The Music Cure

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The Music Cure
Piece of utter nonsense
 (1913) 
by George Bernard Shaw
This is not a serious play: it is what is called a Variety Turn for two musicians. It is written for two pianists, but can be adapted to any instruments on which the performers happen to be proficient. At its first performance by Miss Madge McIntosh and Mr William Armstrong the difficulty arose that, though Mr Armstrong was an accomplished pianist, Miss Mclntosh's virtuosity was confined to the English concertina. That did just as well. As a last desperate resort a pianola behind the scenes can be employed; but the result will lack spontaneity. There is, however, no pressing reason why the thing should be performed at all.—GBS


Lord Reginald Fitzambry, a fashionably dressed, rather-pretty young man of 22, is prostrate on a sofa in a large hotel drawing room, crying convulsively. His doctor is trying to soothe him. The doctor is about a dozen years his senior; and his ways are the ways of a still youthful man who considers himself in smart society as well as professionally attendant on it. The drawing room has tall central doors, at present locked. If anyone could enter under these circumstances, he would find on his left a grand piano with the keyboard end towards him, and a smaller door beyond the piano. On his right would be the window, and, further on, the sofa on which the unhappy youth is wallowing, with, close by it, the doctor's chair and a little table accommodating the doctor's hat, a plate, a medicine bottle, a half emptied glass, and a bell call.


THE DOCTOR. Come come! be a man. Now really this is silly. You mustnt give way like this. I tell you nothing's happened to you. Hang it all! it's not the end of the world if you did buy a few shares—

REGINALD.[interrupting him frantically] I never meant any harm in buying those shares. I am ready to give them up. Oh, I never meant any harm in buying those shares. I never meant any harm in buying those shares. [Clutching the doctor imploringly] Wont you believe me, Doctor? I never meant any harm in buying those shares. I never—

THE DOCTOR [extricating himself and replacing Reginald on the couch., not very gently] Of course you didnt. I know you didnt.

REGINALD. I never—

THE DOCTOR [desperate] Dont go on saying that over and over again or you will drive us all as distracted as you are yourself. This is nothing but nerves. Remember that youre in a hotel. Theyll put you out if you make a row.

REGINALD.[tearfully] But you dont understand. Oh, why wont anybody understand? I never—

THE DOCTOR [shouting him down] You never meant any harm in buying those shares. This is the four hundredth time youve said it.

REGINALD.[wildly] Then why do you keep asking me the same questions over and over again? It's not fair. Ive told you I never meant any harm in—

THE DOCTOR. Yes, yes, yes: I know, I know. You think you made a fool of yourself before that committee. Well, you didnt. You stood up to it for six days with the coolness of an iceberg and the cheerfulness of an idiot. Every member of it had a go at you; and everyone of them, including some of the cleverest cross-examiners in London, fell back baffled before your fatuous self-satisfaction, your impenetrable in- ability to see any reason why you shouldnt have bought those shares.

REGINALD. But why shouldnt I have bought them? I made no secret of it. When the Prime Minister ragged me about it I offered to sell him the shares for what I gave for them.

THE DOCTOR. Yes, after they had fallen six points. But never mind that. The point for you is that you are an under- secretary in the War Office. You knew that the army was going to be put on vegetarian diet, and that the British Maccaroni Trust shares would go up with a rush when this became public. And what did you do?

REGINALD. I did what any fellow would have done. I bought all the shares I could afford.

THE DOCTOR. You bought a great many more than you could afford.

REGINALD. But why shouldnt I? Explain it to me. I'm anxious to learn. I meant no harm. I see no harm. Why am I to be badgered because the beastly Opposition papers and all the Opposition rotters on that committee try to make party capital out of it by saying that it was disgraceful? It wasnt disgraceful: it was simple common sense. I'm not a financier; but you cant persuade me that if you happen to know that certain shares are going to rise you shouldnt buy them. It would be flying in the face of Providence not to. And they wouldnt see that. They pretended not to see it. They worried me, and kept asking me the same thing over and over again, and wrote blackguardly articles about me—

THE DOCTOR. And you got the better of them all because you couldnt see their point of view. But what beats me is why you broke down afterwards.

