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When Shakespeare's Ladies Meet

Portia: Is this not the abode of the youthful Juliet?

Katharine: Methinks, it is, Portia. Hm! Quite a place, n’est-ce pas? They must keep a gardener on full-time salary.

Portia: Oh, indeed, Katharine! The Capulets are well-heeled financially. It will be quite a prize for that one who marries the fair Juliet.

Katharine: Do you think it will be this young buck, Romeo?

Portia: Perhaps, it will be, for I am told they are quite smitten with each other. Of course, there is one obstacle.

Katharine: And what is that?

Portia: Romeo is of the house of Montague. Juliet is a Capulet.

Katharine: If I wanted a man, I’d never let a little thing like a family feud thwart me. Nay, I’d show them that I was mistress of the situation.

Portia: Aye, it is easy enough to say, but families have a way of creating more tragedy than our beloved William Shakespeare ever did! That’s why I thought I’d drop by to give the immature Juliet the benefit of my legal advice. For it is said: Love looks not with the eyes but with the mind.

Katharine: Swell stuff, that verse. Your own?

Portia: Oh no! They are the words of Helena.

Katharine: Helena? Do I know her?

Portia: You should. She had a “Midsummer Night’s Dream”. She is one of Shakespeare’s ladies.

Katharine: That guy, Willie Shakespeare had so many girlfriends, it is impossible to keep them all in mind.

Portia: Aye, he did know the fair sex. Do you remember that horrible Lady Macbeth? Then there is the fair and witty Rosalind.

Katharine: And have you heard of Desdemona and her handkerchief? Or the sorry plight of poor Ophelia?

Portia: Aye, poor Ophelia, indeed! Jilted by Hamlet, the melancholy Dane.

Katharine: A sour-faced, gloomy man! That Hamlet, given to soliloquies and filled with quotations.

Portia: Aye! No wonder poor Ophelia has gone mad!

Katharine: Mad! This is an understatement! She’s as nutty as a Yuletide fruit cake.

Portia: But soft! She is coming! Be not harsh with her.

Katharine: Aye! She’s coming. The lady with bats in her belfry.

Ophelia: Where am I? Where am I? Can anyone tell me?

Portia: You are in Juliet’s garden in Verona.

Ophelia: (With a silly giggle.) Aye! Juliet’s garden. And is this the fair Juliet? (Goes to Katharine and touches her, timidly.)

Katharine: Oh goodness, NO! I am Katharine, beloved of Petruchio!

Ophelia: (Shrinking away in terror.) I have heard of you! A shrew!

Katharine: What are you saying? (Ophelia runs to the protecting arms of Portia.)

Portia: Be not afraid, my child! Her bark is worse than her bite.

Ophelia: Ah! A quotation! It reminds me of my Hamlet! Alas! poor Hamlet! I knew him well. A fellow of infinite jest!

Katharine: As funny as a crutch!

Ophelia: Of most excellent fancy! He has borne me on his back a thousand times; and now, how abhorred in my imagination it is!

For Hamlet, and the trifling of his favour,

Hold it a fashion, and a toy in blood;

A violet in the youth of primy nature,

Forward, not permanent, sweet, not lasting,

The perfume and suppliance of a minute;

No more.

Portia: Poor Ophelia!

Katharine: Nuts, says I.

Ophelia: Have you heard of Romeo and Juliet? It is said they are in the throes of romance.

Portia: Aye, it is known to everyone except the Montagues and the Capulets.

Ophelia: I have come to warn her of the pitfalls of love! She must not suffer as I have. She must not trust his songs. She must not lose her heart. Oh, had I but listened to my brother Laertes before it was too late.

Katharine: It is said Romeo is a healthy young chap, full of high spirits and the joy of living. His father is alive, therefore he won’t have his father’s ghost to get him down as your Hamlet did.

Ophelia: His father’s ghost! Aye! that did upset my Hamlet and make him do his mother dirt. It was all a sorry mess! And I have sworn that Juliet shall not thus suffer!

Desdemona: (Calling off stage in hysterical voice.) Juliet! Juliet!

