LJ McDowall

Messing About With Words

The Comely Courtesan

Valentine’s Day is approaching. ‘Tis the season to be completely cynical at this false and commercial festival designed primarily to relieve men of large sums of money in the hope it will  lead to nookie. I’m a Romantic, of course, but if there’s anything which kills the romance more, in my book, it’s mercenary dealings between men and women.  You might say I’m bitter and twisted.  Well, definitely twisted. It goes with the territory of being a writer of Speculative Fiction. We like twisted things. Oh yes.

Anyhoo,  my thoughts turn to some of the chick flicks couples are forced to endure —sorry—enjoy together at this time of year.

Pretty Woman, for one.  The ultimate “hooker bags a rich john” trope, largely responsible in the 1990s for a lot of very silly teenage girls heading for LA to become sex-workers in the hope they meet their handsome prince on Sunset Strip.

No sunset, honey. Just a lot of strip.

Musing on the hard realities of such transactions, the likely character of a real-life Vivienne and Edward,  I wondered what the Bard might have made of some of our most romantic movies. My feeling is that Shakespeare—a snarky realist—would have  made Pretty Woman a naughty comedy with plenty of smutty whimsy.  While my poetry skills are nowhere near the beauty and excellence of Will’s, I amused myself by redrafting the shopping scene in Pretty Woman as an early modern drama in iambic pentameter.

To whit, gentle reader, I offer for your consumption below.

The Comely Courtesan 


Enter: Vivienne.

Enter: Eduardo. 


Wherefore art thou dress’d in a slattern’s rags?

For did I not, this very morn extend

My largess and my patronage to thee?

Aye, ducats golden I did give to thee

For to procure some raiment as befits

Thy new position.


Aye — my lord you did!

Alas, sweet sir, this morning I me went

At your command to do just as you ask’d,

but all the merchants, seamstresses as well 

did turn me from their stalls, declaring that

they would not serve a trollop where the lords

And ladies of the land were known to buy.

Woe is me,  in my thigh-high kinky boots

still here I stand, these sweet tears falling real! 

It grieves me, Sir, I have displeas’d you thus.

[Aside] For they do say the money of a fool

Is parted soon from any fool of means.

Anon, I’ll make him spend a little more,

No lady I, but such a clever whore!


 [Aside] The lady thinks to play me for a fool,

‘Twould be better she take me for the rogue!

Better that she think me pliant, meek.

In time my mistress shall my nature know,

True, plain-hearted villain, her master be!

For now, those fetching, shining buskins high

Do lead my blackguard’s mind down lech’rous paths

E’en as the lady feigns distress, false tears,

her charms still please. My little saucy friend!

’Tis meet that I thus gain her trust. I spend!

[To Vivienne]  Sweet Lady, tidings such as these do stir

Mine heart. I’d see thee better dress’d and shod

Thy buskins black stir lechery, ’tis true,

Best kept for private assignation. No?

Next don them when we by thy window talk.

For now, wilt thou not come with me unto

this place where seamstresses do vend

their wares?


                                — But sir, those merchants they do love me not!


Ha! Love they none at all, save ducats shine

A-glinting gold within a silken purse.

Come, Lady. Beauty such as yours should be adorn’d

And graced with pretty silks and fine brocades.


I shall not come, their baleful gaze doth burn!


They do not gaze at thee, they gaze on me.

What lord is this, think they, who walketh out

With raggéd red-haired beauty at his side?

[They enter a cloth-merchant’s shop]. 


 Sirrah, behold my niece, my sister’s child

That lately visits from the countryside

Her nuncle, long from family estrang’d.

Pray, hast thou any silk or fine brocade

For sale within, as beautiful as she?


Oh yes!—I mean, oh no!—That is to say

within we have such silks as comely as

your niece, my lord, would want them so to be!

Aye, that is what I meant!


                                    — Ah, excellent!

Now, Signor Wheedle, know that I desire

That, as befits her station as my—niece—

I’d see her shod and dress’d in comely clothes.

And since I do intend to spend my gold

to some obscene degree within thy shop,

Thou’lt need assistance from attendants, for

I do require abasement, flattery

that’s equal in degree to my largess.


Flattery? Abasement? Ah, for certes

You have come, kind Lady, a gentle Sir,

unto a place most suited to your needs!

Seamstresses! Patricia! Kate! Francesca!

Attend this lady, niece to our good lord.

[Enter seamstresses, bearing bolts of fine cloth. They drape Vivienne, taking measurements.]

[to Eduardo] If I might be so bold, most gracious Sir,

to what obscene degree had you in mind?

A pittance, gen’rous, yes, merely profane,

or more offensive, to a high degree?


Why, Master Wheedle, I aim to cause offence

the degree to which I do where e’re I go,

determined by humility’s decree!

Meeseems thou hast prostrated not o’er much

To earn just yet such foul obscenity!


 Marry sir, as magnificent, a lord

hath never grac’d Verona’s fairest streets —


                                            —Not I, thou fool! The lady!


                                                                               —Even so!

[Merchant hurries over to Vivienne] 


[Sweetly, to Vivienne] I take my leave, and know thou art left

In wheedling hands, hands most capable.

[To Merchant]   Sirrah, I leave thee now, she hath a purse.


My ‘troth we’ll help her use it well, my lord!

[Exit Edaurdo and the fawning Merchant]


[To Vivienne]  This shade of blue, methinks, a compliment

Unto complexion fair, your sunset hair

And azure  eyes, my lady.


                                                                       —Oh? ‘Tis true?


 My lady’s such a comely one, ’tis true!

Meseems your nuncle would be pleased with you

Thus clothéd in a gown of azure hue!


Thou knowest I am not his niece in truth!


My dear, we know, you ladies never are!


‘Tis true, my friends, so true but comely lies

Do often fall where rosy lips do meet

Those of our Sirs, where gold coins are  concern’d.

I am, rather, the sister-daughter of

The Bishop of Verona.


                                                                       —Really, ma’am?


Good seamstresses, my pretty lies fall sweet

For neither am I niece to that fair priest!

[They laugh]

© LJ McDowall 2015.

One comment on “The Comely Courtesan

  1. Pingback: 30 Days of Poetry Love with LJ McDowall | Paving My Author's Road

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This entry was posted on February 13, 2015 by in Poetry, Satire, Use the Farce, Writing and tagged , , , , , , .
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