I give you this day your daily Bard. Chapter 4 now up and running. If you’re new to the proceedings, you can read the first three chapters right here. Enjoying the story? Hey, invite a friend. Got a question or comment? Hit me up.
I was late to the theater the next day, as both my new and secret charge from Carey and the attack on my person had left me vexed and did much unsettle my constitution, so that I could neither write nor sleep, a candle and much papers wasted in the attempt at the first, and not a little port wasted in the attempt at the next, until only in the blush of dawn did I at last meet the embrace of Morpheus, which was not gentle, but instead a sudden and fierce slumber poxed with dreams of which I have and wish no recall as they had much infected my thinking so that my mind felt as a mouth that had consumed some corrupted thing. I was much sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought, such that in passing the court from whence the swordsman had sprung, I gave it so wide a birth that I stepped in accident in some filth dropped to the street from a window overlooking that court from the far side and cursed by foolishness, my knowing better than to walk so near the buildings, and there being nothing to fear in the court by the light of day save a drunk seated against the wall who raised his head briefly at my passing, watching me with baleful eyes set astride a monstrous nose that had suffered greatly, I think, from many insults, it progressing from his face in such volume and varied directions so as to appear some kind of growth.
The Company was in mid-scene when I first reached an opening to the stage, and so I held back to the shadow to observe, assured that, once known, I would be beset by inquiries concerning my meeting of yesterday, and that any further rehearsal would be of little value, all fixed instead on news and speculation. Burbage, at least, was of a better mood, and he, being more relaxed, put also Jenkins at his ease so that their scenes read well and the production seemed ready.
At the scene’s end, Burbage makes speech to Jenkins, and did so with such soft art and subtle gesture that methinks the suplicative adoration that did then inform Jenkins’ face was only half pretended, and when they did embrace I felt a stirring of remembering in my own heart for such days as I had known in my youth when love still seemed a wonder, and had not yet suffered from the poor ministrations to which I have since made it subject. When their embrace broke, there was an uncommon silence in the company, all recognizing that awkward spell we do cast when we with only men reform those moments that do a woman’s place require.
I stepped forth. “Did we at last shave Jenkins’ ass, Jim, that you can now speak to him so sweet? Or have you found in his manly wool a fond remembrance of those sheep with which you so oft make congress?’
The tension of the scene’s soft words and long embrace were broken and the company roared in relief that I knew, as a playwright was less the product of my words than of their timing, and Burbage turned, smiling, crossing the stage in his actor’s graceful pace and seizing me by my shoulders.
“The prodigal scribe returns! And by his words I am afeared we now know his appetities and all must wonder, when he makes that soft talk with which he hath undone so many dresses, whether he means ‘I love you,’ or ‘I love ewe.’”
And again the company bellowed, and we were bathed in that good fellowship that does so oft seem only expressed in our barbs and taunts.
“But come,” said Burbage, taking my arm and leading me to the edge of the stage, where we were seated and the Company formed around. “What word from Carey?”
It felt unnatural to speak false to my fellows, although I used such words as I could that were true in their facts if not in their spirit. “He wishes to continue his father’s place as our patron, and such matters as to make it official should conclude within August,” I said, full knowing that such conclusion hinged on my unsure ability to put to at ease his mind on the matter of his father’s death, and that I was giving all present certain hope when instead they were in uncertain peril.
“Huzzah!” cried Burbage, and he bounced from his seat to his feet with that special grace that he did hold, taking his stance so that his words would be a performance, that being, I have learned his only true speaking. For Burbage, all the world is a stage.
“Will, we did just this morning suffer the company of some members of the Admiral’s Men. Alleyn, of course, two other players, and Henslowe – who continues to feed those dogs from his purse and, if we credit rumor, will have funds in another theater in Bankside. They did in words much sweetly false, pretend condolence on our sponsor’s death, but by manner swaggered about the boards as if measuring them for their own use. And I answered that our good Will had already made congress with Carey, and that I knew no other, certainly not among their number, with the charm or wit by which to so certainly assure our fortunes.”
Hemings, while seeming much comforted by the news of Carey’s blessing, seemed also less certain that fortune shone as our sun alone. “They, too, have seen Carey,” he said, “or they were on their way to, or at least so they say.”
