"It's my nature." Mastery and ownership in the texts of Hrotsvit Iotania
It may appear as though this were a play, but in fact it is a fictional academic analysis of scenes from a fictional play, and taken together make up a short story. The paper intro and the scenes transcribed play off one another to enhance the class system that the scenes display. It should be noted that the paper is being written a 1000 years from now, while the play takes place at least 300 hundred years into the future; society (in the play) has reverted to a feudal system, and Lady Julia is a recognized sovereign. The author of the paper, who remains anonymous, works under a system similar to our own postdoctoral candidacy.
Periodically, in times of population bottlenecks and food shortages, food shortages that lead to decline in both density and in total aggregate numbers, those who can afford to do so retreat from society and into their homesteads. The most benevolent of these peoples take with them staff and others who have few alternatives, providing for these unfortunate souls employment and shelter. What follows is an epoch that seems—outside its walls—dark, lost, void of growth of any kind; a beautiful futility, a tyrannical system.
It can hardly be overstated what shame this conception is, because nearly nothing could be further from the truth. Rather, the home becomes a workspace, a playground, a laboratory, a clinic, and a hall, equipped for everything one could ever want or need, all located within its borders. It is a time of experiment and play, and the most outlandish ideas are relished and enjoyed. This world is never more plainly seen than through the works of the poet and playwright Hrotsvit Iotania, an anchoress in the traditions of old whose life and works were known for carrying on the distinguished rites and rituals of a civilization thought lost to time. Below are scenes excerpted from her play Sequentiae, Adfluentia.
Lady Julia, The Baroness
Tamora, her guardian
Ariel Lysander, her lover and muse
Olivia, her personal attendant
Aaron, Olivia’s brother
Trübsal, Lady Julia’s home
Chambers in Trübsal.
BARONESS: Tamora! Tamora!
TAMORA: Lady, lady, what is it today?
BARONESS: Have you seen my necklace?
TAMORA: Surely I have.
BARONESS: Tell me where, I need it!
TAMORA: Lady, you own quite a few necklaces. Do you not own this all?
BARONESS: Why do you have to remind me of my ownership all the time? I can breathe, I can smile, I can see the sun—I have all I need here.
TAMORA: (unwavering) Which necklace were you referring to, Lady?
BARONESS: The heart-shaped necklace, the one Ariel gave me.
TAMORA: The heart-shaped necklace?
BARONESS: The locket.
TAMORA: How dreadfully trite. What does the Lady need with a heart-shaped locket? Why on earth would you ever put yourself in a state over a heart-shaped locket?
BARONESS: Because I need it.
TAMORA: Need it for what?
BARONESS: A ritual!
TAMORA: Why don’t you ever lead with your intention?
BARONESS: Because it is mine and mine alone. If I share it forthwith I risk losing it all.
The Quarto Library. Enter Ariel Lysander.
BARONESS: Ariel Lysander!
LYSANDER: Lady Julia!
BARONESS: A muse’s love should never be taken for granted. Kiss me darling, and take me now.
LYSANDER: (kissing, pulling away) Darling, Darling, Darling, I cannot begin with you right now.
BARONESS: And why is that?
LYSANDER: Because if I begin with you now, here in the library, I’m liable never to stop and you and I will need to have a bed moved in just so we could get some rest.
BARONESS: Never say words to me like that again! You make everything even more difficult.
LYSANDER: It’s my nature.
BARONESS: And it’s mine, too.
LYSANDER: (caressing) You’re bare.
BARONESS: (at loss) Darling, dear, I- it isn’t because I didn’t want it, or that I forgot it, it’s simply been misplaced, I-
LYSANDER: Darling, my love, I was only observing. (inspecting) I imagine there was a domestic drama here between you and Tamora.
BARONESS: The woman is always in bad faith. She’s off now as General Inquisitor, leaning on Olivia and Aaron and all the rest of them.
LYSANDER: How’s he getting along?
BARONESS: Just as well as I’d hoped. Olivia and he are from good-natured, intelligent kin.
OLIVIA: Aaron, Aaron, it’s almost time, do you need to shower?
AARON: Nuhh am okahy-
OLIVIA: (taking bottle) Do you really need that right now?
(Aaron rests his arms back on the table.)
OLIVIA: I’m going upstairs soon, are you coming? Aaron, I wish you would say something, sitting here looking at you is twisting me up and tying me in knots and stabbing my heart. Please talk to me, brother. (Aaron smiles and sighs and puts his head in his hands.) You don’t like working here, that I can see. (Aaron looks up swiftly with furrowed brows and breathes heavily from his mouth.) Did Tamora speak to you yesterday? (Aaron sighs and turns away.)
The Turquoise Hall. The Baroness and Tamora are nibbling and drinking.
BARONESS: Do you want some chocolate?
TAMORA: No, I’ve got some, thank you.
BARONESS: How was your conversation with Olivia and Aaron? Do they know anything?
TAMORA: I only spoke with Olivia, Aaron had already left. She seemed innocent enough, no knowledge of anything, unquivering and steady, only she stumbled slightly in recalling the timeline. I daresay we may never have the truth. Was this locket encrusted in a particularly fashionable way? I still can’t imagine a locket possessing so much of your mind.
BARONESS: As I’ve said… (demuring) yes, perhaps you’re right, it’s just a humour of mine.
TAMORA: (reflecting) Well, it’s not all that serious, it’s nothing to fret over that you’re worrying, my dear.
BARONESS: It was simply mine and I’d like to know where it is, if only to let it remain there. A concern of placement, let’s say.
TAMORA: Yes, well.
BARONESS: And Aaron still needs to be spoken to?
TAMORA: I’ll go to him shortly.
BARONESS: Where is his station?