REGINALD. Everyone was against me. I thought the committee a pack of fools; and I as good as told them so. But everyone took their part. The governor said I had disgraced the family name. My brothers said I ought to resign from my clubs. My mother said that all her hopes of marrying me to a rich woman were shattered. And I'd done nothing: absolutely nothing to what other chaps are doing every day.

THE DOCTOR. Well, the long and short of it is that officials mustnt gamble.

REGINALD. But I wasnt gambling. I knew. It isnt gambling if you know that the shares will go up. It's a cert.

THE DOCTOR. Well, all I can tell you is that if you weren’t a son of the Duke of Dunmow, youd have to resign; and—

REGINALD.[breaking down} Oh, stop talking to me about if. Let me alone. I cant bear it. I never meant any harm in buying those shares. I never meant any harm—

THE DOCTOR. Sh-sh-sh-sh-sh! There: I shouldnt have srarted the subject again. Take some of this valerian [he puts the glass to Reginald's lips}. Thats right. Now youre better.

REGINALD.[exhausted but calm} Why does valerian soothe me when it excites cats ? Theres a question to reflect on! You know, they ought to have made me a philosopher.

THE DOCTOR. Philosophers are born, not made.

REGINALD. Fine old chestnut, that. Everybody's born, not made.

THE DOCTOR. Youre getting almost clever. I dont like it: voure not yourself today. I wish I could take your mind off your troubles. Suppose you try a little music.

REGINALD. I cant play. My fingers wont obey me. And I cant stand the sound of the piano. I sounded a note this morning: and it made me scream.

THE DOCTOR. But why not get somebody to play to you?

REGINALD. Whom could I get, even if I could bear it? You cant play.

THE DOCTOR. Well: I'm not the only person in the world.

REGINALD. If you bring anyone else in here, I shall go mad. I'll throw myself out of the window. I cant bear the idea of music. I dread it, hate it, loathe it.

THE DOCTOR. Thats very serious, you know.

REGINALD. Why is it serious?

THE DOCTOR. Well, what would become of you without your turn for music ? You have absolutely no capacity in any other direction.

REGINALD. I'm in Parliament. And I'm an under-secretary.

THE DOCTOR. Thats because your father is a Duke. If you were in a Republic you wouldnt be trusted to clean boots, unless your father was a millionaire. No, Reginald the day you give up vamping accompaniments and playing the latest ragtimes by ear, youre a lost man socially.

REGINALD. [deprecating] Oh, I say!

THE DOCTOR. [rising] However, perhaps it's too soon for you to try the music-cure yet. It was your mother's idea; but I'll call and tell her to wait a day or two. I think she meant to send somebody to play. I must be off now. Look in again later. Meanwhile, sleep as much as you can. Or you might read a little.

REGINALD. What can I read?

THE DOCTOR. Try the Strand Magazine.

REGINALD. But it's so frightfully intellectual. It would overtax my brain.

THE DOCTOR. Oh, well, I suppose it would. Well, sleep. Perhaps I'd better give you something to send you off [he produces a medicine case].

REGINALD. Whats this ? Veronal ?

THE DOCTOR. Dont be alarmed. Only the old-fashioned remedy: opium. Take this [Reginald takes a pill]: that will do the trick, I expect. If you find after half an hour that it has only excited you, take another. I'll leave one for you [he puts one on the plate, and pockets his medicine case].

REGINALD. Better leave me a lot. I like pills.

THE DOCTOR. Thank you: I'm not treating you with a view to a coroner's inquest. You know, dont you, that opium is a poison ?

REGINALD. Yes, opium. But not pills.

