To describe the scene as chaotic, exciting and nerve tingling would be the understatement of the century, but add to that nauseating, uncomfortable and bawdy and perhaps a picture begins to emerge. Oh and don’t forget there’s also the Black Death, syphilis, small pox and a few other unpleasant illnesses to contend with.
So anything that lifts the gloom and despondency is always very welcome in C16th England and Stratford Upon Avon is really rather proud of their playwright who has recently returned from London. There is a rumour of retirement, but with his continuing popularity and royal patronage, it seems there are still plenty of opportunities to keep the Bard busy.
I’m here to find out more.
Me: (Stage left) Thank you for sparing the time Mr Shakespeare.
Shakespeare: That’s quite all right, but don’t sit there … oh, too late, sorry. It’s only sheep’s blood, oh now you’ve flicked it at me. Out damn’d spot – oh, I like that, I’ll write it down.
Me: (Stage left a little further) Yes, it must be quite difficult jotting down useful lines when you need both quill and ink pot and reams of paper, quite a balancing act wouldn’t you say?
Shakespeare: Perhaps so, but I am indebted to my dear father for ensuring I had a fine education.
Me: Well as you have mentioned your parents, could we talk about them? Your mother inherited a fortune from her parents, and some would say your father saw an opportunity to expand his business ideas. But then it all went pear shaped around 1570 when he became a little too greedy, charging exorbitant interest rates on his loans. Was your dad a bit of a loan shark?
(Back stage left, trap door opens, should have been stage right; injuries sustained)
Shakespeare: Lucky that wasn’t Burbage, (turns and shouts) I’ve told you a hundred times, ‘stage left’ is not your left you fool. Stop moaning and come back when it’s healed. Not at all, after all, nothing can come of nothing it was simply a case of supply and demand. It’s the damned Protestants that blighted our lives; (looks around furtively) who did you say you worked for?
Me: I didn’t or rather, I don’t. I’m freelance. So feel free to express yourself.
(Witch rushes by with cloak billowing behind, slips on slimy orange skins)
Shakespeare: Now look at it! You fool; you’ll have to wash that before tonight’s performance, and don’t bleed on it. Tell Gilbert to get the pigs in, we need this lot cleared before noon. Sorry, what were you saying?
Me: Perhaps we could move on to your marriage. Anything you want to tell me about a shot gun wedding?
Shakespeare: (Slaps thigh in theatrical style) Aha! You’re talking about our Elizabethan lust. Nothing wrong with that – you’re not a prude are you? Need a bit of life in the old codpiece (jumps up on stage to gyrate, winks at the same time, troupe’s raucous laugh heard from back stage; sits down again). Taught me one thing though, can’t trust that damned pig intestine! (Another slap on the thigh).
(I smile politely; have to raise voice above sound of pigs that have arrived to eat the scraps of food left be previous audience)
Me: Can you tell me what happened to the roof of The Globe? I heard there was a loose cannon flying during a performance.
Shakespeare: Yes we needed to fire the cannon during a Henry VIII scene but someone (kicks passing stage hand) aimed it too low and it set the thatched roof alight and the whole theatre went up in smoke. But we rebuilt it within the year and instead of thatch, we went for the latest in modern roof tiles.
(Rancid smell envelops theatre)
Me: What is that awful smell?
Shakespeare: (Seems not to notice) Well it can’t be me, I had a bath six months ago; it must be the sheep guts and lungs, props for tonight’s performance of Macbeth. Have to make it look as real as possible.
Me: Yes, I understand one of the troupes suffered a fatal injury recently during a Romeo and Juliet performance; the dagger did actually stab him.
Shakespeare: (Waves his hand with cavalier indifference) Yes, but he died from the plague a week later, so all’s well that ends well, eh? (Scribbles down sentence on paper).
Me: When James I came to the throne, Lord Hudson stepped down so King James could become your patron. Was that why you changed your name from the Chamberlain’s Men to the King’s Men?
Shakespeare: (Looks at me suspiciously) You don’t know much about Jimmy do you? He’s a lover of the arts, bit of a stage door Johnny; not so keen on female company. He married Anne, but nothing to show for it yet! (More laughs from back stage).
Me: You are said to be the greatest playwright the world has known, what do you put that down to – your characters, the plots or something else?
Shakespeare: (Suddenly draws knife out of nowhere and holds it aloft) Is this a dagger which I see before me? If anyone doubts my ability, they may well have a taste of my sword! Sorry, did that scare you? (Puts knife on stage). My two very good friends Ben Johnson and Christopher Marlowe are known to everyone and they occasionally help out with the odd bit of spelling. But it’s all mine, be not afraid of greatness!
Me: Great. Moving right away from that; any intention of retiring? You’ve written 38 plays and 154 sonnets, some would say it was time to hang up your hat.
Shakespeare: My dear girl, I’ve only just begun. You know what they, or rather, I say; all the world’s a stage. Now if you’ve finished I really must away.
Me: Of course, just one last question before you go; do you expect your children to follow in your footsteps and become great writers?
Shakespeare: Don’t be daft, frailty thy name is woman, what possible reason would girls have to write anything down?
Rowdy theatre goers, drunks on the streets and promiscuity; funny how things change but also stay the same, even after 400 years.