Shakespeare Must Die Act 1 Scene 1
Act 1 scene 1
Queen Elizabeth and Lady Herbert, Countess of Pembroke, at Whitehall.
Elizabeth – Ah, Kit, Kit ...
Lady Herbert – Ah yes, had he not been born we needs must have discovered him, your majesty?
A little forced laughter
Lady Herbert – Cut is the branch that may have grown full straight.
Elizabeth – Who, Will?
Lady Herbert – Kit, your majesty, Kit ... in time we might have fashioned a proper man.
Elizabeth - For whom, Mary, for whom?
Both women stare into the distance wistfully
Elizabeth – let us sit a while, Mary, I feel Melpomene awaits ...
Lady Herbert – yes, your majesty.
Elizabeth – Kit reminded me of Robert, you know, all off we go and no otium.
Lady Herbert – He had a mighty line indeed, Majesty
Lady Herbert – My uncle did not have Kit's way with words, your majesty.
Elizabeth – No, but to speak truth, he had no need of them. He didn't need to persuade me that the sun was the moon, that we still had the night as our friend
Lady Herbert – And all that time you toyed with Anjou
Elizabeth – Ah, oui, le gentil homme que m'inquit ca nuit 'comment s'appelez vous le pied ...?'
Lady Herbert – Et vous le dit ca?
Elizabeth - Dit? non. l'image est mille mots, n'est-ce pas?
Lady Herbert - Et pour le vue?
Elizabeth - Il me promis Paris!
Lady Herbert - And did you win the fair county of Paris?
Elizabeth - No. He wished in exchange such a view as was Robert's alone.
Lady Herbert - Ah, Robert was persuasive.
Elizabeth - We met at a dance, you know. It was one of those dances. In the summer. The plague was abroad so the streets empty. It was hot. Insufferably hot.
Lady Herbert - The mad blood stirring?
Elizabeth - He called me Mab.
Lady Herbert - Mab?
Elizabeth - I had no idea, either. Some fairy queen of dreams.
Lady Herbert - I remember a party like that, where no-one could keep their eyes off him.
Elizabeth - He wasn't exactly a crow.
Lady Herbert - He hung himself upon the cheek of night ...
Elizabeth - Like a medlar.
Lady Herbert - Your majesty?
Elizabeth - You have paper and quill?
Lady Herbert - No, your majesty, we were taking the air.
Elizabeth - Perhaps you might ...
Lady Herbert - My memory will be more than adequate, I feel.
Elizabeth - 'tis enough. 'twill serve. But ask for it tomorrow and ...
The queen motions to a lady-in-waiting who curtsies and rushes off.
Elizabeth - He may have been an Earl, but I was Queen.
Lady Herbert - Your stations lacked equivalency, your majesty
Elizabeth - I welcomed him into the Royal household when I married the nation. he was master of the horse.
Lady Herbert - Dignity was upheld, then?
Elizabeth - We dreamed of running away to the continent together, Venice, perhaps. But ...
Lady Herbert - But, your majesty?
Elizabeth - Angrily He was married, girl, and I Queen. Though the infatuation long dead, this I could not bear. Not after my father.
Lady Herbert - But she did perish ...
Elizabeth – Aye, but her end was misreported, the canon is set against self-slaughter.
Lady Herbert - Questioning Self-slaughter?
Elizabeth - I received word from her, the letter arrived shortly after news of her accidental death. 'Why came you between us?' she asked. 'You are my queen, and yet I was hurt under your protection.' She finished with the cruellest cut of all, 'I would call a plague down on both your houses, but I mought not curse god's annointed. My own house, however ... ' her death, her letter, was the final blow. No more strife, no more longing. My duty was clear.
Lady Herbert - And Robert?
Elizabeth - You don't know?
Lady Herbert pauses. The silence hangs in the air. They cough. The lady-in-waiting returns with paper and quill, hands it to Lady Herbert.
Elizabeth - So, what do we have so far?
Lady Herbert - So far?
Elizabeth - Our play.
Lady Herbert - If you will indulge me a while, your majesty.
Elizabeth - Of course.
Lady Herbert scratches her quill on the piece of paper as the queen dictates.
Elizabeth - The two families were never so alike
Lady Herbert mutters as she writes
Lady Herbert - Two households, both alike in dignity
Elizabeth - In the Palace of Windsor, where this play's first scene
Lady Herbert - In fair Verona, where we lay our scene
Elizabeth - Old arguments return as conflicts new
Lady Herbert - From ancient grudge, break to new mutiny
Elizabeth - Where spousal blood makes lovers seem unclean
Lady Herbert - Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean
Elizabeth - Let me read ...
Lady Herbert hands over the paper.
Elizabeth - I like it.
Elizabeth hands back the paper as Lady Herbert mutters to herself
Lady Herbert – From such beginnings tragic endings do spring forth.
A messenger arrives with a letter. Stands expectantly until ushered forward by Elizabeth.
Elizabeth - Impatiently Well come on then, boy.
Messenger – Nervously From the privy council, your majesty.
He hands it to the queen, who opens it and reads. The messenger starts to stutter out some words
Messenger - M-m-majesty, my uncle languishes ...
The queen waves him quiet
Elizabeth – Come, Mary, duty calls. There are portents most disturbing. There was fire in the skies the year before Robert died, and that same year did we defeat the Spanish. There was fire in the sky last year, and this year we suffer plague and the people mourn a man who died though he never lived … these are strange days.
Lady Herbert – Strange days indeed, your Majesty, strange days indeed.