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FOR
LOVE OF THE KING

A BURMESE MASQUE

by
OSCAR WILDE

methuen & co. ltd.
36 essex street w.c.
london

p. iiFirst Published by Methuen & Co. Ltd. in 1922

This Edition on handmade paper is limited to 1000 copies

p. iiiINTRODUCTORY NOTE

The very interesting and richly coloured masque or pantomimic play which is here printed in book form for the first time, was invented sometime in 1894 or possibly a little earlier.  It was written, not for publication, but as a personal gift to the author’s friend and friend of his family, Mrs. Chan Toon, and was sent to her with the letter that follows and explains its origin.

Mrs. Chan Toon, before her marriage to Mr. Chan Toon, a Burmese gentleman, nephew of the King of Burma and a barrister of the Middle Temple, was Miss p. ivMabel Cosgrove, the daughter of Mr. Ernest Cosgrove of Lancaster Gate, a friend of Sir William and Lady Wilde, and herself brought up with Oscar and his brother Willie.

For a long while Mrs. Chan Toon, who after her husband’s death became Mrs. Woodhouse-Pearse, refused to permit the masque to be printed.  The late Robert Ross much wanted to include it in an edition of Wilde’s works, of which it now forms a part, but he could not obtain its owner’s consent.  An arrangement, however, having been completed, the play is now made public.

p. vTite Street, Chelsea,
November 27, 1894

My dear Mrs. Chan Toon,

I am greatly repentant being so long in acknowledging receipt ofTold on the Pagoda.”  I enjoyed reading the stories, and much admired their quaint and delicate charmBurmah calls to me.

Under another cover I am sending you a fairy play entitledFor Love of the King,” just for your own amusementIt is the outcome of long and luminous talks p. viwith your distinguished husband in the Temple and on the river, in the days when I was meditating writing a novel as beautiful and as intricate as a Persian praying-rugI hope that I have caught the atmosphere.

I should like to see it acted in your Garden House on some night when the sky is a sheet of violet and the stars like women’s eyesAlas, it is not likely.

I am in the throes of a new comedyI met a perfectly wonderful person the other day who unconsciously has irradiated my present with sinuous suggestion: a Swedish Baron, French in manner, Athenian in mind, and Oriental in moralsHis society is a series of revelations. . . .

I was at Oakley Street on Thursday; my mother tells me she sends you a letter nearly every week.

p. viiConstance desires to be warmly remembered, while I, who am bathing my brow in the perfume of water-lilies, lay myself at the feet of you and yours.

OSCAR WILDE

p. ixPRINCIPAL CHARACTERS OF THE PLAY

King Meng Beng (Lord of a Thousand White Elephants, Countless Umbrellas and other attributes of greatness).

U. Rai Gyan Thoo (A Prime Minister).

Shah Mah Phru (A Girl, half Italian, half Burmese, of dazzling beauty).

Dhammathat (Legal Adviser to the Court).

Hip Loong (A Chinese Wizard of great repute).

Moung Pho Mhin (Minister of Finance).

Two Envoys from the King of Ceylon.

Nobles, Courtiers, Soothsayers, Poonygees, Dancing Girls, Betel-nut Carriers, Umbrella Bearers, Followers, Servants, Slaves, amongst whom are several Chinese but no Indians.

Time: The Sixteenth Century.

p. 1ACT I

SCENE I

The palace of the king of burmahThe scene is laid in the Hall of a Hundred DoorsIn the distance can be seen the moat, the waiting elephants, and the peacocks promenading proudly in the blinding sunshine of late afternoonThe scene discovers king meng beng seated on a raised cushion sewn with rubies, under a canopy supported by four attendants, motionless as bronze figuresBy his side is a betel-nut box, glittering with gemsOn either side of him, but p. 2much lower down, are the two ambassadors of the king of ceylon, bearers of the King of Ceylon’s consent to the marriage of his only daughter to Meng Beng in two years’ time, men of grave, majestic mien, clad in flowing robes almost monastic in their white simplicityThey smoke gravely at the invitation of meng beng.

