The Death of a Bachelor: A Serious Play for Trivial People
ALGERNON/ERNEST MONCRIEFF: Our Protagonist, struggling Dandy, engaged to CECILY.
CECILY CARDEW: Our Antagonist, engaged to ALGERNON.
VARIOUS SERVANTS: Self-explanatory.
JACK/ERNEST WORTHING: CECILY's guardian, recently married.
[Open scene on ALGERNON's flat. VARIOUS SERVANTS are traversing the room with purposeful stride, often colliding with one another, picking up couches, armoires, general items of furniture, etc., painstakingly shuffling them about before setting them down to another place in the room. LANE is directing them, reading off of a sheet of paper. There is a bottle of champagne that migrates from surface to surface throughout the scene as it gets in the way of the furniture arrangement. A scale is being played out on the piano in the next room with measured sluggishness and no precision.]
LANE: (Reading from the paper) "The side table should be placed in the northernmost corner while the bureau is being centered across from the window. Be sure not to forget the mirror by the desk as it should reflect the room from every available angle."
(The piano scales in the next room end loudly and without resolution. ALGERNON enters, dusting off his hands.)
ALGERNON: Now that that's done - (sees the purposeful and pointless activity surrounding him) I say, Lane, I'd no idea you had so little respect for me as to play along. Shouldn't you have lost the instructions while I wasn't looking?
LANE: (Setting the instructions sheet aside) I hadn't the nerve, sir, I've been too pleased with the whole affair.
(ALGERNON nods with approval and goes to sit on the sofa right as the VARIOUS SERVANTS go to move it. They look to LANE for help, but he goes to the bottle of champagne and examines the label.)
ALGERNON: Yes, it's all rather splendid, having your future sunk in paper and ink right before you. Of course, I'd be more content if I were only sure what I know will happen MIGHT happen. It's tricky business, these permanent engagements. You can never be sure if people mean until they die or until they forget, or if you mean so until you forget. Then it's all terribly unpleasant - until you forget again.
(VARIOUS SERVANTS give up on waiting for ALGERNON and go to move the desk. ALGERNON gets up and falls right into step behind them. He sits slightly off-center on the desk's lid right as the VARIOUS SERVANTS attempt to lift it, causing the whole thing to topple over. ALGERNON lands on his feet as the rest fall down and the desk loses a leg.)
LANE: (Stepping over the VARIOUS SERVANTS) I never recall in the first place- it causes head-colds. Champagne?
ALGERNON: I couldn't. A man can't complain with half as much spirit while drowning in it, and he can't complain of misplaced and stolen spirit while aiding in its consumption. No, I'd better leave it to you so I may sleep sounder in misery later on.
LANE: (Pouring a glass) I always thought you dreadfully shameless while influenced, sir. You get awfully amiable and keep forgetting to ignore your responsibilities.
ALGERNON: Precisely. I'm not fit to be seen in decent company and miss out on a great deal of fun. Speaking of fun, this hasn't worked out at all like you promised.
ALGERNON: I've only moved once and already they've given up. We'll need a crew with a better work ethic if I'm ever to get good mobile use of this furniture, I was hoping to imagine the armoire a sarcophagus before I threw it out. Cecily doesn't like its shape.
LANE: (To the VARIOUS SERVANTS) You may leave.
(Exit VARIOUS SERVANTS)
ALGERNON: Well, it's on to the next game, then. How many bottles left in the cellar?
LANE: Twenty-two, sir. (Glances at the bottle in his hand and pauses) Twenty-one.
ALGERNON: (Whistles) Too many for decency, too few for any good. I say, I'll have Ernest over for a glass, and that will clear them out.
LANE: Between just the three of us, sir?
ALGERNON: The two of you. You can hold your own and Ernest is a proper gentleman with drinks - it only takes a glass or so before he loses that dignity and starts raging about stock prices. Ranting makes Ernest so much simpler to look down upon and all the more easy to like.
LANE: It hasn't taken even a glass to cure Mr. Worthing's solemnity since he's been married, though I warrant it will take a good deal more to coax any sort of disturbance in his mood.
ALGERNON: (Pausing to frown) You're right. I had quite forgotten that he...(Trails off and begins to inspect the mirror) I say, this is quite a good glass. Shame I didn't think to say so before. Cecily doesn't care for this one, though I've forgotten why.