THE DOCTOR. Well, Heaven forbid that I, a doctor, should shake anybody's faith in pills. But I shant leave you enough to kill you. [He puts on his hat].

REGINALD. Youll tell them, wont you, not to let anyone in. Really and truly I shall throw myself out of the window if any stranger comes in. I should go out of my mind.

THE DOCTOR. None of us have very far to go to do that, my young friend. Ta ta, for the moment [he makes for the central doors].

REGINALD. You cant go out that way. I made my mother lock it and take away the key. I felt sure theyd let somebody in that way if she didnt. Youll have to go the way you came.

THE DOCTOR. [returning] Right. Now let me see you settle down before I go. I want you to be asleep before I leave the room.

REGINALD. settles himself to sleep -with his face to the back of the sofa. The Doctor goes softly to the side door and goes out.

REGINALD. [sitting up wildly and staring affrightedly at the piano] Doctor! Doctor Help!!!

THE DOCTOR. [returning hastily] What is it?

REGINALD. [after another doubtful look at the piano] Nothing. [He composes himself to sleep again].

THE DOCTOR. Nothing! There must have been something or you wouldnt have yelled like that. [Pulling Reginald over so as to see his face] Here! what was it ?

REGINALD. Well, it's gone.

THE DOCTOR. Whats gone?

REGINALD. The crocodile.

THE DOCTOR. The crocodile!

REGINALD. Yes. It laughed at me, and was going to play the piano with its tail.

THE DOCTOR. Opium in small doses doesnt agree with you, my young friend. [Taking the spare pill from the plate] I shall have to give you a second pill.

REGINALD. But suppose two crocodiles come!

THE DOCTOR. They wont. If anything comes it will be something pretty this time. Thats how opium acts. Anyhow, youll be fast asleep in ten minutes. Here. Take it.

Reginald.[after taking the pill] It was awfully silly of me. But you know I really saw the thing.

THE DOCTOR. You neednt trouble about what you see with your eyes shut. [He turns to the door].

REGINALD. Would you mind looking under the sofa to make sure the crocodile isnt there?

THE DOCTOR. Why not look yourself? that would be more convincing.

REGINALD. I darent.

THE DOCTOR. You duffer! [He looks]. All serene. No crocodile. Now go bye bye. [He goes out].

Reginald again composes himself to sleep. Somebody unlocks the central doors. A lovely lady enters with a bouquet in her hand, She looks about her; takes a letter from wherever she carries letters; and starts on a voyage of discovery round the room, checking her observations by the contents of the letter. The piano seems specially satisfactory: she nods as she sees it. Reginald seems also to be quite expected. She does not speak to him. When she is quite satisfied that she is in the right room, she goes to the piano and tantalizes the expectant audience for about two minutes by putting down her flowers on the candle-stand; taking off her gloves and putting them with the flowers; taking off half a dozen diamond rings in the same way; sitting down to the keyboard and finding it too near to the piano, then too far, then too high, then too low: in short, exhausting all the tricks of the professional pianist before she at last strikes the keys and preludes brilliantly. At the sound, Reginald, with a scream, rolls from the sofa and writhes on the carpet in horrible contortions. She stops playing, amazed.

REGINALD. Oh! Oh! Oh! The crocodiles! Stop! Ow! Oh! [He looks at the piano and sees the lady] Oh I say!

THE LADY. What on earth do you mean by making that noise when I'm playing? Have you no sense? Have you no manners ?

REGINALD [sitting on the floor] I'm awfully sorry.

THE LADY. Sorry! Why did you do it?

REGINALD. I thought you were a crocodile.

THE LADY. What a silly thing to say! Do I look like a crocodile?

REGINALD. No.

THE LADY. Do I play like a crocodile!

Reginald.[cautiously rising and approaching her] Well, you know, it's so hard to know how a crocodile would play.

THE LADY. Stuff! [She resumes her playing].

