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Feb 11, 2014

"What we therefore hath joined together, let Gnoman put asunder..."

Harry Turtledove is one of the most well-known authors in the genre of alternate history - the past as it could have been. Or, at least, how Turtledove thinks it could, anyway. I'll be going through at least a few of his books, looking both at the world of the books and the history that Turtledove is playing with.

In 1588, King Philip II of Spain sent the 130 ships of the Invincible Armada to reconquer England from the Protestant Elizabeth II for Spain and the Catholic Church. That fleet, carrying 18000 Spanish soldiers, was supposed to pick up another 16000 men from the Spanish Netherlands, but aggressive action by Sir Francis Drake, Howard of Effingham and Admiral Sir John Hawkins was able to forestall this. In the decisive Battle of Gravelines, English naval forces sank 5 of the Spanish galleons while losing no ships, and the battered Spanish fleet was further wrecked by wind and wave. By the time the Armada limped back to Spain, a third of the fleet and over 20000 men were gone. The entire affair is regarded as one of the legendary disasters of military history. Or, at least our military history.

It is 1597. 9 years ago, the Spanish descended on England, smashing aside the armies of Elizabeth and conquering England. Isabella, daughter of Philip II, rules in London, and the English Inquisition hunts diligently for adherents to the banned Church of England - and any secret loyalty to Elizabeth I who sits imprisoned in the Tower of London. We will be following the adventures of a poet, actor, and playwright name of William Shakespeare, and those of a Spanish soldier, playwright, and actor by the name of Lope de Vega. As this book has only two POV characters, a relatively self-contained plot, and no sequels, it seemed like the ideal work to start with.


Excerpts from the book will be presented as quotes:


Like this

Plain text will be summaries of unquoted text.

Italics will be commentary or background information.

Each chapter will be broken into sections as the point of view shifts. This will be labeled in this manner:
Chapter 42 - Section 10: McCharacter

Any discussion of further parts of the book, or discussion of other books as they relate to this one - character and scene reuse is a common criticism of Turtledove - be in spoilers. In the latter case, I'd prefer that the name of the book (or at least series) you're referring to is mentioned outside of the spoiler.

There are some useful terms that will probably come up, so a small glossary is in order. This will be expanded as needed.
OTL = Original Time Line (actual history)
POD = Point Of Divergence (where actual history changed into book history)
POV = Point of View - in this context, it means the character whose head we are currently riding in. This book has two, later series have dozens.

(Will probably refine this OP as needed - this is new to me).


Feb 11, 2014

"What we therefore hath joined together, let Gnoman put asunder..."


Chapter 1 Part 1: Shakespeare


Two Spanish soldiers swaggered up Tower Street toward William Shakespeare. Their boots squelched in the mud. One wore a rusty corselet with his high-crowned morion, the other a similar helmet with a jacket of quilted cotton. Rapiers swung at their hips. The fellow with the corselet carried a pike longer than he was tall; the other shouldered an arquebus. Their lean, swarthy faces wore what looked like permanent sneers.

People scrambled out of their way: apprentices without ruffs and in plain wool caps; a pipe-smoking sailor wearing white trousers with spiral stripes of blue; a merchant's wife in a red wool doublet spotted with white--almost a man's style--who lifted her long black skirt to keep it out of puddles; a ragged farmer in from the countryside with a donkey weighted down with sacks of beans.

Shakespeare flattened himself against the rough, weather-faded timbers of a shop along with everybody else. The Spaniards had held London--held it down for Queen Isabella, daughter of Philip of Spain, and her husband, Albert of Austria--for more than nine years now. Everyone knew what happened to men rash enough to show them disrespect to their faces.

A cold, nasty autumn drizzle began sifting down from the gray sky. Shakespeare tugged his hat down lower on his forehead to keep the rain out of his eyes--and to keep the world from seeing how thin his hair was getting in front, though he was only thirty-three. He scratched at the little chin beard he wore. Where was the justice in that?

On went the Spaniards. One of them kicked at a skinny, ginger-colored dog gnawing a dead rat. The dog skittered away. The soldier almost measured himself full length in the sloppy street. His friend grabbed his arm to steady him.
After the Spaniards pass, Shakespeare spends a bit of time arguing with a man advertising a tavern before heading to his destination, a tailor's shop. After some negotiation over the new robe he has ordered, which is late, the two share some jokes about sumptuary laws as it is finished, before they are interrupted by the sound of instruments and marching troops. Much to Shakespeare's dismay, he had forgotten that the Spaniards had scheduled an auto-de-fe today. His complaints about the delay the traffic would bring him are met with the suggestion that he attend the event - a suggestion he finds revolting... until he is given the second suggestion that he might find some inspiration for his playwriting.

Already, we have a lot to unpack here.

The real William Shakespeare (1564 – 1616) was one of the most prominent literary minds in the history of the English language. His surviving works include 39 plays and almost 160 major poetic works, most of which have been translated to every language on Earth. Today, more than 4 centuries after his death, his fame is such that he remains a household name.

Born to a country gentleman in the small village of Stratford-upon-Avon in 1564, Shakespeare left little record of his early life, other than his marriage to Anne Hathaway in 1582, the birth of his elder daughter six months later, and the birth of his son and younger daughter (twins) in 1585.

The first recorded performances of works attributed to him occurred in 1592, and he frequently acted upon the stage. The last known acting performances from him date to 1608, shortly before an outbreak of plague forced the theatres of London to close, and his last plays were written in collaboration in 1613. He died suddenly of unknown causes in 1616.

Large land purchases suggest that his career made him a wealthy man, and he left the bulk of his estate to his daughter Susanna. Shortly after his death, friends of his compiled his works into the First Folio, asserting that the various other editions of his plays were unauthorized and inaccurate.

To this day, there is a conspiracy theory that Shakespeare was a front man for another author, based on the assertion that a country bumpkin like him could never possess the level of genius that was readily apparent in him.

We also see mention of the Spanish monarchs currently ruling England – so let’s see what the real ones were like.

Isabella Clara Eugenia (1566 - 1633) was, as suggested in the text, the daughter of Phillip II of Spain and his third wife. Betrothed to her cousin Rudolf Hapsburg (later Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II) at the age of 2, she was ineligible for marriage until Rudolf declared he wasn’t going to marry anybody. Eventually, she married her cousin Albert of Austria in 1599, at which time she was given control over the Spanish Netherlands (this territory being much of modern Belgium and Luxembourg, parts of France, The Netherlands, and Germany, capitaled at Brussels.).
Upon the death of Albert in 1621, she joined a religious community (now the Secular Fransican Order) in the spirit of Francis of Assisi.

History records their reign as an able one, marked by the virtual elimination of the long-simmering rebellion in the Spanish Netherlands, great patronage of the arts, and significant diplomatic coups. The most prominent diplomatic accomplishments were (ironically) the end of the undeclared war between England and Spain, along with a 12 year truce in the Eighty Years War.

Here, the Turtledove timeline and the OTL one doesn’t match up. The Armada sailed in 1588, and this book begins in 1597. As it is stated that Isabella and Albert were crowned immediately on the Spanish conquest, this means that she married Albert a full 11 years early, at a time when she was still solidly betrothed to somebody else. This sort of parallelism is one frequent criticism of Turtledove, and the origin of the thread title.


Shakespeare had thought nothing could make him want to watch an auto de fe. Now he discovered he was wrong. He nodded to the tailor. "I thank you, Master Jenkins. I had not thought of that. Perhaps I shall." He tucked the robe under his arm, settled his hat more firmly on his head, and went out into Tower Street.

Spanish soldiers--and some blond-bearded Englishmen loyal to Isabella and Albert--in helmets and corselets held pikes horizontally in front of their bodies to keep back the crowd and let the procession move toward Tower Hill. They looked as if they would use those spears, and the swords hanging from their belts, at the slightest excuse. Perhaps because of that, no one gave them any such excuse.

Two or three rows of people stood in front of Shakespeare, but he had no trouble seeing over any of them save one woman whose steeple-crowned hat came up to the level of his eyes. He looked east, toward the church of St. Margaret in Pattens' Lane, from which the procession was coming. At its head strode the trumpeters and drummers, who blasted out another fanfare even as he turned to look at them.

More grim-faced soldiers marched at their heels: again, Spaniards and Englishmen mixed. Some bore pikes. Others carried arquebuses or longer, heavier muskets. Tiny wisps of smoke rose from the lengths of slow match the men with firearms bore to discharge their pieces. The drizzle had almost stopped while Shakespeare waited for the tailor to finish the robe. In wetter weather, the matchlocks would have been useless as anything but clubs. As they marched, they talked with one another in an argot that had grown up since the Armada's men came ashore, with Spanish lisps and trills mingling with the slow sonorities of English.

Behind the soldiers tramped a hundred woodmongers in the gaudy livery of their company. One of those robes would do as well to play the king in as that which I have here, Shakespeare thought. But the woodmongers, whose goods would feed the fires that burned heretics today, seemed to be playing soldiers themselves: like the armored men ahead of them, they too marched with arquebuses and pikes.

From a second-story window across the street from Shakespeare, a woman shouted, "Shame on you, Jack Scrope!" One of the woodmongers carrying a pike whipped his head around to see who had cried out, but no faces showed at that window. A dull flush stained the fellow's cheeks as he strode on.

Next came a party of black-robed Dominican friars--mostly Spaniards, by their looks--before whom a white cross was carried. They chanted psalms in Latin as they paraded up Tower Street.

After them marched Charles Neville, the Earl of Westmorland, the Protector of the English Inquisition. The northerner's face was hard and closed and proud. He had risen against Elizabeth a generation before, spent years in exile in the Netherlands, and surely relished every chance he got for revenge against the Protestants. The old man carried the standard of the Inquisition, and held it high.
During this, Shakespeare’s thoughts turn to Queen Elizabeth, who the Spaniards had imprisoned in the nearby Tower of London as an act of “mercy” upon conquering the island. He wonders how merciful she considers it to be, and is unable to stop himself from mentally making lines in a play on the subject- which the Spanish would naturally deem treasonous.
He is distracted first by the arrival of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Parsons and then by the heavily guarded prisoners. First a dozen sentenced to hang, a large number sentenced to condemnation followed by imprisonment or humiliation, and finally a dozen condemned to be burned.
Among these latter are a proud and defiant Puritan by the name of Philip Stubbes, and a counterfeiter and alchemist by the name of Edward Kelley. Stubbes is practically rejoicing in his martyrdom, but Kelley is terrified, and desperately tries to convince him that he is repentant in the hopes of at least gaining an easier death by strangulation. His pleas failing to convince the monks, he spots Shakespeare in the crowd and cries out for aid – much to Shakespeare’s dismay as this brings suspicion on him.


As it went past, the pikemen who'd been holding back the crowd shouldered their weapons. Some folk went on about their business. More streamed after the procession to Tower Hill, to watch the burnings that would follow. Shakespeare stepped out into the muddy street. Along with the rest of the somber spectacle, he wanted to see Edward Kelley die.

"Say what you will about the Spaniards, but they've brought us a fine show," said a man at his elbow.

The fellow's friend nodded. "Better than a bear-baiting or a cockfight, and I never thought I'd say that of any sport."

Tower Hill, north and west of the Tower itself, had been an execution ground since the days of Edward IV, more than a hundred years before. Things were more elaborate now than they had been. Stakes with oil-soaked wood piled high around them waited for the condemned prisoners. Iron cages waited for them, too, in which they would listen to the charges that had brought them here. More iron cages, small ones, awaited the pasteboard effigies of the folk who had died in gaol or escaped the Inquisition's clutches.
With Isabella and Albert watching, they begin the final stage of the ceremony, with Stubbes being defiant to the end. The monks are forced to bind and gag him to stop him from singing hymns and shouting denunciations, causing him to simply resort to pantomime.

Shakespeare does not applaud Stubbes, although others do, due to his fear of the new suspicion placed upon him. He does, however, wonder if he could get away with so brave a character in a play without the audience dismissing him.
Some of the prisoners were repentant enough for some mercy and are strangled, but (despite his best efforts) Edward Kelley is not among them. The Queen gives the command, and the prisoners are burned.

The real Philip Stubbs was a well-known pamphleteer, most famous for a tract in which he denounced the theater, gambling, drinking, and contemporary fashion. He found no opportunities for martyrdom, and died in 1610.

Edward Kelley was also a real person, albeit one shrouded in legend. He was a partner of Elizabeth I’s advisor and court astrologer John Dee, who claimed to be able to contact angels. Kelley was an occultist and alchemist, famous for his claim to be able to transmute base metals into gold. He also was allegedly able to interpret the language of the angels Dee contacted. The two were accused of necromancy while traveling the Continent in 1587, and were forced to attend a hearing with the Catholic Nuncio of Prague, during which event Kelley managed to issue significant insults to the Catholic Church.

In 1589 or 1590, Rudolf II hired Kelley to make gold for the Holy Roman Empire. In 1591 Kelley was arrested by Rudolf II for killing a nobleman in a duel. In 1595 he was released to make gold, followed by his arrest for failing to make any gold. He either died in captivity in 1597 or poisoned himself in 1598. If there is any record of him meeting the historical Shakespeare, I cannot find it.


Better him than me, Shakespeare thought as fire swallowed Edward Kelley. The mixture of shame and relief churning inside him made him want to spew. Oh, dear God, better him than me. He turned away from the stakes, from the reek of charred flesh, and hurried back into the city.

This is a good setup section. The auto-de-fe is well done, provides an excellent grounding for the setting, and fingering Shakespeare out is a good setup for later.
The first sentence is particularly good. The notion of victorious Spanish soldiers marching through London is a very striking image, particularly with the familiar figure of Shakespeare to give it some grounding.

Chapter 1 Part 2: De Vega


LOPE FÉLIX DE VEGA Carpio had been in London for more than nine years, and in all that time he didn't think he'd been warm outdoors even once. The English boasted of their springtime. It came two months later here than in Madrid, where it would have been reckoned a mild winter. As for summer . . . He rolled his eyes. As best he could tell, there was no such thing as an English summer.

Still and all, there were compensations. He snuggled down deeper under the feather-filled comforter and kissed the woman he kept company there. "Ah, Maude," he said, "I understand why you English women are so fair." He had a gift for language and languages; his English, though accented, was fluent.
A somewhat tedious romantic scene follows, in which De Vega muses on his irredeemable fascination with women. The woman he is currently with is one of three mistresses he is currently keeping in London, and one with secrets of her own. Their revels are interrupted by the entrance of her husband.


"Thine husband?" Despite his horror, de Vega had the sense to keep his voice to a whisper. "Lying minx, thou saidst thou wert a widow!"

"Well, I would be, if he were dead," she answered, her tone absurdly reasonable.

In a play, a line like that would have got a laugh. Lope de Vega mentally filed it away. He'd tried his hand at a few comedies, to entertain his fellows on occupation duty in London, and he went to the English theatres whenever he found the chance. But what was funny in a play could prove fatal in real life. He sprang from the bed and threw on his clothes by the dim light those embers gave.
Dressing hastily, and cursing the overcomplicated garments of his day, De Vega flees out the window, musing that there would be no honor in fighting the woman’s husband due to the affair being adulterous.

Lost in the fogs of London, and well after curfew, he proceeds with drawn rapier. As an officer, he need not fear Spanish patrols, but any English out at this time would be criminals looking for somebody to rob.
He does encounter just such a man, but they manage to avoid actually meeting, and De Vega eventually happens on a Spanish patrol. They mock him for being out so late and ignoring the rules, chatter about the deficiencies of England and Englishmen, and provide him with an escort to the barracks near St. Swithin’s church. There he finds his servant Diego asleep, which is how one usually finds Diego. He finds the servant all but useless, but a proper Spanish gentleman is never without a servant, so a terrible servant is better than none.

Lope Félix de Vega y Carpio (1562-1635) was a Spanish soldier, playwright, and novelist. The author of more than 500 plays, 3 novels, 4 novellas, and over 3000 works of poetry, he is almost as prominent a figure in Spanish literature as Shakespeare is in the English variety.

He is nearly as famous for his amorous affairs as he is his literary one. The collapse of a love affair led to his exile from Castile, followed by his marriage under pressure in 1588. Shortly after marrying, he began his second tour with the navy of Spain and sailed off with the Armada to England. His ship, the San Juan, was one of the survivors of the doomed expedition, and he was not injured.

After his wife died after childbirth in 1594, he moved to Madrid and took on several new lovers - one of which bore him several more children – and a second wife. He joined the priesthood after the death of his favorite son and second wife, although he famously continued to take lovers. He died of scarlet fever in 1595


When he woke, it was still dark outside. He felt rested enough, though. In fall and winter, English nights stretched ungodly long, and the hours of July sunshine never seemed enough to make up for them. Diego didn't seemed to have moved; his snores certainly hadn't changed rhythm. If he ever felt rested enough, he'd given no sign of it.

Leaving him in his dormouse-like hibernation, Lope put on what he'd taken off the night before, adjusting the bright pheasant plume in his braided-leather hatband to the proper jaunty angle. He resisted the temptation to slam the door as he went out to get breakfast. My virtue surely piles up in heaven, he thought.

His breakfast of bread, olive oil, and wine (the latter two imports from Spain) is capped off by a visit from his captain’s servant Enrique, summoning him to an immediate meeting with said captain. Enrique is so brilliant and diligent a servant as to inspire envy in De Vega, who is saddled with the useless Diego. This does not prevent him from answering the summons immediately, of course.


"Buenos días, your Excellency," Lope said as he walked in. He swept off his hat and bowed.

"Good day," Captain Baltasar Guzmán replied, nodding without rising from his seat. He was a dapper little man whose mustaches and chin beard remained wispy with youth: though Lope's superior, he was a good fifteen years younger. He had some sort of connection with the great noble house of Guzmán--the house of, among others, the Duke of Medina Sidonia, commander of the Armada--which explained his rank. He wasn't a bad officer, though, in spite of that. Enrique wouldn't let him be a bad officer, Lope thought.

Guzman needles De Vega for his late return the night before, and the subject turns to the failing health of Spain’s dying monarch Philip II, and a mutually insincere hope that Phillip III will match his father’s rule. This turns to De Vega’s plans for the day, which are to attend the theatre. Guzman wonders if this is really in the line of duty, or simply a desire to satisfy the literary interests of Lope De Vega. De Vega counters with the well reasoned argument that he can gauge the mood of the common Englishman while standing incognito in the crowd, and chatting with the actors afterward could bring more insight still.


"Some of them indeed have connections with their patrons." Guzmán gave the word an obscene twist. But then he sighed. "Still, I can't say you're wrong. Some of them are spies, and so . . . and so, Lieutenant, I know you are mixing pleasure with your business, but I cannot tell you not to do it. I want a full report, in writing, when you get back."

"Just as you say, your Excellency, so shall it be," Lope promised, doing his best to hide his relief. He turned to leave.

Baltasar Guzmán let him take one step toward the door, then raised a finger and stopped him in his tracks. "Oh--one other thing, de Vega."

"Your Excellency?"

"I want a report that deals with matters political. Literary criticism has its place. I do not argue with that. Its place, however, is not here. Understand me?"

"Yes, your Excellency." You're a Philistine, your Excellency. It's God's own miracle you can read and write at all, your Excellency. But Guzmán was the man with the rank. Guzmán was the man with the family.
Enrique, on the other hand, is eager for a report of the theatre. De Vega sees this as an opportunity to butter up the servant, and possibly the master by extension.

De Vega makes his way to the theater, envying the fact that the English have dedicated theatres at all, as opposed to the Spanish practice of performing in front of a tavern. He pays the cheapest price to stand among the groundlings, reasoning that he’ll hear more there than he would in the more expensive gallery seats. This is rewarded when he hears a conversation praising the now-burned Stubbes that stops just short of criticizing the Spanish.

Philip II of Spain died of cancer in September 1598, meaning that concerns of failing health in 1597 are entirely reasonable by comparison to OTL. This, however, is another example of excessive parallelism. Much as with Isabella marrying Albert, there is a strong tendency for him to match things up to actual history even when the conditions changed dramatically. While the cancer that killed Philip in real life may have struck regardless, it is highly unlikely that it would strike in exactly the same way and time that it did historically.

Likewise, there is a very real chance that Philip III would have grown up a different man in a Spain that had crushed all enemies. Failing to consider that could justly be considered lazy writing.


"You ever see anybody braver nor Parsons Stubbes the other day?" a woman said. "Couldn't be nobody braver. God's bound to love a man like that--only stands to reason. I expect he's up in heaven right now."

"How about them what burned him?" another man asked.

"Oh, I don't know anything about that," the woman answered quickly. She'd already said too much, and realized it, but she wouldn't say any more. Nine years of the Inquisition had taught these talkative people something, at least, of holding their tongues. And before that they'd had a generation of stern heresy under Elizabeth, and before that Catholicism under Mary and Philip, and before that more heresy under Henry VIII. They'd swung back and forth so many times, it was a marvel they hadn't looked toward the Turks and had a go at being Mahometans for a while.
The play distracts him once it starts, as his English isn’t quite good enough to grasp it without effort. He is unhappy with the English practice of using young boys to play women, but admires Shakespeare’s use of it for comedy.


But Shakespeare, as de Vega had seen him do in other plays, used English conventions to advantage. Rosalind disguised herself as a boy to escape the court of her wicked uncle: a boy playing a girl playing a boy. And then a minor character playing a feminine role fell for "him": a boy playing a girl in love with a boy playing a girl playing a boy. Lope couldn't help howling laughter. He was tempted to count on his fingers to keep track of who was who, or of who was supposed to be who.

After the play, De Vega makes his way backstage to meet with the actors, which is so routine a behavior that the guards know him by name. There is a bit of comedy when he runs into somebody’s wife backstage and responds gracefully, only to have his lecherous reputation mocked by the company clown, Will Kemp. He finds Shakespeare having a chat with Christopher Marlowe, and the three of them start to talk about the theatre.

The choice of Lope De Vega to serve as Shakespeare’s foil is a good one. De Vega’s connection to the theatre makes their contacts eminently natural in a way that any other soldier would not have, and his status as a literary giant rivaling Shakespeare makes the image a striking one.

Chapter 1, Part 3: Shakespeare.

Late that evening, Marlowe rants about De Vega’s long presense, and mocks Shakespeare for calling the Spaniard a harmless theatre nut. Shakespeare responds with a dig at Marlowe’s love life.


Shakespeare stood several inches taller. He set a hand on the other playwright's shoulder. "However long he lingered, he's gone now, Kit. He's harmless, or as harmless as a man of his kingdom can be. Mad for the stage, as you heard."

"Think you so?" Marlowe said, and Shakespeare nodded. Marlowe rolled his eyes. "And think you babes are hid 'neath cabbage leaves for their mothers to find?"

The tireman coughed. He wanted the room empty so he could lock up the precious costumes and go home. Only a few people were left now, still hashing over what they'd done, what they might have done, what they would do the next time they put on If You Like It. Even Will Kemp, a law unto himself, took the tireman seriously. With a mocking bow to those who remained, he swept out the door.

Irked, Shakespeare stayed where he was. He snapped, "I know whence babes come--I know better than you, by God." Even in the dim, uncertain light left in the tiring room, he saw Marlowe flush. The other poet chased boys as avidly as prickproud Lope went after other men's wives.

Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593) was another of the giants of Elizabethan theatre. His works were a great influence on other playwrights of the day, most notably a certain William Shakespeare. Indeed, he is one professed candidate for the “true author” of some of Shakespeare’s plays by theorists who lean in that direction. Concrete information about him is scanty. Speculation that he was an atheist, a Catholic, and a spy can be traced to his own era, and rumors of his love of boys appears shortly after his death, although none have been solidly substantiated. He died of a knife in the head during a fight with a man named Ingram Frizer.

After further prompting from the tired tireman, the two carry the argument out into the streets. At this point, Shakespeare prods Marlowe for whatever it is he didn’t want to talk about in front of De Vega.
Marlowe wants Shakespeare to meet with a business acquaintance of his, to which Shakespeare agrees. Marlowe, however, seems furious even after said agreement. After some discussion, it turns out that Marlowe is angry because said acquaintance wants to do business with Shakespeare instead of Marlowe.

Realizing now that the business must be of a literary nature, and fully recognizing the extent to which Marlowe influenced his own work, Shakespeare offers to refuse the man, stepping aside to give Marlowe the job. Marlowe is surprised, but admits that Shakespeare really is better for the job, needling Shakespeare for being willing to stand aside. They part, with the guarantee that Marlowe will bring his friend to meet Shakespeare the next evening.

Assuring his landlady that his late return was merely due to lingering after the play, and further assuring her that he’d have no trouble paying the rent, Shakespeare has a mug of ale before heading to dinner.


From the chest by his bed, he took his second-best spoon--pewter--a couple of quills, a knife to trim them, ink, and three sheets of paper. He sometimes wished he followed a less expensive calling; each sheet cost more than a loaf of bread. He locked the chest once more, then hurried off to the ordinary around the corner. He sat down at the table with the biggest, fattest candle on it: he wanted the best light he could find for writing.
The meeting the next day is with a bespectacled man named Thomas Phelippes.


They all shared a roast capon and bread and butter. Phelippes had little small talk. He seemed content to listen to Shakespeare and Marlowe's theatre gossip. After a while, once no one sat close enough to overhear, Shakespeare spoke directly to him: "Kit says you may have somewhat of business for me. Of what sort is't?"

"Why, the business of England's salvation, of course," Thomas Phelippes told him.

Thomas Phelippes (1556–1625) was a linguist and intelligence officer of the English government. He is most famous for playing a key role in unearthing the plot to kill Elizabeth I and replace her with Mary I. If we accept that Marlowe was a spy, it would be extremely likely for him to know Phelippes.

This section is more setup, and more interesting as a sort of slice-of-life bit than for plot reasons. The final sentence is a good cliffhanger, leaving us with the mystery of what exactly they want Shakespeare to do, and how a common playwright could play any role in saving England.

Gnoman fucked around with this message at 00:52 on Nov 8, 2019

Apr 10, 2010

College Slice

It's kind of interesting that Turtledove is making the two viewpoint characters both English and one Spanish.

Just to add to your list of historical characters, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Parsons, is probably the Jesuit Robert Persons/Parsons, an English Jesuit, who was part of Fr. Campion's "English Mission" in 1580, where he tried to set up underground printing presses and recruiting young men to become Jesuits and then smuggling them to France.

After he left England in 1581, he went to France, where he worked on strengthening the House of Guise and also making plans to assassinate Elizabeth. After spending some time there, he went to Rome, and then in 1588, the Jesuits sent him to Spain, to improve relations with King Phillip II. He succeeded in doing that, and spent most of the rest of his life in Spain, setting up seminaries.

Feb 11, 2014

"What we therefore hath joined together, let Gnoman put asunder..."

Epicurius posted:

It's kind of interesting that Turtledove is making the two viewpoint characters both English and one Spanish.

Just to add to your list of historical characters, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Parsons, is probably the Jesuit Robert Persons/Parsons, an English Jesuit, who was part of Fr. Campion's "English Mission" in 1580, where he tried to set up underground printing presses and recruiting young men to become Jesuits and then smuggling them to France.

After he left England in 1581, he went to France, where he worked on strengthening the House of Guise and also making plans to assassinate Elizabeth. After spending some time there, he went to Rome, and then in 1588, the Jesuits sent him to Spain, to improve relations with King Phillip II. He succeeded in doing that, and spent most of the rest of his life in Spain, setting up seminaries.

Thank you. I fully intended to cover this, and thought I had.


Chapter II
Part I: De Vega
We open this chapter with De Vega speaking with Enrique before a meeting with Guzmán in response to his report on the play he attended. Enrique is full of praise both for De Vega’s report and for Shakespeare himself. After chit-chat along these lines, De Vega is brought into Guzmán’s office.


"Oh, no doubt, no doubt, but Enrique will make too much of himself." Tapping the report with his forefinger, Guzmán got down to business: "Overall, this is a good piece of work, Lieutenant. Still, I need to remind you again that you visit the Theatre as his Majesty's spy, not as his drama critic."

"I'm very sorry, your Excellency," Lope lied.

Guzmán laughed again. "A likely story. You're a lucky man, to be able to enjoy yourself so much at your work."

"I would enjoy myself even more if the benighted English let women take the stage," Lope said.

"Indeed. It frightens me, Lieutenant, to think how much you might enjoy yourself then." Baltasar Guzmán tapped the report again. His fingernails were elegantly manicured. He looked across the desk at de Vega. "I note that you met this Marlowe back in the tiring room after the presentation."

De Vega acknowledges meeting Marlowe, stating that he was merely there as a literary critic. Guzmán counters that Marlowe is a very dangerous man, known to keep company with rogues of all sorts. Knowing too many of the wrong kind of people means that Marlowe probably is the wrong kind of people, and the Inquisition has investigated him repeatedly.

This naturally turns to Marlowe’s association with Shakespeare, and inevitably to Shakespeare himself.


That he was right made his supercilious manner no less annoying: more so, if anything. Lope protested: "Say what you will of Marlowe, but Shakespeare has always stayed with the stage and fought shy of politics."

But his superior shook his head. "Not necessarily. At the recent auto de fe, one of the men relaxed to the Inquisition for punishment--a notorious sorcerer and counterfeiter--saw Shakespeare in the crowd and called out for him to testify to his good character. This fellow, a certain Kelley, was also an intimate of Christopher Marlowe's. So Shakespeare is not above suspicion. No man is above suspicion," he added, sounding as certain as if he were reciting the Athanasian Creed.

Though the news shook Lope, he did his best not to show it. He said, "A drowning man will clutch at any straw."

Guzmán acknowledges this, but still considers this to be a matter worth investigating. Guzmán tells De Vega to take his report to an Englishman in Westminster who is an important part of the Spanish administration of the country, assuring him that the Englishman speaks perfect Spanish.

This gun didn’t take long to fire. We saw last chapter that Shakespeare has been recruited in some plot against the Spanish, and De Vega was a perfectly placed agent to fight against said plot. Spurring the inquisition to suspect guilt-by association and thus giving De Vega a vague suspicion that something is wrong is a textbook way of bringing about the main conflict of the story, and it is hard to fault Turtledove’s use here.

I think it is kind of a clumsy execution, however, particularly in timing.


A wan English sun, amazingly low in the southern sky, dodged in and out from behind rolling clouds as Lope de Vega rode through London toward Westminster. When he went past St. Paul's cathedral, he scratched his head, wondering as he always did why the otherwise magnificent edifice should be spoiled by the strange, square, flat-topped steeple. Not so much as a cross up there, he thought, and clucked reproachfully at the folly of the English.

The building De Vega is discussing is the predecessor to the current St. Paul’s Cathedral. Old St. Paul’s was famous for having a rather maginificent steeple – until 1561. In that year, the steeple caught on fire (probably due to a lightning strike), causing the entire thing to cave in. The roof was repaired, but no new steeple was erected. Restoration of the grand old building was begun in 1621, but halted by the outbreak of the English Civil War. Eventually, the entire structure was gutted in the Great Fire Of London in 1666. While reconstruction was technically possible, the immense cost led leaders to demolish the structure and build a new cathedral instead.


Lope couldn't tell exactly where that ward ended and the suburbs of the city began. He had thought Madrid a grand place, and so it was, but London dwarfed it. He wouldn't have been surprised if the English capital held a quarter of a million people. If that didn't make it the biggest city in the world, it surely came close.

Westminster, which lay at a bend in the Thames, was a separate, though much smaller, city in its own right, divided into twelve wards. The apparatus of government dominated it much more than London proper. Isabella and Albert dwelt in one of the several castles there. Parliament--Lope thought of it as the equivalent of the Cortes of Castile, though it was even fussier about its privileges than the Cortes of Navarre--met there. Westminster Abbey was an ecclesiastical center, though the senior archbishop of England, for no good reason de Vega could see, presided at Canterbury, fifty miles away. And the clerks and secretaries and scribes who served the higher functionaries also performed their offices in Westminster.

By the time he finally found the man he was looking for, Lope felt as if he'd navigated the labyrinth of the Minotaur. He'd spent most of an hour and most of his temper making his way through the maze before he knocked on the right door: one in the offices of the men who served Don Diego Flores de Valdés, the commandant of the Spanish soldiers stationed in England.

"Come in," a voice called in English.

Lope de Vega did. The fellow behind the desk was unprepossessing: small, thin, pale, pockmarked, bespectacled. As de Vega walked in, he flipped a paper over so the newcomer wouldn't be able to read it. Lope caught a brief glimpse of pothooks and hieroglyphs--some sort of cipher. Maybe the man made up in brains what he lacked in looks. Peering down at the report, Lope said, "You are Thomas . . . Phelippes?" He'd never seen the name spelled that way before--but then, the vagaries of English spelling could drive any Spaniard mad.

Phelippes and De Vega chat amiably about languages and the virtues of Captain Guzmán, although De Vega notices something peculiar about Phelippes as he explains his mission and hands over the report.


Phelippes took it. "I thank you. I am acquainted with Captain Guzmán. A good man, sly as a serpent." Lope wouldn't have used that as praise, but the Englishman plainly intended it so. He also spoke of the Spanish nobleman as an equal or an inferior. How important are you? Lope knew he couldn't ask. Phelippes went on, "Is there anything he desires me to look for in especial?"

"Yes--he desires your opinion of the trustiness of the two poets, Marlowe and Shakespeare," de Vega said.
Phelippes confirms Guzman’s assessment of Marlowe as a dangerous and untrustworthy man, but insists that Shakespeare is a non-entity and political ignoramus. When informed about the behavior of Kelley, he insists that there was nothing more sinister there than a doomed man looking for any bit of aid he could find. Phelippes will provide a report to Guzman to that effect. After some discussion of the virtues of Philip II and lamenting his imminent death, the scene ends.

Here is a very interesting passage. Phelippes is not only on the side of whatever conspiracy is recruiting Shakespeare, but also a high figure in the occupation government. The obvious ploy for an author is to make it unclear who Phelippes is really working for – is he a rebel spy in the government, or is he an agent provocateur? Unfortunately, however, he is so blatantly covering for Shakespeare here that there is no mystery – if he was working wholly for the Spanish, or playing both sides for some reason, he’d have been much less blatant about protecting Shakespeare. This isn’t necessarily a fault in the writing – Turtledove might have decided that he didn’t want the readers to doubt, and simply wanted to demonstrate the reach of the conspiracy he hasn’t yet revealed.

Chapter 2, Part 2: Shakespeare


When rehersals went well, they were a joy. Shakespeare took more pleasure in few things than in watching what had been only pictures and words in his mind take shape on the stage before his eyes. When things went not so well, as they did this morning . . . He clapped a hand to his forehead. " 'Sdeath!" he shouted. "Mechanical salt-butter rogues! Boys, apes, braggarts, Jacks, milksops! You are not worth another word, else I'd call you knaves."

Richard Burbage looked down his long nose at Shakespeare. He was the only player in Lord Westmorland's Men tall enough to do it. "Now see here, Will, you've poor cause to blame us when you were the worst of the lot," he boomed, turning his big, sonorous voice on Shakespeare alone instead of an audience.

Shakespeare acknowledges the hit, but insists that his part is small and that the next performance would be a disaster if things don’t improve. Burbage insists that everything will be better when it comes to the afternoon’s performance, as they always are.

Richard Burbage (1567-1619) was the owner of two theatres in London, and an extremely prominent actor. Most of Shakespeare’s title roles were first played by Burbage, and he was also a talented artist – it is speculated that the most famous painting of Shakespeare was a Burbage work.


"Not always," Shakespeare said, remembering calamities he wished he could forget.

"Often enough," Burbage said placidly. "There's no better company than ours, and all London knows it." He eyes, deep-set under thick eyebrows, flashed. "But you, Will. You're the steadiest trouper we have, and you always know your lines." He chuckled. "And so you ought, you having writ so many of 'em. But today? Never have I seen you so unapt, as if the very words were strange. Out on it! What hobgoblins prey on your mind?"

Shakespeare looked around the Theatre. Along with the company, the tireman and his assistants, the prompter, and the stagehands, a couple of dozen friends and wives and lovers milled about where the groundlings would throng in a few hours. Musicians peered down from their place a story above the tiring room. He had to talk to Burbage, but not before so many people. All he could do now was sigh and say, "When troubles come, they come not single spies, but in battalions."

Burbage tossed his head like a horse troubled by flies. "Pretty. It tells naught, of course, but pretty nonetheless."

"Give over, if you please," Shakespeare said wearily. "I'm not bound to unburden myself before any but God, and you are not He."

Kemp's eyes widened in well-mimed astonishment. "He's not? Don't tell him that, for I warrant he did not know't."

A flush mounted to Burbage's cheeks and broad, high forehead. "Blaspheming toad."

"Your servant, sir." Kemp gave him a courtier's bow. Burbage snorted.
Shakespeare here is quoting from Hamlet. Many such references show up in the dialogue here. Historically, Hamlet was not written until after this book is set, having been penned sometime between 1599 and 1602.

They return to rehearsal for the afternoon’s production of Romeo and Juliet, particularly the scene where Mercutio is slain by Tybalt. Burbage is still upset about the argument, and a far better swordsman than Shakespeare is – he is stated to have fought against the Spaniards during the invasion, while Shakespeare is a poor swordsman even by stage standards. These two factors almost cause Shakespeare to be injured when it comes time for him to “die”. Shakespeare acknowledges that the scene went better, but that he has something to say about Burbage’s swordsmanship.


The other player chose to misunderstand him. Setting a hand on the hilt of his rapier, he said, "I am at your service."

If they fought with swords in earnest, Shakespeare knew he was a dead man. What had Marlowe said about fanning quarrels? Surely not Burbage, Shakespeare thought, not when we've worked together so long. That such a thing could even occur to him was the measure of how many new worries he carried. I'll be like Kit soon, seeing danger in every face.

"Let it go, Dick," Kemp said. "An you spit him like a chine of beef, what are you then? Why, naught but a ghost--a pretty ghost, I'll not deny, but nonetheless a ghost--left suddenly dumb for having slain the one who gave you words to speak."

"There are other scribblers," Burbage rumbled ominously. But then he must have decided he'd gone too far, for he added, "We, being the best of companies, do deserve that which we have: to wit, the best of poets." He turned toward Shakespeare and clapped his big, scarred hands.

The afternoon performance went well, but the stage is pelted by the groundlings throwing stones at gentlemen who paid extra for a space right by the stage – and obscured the stage with thick clouds of tobacco smoke. Shakespeare is cleaning up and trading barbs with Will Kemp when De Vega enters.


"Were you I, you'd have a better seeming than you do," Shakespeare retorted. People laughed louder than the joke deserved. The biter bit was always funny; Shakespeare had used the device to good effect in more than one play. Will Kemp bared his teeth in what might have been a smile. He found the joke hard to see.

"Magnificent, Master Will!" There stood Lieutenant Lope de Vega, a broad smile on his face. "Truly magnificent! . . . Is something wrong?"

He'd seen Shakespeare start, then. "No, nothing really," Shakespeare answered, glad his actor's training gave his voice a property of easiness: for his was, without a doubt, a guilty start. "You did surprise me, coming up so sudden."

"I am sorry for it," the Spaniard said. "But this play--this play, sir, is splendid. This play is also closer to what someone--a man of genius, of course--might write in Spain than was If You Like It . . . though that too was most excellent, I haste to add."
De Vega spends much time showering Romeo and Juliet with praise. Shakespere is delighted with the plaudits until he realizes that much of the praise is due to the play being more similar to Spanish standards than much of his work. Eventually, De Vega turns to another subject.


"Were my duties less, my time to write were more," the Spaniard answered, and Shakespeare thought he'd got away with it. But then de Vega reminded him that he was in fact Senior Lieutenant de Vega: "In aid of my duties, sir, a question--what acquaintance had you with Edward Kelley, that he should call to you when on his way to the fire?"

I never saw him before in my life. That was what Shakespeare wanted to say. But a lie that at once declared itself a lie was worse than useless. Marlowe was right, drat him. De Vega is a Spaniard first, a groundling and player and poet only second. Picking his words with great care, the Englishman said, "I shared tavern talk with him a handful of times over a handful of years, no more." Though the tiring room was chilly, sweat trickled down his sides from under his arms.

But Lope de Vega only nodded. "So I would have guessed. Whom would Kelley have known better, think you?"

Marlowe, Shakespeare thought, and damned his fellow poet again. Aloud, though, he said only, "Not having known him well myself, I fear I cannot tell you." He spread his hands in carefully simulated regret.

"Yes, I see." Lope remained as polite as ever. Even so, he asked another question: "Well, in whose company were you with this rogue, then?"

"I pray your pardon, but I can't recall." Shakespeare used his player's training to hold his voice steady. "I had not seen him for more than a year, perhaps for two, before we chanced to spy each the other in Tower Street."

De Vega accepts this, and wanders off to flirt with one of the nearby women. Noting that one of the hired actors is infuriated by De Vega’s advances, he decides that this is an opportune time to leave. He collects Burbage and heads out of the theatre, stopping to have a passed-out customer removed from the theatre to avoid him getting a free play the next day.

Watching a woman slip and fall turns the subject to Will Kemp, and Burbage provides an excellent opportunity for Shakespeare to begin discussing weightier matters.


Shakespeare nodded. Kemp in particular had a habit of extemporizing on stage. Sometimes his brand of wit drew more mirth than Shakespeare's. That was galling enough. But whether he got his laughs or not, his stepping away from the written part never failed to pull the play out of shape. Shakespeare said, "Whether he know it or no, he's not the Earth, with other players sun and moon and planets spinning round his weighty self."

"Or the Earth and all round the sun, as Copernicus doth assert," Burbage said.

"He, being dead, may assert what pleases him." Shakespeare looked around nervously to make sure no one had overheard. "His Holiness the Pope holding opinion contrary, we enjoy not the like privilege."

Burbage frowned. "If a thing be true, it is true with the Pope's assent or in his despite."

"Here is a true thing, Dick," Shakespeare said: "An you speak such words where the wrong ears hear, you'll explicate 'em to the Inquisition."

The subject of the Inquisition allows Shakespeare to discuss the Spanish occupation and then, when Burbage expresses dissatisfaction with the situation, to bluntly ask if Burbage wants Elizabeth back on the throne. After some equivocation, Burbage finally puts it plainly. He’s an Englishman, not a Spaniard, and Shakespeare can go tell De Vega that if he wants to.


