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`Shakespeare, Steinbeck, Stratford, Salinas' _ Scene Three

The room at Deptford again, a month or two later. Will Shakespeare, Ben Jonson and Thomas Kyd, who is in a kind of depressed stupor, at the table, drinking, staring at Christopher (Kit) Marlowe's body on the floor, stretched in front of the table. Thomas Kyd's hands are wrapped in heavy cloth, his face bruised; he stares out at nothing. When he drinks, he holds the cup in both hands. All seem tired, spent.    

 BEN JONSON (After a moment, sadly): Talented man.

THOMAS KYD (Lackluster): Just so, just so.

WILL SHAKESPEARE: He of ``The mighty line.''

BEN JONSON (A little slow): What did you just say, Will?


BEN JONSON: That's mine, you know, I said that _ ``He of the mighty line.''

WILL SHAKESPEARE: Ben, who said you didn't?

BEN JONSON: Well . . . (Pause.) Sorry, Will, I'm a bit on edge (Indicating Marlowe.), what with Kit and all.

WILL SHAKESPEARE (Raising a brow): And all?

BEN JONSON: Figure of speech. (Will Shakespeare looks at him.) Ok, right, to be frank, dangerous times, for one. I mean, why are we hanging out in Deptford with a body? _ doesn't seem intelligent.

WILL SHAKESPEARE: We're in mourning. Edward's gone for a boat. We can wait on the river bank if you wish.

BEN JONSON: The less people see us . . . (Sotto voice, wanting to exclude Thomas Kyd.) . . . bad enough we'll be witness for the coroner. . . and then there's . . . (A look at Thomas Kyd.)

THOMAS KYD (Through a haze): I hear thee, Ben. Go, go. I'm . . . I'm . . .

BEN JONSON (Louder, for Thomas): Yes, we know, Thomas, you've said you're fine . . . A fall you said you took? (Looks at Will Shakespeare.)

THOMAS KYD: Aye, a fall, an alley beating, thrown from a horse, eaten by louse, trampled by oxen, what you will. (Pause, with effort, raising his voice): Will, how's your wife Anne?

WILL SHAKESPEARE: Well, well, I say thee well, Thomas.

THOMAS KYD: No, really, Will, how's she doing?

WILL SHAKESPEARE: Very well indeed.

BEN JONSON: Stalwart woman, Anne. A looker, too. Don't know why you keep her hidden away in Stratford, Will.

WILL SHAKESPEARE (Gesturing): Should I bring her here, Ben? And the children? To what result? . . . The Plague? . . . Onion and potato pasties? . . . Intrigue and killings . . . Bodies on floors? . . . I think not. Stratford's better.

THOMAS KYD: And Susanna and the twins, Will? How be they?

WILL SHAKESPEARE: Fairly well, Thomas. I thank you for asking. Susanna works hard, yea, a giving and loving child, and the twins be mischief indeed. Triple the trouble says their mother.

BEN JONSON (Suspiciously): Will, are you, (Mimicking him.) yea, (Normal tone.) writing something new and not telling us about it?

WILL SHAKESPEARE: Why say you that, Ben?

BEN JONSON: Because you seem to fall into a peculiar way of speaking none of us can make out when you are working on something new. And I need tell you, when you write that way you lose some audience, to judge by all the head scratching out there. (A beat.) Will, my question, if you please, be you writing a _

WILL SHAKESPEARE (Grudgingly, an unsure glance at Thomas Kyd): Well, if you must know, Ben, yes, I am working on a new play. . . there are bills to be paid, so I must, nothing new there.

BEN JONSON: And it is called?

WILL SHAKESPEARE (Shooting Ben Jonson a look, indicating Thomas Kyd, sotto voice): Called, Ben . . ?

BEN JONSON: Aye, called, Will!

WILL SHAKESPEARE: You allude to the play's title?

BEN JONSON: Aye, the title! Don't be thick.

WILL SHAKESPEARE: You be the thick one, Ben!_ or in your cups! It is called . . . `Hamlet'!

