Brothers and Sisters of The Shakespeare Code…..

…below is a link to a piece broadcast on 22nd September by Solent Television…..

…. in which The Shakespeare Code’s Chief Agent….

….Stewart Trotter….

……talks about his play ‘The Seven Ages of Shakespeare’.

Paw-Print smallest‘Bye, now…

The Programme Note for ‘The Seven Ages of Shakespeare’ – which runs at St. Margaret’s Theatre, Titchfield, from 20th September to 25th – performances at 7.30 p.m. except for Saturday 24th September and Sunday 25th September when matinees only will be played at 2.30 p.m.

How ‘The Seven Ages of Shakespeare’ came to be written.

It is often said that we know nothing about William Shakespeare…….

The Chandos Portrait of William Shakespeare

……but the fact is we know more about him than any person who has ever lived.

He wrote 154 Sonnets which trace every emotion and every thought he had from the age of sixteen to the age of 45 – seven years before his death.

But – and it’s a big ‘but’ – he did not publish his Sonnets in chronological order. He published according to subject matter. Basically the Sonnets are in two piles: ‘his’ and ‘hers’.

‘His’ are basically about ‘the lovely boy’ – who the vast majority of scholars take to be Henry Wriothesley, the Third Earl of Southampton (Harry Southampton) Shakespeare’s patron and subsequent lover…..

Henry Wriothesley, Third Earl of Southampton.


…..and ‘hers’……

……about the famous ‘Dark Lady of the Sonnets’ who A. L. Rowse named in 1976 as Amelia Bassano/Lanyer, a mixed race Jewish musician, courtesan, poet and teacher who converted to Christianity following a dream.

Apart that is, from one Sonnet written to Anne Hathaway, which plays upon her name……

anne hathaway

Even the two piles in themselves are not in chronological order – but we can trace certain dates. The first seventeen poems were written to celebrate Harry Southampton’s seventeenth birthday in 1590 – and were most likely commissioned Mary Browne, Second Countess of Southampton…….

Mary Browne

……in an attempt to get her gay teenage son interested in girls.

Sonnet 107 records the death of Queen Elizabeth, the accession of King James VI and I and Harry’s  release from the Tower of London in 1603.

Sonnet 126 – the final sonnet in the first ‘pile’ – is Shakespeare’s poisonous farewell to Harry and makes coded reference to the birth of Harry’s son in 1605.

As background research to ‘The Seven Ages of Shakespeare’ I put the Sonnets into what I believe is their order of composition – and for this I drew on history. We may not know exactly what Shakespeare was doing – but we know what Harry was doing, week by week!

As well as the Sonnets, we have the things that were written ABOUT Shakespeare in his lifetime – very little of it flattering – by the writers Robert Greene, Thomas Nashe and Ben Jonson. The theme they return to again and again is Shakespeare’s ‘plagiarism’ of other contemporary authors – meaning themselves.

The play addresses this issue head on: it is cast in the form of a confessional.  Shakespeare is allowed out of Purgatory for a single day to ‘fess up’.

It is my belief that all this information points to a clear, coherent story which the play itself will tell. It is up to you, the audience, to decide if I’ve got it right!

And indeed whether Shakespeare goes to Heaven…

Stewart Trotter

P.S. The aristocratic branch of the Wriothesley family pronounced their surname Ryosely. We know this from the Titchfield Parish Register. The un-aristocratic branch settled for Risley – and sometimes spelt it that way.



Seven Ages poster


The Authorities have released William Shakespeare from Purgatory for a single day to fess up about his scandalous life. You the audience will decide whether he goes to Heaven, returns to Purgatory or WORSE!


By Stewart Trotter

© 16th September, 2016.


A nearly bare stage, hung with blacks. Stark lighting pre-set. A lectern downstage right – with a modern small table and a chair beside it. Downstage left two modern small tables together – one a Prompt Table the other to be used in the action and liftable by one person. By the tables a bench without a back that three can sit on – also liftable by one – and a chair.  Five chairs in a line at the back.  Black bags set by each chair for the actors’ ‘add-ons’. Actors speak from both downstage right and left positions so they need to be well lit. Note: The feeling should be ‘Purgatorial’ – the colour being given by the language, music and lighting of the show.

The Spirit of William Shakespeare – looking very much like his bust in the Stratford Parish Church……

Bust of Shakespeare

 ……enters from up left wings in complete Jacobean dress but holding a modern folder.

He bows, places the folder on the lectern down right. He then returns to the middle of the stage.  As he speaks the verse the lighting becomes warm and theatrical and follows the mood of the speech.


All the world’s a stage,

And all the men and women merely players:

They have their exits and their entrances;

And one man in his time plays many parts,

His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,

Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.

And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel

And shining morning face, creeping like snail

Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,

Sighing like a furnace, with a woeful ballad

Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,

Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,

Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,

Seeking the bubble reputation

Even in the cannon’s mouth.

And then the justice,

In fair round belly with good capon lined,

With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,

Full of wise saws and modern instances;

And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts

Into the lean and slipper’d pantaloon,

With spectacles on nose and pouch on side,

His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide

For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,

Turning again toward childish treble, pipes

And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,

That ends this strange eventful history,

Is second childishness and mere oblivion,

Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

(SPIRIT SHAKESPEARE  snaps his fingers – and the lighting returns to its ‘reality’ state. SPIRIT SHAKESPEARE returns to the lectern and addresses the audience directly.)

I didn’t make it to the seventh age. To be honest I didn’t even make it to the sixth. I died of drink at the age of fifty-two. I am the spirit of William Shakespeare, released from Purgatory for a single day…Yes, Purgatory! We Papists were right! I even wrote about it!

(GHOSTLY VOICE – played by ANGEL E offstage – intones through PA system all round the auditorium. Think Vincent Price. Echo effect. Lighting becomes red and hellish.)


I am thy father’s spirit,

Doom’d for a certain term to walk the night,

And for the day confined to fast in fires,

Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature

Are burnt and purged away. But that I am forbid

To tell the secrets of my prison-house,

I could a tale unfold whose lightest word

Would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood,

Make thy two eyes, like stars, start from their spheres,

Thy knotted and combined locks to part

And each particular hair to stand on end,

Like quills upon the fretful porcupine….

(SPIRIT SHAKESPEARE snaps his fingers and the reality state returns. He addresses the audience from centre stage position.)


To be honest, it’s not as bad as that…Except when they force me to watch productions of my own plays…in modern dress…But when they really want to torture me they run old episodes of East Enders…HOWEVER it’s kept me in touch with the world as it is now – and it means I speak the same English that you do…‘You do’. Ugh! THOU DOST!

But a word about Purgatory before we proceed….You are not SENTENCED to Purgatory – it’s very non-judgemental up there…..You choose it because you are not yet ready to be with God. And believe me, as I fell to the floor in a birthday piss up with Ben Jonson, I was by no means ready….

An added torment is that you have to decide what your sins are – and sins change fashion all the time….In Queen Elizabeth’s day you could be hanged, drawn and quartered for things you do every night of the week! (Peers at audience) Well perhaps not EVERY night…

Purgatory is more like a course of psychoanalysis….Except, of course, that Purgatory comes to an end….

Which brings me to The Seven Ages of Shakespeare…..

You are probably wondering – quite deeply in some cases – why the hell you are here. Well, you don’t realise it – but you have been chosen by the Authorities to be my jury….You didn’t give up your tenners of your own free will – your hands were forced by angelic powers. Explains a lot, doesn’t it? I will now ‘fess up’ (holds folder aloft) and it is you who will then decide if I am ready for Heaven. To help me tell my story the Authorities have lent me a band of angels who are hovering in the wings – and whom I shall now introduce to you…The fabulous ‘Shakespeare’s Angels’….

(SPIRIT SHAKESPEARE introduces the ANGELS who enter one by one from the left – using the real first names of the actors – Angel Thomasina, Angel Dickon, Angel Harry etc….)

[Angel A: Young Woman Angel B: Middle Woman Angel C: Young Man Angel D: Middle Aged Man Angel E: Older Man]

(Each ANGEL come forward to bow then turns and walks upstage and sits in his or her chair. They are dressed in black. All other props are mimed. ANGEL X enters with five folders.)

[ANGEL X: Middle/Older woman. Wears trousers rather a dress.]

[Full list of which characters each Angel plays are listed at end of script.]


And Angel X. She is the Stage Manager. (A quick nodded bow from AN GEL X) She is also my Recording Angel who has written down everything I’ve ever said or done. She will help me tell the story of my life – and make sure I tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth…..

(A quick, nodded bow from ANGEL X. She has more important things to do. She gives the folders to ANGELS A, B, C, D and E then settlers herself at the Prompt Table down left.)

[Note: ANGEL X – SPIRIT SHAKESPEARE’s Recording Angel – loves Will – but because she loves him – and wants to rescue his soul – she can be very tough with him.]

The angels will play all the people I encountered in my life. They will read from scripts I have been working on all night – but which I have been thinking about for centuries. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you The Seven Ages of Shakespeare……


(Standing – speaking from the Prompt Table.) The First Age: The Infant, mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms…..


Well I certainly mewled and puked – but I didn’t have a nurse. I had eight aunts instead! Now I know that to be a great artist you are meant to be born into great misery. I was born into great happiness…My parents had been trying to have me long and hard. So when I finally arrived my father organised the greatest street party Stratford-upon-Avon had ever known. Well, he was Taster of Ale to the whole county. My mother Mary – straight from labour but strong as an ox – insisted on being the hostess ….


(Standing and coming forward, remembering his wife. Rural accent.)

…….upon That day she was both pantler, butler, cook,

Both dame and servant; welcomed all, served all;

Would sing her song and dance her turn; now here,

At upper end o’ the table, now i’ the middle;

On his shoulder, and his; her face o’ fire

With labour and the thing she took to quench it,

She would to each one sip….

(ANGEL E as JOHN SHAKESPEARE returns to his seat and sits)


Dad was so rich he actually LENT money to the Stratford Council. He was the best glover in town – and the best butcher and the best wool dealer and the best property-developer and the best money-lender – all completely illegal of course. Queen Elizabeth wanted everyone to do only one job. We just ignored her. She also wanted everyone to be a Protestant. That was to prove more difficult to ignore.

When I was four, my father became Mayor of Stratford….not bad, eh, for a glover who couldn’t read or write? Mind you, gloves were big business then. A finely-stitched, flexible, leather glove was a first rate fashion accessory. It was also a first rate condom…..


But a year later everything changed for Young Will. The Catholic Lords in the North of England rebelled against the Queen – they wanted to put Mary Queen of Scots on the throne. The Pope excommunicated Elizabeth and ordered Catholics not to obey her.


So – to be loyal to Rome we had to be traitors to England. We said the Old Latin Mass in our own homes, but we had to attend the Protestant Parish Church by law. However, we had an arrangement with the vicar there. He would give us communion wafers consecrated by a Catholic priest. My father claimed he could TASTE the difference.


(Standing at Prompt Table) The Second Age: The whining school-boy, with his satchel

And shining morning face, creeping like snail

Unwillingly to school……

(ANGEL X takes a table to centre of stage. ANGEL D as WELSH SCHOOLMASTER takes his chair forward and sits stage left of the table.)


You’d have been unwilling as well….School started at 6 a.m. and finished at 5 p.m. SIX DAYS A WEEK. It was called a Grammar School – but they meant LATIN grammar….If you were caught speaking English, the schoolmaster birched you on Friday. I was to get my own back on him in The Merry Wives of Windsor. I turned him into a Welshman.

(SPIRIT SHAKESPEARE snaps his fingers. ANGEL B as MISTRESS SHAKESPEARE and ANGEL C as BOY SHAKESPEARE rise from their seats and approach ANGEL E as WELSH SCHOOLMASTER from stage right. BOY SHAKESPEARE – ANGEL C walking on his knees to look like 11- is terrified of his schoolmaster – but his mother is as strong-willed as the schoolmaster is.)

The Shakespeare Angels will now act out for you the scene where Mistress Page and her son William – in reality my mum and me – attend the Parents’ Evening from Hell….


(Strong Welsh accent) Come hither, William; hold up your head; come.


(Rustic accent) Come on, sirrah; hold up your head; answer your master, be not afraid.

(BOY SHAKESPEARE holds up his head at his mother’s command.)


What is ‘fair,’ William?



(BOY SHAKESPEARE quickly lowers his head again. His mother raises it.)


Polecats! there are fairer things than polecats, sure.


You are a very simplicity ‘oman: I pray you peace. What is ‘lapis,’ William? [Pronounced ‘larpis’]


A stone


And what is ‘a stone,’ William?


(Brightening at speaking English) A pebble.


No, it is ‘lapis:’ I pray you, remember in your prain.


(Miserable again) Lapis.


I pray you, have your remembrance, child, accusative, hung, hang, hog.


‘Hang-hog’ is Latin for bacon, I warrant you.


Leave your prabbles, ‘oman.

What is your genitive case plural, William?


Genitive,–horum, harum, horum.


Vengeance of Jenny’s case! Fie on her! Never name her, child, if she be a whore.


For shame, ‘oman.


You do ill to teach the child such words! (To audience) He teaches him to hick and to hack, which they’ll do fast enough of themselves, and to call ‘horum:’ (To SCHOOLMASTER). Fie upon you!


‘Oman, art thou lunatics? hast thou no understandings for thy cases and the numbers of the genders?


(Dominating the schoolmaster) Prithee, hold thy peace!!!


(Crushed by MRS SHAKESPEARE) Show me now, William, some declensions of your pronouns.


(Bursting into tears) Forsooth, I have forgot.


(Giving up on William as hopeless) Go your ways, and play; go.

(BOY SHAKESPEARE gets off his knees and runs back to his seat)


(Beaming with motherly pride) He is a much better scholar than I thought he was!

(ANGELS FREEZE. SPIRIT SHAKESPEARE snaps his fingers to show the scene has ended. ANGEL B then returns to her seat, ANGEL D takes his seat back into line and ANGEL X clears the table back to down left.)



My schoolmasters looked down on English. They said it was more of a throat-disease than a language. But I loved it! I used to declaim it when I was killing calves for my father. And though I hated Latin, I loved Ovid! I loved his stories of Gods transforming themselves into animals to chase the nymphs –and of nymphs transforming themselves into trees to escape the animals. I loved his writings about time. I loved his writings about immortality. I loved his writing about love. I also loved the fact he was so easy to translate…..But as I was losing myself in Ovid, my father was losing his livelihood…


The year before Will was born, the Queen had given Kenilworth Castle as a gift to her lover, Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester – also known as ‘The Bear’ – as much for his savagery as his family crest. Kenilworth was half a day’s ride from Stratford. He turned it into a dream palace for the Queen….


….and a knocking shop for all his other tarts. And to pay for it he raised the rents of his tenants ten times over – and twenty times over if they were Catholics.


When Will was eleven the Queen visited Warwickshire. The Bear complained that the local ale was so strong no-one could drink it. And when the Queen fell ill, he blamed the ale. And then he blamed the Taster of Ale for the County. …


My father was a dead man walking. I was taken out of school to try to help his business – but there WAS no business. Catholics friends tried to rally round – but they’d all been ruined by the Bear as well….In the end we were going hungry at night – so I started to poach hare. And the grounds I chose were those of Sir Thomas Lucy – the Bear’s henchman – a sadistic psychopath licensed by the Queen to search the homes of Catholics. Of course I was found out – and Lucy took great delight in stripping me naked and flogging me with his horsewhip. I swore, as only a schoolboy can, that one day I would have my revenge on him. I would become the most famous man in England….


The underground Catholic Network came to Will’s aid. The new schoolmaster at Stratford was from Lancashire – and he knew the Hoghtons there – a grand old Catholic family. They took Will in as a likely lad and he kept their children amused with songs and games – and, of course, plays.….


Edmund Campion (ANGEL D as CAMPION stands, kisses his stole and puts it round his neck.) the great Catholic saint and martyr (SPIRIT SHAKESPEARE and  all the ANGELS – who are ardent Roman Catholics – cross themselves. William Byrd’s ‘Ave Verum Corpus plays. Lighting change – stained glass on floor) visited Hoghton Hall while I was there…He told us about the brave young Englishmen who had sailed to Europe to train as missionary priests – and read us his beautiful appeal to Queen Elizabeth….


Many innocent hands are lifted up to heaven for you daily by those English students, whose fame shall never die, which beyond seas, gathering virtue and sufficient knowledge for the purpose, are determined never to give you over but either to win you back to Rome or to die upon your pikes…

(Lighting state and music fade as ANGEL D returns to his chair.)


Father Campion urged me to become a missionary priest. But I couldn’t do it. (Looks guiltily at the ANGELS ) I loved the Old Faith – with its feasts and fasts and splendour – but not enough to die for it. Ovid had awoken the Pagan in me – and Pagans love life.


Elizabeth’s pogrom finally reached Lancashire. The Hoghtons were arrested and Will had to flee back to Stratford. By then he was old enough to notice girls…..


And my inner Ovid stirred….


(Standing at Prompt Table) The Third Age:

The lover, Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad

Made to his mistress’ eyebrow……


(ANGEL X sets the bench centre stage. ANGEL A as ANN HATHAWAY rises and sits on it) I fell desperately in love with an old family friend – the ravishing Anne Hathaway. She was eight years older than me – but that just added to her allure. I wrote a ‘woeful ballad’ to seduce her – playing on her surname….

(Underscoring music taken from ‘Music for Shakespeare’s Theatre’. Naxos. ‘Heartsease’ Track 33. Time[1.24] ANGEL C as YOUNG SHAKESPEARE rises from his seat and approaches ANGEL A as ANNE HATHAWAY. Lighting change to romance.)


Those lips that Love’s own hand did make,

Breath’d forth the sound that said


(Playfully, turning away from YOUNG SHAKESPEARE) I hate


To me that languisht for her sake:

But when she saw my woeful state,

(ANNE HATHAWAY sneaks a look at YOUNG SHAKESPEARE – sees he is suffering and turns away again. We see she is taking pity on him.)

Straight in her heart did mercy come,

Chiding that tongue that ever sweet,

Was us’d in giving gentle doom:

And taught it thus anew to greet:

‘I hate’ she alter’d with an end,

That follow’d it as gentle day,

Doth follow night who like a fiend

From heaven to hell is flown away.

‘I hate’, from hate away….




….she threw,

And sav’d my life, saying….


Not you.

(The Two ANGELS kiss passionately….and freeze. Underscoring fades.)


(Pause) Unfortunately I wasn’t wearing gloves at the time…..

(SPIRIT SHAKESPEARE snaps his fingers. Snap change of lights. ANGEL A and ANGEL C return to their seats and ANGEL X clears the bench to down left.)

So we had to get married. And I wasn’t going to skimp on the wedding feast. It was back to Lucy’s place – only this time for deer. Of course I got caught again – and faced a massive fine and years of imprisonment…..My mother, though, was having none of it! She sat outside the gates of Kenilworth Castle day and night till the Bear agreed to see her. What she said or what she did I will never know. But the Bear ordered Lucy to forgive me…The only act of kindness he performed in his entire life….So now you know where all those bossy women in my plays come from…But Lucy wanted his pound of flesh….Ooops! Sorry! It’s vulgar to quote yourself. But difficult not to when you’re William Shakespeare…I had to kneel before him in the streets of Stratford and beg his pardon publicly….I vowed to become the most famous man in the world.


Anne gave Will a daughter,  Susanna, and followed it up two years later with twins, Hamnet and Judith…

(ANGEL X sets up table in centre and bench to stage left of table.)


I started to drink a lot….and spent most nights in the Bear Tavern…

(SPIRIT SHAKESPEARE clicks his finger. Tavern lighting and smoke. Evening. FULL COMPANY OF ANGELS, A, B, D and E are singing, clapping and dancing to a tune that doesn’t, yet, have words. ANGEL C as YOUNG SHAKESPEARE enters. ANGEL E as JOHN SHAKESPEARE sees his son and shouts over the singing…)





(YOUNG SHAKESPEARE sits on bench and mimes writing. The dance finishes and everyone cheers.)


