The Mermaid Club

by Craig Kurtz

“What things have we seen
Done at the Mermaid! heard words that have been
So nimble, and so full of subtle flame,
As if that every one (from whence they came)
Had meant to put his whole wit in a jest,
And had resolved to live a fool the rest
of his dull life.”
— Master Francis Beaumont’s Letter to Ben Jonson.

The Mermaid Club

The fittest dueling school
does not raise a single sword;
jousting spills no drops of blood —
’tis measured in cups of wine poured.
No pistols combatants ever use
to hoist fortunes or settle fates;
but stakes are high, even in jests,
for here, wit dies or superates.
Seconds are invaluable —
preparing scenes and setting acts;
but timing is most paramount —
one false cue, fame’s on the racks.
The deadliest of the weapons
are the epigrams and parodies;
delivering a coup de grâce
in rhyme obliges expertise.
Roaring is a gallant sport
but mad pranks oft are vild;
better to slay with satire —
there’s little art in getting killed.
But, best of all, there is a point
in all this lusty badinage;
these contests of esprit are but
rehearsals for plays’ persiflage.

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