"You were an idiot to speak your mind to me, did you reckon I'd turn traitor," Shakespeare replied after some small silence of his own.

" ‘Treason doth never prosper: what's the reason? For if it prosper, none dare call it treason,' " Burbage quoted, and then cocked his head to one side. "I misremember--is that yours?"

Shakespeare shook his head. "Nay: some other man's. I thank you; I am answered."

"And had I cried hurrah! for Queen Isabella?"

"Many who cry so prosper," Shakespeare said.

"The dons are here, and here to stay, by all the signs," Burbage said. "A man must live, as I said just now, and, to live, live with 'em. So far will I go, so far and no further. A fellow who sniffs and tongues the Spaniards' bums, like some scabby whining cur-dog with a pack of mastiffs . . . This for him!" He spat again.
The quote here is from Sir John Harington (1561-1612), and is possibly anachronistic. While it is not clear when he first wrote the phrase (the earliest record I can find of it is a collection of his works published in 1618 after his death), he mostly gained prominence in the late 1580s and early 1590s – after the POD of this series. In the altered timeline, publishing such a verse would probably bring swift punishment from the occupiers.

Apart from that, Turtledove does a good job here illustrating the attitude of someone living in an occupied kingdom. Having to decide how far you can bend before you betray your true loyalties is exactly the sort of thing people would have to deal with in such a situation.

They split off, Shakespeare going to his boarding house and Burbage to his home. Shakespeare muses that, were he to go home to Stratford as his wife insists upon he would avoid dealing with the Spaniards almost entirely, as they rarely go to the sleepy village. Unfortunately, London holds too much fame and money for him to be willing to do that.


When he walked into the house where he lodged, Jane Kendall greeted him with, "A man was asking after you today, Master Will."

"A man?" Shakespeare said in surprise and no small alarm. His landlady nodded. Fighting for calm, he found another question: "What sort of man? One of the dons?"

The tallowchandler's widow shook his head. Shakespeare hoped he didn't show how relieved he was. "He was about your own age," the widow said, "not a big man, not small. Ill-favored, I'll say he was, but with a look to him. . . . Did he ask me to play at dice with him, I'd not throw any he brought forth."
Shakespeare frowned and scratched his head. "Meseems that is no man I ken," he said slowly. "Gave he a name to stand beside this his ill-favored visage?"

Before his landlady could answer, Peter Foster laughed raucously. "Was't the name of his wife or his sweetheart or his daughter?"

"Go to!" Shakespeare said, his ears heating. He didn't live a monk's life in London, but he hadn't, or didn't think he had, given anyone cause to come after him for that kind of reason. Lieutenant de Vega boasted about the horns he put on husbands. Shakespeare, by contrast, reckoned discretion the better part of pleasure.

Again, Widow Kendall shook her head. "He said naught of any such thing. And he did leave a name, could I but recall it. . . . I'm more forgetful with each passing year, I am. It quite scares me." But then she suddenly grinned and snapped her fingers. "Skeres!" she exclaimed in delight.

She remembers that the man gave the name of Nick Skeres, and that she told him to look at the Theatre, which is where Shakespeare is during the day. One of the other boarders, a man named Peter Foster, suggests that the man might be wanting to throw Shakespeare in jail, and that innocence means nothing if the man is paid. He then criticizes Shakespeare’s lack of a sword, as any threat isn’t likely to know Shakespeare has no idea how to use one, but would reckon that a large man like Shakespeare would be extremely dangerous in a fight, if properly armed.

He heads off to his customary place for meals, where he dines on stewed eels. After he eats, he tries to do some writing, but has little success.

[url=[/url]Nicholas Skeres (1593-1601?) was a con man and government spy in this era. He was almost certainly a player in the plot to kill Elizabeth that Thomas Philippes helped unover, probably as a government agent. He was later dining with Robert Poley (another man involved in uncovering the plot), Ingram Frizer, and Christopher Marlowe when an argument between the latter two lead to Frizer killing Marlowe in alleged self-defense. He was later involved with the rebellion of the Earl of Essex in 1601 and thrown in prison, where he is believed to have died.


Tonight, though, his own misgivings were what kept interrupting him. It was not a night when he had to worry about forgetting curfew. That he got anything at all done on Love's Labour's Won struck him as a minor miracle.

The play Shakespeare is working on is a bit interesting. There is no extant play known as Love’s Labour’s Won, although there are references to such a play existing in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. While it is possibly a lost work (perhaps as a sequel to Love’s Labor’s Lost), it is also possible that it was an early title of an older play – candidates include The Taming Of The Shrew, Much Ado About Nothing, or As You Like It (which, of course, is the play De Vega attended in Chapter I).

Chapter 2: Part 3: De Vega


The two actors--actually, the two Spanish soldiers--playing Liseo and his servant, Turín, appeared at what was supposed to be an inn in the Spanish town of Illescas, which lay about twenty miles south of Madrid. The one playing Liseo hesitated, bit his lip, and looked blank. Lope de Vega hissed his line at him: "¡Qué lindas posadas!"

"What lovely inns," the soldier--his real name was Pablo--repeated obediently. He might have been a slightly--a very slightly--animated wooden statue, painted to look lifelike but wooden nonetheless.

"¡Frescas!" agreed the fellow playing his servant (his real name was Francisco). He knew he was supposed to say, "Fresh air," to suggest a hole in the imaginary roof, but sounded even deader doing it than Pablo did.

Before they could go on to complain about the likelihood of bedbugs and lice, Lope threw his hands in the air. "Stop!" he shouted. "God and all the saints, stop!"

"What's the matter, Señor Lieutenant?" the soldier playing Turín asked. "I remembered my line, and Pablo here, he looked like he was going to remember his next one, too."

"What's the matter? What's the matter?" Lope's volume rose with each repetition. "I'll tell you what's the matter. What's the name of this play of mine?"

"La dama boba," Francisco answered. "That's what's the matter, sir?"

La Dama Boba (literally “The Silly Lady”, one English title is The Lady-Fool) is a comedy by Lope De Vega. The real de Vega didn’t write this work until 1613, rendering this as a potential anachronism. The different circumstances can excuse this – he simply wrote it earlier in this timeline- but the lack of any “I changed it on purpose” signposting makes me suspect this was an error by the author.

The furious de Vega pushes the two soldiers too far when he compares them negatively to the English actors he has been working with.


"So what? I've had a bellyful, I have," Pablo said. "This isn't part of my duty. If you think the damned Englishmen make such good actors, Señor Lieutenant, get them to put on your play for you. Hasta la vista." He stomped away. The soldier playing his servant followed, slamming the door behind them.

Lope swore. He sprang to his feet and kicked the bench on which he'd been sitting, which toppled the bench and almost ruined one of his toes. As he hopped around, still cursing, he wondered how in God's name he was going to put on La dama boba without two of his leading characters. If he could have got men from Shakespeare's acting company to recite Spanish verse, he would have done it. Except when they swore, Englishmen didn't want to learn Spanish.
He realizes that, while he could order the men, he would not be happy with the results. Then he has a brainstorm, and runs off to Guzmán's office. Guzmán is surprised to see de Vega at a time when he should be working on a play, and ask what occasions this unusually dutiful attitude.


"Your Excellency, I am always devoted to duty," Lope said. It wasn't strictly true, but it sounded good. He added, "And the powers that be have been kind enough to encourage my plays. They say they keep the men happy by giving them a taste of what they might have at home."

"Yes, so they say." Captain Guzmán seemed unconvinced. But he went on, "Since they say so, I can hardly disagree. What do you require, then?"

"Your servant, Enrique," Lope answered. Guzmán blinked. Lope explained how he'd just lost two actors, finishing, "God must have put the idea into my head, your Excellency. Enrique loves the theatre; he's bright; he would perform well--and, since he's a servant and not a soldier, he wouldn't get huffy, the way Pablo and Francisco did. If you can spare him long enough to let him learn Liseo's part, I'm sure he'd do you credit when he performs."

One of Captain Guzmán's expressive eyebrows rose. "Did he bribe you to suggest this to me?"

"No, sir. He did not. I only wish I would have thought of using him sooner."

"Very well, Senior Lieutenant. You may have him, and I will pray I ever get him back again," Guzmán said. "Now, whom did you have in mind for the other vacant part--Liseo's servant, is it not?"

"I was going to use my own man, Diego."

Guzmán's eyebrow rose again, this time to convey an altogether different expression. "Are you sure? Can you make him bestir himself?"

"If he doesn't do as I need, I can make his life a hell on earth, and I will," Lope said. "As a matter of fact, I rather look forward to getting some real work out of him. However much he tries to sleep through everything, he is my servant, after all. I may not own him so absolutely as I would a black from Guinea, but I'm entitled to more than he's ever given me."

Diego is, of course, asleep, and is far from enthusiastic about his new job. De Vega threatens him into the job at swordpoint, neither of them absolutely certain that the threat won’t be carried out. De Vega further informs him that, should Diego refuse to act he will be dismissed from de Vega’s service. Diego thinks this might not be so bad as he could always find another master, but de Vega cuts that thought off.


Sadly, Lope shook his head. "I've already discussed this with Captain Guzmán. You know how short of men--good, strong, bold Spanish men--we are in England. Any servant dismissed by his master goes straight into the army as a pikeman, and off to the frontier with Scotland. The north of England is a nasty place. The weather is so bad, it makes London seem like Andalusia--like Morocco--by comparison. The Scots are big and fierce and swing two-handed swords they call, I think, claymores. They take heads. They do not eat human flesh, as the Irish are said to do, but they take heads. I think you would make a poor trophy myself, but who knows how fussy a Scotsman would be?"
De Vega is lying about servants automatically going north, but Diego doesn’t know that, and agrees.

Another slice-of-life chapter, which seems to exist only as a nod to the real De Vega’s literary status. This isn’t a bad thing, and contributes to building the character, but it could be called padding. De Vega doesn’t come off too good here – aside from his offhand remark about Diego being just a little above a slave, threatening an employee with a sword (and sword-wielding Scotsmen!) because he doesn’t want to do something that is well beyond his usual duties is a bit harsh.

Chapter 2: Part 4: Shakespeare
Shakespeare is walking out of a poultry shop where he has just bought new feathers to make into pens when a man approaches him and hails him by name.


He did get recognized away from the Theatre every so often. Usually, that pleased him. Today . . . Today, he wished he were wearing a rapier as Peter Foster had suggested, even if it were one made for the stage, without proper edge or temper. Instead of nodding, he asked, "Who seeks him?" as if he might be someone else.

"I'm Nicholas Skeres, sir." The other man made a leg. He lived up to--or down to--Widow Kendall's unflattering description of him, but spoke politely enough. And his next words riveted Shakespeare's attention to him: "Master Phelippes hath sent me forth for to find you."

"Indeed?" Shakespeare said. Skeres nodded. Shakespeare asked, "And what would you? What would he?"

"Why, only that you come to a certain house with me, and meet a certain man," Nick Skeres replied. "What could be easier? What could be safer?" His smile showed crooked teeth, one of them black. By the glint in his eye, he'd sold a lot of worthless horses for high prices in his day.

"Show me some token of Master Phelippes, that I may know you speak sooth," Shakespeare said.

"I'll not only show it, I'll give it you." Skeres took something from a pouch at his belt and handed it to Shakespeare. "Keep it, sir, in the hope that its like, new minted, may again be seen in the land."

It was a broad copper penny, with Elizabeth looking up from it at Shakespeare. Plenty of the old coins still circulated, so it was no sure token, but Skeres had also said the right things, and so. . . . Abruptly, Shakespeare nodded. "Lead on, sir. I'll follow."
Skeres leads Shakespeare out of London itself, but not to the sort of tavern or shack he would expect covert business to be carried out in. Instead, he is lead to a palatial house on Drury Lane in Westminster itself. A servant leads them inside.


Carpets were soft under Shakespeare's feet as he went up one corridor and down another. He was more used to the crunch of rushes underfoot indoors. The house was very large. He wondered if he could find his way out again without help. Like Theseus of Athens in the Labyrinth, I should play out thread behind me.

"Here we are, good sirs," the servant said at last, opening a door. "And now I'll leave ye to't. God keep ye." Smooth and silent as a snake, he withdrew.

"Come on," Nick Skeres said. As soon as Shakespeare entered the room, Skeres shut the door behind them. Then he bowed low to the old man sitting in an upholstered chair close by the hearth in the far wall; a book rested on the arm of the chair. "God give you good day, Lord Burghley. I present Master Shakespeare, the poet, whom I was bidden to bring hither to you."

Shakespeare made haste to bow, too. "Your--Your Grace," he stammered. Had Skeres told him he would meet Queen Elizabeth's longtime lord high treasurer, he would have called the man a liar to his face and gone about his business. But there, without a doubt, sat Sir William Cecil, first Baron Burghley. After the Duke of Parma's soldiers conquered England, most of Elizabeth's Privy Councilors had either fled to Protestant principalities on the Continent or met the headsman's axe. But Burghley, at King Philip's specific order, had been spared.

William Cecil (1520-1598) was by far the most important advisor to Queen Elizabeth I. He was the primary architect of English foreign policy in the era, and was the primary player in establishing the primacy of the Church of England and the persecution of England’s Catholics. He was also a major proponent of building up the Royal Navy as a guardian against Catholic powers. He died in 1598 of a stroke or a heart attack.

Given his staunch anti-Catholic policies and his personal prestige, Cecil is an obvious threat to Spain’s control over England. It is thus incredibly unlikely that Philip would have him spared. To use a historical analogy, it would be like having a victorious Hitler leave Churchill alive while executing most other British politicians.

Cecil orders Shakespeare and Skeres to sit, and informs them that the health of Philip II is failing, as is his own. Fortunately for England, Cecil’s son Robert is a better man than his father (according to Cecil) while Philip’s son is less able than Philip is.

After some praise of Shakespeare’s play, Cecil informs Shakespeare that he is to deal the Spanish a heavy blow when Philip dies.


The gesture served well enough. Lord Burghley chuckled again--and then coughed again, and had trouble stopping. When at last he did, he said, "Think you not that, on hearing of Philip the tyrant's passing, our bold Englishmen will recall they are free, and brave? Think you not they will do't, if someone remind them of what they were, and of what they are, and of what they may be?"

After this, Cecil switches to Latin, which Shakespeare can understand well enough. He asks Shakespeare if he had ever read the Annals of Tacitus.


"So I did." Shakespeare nodded, too. "I made heavy going of it, I confess, for he is a difficult author."

"Recall you the passage beginning with the twenty-ninth chapter of the fourteenth book of the said work?"

"Your pardon, sir, but I recollect it not. Did you tell me to what it pertains, my memory might be stirred."

"I shall do better than that. Attend." Peering down at the book now on his lap, Burghley began to read the sonorous Latin text. After a couple of sentences, he glanced at Shakespeare over the tops of his spectacles. "Do you follow?"

"I take the meaning, yes, though I should not care to have to construe the text."

"Meaning suffices," Lord Burghley told him. "You are a scholar no longer, and I am not your master. I will not whip you if you mistake an ablative for a dative. Shall I continue?"

"If you please, sir."

Sir William Cecil read on to the end of the passage. To Shakespeare's relief, he went more slowly after the poet admitted having some trouble following the grammar. When he'd finished, he eyed Shakespeare once more. "See you the dramatic possibilities inhering to that section?"

Shakespeare sees quite well – the possibilities are so obvious that he practically aches to go start writing. More importantly, he sees what Cecil wants him to write.

The Annals Of Tacitus is a historical account of the Roman Empire from the years AD 14 through AD 89, not all of which survives today. [url=*.html] Book 14, Chapter 29-37[/url] describes an Briton uprising under Queen Boudicca that inflicted a heavy defeat on the IX African Legion and seized London, killing thousands of Romans before a larger and more prepared force returned the defeat, prompting Boudicca’s suicide.

Quite obviously, Cecil wants the audience to make a connection with the Romans invading Britannia with the Spaniards that invaded England. Shakespeare is confident, but sees difficulties. Cecil’s promises of everlasting fame and an immortal place in history move him, but he persists in his explanations


"Gramercy, my lord. Hear me, then." Shakespeare took a long breath of his own before continuing. "I can write the play. With what you have given me, I can shape it into the weapon you desire. I can put the groundlings to choler straight. Being once chafed, they shall not be reined again to temperance."

"Well, then?" Burghley folded his velvet-sleeved arms across his chest, covering the Order of the Garter he wore. "What more is wanted?"

Here a wise man shows himself a fool. Shakespeare reminded himself the theatre was not Burghley's trade. "Look you, my lord, you must bethink yourself: a play is more than words set down on paper. It's men and boys up on the stage, making the words and scenes seem true to those that see 'em."

"And so?" Burghley remained at sea.

But Nick Skeres stirred on his stool. "I know his meaning, my lord!" he exclaimed. "We can trust him--we think we can trust him, anyway." He spoke quickly, confidently; he was at ease in the world of plots and counterplots, as Shakespeare was while treading the boards of the Theatre. "But the play engrosses the whole company. Any one man, learning what's afoot, can discover it to the Spaniards, at which--" He drew his finger across his throat.

Cecil accepts this as a serious risk, but Shakespeare isn’t finished yet. Not only is it necessary to trust the entire company with the secret, but there must be many secret rehearsals, not to mention costumes. Cecil’s suggestion of skipping some of it is met with approval by Shakespeare, as long as Cecil wants a botched play that everybody laughs at.


A wordless rumble came from deep within Lord Burghley's chest. "You show me a sea of troubles, Master Shakespeare. How arm we against them? Here you must be my guide: you, not I, are the votary of this mystery."

"I see no sure way," Shakespeare told him, wishing he could say something different. "What seems best is this: to sound the players one by one, in such wise that I give not the game away should a man prefer the Spaniards--or even simple quiet--to daring the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune."

More quotes from Hamlet in this exchange.

Shakespeare’s doubts are killed abruptly by a simple question from Cecil - “Would you see England free again?”. Faced with it directly, Shakespeare agrees. Still, he can’t get started immediately as Cecil wants him to.


Shakespeare didn't scream, but he came close. "My lord," he said carefully, "I am now engaged upon preparing a new play for the company, and--"

"This hath greater weight behind it," Burghley said.

Again, screams bubbled just below the surface. "Your Grace, if I cease work upon a play half done, who will not wonder why? Were it not best that I draw no questions to myself?"

"You quibble," Burghley said ominously.

"By God, sir, I do not," Shakespeare answered. "And here's the rest of't: Lord Westmorland's Men will pay me for Love's Labour's Won, and pay me well. Who'll pay me for this Roman tragedy? A poet lives not upon sweet breezes and moonbeams; he needs must eat and drink like any man."

"Ah." Burghley nodded. Taking from his belt a small leather sack, he tossed it to Shakespeare, who caught it out of the air. It was heavier than he'd expected. When he undid the drawstring, gold glinted within. His eyes must have widened, for William Cecil let loose another of his wet chuckles. "There's fifty pound," he said carelessly. "An you require more, Nick Skeres will have't for you."

"G-Gramercy," Shakespeare choked out. He'd never made anywhere near so much for a play; most of his income came from his share of the Theatre's takings. He also eyed Skeres. Any sum of money that came through the sharp little man would probably be abridged before reaching its intended destination. Skeres stared back, bland as butter.

"Have we finished here?" Baron Burghley asked. Numbly, Shakespeare nodded. When he got to his feet, his legs, at first, didn't want to hold him up. Burghley said, "Get you gone, Master Shakespeare. I'll away anon. We should not be seen entering or leaving together, nor should you come to my house, though it be nigh. I am here on pretense of waiting on my nephews, Anthony and Francis Bacon."

So, now we know the plot. The idea of using a play to spark a rebellion is inspired (according to the afterword) by the 1601 Essex's Rebellion against Elizabeth I, which was intended to put the court in the control of the disgraced Robert Devereux, earl of Essex. The Lord Chamberlain’s Men (Shakespeare’s company!) was paid an impressive sum to perform Richard II in an apparent bid to gain support. The rebellion was broken up quite handily, and the company was not held in suspicion as part of it.

It is interesting to note that Turtledove did apply the butterfly effect in the name of Shakespeare’s theatre company. The historical company was Lord Chamberlain’s men under the patronage of Henry Carey, 1st Baron Hunsdon. Carey was not only a loyal servant of Elizabeth I, his position of the Captain of the Honourable Band of Gentlemen Pensioners made him her personal bodyguard at the time of the Armada. While it isn’t mentioned in the book as far as I can find, it is pretty obvious that Carey would have been killed during the invasion and thus in no position to sponsor a troupe of actors.

Instead, Shakespeare’s company is Lord Westmorland's Men. This means their patron would be Charles Neville, 6th Earl of Westmorland. Neville was a devout Catholic who was a participant in the Rising of the North of 1569, which aimed to unseat Elizabeth, rescue Mary I, and put her on the throne. Fleeing to exile in Scotland, and later Flanders, Neville led a force of expatriate Englishmen as part of the forces intended to reinforce the Spanish Armada. In a world where the Armada succeeded, Philip II would have rewarded him greatly.

Shakespeare is paid 50 pounds for his part, which is a lot of money. Based on the Bank of England’s inflation calculator, this would translate to £11,477.76 today – which probably underestimates things. Being paid that much for a single play would indeed be a good payday.

Going back to my earlier statement about pacing, the first De Vega portion of this chapter would have worked better here – knowing exactly what Shakespeare is doing makes it much more interesting to see de Vega being sent after him. However, the nature of the plot means that using the Inquisition as a pointer was probably unnecessary. Sniffing out treason in the theatre is literally De Vega’s job, and having his suspicions raised by more organic means would have flowed better.

Feb 11, 2014

"What we therefore hath joined together, let Gnoman put asunder..."

Chapter 3, Part 1: De Vega


LOPE DE VEGA waved to a tall, scrawny Englishman in ragged clothes who stood, as hopefully as he could, by a rowboat. "You there, sirrah!" he said sharply. "How much to row us across to Southwark?" He pointed to the far bank of the Thames.

"Tuppence, sir," the fellow answered, making a clumsy botch of his bow. "A penny each for you and your lady."

"Here, then." Lope gave him two bronze coins. "Put us ashore as near to the bear-baiting garden as you may."

"To the old one, or the new?" the boatman asked.

"To the new," de Vega replied.

"Yes, sir. I'll do't." The Englishman smiled at his companion. "Mind your step as you get in, my lady."

"Have no fear, my dear, my sweet," Lope said grandly, and gave Nell Lumley his arm. She smiled as she took it. She was as tall as he, blond and buxom, and called herself a widow for politeness' sake, though de Vega doubted she'd ever wed. But she was fond of him, and he always enjoyed squiring a pretty woman around. He expected to enjoy lying with her afterwards, too. Cold country, hot blood, he thought; Englishwomen had pleasantly surprised him.

And he enjoyed the feeling of being half, or a little more than half, in love. It heated his own blood, as a cup of wine would. As often as not, he discarded one mistress and chose another for no more reason--but also, he told himself, for no less reason--than to have that sweet intoxication singing through his veins.

Bear baiting was a popular blood sport in Elizabethan times, and continued in England until 1835. Today, there are a few regions where the "sport" is still practiced illegally, although the cost and difficulty of obtaining bears for the purpose limits it compared to other animal-fight practices. As practiced in England, it involved chaining a bear to a post and setting packs of hungry dogs on it.

De Vega and his mistress watch a bear being tortured and killed by dogs for entertainment. After it dies, another bear is brought out to kill more dogs.


Lope and Nell had just left the bear-baiting garden when someone called his name from behind. It was a woman's voice. As if in the grip of nightmare, Lope slowly turned. Out of the arena came his other mistress, Martha Brock, walking with a man who looked enough like her to be her brother, and probably was.

He would be, Lope thought in helpless horror. If she were betraying me, she couldn't get in much of a temper. But if she's not . . . Oh, by the Virgin, if she's not . . . ! Too late, he realized the Virgin was the wrong one to ask for intercession here.

"Who's that?" Martha Brock demanded, pointing at Nell.

"Who's that?" Nell Lumley demanded, pointing at Martha.

"Dear ladies, I can explain--" Lope began hopelessly.

He never got the chance. He hadn't thought he would. "You are no surer, no, than is the coal of fire upon the ice, or hailstone in the sun!" Nell cried. "And I loved you!"

"Impersevant thing!" Martha added. "A truant disposition!"

Lope tried again. "I can expl--"

Again, no good. They both screamed at him. They both slapped him. They didn't even quarrel with each other, which might have saved him. When they both burst into tears and cried on each others shoulders, Martha's brother said, "Sirrah, thou'rt a recreant blackguard. Get thee hence!" He didn't even touch his sword. With de Vega so plainly in the wrong, he didn't need it.

Jeered by the Englishmen who'd watched his discomfiture, Lope walked back toward the Thames all alone. When Pizarro's men conquered the Incas, one of them got as his share of the loot a great golden sun . . . and gambled it away before morning. He'd made himself a Spanish proverb, too. But here I've outdone him, Lope thought glumly. I lost not one mistress, but two, and both in the wink of an eye.

This is the only worthwhile part of this chapter. De Vega is publicly humiliated in a way that is certain to get back to his superiors and also many potential conquests. The bear-baiting is actually told fairly well, but it is still about torturing animals for entertainment. I suppose it is a worthwhile grounding in the setting, but it is pretty much irrelevant to the plot and really quite uncomfortable.

Chapter 3, Part 2:Shakespeare


WILL KEMP LEERED at Shakespeare. The clown's features were soft as clay, and could twist into any shape. What lay behind his mugging? Shakespeare couldn't tell. "The first thing we do," Kemp exclaimed, "let's kill all the Spaniards!"

He didn't even try to keep his voice down. They were alone in the tiring room, but the tireman or his assistants or the Theatre watchmen might overhear. "God mend your voice," Shakespeare hissed. "You but offend your lungs to speak so loud."

"Not my lungs alone," Kemp said innocently. "Are you not offended?"

"Offended? No." Shakespeare shook his head. "Afeard? Yes, I am afeard."

"And wherefore?" the clown asked. "Is't not the desired outcome of that which you broached to me just now?"

"Of course it is," Shakespeare answered. "But would the fountain of your mind were clear again, you prancing ninny, that I might water an rear end at it. Do you broadcast it to the general before the day, our heads go up on London Bridge and cur-dogs fatten on our bodies."

"Ah, well. Ah, well." Maybe Kemp hadn't thought of that at all. Maybe, too, he'd done his best to give Shakespeare an apoplexy. His best was much too good. He went on, "An you write the play, I'll act in't. There." He beamed at Shakespeare. "Are you happy now, my pet?" He might have been soothing a fractious child.

"Why could you not have said that before?" Shakespeare did his best to hold his temper, but couldn't help adding another, "Why?"

"You want everything all in its place." Again, Will Kemp might have been--likely was--humoring him. "I can see how that might be so for you--after all, you'd want Act First done or ever you went on to Act Second, eh?"

"I should hope so," Shakespeare said between his teeth. What was the clown prattling about now?

Kemp deigned to explain: "But you're a poet, and so having all in order likes you well. But for a clown?" He shook his head. "As like as not, I've no notion what next I'll do on stage."

"I've noticed that. We've all of us noticed that," Shakespeare said.

"Good!" Kemp twisted what had been meant for a reproach into a compliment. "If I know not, nor can the groundlings guess. The more they're surprised, the harder they laugh."

"Regardless of how your twisted turn mars the fabric o' the play," Shakespeare said.

Kemp only shrugged. Shakespeare would have been angrier had he expected anything else. The clown said, "I know not what I'll do tomorrow, nor care. If I play, then I play. If I choose instead to morris-dance from London to Norwich, by God, I'll do that. I'll do well by it, too." He seemed to fancy the ridiculous idea. "Folk would pay to watch me on the way, and I might write a book afterwards. Kemp's Nine Days Wonder, I'd call it."

"No man could in nine days dance thither," Shakespeare said, interested in spite of himself.

"I've ten pound to say you're a liar." By the gleam in Kemp's eye, he was ready to strap bells on his legs and set off with a man to play the flute and drums. He'd meant what he told Shakespeare--he didn't know what he'd do next, on stage or anywhere else. "Come on, poet. Will you match me?"

The man's a weathervane, blowing now this way, now that, in the wind of his appetites, Shakespeare thought. He held up a placating hand. "I haven't the money to set against you," he lied. "Let it be even as you claim. Fly not to Norwich, nor to any other place." He realized he was pleading. "You perform this afternoon, you know, and on the morrow as well."

Will Kemp was a real person, and a fairly prominent actor in his era. Much less is known about him than Shakespeare or Burbage, but in 1600 he did, in fact, morris-dance from London to Norwich in 9 days (spread over the course of weeks).

After some wordplay with Kemp, Shakespeare tries to sound out the loyalties of Jack Hungerford, the company's tireman (the contemporary term for the man in charge of wardrobe). As he will be essential to the presention of the new play, ensuring that he doesn't prefer the Spanish is essential. Unfortunately, Hungerford deflects the inquiry with ease. After a small part in the afternoon's performance of Marlowe's El Cid, Shakespeare leaves early to visit a bookseller.


Booksellers hawked their wares in the shadow of St. Paul's. Most of them sold pamphlets denouncing Protestantism and hair-raising accounts of witches out in the countryside. Some others offered the texts of plays--as often as not pirated editions, printed up from actors' memories of their lines. The volumes usually proved actors' memories less than they might have been.

Shakespeare ground his teeth as he walked past a stall full of such plays. He'd suffered from stolen and surreptitious publications himself. That he got nothing for them was bad enough. That they mangled his words was worse. What they'd done to his Prince of Denmark . . .

He'd added injury to insult by buying his own copy of that one, to see if it were as bad as everyone told him. It wasn't. It was worse. When he thought about the Prince's so-called soliloquy:

To be, or not to be. Aye there's the point.

To die, to sleep, is that all? Aye all:

No, to sleep, to dream, aye marry there it goes.

He'd seen that, burned it into his memory, so he could quote it as readily as what he'd really written. He could--but he didn't have the stomach to get past the third line.

Splendid in his red robes, a bishop came out of St. Paul's and down the steps, surrounded by a retinue of more plainly dressed priests and laymen. The soldiers on guard at the bottom of the stairs stiffened to attention. One of them--by his fair hair, surely an Englishman--knelt to kiss the cleric's ring as he went past.

The Spaniards enslaved some of us, Shakespeare thought. Others, though--others enslaved themselves. No one had made that soldier bend the knee to the bishop. No one would have thought less of him had he not done it. But he had. By all appearances, he'd been proud to do it.

Even if I go on with this madcap scheme, will it have the issue Lord Burghley desires? Shakespeare shrugged. He'd come too far to back away now unless he inclined to treason. That might save you. It might make you rich. He shrugged again. Some things were bought too dear.

Motion up at the top of St. Paul's caught his eye. A man in artisan's plain hose and jerkin was walking about on the flat-roofed steeple, now and then stooping as if to measure. We have a Catholic Queen and King once more. Will they order the spire finished at last? Shakespeare shrugged one more time. It would be yet another sign we are not what we were, what we once set out to be. But how many even care? Gloom threatened to choke him.

Gloom also made him inattentive, so that he almost walked past the stall he sought. It wasn't the sight of the books that made him pause, but the sight of the bookseller. "Good den, Master Seymour," he said.

"Why, Master Shakespeare! God give you good den as well," Harry Seymour replied. He was a tall, lean man who would have been good-looking had he not had a large, hairy wen on the end of his nose. "Do you but pass the time of day, or can I find summat for you?"

"I'm always pleased to pass the time of day with you," Shakespeare answered, which was true: he'd never known Seymour to print or sell pirated plays. He went on, "But if you've the Annals of Tacitus done into English, I'd be pleased to buy it of you."

"As my head lives, Master Shakespeare, I do indeed. And I'll take oath I fetched hither some few of that title this morning." Seymour came around to the front of the stall. "Now where did I put 'em? . . . Ah! Here we are." He handed Shakespeare a copy. "Will you want it for a play?"
This is an an oddity. The play mentioned here as Prince Of Denmark is quite obviously Hamlet, but that play was (as mentioned before) not historically written until after this book is set. It is also an questionable work to be written in an occupied kingdom - the central theme of a displaced prince seeking to bring justice to an usurper would hardly be less incindiary than the tale of the Celts against Rome that Shakespeare is commissioned to write in this setting, although the fact that Hamlet's rebellion is ultimately doomed might allow the play to be seen as a cautionary tale. Apart from authorial error, the explanation might lie in a lost work called "the Ur-Hamlet", which is a documented but lost work that was either an early version of the play written by Shakespeare, or else a work drawing on the same sources by a different playwright.

Apart from that, the problem of pirated plays was a very real one in this era, and it is the reason why most of the plays we have today are almost certainly corrupted to one degree or another.

The bookseller does have a copy of Tacitus in stock, and tries to get Shakespeare to pay extra for a fine binding. Shakespeare, being of a thrifty inclination, preferrs to buy the book unbound. Even unbound, the bookseller is asking six shillings, After some haggling, they agree on 5 shillings sixpence, cutting 6 pennies from the price. At 20 shillings to the pound, this works out to almost £70 (~$90) in today's money. Comparing this to other prices, he could buy two threepenny meals at his normal eatery, or attend the theater (or a bear-baiting) six times.


His joy in that sixpence quite quenched, Shakespeare strode north and east, back towards his Bishopsgate lodgings. Light faded from the sky with every step he took. The winter solstice was coming soon, with Christmas hard on its heels. They were both coming sooner, indeed, than he reckoned right. After their coronation, Isabella and Albert had imposed on England Pope Gregory's newfangled calendar, cutting ten days out of June in 1589 to bring the kingdom into conformity with Spain and the rest of Catholic Europe. When Shakespeare looked at things logically, he understood those ten days weren't really stolen. When he didn't--which was, mankind being what it was, more often--he still felt as if he'd had his pocket picked of time.

Some stubborn souls still celebrated the feast of the Nativity on what Gregory's calendar insisted was January 4. They did so in secret. They had to do so in secret, for the English Inquisition prowled hardest at this season of the year, sniffing after those who showed affection for the old calendar and thus for the Protestant faith adhering to it.

Along with darkness, fog began filling the streets. Here and there, men lit cressets in front of their homes and shops, but the flickering flames did little to pierce the gloom. Shakespeare hurried up Cheapside to the Poultry, past the smaller churches of St. Peter and St. Mildred, and up onto Threadneedle Street, which boasted on the west side churches dedicated to St. Christopher-le-Stock and St. Bartholomew. He let out a sigh of relief when Threadneedle Street opened on to Bishopsgate. A moment later, he let out a gasp, for a squad of Spaniards tramped toward him. But their leader only gave him a brusque jerk of the thumb, as if to tell him to hurry home.

"I thank our worship," he murmured, and touched his hand to the brim of his hat as he ducked down the side street that would take him to the Widow Kendall's. The Spaniard nodded in return and led his men south and west along Threadneedle. A decent man doing well the task to which he was set, Shakespeare thought. More than a few of the occupiers were decent men. Still, the task to which Philip had set them was the subjugation of England. And, on nine years' evidence, they did it well.

"Oh, Master Will, 'tis good to see you," Jane Kendall said when Shakespeare came into her house. As he went over to stand by the fire, she continued, "I was sore afeard them Spanish devils had took you."

"Not so. As you see, I'm here." Shakespeare looked around the parlor. "But where's Master Foster? Most days, he is before me, and, having somewhat to do betwixt close of Theatre and my coming hither, I know I am later than I might be."

"Later than you ought to be," the Widow Kendall said in reproving tones. "And as for Master Peter--"

Before she could go on, Jack Street broke in: "He's in the Hole. They nabbed him at last. I wouldn't guess what his law was, but outside the law, certes."

Shakespeare didn't know what his missing roommate's illegal specialty was, either, but wasn't surprised to learn those in authority thought Peter Foster had one. "Can we do aught for him?" he asked.

Jack Street gloomily shook his head. "Not unless we want them bastards asking after us next," the glazier said, which struck Shakespeare as altogether too likely.

"He's paid till the end of the month," Widow Kendall said. "An he bide yet in gaol then, I'll sell his goods for what they bring." She thought more of what she might do for herself than for her lodger.

After warming himself by the fire, Shakespeare went off to the ordinary around the corner for supper. A sizzling beefsteak and half a loaf to sop up the juices made him a happy man. He took out his quill and his bottle of ink and set to work on Love's Labour's Won. "By God, Master Will, what is it like, to have so many words in your head?" the serving woman asked.

"So that they come forth, Kate, all's well," he answered. "But if my thoughts be dammed, then I'm damned with them." He pounded his forehead with the heel of his hand to try to show her the feeling he got when the words would not move from his mind to the page in front of him.

She laughed and nodded and said, "Will another mug of beer loose the flow?"

"One other may," he said, and she poured his mug full from the pitcher she carried. He went on, "Ask me not again, I pray you, for with too much drink I've trouble knowing whether the words that come be worth the having."

"I'll leave you to't, then," Kate said, and she did.

But tonight the words, whether worth the having or not, did not want to come. Shakespeare stared into the candle flame and tried all the other tricks he knew to break the wall between his wit and his pen, but had little luck. While the upper part of his mind dutifully tried to get on with Love's Labour's Won, the deeper wellspring, the part from which inspiration sprang, dwelt with the woes of the ancient Iceni, not with his present characters. He smote his forehead again, this time in good earnest. The sudden pain did him no good, either.

After everyone else has left, Kate trades some wordplay with Shakespeare, in which we learn that the two have been carrying on an affair. Mercifully, Turtledove spares us a sex scene here, jumping from a kiss to Shakespeare hurrying home afterward. Settling down to try some more writing, he is interrupted by Pete Foster, who turns out to be quite adept with lockpicks and let himself out of jail. The man is confident enough to sleep in his own bed before heading off to disappear, much to Shakespeare's alarm. Foster proves correct, as he is gone by morning with nobody coming to look for him.

Chapter 3, Part 3: De Vega


"BUENOS DÍAS, YOUR EXCELLENCY," Lope de Vega said, sweeping off his hat and bowing to Captain Baltasar Guzmán. "How may I serve you this morning?"

"Buenos días, Lieutenant," Guzmán replied. "First of all, let me compliment you on La dama boba. Your lady was a most delightful boob, and I thoroughly enjoyed watching her antics yesterday."

Lope bowed again, this time almost double. "I am your servant, sir!" he exclaimed in delight. His superior had never before paid him such a compliment for his theatrical work--or, indeed, for work of any other kind.

Captain Guzmán went on, "And my compliments especially for wringing such a fine performance from your Diego. I know that cannot have been easy."

"Had I known I would have to use him, I would have made the servant a sleepier man," de Vega said. "As things were--" He mimed cracking a whip over Diego's back.

"Even so." Guzmán nodded. Then he raised an elegant eyebrow and asked, "Tell me: after which of your mistresses was Lady Nisea modeled? Or should I say, which of your former mistresses? The story is, they had it in mind to throw you into the bear pit for the mastiffs' sport."

"Please believe me, your Excellency, it was not so bad as that." He asked Captain Guzmán to believe him. He didn't tell his superior that what he said was true.

Guzmán's eyebrows rose higher still. "No, eh? It certainly has been a mighty marvel hereabouts. I suppose I should admire your energy, if not your luck at the bear garden. Everyone who saw them says a man would be lucky to have one such woman, let one two."

How can I answer that? de Vega wondered. Deciding he couldn't, he didn't try. Instead, he repeated, "How may I serve you, sir?"

Rather than answering him directly, Baltasar Guzmán said, "Your timing could have been better, Lieutenant. In fact, it could hardly have been worse."


"Have you forgotten you are to meet with Cardinal Parsons this morning?" Guzmán eyed him, then assumed a severe expression. "I see you have. What a pity. It could be that the Cardinal, being an Englishman and having just come from Canterbury, has not heard of your, ah, escapade. It could be. I hope it is. But I would not count on it. The man is devilishly well informed."

Lope sighed. "Yes, sir. I know he is," he said glumly. "I'll do the best I can."

"Splendid. I'm sure you said the same to both your lady friends."
Well, not taking long to rag De Vega for that disaster. In this case, it is an excellent way to show just how thorough his hamilation was. Also a nice way to work in De Vega's status as a master playwright.

After fleeying his superior's office, he is briefly waylaid by Enrique, who is full of praise for La Dama Boba. De Vega warms to the praise, but he has to rush to the Archbishop.


"Thank you, your Eminence," Lope replied in the same language. He switched to English: "I speak your tongue, sir, an you have no Spanish."

"I prefer Latin. It is more precise," Parsons said. By his appearance, he was nothing if not a precise man.

"As you wish, of course." Lope hoped his own Latin would meet the test. He read it well, but he was no clergyman, and so did not often speak it. "I am at your service in every way."

"Good." Cardinal Parsons looked down at some notes on his desk and nodded to himself. "I am told you are the Spanish officer most concerned with sniffing out treason in the English theatre."

"Yes, your Eminence, I believe that to be true," Lope answered, pleased he'd remembered to use the infinitive.

"This is because"--the Archbishop of Canterbury checked his notes again--"you are yourself an aspiring dramatist?"

"Yes, your Eminence," de Vega repeated, wondering if the English churchman would take him to task for it.

But Parsons only said, "I am glad to hear it, Lieutenant. For treason is afoot in that sphere, and you, being familiar with its devices, are less likely to let yourself be cozened than would someone uninitiated in its mysteries."

Lope had to think before he answered. The cardinal's Latin was so fluent, so confident, he might have been whisked by a sorcerer from the days of Julius Caesar to this modern age. He made no concessions to Lope's weaker Latinity; Lope got the idea Parsons made few concessions to anyone, save possibly the Pope.

"Your Eminence, I go to the theatre more to watch the audience than to watch the actors," de Vega said. "Many of them I know well, and they have not shown themselves disloyal to Queen Isabella and King Albert."

Robert Parsons snorted like a horse. Lope needed a moment to realize that was intended for laughter. Parsons said, "And how likely is it that they would declare their treason before an officer of his Most Catholic Majesty of Spain?"

"You make me out to be a fool, a child," Lope said angrily.