Round about are grouped the courtiers, the poonygees, and the kneeling servants, while in the background wait the dancing girlsBanners, propelled with a measured rhythm, create an agreeable breezeOn a great table of gold stand goblets of gold and heaped-up fruitsEverywhere will be observed the emblems of the Royal Peacock and the Sacred White ElephantBurmese musical instruments sound an abrupt but charming discordThe poinsettias flower punctuates points of deepest p. 3colour from out of vases fashioned like the lotusOrchids are everywhereThe indescribable scent of Burmah steals across the footlightsThe glow, the colour, the sun-swept vista sweeps across the sensesthe king claps his handsThe dancing girls, at the signal, advanceThey are clad in dresses made of fish scales, which are fastened with diamonds and pale emeralds, to imitate the upthrown spray on the crest of a waveThe dance concluded, the cingalese ambassadors rise and prepare to take ceremonious leave of the king, who hands to them, through his vizier, his message to His Majesty of Ceylon, inscribed on palm leaves and enclosed in a bejewelled casket.

Many flowery speeches passExit (L.), walking backwards.

the king expresses a desire for rest p. 4before starting by the Moon of Taboung [4] for the Pagoda of Golden Flowers.

Exit meng beng (C.), an alcove of satin hangings which commands a view of the great hall.

The Crowd break up into groupsu. rai gyan thoo and moung pho mhin converse on the tendency of the King to interference in affairs of State; his extreme youth and delicacy of temperament; the pity that the marriage is to be so long delayed; the necessity to find him some distraction in the meantime.

Suddenly the tom-toms sound loudlyThere is much movementThe moon rises over the seaTorches flare as the attendants move to and fro in the gardens beyond.

The White Elephant of the King, with p. 5its trappings of gold, is led to the entrance where, at a word, it sinks obediently to the ground.

the king appearsHe has changed his gay apple-green dress to one of more sombre hueHe enters the howdahthe elephant risesthe procession startsIt consists of not fewer than two hundred persons, keeping in view of the audience until lost by a bend in the avenue.

p. 6SCENE II

THE PAGODA OF GOLDEN FLOWERS

Midnight

Surrounded by Peepul-trees, the great Htee, [6] with its crown of a myriad jewels, rises towards the violet, star-studded sky, its golden bells tinkling in a soft night-wind.

When the curtain rises, the circular platform is desertedStatues of Buddha seated and recumbent fill the numberless niches in the wall, and before each burn p. 7long candles; heaped-up pink roses and japonica on brass trays are lit from above by swinging coloured lampsAt intervals are stalls laden with fruit and cherootsAll is mysterious, solemn, beautiful.

A deep Burmese gong tollsPeople emerge from the four staircases that lead up to the platformMen, women, and children, all in gala attireThe young people conversing, gesticulating, smilingThe older people, more subdued, carry beads and votive offering to BuddhaCharming Burmese girls, with huge cigars, meet and greet handsome Burmese men smoking cheroots and wearing flowers in their earsChildren play silently with coloured ballsIn the corners, under canopies, are seated fortune-tellers, busy casting horoscopesIt is a veritable riot of colour, with never a discordant note.

p. 8Through the crowd the king passes alone and unrecognised, and disappears through double doors of heavily carved teak woodHe has hardly passed when mah phru, a very lovely girl, enters in distressShe whispers that she desires an audience of the King who has come amongst themThe few who hear her shrug their shoulders, smile, and pass onThey are incredulousShe goes from group to group, but the people turn from her with disdainThen the great doors open, and the king is seenThe girl throws herself, Oriental fashion, in his pathHer beauty and her pathos arrest his attention and he waves aside those who would interfereShe implores the king’s protectionShe is willing to be his slaveHe listens with deep attentionShe explains that since her father’s death she has been continuously persecuted by the village people p. 9on the double count of her Italian blood and her poverty.

The girl invites him to come to her hut in the forest and verify what she saysWith a gesture he signifies that he will follow where she leadsShe risesThe crowd gathers roundall are hushed to silencethe king, as one entranced, puts aside all who would in any way interfereThe girl precedes him, going from the Pagoda towards the nightWhen she reaches the great staircase, she beckons, Oriental fashion, with downward handThe scene should, in grouping and colour, make for rare beauty.