Will, make up words for that tune – EXTEMPORE – and I’ll buy you a pottle pot!

(SPIRIT SHAKESPEARE snaps his fingers. ANGELS freeze)


A pottle pot contained four pints of wine….

(SPIRIT SHAKESPEARE snaps his fingers. ANGELS unfreeze.)


(Rising happily to his father’s challenge) Let’s hear it again! (People hum through tune to him and YOUNG SHAKESPEARE drinks for inspiration…) Right! I’ll sing it and someone can write it down….(Silence…then)


You’re the only one who can write here, son. If you can sing it AND write it down, I’ll buy you TWO pottle pots!



You’re on!

(YOUNG SHAKESPEARE stands and sings…)


A Parliament member, a justice of peace,

At home a poor scarecrow in London an ass,

If Lucy is lousy as some volke miscall it

Sing Lousy Lucy whatever befall it…..


If Lucy is lousy as some volke miscall it

Sing Lousy Lucy whatever befall it…

(During the Chorus Repeat YOUNG SHAKESPEARE runs back to the table and mimes writing down the lyrics he has just composed, takes a sip of ale then sings again…He repeats this throughout the song, getting drunker and drunker and staggering more and more.)


He thinks himself great, yet an ass in his state,

We allow by his ears but with asses to mate….

If Lucy is lousy as some volke miscall it

Sing Lousy Lucy whatever befall it…..


If Lucy is lousy as some volke miscall it

Sing Lousy Lucy whatever befall it…


To the sessions he went and did sorely complain

His park had been robbed and his hares they were slain

If Lucy is lousy as some volke miscall it

Sing Lousy Lucy whatever befall it…..


If Lucy is lousy as some volke miscall it

Sing Lousy Lucy whatever befall it…


(by this time hardly able to stand or speak)

If a juvenile frolic he cannot forgive

We’ll sing Lousy Lucy as long as we live

And Lucy the Lousy a libel may call it

We’ll sing Lousy Lucy whatever befall it…


If Lucy is lousy as some volke miscall it

Sing Lousy Lucy whatever befall it…

(YOUNG SHAKESPEARE manages somehow to get back to the table and mimes writing the last verse down and finally holds aloft the completed ballad.)


Here it is!

(Crowd cheers)


(presenting YOUNG SHAKESPEARE with a mimed pottle pot) Pottle pot Number One!

(YOUNG SHAKESPEARE downs it one.  Cheers. Then JOHN SHAKESPEARE presents his son with a second.)


Pottle pot Number Two…


Dad, a challenge! You down it in one! 

(JOHN SHAKESPEARE takes up the challenge – and to everyone’s cheers, downs the tankard in one as well. The two men collapse, affectionately, into one another’s arms.)


And now I shall hang this ballad on the gates of Sir Thomas Lucy’s estate!

(The company roars with laughter and JOHN SHAKESPEARE turns away to share the joke with ANGEL X. YOUNG SHAKESPEARE exits unseen by anyone into upstage right wings. Doubled over with laughter, JOHN SHAKESPEARE turns back to speak to his son.)


Will…..(realising in terror that his son has gone ) WILL! (He rushes out.  All are aghast. He returns) Holy Mother of God. He meant it….

(ANGELS FREEZE. SPIRIT SHAKESPEARE snaps his fingers and the scene ends. Snap change of lights. ANGEL X clears set table and bench. The other ANGELS return to their chairs.)


I HAD to get out of town. London was the best place to hide and the Network put me in touch with Tom Kyd – another Catholic Grammar School boy. For me it was Ovid’s poetry – for Tom it was Seneca’s plays – full of ghosts, suicides, murders and madness. Tom wrote English versions that were every bit as bloody…and the public loved them! The Spanish Tragedy was one of them. Hamlet was another. Yes. Hamlet….more of that later….

We had to work by day as lawyers’ clerks but wrote pamphlets, ballads and plays by candlelight at night. (ANGEL E as THOMAS NASHE puts on a wig of wild ‘staring’ hair.) We got right up the noses of the University Wits – Oxbridge men who thought Grammar School oiks like us had no business writing. Little Tom Nashe (ANGEL E as THOMAS NASHE rises) – with his buck teeth and staring hair – was the worst….He called us…


(Sarcastically – high pitched and nasal – think Brian Sewell)….deep read Grammarians who have no learning in their skull, nor Art in their brain. Seneca read by candlelight yields them many good sentences, and he will afford whole Hamlets. For recreation after their candle stuff, having starched their beards most curiously, they make a peripatetical path into the inner parts of the City……


….go on a pub crawl….


…..and spend two or three hours in turning over French ‘Dowdy’…..


…sleeping with French prostitutes. (TOM NASHE sits and takes off his wig). You’ll find out tonight that I’ve had a lot of sex in my life. I went through agonies of guilt about breaking my wedding vows. You see, we Catholics take them seriously. But I now think my REAL sin was this: I had a warm, caring, beautiful wife. But I found her goodness boring….

(SPIRIT SHAKESPEARE looks at ANGEL X who smiles. ANGEL D puts on a flamboyant silk scarf.)

It was impossible to go into the inner parts of the City without running into Kit Marlowe (ANGEL D as KIT MARLOWE rises) a man four hundred years ahead of his time. If you think London was swinging in the 1960’s you should have seen it in the 1580’s. The very first thing Kit said to me was….


(Coming forward. Out front) All they that love not tobacco and boys be fools….


Kit somehow managed to combine Atheism with Devil Worship. But he had a soft spot for Catholics…


If there be any God or good religion then it is the Papists, because the service of God is performed with more ceremonies, as elevation of the mass, organs, singing men and shaven crowns. All Protestants are hypocritical asses….


He also said…..


(Out front) Whoever loved who loved not at first sight….


The trouble was he was looking at me at the time.


But he soon clocked I was a naïve country-boy Catholic.

(MARLOWE looks away from SPIRIT SHAKESPEARE with a mixture of pity and disdain.)

We became close friends, though…..


Be true, Will. Be yourself. And sing your own song.

(ANGEL D as KIT MARLOWE turns and goes back to his seat. He removes his silk scarf.)


Lucy chased me all the way to London – but I had a cunning ploy. I found out that when Lucy was in town he worshipped at St. Giles, Cripplegate. So I went to see the Rector there, Robert Crowley. He turned out to be an off-the-wall poet and radical who refused to wear surplices….


(Rising) The devil’s conjuring robes….


….and got into fist fights with any priest that did….

(ANGEL C as YOUNG SHAKESPEARE enters from Stage Right. ROBERT CROWLEY calls him over.)


Will, come here boy. Sir Thomas has sent me the ballad you wrote about him. Now I write ballads to communicate God’s word. But your ballad is devilish. ‘Lucy is lousy’ – how would you feel if you were Sir Thomas?


But I’m not Sir Thomas. I don’t torture schoolboys.


It’s your job as a writer to empathise with everyone. You have to imagine, for example, what it’s like to be very poor….


But I AM very poor!


(ignoring him)…And to imagine what it’s like to be very rich. If everyone did that, the rich would give everything they had to the poor…


Then the poor would give it back….


Look, Will, I’ll get Lucy off your back, but I’ll want something in return….


Of course (reaching into his pocket.)


I don’t want your money, Will. I want your soul! I want you to bring God to the great mass of the people….


But I’m not a priest!


No! You are a writer and an actor! And I believe you could become a very great one. I want you to tour England with Biblical stories! The people will benefit – and so will you.

(ANGEL E as ROBERT CROWLEY and ANGEL C as YOUNG SHAKESPEARE freeze. SPIRIT SHAKESPEARE snaps his fingers. ANGELS unfreeze. ANGEL E returns to his chair while ANGEL C exits to stage right wings. On his next entry he will be HARRY – so needs a velcro red rose set in the wings or backstage.)


So Will formed a company – mostly unemployed, alcoholic tradesmen – and started to tour the Midlands. All his plays had a high moral message, were packed with Biblical quotations and were aimed at the common man…


The common man didn’t want to know. Then the Armada came….


(Standing at Prompt Table) The Fourth Age: Then a soldier,

Full of strange oaths and bearded like the panther,

Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,

Seeking the bubble reputation

Even in the cannon’s mouth.


I’ve told you I didn’t make it to the sixth and seventh age….well I didn’t make it to the fourth one either. A soldier? Moi? No way! Anyway, we Catholics were conflicted about the Armada. We wanted England to return to Rome – but we hated the Spaniards more than we hated the Queen. The good thing about the Armada year was that the Bear died – poisoned, it was said, by his second wife. My father’s business instantly picked up…


But show-biz didn’t. Actors were hated for their lack of patriotism. Marlowe, Kyd and Will could no longer find employment in the theatre – so they joined aristocratic families as tutors to their children. (ANGEL D puts on a flamboyant silk scarf – but a different colour to MARLOWE’S) The Network swung into action again. ….


I joined the Southampton family at Titchfield, prematurely aged by touring and with my hair falling out….(ANGEL D as MIDDLE SHAKESPEARE stands. ANGEL B puts on a tiara.) Mary, the second Countess of Southampton, (ANGEL B as COUNTESS MARY stands) showed me the family portraits in the gallery….

(COUNTESS MARY walks forward and looks out front – at what we take to be her portrait gallery. Corridor effect with lighting. MIDDLE SHAKESPEARE walks behind her down to the front and stands stage left of her.)


And this, Master Shakespeare, is my late husband, the second Earl of Southampton. If you are to become tutor to my son, you must be aware of the facts. The second Earl was a fine Catholic: he fought to bring the Blessed Mary Queen of Scots to the English throne. (COUNTESS MARY and MIDDLE SHAKESPEARE cross themselves. So do SPIRIT SHAKESPEARE and all the ANGELS.) He was imprisoned in the Tower and nearly lost his head. However, as a husband he was….unappreciative. He accused me – quite insanely – of falling in love with a common person…(Looking at MIDDLE SHAKESPEARE, discreetly, up and down)…I can see you’ll be needing some new clothes….(Recovering herself – she is clearly taken with MIDDLE SHAKESPEARE). And an allowance…

My husband snatched my young son, Harry, away. He turned his manservant into his wife and left him everything. I overturned the will, of course, but could not overturn the damage done to poor Harry…. (COUNTESS MARY points to another painting that is out front, further to stage right.) That is a portrait of him(MIDDLE SHAKESPEARE looks startled.) As you can see, he loves to dress up as a girl. Other than that, has no interest in women whatsoever. This, Master Shakespeare, is where you come in. (MIDDLE SHAKESPEARE looks startled again.) You are a happily married man with children. I want you to get Harry excited by the idea of fatherhood. Soon it will be his seventeenth birthday… I want you to write seventeen sonnets to show him the joys of the opposite sex. I want you to ‘turn the vessel round’ as it were….Wait here…. (COUNTESS MARY exits into the upstage right wings.)


(To himself, in horror, crossing down left) Sonnets! Aaah!

(COUNTESS MARY enters from the stage right wings and announces….)


Master Shakespeare, (MIDDLE SHAKESPEARE turns) my son, Henry Ryosely. (MIDDLE SHAKESPEARE kneels with his head down as ANGEL C as HARRY enters from the upstage right wings, wearing a Velcro red rose.) Third Earl of Southampton and Baron of Titchfield….

(HARRY crosses down left to MIDDLE SHAKESPEARE and offers him his ring to kiss. MIDDLE SHAKESPEARE does so, then looks up into HARRY’s face. A musical ‘ping’ from ANGEL X at a toy xylophone.)


I’m sure you two boys will get on like a house on fire…

(ANGELS freeze. SPIRIT SHAKESPEARE snaps his fingers and ANGELS unfreeze. Snap change of lights. It should be clear that HARRY fancies MIDDLE SHAKESPEARE – but that MIDDLE SHAKESPEARE is confused. ANGEL C and ANGEL B return to their chairs. ANGEL X sets a table centre. ANGEL D as MIDDLE SHAKESPEARE takes his chair from upstage and sits left of the table, miming writing.)


I managed the seventeen sonnets. English is the hardest language in the world to rhyme in – and in one sonnet you have to do it fourteen times. It crunches your brain – but your heart rides on air. I was starting to sing my own song…..To a commission, mind you. How do you turn a gay man straight? Well, first I flattered Harry’s beauty –


(From seat at table.) From fairest creatures we desire increase,

That thereby beauty’s rose might never die….


‘Rose’ was a reference to the Southampton rose – and the preposterous way the Southampton family pronounced its name – ‘Ryosely’. Everyone else said ‘Risley’


But as the riper should by time decease,

His tender heir might bear his memory….


It was Harry’s duty to pass on his beauty. By keeping it to himself he was not only robbing the world – he was robbing himself of the gift of a baby boy – what I called his ‘sweet self.’


For having traffic with thy self alone,

Thou of thy self thy sweet self dost deceive….


If Harry had a baby boy he would become like the moon – but a miraculous moon that waxed and waned at the same time. It would wane because Harry would get older and weaker – but it would wax in the figure of his son, who would get older and stronger.


As fast as thou shalt wane, so fast thou grow’st

In one of thine, from that which thou departests.

And that fresh blood which youngly thou bestow’st

Thou may call thine, when thou from youth convertest.


But perhaps my strongest argument was a threat: if you don’t have a child, you’ll end up like that toothless old hag, Queen Elizabeth….


….harsh, feautureless, and rude….


….and then….


….. barrenly perish…..


I gave the sonnets to Harry on his birthday – and then waited for his reaction….


(Rising from his seat, miming brandishing a sheaf of papers.) Master Shakespeare, these Sonnets are an utter failure(MIDDLE SHAKESPEARE looks crestfallen) I still don’t like girls!


(On the attack) Even though you look like one?


Are you being offensive?


No. It’s the theme of this new sonnet I’m writing about you….But if you don’t like them…..(Goes to tear the sonnet up)


(Stopping him) I like BITS of them – especially the bits about my beauty. Let’s hear your new sonnet then! (HARRY pulls his upstage chair up to right of the table to listen.)


It’s not finished….


Perhaps I can give you some ideas….

(HARRY touches MIDDLE SHAKESPEARE, suggestively on the arm – but MIDDLE SHAKESPEARE politely withdraws it.)


A woman’s face with nature’s own hand painted

Hast thou, the master-mistress of my passion….

(HARRY shows interest)

A woman’s gentle heart but not acquainted

With shifting change as is false women’s fashion….

An eye more bright than theirs, less false in rolling….

(HARRY can contain himself no longer)


See! You don’t like girls either!


(Ploughing on) Gilding the object where-upon it gazeth,

A man in hue, all hues in his controlling

Which steals men’s eyes…


(Excited) Ha!


….and women’s souls amazeth……

( HARRY, disappointed, groans.)

And for a woman wast thou first created

Till Nature as she wrought thee, fell a-doting….


Go on….


That’s as far as I’ve got, sir….


Would you like me to finish the Sonnet for you, Master Will….


(Appalled at the idea) The greatness of your words, sir, would utterly eclipse my own…I shall finish the sonnet in my own time.


(Banging his fist on the table) Finish it NOW! HERE! (MIDDLE SHAKESPEARE rises and for a moment we think he is about to storm off. But HARRY, sensing this, immediately lightens his tone and starts to flirt.) As Master-Mistress of your passion, I command you! (MIDDLE SHAKESPEARE sits. He mimes scribbling a few lines…then hands them to HARRY.)


‘Till Nature as she wrought thee fell-adoting….

And by addition me of thee defeated

By adding one THING to my purpose nothing….’

(HARRY looks down at his crutch.)

Master Shakespeare, does this mean what I think it means? Your conclusion, please…..

(MIDDLE SHAKESPEARE mimes scribbling again – and hands him the sheet)


‘But since she prick’d thee out for women’s pleasure

Mine by thy love – AND THY LOVE’S USE THEIR TREASURE!!!’

Is this a poetic way of telling me to get stuffed?


No, sir. It’s a poetic way of telling you to stuff women…

(ANGEL B as COUNTESS MARY rises from her chair, looking white and shaken. She groans, walks to the table for support. MIDDLE SHAKESPEARE and HARRY both stand)




Dreadful, dreadful news. ….


The Armada’s re-grouped!


No – worse! Queen Elizabeth is coming to stay!

(HARRY and MIDDLE SHAKESPEARE groan out front. ANGELS freeze. SPIRIT SHAKESPEARE snaps his fingers and the ANGELS unfreeze. ANGEL B exits to stage left wings, ANGEL X strikes the table down left and ANGEL D and ANGEL C take their chairs back to the line and sit in them. ANGEL X places the bench centre stage and returns to her table. Angel A fixes her mask to her dress.)


And stay she did. With all her court. And with all her soldiers. They ate and drank the Southamptons out of house and home. Then Elizabeth slaughtered all their deer, rounded up and run before her, with a cross-bow at point blank range. Music accompanied the  this carnage from Elizabeth’s Italian band – the Basanno family – who included the voluptuous mixed-race Amelia. (ANGEL A as AMELIA – stands and curtsies and sits again.) Elizabeth then returned to town and disembowelled Catholics in front of Countess Mary’s London house.


One of them was a young missionary priest – Edmund Jennings – forced to wear a jester’s outfit on the scaffold…….


Amelia, though, stayed on at Titchfield.

 (ANGEL A as AMELIA rises crosses to the bench and mimes playing music – Lady Hunsdon’s Puffe 37. [1.22]’Romantic comedy’ lighting.)

She was mistress to the Queen’s randy old goat of cousin, Lord Hunsdon. He paid her £40 a year for her services. I wanted to find out if that gave him exclusive rights…


(Stands and approaches ANGEL A as AMELIA, who continues to play, from her right.) Did not I dance with you in London once?


Did I not dance with you in London once?


I know you did.


How needless was it then to ask the question.!


You must not be so quick.


‘Tis long of you to spur me with such questions.


Your wit’s too hot, it speeds too fast, ‘twill tire.


Not till it leave the rider in the mire.


What time of day?


The hour that fools should ask.

(MIDDLE SHAKESPEARE turns away right. AMELIA mimes putting down her lute – music cuts out. She covers her face with her mask.)


Now fair befall your (He is about to say ‘face’ – but turns left to her and sees she is wearing a mask) mask!


Fair fall the face it covers.


And send you many lovers.


Amen, so you be none….


(After a pause, in which he can’t think of anything to say) Nay then will I be gone.

(MIDDLE SHAKESPEARE exits into the upstage right wings. AMELIA mimes ticking off another man to her list. She then returns to her chair and ANGEL X strikes the bench to down left.)


Forsooth I was in love….


(‘Romantic comedy’ lighting fades. MIDDLE SHAKESPEARE springs back from the wings walks into central downstage area – and addresses the audience directly and goes into the auditorium. House lights gently up. Behind MIDDLE SHAKESPEARE ANGEL X sets the table – then sets ANGEL D’s upstage chair stage left of it.)

I, that have been love’s whip;

A very beadle to a humorous sigh;

A critic, nay, a night-watch constable;

A domineering pedant o’er the boy;

Than whom no mortal so magnificent!

This whimpled, whining, purblind, wayward boy;

This senior-junior, giant-dwarf, Dan Cupid;

What, I! I love! I sue! I seek a wife!

A woman, that is like a German clock,

Still a-repairing, ever out of frame,

And never going aright!

Nay, to be perjured, which is worst of all;

And, among three, to love the worst of all;

A wightly wanton with a velvet brow,

With two pitch-balls stuck in her face for eyes;

Ay, and by heaven, one that will do the deed

Though Argus were her eunuch and her guard:

And I to sigh for her! to watch for her!

To pray for her! Go to; it is a plague

That Cupid will impose for my neglect

Of his almighty dreadful little might.

