Brothers and Sisters of the Shakespeare Code……
At a meeting of the august Hampshire Writers’ Society in December last year (2014)….
…the Titchfield Festival Theatre Company performed an extract from Stewart Trotter’s play….
OUR COUSIN WILL….
Here is the HIGHLY LITERATE report from the Society itself….
The evening began with Her Grace Queen Elizabeth 1 (Barbara Large, most elegantly attired) greeting her subjects. Her first assignment was to welcome the Titchfield Festival Theatre Group, under the stewardship of their chairman and artistic director, Kevin Fraser……
…..who were to perform part of a new play ‘Our Cousin Will’ by Stewart Trotter.
Kevin then introduced the troupe, the performances that they carry out, and posited Titchfield as the location where Shakespeare wrote the play ‘Love Labour’s Lost’. Stewart Trotter gave a brief outline as to why it was thought that Shakespeare could have spent a period in Titchfield as a teacher.
Several scenes from the play were performed, and this involved the Lady Mary, the mother of the Earl of Southampton, engaging Will Shakespeare to teach her son Harry the art of writing sonnets, which she hopes will turn his attentions to women; instead of his dressing like one.
Will endeavours to do this, although his efforts with Harry appear futile. Will is then drawn to Aemilia; however, she resists his advances with a curt “Get lost, Baldy!” Will is then involved in an affair with Harry himself, much to Lady Mary’s disquiet. However, Will and she are eventually reconciled; and Harry’s own situation is accepted. The dialogue was witty, lively, and the performances of the actors were highly amusing.
Here then is the twenty minute extract the Titchfield Festival Players performed…..
WILLIAM BEESTON (the narrator)
Disaster struck the acting profession. The Spanish Armada attacked England. Actors were despised. The public wanted ‘real men’. Playwrights pulled strings to get teaching jobs. Will, aged by touring and with his hair starting to fall out, pulled Papist strings….
(Enter MARY, COUNTESS OF SOUTHAMPTON, early middle aged and beautiful…..
She shows the OLDER SHAKESPEARE a painting of the 2nd Earl of Southampton, which is presumed to be out front. SHAKESPEARE, at this stage of his life, is still thin)
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, however painful. The second Earl was a fine Catholic: he fought to bring the Blessed Mary Queen of Scots to the English throne.
(MARY and SHAKESPEARE cross themselves) 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 SHAKESPEARE, discreetly, up and down)…I can see you’ll be needing some new clothes…….And an allowance…
(Recovering herself – she is clearly taken with SHAKESPEARE) 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 Harry….
(BEESTON holds up a painting of Henry Wriothesley in drag which MARY and SHAKESPEARE look at)
As you can see, he loves dressing up as a girl. Other than that, has no interest in women whatsoever. This, Master Shakespeare, is where you come in. (SHAKESPEARE looks startled) You are a married man with children. I want you to get Harry excited by the idea of fatherhood. Unless he marries, the Southampton line will die out…Soon it will be Harry’s 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….(MARY exits)
(To himself) Sonnets? Aaaagh! (MARY re-enters)
Master Shakespeare, my son, Henry Wriothesley, the third Earl of Southampton and Baron of Titchfield….[‘Wriothesley’ is pronounced ‘Ryosely’]
(SHAKESPEARE kneels as HARRY enters to trumpets and drums. HARRY, a handsome young man with shoulder length hair, offers SHAKESPEARE his ring to kiss. SHAKESPEARE does so, then looks up into HARRY’S face)
(in all innocence) I’m sure you two will get on like a house on fire….
(SHAKESPEARE and HARRY exit…..)
Harry turned seventeen….And read the seventeen Sonnets Shakespeare had written for him…
(Enter HARRY with SHAKESPEARE following behind, quill and paper in hand)
(Brandishing the seventeen pieces of paper) Master Shakespeare, these Sonnets are an utter failure…(SHAKESPEARE looks crestfallen) I still don’t like girls!
(SHAKESPEARE rallies: it’s not his writing that is being attacked after all)
Even though you look like one?
Are you being offensive?
No. It’s the theme of this new sonnet I’m writing about you….
