Christopher Brooke Bradshaw.

Shakspere and company, a comedy in five acts online

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Kii ifibe acts.








Ciano Court, Fleet Street.


The following scenes — a labour of love, dedicated to
the genius of one who, in his day, did so much to enliven
and elevate the best feelings of " Merry England " — are, I
confess, much below the standard of excellence which should
shadow forth the character of William Shakspere, Poet
and Dramatist; yet have I some faith in devotion, and doubt
not that what I want of art or learning will find excuse in my


Upper HoUoway,



> Noble?nen of the Court.

Earl of Essex

Earl of Southampton

Sir Henry Lee — A gallant old Coui-tier.

William Shakspere — The Dramatist.

WiNTERBORNE — His Friend.

Simeon De Castro — A rich Portuguese Jew.

Sir Valentine Venture — A London Merchant.

Lord Gilbert Glitter — A Fop.

CoMBE-^yi Miser.

Servants, Chorus, iSc.
Elizabeth — Queen of England.

Eleanor ^

Susanna > Assumed Sisters of Sliaksperc.

Katharine j

Maids of Honour, S;c.

Scene — London. Period — The latter end of the Sixteenth Century,



Scene I. — The Forecourt of the Palace.

Enter two Servants.

1st Serv. Will her Majesty ride forth to-dav?

2nd Serv. Ask me whence the wind will blow o' th'
morrow — whether it wdll rain or shine on this day se'nnight,
for an I tell you these, expect from me an answer to your
query. Will her Majesty ride forth to-day? Marry, will
she ! i' chance her horse shall carry her !

1st Serv. Every ass knows this.

2nd Serv. Then the ass knows more than the horse's
master. To school, and take lesson of 't, for he's not born
shall tell you when next her horse shall carry her. Yet have
I my shrewd guess on 't.

1st Serv. Ha! when?

2nd Serv. When next she wills to mount him. Now,
this same will of hers, that makes her horse to go — perchance
against his will, albeit a willing creature — is the one thing I
never yet could reckon on. If it hath likeness, 'tis in the
steed unbridled ; walk with it, trot with it, gallop with it, 'tis
odds against us we keep up with it.

1st Serv. Hush! our mistress' will being all her own, is
not for us to question. But, for her humours

2nd Serv. Don't hint at them. A very woman in her
love and hate : she'll do you more kindness in half an hour
than a whole lifetime can requite ; but, once ruffle her vanity,
and — God save her grace ! she's out of humour with us all ;
herself into the bargain !

1st Serv. Then her whims and fancies, though not for mc
to speak of. She'll wear her mantua inside-out to-day, and
upsy-down to-morrow ; the next day has her tailor to new



fashion it, yet after all ne'er puts it on her back again, so way-
ward is she grown.

2nd Skrv. Why, this very morning, if I may name it, not
half an hour since, she starts up suddenly from out her bed
and vows she'll be diverted from her melancholy. " I'll have
a play; go, see the thing be done. Bring hither Master
Shakspere !"

1st Serv. What, he that played the ghost the other night
at the Round O, Bankside — the ghost in what dy'e call the
play ?

2nd Serv. Amblit, Prince o' Dunkirk.

1st Serv. You're right. One would think, to see him act
his part, he'd served an apprenticeship in a country chuixhyard,
he ghosted it so gravely.

2nd Serv. At any rate he proved a fair acquaintance with
the gravemaker. No 'prentice matter either, 'tis the work
of a master-hand as long as nature shall be nature, and the
gravedigger true to his calling.

1st Serv. I warrant you.

2nd Serv. See ! here he comes ! the man we speak of!

1st Serv. For certain, and no other. You'll know him
ever by his brisk step — his cheerful brow — his kind word for

Enter Shakspere.

Shaks. My brave, good fellows, wherefore stand ye idle,
with one at hand so needing your kind services ? Here's
half-a-crown for him who shall conduct me to his mistress.
A trifle, truly, but not I hope inadequate ; since the fair Queen
herself — though she give all she hath — can make it but a

1st Serv. A crown paid doAvn for hire does barely weigh
against a free-gift two-and-sixpence.

2nd Serv. I'll prove it so in my experience.

Shaks. Five shillings Avorth of logic at half price. A^^ouldst
know my name, and thou canst read fair writing, you'll find
it in that royal superscription. (Showing a letter.)

2nd Serv. Master William Shakspere.


Shaks. Better known as Will Shakspere ; a fellow, plays
a-days, works a-nights, and gives his life to jovial company.

