BERTOLD The King of France, Henry IV.
ORDULF He thought it was the French one.
LANDOLF Wrong country, mate, wrong century, wrong Henry.
HAROLD It’s the German Henry IV, Salian Dynasty.
ORDULF The Holy Roman Emperor.
LANDOLF The Canossa one–walked to Canossa to get absolution from the Pope. Church v. State, that’s the game round here, day in, day out.
ORDULF Emperor at home to Pope–
HAROLD Pope away to Anti-Pope–
LANDOLF King away to Anti-King–
ORDULF Like war with Saxony–
HAROLD Plus with revolting barons–
LANDOLF His own kids . . .
BERTOLD Now I know why I’ve been feeling wrong in these clothes; these are not your French 1580s.
HAROLD Forget the 1580s.
ORDULF Think the ten hundreds.
LANDOLF Work it out; if Canossa was January 1077 . . .
BERTOLD I’m fucked.
BERTOLD I’ve been reading up the wrong . . .
LANDOLF Sad. We’re four hundred years behind you. Ahead of you. You’re not even a twinkle in our eye.
BERTOLD (angered) You got any idea how much stuff I read in the last two weeks about Henry IV of France?
HAROLD Didn’t you know Tony was our Adalbert, Bishop of Bremen?
BERTOLD What Adalbert?–no one told me anything!
LANDOLF Well, when Tony died, at first the young Count . . .
BERTOLD The Count Di Nolli? He’s the one who gave me the job. Why didn’t he . . . ?
ORDULF He must have thought you knew.
LANDOLF . . . first he thought the three of us would do. Then Himself started moaning–”They’ve driven out Adalbert!” –he didn’t realise “Adalbert” had died on us, he thought the bishops of Cologne and Mainz had booted him out, Tony I mean–all clear so far?
BERTOLD Wait. Bishop Tony of what?
ORDULF You’re fucked.
HAROLD Forget the bishops. The bishops are not the problem, the problem is we don’t know who you are.
BERTOLD So what am I playing?
ORDULF Um, Bertold.
BERTOLD Bertold who? Why Bertold?
LANDOLF Himself kept yelling, “They’ve driven out Adalbert, so get me Bertold! I want Bertold!”
HAROLD We eyeballed each other–who dat?
LANDOLF Never heard of him.
ORDULF And here you are.
LANDOLF You’ll be great.
BERTOLD No, I won’t, which way’s out?
HAROLD No, no, relax.
LANDOLF This’ll cheer you up–we don’t know who we are either. He’s Harold, he’s Ordulf, I’m Landolf, that’s what he calls us so that’s who we are, you get used to it, but it’s a puppet show. Who are we really? . . . Just names of the period. Same with you, I suppose, Bertold. Tony was the only one with a proper character, the Bishop of Bremen. He was a good bishop, too, God rest him.
HAROLD Always reading himself up.
LANDOLF And he bossed Himself about, not himself, Himself, His Majesty; he was like his teacher. With us, we’re his Privy Counsellors but we’re only here to take up space. It’s in the books–the barons had it in for Henry for surrounding himself with young bloods not quite premier league, so that’s us. Royal hangers-on, do anything for him, like a drink, a few laughs . . .
HAROLD Just do what we do.
ORDULF It’s not as easy as it looks.
LANDOLF Bit of a waste really. We’ve got the scenery, we’ve got the costumes, we could put on proper shows, history’s always popular, and there’s enough stuff in Henry IV for several tragedies. But us four–we’re stranded, nobody gives us our moves, nothing to act, it’s that old form-without-content. We’re worse off than the real ones. They were given sod-all to play, true, but they didn’t know that, so they just did what they did because that’s what they did. Life. Which means, look after number one. They sold titles and stuff. And here we are, great outfits, handsome surroundings, shame about the puppets.
HAROLD No, fair do’s, you have to be ready to come out with the right answer or you’re in trouble.
LANDOLF Yeah, that’s true.
BERTOLD Well, that’s it, innit? How’m I supposed to give him the right answer when I’ve been learning the wrong Henry?
HAROLD You’ll have to put that right right off.
ORDULF We’ll all pitch in.
HAROLD There’s lots of stuff on him, a quick skim will do you for now.
