A design competition in early 2000 in the UK which challenged university students to create a "convincing lie" was effectively sabotaged when one of the entrants convinced the universities involved that the competition had been cancelled. The student had created suitably convincing headed notepaper from the poster used to advertise the competition and had mailed phony cancellation notices to each of the participating universities.

I can find no record of the outcome of this story, but if this person was not awarded the first prize, there is no justice.

While I’m aware that this story contains many of the hallmarks of an urban legend, I have been able to trace the Brighton University Professor, George Hardie, who is quoted in the source article. You can see a picture of the Prof. at http://www.bton.ac.uk/audience/former/pdf/10/page16.pdf

The original story appeared in the London Evening Standard, March 29 2000, and is quoted in FT 139.

I’ve spent the last few months in a small, but tight-knit group of friends. I would say I know more about these people than anyone else in the world. But as well as giving me an appreciation of all the positive aspects of their characters it has given me a deeper understanding of a very negative aspect of one of my friend's personalities: He is a compulsive liar and manipulator and lies so frequently I wonder whether he even knows he is doing it himself.

Everyone knows “John” is a liar. He uses his lies to make sure he always gets his way at the expense of his friends. He is such a good manipulator it’s hard to even come up with examples of his lies, but you can be certain that if you hang out with John you will be doing what he wants, usually at the expense of your own enjoyment.

Recently though I’ve started to fight back. Every time I organise something with John I feel like I’m stepping onto a giant chess set, sending pieces out weeks in advance, trying to back him into a corner, while constantly having to rebuff his short-term attacks. The most interesting thing about these battles is that neither party would admit to the other that they occur, although each knows they are part of a conflict. I feel like I am in a social cold war. Conducted by voice, telephone, email and text message I fight as best I can to get achieve my objectives. Even with the disadvantage that I have neither the motivation or intelligence to lie or deceive I am starting to gain a foothold, winning my fair share of conflicts and representing a final beacon of hope against John’s domination of our social lives. It worries me how good this feels.

I wonder though whether this is the best way to combat the problem. There is certainly no compromise in these situations. Either I get my way or he gets his, but either way one of us is unhappy and can’t even admit it for fear of confirming there was a conflict in the first place. It is hard to relax with John, as you have to be constantly alert to his deceptions. John is the archetypal “boy who cried wolf,” none of our friends can be certain anything he says is true, and even the most innocent of comments is treated with suspicion. In some ways now I feel most sorry for John. Having said above that I understand my friends as more than anybody I understand nothing about John. Who knows what character is lurking underneath that web of deceit? Is he even “our kind of person?” He is certainly the only one of the group who actively recruits new friends and sometimes it’s hard to tell if he even wants our friendship or just feels stuck with us.

Everyone has self-doubt at some time; wonders what it would like to be more popular, better looking or to have done more with their lives. Lies are a way to appear to have achieved more or to seem a better person than you really are. But what drives people to use lies to manipulate their friends? Maybe John doesn’t like all the things we do but his self-doubt is so strong he is afraid to suggest a compromise. Instead he tries to control our activities so we only do what he enjoys. Maybe he is so selfish he won't do anything but what he wants. Maybe he is so ruthless and ambitious he must achieve his goals at the expense of his friends. As a friend I would love to say that it must be self-doubt; that John isn’t selfish or heartless. But his true self is buried so deeply in lies I can’t be certain. That is truly terrible.

Liar

CHARACTERS

EURYDICE, dead, portrayed by a Barbie doll
PERSEPHONE, a young woman, Queen of the Underworld. Carries a snake.
HADES, King of the Underworld. Of indeterminate age.
ORPHEUS, a poet. Handsome, even pretty.   

Note: the actor who plays Persephone will also operate Eurydice as a puppet, moving her around and speaking her lines.

SETTING
The Underworld, land of the Dead   

  EURYDICE and PERSEPHONE are onstage.

PERSEPHONE: (to snake) Poor Eurydice. She came here on a snakebite. From what I understand, it wasn't even a very big snake. Still, once the fangs pierce the skin, there's not a whole lot you can do. The venom races to the brain, and one by one, the nerve cells die, overwhelmed by poison. Terrible, isn't it, sweetheart? Look at her. Poor thing. Her lips are purple. The eyes have gone black. And her skin is cold as marble. Welcome to hell, Eurydice.

  A knock on the door.

  Another knock on the door.

  Enter HADES.

PERSEPHONE: Don't answer it.

  Another knock.

HADES: (to door) Just a minute!

PERSEPHONE: Don't let him in.

HADES: It's her boyfriend.

PERSEPHONE: I know who it is, and I know what you're doing. Don't let him in.

HADES: Why not?

PERSEPHONE: She doesn't deserve it.

HADES: And who put you in charge?   

  Another knock.

HADES: I am King. (to door) Come in!

  PERSEPHONE picks up EURYDICE and hides her as ORPHEUS enters.

ORPHEUS: Your majesty. I have come on an urgent—

HADES: I know why you've come, Orpheus. You want your girlfriend back.

ORHPEUS: Wife.

HADES: Sure, wife. I know your type. You're in love. And when she went away, it broke your heart. Believe me. I know your story.

ORPHEUS: It wasn't her time. You stole her away from me.

HADES: Take it up with the Fates. I'm just the collection agency.

ORPHEUS: But you have her now.

HADES: Yes, I do. I have all the dead.

ORPHEUS: She doesn't belong here.