2nd Serv. He that put old Jack Oldcastle in love to
make our mistress merry. And merry was she, wondrous
merry; six days for Sunday, six months afterwards. This
way, brave Master Shakspere ; be sure you are right welcome
at the palace. This way — this way — I never shall forget that
merry time. [Exeunt.

Scene II. — An Apartment in the Palace.

Queen Elizabeth and Lady Mary Blount discovered.

Queen. True, I forget ; then, there's the chase at Canon-

Enter a Lord in Waiting.

Lord. My sovereign lady, the look'd-for player 's come.

Queen. We'll see him here, and now. [Exit Lord.] He
comes like a foretold eclipse, true to his time, and throws all
other bodies into shade.

Enter Shakspere.

Shaks. Hail ! gracious Queen of England !

Queen. My Bard of Stratford, welcome to us. Now, first
of all, how wears the day with you ?

Shaks. As one affected by continual change, in that
same change cheats life of half its dulness ; so, by this sudden
and unlooked-for call, my day of stand-still and of dull
resolve breaks out in sunny incident and summer promises.

Queen. Ha ! now you feel you speak before a throne, and,
therefore, you take up a form of flattery.

Shaks. Nay, I can prove it otherwise ; your flatterer
speaks on some quality as existing before him which truth
disdains to recognise ; whilst I, now looking on your Ma-
jesty's pretensions, see wit and worth and gracious magnani-
mity, but have no words to measure their full excellences.

Queen. Well, have your say, and we'll not call it flattery,
though you should praise us to the blushing point. A player

B 2


hath more license than another, and what we would not grant
he takes forsooth ; and stands well with us too.

Shaks. Would the players stood as well with all the
world as with your Majesty : but there are some, — alas! that
it should be so ! — who not only refuse to them their meed of
approbation, but who scruple not to withhold from them their
right of civil quality — their charter of humanity.

Queen. If there be such, they are the few who never read
our Shakspere's plays, nor saw them acted ; who never wept,
as I have done, o'er Juliet's fate, or Desdemona's fall : nor
laughed, as I was ever wont to do till my sides ached with
stitches, at quaint Malvolio's wit — at fat Oldcastle's vagaries :
a fund of humour in a thriftless knight, but somewhat per-
sonal. You must alter his cognomen.

Shaks. I'll leave his humours where they are, and place
his sins upon another's shoulders.

Queen. A brave conceit. But this is not the wherefore
wliy I called you hither. I have of late grown out of humour
with myself and everything around ; my state affairs are fairly
gone beyond me ; my favourites are no longer in my favour.
A Queen, and no Queen. Take me at the best, you shall not
find a thing more spleened and choleric. Kow, it doth
appear to us, in this sick-mind disease, thou'lt prove more use
than all our 'pothecaries in ordinary ; and state physicians,
too, backed with their nauseous nostrums. A play 's the
thing! I'll have a play — this very night I'll have a play
enacted here, at court. And you shall bring your players
down to strut before her Majesty. Let it be done. A stirring
comedy, and one shall drive these meagrims fairly out
o' me.

Shaks. A play to-night ! most royal lady, I am grieved to
say, there's not a player left this day in town of any estima-
tion. Tarleton is sick in bed ; Burbidge and all his fellows
down at York. 'Twill take a week at least to bring him post
haste back. What's to be done ?

Queen. I'll tell you what — to have the play to-night
despite o' them.

Shaks. Prithee, tell me how '^


Queen. Look you through your manuscripts — find some
fitting theme, and what's to hinder us? I've said, I'll have ;
nor will I rest till you have sent me to my pillow a far — far
happier creature than I am.

Shaks. It is your pleasure to command ; my duty to obey :
yet, believe me, your Majesty has imposed on me a task of

Queen. In other hands it might be ; but with you — you
who have ta'en the universe for your theatre, and mankind
for your actors, nothing should seem impossible.

Shaks. Then, being possible in your opinion, I am bold to
make the attempt.

Queen. I knew you would ; I had that presage of you.

Shaks. Honoured in this gracious preference, I'll struggle
with the Fates but I will see fair England's Queen herself
again ! Free as the air and joyous as her meanest subject —
the bright-eyed gipsy girl; that heedless one, who revels
through a summer day with heart of floating gossamer, who
sinks at length to rest 'neath her rude tilt, or tissue screen, to
balk the peeping stars, without a thought for the morrow.

Queen. Then with the wish make me so happy, you who
have the power. O ! I do almost envy thee thy art, by which
to raise us so much 'bove ourselves !