Ophelia: Who is calling Juliet?

Portia: It is Desdemona! She seems distraught – excited! Perhaps something has gone wrong.

Katharine: Oh yes, something must have happened.

Desdemona: Juliet! Juliet! Where are you? Portia! Katharine! Ophelia! What brings you to Juliet’s garden?

Portia: We have come here to offer Juliet advice in the art of love.

Katharine: Methinks it is a waste of time. Experience is the best teacher!

Ophelia: Another quotation! Did Hamlet say that?

Desdemona: Juliet must profit by the experience of others – my experience with Othello.

Katharine: What happened? Did that tall, dark and handsome fellow step out on you?

Desdemona: Nay, nay! That is his jealousy! And, alas the day, I never gave him cause.

Portia: But jealous souls are not jealous for the cause, but jealous for they are jealous. Jealousy is a monster, begot upon itself, born on itself.

Desdemona: So says my good friend Emilia. If Romeo is jealous, Juliet should not marry him.

Ophelia: Aye! For love is but a vain and doubtful good; a shining gloss that fadeth suddenly; a flower that dies, when first begins to bud; a brittle glass that’s broken presently.

Katharine: Let’s have done with all this philosophizing and call the maid, Juliet, and give her the works. Juliet! Juliet!

Juliet: Who is calling?

Katharine: Come here and see!

Juliet: Romeo! Romeo! Wherefore are you Romeo? Deny your father and refuse your name; or I’ll no longer be a Capulet.

Katharine: She’s got it bad!

Juliet: O, swear not by the moon, the inconstant moon, that monthly changes in her circled orb…

Katharine: Moon? Why, it’s broad daylight. She’s raving! Snap her out of it, Portia!

Portia: Juliet! Come out of your trance! We would speak to you!

Juliet: Where am I?

Portia: You are among friends – good friends – who have come to bring you counsel.

Ophelia: See! I have brought you flowers! Sweet to the sweet. I would give you some violets, but they withered all when my father died. They say he made a good end.

Juliet: Sweet Ophelia, I thank you for you gift. Welcome, ladies, thrice welcome! But tell me, why am I so honored by your presence?

Portia: We have heard that you are in love with young Romeo. Is it true?

Juliet: Aye, Romeo! The god of my heart! My true love’s passion!

Katharine: She’s off again! (Ophelia again wanders upstage and around.)

Desdemona: But he is a Montague! While you are a Capulet.

Juliet: It’s but his name that is his enemy. What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. So Romeo would, were he not Romeo called, retain that dear perfection which he owes.

Portia: But you are wooing tragedy when you disregard parental objection.

Juliet: Come what sorrow can, I am not afraid.

Portia: I see you are determined. So be it. So, from these ladies, assembled here, you will learn the pitfalls to avoid along the pathway of love.

Juliet: Pitfalls? What do you mean?

Katharine: In other words, we’re here to give you the lowdown on men.

Desdemona: For all of us have had experience in plenty.

Ophelia: You must not suffer, Juliet, my sweet.

Juliet: Suffer? Love does not bring suffering.

Desdemona: You think so now – but wait! Is your Romeo inclined toward jealousy?

Juliet: Why should my Romeo be jealous? Jealousy must be born of some reason.

Desdemona: You do not know what you say! Jealousy may be borne of conjecture – without reason. Nor is there any reasoning with jealousy. Aye! I know what I speak of. Othello smothers me with his jealous love.

Juliet: Because of your handkerchief?

Desdemona: You know?

Juliet: (With a smile.) Aye! It is known far and wide – this incident of Desdemona and her pocket linen.

Desdemona: It was not of linen – but of silk. An Egyptian charmer gave that handkerchief to Othello’s mother.

Juliet: And yet you gave that handkerchief to Cassio.

Desdemona: I did not give it to Cassio. I lost the handkerchief.

Katharine: You should have been more careful with your belongings.

Juliet: And Casio found the handkerchief?

Desdemona: It was a foul plot of that arch-villain, Iago. It was he who plotted against me. So if your young Romeo shows the slightest signs of jealousy, marry him not.

