Saturday, February 3, 2018

The 7 Shakespeares, Non Sanz Droict, vol. 2 review (repost)

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The 7 Shakespeares, Non Sanz Droict, vol. 2, by Harold Sakuishi, Grade: B
We left off in volume 1 of the 7 Shakespeares sequel - Non Sanz Droit - with Ann being asked to compose the music for Lance Carter's new play, The Merchant of Venice. Hughes Worth is convinced that this is a mistake and that Ann has no useful skills for the group. However after she plays the lute, the group applauds, leaving her in tears. Ann comments that she'd always wanted to play in front of an audience, and had been convinced that would never happen. With a finished script in hand, Lance has Hughes chase after the theater owners to try to get them to read it over (all the owners already know Lance's face and avoid him on principle). Days go by with no luck. Anyone that does look at it just glances at the title and first few pages before dismissing Lance as a wannabe hack copying Marlowe's The Jew of Malta.

In the meantime, Cain (Ann's son) has been studying under Milo (the Catholic priest in hiding) and is reading Lance's history books. The boy eventually starts making suggestions for story ideas. While, in London, one of the stage hands, John Cheney, at the theater Lance is visiting, gets arrested for being Catholic. The theater owner tries to save the boy, saying that he's the best set designer they have, but the Queen's Men drag the boy off for "questioning." This leaves Lance in a funk, in part because he's exhausted all his options for soliciting the theaters over his play, so Milo decides to take the risk of exposure to write a letter of introduction to an old acquaintance. Lance and Hughes visit a dingy-looking inn, and Hughes hands the letter to a servant, saying "tell your master this is from 'The Merchant of Lancaster'." Later that night, the servant hands the parchment to the inn's owner, and the guy breaks down in tears of joy that the Priest Bell is still alive. Back at the mansion, Milo says that his letter is intended to get Ferdinando Stanley, Baron of Strange, to read "The Merchant of Venice." (The manga generally refers to him as "Stanley, of the Strange Company". Ferdinando was the 13th Baron of Strange, which was a title first created in 1295 when Robert le Strange was named "Lord Strange" by King Edward I's Model Parliament. Le Strange as a family name goes back at least to the 1090's in England, and Lestrange refers to an old, powerful family in the Harry Potter series. Ferdinando and his wife Alice were known supporters of the arts, and of Shakespeare. His younger brother, William Stanley, is one of the people claimed to have written Shakespeare's plays.)

The manga then goes into a history lesson, explaining why King Henry VIII broke away from the Catholic Church and joined with the Protestants, to divorce Catherine and marry Anne Boleyn. This resulted in the deaths of many Catholic priests, and this practice continued with the reign of Queen Elizabeth, daughter of Henry and Boleyn. The threats to all Catholics right now are great, but they're greatest for someone like Milo. So, his writing this letter and showing that he's not dead yet is taking a big, big chance. Hughes and Lance return to the inn, where the innkeeper provides them with a letter of introduction to Stanley. The next night, the two of them prepare to set out for Castle Strange. They comment that it's a full moon, just like when they ran away from Avon Upon Stratford to seek their fortunes. As presents, Will had given John Combs a pair of leather gloves, and John had given both of them new names. The two arrive at the castle, and are nervous wrecks. Then, they have to wait four hours in a dark, empty room, and Hughes gets cold feet, wanting to run away while they still can. Eventually, a man enters the room, and Hughes and Lance bow to him, thinking he's Stanley (he's actually too old for that role, since Stanley is only 24 at this point). The guy then introduces himself as a fellow Catholic, and says that Stanley is currently reading their script, and they need to wait a bit longer. Lance has been looking at an oil painting hanging in the shadows on one wall, and asks the guy who it's a portrait of. He replies - "That's Queen Elizabeth." Lance and Hughes finally get to see what the "enemy" looks like.

