C J Dennis: The Play

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David Campbell
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C J Dennis: The Play

Post by David Campbell » Thu May 19, 2016 9:03 am

It’s likely that everyone knows this one as it’s a popular performance piece. It combines Dennis’s brilliantly inventive use of the vernacular with a clever distillation of a classic Shakespearean tragedy, in the process neatly linking that narrative with the story of the Bloke and Doreen. Knockabout comedy with some philosophy and satire thrown in…what more could you want? And then there’s that memorable final line!

The Play

C J Dennis

Wot's in a name? -- she sez . . . An' then she sighs,
An' clasps 'er little 'ands, an' rolls 'er eyes.
"A rose," she sez, "be any other name
Would smell the same.
Oh, w'erefore art you Romeo, young sir?
Chuck yer ole pot, an' change yer moniker!"

Doreen an' me, we bin to see a show --
The swell two-dollar touch. Bong tong, yeh know.
A chair apiece wiv velvit on the seat;
A slap-up treat.
The drarmer's writ be Shakespeare, years ago,
About a barmy goat called Romeo.

"Lady, be yonder moon I swear!" sez 'e.
An' then 'e climbs up on the balkiney;
An' there they smooge a treat, wiv pretty words
Like two love-birds.
I nudge Doreen. She whispers, "Ain't it grand!"
'Er eyes is shining an' I squeeze 'er 'and.

'Wot's in a name?" she sez. 'Struth, I dunno.
Billo is just as good as Romeo.
She may be Juli-er or Juli-et --
'E loves 'er yet.
If she's the tart 'e wants, then she's 'is queen,
Names never count ... But ar, I like "Doreen!"

A sweeter, dearer sound I never 'eard;
Ther's music 'angs around that little word,
Doreen! ... But wot was this I starts to say
About the play?
I'm off me beat. But when a bloke's in love
'Is thorts turns 'er way, like a 'omin' dove.

This Romeo 'e's lurkin' wiv a crew --
A dead tough crowd o' crooks -- called Montague.
'Is cliner's push -- wot's nicknamed Capulet --
They 'as 'em set.
Fair narks they are, jist like them back-street clicks,
Ixcep' they fights wiv skewers 'stid o' bricks.

Wot's in a name? Wot's in a string o' words?
They scraps in ole Verona wiv the'r swords,
An' never give a bloke a stray dog's chance,
An' that's Romance.
But when they deals it out wiv bricks an' boots
In Little Lon., they're low, degraded broots.

Wot's jist plain stoush wiv us, right 'ere to-day,
Is "valler" if yer fur enough away.
Some time, some writer bloke will do the trick
Wiv Ginger Mick,
Of Spadger's Lane.
'E'll be a Romeo,
When 'e's bin dead five 'undred years or so.

Fair Juli-et, she gives 'er boy the tip.
Sez she: "Don't sling that crowd o' mine no lip;
An' if you run agin a Capulet,
Jist do a get."
'E swears 'e's done wiv lash; 'e'll chuck it clean.
(Same as I done when I first met Doreen.)

They smooge some more at that. Ar, strike me blue!
It gimme Joes to sit an' watch them two! '
E'd break away an' start to say good-bye,
An' then she'd sigh
"Ow, Ro-me-o!" an' git a strangle-holt,
An' 'ang around 'im like she feared 'e'd bolt.

Nex' day 'e words a gorspil cove about
A secret weddin'; an' they plan it out.
'E spouts a piece about 'ow 'e's bewitched:
Then they git 'itched ...
Now, 'ere's the place where I fair git the pip!
She's 'is for keeps, an' yet 'e lets 'er slip!

Ar! but 'e makes me sick! A fair gazob!
E's jist the glarsey on the soulful sob,
'E'll sigh and spruik, a' 'owl a love-sick vow --
(The silly cow!)
But when 'e's got 'er, spliced an' on the straight
'E crools the pitch, an' tries to kid it's Fate.

