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Ottakar and Margit

“My beloved soldier!”  He takes her up in his arms and finds her peerless, adorable. Ragged, wet, dirty, aromatic—redolent of the harbor fish stalls, the stables, the garderobe, the kitchen, and the sty and the barnyard, the dear earth itself! He lifts her chin to his lips. “Proud, lovely, virtuous girl! Take one salute on those sweet lips from your betrothed.”

Margit, held captive, should struggle to free herself, should force him away. But she doesn’t, not yet. She knows and understands for the first time in her young life that Ottakar seems fair as, no, fairer than the porcelain angels that guard Saint Elizabeth’s reliquary. Not chill porcelain, though, and not dead gold. Living flesh, warm and forceful, comfortable and reassuring. This breathing flesh, this mortal desire . . . .

Ottakar is exultant at her seeming passivity. “Change your pure virgin mind. Be bending, be pliable, Margit! Spare one dram of pity for a dying man. Only one pure cousinly embrace to ask yourself if you might not ever want to be more than just my cousin.”

Her bones are jelly and she is drooping toward him, her eyes wavering. She could be lost, her body’s chaste virtue violated by her own treacherous humanity.

She lets the strange newness overtake her, lets the voluptuous dream flow like a tropical sea through her body, lets the warmth of feeling bloom completely. Oh is this it, and is this the human love I might choose and embrace, like many a sainted woman who chose wifehood and motherhood along with devotion to God?

He lets her go, but hotly he implores her with all he has of his ardent young manhood.

“Be as much of the divine warrior as you like, then. I’ll never say no to your soldiering. Beloved! I’ll furnish you with weaponry. I’ll provide you with shields of clothing for your army of the poor, munitions, swords of meat and wine, cudgels of bread. We worship the same God of love, Margit. I’ll help you fight the heathen and the evildoers. We’ll overcome the deadly powers of dearth and disease. We’ll quash the devil. Be as devout as you want, I’ll never interfere. Keep your night vigils, only let me live and die blissful as the humblest flea in your sweet bosom. You shall want for nothing, Meg!

You’ll have your flagelli made of milkweed fluff,  and if they’re not up to your taste, well then, we’ll find you flails sewn of the finest satin ribbons. Your bed of thorns—I’ll cushion it myself with sarcenet, I’ll strew it with pearls and lilies, I’ll commandeer you a trousseau of hair shirts lined with swans down to last you a lifetime.”

Margit can’t help laughing. “That’s not it, not it at all.”

“Then have whatever your heart hungers for. My precious love. I’ll build you convents and monasteries in Prague, fourteen churches in honor of fourteen saints so you’ll have two different ones to pray to every day and every night of the week….”

Cunegonda and Ottakar

“What are you thinking of me now, Ottakar? I know you’re a man who must be used to pursuing a girl, not being pursued, and maybe what I did was too bold for your tastes. Sending you a poem that was a little bit tinged with erotic suggestions. A little naughty, if you read it a certain way. I know you just now caught sight of me and you looked only long enough to be asking yourself what I’m up to, and if I’m who you think I am. After the summer’s terrible bloodshed in the field of war you probably wanted a girl to relax with and maybe you found one to make love to after you rode fully armed into Hungary sounding a flourish on your golden horn. Did you seek out some sweet palace maidservant or a country girl out on the island? Maybe you did, but I wish it had been me you’d asked. I would have been willing to take you in my arms in a cool orchard one night. Or even within the secluded curtains of my bed. I think you still want a girl. A wife. Up until this minute you haven’t once looked my way.

But now you’ve gazed at me. Very quickly, it’s true, because you’re taken up with busy affairs of state. Dividing up the land and ruling it. My heart was beating fast when I saw you pass by a minute ago. I can give you consolation and soothe your cares, clasping you in my soft arms and letting you lie between my tender thighs.

I can offer you the blissful joys of honorable wedded love. I’ll let you do whatever you want with me. I can show you things you would like very much to know. I lived in Italy, maybe you’ve heard, beloved Ottakar, where I learned the text that ‘amor vincit omnia,’ which is ‘love conquers all.’ I’m doing all I can to conquer you, Ottakar, if you let me, and even if you don’t let me, you must surely become at long last my dear one and my love prize.”



Tips for Writers

Wrenching a taut story from the classics. More plots for writers from ancient family dramas:

1. Eugene O’Neill worked out the adulterous family triangle in Desire under the Elms (1924): an old husband, his young wife and his son. Inspiration came from Euripides’ Hippolytus. In the Greek play, chaste son spurns stepmother Phaedra. She expresses her suffering. She dies.

Try this: In a contemporary setting, create a triangular family hotbed of forbidden yearnings, acted upon or not. Either configuration is powerful: husband-wife-stepson OR wife-husband-stepdaughter.

2. Charles Mee in Big Love (2001) builds on Greek myth as he does in quite a few of his other dramas.

Fifty daughters of Danaeus are wedded forcibly to fifty men, their cousins. To get rid of the men efficiently, the girls’ father orders the brides to turn on the grooms and slay them on the wedding night. One daughter agrees not to kill her new husband if he respects her virginity. Father is furious and turns her over to the courts, where Aphrodite steps in. But the author can take it from there.

Mee’s play opened with girls fleeing in bridal gowns and veils to land on an Italian isle with suitcases. They’re fugitives, and in Aeschylus, they’re Suppliants. Airborne husbands swoop after them in helicopters.

Mee achieved the classical play with nine actors. Try this with four: twin sisters marry brothers. Their own fathers are brothers, and bear each other an ancient sibling grudge, or they are enemies though not kin. On the wedding night, one bride follows orders and slays her husband. The other disobeys orders, and doesn’t. The story can continue variously. Opportunities for intense emotion are rife.

Previously Posted Tips:

Q. Where can you find hot ideas for fiction ?

A. The classics, as dramatized in the recent New York theater:

Three New York City events demonstrated their own upbeat conversions of the ancient and well-known:

Kings: The Siege of Troy was “a spin on the first books of Homer’s Iliad…. A vivid re-imagining” by Christopher Logue and Jim Milton. Two scrappy guys in a fight scene. Each fighter seizes a female prisoner. One guy wants the other guy’s girl for himself. He takes her. What is the outcome of this gang war? Better, what will the girls do? Exercise: Write a 1-page flash fiction in which you create this quarrel with four characters in your favorite big city,

Wittenberg. Fast-forward centuries to Wittenberg U and famed, doomed, dropout Hamlet the Dane. Meeting in a pub with two big, lusty talkers, Martin Luther and Dr. Faustus. This is the action David Davalos set up in his play Wittenberg. Exercise: Write a 1-page flash fiction, putting your favorite student in a bar of your choice, and have her or him engage in combat with one or two garrulous well-known celebrities.

The Elixir of Love by Gaetano Donizetti was written in 1832. A lover buys a potion from a quack traveling salesman in hopes of winning his girl. The New York City Opera reinvented the tale and set it in the Midwest in the 1950s. Exercise: Consider your own favorite lovelorn protagonist faced with a similar temptation and put her or him in your own home town. Write one page.


Copyright 2013 Marcelle Thiebaux