Once upon a time…

Someone posted this on the medieval studies lj group, and it was too good not to repost here.

The success of the Beowulf movie, starring a digitally toned Ray Winstone, has reportedly caused a massive upsurge of Hollywood interest in medieval poets. None of them, apparently, is affected by the writers’ strike. The minutes of a recent meeting have been forwarded here anonymously, revealing the discussions of a major studio chief with his junior executives.

“OK. Medieval,” he barks. “I’m thinking allegory. I’m thinking knights in armour. I’m thinking defeatable heraldic animal-predators. I’m thinking winsome ladies in conical hats. Whaddaya got for me?”

“Uh … ” says a junior executive. “There’s something called The Dream of the Rude … ”

“Don’t hand me that,” snaps the president. “We know what rude people dream about. Who needs it? We don’t need that sort of porno filth at this studio. What else?”

“Sir Orfeo,” says the senior creative VP.

“What? WHAT?”

“Sir Orfeo. It’s … ”

“Yeah, thank you, whatever, no blue collar audience is going to go and see a movie about some snobby guy with ‘Sir’ in front of his name. Maybe Orfy the firefighter from New Jersey. I dunno. Get back to me on that.”

Silence falls on the conference room. The president stands and produces a ring-bound A4 document.

“Well, since you have all failed to deliver on the medieval-ideas front, as it happens, I have a white-hot property in the Early English genre. I give you: Piers Plowman! By William Langland!”

“Huh?” asks the second creative VP.

“Oh Jeez, you are such a bunch of ignoramuses. It’s a lovely little poem that we are going to turn into a kickass movie. Piers Plowman is a regular guy, the kinda guy we can all identify with, who is stuck in a reeking shithole – excuse my Norman dialect – of a place called Donjon, in a valley, which is sort of like hell, and he has to reach this shining tower, which is sort of like heaven. And to do it he needs his three buddies: Do-well, Do-better and Do-best. It’s about friendship, it’s about overcoming obstacles, it’s about America.”

Silence reigns. “This Piers Plowman,” says another. “What’s his job?”

“He’s a plowman.”

“Piers Plowman is also a plowman? Isn’t that a little too much of a coincidence? Can’t we make him a firefighter? And ‘Piers’? Isn’t that name a little … ”

“Just say it. Go ahead.”

“… a little French?”

“Oh please. Piers is a ballsy name. Now listen. I’ve got the ideal Piers Plowman. Listen. Ya ready? Josh Hartnett. Josh has got the chops to pull a medieval plow. Or push it. Whatever. He can do the whole stoic straining-after-God-reaping-what-you-sow thing. He’s got it down cold. Now listen to these classic opening lines: ‘In a somer seson, whan the softe was the sonne, I shoop me into shroudes as I a sheep were … ”

“Er, can Josh do that?” interrupts a junior executive. “I mean, can he, you know, shoop?”

“Can Josh Hartnett shoop? Lemme tellya something. Josh is the King of Shoop.”

“How about Jude Law?”

“Oh, blow me. Eat me. Jude Law can’t shoop. He’s one of the most notorious non-shoopers in this industry. Josh is shoopissimo, trust me.”

“And who do we think for Do-well, Do-better and Do-best?”

“Well. It’s early days, but I’m thinking Ben Whishaw, Anthony Hopkins and James Earl Jones.”

“And who plays God?”

“Cate Blanchett of course! Now come on guys, let’s get behind Piers Plowman! I’m telling ya! It’s got all the exuberance of Chaucer with none of the crudity.”

There is general nodding. At this stage, the president picks up the phone. “OK, I’m going to see if I can raise William Langland directly.” He pecks hesitantly at the keypad. Long unanswered ringing on the speakerphone in the middle of the vast conference table. Eventually, the president replaces the receiver.

“Well,” he says grimly, “if Mr Langland is going to be so unprofessional as not to take my call then I don’t think we want to be in bed with him. Elaine! Get that John Gower on the horn. Tell him Confessio Amantis might be back in play after all.”

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