Anne Hath a Way. a short play about Shakespeare.

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Anne Hath a Way

A short play by Ron Campbell

SETTING

Anne Hathaway’s Garden and Cottage, Stratford Upon Avon, England.

The Year of Our Lord 1602.

DRAMMATIS PERSONAE

William Shakespeare……….30’s, looks like Shakespeare.

Anne Hathaway………………30’s, fiercely intelligent, driven.

Richard Burbage……………..late 40’s, portly, a blow hard.

(Lights come up on the garden of Anne Hathaway’s cottage in Stratford Upon Avon, 1602. Will, wearing a gardening apron and perhaps holding a trowel, is reading a letter that bears an official looking seal. After a moment, he looks up.)

WILL

Anne? Oh Anne? Wither art thou? Hidest thou from me that hast most need of thee?

Hast thou left thine un pruned garden to while away the hours as thou is wont to do in some antique library, thy back hunched like a dowagers over some time yellowed tome, thy pen poised betwixt thy ink stained fingers and thy spectacles perched precarious aboard the promontory of thy nose?

Answer me, Queen of my heart, for I must needs speak with thee on a matter most pressing.

Anne! She answers not. Yet I, like to a mewling infant must risk my reputation and high regard here in Stratford with caterwauls most unseemly to get my beloved to heed my call.

Anne!

I shall fetch my trumpet forthwith and sound a most terrible hue and cry that shall shake the thatch of every croft from here to Christendom!

Anne!

(Aside:)

O wretched world. O disfortunate time.

Happy the man who has an unexceptional wife. What joys would be mine ’twere I not cursed with she whose faculties far surpasseth mine and whose barbed wit makes a very shepard’s pie of my protestations.

Why married I her?

What witches guided my bending knee that fateful day when I didst invite the bans and our lives were forever knit?

‘Twas not her visage which is nothing to which one might write home about.

Nor her demeanor which seemeth to me as brooding, changeable and unconstant as our English weather.

Methinks it was some dark enchanter that didst guide my steps to yon kirk to there make oaths before the assembled guests that this present regret cannot undo.

OCursed be I that thought that once sequestered here, far from London on the time bent banks of the River Avon, her most ravenous penchant for writing plays would end. Free from the dissembling eye of London’s rabble, unpressured from Elizabeth’s royal deadlines, distant from the greedy need for yet more words, words, words for the Lord Chamberlain’s Men to speak upon the planked shore of their wooden O. I thought here she might give sabbatical to her scribblings, pause her pen however briefly and take a break.

But no.

Since our arrival she hast redoubled her output and now her quill pauses only to dip again into the dark well of her ink pot whilst I, the humble gardener, furnishes mulch to her rose beds and tending to her tulips.

(He holds up a parchment with a royal seal.)

 And now I have received word of the request of yet another play.

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth herself, having taken great pleasure in Mr. Burbage’s portrayal of one John Falstaff in a couple of those interminable history plays my wife churns out for the edification of the punters that flock to the Globe like lemmings, has taken to the idea of commissioning my wife to write a play surrounding this fat knight, thinking me the author, as does all of England.

(Holding forth the letter:)

This missive arrived here but moments ago with the royal seal and packed therein the not uncertain decree that such a play be dry upon the parchment by the ides of March!

And now I, unskilled as I am in letters and meager of mother wit as a fence post, must find my bride before the truth of our arrangement becomes the chatter of chattel, the gossip of graybeards and the rumor of royalty throughout the realm.

Anne!

ANNE!

(Anne enters with a pile of books in her arms and a quill behind one ear.)

ANNE

Callest thou me, husband? And with vaunting pipes and dudgeon high as Prince Henry on St Crispin’s? Calm thyself lest thy diminished faculties, unused as they are to simplest use, unhinge thy pate and decorate yon arbor with thy mind’s contents.

WILL

Anne! Where hast thou been? Methought you had vanished like to some insubstantial dream! I searched your cottage both high and low. My heart, like a hare in the heat of the hunt ran laps in my chest. Whither wert thou?

ANNE

Firstly, it’s not a cottage. It is a writer’s retreat. A place where I can summon the muse free from your incessant frettings and petty distractions. In Secoundo, my perambulations concern thee not. But if you must know I was studying some arcane tablets the local apothecary didst lend me for the study of poisons. ‘Tis but an early draft but methinks there may be grist for the mill of my invention in a play I’m in the throes of creating about a pair of doomed lovers.

WILL

Finally. A play about us.

ANNE

William, trouble me not. The muse is strong within me today and I must needs follow where she doth lead. What alarum bidst thee break the pastoral timbre of this day with thy most unseemly clamor?

 WILL

Nothing but this, which didst arrive by mounted messenger from our exalted Queen some hour ago.

(He produces a letter with a royal seal.)

Read it thyself, lest the report of it furnish me another verbal drubbing at thy hand.

