It had been only months since Christopher Marlowe and his patron, Sir Thomas Walsingham, had faked Marlowe's “murder,” but Marlowe was already becoming eager to have his new works staged.
Though few people (except for Constable Maunder) seemed to question the fact that Marlowe, scheduled to be tried for treason, would suspiciously die in a tavern brawl a few days before his sentencing for treason.
There were, however, some questions about his being buried immediately (and unceremoniously) in an unmarked grave. Odd for England's most famous playwright.
The problem was that Marlowe kept writing and now he wanted to see his works staged. In desperation Walsingham searched for someone who might agree to recopy these plays and take them to the Rose theatre as his own. Of course, Walsingham didn’t bother to tell Marlowe what he was doing.
When he heard about it, Marlowe exploded. “William Shakespeare? The guy who holds horses for the gentry while they're in watching the plays?”
Shakespeare, who occasionally did appear on stage, was better known at that time for the horse-sitting job that historians acknowledge he did more frequently. “Thomas, he's never written anything.”
“That's it exactly,” Walsingham countered. “He'll be just one more unknown, writing for the many theatres in London. Who is ever going to remember a name like `William Shakespeare?'”
But it really was too much to expect the arrangement to last. One day, every servant heard Marlowe's voice booming throughout Scadbury Mansion….
“No, no, NO,” Christopher yelled. “You may not make changes in the plays. Not the lines, not the titles … nothing!”
Shakespeare seemed nonplussed. “Even if it improves it?”
Christopher let out a groan and grabbed onto a bookcase to keep from killing him. “Renaming it Like You Like It?”
“I thought it had a nice ring.”
Christopher took a deep breath and tried to be civil. “In Macbeth, Duncan sees the bleeding sergeant and is supposed to say `Go, get him surgeons.'”
Shakespeare looked surprised. “Isn't that what I copied?”
“No, William. You misplaced the comma and so it came out `Go get him, surgeons.'”
“Glory, Jesus. So I forgot the common.”
“Comma,” Christopher shouted.
Shakespeare, who had the reputation by that time of being familiar with every wench in London and even siring a son with Mistress Davenant, easily dismissed the issue of punctuation. “It's not what's written on a page that impresses women,” Shakespeare said brazenly. “It's what between your legs.”
“Or your ears,” Marlowe muttered to himself as picked up another page of script. “Look at this. It was supposed to read `They stole our dogs and raped our women.'”
“That's what it says.”
“They stole our women and raped our ... oh!” Shakespeare shrugged. Why was he the one always being picked on?
Christopher began going over more pages. Shakespeare, feeling insulted, sat in his usual bench for sulking. He was mulling over a question he had been afraid to bring up.
Suddenly he shouted, “You know, Christopher, I was half-way through a tankard of ale at the Owl and the Raven the other night when some bloke across the bar shouts 'Hey, William. Who is your beloved fair youth?' I yell back to him, 'What are you bloody talking about?' And he says 'The chap you keep calling my beloved in your new sonnets.'”
“I thought you knew,” Christopher replied calmly from the desk. “That was a reference to Walsingham. I wrote them to Thomas.”
“The Sonnets were written to another man!?” Shakespeare stood and was turning a shade of royal purple. “They were written to Thomas? Love poems to another man!? All of London must be laughing at me.”
“I'm sure Thomas isn't.”
“And do you know how people are referring to them around town? The Sugar Sonnets.”
Marlowe knew that was true. “Sugar Sonnets, huh? How sweet.”
Shakespeare kept muttering over and over again, “Love poems to another man….” Suddenly he shouted, “I was just living down that dedication of your bloody poem “Rape of Lucrece.” Painfully, he recited it from burning memory, “The love I dedicate to your Lordship is without end.” By then he was really angry. “My wife wrote to me. Even she was suspicious.”
“Remember what you always say, William: It had a nice ring.”
Shakespeare fumed. Finally, he decided to try retribution, “I forgot to mention. King James really liked Macbeth. The new King himself came backstage after the performance.”
Unimpressed, Marlowe kept working. “The new king is a big fan of witchcraft. That's why I started Macbeth with the three witches.”
No reaction from Shakespeare.
“The three witches? In Macbeth? You did read it?”
“Well,” Shakespeare began hesitantly, “I did copy it.” Before Marlowe could get suspicious, he changed the subject. “King James is going to sponsor our company at the new Globe Theatre.”
Marlowe didn't look up. “Well, I wouldn't get too close to the King,” he warned. “He does sleep with boys, you know.”
“Not the new King?” Shakespeare was staggered.
“Oh, god,” Christopher cringed. “You didn't say anything, did you?”
“Of course not,” Shakespeare answered; the tone of his voice showed he was trying to remember.
James I of England was thirty-six years old and already had an array of stories circulating. Though married, he had the reputation of nibbling at the ears and fingers of young attractive men while holding court - a habit that astounded his ministers. Of course, no-one would comment on it to him. That, however, did not hinder them from quietly mentioning their bemusement about this to the rest of the court, who in turn, mentioned it to all of London.
And his finger-nibbling was not his worst trait. He also was known for not bathing and his constant habit of playing with his codpiece.
Shakespeare was obviously trying to remember his conversation with the King. Christopher, who loved to goad William, added innocently, “The word on the streets of London is that, as it's worded around town, `Young men lie in his bedchamber and are his minions.'”
“What are minions?”
“Oh, don't ask” Marlowe's voice registered shock. “That's why he's called James the First. He gets first crack.” Then, enjoying the sight of Shakespeare squirming, he added sweetly, “Oh, William. Am I shocking you?”
“No, actually I'm quite comfortable with that sort of thing.”
“Oh? What sort of thing?”
“You know,” Shakespeare said, getting angry.
“No…what?” Christopher inquired innocently.
William Shakespeare had hate in his eyes, but really wanted to just evaporate.