Saturday, May 12, 2018

The 7 Shakespeares, Non Sanz Droict, vol. 4

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The 7 Shakespeares, Non Sanz Droict, vol. 4, by Harold Sakuishi, Grade: B
Robin, the Japanese-half kid that shows a budding talent for stage design, is invited to the mansion, where he's introduced to Will's "wife" (Anne), "son" (Cain) and "housekeeper" (Milu), while Li hides quietly in her room on the second floor. The meal goes more-or-less ok, except that Robin is easily startled and he keeps bumping into things and knocking them over. He'd brought a bouquet of flowers with him, which are given to Li as a present. As thanks, Li writes a quick sonnet and gives it to Milu, who pretends that it's a manuscript that Will had "forgotten" in his room. Milu recites it, and it seems that both he and Robin are equally bad actors. Robin returns home (he lives on the estate of the actor Augustine Phillips), and Will is having second thoughts about this charade, where Li is being left out of the action.

Babbage decides to go forward with the new play (The War between the Houses of York and Lancaster, Part I), but all Will cares about is that the advertising is announcing him as the "new playwright William Shakespeare." He thinks his previous play established him as a master poet, and Babbage tells him that it was a complete flop. The opening day arrives, and Augustine goes out on stage to play the part of Lancaster. He gets attacked by irate audience members throwing fruit at him because he's boring. But, there are others that like the play and they object to the interruptions. The result is a brawl that shuts down the production, and Babbage cancels the run after 3 shows. Meanwhile, the Cambridge-graduated theater critic Thomas Nash goes through town trashing Shakespeare and his new play, and his followers eat up the criticism. Later, Nash and his pals are in a tavern, and it turns out that Nash is a failed playwright himself, and has vowed to destroy the upstart Shakespeare for having the gall to have not graduated from Cambridge. However, one of the other tavern customers that night is Christopher Marlowe, and he thinks Will has real promise. He threatens to ruin Nash and his friends if they interfere with Will's plays again.

Babbage decides to give Will one last shot on behalf of Lord Strange, with York versus Lancaster, Part II, but this is a make-or-break moment. If this play bombs, Babbage will ban him from the Cross Keys. We've got the War of the Roses, with Henry VI (House of the red rose) agreeing to a truce with York (House of the white rose). But, Henry's wife, Margaret, wants to continue the fighting, and leads the army to kill York and his second son, Edmund. Margaret was able to free Henry, but not occupy London. York's eldest son, Edward, was declared King of England. Will wants to make his next play about York's remaining sons, Edward, George and Richard, and their fight against Margaret. Specifically, turning Richard from an infirm, hated old man into a brilliant younger swordsman who helps Edward bring down Margaret and her army.

Will gets to the Cross Keys, and his star actor, Richard Babbage wants to ask him a question. RB had read the previous script, and there's a reference to a "watery moon." He wants to know what that is, and Will refuses to answer him. Will then notices that Robin isn't around and asks about the boy. RB says that Robin has been missing for 2 weeks. Will goes to talk to Augustine, who says that his wife's ring had disappeared and Robin was kicked out of the house for being a thief (the ring is later found under Augustine's bed, where it had fallen and rolled to a stop). Will and Hughes hit all of the places Robin is known to frequent, putting out the word that the boy should contact them for help. In the meantime, Will and Li hash out Margaret's character for the play. Eventually, Robin bangs on the mansion gate, and reveals that he's been living with the homeless for the last 2 weeks, and is starving. He's fed and allowed to sleep in a guest room over night. When Anne tries to wash the boy's filthy clothes, a charm in the shape of Saint Thomas Beckett falls out of his pocket, marking Robin as a Catholic. Will decides to let the boy in on their secrets, and to have him stay with them from now on.

Robin tries to find a way to fit in with the group, but Anne plays violin better than he does, Milu is a better actor, and he learns that Li is the one that wrote all of Will's sonnets. Later, Thomas Soap the book seller drops by with a couple reference books that Will had requested. Will makes another request, and Thomas leaves, chortling over how much he's overcharging Will for the books, and thinking the guy is an easy mark. Time goes by, and Will and Li put together "The War between York and Lancaster II," with the rest of the group adding feedback, Robin doing set design, and Anne writing music for the lute. Will and Hughes present the manuscript to Ferdinando Stanley, and both he and his wife, Alice, approve of it. Will has written Richard as a character to directly compete against Marlowe's Tamberlane, and is hoping to see Marlowe's reaction. Alice tells him that's no longer possible, as Marlowe is currently in prison.

It seems that after Marlowe had identified the stage hand, Cheney, as a Catholic, and gotten the boy's head impaled on a spike outside the city gates, Cheney's best friend, William Bradley, had decided to attack Marlowe with a knife in revenge. Marlowe's friend and fellow poet, Thomas Watson got the drop on Bradley and slit his throat from behind (the manga says that Bradley, age 25, died on Sept. 18, 1589. This sets the timeline for the release of the York and Lancaster plays.) The police arrested both men and threw them in jail. Stanley's expectation is that Marlowe will never see the light of day again (note that according to the wiki entry, Thomas Watson's poetry had a strong influence on Shakespeare's writing, and that there were no known black marks on his reputation. Watson died in 1592, cause not given.)

The night before the premiere of York and Lancaster II, there's a heavy storm. When it passes, Li wakes up, and looks out the window to see Will standing outside. He comments that the full moon he's watching, following the storm, is like the one he saw in Liverpool just prior to his finding her. This is what he calls "the watery moon." He takes it as a portent that the next day is going to bring a another big turning point in their lives.

So, ok, yeah, the premiere of the new play does have its hitches (Robin plays a messenger, and he trips over a supposed corpse), but otherwise the audience eats it up, and the critic, Nash, grumbles that he really wants to trash it in the reviews again, but he can't. At the end, Will spots Marlowe sitting in a chair at the back of the theater, watching the play. A weird guy nearby tells Will and Hughes that Christopher was released from prison because he works for the Crown as a spy, and he can get away with any crime he wants. The weird guy reveals himself as the Catholic priest that Will and Hughes had met at Stanley's castle the first time they went there. The priest is a master of disguise, and wanders the country as kind of a counter-spy, working as a blacksmith, merchant or a beggar as the need arises.

On stage, Richard and Edward defeat Henry VI and Margaret, and the (small) crowd goes wild. Will notices that Marlowe is watching him intently, then Babbage's stage director comes running up to tell Will that he's got to go downstairs and present himself to the audience.

Summary: Yeah, LOTS of liberties being taken here. Marlowe is still being presented as a pretty boy fop, relying on Watson to do his dirty work for him. The title "The War Between the Houses York and Lancaster" is a later title that shows up on some manuscripts for "Henry VI", which according to E. K. Chambers was staged a couple years later and in a different order. And I still don't buy the premise that these specific seven people would have been able to pull off what we today call Shakespeare's works. But, the artwork's not bad, and there's enough historical research involved to make this harmless cotton candy. Recommended if you like cotton candy.

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