyday life and transmuting it into something as dream-like and wonderful as a Burne-Jones painting.
BERNARD. Burne-Jones! Really, one must try to keep clear of all that sort of thing.
SHAW. I beg your pardon?
BERNARD. Sorry. But we were just speaking of this man Burne-Jones as well.
MISS SMYTHE. Beware Bernard making resolutions.
SHAW. At all
events, may we come to the point?
SHAW. Very well. Headlam: You are the only person I know rich enough to whom we might put the following question: will you kindly provide one thousand, two hundred and fifty pounds so that Oscar Wilde need not rot in prison any longer?
. . . but suppose he flees the country?
I understand all his friends are heading off to
MISS SMYTHE. Ah, there it is, you see: first, you make resolutions for yourself; then, you begin making them for other people.
BERNARD. Miss Smythe!
HEADLAM. Bernard! You are taking quite the wrong line here, in my opinion.
MISS SMYTHE. What a lot of money!
BERNARD. Well, the word of an Irish gentleman!
SHAW. Excuse me, Bernard, but I'm Irish myself and I wouldn't want to begin an argument as to the respective worth of English or Irish trust on any question whatsoever.
MISS SMYTHE. Bernard? Silence might be the wisest counsel in the present situation.
BERNARD. I am sorry, but all this loathsome . . . .
HEADLAM. Please. Shaw: let's talk business. The bail amount is . . . ?
SHAW. Five thousand pounds. Half of that is being allowed Wilde on his own recognizance.
BERNARD. Humph! I'd allow a man of that sort nothing at all.
MISS SMYTHE. Bernard! Please!
SHAW. That swine Bosie's elder brother—his name's Percival—has no money, but, more out of loyalty to Bosie and hatred of his father than out of any real concern for Oscar, he has agreed to scrape up half the remaining amount. Has in fact already done so. That part of the money's certain.
MISS SMYTHE. I say, how does one do that—raise over a thousand pounds—if one has no money?
SHAW. And in the present case, this Percival hates his father almost as much as his brother Bosie does. Another example of the loving British family, as you see. So this Percival was inspired to hit up all his aristocratic pals, I expect; and in any case has managed to find twelve hundred and fifty pounds.
SHAW. . . . and I was commissioned to ask for it.
MISS SMYTHE. Twelve hundred and fifty pounds! You realize, Mr. Headlam, that if you do this, people will think you are doing it for the sake of the notoriety. And there will be notoriety. The members of your Guild of St. Matthew will surely . . . well, I can't imagine how they'd receive such news.
Well, I certainly can so imagine it!
They'll think it—well!—they will think it . . . very vulgar.
They will think you are being pushy and rushing into an area where no
decent clergyman should be seen at all.
They will think you are wallowing in
SHAW. Why, you
know, Bernard, that's very well phrased, that about
BERNARD [ignoring him]. Mister Headlam, er Stewart, you are not thinking of . . . well, I mean, it's not as if you were friends like, like Mrs. Leverson here. You hardly know the man.
MISS SMYTHE. Mister Headlam?
HEADLAM [after a pause]. I think my duty is pretty plain here . . . peculiarly plain.
BERNARD. Stewart: you're not thinking of doing it?
HEADLAM. Bernard: I am not thinking of not doing it. Under the law, Oscar Wilde is an innocent man.
MISS SMYTHE. But you hardly know the man!
BERNARD. Thank God for that!
HEADLAM. Really? I wonder, when I contemplate the vastness of the cosmos, if God really and truly takes the time—or, rather, a bite out of His eternity—to give a good curse about matters of this sort.
BERNARD. Mister Headlam!
MISS SMYTHE. Well!
SHAW. Bravo, Headlam! Shall we take it as settled, then? I confess I'd not expected to walk up to you and say please give us twelve hundred and fifty pounds and receive an affirmative in the next breath. Headlam: you amaze me.
MISS SMYTHE. I think we are all of us amazed.
HEADLAM. In heaven's name, why?
BERNARD. Mister Headlam! Why? Here is a man universally vilified—and vilified by everyone you know and respect—excepting Mister Shaw here, evidently . . . . Mrs. Leverson is, I gather, an old friend of This Man Wilde. But tell me, Mister Shaw: why are you willing to do this—with somebody else's money, I mean?
SHAW [cheerfully]. Well, I have none of my own, you see; so I have always learned to spend other people's money. It saves expense and prevents confusion.
BERNARD [alone in refusing to laugh]. But, really, Mister Shaw, all joking aside, and in all seriousness, in the face of all this mass of loathsome evidence, why should you stand up for this man Wilde? After all, he said that . . . that bad thing about you.
SHAW. Bad thing?
BERNARD. About . . . about . . . none of your friends liking you.
SHAW. Oh, that! Ha! That is as nothing. I'd better not tell you what Oscar calls Father Headlam here.
MISS SMYTHE [most eagerly]. Oh, what? What does a man like . . like The Man Wilde call a man like Mister Headlam?