Well, I will love, sigh, pray, sue, groan…..


(MIDDLE SHAKESPEARE turns upstage and sits stage left of the table and mimes writing. House lights fade. ANGEL C as HARRY rises and approaches him quietly from behind and peers over his shoulder. MIDDLE SHAKESPEARE senses he is there and looks round. He quickly turns the page over so that HARRY cannot read it.)


It’s another Sonnet, Will. I saw it. (He grabs his chair from the upstage line and sits stage right of the table with MIDDLE SHAKESPEARE) Read it to me. I don’t care if it isn’t finished….


(Reddening, reads) My (hesitates) master’s eyes are….nothing like the sun…. (HARRY looks startled)

Coral is far more red than his lips red,

If snow be white, why then his breasts are dun;

If hairs be wires, black wires grown on his head…..


(In a fury) Breasts? Black wires? (Mimes snatching sonnet from MIDDLE SHAKESPEARE) My MISTRESS eyes are nothing like the sun! HER breasts! HER head! (ANGEL A as AMELIA rises from her chair and stands stage right, behind HARRY) Will, you’re not writing to me – you’re writing to that dreadful….(MIDDLE SHAKESPEARE coughs and indicates to HARRY that AMELIA has entered. HARRY turns to look at her.)


(Curtsying beautifully) Good day, m’Lord….

(HARRY bows stiffly and exits down right to the wings. AMELIA gazes rapturously after HARRY, glancing surreptitiously back at MIDDLE SHAKESPEARE to make sure he’s noticing)


Amelia liked playing hard to get….


(Rising and crossing right and turning AMELIA around to face him.)

Tell me thou lov’st elsewhere; but in my sight

Dear heart, forbear to glance thy eye aside…

What need’st thou wound with cunning, when thy might

Is more than my o’er press’d defence can hide….

(Looking into AMELIA’S eyes) Thine eyes I love, and they, as pitying me,

Knowing thy heart torments me with disdain,

Have put on black, and loving mourners be,

Looking with pretty ruth upon my pain…..

(MIDDLE SHAKESPEARE starts to hug AMELIA closely.)

Will’t thou, whose will is large and spacious

Not once vouchsafe to hide my will in thine?

(He holds her even closer)

Shall will in others seem right gracious

And in my will no fair acceptance shine…..

(AMELIA breaks away left. MIDDLE SHAKESPEARE crosses left to pursue her.)

He rises at thy name and points out thee

As his triumphant prize, proud of this pride:

He is contented thy poor drudge to be,

To stand in thy affairs, fall by thy side…..

(He pulls ANGEL A as AMELIA to him and tries to make love to her. AMELIA pushes him away…)


Get lost, baldy!

(AMELIA exits to down left wings of stage. MIDDLE SHAKESPEARE, recovering, muses to himself…)


(MIDDLE SHAKESPEARE sits on seat stage left of the table and muses)

Then will I swear beauty herself is black

And all they foul that her complexion lack…..


I asked Harry to plead my love-suit with Amelia. What a mistake ! Amelia pounced. A young rich aristocrat – however gay – was more of a catch than a playwright with alopecia….

(The lighting transforms into a dream-like, nightmarish state.)


Two loves I have of comfort and despair

Which like two spirits do suggest me still:

The better angel is a man right fair…..

(HARRY enters from the upstage right wings and walks downstage right.)

The worser spirit, a woman coloured ill.

(AMELIA enters from the upstage left wings and walks downstage left.)

To win me soon to hell my female evil

Tempteth my better angel from my side….

(AMELIA crosses left across the front of the stage, in front of MIDDLE SHAKESPEARE and approaches HARRY and kisses him.)

And would corrupt my saint to be a devil,

Wooing his purity with her foul pride…

(AMELIA turns HARRY round so his back is to the audience and makes love to him.)

And whether that my angel be turned fiend

Suspect I may, yet not directly tell;

(AMELIA leads HARRY into the wings right. She takes off her Add-On and mask in the wings. )

But being both from me both to each friend….

I guess one angel in another’s hell…

(MIDDLE SHAKESPEARE crosses down left.)


I left Titchfield and went on tour again…..


(Musing – realising that it is the loss of HARRY that upsets him most.)

That thou ha’st her it is not all my grief

And yet it may be said I loved her dearly…

That she hath thee is of my wailing chief

A loss in love that touches me more nearly….


I finally had to admit I was in love with Harry. So I wrote to him to tell him so…

(MIDDLE SHAKESPEARE sits and starts writing sonnet. Underscoring. ‘Bonny Sweet Robin’12.[1.20] After a bar or two he looks up at audience and shares his thoughts with them. The lighting changes to a bright sunlit state – suggesting summer.)

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?

Thou art more lovely and more temperate.

Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May

And winter’s lease hath all too short a date….

Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines…

And often is his gold complexion dimm’d,

And every fair, from fair, sometime declines,

By chance, or nature’s changing course untrimm’d….

But thy eternal summer shall not fade,

Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest….

Nor shall death brag thou wander’st in his shade,

When in eternal lines to time thou growest….

So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,

So long lives this, and this gives life to thee….

(‘Bonny Sweet Robin fades. SPIRIT SHAKESPEARE snaps his fingers. Snap change in lighting state. RAPID ACTION. MIDDLE SHAKESPEARE exits down stage left wings. ANGEL X clears the table while ANGEL A enters from the stage right wings without her mask and puts ANGEL C’s chair – which is right of table – back in place and sits in her own seat. ANGEL E puts ANGEL D’s chair left of table back in place and sits back in his own seat and puts on his ‘staring wig’.)


Amelia fell pregnant – God knows by whom – and was married off to a musician. I returned to Titchfield and Harry….

(Underscoring ‘Light o’ Love’ 26.[0.45] ANGEL C as HARRY enters from upper stage right waiting for MIDDLE SHAKESPEARE’S arrival. MIDDLE SHAKESPEARE enters from down stage left wings. Happy, dreamlike, lighting state.)


(Smiling.) Will!

(MIDDLE SHAKESPEARE crosses right, kneels to HARRY and kisses his ring. HARRY raises him, embraces him and kisses him. ANGEL E as THOMAS NASHE stands and clocks this. The two men exit arm in arm wings stage right without noticing TOM NASHE. ‘Light o’ Love’ fades. Lighting state fades back to normal.)


There was, of course, a problem in all this….(ANGEL B as COUNTESS MARY enters, wearing tiara, from wings left) Mother Mary. (TOM NASHE pulls up her chair for her. COUNTESS MARY sits and mimes doing needlework) I wasn’t exactly fulfilling my job description. Tom Nashe told the Countess what he had seen. (TOM NASHE whispers in COUNTESS MARY’s ear. She looks shocked. TOM NASHE whispers again) And one or two things that he hadn’t. (COUNTESSMARY looks even more shocked. ANGEL E returns to his seat and takes off his wig.) The Countess summoned me….

(MIDDLE SHAKESPEARE enters and kneels in front of COUNTESS MARY. )


 Do you love my son?


(Feigning ignorance) Your pardon noble mistress?


Love you my son?


(Evading the issue) Do you not love him, madam?


Go not about. My love hath in’t a bond,

Whereof the world takes note. Come, come, disclose

The state of your affection, for your passions

Have to the full been witnessed.


Then I confess

Here on my knees, before high heaven and you,

That before you, and next unto high heaven,

I love your son. My dearest madam,

Let not your hate encounter with my love,

For loving where you do….


I reminded her that when she was young, SHE had loved in a way that defied convention…


…..but if yourself

Whose aged honour cites a virtuous youth,

Did ever in so true a flame of liking,

Wish chastely and love dearly, that your Diane

Was both herself and love – o then give pity

To him whose state is such that cannot choose….

(A pause. Then COUNTESS MARY stands and raises MIDDLE SHAKESPEARE to his feet. She kisses him on the cheek. She is accepting him into the family.)


Cousin Will….

(The two ANGELS freeze. SPIRIT SHAKESPEARE snaps his fingers and ANGEL B picks up her chair, sits upstage and takes off her tiara. ANGEL D sits upstage and removes his scarf. ANGEL X sets the bench centre stage.)


Harry and I celebrated our love with a secret holiday in Europe….Ostensibly as spies for Harry’s great friend, the Earl of Essex. We were probably the most incompetent spies in the whole of English history….


When King Philip II of Spain had been King of England, he had made Countess Mary’s father his Master of Horse and his Ambassador to Rome. So Harry and Will visited Philip in Madrid. He showed them something that was to change Will’s life for ever….


The paintings of Titian!….Painting in England was entirely political and hieratical. Every time Queen Elizabeth had her portrait painted, she got younger.

(Underscoring ‘Callino’ 8.[1.07]Play through this twice. Lights begin to transform to highly coloured states)

But Titian seemed to enter the very souls of his subjects – through the twists and turns of their bodies –

(ANGEL B and ANGEL C rise, and using the bench, take up the pose in ‘Venus and Adonis’ and freeze…The stage is flooded with colours – especially purple.)

Venus and Adonis

Venus and Adonis! Venus pleads with Adonis to make love to her in the purple dawn – and begs him not to join the boar-hunt. Adonis, torn between the two great giants, love and death, gazes at her with the ambiguity of life itself…

(SPIRIT SHAKESPEARE snaps his fingers and ANGELS B and C break and return to their seats. The light transforms to the ‘Rape of Lucrece’ state.ANGEL C puts on his rose, cap and shoulder cape.) ANGEL A and ANGEL E take up the pose from ‘The Rape of Lucrece’ and freeze. The stage is flooded with colour again – with red predominant.)

rape of Lucrece

The Rape of Lucrece! Tarquin rapes Lucrece. His scarlet-hosed legs force her naked legs apart – and his exposed knee inches towards her groin. And Lucrece – threatened by Tarquin’s dagger which hovers like a falcon in the air, fixes her eyes on something far more terrifying – Tarquin’s twisted face…

(SPIRIT SHAKESPEARE snaps his fingers. ANGELS A and E unfreeze and return to their seats. Coloured lighting state and music fades. ANGEL X clears bench to down left. ANGEL C as HARRY and ANGEL D as MIDDLE SHAKESPEARE put on bonnets and shoulder capes)

I tried to recreate these two great paintings in two long poems – using the same colours and postures that Titian had used. But the wind of words got in the way. They were failures. I came to realise that the only way for me to touch the sublime – to touch life itself – was through the drama….

Harry and I then travelled on to Rome, the Eternal City…

(ANGEL C as HARRY and ANGEL D as MIDDLE SHAKESPEARE rise, come forward to the central downstage position and look into the audience as though they are looking at Rome in awe. Underscoring: Byrds ‘Ave Verum Corpus’. Stained glass lighting on floor.)

Ovid was right: Time IS ‘edax rerum’ – the eater of things…..


When I have seen by time’s fell hand defaced

The rich-proud cost of outworn buried age;

(MIDDLE SHAKESPEARE looks to his right – HARRY follows his gaze.)

When sometime lofty towers I see down razed

And brass eternal slave to mortal rage…..


Every obelisk – sacked from Egypt and borne in triumph to Rome – had collapsed except one – the obelisk St. Peter saw moments before he was crucified by Nero….

(MIDDLE SHAKESPEARE looks up in awe to his left. HARRY follows his gaze. They are looking at the Holy Obelisk.)

Its red granite was an object of veneration to Catholics from all over the world….

(MIDDLE SHAKESPEARE and HARRY take off their bonnets, kneel together and cross themselves. Then bow their heads in prayer. SPIRIT SHAKESPEARE moves from his lectern and stands behind MIDDLE SHAKESPEARE and HARRY. Like them, he kneels and crosses himself and prays. ANGEL X does the same, kneeling next to MIDDLE SHAKESPEARE. All the ANGELS rise and form a group behind the four, kneel, cross themselves and pray. After a moment of contemplation, HARRY rises and everyone follows him. ANGELS slowly go back to their chairs. Religious light and music gradually fade….)


But we had fun in Italy as well….

(Lights snap up to bright comic state.)


(Getting an idea) I have it full….

We have not yet been seen in any house,

Nor can we be distinguished by our faces

For man or master. Then it follows thus:

Thou shalt be master in my stead,

I will some other be, some Florentine,

Some Neapolitan, or meaner man of Pisa.

‘Tis hatch’d, and shall be so. Will, at once

Uncase thee, take my coloured hat and cloak….

(HARRY and MIDDLE SHAKESPEARE exchange hats and cloaks.)


Sith it your pleasure is,

And I am tied to be obedient –

For so your mother charged me at our parting

‘Be serviceable to my son’ quoth she,

Although I think ’twas in another sense –

I am content to be Southampton

Because so well I love Southampton….



So, BOTH of us could get up to no good – AT THE SAME TIME!

(SPIRIT SHAKESPEARE snaps his fingers. HARRY and MIDDLE SHAKESPEARE unfreeze and return to their seats and take of their bonnets and capes. Suddenly SPIRIT SHAKESPEARE looks guilty and sad.)


(Gently) Tell them what happened when you got back to England…


 I found Kit dead and Tom dying…

(SPIRIT SHAKESPEARE is reluctant to continue and sits. ANGEL X takes over…)


Marlowe and Kyd had moved back to London – and were living together in lodgings there. But riots had started. The government had encouraged immigrants to come to England because, as ever, it brought in money. But the locals didn’t like it. Someone had written an ‘immigrants go home’ poem and had posted it up on a wall. The authorities raided the rooms of every writer in London – including Marlowe’s and Kyd’s. They didn’t find the poem there, but they found something far more dangerous: papers denying that Christ was the son of God. Marlowe was off in the country with a new boyfriend at the time – but he was never in any real danger. He was too valuable to the State. He was actually good at spying. But Kyd was arrested and racked….

SPIRIT SHAKESPEARE (recovring and standing)

To end the agony he betrayed his friend…


(Sitting – as though tortured). The papers were Marlowe’s – shuffled with some of my own….


Kit was killed in a brawl in a Deptford tavern . Over a bill. And over a boy. Tom was dropped by everyone. Including me. He wrote about his….


(Still sitting) Bitter times and broken passions….




Afflictions of the mind than which the world affords no greater misery….


I couldn’t forgive him for his betrayal. You might think A Midsummer Night’s Dream is full of magic and fun. And it is. But it’s also a savage piss-take of Tom’s best play – The Spanish Tragedy – a play that was far more popular than anything I ever wrote. When Titania says….


(Stands) What angel wakes me from my flowery bed….


It’s a parody of Hieronimo when he says….


(Stands) What outcries pluck me from my naked bed….

(ANGEL A and ANGEL E sit.)


And when Pyramus, mourning the dead Thisbe, says….


(Stands. Rustic accent.) O wherefore, Nature, didst thou lions frame?

Since lion vile hath here deflower’d my dear:

Which is–no, no–which was the fairest dame….


….it is a send up of Hiernomo’s agony at finding the body of his son hanging from a tree…


(Stands) Those garments that he wears I oft have seen,

Alas! It is Horatio, my sweet son!

O, no; but he that whilom was my son!

(ANGEL D and ANGEL E sit.)


Tom did the decent thing and died……


Kyd was so much in debt that his parents refused to manage his literary estate. Harry had just come of age and had secretly given Will a gift of £1,000 – half a million in today’s money. So he bought the rights to Kyd’s plays – along with a share in the Lord Chamberlain’s Men.


People at the time described Tom as….


(Stands) Famous Kyd!


(Stands) Industrious Kyd!


(Stands at Prompt Table) Sporting Kyd…

(SPIRIT SHAKESPEARE clicks his fingers and all three ANGELS sit simultaneously. ANGEL E puts on a flamboyant silk scarf – but different from MARLOWE’S or MIDDLE SHAKESPEARE’s.)


But you have hardly heard of him. I made sure of that. Tom wrote early versions of King Lear, The Taming of the Shrew, King John, Henry IV, Henry V and Hamlet – yes Hamlet. I re-wrote them and took all the credit. I knew that the drama was my only path to greatness. But I couldn’t think up a plot to save my life – so I stole them. Ben Jonson (ANGEL E as BEN JONSON stands) – with whom I enjoyed a hate-hate relationship all my life – exposed me at once.….


(Standing, crossing downstage right and confronting SPIRIT SHAKESPEARE directly in accusing tones.)

Poor Poet-Ape, that would be thought our chief,     

Whose works are just the cast-offs of our wit

From piracy is become so bold a thief,     

As we, the robb’d, leave rage, and pity it.

(To audience) At first he made low shifts, would pick and glean,     

Buy up the rights to plays, now grown

To a little wealth and credit in the scene,

(looking at SPIRIT SHAKESPEARE)     He takes up all, makes each man’s wit his own,

And told of this, he slights it.


But Ben had a strong suspicion I’d get away with it…


(Looking directly at audience with a grunt of disgust and moving to downstage central position )

Tut, such crimes the sluggish, gaping audience devours;

They mark not whose ‘twas first, and after times (Pointing directly at the audience.)     

May judge it to be his (pointing at SPIRIT SHAKESPEARE)as well as ours.

Fools! As if half eyes will not know a fleece     

From locks of wool, or shreds from the whole piece.

(ANGEL E returns to his seat. He takes off his scarf.)


So there you have it. I promised I would ‘fess-up’ and I have. I don’t know if you can forgive me for this. I don’t know if I can forgive myself. But Tom was to have a revenge on me far, far greater than I had on him. But before we go into all that, I hope you’ll join me for a drink in the bar – the first one I’ve had in four hundred years. Angels! The drinks are on me!

(ANGELS look alarmed. SPIRIT SHAKESPEARE strides off towards the Bar. The ANGELS form into a nervous huddle, discussing under their breath whether they should go to the bar – all except ANGEL X who remains making notes at her desk. SPIRIT SHAKESPEARE turns back and sees what is happening.)


(Shouting) ANGELS! (The ANGELS turn to look at SPIRITSHAKESPEARE.) To the Bar! (SPIRIT SHAKESPEARE snaps his fingers – and the ANGELS transform into zombies – obeying his every command. They file out to the bar – and when they have gone SPIRIT SHAKESPEARE says to his audience…)


Angels are all very well – but you’ve got to keep them in their place…

(SPIRIT SHAKESPEARE exits to the Bar. ANGEL X gets up from her desk and comes forward with her clip board.)


We’ll see about THAT Mr. Shakespeare! Twenty minutes intermission please. Twenty minutes….

(ANGEL X exits into the wings. Audience find SPIRIT SHAKESPEARE in the bar with a tankard in hand – pouring prop wine for the ANGELS. The ANGELS get more and more animated as the Interval progresses as they are completely unused to alcohol. ANGEL X appears in the bar, takes the wine glasses out of the ANGELS’ hands and starts ushering the inebriated ANGELS backstage. She tries to take SPIRIT SHAKESPEARE’s tankard from him – but he runs away.She chases after him, snatches the tankard from him and pushes him to backstage…ANGEL X later announces to the audience….)


Ladies and Gentlemen – the Second Half of ‘The Seven Ages of Shakespeare’ is about to begin….


(SPIRIT SHAKESPEARE enters from stage left alone. He is hiding something under his coat.)


At least you’ve come back. Most of you… X is pouring coffee down the throats of the angels. (SPIRIT SHAKESPEARE looks off left into the wings to check he’s not being watched – then produces the tankard from under his coat. He puts his finger to his lips – asking the audience not to split on him then points at the tankard) It was all a bit too much for them….(He takes a sip from the tankard and places it on the small table next to his lectern.)

But while we’re waiting, can I tell you what really gets my goat? Movies about my life! I am NOT the Earl of Oxford….Do I look like the Earl of Oxford? If you’d MET the Earl of Oxford you’d know how deeply insulting the whole idea is!