(SHAKESPEARE sits and writes. HARRY hates not being looked at, so he reads aloud from his Birthday Sonnets, gesturing with his hand as he recites)
Unthrifty loveliness, why dost thou spend
Upon thyself thy beauty’s legacy….
(HARRY’S hand-gestures turn into a suggestion of masturbation)
Does that mean what I think it means? (SHAKESPEARE continues to write, not looking at him) And what about…..
No love towards other in that bosom sits
That on himself such murderous shame commits…
(Looks down at his codpiece)
Master Shakespeare, are you implying that I am a…(He is about to say ‘wanker’)
(cutting him off) Sir! I have nothing but the highest respect for you…(hesitates)…love, even….
You do praise my beauty….
And continue to do so in this…..
Let’s hear it then! (He lies back, anticipating flattery like a warm bath)
It’s not finished….
(Suggestively) Perhaps I can give you some ideas….
(Pretending not to pick up the implication, reading from his Sonnet)
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!
Gilding the object where-upon it gazeth,
A man in hew, all hews in his controlling
Which steals men’s eyes…
….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….
(SHAKESPEARE is unconsciously beginning to find HARRY attractive)
That’s as far as I’ve got, sir….
Would you like me to finish the Sonnet for you, Master Will….
The greatness of your words, sir, would utterly eclipse my own…I shall finish the sonnet in my own spare time.
(SHAKESPEARE folds the paper and starts to put it away)
(Suddenly imperious) Finish it NOW! HERE! (For a moment we should think that SHAKESPEARE is about to tell HARRY where to go. But HARRY, sensing this, immediately lightens his tone and starts to flirt) As Master-Mistress of your passion, I command you!
(SHAKESPEARE seems to comply. He scribbles 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 cod-piece again)
Master Shakespeare, does this also mean what I think it means….?
Your conclusion, please…..
(SHAKESPEARE scribbles 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…
(MARY SOUTHAMPTON enters, looking white and shaken and near to fainting. SHAKESPEARE sees her and kneels. Alarmed)
(HARRY looks round and bows stiffly)
I have some dreadful news….(SHAKESPEARE rushes to her and leads her to a chair) The Moon intends to beam over Titchfield….(Blank incomprehension from the men) Queen Elizabeth is coming to stay!
(HARRY and SHAKESPEARE look aghast. BEESTON claps. All exit)
…………And stay she did. With all her court. And with all her soldiers. She had a beautiful musician with her….the dark-skinned Aemelia Bassano…
(Enter AEMELIA, with black, wiry hair. She sits and plays a lute)
…mistress to the Queen’s randy old cousin, Lord Hunsdon.
He paid her £40 a year for her services…
(To BEESTON, £40 a year is a fantastic sum…SHAKESPEARE enters and gazes at AEMELIA)
Will wanted to find out if £40 gave Hunsdon exclusive rights.
(BEESTON opens First Folio and reads…)
SHAKESPEARE (approaching AEMELIA, who continues to play)
Did not I dance with you in London once?
AEMELIA (a cockney girl)
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.
(She puts down her lute and puts on a mask)
Now fair befall (sees AEMELIA’S mask) your 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.
(SHAKESPEARE exits – then AEMELIA, with another infatuated man to add to her list, exits as well)
BEESTON (looking up from First Folio)
Shakespeare was ’ooked… (Looks back at book)
SHAKESPEARE (re-entering with parchment and pen)
O! And I forsooth in love!
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…
What I love? I sue? I seek a wife?
A woman that is like a German clock,
Still a re-pairing, ever out of frame,
And never going aright, being a watch:
But being watch’d that it may still go right.
A whitely wanton with a velvet brow
With two pitch balls stuck in her face for eyes,
Aye, and by heaven, one that will do the deed,
Though Argus were her Eunuch and her guard…
(BEESTON closes book with a bang)
The Plague was raging in London, so Aemelia stayed on at Titchfield. Will started writing sonnets to her instead of Harry…
(SHAKESPEARE sits and writes. HARRY approaches him quietly from behind and peers over his shoulder. 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. (Sitting) Read it to me. (Anticipating SHAKESPEARE’s excuse) I don’t care if it’s not 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;
(Trailing off) If hairs be wires, black wires grown on his head…..
