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Theatre / The King in Yellow

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"Songs that the Hyades shall sing,
Where flap the tatters of the King,
Must die unheard in
Dim Carcosa."
—From Cassilda's Song in The King in Yellow, Act i, Scene 2
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In 1999, playwright Thom Ryng wrote a production-length facsimile of the "real" King in Yellow based on Chambers' short stories (and following the rough plot laid out by Kevin Ross in the Call of Cthulhu RPG). Set on the world of Hastur, the play centers on the last generation of a dying, world-spanning Imperial dynasty; Queen Cassilda must find and choose a royal heir before she dies, but one of her kids is an empty-headed socialite, one has joined the Religion of Evil, and the last is a hothead who is too young to be crowned.

Meanwhile, her brother plots to assume the throne for himself, the Sinister Minister High Priest undermines her family's power with the common folk, and as if that wasn't enough, a mysterious phantom city appears, bringing with it a dark messenger and all manner of unsettling omens. And then things go downhill.

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This work provides examples of:

  • Anachronism Stew: The play is supposed to be over a hundred years old, but its vocabulary is inappropriate for Third Republic-era France and the stage directions involve technical references impossible in that period. Justified in that this is supposedly Ryng's "modern English translation" of the text.
  • Aristocrats Are Evil: Although some are just Jerkass, or hopelessly naive.
  • The Atoner: Thale, eventually.
  • The Blank: The Stranger in Pallid Mask aka the Phantom of Truth, whose equivalent haunts the protagonists in "The Mask". He is a living corpse whose face is white smooth like a mask.
  • Blind Seer: Actually, eyeless altogether.
  • Break the Cutie: Camilla.
  • Break the Haughty: Aldones, Naotalba.
  • Call-Back: Across multiple texts. Ryng uses all of the lines and passages quoted in Chambers' short stories, here found in their "original" context.
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  • Cassandra Truth: If you pay attention, you'll see that the Stranger actually tells the characters everything they need to know.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Bremchas, The Fool.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: Cassilda tortures the Stranger for the entirety(!) of Act 2, Scene 1.
  • Corrupt Church: The Brotherhood of the Yellow Sign.
  • Determinator: Cassilda.
  • The Dragon: Alar to Aldones. The Phantom of Truth to the King In Yellow.
  • Eldritch Abomination: The King in Yellow, probably.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: The Stranger says his name is "truth", and indeed, he always tells the truth, although rarely do the other characters correctly interpret what he says.
  • Evil Chancellor: Aldones.
  • The Evil Prince: Also Aldones. As Cassilda's brother, he needs to get all three of her children out of the way in order to be king after her.
  • Evil Uncle: Aldones seems to hit all of the tropes that begin with "evil."
  • External Retcon: Ryng manages to compromise between the original, extremely ambigiously used name Hastur, which may refer to a place just as well as a person, and August Derleth's rather liberal interpretation that Hastur is simply the King in Yellow's true name by making Hastur the name of the planet on which the play is set on, and in the end have the King declare "We are Hastur" to indicate that his presence has overwhelmed the entire world.
  • Fictional Document: Ryng's first edition claimed to be a translation of the "original French play." Of course, there is no original play, in this world at least...
  • The Fool: Bremchas, a drunken (and possibly insane) guardsman who might be the only character who really understands what's going on in the play.
  • Go Mad from the Revelation: Camilla.
  • Guns vs. Swords: Only the royal family are allowed to carry swords, as a symbol of rank. The guards all carry muskets.
  • Humanoid Abomination: The Stranger.
  • Jackass Genie: In the last scene, the King in Yellow answers the surviving characters' prayers, but always in ways that pointedly do not profit them.
  • MacGuffin: The Yellow Sign.
  • Masquerade Ball: Act 1, Scene 2.
  • Mind Screw
  • Oh, Crap!: When Cassilda sees the fabled city of Carcosa appear, she knows her dynasty is at an end.
  • The Ophelia: Camilla.
  • Poor Communication Kills: If anyone had told Cassilda that her son had been imprisoned, a lot of tragedies could have been averted.
  • Popular Is Dumb: Camilla is the centerpiece of Yhtill's social scene, but apparently not all that bright.
  • Prophecies Are Always Right.
  • Religion Is Magic: The priests of the Cult of the King in Yellow are shown to be capable of becoming invisible at will.
  • Religion of Evil: Played with. It's not clear whether the Brotherhood of the Yellow Sign are actually evil or whether they simply have a Jerkass leader.
  • Royal Blood: The members of the royal family seem to have absolute power in the city, regardless of their actual title.
  • Royally Screwed Up
  • Royal "We": The King in Yellow addresses himself in this manner. None of the mortal royalty follow the suit.
  • Significant Anagram: Bicree and Bremchas are anagrams of Bierce and Chambers, respectively.
  • Sinister Minister: High Priest Naotalba.
  • Sins of Our Fathers: Apparently everything that goes awry in Yhtill is because the first king murdered the old prophet twelve generations ago.
  • Standard Royal Court
  • Succession Crisis: If Cassilda doesn't name an heir, this may happen. Aldones tries to set one off intentionally.
  • Those Two Guys: Bicree and Bremchas.
  • The Undead: At the end of the play, the King in Yellow overruns the imperial city with an army of the dead.
  • Upper-Class Twit: Uoth, Cassilda's hot-headed youngest son.
  • Vestigial Empire: Ythill apparently once covered the better part of the planet, but a dozen rulers later it's rare for anyone to even leave the capital city.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Aldones loses it at the end.
  • "Well Done, Son!" Guy: Aldones wants to return the empire to its glory days for the sake of his father's memory.
  • When the Planets Align: Cited almost verbatim.
  • You Can't Fight Fate: Cassilda spends the entire play trying to avert the ancient prophecies, but of course everything she does just makes it worse.

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