No – I’m William Shakespeare. Now I DID collaborate with others, but NEVER WITH HIM. Everyone collaborated back then. But believe me, everything that SOUNDS like me in the plays IS me. Get it? Of course you do! But why did I need collaborators in the first place? When I came down to Titchfield things started to get very political…The Countess of Southampton teamed up with the Countess of Pembroke at Wilton. She was a Protestant – but you didn’t need to be a Papist to hate the Queen….Elizabeth had destroyed her brother, Sir Philip Sidney – a wannabe politician and soldier – by banishing him from the Court. He had eked out his days in the most degrading way known to an English aristocrat…

He had become a poet.

The two rich ladies decided to stage the Wars of the Roses in the grounds of their estates –using real soldiers and real horses…The plays may seem to be about the Houses of York and Lancaster – but they’re really about the House of Tudor. And Richard III is really the Earl of Leicester….….the Boar is the Bear in disguise….

But why the Wars of the Roses? Every age worries itself sick about something that never actually happens. EVERYONE then was terrified that when Elizabeth died, Civil War would break out. But in the event, King James simply walked into the job….Well, rode. He was coming from Scotland…Now I needed help on a big project like the Wars of the Roses – so I did what all theatre men do. I employed my enemies. I’d better add that in the theatre, EVERYONE IS YOUR ENEMY….Little Tom Nashe, who’d insulted me in London, came down to Titchfield to write my jokes…And then insulted me all over again….


(Shouting drunkenly from offstage left) For there is an upstart crow, beautified with our feathers, that with his tiger’s heart wrapped in a player’s hide, supposes he is well able to bombast out a blank verse as the best of you….


(Going to the wings and shouting) X, a little more coffee for Angel E.  (To audience) Nashe stayed with me as my gag writer till he died in 1601. I can tell you I feel NO GUILT WHATSOEVER that I didn’t credit him….

His jokes were truly terrible…

Now the Shakespeare movie I loathe, despise and fear beyond all others, the one that demeans not only me but the whole of humanity, the one that I would willing destroy, frame by frame, with my own bare hands is….

(ANGEL X re-appears from wings left and coughs. THE SPIRIT OF SHAKESPEARE looks at her and she nods.)

That’ll have to wait for another incarnation. Ladies and Gentlemen – I give you, for the second time, and a little the worse for wear, the fabulous Shakespeare’s Angels…

(The ANGELS enter from stage left wings, indeed a little worse for wear, then bow in unison and sit. ANGEL C. puts on his rose. ANGEL C also needs to be wearing shoes he can slip off as ‘COMIC’. ANGEL D puts on his silk scarf. ANGEL E wears slippers for the Second Half.)


Every summer I visited my wife and children at Stratford . There I could settle down to serious writing. But my mind kept returning to Harry. Without him the summer seemed like winter….

(Underscoring. ‘Tarleton’s Ressurection. 16. [1.06]THE ANGELS make a miraculous recovery from their inebriation and recite beautifully! ‘Winter’ lighting.)


(Stands) How like a Winter hath my absence been

From thee, the pleasure of the fleeting year!

What freezings have I felt, what dark days seen?

What old December’s bareness everywhere?


(‘Summer lighting)

(Stands)And yet this time remov’d was summer’s time,

The teeming Autumn big with rich increase,

Bearing the wanton burthen of the prime,

Like widowed wombs after their Lords’ decease.


(Return to ‘Winter’ lighting.)

(Stands at Prompt Table) Yet this abundant issue seem’d to me

But hope of Orphans, and un-father’d fruit;

For Summer and his pleasures wait on thee,

And thou away, the very birds are mute.

Or, if they sing, ‘tis with so dull a cheer,

That leaves look pale, dreading the Winter’s near.

(Underscoring concludes or fades. SPIRIT SHAKESPEARE snaps his fingers and the three ANGELS sit down.)


Yes, I know. I should have been supporting my wife and playing with my children. And to be honest, the honeymoon period with Harry was over. He was serially promiscuous and, like his mother, had a penchant for lower class men. But he was about to enter the snake-pit of Elizabeth’s court. I warned him in sonnet after sonnet that he should keep himself very much to himself or his sex-life would be used against him….


(Rising) The summer’s flow’r is to the summer sweet,

Though to itself it only live and die;

But if that flow’r with base infection meet…..


….rough trade….


The basest weed out-braves his dignity… (Sits)


Mind you I was no angel myself. Well, it gets lonely touring. ‘A friend’ – probably Tom Nashe – told him what I’d been up to…

(ANGEL D as MIDDLE SHAKESPEARE rises and crosses down right trying to escape from ANGEL C as HARRY who rises and chases him in a fury.)


Well? Did you or didn’t you?


My only recourse was to a sonnet….

(Throughout the scene HARRY and MIDDLE SHAKESPEARE ignore SPIRIT SHAKESPEARE – and keep their focus on each other.)


(Turning round to face HARRY)

Alas, ‘tis true, I have gone here and there

And made myself a motley to the view,

Gored mine own thoughts, sold cheap what is most dear

Made old offences of affections new.


Yes. I have had sex with young men while on tour.


Most true it is that I have looked on truth

Askance and strangely……


I have, in fact, been lying in my teeth….


….but, by all above,

These blenches gave my heart another youth

And worse essays proved thee my best of love…


But it made me feel young again. And proved to me just how wonderful you are…


(Crossing left, laughing sarcastically) Ha! Ha! Ha!


Then I went into attack mode….


(Following HARRY) That you were once unkind…..


…..that you once played away from home….


….befriends me now…


Befriends you?


For if you were by my unkindness shaken,

As I by yours, you’ve passed a hell of time….


For if I have hurt you as much as YOU ONCE HURT ME, then you’ve been to Hell and back in a handcart…


And I, a tyrant, have no leisure taken

To weigh how once I suffered in your crime…..


MY crime?


I then stormed the moral high ground with a bit of Tudor Gay Liberation…


(Crossing right) Why should others false adulterate eyes

Give salutation to my sportive blood?

Or on my frailties why are frailer spies,

Which in their wills count bad what I think good?

I am that I am, and they that level

At my abuses reckon up their own…..



(Caving in with a smile) Will, you could argue your way out of anything!

(MIDDLE SHAKESPEARE and HARRY freeze. SPIRIT SHAKESPEARE snaps his fingers and ANGEL C and ANGEL D return to their seats.)


I nearly had my come-uppance, though. A raging old queen called Georgie Chapman – who claimed to be in spirit contact with the ghost of Homer no less – started to write love-poetry to Harry. I’d already attacked him as the mincing, lisping, big girl’s blouse, Boyet in Love’s Labour’s Lost….


(Standing – and affecting a masculine contempt for Chapman) This fellow pecks up wit as pigeons pease,

And utters it again when God doth please:

He is wit’s pedlar, and retails his wares

At wakes and wassails, meetings, markets, fairs;

And we that sell by gross, the Lord doth know,

Have not the grace to grace it with such show.

This gallant pins the wenches on his sleeve;

Had he been Adam, he had tempted Eve;

A’ can carve too, and lisp: (lisping) why, this is he

That kiss’d his hand away in courtesy;

……the ladies call him sweet;

The stairs, as he treads on them, kiss his feet:

This is the flower that smiles on every one,

To show his teeth as white as whale’s bone….

(ANGEL D sits. ANGEL X sets table centre then returns to desk.)


I’d flattered Harry myself – but you can’t go on flattering somebody FOR EVER. Gorgeous George took up where I’d laid off – and all but replaced me. That would have been a disaster – Harry was my meal-ticket at the time – and for some time after.

But the success of The Dream was enough to see Chapman off. This was followed by another big hit – the Henry the Fourth Plays starring the Fat Knight…my greatest, most popular creation. But even he was nicked from someone else…It all started, once again, with politics.


Lord Cobham – known as ‘The Sycophant’- was the great enemy of the Earl of Essex. His claim to fame was that one of his ancestors was the Protestant martyr and saint, Sir John Oldcastle.

(ANGEL E puts on his staring wig as THOMAS NASHE.) Essex commissioned Will to write an attack on Cobham – so he summoned Tom Nashe back to Titchfield – and put him up in Posbrook Farm – a house of ill-repute just outside Titchfield – run by an old rogue called William Beeston . Nashe nick-named him….


(Rising) Apis Lapis’. [Pronounced ‘Arpis Larpis] ‘Apis’ is Latin for bee. ‘Lapis’ is Latin for stone. ‘Apis Lapis’ translates as ‘Bee- Stone’ – Beeston – William Beeston – William Apis Lapis!!! –

(NASHE convulses with laughter – which he tries to hide as he pulls his chair to sit stage left of the table.)


Jokes like that ensured that Tom was destined for oblivion. In this scene I shall join the Shakespeare Angels and give you (SPIRIT SHAKESPEARE as BEESTON puts on cap) my William Beeston….

(NASHE mimes reading and writing. We are to imagine he has a tankard and a plate of cheese in front of him. SPIRIT SHAKESPEARE as BEESTON enters, miming carrying a jug of sack.)


Where is Shakebag? (Silence) And why am I back in Titchfield?


(Deep rustic) The answer to the first is, ‘I dunno’. The answer to the second is ‘you needs the cash’. Willy’s cash.


Harry’s cash. I only work for old money….


More sack?


(Pulling his tankard away) I’m working….


(Mimes pouring NASHE a drink anyway) Never stopped you before. Learning is a mere hoard of gold kept by a devil, till sack commences it and sets it in act and use…

(BEESTON mimes putting down the jug of sack on the table.)


Be quiet. I’m trying to think…..


More cheese? I’ve got loads of it in the loft….

(NASHE shakes his head.)


What about Molly then?  She’s in the loft as well….

(ANGEL D as MIDDLE SHAKESPEARE stands and brings his chair forward.)


Sorry I’m late Tom. Trouble with a sonnet. (Sits stage right of table.) Got a rhyme for ‘impediment’?.




(To BEESTON) Speaking of which….


Right away, Master Will…

(SPIRIT SHAKESPEARE as BEESTON exits Wings Right to collect MIDDLE SHAKESPEARE’s imaginary tankard.)


So what was Cobham’s ancestor called again?


Sir John something or other….


And he was a friend of Prince Hal?


Yes.  And a Protestant martyr who was slowly burnt to death…


Mmmm….Not much comic mileage in that….

(Both sit brooding, trying to get an idea. They keep writing things and crossing them out.)


(Mimes carrying two empty tankards in one hand – and carrying his lectern chair in the other. He puts his chair down behind the table and the mimed tankards on the table. He mimes pouring the sack from the jug into a  four pint tankard and gives it to MIDDLE SHAKESPEARE) Your morning pottle pot, Master Will.  More sack, Tom? (NASHE shakes his head.) More cheese, anyone? (MIDDLE SHAKESPEARE and NASHE shake their heads. There is complete, gloomy silence. BEESTON sits, unasked, and pours the sack into his own tankard. More silence.) More Molly?



(NASHE almost chokes with laughter. BEESTON and MIDDLE SHAKESPEARE exchange looks. NASHE realises that no-one is laughing – so stops.)


What would Cobham really hate….?


An attack on his family honour?


The Cobham family ain’t got none…




(Ignoring them as he always does) What is honour? Can honour set to a leg? No: or an arm? No: or take away the grief of a wound? No. (Sips) What is honour? A word. What is in that word, honour?  Air. (Sips again…NASHE is still sunk in gloom but MIDDLE SHAKESPEARE begins to stare at BEESTON) Who hath it? He that died o’ Wednesday. Doth he feel it? No. Doth he hear it? No. Honour is a mere ’scutcheon: and so ends my catechism…..(BEESTON stands up and shouts off) Molly! I’m a-comin hup! I loves it when you smells of cheese!

(MIDDLE SHAKESPEARE jumps up and pulls BEESTON back to the table…)


What did you say about sherry sack yesterday?


No idea….


Try to remember….

(MIDDLE SHAKESPEARE slamming down an imaginary coin on the table. BEESTON’S memory immediately recovers…)


A good sherry sack hath a two-fold operation in it…. (During the following speech, MIDDLE SHAKESPEARE, standing behind BEESTON, does everything to gain NASHE’s attention. In sign language, he tries to indicate to him that they could base the character of Sir John on BEESTON. But NASHE is slow on the up-take and doesn’t know what on earth MIDDLE SHAKESPEARE is doing) It ascends me into the brain, dries me there all the foolish, dull and crudy vapours which environ it, makes it apprehensive and quick, full of nimble, fiery and delectable shapes, which delivered o’er to the voice, the tongue, becomes excellent wit. (BEESTON has become aware of something behind him and looks round. MIDDLE SHAKESPEARE puts his hands behind his back, looks up into the air and whistles. BEESTON continues…) The second property of your excellent sherry is the …


(MIDDLE SHAKESPEARE gags BEESTON’s mouth with his hands.) Now say it all over again. SLOWLY….

(MIDDLE SHAKESPEARE removes his hands from BEESTON’s mouth. He mimes writing to NASHE. The penny finally drops…)



(NASHE mimes seizing a quill and writing. BEESTON opens his mouth. ALL freeze.)


And so the Fat Knight was born…


(Taking off his cap)

Ripped off rather, from Apis Lapis of Titchfield….

(SPIRIT SHAKESPEARE snaps his fingers. All unfreeze. SPIRIT SHAKESPEARE takes his chair back to his lectern. ANGEL D and ANGEL E take their chairs back to the back line – and ANGEL X clears the table down left.)

In the middle of all this knock-about though….

(SPIRIT SHAKESPEARE is suddenly overcome and sits. ANGEL X crosses to him and puts her arm round his shoulder.)


(Without script) Will’s little boy, Hamnet, died. He was only eleven – and Will had hardly known him. He was off touring in Kent at the time…..So he even missed his funeral….


(Recovering a bit and standing. ANGEL X returns to her table Stage Left.)

Of course I should have returned to mourn with my wife and (Pause) daughters…But the show must go on…I turned Harry into my surrogate son….

(ANGEL D as MIDDLE SHAKESPEARE turns to ANGEL C as HARRY who is sitting next to him and puts his right arm round him.)


As a decrepit father takes delight

To see his active child do deeds of youth,

So I, made lame by fortune’s dearest spite,

Take all my comfort of thy worth and truth…

(HARRY touches MIDDLE SHAKESPEARE’s left arm…then SPIRIT SHAKESPEARE snaps his fingers and the two men release their hold. ANGEL C removes his rose and ANGEL D removes his silk scarf.)


I told you that Tom Kyd was to have his revenge on me…The Spanish Tragedy is about a father who goes mad with grief at the death of his son….I owned the play – and, indeed, made money from it…I now added to it a speech of my own, the truest thing I ever wrote….And no-one knew it was me…


(Stands and comes forward. He takes off the slippers he is wearing. This speech can be learnt.)

These slippers are not mine, they were my son Horatio’s.

My son? And what’s a son? (Feigning bravura) A thing begot

Within a pair of minutes, there-about;

A lump bred up in darkness, and doth serve

To balance those light creatures we call women,

And at nine months end creeps forth to light.

What is there yet in a son to make a father

Dote, rave or run mad? Being born, it pouts,

Cries, and breeds teeth. What is there yet in a son?

He must be fed, be taught to go and speak.

Aye, and yet? Why might not a man love

A calf as well, or melt in passion over

A frisking kid, as for a son? Me thinks

The more he grows in stature and in years,

The more unsquar’d, unlevell’d he appears,

Reckons his parents among the rank of fools,

Strikes cares upon their heads with his mad riots,

Makes them look old before they meet with age.—

This is a son! And what a loss were this,

Considered truly! (Breaking down) Oh, but my Horatio

Grew out of reach of those insatiate humours:

He lov’d his loving parents, he was my comfort

And his mothers joy, the very arm that did

Hold up our house, our hopes were stored in him…. (ANGEL E as HIERONIMO wanders slowly back to his seat and puts on his slippers.)


(Taking a swig from his tankard) I hit the bottle again big-time….I got into brawls with Southwark pond life and was up before the beak. Harry dropped me for a bit – I don’t blame him. But it did make me worry he might one day drop me for good….

Harry finally fell in love with a girl – Elizabeth Vernon – one of Queen Elizabeth’s Ladies-in-Waiting. I couldn’t complain: I’d written him seventeen sonnets urging him to do that very thing…But I was, as you say, ambivalent. I wanted him to get married and have children – as I had done – but I didn’t want to lose his love…You might say I was a bit like Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet – or you might say Mercutio was a lot like me. You see, I AM all the characters in my plays, for better AND for worse. I finally accepted the marriage….I convinced myself that Harry and I had a spiritual union that nothing could destroy…

(Underscoring ‘Light o’ Love’ 26. [0.45] ‘Confident, romantic, optimistic’ lighting state.)


(Stands – brightly) Let me not to the marriage of true minds

Admit impediments: love is not love

Which alters when it alteration finds,

Or bends with the remover to remove.


(Stands) O no, it is an ever fixed mark

That looks on tempests and is never shaken;

It is the star to every wand’ring bark,

Whose worth’s unknown, although his higth be taken.


(Stands from Prompt Corner) Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks

Within his bending sickle’s compass come;

Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,

But bears it out even to the edge of doom:

If this be error and upon me prov’d,

I never writ, nor no man ever lov’d.

(Underscoring concludes or fades)


But politics was about to take over our lives again…

(SPIRIT SHAKESPEARE snaps his fingers. Snap lighting cue. ANGELS sit.)


The Earl of Essex and Harry decided that Queen Elizabeth should be deposed – and King James should become King of  Britain. The two men were in Ireland at the time, engaging with rebels….


Harry was also engaging with his Corporal General of Horse…


The plan was for Essex and Harry to return to England with the English army, join up with James and his Scottish army and march on London…Will’s job was to get King James on side.


I tried to do this by writing Macbeth….and playing it before him in Scotland. Yes, Scotland! All the Shakespeare scholars are wrong about this, except one. And he’s dead…..


The play argues that it is right to overthrow tyrants – even to march into a foreign country to do so. For ‘Scotland’ read ‘England’ – and for ‘England’ read ‘Scotland’.


I even had a whole coven of witches in the play prophesying that James would become King of England…


But James was having none of it….Elizabeth was pushing seventy. To get the English throne all he had to do was wait.

(ANGEL C puts on a cap as the Earl of Essex)


Ireland was a catastrophe for the Earl of Essex. (ANGEL C rises from his chair as the Earl of Essex) The Irish ran circles round him… (Earl of Essex mimes sword fighting  with the Irish – who attack him from everywhere)

He returned to England and barged into Elizabeth’s bed-chamber. (Essex prostrates himself in front of Elizabeth who is out front) She hadn’t done her make-up.  (Essex looks up at her and registers horror) She hadn’t put on her wig.  (Essex looks up further, screams and rushes off  stage left wings.) That was the end of him…..


Half of Essex’s supporters – including Harry – wanted the rebellion to continue. The other half wanted appeasement with the Queen….


I was definitely an appeaser… I wrote Julius Caesar to show them all just how wrong rebellions could go. But they went ahead – and landed me right in it by staging Richard II on the eve of the rebellion itself. Everyone knew the play was an attack on the Queen. Including the Queen.


Essex was beheaded – and Harry, under sentence of death, thrown into the Tower. All his gay romps in Ireland had been used against him at his trial. A letter from William Reynolds (Angel C emerges from wings left and goes to pick up his folder from the chair) – the brother of the Earl of Essex’s secretary – was passed round the court. Dated 13th February, 1601, it read….


(Coming forward)  I marvel what has become of Piers Edmonds, the Earl of Essex’s man, born in the Strand near me, who had many preferements by the Earl. His villainy I have often complained of. He was Corporal General of the Horse in Ireland under the Earl of Southampton. He ate and drank at his table and lay in his tent. The Earl of Southampton gave him a horse which Edmunds refused a hundred marks for. The Earl of Southampton would embrace and hug him in his arms and play wantonly with him….(Sits)


I fled to Scotland – believing, along with everyone else, that Harry would die in the Tower. Before I left I wrote him one last poem. It’s called The Phoenix and the Turtle. I compare Harry to the exotic, fabulous Phoenix – and myself to the humble, work-a-day turtle dove…..


