Literature in the Flanaess - The Comedies of Liam Wilspare
Date: Fri, May 26, 2006
Topic: The Library

The Bard. Of Greyhawk. His comedies include:

The Merchant of Verbobonc
A Midsummer's Eve
Two Gentlemen from Veluna
A Midwinter's Dream
The Merry Widows of Greyhawk
Much Ado About Iuz

"What fools these mortals be."

Literature in the Flanaess - The Comedies of Liam Wilspare
by Glenn Vincent Dammerung (aka GVDammerung)
Posted with permission. Do not repost without obtaining prior permission from the author.

Early in his career, Wilspare authored some comedic works. It is only lately, however, that he has turned the greater part of his writing toward comedy. Certainly, comedy has always been popular, but that popularity has been founded upon a very basic or ribald humor. Wilspare’s comedies are distinguished not merely by humor but, in the best cases, by a subject matter that is best revealed through humor. Wilspare’s comedies then transcend humor to tell us something about the Flanaess and its inhabitants.

Proceeding in this way is not without sometimes considerable risk. The object of a joke may not find much humor in the telling, particularly if they are possessed of a grave manner or reputation. It is too easy to kill an offending playwright or bard. Such concerns have, however, rarely been seen to have influenced Wilspare in his comedic plays. Rather, he has demonstrated a fearlessness matched only by the deftness of his comedic touch. Wilspare seeks belly laughs altogether less frequently than wry observations that are humorous, but perhaps only when one pauses to think or consider the matter.

Presented below are those comedic plays that have been reduced to writing, bond and sold in the manner of any book. Of all his plays so rendered into written volumes, the comedies seem to come across best, losing less for want of presentation on a stage. Perhaps, humor is more universal, independent of medium. Perhaps, it is the intelligent character of Wilspare’s humor. Certainly, Wilspare can be manic, frenzied and even bawdy, but it is the intelligence of his humor that leaves the most lasting of impressions.

The Merchant of Verbobonc
by Liam Wilspare (1 Volume)
1st Edition - 584 CY

Note - Popular with the rising merchant classes in Dyvers, Greyhawk, Verbobonc and Hardby, despite the actual text, this volume is very difficult to locate before the 5th Edition.

Wilspare’s first obvious social commentary, the Merchant of Verbobonc exposes and lampoons the sharp dealing of merchants. The titular character is so obsessed with money and collecting his due that he becomes absurd. With few purely humorous moments, the Merchant of Verbobonc is a comedy more in a technical sense. Audiences seeking to laugh out loud will be disappointed. Unsurprisingly, this play did not prove popular with audiences as few find moral lessons or social commentary vastly entertaining. Nonetheless, the published work has proven very popular.

Merchants are avid to display a copy of Wilspare’s play. Perhaps, they have never seen the play nor bothered to open the cover, being ignorant of all but the title. If they are aware of the content beyond the title, perhaps they find some value in being reminded not to become as greedy as the title character. Alternatively, they may wish to assure their customers of their high minded principles. Whatever the case, early editions are all but impossible to locate. While this might ordinarily be an invitation to counterfeits, none have appeared in any number. Doubtless, the merchant class knows how to properly appraise matters, discerning a fake from the genuine article.

A Midsummer’s Eve
by Liam Wilspare (1 Volume)
1st Edition - 586 CY

Note - A "Celene" first edition is rumored to exist in addition to the first folio published in Willip.

For the second time, Wilspare touches upon matters elven in one of his works. The entirety of this play takes place on midsummer in Celene. All of the main characters are elves. The plot revolves around elven manners and how they impact the various relationships of celebrants coming together on midsummer. It is a comedy of manners. It is also more genuinely funny than the earlier Merchant of Verbobonc. Wilspare’s comic gift is seen developing.

The choice of subject matter is interesting for there is a pronounced elven thread that may be seen in Wilspare’s body of work. The precise extent of elven influence on Wilspare’s work continues to be hotly debated among literary scholars. For lay persons, A Midsummer’s Eve is an entertainment but also something of an introduction to eleven society and certainly a rough guide to elven manners. Among those who deal with elves, resort to Wilspare’s work is highly advantageous. Whatever learning may be gleaned from the play, it is popular with elves and an entre to further conversation.

Two Gentlemen From Veluna
by Liam Wilspare (1 Volume)
1st Edition - 593 CY

Note - The second edition of this work is dedicated to Canon Hazen and is armorially bound with his arms.

Wilspare’s return to comedy as a vehicle for social commentary is better for the passage of nearly a decade, as Two Gentlemen from Veluna is in all respects a better work that the earlier Merchant of Verbobonc. Two Gentlemen from Veluna is hilariously funny. Its topic is religious hypocrisy and it is unrelenting in its lampooning of organized religion. Wilspare’s comic touch is now deft enough, however, to avoid too easily giving offense. Even the religious authorities of Veluna embrace the work as a riotously cautionary tale. Only in the Theocracy of the Pale has this play been banned by religious authorities.