(indicating portrait) Here’s one . . . who’s the skirt, do you know?
BERTOLD Her? Well, spot the deliberate mistake . . . she doesn’t belong, for a start, a modern picture like that . . .
HAROLD You’re not wrong, you’re right.
LANDOLF But here’s the thing–it’s only a mistake if you think of them as portraits.
BERTOLD Which is what they are.
LANDOLF They are and they aren’t. To Himself, seeing as he never touches them–
BERTOLD So what are they to him?
LANDOLF This is just my theory but I bet I’m right–to him they’re more like representations of–what you’d see in a mirror. That one is him just as he is, same clothes, in this throne room, which is right in every detail, no surprises. If it was a mirror, you’d see yourself in the eleventh century. So that’s what he sees. Himself. So it’s like mirrors reflecting back a world which comes to life in them, like it will for you, you’ll see, don’t worry.
BERTOLD Don’t worry?
HAROLD It’s a laugh.
BERTOLD So how did you get to be so into it . . . ?
LANDOLF Over nine hundred years of experience.
ORDULF Take your cue from us.
BERTOLD What about her–the Emperor’s wife?
HAROLD Not at all. His wife is Bertha of Susa, sister of Amadeus II of Savoy.
ORDULF He can’t stand her. He wants to dump her. He likes being one of the lads, like us.
LANDOLF (indicating portrait) That’s his sworn enemy–Matilda, the Countess of Tuscany.
HAROLD The one who put the Pope up.
LANDOLF At Canossa.
ORDULF Pope Gregory VII. We hate him. (a bell tolls) You’re on. Go out there an unknown, come back a star. Let’s go.
They brace themselves to go “onstage,” move to exit, but GIOVANNI enters, in modern dress.
GIOVANNI (hurried and anxious) Hey . . . psst–Franco! Lolo!
HAROLD What’s up?
BERTOLD Hey. What’s he doing here?
LANDOLF Wrong century–get out!
ORDULF Get thee hence!–emissary of Gregory VII!
HAROLD Be gone!
GIOVANNI Leave off!
ORDULF “Tis forbidden!
HAROLD This be sorcery!
LANDOLF (to Bertold) A spirit conjured up by the Wizard of Rome! Quick, draw your sword.
GIOVANNI (yelling) Stop taking the piss. The young Count has arrived . . . with a party . . .
LANDOLF Ah! Great! Any women?
GIOVANNI There’s two gentlemen.
HAROLD What about the women?
GIOVANNI The Countess and her daughter.
LANDOLF (surprised) Oh!–how come?
ORDULF The Countess?
GIOVANNI That’s right–the Countess.
LANDOLF (to Bertold) Her daughter is engaged to the young Count.
HAROLD And the men?
GIOVANNI I don’t know them.
HAROLD (to Bertold) A bit of content.
ORDULF Messengers from the Pope–this is more like it.
GIOVANNI Will you let me tell you?
HAROLD Go on, then.
GIOVANNI I think one’s a doctor.
LANDOLF Oh, right, another doctor.
HAROLD (to Bertold) You brought us luck!
LANDOLF Watch us work the doctor.
BERTOLD I think I’m out of my depth.
GIOVANNI Listen–they want to come in.
LANDOLF Here? She can’t come in here.
HAROLD Now that’s what I’d call content.
LANDOLF We’d have a real tragedy on our hands.
BERTOLD Why’s that?
ORDULF (pointing at the portrait) It’s her, don’t you see?
HAROLD What do they want in here?
ORDULF If Himself sees her he’ll blow his lid.
LANDOLF That’s if he still knows her.
GIOVANNI If he wakes up, you’re to keep him out.
ORDULF Oh, easy!–and how’re we supposed to do that?
GIOVANNI Bloody hell–use force if you have to. I’ve been told–get on with it.
HAROLD He could already be awake.
ORDULF Let’s go.
LANDOLF Tell us later what’s going on.
GIOVANNI Lock the door and take the key out.
Landolf, Harold, Ordulf, and Bertold leave. DI NOLLI comes in.
DI NOLLI All clear?
GIOVANNI Yes, my lord.