"By no means, Lieutenant." The Archbishop of Canterbury's smile was cold as winter along the Scottish border. "With your own words, you make yourself out to be such."

Without his intending it, de Vega's hand moved a couple of inches toward the hilt of his rapier. He arrested the motion. Even if he was insulted, drawing sword on a prelate would certainly send him to gaol, and probably to hell. He gave the cardinal a stiff bow. "If you will excuse me, your Eminence--"

"I will not." Parsons' voice came sharp as a whipcrack. "I tell you there is treason amongst these men, and you will be God's instrument in flensing it out."

"But, your Eminence"--Lope spread his hands--"if they do not show it to me, how can I find it? There is no treason in plays that are performed. The Master of the Revels sees and approves them before a play reaches the stage. Sir Edmund Tilney is the one who will know if the poets plan sedition--indeed, he has arrested some for trying to say what must not be said."

Like Parsons' face, his fingers were long and thin and pale. When he drummed them on the desktop, they reminded de Vega of a spider's legs. "Again, you speak of overt treason," Parsons said. "The enemies of God and Spain, like Satan their patron, are more subtle than that. They skulk. They conspire. They--"

"With whom?" Lope broke in.

"I shall tell you with whom: with the English nobles who still dream of setting at liberty that murderous heretic jade, Elizabeth their former Queen." Parsons' eyes flashed. "King Philip was too merciful by half in not burning her when first she was seized, and again in not slaying more of the men who served her and upheld her while she ruled."

He had, Lope remembered, spent more than twenty years in exile from his native land. When he spoke of skulking and conspiring, he spoke of what he knew. Cautiously, de Vega asked, "Have you anyone in particular in mind?"

He expected the Archbishop of Canterbury to name Christopher Marlowe--everyone seemed to put Marlowe at the head of his list of troublemakers--or George Chapman or Robert Greene (though Greene, he'd heard, was ill unto death after eating of a bad dish of pickled herring). But Parsons, after an abrupt nod, replied, "Yes. A slanderous villain by the name of William Shakespeare."

Welp. The Spanish have figured the whole thing out. Bold storytelling choice there!

Naturally, the plot isn't going to unravel on page 99 of a 560-page book. Parson's suspicion of Shakespeare is based on the latter having been seen visiting a home of one of his betters (a mere playwright and actor has no business visiting the townhouse of a nobleman) and also in being seen with Skeres (who is the sort of ruffian no honest man would associate with. De Vega waves it off as Shakespeare being a friend of Marlow, and thus meeting many of the people Marlow meets - and Marlowe is not an honest man. The Archbishop is not convinced, and insists that De Vega investigate further.


Captain Guzmán had dark suspicions about Shakespeare, too. Lope had dismissed those: who ever thinks his immediate superior knows anything? But if Robert Parsons and Guzmán had the same idea, perhaps there was something to it. "I shall do everything I can to aid the cause of Spain, your Eminence," de Vega said.

Chill disapproval in his voice, Parsons answered, "It is not merely the cause of Spain. It is the cause of God." But then he softened: "I do take your point, Lieutenant. Work hard. And work quickly. My latest news is that his Most Catholic Majesty does not improve, but draws closer day by day to his eternal reward. With his crisis, very likely, will come the crisis of our holy Catholic faith here in England. No less than the inquisitors, you defend against heresy. Go forth, knowing God is with you."

"Yes, your Eminence. Thank you, your Eminence." Lope kissed Cardinal Parsons' ring once more. He left the cardinal's study, left St. Paul's, as fast as his legs would take him. No doubt Parsons had intended a compliment in comparing him to an inquisitor. But what he'd intended and what Lope felt were very different things.

The Inquisition was necessary. Of that de Vega had no doubt. But there was also a difference between what was necessary and what was to be admired. Vultures and flies are necessary. Without them, the ground would be littered with dead beasts, he thought. No one invites them to dinner, though, and no one ever will.

The book probably should have ended here, by internal logic. Shakespeare was already under suspicion from Kelley, and while De Vega's explanation covers Skeres, it does not explain why Shakespeare was visiting a house he had no business going near that happens to belong to a relative of a foe of Spain that was inexplicably left alive. Given that De Vega already has ample reason to be associating with Shakespeare (and thus serving as a threat to The Plot), this feels like an unnecessary narrative complication.

Chapter 3, Part 4: Shakespeare


SHAKESPEARE KNELT IN the confessional. "Bless me, Father, for I have sinned," he said. The priest in the other side of the booth murmured a question he hardly heard. He confessed his adultery with the serving woman at the ordinary, his rage at Will Kemp (though not all his reasons for it), his jealousy over Christopher Marlowe's latest tragedy, and such other sins as came to mind . . . and as could safely be told to a Catholic priest.

As Shakespeare had conformed to Protestant worship during Elizabeth's reign, so he conformed to Romish ritual now that Isabella and Albert sat on the English throne and Philip of Spain stood behind them. More often than not, conforming came easy. The Catholic Church's rituals had a grandeur, a glamour, missing from Protestantism. Had Shakespeare been able to choose faiths on his own, he might well have chosen Rome's. His father had quietly stayed Catholic all through Elizabeth's reign. But having invaders impose his creed on him galled Shakespeare, as it galled many Englishmen.

The priest gave him his penance, and then, with a low-voiced, "Go, and sin no more," sent him on his way. He went up toward the altar in the small parish church of St. Ethelberge the Virgin--the church closest to his lodgings--knelt in a pew, and began to say off the Ave Marias and Pater Nosters the priest had assigned him. By the time he finished, he did feel cleansed of sin, although, being a man, he knew he would soon stumble into it again.
The religious practices of England during the reign of Elizabeth I were complex. Elizabeth herself was fairly conservative, and resisted the more aggressive reformation of the Church, and it wasn't until 1580 (only 8 years before the Armada) that they started aggressively cracking down on Catholics. Elizabeth was still blocking aggressive attempts by Puritans to strip ritual from the Church as late as 1586 (a mere two years before the Armada). Turtledove clearly was thinking of a strict Calvinist or Puritan setup similar to what you would find in many forms Continental Protestantism, but I don't think that's accurate.

After going throuh his penance, he runs into Kate the serving woman leaving the confessional. After some slightly awkward (because he knows she probably confessed their affair just as he had) conversation, he heads to the boarding house, hoping to get some work done. As he does so, multiple people start noticing him.


He hadn't gone far before an apprentice--easy enough to recognize by his clothes, for he wore a plain, flat cap and only a small ruff at his throat--pointed to him and said, "There goes Master Shakespeare."

Being a man whose face many saw, Shakespeare had that happen fairly often. He almost made a leg to the 'prentice, to acknowledge he was who the young man thought he was. But something in the fellow's tone made him hold back. The apprentice hadn't just recognized him; by the way he sounded, others were looking for Shakespeare, too. He didn't care for that at all.

Sure enough, though, another man and a woman pointed him out to their friends on his way back to his lodgings. And, when he got there, Jane Kendall was in a swivet. "Oh, sweet Jesu!" she exclaimed. "First Master Foster, now you! Whatever shall I do?"

"What mean you, Madam?" he asked, thinking, What will you do? Find more lodgers; what else? But if they pursue me as they pursue Peter Foster, whatever shall I do? He doubted whether running to Stratford would help him. They'd track him down there. Could he get over the border to Scotland? Have they got theatres in Scotland? Might a player live there, or would he slowly starve?

"Why, Master Shakespeare, the fellow asking after you, he looked a right catchpole, he did," his landlady answered. "Had a great gruff deep voice, too, enough to make anybody afeard. Oh, Master Shakespeare, what have you done?"

"Naught," Shakespeare answered. And that was true, or something close to true. He'd set down not a word on paper. The closest thing to evidence anyone might find among his possessions was the translation of Tacitus' Annals. But it wasn't the only work of history in his trunk, and he hadn't so much as dogeared the relevant page. As far as proof went, they'd be on thin ice.

But how much would that matter? The bastinado, the rack, thumbscrews, the water torture the English Inquisition favored . . . If they hauled him away and began tormenting him, how long could he hold out? He shuddered. Sweat sprang out on his forehead. He was no hero, and knew it too well. If they tortured him, he would tell all he knew, and quickly, too.
Even the book itself is pointing out that Shakespeare should be completely screwed right now. Yet, for some reason, he isn't.

He goes to dinner, and by some miracle he is able to write with great ease. He writes well enought that a disappointed Kate has to warn him in time to get home before curfew. The next morning, a large man greets him as soon as he leaves his lodgings.


"You are to come with me to Westminster," the man replied. "Forthwith."

"But I'm wanted at the Theatre," Shakespeare said.

"You're wanted in Westminster, and thither shall you go," the big man said implacably. "The wind lies in the east. Come--let's to the river for a wherry. 'Twill be quicker thus." He made the sign of the cross. "God be my witness, Master Shakespeare, you are not arrested. Nor shall you be, so that you do as you are bid. Now come. Soonest there, soonest gone."


"Bide here a moment," the Englishman with the deep voice said, and ducked into an office. He soon came back to the doorway and beckoned. "Come you in." Turning to the man behind the large, ornate desk, he spoke in Spanish: "Don Diego, I present to you Señor Shakespeare, the poet." Shakespeare had little Spanish, but followed him well enough to make sense of that. The Englishman gave his attention back to Shakespeare and returned to his native tongue: "Master Shakespeare, here is Don Diego Flores de Valdés."

Shakespeare made a leg to the Spaniard. "I am honored beyond my deserts, your Excellency," he said. In fact, he was more nearly appalled. Diego Flores commanded all of King Philip's soldiers in England. What knows he?

Instead of translating, as Shakespeare had expected, his guide politely inclined his head to the Spanish grandee and withdrew. Flores proved to speak good if accented English, saying, "Please seat yourself, Señor Chakespeare." He waved to a stool in front of the desk. Like most Spaniards, he made a hash of the sh sound at the start of Shakespeare's name and pronounced it as if it had three syllables.

"Thank you, my lord." Shakespeare perched warily on the stool. He would sooner have fled. Even knowing flight would doom him made it no less tempting. He took a deep breath and forced some player's counterfeit of calm on himself. "How may I serve you today?"

Don Diego Flores studied him before answering. The Spanish commandant was in his fifties, his beard going gray, his hooked nose sharper in his thin face than it might have seemed when he was young. When he said, "I am told you are the best poet in England," he sounded like a man not in the habit of believing what he was told.

"Again I say, your Excellency, you do me too much honor."

"Who surpasseth you?" Flores asked sharply, the Spanish lisp making his English sound old-fashioned. When Shakespeare did not reply, the officer laughed. "There. You see? Honor pricks you on, more than you think. This I understand. This I admire. If it be a sin to covet honor, I myself am the most offending soul alive." He jabbed a thumb at his own chest. "And so--for this were you summoned hither. Because you are the best."

"What would you of me? Whatever sort of poet I be, I am a poet of English. I know not the Spanish tongue."

"Claro que sí," Don Diego said, and then, seeing Shakespeare's puzzled expression, "But of course. You are desired because you write English so well." Shakespeare was sure he looked more puzzled than ever. Flores continued, "Have you not heard that King Philip, God love him, fails in regard to his health?"

Was that a trap? Ought I to claim ignorance? Shakespeare wondered. After some thought, he rejected the idea: the King of Spain's decline was too widely known to make such knowledge dangerous. Cautiously, the poet said, "Ay, your Excellency, I have heard somewhat of't."

Flores wants Shakespeare to craft a memorial for Philip II. What sort of memorial?


The Spanish grandee snorted. One unruly eyebrow rose for a moment. He forced it down, but still looked exasperated; plainly, Shakespeare struck him as something of a dullard. That suited Shakespeare well enough; he wished he struck Flores as a mumbling, drooling simpleton. The officer gathered himself. "May the memorial, the monument, you make prove immortal as cut stone. I would have from you, señor, a drama on the subject of his Most Catholic Majesty's magnificence, to be presented by your company of actors when word of the King's mortality comes to this northern land: a show of his greatness for to awe the English people, to make known to them they were conquered by the greatest and most Christian prince who ever drew breath, and to awe them thereby. Can you do this thing? I promise you, you shall be furnished with a great plenty of histories and chronicles wherefrom to draw your scenes and characters. What say you?"

Flores does not give Shakespeare the opportunity to refuse, and simply hands over a few of a hundred pounds. Combined with what he recieved from Cecil, this adds up to a rather tidy sum - but now he has to write a play for Spain and one for England. As he leaves, he spots Phillpes in a side room, and suspects that Phelippes is playing some sort of game.

So the Spanish, who suspect Shakespeare of plotting against them, decide to derail any plot by simply giving him a comission to keep him busy? As a literary device, this could lead to a pretty clever plot, but it doesn't work so well in terms of real world logic.

Gnoman fucked around with this message at 03:54 on Dec 23, 2019

Feb 11, 2014

"What we therefore hath joined together, let Gnoman put asunder..."



"Shakespeare will write a play on the life of his most Catholic Majesty?" Lope de Vega dug a finger in his ear, as if to make sure he'd heard correctly. "Shakespeare?"

Captain Baltasar Guzmán nodded. "Yes, that is correct. You seem surprised, Senior Lieutenant."

"No, your Excellency. I seem astonished. With the Archbishop of Canterbury and, it appears to me, everyone else in the world suspecting him of treason, why give him such a plum? He is, without a doubt, a fine writer--"

"And you are, without a doubt, naive." Guzmán smiled. Lope made himself smile back, in lieu of picking up his stool and braining his arrogant little superior with it. That supercilious smile still on his face, Captain Guzmán continued, "If Shakespeare is well paid, he may be less inclined to treason. This has been known to happen before. If he writes a play praising King Philip, he may be too busy to get into mischief." He ticked off points on his fingers as he made them.

"But what sort of play will he write?" Lope asked. "If he is a traitor--I don't believe it, mind you, but if he is--won't he slander the King instead of praising him?"

"Not with the Master of the Revels looking over his shoulder every moment," Guzmán replied. "If the Master finds even a speck of slander in the play, it will not go on the stage--and Señor Shakespeare will answer a great many pointed questions from the English Inquisition, from Queen Isabella and King Albert's intelligencers, and from Don Diego Flores de Valdés. Shakespeare may be a poet, but I do not think him a fool. He will know this, and give us what we require."

Lope didn't care for the way Captain Guzmán eyed him. You are a poet, and I do think you a fool, the nobleman might have said. But what he had said made more than a little sense. "It could be," de Vega admitted reluctantly.

"Generous of you to agree. I am sure Don Diego will be relieved," Guzmán said. Lope stiffened. He was more used to giving out sarcasm than to taking it. Guzmán pointed at him. "And one more thing will help keep us safe against any danger from Señor Shakespeare."

"What's that, your Excellency?"

"You, Senior Lieutenant."

"Your Excellency?"

"You," Baltasar Guzmán repeated. "Shakespeare is writing about King Philip of Spain. You are a Spaniard. You are also mad for the English theatre. What could be more natural than that you tell the Englishman what he needs to know of his Most Catholic Majesty, and that you stay with his troupe to make sure all goes well? He will be grateful for it, don't you think?"

"What I think," Lope said, "is that you may be committing a sin under the eyes of God by making me enjoy myself so much."

Captain Guzmán laughed. "I will mention it to the priest the next time I confess. I think my penance will be light."

"I hope you're right. . . . You order me to go to the Theatre, sir?" de Vega asked. His superior nodded. Lope wondered how much liberty he'd just received. "This will be the whole of my duty till the play goes before an audience?"

Guzmán nodded again. The pleasure that shot through Lope was so intense, he thought he would have to add it to his next confession. But then the nobleman said, "This is for the time being. It may change later. And if any emergency or uprising should occur--"

"God forbid it!"

"God forbid it, indeed. But if it should, you will help meet it as I think best."

"Of course, your Excellency. This goes without saying. I am, first of all, a servant of his Most Catholic Majesty, as is every Spanish man in this dark, miserable land."

"Muy bien. I did want to make sure we had everything clear." Something flickered in Baltasar Guzmán's eyes. Amusement? Malice? Perhaps a bit of both: "And with you, Senior Lieutenant, I was not sure anything went without saying. Buenos días."

"Buenos días," Lope echoed. He rose, bowed himself almost double, and left the captain's chamber without showing he'd felt, or even noticed, the gibe. It was either that or draw his rapier and have at Guzmán. He didn't want to fight. For one thing, the man was his superior, and entitled to such jests. For another, although de Vega did not despise his own skill with a sword, Captain Guzmán was something of a prodigy with a blade in his hand. Set against the requirements of honor, that shouldn't have mattered. The world being as it was, it did.

De Vega returns to his rooms, where his servant Diegao is, of course, fast asleep. Kicking him awake, De Vega informs Dieago of his new duties, with a very stern warning that he will not tolerate Diego using this distraction to spend more time asleep.

Well, at least the oddity of the situation is called out and somewhat justified. This is a very good way to ensure that De Vega is pitted against Shakespeare, as he's being assigned as Shakespeare's personal watchdog.


"Life is hard for a servant with a cruel master." Diego sighed. "Life is hard for any servant, but especially for one so unlucky."

"If I were a cruel master, you would already be up on the Scottish border, or sent to Ireland, or else tied to the whipping post on account of your laziness," Lope said. "Maybe that would wake you up. Nothing else seems to."

"I do what I have to do, señor," Diego said with dignity.

"You do half of what you have to do, and none of what a good servant ought to do," de Vega retorted. "Maybe you should fall in love. You'd stay awake for your lady, and you just might stay awake for me, too."

"Fall in love with an Englishwoman? Not me, señor." Diego shook his head so vigorously, his jowls wobbled back and forth. He didn't seem to have slept through any meals. With a sly smile, he added, "Look what Englishwomen have given you--nothing but trouble. And I don't need a woman to give me trouble, not when I've got a master."

For a moment, Lope sympathized with his servant. His own superior, Captain Guzmán, had given him a good deal of trouble, too. But Guzmán had also just given him the freedom of the English theatre. That made up for all the trouble he'd ever had from the cocky little nobleman, and then some. And, no matter what fat, lumpish Diego said, women had their uses, too.

Lope De Vega is not only an rear end in a top hat here, he's a stupid rear end in a top hat. In two out of three chapters, he's fallen into mockery and embarassmant because he can't stop chasing women. This is a pattern.

Chapter IV, Part 3 : Shakespeare.


RICHARD BURBAGE STARED at Shakespeare. "Tell it me again," the big, burly player said. "The dons are fain to have you make a play on the life of Philip?"

"Even so," Shakespeare said unhappily. The two stood alone on the outthrust stage of the Theatre. No apple-munching, beer-swilling, wench-pinching groundlings gaped at them from the open area around it; no richer folk peered from the galleries. It was still morning--rehearsal time. The afternoon's play would be Prince of Denmark. Burbage would play the Prince, Shakespeare his father's ghost. He'd just emerged through the trap door from the damp, chilly darkness under the stage. He'd written the lines they were practicing, but Burbage remembered them more readily than he did. On the stage, nothing fazed Burbage.

He threw back his head and laughed now, both hands on his comfortable belly. A couple of the tireman's assistants and an early-arriving vendor turned their heads his way, hoping they might share the jest. He waved to them, as if to say it was none of their affair. Had Shakespeare done that, they would have ignored him. Burbage they took seriously, and went back to whatever they'd been doing. Shakespeare sighed. Not by accident was Burbage a leading man.

Mirth still shining in his eyes, Burbage spoke for Shakespeare's ear alone: "Well, my duck, one thing it shows beyond doubt's shadow."

"What's that?" the poet asked.

"They suspect not your other commission."

"But how am I to do both?" Shakespeare demanded in an impassioned whisper. "Marry, how? 'Tis the most unkindest cut of all, Dick. Two plays at once? That will drive me mad, and madder till I see which be fated to journey from pen and paper to--this." His wave encompassed the painted glory of the Theatre.

"A pretty gesture," Burbage remarked. "Do you use it when appearing, thus." He crouched as if coming up through the trap door, then stood with a broader, more extravagant version of Shakespeare's wave. " 'Twill help to draw the auditory into the business of the play."

"I'll do't," Shakespeare said, but he refused to let the other man distract him. "I've not yet sounded the whole of the company on the other. After this, how can I? They'll take me for the Spaniards' dog, and think I purpose luring 'em to treason."

Burbage reassures Shakespeare that the company knows that Shakespeare is too honest a man for such a ploy. Shakespeare objects that he'd die almost immediately if he were that honest, with Burbage insisting that Shakespeare is wrong. If Shakespeare were honest to all, he'd die very, very slowly.

The conversation moves on to the play, with Burbage being rather fatalistic about the whole thing. It is Gods will which play the company will perform, and that's that.

Shakespeare is disappointed and somewhat alarmed to realize that Burbage genuinley does not care which play goes on. The company will make money either way, which is what is important. Shakespeare considers this to be something of a security risk.

Burbage's interpretation of events makes far more sense than what is really going on in the plot. This is a weakness - having multiple characters call out just how absurd a plot point is does not make the plot any less absurd, so it has to stand by itself still. I'm not entirely sure that this one does.

Will Kemp, like Burbage, is concerned with King Philip only so far as making sure his own role is correct.


Will Kemp sidled up to him, still carrying the skull he'd use while playing the gravedigger come the afternoon performance. "You'll give me some words wherewith to make 'em laugh, is't not so?" he said, working the jawbone wired to the skull so that it seemed to do the talking.

"Be still, old bones," Shakespeare said.

Kemp tossed the skull in the air and caught it upside down. That only made its empty-eyed leer more appalling. "Philip's such a pompous, praying, prating pig, any play which hath him in't will need somewhat of leavening, lest it prove too heavy for digestion." The clown's voice became a high, wheedling whine.

"Here is the first I've heard you care a fig for the words I do give you," Shakespeare said tartly. "It were better that those who play own clowns speak no more than is set down for them."

Kemp's flexible face twisted into an expression so preposterous, even Shakespeare couldn't help smiling. "But Master William, my dove, my pet, my chick, my poppet," the clown cooed, "the pith of't it is, as I've said aforetimes, the groundlings laugh louder for my words than for yours."

"I pith on you and the groundlings both." Shakespeare stood with his legs spraddled wide, as if easing himself. Will Kemp gaped at him. Forestalled, by God! Shakespeare thought. You were about to make your own pissy quibble, and looked not for the like from me. He added, "The Devil take your laughs when they flaw the shape of my play, as I've said before. Hear you me now?"

This really piths Kemp off, and the clown stalks off. Kemp's self-centered attitude does not reassure Shakespeare, and he becomes more and more convinced that the whole enterprise is doomed - the only mystery is who exactly will sell him out. This, inevitably, leads him to contemplate what will happen when his treason against Spain is discovered.


He wouldn't be burned alive, not for treason, or most of him wouldn't. They would haul him to Tower Hill on a hurdle, and hang him till he was almost dead. Then they'd cut him down and draw him as if he were a sheep in a shambles. They'd throw his guts into the fire while he watched, if he was unlucky enough to keep life in him yet. That done, they would quarter him and display his head and severed limbs on London Bridge and elsewhere around the city to dissuade others from such thoughts and deeds.

He shuddered. That was English law; Elizabeth had used Catholics who plotted against her thus. For all he knew, the Spaniards had worse punishments for traitors.

This is an accurate description of hanging, drawing, and quartering, which was the maximum sentence for men (women were burned until 1790, when the sentence was reduced to hanging) accused of treason against the Crown in England from 1352 until 1814. After 1814, the sentence was reduced to hanging until dead and posthumous drawing and quartering, and in 1870 the penalty was reduced to simple hanging. The sentence was further reduced to life imprisonment with the final abolition of the death penalty in 1996.

Shakespeare is shaken out of his dark reverie by Jack Hungerford, who is there to get him dressed to act as the ghost in Hamlet Prince Of Denmark. Shakespeare is annoyed by Hungerford's coddling, but cooperates as he takes his place. The smoke to hide the trapdoor he uses to appear on stage is generated by a bowl full of paper scraps that he sets on fire just before appearing.


He did make a point of remembering the candle. Hungerford would never have let him live it down had he forgotten after their skirmish. He also made a point of carrying it carefully, so he didn't have to come back and start it burning again. Not out, brief candle, he thought. Light this fool the way through dusty gloom.

He had to walk doubled over; had the stage been high enough to let him straighten up, it would have been too high to let the standing groundlings see the action on it. He peered out at the crowd through chinks and knotholes. He couldn't see much--the men and women in front blocked his view of those farther back. His ears told him more than his eyes could. It sounded like a full house, or something close, and it sounded like an enthusiastic one.

"It'll like thee well, Lucy," said a man standing close enough to Shakespeare for his voice to be distinct among the multitude. "The Prince of Denmark, he feigns he's mad, so--"

"Go to, Hal!" Lucy broke in. "I've not seen it afore, and I shan't thank thee for spoiling the devisings."

God bless you, Lucy. You're a woman of sense, Shakespeare thought. He knew too many playwrights who were too fond of boasting of their machinations. He thought them fond in the other sense of the word, for their plays seemed insipid to him when he knew ahead of time everything that happened.

More proof that this is Hamlet, of course. I do like the way he worked the reference to Macbeth into Shakespeare's internal monologue. Also, I like Lucy here.

Shakespeare has a few appearances with no lines, with an assistant bringing him a fresh bowl of paper after each. Even here his bad mood persists.


He had no lines here, or in his next couple of appearances. He had but to stand, looking ominous and menacing, till his cue to stalk off, and then go below once more. One of the tireman's helpers crawled out to bring him another bowl full of bits of paper and a fresh candle. "You nigh gasted them out of their hose, Master Shakespeare," he whispered.

"Good," Shakespeare whispered back. "Get thee gone." The tireman's helper went back the way he'd come. Shakespeare crouched in the smoke under the stage, fuming a little himself. I'd best know how to frighten them with the ghost, he thought. If not I, then who? He had failed once or twice: he'd been bad, or the audience had been bad, or who could say what had gone wrong? He didn't dwell on the failures. Every player had them, in every role. But he'd made the most of the part far more often. And so I shall again today.

He hadn't long to brood. The ghost appeared again in the first scene, and again vanished without a word. Then he appeared once more in the fourth scene of the first act. He was once more silent, but he beckoned to Burbage as the astonished Prince of Denmark.

The fifth scene was his. He had to vanish once more at the end of the fourth, then come back up on stage through a trap door closer to the tiring room. And he had his lines, urging the Prince to action against his murderous uncle. Shakespeare spoke them in a rumbling, echoing voice that might indeed have come from beyond the grave. Gasps and a couple of muffled squeals told him his words and looks were striking home. He remembered to use the gesture Burbage had liked during the rehearsal. The other player beamed. Shakespeare wasn't sure it really added anything, but it pleased Burbage and it didn't hurt.

The play continues until Shakespeare's role is done, at which point he flees from the smoke-filled area under the stage and aggressively begins to clean himself off. Burbage takes advantage of a scene he's not in to zip back and praise Shakespeare for his portrayal.


He washed again, then dried himself once more. "Better," Burbage said. "And the specter was as fine as you've ever given him." He imitated the gesture he'd urged Shakespeare to use. "Saw you how the audience clung to your every word thereafter, you having drawn them into the action thus?"

Shakespeare had seen no such thing, but he didn't feel like arguing. Things had gone well, no matter why. That would do. "They did seem pleased," he said.

"As they had reason to be. And now I needs must dash--I'm before 'em again in a moment." Burbage clapped Shakespeare on the shoulder, then hurried back toward the stage.

In his shirt and hose, Shakespeare watched the rest of The Prince of Denmark from the wings. In his present mood, a scene just past pleased him most: the one where the Prince admonished the players to speak trippingly and warned the clowns against making up their own lines. He stood for every poet ever born.

Well, looks like he's still unhappy with Kemp.

Marlow visits, and is immediately told to stop smoking his pipe.


"I will not, by God," Marlowe said, and took another puff. His eye swung to the beardless youth who'd played Ophelia, and who was now getting back into the clothes proper to his sex. "All they who love not tobacco and boys are fools. Why, holy communion would have been much better being administered in a tobacco pipe."

He reveled in scandal and blasphemy. Knowing as much, Shakespeare didn't react with the horror his fellow poet tried to rouse. Instead, he said, "Put it by, or I'll break it, and that gladly. Having spent the whole of the first act beneath the stage, I'm smoked and to spare, smoked as a Warwickshire sausage."

"Ah. Then you have reason for asking. I'll do't." And Marlowe did, knocking the pipe against the sole of his shoe and grinding out the coals with his foot. He gave Shakespeare a mocking bow. "Your servant, sir."

"Gramercy." Shakespeare returned the bow as if he hadn't noticed the mockery. Nothing could be better calculated to annoy Marlowe.

Or so he thought, especially when Marlowe gave him a shark's smile and said, "drat you again, Will."

"What, for speaking you soft? An I huff and fume, will't like you better?"

"No, no, no." Marlowe made as if to push him away. "I know the difference 'twixt small and great. De minibus non curat lex. No, drat you for your Prince of Denmark."

This time, Shakespeare bowed in earnest. "Praise from the master's praise indeed."

"In this play, you are my master. And, since I fancy not being mastered, I aim t'overcome you. There are Grecian pots, 'tis said, with figures limned in contortions wild, and with the painter's brag writ above 'em: ‘As Thus-and-So, my rival, never did.' After first seeing The Prince of Denmark last year, I set to work on Yseult and Tristan, afore which I shall not write, ‘As Shakespeare never did,' but, when you watch it, you may take the thought as there."

"And then my turn will come round again, to see how I may outmatch you." Shakespeare's early tragedies owed a good deal to Marlowe, who'd led the theatre when Shakespeare came to London from his provincial home. Since then, Marlowe had chased him more often than the reverse. "We do spur each other on."

Marlowe's line about tobacco and boys here is one that was attributed to him by the informer Richard Baines, who also accused Marlowe of evangelical athiesm, Catholicism, and blasphemy. Most scholars now consider this denunciation to be slander, and place little stock in it. This is the main source for the modern notion that Marlowe was homosexual himself, although there are some themes in his plays to support the notion.

"Yseult and Tristan", more commonly rendered "Tristan and Iseult" or "Tristan and Isolde" is a legendary tragedy of the doomed romance between Tristan Prince of Cornwall and the Irish princess Isolde who is married to Tristan's uncle Mark, King of Cornwall. The legend is known to date back to the 11th century, although there is some evidence to suggest that the tale is even older. It has been cited as the inspiration for the tale of Lancelot and Guenivere in various versions of the Arthurian mythos, and the entire thing was inserted directly into the court of King Arthur by Malory.

Probably the most famous adaptation today is the 1865 opera by Richard Wagner.

It is an entirely plausible source for an Elizabethan play, but the notion of a Marlowe play derived from it appears to be an invention of Turtledove.

Marlowe naturally knows about King Philip, and seems to be testing Shakespeare's loyalty to the plot. Shakespeare is spared from answering by the arrival of De Vega, in whose presence the plot must not be mentioned. Marlowe, as is typical of his behavior in this book, is acting like a boy playing spy games. He greets De Vega enthusiastically, praising the reception of La Dama Boba and regretting that he doesn't know enough Spanish to follow it himself.

De Vega is delighted with the praise, but that won't stop him from interrogating Shakespeare.


The Spaniard turned to him. "You will tell me at once, Master Shakespeare: is the Prince of Denmark mad, or doth he but feign his affliction?"

Marlowe's eyes gleamed. "I have asked myself that very question. So would any man of sense, on seeing the play. But here we have a man of better sense, for he asks not himself but the poet!"

"He is but mad north-northwest," Shakespeare answered. "When the wind is southerly he knows a hawk from a handsaw."

"Fie on you!" de Vega said, as Marlowe burst out laughing. Lope went on, "You give back the Prince's words, not your own."

"But, good my sir, if the Prince's words be not my own, whose then are they?" Shakespeare said, his voice as innocent as he could make it. "Certes, I purpose the question being asked. And I purpose each hearer to answer in himself, for himself."

This bit of play concluded, De Vega gets down to business. He brings up King Philip and offers every assistance in the endeavour. Shakespeare tries to deflect, but Lope insists on playing a key part. Shakespeare is on the verge of erupting before Marlowe of all people quitely urges caution.


Shakespeare wanted to shriek. He couldn't tell de Vega everything he wanted to, or even a fraction of it. But . . . "Tacite, Will," Marlowe said quickly.

In Latin, that meant be quiet. In English, it would have been good advice. Even in Latin, it was good advice. But was it also something more? Was it an allusion to Tacitus and to the Annals? How much did Marlowe know? How much did he want to show that he knew? And how much did Lope know, and how much was Marlowe liable to reveal to him for no more reason than that he could not take the good advice he so casually gave?

One of Lieutenant de Vega's eyebrows rose. In slow Latin of his own, he asked, "And why should Magister Guglielmus keep silent, I pray you?"

drat you, Kit, Shakespeare thought. But Marlowe, a university man as fluent in Latin as in English, kept right on in the ancient tongue: "Why? To keep from offering you the role of Philip himself, of course. I doubt his company would stand for it, and I am certain Master Burbage's fury at being balked of the hero's role would know no bounds." He talked himself out of trouble almost as readily as he talked himself into it.

This, of course, brings Burbage into the discussion, who demands to be informed what Marlowe was saying about him in Latin. The assurance that it was merely an admonition that the title role in King Philip belongs to Burbage and Burbage alone mollifies him, and he turns the whole thing into a dirty joke.

Shakespeare ends the scene wondering how exactly he's going to plot treason against Spain with a Spanish officer stuck to him like glue.

Chapter IV, Part 3: De Vega


LOPE DE VEGA couldn't have screamed louder or more painfully as a betrayed lover. He knew that for a fact; he'd screamed such screams before. This, however . . . "But, sir, you promised me!" he cried.

"I am sorry, Lieutenant," said Captain Guzmán, who sounded not sorry in the least. "I warned that, in an emergency, I would shift your duty. Here we have an emergency, and so I shall shift you."

"A likely story." Lope was convinced his superior intended to drive him mad. Guzmán knew how to make his intentions real, too. "What kind of emergency?"

"A soothsayer, prophesying against Spain and against King Philip," Guzmán answered.

"Oh," Lope said in crestfallen tones. Unfortunately, that was an emergency. Soothsayers and witches and what the English called cunning men caused no end of trouble. But then he had a brighter, more hopeful thought. "Could not the holy inquisitors deal with this false prophet? Surely such a rogue breaks God's law before he breaks man's."

Baltasar Guzmán shook his head. "They call it treason first and blasphemy only afterwards. They have washed their hands of the fellow."

"As Pilate did with our Lord," de Vega said bitterly.

"Senior Lieutenant . . ." Guzmán drummed his fingers on the desk. "Senior Lieutenant, I bear you no ill will. You should thank God and the Virgin and the saints that I bear you no ill will. Were it otherwise, the Inquisition would hear of that remark, and then, in short order, you would hear from the Inquisition. You have your pen, and some freedom in how you use it. You would be wise to guard your tongue."
He was right. That hurt worse than anything else. "I thank you, your Excellency," Lope mumbled, hating to have to thank the man at whom he was furious. He sighed. "Well, if there's no help for it, I'd best get the business over with as fast as I can. Who is this soothsayer, and where can I find him?"

"He is called John . . . Walsh." Captain Guzmán made heavy going of the English surname. "He dwells in"--the officer checked his notes--"in the ward called Billingsgate, in Pudding Lane. He is by trade a butcher of hogs, but he is to be found more often in a tavern than anywhere else."

"May I find him in a tavern!" Lope exclaimed. "I know Pudding Lane too well, and know its stinks. They make so much offal there, it goes in dung boats down to the Thames."

"Wherever you find him, seize him and clap him in gaol. We'll try him and put him to death and be rid of him once for all," Guzmán said. As de Vega turned to go, his superior held up a hand. "Wait. Don't hunt this, ah, Walsh yourself. Take a squad of soldiers. Better, take two. When you catch him, the Englishmen he has fooled are liable to try a rescue. You will want swords and pikes and guns at your back."

De Vega finds this advice dubious - alone he might be able to simply snatch the soothsayer and run. He follows orders nonetheless, and rounds up a squad of soldiers eager to stamp out a source of discontent. The sight of a squad of soldiers moving together draws jeers and a band of ruffians that attempt to hold them up. Before a fight can start, however, the mob decides that taking on armed and armored Spaniards while wielding clubs and wearing ordinary clothes is not a wise idea, and scatter.

After getting lost, then getting lost again from bad directions, they find a Catholic who gives them good directions.


So did Lope. "We may find this Walsh and something to drink together," he said, "for I hear he prophesies in taverns."

The soldier who'd spoken before guffawed. "And after he's drunk enough, he's one of these piss-prophets," he said, which got a laugh from everyone else. Plenty of people made a living divining the future--or saying they did--by examining their clients' urine.

Someone emptied a chamber pot from a second-story window. No way to be sure if the stinking contents were aimed at the Spaniards. A couple of men--including the fellow who'd made the joke--got splashed, but most of the stuff just went into the mud of the street, which already held more than its fair share of ordure and piss. "Eh, Sancho, now you're a piss-prophet," one of the other troopers said. Sancho's reply was almost as pungent as the air.

Pudding Lane was only a couple of blocks long, but made up in stench what it lacked in length. De Vega marveled that he hadn't found it by scent. Along with all the usual London miasmas, he smelled pig poo poo, pig piss, rotting swine's flesh, pig fear. "Any man from this street must be a false prophet," he said, "for not even God Himself could stand getting close enough to him to tell him anything."

He started asking after John Walsh. "I don't ken the man," one hog butcher said. "Never heard of him," said a second. "An he be who I think he is, he died o' the French pox summer afore last," a third said. "A went home to Wales, a did, whence a came," a fourth offered. "Seek him in Southwark. He dwelleth there these days, with a punk from a pick-hatch," a fifth declared.

Patiently, Lope kept asking. Sooner or later, he was bound to come on someone who either favored Isabella and Albert or simply craved peace and quiet. And he did. A lean man in a pigskin apron looked up from his work and said, "Belike you'll find him in the Blue Fox, half a block toward the Tower in East Cheap."

Again, Lope translated for his men. "A good thing we have you with us, señor," irrepressible Sancho said. "If we had to look for interpreters, everything would take three times as long, and like as not they'd tell us more lies than truth."

De Vega wasn't sure the lean man hadn't told a lie. But the tavern, to his relief, did prove easy to find. A signboard with the silhouette of a running fox, bright blue, hung above the door. "You men stay here in the street," Lope said. "I'll go in alone. If God is kind, I'll hear the man speaking treason from his own lips. Then I'll signal for you. "If not"--he shrugged--"again, it's God's will."

"Honor to your courage, Lieutenant," a soldier said.

"This for courage." Lope snapped his fingers. "I want to deal with this fellow as quickly as may be, for I have business of my own to attend to." Some of the men winked and sniggered and made lewd jokes he only half heard. Thanks to his reputation, they thought he meant business with a woman, or with more than one. But is not the Muse a woman, too? he thought.

Lope heads into the tavern and orders ale, which he can say without a betraying accent. Sure enough, the butcher begins a long sermon on the evils of Spain, drawing heavily on the book of Matthew.


He switched from Matthew to Revelations, but Lope had heard enough. Setting down his mug, he ducked out of the Blue Fox and beckoned to the soldiers. With them behind him, he stormed back into the tavern and shouted out a verse from Matthew that John Walsh had skipped: " ‘And many false prophets shall arise, and shall deceive many.' " Then he switched to Spanish, shouting, "Arrest that man there on the table. Santiago and forward!"

"Santiago!" the soldiers roared. They rushed toward the preaching pig butcher.

"Limb of Satan!" an Englishman cried. He hurled his mug at Lope, who ducked. The mug shattered on the morion of the man behind him. Another flying mug hit a Spaniard in the face. He fell with a groan, his nose smashed and bloody.

A moment later, a Spanish sword bit into the pig butcher who'd thrown the mug that hurt the soldier. The Englishman shrieked. More blood spurted, improbably red. "Let it begin here, as St. John the Divine saith it shall begin at the end of days!" John Walsh bellowed. "The star called Wormwood and the smiting of the sun! Ay, let it begin here!"

"Wormwood!" the Englishmen yelled.

Lope wondered if they knew what the word meant. Not likely, he judged, but it made a fine rallying cry even so. As for him, he shouted, "We must take the false preacher now, or London goes up in riot!" It had happened before, though not for four or five years. If it happened again, the blame would land on him. Where would they send him then? The Scottish border? The Welsh mountains? Ireland, which was supposed to be worse than either? Was any place worse than Ireland? If any was, they'd send him there.

An arquebus bellowed, deafeningly loud in the close tavern. The lead ball buried itself in the wall. After that, the firearm was good for nothing but a clumsy club. In a tavern brawl, bludgeons and knives and swords counted for more than guns. De Vega wished for a firearm that shot more than one ball, or at least for one that could be reloaded quickly. Wishing didn't help.

The Spaniards' armor did. So did the extra distance at which they could do harm, thanks to their swords. But then an Englishman, an enormous fellow, picked up a bench and swung it like a club. The weapon was clumsy but potent. The Englishman felled two soldiers in quick succession.

Another swing almost caved in Lope's skull. But he ducked, stepped close, and stabbed the big man in the stomach with his rapier. The bench fell from the man's hands as he wailed and clutched at himself. "Come on!" Lope shouted. Only a small knot of stubborn defenders still protected John Walsh.

"Let's away out the back door!" one of them said. De Vega cursed in sonorous Spanish. He hadn't known the Blue Fox had a back door. He hurled himself at the Englishmen, doing his best to forestall their escape.

A couple of them tried to hustle Walsh toward the back of the tavern. They might have pulled him to safety, but he didn't seem to want to go. "Nay, nay!" he cried, struggling in their grasp as if they were arresting him. "Let it begin here! It must begin here!"

Sancho tackled him. When he went down, half a dozen Spaniards leaped on him, while the rest drove back or knocked down the Englishmen still on their feet. "Is he still alive?" Lope asked.

"Yes, Senior Lieutenant. He'll live to hang," one of his troopers answered.

"After this, I think hanging's too good for him," Lope said. "But tie him up and gag him. Gag him well, by God, or the filth he shouts out will bring the English down on us before we can get him to safety."