SHAW. He calls him The Heresiarch.
BERNARD [puzzled]. Heresiarch?
HEADLAM [with a smile]. Why, thank you, Shaw. As always, you place matters in quite a fresh perspective.
SHAW. Not at all. Now, Bernard asked me why I, though supposedly the butt of one of Oscar's barbs (though his barbs always bounce off amusingly; the man is ultimately hopeless as a great comic writer: he has no malice in him) now you ask why I, though no fan of Oscar, the Dublin snob, am eager to spend precious time, energies, and other people's money in helping him. Well, Bernard, I will tell you.
Some years ago, before the plays, but after the scandalous Picture of Dorian Gray, Wilde was at the pinnacle of the too-too Aesthetic Movement. True, he was actually developing a conscience—a soul (he would say). After hearing myself and some others at a meeting of the Fabian Society, he wrote a beautiful essay called "The Soul of Man under Socialism." It was vague in the details—the Webbs still think him a mere dilettante—but it was the political vision of a sensitive man and a quite surprisingly original thinker . . . a man who, in my opinion, was still a Dublin snob and wasting his time with that idiotic art-for-art's-sake movement.
At that time, I'd hardly dared think of writing plays myself. I was writing a thousand words a day on novels—five novels which no one read even, or especially, when I managed to get some of them published. But I was developing my own political conscience. As a consequence, I decided to get up a petition in support of the famous Chicago Anarchists. I approached my friends in the Fabians. No signatures. Too radical.
I approached the writers and artists who called themselves fearless revolutionaries. No signatures. Too American.
At the end of all that traipsing and begging, I had, besides my own, exactly one signature. It was that of Mister Oscar Wilde's. He had absolutely nothing to gain by this quixotic gesture: he knew that he and I would be the sole signatories to this obviously futile letter of support. He was not political. He owed me nothing. Indeed, try as he might, and he did try, he couldn't really bring himself to like me. To him, I am an unusually obnoxious enfant terrible aging very badly.
MARY [quite distracted, with a tea tray, which she sets on a table]. Er, Mr. Headlam?
HEADLAM. Yes, Mary. Thank you for the tea. We will pour.
MARY. Er, Mr. Headlam?
HEADLAM. Yes, Mary? What is it?
MARY. Well, er, the mistress, that is, she that uset to be the mistress . . . .
HEADLAM. Mrs. Headlam! Is she here?
MARY. Yes, Sir.
HEADLAM. Excuse me, everyone! [He rushes out.]
SHAW. Emma! Is Emma here?
MISS SMYTHE. So we have been told. She wanted a "private conference."
BERNARD. He's taking her to the Gaiety for luncheon.
SHAW. Well! I am floored. I wonder what the devil she wants.
MISS SMYTHE. So do we all, Mr. Shaw—though we don't all invoke the devil to say so.
SHAW. You don't? Ah, Angelica: you know, I used to think that your name meant "angelic."
BERNARD. That is what it means.
SHAW. Not at all. In the Orlando Furioso, Angelica is the Spirit of Beauty; she is sent by the Saracens to French Christian soldiers who, being French, all promptly fall at her feet and are then easily slaughtered by their enemies. You may think you're angelic, but in actuality you're a variant of Delilah. So, Bernard and Headlam must beware. In your present guise, Angelica, you are a New Woman. Say whatever you like.
MISS SMYTHE [to Bernard]. You see?
BERNARD. I see.
[With HEADLAM in tow, EMMA
appears. It is another grand
entrance. Two years, at any rate, have
not withered her. She enters to an awed
silence. Everyone stares. SHAW gapes.
HEADLAM is flustered. EMMA makes
the rounds, silently shaking hands with MISS SMYTHE and BERNARD, finally with
SHAW. As well as I can ever be with neither the stimulation nor the consolation of your friendship.
EMMA. Very prettily said. You are never at a loss for words.
SHAW. Never. [A sigh.] Except around you.
EMMA [regally touching his cheek]. Ah, my Don Juan.
HEADLAM. Well, er, Emma . . . well . . . shall we . . . you said something about a
private conference . . . so I was about to book us a table at the Gaiety in the
Stewart. It was Simpson's in the
BERNARD. Of course, Mrs. Headlam, please accept my best wishes. We must allow you some private conference with your . . .er, with, er, Mister Headlam, that is, Stewart.
SHAW. Certainly. We'll just clear right out of here if it's privacy you want.
EMMA. Pray be
seated, all of you. Angelica and Bernard
are still part of Stewart's private circle.
HEADLAM. Angelica, would you be kind enough to ask Mary to bring us another cup? Thanks so much.
MISS SMYTHE [exiting quickly]. Certainly, Mister Headlam.
EMMA. Well, Bernard, you and Miss Smythe seem quite unchanged. Unchanged for the better.
SHAW. Ah, dear God, still as witty as she is beautiful! I can't bear it!
HEADLAM. Shaw. Please.
SHAW. Yes. Quite. Sorry. Carry on.