As the two argue over why a Catholic like Stanley would have a painting of the Queen in a prominent place like this in his castle, they're attacked by a falcon. They turn and see the real Baron Stanley. They quickly bow. Stanley takes Hughes and Lance to his study, and they talk briefly about Milo before turning to "Merchant." Stanley loves the script, but there are too many hints within it that the author is a Catholic for it to be put on stage in public. Lance is stunned at being so naive, and is glad that none of the theater owners had actually read the script very closely. Stanley suggests shelving "Merchant" for a few years, until things settle down for them, and in the meantime to write an all-new script to make their debut with. Lance asks if Stanley knows about the arrest of the theater stage designer, John Cheney. Stanley says, "yes." The boy is currently in a prison being tortured by the Queen's Men. In fact, Cheney was outed by Christopher Marlowe, who has been responsible for the arrests and detentions of many Catholics to date (see the note below) which is why all three of them have to be so careful. At the end of the meeting, Stanley comments that there's no name on the script. He asks who the author is, and Lance thinks about all the help he's received from Li, Milo, Ann and Cain, before answering, "I am. I'm William Shakespeare."

On the ride back in the carriage, Hughes is in a huff at this turn of events. Will apologizes for having thrown away Hughes' present to him (the fake name), but on a night like this, there had been no other choice. When they get back to the estate, Will explains to Ann, Cain and Milo what had led the two of them to take fake identities (Milo had already revealed his own background when Cain had asked why a nobody like him would have access to a lord like Stanley). Cain thinks this is all very exciting. From here, Will and Hughes start working with James Burbage, the owner of the Cross Keys theater, which is most closely associated with Stanley. Will has removed some of the more blatant Catholic references from "Merchant", and Burbage claims to be very impressed with the young man, and how this script is so different from what the usual rabble forces on him. Burbage doesn't recognize the guy that had extorted him before, even when Will starts referring to him as "Babe", the nickname his mistress had used. One of Burbage's favorite foods is a York cheese scone, which Will and Hughes steal, and then start bringing back to the estate to share with the others. The scones become Li's favorite as well. Burbage offers 4-5 pounds for a new script, which is way too little to support the rest of the group, something that bothers Hughes a lot.

Will takes to visiting the Rose theater, watching Marlowe's Tamburlaine the Great three times in order to figure out how to compete against him, and the troupe's star performer, Edward Alleyn. Tamburlaine is filled with fighting, blood and broad, sweeping speeches. The crowds love it. So much so, in fact, that there are no rental boats for crossing the Thames after the show. To return to the estate, Hughes and Will choose to cross over at London bridge. There, at the top of the Sussex Gate, they see the head of John Cheney on pole. The crowds staring from below speculate on this being the most recent addition, with a few people pointing and laughing. Hughes vomits in reaction just as Christopher Marlowe himself happens up. One of his entourage asks him if this was his doing, and Marlowe says he doesn't like to brag. But, he was there when Cheney was being tortured, and the boy told him he'd be going to hell for this. Marlowe responded by saying "The curses of my enemy add to my glory." The flunky applauds his wit as representative of England's greatest playwright, but Christopher's attention is attracted to Hughes throwing up again a ways away. He thinks he's seen Will before, but can't place him.

Later, Cain is reading one of Will's books on history, and the conversation turns to King Richard. Will says that his next big play is going to be about Richard III, which has the advantage of not having been done to death yet (and making it look like Will isn't trying to rip off Tamburlaine). A little later, Will and Hughes return to the Cross Keys, where Babbage wants them to watch the star actor of his "King's Men" troupe - Augustine Phillips, who Burbage wants to be in Will's next play. But, Will's attention is drawn to a young man dressed as a disfigured hunchback, and acting as one of the many men Augustine's character kills. At the end of the play, Will goes backstage and marches right past Augustine to approach the boy, who turns out to be Burbage's second-oldest son, Richard (Richard Burbage is considered "the first great actor of English theatre." Will tells him that he's writing the part of "Richard III" specifically for him, but the boy's not impressed. Back at the mansion, Will lays out his plans to the others. Hughes thinks this is going to be a failure. Will responds by saying that this is going to be a "war between Tamburlaine and Richard III" (i.e. - himself and Marlowe). All they need is the key speech by Li. Then the bookseller, Thomas Soap, drops by and comes into the mansion to visit. Everyone is unprepared, so Li is sent to her room to hide out of sight, but Ann comes in to serve snacks, and Cain says that she's Will's wife, and he's their son. Thomas finds this all very weird, since "Lance" had been single when they'd last met.

