Shakespeare Must Die Act 3
Act 3 – 1603. Elizabeth is dead. She is succeeded on the throne by James VI of Scotland.
Lady Herbert and Ben Jonson are upstairs at the inn. Lady Herbert is hooded, Jonson not.
Lady Herbert – Ah, Ben, such a prince neither you nor I shall see again, if ever there be one to compare. For Bess was a goddess, both man and woman united in slender frame. She had the cunning of a fox and the heart of a lion. Machiavel would have approved. And who is James?
Jonson – I know not but that he's a Scot, that he has ideas both above and below his station, and that his tongue is too big for his mouth.
Lady Herbert – He speaks more than his mind can conceive?
Jonson – That may be so, but my meaning is not as a figure, but that his tongue and mouth were not made for each other. I hear tell that he drinks very uncomely, as if eating his drink, and the drink doth come out into the cup on each side of his mouth.
Lady Herbert – What? Is he perhaps fearful of being taken off to prison? Methinks his Danish queen feels herself right homely with him. 'tis said that the Danes make up for in drink what they lack in manners. Where is Francis? Where Jack? We needs must be all present to welcome our new head.
Jonson – Francis is ennobled today, Mary, be prepared for continued reference to his knighthood.
Lady Herbert – Ha! Pray remember thy place, Ben.
Jonson – My apologies, Duchess. Laughs.
Lady Herbert – This dotage on position o'erflows the measure. He could be a great man if he ceased chasing the illusion of status.
Jonson – Easy for you to say thus … Duchess …
Lady Herbert – Point taken, Ben. But was not Queen Bess sent off with great ceremony.
Jonson – Amost by the book, indeed.
Lady Herbert – Dreamily Ah, her barge sat in the water like a burnished throne, all beaten gold and purple sails. The winds were love-sick from the perfume spilt on the water and beaten with the oars as if chastising them for being quick where she is dead … and her corporeal being beggar'd all description, as she lay, motionless, in her robes of state.
Jonson – She was a rare wench.
Lady Herbert – Prince, Benjamin, prince.
Enter Donne, stealthily
Donne - Like Proserpine’s white beauty-keeping chest, or jove’s best fortune urn, is her fair breast.
Lady Herbert – While thine’s like worm eaten trunks, clothed in seal’s skin, or grave, that’s dirt without, and stink within. Good morrow, Jack.
Donne – Milady. Ben. Francis is kept behind on account of important business.
Jonson – But of course he is. Too much to expect him to mourn his Queen.
Donne – No more little Lord Keeper, but Privy Councillor, in effect. Or so he has it. And must I now dub him Sir?
Lady Herbert – Indeed we must.
Donne – Milady.
Jonson – But our Queen … and our new king...
Donne – She was my mistress, and I wore my life to spend upon her haters, not so James, who wishes me to concoct defences of indefensible arguments.
Lady Herbert – The breaking of so great a thing should make a greater crack.
Jonson – News of it should put a girdle round the earth in forty minutes.
Donne – Come madam, come, nor rest thy powers, defy, what that dark night doth …
Lady Herbert – Decry not a single doom, for in her name lay a moi'ty of the world.
Donne – Aye, Prince, you were as this island, a piece of the continent, a part of the main. Your death diminishes me.
Jonson – She deserved burial after the high Roman fashion.
Lady Herbert – Yet in Spaine they will make play of her, and have some squeaking Elizabeth boy her greatness in the posture of a whore.
Donne – Mary, if you please.
Lady Herbert – Forgive me Jack, Ben. I know a woman is a dish for the gods but I fear for this country that lacks now a true queen.
Bacon – Good morrow Mary, Ben, Jack.
All – Sir Francis
Bacon – Not a little smugly You heard?
Donne – As if the beacons were lit, Sir Francis …
Lady Herbert – And I'll task you call me Duchess, Sir Francis.
Bacon – Duchess.
Donne – And I'll task you call me John, Sir Francis.
The door swings open. A hooded man enters. Sits. There is silence
HoodedMan - What would’st thou?
All – Service.
HoodedMan – Who would’st thou serve?
All – You.
HoodedMan – Do’st thou know me fellows?
Donne – You have that in your countenance
Jonson – Which I would fain call master.
HoodedMan – What’s that?
All – Authority.
The hood is removed, revealing King James beneath – there is a general lack of surprise that visibly irks the king.
Bacon – There belongeth to Kings from their Seruants, both Tribute of dutie, and presents of affection: In the former of these, we hope we shall not liue to be wanting, according to our most humble dutie, and the good pleasure of your Maiesties employments.
Donne – Sir Francis, Master Donne, Master Jonson …
An uneasy pause
Lady Herbert – Lady Mary Herbert, Duchess of Pembroke, Majesty.
Jonson – And your place here?
Lady Herbert – Majesty?
James – Impatiently dismissive I have a monstrous regimen of women at home already. We have no need of you.
Lady Herbert – Majesty?
James turns deliberately to the three men, who are awkwardly silent.
Lady Herbert leaves. The door closes silently behind her.
James – To business, gentlemen. You cannot conceive of how meeting you all here doth cheere the heart. What are we doing …
Bacon – The Images of mens wits and knowledges remaine in Bookes, exempted from the wrong of time, and capable of perpetuall renouation: Neither are they fitly to be called Images, because they generate still, and cast their seedes in the minds of others, prouoking and causing infinit actions and opinions, in succeeding ages …
Jonson – We make the people think, Majesty.
Donne – Without their having to think Majesty.
James – Very good. And we meet?
Bacon – Lady Day next, Majesty.
James – Perfect. Exit
Jonson – What now?
Donne – Beer, Ben, beer. Exeunt