p. 10SCENE III

A humble dhunni-thatched hut, set amidst the whispering grandeur of the jungle, with its mighty trees, its trackless paths, its indescribable silenceThe curtain discovers mah phru and the king, who expresses his amazement at the loneliness and the poverty of her lotShe explains that poverty is not what frightens her, but the enmity of those who live yonder, and who make it almost impossible for her to sell her cucumbers or her pineapplesthe king’s gaze never leaves the face or figure of the girlHe declares that he will protect herthat he p. 11will build her a home here in the shadow of the loneliness around themHe has two years of an unfettered freedomfor those years he can command his lifeHe loves her, he desires herthey will find a Paradise togetherThe girl trembles with joywith fearwith surprise.  “And after two years?” she asks.  “Death,” he answers.

p. 15ACT II

SCENE I

The jungle once moreTime: noondayIn place of the hut is a building, half Burmese, half Italian villa, of white Chunam, with curled roofs rising on roofs, gilded and adorned with spiral carvings and a myriad golden and jewel-encrusted bellsOn the broad verandahs are thrown Eastern carpets, rugs, embroideries.

The world is sun-soakedThe surrounding trees stand sentinel-like in the burning lightBurmese servants squat p. 16motionless, smoking on the broad white steps that lead from the house to the gardenThe crows croak drowsily at intervalsParrots scream intermittentlyThe sound of a guitar playing a Venetian love-song can be heard coming from the interiorOtherwise life apparently sleepsTwo elderly retainers break the silence.

“When will the Thakin tire of this?” one asks the other in kindly contempt.

“The end is already at hand.  I read it at dawn to-day.”

“Whence will it come?”

“I know not.  It is written that one heart will break.”

“He will leave her?”

“He will leave her.  He will have no choice—who can war with Fate?”

p. 17The sun shifts a little; a light breeze kisses the motionless palm leavesthey quiver gracefullyAttendants appear R. and L. bearing a great Shamiana (tent), silver poles, carved chairs, foot supports, fruit, flowers, embroidered fansThree musicians in semi-Venetian-Burmese costume follow with their instrumentsThe tent erected, enter (C.) meng beng and mah phru, followed by two Burmese women carrying two tiny children in Burmese fashion on their hips.

The servants retire to a distancemeng beng and mah phru seat themselves on carven chairs; the children are placed at their feet and given coloured glass balls to play withmeng beng and mah phru gaze at them with deep affection and then at each other.

The musicians play light, zephyr-like p. 18airsmeng beng and mah phru talk togethermeng beng smokes a cigar, mah phru has one of the big yellow cheroots affected by Burmese women to-day.

“It wants but two days to the two years,” he tells her sadly.

“And you are happy?”

“As a god.”

She smiles radiantlyShe suspects nothingShe is more beautiful than beforeHer dress is of the richest Mandalay silksShe wears big nadoungs of rubies in her ears.

Presently meng beng arranges a set of ivory chessmen on a low table between themThe sun sinks slowlyThe sound of approaching wheels is heard.

Enter (C.) u. rai gyan thoo, preceded by two servantsmeng beng looks p. 19up in surprisein alarmHe rises, etc., and goes forwardu. rai gyan thoo presents a letter written on palm leavesmeng beng does not open it.

The curtains at the opening of the tent are, Oriental fashion, droppedThe music ceases.

meng beng and the grand vizier converse apartThe Minister explains that the Princess of Ceylon’s ship and its great convoy have already been sightedThe Court and city wait in eager expectancyThe King has worshipped long enough at the Pagoda of Golden Flowershis subjects and his bride call to himu. rai gyan thoo has come to take him to them.

meng beng is terribly distressed.

“You can return one day,” the Vizier p. 20tells him.  “The Pagoda will remain.  I also, once, in years long dead, Lord of the Sea and Moon, worshipped at a Pagoda.”

meng beng seeks mah phru to explain that he goes on urgent affairs, that he will come back to her and to his sons, perhaps before the waning of the new moonTheir parting is sad with the pensive sadness of look and gesture peculiar to Eastern people.

meng beng goes (C.) with u. rai gyan thoomah phru mounts to the verandah to watch them go from behind the curtainsThen, slowly sinking across the heaped-up cushions, she faints.

The sun has setThe music ceasesThe melancholy cry of the peacocks fills the silence.

act drop

p. 23ACT III

SCENE I

Seven years have elapsed.

The same scene.

Curtain discovers mah phru seated on a high verandahA clearance has been made in the surrounding trees to give a full view of the road beyondShe is watching, always watchingWith her are two beautiful little boys.

