Oscar Wilde's 'Lord Arthur Savile's Crime' by Martin Harris
Oscar Wilde's 'Lord Arthur Savile's Crime' by Martin Harris
A play for two actors adapted from the story by OSCAR WILDE
Music - a string quartet - plays gently. It fades as LORD ARTHUR
enters with a book - The Complete Works of Tennyson - and a
hand-written copy of Lear's poem, The Two Old Bachelors.
LORD ARTHUR: I have found it, ladies and gentleman! Here it is. I have
found it. Would you believe it was tucked in my Tennyson.
He pauses and looks around at the audience.
LORD ARTHUR: Don't you find there is an awful lot of nonsense in the
world these days?
He encourages a response.
LORD ARTHUR: I know that was certainly the opinion of the celebrated
poet, Mr Edward Lear. And it is one of his works, ladies and gentlemen
that I hold in my hand. You see during dinner I got chatting to a
couple of new friends of mine, Clarence and Claude.
He looks around the audience trying to spot them.
LORD ARTHUR: Most interesting young fellows well I say young, and
I'm sure they will forgive me, but they are not as young as they
once were! And both unmarried poor chaps! Well, anyway, as we
conversed about one thing and another: music, poetry, our mutual
interest in the psychic arts and the like, well they brought to mind a
favourite poem of mine which I felt impelled to share with you. So,
ladies and gentlemen, Clarence and Claude, I trust that you will
He puts on his reading glasses and reads the poem…
The Two Old Bachelors by Mr Edward Lear.
Two old Bachelors were living in one house;
One caught a Muffin, the other caught a Mouse.
Said he who caught the Muffin to him who caught the Mouse, -
"This happens just in time! For we've nothing in the house,
Save a tiny slice of lemon and a teaspoonful of honey,
And what to do for dinner - since we haven't any money?
And what can we expect if we haven't any dinner,
But to lose our teeth and eyelashes and keep on growing thinner?"
Said he who caught the Mouse to him who caught the Muffin, -
"We might cook this little Mouse, if we only had some Stuffin'!
If we had but Sage and Onion we could do extremely well;
But how to get that Stuffin' it is difficult to tell!"
Those two old Bachelors ran quickly to the town
And asked for Sage and Onion as they wandered up and down;
They borrowed two large Onions, but no Sage was to be found
In the Shops, or in the Market, or in all the Gardens round.
But someone said, "A hill there is, a little to the north,
And to its purpledicular top a narrow way leads forth;
And there among the rugged rocks abides an ancient Sage, -
An earnest Man, who reads all day a most perplexing page.
Climb up, and seize him by the toes, - all studious as he sits, -
And pull him down, and chop him into endless little bits!
Then mix him with your Onion (cut up likewise into Scraps), -
When your Stuffin' will be ready, and very good - perhaps."
Those two old Bachelors without loss of time
The nearly purpledicular crags at once began to climb;
And at the top, among the rocks, all seated in a nook,
They saw that Sage a reading of a most enormous book.
"You earnest Sage!" aloud they cried "your book you've read
We wish to chop you into bits to mix you into Stuffin'!"
But that old Sage looked calmly up, and with his awful book,
At those two Bachelors' bald heads a certain aim he took;
And over Crag and precipice they rolled promiscuous down, -
At once they rolled, and never stopped in lane or field or town;
And when they reached their house, they found (besides their want of
The Mouse had fled - and, previously, had eaten up the Muffin.
They left their home in silence by the once convivial door;
And from that hour those Bachelors were never heard of more.
LORD ARTHUR: One of Mr Lear's most accomplished nonsense poems I'm
sure you'll agree. But I might have become just like one of those
two old bachelors myself if it hadn't been for my darling Sybil.
Thankfully, as you can see, Sybil saved me from starvation and I am
pleased to say that she has learnt to enjoy the good things in life
almost as much as I do in fact, on occasion, she enjoys them just
a little more than I do! You see, the day has been rather exhausting
for Sybil and she has just gone for a little lie down. Between you and
me, I think she might have over-indulged at dinner. I suspect there
are many of us here who have. Did you all enjoy our dinner?
Splendid! I shall report back to cook. That reminds me I did
wonder at first when Sybil disappeared if she was still cross with me
for a comment I made this morning "Darling," she said to me,
"I'm afraid cook's burnt the bacon. You'll have to be
satisfied with a kiss for breakfast." "Oh, all right," I
said, "Send her in!"
He laughs at his own joke.
LORD ARTHUR: Sybil was not amused. Not amused at all!
MIDDLEWICK enters with a whisky decanter and a glass on a tray. He
lights some candles or adjusts the lighting if necessary.
LORD ARTHUR: Ah. There you are, Middlewick. Splendid, splendid. Oh,
Sybil has asked me to extend our gratitude to you all for welcoming us
so warmly into the bosom of your countryside idyll. Our move here from
London went extremely smoothly and it is an absolute delight to meet
so many charming people who share our love, not only for good food and
wine, but for life and all the pleasures that it brings.
A thought comes upon him and he looks at his hand remembering
something from his past.
LORD ARTHUR: There was a time, however, before we married, when I
thought that life might turn out quite differently. In fact, while
Sybil is resting she is still resting is she, Middlewick?
MIDDLEWICK: She is, My Lord.
LORD ARTHUR: Well, while Sybil is resting, allow me to share with you
a little secret.