Di Nolli exits for a moment to invite the others in. The first to enter is BARON TITO BELCREDI, followed by DOCTOR DIONISIO GENONI, then COUNTESS MATILDA and her daughter FRIDA. Giovanni bows and exits. Matilda is about forty-five years old; she is still beautiful although she repairs the inevitable damage with heavy but expert makeup. Belcredi is lean, prematurely grizzled, slightly younger. Frida is only nineteen. She’s already engaged to Count Carlo Di Nolli, a stiff young man in full mourning. They enter nervously, looking at the room with curiosity (except for Di Nolli) and almost whispering to begin with.
BELCREDI Incredible . . .
DOCTOR Fascinating! The dementia carried through to the last detail.
MATILDA Ah, there it is. Yes, yes . . . Look at it . . . My God . . . Frida, look . . .
FRIDA Oh, your portrait!
MATILDA No. Look. It’s not me, it’s you.
DI NOLLI What did I tell you?
MATILDA But it’s uncanny! Look, Frida–can’t you see it’s you?
FRIDA Well . . . really I . . .
MATILDA Look, Tito.
BELCREDI Wouldn’t dream of it, on principle.
MATILDA Idiot! He thinks he’s being gall-ant. You tell her, Doctor.
BELCREDI Psst–Doctor–for pity’s sake–don’t get involved in this.
DOCTOR In what?
MATILDA Ignore him. He’s insufferable.
FRIDA He plays the fool for his supper, didn’t you know?
BELCREDI Watch where you’re putting your feet!
BELCREDI Hobnailed boots.
BELCREDI And you’re about to step on somebody’s toes.
DOCTOR Oh . . . come on . . . what’s so strange about a daughter looking like her mother?
BELCREDI Crunch, too late!
MATILDA Why, what did he say?
DOCTOR Nothing special.
BELCREDI He said there was nothing strange about it. In which case, why did you act so stunned?
MATILDA (enraged) For the very reason that the resemblance is so natural–fool!–because that’s my portrait and to see my daughter looking back at me was an amazing thing, so I was amazed–all right?–and you can keep your insinuations to yourself.
FRIDA Oh God, it always ends in a row.
BELCREDI (apologetically) I wasn’t insinuating anything. I just happened to notice you didn’t share your mother’s amazement. If you were surprised at anything, it was at your mother being amazed.
MATILDA Well, obviously! She didn’t know me when I was her age. But I caught sight of myself and I saw I was . . . just like she is now.
DOCTOR No more than one would expect. Because for the daughter it’s just a picture, a moment caught and complete in itself. . . while for the mother it comes with a whole string of associations–how she moved, gestured, smiled, spoke, everything which isn’t in the portrait . . .
DOCTOR . . . all sprung to life in your daughter.
MATILDA Thank you! But when I speak as I feel, he has to go and spoil it to annoy me.
DOCTOR (continues in his professional tone, turning to Belcredi) Resemblance, you see, my dear Baron, often resides where you least expect it–which is how . . .
BELCREDI Which is how some people might even find a resemblance between you and me.
DI NOLLI Please, please, we’ve got off the point.
FRIDA That’s what happens when he’s around.
MATILDA Which is exactly why I didn’t want him to come.
BELCREDI How ungrateful, after all the fun you have at my expense.
DI NOLLI Tito, I beg you–enough. The Doctor is here, we have serious business, and you know how important this is to me.
DOCTOR Good. Let’s make a start by getting a few things clear. How did this portrait come to be here? Did you give it to him back at the beginning?
MATILDA No, how would I? I was just a girl–like Frida–not even engaged. I let him have the picture three or four years after the accident because Carlo’s mother wouldn’t leave me alone about it.
DOCTOR (to Di Nolli) Your mother being his sister?
DI NOLLI Yes. We’re here because we promised her. She died a month ago. But for that, Frida and I would be on our honeymoon.
DOCTOR With your mind on other things–I understand.
DI NOLLI Mother died convinced that her brother was about to get better.
DOCTOR And can you tell me why she thought so?
DI NOLLI It was a conversation they had not long before she died.
DOCTOR Did they now? It would be useful to know what he said.
DI NOLLI I wish I could help you. All I know is she came back obviously upset. I gathered he’d spoken to her with unusual tenderness, almost as if he knew it was the last time . . . and on her deathbed she made me promise not to abandon him, to have him seen . . .
