7Queens,Kings,and Princes

7Queens,Kings,and Princes
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7Queens,Kings,and Princes
Every year we took more and more plays to court at Christmas.In 1598 one of Will's plays was Henry IV.A lot of the play was about the King's son and his friend,Sir John Falstaff.Sir John was old,fat,lazy,drank too much,talked too much,laughed too much.But you had to love him.He was a great favourite with the London playgoers,and there were a lot of Falstaff jokes going round at the time.
After the play,the Queen wanted to speak to Will.
‘Why?What have We done wrong?’John Heminges said to me in a very quiet voice.
‘We'll find out in a minute,’I said.
We all watched while Will walked over to the Queen's chair.She was an old woman,she wore a red wig,and she had black teeth.But she was still a very great queen.And if the Queen was not pleased…
She had a good,strong voice—an actor's voice.We could hear her easily.
‘Mr Shakespeare,she began.Then she smiled,and suddenly you knew why all Englishmen loved the Queen.It was like the sun coming out on a spring morning.
‘Mr Shakespeare,you are the best playwright in England.I enjoyed your play,and I thought that Sir John Falstaff was very funny.I have known many Englishmen like him.Will you write me another play?I would like to see Sir John in love.’
When Will came back to us,his eyes were bright,but he was already thinking about it.
‘Don't talk to me,’he said.‘I've got a play to write.’
He wrote it in two weeks,and we took it down to Richmond Palace and played it before the Queen on February the 20th.She laughed and laughed at The Merry Wives of Windsor.
She didn't have much to laugh about in 1599.There was a lot of trouble in Ireland,and the Queen sent the Earl of Essex with 20,000 men to fight a war.Lord Southampton,Will's friend,went with him.All London came out on to the streets to watch when Essex and his men left for Ireland.Will wrote an exciting play about war that summer,and he put in a word or two about Ireland.That was Henry V,about a very famous English King who fought a war in France.
But Essex was not Henry the Fifth.He didn't know how to fight a war,and he ran away back to England later that year.The Queen never spoke to him again.
In September we opened the Globe theatre.It was a grand,new building near the Rose.Will,Richard Burbage,and the others paid for it themselves.It was the best playhouse in London,and soon the most famous.The other companies had good theatres and some good actors,but we had the famous Richard Burbage—and the best plays.
We put on three new plays by will in the next year,and some plays by other writers.One of the new playwrights was Ben Jonson.He was a clever man and he wrote clever plays,but people still liked Will's plays best.Ben couldn't understand it.He was always arguing with Will about how to write plays.He argued with everyone.He went to prison once because he killed a man in a fight.He was eight years younger than Will,but he and Will were very good friends.
Will's next play was Hamlet,Prince of Denmark.We all met one day in the Boar's Head to talk about it.There were six of us—me and Will,Richard Burbage,Henry Condell,John Heminges,and Augustine Phillips.
Will put his pile of papers on the table and sat down.
‘Well,’he said.‘You've all read it.What do you think?’
‘It's very good,’John Heminges began,‘but it's too long.It'll take about four hours in the theatre.’
‘We don't have to use it all,’Will said.‘We can cut it down to three hours,perhaps two and a half.’
Henry Condell picked up one of the paper from the table.‘Look at this bit,when Ophelia is talking about Hamlet,’he said.‘Hamlet sounds like the Earl of Essex to me.Were you thinking of Essex when you wrote this?’
Will smiled.‘Perhaps,’he said.‘And perhaps not.’ ‘Richard will play Prince Hamlet,yes?’said Augustine.
‘Of course!’Will said.‘I wrote the part for him.He's our star actor.I'll play the ghost of Hamle's father.’He looked at me.‘Hamlet will wear black,Toby,and Ophelia will wear white.’
Henry finished his beer.‘It's a good story,Will,with good parts for us all.But will the playgoers like it?It moves very slowly,and they like a play to be fast and exciting.Prince Hamlet knows that his uncle Claudius murdered the king his father.But he doesn't do anything about it for a long time.He just talks about it.And in the end nearly everybody dies,one way or another.’
Augustine didn't agree with that.‘You haven't understood the play,Henry.It is exciting,very exciting.The play is inside Hamlet himself.He wants to kill his uncle,but he can't Murder is wrong.But he must kill him,because of his father.We can all understand how he feels.’
All this time Richard Burbage was silent.He was reading bits of the play again.Now he put down the paper in his hand and looked up His eyes were bright,excited.
‘Have any of you really listened to the language of this play?This is your best play yet,Will—the best of them all.Just listen to the language,the poetry!’He stood up,and his great voice filled the room.
To be,or not to be—that is the question…
We sat and listened,silently,while that wonderful voice brought the words to life.Will watched him,smiling.He knew that Richard,like him,was in love with words.…To die,to sleep—
To sleep—perchance to dream.Ay,theer's the rub. For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil Must give us pause.
Richard Burbage was right,of course.The people loved the play,they loved Burbage as Hamlet,they cried for poor Ophelia's death,and they shouted for the murderer Claudius to die.I think it was Will's most famous play.