Juliet: I have no Cassio with whom to share my thoughts of Romeo. And, moreover, I shall always see that my handkerchiefs fall not into wrong hands.

Katharine: Aye! A handkerchief can cause a hard blow.

Juliet: I thank you, Desdemona, for your great interest in me, but I profit nothing by your experience with Othello the Moor. And I am certain Romeo will never attempt to smother me in my bedchamber.

Ophelia: Love is merely a madness, and, I tell you, deserves as well a dark house and a whip as madmen do.

Portia: And yet I propose to cure your madness by giving you counsel.

Juliet: And what is your good counsel? I am well aware that the course of true love never did run smooth.

Portia: You are angry! Mark you well, that a hot temper leaps over a cold decree.

Juliet: I am listening, Portia. Proceed with counsel.

Portia: Are you certain you love Romeo?

Juliet: What do you mean?

Portia: Have you had other suitors?

Juliet: None! Romeo is my first and only love.

Portia: Then how can you be sure of your love for him? There is none by who you can make comparison.

Juliet: Do you need to have a whole bouquet of flowers to be certain of the beauty of one rose?

Desdemona: Oh, that’s true, Juliet.

Juliet: You have had a whole flock of boyfriends – the Neapolitan prince, the County Palatine, the French lord, Monsieur LeBon, Faulconbridge, the young baron of England, the Scottish lord, his neighbour, the Duke of Saxony’s nephew and others.

Katharine: You have been doing all right for yourself, Portia.

Juliet: They are fortune-hunters – the whole gang of them.

Portia: (Amazed.) Fortune-hunters?

Juliet: They are after your mazuma.

The others: (Puzzled.) Mazuma?

Portia: I do not know what you mean.

Juliet: Well, to be literate, they are after your dough. You are a very wealthy woman. So, beware, Portia. or they’ll take you for every dime of it.

Portia: You shouldn’t worry, Juliet. I do not look with favour on any of them.

Juliet: (With a sly smile.) But there is one on whom you do look with extreme favour.

Portia: Who do you mean?

Juliet: A Venetian, a scholar, and a soldier, young Bassanio.

Portia: (Aghast.) You know of young Bassanio?

Juliet: Aye, well! You think that Bassanio is different from the rest.

Portia: (With a heavy sigh.) Well, he’s certainly got what it takes!

Juliet: You mean that you have got what it takes – and that is the long green.

Portia: (Annoyed.) You think that Bassanio is after my wealth?

Juliet: You said it, Portia, my friend. So, go easy! He stumbles who runs fast. And above all, to thine own self be true.

Katharine: It seems to me, Portia, that instead of you giving Juliet advice, you are getting the lowdown.

Portia: Aye! And I don’t like it. (To Juliet.) And do you follow your own instructions in affairs of the heart?

Juliet: I am in no such dilemma. For there is but one man for me and he is my Romeo.

Ophelia: Be warned, Juliet, that he does not play you false.

Juliet: I have no fear. The good Friar Laurence will wed us in due time.

Desdemona: But after that, Juliet? What does fate hold in store for you?

Juliet: I think not of the future. I live for today.

Ophelia: But you must think of the future. See what love has done to me!

Juliet: But Hamlet did love you once.

Ophelia: Aye, with all his heart.

Katharine: What made him change his mind?

Ophelia: I don’t know. He told me to go to a nunnery – and quickly, too

Katharine: Did you go?

Ophelia: No – I went mad instead.

Katharine: Well, it was the wiser choice, says I.

Ophelia: O, woe is me! To have seen what I have seen, see what I see!

Juliet: And what do you see?

Ophelia: A tragic ending for Romeo and Juliet.

Juliet: Indeed, sweet Ophelia, you are mad! Romeo’s mother is not like Hamlet ‘s mother. Nor my Romeo likes talking to ghosts, nor does he like talking to Yorick’s skull. “Alas, poor Yorick!”

Desdemona: But there still exists the feud between the Montagues and the Capulets.