MISS SMYTHE [re-entering quickly with MARY, who has a cup and saucer in hand]. Here, let me pour the tea.
EMMA. Ah, thanks very much.
[MARY assists with the tea; then she stays, lingering, through the rest of the scene.]
HEADLAM. None for me, thanks.
BERNARD. Nor me.
SHAW. I will join Emma, naturally.
EMMA. Naturally. In point of fact, I am very pleased that you're all here. I need to impress upon Stewart the folly of what he is thinking of doing.
HEADLAM. Emma! Are you talking about . . . ?
EMMA. The Man Wilde, of course.
MISS SMYTHE. But, but, how could you know? We only just ourselves . . . .
BERNARD. Yes, really, Mister Shaw and the, er, lady just arrived . . . .
EMMA. Oh, I
knew it before Stewart did.
HEADLAM . In Heaven's name, Emma, why not? I have already decided, in fact, to do so. Just before you arrived, I gave my word to Shaw.
EMMA. Ah, your word. Now, "honor's at the stake," is that it?
SHAW [sotto voce ]. Grrr. Shakespeare again!
Stewart, I see that you are unchanged—possibly not for the better. You
realize that Shaw will use your nobility, not to mention your money, to further
his own ends while making you a scapegoat.
And, Stewart, make no mistake: you will be made a scapegoat. They will stone you—and I mean literally
stone you. Queensberry is roaring
BERNARD. Why, of course, Mrs. Headlam! It's what I've been saying all the morning.
EMMA. Miss Smythe?
MISS SMYTHE. Oh . . . I agree. Mister Headlam sees it as a matter of law—an innocent man, and all that. But there are other, larger, issues here.
HEADLAM. Really? What could possibly be a larger issue than our whole fundamental conception of law and justice: a man is innocent until adjudged guilty and not one minute before. Shaw? Shaw, don't you agree with me? Shaw?
SHAW [who has been staring at EMMA all this time]. Hmmm? What? Wilde? Oh, I don't care. Let the Irish blighter rot.
SHAW [still dreamily outrageous]. Ah do you see this woman, Headlam, really see her? Oh, yes, love is enough.
BERNARD. I suppose that is a saying of this man Wilde?
MISS SMYTHE. Actually, Bernard, it's William Morris.
BERNARD. Is he . . . one of them?
HEADLAM [gazing thoughtfully at BERNARD]. I think I do
begin to see. I begin to see. . . fear. But of
what are we so afraid? Emma, why did you come here to tell me this? Why should it matter so much—matter I mean, to
you? You are, after all, friends with
HEADLAM. Why, Emma . . . .
SHAW. Emma! How conventional of you!
EMMA. You may recall, Juan, that it was my very
conventionality which precipitated this upheaval in our lives. You recall Stewart's reaction to my brief
flirtation with the unconventional? I
have thought it over, these past two years:
I like the conventional, the
normal: you can count on it; it's real; it's normal ; it's healthy.
EMMA [ignoring her sarcasm]. But you, Stewart, if you do this, you will go down in history as the only man in the kingdom to help a man everyone rightly deplores and despises. You will be aiding a man judged to be an abomination in the sight of God and man. It is a disgrace from which you will never recover, and some of that disgrace will cling to me . . . as well as to all those close to you—Angelica and Bernard, even your precious Guild of St. Matthew. You will be throwing away absolutely everything you have ever worked for.
HEADLAM [finally]. Well, Shaw. What do you say? You're my only ally.
SHAW [still staring at EMMA]. She is too beautiful to disagree with.
HEADLAM. Shaw! Seriously: what would you do?
SHAW. Headlam. You ask me to be serious. I am rarely placed in such a situation. But let me say this: if I were you, and Emma were to come back into my life, I would do absolutely anything that she should return to me. This could prove to be a sort of last chance for you. Do you love this woman, or do you not?
HEADLAM [with quiet intensity]. I have loved her so much that . . . well, when Wilde talked about "the love that dare not speak its name," I felt the truth of it: this is what I have felt so keenly—the kind of love one experiences only once in one's life. Have not all of us, at some time, felt such a love?
[He pauses. BERNARD looks over at MISS SMYTHE, who catches her breath, looks at Headlam involuntarily and then looks down miserably. HEADLAM sees this, and the shock of recognition shows in his face.]
HEADLAM. Angelica . . . .
SHAW. Beware, Headlam: in a previous existence she led thousands of men to ruin.
MISS SMYTHE. Oh. [She can hardly speak.] Mister Headlam, Stewart: yes, I have loved you. I do love you. [She pauses. She can hardly believe that, after all these years, she has said it.] But if you will not listen to Mrs. Headlam, and I know better than anyone how you love her, you certainly will not be swayed by me. [She stands up.] Well! Having said it, I can remain no longer. Good bye, Stewart. In fact, good-bye, everyone. [With tears in her eyes, she leaves quickly.]
SHAW. Well, the Saracens would have been most disappointed. Of course, they were after the French and hadn't encountered good solid English virtue.
