THE EDMUND SHAKEPSEARE BLOG
As part of the project here on Edmund Shakespeare, as promised, we are blogging the treatment that preceded a partially completed novel, but then the detailed research on Edmund Shakespeare and Southwark that should really build a history of an ‘unrecorded life’.
Apparently a script was read in Stratford last year that reached the Cohen Brother’s desk on Richard Shakespeare and another in the pipeline about Susanna.
ACT I – O, PARDON! THE LOVELY BASTARD
It is spring, 1596, and a handsome 16 year old lad we mistake for Will Shakespeare, is trying to escape a life at home in provincial Stratford, rattling along the road to dreams and greatness in London. His thoughts are mixed with a montage of the opening of two theatres in Bankside and Blackfriars, where a children’s troupe becomes the Queen’s Choir, and of groundlings, nobles and critics, and the thunder of applause, or the pelt of vegetables. In London, Edmund Shakespeare arrives, and makes for the Curtain Theatre, in Shoreditch, walking in with the reverence of going into a church, to see the aging Edward Alleyn rehearsing the Prologue of Henry V – ‘Or may we cram, Within this wooden O, the very casques, That did affright the air at Agincourt? O, Pardon! Since a crooked figure may, attest in little place a million; And let us, ciphers to this great accompt, On your imaginary forces work…’
Edmund’s brother William, now 30, is in the middle of writing a new history, as a member of thrilling young troupe of actors, Lord Strange’s Men. The process of acting, rehearsing and rewriting, all together, is clear, but two years after they were closed because of plague, the theatres are open again, although the City of London has just banned them within its mile wide limits, and business is moving south, indeed London is on the move. The players are now in the hands of one of the ‘Liberties’, and, dangerously, South of the River, the influence of the just ascended Bishop of Winchester, Thomas Bilson, on payment of an annuity to Elizabeth of £400, in a world where offices were bought. A hawk against Catholic recusants, like Shakespeare’s own Grandfather Edward Arden, and hugely ambitious, Bilson ‘carried prelature in his very aspect’, a defender of the notion Christ descended into hell, the ‘Decensus Controversy’, not to suffer in sympathy with the ‘damned’, but to wrestle the keys of heaven from the devil.
We see the Bishop dining in his great hall in Southwark, a dead ringer for Antonio, in Measure for Measure, but it hides his Court’s apparent acceptance that a human hell can be maintained in London, with the Bishop of Winchester’s brothels, and the Clink prison next door, where the prisoners have to fund their own incarceration. The Church is much in play, at a time when the Elizabethan Religious Settlement is crucial, the Book of Common Prayer insisting children must be baptised, the first Sunday after their birth. While the likes of Arden had been executed for plotting against Queen Elizabeth, as his Catholic Son-in-law, John Sommerville, had been racked, and executed in The Tower. The Tower too looms over the whole drama, both literally and metaphorically for the high-born, a warning to over ambition. Elizabeth’s is an attempt at a more tolerant time, and stability too, but religion is a dangerous political tool, and eyes are everywhere still.
William Shakespeare is on the cusp of huge success though, with his plays starting to appear four years before, in 1592. It has already been a roller-coaster ride, and Edmund gives blessings, and a gift from their mother, Mary Arden, as we hear the line from the theatre, ‘We few, we happy few, we band of brothers….’ Will tries to persuade his baby brother against the dangerous, murderous and filthy city though, despite his affection for Ed, and the scheming, paranoid court.
He tells him simply to go straight home, to the healing countryside. To pretty Silvia, a local girl he grew up with, and they all thought Ed would marry. To go back to their mother, Mary Arden, and the pastoral ‘Forest of Arden’, of Stratford and Warwickshire, to get married, and make gloves! Ed’s loves are hunting deer, sitting by the mill chase, stealing apples, and running wild, and the seasons, blossom-fall, high summer, barren trees, blasted heaths, and deep snow will be much in evidence. We see they were the young Shakespeare’s loves too, and it is a constant theme of town versus country, hard city versus healing nature, as countrymen and women flood in along the Canterbury road, Chaucer’s road, at Borough, to make their ‘fortunes’ in town.
‘The theatre, Ed,’ Will asks Edmund, warily, ‘is the plague in your blood too?’, warning him too how hard it is to really make it as a player, because they are vain and fractious, jealous and backbiting, and in love with the ‘bubble reputation’. Perhaps he should go and see Gilbert, their brother also doing business in town. Edmund comments that Will is losing his hair.
To be continued…
Shakespeare’s Brother is in Copyright to David Clement-Davies and Phoenix Ark Press 2102 All RIghts Reserved