DOCTOR And here we are. So first, let’s see . . . sometimes the tiniest event can . . . This portrait, then . . .
MATILDA Oh, heavens, we mustn’t exaggerate its importance–it was just that I hadn’t seen it for so long.
DOCTOR Please . . . patience . . .
DI NOLLI Well, quite–it’s been there for about fifteen years.
MATILDA Nearer eighteen.
DOCTOR Please!–you don’t know yet what I’m asking. In my belief these two portraits may be crucial. They were done, I suppose, before the famous–or should I say infamous–pageant, is that right?
MATILDA Of course.
DOCTOR When he was still in his right mind–that’s the point I was making. Were they his idea?
MATILDA No, not at all. Lots of us who took part decided to have our portraits done as a souvenir of the pageant.
BELCREDI I had mine done–Charles of Anjou.
DOCTOR You don’t know if it was he who asked for it?
MATILDA I’ve no idea. It’s possible. Or it might have been Carlo’s mother’s idea of humouring him.
DOCTOR Now, another thing. Was this pageant his idea?
BELCREDI No, it was mine.
MATILDA Don’t take any notice of him. It was poor Belassi’s idea.
MATILDA (to the Doctor) Count Belassi, poor man, who died two or three months later.
BELCREDI But Belassi wasn’t even there when I . . .
DI NOLLI Excuse me, Doctor, does it really matter whose idea . . .
DOCTOR It could be important.
BELCREDI It was mine! This is too much! Do you think I’d brag about it after what happened? You see, at the Club we’d been thinking of putting on a show for the next carnival. So I suggested this historical pageant, I say historical, it was more of a hodgepodge, everyone had to choose a character from this or that century, a king, or emperor, or prince, with his lady–queen or empress–beside him, also on horseback. The horses had all the period trappings, too, of course. That was my suggestion and it was adopted.
MATILDA Well, my invitation came from Belassi.
BELCREDI Theft. Belassi wasn’t even in the Club that night. Nor was he.
DOCTOR So then he chose Henry?
MATILDA That’s because, my name being Matilda, I said off the top of my head that I’d be Countess Matilda of Tuscany. He said, in that case he’d be Henry IV.
DOCTOR I’m sorry, I don’t see the connection.
MATILDA I didn’t either at first. He said he’d be at my feet just like at Canossa. I knew about Canossa but only vaguely, and when I looked it up I found I was the Pope’s most zealous ally against the German King Henry. I blushed from top to toe. I understood why he’d chosen to be Henry IV.
DOCTOR You mean, perhaps, because . . .
BELCREDI Dear God, Doctor–because he was mad about her, and she couldn’t stand him.
MATILDA That’s not true! I didn’t dislike him; quite the opposite. But whenever a man gets all serious about a woman–
BELCREDI He turns into a complete ass . . .
MATILDA No, he wasn’t like you, my dear.
BELCREDI But I’ve never asked to be taken seriously.
MATILDA Don’t we know it. But with him, you had to take him seriously back. (to the Doctor) Among the misfortunes we women have to put up with from time to time is suddenly being confronted by a pair of eyes gazing at us with the solemn promise of lifelong devotion. (She bursts into laughter.) There’s nothing more ridiculous. If only men could see themselves doing their lifelong devotion look. It always made me laugh. More so in those days. But now, after twenty years, let me confess something. When I laughed at him, it was partly out of fear, because, coming from him, you felt he could mean it. And that would have been extremely dangerous.
DOCTOR Now this, this is something I want to know about. Extremely dangerous, you say?
MATILDA (lightly) Well, because he wasn’t like the others . . . and I wasn’t brave enough not to laugh it off. . . anyway I had no patience for anything serious, I was just a girl, I hadn’t done my share of living, so I laughed along with everyone else. I was sorry later . . . I hated myself, actually, because my laughing at him got all mixed up with those fools laughing at him.
BELCREDI Like they do with me, more or less.
MATILDA You make people laugh by humiliating yourself–that’s the opposite.
DOCTOR So, as I understand it, he was already in a bit of a state.
BELCREDI Yes, but in his own way.