REGINALD. Please! [He stops her by shutting the keyboard lid]. Who let you in ?

THE LADY.[rising threateningly] What is that to you, pray?

Reginald.[retreating timidly] It's my room, you know.

THE LADY. It's nothing of the sort. It's the Duchess of Dunmow's room. I know it's the right one, because she gave me the key; and it was the right key.

REGINALD. But what did she do that for ? Who are you, if you dont mind my asking?

THE LADY. I do mind your asking. It's no business of yours. However, youd better know to whom you are speaking. I am Strega Thundridge. [She pronounces it Strayga].

REGINALD. What! The female Paderewski!

STREGA. Pardon me. I believe Mr Paderewski has been called the male Thundridge; but no gentleman would dream of repeating such offensive vulgarities. Will you be Good enough to return to your sofa, and hold your tongue, or else leave the room.

REGINALD. But, you know, I am ill.

STREGA. Then go to bed, and send for a doctor. [She sits down again to the keyboard].

REGINALD.[falling on his knees] You mustnt play. You really mustnt. I cant stand it. I shall simply not be myself if you start playing.

STREGA.[raising the lid\ Then I shall start at once.

REGINALD.[running to her on his knees and snatching at her hands] No, you shant. [She rises indignantly. He holds on to her hands, but exclaims ecstatically] Oh, I say, what lovely hands youve got!

STREGA. The idea! [She hurls him to the carpet].

Reginald.[on the floor staring at her] You are strong.

STREGA. My strength has been developed by playing left hand octave passages—like this. [She begins playing Liszt's transcription of Schubert's Erl König].

Reginald.[puts his fingers in his ears, but continues to stare at her].

STREGA.[stopping] I really cannot play if you keep your ears stopped. It is an insult. Leave the room.

REGINALD. But I tell you it's my room.

STREGA.[rising] Leave the room, or I will ring your bell and have you put out. [She goes to the little table, and poises her fingers over the bell call].

Reginald.[rushing to her] No no: somebody will come if you ring; and I shall go distracted if a stranger comes in. [With a touch of her left hand she sends him reeling. He appeals to her plaintively] Dont you see that I am ill?

STREGA. I see that you are mentally afflicted. But that doesnt matter to me. The Duchess of Dunmow has engaged me to come to this room and play for two hours. I never break an engagement, especially a two hundred and fifty guinea one. [She turns towards the piano].

REGINALD. But didnt she tell you anything about me?

STREGA.[turning back to him] She said there would be a foolish young man in the room, but that I was not to mind him. She assured me you were not dangerous except to your- self [Collaring him and holding him bent backwards over the piano]. But I will have no nonsense about not listening. All the world listens when I play. Listen, or go.

REGINALD.[helpless] But I shall have to sit on the stairs. I darent go into any of the rooms: I should meet people there.

STREGA. You will meet plenty of people on the stairs, young man. They are sitting six on each stair, not counting those who are sitting astride the banisters on the chance of hearing me play.

REGINALD. How dreadful! [Tearfully] Youve no right to bully me like this. I'm ill: I cant bear it. I'll throw myself out of the window.

STREGA.[releasing him] Do. What an advertisement! It will be really kind of you. [She goes back to the keyboard and sits down to play].

Reginald.[crossing to the window] Youll be sorry you were so unfeeling when you see my mangled body. [He opens the window; looks out; shuts it hastily, and retreats with a scream] Theres a crowd. I darent.

STREGA.[pleased] Waiting to hear me play [she preludes softly].

Reginald.[ravished] Oh! I can stand that, you know.

STREGA.[ironically, still preluding] Thank you.

REGINALD. The fact is, I can play a bit myself.

STREGA.[still preluding] An amateur, I presume.

REGINALD. I have often been told I could make a living at it if I tried. But of course it wouldnt do for a man in my position to lower himself by becoming a professional.

STREGA.[abruptly ceasing to play] Tactful, that, I dont think! And what do you play, may I ask?

