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I made haste to the theater with Jenkins, as Burbage had sent the boy at the run to my rooms to wake me in the still-early morning, me abed as I had been the night before writing and making at least some little progress, those melancholies that had of late much vexed me somewhat abated after my meeting with the apothecary, I think by the thrill of the hunt. I dressed in haste in such clothes as lay handy, Jenkins unsure of the mission, but seeming certain that speed were more vital than costume.
As I entered the theater, Burbage was in loud speech with a man I could see only from behind, him being outfitted, though, in the plain and looser cut of dull brown much preferred by the Puritans. In addition to the other joys they would deny mankind, they would also in sartorial matters displease the eye by dressing as if large turds, and his head also bore neither hat nor wig nor hair of any style or care, but instead that close and artless cropping that did have them called Roundheads. And then he turned, and I could see that it was our landlord, Miller, who I knew did hold some Puritan sympathies, but in the year since our last congress, must have had such truck with God that he now fully embraced such sour and joyless life as his new religion did demand.
“Shakespeare,” he said, his hands clasped behind him.
I nodded greeting. “Sir Miller.”
He made disapproving examination of my person and dress. “It would seem we have drug thee from bed at such hour as have been most honest men long at their labors.”
“As we oft do perform at evening, and as I must then sometimes write at night, I fear my hours do end later than is custom, and that I do rise later.”
“Just as all else in your enterprise runs counter to God’s natural order, so, too, do your habits.”
“It’s the lease Will,” Burbage blurted. “He says it is not to be extended.” Our lease on the theater would expire at the end of the July, this same month, and in fact in just few days, though Burbage had had some truck on the matter with Miller some weeks previous, Miller having said on that occasion that such matters would be addressed as to their current custom as time allowed, Burbage having returned feeling the matter settled as it had been each year previous and no longer of mind.
“You mean not to be extended again beyond the current year in question, or not at all?” I asked.
“I will have you and the instruments of your practice out before August,” said Miller.
“Even having told me other when last we spoke?” said Burbage, his voice gaining edge and his face color. “Is lying now admitted to the practice of your new faith?”
“I told you, sir, that matters would be addressed in due course, and if you took from those words some meaning other than that their plain meanings do carry, then perhaps too much of your conversation is constrained to those words written for you by others and your wits have lost what small ability they e’re had through lack of practice.”
Burbage lunged toward Miller, but I took his arm, turned him aside, and bade him take leave that I might speak with Miller alone, for while I had no doubt that the spirit of their previous business was clear as Burbage had relayed it, I also had no doubt that Miller did likely mislead him in such fashion that he could say he had spoke truly, for he had much truck with lawyers and that was their art. Having some gift with language myself, I fell less prey to their conniving, and did curse myself that I had sent Burbage to Miller on that first occasion.
Miller and I now alone, I asked his intent. “Methinks you are now so full embraced of your Puritan faith that our practice here gives you insult and you can longer bear to stand gain from our custom.”
“I do take offense, sir, to such trivial entertainments that you here perform, as they distract to the oft unholy themes of their subject the attentions of eyes that of right would be focused only on God. They inflame the passions such that those present do then desire what God has proscribed. You do on stage have men truck with men and invite on us all such judgment as did Sodom befall.”
I smiled at him so as to seem in sympathy. “So far as men trucking with men, we do so to comply with such statutes as Her Majesty’s ministers have seen fit to apply to our practice. I have no doubt the players would prefer admit to their number such women as who would this art pursue, as their lips and embrace would be far more welcome and more natural, and I would be much pleased should you chose to petition the Lord of Revels to so rule.”
Miller colored. “Do you think it would lessen my objections to see women, too, debased in your unnatural parliament of whores? To cleave, and in public, to any such as do your scripts require, not in marriage or even in affection, but solely to inflame the lust of those misguided sinners that seek in your theater such grace as they ought find in a rightful church?”
“So you say no.”
“So I say be gone from these quarters come month’s end, and the vile particulars of your hateful craft with you, or what remains I will seize and sell, or more likely burn so that such pox as your kind likely carries be contained”
“But so you say on account of God, or at least that God who’s will you suppose to know. But the right of our presence to these quarters is a matter of law, not religion.”
Miller held up a bound scroll, no doubt his copy of the same lease that could also be found in the desk in our stores. “This be law, and it grant you no right beyond the end of this month, and there be no new document of its kind that says other.”
As I have a memory for words and had each year at our present place to sign this lease, being a shareholder in our Company, and as it had ne’er been copied anew, but instead only the old year each time crossed out and replaced with the next, and any adjustment to our monies owed made note, as such scribes who did redraft such charters cost dear, and Miller amongst his other charms would cling tight to any coin in a way he would not to any woman, I was well familiar with its particulars.