“When?” I asked.
“From here, they were to Somerset bound, by Carey’s own invitation if they be not false. And Henslowe has oft with his purse secured such blessings as he could not by merit.”
This news did trouble me deeply, but I took pains to make it light, as I could see no gain from making unsure the minds of my fellows. “Carey is soon to be Lord Chamberlain and, as such, will, by office, have truck with all the companies, even still remaining our good sponsor and namesake. That the Lord Admiral’s Men should envision such invitation as some chance at a better sponsor than such as they now hold should not surprise, as they have never met a nobel ass up which they would not stick their tongues so far that should such Lord sup soup, they do taste onions. Be at ease, John. Remember, Henslowe’s purse may seem swollen to us, but it is a flea’s sack compared to Carey’s.”
Which was greeted with general tittering of approval, although Heming’s face was still clouded.
“I do not know Carey, Will, but if he be a dog, then he may harbor fleas. They asked after you,Will,” he said.
“As they would,” I said, “my being absent.”
“It was the manner of their asking,” Hemings said. “A chiding, as if they expected your absence and were trying to cloud us with thought of such ills as your absence could portend.”
I bowed slightly to him. “I was late abed having written much into the night, and I do offer apology that my tardiness did cause you worry.”
He shook his head. “We all know your habits and your hours and your tardiness offered no concerns. It was the slyness of their manner. Henslowe said that we did on you too much depend and asked Burbage if he would not prefer to ape words from some fresh mouth and more than one, if his steady diet of Shakespeare had not yet clumped his bowels.”
“To which I answered,” said Burbage, “that, should they find such words as worth this ape, it would be the first time in my remembering. Their dross is better suited to George Alleyn and his fellow monkeys, monkeys being smaller and apes requiring words fitting to their stature.”
“And did Alleyn receive this well?” I asked. Alleyn was The Admiral’s Men’s leading player and, while slight of stature, was also famous for his readiness to take insult and his ease to temper.
“Not well,” said Hemings, “though whether in offense to Burbage’s words or Henslowe’s overture by which he may have taken that Henslowe would prefer Jim as his player I do not now. Both, I should imagine.”
I made a shrug. “Still, I hear only the usual sort of banter and nothing to give alarm.”
“It was Henslowe’s last words, Will, given over his shoulder as he and the other players dragged Alleyn to the street. He said he preferred several playwrights in his stable, so that such horse as for which the public displayed a taste, that horse he could saddle, and that, by having many he did not have to love too well any that he must leave ere long, saying that in these days no man should count on another’s company far beyond the ‘morrow, and that, with you even now absent, in a time of such crisis as does Carey’s death present, should we not wonder if we had packed too much of our fortunes on the back of a single ass. There is villainy in that man, Will, and he gave me chill. It was his smile, as if he knew some ill that I yet did not.”
As if they expected my absence. I wondered by what magic Henslowe expected me away. He was a new sort of creature to which London gave rise, a man of no talents who himself could produce no product, no art, no service of want to his fellows, and yet did somehow attach his purse to others’ endeavors in such fashion that his grew fat whilst theirs ended thin, as though by some perverse alchemy through which he did transmute by avarice alone the labors of others to his own gain. As he had no art, he also had no scruple. Bankside, being across the river and yet convenient to both the bridge and the many boats that did ferry there, was newly swollen with all manner of entertainments, and if the now-deafening jingle of the coin changed there was the new music of Henslowe’s attentions, then those of us who did my such entertainments live best take good care to mind Henslowe’s dance.
Bankside was outside the city proper and thus beyond the bounds of those edicts that did now ban such entertainments as ours within its border, save for at Court, where the Queen herself did oft require the presence of players, minstrels, bear baiters and all other matter of amusement, which did much vex those Puritan ministers whose humorless intensities so desired to drive from life every pleasure so that, the day we woke in hell, we would be confused to find our sufferings not much increased from what we had known at their hand. All men do, I think, puzzle on God, and each of us doth, I suppose on occasion believe we have divined his intention, but those men who in their hubris do suppose they know God’s mind full and take it on their shoulders to force their imaginings on their fellows, it is in them that I see God least and Satan most clearly, and I could not shake the feel that in these days immediate to come, I would make Satan’s acquaintance well.