“To-day, perhaps,” she murmurs.  “Perhaps to-morrow; but without fail—one day.”

p. 24“Look!” she cries.  “At last my lord returns!”

Coming up the jungle road, in view of the audience, are a bevy of horsemen.

mah phru, wondering, descends to greet themEnter u. rai gyan thooHe is dressed all in white, which is Burmese mourningmah phru sinks backshe fears the worstThe old man reassures herHe tells her that meng beng has sent for his sonsthat the Queen is dead, and there is no heir.

“Queen?  What Queen?” demands mah phru.

“The Queen of Burmah.”

So mah phru learns for the first time that her lover is the ruler of the country, p. 25supreme master of and dictator to everyone.

Weeping, but not daring to disobey, she summons the children to her; then, sinking on her knees, entreats in moving and pathetic words to be permitted to go with them, in the lowest most menial capacityu. rai gyan thoo refusesThere is no place for her in the greatness of the world yonder.  “Even Kings forget,” he says.  “It is the command of the supreme Lord of the Earth and of the Sky that she remain where she is.”

Then he orders his followers to make the necessary arrangements for the safe journey of their future king and his brother.

The children stand passive in their gay dress, but are bewildered and afraid.

p. 26mah phru has risen to her feetShe appears as if turned to bronzea model of restraint and dignity, blent with colour and beauty and infinite grace.

the curtain descends slowly

p. 27SCENE II

The same night.

The home of the Chinese Wizard, hip loong, by the rivera place fitted with Chinese things: Dragons of gold with eyes of jade gleaming from out dim corners, Buddhas of gigantic size fashioned of priceless metals with heads that move, swinging banners with fringes of many-coloured stones, lanterns with glass slides on which are painted grotesque figuresThe air is full of the scent of joss sticksThe Wizard reclines on a divan, inhaling opium slowly, clothed with the subdued gorgeousness of Chinablue and tomato-red predominateHe has the appearance p. 28of a wrinkled walnutHis forehead is a lattice-work of wrinklesHis pigtail, braided with red, is twisted round his headHis hands are as clawsThe effect is weird, unearthly.

Enter mah phru.

The Wizard silently motions her to some piled-up cushions at a little distanceHe listens to what she tells himHe appears unmoved, at a recital apparently full of tragedyOnly the eyes of the dragons move, and the heads of the Buddhas go slowly like pendulumsWhen she has finished speaking, hip loong makes reply.

“This is how passion always ends.  I have lived for a thousand years; and on this planet it is ever the same.”

mah phru is not listening.

“How can I go to my children?” she demands, once again.

p. 29“I can turn you into a bird,” the Wizard says.  “You can fly to the palace and walk and watch ever on that terrace in the rose gardens above the sea.”

“What bird?” she asks, trembling.

“You shall have the form of the white paddy bird, because, though a woman and foolish as women ever are, you are very pure ivory.  O! daughter of man and of love.”

To this mah phru dissentsShe paces the long room.

“Transform me into a peacock; they are more beautiful.”

The Wizard, leaning on his elbow, smiles, and the smile is a revelation of a mocking comprehension.

“So be it.”  He bows his head.

The lights fade one by one.

curtain

p. 30SCENE III

The Gardens of the Palace of the King.

Time: late afternoon.

Colonnades of roses stretch away on every sideFountains play, throwing a shower on water-lilies of monstrous sizePeacocks walk with stately tread across the green turfOnly one, larger and more beautiful than the rest, is perched alone, with drooping head and folded tail, on the broad-pillared terrace that overhangs the seaThe scene is aglow with light and colour, yet holds a shadowed silence.

p. 31Enter some courtiers, who converse in perturbed fashion as they go towards the Palace.

Enter moung pho mhin and u. rai gyan thoo, accompanied by the Court Physicians and Astrologers.

“The King cannot live beyond the night,” the Physicians sayThe sudden, mysterious illness that has attacked him defies their skill.

The Astrologers declare that the stars in their courses fight against his recovery; unless a miracle should happen, the new day will see him dead.

The Ministers regard each other in consternation; then walk the terrace with bent heads.

The peacock on the wall spreads its tail and utters a melancholy cry of poignant pain.

p. 32The listeners start in superstitious horror.