THOMAS KYD (His antenna suddenly up): `Hamlet?' (Will Shakespeare sighs, rolls his eyes.) `Hamlet' you say?

BEN JONSON: A play called after your son?

WILL SHAKESPEARE: My son's name is Hamnet, Ben _ you should set your cup aside.

THOMAS KYD (Sorrowfully): After my tragedy `Hamlet'?

WILL SHAKESPEARE: Yea, Thomas, and yours was after another `Hamlet', if you recall.

THOMAS KYD: But the same prince nonetheless?

WILL SHAKESPEARE: What other? There have been many `Hamlets', Thomas; you do not own the story.

THOMAS KYD: But you mean to eclipse them all, of course, including mine _ the only one extant! . . . No revivals of Thomas Kyd's `Hamlet', I'm sure, if his majesty Shakespeare's scribbled one . .

BEN JONSON: Leave it, Thomas _ it be stale bread . . . (To Will Shakespeare.) Why not, Will, to avoid confusion and hurt feelings, honor your son and call it Hamnet?

WILL SHAKESPEARE: I thought to name it after my sweet Hamnet, a play on the Prince's name, but thought again it might spoil the boy _ a great play named after him.

THOMAS KYD: Oh, so now it's `A great play'? That's still to be seen, don't you think, Will?

WILL SHAKESPEARE: Oh, it will be seen, yea, Thomas, by thousands and thousands! . . . But my Hamlet, like yours, he comes to a bad end, (Turning to Ben Jonson.) so I want not Hammet to carry such a curse. Would you name a boy Oedipus? Or had you a boy called Oedipus, would you write such a play in his name? . . . Would you do such to your own son _ young Ben?

BEN JONSON: No, I love my Ben too much to saddle him thus. You're right, of course. (A bell chimes in the distance. They listen till it stops after four. Looks at Kit Marlowe, then to Thomas Kyd.) It grows late, where is thy coroner? We need go soon or miss the tide.

THOMAS KYD: Coroner?

WILL SHAKESPEARE (As to a child): Thomas, for Kit. It need be reported.

THOMAS KYD: I don't think Kit needs a coroner anymore than you or I or Ben; soon, maybe, but not yet for Kit and me.

BEN JONSON: Am I mistaken, but did you not say he was gone? And did we not toast him and drink over him?

WILL SHAKESPEARE: We walked in with Edward, you said he hath expired. We drank over him as Ben sayeth; shed tears.

BEN JONSON: We stayed _ a dangerous situation, Thomas _ out of respect.

THOMAS KYD: Pardon my mistake. He is much troubled, but not gone to my knowldege. (Looks at Kit Marlowe.) May be, perhaps, but I think not. But I understand _ I've seen him this way for a day and more, still as the dead. See, his chest moves a little. He's coming `round . . . He fell over cursing and profaning. That was my meaning. I thought it reason enough to grieve and shed tears _ a great poet's mind, bent on misery, brought to this.

BEN JONSON: Poor Kit. Sadder now than if he be dead. (Leans forward to study Kit Marlowe more closely.) This doesn't say much for our powers of observation, Will, lest we blame it on drink.

WILL SHAKESPEARE: Doesn't say much for us if we do lay it to drink, Ben.

BEN JONSON (To Thomas Kyd): Heresey again, I assume.

THOMAS KYD (Nodding, drinking): Calling the saints names . . . Accusing some of beastiality . . . Others of penury . . . Mocking the Privy Council . . . The clergy . . . Even the Queen's latest frock, saying she had a man under it! WILL SHAKESPEARE : Surely not the Privy Council! In public so others could hear?

THOMAS KYD: Aye, even the deaf.

BEN JONSON: You sweat, Thomas.

THOMAS KYD: Well, he listens to no one! not even spymaster Walsingham, who used then discarded him; Kit cannot be dissuaded, wants to die, I think, and take me with him; would be better were he to expire here on this floor, God save me! _ which I would not say _ be my witness I called on God, if it comes to it _ which I would not say were I a heretic.

