Shakespeare Must Die!
This is the prologue/pre-amble/pre-title sequence taster of a play I wrote about the 'Shakespeare Authorship Question'. Hopefully, like me, you think the conspiracy theories surrounding old Willie are utter tosh. I simply thought that they were lacking ambition, too. The working title was 'If You Want a Conspiracy Theory, I'll Give You One'
Shakespeare must die!
by Pete Langman
Jonson – Ben Jonson. Premier classical playwright of his generation, thug
Lady Herbert – Lady Herbert, Countess of Pembroke. Author of Arcadia, literary patron.
Mary Wroth – Mary Wroth, Lady Herbert's niece. Philosopher, author.
Bacon – Francis Bacon, politician, lawyer, natural philosopher.
Elizabeth – Queen Elizabeth I. Queen.
Burbage J/R – James Burbage, impresario / Richard Burbage, actor, co-owner of The Globe
Donne – John Donne, poet, Dean of St Paul's
James – King James, King.
Buckingham – Duke of Buckingham, royal favourite
Heming – Heminge, actor
Condell – Condell, actor
KC – King Charles, King
Alleyne – Edward Alleyne
Quickly – Mistress Quickly, Landlady
W - A newly-wed woman
GM - Her (second) husband
Y1 - Her teenage son
Y2 - His best friend
C – old crone
London, 1593. Upstairs at a tavern on the South Bank of the Thames. The room is dark, smoky, wood-panelled. Around a heavy oak table sit several figures, all wearing hooded capes. Two places remain unoccupied. A young man bursts in, shuts the door: breathless, he removes his cap.
Jonson – Pray forgive the lateness of my arrival.
Voice – Make it not a habit, Master Jonson. [pauses] And where, perchance, is master Shakespeare?
Jonson – Ah. [straightens himself] Milords. There is a problem with Will.
Voice - There's always a problem with Will. What is it this time?
The voice raises its head. Removed its hood. The Queen is revealed beneath.
Elizabeth - Gentlemen. Ladies. I declare this meeting open.
The figures all follow suit. Francis Bacon. John Donne. Lady Herbert.
Lady Herbert - Well?
Jonson - Pardon me milady, but he's dead. Stabbed. In the eye. Fairly popped out, his eyeball, it did ….
Donne - Mary, mother of God.
Lady Herbert - That's enough Ben, Jack …
Elizabeth - Who, Ben, who?
Jonson - Er, it was me, M'am. I killed him. It just happened. I was passing this tavern in Deptford, and I heard a roaring within. It was Will, three sheets to the wind. Roaring, he was. “I am not what I am” he shouted, “I am Kit Marlowe.” Some vagabond was remonstrating with him. He was shouting about how Marlowe was twice the writer of this upstart crow, Shakspear. Will threw his tankard at the fellow, who came at him with a dagger.
Bacon takes notes.
Jonson - I rushed to separate them, and beat his assailant about the head, and he dropped his dagger. Will picked it up and stabbed him. “Why the devil came you between us?” he said, as he bled there on the floor. Will then looked at me, wild-eyed. “You tell'em, Ben, you tell 'em it's all so much stuff and nonsense.” I told him to hold his tongue. That it would come to nothing. “Nothing comes of nothing”, he shouted, and lunged at me with the bloody blade. I bent his arm away from me, the dagger pierced his eye, and as it came out, the eyeball followed.
Elizabeth - A bloody business.
Lady Herbert - Witnesses to identify you?
Jonson – One dead, the others drunk ... just the innkeeper.
Lady Herbert - We must send some men. Collect the body. Soothe the way with the innkeeper.
Bacon - Whose body?
Elizabeth - Why, Will's of course!
Jonson - I am Kit Marlowe.
Lady Herbert - He's right. They think he's Kit. Poor Kit!
Elizabeth - But Kit is a cypher.
Jonson - Not any more. He's dead.
Elizabeth – And Will? What's to become of Will? How will we communicate with the people? He wrote all this stuff. Useful, was our Will.
Bacon - True, but the world is becoming more dangerous. Kit would have been arrested soon.
Jonson - That would have proved quite the feat ...
Lady Herbert - And Shakspear?
Bacon - Well, if he and Kit died on the same day … I have an idea.
Elizabeth - Go on, Francis.
Bacon - Will's pretty much unknown here in the city – by reputation, yes, but not by sight. We kill Kit. Have an inquest, make out that he was an intelligencer, an atheist, a sodomite, even … then his work will be over with, but survive.
Lady Herbert - And what of Will?
Bacon - Well, we carry on Will's work. He was good, but not that good. We can do better.
Elizabeth - With Will as a name.
Bacon - Indeed. We continue the plan, but make the plays a little more useful to us. More subtill. maybe some lighter moments? Will was good, but he was a little, well, earnest ... Allow me to call on Burbage. I have a plan.