A Blot in the ‘Scutcheon by Robert Browning
by Paul Mathers
This was the shortest piece in this volume. I read half of it at night before bed and half of it at lunch the next day. When I opened it at lunch the next day I had a moment where I could not, for the life of me, remember what it was about. When I was finished reading it, I thought, “I will remember that I’ve read this play, but doubt I will ever be able to recall anything about it.” Say what you will about Robert Browning as a poet (he certainly married well!) I do not feel that this was his strongest work.
The action revolves around a family of nobility who are seeking to marry off their daughter. The daughter is in love, indeed, with the man that her family is intending to set her up with. So much so that he climbs a yew tree into her room every night and, within the context of the action, speaks loving words into her ear. It is suggested that they may, in times not shown onstage, express their love more ardently in those moments. Naturally, this sort of behavior is frowned upon.
The gardener spots the man climbing the tree and, inexplicably, continues to watch him do so night after night for some time before he decides to mention it to anyone. When he does, he chooses to tell her volcanic brother. Emotions escalate and soon at least one character is able to see his own internal organs. It would seem, at the end, that the brother’s rash behavior is more the blot on the escutcheon than the over-familiarity of the recently deceased, nearly betrothed couple. The morals are: 1) Don’t climb into your loved one’s bedroom when circumstances would suggest that such behavior would be inappropriate and 2) If you spot someone climbing into someone else’s window, don’t kill them.
All of which seems far more interesting to me now than it did while I was reading it. I don’t know. Maybe I was grumpy that day. First of all, the current state of decay in propriety beyond the most feverish nightmares of the author precludes any serious attempts at producing the play today. Not that I would attempt it were it otherwise. I found the story uninspired and wedging it between to other great poets’ successful plays probably didn’t help matters. This did seem to me to be one of the “well, we need to fill about 50 more pages” pieces in this series.
Well, they can’t all be winners. Next up, Lord Byron’s dramatic offering.