“Exit, Pursued by a Demon”

Shakespeare’s missing play, Cardenio, has been brought to life by painstaking detective work and reconstruction. Which cultural news reminds me how much I love Shakespeare – and how much better I wish I knew his works.

A few years ago I made my own Shakespearean (of sorts) reconstruction – rather a murder of his folio, it has to be said. It was for round 4 of SlingInk’s Eurofiction competition in 2007 for the prompt, “Write a sucide note from an aging entertainer.” As my mother-in-law was a theatrical costume maker a couple of the chaps she’d met came to mind.

Exit, Pursued by a Demon

To be, or not to be a has been,
doing time, imprisoned, wizening
— that is the question: —
whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
the leering couches of outrageous casting
in Holby City, when writers’ plots
thicken more than congealed blood;
or to disguise against a sea of paparazzi,
who would bare the whips and cuffs betimes
in tabloid shout-rage at our back-stage pranks,
as we sweat beneath a drunk director.
Oh fuck! What flash through yonder window breaks?
‘Tis but an instant: my picture in The Sun.
Alas! I am fortune’s fool.

Roger, Roger, wherefore art thou Roger?
Death lies on him like an untimely frost
upon the sweetest flower of all the field.
Comfort’s in heaven; and I am yet on Earth,
where all that lives is envy, greed and grief.
Alas, poor Roger!—
I knew him well; a fellow of infinite zest, most to my fancy:
he hath had me on my back a thousand times;
those lips that I kiss’d I know not how oft.
“There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance; pray, love, remember.
And there is pansies; that’s for thoughts.”
Marry, how we loved to laugh and, laughing, loved.
Would I were with him, wheresome’re he is, in Heaven or in Hell –
divine and devil, both entwined my soul in him.
The course of true love never did run smooth.
Yet oft, when blows had made me stay, I fled from words,
wrapp’d in dismal thinkings;
Misery acquaints a man with
strange bed-fellows.

Love is a smoke made with the fume of sighs;
kindled flames spark bright in lovers’ eyes;
tended hearths and hearts will burn these many years
tho, abandoned, quench in lovers’ tears.
And, as green eyes marked our souls’ alliance,
green backs bought a green room dalliance.

Aye, rumour is a pipe,
crowing lustier than any cock,
blown by surmises, jealousies, conjectures
and of so easy and so plain a stop
that the blunt monster with uncounted heads,
the unharmonic wavering multitude,
can play upon it
any discord writ in headlines,
banged out by tabloid media.
Ill blows the whore that profits nobody.
The lunatic, the lover and the journalist
are of imagination all compact.
Trust nobody, for fear you be betray’d.
Who lives that’s not depraved or depraves?
Exaggerated into monstrous Wapping tales
swallowed by a drooling proletariat.
Lord, what fools us mortals be!
My hero that here lies
was done to death by slanderous tongues
licking like flames around the rim
of insanity’s volcano.
Death, in guerdon of his wrongs,
give him fame which never dies.
So the life that died with shame
may live in death, with glorious fame.
How faithless did I brand his love for me
when in truth mine own lacked charity;
seeking solace in open arms
kindled by imagined charms.

O, beware, my friends, of jealousy!
It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock
the meat it gorges on
and I have supp’d full with horrors;
evil whispers whetting appetite,
sharpening revenge
ere I carved my portion.
Is this MY dagger which I see before me?
Oh, let it be a blade of the mind; a false creation,
proceeding from my coke-oppressed brain;
dudgeon gouts of blood made up
in grease paint by an artist, not my heart.
Grim death, how foul and loathsome is thine image.

Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow; a poor player,
that struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
and then is heard no more: it is a tale
told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
signifying nothing.

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players.
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts
Last scene of all comes absolute oblivion;
sans grace, sans taste, sans mind, sans everything.
Oblivion? Yet glares his blood:
burning e’en in darkness.
This thing of evil I acknowledge mine.
Who would have thought any man to have so much blood in him?
Would that it were Kensington Gore
then, curtains closing, he would rise again,

Let’s talk of graves, of worms, and epitaphs;
make dust our paper and with rainy eyes
write sorrow on the bosom of the Earth.
Let fame, that all hunt after in their lives,
live register’d upon our brazen tombs,
then grace us in the disgrace of death
and make us heirs of all eternity.

Haste now to my setting: I shall fall
like a bright exhalation o’er the evening,
and no man see me more.
Then, please God, may it be writ:
“Nothing in his life
became him like the leaving it.”

The rest is silence.

(In case you’re wondering it completely flumoxed the judges as it was so  different to anything else entered and also not quite original yet remarkably obscene. But they were amused as well as bemused so it came second in that round.)

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4 Responses to “Exit, Pursued by a Demon”

  1. Kristin Brænne says:


  2. Todd Congreve says:

    Far better than “Romeo & Ethel” – this may just be a case of “Love’s Labours Won.”

    Well done, Dark Lady.

    • Myfanwy Fox says:

      I’m honoured, Sir. But I think Stoppard kept more to the essence. And aren’t there rumours that Will’s dark lady was a lad? All very confusing – even more so on the internet.

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