HADES: Well then tell me what on earth was she doing dancing barefoot in a grassy field? Did she think the snakes would get up and dance with her? Why didn't she just ask to be bitten? She's here for a reason. Either she was looking for trouble or she was missing a few parts upstairs. Picked yourself a winner, didn't you, kid?

ORPHEUS: This is my girlfriend you're talking about, Mister, and I don't appreciate those remarks.

HADES: What are you doing? Are you trying to start something?

ORPHEUS: I want you to apologize for those remarks—

HADES: Are you kidding me? You've got to be kidding.

ORPHEUS: —about Eurydice. I loved her. And you stuck up bastard, I should—

HADES: Come on. What? Go ahead.

ORPHEUS: (attacking) Motherfucker!

HADES: (laughing, holding Orpheus off): What are you doing? I'm death. The end. Absolute death. That's me. This is the Underworld. I'm King here. Can you believe this guy? Orpheus, I could snap every bone in your body with a blink of my eye. So don't fuck with me.

PERSEPHONE: Why don't you do it, then? It's obviously what he came here for.

HADES: Sorry, kid. I told you, I know your type. If I had a dime for every brokenhearted swishy poet who said he'd die just to hold his sweetheart once again. I'll tell you something: I'd be more impressed if they promised never to open their mouths again.

ORPHEUS: I'll never open my mouth to sing again. I'll never sing again if you let me have her.

HADES: Shut up. You and I both know that would be a waste. You've got the voice. And that song. The one you sang to get in here... wow. Usually I'm one for silence but your song. Your song mourning Eurydice was so... full of grief, of longing, of pure love and heartache. It was the most romantic thing I've ever heard.

PERSEPHONE: You're a pushover.

HADES: Some people would give their lives to hear music like that.

PERSEPHONE: She did.

HADES: And the music. You're pretty good with that harp.

ORPHEUS: Lyre.

  Pause.

HADES: I like you, Orpheus, I do. And I don't like many people. No, you keep your voice. Keep your music.

ORPHEUS: Then kill me. Let me stay here.

PERSEPHONE: Jesus.

ORPHEUS: My life is nothing without her. I need to have her by my side. She is my muse, my inspiration.

HADES: Take her, then.

ORPHEUS: What?

HADES: Go ahead, take her with you on your way out. Go. I don't want you hanging out down here. Consider it a trade. You gave me a song, I gave you your girl.

PERSEPHONE: She's dead. She belongs here.

HADES: Orpheus, turn around. Eurydice will follow you. Walk straight out of here and don't look back. Should your gaze fall upon your love before you reach the Upper World, you will lose her again. For good. Do you understand?

ORPHEUS: Yes.

  Exit HADES. ORPHEUS begins to walk, followed by EURYDICE.

EURYDICE: How on earth did you manage it, my love?

ORPHEUS: I sang for you. I played my harp.

EURYDICE: Lyre.

  Pause.

ORPHEUS: I missed you so much. Without you my days had no joy. No light. No breath. My heart was crushed into dust, and in that dust, pain. Pain which burned, stirring the embers of your memory into flames of inspiration and song burst forth clear and pure from my suffering. My voice proclaimed you absence with such desire and such clarity of emotion that the ground itself opened up to lead me to your still form.

EURYDICE: Darling...

ORPHEUS: My love, my song stilled the demons of the darkness, it paid the toll and ferried me across the Styx and the Lethe. Even Cerberus, too, stilled her barking at my lamentation. Would that the heavens and earth cease all their toils to hear my grief, and they did.

EURYDICE: (simultaneously, while ORPHEUS continues) My love? Excuse me, sweetie? Can I ask you something? I know... I just need to ask you. Will you, will you listen to me? Can you please just listen to me for one minute? Don't be like this, Orpheus. This is just like before. Can you just...? Why can't you? Look, please...

ORPHEUS: Never in all my days since Apollo gave me my instrument had I sung so well. No, even the joy of our union, blessed by Hymen, could not match the perfection of my grief. From suffering, art. Do you see? True and pure art from the confused and empty hallways of loss. Who would have thought human suffering so capable, so full of potential, as to bring back the dead? I've done it. I've brought you back, Eurydice. My entire career, my entire life has been spent for this triumphant day, my performance, on which everything was riding, and I did it. I brought you back.

EURYDICE: Look at me!

ORPHEUS: My love?

EURYDICE: Goddamn you, Orpheus. Turn around and look at me.

ORPHEUS: I can't do that.

EURYDICE: What do you think of me, really? No, wait. What do you feel? For me? Deep down, Orpheus, do you feel anything at all for me?

ORPHEUS: I... love... you.

EURYDICE: Liar.

  Pause.   

  ORPHEUS turns and looks at her.   

  Enter HADES.   

  Exit ORPHEUS, singing.

  PERSEPHONE passes EURYDICE to HADES.

PERSEPHONE: You knew. You knew all along, didn't you?

HADES: I know what I'm doing.

PERSEPHONE: You're not such a pushover after all.

HADES: I did like his song.

PERSEPHONE: You're an old softie.

HADES: And a sucker for the harp.

PERSEPHONE: Liar.

  Pause.

HADES: Sometimes it just gets too quiet down here.

PERSEPHONE: Why did you have to put her through all this?

HADES: I had my reasons.

PERSEPHONE: Good reasons?

HADES: Reasons enough. Hell, I am king.

Li"ar (?), n. [OE. liere. See Lie to falsify.]

A person who knowingly utters falsehood; one who lies.

 

© Webster 1913.

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