Juliet: (Lightly.) So what?

Portia: It can cause you great sorrow. And don’t you say we didn’t tip you off.

Juliet: Once the good Friar Laurence closes our hands with holy words, what can our families do about it? Give me Romeo, and when he dies, take him and cut him out in little stars, and he will make the face of Heaven so fine, that all the world will be in love with night.

Portia: Mark you, Juliet, these violent delights have violent ends.

Ophelia: To be or not to be – that is the question. Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.

Juliet: Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing end them.

Katharine: You certainly have a mind of your own, young Juliet.

Juliet: Aye, Katharine, just as you had before Petruchio tamed you.

Katharine: Oh, you know about…

Juliet: The Taming of the Shrew? Who doesn’t?

Katharine: Well, then, Juliet, a word of advice. Never let Romeo get too bossy.

Juliet: There is no need for your warning, Kate.

Katharine: You are headstrong and determined.

Juliet: Nay, I have but the courage of my convictions. But I am sweet-tempered, and mild; and my tongue is sweet with honeyed words. But in your case, if you hadn’t been toned down, you would have remained an old maid.

Katharine: How dare you?

Juliet: A woman moved is like a fountain troubled, muddy, ill-seeming, thick, bereft of beauty; and while it is so, none so dry or thirsty will deign sip, or touch one drop of it.

Katharine: You are telling me in my own words. Go on!

Katharine and Juliet: (Together.) Your husband is your lord, your life, your keeper, your head, your sovereign. I am ashamed that women are so simple to offer war, when they should kneel for peace; or seek for rule, supremacy, and sway; when they are bound to serve, love and obey.

Desdemona: Truly, Petruchio has tamed a curst shrew.

Portia: It’s a wonder she was tamed so.

Katharine: Well, you don’t know Petruchio as I do. What a man!

Juliet: What is that strange sound that falls on my ears?

Ophelia: Perchance ‘tis my Hamlet’s come back to me.

Katharine: Not a chance, Feeley. That guy’s gone forever.

Portia: Some strange female approaches.

Desdemona: Looking like a siren of the movies.

Juliet: Don’t you know who she is?

The others: Nay! Nay!

Juliet: ‘Tis Cleopatra, the serpent of the Nile. (Amid a loud beating of the tom-tom, Cleopatra enters. She is a tall, dark, exotic woman, her face made up very pale with her lips a bright crimson and her eyes extremely dark. She wears the traditional Cleopatra costume with beaded breast-plates, many jeweled adornments and a jeweled headgear. Her every move is undulating and “sexy” and she speaks in slow, drawling tones full of “sexy” implications.)

Cleopatra: Hi ya, Julie!

Juliet: Welcome, Cleopatra. I don’t believe you know my friends.

Cleopatra: Can’t say as I do.

Juliet: This is Ophelia.

Ophelia: (To herself.) Tomorrow is Saint Valentine’s day, All in the morning betime, And I a maid at your window, To be your Valentine.

Cleopatra: Slightly screwy, I take it?

Juliet: (Touching her forhead.) Aye! She was jilted by Hamlet .

Cleopatra: (Laughingly.) Well. I’ve gone nuts over many a man. Seems to me I’ve heard of your Hamlet. Kind of a Gloomy Gus, wasn’t he?

Ophelia: (Sadly.) They call him the melancholy Dane.

Cleopatra: Couldn’t you snap him out of it? You know – make a little whoopee? (Wiggles her hips.)

Ophelia: (Indignantly.) Madame ...!

Cleopatra: Too bad I never met him. I’d have waked him up.

Desdemona: (Dramatically.) Assume a virtue, if you have it not.

Cleopatra: Methinks the lady does protest too much. Who’s this?

Juliet; She is Katharine, the shrew, whom the man, Petruchio, tamed.

Cleopatra: No man’s ever tamed me – yet – but there’s a first time for everything. Tell me, Kate, what’s it like to have the man wear the pants?

Katharine: Very satisfying.

Cleopatra: (Rolling her eyes.) Hum! I must look up your Petruchio.