ANNE

(As she quickly speed reads it:)

Falstaff?! She wants a play about Falstaff? Hast that inbred bitch given leave of her senses?

WILL

Anne! Hold thy tongue. Thou speakst of she that is our monarch, our patron, our provider!

(He makes a gesture for “money”.)

 Such words will not only imperil our patronship, they’ll put our head upon the block! We must needs heed our Queen’s wishes!

ANNE

What meanest thou “We”, Willy? As far as Elizabeth and the world are concerned you are the scribe of renown. I am the country girl with a nice garden you picked up for a most meager dowry. You’re “Shakespeare”. I’m one step above a scullery maid. You’re the respected brief and abstract chronicler of the times. I’m some rustic menial who just happens to have a green thumb.

 WILL

Darling. ‘Tis 1602. Hast thou forgotten thine own sex? Thou art a woman. You write the plays. I doth take the credit. This needs be our arrangement if thou wisheth to reside beyond the confines of The Tower.

(She just glares at him.)

 Wouldst thou rather your words languish unread whilst Bacon and Marlowe commandeer your spotlight with their simple revenge plots? Would you rather your voice go unheard whilst mummers mouth miracle plays as subtle as battle axes in every square from here to the Far Indies? Would you rather Jews be allowed in England?!

ANNE

What dost that have to do with it?

WILL

You’re right. I didst go too far. But thou art not unmindful of what I mean. Your gift, be it divine or from some other place, hath furnished us the means withal to buy this furniture, to procure this property, to live this life of leisure.

ANNE

Leisure! Speakst thou for thyself. Whilst thou whiles away the hours in the most bucolic of blisses here in the garden I burn candles to the wick in the darkened catacombs of forgotten libraries. While you watch the arc of your watering can in the dappled sunlight spread little rainbows I’m up in my attic, blackening page after page with ink, the very blood of my soul’s muse. Leisure? Zounds! Our “arrangement” gave you that leisure.

 WILL

Stand I corrected. But the fact remains: our Queen hath bid Shakespeare- whoever that may be- to write a play about Falstaff.

(He brandishes the letter.)

 And her royal highness wishes to see this play within the fortnight. That’s fourteen days.

 ANNE

I know what a fortnight is, thou calumnious flap mouthed knave! But why Falstaff? I only created him to give Prince Hal someone to talk to. That parsimonious fly blower doesn’t deserve a sequel. He deserves a swift kick in the tennis balls.

WILL(Aside:)

O ye Gods that doth attend we mortal fools that dare to wed: Unsex me here and like a fawning eunuch make me shouldst I- ‘gainst all reason- strive to wive me to a woman possessed of such an insatiate mind. I wouldst rather be married to an insensate gob with scarce a tooth in her noggin than she that doth at every turn remind me of my mind’s defects.

(Back to Anne:)

What wouldst thou do, dear wife? Refuse our Queen because thou liketh not a character that you yourself gave words and breath and life?

ANNE

Falstaff is but a trifle. A fat o’erweening trifle with more tallow in him than a forest of candles but a trifle just the same.

WILL

Then gird thy quill with barbed steel and write a play wherein thou canst skewer the fat knight with your oft vaunted wit. Our Queen gets her heart’s desire, you lose nothing save some few night’s sleep and I keep my head attached to my shoulders.

ANNE

I won’t do’t. If thou art so keen to milk the muse for this plump jack an’apes John Falstaff then you write the play. Come, my husband. If ’tis but the loss of a few evening’s winks that stays thy pen then have at you. What’s the matter, Shakespeare, canst thou not write a play?

 WILL

…Thou knowest well my answer.

ANNE

And yet I hear it not.

WILL

Indeed I am dumb.

ANNE

…Yet ’tis an eloquent silence.

WILL

A fitting discourse for one whose very wife has sentenced him to the gallows.

ANNE

And a dramatic retort from a husband more akin to the care of lilies than the study of letters. For if thou didst but have the smallest inkling of the toll that the toil of writing plays entails thou wouldst not wish it on thy loving wife. Each line, each word is a small battle. Each scene a carnage. My muse can be fickle, sometimes cruel and always demanding. And when faced with a character unworthy of her effort, she is worst of all: silent as a grave. But set that by. And know this: I will not nor I can not write a play about Falstaff. Not if the fat knight himself stepped through that gate and begged it of me.

(At that moment there is a knock at the gate.)

WILL

Here’s a knocking indeed.

RICHARD

(From off:) What ho! Within! Shakespeare! You ink stained varlet, open the gate!

WILL

Oh god.

ANNE

Who is’t?

 WILL

It’s Burbage. Richard Burbage.

ANNE

The actor?! Here? Why?

WILL

I know not.

ANNE

Well stand not there like a colossus. Open the gate!

(Will quickly gives Anne the gardening apron, takes the quill from behind her ear, puts it behind his. He opens the gate. Richard, a robust and rotund actor in his late 40’s enters.)