BERNARD. Oh, bother the French! Please, Mister Headlam!
HEADLAM [growing hard and resolved in the midst of the confusion]. What about yourself, Bernard? Can you no longer be associated with such a one as myself?
BERNARD. Mister Headlam, I have admired you more than anyone I ever . . . . But, please, you are making a terrible, terrible mistake. As Mrs. Headlam says, and says truly, you will be throwing away everything you have ever worked for. And for what?
HEADLAM. For justice, Bernard, for justice.
EMMA. This is impossible. To you, Stewart, abstractions have a solider reality than human beings, than your own life. One of the many human flaws, you see, occasioned by your priestly perfection.
HEADLAM [shocked by the bitterness of her sarcasm]. Oh, Emma. I . . . I have loved you.
EMMA. Yes. And everyone loves you. Poor Miss Smythe. Bitterly ironic, isn't it? Love! Well, there's nothing to be done. I wish there were. I don't know why I hate it so much. Love! And the way you are always dancing before the multitudes. I wish I could hate it and love you—on the model of your favorite quotation about hating the sin and loving the sinner, another of your favorite passages I have never been able to understand.
HEADLAM [gasping, with tears in his eyes]. Oh, Emma . . . I have loved you.
EMMA [icily]. No doubt, Stewart, no doubt. But it proves to be a love which cannot turn into what love, what normal love, must turn into.
BERNARD [after a small pause]. Er, Mrs. Headlam, what is that?
EMMA. A livable way of life. [She draws on her gloves.] Perhaps, Bernard, you would accompany me to the carriage? That is, if you, like Angelica, will be leaving?
BERNARD [rising]. Thank you, Mrs. Headlam. Truly, I must. Yes! [He hears Destiny calling.] I must leave. And it would be an honor to see you to your carriage. Goodbye, goodbye, everyone.
[BERNARD and EMMA exit.]
HEADLAM [after a bleak moment of gazing at the emptiness which Emma has left behind, going to his desk, writing for a moment, then handing SHAW a scrip]. Here, Shaw. The money. I'd better give it you before you rush off after them . . . after Emma. Not that I would blame you.
SHAW [coolly pocketing the scrip].
Thanks, Headlam. [Exiting]
By the way, never have a love whose name you can't speak. Bad for your insides. Always express it as loudly and fully as you
can, and you'll live to be 90, as I intend to do. I'll give this to Leverson,
who will get Wilde out of prison. I
imagine that Queensberry will continue to hound him; but, of course, Oscar will
be surrounded by all two of his friends.
HEADLAM. Thank you,
SHAW. Oh we
will—as well as the money. Good-bye,
Headlam. [Exits with
[HEADLAM looks at the door, through which most of his life has just walked out. There is a light change: we had not noticed that the sun has moved away from the stained glass window. He turns toward the desk again.]
HEADLAM [with a start]. Mary! I'd forgotten . . . .
MARY. Saving your presence, Mister Headlam, but I must give notice. [Takes off her apron.] I am very sorry, Sir, but . . . .
HEADLAM. That's all right, Mary. I understand. If you need a reference . . . .
MARY. That's all right, Mister Headlam; very kind of you, I'm sure, but a reference from you wouldn't do me no good now. [Exits.]
[HEADLAM, now alone, paces, shaking his head. After a few moments, the first sound comes. Then the sounds of a crowd gathering come nearer. At last, a stone is thrown through the stained glass window. Headlam crouches and covers his head as the lights dim to blackout.]
[The stained glass window becomes a screen. From the blackout, there slowly appears on the screen a moving silhouette of a London hansom cab, swaying gently from side to side; the sounds become louder--the sounds of the cab's wheels scraping over the paving stones, the soothing sound of the horse's clip-clop, clip-clop.
The 70-year old HEADLAM once again mounts his pulpit and clicks on his electric light, as the sounds fade. He addresses the audience.]
HEADLAM. I wonder how many of you here in Saint Paul’s tonight might appreciate the fact that I found the experience of having been stoned very nearly exhilarating? Ever since that strange conversation with Mister New Man in gaol I was aware of wanting something . . . something new, something solitary. Perhaps it was the effect of reading Mister Stevenson's little shocker about Dr. Jekyll, but I became aware that there were two Stewart Headlams: yes, the public Reverend Father has gone on as bumptiously as ever, and quite possibly I did some genuine good. Certainly, quite aside from the Guild of St. Matthew and all that sort of thing, I felt that helping Mister Oscar Wilde was clearly a good.
But I was also aware that there was another—younger? older?—self that slowly emerged. Perhaps I was searching for God—and not the God of my Bishop or Bernard, no, not the God of The Righteous Certainties. Perhaps—dare I say this?—I was searching for a God within—within myself, you understand.
That boy—Mister New Man—made me think that perhaps our publically accepted version of morality was quite wrong—or, at the very least, that "there are more things in Heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophies." I often found the cliché, "things are not as they seem," lurking in my mind.