But the birds achieve union – parity even – in the purifying flames of love and death.

(Underscoring ‘The Sick Tune’28. [1.06] Lights become reddish – like a furnace.)


(Stands) Let the bird of loudest lay,

On the sole Arabian tree,

Herald sad and trumpet be,

To whose sound chaste wings obey.


(Stands) Here the anthem doth commence –

Love and constancy is dead;

Phoenix and the Turtle fled

In a mutual flame from hence….

 (The red lighting state turns into moving flames.)


(Stands) So they lov’d, as love in twain

Had the essence but in one

Two distincts, division none;

Number there in love was slain…


(Stands) Hearts remote, yet not asunder;

Distance, and no space was seen

‘Twixt this turtle and his queen;

But in them it were a wonder….


(Stands) So between them love did shine

That the turtle saw his right

Flaming in the Phoenix sight;

Either was the other’s mine….


(Stands at Prompt Table) Beauty, truth and rarity,

Grace in all simplicity,

Here, enclos’d, in cinders lie.

Death is now the Phoenix nest….

And the turtle’s loyal breast

To eternity doth rest…..

(‘The Sick Tune’ either concludes or is faded. Red lighting fades. Silence – then single spot on SPIRIT SHAKESPEARE)


Truth may seem but cannot be;

Beauty brag, but ‘tis not she

Truth and beauty buried be.

To this urn let those repair

That are either true or fair:

For these dead birds sigh a prayer…..

 (Single spot on SPIRIT SHAKESPEARE fades. In the darkness the ANGELS return to their seats. ANGEL D puts on his scarf and ANGEL A puts on a bright shawl. Lights snap up to bright)


But life was about to take another of its turns. (ANGEL X sets bench down stage left at a slight angle.) Two friends of mine had just moved to Oxford – John Davenant , a vintner and lover of literature, (ANGEL E as JOHN DAVENANT stands) and his beautiful, vivacious wife Jennet. (ANGEL A as JENNET stands. Her husband leads her to the bench. She sits stage right end of bench and he sits stage left.) I stayed with them on the way to Scotland. By chance they were playing one of my comedies there – so I went to see it with my hosts. (ACTOR D as MIDDLE SHAKESPEARE crosses and sits on bench between DAVENANT and JENNET.)


(Rises and puts on red nose and crosses down stage right with an imaginary dog.) Come boy! Good boy! Sit! (He then plays to his audience on the bench. JENNET laughs away at the jokes – as do the other ANGELS – but DAVENANT doesn’t crack a smile. MIDDLE SHAKESPEARE – on his right – starts to notice this – and becomes concerned.)

I think that Crab my dog be the sourest natured dog that lives. My mother weeping, my father wailing, my sister crying, our maid howling, the cat wringing her hands and all our house in a great perplexity, yet did not this cruel-hearted cur shed one tear. (Takes off right shoe) This shoe is my father. (Takes off left shoe.) No this left shoe is my father, nay that cannot be so either. Yes it is, So it is. (The big pay-off) It hath the worser sole…(COMIC bows – everyone laughs and applauds – except JOHN DAVENANT. COMIC returns to his seat removes his red nose and puts his shoes back on.)


Jennet, could you leave us a moment….

(ANGEL B as JENNET bobs to her husband and leaves the two men and exits into stage right wings – an awkward pause.)


John. Can I make a confession? (Silence) I didn’t write all that crap about Crab the dog. Tom Nashe did…. (More silence)….


Can I make a confession?


Of course.


I thought it was funny. I just never laugh…..Never have done. Never will….(Silence) Trouble is, I like being with funny people. That’s why I run a tavern. I get them drunk so they don’t notice I’m not laughing…. (Silence) Can I make another confession? Jennet and I can’t have children…


Sorry to hear that…I had wondered…


But the doctor says she could have children with someone else. Would you like another son?


Of course I would but…(It gradually dawns on MIDDLE SHAKESPEARE what DAVENANT means)


I love your plays. I’d love my son to have just a smidgeon of your talent. I’d call him ‘Will’ so everyone would know….


But what about Jennet?


She’s in agreement. She adores you, Will. Like me.


But how would you feel about….


(He pauses) Some loves run very deep… (Calling) Jennet….( JENNET returns shyly from stage right wings) Jennet, it’s a done deal.

(JENNET approaches MIDDLE SHAKESPEARE, sits next to him on the bench and kisses him gently on the cheek. DAVENANT shakes him by the hand)


Cousin Will….

(ANGELS freeze. SPIRIT SHAKESPEARE snaps his fingers – the ANGELS return to their seats and ANGEL X clears the bench down left. ANGEL A removes her shawl.)


Not only did I father a son. I fathered a whole surrogate family!….Queen Elizabeth died two years later – and everything turned round. To Queen Elizabeth, Harry had been a traitor – but to King James he was a hero. I wrote Harry a ‘Congratulations on getting out of jail’ sonnet.


James’s Coronation Day, though, was a wash-out. The procession route was lined with paste-board obelisks. The heavens opened and the winds blew them away…


They reminded me of the real obelisk Harry and I had seen in Rome ten years before.…


(Stands and comes downstage central and peers into the audience – as though he is looking at the pasteboard obelisks. Byrd’s ‘Ave Verum Corpus’ plays in background.)

No! Time, thou shalt not boast that I do change:

Thy obelisks built up with newer might

To me are nothing novel, nothing strange,

They are but dressings of a former sight…


What a difference there was between pasteboard and granite! Just like the difference between the fickle world of the court and the unchanging love between Harry and myself….


If my dear love were but the child of state

It might for fortune’s bastard be unfather’d,

As subject to time’s love, or to time’s hate,

Weeds among weeds, or flowers with flowers gather’d.

No, it was builded far from accident;

It suffers not in smiling pomp, nor falls

Under the blow of thralled discontent,

Whereto th’ inviting time our fashion calls:

It fears not policy that Heretic,

Which works on leases of short number’d hours,

But all alone stands hugely politic,

That it nor grows with heat, nor drowns with show’rs….


I even called on the Catholic Martyrs – like Edmund Jennings, slaughtered in his jester’s outfit – to endorse our love…

(SPIRIT SHAKESPEARE and all the ANGELS cross themselves.)


To this I witness call the fools of time,

Which die for goodness, who have lived for crime.

(Music fades – and ANGEL D as MIDDLE SHAKESPEARE returns to his chair.)


King James made Will and his acting company Grooms of the Chamber and, dressed in red livery, Will held a canopy over King James during the Coronation Service…..


So I saw in close-up the handsome young Earl of Pembroke kiss the King full on the lips! Everyone had thought that Harry would become James’s new boyfriend – not least of all Harry. But James preferred younger men – and Harry’s time in the Tower had taken its toll.


Hurled from the centre of power, Harry started to grow bitterly homophobic. And then his wife produced a son. Harry wanted him to grow up to be a bold and manly soldier.  Unlike Shakespeare. The player had to go.


I  wrote Harry a poison-pen letter – in the form of a malformed sonnet, its final couplet ripped away like a head from a body – or foetus from a womb…


Will had told Harry that if he became a father he would become like a moon that could wax and wane at the same time. Now – fifteen years later – he developed this idea….. 


I admitted that Harry was still so beautiful he seemed to have power over Time itself. But I called him ‘my lovely Boy’ – an insult to an English Earl, now in his thirties and in the violent throes of gay denial…


(Stands – walks forward downstage centre and addresses HARRY out front with complete hatred and contempt.)

O thou my lovely Boy who in thy power

Dost hold time’s fickle glass, his sickle hour:

Who hast by waning grown, and therein show’st

Thy lover’s withering, as thy sweet self grow’st….


(Standing upstage right of MIDDLE SHAKESPEARE)

You might be growing in the form of your baby son – but I your lover, am withering away, denied your love…


If Nature (sovereign mistress over wrack)

As thou goest onwards still will pluck thee back,

She keeps thee to this purpose, that her skill

May Time disgrace, and wretched minute kill.


Dame Nature has kept you young-looking so she can show off in front of Old Father Time….


Yet fear her, O thou minion of her pleasure;

She may detain, but not still keep her treasure!


Be afraid, Harry! Be very afraid! You are a mere plaything of Nature. She can only slow down the process of aging, NOT reverse it.


(With savage triumph) Her Audit (though delayed) answer’d must be,

And her Quietus is to render thee.

(MIDDLE SHAKESPEARE turns sharply and walks briskly to his seat. SPIRIT SHAKESPEARE stands in the central place he has occupied.)


(Savagely) Dame Nature has got to pay off Old Father Time – and she will settle the bill with YOU! She will ‘render’ you by giving you up…And ‘render’ you by breaking down your body in the grave – like a lump of meat. I promised you immortality. Now I promise you death!

(Pause) I then went mad and wrote Lear.

(Lights snap off. In darkness SPIRIT SHAKESPEARE returns to his lectern. Lights slowly come up to bright.)

You will have noticed by now that revenge has played a large part in my life – and I still can’t, quite, believe it is a sin. (ANGEL X  – and all the other ANGELS – look pained.) Perhaps I do need some more time in Purgatory. It’s up to you to decide.

Anyway I took the decision to publish my Sonnets. (ANGEL X sets the table centre stage.) I took all one hundred and fifty four of them to Thomas Thorpe…(ANGEL E as THOMAS THORPE, stands)a printer friend of mine.

(ANGEL E as THOMAS THORPE takes his chair and sits stage right of the table, miming proof-reading and correcting.  ANGEL D as MIDDLE SHAKESPEARE rises from his chair and crosses to left of the table miming carrying a pile of sonnets which he plonks down.)


Tom, I want you to publish these.


(Continuing to proof-read and correct) Are you selling by the pound?


Every sonnet I’ve ever written….


Not for me, Will.  Sonnets don’t sell. People don’t like them….


But they’re by ME!


(TOM becomes interested and stops correcting) And you’ll put your name to them?


(Pulling up his chair and sitting stage left of table) I certainly will….


(Looking them over with a quick, practised eye) Some of these are a bit hot.  You’ll be changing the ‘he’s’ to ‘she’s’….?




Narrows the market….


Not in Southwark it doesn’t….


And what about libel?  I don’t want Southampton’s thugs smashing up my press…


I won’t dedicate the book to the Earl of Southampton….


Thank God for that…


No. I’ll dedicate it to Mr. Henry Risley – remind him of his days in the Tower…When they stripped him of his title…


Are you mad?


Well, Mr. H. W. then….


(Sarcastically) Impenetrable code….


Look Tom, I want everyone to know it’s him….


How about Mr. W. H.….?


Would you publish if I agree?


(Not entirely sure) Y-e-s….


There’s another poem I’ve just written. I’d like it to go at the end – A Lover’s Complaint…

(MIDDLE SHAKESPEARE mimes handing over a manuscript to TOM THORPE.)


(Suspicious) What’s this one about?


Relax, Tom. It’s about a woman….She is seduced by a vain, psychotic, lover who abandons her….


Will Shakespeare in drag. Spare me tragedy, Will.  We can’t give tragedy away….


But it’s got a triumphant, optimistic ending…..

(MIDDLE SHAKESPEARE mimes indicating the place in the poem. TOM THORPE reads it. ANGEL A rises from her seat, comes forward and directs her focus on the book from behind the table.)


(Hurt and vengeful) O that infected moisture of his eye,

O that false fire which in his cheek so glow’d:

O that forc’d thunder from his heart did fly,

O that sad breath his spongy lungs bestow’d,

O all that borrow’d motion seeming owed,

(Pause –looks out front – a complete change of tone to one of triumph). Would yet again betray the fore-betray’d,

And new pervert a reconciled Maid!


(Laughing and shaking MIDDLE SHAKESPEARE’s hand) O.K. Will. You’re on…..

(SPIRIT SHAKESPEARE snaps his fingers. ANGEL A sits back in her chair, ANGEL E takes his chair back into line and sits on it. ANGEL D exits to wings left and puts on a cloak – which should be pre-set.)


My Sonnets were published and I waited for the explosion from Harry. Nothing happened. Out of sheer, bloody curiosity I rode down to Titchfield – and called on……

(SPIRIT SHAKESPEARE puts on his BEESTON hat – rustic accent)

Apis Lapis…..

(MIDDLE SHAKESPEARE enters from stage left wings, wearing a cloak. Suggestion of candlelight and night-time.)


Look what the cat’s brought in! Sit down. Get yourself warm.

(BEESTON indicates chair stage left of the table – left from the previous scene – and invites MIDDLE SHAKESPEARE to sit. MIDDLE SHAKESPEARE takes off his cloak and does so as BEESTON pulls up lectern chair and sits stage right of the table.)


Never thought we’d see you here again….


Never thought I’d be here.


Cheese? Sack? (Looking upwards) Molly’s a bit past it now….


No thanks, Will. Can’t stay long. (Looking down at an imagined volume of sonnets on the table) I see you’re reading them….


Everyone’s reading them!


And Harry?


It’s his copy….


He used to mark the lines he liked best…..


The spine cracked when I opened it….(A knife to MIDDLE SHAKESPEARE’S heart) Well, he’d read most of them before. And Baby James is taking up a lot of his time…(Another knife)


You think I’m a shit, don’t you?




And I should never have published them….


No. They are sublime. Sublime but toxic.


He deserves it….


Toxic for you. (MIDDLE SHAKESPEARE looks startled. BEESTON mimes picking up the volume and looks through, quoting) ‘As a decrepit father takes delight’, ‘Like a deceived husband’, ‘Being your slave’….Will, you were none of these things. You were Will Shakespeare and he was Harry Southampton. Once you had something to give each other. Now you don’t…


(Rising to go and putting on his cloak) He took everything….


He gave you £1,000 pounds! (MIDDLE SHAKESPEARE looks shocked). Everyone knows, Will. Everyone. Without him and his mum you’d never have written a line….Look, I’m an old fart. But I do know this. Yesterday’s happiness is an old, worn out…. (pauses)….glove….(Both men smile) Get a new one, Will. Now I can’t give you a sonnet to take with you – but I can give you a nice lump of my cheese…..(Does so)


(Miming putting cheese into pocket in cloak) Bless you, Apis Lapis.


You still a Catholic?


Of course.


But you’re a bastard!


I’d be more of a bastard if I wasn’t one!

(BEESTON roars with laughter, rises and embraces MIDDLE SHAKESPEARE.)


Safe journey, Will….

(MIDDLE SHAKESPEARE exits into wings stage left. BEESTON returns to table and picks up book of sonnets.)


Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds

Nor bends with the remover to remove…..

(Lights fade down. In the darkness SPIRIT SHAKESPEARE quickly moves back to the lectern and takes off his hat. Lights snap up.)


My next play was The Tempest. As I’m sure you all know, it’s about a megalomaniacal magician – who forces an abject group of spirits to enact his every whim….

(Snaps his fingers on BOTH hands.)


(Entering from wings left, tearing off his cloak and silk scarf and changing his voice to Cockney) Right. That’s it. We’ve all had enough! No more snapping fingers at us, Mr. Shakespeare. I’ll get you on bullying, harassment and threatening body language. One out – all out….

(ANGEL D ushers the ANGELS A, B, and C off stage left. Last off is ANGEL E)…..


(Turning to ANGEL D) Can we get him on ageism?


Tricky one. But I’ll give it a go….

(ANGEL E leaves left – followed by ANGEL D. SPIRIT SHAKESPEARE calls after them…)


Angels! Come back! It’s only a play…..(to ANGEL X who has remained at her desk) At least you’re loyal, X…


Forget loyal. I’m here to make sure you don’t escape…I’m your Guardian Angel as well…


(Looking hopelessly around….)

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,

As I foretold you, were all spirits and

Are melted into air, into thin air:

And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,

The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,

The solemn temples, the great globe itself,

Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve

And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,

Leave not a rack behind.

We are such stuff

As dreams are made on, and our little life

Is rounded with a sleep….

It was when I wrote those lines that the penny finally dropped. Ovid and I were wrong. Life on earth is transient. We were trying to make it eternal. Life flows. We were trying to fix it. The problem wasn’t just me. It was art itself! I decided to retire from the stage and become a country gentleman.


(Standing at Prompt Table) The Fifth Age:

And then the justice,

In fair round belly with good capon lined,

With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,

Full of wise saws and modern instances;

And so he plays his part…..


It didn’t work. I couldn’t be normal. So I didn’t make it to the Fifth Age either. I stayed in the Third Age – a lover – all my life. The Peter Pan of Stratford-upon-Avon….

(Crosses and picks up his tankard. Sits at the table)

True, I loved my daughter Susanna , her husband, Dr. John and my beautiful granddaughter, Elizabeth . My wife Anne and I had arrived at a modus vivendi. She said nothing to me and I said nothing to her. My second daughter, Judith, was a bit of a handful. (Indignantly) She was determined to marry a drunk! (Takes an angry swig from his tankard.)

But it was the Council who were the killers – a bunch of pompous, tee-total, do-gooders who had ACTUALLY BANNED THE PERFORMANCE OF MY PLAYS IN STRATFORD!!! (Takes another swig from his tankard) I went to their committee meetings but they bored me to death…I preferred spending my time with the old Catholic lags and villains in in the Bear…

And I started to drift back to London – doing a bit of re-writing here, a bit of collaborating there. I didn’t need the money – I was the richest man in Stratford…But not from writing plays, I can tell you. From property-dealing and money-lending like my dear old dad…

And from having invested heavily in his Post-Armada line of feather-lite ribbed gloves…

I tried to give up theatre in London – but found I was addicted to it. I tried to give up drinking in Stratford – but found I was addicted to that as well…(Takes another sip) I was addicted to everything! It couldn’t go on. And it didn’t. It’s now four hundred years, XXX months and XXXX days since I dropped down dead in the Bear! Cheers! (Drains tankard) So we’re back where we were at the beginning of the show – sorry, confession – and it’s make your mind up time!

(Quiz show chords on the Hammond Organ – SPIRIT SHAKESPEARE gives the nod to ANGEL X who exits to the stage left wings and SPIRIT SHAKESPEARE clears his chair back to the lectern.)

Now Ladies and Gentlemen, in a moment I shall perform the end speech from The Tempest – re-written specially for you. The volume of your applause will determine whether I stay in Purgatory or enter Heaven – and this will be measured by….

(Fanfare on organ)

The Clapometer!!!

(ANGEL X enters with the Clapometer and places it on the central table. She flicks a switch and it lights up. She places her chair behind the Clapometer. She puts on a pair of large headphones – which are hanging on the side of the Clapometer and are connected to the back by a cable. She goes behind the Clapometer to operate it.)

[The Clapometer is a box with a dial in front….looking a bit like this…


But instead of numbers there is writing: ‘Hell’ where O is, Purgatory where 50 is and Heaven where 100 is. When it is brought on it is set at ‘Purgatory’. It should give the appearance of being electrically operated – hence the lights at the top (battery operated) – but it is in fact secretly worked by hand by ANGEL X at the back. It must be light enough for X to carry by herself and able to fit on the table.]


Now I got this idea from Hughie Greene. He’s due for release soon, too. You will observe there is an indicator – currently set at ‘Purgatory’. You will also observe there is another setting ‘Heaven’. If you applaud enough, the indicator will move to the right, a bell will ring and I will go to Heaven…If you don’t, I will stay in Purgatory…

(ANGEL X – wearing headphones – pokes her head out from behind the Clapometer)


Tell them about ‘Hell’. (ANGEL X disappears again)


(Reluctantly) In the very unlikely event that anyone boos, I will be sent to…

AUDIENCE ‘plant’ boos. The Clapometer lurches down towards ‘Hell’ Setting…


Look what you’ve done! I’ll never get in! You’ll all just have to clap harder. I’ve tried to tell you the truth about my life and I hope you will forgive me. I know I’ve been a bit of a scapegrace at times, but you still have my plays. And I’m not going to want them back…

(Moves to downstage central area. Addresses audience directly. Lights up gently on audience.)