RICHARD

Shakespeare my friend! How is’t with thee? S’blood, what possessed thee to move this far from London? I’ve been on horseback for three days to get here.

(Sees Anne, looks her up and down.)

Aha! Now I see the method to your madness. M’lady. Richard Burbage, lead actor of Lord Chamberlain’s Men, at your service.

(He bows grandly)

ANNE

M’lord, you honor our humble home. Please you to come in.

RICHARD

I will at that, m’lady, I will at that. But only if you lead the way, fair one, that I may peruse your backside at my leisure!

(He slaps her on the buttocks as punctuation, winks at Will. Anne escorts them into the room.)

WILL

To what do we owe the honor of your visit? You must be tired. Pray you rest awhile. Woman- get thee some mead or ale, our lord Burbage has traveled far to be here.

RICHARD

My thanks, Shakespeare.

(Calling after Anne as she goes to fetch drink:)

And put a piece of toast in it! There’s a good girl. I’m hungry as an ox.

(Richard and Will are seated at the table.)

WILL

So. Welcome to Stratford. To what do we owe the pleasure, Mr. Burbage?

RICHARD

Please. Richard.

WILL

Richard. To what do we owe the pleasure?

RICHARD

It’s about that play. The one the Queen wants you to write. The one about Falstaff.

WILL

Oh yes. I just-

RICHARD

I don’t want you to write it.

WILL

You don’t? Prithee why not?

(Anne is returning with drinks for the men. She observes the rest of this demurely.)

RICHARD

It’s the character. Falstaff. The Queen is most excited to see me play it again. I already played that character. It was passing awful. He’s just there to have someone for Prince Hal to talk to. But what am I telling you for? You wrote the damn thing.

Here’s the point: I’m going for a knighthood this year. And knighthood is for Heroes. Or good villains. Not clowns. I never understood your clowns anyway. Too much motley. Too many spit takes to get easy laughs from the groundlings. What I need is a hero. Or at least a really good villain. And not like Iago either. I never could figure him out. You gave me one line to motivate an entire play. No. I need a hero. Battlefield stuff. You’re good at that. None of this forest of Arden stuff either. Hast thou even been to Arden? No place to set a play. You might as well set a play in Windsor! Now there’s the reeking carcass of a town if ‘er there was one. S’blood!

(He notices Anne standing to the side.)

Pardon, M’lady. Why don’t you roast a game hen or two while we men conduct our business. Our conversation will only confuse you and knit thy pretty brow with consternation and it is not seemly for a man like myself at the very cusp of knighthood to treat my dear friend Shakespeare’s chattel so.

ANNE

Thou art too kind, M’lord.

(She exits, but stays within earshot.)

RICHARD

To be brief: mine image is fading, Shakespeare. One more Sir Toby on my resume and it is most verily over. My type is cast. I’m not getting any thinner. Give me one more hero, Shakespeare. While I can still fit in armor. That’s all I ask.

WILL

I’m at a loss for words.

RICHARD

You? Impossible. But answer not now. Just think thou on it. I’ll head back to London in the morning. In the meantime let’s eat! Woman! More ale! All this talk has burnt a hole in my gullet!

(Anne returns with a pitcher of ale, pours it into Richard’s cup.)

ANNE

M’lord. Here is a special ale we reserve for guests of honor. Pray you drink of it.

RICHARD

(Rising to make a toast:)

To Shakespeare. The bard of Avon. And to heroes. And the new one you shall write just for me, the soon to be Sir Richard Burbage.

(Richard takes a big gulp. …And falls face down on the table. Out.)

WILL

Anne! What hast thou done? Hast thou killed him? Poison! Didst thou use some lethal distillment to end his life with an envenomed cup? Oh woe!

ANNE

Trouble yourself not, my simple husband. ‘Tis but the slightest trace of Hebenon I added to his drink. He shall revive by morning, remember nothing of his evening’s repast and return again to London. Now let’s eat. There will be plenty to fill our bellies now that corpulent finial rogue is busy knitting up the raveled sleeve of care.

WILL

Have you given leave of your senses? What about the Queen’s request? Or his request? Hast thou a plan? What doth I do now?

ANNE

Calm thyself. Repair thee to the kitchen. There’s a game hen needs tending. When ’tis cooked, plate it me and bring it to my attic. After that, disturb me not unless it be to fill my ink pot or replenish my parchment. ‘Twill be a long night for I feel the muse strong within me.

WILL

(Referring to the now snoring body of Richard:)

And him?

ANNE

Lug his guts into the laundry basket. ‘Twill serve as but a preview of coming attractions. Hie thee! For I do smell the game hen burning.

WILL

And what are you to do while I am making dinner, tending game hens and lugging guts around?

ANNE

Me? My dear Shakespeare. I’ve got a play to write.

END OF PLAY

 

 

 

 

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