REGINALD. Oh, all the very best music.

STREGA. For instance?

REGINALD. I wish you belonged to me.

STREGA.[rising outraged] You young blackguard! How dare you?

REGINALD. You dont understand: it's the name of a tune. Let me play it for you. [He sits down at the keyboard] I dont think you believe I can play.

STREGA. Pardon me. I have heard a horse play the harmonium at a music hall. I can believe anything.

REGINALD. Aha! [He plays] Do you like that?

STREGA. What is it? Is it intended for music?

REGINALD. Oh, you beautiful doll.

STREGA. Take that [she knocks him sprawling over the keyboard] ! Beautiful doll indeed!

REGINALD. Oh, I say! Look here: thats the name of the tune too. You seem quite ignorant of the best music. Dont you know Rum Turn Tiddle, and Alexander's Rag Time Band, and Take me back to the Garden of Love, and Everybody likes our Mary?

STREGA. Young man: I have never even heard of these abominations. I am now going to educate you musically. I am going to play Chopin, and Brahms, and Bach, and Schumann, and—

Reginald.[horrified] You dont mean classical music?

STREGA. I do [he bolts through the central doors].

STREGA.[disgusted] Pig! [She sits down at the piano again].

Reginald.[rushing back into the room] I forgot the people on the stairs: crowds of them. Oh, what shall I do! Oh dont, Dont, DONT play classical music to me. Say you wont. Please.

STREGA.[looks at him enigmatically and softly plays a Liebeslieder Waltz]!!

REGINALD. Oh, I say: thats rather pretty.

STREGA. Like it?

REGINALD. Awfully. Oh, I say, you know: I really do wish you belonged to me. [Strega suddenly plays a violent Chopin study. He goes into convulsions]. Oh! Stop! Mercy! Help! Oh please, please!

STREGA.[pausing with her hands raised over the keyboard, ready to pounce on the chords] Will you ever say that again ?

REGINALD. Never. I beg your pardon.

STREGA.[satisfied] Hm! [She drops her hands in her lap].

Reginald.[wiping his brow] Oh, that was fearfully classical.

STREGA. You want your back stiffened a little, my young friend. Besides, I really cannot earn two hundred and fifty guineas by playing soothing syrup to you. Now prepare for the worst. I'm going to make a man of you.

Reginald. How?

STREGA. With Chopin's Polonaise in A Flat. Now. Imagine yourself going into battle. [He runs away as before].Goose!

REGINALD. [returning as before] The crowd is worse than ever. Have you no pity?

STREGA. Come here. Dont imagine yourself going into battle. Imagine that you have just been in a battle; and that you have saved your country by deeds of splendid bravery; and that you are going to dance with beautiful women who are proud of you. Can you imagine that?

REGINALD. Rathe-e-e-errr. Thats how I always do imagine myself.

STREGA. Right. Now listen. [She plays the first section of thePolonaise. Reginald flinches at first, but gradually braces himself; stiffens; struts; throws up his head and slaps his chest]. Thats better. What a hero! [After a difficult passage]. Takes a bit of doing, that, dearest child. [Coming to the chords which announce the middle section] Now for it.

REGINALD [unable to contain himself] Oh, this is too glorious. I must have a turn or I shall forget myself.

STREGA. Can you play this? Nothing but this. [She plays the octave passage in the bass].

REGINALD. Just riddle tiddle, riddle tiddle, riddle tiddle, riddle tiddle? Nothing but that?

STREGA. Very softly at first. Like the ticking of a watch. Then louder and louder, as you feel my soul swelling.

REGINALD. I understand. Just give me those chords again to buck me up to it. [She plays the chords again. He plays the octave passages; and they play the middle section as a duet. At the repeat he cries:] Again! again!

STREGA. It's meant to be played again. Now.They repeat it. At the end of the section she pushes him off the bench on to the floor, and goes on with the Polonaise alone.