Even as things were, stones flew when they emerged from the Blue Fox. But another arquebusier brought his match to the touch-hole of his weapon. It roared and belched forth a great cloud of pungent smoke. And the ball, as much by luck as anything else, knocked an Englishman kicking. The others drew back, naive enough to believe the Spaniards likely to hit twice in a row. Knowing better than they what arquebuses could do, Lope silently thanked them for their caution.

Presented unedited because it is the first major action scene in the books. Turtledove does this, at least, fairly well - I could see this scene being played out in a movie quite easily, and he doesn't get bogged down in minute details. He does, however, underestimate the humble arquebus here. Any matchlock smoothbore is fairly inaccurate by the standards of a later age, but this mostly shows at battle ranges. At stone-throwing range, any soldier who's actually trying could probably hit a man.

De Vega delivers his prisoner, and is granted permission to return to his primary duty at the theatre.

Chapter IV, Part 4: Shakespeare

Shakespeare's boarding house has a new lodger to replace the one who fled - an extremely poor and clumsy man named Sam King who keeps stepping on Shakespeare. Buoyed by good income from the theatre, which has been doing very well with Christmas approaching, he decides to give King enough money for a threepenny supper. We also hear of a second new lodger, a woman named Cicely Sellis who has hired an entire room from the stingy landlady, at what must be a fairly exorbiant cost.
Shakespeare heads off to his own dining establishment with his manuscript and pen.


Shakespeare got out his writing tools and took them to the ordinary he favored. He was relieved not to find his fellow lodger there; King would have insisted on chattering at him when he wanted to work. Love's Labour's Won was almost done. He needed to finish it as fast as he could, too. For one thing, the company's patience was wearing thin. For another, he didn't know how long he had till Philip of Spain died. He would need to have both his special commissions ready by then, whichever one actually saw the light of day.

Kate the serving woman came up to him. "God give you good even, Master Will," she said. "The threepenny is barley porridge with boiled beef." He nodded. She went on, "There's lambswool, if you'd liefer have it than the common brewing."

"I would, and I thank you for't," Shakespeare answered. On a chilly December evening, warm spiced beer would go down well.

Maybe the lambswool helped his thoughts flow freely. Whatever the cause, he sat and wrote till he was the last man left in the ordinary. Only when his candle flame began to leap and gutter as the candle neared extinction did he reluctantly pick up his papers and quills and ink and go back to the lodging house.

Arriving back home long after curfew, he builds up the fire -much to the irritation of his stingy landlady- and continues to write at the same feverish pace. Gradually, however, he realizes that he is not alone. The new lodger, Cicely Sellis, has been watching him.
As far as I can tell, "lambswool" is a term derived from a corruption of the Celtic phrase La mas ubal ("Day of the Apple Fruit"), and is a drink made by pouring hot ale (or cider) over pulped apples and spices - sugar, nutmeg and ginger.


"Give you good den," she said when he looked up. "I misliked troubling you, your pen scratching along so fast."

"I do thank you for the courtesy," Shakespeare answered. "There are those--too many of 'em, too--will break into a writing man's thoughts for no more reason than to see him stop and scuff the ground, wondering what he meant next to say."

"Some folk, able themselves to shape naught of beauty, are fain to mar another's work, for that they may not find themselves outdone. An you'd back to't, make as though I am not here. You'll offend me not." Cicely Sellis was five or ten years older than Shakespeare. She'd probably been a striking woman till smallpox scarred her face; beneath the flawed skin, her bones were very fine. She wore no ring. Shakespeare didn't know whether she was spinster or widow.

"Again, my thanks," he said. When he stretched, something crunched in his back. It felt good. He twisted, hoping he could get more relief. He noticed his hand was cramped, and wondered how long he'd been writing all told. "I can pause here. I have the way now, and shall not wander from it when I resume."

"Right glad I am to hear you say so." A gray tabby wandered in after Cicely Sellis. It stropped itself against her ankles. She bent and scratched it behind the ears. It began to buzz. It wasn't a big cat, but purred very loudly. "There, Mommet, there," she murmured. When she looked up again, she asked, "You'll soon have finished the play, Master Shakespeare?"

She expresses desire to see the play when it is finished if she can get free from her business. On inquiring, he learns that she works for herself, and he would be wise to come to her if he wanted questions answered.


"Ah." He'd wondered what she did. No wonder she'd wanted a room all to herself. "You are a cunning woman, then?" He wouldn't say witch, even if they amounted to the same thing.

And Cicely Sellis, sensibly, wouldn't answer straight out. "Marry, Master Shakespeare, in this world of men a woman needs must be cunning, mustn't she, if she's to make her way? Now I hear something, now I say something, and the world turns round." She nodded almost defiantly, as if to say, Make of that what you will.

Shakespeare didn't know what to make of it. In London as elsewhere in England, elsewhere all through Christendom, witches, or people claiming to be witches, were a fact of life. They did at least as much good for the sick as fancy physicians, as far as he could tell. Did they take their power from Satan? People said they did. Now here before him stood one of the breed. He could ask her himself, if he had the nerve.

He didn't.

"I am . . . content with my lot," he said. If she were truly a witch, she would see he was lying.

He couldn't tell whether she did or not. She gave him half a curtsy. Her eyes glinted, as the cat Mommet's might have done. "No small thing have you said there, nor no common thing, neither," she replied at last. "The richest man in the world, be he never so healthy, be he wed to a young and beautiful wife who loveth him past all reason, hath he contentment? Not likely! He will hunger for more gold, or for more strength of body, or for some other wench besides the one he hath, or for all those things together. Is't not so, Master Shakespeare?"

"Before God, Mistress Sellis, I think you speak sooth," Shakespeare answered.
As the conversation continues, he becomes increasingly uncomfortable with the deep, measuring way she looks at him.


Mommet suddenly stopped purring. His fur puffed out till he looked twice his proper size. He hissed like a snake. A freezing draught blew under the door, making the hair on Shakespeare's arms prickle up, too, and sending a swarm of bright sparks up the chimney as the flames flared.

In a deep, slow voice not quite her own, Cicely Sellis said, "Beware the man who brings good news, and he who knows less than he seems."

"What?" Shakespeare said.

She is confused, and professes to know nothing of what she just said, even after he repeats the words back. She uses this opportunity to retire to her rooms, cat following behind her. Shakespeare spends some more time trying to write, deeply disturbed. With little further progress, he heads to bed, confident that he will finish the play very soon.

Turtledove notes in the afterword that there was a real woman named Cicely Sellis that was accused of witchcraft around this time, but that she is not the character in the novel. Turtledove's Sellis is a wholly fictional character.


His bedroom was dark when he went in. Jack Street's snores made the chamber hideous. Shakespeare knew he himself would have no trouble sleeping despite the racket; he'd had time to get used to it. How--indeed, whether--Sam King could manage was a different question.

Shakespeare didn't bother with a candle when he stowed his writing tools in the chest by his bed. He'd dealt with the lock so often in darkness, he might almost have been a blind craftsman whose fingers saw as well as most men's eyes. The click of the key in the lock made Street the snoring glazier mumble and turn over, though how he heard that click through his own thunderstorm was beyond Shakespeare. The poet sighed--quietly--and yawned again.

As he slipped the bottle of ink back into the chest, his fingers brushed a new and hence unfamiliar bulk: the translation of the Annals he'd picked up in front of St. Paul's. " 'Sdeath," he whispered: a curse that was at the same time at least half a prayer. The translation itself was innocent. But if anyone thought to search for it, his death was likely whether it were found or not. That would mean Lord Burghley's plot was betrayed.

He finds sleep elusive, and lies awake for some time pondering what exactly Robert Cecil is planning and how likely it is to work; how he is to recruit the company to the plot without exposing it should a player balk; exactly what was going on with Sellis and where her strange warning came - from her, from God, or from Satan. Eventually, he sleeps.

He wakes in the dark - the sun rises late and sets early in England near the winter solstice - and eats a bland breakfast. Of the lodgers, only Sellis remains. The landlady is beaming, and Shakespeare fears that this is a bad sign. Sellis must be paying a lot of money for that room, and he fears that this will lead to an increase in his own rent.


When he went out into the street, he found he would have no accurate notion of when the sun came up, anyhow. Cold, clammy fog clung everywhere. It likely wouldn't lift till noon, if then. Shakespeare sucked in a long, damp breath. When he exhaled, he added fog of his own to that which had drifted up to Bishopsgate from the Thames.

He should have gone straight to the Theatre. He might have found some quiet time to write before the rest of the company came in and began rehearsing for the day's play.

Instead, though, he wandered south and east, away from the suburbs beyond the wall and down towards the river. He didn't know--or rather, didn't care to admit to himself--where he was going till he got there. By the time he neared the lowland by the Thames, the fog hung a little above the ground.

But even the thickest fog would have had a hard time concealing the Tower of London. Its formidable gray stone wall and towers shouldered their way into the air. People said Julius Caesar had first raised the Tower. Shakespeare didn't know whether that was true or not, though he'd used the conceit in a couple of plays. The Tower surely seemed strong and indomitable enough to have stood since Roman days.

However strong it seemed, it hadn't kept the Spaniards out of London. And now, somewhere in there, Queen Elizabeth sat and brooded and waited for--deliverance? Can I help to give it her? Or give I but myself to death?
A fittingly moody end to the chapter. Turtledove's attempts at end-of-chapter impact often fall flat, but this works.
As for the chapter as a whole, it is mostly a slice-of-life affair where relatively little happens. It isn't bad slice-of-life, but it doesn't advance the plot much.

Apr 10, 2010

College Slice

Just as a note, the only actual Rennaisance story of Tristan I could find was one from Belarus. For whatever reason, for about 300 years, with the exception of a few pieces of work like The Fairie Queen, people mostly stopped referring to Arthurian legends, and it wasn't until the 19th century that they became popular again.

Actually, there was a pretty famous debate in the 16th century between Polydore Vergil, the famous Italian humanist who lived for most of his life in England, and wrote a famous history of England, and the historian and antiquarian John Leland over Geoffrey of Monmoth's History of the Kings of Britain. Vergil took the position that the History of the Kings of Britain was not a good history, and that King Arthur was a fictional character, created to try to give the English a national mythology. Leland took the other position, that Arthur was real, and the History was a good history.

Feb 11, 2014

"What we therefore hath joined together, let Gnoman put asunder..."

Epicurius posted:

Just as a note, the only actual Rennaisance story of Tristan I could find was one from Belarus. For whatever reason, for about 300 years, with the exception of a few pieces of work like The Fairie Queen, people mostly stopped referring to Arthurian legends, and it wasn't until the 19th century that they became popular again.

This makes it a good choice for a non-historical work. There's no real author to snub, and it is entirely reasonable for there to have been a play on that subject.
Chapter V, Part 1: De Vega


AFTER CHRISTMAS MASS, Lope de Vega and Baltasar Guzmán happened to come out of the church of St. Swithin together. Lope bowed to his superior. "Feliz Navidad, your Excellency," he said.

Guzmán, polite as a cat, returned the bow. "And a happy Christmas to you as well, Senior Lieutenant," he replied. "I have a duty for you."

De Vega wished he'd ignored courtesy. "On the holy day?" he asked, dismayed.

"Yes, on the holy day." Captain Guzmán nodded. "I am sorry, but it is necessary, and necessary that you do it today." He didn't sound sorry. He never sounded sorry. He was stubborn as a cat, too; he went on, "I want you to take yourself to the church of St. Ethelberge"--another English name he massacred--"and ask the priest there if this poet friend of yours, this Shakespeare, has come to partake of our Lord's body and blood on the anniversary of His birth."

"Ah." However much Lope wished otherwise, Captain Guzmán was right here, as he had been with going after John Walsh--this was a necessary duty. "I shall attend to it directly. And if he has not?"

"If he has not, make note of it, but do no more now," Guzmán replied. "Then we watch him closely ten days from now. If he celebrates Christmas by the old calendar, the forbidden calendar, we shall know him for a Protestant heretic."

"Yes, sir." Lope sighed. "Heretic or not, we surely know him for a splendid poet."

"And if his splendid poetry serves Satan and the foes of Spain, isn't he all the more dangerous for being splendid?" Guzmán said.

And he was right about that, too. Again, Lope wished otherwise. Again, he sighed. But, because Captain Guzmán was right, de Vega asked, "How do I find this church of St. Ethelberge?" He had almost as much trouble with the name as his superior had done, and added, "Where do the English find such people to canonize? Swithin here, Ethelberge there, and I hear there is also a St. Erkenwald in this kingdom. Truly I wonder if Rome has ever heard of these so-called saints."

"I have plenty of worries, but not that one," Baltasar Guzmán said. "If the Inquisition and the Society of Jesus found these saints were fraudulent, the churches dedicated to their memories would not stay open."

He's right yet again, Lope thought, surprised and a little resentful. Three times in a row, all of a Christmas morning. He'd better be careful. If he keeps that up, I may have to start taking him seriously. He wouldn't like that, and I wouldn't, either. Since Guzmán hadn't answered him the first time, he tried again: "How do I find St. Ethelberge's church, Captain?"

"It's Shakespeare's parish church, sí? Shakespeare lives in Bishopsgate, sí? Go to Bishopsgate. You know the way there, sí?" Guzmán waited for Lope to respond. He had to nod, for he did know the way to and through that district: it led out of London proper to the Theatre. "All right, then," the captain told him. "Go to Bishopsgate. If you find the church yourself, fine. If you don't, ask someone. Who wouldn't tell a man how to get to a church on Christmas morning?"

He was, of course, right yet again. "I go," Lope said, and hurried off toward Bishopsgate as much to escape Captain Guzmán and his alarmingly sharp wits as to find out whether Shakespeare had been to Mass. Even though the day was gloomy, London's houses and public buildings made a brave show, being decorated with wreaths and strands of holly and ivy, now and then wound up with broom. Many of the ornaments had candles burning in them, too. In the first couple of years after the coming of the Armada, such signs of the season had been rare. Elizabeth and her heretic advisors discouraged them, as they'd discouraged so many observances from the ritual year. But, with the return of Catholicism, the customs that had flourished before Henry VIII broke with Rome were also coming back to life.

Turteldove's completely wrong here - The Christmas season was a major holiday during the reign of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, filled with feasting, gift-giving, and parties. Shakespeare's own play Twelfth Night (1602) revolves around (and written as an entertainment for) the biggest and most popular festival day, Twelfth Night. The Anglican church continued to foster Christmas celebrations, with Charles I ordering noblemen to their estates in order to participate in the traditional role-reversal merrymaking.

It was not until Charles I was defeated and executed by Cromwell's Parlementarians in 1647 that the Puritans took control of the country and banned Christmas until the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660. After the ban was lifted, Calvinism continued to condemn the holiday, and the heavily Calvinist-influenced Presbytarians of Scotland were so adamant against it that it did not become an official public holiday in Scotland again until 1958. Turtledove seems to have conflated Puritiansim and Calvinism in specific with Protestantism in general.

Also wrong: the name of the church. St Ethelburga-the-Virgin within Bishopsgate is one of the relatively rare structures from Shakespeare's time that was not destroyed in the Great Fire of London - the structure that was concencrated in 1250 stood until 1993, when it was among the structures that were effectively destroyed by a 1 ton bomb consisting of a mixture of ammonium nitrate and diesel fuel set by the Irish Republican Army. Half of the structure remained standing, and the exterior was rebuilt to the original plan, alhtough with a completely different interior.

He finds no difficulty getting directions to the church, and saves a great deal of effort by managing to get there just as Shakespere is leaving Mass. He hides, because the only possible purpose for being here would be the actual one - to spy on Shakespeare. He heads back to barracks to report, only to find Guzman already gone to a feast. He reports to Enrique instead. After Enrique recieves the report, De Vega heads to his room to write. To his astonishment, Diego is not sleeping - indeed, not even present.

Chapter V, Part 2: Shakespeare


A RAGGED MAN on a street corner thrust a bowl of spiced wine at a pretty woman walking by. "Wassail!" he called.

She looked him over, smiled, and nodded at him. "Drinkhail!" she replied. He handed her the bowl and kissed her on the cheek. She drank, then gave him back the bowl.

"A happy New Year to you, sweetheart!" the ragged man called after her as she went on her way. He sang in a surprisingly sweet, surprisingly true baritone:

"Wassail, wassail, as white as my name,

Wassail, wassail, in snow, frost, and hail,

Wassail, wassail, that much doth avail,

Wassail, wassail, that never will fail."

William Shakespeare tossed the fellow a penny. "A happy New Year to you as well, sirrah."

The ragged man doffed his cap. "God bless you on the day, sir!" He held the bowl out to Shakespeare. "Wassail!"

"Drinkhail!" Shakespeare replied, and drank. Returning the bowl, he added, "I'd as lief go without the kiss." Some Grecian, he couldn't remember who, had said the like to Alexander, and paid for it. Marlowe would know the name.

I am unable to find any exact match to this particular custom. Wassail (derived from Wæs þu hæl, or "be thou hale") was a traditional Christmas toast, with Drinkhail (Drinc hæl, "Drink And Be Healthy") as the response, but the closest contxt I can find is Twelfth Night wassailing - going door to door singing and presenting the wassail bowl for gifts in a predecessor to modern caroling.

The drink here is also wrong for the period. In Shakespeare's day, the wassail bowl would have been filled with the same lambswool beverage seen earlier. A simpler mulled cider became common in later days, but the use of wine is primarily a part of modern revivals. In this case, it is possible that the use of spiced wine is a deliberate change that is supposed to reflect Spanish influence.

He continues down the street, paying another wassailer for a different song. He pauses to buy his landlady a present - a new carving knife to replace one she had recently broken the handle on.


He strode past a cutler's shop, then stopped, turned, and went back. The Widow Kendall had broken the wooden handle on her best carving knife not so long before, and had complained about it ever since. She kept talking about taking the knife to a tinker for a new handle, but she hadn't done it. Like as not, she never would get around to doing it, but would grumble about what a fine knife it had been for the rest of her days. A replacement, now, a replacement would make her a fine New Year's present.

"Good morrow, sir, and a joyous New Year to you," the cutler said when Shakespeare stepped inside. "What seek you? An it have an edge, you'll find it here." Shakespeare explained what he wanted, and why. The cutler nodded. "I have the very thing." He offered Shakespeare a knife of about the same size as the one Jane Kendall had used.


They haggled amiably enough. Not for all his poet's eloquence could Shakespeare beat the cutler down very far. At last, still muttering under his breath, he paid. The cutler did give him a leather sheath for the knife. "The better your widow cares for't, the better 'twill serve her. Dirt and wet breed rust as filth breeds maggots."

"I understand." Shakespeare didn't intend to lecture his landlady on housewifery. What the Widow Kendall would say to him if he showed such cheek did not bear thinking about.

He took the knife back to his lodgings. On the way there, he slipped a halfpenny into the sheath. Giving the Widow Kendall the knife without the propitiatory coin would have been inviting her to cut herself with it.

"Oh, God bless you, Master Will!" she exclaimed when he handed her the knife. She gave him a muscular hug and stood on tiptoe to kiss him on the cheek. That was another kiss he could have done without; her breath stank with eating toasted cheese. He did his best to smile as she said, "I've thought me of getting a new one since that handle broke, but. . . ." She shrugged.
Other than thanks, he recieves nothing from her except a mug of ale. He doesn't mind, because that's what he expected. Marlowe, however, does bring a gift when visiting later that day - a lovely copy of the Annals of Tacitius in Latin, bound in maroon leather and stamped with gold. Shakespeare is outraged because Marlowe is playing games with HIS conspiracy, and endangering it.


Showing Marlowe he'd drawn blood only encouraged him to try to draw more. With a smile, Shakespeare answered, "I'm sure I shall. The treason trials under Tiberius, perchance?" Ever so slightly, he stressed the word treason.

Marlowe bared his teeth in something that looked like a smile. "Treason? What word is that? And in what tongue? Tartar? I know it not."

"Perdie, Kit, may that be so," Shakespeare said. "May the day come when that Tartar word's clean forgot in England."

Laughing, Marlowe patted him on the cheek, as an indulgent father might pat a son. "Our lines will fail or ever that word's routed from our . . ." He drew back, sudden concern on his face. "Will, what's amiss?"

"You will find a better time to speak of failing lines than when my only son's but a little more than a year in's grave," Shakespeare said tightly. His fists bunched. He took a step towards the other poet, whom he saw for a moment through a veil of unshed tears.

Marlowe backed away. "Pardon my witlessness, I pray you," he said.

"I will--one day," Shakespeare answered, angry still. Marlowe left the lodging house moments later. Shakespeare wasn't sorry to see him go, not only because of what he'd said but also because he wouldn't linger to make more gibes about Tacitus and treason that might stick in someone's mind.

Hammet Shakespeare, the only son of William Shakespeare and twin brother to his daughter Judith, died at the age of 11 in 1596. The cause is uncertain, although there were known incidences of bubonic plague in the area around that time.

This part I quite like - it humanizes Shakespeare quite a bit - in this passage, he's not a legendary playwright or a conspirator, he's a grieving father.

Quite wisely, Shakespeare braves heavy snows that Sunday to make it to Mass - it is January 4 by the Spanish calendar, but December 25 by the English one. By going out of his way to attend Mass that day, he makes absolutely sure that there is no way anyone can claim that he was celebrating Christmas by the illegal calendar. On the twelfth day of Christmas two days later, he again visits the church and witnesses a play about the Christ child.


Shakespeare found the performances frightful and the dialogue worse, but the audience here wasn't inclined to be critical. In the Theatre, the groundlings would have mewed and hissed such players off the stage, and pelted them with fruit or worse till they fled.

After the holidays, he heads back to the theater with his completed-at-last manuscript. Burbage refuses to even look at it until it had been proofread, cleaned up, and -most importantly- copied into legible handwriting by Geoffrey Martin, the company's prompter and playbook keeper. Martin is also working directly for the goverment censor, Sir Edmund Tilney, meaning that his cooperation is essential for the plot to go forward.

Sir Edmund Tilney was, in fact, the Master of Revels and in charge of censoring stage plays - for Elizabeth I of England. I find it unlikely that the Spaniards would have left one of Elizabeth's courtiers in so vital a position


The prompter was about forty. He'd probably been handsome once, but nasty scars from a fire stretched across his forehead, one cheek, and the back of his left hand. The work he had--precise, important, but out of the public's eye--suited him well.
Martin chastises Shakespeare for the lateness of the play, and then for giving far too detailed stage directions.


"Your pardon, Master Martin," Shakespeare said. "I do essay precision, but--"

"You succeed too well," the prompter told him, also not for the first time. "With directions such as these, you break the action like a man disjointing a roast fowl. Simplicity, sir--simplicity's what wins the race."

Shakespeare wasn't convinced Martin was right. Like any playwright, he wanted things just so, with all the actors moving at his direction as Copernicus and his followers said planets moved around the sun. But the prompter's word carried more weight in such matters than his. As Martin went from one page to the next, Shakespeare did presume to ask, "What think you?"

"Aside from these wretched stage directions, very pleasant, very gay," Geoffrey Martin answered. "Without a doubt, the company will buy the play of you. And then you'll put all your work towards the new King Philip, is't not so?"

"As much of it as I may, yes," Shakespeare answered. The prompter's question gave him the opening he needed: "Tell me, Master Martin, what think you of--?"

But before he could finish the question, Martin lifted a hand. "Hold," he said, and such was the authority in his voice that Shakespeare fell silent. "Here in your second act, you have entering three lords and three ladies."

"I do," Shakespeare agreed, looking down at what he'd written--the second act seemed a long way off these days.

"See you here, though. Only two of these ladies speak: the one Rosaline, the other Katharine. What point to the third one, the one you style Maria?"

"Why, for to balance the third lord, of course," Shakespeare answered.

Geoffrey Martin shook his head. "It sufficeth not. Give her somewhat to do, or else take her out."

"Oh, very well," Shakespeare said testily. "Lend me your pen, then." He scratched out a name and substituted another. "Now hath she this passage, once Katharine's."
This confirms beyond all doubt that "Love's Labours Won" is the historical "Love's Labours Lost". Rosaline, Katharine, and Maria appear in Act II of the play, partnered with three lords.

Martin comments on the character of Adriano di Armatio -a Venetian braggart- commending Shakespeare for not making him a Spaniard, which the Master of Revels would never tolerate.

A bit of a historical joke here - in the actual play the character is Don Adriano de Armado, a Spanish braggart.

Shakespeare pounces on this opportunity to sound Martin out, and asks how much he likes tiptoing around Spanish sensibilites. He does not get the answer he wants.


"Working with the Master would be simpler without such worries, no doubt of't," the prompter replied. "But you'll not deny, I trust, that heresy's strong grip'd yet constrain us had they not come hither. I have now the hope of heaven. Things being different, hellfire'd surely hold me after I cast my mortal slough."

"Ay, belike," Shakespeare said, none too happily. Without a doubt, Geoffrey Martin had given him an honest answer, but he hadn't said what Shakespeare wanted to hear.

"Why? Believe you otherwise?" Martin asked--he'd heard how half-hearted Shakespeare's answer sounded, which the poet hadn't wanted at all.

"By my troth, no," Shakespeare said, this time using his experience on the stage to sound as he thought Geoffrey Martin would want him to.

"I should hope not, sir," the prompter said. "King Philip, God keep him, is a great man, a very great man. He hath from ourselves saved us, and in our own despite. Of whom else might one say the like, save only our Lord Himself?"

"Even so," Shakespeare said, and got away from Martin as fast as he could. The players he'd sounded had all been willing, even eager, to help try to expel the Spaniards from England. The tireman had been noncommittal. The prompter, plainly, took the Spaniards' part. And if Geoffrey Martin suspected treason, he knew important ears into which to whisper--or shout--his suspicions.

Shakespeare returns to the rest of the company in deep despair, to the point that Burbage notices immediatly and assumes that there is something wrong with the just-delivered play. Shakespeare clarifies for him, evoking a bit of "fun" from Will Kemp.


Someone clapped him on the shoulder. He jumped; he hadn't heard anybody come up behind him. Will Kemp's elastic features leered at him. Cackling with mad glee, the clown said, "What better time than the new year for a drawing and quartering? Or would you liefer rout out winter's chill with a burning? I'll stake you would."

"Go to!" Shakespeare exclaimed. "Get hence!"

"And wherefore should I?" Kemp replied. "I know as much as doth Dick here." Before Shakespeare could deny that, the clown continued, "I know enough to hang us all, than the which what could be more?"

Burbage is quite concerned with the newly discovered security hole, at which Kemp mocks them both for not knowing that Martin was a devout Catholic. Kemp brushes off concerns that he might be speaking too freely too close to Martin with the assumption that the new play would occupy his entire attention.


"O ye of little faith!" Kemp jeered. "Dear Geoff's prompter and book-keeper. He hath before him a new play--so new, belike the ink's still damp. What'll he do? Plunge his beak into its liver, like the vulture with Prometheus. A cannon could sound beside him without his hearing't."

Burbage looked thoughtful. "He may have reason," he said to Shakespeare.

"He may be right," Shakespeare said. "Right or wrong, reason hath he none. Where's the reason in a man who will hazard his life for nothing but to hear his own chatter? God deliver me from being subject to the breath of every fool, whose sense no more can feel but his own fancies."

"Doth thy other mouth call me?" Will Kemp retorted. He strode away, then stopped, bent, and spoke loudly with his other mouth.

Burbage and Shakespeare fume about Kemp, and discuss what to do about Martin. Clearly, the plot cannot go on with him present, but they can't simply fire him - he's too good at his job for that not to be suspicious. They decide to just have Shakespeare continue writing the play, and hope for aid.


A couple of evenings later, as the poet was making his way down Shoreditch High Street towards Bishopsgate after a performance, a man stepped out of the evening shadows and said, "You're Master Shakespeare, are you not?"

"I am," Shakespeare said cautiously. "And who, sir, are you?"

He used that sir from caution; had he felt more cheerful about the world and the people in it, he would have said sirrah. The fellow who'd asked his name looked like a mechanical, a laborer, in leather jerkin and laddered hose. When he smiled, he showed a couple of missing teeth. "Oh, you need not know my name, sir," he said.

"Then we have no business, one with the other," Shakespeare answered, doing his best to sound polite and firm at the same time. "Give you good den." He started on.

"Hold!" the stranger said. As he set a hand on the hilt of his belt knife to emphasize the word, Shakespeare stopped. In grumbling tones, the fellow added, "Nick said you were a tickle 'un. There's a name for you, by God and St. George! You ken Nick Skeres?"

Skeres had led him to Sir William Cecil. "I do," Shakespeare said reluctantly.

"Well, good on you, then." The stranger gave him another less than reassuring smile. "Nick sent me to your honor. You've someone in your company more friendlier to the dons than an honest Englishman ought to be?"

From whom had Skeres heard about Geoffrey Martin? Burbage? Will Kemp? Someone else altogether? Or had this bruiser any true connection to Skeres at all? With such dignity as he could muster, Shakespeare said, "I treat not with a man who hath no name."

"drat you!" the fellow said. But he didn't draw that knife. Instead, exasperated, he flung a name--"Ingram!"--at the poet.

Christian name? Surname? Shakespeare couldn't guess. But the man had given him some of what he wanted. Shakespeare answered him in turn: "Yes, there is such a one, Master Ingram."

"His name's Martin, eh? Like the bird?" Ingram asked. With odd hesitation, Shakespeare nodded. So did the other man. "All right, friend." He touched the brim of his villainous cap. "God give you good even," he said, and vanished once more into the deepening shadows. The poet stared after him, scratching his head.

The last name is not given yet, but this is Ingram Frizer. Fizer (15??-1627) was a companion to Christopher Marlow and Nicholas Skeres, and was not simply present the night Marlowe was killed. According to official sources, Marlowe's death was caused by Frizer stabbing him above the right eye with a dagger.

Chapter V, Part 3: De Vega


"Surely, Señor Shakespeare, you know that his holiness Pope Sixtus promised King Philip a million ducats when the first Spanish soldier set foot on English soil, and that he very handsomely paid all he had promised," Lope de Vega said. "A million gold ducats, mind you."

"Yes, I understand," Shakespeare replied. "A kingly sum, in sooth."

They sat with their heads together in the tiring room at the Theatre. De Vega puffed on a pipe of tobacco. The smoke rising from it fought with that from torches, lamps, and braziers. "I am glad you follow, sir," he said. "This needs must appear in the play on his Most Catholic Majesty's life."

Shakespeare had been scribbling notes in a character Lope could not have deciphered had his life depended on it. Now he looked up sharply. "Wherefore?" he asked. "It doth little to advance the action, the more so as Pope and King never met to seal this bargain, it being made by underlings."
De Vega is busily "aiding" Shakespeare with the writing of King Philip, but is chiefly serving to annoy him. Shakespaere manages to convince De Vega to drop this particular request, arguing that it would violate his honor as a poet to have this work be lesser than any of his other works.


Lope sprang from his stool and bowed low, sweeping off his hat so that the plume brushed the floor. "Say no more, sir. Your fellow poets and players would think less of you, did you write below your best. This I understand to the bottom of my soul, and I, in my turn, honor you for it. I am your servant. Command me."

"Sit, sit," Shakespeare urged him. "I own I stand in need of your counsel on the incidents of your King's life and on how to show 'em, the which is made more harder by his seldom leaving Madrid, those in his command working for him all through the Spanish Empire."

"Even so." Lope returned to his seat. He eyed the English poet with considerable respect. "You have more experience bringing history to the stage than I."

Shakespeare's smile somehow didn't quite reach his eyes. "When I put words into the mouths of Romans, I may do't without fear the Master of the Revels will think my ghosts and shadows speak of matters political."

Lope nodded. "Certes. This is one of the uses of the distant past." He leaned forward. "Here, though, not so distant is the past of which we speak. How thought you to portray the King's conquest of the heretic Dutchmen?"

"Why, through his kinsman, the Duke of Parma."

"Excellent," Lope said. "Most excellent. Parma being dead, no unsightly jealousies will to him accrue."

This would undoubtably be a formidible obstacle to dramatizing a man's life. This likely contributes to there being very few plays about Philip II - all excerpts from "King Philip" in this book are actually modified excerpts from Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus - a play that would already have been written by this time.

This work is eventually interrupted by Martin, who caught a major plot hole in Love's Labours Won. This is enough to cause Shakespeare to dismiss De Vega for now, with plans to get back to it two days later. Unusually, he came on -and leaves on- a horse.


Riding through the tenements that huddled outside the city wall, Lope felt something of a conquering caballero. He'd seldom had that feeling afoot. Now, though, he looked down on the English. From literally looking down on them, I do so metaphorically as well, he thought. A man's mind is a strange thing.

The English knew him for a conqueror, too. That made his passage harder, not easier. They got in his way, and feigned deafness when he shouted at them. They flung curses and catcalls from every other window. They flung other things, too: stones to make his horse shy and rear, lumps of filth to foul the beast and him. He never saw his tormentors. The ones not safe inside buildings melted into the crowds on Shoreditch High Street whenever he whirled in the saddle to try to get a glimpse of them.
He talks some Irish mercenaries out of a massacre to avenge his honor, and once inside the walls of London the harassment is limited to words - there's too many Spaniards about to make it easy to get away with throwing dung. He finds Diego in Diego's natural state. Shaking him awake, he hurls insults and death threats into his lazy servant's face.


"If there were an earthquake, it would swallow you as the whale swallowed Jonah, and you wouldn't even know it!" Lope bellowed. "Scotland--"

That got Diego's attention, where nothing up till then really had. "Not Scotland, señor, I beg you," he broke in. "The Scots are even worse than the Irish, from all I hear. May the holy Mother of God turn her back on me if I lie. They cook blood in a sheep's stomach and call it supper, and some say it is the blood of men."

"Scotland, I was going to say, is too good for you," de Vega snarled. He had the satisfaction of watching Diego quail, a satisfaction marred when his servant yawned in the midst of cringing. "By God, Diego, if you fall asleep now I'll murder you in your bed. Do you think I'm lying? Do you want to find out if I'm lying?"

"No, señor. All I want to do is . . ." Diego stopped, looking even more miserable than he had. He'd undoubtedly been about to say, All I want to do is go back to sleep. He wasn't very bright, but he could see that that would land him in even more trouble than he'd already found. A querulous whine crept into his voice as he went on, "I thought you'd stay at that damned Theatre a lot longer than you did."

"And so?" Lope said. "And so? Because I'm not here, does that mean you get to lie there like a salt cod? Why weren't you blacking my boots? Why weren't you mending my shirts? Why weren't you keeping your ears open for anything that might be to my advantage, the way Captain Guzmán's Enrique does?" Why does that vain little thrip of a Baltasar Guzmán get a prince among servants, while I'm stuck with a donkey, and a dead donkey at that?

Diego said something inflammatory and scandalous about exactly how intimate Enrique and Captain Guzmán were. "How would you know that?" Lope jeered. "When have you been awake to see them?"

Lope De Vega: Still an rear end in a top hat.

Diego insists that everyone's saying the same thing about Guzman. De Vega is doubtful, but cheers up a bit when he realizes that Guzman would be disgraced and removed from his post if he really does prefer the company of men, which would be a benefit to De Vega. Still, he knows full well that Guzman had a mistress until recently, which he throws in Diego's face. After Diego insists that Guzman preferring Enrique would quite obviously cause the loss of a mistress, De Vega loses his temper and orders Diego to get to work, starting by cleaning De Vega's dung-covered clothing.

He heads off to report to Guzman, only to be waylaid by Enrique, who wants to know what working with Shakespeare is like.


"I don't shape here," Lope said, remembering he might have to watch Enrique out of the corner of his eye, too. "I only have some lumber to sell. Shakespeare is the carpenter. He cuts and carves and nails things together. He'll do it very well, too, I think."

"He has a mind of his own?" Enrique asked.

"¡Por Dios, sí!" Lope exclaimed, and the clever young servant laughed. "You can think it's funny," de Vega told him. "You don't have to work with the Englishman."

Lope asks to see Guzman, and is told that he's probably in - he was with a mistress the night before, but promised to be in on time.


So much indeed for what everybody says, de Vega thought. When he walked into Baltasar Guzmán's office, the young captain looked like a cat that had just fallen into a bowl of cream. And when Guzmán asked, "What's the latest, Senior Lieutenant?" he didn't sound as if he'd bite Lope's head off if he didn't like the answer. He must have had a night to remember.

I wish I were in love again. I probably will be soon, but I'm not now, and I miss it. Sighing, de Vega summarized his session with Shakespeare. He also summarized the English attitude toward lone Spaniards on horseback: "Only my good luck they chose to throw more dung than stones. I might not have made it back if they'd gone the other way."

Captain Guzmán said, "I'm glad you're safe, de Vega. You're a valuable man." While Lope was still gaping, wondering if he'd heard straight, his superior added, "And I'm glad things are going so well with the English poet. Keep up the good work."

Lope left his office in something of a daze. Maybe Guzmán's amiga really did have the face of an angel and tits out to there. Lope couldn't imagine what else would have made the sardonic nobleman seem so much like a human being.

Chapter V, Part 4: Shakespeare


"WHERE'S MASTER MARTIN?" Shakespeare asked in the tiring room at the Theatre. "He was to have the different several parts from Love's Labour's Won ready to go to the scribes, that they might make for the players fair copies."

"Good luck to 'em," Will Kemp said. "There's not a rooster living could read your hen scratchings."

The clown exaggerated, but not by a great deal--not enough, at any rate, to make Shakespeare snap back at him. Richard Burbage looked around. "Ay, where is he?" Burbage said, as if Kemp hadn't spoken. "Geoff's steady as the tides, trusty as a hound--"

"Ah, Dick," Kemp murmured. "You shew again why you're so much better with another man's words in your mouth."

He'd made that crack before. It must have stung even so, for Burbage glared at him. A couple of players laughed, but they quickly fell silent. Not only was Burbage a large, powerful man, but he and his family owned the Theatre. Insulting him to his face took nerve--or a fool's foolishness, Shakespeare thought.

There's much discussion of where Martin is, leading to a joking suggestion from Kemp that he'd run off to sell the new play. Shakespeare doesn't find this amusing, and insults escalate to a brawl.


Shakespeare sprang for him. They each landed a couple of punches before the others of the company pulled them apart. Smarting from a blow on the cheek, Shakespeare snarled, "A dog thou art, and for the sake of bitchery." He didn't know that Kemp sought whores more than any other man, but flung the insult anyhow, too furious to care about truth.

Before the clown could reply in like vein, someone with a loud, booming voice called out from the doorway to the tiring room: "Here, now! Here now, by God! What's the meaning of this? What's the meaning of't, by God?"

"Constable Strawberry!" Burbage said. "Good day, sir."

"Good day," Walter Strawberry said. He was a jowly, middle-aged man who looked like a bulldog and had little more wit.

"I hope you are well?" Burbage said. The Theatre belonging to his family, he dealt with the constable. "I have not seen you long; how goes the world?"

"It wears, sir, as it grows," the constable replied.

"Ay, that's well known." Burbage's tone grew sharper: "Why come you here?" He quietly paid the constable and his helpers to stay away from the Theatre except when the players needed aid.
Constable Strawberry, alas, is fictional
After being assured that the fight is both benign and completed, Strawberry gets down to the business at hand.


"Why come I here?" the constable echoed, as if he himself might have forgotten. He coughed portentously, then went on, "Know you a certain wight named Geoffrey Martin?"

"We do," Burbage answered.

Will Kemp said, "A more certain wight never was born, by God." Strawberry ignored that, which probably meant he didn't understand it.

"Why come you here?" Burbage asked for the third time. "Hath aught amiss befallen him?"

"Amiss? Amiss?" Walter Strawberry said. "You might say so. You just might--an you reckon murther aught amiss, you might."

"Murther?" The dreadful word came from half the company, Shakespeare among them. Horror and astonishment filled most voices. Shakespeare's held horror alone. He realized he was not surprised, and wished to heaven he were.

Martin was found dead near an eating place, stabbed above his right eye.

Note that Martin was killed in the exact same manner that Marlowe was historically killed


"Master Burbage, sir, I know that not. This while, I know that not," the constable said gravely. "I put it to you--ay, to all of ye--what manner of enemies had he, of foes, of rivals, of opposants, and other suchlike folk who wished him not well? Never set I mine eyne upon the man till overlooking his dead corpse, so haply you will have known him better than I."

Behind Shakespeare, someone murmured, "Vere legitur, lex asinus est."

"What's that?" Strawberry said sharply. "What's that? If you know somewhat of the case, speak out! An you know not, keep a grave silence, like to Master Martin's keeping the silence of the grave. If you be lukewarm of knowing, spew nothing out of your mouths."

Google translate suggests that this phrase means something along the lines of "really read, the law is an rear end". I suspect that this isn't quite right

Strawberry demands to know if anybody has any information, to which nobody replies. Shakespeare, though silent, is wracked with guilt for what has been done to preserve his plot.


Shakespeare felt Richard Burbage's eye on him. Misery roweled him. I meant it not to come to this, tolled in his mind again and again, like a great iron bell. Before God, I meant it not. But come to this it had, whether he'd meant it or not. He couldn't even be surprised. Had he not embarked on treason, or what Isabella and Albert and their Spanish props would reckon treason, no one would have slain poor Geoff Martin. And treason and murther ever keep together, as two yoke-devils sworn to either's purpose.

Getting no response, Strawberry leaves disappointed. Much gossip about the deed commences as soon as he's gone. After the brawl between Shakespeare and Kemp nearly brews up again, Burbage asks if anybody knows an appropriate replacement for Martin, and starts taking measures to ensure that they can go on working without one for a while.

After the play, Burbage walks home with Shakespeare.


Burbage matched him stride for stride. After a while, he said, "Will . . ."

Shakespeare didn't answer. He just kept walking.

"Will . . ."

"What is't?" Shakespeare snapped. "Are you sure you want to know?" This time, Burbage was the one who didn't say anything. He only waited. After a moment, Shakespeare realized what he was waiting for. "God be my judge, Dick, I devised his death not."

"I thought naught other. There's none o' the killing blood in you--else, as you say, Will Kemp were long since sped." But Burbage's smile quickly faded from his fleshy lips. "That you devised it not, I believe with all my heart. That it grieved you, I believe also. That it amazed you, as it amazed us . . ." He shook his head. "No."