‘Now my charms are all o’erthrown,

And what strength I have’s mine own,

Which is most faint: now, ’tis true,

I must be here confin’d by you,

Or sent to Heaven. Let me not,

Since I have my remission got

And fess’d up to my sins now dwell

In this bare stage set by your spell;

But release me from my bands

With the help of your good hands:

Gentle breath of yours my sails

Must fill, or else my project fails –

To get to Heaven.

Now I want Spirits to enforce, art to enchant,

And my ending is despair,

Unless I be relieved by prayer,

Which pierces so that it assaults

Mercy itself and frees all faults.

As you from sins would pardon’d be,

Let your indulgence set me free.’

(Audience claps encouraged to by SPIRIT SHAKESPEARE. Clapometer moves towards Heaven setting, but stops short of it.)

Good. But not enough….Let’s try again…

‘As you from sins would pardon’d be

Let your indulgence set me free…’

(Audience claps again – Clapometer inches a tiny bit further towards Heaven)

Still not enough….

(ANGEL X comes from behind the Clapometer without headphones and whispers in SPIRIT SHAKESPEARE’s ear.)

X – you are an ARCHANGEL!

(SPIRIT SHAKESPEARE kisses ANGEL X who exits into the wings.)

X has saved my bacon! And I’m not Francis Bacon either!

(ANGEL X pushes on the reluctant ANGELS who form a group upstage left. SPIRIT SHAKESPEARE welcomes them from down right.)

A! B! C! D! E! Can I ask you a great favour? Will you forgive me for my bullying, harassment and threatening body language?


(beaming smiles, in UNISON) Of course we will!


(Aside to audience) They have to. Goes with the territory. (To ANGELS) And will you all cheer me? (ANGELS hesitate…)


Of course you will!!!! Now, positions please, either side of the Clapometer…

(ANGELS form into two bunches, down right and down left of the Clapometer)

So here goes – for the last time, I hope….

‘As you from sins would pardon’d be

Let your indulgence set me free!’

(Applause and cheers from the Audience and Angels. The indicator moves to Heaven, a bell rings and a loud fanfare from the organ rings out)

We did it, folks! We did it!

(Music begins. Gracie Fields singing ‘Wish Me Luck as you wave me Goodbye’– 1941 version. Take from beginning of orchestral interlude. SPIRIT SHAKESPEARE goes into the audience and shakes hands with audience as ANGEL X clears the Clapometer and the chair and table– then returns to join in the celebration. SPIRIT SHAKERSPEARE returns to the stage and shakes hands with Angels – kisses the women angels – and leads them forward for individual bows. Then he joins in with Gracie…The ANGELS start their dance their routine  behind him.)


Wish me luck as you wave me goodbye

Cheerio, here I go, on my way

Wish me luck as you wave me goodbye

Not a tear, but a cheer, make it gay

Give me a smile I can keep all the while

In my heart while I’m away

‘Till we meet once again, you and I

Wish me luck as you wave me goodbye


ANGELS (These lyrics should be learnt by everyone.)

Wish me luck as you wave me goodbye

Cheerio, here I go on my way

Wish me luck as you wave me goodbye

Not a tear, but a cheer, make it gay


Give me a smile I can keep all the while

In my heart while I’m away

(SPIRIT SHAKESPEARE mounts the stairs of the theatre…)


‘Till we meet once again, you and I

Wish me luck as you wave me goodbye

(SPIRIT SHAKESPEARE turns and waves goodbye to the ANGELS who wave back at him…He then enters Heaven…)


Curtain Calls.

ANGEL A: Young Woman. Plays Anne Hathaway/Chorus Tavern [‘Lucy is Lousy’.]/Amelia Bassano/Lucrece/Titania/Sonnet/Phoenix &Turtle/Lover’s Complaint/Wish me luck.

ANGEL B: Woman – glamorous middle age plays Mrs Shakespeare/Chorus Tavern/Countess Mary/Venus/Sonnets/P&T/Wish me Luck

ANGEL C: Young Man plays Boy Shakespeare, Young Shakespeare/Harry Southampton/Adonis/P&T/Comic/Wish me Luck

ANGEL D: Man – Middle Age plays Welsh Schoolmaster/Campion/Chorus Tavern/Kit Marlowe/Middle Shakespeare/Pyramus/P&T/Trade Union Rep/Wish me luck.

ANGEL E: Older Man plays John Shakespeare/Tom Nashe/Robert Crowley/Tarquin/Thomas Kyd/Hieronimo/Ben Jonson/Falstaff/William Reynolds/P&T/John Davenant/Tom Thorpe/Wish me Luck.

ANGEL X Woman – Middle age or older: must be able to lift a small table! Shifts chairs and benches – announces Each of the Seven Ages in Shakespeare’s language – joins in Tavern Scene Chorus/Sonnets/P&T/Banters with Shakespeare/Announces Intervals/Banters with Shakespeare/Operates the Clapometer/Dances with Shakespeare – and tries to stop him and the Angels from drinking too much!

SPIRIT of Shakespeare. Middle Age. Stocky, looks like the Bust in Stratford Parish Church. Also plays William Beeston.

© Stewart Trotter 12th August 2016.
































lewsi fiander
Lewis Fiander has died in his native Australia – one of the most talented actors it was my privilege to work with. (He played the Ivor Novello part in Perchance to Dream for me at the Northcott Theatre, Exeter, in the 1980s.)
Laurence Olivier, when he was running the National Theatre at the Old Vic, announced that Lewis was his natural successor – so from that moment onward the English knives were out.
He had come to Olivier’s attention by having the audacity to audition for him in the part of Hamlet – one of Olivier’s most celebrated rôles…….

Hamlet 1948 rŽal : Laurence Olivier Laurence Olivier Collection Christophel

Lewis entered reading a book – and then quoted from it…..
To be or not to be….
In a fit of excited discovery, he then threw the book across the stage with:
That is the question!
Olivier’s response? ‘
Baby, if I had seen that I would have stolen it!
Lewis was a perfectionist – and that could drive lesser mortals mad. At the technical for Perchance to Dream he suddenly announced – in the broadest Australian….
I’m the leading man! I’ve got to die centre stage!
The designer of the show was completely outraged – but I said….
Lewis is right, you know….
So we completely redesigned the setting of the scene – to the infinite improvement of the production.
Lewis was kindness itself to the singers in the show who had less acting experience than himself: he would nudge them to the right place on the stage – often upstage of himself. He had a horrendous change – from modern day to highwayman times – in a matter of seconds. He was in at the theatre at dawn, practising running down a flight of stairs as he changed his trousers…..
He had style in abundance…….
lewis darcy
…..but it was not the time for style.
A generous raconteur, he would seek out actors visiting Australia and take them out to dinner.
For me, he could no wrong – both as an artist and a man.
RIP, Lewis.
(12th January 1938 – 24th May, 2016)


Why did William Shakespeare write Love’s Labour’s Lost?

by Stewart Trotter.

The Background.

It is my belief that Love’s Labour’s Lost was first performed, in private performance, in the grounds of Place House, Titchfield, at Whitsun in 1592.

place house recon.

The beautiful Mary Browne, Second Countess of Southampton……

Mary Browne

……was the host….

…… and the dashing guest of honour was Robert Devereux, the Second Earl of Essex…..

essex young beardeless

……fresh from his ‘triumph’ at the Siege of Rouen…..

……(which in reality had been a military disaster).

The play was performed to the background of the Titchfield Whitsun Fair……

……first instituted as a four-day Corpus Christi Fair by King Henry VI in 1447…..


….and which seems to burst into the play itself….

(There are references to a dancing horse, the Morris Men’s hobby-horse…..


…..silk ribbons, jousting and gifts bought at fairs…


In fact the word ‘fair’ is mentioned over forty times in the play.)

Topographical features of Titchfield itself are mentioned in the pay…..

……many of which can be seen to this day.

The remains of the…..

curious knotted garden

…. in the Abbey Grounds…..


the steep up-rising of the hill…..

…opposite the Abbey Gates.

There is even the mill Berowne mentions when he hides in a tree…..

….more sacks to the mill….

……now a pub at the foot of Mill Lane.

The Mill Pub Titchfield

The Mill Pub Titchfield

The outlines of…..

The Parke

….which is mentioned in the play…..

…..and features in this old c. 1610 map of the area…..


A 1610 Map of Titchfield, showing the 'The Place' and 'The Parke' - both mentioned in 'Love's Labour's Lost'.

….can still be seen….

…..as can the ruins of…..

The Place

…the alternative name for ‘Place House’…..

place house 2


…….the converted Titchfield Abbey….

…… which Henry VIII gave as a gift to Thomas Wriothesley, the First Earl of Southampton…

Thomas Wriothesley 1st Earl Southampton


Titchfield also provides the answer to linguistic puzzles in the play.

Holofernes, the garrulous pedant, is said to…

…..educate youth in a Charge-house…..

What is a ‘Charge-house’?

In Mill Lane is a building known as The Schoolhouse….

old schoolhouse

In its upper storey it has the remains of a secure room or safe….

Clearly the school, which is on a road, doubled as a toll house. 

But it is a Titchfield feature which no longer exists – though remembered by older local people – which holds the answer to the play’s most difficult puzzle.

Why is the dark-skinned coquette, Rosaline, described by Berowne as….

a whitely wanton?

It’s a reference to Whitely Lodge…..

…..a property owned by the Southampton family for their shadier goings on…

In the play the fantastical Spaniard Don Armado, desperately in love with the loose-living country wench, Jaquenetta, plans to visit her at….

The Lodge

But why did William Shakespeare write the play in the first place?


REASON ONE: For money….

It was a commission from Countess Mary…..

She had commissioned Shakespeare two years previously, in 1590, to write seventeen sonnets for the seventeenth birthday of her son, Henry Wriothesley, the Third Earl of Southampton (a.k.a. ‘Harry Southampton’) to convince him to get married.

Henry Wriothesley, Third Earl of Southampton.


The ploy hadn’t worked – gay young Harry wasn’t interested in women…..

….so Mother Mary tried again, this time with a play…

Countess Mary was under financial pressure herself. She was a widow and her son’s guardian, Lord Burghley……

Burghley with wand of office

……wanted Harry to marry his granddaughter, Elizabeth de Vere.


If he refused, the Southampton family would face a massive £5,000 fine when Harry came of age – in two years’ time.

REASON TWO: To ‘heterosexualise’ Harry.

Harry’s father, the Second Earl of Southampton……

Henry Wriothesley, 2nd Earl of Southampton

……..had accused his wife Mary of infidelity with…..

a common person

…..and thrown her out of the house.

According to Mary, he then proceeded to make his Gentleman of the Bedchamber, Thomas Dymmock….

….his wife…

…..and surrounded his son with an all-male culture……

….a whole troupe of at least a hundred well-mounted gentlemen and yeomen….


…tall goodly fellows that kept a constant pace.

Harry had grown up suspicious of women and preferring male companionship…..

…..especially that of the Second Earl of Essex, also a ward of Burghley, whom he worshipped.

Shakespeare echoes this situation in the play.

Love’s Labour’s Lost is about the King of Navarre and three of his aristocratic friends who swear to avoid all contact with women for three years….

…and devote themselves to study….

There are even bits of gay banter in the text….

The King claims he will


…Don Armado for his…..


Minstrels, in Shakespeare’s day, were notorious for their homosexuality.

Berowne refers to minstrels later in the play when he mockingly quotes the King (who has just written a sonnet)

Tush! none but minstrels like of sonneting….

….and Don Armado describes how…..

……it will please his grace [the King] by the world, sometime to lean upon my poor shoulder, and with his royal finger, thus, dally with my excrement, with my mustachio…

But the play goes on to expose the folly of men trying to live without women.

The beautiful Princess of France and her Ladies-in-Waiting arrive on diplomatic business…..

….and one by one the men fall in love with them.

 Shakespeare wrote the part of  the King  of Navarre…..

king of navarre

…..for the nineteen year old Harry….

….in the desperate hope that some of the King’s heterosexuality might rub off on him….

(Boyet even gives a coded description of the King’s erection on first seeing the Princess of France……

His heart like an agate with your print impressed,

Proud with his form in his eye pride expressed…..)

The love sonnet the King writes to the Princess also has a reference to a rose…..

So sweet a kiss the golden Sun gives not

To those fresh morning drops upon the Rose

This is a reference both to the Southampton rose….

southampton rose crest 2.

…and to Harry himself, whom Shakespeare refers to as…

…my Rose…

…in the Sonnets.

(The Southampton familyas we know from the Titchfield Parish Register – pronounced their family name…..




And the….

…..fresh morning drops upon the Rose…..

…..are a coded reference to teenage Harry’s early morning seminal emissions!

Shakespeare had great fun with this subject in the Birthday Sonnets…

Unthrifty loveliness why dost thou spend

Upon thyself thy beauty’s legacy….

Money was often a coded word for semen.)

Shakespeare wrote the parts of Lord Longaville and Lord Dumaine for two of Harry’s aristocratic friends….

….Charles Blount (later Lord Mountjoy)…

Charles Blount Lord Mountjoyu

…and Roger Manners, Fifth Earl of Rutland….

Manners, Roger 5th Earl of Rutland

Both were in Titchfield for the Whitsun/Essex celebrations…..

….and a plague was raging in London….

Lord Longaville in the play – as his name suggests – is tall…

Maria says to him….

The liker you; few taller are so young.

Blount was tall in real life….

Fynes Morison describes him as……….

….of stature tall and of very comely proportion.

Shakespeare also makes joking reference to the family name ‘Blount’ (pronounced ‘Blunt’)

Maria describes Longaville as having…..

….a sharp wit matched with too blunt a will….

(Shakespeare can never resist sexual innuendo!)

In the play Lord Dumaine is beardless….

He says to Katharine….

But what to me, my love? But what to me? A wife…

And she replies…

A beard, fair health and happiness…..

Roger Manners, Harry’s Cambridge friend, who played Dumaine, was sixteen at the time.

We have seen, he acquired a beard later in life.

He also acquired a wife – but never consummated the marriage.

Shakespeare also refers to the family name ‘Manners’ in the text…

Dumaine talks about……

…..the grosser manner of the world’s delights…..

…. and in a three-line exchange between Costard and Berowne, the word ‘manner/manor’ is mentioned EIGHT times….


The matter is to me, sir, as concerning Jaquenetta. The manner of it is, I was taken with the manner.


In what manner?


In manner and form following, sir; all those three: I was seen with her in the manor-house, sitting with
her upon the form, and taken following her into the Park; which, put together, is in manner and form
following. Now, sir, for the manner,–it is the manner of a man to speak to a woman: for the form,–in some form.

But who was to play the Princess of France with whom Navarre falls in love?

A young actor in drag would have proved counter-productive….

Harry himself loved dressing up in women’s clothes…


…..a habit Shakespeare refers to in Sonnet 53:

On Helen’s cheek all art of beauty set

And you in Grecian tires are painted new…..

The answer was to cast a real woman…..

….the Earl of Essex’s sister….

……the ravishing Penelope Rich….

penelope rich lambeth 2

…famous for her black eyes and red hair…

….who, though married to Robert, Third Baron Rich, was the open mistress of Charles Blount.

(Women often performed in private entertainments – especially on Queen Elizabeth’s Progresses – and Penelope was to later act openly at Court in the reign of King James VI and I.)

The King of Navarre compares the Princess/Penelope’s hair to the sun…..

……flaming in the heavens….

And beauty’s crest becomes the heavens well…

But Berowne prefers his dark-skinned, dark-haired Rosaline….

…..and suggests that the Princess should dye her red hair black to resemble her…

O if in black my lady’s brows be deck’d,

It mourns that painting and usurping hair

Should ravish doters with;

And therefore is she born to make black fair.

Her favour turns the fashion of the days

For native blood is counted painting now;

And therefore red that would avoid dispraise,

Paints itself black, to imitate her brow.

Again Shakespeare plays on…


Penelope’s married name…..

The Princess herself says:

Sweet hearts we shall be rich ere we depart…..

….and the word ‘rich’ is used seven times in the final scene.

This is the pun Sir Philip Sidney…..

sidney philip

…….who was in love with Penelope……..

……..had also used in his Sonnet Sequence, Astrophil and Stella…

Toward Aurora’s court a nymph doth dwell,

Rich in all beauties which man’s eye can see:

Beauties so far from reach of words, that we

Abase her praise, saying she doth excel:

Rich in the treasure of deserv’d renown,

Rich in the riches of a royal heart,

Rich in those gifts which give th’eternal crown;

Who though most rich in these and every part,

Which make the patents of true worldly bliss,

Hath no misfortune, but that Rich she is.

In his Sonnets Shakespeare also couples the names of ‘Manners’, ‘Rich’ and  ‘Blount/Blunt’

Sonnet 52

So am I as the rich, whose blessed key,

Can bring him to his sweet up-locked treasure,

The which he will not every hour survey,

For blunting the fine point of seldom pleasure.

Sonnet 85

My tongue-tied Muse in manners holds her still,

While comments of your praise richly compiled.

The Princess’s Ladies-in-Waiting in the play were played by Penelope’s closest female friends.

Dorothy Devereux, her sister….

penelope and dorothy devereux

…… played Maria – beloved of Longaville….

She is described in the play as wearing white…..

This was a characteristic of the whole Devereux family…..

Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex.

Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex.

….who often wore white to show their allegiance to Queen Elizabeth.

Frances Walsingham – the wife of Essex and widow of Sir Philp Sidney…..

frances walsingham 3


…….played Katharine, beloved of Dumaine….

We are told in the play that Katharine’s sister had died….

The same thing had happened to Frances in real life….

Dumaine says of Katharine…

Her amber hairs for foul hath amber quoted…

In the painting we can see that not only does she have amber hair – she has an amber dress as well!

Antonio Perez who became part of the Essex entourage……

…..described Penelope, Dorothy and Frances as….

Three sisters and goddesses….

They were clearly an inseperable trio.

REASON THREE: To seduce the Dark Lady.

Rosaline – the dark-skinned coquette in the Princess’s entourage – was played by Amelia Bassano…..

…. the mixed-race singer, clavichord player…..

…..and young mistress to the Queen’s randy old cousin, Henry Carey, Lord Hunsdon……

Henry Carey, Lord Hunsdon..

……who later became the Lord Chamberlain…..

…….and ‘patron’ of Shakespeare’s company – the Lord Chamberlain’s Men.

Amelia and her musical family of Sephardic Jews – originally from Venice – had been part of Queen Elizabeth’s progress to Cowdray and Titchfield in August and September of the previous year, 1591.

Hunsdon had attended a Privy Council meeting at Place House – and he could well have been lodged with Amelia in Whitely Lodge – another resonance to ‘whitely wanton’.

Amelia had stayed on at Titchfield to entertain Countess Mary, avoid the plague in London and have a crack at young Harry…

Shakespeare fell desperately in love with her…..

…..and wrote Love’s Labour’s Lost partly to seduce her.

He cast himself as  Lord Berowne and wrote teasing, bantering love scenes they could play together….

berowne rosaline 1

Art and life began to imitate each other:

Berowne sends love-sonnets to Rosaline……

Shakespeare was sending love-sonnets to Amelia in real life…..

Shakespeare writes to Amelia in Sonnet 130

My mistress when she walks treads on the ground….

Rosaline reports that in Berowne’s sonnet to her he has written, rather more flatteringly….

I were the fairest Goddess on the ground…..

Berowne claims…

Black is Beautiful

….in the play…

And Shakespeare claims…

Black is Beautiful in the Sonnets….

(That is, till he has an argument with Amelia….

….then it’s a very different matter.)

Amelia Bassano/Lanyer is the famous Dark Lady of the Sonnets……

……as A.L. Rowse brilliantly discovered in 1976…..