LANE: Did you not plan to simply store them in the attic after putting on a grand display of parting?
ALGERNON: (Stiffens) Of course - I - well, I thought I should at least talk as though - well, marriage isn't so serious a business that I should need to keep these old things -
ALGERNON: Ah - erm - yes?
LANE: Sir, I require that you sign for my final wages by Tuesday.
ALGERNON: Well, certainly, I -
ALGERNON: Yes? What is it?
LANE: It won't be all bad.
ALGERNON: (A pause.) I know, Lane. (LANE bows and exits, leaving champagne on a side table) I know.
(ALGERNON goes to the sofa, picks up the champagne bottle, puts it down, and goes back to look in the mirror. His clothing, though loudly coloured, is clean cut and perfectly in place. He plucks at his sleeves a bit and starts to flash a sarcastic grin at his reflection before spotting the armoire reflected over his shoulder. He goes to open its doors and examine its empty interior.)
ALGERNON: (Muttering) once lost, soon filled - (stepping up into the armoire before turning to face the audience) new name, new life...
(He crosses his arms and looks skeptically about his surroundings)
ALGERNON: Real, real, it's all real. How inconsiderate.
(He covers his eyes with one hand and mutters a bit more before removing it, a careless smile plastered back onto his face.)
ALGERNON: A good deal of fun it'll be, if I don't forget. After all, there's no end to what Cecily -
(LANE reenters, ALGERNON starts.)
LANE: Miss Cardew's been by sir, she left a message.
ALGERNON: Cecily? Goodness, why didn't the little dear just come on up? She knew I'd be in today.
LANE: She didn't seem to have time, sir, and with all the practice you've given me I still couldn't comprehend her explanation. Only said you would understand that one or two were in order if you ever wanted things to work out.
ALGERNON: Work out? Why, I can't say - (pauses) - oh. I see. She's calling it off.
LANE: Calling it off, Sir?
ALGERNON: Only until I've gotten my hopes up. I don't think she can be happily married unless I'm left a bit on edge.
LANE: I see.
ALGERNON: It's a bit unfair.
LANE: Happiness usually is.
ALGERNON: But for Cecily, I - well -
(LANE straightens up and walks to the door. He leans over and presses his ear to the keyhole.)
ALGERNON: Lane, whatever is this? Is it the new fashion for manservants to listen with their backs turned?
(LANE holds up a finger to quiet him and goes on listening to the door for a moment or so before straightening up.)
LANE: Well, you're free then, sir.
ALGERNON: I - what?
LANE: Free. She doesn't want you as you are now.
ALGERNON: Who? (Realizes) Cecily. Cecily! (Runs to call out the door) dearest, come back!
(ALGERNON Opens the door, but does not move past it. He hesitates before calling from where he stands)
ALGERNON: You know I'll never humor you when you're here, I swear I won't! Darling, please!
(LANE goes to sit on the sofa while ALGERNON slowly turns and trudges back to him, frowning.)
LANE: That's that I suppose, Young people fall out of love so quickly these days.
(ALGERNON stiffens and rushes to the window, tripping slightly before tearing the curtains aside to look out the window.)
ALGERNON: She's - she - it's not - but wh-what -
LANE: My condolences, sir. Champagne?
(ALGERNON looks at him a moment before slowly crossing back over to the sofa and taking the offered bottle from LANE. He looks at the label a moment before a taking a drink straight from the bottle.)
ALGERNON: (Wiping his mouth.) That's a bachelor's champagne, to be certain.
LANE: Of course. I did tell you that married people tend to indulge in cheaper brands, but this is a drink you won't meet again.
(ALGERNON takes another drink and coughs, splattering half a mouthful of expensive wine over LANE and himself.)
LANE: Perhaps this meeting was enough.
(LANE takes the champagne back from ALGERNON.)
ALGERNON: (Suddenly cheerful) I'd forgotten, it's only been twice now. (Gets up and goes to the coatrack by the door) Well, I ought to kick up a fuss or something before tea so she can forgive me in time for the ceremony this evening. That's quite a crunch, but I should be able to manage. (Starts to put on his coat, pauses, looks back at LANE) I say, do you think I should act more distraught?
LANE: If you think acting will make you seem less so, then maybe it will cover enough to make you appealing again. I say, you'd better either make a show of drunkenness to hide your relief or run off to France so she knows you mean business.