TAMORA: Below, in the manglerie.
BARONESS: Oh, I see. Is this why he smells of bathwater?
TAMORA: Well, we never encourage them to bathe in it. Shall I be off?
BARONESS: A moment more. How long does he work?
TAMORA: One and a half.
BARONESS: Does he speak well? In the three weeks he’s been on I’ve said less than five words to him, I should think.
TAMORA: I daresay, Lady, I- I believe Aaron intends no harm in his actions—whatever his actions may be.
BARONESS: Does he speak well, Tamora? You’re skipping like Olivia.
TAMORA: Damn this all, is this not the third day of your petulant inquiry into matters of brass and steel and tarnish!
BARONESS: This is the second day. Yesterday it was found missing, and now it is today.
TAMORA: Yes, well we thank you kindly, now Shall I be off my Lady, for the betterment of your mind and health and spirit?
BARONESS: Better to not. Send for him; I should certainly ask my own questions, you do much already, and a yoke lightened is a yoke softened, my Tamora.
Tamora exits. Enter Ariel Lysander.
BARONESS: My darling.
ARIEL: My queen.
BARONESS: Hardly. Why should you approach me in such a way as to push out of mind any troubles that might stick? How is it so?
ARIEL: I merely look at you truly and as you are, my love.
Lady Julia blinks.
BARONESS: Darling, my love, am I given to whimsy?
ARIEL: I should say we all are, darling dear, each in their realm.
BARONESS: Realm, what about material reality? I don’t mean to be so atheistic, you know this, but what about this world and the illusions that dance on its surfaces? Do I entertain these dances? Am I blind to things as they are, instead mistaking the illusion for the world and the world for the dream. These are questions that have as their predicates things I could not possibly ascertain, so I put it to you. My love, do not be partial—it is with transparency that I must see this.
ARIEL: I think, my love, (chuckling) that you’d worry the warts off the widow with which you wind down your days! I think you are instinctively perceptive, and your sight cuts deep, and with that insight comes confusion and wisdom and mystery. I think you may perhaps be the most sane of them all. That, my Lady, is my word.
BARONESS: Do I continue down this path? Is it rational and productive to do so? Truly, say so or not.
ARIEL: If this is your wish and your want, it is yours to have.
Lady Julia sighs.
ARIEL: A cordial, perhaps, to soothe the mind?
BARONESS: Do pour us some.
BARONESS: (taking both) Dearest, it has just sprung upon me that Tamora is on her way, I can’t have her seeing this type of thing.
ARIEL: Certainly, my darling, I’ll take them out the back.
BARONESS: They mustn’t leave. It’s part of it all.
ARIEL: Yes, I understand. I hope you find it, my love, wherever it turns up.
BARONESS: Thank you, darling. Now be swift.
Ariel Lysander exits.
BARONESS: Aaron, thank you for coming on such short notice. Would you care for a drink of cordial? It’s mochal.
Aaron shoots the cordial and swings the glass back to her, heaving.
AARON: Thank yehhh- (breathing).
BARONESS: Aaron- Aaron, where did you grow up? I know you and Olivia were raised by genteel folk out in the country, and that she was taught algorithms and language. Is it to the north or south of here, your family’s estate?
BARONESS: Your home, that is.
AARON: The east.
BARONESS: East? I’ve always loved the east. Let’s toast to the east, shall we? Another mochal, or shall it be something else?
AARON: Mochahhl, fine.
BARONESS: Let me pour it. Aaron, I’ve always loved the east, you know. There’s something so splendidly oppressive in cold climates, do you find that to be the case?
Aaron breathes and sighs and stares at the mochal bottle.
BARONESS: It’s not cold here, don’t you love that, Aaron? Winter’s a balmy spring elsewhere and we really only have to deal with the occasional ice storm, or else some other meteorological oddity. As I say, don’t you love that? Well never mind what you and I may love together, what do you love, Aaron? Love is many-splendored and works to make the spirit upright—without love we would vanish, wouldn’t you say? Aaron, please answer me when I ask a question, I do so hate to be ignored. Here.
Aaron and the Lady shoot together. She takes his glass.
BARONESS: Here, one for health.
Aaron shoots. Mochal drips down the side of his cheek and into his ears as he shakes the glass for a last drop.
BARONESS: Aaron, do you know anything about pantodicimi? (He blinks.)
BARONESS: Please, better to leave it. That is the case with most things in this world; they’re better left alone and untouched. Our spirits, aided by spirits, long for it, and more often than not our atoms’ desires are left fulfilled and unsatiated. We touch and feel and that’s it, that’s all we do, all day long, never knowing the fibers or the fabrics as well as we want, or knots or knurls as intimately as they need. We desire, and then we take. It is mostly a simple process. There are some, however, that take with averted eyes, and with an averted mind, and the downward-cast posture does well to cloak them as secondary. They avoid consequence at all costs; they’re never out from underneath it. All that’s left to do is hide within it, exposed and concealed, et cetera, et cetera. Aaron. Aaron, sit up. Have another.
AARON: Am okahy, rilly-
BARONESS: Best not to question me, you won’t like the alternative. It is simpler, quicker, more violent, more clean-up. This has a discreet charm to it. Perhaps charm isn’t the right word. Aaron? Sit up, now down it goes. Here.
Aaron falls over. Lady Julia stands over him.
BARONESS: Aaron, where is it? Do you have it on you?
AARON: Iss right here-
Aaron produces the necklace from his pocket. Lady Julia pounces to snatch it from him.
BARONESS: There’s no other way.
The Baroness continues to pour him mochal, Aaron begins to blabber; he turns blue. She pours him another, and his rolled-up eyes and his almost-smile assure her, and she laughs as she pours him one more, and then one more, and then one more.