"Why say you so?" Shakespeare asked.

"For that you spake of Martin his Popery as hurtful to a . . . a certain enterprise," Burbage answered. "Was't the second Henry who cried out, ‘Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?'--and behold! there's Becket dead."

Shakespeare laughed uneasily. That shot struck much too close to the center of the target. Trying to lead Burbage away from the truth he'd found, the poet said, " 'Tis treason or folly or both together to set alongside a king's my name."

Burbage, however, was not so easily distracted. "An I hire me another Popish prompter, will he too lie dead in a ditch the day after?"

Shakespeare replies that he's only one small sail on a great ship, and the crew of that ship will replace any small sail that shows the strain. Burbage finds this convincing, and decides to -carefully- try to avoid hiring any Catholics as Martin's replacement.


"We're not on the boards now, Will."

"Think you not?" Shakespeare shook his head. "Till this . . . enterprise go forward, if it go forward, we are players everywhere, players always. Forget it at your peril."

Burbage chewed on that for a few paces. By the sour face he pulled, he did not like the taste. He pointed ahead. "There's Bishopsgate." He hurried on alone, flinging words back over his shoulder: "If you have the right of't, best not to be seen with you."

That hurt. It would have hurt worse had Shakespeare not been convinced he was right--which made Burbage right to avoid his company. The player passed through the gate and disappeared. Shakespeare followed more slowly. He felt he ought to ring a bell like a leper, to warn folk of his presence. His touch was liable to prove as deadly as any leper's. That he knew too well.

And then, when he was only a couple of houses from the one where he lodged, something else occurred to him. Geoffrey Martin had proved an annoyance to those who'd framed this plot. He'd proved an annoyance, and they'd brushed him aside as casually as if he were a flea on a doublet. And if I prove an annoyance? Shakespeare shivered. But Lord Burghley styled me his strong right arm. The poet shivered again. Plenty of people in the street that chilly afternoon were shivering, so he went unnoticed. If I prove an annoyance, they'll brush me aside as yarely as poor Geoff Martin.

Awful late in the game to figure out that rebellions mean bloodshed.

Chapter V, Part 5: De Vega


Captain Baltazar Guzmán held up a sheet of paper to Lope de Vega. "We are ordered to take special notice, Senior Lieutenant, of any who profane Lent this year by eating of foods forbidden these forty days."

"We are ordered to do all sorts of foolish things," Lope answered. "This is more foolish than most. The English, from all I've seen in my time here, break the rules as often as they keep them." He exaggerated, but not by an enormous amount. A surprising amount of meat got eaten here in the weeks before Easter.

Guzmán waved the paper. "But this," he said portentously, "is a special year."

"How is this year special?" de Vega asked, as he knew he was supposed to do. "I know his Holiness has declared that 1600 will be a year of jubilee, but 1598?" He shrugged. "To me, it seems a year among years."

"Not so." His superior waved the paper again. Lope was getting tired of seeing it without being able to read it. Guzmán went on, "Ash Wednesday, this year, is the fourth of February, and Easter the twenty-second of March."

"They're early," Lope remarked. "Is that enough to make it special?"
A quirk of the calendar (because Easter is so early in the Gregorian calendar, it is on the other side of a full moon from Easter in the Julian calendar) means that the illegal English Easter will be almost a full month after the legal Spanish Easter. This naturally changes the Lent for each Easter significantly. Either unrepentant Protestants will have to maintain the Lenten fast for an entire extra month to remain pure by their standards, or else they'll ignore the Catholic Lent (quietly) and only keep their own. This means that this year is an excellent chance to sweep up Protestants in hiding.

This is, as far as I can tell, accurate - by the Gregorian calendar, Easter was on March 22, 1598. The book suggests that having seperate Easters is rare, but as far as I can tell it is the norm - they're not usually quite so far apart, though.


"One thing is certain, though," Captain Guzmán said. "As long as there are still Protestants in England, we'll have no peace. This kingdom has to follow the holy Catholic faith. All the world, one day, will follow the holy Catholic faith. Then, truly, peace will come." He crossed himself. His eyes glowed with a Crusader's vision.

"Yes." De Vega crossed himself, too. But then, incautiously, he said, "We've fought the Portuguese and the French, and they're Catholic, too--after a fashion."

Guzmán waved that aside. "When all the world is Catholic, there will be peace," he declared, as if challenging Lope to argue with him. Lope didn't. He might not have been so passionately certain of that as Guzmán was, but he believed it, too.

"Is there anything else, your Excellency?" he asked.

There is another matter - the murder of Geoffrey Martin. He was a good Catholic, and his death shines new suspicion on Shakespeare. Guzman knows of nobody working with Martin as an informant, but the Inquisition might have - they don't talk to anyone outside the Inquisition much. De Vega is instructed to pay close attention to Martin's replacement. After leaving the office, De Vega meets a woman.


He knew nothing but thanks at escaping the barracks--thanks and cold, for snowflakes fluttered on the northwesterly breeze. It's January. It could be snowing in Madrid, too, he told himself. It was true. He knew it was true. It didn't help. When he thought of Madrid, he thought of a place where the vine and the olive flourished. He tried to imagine grapes and olives growing in London, and laughed at himself. Not even a poet's imagination stretched so far.

In the street outside the barracks, a Spanish soldier and a skinny Englishwoman were striking a bargain. He gave her a coin. She led him away. Before long, he would get relief. Lope didn't know whether to envy or pity him for being satisfied so easily.

"I'd sooner be a monk than buy a nasty counterfeit for love," he muttered. That didn't mean he enjoyed living like a monk. He had, though, ever since his two mistresses were so inconsiderate as to run into each other outside the Southwark bear garden. Goodbye, Nell. Farewell, Martha. High time I found someone new.

He wouldn't do it by the barracks. He knew that. The Spanish soldiers stationed there drew trulls as a lodestone drew iron. De Vega didn't want women of easy virtue. He wanted women who would fall in love with him, and whom he would love . . . for a while.

He wandered down towards the Thames, past the church of St. Lawrence Poultney in Candlewick Street. Not far from the church, a woman with a wicker basket called, "Whelks and mussels! Cockles and clams! Fresh today. Whelks and mussels . . . !"

Maybe they were fresh today, maybe they weren't. In this weather, even shellfish stayed good for a while--one of its few virtues Lope could think of. He eyed the woman selling them. She was a few years younger than he, wrapped in a wool cloak she would have thrown out two years before if she could have afforded to replace it. The worried look on her face told how hard life could be.

"Whelks or mussels, sir?" she said, feeling his eye on her. "Clams? Cockles? Good for dinner, good for supper, good for soup, good for stew." She all but sang the desperate little jingle.

"Cockles, I think," Lope answered, "though I should be pleased to buy anything from so lovely a creature."

Her weary sigh sent fog swirling from her mouth. "I sell that not," she said, voice hard and flat.

"God forbid I meant any such thing!" Lope exclaimed, though he had, at least to test her. He swept off his hat, bowed, and told her his name, then gave her his most open, friendly smile and asked hers.

"I oughtn't to tell it you," she said.

"And why not?" He affected indignation. "What shall I do with it? Make witchcraft against you? They'd burn me, none less than the which I'd deserve. Nay, sweet lady, I want it only for to write it on the doorposts of mine heart. My heart?" He couldn't remember which was right.

The girl with the basket of shellfish didn't enlighten him. A tiny smile did lift the corners of her mouth for a moment, though. She said, "There's a deal of foolery in you, is't not so?"

"I know not whereof you speak," Lope said, donning a comically droll expression.

That smile was like a shy wild thing he had to lure from hiding. He felt rewarded when he saw it. "I'm Lucy Watkins, sir," she said.

"My lady!" Lope bowed again. She wasn't his lady. Maybe she never would be. But he intended to make trial of that.
This can only end well. At least he isn't snobbish. I don't know if this is supposed to be the same Lucy we heard bitching about spoilrs in the Theatre, but I like to think it is.

Feb 11, 2014

"What we therefore hath joined together, let Gnoman put asunder..."

Chapter VI, Part 1: Shakespeare


SMOKE FROM THE fireplace, smoke from the flames under a roasting capon, and smoke from half a dozen pipes of tobacco filled the Boar's Head in East Cheap. Shakespeare's eyes stung and watered. "What's the utility of tobacco?" he asked the player beside him, who'd been drinking sack with singleminded dedication for some little while now. "What pleasure takes one from the smoking of it, besides the pleasure of setting fire to one's purse?" The stuff was, among other things, devilishly expensive.

The player blinked at him in owlish solemnity. "Why, to pass current, of course," he answered. After a soft belch, he buried his nose in the mug of sack once more.

"It suffices not," Shakespeare murmured.

"Pay him no heed," Christopher Marlowe said from across the table. Marlowe had a pipe. He paused to draw in smoke, then blew a perfect smoke ring. Shakespeare goggled. He'd never seen that before. It almost answered his question by itself. Laughing at his flabbergasted expression, Marlowe went on, "He is sensible in nothing but blows, and so is an rear end."

"Is that so?" the player said. "Well, sirrah, you can kiss mine arse."

Marlowe rose from his stool in one smooth motion. "Right gladly will I." He came around the table, kissed the fellow on the mouth, and returned to his place. The drunken player gaped and then, too late, cursed and wiped his mouth on the sleeve of his doublet. Loud, raucous laughter filled the Boar's Head. Under it, Marlowe nodded to Shakespeare. "You were saying, Will?"

"What good's tobacco?" Shakespeare asked.

"What good is't?" Now Marlowe was the one who stared. "Why, let Aristotle and all your philosophers say what they will, there is nothing to be compared with tobacco. Have you tried it, at the least?"

"I have, four or five years gone by. I paid my shilling for the damned little clay pipe, and two shillings more for the noxious weed to charge it with, and I smoked and I smoked till I might have been a chimneytop. And . . ."

"And?" Marlowe echoed.

"And I cast up the good threepenny supper I'd had not long before--as featly as you please, mind, missing my shoes altogether--and sithence have had naught to do with tobacco, nor wanted to."

"Liked you the leek when first you ate of it? Or the bitter taste of beer?"

"Better than that horrid plant from unknown clime." Shakespeare shuddered at the memory of how his guts had knotted.

William Shakespeare is one of the only Turtledove protagonists that hates tobacco. Typically, much time is spent comparing the quality of different brands, and complaining about not being able to get enough. So far as I can tell, the opinion of the real Shakespeare on the matter is unknown. Christopher Marlowe, on the other hand, is reputed to be fond of the stuff - besides the dubiously attributed commentary on tobacco and boys in the last chapter, he was accused of claiming that Communion would be better if it were delivered in a tobacco pipe. While these are probably slanders, they do suggest a reputation.

The Boar's Head was a real tavern in Shakespeare's day, and featured in some of his plays - particularly Henry IV, Part 1. The building was destroyed in the Great Fire Of London in 1666.

Marlowe calls Shakespeare a fool, and insinuates that Shakespeare's hanging would be little loss - and could come soon. Naturally, Shakespeare is furious that Marlowe simply will not stop hinting and insinuating at the plot. The argument gets quite heated, with support for Shakespeare from a bystander who misses the byplay.


"Well shot, Will," Thomas Dekker called. The young poet whooped and clapped his hands. Lord Westmorland's Men had put on his first play only a few weeks before. He lifted up his mug of wine in salute. "Reload and give him another barrel!" He drained the mug and slammed it down.

Shakespeare caught a barmaid's eye and pointed to Dekker. When she filled the youngster's mug again, Shakespeare paid her. Dekker was chronically short of funds; till Shakespeare's company bought his comedy, he'd been one step from debtor's prison--and now, rumor had it, was again.

Marlowe clucked reproachfully. "Buying a claque? I reckoned it beneath you. The Devil will not have you damned, lest the oil that's in you should set hell on fire." He emptied his mug, and gave the barmaid a halfpenny to refresh it. "I pay mine own way," he declared, drinking again.

Thomas Dekker (died 1632) was a playwright and pamphleteer in this era, who is known to have written at least 20 plays. The first play that is convincingly attributed to him was performed in 1599, was imprisoned for debt twice, and played a major part in the War of The Theaters satire battle between 1599-1602. How much of a connection he historically had with Shakespeare is unknown (and disputed), but it is not unreasonable for them to be associating here


As Shakespeare had with Dekker, so Marlowe also had a partisan: a boy actor of about fourteen, as pretty as one of the girls he played. He laughed and banged his fist down on the tabletop. Marlowe bought him more of whatever he was drinking--beer, Shakespeare saw when the serving woman poured his mug full again. He'd already had quite a lot; hectic color glowed on his cheeks, as if he were coming down with a fever.

Marlowe blew another smoke ring, then passed the pipe to the boy, who managed a couple of unskillful puffs before coughing piteously and turning even redder than he was. Marlowe took back the pipe. He kissed the stem where the boy's lips had touched it, then put it in his own mouth again.

Watching intently was a tall, thin, pale man who wore wore a rich doublet of slashed silk. His tongue played over his red lips as he watched Marlowe and the boy. "Who's that?" Shakespeare asked Dekker. He pointed. "I have seen him aforetimes, but recall not his name."

"Why, 'tis Anthony Bacon," the other poet replied. "He hath a . . . liking for beardless boys." He laughed and drank again. Shakespeare nodded. Not only had he seen Bacon, he'd visited the house Anthony shared with his younger brother, Francis, to see Sir William Cecil. He suddenly wondered what Anthony knew of the plot. Wonder or not, he had no intention of trying to find out.

Anthony Bacon (1558–1601) was the much less famous older brother of Sir Francis Bacon, mostly known today (to what little extent he is known) for his career as a spy in France between 1580 and 1594. He was arrested for sodomy in 1586 due to sleeping with his male page, who had been sleeping with several other male servants. Bacon was spared the official punishment of burning at the stake by the intervention of Henry III of Navarre, who would become Henry IV of France in 1593.

Meanwhile, Will Kemp is taunting a minor actor to the point of violence, although other actors in the Boar's Head manage to restrain them, which inspires a quip from Shakespeare and a animated discussion on wordplay. Eventually, the boy actor gets annoyed at being ignored, leading Marlowe to leave with him, arm-in-arm. Shakespeare is appalled at Marlowe's lack of discretion.


Maybe the talk with Marlowe was what he needed to get his wits going, though. That night, at the ordinary, he began work on the play Lord Burghley had asked of him. He wished he were as wealthy as one of the Bacons, or as Burghley himself. Committing treason was bad enough. Committing it in public . . .

He put a hand over his papers whenever Kate the serving woman came near. She found it funny instead of taking offense. "I'll not steal your words," she said. "Since when could I, having no letters of mine own?"

She'd said before she needed to make a mark instead of signing her name. Shakespeare relaxed--a very little. Whenever anyone but Kate walked past the table where he wrote, he kept on covering up the manuscript. That, of course, drew more attention to it than it would have got had he kept on writing. A plump burgess looked down at the sheet in front of him, shook his head, and said, "You need have no fear, sir. Nor God nor the Devil could make out your character."

Geoffrey Martin had voiced similar complaints. But poor Martin had been the company's book-keeper; he naturally had a low opinion of the hand of a mere poet. To hear someone with less exacting standards scorn Shakespeare's script was oddly reassuring.

After a while, Shakespeare was the only customer left in the ordinary. His quill scratched across the paper so fast, the ink on one line scarcely had time to dry before his hand smudged it while writing the next. He started when Kate said, "Curfew's nigh, Master Will."

"So soon?" he said, amazed.

"Soon?" She shook her head. "You've sat there writing sith you finished supper, none of you but your right hand moving. Look--two whole leaves filled. Never saw I you write so fast."

A leaf of paper is one large sheet folded in half, producing four pages. According to the Internet Shakespeare Library, paper sizes in this era ranged from the Imperial (29"x20") to the Foolscap (17.5"x12.5"). This means that the individual pages would be somewhere between 8"x12.5" to 14"x20. In either case, filling 4 pages in an evening is impressive.

Shakespeare is astounded by this literary feat. Having returned to the present, he decides that he's written enough for the moment - Turtledove again spares us a sex scene here. In Kate's bed, they discuss their future - or, rather, the fact that Shakespeare's marriage means they have no real future.

Chapter VI, Part 2: De Vega

This chapter starts out with De Vega recieving ashes on Ash Wendsday, which, by the Gregorian Calendar was February 4 in 1598. Returning to the office, we learn that acting companies have been permitted to perform during Lent, because stopping business for 40 days would ruin most of them. Before heading off to the theatre, he does have some questions.


"Yes, sir," Lope said. "Sir, is there any further word of his Most Catholic Majesty? Shakespeare has asked after him. Not unreasonably, he wants some notion of how much time he has to compose the drama Don Diego Flores de Valdés set him."

"I have news, yes, but none of it good," Captain Guzmán replied. "The gout has attacked his neck, which makes both eating and sleeping very difficult for him. And the sores on his hands and feet show no sign of healing. If anything, they begin to ulcerate and spread. Also, his dropsy is no better--if anything, is worse."

Tears stung Lope's eyes. He touched the ashes on his forehead again. "The priest in the church spoke truly: to dust we shall return. But this is bitter, a man who was--who is--so great, having an end so hard and slow. Better if he simply went to sleep one night and never woke up."

"God will do as He pleases, Senior Lieutenant, not as you please. Would you set your judgment against His?"

"No, sir--not that it would do any good if I did, for He can act and all I can do is talk."

Guzmán relaxed. "So long as you understand that. With a man who makes plays . . . Forgive me, but I wondered if you arrogated some of the Lord's powers to yourself, since you make your characters and move them about as if you were the Almighty for them."

Lope looked at him in astonishment. "I have had those blasphemous thoughts, yes, sir. My confessor has given me heavy penance on account of them. How could you guess?"

"It seemed logical," Guzmán said. "You have a world inside your head, an imaginary world filled with imaginary people. Who could blame you for believing, now and again, that that imaginary world is real? You make it seem real to others in your plays--why not to yourself as well?"

"Do you know, your Excellency, I am going to have to pay serious attention to you, whether I want to or not," de Vega said slowly.

Guzman changes the subject to De Vega's current lady friend, and jabs him for his inconstancy. De Vega flees to the theatre, observing a tavern keeper being accosted by a constable for serving meat during Lent.


By now, the men who took money at the Theatre recognized Lope and waved him through as if he were one of the sharers among Lord Westmorland's Men. He wished he were. The life of a Spanish lieutenant was as nothing next to that which Burbage or Shakespeare or Will Kemp lived. De Vega was sure of it.

Kemp threw back his head and howled like a wolf when Lope walked into the Theatre. De Vega gave back a courtier's bow, which at least disconcerted the clown for a moment. Kemp, he noticed, wore no ashes on his forehead. What did that mean? Did it mean anything? With Kemp, you could never be sure.

Swords clashed as a couple of actors rehearsed a fight scene. One glance told de Vega neither of them had ever used a blade in earnest. Burbage, he'd seen, had some notion of what he was about. These fellows? The Spaniard shook his head. They were even worse than Shakespeare, who'd never pretended to be a warrior.

Burbage, now, boomed out the Scottish King's lines:

" ‘Canst thou not minister to a mind diseased,

Pluck from the memory a rooted sorrow,

Raze out the written troubles of the brain,

And with some sweet oblivious antidote

Cleanse the stuffed bosom of that perilous stuff

Which weighs upon the heart?' "

" ‘Therein the patient must minister to himself,' " replied the hireling playing the doctor.

Burbage frowned. Lope had seen the Scottish play a couple of times, and admired it. He knew, or thought he knew, what the actor was supposed to say next. And, sure enough, someone hissed from the tiring room: " ‘Throw physic to the dogs.' "

" ‘Throw physic to the dogs; I'll none of it,' " Burbage finished, and went on in his own voice: "My thanks, Master Vincent. The line would not come to me."

"No need to praise my doing only that for which you took me into your company," replied Thomas Vincent, the new prompter and playbook-keeper. He came out to nod to Burbage. "You should reprove me if I keep silence." He was about Lope's age, lean, and seemed bright. Lope had learned he went to Mass every Sunday. Before the Armada came, he'd been as zealous in attending Protestant Sunday services.

A trimmer, de Vega thought scornfully. Whichever way the wind blows, that's the way he'll go. But a lot of men, likely a majority, were like that. It made things easier for those who would rule them. Shakespeare's like that, too, Lope reminded himself. He was no Catholic when Elizabeth ruled this land. Which was one more reason to reckon him an unlikely traitor. He'd made his compromises with the way things were. The ones you had to worry about were those who refused to change, no matter what refusing cost them.

The lines here are, as suggested, from Act 5 of Macbeth, another play that shouldn't exist yet as it was first performed in 1606. In this case, there is even less reason for it to have been written, as there is a good possibility that it was inspired in part by the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. With Hamlet, I expressed doubt that the Spaniards would allow a play about rebelling against an usurper to be performed, because it would so easily be seen as an attempt to sow discord against them. Macbeth, however, has a justification - the historical play shows the character of Banquo, who is connected to the rebels againt Macbeth, as being an ancestor of James Stuart, who was King James I of England and King James IV of Scotland at the time. In 1598 England, however, the most prominent member of the House of Stuart would have been Mary I, the Catholic Queen of England who was deposed and later executed by Elizabeth Tudor. Thus it would be quite easy to argue that the play is supposed to represent Elizabeth as the usurper, and the Spanish as the forces restoring the legitimate rule.

EDIT: As Safety Biscuts pointed out, I've somewhat conflated Mary Tudor (Mary I of England) and Mary Stuart (Mary I of Scotland) here. Mary I of England was married to Philip II of Spain, and died of natural causes, allowing her sister Elizabeth to take the throne. Mary Stuart was imprisoned and later executed by Elizabeth because people were plotting to put her on the throne.

It would still be possible to explain the Scottish play being allowed by casting Mary Stuart as the "rightful" queen, but not as easily as I thought.

Seeing the new prompter causes De Vega to recall the fate of the former prompter, Geoffery Marten. Realizing that the prompter would be in an ideal position to discover any treason in the theatre, and that this makes Marten's death extremely suspicious, De Vega makes some excuses and runs off to investigate.

Chapter VI, Part 3: Shakespeare


"HAVE YOU A moment, Master Hungerford?" Shakespeare hated asking the question, and the ones that would follow. He hated it even more than he had when he'd spoken with Geoffrey Martin. When Martin gave the wrong answers, the inconvenient answers, Shakespeare hadn't known what would happen next. Now he did. If blood flowed, it would drip from his hands.

But the tireman only nodded. "Certes, Master Will. What would you?" He flicked a speck of lint from a velvet robe.

"What costumes have we for a Roman play?" Shakespeare asked.

"A Roman play?" The tireman frowned. "Meseems we could mount one at need." In most dramas, no matter when or where they were set, players wore clothes of current fashion. Audiences expected nothing else. But Roman plays were different. People had a notion that the Romans had dressed differently. And so actors strode the boards in knee-length white tunics and in gilded helms with nodding crests mounted (often insecurely) above them. Despite his answer, Hungerford's frown didn't go away. "Why ask you that, though? I know for a certainty we offer no Roman plays any time soon, nor Grecian ones, neither."

Shakespeare describes Boudicca to Hungerford, who, horrified, grasps the implications immediately. After being assured that Shakespeare is absolutely serious about this endeavour, Hungerford signs on.


"I wonder," Hungerford murmured. "Tell me, an you will: did you discover yourself to Geoff Martin?" Shakespeare said not a word. He hoped his face gave no answer, either. Hungerford grunted softly. "If I say you nay, will Constable Strawberry, that good and honest man, sniff after my slayer like a dog too old to take a scent after a bone that never was there?"

"I devised not poor Geoff's death, nor compassed it," Shakespeare said.

"The which is not what I asked," the tireman observed. Shakespeare only waited. Jack Hungerford grunted again. "I'm with you," he said. "I have not so much life left, and mislike living on my knees what remains."

"Praise God!" Shakespeare exclaimed. "I know not how we could have gone on without you."

"With a new tireman, belike, as we have a new prompter," Hungerford said. "Will you tell me I'm mistook?" Shakespeare wished he could and knew he couldn't. Hungerford nodded to himself. "A Roman play, is't? But tell me what you require, Master Will, and you shall have't presently."

Hungerford, however spots a problem immediately - the title character will, as is the practice in Elizabethan theater, be played by a boy under the age of puberty. The company has a superb boy actor for the purpose by the name of Tom, but there's a little problem with that:


"Item: his elder brother is a priest. Item: his uncle is a sergeant amongst Queen Isabella's guards." Jack Hungerford ticked off points on his fingers as he made them. "Item: his father gave the rood screen at their parish church, such adornments having been ordained once more on our being returned to Romish ways. Item: the lad himself more than once in my hearing hath said he's fain on becoming a man to follow his brother into the priesthood." He glanced over at Shakespeare. "Shall I go on?"

Shakespeare is appalled both by the risk and the fact that he was completely unaware of this. Hungerford explains the latter as Shakespeare not really giving a drat about most of the actors as long as they remember their lines.

Shakespeare has other concerns.


"Haply his voice will break, or his beard sprout. He's rising fifteen," Hungerford said. "Some troubles themselves resolve."

"Haply." Shakespeare made the word into a curse. " ‘Haply' suffices not. You spoke of Geoff Martin. Are you fain to have his fate befall a boy, for no cause but that he's of Romish faith? He will die the death, I tell you, unless he be eased from this company ere we give our Boudicca." If ever we give't, he thought unhappily.

The tireman frowned, too. "Sits the wind in that corner?"

"Nowhere else," Shakespeare answered. "What's a mere boy, to those who'd dice for a kingdom?"
Hungerford questions whether or not someone who thinks such thoughts is worthy of winning. Shakespeare counters with the Spaniards being at least as bad - with the still-recent auto-de-fe being a prime example. Hungerford concedes the point, and Shakespeare takes the problem to Burbage.


Burbage listened with more patience than Shakespeare would have expected--with more patience, in fact, than the poet thought he could have mustered himself. At last, he let out a long sigh. "What of the company will be left once you have your way with it?" he asked somberly.

"Would you liefer see Tom dead?" Shakespeare asked.

"I'd liefer see him playing," Burbage said.

"Tell me he is not of the Romish persuasion, and have your wish."

Burbage is not happy, and warns Shakespeare about how thin the ice is.


"The which brings me back to what I'd tell you. Mark my words, now; mark 'em well. The purpose you undertake is dangerous, the friends you have uncertain, the time itself unsorted, and your whole plot too light, for the counterpoise of so great an opposition."

"Say you so?" Shakespeare asked. "Say you so?"

"Marry, I do."

Shakespeare wished he could fly into a great temper. I say unto you, you are a shallow cowardly hind, and you lie, he wanted to shout. By the Lord our plot is as good a plot as ever was laid, our friends true and constant! A good plot, good friends, and full of expectation! A good plot, very good friends! What a frosty-spirited rogue are you!

He wanted to say all that, and more besides. He wanted to, but could not. "What of't?" he said, and did not try to hide his own bitterness. "We go forward e'en so--forward, or to the Spaniards. There's your choice, and none other."

Burbage's eyes had the look of a fox's as the hounds closed in. "drat you, Will."

"Anon," Shakespeare said, understanding Burbage's hunted expression all too well--he'd felt hunted himself for months. "But, for now, you'll see to Tom?"

"I'll do't," Burbage said. Forward, Shakespeare thought.

Burbage is completely right here. This plot is paper-thin in places, and involves a lot of very nasty people. This is a dangerous position to be in.

Chapter VI, Part 4: De Vega


"NOW HERE IS an interesting bit of business." Captain Baltasar Guzmán held up a sheet of paper.

Lope de Vega hated it when his superior did that. It was always for effect; Guzmán never let him actually read the papers he displayed. And Lope was in a testy mood anyhow, for his visit to Sir Edmund Tilney had yielded exactly nothing useful about Geoffrey Martin and whoever had slain him. With such patience as he could muster, de Vega said, "Please tell me more, sir."

"Well, Senior Lieutenant, you will know better than I how the pretty boy actors in these English theatrical companies draw sodomites as a bowl of honey draws flies," Guzmán said.

"Oh, yes, sir," Lope agreed. "It is a scandal, a shame, and a disgrace."

Captain Guzmán waved the paper. "We now have leave to go after one of these wicked fellows, and an important one, too."

"Ah?" de Vega said. "Who?" If it turned out to be Christopher Marlowe, he would go after the English poet with a heavy heart. Marlowe didn't hide that he loved boys. Far from hiding it, in fact, he flaunted it. He was so blatant about his leanings, Lope sometimes wondered if part of him wanted to be caught and punished. Whatever that part wanted, the rest of him would not care to be humiliated and then executed.

But Guzmán said, "A certain Anthony Bacon. Do you know the name?"

Anthony Bacon is an important man indeed, and De Vega questions the accusation carefully.


"Madre de Dios, I should hope so!" Lope exclaimed. "The older brother of Francis, the nephew of Lord Burghley . . . How did you learn that such a man favored this dreadful vice?" How is it that you can think of arresting such an important man, with such prominent connections, for sodomy? was what he really meant. The rich and the powerful often got away with what would ruin someone ordinary. But not here?

Not here. Guzmán answered, "Oh, this Bacon's habits are not in doubt. Even as long ago as 1586, when he was an English spy in France, he debauched one of his young servants. He was lucky the French court was full of perverts"--his lip curled--"or he would have suffered more than he did."

"We aren't arresting him for what happened in France while Elizabeth was still Queen of England, are we?" Lope asked. Even for a charge as heinous as sodomy, that might go too far.

But Baltasar Guzmán shook his head. "By no means, Senior Lieutenant. He has taken up with one of the boy actors in a company, and there can be no doubt he's stuck it in as far as it would go."

Referencing the 1586 incident is a nice touch.

De Vega's mind is running wild at this, mostly ruminating about the accusations Diego made about Guzman himself. He also has more practical questions - sodomy is a violation of the laws of the Church, and thus should be handled by the Inquisition rather than the soldiers who are normally more worried about treason.


"As it happens, Don Diego Flores de Valdés referred the matter to us," Guzmán replied. "It may yet come down to treason. Remember--not so long ago, your precious Shakespeare visited the house Anthony and Francis Bacon share. Why? We still don't know. We have no idea. But if we take Bacon and squeeze him till--"

"Squeeze him till the grease runs out of him," Lope broke in. Captain Guzmán looked blank. Lope explained: "Bacon, in English, means the same as tocino in Spanish."

They charge out at the head of a cavalry unit through Westminster. De Vega spots somebody that he thinks is Shakespeare running for cover, but Guzman vetos a diversion to investigate - even if it was Shakespeare, he has too many legitimate reasons to be in this part of town, and too many good reasons to want to stay far away from a group of charging horsemen for it to be anything more than a waste of precious time.


The troop of horsemen pounded up Drury Lane. Westminster seemed to Lope a different world from London: less crowded, with far bigger, far grander homes, homes that would have done credit to a Spanish nobleman. Only the abominable weather reminded him in which kingdom he dwelt.

Captain Guzmán reined in. He pointed to a particularly splendid half-timbered house. "That one," he said. "Senior Lieutenant de Vega, you will interpret for us."

"I am at your service, your Excellency." Lope dismounted.

So did Guzmán and the cavalrymen. A few of the latter held horses for the rest. The others drew swords and pistols and advanced on the estate behind the two officers. "I hope the heretics inside put up a fight and give us an excuse to sack the place," a trooper said hungrily. "God cover my arse with boils if you couldn't bring away a year's pay without half trying." A couple of other men growled greedy agreement.

"By God, if they give us any trouble, we will sack them," Captain Guzmán declared. "They're only Englishmen. They have no business standing in our way. They have no right to stand in our way." The cavalrymen nodded, staring avidly--wolfishly--at the house upon which they advanced.

A servant adswers the door, and Guzman demands that Anthony Bacon be produced at once. The cavalrymen surround the house to prevent escape, and the servant leaves to fetch somebody that can give answers.


The servant was as good as his word, coming back almost at once. Behind him strode a man made several inches taller by a high-crowned, wide-brimmed hat. The newcomer's enormous, fancy ruff and velvet doublet proclaimed him a person of consequence. So did his manner; though no bigger than Lope (apart from that hat), he contrived to look down his nose at him. When he spoke, it was in elegant Latin: "What do you desire?"

So much for my translating, de Vega thought. "I desire to know who you are, to begin with," Captain Guzmán replied, also in Latin.

"I? I am Francis Bacon," the Englishman replied. He was in his late thirties--not far from Lope's age--with a long face, handsome but for a rather tuberous nose; a pale complexion; dark beard and eyebrows, the latter formidably expressive; and the air of a man certain he was talking to his inferiors. It made de Vega want to bristle.

It put Baltasar Guzmán's back up, too. "You are the younger brother of Anthony Bacon?" he snapped.

"I have that honor, yes. Who are you, and why do you wish to know?"

Guzmán quivered with anger. "I am an officer of his Most Catholic Majesty, Philip II of Spain, and I have come to arrest your brother, sir, for the abominable crime of sodomy. So much for your honor. Now where is he? Speak, or be sorry for your silence."

Francis Bacon had nerve. He eyed Guzmán as if the captain were something noxious he'd found floating in a mud puddle. "You may be an officer of the King of Spain, but this is England. Show me your warrant, or else get hence. For the house of everyone is to him as his castle and fortress, as well for his defense against injury and violence as for his repose."

Guzmán's rapier cleared the scabbard with a wheep! Lope also drew his sword, backing his superior's play. The troopers with pistols behind them pointed their weapons at Bacon's face. "Damnation to you and damnation to your castle, sir," the dapper little noble ground out. "Here is my warrant. Obey it or die. The choice is yours."

For a moment, Lope thought Francis Bacon would let himself be killed on the spot. But then, very visibly, the Englishman crumpled. "I beseech your Lordships to be merciful to a broken reed," he said. "Ask. I will answer."

In Spanish, Captain Guzmán said to Lope, "You see? Fear of death makes cowards of them all."

"Yes, your Excellency," de Vega answered in the same language. Watching Bacon's face, he added, "Have a care, sir. I think he understands this tongue, whether he cares to speak it or not."

Francis insists that his brother is not at home, and he does not know where Anthony is - he left the house two days ago without a word.

De Vega thinks that this is proof Bacon was tipped off, possibly by a Spaniard who secretly shared his "sin". Guzman acknowledges the possibility, but also insists that they need to search the house to be sure. The cavalrymen are delighted at the opportunity to ransack the place.


The Spaniards went through the Bacons' home with a methodical ferocity that said they would have done well as robbers--and that might have said some of them had more than a little practice at the trade. They examined every space that might possibly have held a man, from the cellars to the kitchens to the attic. They knocked holes in several walls: some Protestants' houses had "preacher holes" concealed with marvelous cunning. A couple of troopers went out onto the roof; Lope listened to their boots clumping above his head.

They did not find Anthony Bacon.

His brother Francis asked, "How much of my own will they leave me?" By the way the troopers' pouches got fatter and fatter as time went by, the question seemed reasonable.

But Captain Guzmán was not inclined to listen to reason. His hand dropped to the hilt of his rapier once more. "You will cease your whining," he said in a soft, deadly voice. "Otherwise, I shall start inquiring amongst the younger servants here about your habits."

If he had any evidence that Francis Bacon liked boys, too, he hadn't mentioned it to Lope. But if that was a shot in the dark, it proved an inspired one. The younger Bacon sucked in a horrified breath and went even whiter than the portrait of his brother.

Francis Bacon (1561-1626) sits high among the ranks of most important scientists in history. He's credited with inventing the scientific method, pioneered the idea of forming scientific conclusions only by emperical data based on observation, and established a stark division between the fields of science (which can be studied) and the nature of God (which he held could only be learned by special revelation from God himself). He was also a political figure of considerable weight, servign as attorney general and Lord Chancellor to King James I. In 1621 accusations of corruption resulted in a few days imprisonment and a total bar from public office, and devoted his remaining years to his scientific works.

There is much debate over his sexuality. His failed courtship of a woman by the name of Elizabeth Hatton remained a sore point for his entire life, while his later marriage at the age of 45 to the 15 year old daughter of a wealthy member of Parliament was famously considered to be a strong love story, although it soured in a dispute over money.

Despite this, accusations of homosexuality persist, and there are contemporary sources to support the notion. Perhaps the strongest such accusation is the claim that he was having an affair with his "effeminate" manservant, and that this was the real reason he lost his political office.

Nothing is found, and they head back to the barracks empty handed - except for the loot they'd plundered. De Vega muses that nobody would dare repeat the rumors about Guzman now, then realizes that that does not mean the rumors are not true.

Chapter VI, Part 5: Shakespeare


THE EXPRESSION WILL KEMP aimed at Shakespeare lay halfway between a leer and a glower. "Well, Master Poet, what have you done with Tom?"

"Naught," Shakespeare answered, blinking. "Is he not here?" He looked around the Theatre. He'd just got there, a little later than he might have. He saw no sign of the company's best boy actor.

Kemp went on leering. "An you've done naught, what wish you you'd done with him?"

Shakespeare is alarmed, as any suspicion at all could prove fatal for someone in his position. Kemp is cut short by Jack Hungerford, who cuts him off sharply.


But from the tiring room came a sharp command: "Go to, Kemp! Give over."

Had Richard Burbage spoke to the clown like that, a fight would have blown up on the spot. Not even Kemp, though, failed to respect Jack Hungerford. He asked the tireman, "Know you somewhat o' this matter, then?"

"Ay, somewhat, and more than somewhat, the which is somewhat more than you," Hungerford answered.

"What's toward, then, Master Hungerford?" Shakespeare asked. Maybe, if everyone stuck to facts, no one would throw any more insults around. And maybe the horse will learn to sing, Shakespeare thought--one more bit of Grecian not quite folly he had from Christopher Marlowe.

"My knowledge is not certain, mind," the tireman said. Shakespeare braced himself to squelch Will Kemp before the clown could offer sardonic agreement there, but Kemp, for a wonder, simply waited for Hungerford to go on. And go on he did: "Some will know and some will have guessed Tom hath been . . . an object of desire for those whose affections stand in that quarter."

That proved too much for Kemp to resist. "When their affections stand," he said, "they want to stick 'em up his--"

He didn't finish. Somebody--Shakespeare didn't see who--shied a pebble or a clod of dirt at him. He let out an irate squawk. Before he could do anything more, Shakespeare broke in to say, "Carry on, Master Hungerford, I pray you."

"Gramercy. So I shall. As I said, he's a Ganymede fit to tempt any who'd fain be Jove. But even as Jove cast down Saturn, so Tom's Jove himself's been o'erthrown. Anthony Bacon's fled London, a short jump ahead of the dons."

A most convienent resolution to the problem. This would normally be a bit too convienent, but for one small factor.

Bacon has fled, off to the Continent, with Tom in tow.


Shakespeare groaned. Hungerford looked pained. Kemp preened. Shakespeare asked, "Tom was Bacon's ingle, then? I own I have seen Bacon here, though never to my certain knowledge overtopping the bounds of decency."

" ‘To my certain knowledge,' " Kemp echoed in a mocking whine. "Why think you he came hither? For the plays?" He laughed that idea to scorn, adding, "Quotha, his brother could write the like, did he please to do't."
This is a nod to the "Shakespeare was a pen name" theory. Sir Francis Bacon is a leading candidate for the "real" author of Shakespeare's plays among those few who subscribe to the notion.


Then, suddenly, Shakespeare raised a hand to his mouth to smother a laugh. What did Paul say in his epistle to the Romans? All things work together for good to them that love God, that was the verse. Now he couldn't have to worry about either asking Catholic Tom to play Boudicca or finding some good reason for not asking him. He hadn't just found a good reason--the Spaniards themselves had handed him one.

But the more he thought about it, the less inclined he was to laugh. Maybe the way that verse from Paul's epistle had worked out here was a sign God truly lay on his side, Lord Burghley's side, Elizabeth's side, England's side. Shakespeare hoped so with all his heart. Their side needed every scrap of help it could get.

This is what brings the situation into the realm of plausibility. Tom was a major threat to the plans of powerful men, and said powerful men just happen to have a double agent entrenched in the Spanish occupation government. It would be trivial for Phelippes to cast the necessary aspersions toward Bacon, and this would explain both why so prominent a figure found himself suddenly bereft of protection and how Bacon was tipped off that the Spanish were coming for him.

There are more rude jokes from Kemp, and the day's play is something of a disaster. Without Tom, they have to put another boy -by the name of Caleb- in Juliet's role, and he is not anything close to as able as Tom was.


Richard Burbage was not pleased. He bearded Shakespeare in the tiring room after the performance. "I am told this was the Spaniards' doing," he said heavily.

"I am told the same," Shakespeare answered.

Burbage glowered at him. "Were I not so told, I'd blame you. Since this madness of yours commenced, the company is stirred, as with a spoon--a long spoon."

"One fit to sup with devils?" Shakespeare asked, and Burbage gave him a cold nod. That hurt. To try to hide how much it hurt, Shakespeare busied himself with the lacings of his doublet. When he thought he could speak without showing what he felt, he said, "This came not from me, hath naught to do with me, and I am called a devil for't? How would you use me were I guilty of somewhat, having spent all your wrath upon mine innocence?"

Burbage reminds him of their recent conversation, and also brings up his own fears.


He might as well have kept silent. Burbage went on as if he had, repeating, "I lead this company. The land we stand on, the house we play in--we Burbages lease the one and own the other. D'you deny that?"

"How could I?" Shakespeare asked reasonably. "All true, every word of 't."

"All right, then. All right." Burbage's angry exhalation might have been the snort of a bull just before it lowered its head and charged. "Here's what I'd ask of you: if I in any way obstruct you, who takes my place, and what befalls me?"

Shakespeare wished he could pretend he didn't understand what his fellow player was talking about. He couldn't, not without making himself into a liar. Miserably, he said, "I know not."

"God drat you, then, Will!" Burbage's thunderous explosion made heads turn his way and Shakespeare's, all over the tiring room. Shakespeare wished he could sink through the floor as he'd sunk down through the trap door while playing the ghost in Prince of Denmark.

When the buzz of conversation picked up again and let him speak without having everyone in the crowded room hear what he said, he answered, "There is in this something you see not."

Burbage folded his arms across his broad chest. "That being?" By his tone, he believed he saw everything, and all too clearly.