A. L. Rowse

…..to howls of derision from Academe…

REASON FOUR: To promote himself.

Vigorous, ruthless, self-promotion was essential for actors and writers in Elizabeth’s reign.

All the Roman Catholic charities had been suspended – and the Protestants were slow to take up their work.

If you had no money, you starved to death – as many of Shakespeare’s contemporaries did.

By casting himself as Lord Berowne……


…..Shakespeare was making himself the equal of the ‘real’ lords, Harry, Blount and Manners…..

……rather in the way the South London boy, Noel Coward…..

coward poster

…..turned himself into a pretend aristocrat.

In fact Berowne proves himself superior to the other Lords.

He takes the moral lead by predicting the men will not stick to their vows because…

every man with his affects [passions] is born

Not by might mastered, but by special grace [from God]…

He then proceeds to educate them into the overwhelming powers of heterosexual love…


…to make the text work must be pronounced….


The phrase

brown studies


…. gloomy meditations

….had come into use c.1555.

Rosaline says:

Berowne they call him, but a merrier man,

Within the limit of becoming mirth,

I never spent an hour’s talk withal…

And at the end of the play Berowne says to Rosaline….

Studies my lady?

Berowne is a compliment to Shakespeare’s patron, Mary Brown.

It suggests that Shakespeare is now part of the Southampton family.

As indeed he was….

When Shakespeare’s family later acquired a crest, it incorporated the four silver falcons of the Southampton Coat of Arms….

southampton crest coloured

garter crest of Shakespeare

(After the publication of the First Folio, the name ‘Berowne’ was changed to ‘Biron’.)

REASON FIVE: To flatter the audience…

The Earl of Essex – a compulsive jouster……..

Essex in gold armour marigold

…….would have taken an active part in the fair…..

But he was a member of the audience for the performance of Love’s labour’s Lost – watching his sisters, his wife and his friends perform – so he had to be acknowledged as well.

At Rouen he had fought alongside Henri, King of Navarre……

henri of navarre

……and Armand de Gontaut, maréchal de Biron……


…….against Henri d’Orlèans, duc de Longueville……..

longueville 2

….. and Charles de Lorraine, duc de Mayenne….


Navarre, Biron, Longaville and Dumaine……

……a quarter of the cast had been named after Essex’s campaign a few months earlier!

Also the King of Navarre is named ‘Ferdinand’ – though his name is never mentioned in the play….

This is in compliment to Ferdinando, Lord Strange (pronounced ‘Strang’)….

strange, ferdinando

…..whose Men Shakespeare had written and acted for in the Midlands….

….and who earlier in the year had put on Harey VI at the Rose Theatre in London.

REASON SIX: To satirise his enemies….

Shakespeare had become a member of the Southampton/Essex entourage – so their enemies were his enemies.

Part of the play’s function is satire……

…..directed notably at the group of scientists, mathematicians, radical thinkers and atheists who gathered round Henry Percy, the Ninth Earl of Northumberland, the Wizard Earl, at nearby Petworth……

percy, henry ninth northumberland

They were people like Sir Walter Raleigh…..

raleigh with pearls

……Essex’s main rival at Court….

…….a man who came from an ancient family but had no money other than what he could get from Queen Elizabeth as one of her favourites….

……He is is sent up in the play as the penniless Armado……

don armado and moth

…..so poor he can’t even afford to buy a shirt……

….a fantastical Spaniard who sometimes breaks into Raleigh’s broad Devonshire accent.

As Holofernes the pedant observes, Armado says…


….instead of…..


Raleigh had fallen in love with Bess Throckmorton…..


…..one of Elizabeth’s Ladies-in-Waiting…

…..to the Queen’s fury…..

…..and had started to write love poetry to her….

…just as Armado writes sonnets to the….

…..base wench….


……who carried a fan just as Bess Throckmorton did….

(Costard the swain says…

Armado o’th’one side – O, a most dainty man!

To see him walk before a lady and to bear her fan…)

Word reached Titchfield during preparations for Love’s Labour’s Lost that Raleigh had impregnated Bess – which called for a rapid – and impossible – change of plot.

Armado – who we first see besotted with Jaquenetta but rejected by her – turns out to be the father of her child. …..

…and OVERNIGHT she has become….

……two months on her way….

The text we have is a revision of the 1592 text, probably played at Elizabeth’s Court at Christmas in 1597.

By then Raleigh was back in favour. So the Braggart, Don Armado, may have been turned into a Spaniard to disguise the satire from the Queen….

By then the object of attack was most likely to have been Antonio Perez…….

Antonio Perez

Antonio Perez

…….a fantastical Spaniard in real life….

…….the meddling, homosexual, Catholic friend of Essex whom Elizabeth loathed….

As William Camden, the contemporary historian noted:

Verily she [Elizabeth] detested the man [Perez] who had contrary to his allegiance, divulged his King’s secrets; and Burghley, Lord Treasurer, scarce vouchsafed him a conference or speaking to. Indeed Essex entertained him at his house, and supplied him largely with money, using him as his counsellor, yea as an oracle, as one much versed in the secrets of the Spanish court, and a subtle politician…

Armado in the play is also referred to by Berowne as…..

…an oracle…

Also amongst the Wizard Earl’s entourage was the mystic and poet, George Chapman….

Chapman, George

…….who becomes the lisping, flattering, effeminate Boyet who urges the Princess of France to…

…..summon up [her] dearest spirits

…..as Chapman claimed to have summoned up the spirit of Homer…..

…….and, later when he died, the spirit of Christopher Marlowe.

Marlowe, Christopher

Again, Shakespeare works in a play on Chapman’s surname….

The Princess’s response to Boyet’s gross flattery is to say….

Good Lord Boyet, my beauty though but mean

Needs not the painted flourish of your praise:

Beauty is bought by judgement of the eye,

Not utter’d by base sale of chapmen’s tongues…

Chapman was later to turn up in Shakespeare’s life as the Rival Poet of the Sonnets….

But perhaps Shakespeare’s most withering satire is reserved for someone who was part of the Southampton household….

….John Florio…..

John Florio

….an Englishman in Italian

He was Harry’s Italian tutor and had ousted Shakespeare from his position as schoolmaster to the boys of Titchfield.

Dame Frances Yates…..

frances yates

– the great Florio scholar – argues convincingly that Florio was placed in the Catholic Southampton household as a Protestant spy by Lord Burghley.

Bishop Warburton – writing in the eighteenth century – first records the tradition that the pedant, Holofernes, in the play is a satire against Florio.

At the time Florio was translating Montaigne – that’s why Holofernes is described by Armado as educating youth….

….on the top of a Mountaine….

He was also compiling an Italian/English dictionary, A World of Words….

……so Shakespeare makes him talk like a dictionary, never using one word when six will do.

Holofernes describes the deer that Princess shots as being……

…..ripe as the pomewater [whitish apple] who now hangeth like a jewel in the ear of coelo, the sky, the welkin, the heaven.

Florio in his dictionary defines ‘caelo’ as

……heaven, the sky, the firmament or welkin…

When Holofernes improvises a poem to celebrate the Princess’s shooting of the deer, he uses exaggerated alliteration: ‘

The preyful Princess pierc’d and prick’d a pretty pleasing pricket

So does Florio:

Proverbs are the pith, the properties, the proofs, the purities of language….

Holofernes writes the abominable pageant entertainment for the Princess: it could well be that Florio penned the equally abominable Progress Entertainment for Queen Elizabeth…..

Queen Elizabeth.

…..played at nearby Cowdray the previous year.

The Pilgrim in this entertainment declares that he has….

…..travelled many countries….

….and Florio’s habit was to cast himself as a Traveller, refined and cultivated in the ways of the world.

Holoferenes, in Love’s Labour’s Lost says:

I may speak of thee as the Traveller speaks of Venice….

Sir William Vaughan, in The Spirit of Detraction, certainly leaps to Florio’s defence.

He writes that if….

….an ingenuous scholar [Florio] but broach forth the barrel of his wit, which God hath given him; they cry out his brain is an empty barrel, his wit but barren, his matter borrowed out of other men’s books….

Florio could well have broached forth the barrel of his wit by writing the Cowdray Progress…..

And Shakespeare certainly cried out that Florio’s brain was empty by creating Holoferenes!

REASON  SEVEN: To examine the state of mind of Queen Elizabeth.

Queen Elizabeth had special ‘standings’ erected at Cowdray and Titchfield from which she shot rounded up deer with a crossbow….

…. at point blank range……

….a habit she adopted from her father, Henry VIII….

henry VIII 2.

 …….when he grew too fat to mount a horse.

This unsporting carnage disgusted country folk.

After the Titchfield visit, Elizabeth repaid her host, Countess Mary, by hanging one of her best friends, Swithin Wells…….

wells swithin

……now a Catholic Saint……

……on a scaffold erected outside the Countess’s London home.

The play alludes to Elizabeth’s slaughter of deer…….

……and deer/dear can mean three things…..

(1) Literal deer….

(2) The men who fall in love with the Princess and are slain by her beauty…

(‘spilling blood’ can also be Elizabethan code for seminal emission.)

(3) Catholic martyrs…

Robert Persons…..

robert persons

……the Jesuit Missionary – wrote in 1581:

It is the custom of the Catholics themselves to take to the woods and thickets, to ditches and holes even, for concealment, when their houses are broken into at night.

Sometimes when we are sitting at table quite cheerfully, conversing familiarly about matters of faith or piety…it happens that someone rings at the front door a little more insistently than usual, so he can be put down as an official.

Immediately, like deer that have heard the voice of hunters and prick their ears and become alert, all stand to attention and stop eating and command themselves to God in the briefest of prayers; no word or sound of any sort is heard  until the servants report what is the matter….

Shakespeare, in a speech he gives the Princess, speculates what can drive the Princess/Elizabeth – a woman of taste and discrimination – to indulge in such atrocities.

He concludes that she is pushed by outside forces – a need for fame – which turn her from her otherwise kindly nature.

Edmund Campion……..

St. Edmund Campion

…….the great Catholic Saint and Martyr…..

……always maintained that it was Elizabeth’s advisors who were evil – not the Queen herself.

In Love’s Labour’s Lost Shakespeare was prepared to give Elizabeth the benefit of the doubt.

But by the end of her reign he regarded her as a bloody tyrant….

REASON 8: To acknowledge death and sickness in the Southampton family.

Not to spoil it for people coming fresh to the play, it does not resolve in happiness…..

…..which adds a depth and dimension to it.

It also mirrors echoes the state of mind of the Southampton family.

As well as the shock of the execution of Swithin Wells, Mary’s twin brother, Anthony Browne, was very ill during the production of Love’s Labour’s Lost…..

And had been ill since Christmas…..

 Her father, Viscount Montague…..

Montague, Lord

…was also suffering from….

…..a tedious, troublesome and lingering kind of infirmity….

Mary’s brother died in the month following the production…

….and her father in October…..

Added to this, the Earl of Essex’s brother, Walter, had been killed a few months earlier at the siege of Rouen….

So an upbeat conclusion to the play would have been entirely inappropriate.

REASON NINE: To Prove he was a better writer than Thomas Nashe!

It is my belief that the beardless, tiny, ‘gat-toothed’ Thomas Nashe…


– the essayist and satirist –

……was also resident in Titchfield at the time……

….and often collaborated with Shakespeare….

(as he did with Ben Jonson…….

ben jonson colour…on The Isle of Dogs….

……and Christopher Marlowe…..

…..on Dido and Aeneas….)

dido frontispiece small

It is also my belief that he played the part of ‘the well-educated infant’ Moth…..

(an anagram of ‘Thom’)

…..and wrote the scenes between him and Don Armado.

Commenting upon Moth’s speech about Armado in love…..

……with [his] hat penthouse-like o’er the shop of your eyes; with [his] arms crossed on [his] thin-belly doublet like a rabbit on a spit……

……the Editor of new Cambridge University Press edition of the play says that…

The syntax and and satiric images in Moth’s speech here bring it closer than anything else in the play to the satiric prose style of Thomas Nashe….

It is ‘close’ to ‘the satiric prose style of Thomas Nashe’ because…….


He has Armado call Moth….

…tender juvenal


……most acute juvenal.

Later in the year, Robert Greene……

robert greene

….the writer and notorious hedonist……

….who had also been part of the Titchfield writing team……

……described Nashe as…

….young Juvenal…

……in his posthumously-published A Groatsworth of Witte.

(Greene’s name is also sent up in the play. Don Armado says……

Greene indeed is the colour of lovers.)

But many people at the time thought that the pamphlet – which contains the famous

upstart crow

……attack on Shakespeare – was really written by Nashe himself.

Six years later, Francis Meeres in Palladis Tamia, Wit’s Treasury was also to describe Nashe as ‘young Juvenal’ – so the ‘young Juvenal’ trademark was Nashe’s own invention – his ‘trade-mark’….

Nashe also had every reason himself to be critical of Raleigh: he had worked for him and never been given a penny….

….hence the satire of Armado’s poverty and meanness.

Nashe writes in Pierce Penniless, published in the same year as the play…..

…..for what reason have I to bestow any of my wit upon him that will bestow none of his wealth upon me? Alas it is easy for a goodly tall fellow that shineth in his silks [Raleigh]  to come and outface a poor simple pedant in a threadbare cloak., and tell him his book is pretty.

He also refers to Raleigh as….

……an inamorata poeta…..

……who, just like Don Armado, will…..

….sonnet a whole quire of paper in praise of Lady Swine-Snout [Jaquenetta/Bess Throckmorton] his yellow-faced Mistress, and wear a feather of her rain-beaten fan for a favour, like a fore-horse…

The Southampton family had baled Nashe out of his money difficulties….

So Shakespeare had a talented rival in Nashe – just as he was later to have one in Chapman.

But Nashe was really only Shakespeare’s gag-man – up to his death in 1601.

Shakespeare was the poet…..

….and he makes sure he soars way above Nashe in the sublimity of the verse he writes for himself as Berowne…

Love’s feeling is more soft and sensible

Than are the tender horns of cock’ld snails;

Love’s tongue proves dainty Bacchus gross in taste:

For valour, is not Love a Hercules,

Still climbing trees in the Hesperides?

Subtle as Sphinx; as sweet and musical

As bright Apollo’s lute, strung with his hair:

And when Love speaks, the voice of all the Gods

Makes heaven drowsy with the harmony.

FOOTNOTE: Love in the Time of Plague….

The erotic subtext of the play took over the lives of Shakespeare, Harry and Amelia…

…..and a complicated, twisted, painful love-triangle ensued…….

……in which Shakespeare finally came to realise he was more in love with Harry than Amelia….

Shakespeare left Titchfield for a bit and Amelia got pregnant and was married off to a


… for


But Nashe stayed on with….

…..my Lord…..


…..the plague’s prisoner in the country…..

Later in the year Queen Elizabeth came to visit the dying Lord Montague at West Horsley…..

Ever enigmatic, she gently fed the old Roman Catholic soup….

Nashe, alone, wrote Sommer’s Last Will and Testament  to entertain her….

….and it was played at the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Summer Palace at Croydon….

But like Love’s Labour’s Lost the tone of the interlude is muted.

It moves from gentle mirth to gentle melancholy….

…..treating death as a natural progress from Summer to Winter…..

…..like the two wonderful, bitter-sweet, songs……

…..at the end of Shakespeare’s wonderful play….

© Stewart Trotter June 2016.

















We don’t know for certain when William Shakespeare’s Birthday was…..

shakespeare 1588

…..though 23rd April – St. George’s Day – is the day traditionally thought of as the day he was born…

….and it’s probably right…..


bust of shakespeare

……we know for certain that Shakespeare was buried…..

….in a shroud….

….just a few feet under the chancel….

shakespeare's grave

…..in Holy Trinity Church….

holy trinity church stratford

The Parish Church of Stratford-upon-Avon….

…..on the 25th February, 1616…

It is the Shakespeare’s Code belief that the tradition is true …..

He overdid the Birthday celebrations with Ben Jonson….

ben jonson colour

…..and Michael Drayton….


Today, 25th April 2016…..


…at 3 p.m. precisely…

…the Shakespeare Code recorded its

…..225,000th VIEW!!!

Synchronicity or what????

It is even more extraordinary that on 23rd April, 2013….

….the anniversary of Shakespeare’s Birthday….

The Shakespeare Code recorded its….

100,000 VIEW!!!

The Force is with us….

(To read ‘Seven Ages of Shakespeare’ please click: HERE.)

Seven Ages poster

The World’s Press is full of the news that, on 23rd April this year, Simon Andrew Stirling will publish a new biography of Sir William Davenant….

davenant new

…..entitled Shakespeare’s Bastard…..

shakespeare's bastard

That William Shakespeare was Davenant’s biological father is not exactly news: it was first mentiond by John Aubrey who was born ten years after Shakespeare’s death…..

Aubrey John

Aubrey spoke to Davenant’s brother, Robert, and even attended William Davenant’s funeral, remarking on how fine his walnut tree coffin was. 

He writes:

….when he [Davenant] was pleasant over a glass of wine with his most intimate friends, e.g. Sam Butler (author of Hudibras, etc.) – say that it seemed to that he wrote with the very spirit that Shakespeare [wrote], and seemed contented enough to be thought his son: he would tell them the story as above, in which way his mother had a very light report…

But, even so, the crowd-catching title of the book, Shakespeare’s Bastard, is misleading….

It suggests heartlessness where there was, in fact, wisdom, humanity and warmth.

John Davenant, William’s legal father, was a London vintner and admirer of plays – and of Shakespeare’s work in particular.

According to Aubrey he was a…..

….very grave and discreet citizen….   

…..who married Jennet Shepherd….

…..a very beautiful woman, and of very good wit, and of conversation extremely agreeable.

But the two of them could not produce children strong enough to survive.

Six of them died in a row.

So, when they moved to Oxford in 1601 to run ‘The Tavern’ – a winehouse – they came to an arrangement with Shakespeare…..

…..whose only son, Hamnet, had died five years earlier.

Every spring/summer Shakespeare would travel to Stratford-upon-Avon to stay with his family – and pass through Oxford on his way.

On these occasions he became a guest of the Davenant family……

…..and would sleep with Jennet in the famous painted room…

painted room

….with the full consent and blessing of the husband.

That way both men could enjoy being father to a son – or even sons and daughters….

Dates corroborate this story…..

Jane Davenant was conceived around May 1601 –  after the execution of the Earl of Essex on 25th February when Shakespeare needed to get out of town….

(His play, Richard II, had been performed on the eve of the ill-fated rebellion against Queen Elizabeth….)

Robert was then conceived around June of 1602, Alice around April 1604 (in the new reign of James I and VI)….

….. and William Davenant around June in 1605.

(John and Nicholas were born in 1607 and 1611 and Elizabeth sometime between 1607-11. Even after he had ‘retired’ to Stratford-upon-Avon Shakespeare often visited London.)

Robert, who became a chaplain, told Aubrey that Shakespeare had….

……given him a hundred kisses…..

…….when he visited him as a boy in Oxford.

Shakespeare became Godfather to William…..

Indeed there was a story that one day young William, who was dashing through the streets of Oxford, was stopped by the Master of New College who asked him why he was running so fast.

‘To greet my Godfather’ said William.

‘Do not take the name of the Lord they God in vain’ replied the Master…..

William possessed the Chandos portrait of Shakespeare….

Chandos portrait

….and the terracotta  Shakespeare bust that is now in the Garrick Club in London….

garrick club bust shakespeare


He also had special knowledge of Shakespeare that Nicholas Rowe utilised in his 1709 Some Account of the Life of Mr. William Shakespear:

Nicholas Rowe

There is one instance so singular in magnificence of this patron of Shakespeare’s [Henry Wriothesley, Third Earl of Southampton] that had I not been assured that the story was handed down by Sir William D’Avenant, who was probably very well acquainted with his affairs, I should not have ventured to inserted, that my Lord Southampton, at one time, gave him a thousand pounds, to enable him to go through with a purchase which he had a mind to.

