“Once a warrior gentle of birth,
Then a person of civic worth,
Now a fellow to move our mirth.
Warrior, person, and fellow, no more!
We must knight our dogs to get any lower.
Brave Knights Kennelers then shall be,
Noble Knights of the Golden Flea,
Knights of the Order of St. Steboy,
Knights of St. George and Sir Knights Jawy.
God speed the day when this knighting fad
Shall go to the dogs and the dogs go mad.”
(Ambrose Bierce, 1914.)
Critics of paronomasia may suggest that puns and their devoted pundits offer nothing more than an adult’s counterpart to the long-suffering and much maligned “knock knock” joke. Of course, puns tend to evoke dramatic moans and rolled eyes, while the “knockers” are followed by a dismissive “that’s cute!” or a “it’s bedtime, sweetie.” It is with that same spirit that I smiled when I first stumbled upon these watercolor sketches by Richard Wynn Keene in 1860.
Dykwynkyn (1809-1887), as Keene was sometimes professionally known, was sculptor, mask and property maker and costume designer for many successful and noteworthy pantomimes, in this case for a Christmas production at Her Majesty’s Theater. The knight costumes provided some of the visual humor for “Harlequin and Tom Thumb! or Merlin The Magician and the Good Fairies of the Court of King Arthur,” the theater’s first such production. Years later, playwright T.W Robertson described Keene as “the presiding genius of all theatrical Christmas revels,” referring to what became his trademark lavish designs.
In the margins of his sketches, Keene labelled the prototypes as short, foggy, long, and dark “knights,” incorporating a modicum of wordplay humor. Today, naturally, we’d have so many to offer, especially those that reflect over a century and a half of subsequent pop culture. Henry, while peeking over my shoulder, suggested “Knight of the Iguana” “Wasted Days and Wasted Knights” “Boogie Knights” and “Let’s Spend the Knight Together.” I, on the other hand, could barely ponder past the Beatles’ reference. Perhaps, it is indeed time to “call it a knight!”
Forgive me, Mr Bierce.