Katharine: (Flaring up.) You keep away from my man, you siren!

Desdemona: Careful, Katharine. Let not jealousy get the better of you! Remember, it ruined my romance.

Cleopatra: Oh, did you have a jealous guy?

Desdemona: (Sadly.) Aye! My Othello!

Cleopatra: (Pondering.) Othello? No, I don’t think he’s ever been on my list. But still, I’m not very good at remembering names – only faces. What does he look like?

Desdemona: Tall, dark, and handsome.

Cleopatra: I couldn’t tell by that. I’ve had so many of that kind. (Laughs.)?

Juliet: And this is Portia.

Cleopatra: You look like a lawyer.

Portia: A doctor of laws!

Cleopatra: I may need you in my business. My Antony has gone and got himself married and I have a darned good notion to sue him for breach-of-promise.

Portia: After I’m through with Shylock, look me up and we’ll talk it over.

Cleopatra: I’ll do that little thing. And now, Julie, what’s all this gossip I hear about you?

Juliet: I don’t know what you mean.

Cleopatra: You know darn well what I’m talking about. They tell me you’ve got a boyfriend and that your romance is sizzling.

Juliet: My Romeo!

Cleopatra: Is that his name?

Juliet: Aye! and such a sweet name.

Cleopatra: (Pondering.) Not bad! Sounds full of romance and things. What does he look like?

Juliet; He has a lean cheek, blue eyes, he is tall, slender, graceful, he is constant, loving, loving, true, devotion itself. He has the soul of a poet; the fire of a musician, the bravery of a soldier; and every requisite of a great lover.

Cleopatra: (Aghast.) Where did you ever meet such a man?

Juliet: Here in Verona.

Cleopatra: Hum! I must come here more often. But aren’t you awfully young to be mixed up with a guy like that?

Juliet: Age is counted not by calendar years, but by wisdom.

Cleopatra: Well, I’m much wiser than you because I’ve had a lot more experience. I can tell you plenty about men.

Juliet: If you are so wise, how come you lost the gorgeous Antony? Your technique must be faulty, Cleo.

Cleopatra: (Resentfully.) Why, I am the siren of the Nile. Men quake and quail before me.

Juliet: Perhaps, that’s your whole trouble.

Cleopatra: I don’t get you.

Juliet: You are too sure of yourself – too forceful – too domineering. Men like to feel that they are the superior of women. They like to suppose that they are the master sex. You need a Petruchio to tame you.

Katharine: And how!

Cleopatra: But I am the Queen of Egypt.

Juliet: And you would never let Antony forget it.

Cleopatra: I think you’ve got something there.

Juliet: Aye! in truth, I have. So the next time an Antony comes into your life, forget that you are a queen – and remember that you are first a woman. And another thing – stop being a siren. Men do not like a woman who has playing-around qualities.

Cleopatra: Then you never cast a roving eye at anyone but Romeo?

Juliet: Never! Romeo is my first, last, and only love. I am determined that the romance of Romeo and Juliet shall go down in history as the most perfect romance of all time.

Desdemona: But about the ending?

Juliet: We shall end our romance together.

Portia: Will it be a tragic end?

Juliet: Some may think it so – but to us, it will be an ideal culmination.

Cleopatra: I made the trip all the way from Egypt to give you lessons in love and I wound up by getting a few myself.

Portia: You cannot teach the child, Juliet, anything. All of us have found that out.

Juliet: But, at any rate, it’s been a charming afternoon. And “All’s Well That Ends Well”. When shall we six meet again?

Ophelia: In thunder, lightning, or in rain?

Desdemona: When the hurburly’s done?

Katharine: When the battle’s lost or won.

If our Shakespeare we’ve offended,

Think but this and all is mended.

That you have but slumbered here,

While these visions did appear.

Scholars do not reprehend,

If you pardon, we will mend

All the liberties we took

With Master Willie Shakespeare’s book.

For really we have studied hard

All the phrases of the Bard.

And this, our joke, though indiscreet,

Is really what might happen, should

Shakespeare’s ladies meet.

By Charles George