But Shakespeare said, "An I prove a thing obstructive, I too am swept away for another, I know not whom. You reckon me agent, Dick. Would I were. Would I might persuade myself I were, for a man's always fain to think himself free. Agent I am none, though. I am but tool, tool to be cast aside quick as any other useless thing of wood or iron."

Burbage reluctantly admits the point, and Shakespeare heads home to work.


"Yes." Shakespeare let it go at that. He set his hat on his head. Having his own share of a player's vanity, he tugged it down low on his forehead to hide his receding hairline. He'd squandered a few shillings on nostrums and elixirs purported to make hair grow back. One smelled like tar, another like roses, yet another like cat piss. None did any good; over the past year or so, he'd stopped wasting his money.

The Lenten threepenny supper at his ordinary was a stockfish porridge. Stockfish took hours of soaking to soften and to purge itself of the salt that preserved it. Even then, it was vile. It was also cheap, and doubtless helped pad the place's profit.

For safety, he works on King Philip in public. The other play grows more dangerous the more of it is written. Back at the boarding house, he builds up the fire -much to the annoyance of his landlady- and attempts to start working on Boudicca. He is interrupted by Sellis's cat, Mommet. Shortly after, Sellis herself comes out looking for the cat.


She snapped her fingers and cooed. Mommet kept ignoring her. With a small, rueful shrug, she smiled at Shakespeare. "He does as he would, not as I would."

"Care killed a cat, or so they say," the poet replied.

Laughing, the cunning woman said, "If he die of care, he'll live forever. But how is it with you? Did he disturb you from your work? Do I?"

"No, and no," Shakespeare said, the first no truthful, the second polite. "I am well enough. How is't with yourself?"

"Well enough, as you say," Cicely Sellis answered. "Truly, I have been pleased to make your acquaintance, for your name I hear on everyone's lips."

"You ken my creditors, then?" Shakespeare said. "Better they should come to you for their fortunes than to me."

"A thing I had not heard was that you were in debt." She paused, then sent him a severe look. "Oh. You quibble on ‘fortune.' "

"Had I one, my lady, I should not quibble on't."

They share a few moments of banter, and Sellis begins to leave. Shakespeare stops her, seeking to know who is talking about him. He claims vanity, with some honesty, but is more concerned with the dangers of the plot he is involved in.

Sensible. Both Shakespeare and De Vega are proving to be quite able protagonists here, whatever one might say about their superiors.


"From whose lips?" Cicely Sellis pursed her own before answering, "I'll not tell you that, not straight out. Many who come to me would liefer not be known to resort to a cunning woman. There are those who'd call me witch."

"I believe it," Shakespeare said. What's in a name? he wondered. The English Inquisition could, no doubt, give him a detailed answer.

"Well you might," she said. "But believe also no day goes by when I hear not some phrase of yours, repeated by one who likes the sound, likes the sense, and knows not, nor cares, whence it cometh. ‘Who ever loved that loved not at first sight?' or--"

Shakespeare laughed. "Your pardon, I pray you, but that is not mine, and Kit Marlowe would wax wroth did I claim it."

"Oh." She laughed, too. "It's I who must cry pardon, for speaking of your words and speaking forth another's. What am I then but a curst unfaithful jade, like unto mine own cat? I speak sooth even so."

"You do me too much honor," Shakespeare said.

"I do you honor, certes, but too much? Give me leave to doubt it. Why, I should not be surprised to hear the dons admiring your plays."

He looked down at what he'd just written. Queen Boudicca, who had been flogged by the Roman occupiers of Britannia, and whose daughters had been violated, was urging the Iceni to revolt, saying,

"But mercy and love are sins in Rome and hell.

If Rome be earthly, why should any knee

With bending adoration worship her?

She's vicious; and, your partial selves confess,

Aspires to the height of all impiety;

Therefore 'tis fitter I should reverence

The thatched houses where the Britons dwell

In careless mirth; where the blest household gods

See nought but chaste and simple purity.

'Tis not high power that makes a place divine,

Nor that men from gods derive their line;

But sacred thoughts, in holy bosoms stor'd,

Make people noble, and the place ador'd."

What would the dons say if they heard those lines? What will the dons say when they hear those lines? He laughed. He couldn't help himself. Give me leave to doubt they will admire them.

As with King Philip, Turtledove is wise enough not to attempt writing original blank verse of his own. He cites John Fletcher's Bonduca as the primary source of the lines attributed here to Shakespeare, sitched together out of context and with a few edits.

Sellis mistaking Marlowe's work for Shakespeare's is a lovely touch.

Sellis continues, mentioning De Vega, then asking if she should attempt to question her Spanish customers about what they think of Shakespeare.


"The dons . . . come to see you, Mistress Sellis?" Shakespeare said slowly.

"In good sooth, they do," she answered. "Why should they not? Be they not men like other men? Have they not fears like other men? Sicknesses like other men? Fear not their doxies they are with child, or poxed, or both at once? Ay, they see me. Some o' the dons'd liefer go to the swarthy wandering Egyptians, whom in their own land they have also, but they see me."

"Very well. I believe't. An it please you, though, I would not have my name in your mouth, no, nor in the Spaniards' ears neither."

Shakespeare thought he spoke quietly, calmly. But Mommet's fur puffed up along his back. The cat's eyes, reflecting the firelight, flared like torches as it hissed and spat. By the way it stood between Shakespeare and its mistress, it might have been a watchdog defending its home.

"Easy, my poppet, my chick, easy." Cicely Sellis bent and stroked the cat. Little by little, its fur settled. Once it began to purr once more, she looked up at Shakespeare. "Fear not. It shall be as you desire."

"For which I thank you."

"I'll leave you to't, then," she said, scooping Mommet up into her arms. "Good night and good fortune."

She spoke as if she could bestow the latter. Shakespeare wished someone could. He would gladly take it wherever it came from.

This is a nice end to the chapter. The Sellis character is an interesting one, and I like how Turtledove gives her just enough strangeness to seem like she might actually be a witch - most authors would have gone hard on the mundane explanation.

Gnoman fucked around with this message at 02:41 on Mar 27, 2020

Safety Biscuits
Oct 21, 2010

Gnoman posted:

The lines here are, as suggested, from Act 5 of Macbeth, another play that shouldn't exist yet as it was first performed in 1606. In this case, there is even less reason for it to have been written, as there is a good possibility that it was inspired in part by the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. With Hamlet, I expressed doubt that the Spaniards would allow a play about rebelling against an usurper to be performed, because it would so easily be seen as an attempt to sow discord against them. Macbeth, however, has a justification - the historical play shows the character of Banquo, who is connected to the rebels againt Macbeth, as being an ancestor of James Stuart, who was King James I of England and King James IV of Scotland at the time. In 1598 England, however, the most prominent member of the House of Stuart would have been Mary I, the Catholic Queen of England who was deposed and later executed by Elizabeth Tudor. Thus it would be quite easy to argue that the play is supposed to represent Elizabeth as the usurper, and the Spanish as the forces restoring the legitimate rule.

Quick point of information here - you've confused two Queen Marys. Mary I, Queen of England, was a Catholic, but not a Stuart; she was Henry VIII's daughter by Catherine of Aragon, and therefore Elizabeth I's half-sister. She reigned from 1552-57, and was married to Philip II of Spain - the guy who organised the Spanish Armada. Elizabeth succeeded her after her death.

The Stuart Mary was Mary, Queen of Scots, aka Mary I of Scotland, Elizabeth I's cousin. She was the daughter of King James V of Scotland, and was forced to flee Scotland for England. Unfortunately for her, she had a claim to the throne of England; she was descended from Henry VIII, and was Catholic, unlike Elizabeth. Therefore, Catholics regarded her as Henry's rightful heir. This resulted in at least one plot involving placing her on the throne, which is why Elizabeth had her executed in 1587.

Feb 11, 2014

"What we therefore hath joined together, let Gnoman put asunder..."

Safety Biscuits posted:

Quick point of information here - you've confused two Queen Marys. Mary I, Queen of England, was a Catholic, but not a Stuart; she was Henry VIII's daughter by Catherine of Aragon, and therefore Elizabeth I's half-sister. She reigned from 1552-57, and was married to Philip II of Spain - the guy who organised the Spanish Armada. Elizabeth succeeded her after her death.

The Stuart Mary was Mary, Queen of Scots, aka Mary I of Scotland, Elizabeth I's cousin. She was the daughter of King James V of Scotland, and was forced to flee Scotland for England. Unfortunately for her, she had a claim to the throne of England; she was descended from Henry VIII, and was Catholic, unlike Elizabeth. Therefore, Catholics regarded her as Henry's rightful heir. This resulted in at least one plot involving placing her on the throne, which is why Elizabeth had her executed in 1587.

Thanks. I thought Mary Stuart actually held the position of Queen of England for a brief time, but that seems to be a mistake. That does weaken the justification for Macbeth being allowed that I came up with (This was not a Turtledove thing, this was a "I am trying to make this aspect make sense in the context of the story" type of thing, if that wasn't clear, so that's entirely my error), and I'll make an appropriate edit.

Safety Biscuits
Oct 21, 2010

Maybe she was proclaimed Queen of England, but she was never crowned.

I think your basic idea holds up fine, though - legitimate Catholic vs. illegitimate Protestant.

Feb 11, 2014

"What we therefore hath joined together, let Gnoman put asunder..."

Chapter Seven, Part I: De Vega


LOPE DE VEGA looked up from the paper. "I pray you, forgive me, Master Shakespeare," he said, "but your character is not easy for one unaccustomed to it."

"You are not the first to tell me so," the English poet answered, "and I thus conclude the stricture holds some truth."

They sat on the edge of the stage in the Theatre, legs dangling down towards the dirt where the groundlings would stand. Behind them, swords clashed as players practiced their moves for the afternoon's show. Looking over his shoulder, Lope could tell at a glance which of them had used a blade in earnest and which only strutted on the stage.

But that was not his worry. The nearly illegible words on the sheet in his left hand were. He pointed to one passage that had, once he'd deciphered it, particularly pleased him. "This is your heretic Queen Elizabeth, speaking to his Most Catholic Majesty's commander as she goes to the Tower?"

Shakespeare nodded. "Just so."

"It hath the ring of truth," Lope said, and began to read:

" ‘Stay, Spanish brethren! Gracious conqueror,

Victorious Parma, rue the tears I shed,

A mother's tears in passion for her land:

And if thy Spain were ever dear to thee,

O! think England to be as dear to me.

Sufficeth not that I am brought hither

To beautify thy triumphs and thy might,

Captive to thee and to thy Spanish yoke,

But must my folk be slaughter'd in the streets,

For valiant doings in their country's cause?

O! if to fight for lord and commonweal

Were piety in thine, it is in these.' "

"Will it serve?" Shakespeare asked anxiously.

"Most excellent well," Lope replied at once. "It is, in sooth, a fine touch, her pleading for mercy thus. How came you to shape it so?"

"I bethought me of what she might tell King Philip himself, did he come to London, then made her speak to his general those same words," Shakespeare said.

"Ah." Sitting, Lope couldn't bow, but did take off his hat and incline his head to show how much the answer pleased him. "Most clever. And then the Duke of Parma's reply is perfect--perfect, I tell you." He read again:

" ‘At mine uncle's bidding, I spare your life,

For mercy is above this sceptr'd sway:

'Tis mighty in the mightiest; it becomes

The throned monarch better than his crown;

It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,

And blesseth him that gives and him that takes.' "

"If it please you, I am content," the Englishman murmured.

"Please me? You are too modest, sir!" Lope cried. While Shakespeare--modestly--shook his head, the Spaniard went on, "Would King Philip might read these wondrous words you write in his behalf. As I live, he'd praise 'em. Know you the Escorial, outside Madrid?"

"I have heard of't," Shakespeare said.

" 'Twill be his Most Catholic Majesty's monument forevermore," Lope said. "And your King Philip, meseems, will live as long."

"May he have many years," Shakespeare said in a low voice. "May this play remain for years unstaged."

Lope crossed himself. "Yes, may it be so, though I fear me the day will come sooner than that." He tapped the sheet of paper with a fingernail. "I shall take back to my superiors a report most excellent of this."

I am unable to determine exactly which passages that Turtledove appropriated for these lines, but they hold together well enough that it isn't obvious that this is a repurposing.

Kemp comes in, demanding a role. De Vega is aghast, but Shakespeare backs Kemp.


To his surprise, Shakespeare stirred beside him. "No, Lieutenant, haply not," he said, and Lope felt betrayed. Shakespeare went on, "Sweeten the posset with some honey, and down it goes, and sinks deep. Without the same . . ." He shook his head.

"I have trouble believing this," Lope said.

"Then who's the fool?" Will Kemp said. He went on, " ‘'A was the first that ever bore arms.' " A sudden shift of voice for, " ‘Why, he had none.' " Back to the original: " ‘What? art a heathen? How dost thou understand the Scripture? The Scripture says, Adam digged; could he dig without arms? I'll put another question to thee. If thou answerest me not, confess thyself--' "

"Confess thyself a blockhead," Lope broke in. "What is this nonsense?"

Quietly, Shakespeare said, "It is from my Prince of Denmark, sir, the which you were kind enough to praise not long since."

Kemp bent and took Lope's head in both hands. The Spaniard tried to twist away, but could not; the clown was stronger than he looked. Solemnly--and, Lope realized after a moment, doing an excellent imitation of Richard Burbage--Kemp intoned, " ‘Alas, poor Yorick. I knew him.' "--as if Lope's head were the skull of the dead clown in the play. " ‘I knew him, Horatio; a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy. He hath borne me on his back a thousand times; and now, how abhorred in my imagination it is! Here hung those lips that I have kissed I know not how oft.' " He kissed Lope de Vega on the mouth and let him go.

Furious, Lope sprang to his feet. His rapier hissed free. "Whoreson knave! Thou diest!" he roared.

"Hold!" Shakespeare said. "Give over! He made his point with words."

Kemp seemed too stupid to care whether he lived or died. Pointing to Lope, he jeered, "He hath no words, and so needs must make his with the sword." With a mocking bow, he added, "Fear no more kisses. I'm not so salt a rogue that you shall make a Bacon of me."

"All the contagions of the south light on you!" Lope said. But he did not thrust at the hateful clown.

He regretted his restraint a moment later, for Kemp bowed once more, and answered, "Why, here you are."

"Go to, both of you!" Shakespeare said. "Give over! Master de Vega, this once I will pray pardon in the clown's name, for--"

"I want no pardon, not from the likes of him," Kemp broke in, which almost got him spitted yet again.

"Silence! One word more shall make me chide thee, if not hate thee," the English poet told him. Shakespeare turned back to Lope. "I will pray pardon in's name, sir, for how else but by clowning shall a clown answer?"

Breathing heavily, de Vega sheathed his blade. "For your sake, Master Shakespeare, I will put by my quarrel."

But it was not for Shakespeare's sake, or not altogether, that he took it no further. Shakespeare gave him an honorable excuse, yes, and he seized on it. But Will Kemp--demons of hell torment him, Lope thought--had been right, and had proved himself right, no matter how offensively he'd done it. Lope wouldn't admit that to the clown, but couldn't help admitting it to himself.

"Kemp insults somebody and almost starts a brawl" scenes are a dime-a-dozen in this book, but this is the first time that somebody nearly kills him twice in a brief encounter for his behavior. A nice insight into De Vega here as a character here.

Shakespeare assures De Vega that Kemp will be perfectly respectable on the stage when King Phillip is performed. De Vega insists that Kemp belongs in an asylum.

De Vega heads back to report, gives a enthusiastic summary of the developing play to a delighted Enrique, and then makes his report to Guzman.


Baltasar Guzmán listened attentively to Lope. When de Vega started to quote the English, though, his superior held up a hand. "Spare me that. I don't know enough of the language to follow. Give me the gist, en español."

"Certainly, your Excellency," Lope said, and obeyed.

When he'd finished, Guzmán nodded. "This all sounds well enough, Lieutenant. I have one question, though." Lope nodded, too, looking as if he awaited nothing more eagerly. Captain Guzmán asked, "Can you be sure no treason lurks here, that an Englishman would hear but you do not? You have harped on Shakespeare's subtlety before."

The question was better, more serious, more important, than Lope had looked for. "I--" he began, and then shook his head. "No, sir, I cannot be sure of that. I am fluent in English, but not perfect. Still, the Master of the Revels will pass on the play before it appears. I may miss this or that. He will not."

"Yes. That is so." Captain Guzmán nodded and looked relieved. "And Sir Edmund is most reliable." He clicked his tongue between his teeth. "I have to make sure he stays reliable, eh?"

"Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?" de Vega remarked.

"Just so--who watches the watchmen?" Guzmán turned Latin into Spanish. He eyed Lope, who felt a sudden horrible fear the little nobleman might decide he ought to do that job. But Guzmán shook his head, reading de Vega's thought. "You'll stay where you are. You're doing well there, and I have no one else who could take your place. So your precious Shakespeare really is writing this play, eh?"

"He really is, your Excellency," Lope answered.

"Good. Very good," Captain Guzmán said. "One more English whore--pay him, and he does what you want."

Here, Turtledove actually justifies the way the Spanish are treating Shakespeare. The "one more whore" attitude requires a ton of arrogance, but it is a kind of arrogance that has proved very common with rulers.

Chapter Seven, Part II: Shakespeare


SHAKESPEARE WAS TIRED of cheese and stockfish and even of fresh fish. What he wanted was a beefsteak, hot and sizzling and full of juice. When he grumbled to Kate in the ordinary, she leaned toward him and spoke in a low voice. "You can have what you crave, though not for the threepence of a common supper."

There is a room upstairs where he can get such a thing for a shilling - 12 pence, or four times what it would ordinarily cost. He declines this extravagance, both for the cost and out of concern for the reisk of betraying himself in the smallest of ways. Unfortunately, he recieves an unwelcome visitor.


He'd almost finished his unsatisfying Lenten supper when someone who was not a regular strode into the ordinary and looked around. Shakespeare needed a moment to realize that, though he hadn't seen the fellow here before, he knew him even so. The newcomer recognized him at the same moment, and walked over towards his table. "Master Shakespeare, an I mistake not," he said.

"Indeed, Constable Strawberry," Shakespeare answered. "Give you good even."

"And you." The constable perched on a stool. He waved to Kate. "A cup of sherris-sack, and yarely."

As the serving woman brought it, Shakespeare thanked heaven he hadn't brought Boudicca to the ordinary--although, he reminded himself uneasily, Walter Strawberry could also have come to the house where he lodged. Fighting that unease, he said, "What would you?"

"I'm turning up clods, you might say," Strawberry replied gravely. He nodded, pleased with his own turn of phrase. "Aye, I'm turning up clods."

See yourself in a glass, and you'll turn up a great one. The thought flickered through Shakespeare's mind. He bit back the urge to fling it in Strawberry's face. Will Kemp wouldn't have hesitated, but Kemp had less to lose. Wearing his polite player's mask, Shakespeare asked, "And what have you turned up?"

Strawberry has discovered that Shakespeare quarreled with Martin not long before the murder. Shakespeare explains quite seinsibly -and with a false layer of annoyance covering his fear- that this was a routine argument - Martin wanted to change the new play, and Shakespeare didn't want it changed. Strawberry acknowledges the point.


"Then why"--Shakespeare almost said whyfore himself--"come you here?"

"Fear not, Master Shakespeare. I draw nearer the occasion of my occasion, so I do." The constable took a scrap of paper from his wallet, peered down at it, and then put it back. "D'you ken a man named Frizer?"

"Frizer?" the poet echoed. Strawberry nodded. Shakespeare shook his head and shrugged. "No, sir. That name I wot not of."

"Ingram Frizer, he calls himself," Strawberry went on.

Ice ran through Shakespeare. He hoped his surprise and dismay didn't show. That loud-mouthed knifeman who'd asked if Geoff Martin was causing trouble . . . The poet made himself shrug again. "I am none the wiser, sir."

"Ah, well. I've said the same thing, the very same thing, many a time, so I have." The constable held up his mug and called to Kate: "Here, my dear, fetch me another, if you'd be so genderous."

"So can she scarce help being," Shakespeare remarked.

"Ah, in sooth? That likes me in a woman, genderosity, so it does. I thank you for learning me of it." Strawberry laid a finger by the side of his nose and winked. When the serving woman refilled his mug, he patted her backside.

She poured wine in his lap. He let out a startled squawk. "Oh, your pardon, I pray you," Kate said sweetly, and went back behind the counter.

Strawberry fumed. "Methought you said she was genderous of her person," he grumbled, dabbing at himself. "I saw no hint of that--marry, none." He sipped what was left of the wine, his expression still sour.

"A misunderstanding, belike," Shakespeare said.

"Ay, truly, for I understood the miss to be of her person . . ." The constable took another pull at the mug, set it down, and looked at Shakespeare as if just realizing he was there. "Ingram Frizer," he said again.

"I told you, sir, I know not the man."

"You told me. Oh, yes, you told me." Constable Strawberry nodded and then kept on nodding, as if he ran on clockwork. "But you ken a man who knows the aforespoken Frizer."

"Not to my knowledge," Shakespeare said.

"Ah, knowledge." Strawberry was still nodding, perhaps wisely. "I know all manner of things I have no knowledge of. But I say what I say, the which being so in dispect of the man."

"What man?" Shakespeare demanded, hoping a show of temper would mask his growing fear. "I pray you, tell me who it is quickly and speak apace. One more inch of delay is a South Sea of discovery. Take the cork out of your mouth that I may drink your tidings. Pour this concealed man out of your mouth as wine comes out of a bottle."

"As you like it, sir, I shall. His name is Nick Skeres. Will you tell me you ken him not? Eh? Will you?"

Constable Strawberry, quite frankly, is an idiot. Barely able to speak his own language, sarcasm and wit are completely beyond him. Yet he not only has figured out who killed Martin, he's traced the line further to Skeres. Or, in other words, he has all the pieces of the puzzle in his hands in a matter of weeks - Martin was killed shortly before the 40 day Lenten fast was begun, and it is still Lent now. This makes the Spaniards not noticing it far harder to buy.

Shakespeare passes it off - he admits to having met Skeres, but insists that these are chance meetings and he doesn't know Skeres well enough to aid in the investigation. Stawberry ponders this for a time, until his slow brain finally decides he's going to make no progress here and leaves.

Kate, of course is furious, and threatens to leave Shakespeare over Strawberry's behavior. She is appeased by Shakespeare's assurances that Strawberry is just a cop, no friend of his, and you can't expect better behavior from one such as him. She admits this, and resolves to bathe at the first opportunity to wash away his touch.


He had intended going back to his lodging and working on Boudicca there. He'd just sat down in front of the fire, though, when Cicely Sellis came out of her room with a swarthy fellow who lifted his hat to her, said, "Muchas gracias," and then vanished into the night.

As casually as he could, Shakespeare said, "That was a Spaniard." He hoped his words covered the pounding of his heart.

The cunning woman nodded. "He is . . . friend to a woman who hath oft come hither, and so thought to ask of me a question of his own."

"I hope he paid well," Shakespeare said.

Cicely Sellis nodded again, and smiled. "He did indeed. The dons are fools with their money, nothing less. Whether I gave him full . . . satisfaction I know not, though I dare hope."

"Ah." Shakespeare had been about to ask what the Spaniard had wanted, and had been afraid she wouldn't tell him. Now he thought he knew, especially as the fellow was well into his middle years. "He hath a difficulty in rising to the occasion?"

"E'en so." Amusement glinted in Cicely Sellis' eye.

Shakespeare asks for her remedy - out of pure curiosty, of course, and she admits that her remedy is that men believe her.


"How not? How could it be otherwise?"

"How? I'll tell you straight. What's the common curse of mankind? Folly and ignorance. To wisdom man's a fool that will not yield. I do now mind me of a saying, ‘The fool doth think he is wise'--and you may as well forbid the sea for to obey the moon, as or by oath remove or counsel shake the fabric of man's folly. That is truth, or there be liars."

"You think not much of them God made."

"I think God made them--fools," Shakespeare said. "Or will you quarrel?"

"Not I," Cicely Sellis said. "Never let it be said I could do such an unchristian thing as that. And I'll leave you to your work now, good sir, lest you find reason to quarrel with me." She dropped him a curtsy that might have come from a noblewoman--not that he'd ever had a noblewoman drop him a curtsy--and drew back into her room. "God give you good even," she said, closing the door behind her.

He builds up a fire, and begins writing the Roman reaction to the Iceni rebellion.


"And you," Shakespeare answered, though he wasn't sure she heard. He perched on the stool in front of the table, then nervously got up and put more wood on the fire. The Widow Kendall would complain in the morning when she found it gone, but she wasn't here now, and Shakespeare needed the light. He also needed to take a deep breath and calm himself before setting pen to paper on Boudicca. First Constable Strawberry, then that whoreson Spaniard . . . 'Swounds, an I die not of an apoplexy, 'twill be the hand of God on my shoulder, holding me safe from harm.

It was, perhaps, not by accident that his mind and his pen turned to the revolt Britain, under the queen of the Iceni, raised against the Romans, and to the Romans' horrified response. How would they feel, seeing a province they thought subdued rise and smite 'em? he wondered.

His pen began to move. Poenius Postumus, a Roman officer, began to speak on the page:

"Nor can Rome task us with impossibilities,

Or bid us fight against a flood; we serve her,

That she may proudly say she hath good soldiers,

Not slaves to choke all hazards. Who but fools,

That make no difference betwixt certain dying

And dying well, would fling their fames and fortunes

Into this Britain-gulf, this quicksand-ruin,

That, sinking, swallows us! what noble hand

Can find a subject fit for blood there? or what sword

Room for his execution? what air to cool us,

But poison'd with their blasting breaths and curses,

Where we lie buried quick above the ground,

And are, with labouring sweat and breathless pain,

Kill'd like slaves, and cannot kill again?"

Shakespeare paused to read what he'd just written, and nodded in satisfaction. He started to add something to Poenius' speech, but his pen chose that moment to run dry. Muttering, hoping he wouldn't lose his inspiration, he inked it and resumed:

"Set me to lead a handful of my men

Against an hundred thousand barbarous slaves,

That have march'd name by name with Rome's best doers?

Serve 'em up some other meat; I'll bring no food

To stop the jaws of all those hungry wolves;

My regiment's mine own."

He nodded again. Yes, that would do nicely. Poenius would later kill himself for shame at not having joined Suetonius' victorious army. Meanwhile, his anguished despair would move the play forward--and make the groundlings cheer his British, female foe.

After the Romans first conquered Britain, Tacitus said, they'd flogged Boudicca and violated her daughters. Rumor said the Spaniards had raped England's Virgin Queen after capturing her. Shakespeare didn't know whether rumor was true, but he intended to use it in the play.

But not tonight, he thought, yawning. He began to rest his head on his arms, then jerked upright with alarm tingling through him. If he fell asleep in front of the hearth and someone else got a look at what he was writing . . . If that happened, he was a dead man, and Lord Burghley's plan dead with him. He made himself get up and put away the deadly dangerous manuscript before he went to bed. His last thought as slumber seized him was, I may not make this business easier, but I will not make it harder.

There's one thing I really like about this section - Shakespeare's pen running out of ink and needing to be dipped. This would have been a routine annoyance and interruption for most until the middle of the 20th century when disposable ballpoints became ubiquiotus, but is practically a foreign concept today. Of equal interest is Shakespeare cheerfully using a doubtful rumor for his own purposes. He doesn't know if Elizabeth really was violated, and doesn't particularly care - it suits his purposes, and he's using it.

Chapter VII, Part 3: De Vega

De Vega enters his quarters, expecting to have to wake up Diego. He is shocked to find Deigo awake, and horrified to find him eating roast beef. He tears into Diego, threatining to give him to the Inquisition.


Diego shot him a resentful stare. "What are you doing here, anyway? When you didn't come back and you didn't come back, I thought you were off screwing your new Englishwoman. If you hadn't walked in when you weren't supposed to, you never would have seen me."

"And you still would have sinned," Lope said.

"And so what?" his servant replied. "God would have known, and maybe my confessor, but nobody else. I'm not doing any harm."

Lope pointed to the chunk of beef. "Get rid of that. Wrap a rag around it so nobody can see what it is and get rid of it. You didn't think anyone would catch you, but now somebody has. And do you know what that means? Do you, Diego?"

"What?" Diego asked apprehensively.

"It means you are mine," de Vega answered. "Mine, do you hear me? I hold your life in my hand, and if I choose to squeeze. . . ." He held out his right hand, palm up, and slowly folded it into a fist. He made the fist as tight as he could, to make sure Diego got the idea.

His servant shuddered. "You wouldn't do such a thing, señor . . . would you?"

That last frightened question, one Diego surely didn't want to ask but also one he couldn't hold back, told Lope just how worried he was. "Maybe I wouldn't," Lope said. "But, on the other hand, maybe I would, too. That depends on you, don't you think?"

"On me?" Diego didn't like the sound of that.

"On you," Lope said again. "Maybe you were just hungry this once, as you say. If you were, maybe we can forget about it. If you keep your nose clean from now on--if you stay awake, by God, and if you do all the things you're supposed to do--then nobody needs to know about it. But if you think you can go on being lazy and useless, well, even if I can't wake you up, I'd bet the inquisitors damned well can."

Diego looked sullen. "That's blackmail."

"Yes, it is, isn't it?" de Vega agreed cheerfully. "A shame I need to blackmail you into doing what you ought to be doing anyhow, but if that's what it takes, that's what I'll do. You will stay awake from now on, won't you?"
I just love that exchange

Diego is not happy with the situation, which alarms De Vega. He has a solution to this - he writes out a sealed letter detailing the event, and informs Diego that that letter will be given to somebody who will open it if anything unfortunate should happen.


Out beyond the barred door, Diego cursed quietly. His blasphemies were music to Lope's ears. Then Diego picked up the boots; their heels thumped together. Lope hugged himself with glee as he got into bed. Not even the threat of the Scottish border had turned Diego into a tolerable servant. The threat of the Inquisition, though, seemed to have turned the trick.

And when Lope woke the next morning, he found Diego already up and waiting for him. "Here are your boots, señor," the servant said tonelessly. All the mud and scuff marks were gone from them; the leather gleamed with grease. Still with no expression in his voice, Diego went on, "What else do you require?"

"Do I hear rain outside?" Lope asked. Diego nodded. De Vega said, "Well, in that case, you can fetch me my good wool cloak, and get me a hat with an extra wide brim."

"Just as you say," Diego answered, and went to do it. He didn't grumble. He didn't even yawn. It was like a miracle. Lope had no idea how long it would last, but aimed to enjoy it while it did. Taking the letter he'd written with him, he went off to get his breakfast. Even the porridge the barracks kitchen served up tasted better than usual this morning.

With a bowl of barley mush and a cup of wine inside him, he went to see his superior. As usual, Captain Baltasar Guzmán's servant intercepted him before he got through the door. "You're looking cheerful this morning, Senior Lieutenant," Enrique remarked.

After exchanging pleasantries with Enrique, he heads in to see Guzman. Before anything else, he gives Guzman the "To Be Opened In The Event Of" letter he prepared. Guzman naturally accepts it. He then heads off to the theatre, where Burbage informs him that Shakespeare has failed to turn up on time.

Turtledove loves the Dead Man Writing trope he employs here. I can think of at least two more works where such letters are written, maybe three. This is understandable - it is a classic because it works. Also, great use of the chapter break and POV format - show that he's missing before you show why he's missing.

Chapter VII, Part 4: Shakespeare


"KEEP DRY, NOW," the Widow Kendall called out as William Shakespeare left her house to go to the Theatre. With rain drumming down, the advice struck him as useless, but was no doubt kindly meant. He nodded and hurried away.

His belly growled as he hurried through Bishopsgate. Lent wore on him. But he dared not break the fast, not in this year of all years. He was much more virtuous than he might have been, to make sure the Spaniards paid him no special notice.

"Master Shakespeare?"

The voice came out of the rain. Shakespeare jumped. "Who is it?" he asked sharply, peering through the dripping early-morning gloom.

"Here I am, your honor."

Shakespeare's heart sank. He'd heard that sly, whining voice before, seen that clever, ugly face. "What would you, Master Skeres?" he said. "Let it be brief, an you can. I must to the Theatre."

Nicholas Skeres shook his head. "I fear me not, or not yet. You needs must come with me, and straightaway."

"Wherefore?" Shakespeare demanded.

Skeres' smile showed his bad teeth. It also made Shakespeare want to drive them down his throat. "The wherefore of't's not for me to say," Skeres answered. "Still and all, them as sent me, they'd not be happy did I come back to 'em solus."

"And who did send you?"

"Them you'll meet when I fetch you thither." From everything Shakespeare had seen, Nick Skeres delighted in being uninformative. He also delighted in the power he held over Shakespeare. When he said, "Come," the snap of command filled his voice.

And Shakespeare had to go with him. He knew as much. He hated it, but he knew it. He did say, "They'll miss me, up in Shoreditch."

Nick Skeres shrugged. "Better that than they miss you whose man I am." He turned away towards the southwest. Heart sinking, Shakespeare followed, however much he wanted to go in the opposite direction.

A horse trying to haul a wagon full of barrels through the muck blocked a narrow street. The wagon had bogged down. The driver rained blows on the horse's back. With all its strength, the beast strained against the weight and the mud. Then, with a noise like a pistol shot, it broke a leg. Its scream was like that of a woman on the rack.

"Cut its throat," Skeres said with a laugh. "It's knacker's meat now."

So it is, Shakespeare thought grimly. And you'd cut my throat as heartlessly, you bloody, bawdy villain, did I likewise break down in your employ. Nick Skeres laughed again, as if to say he knew what was going through Shakespeare's mind--knew and didn't care. And that was all too likely true.

And here we see Shakespeare disappearing. There wasn't much mystery as to who took him - De Vega would have known if the Spanish troops or the Inquisition had grabbed him - but we still don't know why.

Skeres leads Shakespeare off, to a house not far from the Spanish barracks. They do not enter the house, but head into a garden behind it.


"Why, the men who're fain to see you. Who else?" Nick Skeres replied. Shakespeare glared. The other man looked back, unperturbed and resolutely close-mouthed. He took Shakespeare towards a rose arbor that no doubt perfumed the air and gave welcome shade when the sun shone high and hot, but that seemed as badly out of season as the rest of the garden now. As Shakespeare drew closer to it, he saw through the rain that two men sat in that poor shelter--waiting for him?

" 'Sblood, Master Skeres, they'll take their deaths," he exclaimed.

Shrugging, Skeres answered, "An they fret not, why should you?" He sounded altogether indifferent. The milk of human kindness ran thin in him, if it ran at all.

When Shakespeare ducked his way into the arbor, both waiting men slowly got to their feet. "God give you good morrow," Sir William Cecil rumbled.

Shakespeare bowed low. "And you, your Grace," he said. "But . . . should you not go inside, where . . . where it's warm and dry?" Where I may hope you'll die not on the instant, was what he meant. Lord Burghley was paler and puffier than he had been the previous autumn; he wheezed with every breath he took, and shivered despite being swaddled in furs.

But he shook his head even so. "Who knows what ears lurk within? As the matter advanceth, so advanceth also the need to keep't secret. And here, in sooth, we speak under the rose." He chuckled rheumily. Despite the laugh and his bold words, though, his lips had a bluish cast that alarmed Shakespeare. He gathered strength and went on, "When last we met, I told you my son would take this matter forward. Allow me to present you to him now. Robert, here is Master Shakespeare, the poet."

"I am your servant, sir," Shakespeare murmured, bowing to the younger man as he had to the elder.

Robert Cecil gave back a bow of his own. He was about Shakespeare's age, with a long, thin, pale face made longer still by the pointed chin beard he wore and by his combing his seal-brown hair back from his forehead. He would not have been a tall man even had he stood straight; a crooked back robbed him of several more inches. But when he said, "I take no small pleasure at making your acquaintance, Master Shakespeare, being an admirer of your dramas," Shakespeare bowed again, knowing he'd got praise worth having. The younger Cecil's voice was higher and lighter than his father's, but no less full of sharp, even prickly, intelligence.

They ask about the status of the play. Shakespeare's answer of "the end of spring" as a due date satisfies them, and a mention of King Philip prompts Cecil to give him an extra 50 pounds.

"Certes, Father." Robert Cecil reached under his cloak. His hands were long and thin and pale, too--hands a musician might have wished he had. He gave Shakespeare a small but nicely heavy leather sack. "We cannot let ourselves be outbid."

"By God, sir--" Shakespeare began, alarmed back into English.

The younger Cecil waved him to silence. "Did we fear betrayal from you, we'd work with another. This is for our pride's sake, not suffering our foes to outdo us."


No matter what they say, this is clearly a case of making sure that Shakespeare is an honest man - the kind that stays bought.

Shakespeare has a warning for them.

In aid of which . . . "Constable Strawberry knows Ingram Frizer's name," the poet warned.

"We know of Constable Strawberry," Lord Burghley said with another wet chuckle. "Fear not on that score."

Robert Cecil nodded. "If he have wit enough to keep himself warm, let him bear it for a difference between himself and his horse."

"His wits are not so blunt as, God help us, I would desire them," Shakespeare said.

"Comparisons are odorous," the younger Cecil observed, proving he had indeed marked Walter Strawberry's style, "but not Hercules could have knocked out his brains, for he had none."

"Belike," Shakespeare said, "yet some of what your wisdoms would not have discovered, that shallow fool hath brought to light."

"He'll find no more," Robert Cecil said. With that Shakespeare had to be content--or rather, less than content.
The Cecils are idiots. Anyone who's dug up that much is a massive danger, and the fact that Strawberry obviously has no brains makes it far worse. If he can ferret out that much, you're being way too obvious.

They send Skeres away, and Cecil demands recitations from the play, since he won't live to see it finished. After the first passage, he stops for their reaction.


He waited. The two Cecils looked at each other. Slowly, magisterially, Lord Burghley nodded. So did his son, who despite his briskness deferred to the old man's opinion. Shakespeare felt as if he'd just received the accolade. Robert Cecil said, " 'Twill serve. Beyond doubt, 'twill serve. Have you more?"

Shakespeare beamed. "By my troth, you know how to please a poet!" William Cecil laughed; Robert allowed himself a thin chuckle. Shakespeare continued, "This is Caratach, Boudicca's brother-in-law and the great warlord of the Iceni--"

"We know our Tacitus, Master Shakespeare," Robert Cecil broke in.

"Your pardon, I pray," Shakespeare said. "The groundlings, however, will not: thus I needs must make it plain."

"Indeed. You know your craft best, and so 'tis I must ask your pardon," the younger Cecil said. "Carry on."

"So I shall. This is Caratach, I say, speaking to Hengo, who is his young nephew, and Boudicca's."

"And who is not in the text of the Annals," William Cecil declared in a voice that brooked no contradiction.

"In sooth, your Grace, he is not," Shakespeare agreed, "but I need him for the play, and so summoned him to being."

The two Cecils put their heads together. Sir William Cecil said, "Again, Master Shakespeare, we take your point. The play's the thing. Let us hear it."

This is interesting mostly because these are very much relevant to the author. Not just somebody like Shakespeare, dramatizing history for a play, but for Turtledove himself. Setting a scene so that you don't have to have studied the era to follow it, and creating characters to fill in the gaps is an essential part of his own work.

After more recitation, they summon Skeres to take Shakspeare away.


I'll do't, sir. You can depend on Nick Skeres." Shakespeare could imagine no one on whom he less wanted to depend. But nobody in this mad game cared a farthing for what he wanted. Skeres turned to him with a half mocking grin. "You may not know't, Master Shakespeare, but I reckon you the safest man in London these days."

"What mean you?" Shakespeare asked.

That grin got wider. "There's not a ferret, not a flick, not a foist, not a high lawyer in the city but knows your name and visage--and knows you're to be let alone. God help him who sets upon you in Lord Burghley's despite."

"And my son's," Sir William Cecil said. "He will outdo me, as any man should pray his son will do."

Shakespeare wondered about that on several counts. He'd known plenty of men, his own father among them, who wanted to see their sons as less than themselves, not greater. More than a few of that type, far from advancing their sons, did everything they could to hold them back. And Robert Cecil, though surely a man of formidable wit, lacked his father's indomitable will. Maybe his slight frame and twisted back accounted for that. Or maybe the younger man would have been the lesser even had he been born straight. In the end, who but God could know such things?

And what is a playwright but a man who seeks to make a god of himself and creatures of his characters? Shakespeare shoved the blasphemous thought aside, though surely it had crossed the mind of everyone who'd ever touched pen to paper in hopes of writing something worth going up on stage.
You might recall that these same blaspemous thoughts were earlier brought up in reference to De Vega, an excellently drawn parallel between the two literary giants.

He takes his leave, and heads off toward the theatre when Skeres allows him to separate.


When Shakespeare got to the Theatre, one of Jack Hungerford's helpers pointed to him and let out a delighted whoop: "God be praised, he's here!"

"In sooth, God be praised!" Richard Burbage boomed from center stage--his usual haunt. "We'd begun to fear you'd gone poor Geoff Martin's way, and the great and wise Constable Strawberry would summon one of us for to identify your moral remainders." Like most players worth their hire, Burbage had a knack for mimicking anyone he chanced to meet. He made no worse hash of the language than the constable himself, though.

"Some of us were less afeard than others," Will Kemp said. Shakespeare wondered--as he was no doubt intended to wonder--how the clown meant that. Had he meant to say some people remained confident nothing had happened to Shakespeare? Or did he mean some people wouldn't have cared had something happened? Better not to know.

"I pray your pardon, friends," Shakespeare said. "I was summoned to see someone, and had no choice but compliance."

He hoped the company would take that to mean he'd been called before Don Diego Flores de Valdés. Kemp, as was his way, drew a different meaning from it. His hands shaped an hourglass in the air. Several players laughed. So did Shakespeare.

His laughter abruptly curdled when Burbage said, "Your spaniel of a Spaniard came sniffing after you earlier today, and made away in some haste on hearing you'd come not."

"Said he what he wished of me?" Shakespeare asked, cursing under his breath. Lope de Vega, of course, would have no trouble learning he hadn't gone to Don Diego. I did well, not using the lie direct, Shakespeare thought.

