Shakespeare Must Die Act 2
Act 2 – Five years have passed – it is now 1598
Richard Burbage storms into his office, slamming the door behind him.
Burbage R – Bastards! My father not yet cold and my inheritance is a hall that cost six hundred pounds and is worth nothing, and a lease I cannot renew, nor afford to renew. At least the woodwork is mine own.
He sits heavily, sweeps his desk of its accoutrements.
He lights the various candles, a figure takes shape in the gloom behind him. There is a knock at the door. Enter Bacon.
Bacon - Upset, Richard?
Burbage R – Ah, Francis. You may be able to help.
Bacon – Help? By all means, if at all possible.
Burbage R – You don't know it, but my father bought a hall in Blackfriars, in order to …
Bacon – Charge more to a better class of customer …
Burbage R – You knew?
Bacon – It was my idea.
Burbage R – But they blocked the licence.
Bacon – I know.
Burbage R – You knew?
Bacon – It was my idea.
Burbage R – But, but … that means …
Bacon – That I fairly bankrupted your father, yes.
Burbage R – Lily-livered, unctious upstart weasel bastard!
Burbage makes to stand but is restrained by the hand of another who emerges from behind him.
Jonson - Be still, Richard. The hurt cannot be much.
Burbage R – Et tu, Benjamin?
Bacon – We are all on the same side, Richard.
Burbage R – Master Burbage to you, abortive, rooting hog.
Bacon – Peace, Richard, peace. We have a plan.
Burbage R – A plan? This was your plan! Bankrupt Burbage. The privy council refused to grant me license at Blackfriars. It's a liberty! It ought be independent … they refused, Bacon, after my father secured the property at not inconsiderable personal cost.
Bacon – We know, Richard. The plan is rather bigger than that, and now you're a part of it.
Burbage R – Of course you know, Francis. I'm not stupid. You set him up.
Bacon – But your late father was fool enough, or greedy enough, to fail to smooth the way with the privy council first.
Burbage R – And now?
Bacon – We have a plan. Move the Theatre. There's a good site in Southwark we know of.
Burbage R – And I trust you why, exactly?
Bacon – Because we say so, Richard.
Burbage R – And I pay with ...
Bacon – Sell shares in the new Theatre … it shall be named The Globe. You and your brother may retain a controlling interest.
Burbage R – And to whom do I sell?
Bacon – Here's a list.
Burbage snatches the paper, holds it up to a candle and reads.
Burbage R – Will! He's still 'in the Tower'! I'm not signing my theatre over to a man whose hand I do not recognise …
Bacon – Allow us to persuade you. Nods to Jonson
Burbage R – By all that's holy, Francis, you can't let him …
Bacon – Peace, Richard. Jonson dumps a bag of coin onto the table. Persuasion comes in many forms.
Burbage R – Thank heavens. Crosses himself
Bacon – We will take care of the paperwork.
Burbage R – But …
Jonson – Trust us, Richard.
Jonson slaps Burbage hard on the shoulder.
Burbage R – faintly Yes, Ben … Francis.
Exit Bacon, Jonson.
Burbage R – Trust us? Bastards!
He picks up the bag of coin, feels its weight, and hurls it at the door.
Burbage R – BASTARDS!
Act 2 Scene 2
1601 – Upstairs at the tavern. The cabal walk solemnly into the candlelit room, stand behind their chairs, heads bowed. The middle chair is unattended. They wait. The door opens and a single figure sweeps in. It pulls the chair, sits.
Elizabeth - Gentlemen?
The Middle figure removes its hood, revealing Queen Elizabeth beneath. The other figures follow suit.
Elizabeth - So, gentlemen. Lady. How has the year treated poor Will?
Lady Herbert – Well, your majesty, the story of your ancestor Henry played well.
Donne – Indeed, many noted the similarities to your position.
Elizabeth – And on the subject of providence?
Bacon – Dealt with most subtly, majesty.
Elizabeth – Indeed. Pauses We are waxing somewhat old, and the country grows skittish. We must place some ideas abroad without further ado.
Lady Herbert - What ideas do we have, gentlemen?
Bacon - A pastoral idyll, Ma'm, all green forests and shepherds and dispossessed sons getting their rightful due.