Therefore, from the beginning, my sympathies favored Mister Wilde. Surely it was right to help free him from a monstrous injustice. I admit I was unprepared for the aftermath—the final and complete breakup of my household, Emma's response, Shaw's, the stone shattering my beautiful window.
Ernest Leverson came round to see me on the Tuesday Mister Wilde was released. He told me of the behavior of Queensberry and his pugilists: after bail was at last secured, and the poor man released, the Marquis and his band of ruffians followed Mister Wilde from prison and caused him to be ejected from two hotels. They would "raise the street" against him, they said; and I myself had good reason to know they could and would.
That Tuesday night he fled to his brother's house. He had literally nowhere else to go. The brothers, you see, had not been on good
terms. Willie defended Oscar by going
round saying that any woman in
So, past , in despair and desperation, he collapsed at the door of his brother's house and said, "For God's sake, Willie, give me shelter or I shall die in the street." He stayed for some days; he was very ill; and then he was moved to the house of those loyal friends Ernest and Ada Leverson. Ernest told me that he stayed in the nursery, among the doll houses and toys; he seemed to enjoy them. Have you—those of you who still read him—ever noticed how beautiful yet achingly sad are his children's stories?
At the Leversons, some few
friends paid calls and urged him to flee.
Even Ada—whom he nicknamed Sphinx—sent a note
up to the nursery and urged him to follow his own wife's advice to live
somewhere on the Continent. He came down
to dinner, as he did every evening in their home, exquisitely dressed. He handed
Only a few weeks: then, the third and final trial. To my astonishment, Ernest asked me if I could escort Mister Wilde to the Old Bailey. There were, he said, no other friends to ask.
Well, in for a penny, in for a pound, I
thought. So each day of that terrible
trial, I collected him from the Leversons in the
morning and drove with him to court.
There were jeers and hoots in the street. Prostitutes, perhaps including some Emma had
In gravely accompanying Mister Wilde through these strange scenes, I had at last achieved a kind of solitude: I was the scapegoat's shepherd.
Wilde's manner to me was quite formal—gracious, almost regal. He certainly was not the divine talker Shaw and I had met at that Naval Exhibit, but he was calm and courageous. He thanked me once for the bail and assured me that he would not leave the country. It was a simple matter of having given his word to me and to his mother, and no more need be said.
We spoke very little on our drives to and from the Old Bailey. When we did speak, the subject was always immediate and practical and related to the day's proceedings in court. Only rarely did he say something startling. We saw a beggar being driven off by a policeman: and he said, "Failures are always fascinating." And, as we drove past Newgate, he said, "Prisons are terrible places: one should never try to reform a man." His pronunciation of reform showed what he meant.
He was even more silent on returning from the Old Bailey. The one exception was the penultimate day, the last time I was to drive him back. As we drove in silence, he suddenly said, "You know, Headlam, at one point today I thought: the things they are saying about me are actually quite wonderful. They make me out to be a scarlet scoundrel, who merits vitriolic denunciation by a Cicero or a Savanorola. If I could be someone else and listen to them, why, they would be quite thrilling. And thus, you know, Headlam, I discovered a great truth today: the point is never what is said about one; the point is always who says it."
Before stepping from the cab, he stopped for a moment, shook his head, and said, more to himself than to me, "Still, those thundering denunciations, the vile corruptions, the national disgrace . . . and all about inter-crural intercourse." His slightly maniacal laugh indicated that he knew it was nearly over and that the catastrophe was now full upon him.
The next morning we both knew would be the last. There was simply no chance of acquittal, and that evening he would be driven not to an exquisite dinner at the Leversons but hauled away in a police van to the ugliness of Pentonville Prison.
We said nothing on that last drive. When the cab stopped, I took his hand, shook it, and wished him well. He brushed away a tear and said, "Father Headlam, you have been a good friend; I am forever grateful; I should never have endured this without your help."
The last day of the trial: more furious denunciations and appeals to the salvation of national purity. Guilty! The judge, Mr. Justice Wills, refused to wait so much as five minutes before sentencing. He delivered himself of yet another furious denunciation: this was the most terrible case he had ever heard, and he imposed the harshest sentence he could—two years at hard labor—adding that it was not nearly harsh enough.
I had involved myself originally because of the principle of a fair trial, but I became revolted by what I heard in this third trial. I was, you understand me, revolted by the prosecution, by the state—not by the pitiful defense. I am still proud of the fact that, as sentence was passed, I called, "Shame!" as loudly as I could. I am pleased: that "Shame" has been recorded in every version of the trial.
After my "Shame," rang through the court, Wilde said, "And I, my Lord, am I allowed to say nothing?" And Mister Justice Wills simply waved his hand, waved the poor man away into two years' of such misery and degradation as none in this church can imagine.
Often, very often, I thought of Wilde in those two years. Occasionally I was introduced as the man who went bail for Wilde; but, Emma's fears proved unfounded; for, in actuality, everyone seemed to want to forget the whole matter. So I went on, being disapproved of by my Bishop, suffering a loss of membership in the Guild of St. Matthew and loss of readers to my Church Reformer.
