Keats and Chapman Revisited
And now for a little fun from the Look-what-I-wrote-a-long-time-ago Department, with homage to the incomparable Flann O’Brien. (Hint: Hamlet, Act I, Scene ii, by Shakespeare.)
Keats and Chapman Revisited
The Emperor’s new clothes having gone over so well, his beautiful and savvy Empress realized that she would have to have at least one gown made by the same tailors. She wasted no time ordering it, and she asked to have it delivered to her rooms by the tailors’ apprentice, a handsome and finely built youth, whose considerable attractions, however, did not include an intellect of any proportions whatever. He was thought too dim to be trusted with stitching, for example, or even with marking hems. And in spite of his close relation to the larcenous tailors and his daily handling of their unique stuffs, he was convinced, like many a subtler mind among the Emperor’s subjects, that the material he was given to fold and carry was as visible to others as it was invisible to him. (He thus unwittingly refuted the venerable adage by demonstrating that those who cannot see may perfectly well be as blind as those who will not.) Even the fact that the cloth was no more sensible to his fingers than to his eyes engendered not a trace of suspicion in his cloudy and credulous mind.
As for the Empress, obliged as she was to show herself in garments so utterly imperceptible, she wished to show herself first to this youth. If others saw the clothes that she could not, the honest stupidity of the apprentice would convey as much. If, on the other hand, the clothes were invisible to others as to her . . . well, she preferred to expose her secret charms where any passions they might arouse would prove rather a pleasure to satisfy than a chore to repel. (It was such calculations as this, no doubt, which were responsible for her present exalted position and for the linking of her name in the balanced sentences of later court historians with that of her ancient peer, Theodora.)
The moment came for the empress to present herself in the new clothes. She bade her ladies in waiting depart and send the apprentice to her. (No, the ladies did not titter; fearing, as did the others, to be found unworthy their office, they retired with exemplary sobriety.) After a shivery moment, the tailors’ apprentice entered, bowed, looked at the empress, and waited, his countenance set in a wide-eyed gaze from which it could not be discerned whether he was responding to her sartorial or her natural splendor. To plumb the murky depths of his mind the Empress asked him whether he would be so kind as to ease a stitch she felt pinching “just here,” pointing to a rather suggestive spot on her delectable anatomy and hoping that the apprentice would take the remark in only one of its two senses, thereby disclosing the truth of her raiment’s visibility. The apprentice, however, replied, “Madam, I cannot,” leaving her as ignorant as before.
“I beg you,” she encouraged him; “I cannot manage to ease it myself.”
“Madam,” he replied, “I . . . um . . . I cannot.”
Chill, threatened embarrassment, and desire all combined to cause the empress some impatience, and in the vain hope of forcing the youth to reveal his mind to her as conclusively as she feared she had revealed her person to him, she threw to the unusually palpable winds of the drafty castle the caution of double entendre and said, with not a little exasperation, “Surely it cannot be particularly difficult for you to loosen these seams?”
The apprentice has won a certain immortality for his iambic reply: “Seams, Madam? Nay, it is. I know not seams.”