DOCTOR What do you mean?
BELCREDI Dispassionately in a state.
MATILDA Dispassionately!? He threw himself into life–
BELCREDI I’m not saying he was putting it on. Not at all. He was often worked up. But I’d swear he’d immediately dissociate himself from the state he was in, observing himself–even, in my view, when he was at his most spontaneous. I think, furthermore, it had a harmful effect on him. Sometimes he’d get into these hilarious fits of rage against himself.
MATILDA That’s true, he did.
BELCREDI And why was that? (to the Doctor) The way I see it, that outside view of himself, like someone watching himself playing a part, separated him from what he was feeling–which then seemed to him not exactly fake, because he wasn’t faking his feelings, but something he had to act out as a self-conscious intention, to make up for the authenticity he couldn’t feel. So he would go to extremes, improvise, exaggerate, anything to lose his self-awareness . . . that’s why he’d come across so erratic, frivolous, even at times ludicrous.
DOCTOR And . . . antisocial, would you say?
BELCREDI No, not at all! He was game for anything–he was famous for organising dances, tableaux vivants, benefits–all for the fun of it, you see. But he was a very good actor, that’s the point.
DI NOLLI As a madman he’s even more impressive, magnificent, terrifying.
BELCREDI From the word go. Imagine it, when the accident happened and he was thrown . . .
MATILDA It was dreadful. I was right next to him. I saw him under the hoofs, the horse bolting . . .
BELCREDI At first we didn’t think he was seriously hurt. There was some commotion, and the cavalcade came to a halt. People wanted to know what had happened, but he’d already been picked up and carried into the house.
MATILDA There was nothing, not a scratch, no blood . . .
BELCREDI We thought he’d just passed out.
MATILDA Then, when a couple of hours later–
BELCREDI Yes–he showed up in the hall, that’s what I was coming to.
MATILDA The look on his face–I noticed straight away.
BELCREDI No you didn’t, none of us did. We didn’t realise, you see . . .
MATILDA Well, of course you didn’t–you were all acting like lunatics.
BELCREDI We were acting our parts, having fun; it was a beargarden.
MATILDA You can imagine the shock when we realised he wasn’t pretending.
DOCTOR Ah, you mean, because he . . .
BELCREDI Yes, he joined in. We thought he’d recovered and was acting up like the rest of us–and better than us, because, as I said, he was very good. We thought he was playing along with everyone else.
MATILDA They started flicking him with their whips . . .
BELCREDI And then he drew his sword. He was armed as a king, of course. He started slashing his sword around at people . . . a terrifying moment for all of us.
MATILDA I’ll never forget it, those faces . . . distorted, appalled in the face of his fury, which was no longer a masquerade but madness unmasked–
BELCREDI Henry IV himself, in a towering rage.
MATILDA He’d been obsessed with the pageant for a month or more–it occupied him in everything he did. I’m sure that was part of the reason.
BELCREDI And the way he did his homework! Every detail, no matter how trivial.
DOCTOR Well, it’s classic. Fall from horse–hits head–brain damage–temporary obsession made permanent, fixed, causing a disturbance of the balance of the mind . . . up to insanity itself.
BELCREDI (to Frida and Di Nolli) See what life has got up its sleeve, my darlings? (to Di Nolli) You must have been four or five. (to Frida) Your mother had her portrait done before she had any idea that one day she’d have a daughter who’d replace her in it. And I’ve gone grey. As for him, (pointing at the portrait) one bang on the head and time stops, he’s Henry IV.
DOCTOR So, ladies and gentlemen, to sum up–
But Bertold enters looking upset.
BERTOLD Sorry! . . .
FRIDA (panicked) It’s him!
MATILDA Is it him?
DI NOLLI No–it’s all right . . .
DOCTOR Who is he?
BELCREDI A leftover from our masquerade.
DI NOLLI He’s one of the young men we have here to keep him company.
BERTOLD I’m sorry, Your Lordship–
DI NOLLI Sorry! I gave orders we were not to be disturbed!
BERTOLD Yes, sir, but I can’t take any more, I want to give notice.
DI NOLLI Oh, you’re the one who was joining today.
BERTOLD Yes, sir, and what I’m telling you is, I’ve had enough.