Thomas gets to read "Merchant of Venice," which he likes a lot. He notices it's signed by "William Shakespeare," which he thinks is a horrible pen name (Thomas suggests J. K. Rowling as a better alternative. Will asks him to find more books on Richard III, and the guy promises to do this. When he leaves, Hughes admits that now is the time for "William Shakespeare" to come out of the shadows. He'll keep the name Hughes Worth, but will remain one step behind to help as needed. With the current oppression of Catholics, Will makes a comment about how the day's cold wind outside represents the "winter of their discontent," and they're going to fight back with Richard III.  The next time Will and Hughes visit the Cross Keys to visit Burbage, a door guard asks, "Who's calling?" and Will says "William Shakespeare."

Summary: Well, first read the note below about Marlowe. There are a lot of historical liberties being taken here, which require a grain of salt the size of London Tower. But, many of the people mentioned in the manga did really exist, including Shakespeare's patron, Stanley, and the boy thespian, Richard Burbage. As to whether they met in the ways given in the manga, that's open to argument. Anyway, the background artwork is very good, and the character designs are ok. Overall, recommended if you like historical fiction.

Note: According to the wiki entry, Christopher Marlowe was born slightly before Shakespeare, in Canterbury to a shoemaker. He studied at The King's School in Canterbury and Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree. There was a delay in the presentation of his Master of Arts degree, until the Privy Council intervened on his behalf, commending him for his "service to the Queen". This is one of the first hints that Marlowe may have been acting as a spy for Sir Francis Walsingham's intelligence service. There's later evidence that Marlowe may have acted as the tutor to Arbella Stuart, under the name "Morley." Arbella was the niece of Mary, Queen of Scots, and cousin of James VI of Scotland. So, it is possible that Marlowe had been responsible for identifying Catholics in the theater world to the authorities. Additionally, he tended to spend lavish amounts of money on food and drink right after being commended by the Privy Council, more than he would have received from his scholarship, so yes, there's a good chance that he was one of Walsingham's spies. The problem is that Morley had a reputation as a brawler and rakehell, which is completely at odds with Harold Sakuishi's portrayal of him as an arrogant, aristocratic elitist. He was later accused of being a heretic, and a letter produced by one of his friends quoted him as being an atheist, as well as slandering the Church. He was working for an aristocratic patron at the time, and there's some speculation that that was Ferdinando Stanley. The Privy Council issued a warrant for Marlowe's arrest for being a heretic, and at that time it was known he was staying with Thomas Walsingham, whose father was a first cousin of the (then) late Sir Francis Walsingham. Marlowe appeared in court two days later, but the Privy Council wasn't meeting on that day. He was instructed to keep coming back until told otherwise. Two days after that, he was stabbed to death by a con man. The cover story was that Marlowe and a guy named Ingram Frizer got into a drunken fight over a woman, and Ingram stabbed Marlowe in the head over the right eye, killing him immediately. It's more likely Ingram assassinated Marlowe on the Council's orders. In any event, Marlowe's official date of death is May 30, 1593, about 4 years from when this volume is set. Is any of Harold's speculation in the manga valid? Possibly. Was Marlowe anything like he's presented in the manga? Doubtful. Then there's the conceit that Will requires the help of 6 other people to write his plays, and the reason we don't know who the others are is because of the threats to their lives if their identities were known. Therefore, Marlowe becomes a straw man that Milo and Li have to hide from in terror (Ann and Cain ran away from a murderous wife and child abuser who has many friends in the city).

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