REGINALD. Wonderful woman: I have a confession to make, a confidence to impart. Your playing draws it from me. Listen, Strega [she plays a horrible discord] I mean Miss Thundridge.

STREGA. Thats better; but I prefer Wonderful Woman.

REGINALD. You are a wonderful woman, you know. Adored one—would you mind my taking a little valerian? I'm so excited [he takes some]. A—a—ah! Now I feel that I can speak. Listen to me, goddess. I am not happy. I hate my present existence. I loathe parliament. I am not fit for public affairs. I am condemned to live at home with five coarse and brutal sisters who care for nothing but Alpine climbing, and looping the loop on aeroplanes, and going on deputations, and fighting the police. Do you know what they call me?

STREGA.[playing softly] What do they call you, dear?

REGINALD. They call me a Clinger. Well, I confess it. I am a Clinger. I am not fit to be thrown unprotected upon the world. I want to be shielded. I want a strong arm to lean on, a dauntless heart to be gathered to and cherished, a breadwinner on whose income I can live without the sordid horrors of having to make money for myself. I am a poor little thing, I know, Strega; but I could make a home for you. I have great taste in carpets and pictures. I can cook like anything. I can play quite nicely after dinner. Though you mightnt think it, I can be quite stern and strongminded with servants. I get on splendidly with children; they never talk over my head as grown-up people do. I have a real genius for home life. And I shouldnt at all mind being tyrannized over a little: in fact, I like it. It saves me the trouble of having to think what to do. Oh, Strega, dont you want a dear little domesticated husband who would have no concern but to please you, no thought outside our home, who would be unspotted and unsoiled by the rude cold world, who would never meddle in politics or annoy you by interfering with your profession? Is there any hope for me?

STREGA.[coming away from the piano] My child: I am a hard, strong, independent, muscular woman. How can you, with your delicate soft nature, see anything to love in me? I should hurt you, shock you, perhaps—yes: let me confess.it— I have a violent temper, and might even, in a transport of rage, beat you.

REGINALD. Oh do, do. Dont laugh at this ridiculous confession; but ever since I was a child I have had only one secret longing, and that was to be mercilessly beaten by a splendid, strong, beautiful woman.

STREGA.[solemnly] Reginald—I think your mother spoke of you as Reginald?—

REGINALD. Rejjy.

STREGA. I too have a confession to make. I too need some music to speak through. Will you be so good ?

REGINALD. Angel. [He rushes to the piano and plays sympathetically whilst she speaks].

STREGA. I, too, have had my dream. It has consoled me through the weary hours when I practised scales for eight hours a day. It has pursued me through the applause of admiring thousands in Europe and America. It is a dream of a timid little heart fluttering against mine, of a gentle voice to welcome me home, of a silky moustache to kiss my weary fingers when I return from a Titanic struggle with Tchaikovsky's Concerto in G major, of somebody utterly dependent on me, utterly devoted to me, utterly my own, living only to be cherished and worshipped by me.

REGINALD. But you would be angry sometimes: terrible, splendid, ruthless, violent. You would throw down the thing you loved and trample on it as it clung to your feet.

STREGA. Yes—oh, why do you force me to confess it?— I should beat it to a jelly, and then cast myself in transports of remorse on its quivering frame and smother it with passionate kisses.

Reginald.[transported] Let it be me, let it be me.

STREGA. You dare face this terrible destiny?

REGINALD. I embrace it. I adore you. I am wholly yours. Oh, let me cling, cling, cling.

STREGA.[embracing him fiercely] Nothing shall tear you from my arms now.

REGINALD. Nothing. I am provided for. Oh how happy this will make my mother!

STREGA. Sweet: name the day.

He plays a wedding march. She plays the bass.
THE END

AYOT ST LAWRENCE, 21st January 1914.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1923. It may be copyrighted outside the U.S. (see Help:Public domain).