Bernard formed his own guild—The Battalion for A
Better Morality. It sank almost
immediately. Perhaps it was the
alliteration. Angelica came to see me,
but both of us were too awkward to resume our former, er, relationship. Emma and I did actually have lunch in the
In my loneliness, I considered the possibility. And now, like that cleric in the American
Hawthorne's work, let me confess from this
pulpit: throughout Wilde's imprisonment,
I had two years of turbulent dreams of desire:
I would dream of Emma one night, Miss Smythe
the next, and Lily Langtry on the third.
There would be one night of complete rest. Then the cycle would begin again. However, to find out whether I was one of the"Unspeakables," I naturally had to look up
that word Wilde had used in the hansom cab—"inter-crural." It means between-the-thighs. Wilde was being savagely punished because he
was physically attracted to the thighs, and so forth, of young men of 20 or
thereabouts. I pondered this. And then I studied the matter: I looked—from every angle I decently could—at
the classical statues in the
Of course, during the day, I wrote my articles and made my speeches. If anything, I became even more insistent that Christianity means social justice. [Almost angrily:] I mean, after all, the Lord's Prayer says, "Give us this day our daily bread." It does not say give me my daily bread: we've no right to our bread at all unless we share it.
So the two years passed. And often I wondered if Mister Wilde should be "reformed."
Again, it was Ernest Leverson who called on me in May of 1897. He asked if I could meet Wilde as he came out of prison. Again: paucity of friends.
"I realize," he said, "that Oscar might observe that I am turning you into a ferry conveyance for criminals. But . . . can you do this?"
I agreed, and, very early in the morning and from
the very gates of Pentonville Prison I found myself once
again escorting Mister Wilde in a hansom cab.
This time he came to my own house in
[A match strikes in the darkness. A cigarette is feelingly inhaled. Lights come up to reveal OSCAR WILDE sitting in a chair, in HEADLAM'S drawing room, about to drink that first cup of coffee. His manner is regal. For some little time: silence. OSCAR audibly enjoys the cigarette: the sounds he makes are very nearly sexual. But they are as nothing compared to his addressing the coffee. He raises the cup reverently to his lips and sips. There is a catch in his breath.]
OSCAR. Oh! Oooooh.
[He attends completely to the coffee. He finishes, almost licks, the cup.]
OSCAR. Oh brave new world that hath such caffeine in it! [He looks about the room, sighs, says to himself:] So was Adam on the first day of creation.
[The 40-year old HEADLAM enters.]
OSCAR. Ah, Father Headlam, yours is a beautiful home, and your drawing room is divinely—or, perhaps, it's diabolically—red. Thank you, my friend, for your succor and for offering it in such enchanting surroundings. You are positively showering the blessings from your priestly office upon me.
HEADLAM. Not at all, Mister Wilde. I am honored and happy to be of service.
OSCAR. I can scarcely believe it was but yesterday that I was in residence at Reading Gaol. You know, the Governnor is a good man and we became quite fond of each other at the last. His wife is a charming creature. She asked me to stay on through the summer: she thought I was the gardener. I explained that, alas, in this, I was unable to oblige her: I required a change of scene.
HEADLAM. Even in such a place as Reading Gaol, Mister Wilde, I am certain that you could not remain for long unknown.
it was yesterday when I was leaving
Later, that day, as we approached the Twysford Railway Station, I saw a rose bush, just breaking
into bud. It glowed with life. I spread my arms out and said, "Oh
beautiful world, oh beautiful world!"
One of the good officers, concerned that notoriety might precipitously
fall upon me, restrained my arms, and said, "Now, then, Mister Wilde, you
mustn't give yourself away like that.
You're the only man in
I thanked him sincerely and we went on.
Do you know one of the punishments that happens to people who have been away? They are not allowed the read the Daily Chronicle. Now a warder called Martin was a good, good man and wonderful friend to me in those last several months. [Suddenly serious.] He told me that a poor prisoner called Prince, whom all the other prisoners could see was obviously a poor half-wit, had been sentenced to twenty-four lashes for malingering. On my last night in Reading, that is what I heard—piercing shrieks, howls—and I knew that either I was going mad at last or that some wretched man was being flogged. Martin explained that it was indeed this poor Prince! Martin also helped me pay the fines for three small children thrown in gaol because they had no money. They'd been caught snaring rabbits on a rich man's preserve. Think of it! Martin was quite wonderful. He even slipped, unseen, a little biscuit to the smallest of the children as they were about to be put into their cells. They were quite terrified. I knew their feeling.
[Recovering his lighter tone.] But it was the wonderful Martin who also gave me,
most days, the Daily Chronicle. For me, it was the every-other Daily Chronicle. But if he had not done that, I should
have emerged this morning like Rip Van Winkle.
Thanks to Martin, I am An Informed
On the train, however, the two good officers were aghast at my request that I be allowed to read the Daily Chronicle. "No!" they thundered together. "No!"