Donne - For heaven's sake, Francis, enough already. Have you written anything without some poor, dispossessed lad?
Bacon - Tu quoque. You're a man obsessed …
Lady Herbert – Perhaps you could find space in this eden for a heroine who has to act like a man to protect her family honour?
Elizabeth - I like it. I think it'll fly
Bacon - Certainly gets boots in the round at the Globe.
Elizabeth - How has that worked out, anyway?
Bacon - Oh, Blackfriars? Like a charm. Fairly bankrupted poor James. That and the lease business means 'our Will' now 'owns' a share of the theatre.
Lady Herbert - No need to peddle his wares like a common-or-garden scribbler, then?
Elizabeth – Nor yet to act, Mary …
Donne - There's nothing common-or-garden about scribbling, M'am. Or 'our Will'. Though he has been *acting*
Elizabeth - Yes, yes, Jack. But perchance he mought retire from the stage now. We lack something about how bad it is to knock off your leader, especially if they're ill. [she pauses] … Ben?
Jonson - That's almost too obvious for words, Ma'm. How about the tale of Julius Caesar?
Elizabeth - But he was a dreadful despot!
Jonson - But taken from the time of his assassination …
Elizabeth - Ah, so the filling of the power vacuum?
Jonson - Nature abhors a vacuum, M'am.
Bacon - Ben, you know better than to follow Aristotle …
Jonson - Sorry, Francis, couldn't resist.
Elizabeth - You mean …
Bacon - indeed, M'am, and were you to see your way clear …
She silences him with a wave of her hand
Elizabeth - I suppose you want a subsidy?
Elizabeth – But to the matters in hand. We wish for something on succession ...
Lady Herbert – Confession?
Elizabeth – Possession.
Lady Herbert – Obsession ...
A nervous pause hangs in the air
Elizabeth - … I have already put pen to paper, a play on revenge.
Donne – If I may be so bold, ma'm, perhaps thwarted revenge.
Bacon – Revenge is a kind of wild justice, M'am.
Elizabeth - Excellent. So, Mary, you know a bit about Arcadia … you and Francis can work up a pastoral idyll celebrating the innate goodness of the good, with a bit of disinheritance thrown in. Ben, provide us with a dark, salutory lesson on the dangers of having no successor. And Jack, darling Jack, you can sequester Francis from official duties and spin our play into cloth of gold.
[unison] Yes, M'am.
[exeunt all but Francis. He holds up his tankard and speaks, addressing it]
Bacon - The human intellect is constitutionally prone to supposing that there is more order and equality in things than it actually finds.
Ambition is a winding staire, and for Will, he was certain of his own destiny, but if a man will begin with certainties, hee shall end in doubts; but if content to beginne with doubts, he shall end in certainties.
All the world's a stage, and all the men and women in it merely players, and we, we are fortune's fool.
Envy worketh subtilly, and in the darke, for man would rather believe what he wishes to be true, than what is plaine.
I lack … advancement, not learning. For this I mought rely on my uncle, but he helpeth me not.
Men in great place, are thrice servants - servants of the soveraigne or state; servants of fame; and servants of business.
I crave great place. I was born for great place.
I met a fool in the forest. But mayhap the fool was myself.
[the door opens. Mistress Quickly enters]
Quickly – Time, Master Bacon, if you please.
Act 2 Scene 3
Francis and John meet at a windswept St Paul's, it's dusk, and cold.
Bacon - So, Jack. If all goes well, eh?
Donne - All that you can see, my son, will be thine.
Bacon - Rather you than me. I mean, Jack, the place is practically a pigsty.
Donne - Aye, Francis, aye.
Bacon - Sir Francis, if you don't mind.
Donne - Well, I do seeing as you have yet to boast a knighthood, Francis.
Bacon - Ah, but I will, but I will.
Donne - And on that day, I shall gladly name thee Sir, but until such times …
Bacon - How's the wife, Jack?
Donne - With child.
Bacon - Hostages to fortune, Jack.
Donne - I beg your pardon?
Bacon - Hostages to fortune - he who has wife and children has hostages to fortune.
Donne - And how's your fortune?
Bacon - At the mercy of others, Jack.