“If that be law, then I would remind you that it also, by law, doth require that you do inform us should your intent be not to renew in such time as to allow that we remove ourselves in good order, the time required in my recall to be two months, by which requirement, then, we will remove ourselves as you desire, but not at the end of July, but instead at the end of September, by which time we can acquire new quarters.”
Miller again waived the document at me as if a cudgel. “That requirement being void in such case as the tenant is arrears in their obligations, or should new matters arise by which I find the tenant to be a poor risk for payment.”
“And yet we have every payment made at its time, not just this year, but in each year prior. We have a full schedule of shows through the remainder of summer and well into fall, and then have charter for a series of entertainments at court. And so I would know by what meaning of the word risk you find us so, you being so strict on meanings, as you have made clear to Burbage.”
“Your company’s name, even written clear hence,” Miller waving the scroll yet again, “is the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. It was his patronage that made your reputation and secured such court entertainments as you have enjoyed. It is by that name that you are known by those sinners you attract. And yet the Lord Chamberlain is dead. And so the major asset in your ledger is stricken, and none yet of public knowledge to take its place. Such shows as you may have scheduled will not a full year’s rent produce, and such royal entertainments as you may imagine you will perform will need be confirmed by your dead patron’s successor. And so I say risk, and clear, and have, from my lawyer’s the same opinion.”
“I would to your concerns admit had I not, even the day after the Lord Chamberlain’s death, been summoned to Somerset by the new Baron Carey to receive the good assurance of his intent to continue as our patron, her Majesty having made known to him that he will assume his father’s office.”
“Those words in your speech of which I take most note being assurance and intent, which being words and not such charter as would either his patronage or office confirm, still lead me to say risk.”
“But that be your opinion and no matter of law. Should you wish to court, then to court we shall go, and in those chambers you can make public your belief that the Baron Carey is a liar.”
“I have heard only your words, Shakespeare, and not Carey’s, so if I call liar, I call it to you, and willingly, knowing full well the stink of Papistry the name Shakespeare emits. Even what faith you have, and I think well none, you will not admit to.”
“And again opinions, and again I say court.”
“To court I have been, or at least have been my lawyers, having there voiced such concerns as I have here shared, adding also that, even should Baron Carey chose to be patron – and I am making entreaty to him to reconsider in the goodly name of God, as the Queen’s continued embrace of such vile practices as are here pursued does cause great discomfort among the crown’s good servants who do find their faith much insulted, and the power of such good servants being in the ascendency – but even should he continue, my being well aware of the debts with which his household will be burdened, I doubt that his personal support will be of such worth as had, in past, been his father’s, this coupled with a fair hope that the crown will shortly less bless your endeavors, and so again I say risk, as did my lawyers in such argument as did produce this.”
From inside his coat he drew a smaller document, which he unfolded and laid upon the stage. A notice of our eviction, come month’s end.
“And so you will out by month’s end, or else be removed at force of arms. And I pray God will grant me forgiveness if I hope the later, for it would be to his glory to see your debased company adorning the end of pikes.” He turned and waddled from the theater, walking as a man whose troubled bowels would produce only water and so kept his cheeks always clenched as not to shit his trousers.
I scrawled a note to Carey begging he grant me audience, saying that I had such news as best be shared in private, and that also his name was being some abused in those commercial circles as in which we did have business. I gave the note to Jenkins and sent him to Somerset.
I did not think Carey would be much pleased with what little I had yet discovered concerning his father’s death, though I could now prove, at least, that it be unnatural. But as I did, in fact, possess such gift as he imagined so far as my ability to discern much truth in the converse of others, I would with him talk more concerning his patronage, for to risk my neck, and I think in this instance that be not just common speech, but also probable fact, for his good favor at such time as I had thought the value of such favor high was one matter. But to do so for such favors as he could offer now and that may be, if both his brother and Miller speak true, of little worth, and with some suggesting that he may have offered them in less than earnest, that was another matter still.
The London I had only two nights previous imagined as some vast jungle in which each could move anonymous and to his own benefit did of sudden seem the fenced confines of some farmer’s wood, with each creature of every other’s acquaintance; either in or owning of each other’s debts; desiring or granting their favor; holding or being jealous of what little fodder the wood did provide; and that as each did some other consume for its sustenance and some new was born, the world did turn as a carnival of appetites in which each man could, and with little cause would, wish ill each other. I wondered how in the chaos of such mad avarice I could ever ascribe sure to any one man the death of any other, or assume another’s innocence when innocence seemed in such little supply.