Shaks. Since 'tis your pleasure to have a play forthwith
enacted here — however ill prepared to do it justice — I'll tack
together a few fragment scenes that I have oft repeated to my
sisters, and they shall help me through this night's dilemma.
These, with half-a-dozen amateur friends of my parlour, not
altogether ignorant of my writings, shall make a corjis dra-
matique. Then, at a pinch, I'll take my humble j^art : not
that your poet makes the best of players ; and this I take to be
the reason : the player at the best knows his great points, a
sensible fiction merely, and 'tis his art to master the passions ;
the poet feels his highest flights reality, and, do his best, the
passions master him.

Queen. I have noted such. Well, do your best, and we
will be contented. Ay, rather than the scene should halt for
want of preparation and digestion, vvp'II seize upon some


passing thought, some trite occasion, some current field of
action, and carry out the entertainment. And this we'll do
even though the Queen herself should step out of herself and
bear her part therein : for 'tis good hap to see oneself a living
portraiture within a truthful mirror.

Shaks. O, wondrous condescension! I take the hint: I'll
go to work upon 't. With such a star to guide us through
this night's adventures, Shakspere and Company against the
world. You'll find us waiting on yom' pleasure. Farewell,
fair lady ; farewell, my royal mistress ; farewell, illustrious
princess. [Exit.

Queen, That man's the happiest fellow living; none can
mistake him ; he carries ever in his outward mien the index
of a heart at ease within. When he was quicken'd sure 'twas
summer time — a universal holiday — when all were met in
common heart, in common ecstasy. And such a scene might
the Great Causer move, to pluck its soul of fire from every
breast, and plant the whole in one capacious bosom, that all
the world might say — " This is a happy man." [Exeunt.

Scene III. — A Parlour in Shakspere's House, London.
Enter Eleanor and Susanna.

Elea. I tell you, Susan, you are much to blame in this.
A man hath many ways to better his fortune ; a woman hath
but one — her chance in matrimony. And, believe me, it rests
much upon herself whether she makes or mars her fortune :
for this depend on, if she be the first to disparage her own
pretensions, if she be always busying herself in menial offices,
if she be too much at home, alone, or shut out from the world :
in any and in a]l such cases she steps between her fortune and
herself to do a willing injury.

Sus. But should she think too highly of herself, and over-
rate her beauty and her worth — there are such cases — what
shall we say of such a one ? Not that she steps between her
fortune and herself to do a willing injury, but that she sets up


her plaster image on a giddy height, not more for admiration
than for the first rude gale to sport with and demolish.

Elea. That's all very fine : a row of beautiful Venuses,
white as snow, pure as alabaster, put up and knocked down to
the first bidder. The way to raise the wind, if not to win
a husband. But let me tell you, Sue, if you would wed — and
that you would I've warrant in myself — if you would wed and
make a life of matrimony, wear your looks upward, bear
yourself thus — as though you felt some amorous prince were
dangling after. Then, for your wardrobe, change it altogether.
Your plain- cut country bodice won't do here ; your low-
crowned rustic bonnet won't do now ; you must have things
of fashion, flounced and trimmed, both silk and satin, and rich
velvet too. Remember you're in London, near the court; then
let your style and bearing both bear out the gaiety you move

Sus. A lesson for a maid of fortune, not for a yeoman's
daughter. Now, this it is, Nell : one shall make matrimony a
matter of love, another a matter of speculation, whilst a third —
our mad-cap sister Kate, if you will — laughs matrimony down,
and vows by all the stars in heaven she'll never, never wed.

Elea. So every maid vows, every day of her life, till
she gets a sweetheart ; then, heigh ho ! her minds begins to
change, she thinks better of it : another sigh, then comes the
soft consent, and she falls desperately sick in love. Her mother
did the same before her — that reconciles the novel state of
being. Well, where is Kate — the giddy, romping Kate — Kate
that vows she will not have a husband ? When I don't hear
the light-hearted girl singing through the house, 1 fancy her
unwell; when I know not where she is, I fancy every minute
she'll leap upon my shoulders ; when I know not what she's
doing, I fancy her doing mischief. So works fancy in Kate's
absence ; in her presence whim works much the same, ibr,
morning, noon, and night, our Kate is ever freakish.

Sus. See, where she comes ! Her heart a floating bubble,
lighter than air, more radiant than the rainbow !

Enter Kaik, singivg.
Le ra, le ra, la ; le ra, le ra, la ; le ra, le ra, Ic ra, le ra, la, la.


Elba. "Sister, where hast been?"

Ka.te. " Killing swine."

Elba. Nay, nay.

