Literary Surprises

Not Derek Burke

We always assume that great writers like Derek Burke and William Shakespeare had no trouble getting their work published. They could just stroll into Random House (or its Elizabethan equivalent) and let the editors fawn over their latest play or novel. Then offer them a big advance on the next one.

But it turns out that we’re wrong.  In addition to being a writer and writing group leader, Marilyn Myerson is a literary historian who often spends hours poring over scribbled manuscripts from the Elizabethan Era, and her research has turned up an amazing letter to Will from a well-known publisher of the period.

In addition, Peter Terzian has shared with us the human version of ChatGPT, and the story thus created follows Marilyn’s literary discovery.

Here is the correspondence Marilyn discovered.

Dear Mr. Shakspear,

I can hardly credit that you have dared send me a manuscript filled with street brawls, lawless murder, an unholy priest, abuse of parental authority, fraud, and – most shameful of all – the deflowering of a 13-year-old, practically an infant!  And from a noble family, no less! You claim this is a “Tragedy” but forsooth it is naught but a comedy of errors.

The true tragedy of your feeble attempt is that it is much ado about nothing – nothing of any interest except perhaps to a debauched few. There is something so rotten about this monstrous play that one would have to be in one’s cups for nigh unto ten, no, eleven even, days, and only on the twelfth night could the fog of drink cloud one’s mind enough to forget one has suffered through the reading of the play.  Elsewise, all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand that holds your grotesquerie of words.

Might thou perchance have been taken with the ague or beaten silly about the head, some might even say, as you like it? Or have you suffered a dark, dark midsomer’s night dream? Your cover letter proclaims your ardor for the play’s personages, but it is more a case of your love’s labours lost with such intolerable bilge.

And what is with this pedantic iambic pentameter, Mr.  Shakspeare? Measure for measure, it falls strangely on the ear and produces naught but a tempest in the brain. I long to see a dagger before me so I might plunge it into these foul papers.

But no more shilly-shallying around. Let us address the elements of this abomination. Why set the scenes in Verona? Why venture so far from this sceptered isle… this other Eden…this England? And, prithee tell, by what trick of magick dost thou put words of our beauteous tongue into their foreign mouths?

The riotous street affray with two gentlemen from Verona acting like rival toughs – this scene could be no more ridiculous if you had set them in the new world to dance and sing choruses. Juliet is so besotted, she will give up Paris – this beggars belief. Romeo is nothing if not naïve and reckless. The nurse is meddlesome; we need a taming of the shrew. The priest degrades his offices. The parents should keep a better eye!

The plot reflects the murderous twistings of your indelicate imagination. And, I must emphasize, lusty sex between two very, very young people! Get your mind out of the gutter, Mr. Shakspere! And then, to top off the shame, before they can grow into their proper lives, Romeo and Juliet are dead, dead, dead.

I most roundly reject this pitiful work. Hear my sage advice – stick, Mr. S, to your 14-line poesy.

The night chills. I have built a fire in the grate, and I will toss in your scribbles for to warm me. Thus, all’s well that ends well.

Yours in blunt honesty,

Scullion Ratsbane, Esq.

We anticipate a number of scholarly papers emerging from Marilyn’s discovery, but we now turn to a literary work that demonstrates the creative power of social media. Peter Terzian posted a challenge and a first line on his Facebook page (much as Bruce Gobioff did on the ChatGPT page for our January 3 issue) and asked his friends and followers to add sentences of their own devising and make it a story.

Here is the result.  Each new paragraph is a contribution by a different person.

Late one afternoon an older gentleman walked into a pub. He noticed there were several craft beers on tap, so he selected a stool at the bar and sat.

While he waited for the woman behind the bar to finish cleaning the glassware, he contemplated which beer would satisfy his desire. Would it be a dark, creamy stout? Or maybe a crisp Lager? Should he settle for the hazy complexity of a New England IPA?

Still contemplating which to order, a newly arrived patron a few seats down blurted out to the busy bartender “Have any local beers available today?” She barked back “Not today, we are out of many on the wall.”

“The well drinks are 2 for 1”, speaks a voice next to him. The man turns and the finds he’s speaking with a six-foot cockroach in a top hat that’s casually cleaning off a monocle with a black and white checkered handkerchief.

The 6 ft cockroach asks, “Hey Barkeep what was that special ingredient in that craft beer I tasted?”

The old man that appeared to have taken up residence at the end of the bar blurts out, “That ain’t no cockroach, that’s my wife!”

The bartender said, “Who are you, Henny Youngman”. The old man looked at her, raising one of his bushy grey eyebrows and replied.

Cockroach in top hat dude rubbed his feelers together and then dipped down deep into his threadbare trench coat to produce a silver flask monogrammed with the initials CRS. He handed the flask to the older gent seated next to him. “Try some of this”….

“Don’t mind if I do” he said. “What’s the CRS stand for, if you don’t mind my asking?”

“Can’t Remember Sh*t. One sip of this and you will enter a strange and phantasmagorical world for 7 hours. When you come to, you won’t remember a thing.”

“Hell, what do I have to lose? I can’t remember shit anyway.” Tipping his head back he let the sweet elixir slide down his throat. “Ah, what did you say your name is?”

It was warming his entire being. He thought this is going to be Magical.

“My name? Umm, I dunno.”

“I’m really confused, like when I was young and did, you know – um wacky whatever. Whoooh, you drink this stuff often?”

“Did you say this was a 7 hour Elixir or 7 Days?”

But the giant cockroach was gone. Or, was never there? In his place sat a drop-dead gorgeous brunette dressed head to toe in black leather. “WTF you starin’ at?” she said.

“Still the wife.” said the old man at the end of the bar.

January 10, 2018, Facebook thread
P. Terzian

If you enjoyed that, we have a challenge for you.

On another page in this issue we’ve begun a story, and we want you to contribute to it in the Comment section of that page. You don’t have to write much–just a line or two as Pete’s followers did. But as you write, you’re taking the wheel and steering the story.  Where will you take it?  How will the person who follows you respond?  Are you ready, Player One?  Then click here. (Or feel free to return any time over the next week or so to see how the story is growing and add your sentence then.)

Marilyn Myerson, PhD Philosophy, has learned to take nothing for granted and to have fun. She retired from USF after 38 years of teaching, learning and kicking up her heels in Women’s and Gender Studies. Marilyn was the first outside hire in W(G)S, starting in 1973, when the department was just one year old. She was an administrator at various departmental and dean’s levels, including a stint as W(G)S Chair before her retirement as Emeritus faculty in 2010. She shepherded the Human Sexual Behavior class through its many incarnations, developed the original women’s health classes, and taught feminist research methodology. She is currently in three writing groups, and happily involved with OLLI-USF, taking art and writing classes. She created and often teaches OLLI Imaginative Writing classes and facilitates writing groups.

Peter Terzian photo

Peter Terzian was a school media and technology teacher since 1980. He started brewing about four years ago as a hobby. Now retired, he also enjoys volunteering for arts, media, and technology projects. He fills several online volunteer roles for OLLI-USF.


2 Replies to “Literary Surprises”


  2. Dear Mr. Ratsbane,

    This is to let you know that I do not write the plays I am said to have written, nor do I write letters that I have written. Enough said.
    William Shakespeare

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