MATILDA So he’s not as calm as you made out.
BERTOLD No, my lady, it’s not him, it’s those other three–talk about him needing humouring, Your Lordship, they’re the crazy ones round here–
Landolf and Harold enter in a hurry, anxious, but stop at the threshold.
LANDOLF Can we come in?
HAROLD Begging your pardon, sir . . .
DI NOLLI Come in!–What’s going on? What do you think you’re doing?
FRIDA (scared) I’m going, I don’t like this–
DI NOLLI Don’t, Frida . . .
LANDOLF My lord, this fool . . .
BERTOLD Oh, thanks very much–
HAROLD He ruined everything, sir, by barging out of there–
LANDOLF Himself is now beside himself, we can’t hold him, he’s ordered his arrest and wants to pronounce sentence from the throne–what should we do?
DI NOLLI Lock the door!
Harold goes and locks the door.
HAROLD Ordulf can’t hold him on his own.
LANDOLF My lord, maybe if we announce them right away, to distract him . . . Do you gentlemen know who you are going to be?
DI NOLLI Yes, it’s all decided . . . (to the Doctor) If you’re ready, Doctor . . .
FRIDA Well, I’m not, Carlo! I’m going–please come, Mother, please . . .
DOCTOR I say, he’s not armed, is he?
DI NOLLI Of course not! Frida, don’t be a baby–you wanted to come.
FRIDA No I didn’t, it was Mummy.
MATILDA Well, I’m ready. What do we have to do?
BELCREDI Is it really necessary for me to dress up?
LANDOLF Absolutely essential, sir! Look at us. I’m afraid there’ll be hell to pay if he saw you dressed like that.
HAROLD He’d think it’s the work of the devil.
LANDOLF What’s worse he might think it’s the work of his deadly enemy.
BELCREDI Gregory VII!
LANDOLF Exactly. He calls him the anti-Christ.
BELCREDI The Pope?–that’s a good one.
LANDOLF Yes sir–and says he brings the dead to life, practises all the diabolical arts–he’s terrified of him.
DOCTOR Paranoia, quite normal.
HAROLD He’d lose control.
DI NOLLI (to Belcredi) We can wait outside–it’s only the Doctor who has to see him.
DOCTOR What, you mean on my own?
DI NOLLI They’ll be with you!
DOCTOR Ah, no, I thought the Countess . . .
MATILDA I do–I am–I’m staying–of course I’m staying, I want to see him again!
FRIDA What for, Mummy?–please come . . .
MATILDA (imperiously) Stop it–this is what I came for. (to Landolf) I’ll be . . . the mother-in-law, Adelaide.
LANDOLF Right. Bertha’s mother, fine, you won’t need any more than a cloak and a coronet . . . (to Harold) Get on with it, Harry.
HAROLD What about the Doctor?
DOCTOR Yes . . . we thought, the Bishop . . . Bishop Hugo of Cluny.
HAROLD Abbot of Cluny, sir–right . . .
LANDOLF He’s been here lots of times.
DOCTOR Lots of . . . ?
LANDOLF No problem, it’s a simple costume.
DOCTOR But . . .
LANDOLF He won’t remember you, he doesn’t take in faces, only the clothes.
MATILDA That should help.
DI NOLLI We’ll go, Frida–come on, Tito.
BELCREDI If she’s staying, I’m staying.
MATILDA I don’t need you here.
BELCREDI I didn’t say you needed me–I’d like to see him again, too, any objections?
LANDOLF It might look better if there were three of you.
HAROLD So, what’s he . . . ?
BELCREDI Oh, just find something simple for me . . .
LANDOLF (to Harold) A Clunatic.
BELCREDI A Clunatic? What’s that?
LANDOLF The Abbot of Cluny’s retinue–in a Benedictine habit. (to Harold) Go, go! (to Bertold) You, too, Bertold–and keep out of sight for the rest of the day. No–wait–(to Bertold) bring in the costumes he gives you. (to Harold) And then go and announce they’re coming–Duchess Adelaide and Monsignor Hugo of Cluny, got it?
HAROLD Got it!
Harold and Bertold exit.
DI NOLLI We’ll make ourselves scarce.
Di Nolli and Frida exit.