Key’s Cupboard : Chrononhotonthologos

Key's Cupboard

For many years I believed that the most startling opening line in theatre was Pa Ubu’s “Merdre!” in Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Roi. But no! What could better this:

Aldiborontiphoscophornio! Where left you Chrononhotonthologos?

These are the opening words of Henry Carey’s Chrononhotonthologos, spoken by Rigdum-Funnidos. The play is not unlike Ubu Roi, in that the title character is a greedy, bad-tempered and violent king. (It would have been a great role for Robert Coates.) The final scene leaves the stage littered with corpses – this memorable line will give you some idea:

O horrid! horrible, and horridest horror! Our king! our general! our cook! our doctor! All dead! stone dead! irrevocably dead! O——-h!—— [All groan, a tragedy groan.]

The play also includes a splendid bit of musical direction, which would not be out of place for a programme of improv racket on the world’s finest radio station, Resonance104.4FM:

SCENE—A Bed Chamber. Chrononhotonthologos asleep. [Rough music, Viz. Salt Boxes and Rolling Pins, Grid-Irons and Tongs, Sow-Gelders Horns, Marrow-Bones and Cleavers, c. c.] He wakes.

Henry Carey (c.1687-1743) also wrote, among much else, the words to God Save The King (or Queen). Chrononhotonthologos was so popular in its day that the title entered the language, as a synonym for “furious, violent, demanding, self-centered” (sounds just like Pa Ubu) and appeared in earlier editions of Roget’s Thesaurus, although appears not to have made it into the OED.

You can read the play in full here.

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About Author Profile: Frank Key

Frank Key is a London-based writer, blogger and broadcaster best known for his Hooting Yard blog, short-story collections and his long-running radio series Hooting Yard on the Air, which has been broadcast weekly on Resonance FM since April 2004. By Aerostat to Hooting Yard - A Frank Key Reader, an ideal introduction to his fiction, is published for Kindle by Dabbler Editions. Mr Key's Shorter Potted Brief, Brief Lives was published in October 2015 by Constable and is available to buy online and in all good bookshops.

3 thoughts on “Key’s Cupboard : Chrononhotonthologos

    November 26, 2010 at 08:55

    Rough music, Viz. Salt Boxes and Rolling Pins, Grid-Irons and Tongs, Sow-Gelders Horns, Marrow-Bones and Cleavers

    Sounds like a Tom Waits album.

    November 26, 2010 at 10:05

    Who knows, one day maybe, fame will arrive, a second Frank Key goes to Hollywood.

    jonathan law
    November 26, 2010 at 11:55

    Several very pressing questions arise from all this:

    1/ Is it, in fact, possible to geld a sow?

    2/ If the profession of sow-gelder is, as it would appear, nugatory and oxymoronic, is a sow-gelder’s horn therefore some kind of 18th-century joke object on the lines of our own skyhook/ squelch juice /left-handed screwdriver?

    3/ Why am I tormenting myself about these things when I should be working?

    Well, others have obviously been exercised by these matters too. If you go to the ever-informative (“Fighting ignorance since 1973”), you will find this from a certain Dr Drake:

    Apparently there was such a profession (“geld” used to have a wider meaning than it does today, so “sow-spayer”), and they announced themselves with horns. I imagine the reaction was similar to when today’s children hear the tinny, distorted renditions of ice-cream van music. But what might it sound like? A trumpet, a tuba, a trombone?

    After all this, the Doctor’s sign-off is strangely haunting. Which would sound more like a sow-gelder’s horn, he wonders, the call of “the guillemot or the red-throated diver / loon?” And there is a world of pathos in his conclusion: “Neither sounds particularly horn-like to me.”

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