Kate. Indeed : dancing a fandango 'cross the yard, a luck-
less guineapig ran under foot, and, squeaky squeaky, breathless
lies; no more.

Elea. Notwithstanding you're merry as an ape.

Kate. Very sorry, and all that; but I knew 'twas a pound
to a shilling he'd ne'er again be living guineapig ; so I finished
my jig with a fal, lal, lal, la. — {Figuring about.) I say, Sue,
Susey, Susanna, love, what's in that huge hamper just within
the pantry ? Tell me, dear.

Sus. O! a present from Highgate Park ; I forgot to name
my Lord Southampton had sent Will a haunch of venison of
his own running.

Kate. The dear fellow ! A haunch of venison !

Sus. And it shall go hard with me but I find time to make
our loving brother a pasty, with a few of his favourite tea-
cakes into the bargain.

Elea. There she's again in her glory, up to the ears in the
flour-tub. Well, Kate, have you thought of the handsome
fellow — the lad of lads — the gay young nobleman we saw at
church yesterday ?

Kate. In sooth, not I.

Elea. I wager my last new tucker to a yard of inkle, you
dreamt of him last night.

Kate. A lost bet, Nell. I dream of him! not I, indeed.
What should a girl of seventeen — scarce laid aside her doll —
what should she do with a sweetheart ? It's all very well for
an old woman like you, some half-a-dozen years my senior, to
think of sweethearts, and to have one too ; but such a wild-
brain thing as I, not cut a wisdom tooth yet, what should she do
with a husband — what should she do with a baby ? Why, toss
it backward and forward, and up to the sky, and break its
pretty little neck in coming down again. No, 'tis time enough
yet. {Singing.)

Time enough yet ; time enough yet ;

And btill she lejihecl — 'tis time enough yet.


Sus. Hey ! Here comes brother Will.

Kate. The willing fellow ! I'll hide behind the screen, leap
his broad shoulders, and frighten his good-natured soul from
out its loving body. {Hiding,)

Enter Shakspere.

Shaks. "Where's that gay kitten, that sun-hearted elf, that
joyous thing of paradise, Kate of a thousand fancies! I could
have sworn I heard her singing here ; her sweet notes caught
i' the distance, sweeter grown, like music falling from a seraph's
lips. — {Kate twitches his skirts from, behind the screen.) —
Plague o' the antic elf, e'en now I feel her twitching at my
skirts ; and yet, for certain, she is nowhere present ; nay, I beg
pardon, Kate is ever present ; she's in imagination i^y g(:)^i[ng
pleasure, the thought for ever uppermost. — {Kate, leaning over
from behind the screen, tickles his ear loith a peacock'' s feather.)
— Again she's at her vagaries, dancing light-vaulting measures
on my ear. 'Tis something more than mere imagination ; I'll
hunt it out. O, ho ! I've found my clew ! there's mischief
hidden t'other side the screen ; methinks I see her splicing
spider-threads to twirk lads' noses as they fall asleep. I'll
start thee from thy covert, tiny imp. — {He steps cautiously
to the back of the screen, meamchile Kate crosses in front and
makes her exit unobserved by him.) — Nor there, nor here •
well, then, I give thee up : thou'st proved thyself too agile for
my touch. To-morrow I will look for thee within the circuit of
an alderman's ring, and catch thee nodding there in fairied

Elea. What ! not a word for us ! no word of greeting?

Shaks. O, yes, ten thousand! had I time to use them.
Where, think you, I have been ?

Elea. Nay, I know not.

Shaks. Nor would ever guess; nor do ye yet surmise what
honours do await you. I ween ye have not come to town for
nought. Hold up your heads, be ladies or be nothing ; for
now or never are your fortunes made.

Elea. Fortunes made !

Shaks. A maid's fortune is the matter in question, no


matter how you question it ; for this is certain, you shall go to
court, and there shall you be courted.

Elea. Courted, say you ? Say you, then, by whom ?

Shaks. One in a rich suit, thenceforth your suitor.

Elea. Nay, you dally with me ; I must know more.
Already you have said enough to raise a woman's curiosity, to
fire her ambition; and, rest assured, she will not let you rest
till you have satisfied her vague conjectures.

Shaks. Satisfy a woman's vague conjectures! no easy matter
for a man. Well, having raised your expectations somewhat
sportively, I'm bound to gratify your desii*e. Thus, then, it
is : our gracious Queen

Enter Katb, with a hop, skip, and a jump.

Kate. God bless her for a noble-minded lady ! Who
knows but she may some day take a fancy to me and make a
lady of me — Lady Katharine Shakspere! — a very lady-like
and courtly-sounding title.