Two Gentlemen from Veluna is a high watermark in religious or so-called "passion" plays. Many are the plays that take religious subjects for their themes, usually put on by or in support of one religion or another. Only a handful are more than the most stultifying examples of crude evangelism. Wilspare demonstrates that, properly handled, even religious works can be intelligent, even funny, and most importantly for any performance medium, entertaining, even if one has no particular religious sensibilities. Wilspare’s own religious leanings are not publically known.

A Midwinter’s Dream
by Liam Wilspare (1 Volume)
1st Edition - 594 CY

Note - A "Celene" first edition is rumored to exist in addition to the first folio published in Willip.

A sequel to A Midsummer’s Eve, a Midwinter’s Dream follows the same characters introduced in the previous play six months later. Added to the elven company are a lost group of human travelers. The introduction of this additional element immediately precludes the sequel from too closely following in its predecessor’s footsteps. The basic premise is the same, elven manners and how they impact relationships among the assembled. However, where the prior work was humorous, a Midwinter’s Dream is sidesplitting. Part of this is a consequence of the introduction of clueless human characters but more is due to Wilspare’s growth as a comedic writer.

A Midwinter’s Dream is, again, something of a guide to elven culture, manners and mores. It is popular with elves but human audiences, with characters with which they can more readily identify, enjoy the play just as much. After the release of the play, the Royal Wilspare Company took the unusual step of mounting a touring production with stops in Enstand in Celene, Mitrik and Highfolk, in addition to the more usual destinations. This effort was well rewarded. A Midwinter’s Dream became Wilspare’s most popular comedy to date. Part of this appeal may be attributable to the introduction of certain bawdy elements, which resultant half-elves in the play hold out hope for the third installment of what would be an "elven cycle."

The Merry Widows of Greyhawk
by Liam Wilspare (1 Volume)
1st Edition - 596 CY

Note - First folio editions of this play are almost non-existent as so many were burned. Second editions are marked by a unlettered cover. Only in the third edition does the work exist in an appropriate binding in any numbers.

If Wilspare may be said to have dabbled with risque or bawdy themes in A Midwinter’s Dream, all stops were pulled out but two short years latter. The Merry Widows of Greyhawk is an epically risque comedy, sufficient to satisfy the most prurient interests, while still maintaining a semblance of decency. It is this very decency, in fact, that sets up the play’s more risque elements. Howlingly riotous, the story concerns a group of low bawds who become involved with a prim and proper merchant family of Greyhawk on the occasion of the latter’s son being knighted. The results are calamitous for all involved and extremely funny.

Criticized as low or gutter humor, unfit for a serious playwright or bard, a dedicated campaign was mounted against The Merry Widows of Greyhawk. It was quite successful on multiple counts. Initial performances of the play were shut down. The first published version of the play was burned, only barely escaping being banned due in no small measure to Wilspare’s sterling reputation to that point. However, public interest was in all this peaked. Certain segments of society found that Wilspare had finally written something they could appreciate. Others just wondered what all the fuss was about. The result was the eventual success of the play. However, The Merry Widows of Greyhawk remains one of the least performed of Wilspare’s plays, at least in legitimate theaters.

Much Ado About Iuz
by Liam Wilspare (1 Volume)
1st Edition - 598 CY

Note - The first folio edition is royally bound with the arms of Iuz. The author is rumored to have sent a signed copy to Iuz himself.

Wilspare returns to the subject of Iuz over a decade after the publication of the history play, The Taming of Iuz. While the earlier work is a historical drama, Much Ado About Iuz is a farce of a comedy. The setting is Dorakaa. The protagonist is Iuz, himself. The ostensible plot is nothing less than Iuz’ intended conquest of the Flanaess, beginning with Furyondy. The real story, however, is the bungling and ineptitude of Iuz’ lackies, who find numerous and inventive ways to foil Iuz’ plans. Iuz, meanwhile, comically fumes, rants and raves, ordering just as inventive punishments for his minions that fail him. Everything is reductio ad absurdum.

Audiences in Furyondy, and indeed throughout the Flanaess, have hailed Much Ado About Iuz as a comedic tour de force. Strangely, Iuz has taken no action against the Bard of Willip that would evidence any displeasure with the play. Certainly, he must be aware of it, through his spies and agents if naught else. Perhaps, Iuz sees what he wants to see in it - his own heroic struggle against others’ incompetence. Certainly, he would enjoy the numerous beheadings, hangings and more inventive punishments that his minions in the play earn. Whatever the case may be, Liam Wilspare may be said to have a most unusual relationship with Iuz. Any such relationship must be accounted dangerous, however, even if no harm has yet come to pass because of it.

This article comes from Canonfire!

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