Well, I then requested that I be allowed to remain
shadowed from prying eyes by hiding behind the Daily Chronicle. I suggested
to them that their plain duty—to keep the Daily
Chronicle out of the hands of the criminal classes—could be accomplished
while allowing me to hold the newspaper upside
down. Though puzzled, they agreed to
this. And so I read the Daily Chronicle all the way from Twysford to
HEADLAM [holding up a paper with a huge headline]. WILDE RELEASED. This can certainly be read at any angle.
OSCAR. Well, you see, that is the only way to remain in the memory of the reading classes.
HEADLAM. Mister Wilde, is there anything else I might get for you?
OSCAR. Not at all, my dear Headlam, you wonderful, wonderful man. Tell me, speaking of wonders, do you believe in the miracles of Jesus?
HEADLAM [promptly]. I believe they are the most profound symbols for our age.
OSCAR. Ah, yes. But did they happen? I thought of little else while I was away.
HEADLAM. Really! You were thinking of . . . Jesus the redeemer? Jesus the reformer?
OSCAR. Of Jesus the individual. Was this a personality beautiful enough to persuade people that water became wine? Did this most individualist of men inspire all the Saint Francis's of the world—men whose beings were so light and clear and beautiful that the very birds trusted and were charmed? There is the true ideal: each of us must realize ourselves completely. What we truly bring forth from ourselves—that will be our true salvation. What is deeply ours but which we fail to bring forth—that will be our destruction.
HEADLAM. That is quite an original view of Our Lord.
OSCAR. Thank you, Father Headlam. We spoke, on an earlier occasion, of reform: such was my reformation while I was away.
HEADLAM. A Protestant Reformation of your own?
OSCAR. Well, I think all the religions of the world to be like the colleges of a great university. But the grandest of these is the Roman Catholic. It is the most romantic, the most mysterious, the most beautiful.
HEADLAM. Well, I grant you the beauty, certainly.
Anglo-Catholic. What precisely is the
difference between that and
HEADLAM. Aside from the Pope, not very much.
OSCAR. Oh, I
think I rather like the Pope, you know.
HEADLAM. Mister Wilde, may I inquire as to your plans?
well, I have two of them, you know. One:
I travel to
But I wonder if I am quite ready for
HEADLAM. Yes, I know it.
I have a letter taken to
[HEADLAM puts writing materials on his desk. OSCAR rises, goes to the desk, and begins writing.]
"Dear Reverend Fathers . . . . " [Pauses.] Ah, I love
the pomp and circumstance of the Church!
A thousand times more wonderful than "glorious war." [He
scribbles.] Six months, I
think. Yes, a six month stay to help me
bring my thoughts and emotions together, to help me realize as profoundly as I
can the religious vision I have seen while I was away. And then
will I be ready for the world, the flesh, and the devil. [He puts
the note in an envelope.] My dear friend, have you one who might convey
HEADLAM. Of course, Mister Wilde.
OSCAR. "Mister Wilde." How long it has been since anyone has called me "Mister Wilde." Simple courtesy and respect: I learn to savor them.
HEADLAM. Excuse me, Mister Wilde. I'll have this taken to
OSCAR. Well, perhaps just one more cup of that delicious coffee?
HEADLAM. Of course. [He exits.]
another cigarette, inhales deeply, exhales in a long sigh]. Ahhhhh. Pity they've no
opium in these. Ah, well, ahead:
HEADLAM [returning with
HEADLAM. Ah. Your husband displays a little of Mister Wilde's own wit.
OSCAR [entering, pauses a moment in surprise]. Why, my dear
OSCAR. Oh, the heavenly, heavenly sound of laughter. That reveals the divinity of our human destiny.
OSCAR. Thank you, Sphinx. The circumstances of one's life are today changed, certainly. But Destiny may run deeper than even the astounding alternation of prison and freedom.
HEADLAM. Tell me, Mr. Wilde, were you able to achieve any sort of inner freedom while you were in solitude . . . while you were away?
OSCAR. Eventually, Father Headlam. Eventually, I believe I did. In the beginning, however, I was as one of the lost souls in the Inferno. In my second year, when I was permitted to read and then to write again, I read and re-read Dante. There was an artist who understood the human condition!
[He rises and declaims the opening.]
[He then recites the following with passionate clarity.]
"Midway in my life's journey, I went astray
from the straight road and woke to myself
what wood that was! I never saw so drear,
so rank, so arduous a wilderness!
Its very memory gives a shape to fear.
Death could scarce be more bitter . . . . "
[There is a long silence.]
HEADLAM. Is there anything, anything at all, my dear friend, that we can do for you?
OSCAR. Ah, life itself is only what we do for each other.
HEADLAM. That's very beautiful, Mister Wilde, but, er, weren't you just saying rather the reverse—about realizing oneself?
OSCAR [recovering, somewhat, his airiness]. Ah, well, you forget, my dear Headlam, that in the world of art a thing can be true . . . and its opposite can be true. Of course, all the great Romantic artists know this. "I contradict myself? Very well, I contradict myself." Or this: "Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds."