Shaks. A fortune in itself, Kate; shall bring a dozen
wooing lords upon their knees at once, to praise your beauty
and extol your worth.

Kate. A dozen, and at once ; why, I shall have a lord or
two to spare for Nell and Sue : a lucky chance, to make them
ladies too.

Sus. Lord help thee, Kate, thou art e'en as mad as Will
and Nell ; whose air-brain rattle goes for current truth with

Kate. Sue, you've no fancy; be it all a joke, I love to
humour it. Sure half the fun of life is idle badinage ; and
they who wait for a real hap to turn their wit upon are very
like to lose their wit in the keeping.

Shaks. Well, then, we'll have it all a joke — a right royal
joke — a joke shall make the palace ring again with merri-
ment; for the Queen herself is super-jocular grown, and
means to laugh away this night with us and our gay comedy.

Kate. You. tiresome Will, to sport thus with a maiden's
feelings; am I to be a lady but in joke?

Elea. There's something more than joke runs tickling


through my ears. " Hold up your heads ; be ladies or be
nothing ; for now or never are your fortunes made."

Kate. Sue, there's another candidate for a strait waist-
coat : note her sayings.

Elba. " For this is certain, you shall go to court, and there
shall you be courted."

Kate. By a dozen lords at once, all down upon their knees :
the thought of it alone has turned our sister's brain.

Elba. Then, the climax : " The Queen herself is super-
jocular grown, and means to laugh away this night with us
and our gay comedy."

Kate. Brother William Shakspere, you've heard our
sister's courtly wanderings ; look me full in the face, and tell
me truly, whether she be sane or insane ; whether the matter
she speaks be fabricated joke, or truthful earnest?

Shab:s. Sister Katharine Shakspere, I've listened to your
appeal, touching our Nelly's wanderings, and I declare, upon
my honour, the maid is sane and sound — that what she speaks
is nothing fabricate, but all a truth — a verity.

Kate. Then Avill the Queen have a play to-night ?

Elba. A sterling comedy shall make the palace ring again
with merriment ; for Will has said so.

Sus. A thing altogether improbable — impossible, seeing the
players all are playing in the provinces.

Shaks. So said I; to which her Majesty replied — I
answered — she rejoined, and in the end determined her own
case — to have a play enacted, and to-night.

Sus. But, for the players — where to look for them ?

Shaks. At home ; we need not look much farther. There's
I and you, Kate and Nell, and half a dozen visitants shall
make a company.

Sus. Not I.

Kate. Nor Kate, believe me.

Elba. Nor Nell, if Nell knows aught of her ownself.

Shaks. Yet shall you all three play your parts to-night ;
within the palace and before the court.

Sus. I could not raise my voice before the throne.

Kate. I should look less at my words than at the Queen.


Elka. I should lack subject, matter, words, and utterance
to play before her Majesty.

Shaks. 'Tis a mistake, a common error, to think there's
aught within the verge of majesty forbidding or repulsive :
I've found it otherwise. There does not live in all the land a
lady of more ease and affability than our enthroned Queen.
Ever gracious and dignified with her courtiers; but with
those who seek her ne'er beyond herself — a gentle-hearted

Elea. Herein you'd seem to stimulate our courage.

Kate. Still, to have us players, you must first make players
of us.

Shaks. In ray experience I've found players ready made ;
your workers must be trained to it. Would you be players,
then, observe but this plain rule : to take man for your prompt-
book, nature for your studio.

Kate. And our mother's son for acting manager. He
who creates and writes, and makes us familiar wdth, a world of
his own creatures ; recognised beings of thought and action
that live for ever with us — friends and old acquaintance.

Enter one with a letter, hands it to Eleanor.

Elea. A letter, and for me !

Sus. My life to nothing, a letter from Sir Valentine, to say
he is coming home.

Kate. {Peeping over Eleanor^s shoulder.) Not quite right,
not far wrong. For coming home, read — he is come home ;
you'll have it — to the very letter.

Shaks. What's this, Nell ? Sir Valentine returned. The
rich merchant ashore again. Then throw away the distaff
and the wheel ; no more we'll have thee spinster.

Elea. So sudden is 't, I scarce can think it so. Read for
yourself. — (Giving the letter to Shakspere.)

Shaks. To stock three heads at once, I read aloud : —
" Beloved Eleanor, — Again in England, I but remain behind
to change my dress; this done, no moment lost, I throw
myself at your devoted feet, to claim your treasured promise.

" Valentine."


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