Donne - Never a borrower or a lender be, Francis.
Bacon - You attempting a jest, sir?
Donne - I?
Bacon - But prithee, this play of her majesty's …
Donne - Ah yes. It starts with the bloody Earl of Essex, accompanied by Revenge, sat down to watch the …
Bacon - Whatever does that bloody woman have against me?
Donne - You're Kydding, right?
Bacon - And your uncle?
Donne - So we're agreed.
Donne - Death, be not proud
Bacon – Yon gravedigger looks pretty humble to me.
Donne - You ever …
Bacon - No. But I'm writing about it.
Donne - You write about everything.
Bacon - This play.
Donne - This play.
Bacon - Whatever it is, let's agree now there'll be no jokes about rotting fish
Donne - Nothing about vulnerable young women.
Bacon - With flowers.
Donne - None of this did she/didn't she nonsense.
Bacon - None of this which cup has the poison in nonsense.
Donne - Poisoned swords?
Bacon - Please god, no. How about some intelligencing?
Donne - I wrote a poem on that, once.
Bacon - [aside] - good god. [Full voice] Really?
Donne - Full nakedness! All joys are due to thee,
As souls unbodied, bodies uncloth’d must be,
To taste whole joys. Gems which you women use
Are like Atlanta’s balls, cast in men’s views,
Bacon - Apples, Jack, they were golden apples.
Donne - If you say so, Francis.
They walk on in silence.
Donne - I wrote it after remembering how I used to watch my mother undress from behind an arras …
Bacon - Jack, please.
Donne - Come, come, Francis, surely you must have …
They stop. Francis takes John's arm.
Bacon - Have you actually met my mother, Jack?
Donne - Revenge.
Bacon - Is a wild justice.
Donne - You said that already.
Bacon - So?
Donne - So think of something new.
An old crone walks towards them, starts gabbling wildly. The two men stare.
Bacon - Are you lost. Or mad?
Crone - I seek the king of Scotland.
Bacon - Head north by northwest. You can't miss him.
The crone ambles off, singing to herself
Donne - Wouldn't know a heron from a handsaw, that one.
Bacon - A heron?
Donne - Oh, this is hire and salary.
Bacon - A good salary.
Donne - Revenge, Francis.
Bacon - Is like the arrow that flieth in the dark.
Donne - The slings and arrows …
Bacon - Of hostages to fortune.
Donne - Aye, there's the rub.
Bacon - There is indeed. Drink?
Donne - Maybe a bite?
The shadow of St. Paul's fades, the inn's sign is suddenly illuminated - it is called the Mousetrap.
Act 2 Scene 4
Inside the inn. The tables are groaning with food. Mistress Quickly appears.
Quickly - Gentlemen … ah, if I'm not mistaken …
Bacon - You are not. Are not these the funeral-baked meats from last Tuesday, my good lady? Picks at one pie. This is a vile and loathsome crust.
Mistress Quickly puts her finger to her lips
Quickly - To speak truth, m'lord, indeed, yes. But I'll tell you the strangest thing. The marriage today was between the brother of the man whose funeral you espied last week, and his widow.
Donne - And the meats?
Quickly - The son, and nephew I suppose, insisted upon the same meats. My pigs will be disappointed.
Bacon - Is he mad?
Quickly - Mad sir? No sir. But he is angry sir. I fear he doth harbour mischief beneath his black cloak.
There is a commotion without. It spills into the saloon. Two youths fight with swords. The swords are corked. One stops for a second, picks up a goblet, and takes a draught.
Youth1 - spitting out the liquid You trying to poison me?
The fight continues until a large woman strides into the room, dragging a small, grey man behind her.
Woman - screaming HAMLET!
The fight stops abruptly. The woman walks up to the first youth and grabs him by the right earlobe.
Youth1 - Ow, ow, ow, ow …
Woman - Now you have a lot of explaining to do, young man. And what's this I hear about Ophelia?
Youth1 - But, mother …
Woman - And as for you, Yorick …
Exeunt all but Bacon and Donne.
Bacon - Peasant, rogue, or slave?
Donne - No man is an island, Francis. You can't choose your family.
Bacon - Amen to that. Shall we?