Simon Andrew Stirling will no doubt add fresh research to these stories when his biography is published…..

…..and he is undoubtedly right that people, wanting Shakespeare to be divine, have suppressed the evidence that he had a surrogate family…..

…..in the same way they have suppressed the evidence that he was a bisexual Roman Catholic.


Mr Stirling also asserts that Shakespeare’s Sonnet 126 was NOT written – as most scholars believe – to his patron and lover, Henry Wriothesley, the Third Earl of Southampton….

Southampton in armour



Here is a facsimile of the ‘Sonnet’ which, at twelve lines long……

…..and, written in rhyming couplets, is not a sonnet at all.

It concludes with a pair of brackets where the final couplet should have been….

Here is a copy of the original printing:

sonnet 126 001

According to the Deccan Herald:

Sonnet 126 has often been suggested to be a homo-erotic poem.

The mistaken gay theme may be explained because the poem comes at the end of a sequence known as the ‘Fair Youth’ sonnets which are understood by scholars to refer to a homosexual passion between Shakespeare and the Earl of Southampton.

Stirling notes that the pair appeared to have gone their separate ways in 1594.

We shall have to wait for the publication of the book to learn what evidence Mr. Stirling has for this last statement.

It’s true that George Chapman……

Chapman, George


……whom The Shakespeare Code believes to be the ‘Rival Poet of the Sonnets’…..

[See: ‘The Rival Poet Revealed.’]

……and whom Shakespeare satirises as the mincing, lisping Boyet in Love’s Labour’s Lost…..

[See: ‘Boyet: Shakespeare’s Revenge on George Chapman.’]

……published his The Shadow of Night in 1594……

……and that Southampton, to Shakespeare’s horror, toyed briefly with the idea of becoming Chapman’s Patron rather than Shakespeare’s.

But opposed to this evidence is the loving, passionate dedication that Shakespeare wrote to Southampton on the publication of Lucrece in 1594:

The love I dedicate to your lordship is without end; whereof this pamphlet, without beginning, is but a superfluous moiety. The warrant I have of your honourable disposition, not the worth of my untutored lines, makes it assured of acceptance. What I have done is yours; what I have to do is yours; being part in all I have, devoted yours. Were my worth greater, my duty would show greater; meantime, as it is, it is bound to your lordship, to whom I wish long life, still lengthened with all happiness.

Your lordship’s in all duty, WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE.

Also Shakespeare produced A Midsummer Night’s Dream for the marriage of the Earl of Southampton’s mother, Countess Mary….

Mary Browne

…. to Sir Thomas Heneage in 1594.

Southampton came of age that year – so would be in a position to give the £1,000 gift Davenant mentions.

We know that Shakespeare is listed as one of the ‘sharers’ in the Lord Chamberlain’s Men early in the following year, 1595 – so a partnership in the company could well have been……

…… the purchase [Shakespeare] had a mind to.

From the Sonnets, we know that Shakespeare and Southampton, like all lovers, had ups and down in their relationship; but they were still very much together in 1603 and 1604.

Sonnet 107 celebrates Queen Elizabeth’s death in March 1603, James VI of Scotland’s succession to the throne of England and the Earl of Southampton’s release from the Tower on April 5th….

Southampton had been imprisoned for his part in the Earl of Essex’s rebellion against Elizabeth…..

Not mine own fears, nor the prophetic soul

Of the wide world, dreaming on things to come,

Can yet the lease of my true love control,

Suppos’d as forfeit to a confin’d doom.

Neither my own anxieties – nor the prophesies of the world in general – can control the lease of life granted to my true love – the Earl of Southampton – who everyone thought would die in the Tower of London.

The mortal Moon hath her eclipse indur’d,

And the sad Augurs mock their own presage;

Incertainties now crown them-selves assur’d,

And peace proclaims Olives of endless age.

Queen Elizabeth has died – and those people who predicted civil war at her decease find they were completely wrong. With the coronation of King James VI and I all uncertainty is gone and we can look forward to eternal peace – now that the King has ended hostilities with Spain.

[Note: The Moon – cold and chaste – was a symbol of Queen Elizabeth. Pearls were used to present Elizabeth as Cynthia, the goddess of the Moon – and in her famous ‘Rainbow Portrait’ she is depicted with a crescent-moon jewel in her head piece.

rainbow portrait elizabeth moon jewel

Sir Walter Raleigh promoted the cult of Elizabeth as Moon Goddess with a poem he wrote during the late 1580s, The Ocean’s Love to Cynthia, in which Elizabeth is compared to the Moon. Sir Walter was often depicted with a giant pearl in his ear……

raleigh in white

…..to demonstrate his loyalty to Elizabeth.]

Now with the drops of this most balmy time,

My love looks fresh and death to me subscribes,

Since spite of him I’ll live in this poor rime,

While he insults ore dull and speechless tribes;

The Coronation Oil – and the happiness that the new reign has brought – has revived my lover, Southampton, who lay sick in prison – and Death becomes my servant since I’ll live forever in this sonnet while he triumphs over people less brilliant or articulate than me.

And thou in this shalt find thy monument,

When tyrants’ crests and tombs of brass are spent.

And you, Harry, will find your monument in this sonnet while the Tudor coat of arms and brass tombs of tyrants like Elizabeth rot away.

tomb of Elizabeth

[Note: The mention of ‘crest’ recalls Queen Elizabeth’s remark: ‘Were I crested and not cloven’ i.e. ‘If I had a penis rather than a vagina.’ Shakespeare is implying that Elizabeth was so unnatural she had a penis of her own. Shakespeare hated Elizabeth because of her persecution of Roman Catholics and his family and friends.]

Shakespeare is still close enough to call Southampton….

……my true love…..

…..and Sonnets 125, 123 and 124 refer to James’s Coronation in 1603 – when Shakespeare, as a Groom of the Chamber, held a canopy over James during the service – and to the State Opening of Parliament in 1604 when the processional route was lined with ‘pyramids’ – obelisks…

triumphal arch


The Deccan Herald continues:

Three of the sonnets are known to have been written in 1603 and 1604, by which time Southampton was heading into his thirties.

Coming so soon after two sonnets composed in 1604,” Stirling writes, “it would be rash to presume that the ‘lovely Boy’ of Sonnet 126 was the mature Earl of Southampton. The poem appears to have been written to a very young child whose birth caused his mother’s full-moon belly to wane.’

The Shakespeare Code’s believes that it would be….


…..NOT to assume that Sonnet 126 addressed to Southampton…..


 The phrase ‘lovely Boy’ is INTENDED to be insulting to ‘the mature’ Southampton…..

….. for reasons The Code will now reveal.

The Sonnet IS about a baby…



To understand the language and thought of Sonnet 126 we have to study the language and thought of the ‘Birthday Sonnets’……

……the seventeen poems at the start of the sonnet sequence that Shakespeare wrote to celebrate the seventeenth birthday of the Earl of Southampton.

These were a commission in 1590 from Countess Mary to persuade her gay, wayward son, Harry……

henry wriothesley new miniature

…..to marry Elizabeth De Vere, Lord Burghley’s grand-daughter.


The Countess of Southampton was a widow and Lord Burghley was her son’s guardian.

He had the authority to dictate who her son was to marry: if he didn’t, the Southampton family faced a colossal £5,000 fine….

In these seventeen sonnets Shakespeare outlines the advantages Harry will gain if he marries Elizabeth….

…..and the disadvantages if he doesn’t!!!

In the second sonnet Shakespeare tells Harry if he has a son, he will be able to regenerate, through him, the physical decay old age will inevitably bring:

When forty Winters shall besiege thy brow,

And dig deep trenches in thy beauty’s field,

Thy youth’s proud livery so gaz’d on now,

Will be a tatter’d weed of small worth held:

When you get to the age of fifty seven and have lines and wrinkles on your forehead and your face, your youthful beauty – which looks like the dazzling colours of the livery that servants of great Lords wear….

livery romeo

…will look like a tatty old coat that nobody wants….

[Note: Queen Elizabeth I was 57 years old in the year of the ‘Birthday Sonnets’, 1590.

old elizabeth

Shakespeare is making an oblique coded attack on her loss of physical beauty.]

Then being askt, where all thy beauty lies,

Where all the treasure of thy lusty days;

To say within thine own deep sunken eyes,

Were an all-eating shame, and thriftless praise.

Then if anyone asks you where your beauty has fled to – and what you did with all the semen you produced in your randy youth to reply – ‘It’s all in my shrivelled testicles’ would be an agonising embarrassment and a pointless excuse.

[Note: the vocabulary of the face is often used by Shakespeare to represent the genital area – nose, beard eyes, etc.]

How much more praise deserv’d thy beauty’s use,

If thou couldst answer ‘This fair child of mine

Shall sum my count, and make my old excuse’,

Proving his beauty by succession thine.

If you were to make use of your good looks you would earn much more praise if you then said: ‘My beautiful son shows you how dishy I once was – and makes up for my being old now.

This were to be new made when thou art old,

And see thy blood warm when thou feel’st it cold.

In Sonnet 4, Shakespeare then reprimands Harry for masturbating instead of making love to a woman.

Unthrifty loveliness, why dost thou spend,

Upon thy self thy beauty’s legacy?

Nature’s bequest gives nothing but doth lend,

And being frank, she lends to those are free….

Why are you such a spendthrift with your semen? Why do you ejaculate all over yourself the fluids you are meant to give to others? Nature doesn’t actually GIVE you anything – she just lends it in the belief you will pass it on. Being generous herself, she gives to those who are generous in turn.

[Note: Shakespeare often uses money – and all its associations – as a code for semen.]

Then beauteous niggard, why dost thou abuse,

The bounteous largesse given thee to give?

Profitless usurer, why dost thou use

So great a sum of sums yet can’st not live?

Beautiful but miserly, why do you abuse the magnificent penis you were meant to share with others? You are like a money-lender who makes no profit – who spends huge amounts of money but doesn’t have any left to live on. You come many times, but have no baby to show for it.

For having traffic with thy self alone,

Thou of thy self thy sweet self dost deceive,

Because you spend your time masturbating all on your own, you cheat yourself of the lovely baby you could produce if you went to bed with a woman.

[Note: ‘Sweet self’ – is a coded phrase for Southampton’s baby boy.]

In Sonnet 10, Shakespeare also goes on to use the word ‘self’ to mean a baby:

Make me another  self for love of me

That beauty may still live in thine and thee.

In Sonnet 11 he introduces two more code words he will pick up again in Sonnet 126:‘wane’ and ‘grow’.

As fast as thou shalt wane, so fast thou grow’st

In one of thine, from that which thou departests.

And that fresh blood which youngly thou bestow’st

Thou may call thine, when thou from youth convertest.

As fast as you shall diminish with age, as fast you will grow in the shape of your son in whom you have imbued your characteristics: and that fresh life you bestowed on him when you were young, you can claim as your own when you are old

[Note: Shakespeare is asserting that by having a son Harry can ‘wane’ like the Moon (i.e. grow older and feebler) but ‘grow‘ at the same time (as his son grows older and stronger).

Shakespeare also launches another oblique attack in this sonnet on the childless Queen Elizabeth: ‘Let those whom nature hath not made for store,/Harsh, featureless and rude, barrenly perish.]

In Sonnet 13 Shakespeare talks about the ‘sweet issue’ that Harry will leave behind him if he has a son:

When your sweet issue your sweet form should bear.

Harry, of course, ignored Shakespeare’s advice to get married…….

……and so the Southampton family had to pay Burghley his £5,000 fine.

A painful love-triangle then arose at Titchfield in the Plague Year of 1592…..

…..between Shakespeare, Harry and the Dark Lady of the Sonnets – the musician and courtesan Amelia Bassano…

This culminated in a full-blown gay love affair between Shakespeare and Harry which lasted over a decade…

[See: ‘Shakespeare, Love and Religion: The Grosvenor Chapel talks.’ ]

There were infidelities on both sides, but Harry meant everything to Shakespeare….

When Shakespeare lost Hamnet in 1596, Harry even became his surrogate son…..

As a decrepit father takes delight

To see his active child do deeds of youth,

So I, made lame by Fortune’s dearest spite,

Take all my comfort of thy worth and truth. (Sonnet 37)

However, eight years after the Birthday Sonnets, Harry finally fell in love with a woman…

One of Queen Elizabeth’s Ladies-in-Waiting…..

….the beautiful, if unstable, Elizabeth Vernon…..


vernon elizabeth comb

She fell pregnant, so Harry married her in secret.

The Queen was furious. She clapped Elizabeth into jail and Harry fled, for a time to France….

[Note: There is a local tradition in Titchfield that Romeo and Juliet was based on Harry’s courtship of Elizabeth Vernon and The Code believes Shakespeare also dramatized himself in the character of Romeo’s ambivalent friend, Mercutio, who loves Romeo and is disturbed by his love for Juliet….

Harold Perrineau as Mercutio in Buz Luhrman's film version of 'Romeo and Juliet'.

Harold Perrineau as Mercutio in Buz Luhrman’s film version of ‘Romeo and Juliet’.

At one point in the play Shakespeare makes another coded attack on Queen Elizabeth. He has Romeo say:

But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks?
It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.
Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,
 Who is already sick and pale with grief,
 That thou her maid art far more fair than she:
Be not her maid, since she is envious;
Her vestal livery is but sick and green
And none but fools do wear it; cast it off.]

Harry and Elizabeth’s marriage proved a very loving one….

Shakespeare was initially conflicted about the change this marriage would make to his relationship with Southampton….

But in Sonnet 116 Shakespeare comes to the realisation that he has his own spiritual ‘marriage’ with Southampton…  

Let me not to the marriage of true minds

Admit impediments….

And that he will never withdraw his love for Southampton, even if Southampton withdraws his….

…love is not love

Which alters when it alteration finds,

Or bends with the remover to remove….

In the event, Southampton’s marriage with Elizabeth was initially open enough to include Shakespeare…

Indeed, when Harry joined Essex’s military campaign in Ireland in 1599, he seems to have started a gay affair with someone completely different….

[ Note: On 13th February, 1601 William Reynolds (probably brother of Essex’s secretary, Edward Reynolds) wrote that he ‘marvelled what had become of Piers Edmonds, the Earl of Essex’s man, born in the Strand near me, who had many preferements by the Earl. His villainy I have often complained of. He was Corporal General of the Horse in Ireland under the Earl of Southampton. He ate and drank at his table and lay in his tent. The Earl of Southampton gave him a horse which Edmunds refused a hundred marks for him, the Earl of Southampton would cole and huge [embrace and hug] him in his arms and play wantonly with him’.]

The Irish campaign went disastrously wrong, Essex and Southampton returned to England and finally rebelled against Elizabeth.

She executed Essex in 1601 and imprisoned Southampton, for life, in the Tower.

Shakespeare thought he would never see Southampton again – and wrote a beautiful farewell to him – The Phoenix and the Turtle – in which an exotic Phoenix Bird (Southampton) and a common Turtle Dove (Shakespeare) – are consumed in a mutual flame of love….

However, two years later Queen Elizabeth was dead….

And Shakespeare was re-united with his lover.

People thought that Harry would become the King James’s ‘favourite’….

……as did Harry himself…..

…..but James preferred younger men……

…….like Robert Carr….

robert carr

……and the two years of sickness in the Tower had taken their toll on Harry’s looks……

tower without Trixie

Pushed from the centre of gay power, Harry started to become homophobic…….

But the crunch really came in March 1605.

Elizabeth Southampton gave birth to a baby boy.

She had already given birth to two girls….

But a boy was different.

Now Southampton had an heir for his title….

…and a son, James, he could impress with his manly, soldierly qualities…..

Shakespeare, the player, had to go.


Rejection by Harry was something Shakespeare had long been terrified of.

He refers to its possibility again and again in the sonnets….

[See especially Sonnets 36, 48, 49, 57, 58, 61, 88, 89, 90, 91, 92 and 93.]

And it even enters his plays when Prince Harry, at his coronation, rejects his old drinking friend, John Falstaff….

Now it was happening for in reality…

Bereft of the love of his life…..

…..his real son AND his surrogate one….

Shakespeare suffered a complete breakdown….

…….which culminated in his dark, despairing masterpiece, King Lear….

lear with cordelia

And the truly Satanic Sonnet 126….

O thou my lovely Boy, who in thy power

Dost hold time’s fickle glass, his sickle hour,

Who hast by waning grown and therein showst

They lover’s withering as thy sweet self grow’st

My beautiful boy who holds under his own control the sickle and hour glass – the aging processes – of Father Time himself, who, paradoxically, by growing older and feebler, actually grows younger and stronger and who causes your lover – me – to shrivel with neglect while your baby boy flourishes with your love….

[Note: Shakespeare insults the Earl of Southampton – who was thirty two in 1605 – by calling him ‘my lovely Boy’. He also insults him in a companion ‘Farewell’ Sonnet 87 in which he writes: ‘Farewell, thou art too dear for my possessing’ as though Southampton were a male prostitute too expensive for Shakespeare to hire. He also insults Southampton in the Dedication to the Sonnets themselves: he calls him ‘Mr. W.H” – ‘Mr. Wriothesley, Henry’, reminding him of his days in the Tower when he had lost his title.

Shakespeare also uses the code words ‘wane’ and ‘grow ‘ to mean ‘grow old’ and ‘grow young’ just as he does in Sonnet 11 and ‘sweet self’ to mean Southampton’s baby boy – just as he does in Sonnet 4.]

If Nature (sovereign mistress over wrack)

As thou goest onwards still will pluck thee back,

She keeps thee to this purpose, that her skill

May time disgrace, and wretched minutes kill.

If Dame Nature – who has control over the process of decay – keeps you preternaturally young by pulling you back from the natural process of aging – she does so for one reason alone: to show her power over Father Time and time itself.

Yet fear her, O thou minion of her pleasure:

She may detain, but not still keep her treasure!

But you should be terrified of her – you underling who exist simply for Dame Nature’s twisted enjoyment. She may hold up your demise – but cannot control it – like a woman who is holding a precious jewel that is not hers to keep.

[Note: ‘Minion of her pleasure’ suggests one of Queen Elizabeth’s favourites – like Essex: mere toy boys who will be given up when their time comes…]

Her audit, though delayed, answered must be,

And her quietus is to render thee

(                                                                                    )

(                                                                                     )

Nature can delay paying Time’s bill – but paid, it must be. And the only way to settle it is to give you up to death.

[‘Render’ – as well as meaning ‘to give up’ – can also mean ‘break down’ – as one breaks down meat to extract the fat.The brackets at the end of the poem, which indicate where the final couplet should be, also symbolise the gaping grave, waiting to destroy Southampton’s body.]

Shakespeare has promised immortality to Southampton through his verse……

Now he uses it to wish death upon him….

It is the poison pen letter of all time…..

So how Simon Andrew Stirling can interpret Sonnet 126 as  Shakespeare’s peon to his new-born son, William Davenant, is…..



To read ‘The Dedication to Shakespeare’s Sonnets Decoded’, click: HERE

To read ‘Why did Shakespeare write The Sonnets?’, click: HERE

To read ‘Trixie the Cat’s Guide to the Sonnets. (1) Background Jottings, click: HERE

To read ‘Trixie the Cat’s Guide to the Sonnets. (2) The Birthday Sonnets, click: HERE

To read ‘Trixie the Cat’s Guide to the Sonnets. (3) Was Christopher Marlowe the Rival Poet?, click: HERE.

To read ‘Trixie the Cat’s Guide to the Sonnets (4) The Rival Poet Revealed!’, click: HERE.

To read ‘Amazing New Light on Sonnet 86’, click: HERE.

To read ‘Shakespeare’s ‘Bath Sonnets’ Decoded’, click: HERE.