"He'd fain hear more King Philip, else I'm a Dutchman," Burbage answered, at which Will Kemp began staggering around as if in the last stages of drunkenness and mumbling guttural nonsense that might have been Dutch. Shakespeare laughed again. He couldn't help it. When Kemp let himself go, no man who saw him could help laughing.

Kemp takes his clowning too far with Burbage, and nearly gets beaten for it. After putting Kemp into place, Burbage asks if the work is satisifying the client.


Before he and Shakespeare could start another round of insults, Richard Burbage asked the poet, "Doth the work thus far done suit the principal?"

Was he speaking of Don Diego or of Lord Burghley, of King Philip or of Boudicca? Shakespeare wasn't sure. He wondered if Burbage were sure. Either way, though, he could safely nod. "So I am given to understand."

"Good, then. Beside that, naught else hath great import." Burbage set his hands on his hips and raised his voice till it filled the Theatre: "Now that Will's back amongst us, and back with good news, let's think on what we do this afternoon, eh? The wives of Windsor shall not be merry unless we make them so."

Kemp fell to with more spirit than he often showed at rehearsals--but then, of course, he played Sir John Falstaff, around whom the comedy revolved. Even though the play ended with Falstaff's humiliation, the part was too juicy to leave him room for complaint. Indeed, after the rehearsal ended, he came up to Shakespeare and said, "Would you'd writ more for the great larded tun." He put both hands on his belly. He was not a thin man, but would play Falstaff well padded.

"More? Of what sort?" Shakespeare asked. He knew Kemp spoke because he wanted the role, but was curious even so. The clown might give him an idea worth setting down on paper.

But Kemp said, "He is too straitened in a town of no account. Let him come to London! Let him meet with princes. No, by God--he deserveth to meet with kings!"

Shakespeare shook his head. "I fear me not. I got leave to write of the third Richard, he being villain black. But, did I bring other Kings of England into my plays, and in especial did I speak them fair, 'twould be reckoned treason, no less than the . . . other matter we pursue. Can you tell me I am mistook?"

Will Kemp scowled. "drat me, but I cannot. Devil take the dons, then! A bargain, Master Shakespeare--do we cast them down, give me Falstaff and a king."

If he had a reason to throw off the Spaniards' yoke, he would be less likely to go to them in a fit of temper or simply a fit of folly. "A bargain," Shakespeare said solemnly. They clasped hands.

After ignoring this point for most of the book, it seems strange to point out at this point that many of Shakespeare's plays WOULD in fact have been reckoned treasonous by an occupying power. More importantly, the specific example given is dubious. Shakespeare's Richard III paints Richard Plantagenet as an usurper and kinslayer who's eventual ruin is portrayed as simple justice for his sins. Portraying him as a black villain seems reasonable, but the "rightful" king who suceeded him took the name Henry VII. Henry VII of England was the first monarch from the House of Tudor, father to Henry VIII and grandfather to Elizabeth I. The play thus strengthens the legitimacy of Elizabeth's rule, which is not something the Spanish would be likely to allow even though there were other heirs who's legitimacy helped them. The Elizabeth connection would simply be too strong.

Chapter VII, Part 5: De Vega


Lope De Vega and Lucy Watkins stood among the other groundlings at the Theatre. The boy playing Mistress Page said,

"Good husband, let us every one go home,

And laugh this sport o'er by a country fire;

Sir John and all."

Richard Burbage, who played Ford, replied,

"Let it be so. Sir John,

To Master Brook you shall hold your word;

For he to-night shall lie with Mistress Ford."

A flourish of horns announced the end of the play. The actors bowed. Despite the rain that had been coming down all day, the Theatre erupted in applause. Lope clapped his hands. Beside him, Lucy hopped up and down in the mud, squealing with delight. De Vega smiled. "I am glade it pleases thee," he said. He had to repeat himself to make her hear him through the din.

She nodded, her eyes shining. "Ay, it likes me well. My thanks for bringing me hither."

"El gusto es mío," Lope replied. And the pleasure was his; through the way The Merry Wives of Windsor enchanted her, he enjoyed it as he couldn't have if he'd come alone. The whelk-seller didn't try to pick it to pieces to see how it worked. She just let it wash over her, taking it as it came. Lope couldn't do that by himself. With her, he could.

As the play ends, Lope offers to introduce Watkins to the actors. She is delighted by the prospect, and he leads her toward the backstage.


Some small part of him knew that one day before too long he would spy another face, another form, that pleased him as much as Lucy's, or more. He would fall in love with the woman who had them, too. Maybe he would lose his love for the whelk-seller, maybe he wouldn't. He had no trouble staying in love with two or three women at once--till they found out about it. Then he had trouble. He tried to forget what had happened after the bear-baiting in Southwark.

Lucy helped by distracting him. "Look! A man guards the way. Will he give us leave to go forward?"

"Fear not, my sweet," Lope answered grandly. The tireman's helper had just turned a prosperous-looking merchant away from the door. De Vega pushed past the disgruntled Englishman, an anxious Lucy on his arm. "Good day to you, Edward," he said.

"Ah, Master Lope." The tireman's helper stood aside. "Go in, sir. I know they'll be glad to see you."

The look on Lucy Watkins' face was worth twenty pounds to him. "They'll be glad to see thee?" she whispered in what couldn't have been anything but awe.

"Certes," Lope said, and patted her hand. "They are my friends." Her eyes got wider still. He wanted to take her in his arms and kiss her on the spot, but didn't for fear of embarrassing her. She wasn't, and didn't act like, a trull, a woman of the town; if she gave herself to him when they were alone together, she behaved like a lady when in public.

"God give you good morrow, Master Lope," Richard Burbage called when de Vega and Lucy came into the tiring room. Lope bowed in return. Lucy's curtsy came a heartbeat slower than it might have, but was graceful as a duchess'. As if she were a noblewoman, Burbage made a leg at her.

"They are thy friends," she said in wonder, pressing closer to Lope.

Kemp is smoking a pipe, which he shares with Lope and Lucy. She hates it, which amuses both Kemp and De Vega, who briefly bond over their shared fondness for tobacco.


Before that agreement could shatter, as it was likely to do, de Vega led Lucy away from the clown and over to Shakespeare. She curtsied to the English poet. He bowed over her hand, saying, "I am pleased to make your acquaintance, my lady."

"And I yours, sir," she said. "The play today--'twas a marvel. I all but split my sides laughing. When Falstaff hid amongst the washing--" She giggled.

Shakespeare raised an eyebrow, ever so slightly. "That it like you delights me," he said. Without words, his face said something else to Lope, something like, You didn't choose her for her wit, did you?

"Her pleasure becomes mine," Lope murmured. Lucy, still gushing about The Merry Wives of Windsor, didn't notice. Shakespeare gave back a thoughtful nod, part understanding; part, Lope thought, something else. Here is a quirk worth remembering for a play, was likely going through the English poet's mind.

Shakespeare takes the opportunity to recite some of the latest lines from King Philip to De Vega.


Lope tasted the lines, then slowly nodded. "An honor to play so great a man. An honor to have such splendid words to say." Shakespeare nodded thanks for the compliment.

Lucy Watkins' eyes widened. "Thou'lt tread upon the stage, with Master Shakespeare here writing thee a part?"

"Even so, my beloved," Lope answered. Some women, especially those of higher blood, would have looked down their noses at him for it. To one who sold shellfish, though, the glamour of the theatre seemed perfectly real. Lope knew how tawdry a place it could be. In Lucy's eyes, it shone--and so, through her, it shone again for him, too, at least for a little while.

When he and Lucy left the Theatre a little later, they found the closest lodging they could. He never quite figured out whose arms first went around whom. Lucy had been less lively in bed than some women he'd known. No more. Up till then, he hadn't learned all that went into igniting her. He laughed at the moment they spent themselves together, something he'd hardly ever done despite all his many partners. The theatre had more enchantments than even he'd thought.

I'm surprised that De Vega isn't insulted by this. He's trading on reflected glory here.

Apr 10, 2010

College Slice

Gnoman posted:

I am unable to determine exactly which passages that Turtledove appropriated for these lines, but they hold together well enough that it isn't obvious that this is a repurposing.

"Stay, Spanish brethren..." is from Titus Andronicus:


Stay, Roman brethren! Gracious conqueror,
Victorious Titus, rue the tears I shed,
A mother's tears in passion for her son:
And if thy sons were ever dear to thee,
O, think my son to be as dear to me!
Sufficeth not that we are brought to Rome,
To beautify thy triumphs and return,
Captive to thee and to thy Roman yoke,
But must my sons be slaughter'd in the streets,
For valiant doings in their country's cause?
O, if to fight for king and commonweal
Were piety in thine, it is in these.

The "At thy uncle's bidding,, I spare thy life..." is from Portia's speech in the Merchant of Venice


The quality of mercy is not strain’d,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:
‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown;
His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptred sway;
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God’s
When mercy seasons justice

"Nor can Rome task us with impossibilities, . . ." and "Set me to lead a handful of my men..."

are, as was mentioned before direct quotes from Beaumont and Fletcher's (although probably only Fletcher) "Bonduca", which was a play about Bouducca's revolt against Rome.

For those people who don't know who Fletcher was, he was actually Shakespeare's successor. He had become famous writing plays with Francis Beaumont, and then he actually wrote three plays in collaboration with Shakespeare, Henry VIII, Two Noble Kinsmen, and Cardenio, which was lost but was probably a romantic comedy, and which was possibly taken from a scene in Don Quixote, and which might have been the basis for an 18th century play called "Double Falsehood". Fletcher at that time also wrote a play called "The Woman's Prize" or "The Tamer Tamed", which was a sequel to The Taming of the Shrew (Petruchio remarries after Katherine dies, and his new wife refuses to have sex with him unless he changes his ways.) After Shakespeare died, Fletcher took over writing for the King's Men.

It's a little off topic here, but both "The Taming of the Shrew" and "The Woman's Prize" was part of a larger debate going on in literary circles in Jacobean England called "the gender question", about whether men were morally superior to women and whether men should have natural authority over women.

Feb 11, 2014

"What we therefore hath joined together, let Gnoman put asunder..."

Epicurius posted:

"Stay, Spanish brethren..." is from Titus Andronicus:

The "At thy uncle's bidding,, I spare thy life..." is from Portia's speech in the Merchant of Venice

"Nor can Rome task us with impossibilities, . . ." and "Set me to lead a handful of my men..."

are, as was mentioned before direct quotes from Beaumont and Fletcher's (although probably only Fletcher) "Bonduca", which was a play about Bouducca's revolt against Rome.

For those people who don't know who Fletcher was, he was actually Shakespeare's successor. He had become famous writing plays with Francis Beaumont, and then he actually wrote three plays in collaboration with Shakespeare, Henry VIII, Two Noble Kinsmen, and Cardenio, which was lost but was probably a romantic comedy, and which was possibly taken from a scene in Don Quixote, and which might have been the basis for an 18th century play called "Double Falsehood". Fletcher at that time also wrote a play called "The Woman's Prize" or "The Tamer Tamed", which was a sequel to The Taming of the Shrew (Petruchio remarries after Katherine dies, and his new wife refuses to have sex with him unless he changes his ways.) After Shakespeare died, Fletcher took over writing for the King's Men.

It's a little off topic here, but both "The Taming of the Shrew" and "The Woman's Prize" was part of a larger debate going on in literary circles in Jacobean England called "the gender question", about whether men were morally superior to women and whether men should have natural authority over women.

A belated thanks for tracking down the exact passages. The "gender question" would make for an interesting bit of research, but this is not the place.

Chapter 8, Part I: Shakespeare


ALONG WITH THE rest of the parishioners, Shakespeare came to the church of St. Ethelberge early on Easter morning, before the bells rang out that would have summoned them to Mass. As he walked into the church, deacons went up and down the aisles lighting candles and torches till the building blazed with light.

It is an Easter morning service.


Then, solemnly, yet another priest raised the crucifix from the sepulcher and carried it in triumph all around the church. The bells in the steeple clamored out joy. The choir sang Christus Resurgens: "Christ, rising again from the dead, dieth no more. Death shall have no more dominion over Him. For in that He liveth, He liveth unto God. Now let the Jews declare how the soldiers who guarded the sepulcher lost the King when the stone was placed, wherefore they kept not the rock of righteousness. Let them either produce Him buried, or adore Him rising, saying with us, Alleluia, Alleluia."

The crucifix was reverently placed on an altar on the north side of the church. Worshipers crept towards it, some on their knees, others on their bellies. Tears of rejoicing streamed down their faces as they adored the risen Christ.

Tears stung Shakespeare's eyes, too. His father had spoken of such ceremonies when he was a young man, and again in Mary's reign. Till the coming of the Armada, Shakespeare had never seen them himself. Elizabeth had suppressed them along with so much other Catholic ritual. They did have a grandeur, a passion (fitting word for this season of the year), missing from the Protestant liturgy she'd imposed on England.

Matins began. And my treason thrive, all this once more'll be cast down, Shakespeare thought. That saddened part of him, the part that responded to the drama of Catholic ceremonial. But the rest . . . Did we choose it of our own will, well and good. But the dons forced it down the throat, as a farmer'll force an onion up the arse of a sick ox. Let them keep it.

As mentioned repeatedly, the services of the Church of England were not the drab thing that Turtledove imagines them to be. If you forgive that error, however, this becomes an excellent little internal conflict for Shakespeare.


Often, when he left the church after Easter Mass, the green of new spring growth offered its own symbolic resurrection. Not this year. With Easter so early--only a day after the equinox--winter's grip still held the land. Trees and bushes remained bare-branched; the muddy ground was brown, with only the sickly yellow-gray of last year's dead grass showing here and there.

To his own surprise, he didn't much care. Maybe the Mass had inspired him. Or maybe . . . He stopped, a sudden delighted smile illuminating his face. Do I not work towards England's resurrection?

A nice turn of phrase here.


However much the thought pleased him, it did nothing for the fellow behind him, who bumped into him when he unexpectedly halted. "Here, pick up your feet, you breathing stone," the man grumbled.

"I pray pardon," Shakespeare said, and got out of the way. Still unhappy, the man who'd bumped him went up the street. Shakespeare followed more slowly. The glory of that notion still blazed in him. It struck him as a perfect cap for the day Christ rose from the dead.

Back at his boarding house, the landlady has prepared a large leg of pork to celebrate the day.


Widow Kendall nodded. "Yes, it could be. But now Lent too is passed away. Will you do me the honor of carving the leg of pork I took just now from the fire?"

"A rare privilege!" Shakespeare cried, and bowed over her hand as he'd seen Lope de Vega bow over that of his latest lady friend. Jane Kendall giggled and simpered, playing the coquette for all she was worth. Shakespeare's stomach rumbled. He'd gone without meat for a long time at a hard season of the year, which made it seem even longer. Spit flooded into his mouth at the thought of finally breaking the fast.

As he carved slice after slice from the leg of pork, a few odd bits--or perhaps more than a few--found their way into his mouth. His landlady looked on indulgently. No matter how indulgent she looked, he did try to be moderate, and evidently succeeded well enough. "Pleaseth you the flavor?" she asked.

He made sure he swallowed the morsel in his mouth before answering, "Ay." He had no trouble sounding enthusiastic. The Widow Kendall had been lavish with cloves and cinnamon and pepper, and the meat was so fresh, it hardly even needed the spices to taste good--an advantage of Easter's coming in a cool season of the year.

This seems to be a reference to the notion that meat in those days was often served slightly rotten because of the lack of refrigeration. This is a pretty discredited idea - pretty much all meat not eaten right after butchery was salted and smoked for preservation, keeping rot at bay. In the medieval era, pigs would have been slaughtered in December because they lose too much weight in the winter, and their fat was a vital addition to the diet. No source I can find describes the practice in this era.


Everyone ate pork and bread and boiled parsnips smothered in melted cheese and drank the Widow Kendall's fresh-brewed ale. Shakespeare wondered if he were the only one not only eating meat but making a point of eating it where others could see. Nobody, now, could claim he was continuing the Lenten fast and waiting for what the old calendar reckoned to be Easter.

A good notion, this. Really sells the notion of a conquered nation when even something as simple as a meal is a potential loyalty test


Jack Street patted his belly. "Oh, that's monstrous fine," the glazier said. "Would I were so full every day."

Sam King nodded. He still remained without steady work, so a feast like this had to be an even bigger treat for him than for the other man. Grinning at Street, he said, "So it's the emptiness within you, then, that roars forth when you sleep?"

That made everyone laugh--everyone but the glazier, who asked, "What mean you?"

"Why, your snoring, man," King said. "What else?"

"What?" Jack Street shook his head. "I snore not."

This results in an argument, with Street refusing to believe that he snores, and everyone else trying to convince him of the truth. Street gets very angry.


Shakespeare began to wish Sam King had kept his mouth shut. The silence that hovered round the feasters was distinctly uncomfortable. If Street didn't want to believe he snored, how could the rest of them persuade him? They couldn't, but they knew the truth too well to be content with his denials, no matter how vigorous. This quarrel was liable to fester and burst out again weeks from now.

Cicely Sellis drew out the chain she wore around her neck. It had a sparkling pendant at the end of it, one that had been hidden in the valley between her breasts. The pendant caught firelight and torchlight as she swung it in a small arc, back and forth, back and forth. "Be easy, Master Street," she said in a soft, soothing voice. "Be easy. No cause for wrath. Be easy."

"And why should I, when all mock and fleer at me?" the glazier said.

The cunning woman didn't answer directly. She kept swinging that pendant in the same slow, steady rhythm. Ever so slightly, she shook her head. "By no means, Master Street," she said, still quietly. "We are your friends here. We are all your friends here. No one seeks to do you harm."

"Methought otherwise," Street said, but less belligerently than he'd spoken before. His eyes followed the cheap glass pendant as it moved. His head began to go back and forth at the same rate. Shakespeare had trouble keeping his eyes off the pendant, too, but he managed. Jack Street didn't even try.

"No one seeks to do you harm," Cicely Sellis repeated.

Sam King made as if to speak. Shakespeare used his long legs to kick the young man under the table. Something out of the ordinary was going on here. He didn't know what, but he didn't want to see the spell broken. Not till that phrase crossed his mind did he wonder whether he'd been wise to kick King after all.

Cicely Sellis went on as she had before: "All's well, Master Street. Naught's amiss. No need for fury. Hear you me?"

"I hear." Street's voice came from far away, as if he heard with but half an ear. His eyes, his head, still followed the pendant's motion, though he didn't seem to know they were doing it. When he reached for his mug of ale, he did so without looking away from the sparkling glass.

"Good." The cunning woman let the shiny pendant go back and forth for another minute or so, then asked, "Hear you me?" once more as she kept on swinging it.

"I hear," Street said, even more distantly than before.

"Then hear also there's no cause for fuss, no reason to recall the warm words just past, no purpose to holding 'em in your memory."

"No cause for fuss," Jack Street echoed dreamily. "No reason to recall. No purpose to holding."

"E'en so." Cicely Sellis nodded. "Shall it be as I ask of you, then?"

"It shall be so." The glazier tried to nod, but the motion of the pendant still held him captive.

"Good. Let it be so, then, and fret no more on't." Cicely Sellis stopped swinging the bauble, and tucked it away again. When she spoke once more, her voice was loud and brisk: "Would you pass me the pitcher of ale, Master Street? I'm fain for another mug myself."

"Eh?" Street started, as if suddenly wakened. "Oh, certes, Mistress Sellis. Here you are." He gave her the pitcher. With a chuckle, he said, "Belike you'll hold it better than I, for what I drank mounted straight to my head. Methought I dozed at table. I have had a dream, past the wit of man to say what dream it was; man had as well snore as go about to expound this dream. Methought I was--there is no man can tell what. And methought I had--but man is but a sleepy fool, if he will offer to say what methought I had."

"I'd drink somewhat of ale myself, Mistress Sellis, when you have poured your fill," Shakespeare said. Nodding, the cunning woman passed him the pitcher. He filled his mug, too, then quickly emptied it. Jack Street gave no sign of remembering the argument over whether he snored. He talked, he laughed, he joked. How had Cicely Sellis managed that?

Sam King leaned forward to take the pitcher after Shakespeare finished with it. The young man's eyes were wide and staring as he poured golden ale into his mug. He mouthed something across the table at Shakespeare. The poet raised an eyebrow, not having got it. King mouthed the words again, more exaggeratedly than before: "She's a witch."

That was indeed the other name for a cunning woman. Even so, Shakespeare kicked King under the table again. Some names were better left unspoken. And King did keep quiet after that. But the fear never left his eyes.

After the feast, Shakespeare stooped to stroke Mommet. The cat arched its back and purred. "You please him," Cicely Sellis said.

"Haply he'll fetch me a mouse or rat, then, as token of's praise," Shakespeare answered. Mommet twisted to scratch behind one ear. Shakespeare thought he saw a flea fly free, but couldn't be sure: a flea on a rammed-earth floor simply disappeared. Mommet went on scratching.

With a smile, the cunning woman said, "You ken cats well." Shakespeare was the only lodger who spoke to her--or, for that matter, even acknowledged she was alive and in the house. If she noticed, she gave no sign of it.

In a low voice, he said, "You made them afeard." In an even lower voice, he added, "You made me afeard."

"Wherefore, Master Shakespeare?"

"Wherefore?" Shakespeare still held his voice down, but couldn't hold the anger from it--anger and fear often being two sides of the same coin. "Why else but for your show of witchery?"

"Witchery?" Cicely Sellis started to laugh, but checked herself when she saw how serious he was. "Thank you I be in sooth a witch?"

"I know not," he answered. "By my halidom, I know not. But this I know: no one else dwelling here hath the least doubt." He shook his head. "No, I mistake me. You are yet clean in Jack Street's eyes, for he recalleth naught of what you worked on him."

That got through to her. Her mouth tightened. The lines that ran to either corner of it filled with shadow, making her suddenly seem five years older, maybe more. Slowly, she said, "I but sought to forestall a foolish quarrel."

"And so you did--but at what cost?" Shakespeare's eyes flicked towards Sam King, who seemed to have set to work getting drunk. "Would you have the English Inquisition put you to the question?"

Cicely Sellis' gaze followed the poet's. "He'd not blab," she said, but her voice held no conviction.

"God grant you be right," Shakespeare said, wondering if God would grant a witch any such thing. "But you put me in fear, and I am a man who earns his bread spinning fables. Nay more--I am a man who struts the stage, who hath played a ghost, who hath known somewhat of strangeness. And, as I say, you affrighted me. What, then, of him?" His voice dropped to a whisper: "And what too of the Widow Kendall?"

"I pay her, and well." The cunning woman didn't try to hide her scorn. But her eyes, almost as green as her cat's, went back to Sam King. "I'd liefer not seek a new lodging so soon again."

"Again? Came you here, then, of a sudden?" Shakespeare asked.

Reluctantly, Cicely Sellis nodded. Shakespeare ground his teeth till a twinge from a molar warned he'd better do no more of that. Did the English Inquisition already know her name? Were inquisitors already poised to swoop down on this house? If they seized the cunning woman, would they seize her and no one else? Or would they also lay hold of everyone who'd had anything to do with her, to seek evidence against her and to learn what sort of heresy her acquaintances might harbor? Shakespeare didn't know the answer to that, but thought he could make a good guess.

"I meant no harm," Cicely Sellis said, "nor have I never worked none."

"That you have purposed none--that I believe," Shakespeare answered. "What you have worked . . ." He shrugged. He hoped she was right. He hoped so, yes, but he didn't believe it, no matter how much he wished he could.

This is obviously hypnosis, of an extremely effective sort. It makes perfect sense that this would be mistaken for witchcraft, and it was extremely foolish of Sellis to pull such a stunt.

Chapter 8, Part II: De Vega


CAPTAIN BALTASAR GUZMÁN looked disgusted. "I have just learned Anthony Bacon has taken refuge at the court of King Christian IV," he said.

Sure enough, that explained his sour expression. "Something is rotten in the state of Denmark, then," Lope de Vega answered, "if its King will give shelter to a proved sodomite. He shows himself to be no Christian, despite his name--only a God-cursed Lutheran heretic."

Captain Guzmán nodded. "Yes, and yes, and yes. Every word you say is true, Senior Lieutenant, but none of your truth does us the least bit of good. Denmark and Sweden persist in their heresy, as they persist in being beyond our reach."

"Yes, sir," Lope agreed. "A pity he escaped us. If you like, though, we can always go back and arrest his younger brother."

There is not enough evidence against Francis Bacon to justify angering his powerful family, which Guzman regrets.

He cheers himself by imagining that Spain will be able to send Armadas against the Dutch and the Swedes once England is quieted in a generation or two, and then on to crush the Orthodox nation of Russia.

I would pay good money to see this campaign. An invasion of Sweden a generation or so from this book would put the Spanish up against Gustav II Adolf, renowned as one of the great captains of history, in his prime.


"Before I came to England, I'm not sure I'd ever even heard of Russia," Lope said. "Now I've talked to a few men who've been there. They say the weather in Russia is as much worse than it is here as the weather here is worse than Spain's. If that's so, God has already punished the Russians for their heresy."

"It could be," Guzmán said. "But it could also be that the men you talked to are liars. I don't think any place could have weather that bad."

"You may be right, your Excellency." Lope snapped his fingers, remembering something. "With Anthony Bacon in Denmark, is there any word that Tom, the boy actor from Shakespeare's company at about the same time, is with him?"

"Let me see." Baltasar Guzmán ran his finger down the report he'd received. He got close to the bottom before stopping and looking up. "He is accompanied by a handsome youth, yes. No name given, but . . ."

This wraps up the Tom portion of the storyline, and confirms that he fled with Bacon.


"Shakespeare continues to make good progress on King Philip," de Vega answered. "I wish your English were more fluent, sir. I'd quote you line after line that will live forever. The man is good. He is so very good, I find him intimidating when I sit down to write, even though he works in a different language."

"As things are, spare me the quotations," Guzmán said. "If anything's more deadly than listening to verses you don't understand, I can't imagine what it is." He steepled his fingertips and looked over them at Lope. "You are writing again, then? In spite of the intimidation, I mean?"

"Yes, your Excellency."

"Part of me says I should congratulate you," Baltasar Guzmán observed. "Part of me, though, believes I'm not keeping you busy enough. With everything else you have to do, how do you find time to set pen to paper?"

Guzmán had a habit of asking dangerous questions. He also had a habit of asking them so they didn't sound dangerous unless his intended victim listened carefully. Otherwise, a man could easily launch into a disastrous reply without realizing what he'd done till too late. Here, Lope recognized the trap. He said, "I will answer that in two ways, your Excellency. First, a man who will write does not find time to do it. He makes time to do it, even if that means sleeping less or eating faster. And second, sir, lately I've had more help from Diego than I've been used to getting."

Guzman finds this suspicious, as Diego's laziness is well known. De Vega refuses to admit to his blackmail, and offers a few lazy explanations that Guzman sees through, but declines to pursue.


"It could be. The only way he was likely to see such a thing, though, it seems to me, was up the barrel of a pistol," Guzmán said. Lope didn't answer. His superior shrugged. "All right, if you want to keep a secret, you may keep a secret, I suppose. But do tell me, since you are writing, what are you writing about?"

By the way he leaned towards Lope, he was more interested than he wanted to let on. He'd always held his enthusiasm for Lope's plays under tight rein. Maybe, though, he really enjoyed them more than he showed. Lope said, "I'm calling this one El mejor mozo de España."

" ‘The Best Boy in Spain'?" Captain Guzmán echoed. "What's it about, a waiter?"

"No, no, no, no, no." Lope shook his head. "The best boy in Spain is Ferdinand of Aragon, who married Isabella and made Spain one kingdom. I told you, your Excellency--Shakespeare's rubbing off on me. He's writing a play about history, and so am I."

In actual history, Lope De Vega did not write El mejor mozo de España until the 1610s, but this is a reasonable departure. Over three centuries later, El mejor mozo de España was the title of a play by Alfonso Paso about the life of one Lope De Vega. Google Translate renders "El mejor mozo de España" as "the best waiter in Spain", the same thing Guzman renders it as, so there's a translation joke in here that I'm not getting.


"If this next one is as good, it should have a bigger audience than Spanish soldiers stranded in England," his superior said. "Write another good play, Senior Lieutenant, and I will do what I can to get both of them published in Spain."

"¡Señor!" Lope exclaimed. Baltasar Guzmán, being both rich and well connected, could surely arrange publication as easily as he could snap his fingers. Lope's heart thudded in his chest. He'd dreamt of a chance like that, but knew dreams to be only dreams. To see that one might come true . . . "I am your servant, your Excellency! And I would be honored--you have no idea how honored I would be--were you to become my patrón." He realized he was babbling, but couldn't help it. What would I do, for the chance to have my plays published? Almost anything.

Guzmán smiled. Yes, he knew what power he wielded with such promises. "Write well, Senior Lieutenant. Write well, and make sure the Englishman writes well, too. I cannot tell you to neglect your other duties. I wish I could, but I cannot."

"I understand, sir." De Vega was quick to offer sympathy to a man who offered him the immortality of print. He knew Captain Guzmán was saying, Do everything I tell you to do, and then do this on your own. Normally, he would have howled about how unfair that was. But when his superior dangled the prospect of publication before him . . .

I am a fish, swimming in the stream. I know that tempting worm may have a hook in it. I know, but I have to bite it anyway, for oh, dear God, I am so very hungry.

De Vega, like Shakespeare, spent a great deal of time fighting pirated copies of his plays. This is something different - an official, authorized copy straight from the author's words was something few playwrights achieved in this era . As it happens, the historical De Vega was one of them, with most of his works being published in his own lifetime (according to Spanish Wikipedia, which is more extensive than the English version on this subject, but machine translated.

Chapter 8, part III: Shakespeare


SHAKESPEARE LOOKED AT what he'd written. Slowly, he nodded. The ordinary was quiet. He had the place almost to himself, for most of the folk who'd eaten supper there had long since left for home. He had the ordinary so much to himself, in fact, that he'd dared work on Boudicca here, which he seldom did.

And now . . . Ceremoniously, he inked his pen one last time and, in large letters, wrote a last word at the bottom of the page. Finis.

" 'Sblood," he muttered in weary amazement. "Never thought I to finish't." Even now, he half expected the Spaniards or the English Inquisition to burst in and drag him away in irons.

Play's finished, so they can put it on tomorrow and be done with the plot! What do you mean that only half the work is done, and it gets even more dangerous now?

After explaining to Kate what he is talking about, and dodging her questions, he heads into the dark and foggy London night, expecting to get home purely by memory and smell.


His intention collapsed about a dozen paces outside the ordinary. Somebody came hurrying up from the direction of his lodging house. The fog muffled sound, too, so Shakespeare heard only the last few footfalls before the fellow bumped into him. "Oof!" he said, and then, "Have a care, an't please you!"

"Will! Is that you?" The other man's voice came out of darkness impenetrable.

Shakespeare knew it all the same. He wished he didn't. "Kit?" he replied, apprehension making him squeak like a youth. "Why come you hither?"

"Oh, God be praised!" Christopher Marlowe exclaimed--a sure danger sign, for when all went well he was likelier to take the Lord's name in vain than to petition Him with prayer. "Help me, Will! Sweet Jesu, help you me! They bay at my heels, closer every minute."

Ice ran through Shakespeare. "Who dogs you? And for what?" Is it peculiar to you alone, or hath ruin o'erwhelmed all?

"Who?" Marlowe's voice fluttered like a candle flame in a breeze. "The dons, that's who!"

The Spanish hunt for what they call "sodomites" may have begun with Anthony Bacon, but has not stopped there. Marlowe's flamboyance has made his preferences well known - and he's the next target.


Even on the brink of dreadful death, he struggled to justify himself. That constance left Shakespeare half saddened, half amused--and altogether frightened. "What would you of me?" he asked.

"Why, to help me fly, of course," the other poet answered.

"And how, prithee, might I do that?" Shakespeare demanded. "Am I Daedalus, to give thee wings?" He didn't know himself whether he used thee with Marlowe for the sake of intimacy or insult. Exasperated, he went on, "E'en had I wings to give thee, belike thou'dst fly too near the sun, another Icarus, and plummet into the briny sea."

Marlowe continues to try to justifying himself, quoting his own Dido Queen Of Carthage. Shakespeare mocks him by quoting the same play.


Marlowe hissed like a man trying to bear a wound bravely. "And here, Will, I thought you never paid my verses proper heed. Would I had been wrong."

"Would you had . . ." Shakespeare shook his head. "No, never mind. 'Tis of no moment now. You must get hence, if they dog you for this. Want you money?"

"Nay. What I have sufficeth me," Marlowe answered.

"Then what think you I might do that you cannot for yourself?" Shakespeare asked. "Hie yourself down to the river. Take ship, if any ship there be that sails on the instant. If there be none such, take a boat away from London, and the first ship you may. So that you outspeed the hue and cry at your heels, all may yet be well, or well enough."

This settles Marlowe down enough to accept that this is his wisest course, however much he might hate it. He leaves, and Shakespeare heads to his bording house. After arguing with his landlady about firewood, he goes to bed.


When he woke the next morning, Jack Street's bed was empty. Sam King was dressing for another day of pounding London's unforgiving streets looking for work. "God give you good morrow, Master Will," he said as Shakespeare sat up and rubbed his eyes.

"And a good morrow to you as well," Shakespeare answered around a yawn.

"I'm for a bowl of the widow's porridge, and then whatever I can find," King said. The porridge was liable to be the only food he got all day. He had to know as much, but didn't fuss about it.

Shakespeare couldn't help admiring that bleak courage. "Good fortune go before you," he said.

King laughed. "Good fortune hath ever gone before me: so far before me, I see it not. An I run fast enough, though, peradventure I'll catch it up." He bobbed his head in a shy nod, then hurried out to the Widow Kendall's kitchen for whatever bubbled in her pot this morning.

Shakespeare broke his fast on porridge, too. Having eaten, he went up to the Theatre for the day's rehearsal. He worried all the way there. If inquisitors came after Cicely Sellis, would they search everywhere in the house? If they opened his chest and saw the manuscript of Boudicca, he was doomed. And another question, one that had been in the back of his mind, now came forward: even with Boudicca finished, how could the company rehearse it without being betrayed? The players would have to rehearse. He could see that. When word of Philip's death reached England, they would--they might--give the play on the shortest of notice. They would have to be ready. But how? Yes, he saw the question clearly. The answer? He shook his head.

When he reaches the theatre, Burbage is dashing around the stage to get in character as Alexander The Great. The day's play is one of Marlowe's works, giving Shakespeare an oddly convenient opening.

The text specifically mentions Alexander pursuing Darius, suggesting a play set in the great conquerer's lifetime. So far as I can tell, there is no known Marlowe work in such a setting, but it would be a reasonable subject for him to have used.


Shakespeare nodded. "Beyond doubt, you speak sooth. But come you down." He gestured. "I'd have a word with you."

"What's toward?" Burbage sat at the edge of the stage, then slid down into the groundlings' pit.

In a low voice, Shakespeare said, "Marlowe is fled. I pray he be fled. Anthony Bacon, belike, was but the first boy-lover the dons and the inquisitors sought. An Kit remain in England, I'd give not a groat for his life."

"A pox!" Burbage exclaimed, as loud as ever--loud enough to make half a dozen players and stagehands look toward him to see what had happened. He muttered to himself, then went on more quietly: "How know you this?"

"From Kit's own lips," Shakespeare answered. "He found me yesternight. I bade him get hence, quick as ever he could--else he'd not stay quick for long. God grant he hearkened to me."

"Ay, may it be so." Burbage made a horrible face. "May it be so indeed. But e'en Marlowe fled's a heavy blow strook against the theatre. For all his cravings sodomitical--and for all his fustian bombast, too--he's the one man I ken fit to measure himself alongside you."

Fitting of Burbage to think of the Theatre first, and how sore a loss the second-greatest playwright in England would be.

Shakespeare tells Burbage that he sent Marlowe to the river, at which point Burbage seems to see another danger.


"Boatmen there aplenty, regardless of the hour." Richard Burbage seemed to be trying to convince himself as much as Shakespeare. After a moment, he added, "What knows Kit of . . . your enterprise now in train?"

"That such an enterprise is in train, the which is more than likes me," Shakespeare answered. It was also less than the truth, he realized, remembering the copy of the Annals Marlowe had given him. But he said no more to Burbage. What point to worrying the player? If the Spaniards or the English Inquisition caught Marlowe, he knew enough to put paid to everyone and everything. And what he knew he would tell; he had not the stuff of martyrs in him.

"They seek him but for sodomy." Yes, Burbage was trying to reassure himself. Sodomy by itself was a fearsome crime, a capital crime. Next to treason, though, it was the moon next to the sun.

"The enterprise"--Shakespeare liked that bloodless word--"goes on apace. Last night, or ever I saw Marlowe, I wrote finis to Boudicca."

"Good. That's good, Will." Burbage set a hand on his shoulder. "Now God keep Boudicca from writing finis to us all."

Chapter 8, Part IV: De Vega

De Vega is hunting Marlowe with a squad of soldiers, primarily by interrogating boatmen on the Thames. After one such cons him out of a coin, the squad begins to get annoyed.


A couple of Lope's troopers knew some English. One of them said, "We ought to give that bastard a set of lumps for playing games with us."

Maybe the boatman understood some Spanish. He pointed to the next fellow with a rowboat, saying, "Haply George there knows somewhat of him you seek."

"We shall see," Lope said in English. In Spanish, he added, "I wouldn't waste my time punishing this motherless lump of dung." If the boatman could follow that, too bad.

The trooper who'd suggested beating the fellow said, "This river smells like a motherless lump of dung." He wrinkled his nose.

Since he was right, Lope couldn't very well disagree with him. All he said was, "Come on. Let's see what George there has to say." Let's see if I can waste another sixpence.

Gulls soared above the Thames in shrieking swarms. One swooped down and came up with a length of gut as long as Lope's arm in its beak. Half a dozen others chased it, eager to steal the prize. De Vega's stomach did a slow lurch. A pursuing gull grabbed the gut and made away with it. The bird that had scooped it from the water screeched in anger and frustration.

Boats of all sizes went up and down the river. "Westward ho!" shouted the wherrymen bound for Westminster or towns farther up the Thames. "Eastward ho!" shouted the men heading towards the North Sea. Westbound and eastbound boats had to dodge those going back and forth between London and Southwark. Sometimes they couldn't dodge, and fended one another off with oars and poles and impassioned curses.

"Consumption catch thee, thou gorbellied knave!" a boatman yelled.

"Jolt-head! Botchy core! Moon-calf! Louse of a lazar!" returned the fellow who'd fallen foul of him. Instead of trying to hold their boats apart, they started jabbing at each other with their poles. One of them went into the river with a splash.

"Not the worst sport to watch," a Spanish soldier said.

"Sí," Lope said, and then went back to English, calling, "You there, sirrah! Be you George?"

"Ay, 'tis the name my mother gave me," the wherryman answered. "What would you, señor?" He pronounced it more like the English word senior.

De Vega asked him about Marlowe. He waited for the vacant stare he'd seen so many times before. To his surprise, he didn't get it. Instead, George nodded. "I carried such a man, yes," he said. "What's he done? Some cozening law, an I mistake me not. A barrator, peradventure, or a figure caster. Summat shrewd."

De Vega feels the thrill of the hunt, despite his dislike of hunting Marlowe in the first place. After encouraging George with yet another sixpence, George gets on with a long explanation.


"Why, then, sir, I bethought myself, should I hie me home, for that it was a foggy night and for that curfew would come anon, or should I stay yet a while to see what chance might give? Fortune brings in some boats that are not steered, they say. And my boat--the wight whereof I speak, you understand--"

"Yes, yes." Lope fought to hide his impatience. Did this ignorant wherryman think him unable to grasp a metaphor? "Say on, sirrah. Say on."

"I'll do't," George said. "This wight came along the river seeking a boat. ‘Whither would you?' I asked him. I mind me the very words he said. He said, ‘You could row me to hell, and to-night I'd thank you for't.' Then he made as if to shake his head, and laughed a laugh that left me sore afeard, for meseemed 'twas a madman's laugh, and could be none other. And he said, ‘Why this is hell, nor am I out of it.' I thought him daft, but--I see you stir, your honor. Know you these words?"

"I do. I know them well. They are from a play, a play writ by the man I seek. That your man spake them proves him that very man. Were he mad or not, you took his penny?"

The boatman nodded. "I did, for a madman's penny spends as well as any other. He bade me take him to Deptford, to the Private Dock there, and so I did. A longer pull than some I make, for which reason I told him I'd have tuppence, in fact, not just the single penny, and he gave it me."

"To Deptford, say you?" That was a shrewd choice. It was close to London, but beyond the city's jurisdiction, lying in the county of Kent. Till the Armada came, it had been a leading English naval yard; even now, many merchant ships tied up at the Private Dock. Lope knew he would have to go through the motions of pursuit, but any chance of catching Marlowe was probably long gone.

"Ay, sir. Deptford. He was quiet as you please in the boat--even dozed somewhat. I thought I'd judged too quick. But he was ta'en strange again leaving the boat. He looked about him, and he said, ‘Hell hath no limits, nor is circumscribed in one self place; for where we are is hell, and where hell is there must we ever be.' I had a priest bless the boat, sir, the very next day, to be safe." He crossed himself.

Had he been a Catholic while Elizabeth ruled England? Maybe, but Lope wouldn't have bet a ha'penny on it. He also made the sign of the cross. "I think you need not fear," he told the wherryman. "Once more, Marlowe but recited words he had earlier writ." He wasn't surprised Marlowe had quoted his own work. He would have been surprised--he would have been thunderstruck--had Marlowe quoted, say, Shakespeare. The man was too full of himself for that.

De Vega writes out the statement, and has the illiterate George make a mark. George is a bit wary of why Marlowe is being hunted, but loses all misgivings when informed that he is being hunted for sodomy.


"Oh." Whatever regrets the Englishman might have had disappeared. "God grant you catch him, then. A filthy business, buggery."

"Yes." De Vega nodded. He meant it, too. And yet, all the same, no small part of him did mourn the pursuit of Marlowe. True, the man violated not only the law of England and Spain but also that of God. But God had also granted him a truly splendid gift of words. Lope wondered why the Lord had chosen to give the same man the great urge to sin and the great gift. That, though, was God's business, not his.