WILL SHAKESPEARE (Pause.): We've always known _ dangerous to know Kit. (A glance at Ben Jonson.) You have a lethal friend, Thomas.

THOMAS KYD: Aye, and they have their eye _ and more _ on me now.

BEN JONSON: The Queen's agents _ on you?


BEN JONSON (Spits it out): Rackers! (Involuntarily starts to stand, leans on the table, looks at Thomas Kyd's hands.) Thomas, pray, did they rack you?

THOMAS KYD: Coming, not yet; these be just loving touches. Crippling my hands they knew would hurt me most; I can barely hold a cup, so a pen? . . .

WILL SHAKESPEARE (Who also half stood, looking at Ben Jonson): Dangerous to know both of you then. I'm sorry for your pain, Thomas, but _

THOMAS KYD: if I frighten you, Will . . . as I know I did when I wrote ``The Spanish Tragedy'' and people flocked to it and it ran a year five months and a fortnight and no one knew of you or Ben then, and the London talk was of ``Famous Kyd'', and what he might do next . . . . what he might still write . . . given the chance . . .

WILL SHAKESPEARE: A fine play, Thomas, `The Spanish Tragedy', very fine, I saw it many times myself.

THOMAS KYD: Did you? I did not know that. Did you really, Will? . . . (Will Shakespeare nods.) I thank you. BEN JONSON (Some pity): But dry since then, Thomas.

THOMAS KYD: True, true . . . (Edward de Vere, robust, enters.)

EDWARD DE VERE: I've hailed a boat to London. (Ben Jonson and Will Shakespeare stand straight, pushing their chairs back.) BEN JONSON (With a look at Kit Marlowe): Can we take _ ?

EDWARD DE VERE: Kit? A body? You must be mad.

BEN JONSON: No, he's not . . . (Indicates dead.)

EDWARD DE VERE (Looks at Kit Marlowe, back at others, grins): Of course _ it's that Kit, is it? The spy of a hundred lives . . . The French and Flemish couldn't kill him, so . . . Well, that's a relief _ good old Kit . . . But the boat, I think not, not enough room spread out that way. (A silence.)

THOMAS KYD: You needn't look at each other that way _ I wouldn't leave him; I stay with Kit.

EDWARD DE VERE: Very well, if you say, the boat's smallish anyway. And someone needs to tend to our poet here. (To Will Shakespeare and Ben Jonson.) I suggest we hurry.

BEN JONSON: Wait . . . We can send the boatman back for you both, Thomas . . . You could return with Kit in the cover of dark, wiser I think . . .

THOMAS KYD: I think not, Ben _ I'd not want the boatman on my conscience.

BEN JONSON (Pause): You're sure then? THOMAS KYD: Aye. (They move to door.)

WILL SHAKESPEARE: I'm sorry, Thomas, but now that we know _

THOMAS KYD: More dangerous alive, as Ben said . . . both of us . . .

WILL SHAKESPEARE: I have family, Anne and the children, while you and Kit . . .

THOMAS KYD (Approaching Marlowe's body, limping): No one to mourn us _ I know, I understand, go home to London; we'll bother you no more . . . This trouble is in many ways of my own making.

BEN JONSON: Oh, it's not so bad as that, Thomas . . . (Pause.) . . . nothing you can't survive, I think . . .

EDWARD DE VERE: Aye, Thomas, take care of our Kit . . .

WILL SHAKESPEARE: Do so . . . (They look from one to another, hesitate, then leave.)

(Thomas Kyd waits a moment, listening, then pulls his dagger from its sheath and stands over Marlowe, trembling.)

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I adore this--really great stuff.  It makes the time come to humorous life with a wink and a nod.  I smiled all the way, reading this manuscript.  I will await the next act or scene. And I think Matthew Biberman must have missed it so I am sending this as a link to  him.  Now that he has a little break from his line editing, he'll have the space to take this in.

I just started reading Peter Ackroyd's "Shakespeare."  I'm close to tears reading because of the elation when I learn something really cool.