A Letter to Ellen Terry
No I'm going to put before you a "Hero-ic" puzzle of mine, but please remember I do not ask for your solution of it, as you will persist in believing, if I ask your help in a Shaskepeare difficulty, that I am only jesting! However, if you won't attack it yourself, perhaps you would ask Mr. Irving someday how he explains it?
My difficulty is this: Why in the world did not Hero (or at any rate Beatrice on her behalf) prove an "alibi" in answer to the charge? It seems certain that she did not sleep in her room that night; for how could Margaret venture to open the window and talk from it, with her mistress asleep in the room? It would be sure to wake her. Besides Borachio says, after promising that Margaret shall speak with him out of the Hero's chamber windiow, "I will so fashion the matter that Hero shall be absent." (How he could possibly manage any such thing is another difficulty, but I pass over that.) Well then, granting that Hero slept in some other room that night, why didn't she say so? When Claudio asks her: "What man was he talked with you yesternight out at your window betwixt twelve and one?" why doesn't she reply: "I talked with no man at that hour, my lord. Nor was I in my chamber yesternight, but in another, far from it, remote." And this she could, opf course, proive bt he evidence of hte maids, who must have known that she had occupied another room that night.
But even if Hero might be supposed to be so distracted as not to remember where she had slept the night before, or even whether she had slept anywhere, surely Beatrice has her wits about her! And when an arrangement was made, by which she was to lose, for one night, her twelve-months' bedfellow, is it conceivable that she didn't know where Hero passed the night? Why didn't she reply:
But good my lord sweet Hero slept not there:
She had anotehr chamber for the nonce.
'Twas sure some counterfeit that did present
Her person at the window, aped her voice,
Her mien, her manners, and hath thus decieved
My good lord Pedro and this company?
With all these excellent materials for proving her "alibi" it is incomprehensible that no one should think of it. If only there had been a barrister present, to cross-exam Beatrice!
"Now, ma'am, attend to me, please, and speak up so that the jury can hear you. Where did you sleep last night? Where did Hero sleep? Will you swear that she slept in her own room? Will you swear that you do not know where she slept?" I feel inclined to quote old Mr. Weller and to say to Beatrice at the end of the play (only I'm afraid it isn't etiquette to speak across the footlights):
"Oh, Samivel, Samivel, vy vornt there a halibi?"
From The Story of my Life by Ellen Terry. 2nd ed. (London: Hutchinson and Comapny, n.d.).