The peacock folds its tail and resumes its meditations.

“That bird is not as other birds,” one astrologer declares.  “I have watched it for years past—it is ever alone—the others all avoid it.  I think it has a soul.”

“You mistake,” replies his colleague; “it is but an evil Nat. [32]  Observe its eyes: they are not those of a bird; they are those of a spirit in prison.”

They pass on in the wake of the ministers.

The peacock closes its eyes.

Enter the two young princes, accompanied by two great Pegu houndsThey converse in subdued tones, strolling slowlyp. 33They are followed by pages of honour, carrying grain, which the young men proceed to distribute amongst the birds as they rapidly approach themThe peacock on the wall never stirs; she watches the young men alwaysThen the elder one comes with a handful of food and proffers it, but the peacock does not eat.

“I shall never understand you, Queen of the Kingdom of Birds,” he says, and strokes her feathersAt his touch the plumage scintillates with a brighter, a more exquisite sheen.

He murmurs to the bird in soft tones and mythical wordsHe tells it that the fear of everyone is that the King is mortally stricken, for he lies yonder in most strange and evil agony; that the hearts of himself and his brother are numb with the sorrow that knows no p. 34languageThe bird listens eagerlyAnd if the King should go, he, the speaker, will reign in his steadThe prospect fills him with fearHe desires, as also his brother, if the King must die, to return to dwell in the forest with the mother who he knows awaits them there.

The peacock spreads its wings as if for flight, then crouches down once more, and over it watches the young prince.

The sun envelops them both in a sudden shaft of rose and purple and goldA servant descends and comes across the grassHe shikoes profoundly to the two young men, lifting up his hands in the deepest reverence of Burmah.

“The Lord of the Earth and the Sky desires his sons; he nears the Great Unknown.”

curtain

p. 35SCENE IV

The retreat of hip loong, the Wizard.

Time: the same night.

The curtain discovers mah phru, who has returned to human form, and the Wizard together.

He tells her that he has restored her to her former state only because she has implored him to do so; that her life is measured by hours as a consequence of such insensate folly in breaking the vow of five years back.

“But the King will live,” she murmurs.

p. 36“The King will live.  He will find happiness with someone fairer than you.  That is well.  Your life for his.  It is the price.”

“The price is nothing.  Have I not looked on my heart’s beloved one for five years—looked on his face—heard his voice—trembled with joy at his footsteps?  Have I not waited and watched?  Have I not gazed on my sons and seen their royal bearing, and known their touch?”

“You are, then, content?”

“You are a Wizard—you can read that I am.”

“It is not I that am a Wizard—it is Love.  That is the only Wizard this world knows.”

curtain

p. 37SCENE V

The bed-chamber of the Kingvast and shadowyOn heaped-up cushions and covers of yellow and blue, under a pearl-sewn creamy velvet baldaquin, embroidered with peacocks, lies meng beng, mortally stricken; his face bears the ashen pallor that only dark skins knowThe ministers, the servants, the courtiers, the countless motley gathering of an Eastern Court are scattered in anxious groups, watching, waiting, murmuringOnly the space near the couch is clearWithout, the dawn breaks over the sea, and, stealing p. 38through the opening, makes the great chamber flush till it looks like porphyry.

The tolling of a deep gong and the voices of a myriad birds invade the throbbing silence of the Palace.

“He passes,” murmur the physiciansEveryone’s gaze turns to the dying man.

“Yet his star is in the ascendant,” say the astrologersThe risen sun touches him with its light like a caressHe opens his eyesHis sons advanceThey raise him high on his cushions and give a restorativeThe end has comeSuddenly he rallies slightly.

The doors at the far end are rudely openedA woman, young and lovely, advances, thrusting roughly aside the many hands stretched out to bar her path.

p. 39She reaches the King.

“I bring you life, Star of my Soul,” she cries, “I bring you life,” and so saying, falls dead at his feet.

The Courtiers rush forward.

The King rises.

He stands erect.

The sun lies like a golden benediction over all.

Jewels glitter.

The whole world of birds sing.

the curtain falls

Footnotes:

[4]  One of the greatest feasts of the Buddhist year.

[6]  Spire.

[32]  Fairy.

Transcribed from the [1922] Methuen and Co./Jarrold and Sons edition by David Price, email ccx074@pglaf.org