He puts down the poetry book and begins his story. Meanwhile,
MIDDLEWICK pours a drink and waits patiently, with the glass on the
tray, for LORD ARTHUR to take it.
LORD ARTHUR: It all began at a reception not too dissimilar to this
one, but hosted by the wonderfully elegant Lady Windermere. It was her
last reception before Easter and her house was even more crowded than
usual. It was late in the evening and Lady Windermere was with my own
dear mother, the Duchess of Paisley. I was standing nearby and
overheard Lady Windermere talking about Mr Podgers, her cheiromantist
LORD ARTHUR (as Lady Windermere): (pretending to wave a fan) "Where
is my cheiromantist?"
LORD ARTHUR: she exclaimed! My mother looked rather confused and
was trying to remember what a cheiromantist really was and hoped it
was not the same as a chiropodist. But of course, Mr Podgers was a
palm-reader and my mother was relieved to find out that rather than
dealing with feet, a cheiromantist dealt with fortunes!
LORD ARTHUR takes the drink from the tray.
MIDDLEWICK: And misfortunes too, My Lord.
LORD ARTHUR: Indeed, Middlewick. Indeed
He takes a sip of his drink and something occurs to him.
LORD ARTHUR: In fact, Middlewick. Why don't you be Lady Windermere?
MIDDLEWICK: (rather surprised at the request) Be Lady Windermere?
Me, My Lord?
LORD ARTHUR: Yes. Come on, Middlewick. You were, after all, quoting
her, were you not? "And misfortunes too!" Why don't you be her?
It'll save me the trouble!
MIDDLEWICK: (hesitantly) Yes, My Lord.
MIDDLEWICK looks around uncomfortably at the audience but comes
forward for his role and speaks in a rather stilted manner.
MIDDLEWICK (as Lady Windermere): "And misfortunes too. Any amount of
MIDDLEWICK steps back again.
LORD ARTHUR: Is that it? Come along, Middlewick, carry on. After all,
Lady Windermere is always so dramatic. Flinging her arms everywhere!
MIDDLEWICK, still uncertain, comes forward again. Thinking carefully
about what Lady Windermere might say, and attempting to use his arms a
little more, he very gradually builds in confidence over the next few
MIDDLEWICK (as Lady Windermere): "Next year for instance I
am in great danger both by land and sea so I am going to live
in a balloon and draw up my dinner in a basket every evening."
LORD ARTHUR: Very good, Middlewick! Very Good! Now you may find that
this will assist you.
LORD ARTHUR hands MIDDLEWICK the tray.
MIDDLEWICK: My Lord?
LORD ARTHUR: Lady Windermere's fan. You see, Middlewick! Oh and
don't forget the voice, Middlewick. The voice! Come along now.
MIDDLEWICK (as Lady Windermere): (now using the 'fan' and adopting
her voice) "It is all written down on my little finger or on the
palm of my hand, I forget which Now, will someone go and fetch Mr
Podgers at once or I shall have to go myself."
LORD ARTHUR: (encouraging MIDDLEWICK) "Let me go, Lady
MIDDLEWICK (as Lady Windermere): "Thanks so much, Arthur; but I am
afraid you wouldn't recognise him."
LORD ARTHUR: "If he is as wonderful as you say, Lady Windermere, I
couldn't well miss him. Tell me what he is like, and I'll bring
him to you at once."
MIDDLEWICK (as Lady Windermere): "Well, he is not a bit like a
cheiromantist. I mean he is not mysterious, or esoteric, or
romantic-looking. He is a little, stout man, with a funny, bald head,
and great gold-rimmed spectacles."
LORD ARTHUR puts down his drink, puts on his glasses, adopts a new
pose and becomes Mr Podgers. For the rest of the scene he takes his
glasses on and off switching between himself and Mr Podgers.
LORD ARTHUR (as Mr Podgers): "Hello!"
MIDDLEWICK (as Lady Windermere): "Ah, here is Mr Podgers! Now, Mr
Podgers, I want you to read the Duchess of Paisley's hand Lord
Arthur's mother, you know?"
LORD ARTHUR (as Mr Podgers): (looking around) "Ah yes, I know The
Duchess of Paisley but where is she?"
MIDDLEWICK (as Lady Windermere): "Well, where has she gone? She was
here a moment ago."
They both look for her until LORD ARTHUR sees 'The Duchess', an
unsuspecting member of the audience, who will shortly join them on
LORD ARTHUR (as Mr Podgers): "Ah, there she is!" (he goes to
collect her) "Duchess "
MIDDLEWICK (as Lady Windermere): "Would you join us for a moment
Come along now Duchess That's right Don't worry, it
won't hurt a bit." (once 'The Duchess' is on stage) "Now, I
must introduce you. Duchess, this is Mr Podgers, my pet cheiromantist.
Mr Podgers, this is the Duchess of Paisley."
LORD ARTHUR (as Mr Podgers): "Charmed to meet you." (he kisses her
MIDDLEWICK (as Lady Windermere): "And if you say that she has a
larger mountain of the moon than I have, I will never believe in you
LORD ARTHUR: My mother removed a rather soiled kid glove. (turning to
'The Duchess') If you could just remove the glove, madam.
They watch as 'The Duchess' removes an imaginary glove.
LORD ARTHUR: Very good, madam.
[end of extract]