LORD SCALES. Having perused the works of this ingenious pen-pusher, one thing stands in his favour: his persistence and resilience in the face of a world that doesn’t care.
JACQUES. I have written much but profited none. My messenger was a double agent. All my manuscripts were misdirected. Unscrupulous authors stole my work and took credit on my behalf. I lived in the shadows whilst they bathed in glory.
LORD SCALES. Poor Jacqueline. I sympathise, really, I do. Too long you toiled in vain, a victim of plagiarists and thieves, suffering the scoffs and slanders of dissolute knaves.
JACQUES. I despise those mealy parasites – especially the dignitaries of Mother Church who took credit for my miracles.
LORD SCALES. Your miracles? Were these not from God?
JACQUES. Indeed, they were. Of course.
LORD SCALES. Then all credit goes to Him.
JACQUES. But I was the channel, not the priests. The bishop of Sens erected a shrine in his own name, on the very spot where I gave sight to the blind. Do not misjudge me: I care naught for fame or fortune, but only moral justice.
LORD SCALES. Moral justice? A contradiction in terms. In justice is great profit. There is no justice on Earth – that’s why you summoned us, remember? I might add that God cares naught for shrines, but only that His will is done.
JACQUES. Is it God’s will that an evil bishop is venerated as a saint?
LORD SCALES. I cannot speak for God. You should ask Him yourself. Good luck with that. His ways are inscrutable and labyrinthine. Nevertheless, consult with Him in prayer. He is All Mighty after all. In an instant he can cast his eye over the entire history of the human race. But be warned – you are so very, very small – so do not expect His answer to agree with you.
JACQUES. Is it any wonder that I made a pact with Satan? He understands the hearts of men far better. He knows the cruelties of this world. He suffered the injustice of Heaven. He was cast out for having a will of His own. Satan would not let his servants suffer the ignoble humiliation that He himself knows too well.
LORD SCALES. Satan abandoned you to the rack. And surely, He will deliver you to the pyre. He seduced you from the start. I do not deny the certitude of free will, but considering your deformity, you had little choice in the matter.
JACQUES. Then like Job, I am the victim of a cosmic conspiracy. Plain and simple.
LORD SCALES. Plain and simple. Indeed you are.
JACQUES. I want my revenge!
LORD SCALES. Minuti Semper et infirmi est animi exiguique voluptas Ultio. [Revenge is always the pleasure of a little, weak and narrow mind](i). As for the injustices of life, I maintain that it is far better to consign a man’s fate into the comely arms of devils, whose constitution has been forged in the fires of hell – whose blood is as cold as ice – and whose soul is full of malice; than let a man depend on Seraphim, whose aerial constitution is enfeebled by too much goodness and a heavenly diet – which is no less poisonous to the soul than too much wine and condiment, which fatten the heart and soften the brains, and cause the bladder to flow with a hot and febrile stream. You effeminized yourself like an hermaphroditic cherub. The curves of your paps were formed not by Nature, but by the art and padding of a tailor. Do you deny it?
JACQUES. I am but a shadow of my former self. All earthly things corrupt. There was a time when I was comely – the very embodiment of a goddess – a sensual Venus, through and through. My blood was pure and clean, without a tint of maleness. But the parasites stole my blood, just like everything else…
LORD SCALES. Who are these parasites, exactly?
JACQUES. I know their names, but am forbidden to utter them.
LORD SCALES. Forbidden by whom?
JACQUES. The Arch Parasite.
LORD SCALES. And who, pray tell, is that?
LORD SCALES. You do yourself an injustice. Why malign yourself? Your works are full of footnotes. You acknowledge your sources. You give credit where credit’s due. And what’s more, you’re a true philosopher.
JACQUES. Thank you my lord. But the whole history of western philosophy consists of naught but a series of footnotes to Plato.(ii) I have pilfered from Pliny and stolen from Sophocles. Too oft’ I have stood upon the shoulders of Plotinus. As for my female blood, ’twas never really mine in the first place. ’Twas stolen from the Titans by an act of high sorcery.
LORD SCALES. High sorcery no less! The mind of man is capable of anything! Pray tell the court about it…
Copyright © Nicholas Shea 1992-2020.
ii. “The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.” Alfred North Whitehead, ‘Process and Reality.’ Part II, ‘Discussions and Applications’, Chapter One. ‘Fact and Form’.
Image credit: Flea by Robert Hooke. Wikimedia Commons