Aw! Fate me foot! Instid of slopin' soon
As 'e was wed, off on 'is 'oneymoon,
'Im an' 'is cobber, called Mick Curio,
They 'ave to go
An' mix it wiv that push o' Capulets.
They look fer trouble; an' it's wot they gets.

A tug named Tyball (cousin to the skirt)
Sprags 'em an' makes a start to sling off dirt.
Nex' minnit there's a reel ole ding-dong go -—
'Arf round or so.
Mick Curio, 'e gets it in the neck,
"Ar rats!" 'e sez, an' passes in 'is check.

Quite natchril, Romeo gits wet as 'ell.
"It's me or you!" 'e 'owls, an' wiv a yell,
Plunks Tyball through the gizzard wiv 'is sword,
'Ow I ongcored!
"Put in the boot!" I sez. "Put in the boot!"
"'Ush!" sez Doreen ... "Shame!" sez some silly coot.

Then Romeo, 'e dunno wot to do.
The cops gits busy, like they allwiz do,
An' nose around until 'e gits blue funk
An' does a bunk.
They wants 'is tart to wed some other guy.
"Ah, strike!" she sez. "I wish that I could die!"

Now, this 'ere gorspil bloke's a fair shrewd 'ead.
Sez 'e "I'll dope yeh, so they'll think yer dead."
(I tips 'e was a cunnin' sort, wot knoo
A thing or two.)
She takes 'is knock-out drops, up in 'er room:
They think she's snuffed, an' plant 'er in 'er tomb.

Then things gits mixed a treat an' starts to whirl.
'Ere's Romeo comes back an' finds 'is girl
Tucked in 'er little coffing, cold an' stiff,
An' in a jiff,
'E swallows lysol, throws a fancy fit,
'Ead over turkey, an' 'is soul 'as flit.

Then Juli-et wakes up an' sees 'im there,
Turns on the water-works an' tears 'er 'air,
"Dear love," she sez, "I cannot live alone!"
An' wiv a moan,
She grabs 'is pockit knife, an' ends 'er cares ...
"Peanuts or lollies!" sez a boy upstairs.

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Maureen K Clifford
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Re: C J Dennis: The Play

Post by Maureen K Clifford » Thu May 19, 2016 11:40 am

le bong tong indeed :lol: Good but not elegant. I had quite forgotten this poem David - thank you for sharing it. Good to read it again.
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Re: C J Dennis: The Play

Post by Heather » Thu May 19, 2016 12:17 pm

"Doreen" and "The Play" are two of the first poems I recall hearing as a child. My mother had a recording of them and I loved listening to that record. I can still hear the voice of the narrator in my head, and no other reading of the poem has ever compared in my mind.

The Play is skillfully written. The varying line lengths help to conceal the rhymes, and the dialogue flows easily without obvious end-rhymes.

I wonder if it was written as a humorous piece though? I see it more as a melodrama - although I can see that i could be hammed up and performed as a really funny performance. I saw Geoffrey Graham do it at Newstead a few years ago - he was brilliant, but i don't recall it being "funny".

Heather :)

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David Campbell
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Re: C J Dennis: The Play

Post by David Campbell » Fri May 20, 2016 11:14 am

Heather points out the variation in line-lengths, and that short line is an interesting device Dennis used regularly (for example in The Intro, where we meet Doreen). The general pattern is iambic pentameter, but then he throws in that four-syllable line to break up the regular beat and that, along with the enjambment, helps to keep the poem moving. Which, as Heather says, lessens the impact of the end-rhymes.

For me, much of the humour comes from the startling contrast between Shakespeare’s lines and Dennis’s blunt vernacular translation. For example, here are the final words of Mercutio in the original, after he’s stabbed by Tybalt:

Courage, man; the hurt cannot be much.

