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Interpreting “The Majesty Receives”

Our guest blogger today is Joe Wadlington, a writer and recent graduate of Butler University.

This post is part of an ongoing series that explores new interpretations of works within the IMA collection through creative writing. In the post below, author Joe Wadlington provides his interpretation of  The Majesty Receives by William Holbrook Beard. After reading, visit the IMA’s online collection to learn about the artist’s intentions for the work. 

William,

William Holbrook Beard, “The Majesty Receives,” 1885. James E. Roberts Fund. 76.13

Michael was having the dreams again. His therapist explained that Michael was projecting unresolved issues with his wife onto his mother-in-law’s withheld approval, making her “the gatekeeper of his marital bliss.” His wife said he needed to stop eating Slim Jims before bed.

Either way, once Michael hit the final stage of sleep, his dreams took him to a perverted Sherwood Forest. But not the Sherwood Forest from the play or book Robin Hood—the one from the Disney movie Robin Hood, where everyone was an animal. Michael would be something weak, like a rabbit, mouse, or stoat. While his mother-in-law, the villain of Michael’s dreams and waking life, would be re-imagined as King John in the form of a fox or bobcat (and this one time an especially aggressive panda). Except that if it was Disney’s Robin Hood, then shouldn’t the fox be Robin Hood? Or maybe Michael was supposed to turn into Robin Hood? What was a stout anyway, like a gerbil thing?

With the nebulous way that dreams fold into each other, Michael could never remember a clear storyline. But the scenes were plagued with anxiety that would gather like storm clouds as his fox or bobcat or panda mother-in-law sauntered towards him in her bathrobe. As she approached she would push down other animals like a playground bully and overturn carts of melons she’d then crush under proud feet. His therapist said the melons symbolized the lordship he had given his mother-in-law over his success as a husband and male. His wife said it wouldn’t hurt if he would just come to Pilates with her one time!

The robed fox-in-law would take as much time as possible getting to rabbit Michael, who was paralyzed in the path, often sitting on this plastic Harley he had as a kid, other times knelt in a pleading gesture. Many times the growing anxiety woke Michael before she was even in view. But if he could hold on to his melons long enough for the fox to approach him, she would sneer and cover him in ketchup. All the previously friendly animals would circle around, cackling. Sometimes an owl wearing his wife’s lingerie would appear, laughing with the others. Then Michael would look down at the ketchup, realize he was suddenly naked and wake-up in the coldest of sweats.

After these dreams the option of sleep was gone. He would lay and try to figure them out until merciful morning light called him to work. Was his wife supposed to be Robin Hood? Was he? He’d never shot an arrow outside of Boy Scout camp. It was sadly possible this story didn’t have a hero at all. How did he know it was Sherwood Forest? Whatever happened to that plastic Harley, anyway?

The dreams happened at least once a week and continued for almost a year. Michael became afraid of deep sleep and paralyzed by his mother-in-law. The therapist advised Michael to train his subconscious and confront the dream fox, demanding ownership of his marriage. His wife asked if he actually remembered to get that special Greek yogurt she liked, the vanilla kind.

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