ALGERNON: (Shaking his head) It's no good with Cecily - she always means business. She doesn't care if it's off-colour or over a cliff, that's what she wants, there she goes.
LANE: I'd always thought her too fashionable to have such brains.
ALGERNON: She's got too much wit to be fashionable. She's a darling little fool and I expect to die at a ripe young age because of it. It's the only sort of death she'd allow me.
LANE: I think she would rather you die of a broken heart before she can give you the pre-scripted reunion. She'll be rather cross with you is you don't.
ALGERNON: I was hoping she only meant to leave me at the alter before calling me away to elope a week later. I don't know which, but she wants me to guess and play along while still being surprised. I know either way I need to hold a decent grudge, so as not to disappoint her.
LANE: ...It isn't any fun, is it?
ALGERNON: (A smirk, a pause, then-) No. I've never been so frightened in my life.
(LANE hands him the bottle. ALGERNON Takes another drink before siting back down beside LANE. He starts to peel the label off the bottle before he begins again-)
ALGERNON: I never thought much in this world could be more frightening than a decent marriage, but now -
LANE: You're an old man already.
ALGERNON: (Pained) I do prefer the comfort of shocking others first.
LANE: That's all we ever hope to do, if we're ever to improve the world.
ALGERNON: I'd rather grow old and complain than improve it. I'd rather be in on the jokes than stick around to cure them.
LANE: (Getting up.) I would leave you too, if I weren't leaving already. Sincerity is always in poor taste.
(ALGERNON watches him go before setting down the bottle again and walking over to the looking glass. He straightens his collar and readjusts his sleeves, sees that he is still wearing his overcoat and begins to remove it. He holds it out and examines the material.)
ALGERNON: Real. (He swats at the overcoat sleeves so that they swing about) Real. (Tosses the coat aside and turns back to the mirror as he begins to prod at his face) Real, real -
(He pokes the perfectly coifed curls on his forehead before tugging at them and eventually ruffling up all of his hair with agitated vigor.)
ALGERNON: Real, real real real REAL -
(He tears at his collar and vest, throwing them aside before smashing his hand against the mirror. He gives a frustrated yelp and pulls back. Cradling his barely bruised hand, ALGERNON goes to sit on the floor of the empty armoire. He moodily examines his hand.)
ALGERNON: Real - blast, reality's no fun. Living's too droll to carry on so.
(A knock comes at the door. ALGERNON Forgets his hand and wretched appearance.)
ALGERNON: Come in.
(CECILY enters, quite cheerful.)
CECILY: Goodness! I didn't know you were so romantic as this! Really, darling, you could've kept your appearance up and it still would have turned out fine.
ALGERNON: (Cheerfully) Oh, do you forgive me already? I'm quite unrepentant though.
CECILY: (Laughing) Of course, one should never throw a fit and really mean it. It's quite uncomfortable and a bit dull, you know. Yes, dear, I'll forgive you, but only if you're really still the same as ever.
ALGERNON: Yes, I suppose I am. I don't think I was ever really that way to begin with.
CECILY: (Opening the door.) Well, we best be off. The ceremony starts in a half-hour and we need to be fully distracted by then if we are to properly miss it. Your aunt has been too supportive of late for any of this to end well as it is. Aren't you coming?
ALGERNON: (Getting up to retrieve his collar) I wholeheartedly agree. Nothing could end well with so much approval. (CECILY exits ahead of him as he catches sight of himself in the mirror) Nothing...
CECILY: (Calling from offstage) Please do hurry, Ernest darling, time isn't going to kill itself.
(ALGERNON makes no answer, but remains watching the mirror as the stage grows dark and the curtain is eventually drawn.)
(A/N: I wrote a paper this past semester on the different layers of Dandyism in The Importance of Being Earnest, with a main focus of the pre-existing analysis of Dandyism as an aesthetic form of nihilism. There's a lot of lofty, obscure, and poorly written symbolism in here, but I'll let you figure them out on your own. This was for the "Down to the Foundations" prompt for week 1 of [Twelve Shots of Summer] '17. I was mostly thinking about the fact that Algernon acts the way he does to mess with people, but Cecily is just straight up insane. I didn't see the relationship ending well, especially since Algernon would still have to change his name to Ernest in order for Cecily to ever accept him. It's just a mess, and I feel rather sorry for him.)