No, 'tis not so deep as a well, nor so wide as a
 church-door; but 'tis enough, ‘twill serve: ask for me to-morrow, and you shall find me a grave man. I am peppered, I warrant, for this world. A plague o' 
both your houses! 'Zounds, a dog, a rat, a mouse, a cat, to scratch a man to death! a braggart, a rogue, a villain, that fights by the book of
 arithmetic! Why the devil came you between us? I
 was hurt under your arm.

I thought all for the best.

Help me into some house, Benvolio,
Or I shall faint. A plague o' both your houses!
They have made worms' meat of me: I have it,
And soundly too: your houses!

And here’s the Dennis version:

Mick Curio, 'e gets it in the neck,
"Ar rats!" 'e sez, an' passes in 'is check.

I can’t help laughing at something like that.

But all we have in comparison so far under this “Humour” heading is Stephen’s suggestion of Paterson’s The Man from Ironbark. Where are all the Paterson and Lawson fans?



Re: C J Dennis: The Play

Post by Heather » Fri May 20, 2016 11:56 am

I can see how that is funny David. There is a sense of awe at the whole theatre experience - the seat a piece, sitting next to Doreeen! I think the funniest line is the last one. I have really enjoyed reading this poem again. I saw the film Romeo and Juliet at school and I see images from that film when reading the poem.

David, I'm looking for a funny Lawson poem. I have one in mind but want to see if I can find any others.

Heather :)

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Stephen Whiteside
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Re: C J Dennis: The Play

Post by Stephen Whiteside » Fri May 20, 2016 7:00 pm

A lot of Dennis looks difficult on the page, Neville, but if you see it performed really well it comes to life. Martin Pearson performing "The Play", for instance, is quite brilliant.

Geoffrey Graham also performs Dennis extremely well.
Stephen Whiteside, Australian Poet and Writer

Neville Briggs
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Re: C J Dennis: The Play

Post by Neville Briggs » Fri May 20, 2016 7:05 pm

Thanks Stephen .

I was too slow, I decided to delete that comment as not useful, but you were already posting.
I think therefore I am

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Stephen Whiteside
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Re: C J Dennis: The Play

Post by Stephen Whiteside » Fri May 20, 2016 7:18 pm

Oh well, you are entitled to your opinion, Neville.

David, you can throw in "Mulga Bill's Bicycle", "The Geebung Polo Club" and "A Bush Christening". Paterson definitely had humour covered!
Stephen Whiteside, Australian Poet and Writer

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Re: C J Dennis: The Play

Post by Shelley » Mon May 23, 2016 8:33 pm

David, I never tire of The Play, no matter how many times I read it. I never can see a production of R&J (be it ballet, opera or the original play) without silently intoning "peanuts or lollies" at the final curtain! Like you, I just love the way Shakespeare's language is overlaid by the Aussie vernacular of the time, such as the reduction of Mercutio's protracted death speech to "Ar, rats!" It says it all!

I love the visual picture of the moment Romeo kills Tybalt. You can just imagine, as silence fills the theatre, the ringing tones of Bill's encore, "Put in the boot! Put in the boot!" Then there is the Lysol ... Romeo would have needed to guzzle down a bucketful to do himself in, but it was probably the most harmful substance in Bill's orbit!

As for Banjo and Henry ... I agree with Stephen, my choices from Banjo's humorous repertoire would be Bush Christening and Man from Ironbark. Henry' s humour always seemed to be touched with pathos, as in When Your Pants Begin to Go.

Overall I agree entirely with you David, as an all-rounder Den is unbeatable!

Shelley Hansen
Lady of Lines

"Look fer yer profits in the 'earts o' friends,
fer 'atin' never paid no dividends."
(CJ Dennis "The Mooch o' Life")

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Stephen Whiteside
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Re: C J Dennis: The Play

Post by Stephen Whiteside » Mon May 23, 2016 8:40 pm

What I find especially interesting about "The Play" is that Dennis wrote it very shortly after spending his first weekend with the Roberts at "Sunnyside". I suspect he was on quite a high. Prior to this he had been all alone at Toolangi, and feeling pretty flat.
Stephen Whiteside, Australian Poet and Writer

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