(In a fury) Breasts? Black wires? (Snatching sonnet from SHAKESPEARE) HER breasts! HER head! (AEMELIA enters) Will, you’re not writing to me – you’re writing to that dreadful….(SHAKESPEARE indicates to HARRY that AEMELIA has entered. HARRY turns to look at her)
(Curtsying beautifully) Good day, m’Lord….
(HARRY bows stiffly and exits. AEMELIA crosses and gazes rapturously after HARRY, glancing surreptitiously back at SHAKESPEARE to make sure he’s noticing)
Aemelia liked to play hard to get….
(Turning AEMELIA around) 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 pressed defence can hide….
(Looking into AEMELIA’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…..
(SHAKESPEARE starts to hug AEMELIA 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…..
(AEMELIA breaks away…SHAKESPEARE pursues 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 AEMELIA to him and tries to make love to her. AEMELIA pushes him away…)
Get lost, baldy!
(AEMELIA runs off. SHAKESPEARE, recovering, muses to himself…)
Then will I swear beauty herself is black
And all they foul that her complexion lack…..
BLACK IS BEAUTIFUL……
Will asked Harry to plead his love-suit with Aemelia. Now Harry wanted to hurt Will in any way he could. And, for Aemelia, a rich, handsome, young aristocrat, however gay, was better than an aging playwright. So, to Will’s horror, Harry started an affair with Aemelia….
(Entering and sitting) Two loves I have of comfort and despair
Which like two spirits do suggest me still:
The better angel is a man right fair…..
(Enter HARRY – stands near to SHAKESPEARE)
The worser spirit, a woman coloured ill.
(Enter AEMELIA, standing some distance away from SHAKESPEARE)
To win me soon to hell my female evil
Tempteth my better angel from my side….
(AEMELIA approaches HARRY and kisses him. She then takes him away from SHAKESPEARE’S side)
And would corrupt my saint to be a devil,
Wooing his purity with her foul pride…
(AEMELIA starts to make violent and graphic love to HARRY…They exit)
And whether that my angel be turned fiend
Suspect I may, yet not directly tell;
But being both from me both to each friend….
I guess one angel in another’s….
(SHAKESPEARE, overcome with sexual jealousy, cannot finish what he was to say. He exits)
Will left Titchfield and went on tour again. He had to admit that the loss of Harry meant more to him than the loss of Aemelia….
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….
Will, finally, told Harry that he loved him…
(Writing. Music beneath.) Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
(He looks up – and we can see he is thinking ‘No!’)
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, (holding up the Sonnet)
…and this gives life to thee….
Aemelia became pregnant and was married off ‘for colour’. Will returned to Titchfield and Harry….
(Music continues. HARRY enters. SHAKESPEARE enters and kneels in front of him, but HARRY raises SHAKESPEARE to his feet and embraces him. NASHE enters and sees this. SHAKESPEARE and HARRY walk off)
There was a problem in all this for Will and Harry….(COUNTESS MARY enters)
Mother Mary! (MARY sits and does needlework) Will wasn’t exactly fulfilling his job description…
(NASHE crosses over to MARY, bows, kneels to her) Nashe felt obliged to tell Mary what he had seen. (NASHE whispers in MARY’s ear. MARY looks horrified. NASHE whispers again) And one or two things that he hadn’t. (MARY looks even more horrified. NASHE exits) Mary summoned Will….
(SHAKESPEARE enters and kneels in front of MARY. BEESTON opens First Folio)
Do you love my son?
Your pardon noble mistress?
Love you my son?
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 appeach’d.
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….
Will then reminded Mary that, when she was younger, she herself had been in love with someone she shouldn’t have been….
…..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. MARY reddens, then raises SHAKESPEARE to his feet and kisses him on the cheek. She is accepting him into the family)
Our Cousin Will….
(End of Extract)
TO READ THE REST OF ‘OUR COUSIN WILL’ PLEASE CLICK: HERE!