HEADLAM. Waldo Emerson?
OSCAR. Quite so. You are a perfect brace of scholars. Now, tell me, dearest Sphinx, how things are with you.
OSCAR. And Ernest? I long to see him. Both of you have been such good and loyal friends.
OSCAR. Ah, Sphinx, I now know what "missing" truly means. From the heights to the depths. I have experienced exaltations and depressions such as I hardly knew existed. De profundis: Out of the depths, I cry unto you, O Lord. You know, I used to think that the secret of life is pleasure. Now I know that the secret of life is suffering. I should have gone mad, truly mad I think, had it not been for the smallest scrap of human sympathy. It is the most important thing in life, this ability to feel the pain of others. My good friend Martin . . . .
HEADLAM. Mister Wilde is referring to one of the warders in . . . where he has been away.
OSCAR. Yes, the wonderful Martin. He quite saved my life. Well, perhaps not: quite possibly my life has not been saved; I am told that no prisoner unused to manual labor ever survives a two-year term at hard labor. I live, but I do not know if I thrive. Martin, however, saved far more than my life: he saved my sanity, my belief in the possibility of human goodness.
OSCAR. Dismissed! Martin?
OSCAR. No, no. It cannot be! Martin was the one human . . . . You say he was dismissed for giving a prisoner food?
OSCAR. Oh, great God in Heaven! It must be those little children. He gave a biscuit to the smallest of them, a small child.
disturbed]. There will never be a
day such as that for me ever again, Sphinx.
Do you know that everyday for the past year, I have wept for one half of
an hour, exactly between two and two-thirty?
That was the very time when, a year ago, I was transferred from Wandsworth to
HEADLAM [responding to a soft knock at the door]. Excuse me. [He returns with a letter, which he gives to OSCAR.]
and opens the letter]. Ah, it is the
Church! Let us see . . . "we feel
that a decision to live a religious life cannot be made on short notice" .
. . . My God, they have refused
collapses in a chair.] The
OSCAR [quite unembarrassed by the tears that flow down his cheeks]. Thank you, dear Sphinx. Thank you.
[HEADLAM hands ADA a handkerchief, which she applies to OSCAR'S wet face.]
OSCAR. You know, upon reflection, when I was in the Old Bailey, perhaps I ought not to have said that I wouldn't kiss that boy because he was ugly.
HEADLAM [after a slightly awkward silence]. Well . . . it was a turning point, certainly. [Suddenly] You know, Mister Wilde, although that is the most famous line to emerge from your trials, there is another which struck me much more forcefully.
OSCAR. Yes? There were so many.
And you were asked, Mister Wilde, if this deep affection of an elder
toward a young man were the case with the young men you met at
OSCAR. Yes? I don't quite remember . . . .
HEADLAM. Well, you said, "Certainly not! One feels that once in one's life, and once only."
OSCAR. Why, yes, I did. That is true.
OSCAR. Bosie, of course.
OSCAR. Ah, it
so difficult to explain. Even one's
closest friends do not quite understand the great love we share. Well, I am now once again an outcast. I go to
Perhaps I should now prepare for
OSCAR [rising and donning a light overcoat, keeping his bulky envelope in hand]. Ah, I know you do not entirely understand. No one can, really. But I appreciate your friendship, your loyalty, and your offer of transit to Victoria Station.
[He hands HEADLAM the letter.] My dear Father Headlam, you may keep this letter as proof that I tried—tried to cast myself upon the bosom of Holy Mother the Church. But I have had the secular life thrust upon me. I accept my destiny. Thank you, my friend.
HEADLAM [shaking hands]. Mister Wilde: it has been an honor.
OSCAR. I am touched, Father Headlam, that you remembered my description of a true and deep love. Love!
Oh, I have been to the depths of the Inferno.
Yet, I have studied and sought
"I yearned to know just how our image merges
into that circle, and how it finds its place."
Oh, that thrilling finale of Dante’s great Commedia!
“Tearing my mind in a great flash of light—
already I could feel my being turned—
by the Love that moves the Sun and the other stars."
HEADLAM. Mister Wilde!
OSCAR [turning back]. Yes, my dear reverend friend?
HEADLAM. Mister Wilde, would you, before you go, be willing to give me your blessing?
OSCAR [tears again brighten his eyes]. Oh, my dear Headlam! Nothing astonishes me—excepting, of course, the daily press—but you have succeeded in astonishing me. [He raises his right hand.] But, you know, I don't quite know how to do it. I never learnt. Well . . . here. [He raises his hand, from his heart to his forehead, then blows a sort of kiss as a blessing; he smiles and exits.]
[HEADLAM, once more 70, mounts his pulpit and clicks on his little light as the other lights begin to fade. He begins to say something, stops, shakes his head, as if to suggest that there is nothing more to say. He raises his right hand and passes on OSCAR'S blessing to the audience. He smiles, gives a small bow, and clicks off the light. Fade to black.]