While he spoke in English with the wherryman, the soldier who'd witnessed the man's statement told the other troopers what was going on. One of them asked, "Sir, do we go down the river to this Deptford place?"

The Spanish troops get a lot of looks in Deptford - as it was no longer an important naval yard, the Spanish have mostly ignored it during the occupation.


Lope hadn't been asking questions along the wharfs for very long before a sheriff came up to question him. The fellow wore a leather tunic over his doublet to keep it clean, a black felt hat with a twisted hatband, slops, hose dyed dark blue with woad, and sturdy shoes. The staff of office he carried could double as a formidable club. He introduced himself as Peter Norris.

After Lope explained whom he sought, and why, Norris shrugged and said, "I fear me you'll not lay hands on him, sir: he's surely fled. These past two days, we've had a carrack put to sea bound for Copenhagen, a galleon bound for Hamburg, and some smaller ship--I misremember of what sort--bound for Calais. An he had the silver for to buy his passage, he'd be aboard one or another of 'em."

"I fear me you have reason, Sheriff," Lope said. No, he wasn't altogether sorry, however much he tried to keep that to himself.

"It sorrows me he hath escaped you. A bugger's naught but gallows-fruit," Norris said. "And you have come from London on a bootless errand, which sorrows me as well."
Peter Norris seems to be entirely fictional


"Certes. I'll send 'em in a letter," Peter Norris said. Lope nodded. Maybe the sheriff would, maybe he wouldn't. Either way, de Vega had enough for a report that would satisfy his own superiors. Norris hesitated, then asked, "This Marlowe . . . Seek you the poet of that name?"

" 'Tis the very man, I fear me," Lope replied.

"Pity," Norris said. "By my halidom, sir, his art surpasseth even Will Shakespeare's."

"Think you so?" Lope said. "I believe you are mistook, and right gladly will I tell you why." He and Sheriff Norris spent the next couple of hours arguing about the theatre. He hadn't expected to be able to mix business and pleasure so, and was sorry when at last he did have to go back to London.

This is De Vega being industrious?

Chapter 8, Part V: Shakespeare


SHAKESPEARE HAD NEVER imagined that one day he might actually want to find Nicholas Skeres, but he did. Skeres had a way of appearing out of thin air, most often when he was least welcome, and throwing Shakespeare's days, if not his life, into confusion. Now Shakespeare found himself looking for the smooth-talking go-between whenever he went outside, looking for him and not seeing him.

Skeres found him one day when spring at last began to look as if it were more than a date in the almanac, a day when the sun shone warm and the air began to smell green, a day when redbreasts and linnets and chaffinches sang. He fell into stride beside Shakespeare as the poet made his way up towards Bishopsgate. "Give you good morrow, Master Will," he said.

"And you, Master Nick," Shakespeare told him. "I had hoped we might meet."

"Time is ripe." Skeres didn't explain how he knew it was, or why he thought so. Shakespeare almost asked him, but in the end held back. Skeres' answer would either be evasive or an outright lie. Smiling, the devious little man went on, "All's well with you, sir?"

"Well enough, and my thanks for asking." Shakespeare looked about. If Skeres could appear from nowhere, a Spanish spy might do the same. That being so, the poet named no names: "How fares your principal?"

"Not so well. He fails, and knows himself to fail." The corners of Nick Skeres' mouth turned down. "Despite his brave spirit, 'tis hard, sore hard--and as hard for his son, who shall inherit the family business when God's will be done." He too was careful of the words he spoke where anyone might hear.

After discussing Cecil's approaching death, the get down to business. Shakespeare informs Skeres that the play is finished.


Nicholas Skeres nodded. "Yes. They know. 'Twas on that account they sent me to you. I ask again: what need you of them, or of me?"

"The names of certain men," Shakespeare said, and explained why.

"Ah." Skeres gave him another nod. "You may rely on them, and on me." He hurried away, and soon vanished into the crowd. Shakespeare went on towards Bishopsgate. He knew he could rely on the Cecils; they would do all they could for him. Relying on Nick Skeres? Shakespeare shook his head at the absurdity of the notion and kept on walking.

Come on, Will! Just because somebody's constantly sneaking around and popping up out of the shadows, and people tend to die or have their lives ruined when he hears you complain about them is no reason to think they are not trustworthy!


At the Theatre that day, Lord Westmorland's Men offered The Cobbler's Holiday, a comedy by Thomas Dekker. It was a pleasant enough piece of work, even if the plot showed a few holes. Most of the time, Shakespeare--a good cobbler of dramas himself--would have patched those holes, or found ways for Dekker to do it himself, before the play reached the stage. He hadn't had the chance here, not when he was busy with two of his own.

It might have gone off well enough even so. Such plays often did. Good jests (even more to the point, frequent jests) and spritely staging hid flaws that would have been obvious on reading the script.

Not this time. Among the groundlings were a dozen or more Oxford undergraduates, come to London on some business of their own and taking in a play before or after it. The university trained them to pick things to pieces. They jeered every flaw they found and, as undergraduates were wont to do, went from jeering flaws to jeering players. Even by the rough standards groundlings set, they were loud and obnoxious.
Can't help but think this may be Turtledove venting about critics in general here, as authors are wont to do.

Burbage, the consumate actor, has a thick enough skin to ignore them. Will Kemp, however, is driven into a fury.


"Tomorrow they'll be gone," Shakespeare said. "Never do they linger."

"Nay--only the stink of 'em," Kemp said. But Shakespeare thought he'd soothed the other man's temper before Kemp had to go out again.

And then one of the university wits noticed an inconsistency Dekker had left in the plot and shouted to Kemp: "No, fool, you said just now she'd gone to Canterbury! What a knavish fool thou art, and the blockhead cobbler, too!" His voice was loud and shrill. The whole Theatre must have heard him. Giggles and murmurs and gasps rose from every side.

Burbage started into his next speech. Will Kemp raised a hand. Burbage stopped, startled; the gesture wasn't one they'd rehearsed. Kemp glared out at the undergraduates. "Is it not better," he demanded, "to make a fool of the world as I have done, than to be fooled of the world as you scholars are?"

Their jeers brought the play to a standstill, as he must have known they would. "Wretched puling fool!" they shouted. "Thou rag! Thou dishclout! Spartan dog! Superstitious, idle-headed boor!"

Kemp beamed out at them, a smile on his round face. "Say on, say on!" he urged them. "Ay, say on, you starveling popinjays, you abject anatomies. Be merry my lads, for coming here you have happened upon the most excellent vocation in the world for money: they come north and south to bring it to our playhouse. And for honors, who is of more report than Dick Burbage and Will Kemp?"

He bowed low. A moment later, Burbage swept off his hat and did the same. The groundlings whooped and cheered them. A couple of the university wits kept trying to mock Kemp and the other players, but most fell silent. They lived a hungry life at Oxford. Had it been otherwise, they would have paid more than a penny each to see The Cobbler's Holiday.

Will Kemp bowed again. "Have we your leave, gentles, to proceed?"

"Ay!" the groundlings roared. The same shout came from the galleries.

Definately an authorial fantasy, if a harmless one.

The hecklers routed, Kemp returns to the play effortlessly. For once, Kemp is the company darling instead of the source of discord. Shakespeare finds this little improvement.


The noise made Shakespeare's head ache. He soaped his face and splashed water on it from a basin. The sooner he could leave the Theatre today, the happier he would be. He wanted to work on King Philip. The sooner that piece was done, the sooner he could start thinking of his own ideas once more. They might bring less lucre than those proposed by English noble or Spanish don, but they were his.

The new tireman and prompter seeks his attention while this is going on, wishing to discuss the latest play.


"A scribe shall make your foul papers into parts the players shall use to learn their lines," the prompter said.

"Certes." Shakespeare nodded. "My character, I know, can be less than easy to make out."

Thomas Vincent nodded, too, relief on his face. "I would not offend, sir, not for the world, but . . . You knowing of the trouble, I may speak freely."

"By all means," Shakespeare said. Vincent was more polite about it than poor Geoff Martin had been. Had Shakespeare believed all the late prompter's slanders, he would never have presumed to take pen in hand.

Even if Vincent was polite, he pressed ahead: "And, were your hand never so excellent, your latest still causeth . . . ah, difficulties in choosing a scribe."

Every time a new pair of eyes saw Boudicca, the risk of betrayal grew. Vincent did his best to say that without actually saying it. Shakespeare didn't need it spelled out. He knew it all too well, as he had since Thomas Phelippes first drew him into the plot. If a scribe writing out fair copies for the players took them to the Spaniards . . . If that happened, everyone in Lord Westmorland's Men would die the death.

But the poet said, "Fear not." Hearing those words coming from his mouth almost made him laugh out loud. Only when he was sure he wouldn't did he go on, "Haply I may name you a name anon."

"May it be so," Vincent said, and Shakespeare had to remember not to cross himself to echo that sentiment.

Obviously, these are the "certain men" he asked Skeres to seek. Finishing the play is no resolution, only a step toward greater danger. The plot thickens.

Apr 10, 2010

College Slice

Gnoman posted:

In actual history, Lope De Vega did not write El mejor mozo de España until the 1610s, but this is a reasonable departure. Over three centuries later, El mejor mozo de España was the title of a play by Alfonso Paso about the life of one Lope De Vega. Google Translate renders "El mejor mozo de España" as "the best waiter in Spain", the same thing Guzman renders it as, so there's a translation joke in here that I'm not getting.

it's kind of a...So the play is about Ferdinand of Aragon wooing Isabella of Castile, and he's trying to prove to her that she should marry him, and he's the best choice for her as husband. "Mozo" literally translates to boy/young man (and he's trying to prove that he is the best of Spanish young men for her, hence the title). "Mozo" also, though, came to be a term for servant, especially a young man who would serve you at table, because people would address them as "boy". So the joke is, Lope De Vega is calling Ferdinand the best young man of Spain but Captain Guzman thinks its about a waiter.

Feb 11, 2014

"What we therefore hath joined together, let Gnoman put asunder..."

Chapter IX, Part 1: De Vega


It was the middle of a fine, bright morning. When Lope de Vega walked into his rooms in the Spanish barracks, he found his servant curled into a ball under the covers, fast asleep. De Vega sighed. Diego had been almost unnaturally good and obedient these past few weeks. More surprising than his backsliding was how long it had taken.

Lope shook him, not at all gently. "Wake up! By God and St. James, you're not the best boy in Spain." Diego muttered something that had no real words in it. Lope shook him again, even harder this time. "Wake up!" he repeated.

His servant yawned and rubbed his eyes. "Oh, hello, señor. I didn't--"

De Vega wants Diego to be awake and acting. Diego wants to be asleep and not acting. De Vega gets what he wants, after some arguing and more insinuations about Lope's boss.


That sat none too well with Diego. Lope could see as much. But the servant put on a pair of shoes and accompanied him to the courtyard where his makeshift company was rehearsing El mejor mozo de España. Even in Spain, it would have made a spartan rehearsal ground. Here in England, where de Vega could compare it to the luxury of the Theatre and the other halls where plays were presented, it seemed more austere yet.

Austere? Lope laughed at himself. What you really mean is cheap, makeshift, shabby. He wondered what Shakespeare would think, seeing what he had to work with. Shakespeare was a gentle, courteous man. He would, without a doubt, give what praise he could. He would also, and equally without a doubt, be appalled.

As Lope had expected, Enrique was already there. He sat on the ground, his back against a brick wall, as he solemnly studied his parts. He was to play several small roles: a Moor, a page, and one of Ferdinand's friends. When he saw Lope, he sprang to his feet and bowed. "Buenos días, señor." Polite as a cat, he also bowed to Diego, though not so deeply. "Buenos días."

"A good day to you as well," Lope replied, and bowed back as superior to inferior. Diego, still grouchy, only nodded. Lope trod on his foot. Thus cued, he did bow. Lope didn't want Captain Guzmán's servant offended by anyone connected to him.

Enrique didn't seem offended. He seemed enthusiastic. He waved sheets of paper in the air. "This is an excellent play, señor, truly excellent. No one in Madrid will see anything better this year. I'm sure of that."

"You are too kind," Lope murmured. He was no more immune to flattery than anyone else--he was less immune to flattery than a lot of people. When he bowed again to show his pleasure, it was almost as equal to equal. Diego looked disgusted. De Vega debated stepping on his foot again.

Before he could, Enrique asked, "Tell me, señor, is it really true what the soldier over there says? A real woman, a real Spanish woman, is going to play Isabella? That will be wonderful--wonderful, I tell you. The wife of an officer who could afford to bring her here, he told me."

De Vega shot Diego a look that said, Would he be so happy about a woman if he didn't care for them? His servant's sneer replied, All he cares about is the play. If she makes it better, that's what matters to him. With a scowl, Lope turned back to Enrique. "A woman, yes. A Spaniard, of course--could an Englishwoman play our great Queen? The wife of an officer? No. Don Alejandro brought his mistress--her name's Catalina Ibañez--to London, not his wife. And a good thing, too, for the play. A nobleman's wife could never appear on stage. That would be scandalous. But his mistress? No trouble there."

"Ah. I see." Enrique nodded. "I did wonder. But it is Don Alejandro de Recalde's woman, then? Corporal Fernandez had that right?"

"Yes, he did," Lope said.

Diego guffawed. "If I had a choice between bringing my wife and my mistress to this miserable, freezing place, I'd bring the one who kept me warmer, too."

"Be careful, or you'll be sorry," Enrique whispered through lips that hardly moved. "Here she comes."

Don Alejandro's mistress knew how to make an entrance. She swept into the courtyard with a couple of serving women in her wake. They were both pretty, but seemed plain beside her. She was tiny but perfect. No, not quite perfect: she had a tiny mole by the corner of her mouth.

Be careful, or you'll be sorry. De Vega knew Enrique hadn't been talking to him, and hadn't meant that kind of care when he was talking to Diego. But the servant's words might have been meant for Lope. He couldn't take his eyes off Catalina Ibañez . . . and where his eyes went, he wanted his hands and his lips to follow.

I think we all know where this is going by now. Putting De Vega near a woman never ends well. At least he knows it is a bad idea for once, not that that's going to matter.

Fantasies and flattery of Catalina distract him a great deal, but the play trumps even a woman.


Later. Not yet. El mejor mozo de España came first. Even set beside his love affairs, the words, the rhymes, the verses in his head counted for more. What had Shakespeare said in Prince of Denmark? The play's the thing--that was the line. "Take your places, then, ladies and gentlemen," Lope said. "First act, first scene. We'll start from where Rodrigo the page enters with his guitar and speaks to Isabella."

Rodrigo was played by the strapping Spanish corporal named Joaquin Fernandez. He was tall as a tree, blond as an Englishman, handsome as an angel--and wooden as a block. He stumbled through his lines. Catalina Ibañez replied,

"Tres cosas parecen bien:

el religioso rezando,

el gallardo caballero

ejercitando el acero,

y la dama honesta silando."

She wasn't just pretty. She could act. Unlike poor Fernandez (whose good looks still worried Lope), when she spoke, you believed three things seemed good to her--a monk praying, a gallant knight going to war sword in hand, and an honest woman spinning.

That had to be acting. De Vega couldn't imagine Catalina Ibañez caring about monks or honest women spinning--gallant knights were liable to be a different story. But, listening to her, you believed she cared, and that was the mystery of acting. If the audience believed, nothing else mattered.

On they went. Joaquin Fernandez had at least learned his lines. He might get better--a little. Catalina sparkled without much help. Lope knew how hard that was. No matter who surrounded her, this play would work as long as she was in it. De Vega felt that in his bones.

I wish Shakespeare had Spanish enough to follow this, he thought as the scene ended. I wish he could see the difference using actresses makes, too. He shrugged. The Englishman would just have to bumble along in his own little arena with its own foolish conventions. If that meant his work never got the attention it deserved in the wider world, well, such was life.

I'm not sure if De Vega's critique of Joaquin is cribbed from somewhere, or is Turtledove's own work. Whichever it is, it approaches brilliance. More on subject, I like how the English and Spanish theatre's being contrasted here, and I think everything is historically correct here. Female parts were played by women in Spanish plays, where England used boys. This is a culture clash that would almost certainly happen if Spain had taken England, and it is good to have it visited. I only wish we saw more of an English point of view, so that the other side could make claims. It would probably have been difficult to come up with any, though.


"All right," Lope said. "Let's go on." He might have been speaking to the assembled players. People shifted, getting ready for the next scene.

Or he might have been speaking to Catalina Ibañez alone, all the rest of them forgotten. By the way her red, full lips curved into the smallest of smiles, she thought he was. Her eyes met his again, just for a moment. Yes, let's, they said.

Turtledove's version of Lope De Vega is an absolute IDIOT.

Chapter IX, Part 2: Shakespeare


KATE POURED BEER into Shakespeare's mug. "I thank you," he said absently. He'd eaten more than half of his kidney pie before noticing how good it was--or, indeed, paying much attention to what it was. Most of him focused on King Philip. He'd stormed ahead the night before, and he couldn't wait to get to work tonight. The candle at his table was tall and thick and bright. It would surely burn till curfew, or maybe even a little longer.

The door to the ordinary opened. Shakespeare didn't look up in alarm, as he'd had to whenever it opened while he was working on Boudicca. He'd seldom dared write any of that play here, but even having it at the forefront of his thoughts left him nervous--left him, to be honest, terrified. If Spaniards or priests from the English Inquisition burst in now, he could show them this manuscript with a clear conscience.

But the man who came in was neither don nor inquisitor. He was pale, slight, pockmarked, bespectacled: a man who'd blend into any company in which he found himself. The poet hardly heeded him till he pulled up a stool and sat down, saying, "Give you good den, Master Shakespeare."

"Oh!" Shakespeare stared in surprise--and yes, alarm came flooding back. He tried to hide it behind a nod that was almost a seated bow. "God give you good even, Master Phelippes."

Phillppes is here because he knows that Shakespeare is seeking a scribe. After some banter, he explains that he is qualified for the job. Shakespeare is wary, and also concerned that he might not be capable of the job.


He would never be a hero on the battlefield, nor, Shakespeare judged, with the ladies, and so had to make do with what he knew. Twitting him about it would only make an enemy. "Ken you a scribe, then?" Shakespeare asked. "A scribe who can read what's set before him, write out a fair copy, and speak never a word of't thereafter?"

"I ken such a man, but not well," Phelippes said with a small smile.

"That will not serve," Shakespeare said. "If you cannot swear he be trusty--"

Phelippes held up a hand. That small smile grew bigger. "You mistake me, sir. I but repeat a Grecian's jest when asked by someone who knew him not if he knew himself. I am the man."

"Ah?" Shakespeare was not at all convinced Phelippes was trusty. After all, he worked at the right hand of Don Diego Flores de Valdés. And yet, plainly, Don Diego's was not the only right hand at which he worked. Wanting very much to ask him about that, Shakespeare knew he couldn't: he would get back either no answer or whatever lie seemed most useful to Phelippes. But he could say, "I'd fain see your character or ever I commend you to Master Vincent."

"Think you my claim by some great degree outdoth performance?" Thomas Phelippes sounded dryly amused. His mirth convinced Shakespeare he likely could do as he claimed. Even as Shakespeare started to say he needed no proof after all, the pockmarked little man cut him off: "Have you pen and paper here?"

"Ay." Shakespeare left them on the floor by his feet while he ate, to keep from spilling gravy on them. He bent now, picked them up, and set them on the table.

"Good. Give them me, I pray you," Phelippes said. "I shall see what I make of your hand, and you will see what you make of mine." He looked at some of what Shakespeare had written, then up at the poet himself. "This is Philip, sending forth the Armada?"

"It is," Shakespeare answered. "But for myself, you are the first to see't."

"A privilege indeed," Phelippes murmured, and then began to read:

" ‘Rough rigor looks outright, and still prevails:

Let sword, let fire, let torments be their end.

Severity upholds both realm and rule.

What then for minds, which have revenging moods,

And ne'er forget the cross they boldly bear?

And as for England's desperate and disloyal plots

Spaniards, remember, write it on your walls,

That rebels, traitors and conspirators

Shall feel the flames of ever-flaming fire

Which are not quenched with a sea of tears.' "

Looking up again, he nodded. " 'Twill serve--'twill serve very well. And a pretty contrast you draw 'twixt his Most Catholic Majesty's just fury here and the mercy of her life he grants Elizabeth conquered."

"Gramercy," Shakespeare said automatically, and then, staring, "How know you of that?"

Phelippes clicked his tongue between his teeth. "Your business is to write, the which you do most excellent well. Mine, I told you, is to know. Think you . . ."--the pause was a name he did not say aloud--"would choose me, would use me, did I not know passing well?"

Had he named that name, would it have been Sir William Cecil's or that of Don Diego Flores de Valdés? Or might he have chosen one as readily as the other? Shakespeare wished the question hadn't occurred to him. Phelippes openly avowed being a tool. Might not any man take up a tool and cut with it?

Phelippes tore off the bottom part of the sheet of paper on which Shakespeare had been writing. Shakespeare stifled a sigh. The other man surely would not pay him for the paper. Phelippes inked a pen. He began to write. Shakespeare's own hand was quick and assured, if not a thing of beauty. But his eyes widened as he watched Phelippes. The bespectacled little man's talents weren't showy, but talents he unquestionably had. The goose quill raced over the paper at a speed that put Shakespeare's best to shame.

"Here." Phelippes handed him the scrap he'd torn off. "Will it serve, think you?"

This text is drawn from The Misfortunes Of Arthur by Sir Thomas Hughes, and is several lines picked out of context. The only direct changes here are substituting "England" where the original has "Mordred" and "Spainiards" where the original says "Britain".


He'd copied out the bit of King Philip's speech he'd read before. Shakespeare stared. He himself used the native English hand he'd learned in school back in Stratford; his writing had grown more fluid over the years because he did so much of it, but had never changed its essential nature. Phelippes' studied Italian script, by contrast, was so very perfect, an automaton might have turned it out. And he'd written in haste here, not at leisure.

English and Itialian script were different things in this era, but deriving meaning from them is a matter for an expert. For the purpose of the story, it suffices that Phelippes has excellent handwriting

Phelippes departs, stating that he will make himself known to Thomas Vincent.


When he went to the Theatre the next day, he told Thomas Vincent of Phelippes. The prompter nodded, but asked, "Hath he the required discretion?"

"Of discretion he hath a surplusage," Shakespeare answered. "He wants some of the goodly qualities framing a man of parts, but discretion? Never."

"I rely on your judgment, as I needs must here," Vincent said. "An you be mistook--" He broke off, as if he didn't even want to think about that.

Neither did Shakespeare, but he said, "Therein, I am not."

"God grant it be so," Vincent said. "And when may I look for King Philip?"

He was as pushy as a prompter should be. "Anon," Shakespeare told him. "Anon."

"Anon, anon," Thomas Vincent echoed mockingly. "Are you then metamorphosed into a drawer at the Boar's Head, ever vowing to cure ails with ale and never bringing the which is promised?"

"You'll have't, and in good time," the poet said, letting a little irritation show. "King Philip breathes yet, mind you. We stray close to treason, treating of his mortality ere it be proved."

"Don Diego hath given you his commission," Vincent said. "That being so, treason enters not into the question."

"The question, say you?" Shakespeare shivered, though the day was mild enough. When he thought of the question, he thought of endless hogsheads of water funneled down his throat, of thumbscrews, of iron boots thrust into the fire, of all the fiendish ingenuity Spaniards and home-grown English inquisitors could bring to bear in interrogating some luckless wretch who'd fallen into their clutches.

Note that Turtledove seems to rank waterboarding with thumbscrews and foot roasting.

After some discussion of the possiblility of betrayal, Vincent leaves Shakespeare alone.


He wished the same would have been true of the players. He'd had to sound them out, one by one, knowing a wrong word in the wrong ear would bring catastrophe down upon them all. He felt as if he were defusing the Hellburner of Antwerp each time he spoke to one of them. At his nod, Richard Burbage had eased a couple of devout Papists from the company--both of them hired men, fortunately, and not sharers whom the other sharers would have had to buy out. Some of those who remained, and who knew what was toward, seemed to think it certain no one not of their persuasion was left in the Theatre. They were careless enough with what they said to make Shakespeare flinch several times a day--or, when things were bad, several times an hour.

It would have been even worse had they seen their parts for Boudicca and begun throwing around lines from the play. That would come soon enough--all too soon, Shakespeare feared. Even now, a robustious periwig-pated fellow named Matthew Quinn got a laugh and a cheer by shouting out that all Jesuits should be flung into the sea.

"Only chance, only luck, Lieutenant de Vega came not this morning, else he had been here to catch that," Shakespeare said to Burbage in the tiring room after the company gave the day's play.

"I have spoke to Master Quinn," Burbage answered grimly. "The rascally sheep-biter avouches he shall not be so spendthrift of tongue henceforward."

Will Kemp came up to the two of them puffing on a pipe of tobacco. Still nervous and irritable, Shakespeare spoke more petulantly than he might have: "How can you bear that stinking thing?"

"How?" Kemp, for a wonder, took no offense. "Why, naught simpler--it holds from my nostrils the reek of yon affectioned rear end." He pointed with his chin towards Matt Quinn. "And they style me fool and clown." He rolled his eyes.

"They call you by the names you have earned," Burbage said. "The names Master Quinn hath earned for this day's business needs must be named by Satan himself, none other having the tongue to withstand the flames therefrom engendered."

"Better Quinn were disgendered," Shakespeare said. "The fright he gave me, I'd not sorrow to see him lose both tongue and yard."

"You're a bloody kern today," Kemp said.

"Nay." Shakespeare shook his head. "I thirst for no blood, nor want none spilled--most especially not mine own."

"Master Quinn will attend henceforth," Burbage promised. "He stakes his life upon't."

"The game hath higher stakes than that," Shakespeare said, "for his I reckon worthless, but I crave mine own to keep."

"And they style me fool and clown," Will Kemp repeated. Shakespeare left--all but fled--the tiring room a moment later. He knew this plot was all too likely to miscarry, but wished Kemp hadn't reminded him of it quite like that.

This is not the way to keep a plot secret. Loose lips sink ships!

Chapter IX, Part 3: De Vega


"AH, MY LOVE, I must go," Lope de Vega murmured regretfully.

Lucy Watkins clung to him. "Stay with me," she said. "Stay with me forever. Till I met thee, I knew not what love was."

"Thy lips are sweet," he said, and kissed her. But then he got out of the narrow bed and began to dress. "Still, I must away. Duty calls." Duty would consist of more rehearsals for El mejor mozo de España. Lope knew he would go back to his games with Catalina Ibañez. The more he saw of Don Alejandro de Recalde's mistress, the more games he wanted to play with her. That didn't mean he despised Lucy, but the thrill of the chase was gone.

Softly, Lucy began to weep. "Would thou gavest me all thy duty."

"I may not. What I may give thee, I do." What I don't give to Catalina, Lope thought. Lucy knew nothing of the other woman. Lope dabbed at her face with the coverlet. "Here, dry thine eyes. We'll meet again, and soon. And when we do meet, let it be with gladness."

"I always come to thee with gladness," the Englishwoman said. "But when thou goest . . ." She shook her head and snuffled. At last, though, she too sat up and reached for the clothes she'd so carelessly let fall to the floor a little while earlier.

By then, Lope was pulling on his boots. He'd had plenty of practice dressing in a hurry. He didn't urge Lucy to move faster. Better--more discreet--if they weren't seen coming down the stairs together from the rooms above this alehouse. He kissed her again. "Think of me whilst we are parted, that the time until we meet again might seem the shorter."

De Vega, you are an unmitigated rear end in a top hat

He heads off to his rehearsal, where Catalina is waiting. Also waiting is her patron, Don Alejandro de Recalde, so De Vega's plans of seduction have to be put on hold.


If the nobleman knew what was in de Vega's mind, he gave no sign of it. With another friendly nod, he said, "I've been listening to Catalina practicing her lines these past few days, and I have to tell you I'm impressed. I heard a good many dreary comedies in Madrid that couldn't come close to what you're doing here in this godforsaken wilderness."

Slightly dazed, Lope murmured, "You're far too kind, your Excellency." He scratched his head. He wasn't impervious to guilt. Here was this fellow praising his work, and he wanted to sleep with the man's mistress? He took another look at Catalina Ibañez, at her sparking eyes, the delicate arch of her nose, her red lips and white teeth, the sweetly curved figure her brocaded dress displayed. Well, as a matter of fact, yes, Lope thought. The game is worth the candle.

Correction: De Vega, you are a very slightly mitigated rear end in a top hat

After a little more chatter, Don Alejandro asks to see a rehearsal performance, which De Vega cannot deny. He has Diego kicked awake, and proceeeds.


"Places! Places!" Lope shouted, submerging would-be lover so playwright and director could come forth. Being all those people at once, he sometimes felt very crowded inside. Were other people also so complex? When he thought of Diego, he had his doubts. When he thought of Christopher Marlowe . . . I won't think of Marlowe, he told himself. He's gone, and I don't have to worry about seizing him any more. But oh, by God, how I'll miss his poetry.

This is an interesting reflection, and I like the way De Vega strains under mixed admiration and loathing for Marlowe


When the play ended, Catalina Ibañez curtsied to him. Then, deliberately, as if she really were Queen Isabella, she curtsied to Lope, too. He bowed in return, also as if she were the Queen. Don Alejandro de Recalde laughed and cheered for them both. Catalina's eyes lit up. She smiled out at the nobleman--but somehow managed to include Lope in that smile, too.

She's trying to see how close to the wind she can sail, he realized, playing games with me right under Don Alejandro's nose. He'll kill her--and likely me, too--if he notices. But if he doesn't--oh, if he doesn't . . .

Lope slid closer to her. As softly as he could, he murmured, "When can I see you? Alone?"

Had she shown surprise then, surprise or offense, he would have been a dead man. But she, unlike most of her companions here, really was an actress; Lope had had that thought before. "Soon," she whispered back. "Very soon." Her expression never changed, not a bit.

She's going to betray Don Alejandro, Lope thought. How long before she betrays me, too? His eyes traveled the length of her again. For the life of him--and he knew it might be for the life of him--he couldn't make himself worry about that.

This will be trouble. De Vega knows it will be trouble. He's going to do it anyway.

Chapter IX, Part 4: Shakespeare


Thomas Vincent held sheets of paper under Shakespeare's nose. " 'Steeth, Master Vincent, mind what you do," Shakespeare said. "None should look on those who hath not strongest need."

"Be you not amongst that number?" the prompter returned. "Methought you'd fain see our scribe his work."

"I have seen his work," Shakespeare said. "Had I not, I had given you the name of another."

But he took a sheet from Vincent even so. Thomas Phelippes had had to work like a man possessed to copy out all the parts of Boudicca so quickly. However fast he'd written, though, his script hadn't suffered. It remained as clear as it had been when he'd demonstrated it in Shakespeare's ordinary.

"You could get no better," Shakespeare said, and Thomas Vincent nodded. The poet gave back the part. "Now then--make this disappear. Place it not where any sneaking spy nor prowling Spaniard might come upon't."

"I am not so fond as you hold me," the prompter said. "None shall see it but he whose part it is--and him I shall not suffer to take it from the Theatre."

"Marry, I hope you do not," Shakespeare said. "Yet will even that suffice us? For know you, we may also be done to death by slanderous tongues."

"I know't well, sir: too well, by Jesu," Vincent replied. "Here I am come unto a fear of death, a terrible and unavoided danger."

"Let only the fear thereof be unavoided, the thing itself passing over us like the Angel of Death o'er the children of Israel in Egypt. From this nettle, danger, may we pluck the flower, safety."

This last line is from Act 2 of Henry IV: Part 1

They are interrupted by a bawdy song being whistled from the roof of the theatre - a warning sign. The dangerous sheets are hidden as Lope De Vega approaches. They discuss King Phillip and King Phillip.


"How fares King Philip?" Lope asked.

"Passing well," Shakespeare repeated, adding, "or so I hope." The commission he had from Don Diego Flores de Valdés was far safer than the one Lord Burghley had given him. Part of him hoped Lord Westmorland's Men would offer their auditors King Philip, not Boudicca. That would pluck safety from the nettle of danger. It would be a craven's safety, but safety nonetheless. Let Boudicca once see the light of day, and. . .

Let Boudicca once see the light of day, and God grant I get free of England, as Kit hath done, Shakespeare thought. England had lain under the Spaniards' boots for almost ten years now. Could she rise up and cast them out? If she could, why hadn't she long since?

"How fares King Philip himself?" he inquired.

Lope de Vega frowned. "Not well, I fear me: not well at all. Late word from Spain hath it he waxeth dropsical, his belly and thighs now much distended whilst his other members waste away."

He crossed himself. Shakespeare did the same. He couldn't quite hide a shudder. He'd seen the horrid bloating of dropsy, seen it rob its victims of life an inch at a time. They'd had to press a board against one luckless player's belly to help him make water, as if they were squeezing the juice from grapes in a wine press. Next to that, the swift certainty of the gallows seemed a mercy. But you'd have no swift end, not now. . . .

Interesting thoughts here. Shakespeare's desire for the safety of his Spanish commission is understandable compared to the danger of his English one, but foolish. The plot is clearly long advanced, and too many know he is involved. His only road to safety is in success. Note also his genuine empathy for the plight of his enemy Phillip.

De Vega bids Shakespeare to finish the play, and notes the need for scribes. Also noting that Shakespeare's prompter is new due to Marten's death, he decides to be helpful.


But, for now, Lope de Vega's attention focused on King Philip and the problems involved in producing it. "An he have trouble finding scribes fit for the matter, I ken a man who'd suit it."

"Ah?" Shakespeare said: the most noncommittal noise he could make.

Lope nodded. "Ay, sir: an Englishman already in the employ of Don Diego, and thus acquainted with all you purpose here. I have seen his writing, and know him to have an excellent character, most legible. He is called Thomas . . . ah . . . Phelippes."

He pronounced the name in the Spanish manner, as if it had three syllables. That kept Shakespeare from recognizing it for a moment. When he did, he felt as if a thunderbolt had crashed to earth at his feet. Lope knew Phelippes well enough to know what sort of scribe he made? Did the Spanish officer have a fair copy of Boudicca? Had he got it before Thomas Vincent got his?

This would be a magnificent source of tension, had Turtledove not already shown Phillipes deflecting suspicion from the plot and hinted that he was discreetly removing obstacles. There's no real tension because we know which side Phellippes is on.

Shakespeare deflects the inquiry by stating that it was a matter to be taken up with the tireman, and proceeds to the day's play.


Shakespeare had only a small part in the day's production, Marlowe's Caligula. The poet was fled, but his plays lived on. Shakespeare would have been glad with more to do; he might have worried less. As things were, he'd never been so glad to escape the Theatre once the show was done.

He hadn't gone far towards London before Richard Burbage fell into step with him. "Give you good even," the other player said, and then, "It went right well, methought."

He'd played the title role, and milked it for all it was worth. Still, Shakespeare nodded; as Marlowe had written it, the role was worth milking. "This was the frightfullest Roman of them all," Shakespeare said.

"In sooth, he is a choice bit of work," Burbage said. "And, in sooth, could we but show more of what he did, he'd seem frightfuller yet."

"It wonders me the Master of the Revels gave Kit leave to present e'en as much as the play offers," Shakespeare said.

"Come the day, we'll show more than Sir Edmund wots of," Burbage observed.

"Come the day," Shakespeare echoed. "And, by what the Spaniard saith, the day comes soon: Philip hath declined further." He walked along for a few paces, then added, "Or, come the day, we'll give the auditors King Philip, and all will weep for fallen glory."

Burbage was also silent for a little while. "Peradventure we will," he said at last. "But ere I sleep each night, I pray God they'll see the other." Here in Shoreditch High Street, he named no names. Who could tell which jade or ragamuffin might take some incautious word to the dons or the English Inquisition?

"Well, Dick, your prayer, at least, is to the purpose," Shakespeare said wearily. "When I petition the Lord, it is that He let this cup pass from me. I fear me, though, He hears me not." He threw his hands in the air. " 'Swounds, why fled I not this madness or ever it laid hold of me?"

"The heart hath its reasons, whereof reason knoweth naught," Burbage said.

Shakespeare stopped in surprise. "That is well said. Is't your own?" When Burbage nodded, Shakespeare set a hand on his shoulder. "When next Will Kemp assails you as being but the mouthpiece for other men, cast defiance in's teeth."

I can find no Marlow play concerning Caligula, and it would be a very odd choice for the Spanish to allow - this entire book is about using Evil Romans to stand in for the occupying Spanish! The line attributed to Burbage here appears to actually be a quote from Blaise Pascal about religious belief, penned sometime in the middle of the next century. It is an interesting turn of character for Burbage here - earlier he was pretty blatantly unconcerned about which play got performed - his company makes money either way. Now he prays for the dangerous one, the treasonous one, the one that can set his homeland free.

They continue, Shakespeare deeming the line fit for inclusion in some light romance and lamenting that he cannot work on any such piece. After some discussion, Burbage decides to lighten the mood.


Burbage might have sensed as much. Instead of going on with the argument, he pointed ahead. "Bishopsgate draws nigh. Spring at last being arrived, it likes me having daylight left once we've strutted and fretted our two hours upon the stage."

"Why, it doth like me as well," Shakespeare said in surprise. He clapped a hand to his forehead. "By my troth, Dick, I've scarce noted proud-pied April, dressed in all his trim, putting a spirit of youth in everything. Goose quill and paper have compassed round my life."

"Belike, for it's April no moe," Burbage told him. "These are May's new-fangled shows, and far from the best of 'em."

"May?" Shakespeare cried. "Surely not! Surely they'd have decked the streets with greenery, as is the custom, and burnt bonfires, and run up maypoles for that they might dance round 'em."

"Surely they would have. Surely they did. Surely you never marked it." Richard Burbage eyed him with amused pity.

"Wait!" Shakespeare snapped his fingers. "I mind me we gave the groundlings The Taming of the Shrew on the day. There! D'you see? I had some knowledge of it after all." That felt very important to him just then.

Burbage's expression changed not a jot. "And so we did. But why know you of it? Only for that it came to pass within the Theatre's bourne. Otherwise . . ." He shook his head.

As usual, Irishmen with long, hungry faces and fiery eyes stood guard at Bishopsgate. The gallowglasses glowered at Shakespeare and Burbage: the two players were big enough and young enough to seem dangerous no matter how mildly they behaved. One of the guards said something in his own musical language, of which Shakespeare understood not a word. Another started to draw his sword. But their sergeant--distinguishable only because he was a few years older and a little more scarred--shook his head. He waved the Englishmen into London, saying, "Pass through. Quick now, mind."

"Lean raw-boned rascals," Burbage muttered, but he made sure the gallowglasses couldn't hear him.

"I do despise the bloody cannibals," Shakespeare agreed, also in a low voice. "May they prove roast meat for worms."

"God grant it!" Burbage said. "That the dons lord it over us is one thing--they earned the right, having beaten us in war. But these redpolled swashbucklers?" He shook his head. "Men who'd never dare rise against the Spaniards will run riot to cast out Irish wolves."

"Ay, belike." Shakespeare wondered if Sir William Cecil had thought of inflaming Londoners against the savages from the western island. Likely he will have, the poet thought. He sees so much; would he have missed that? Still, he resolved to speak of it to Lord Burghley when next he saw him, or to Nick Skeres or Thomas Phelippes if he didn't see the noble soon.

How very appropriate for an author to completely lose track of the calendar while writing. Of greater interest is the bit with the Irish - Shakespeare is going back and forth from reluctant tool to active and eager collaborator, seeing a flaw in the plot and resolving to correct it.

Chapter 9, Part V: De Vega


"COME ON, DIEGO," Lope de Vega said impatiently from horseback. "You have only a donkey to mount. The two of you must be close cousins."

"Señor, I would never mount my cousin. The Good Book forbids it--and besides, she's ugly," his servant answered. As Lope blinked at such unexpected wit, Diego swung up into the saddle. The rear end brayed pitifully at his weight.

"You have your costume?" Lope demanded. Diego set a hand on a saddlebag. De Vega nodded. "Good. To Westminster, then. They say England's Isabella may come to watch the play, to see Castile's performed on stage. She could make your fortune, Diego." She could make mine, he thought.

Diego said, "A servant playing a servant won't make much of a mark. You should have cast me as Ferdinand."

They rode away from the Spanish barracks at the heart of London and west toward the court center. Lope had to rein in to keep his horse, a high-spirited mare, from leaving Diego's donkey behind. "Ferdinand!" Lope said. "What mad dream is that? You're not asleep now, not so I can tell."

"But am I not the perfect figure of a king?" Diego said.

Surveying his rotund servant, de Vega answered, "You are the perfect figure of two kings--at least." Diego sent him a venomous glare.

Lope paid no attention. On such a day, he was happy enough to be outdoors. As always, spring had, to a Spaniard's reckoning, come late to England, but it was here at last. The sun shone brightly. The only clouds in the sky were small white ones, drifting slowly from west to east on a mild breeze. It had rained a couple of days before--not hard, just enough to lay the dust without turning the road into a bog.

Everything was green. New grass grew exuberantly: more so than it ever did in drier, hotter Castile. Trees and bushes were in new leaf. The earliest spring flowers had begun to brighten the landscape. Birdsong filled the moist air. Robins and chaffinches, cuckoos and larks, waxwings and tits all made music. They left England sooner and came back later than they did in Spain. Each spring, when they returned, Lope discovered anew how much he'd missed them and how especially empty and barren the winter had seemed without them.

Diego smiled to hear those songs, too. "Mesh nets," he murmured. "Birdlime. By all the saints, there's nothing can match a big plate of songbirds, all nicely roasted on spits or maybe baked in a pie. I don't think much of English cookery, but they make some savory pies. Beefsteak and kidney's mighty tasty, too, and you can get that any season of the year."

De Vega's being abusive to his servant again... but this time it is kind of funny.

They walk through the city of Westminster, noticing that they are passing Drury Lane, where so many troublesome but problematic Englishmen live. Diego suggests setting it on fire, to De Vega's amusement.


The Thames bent towards the south. The road followed it. De Vega and Diego rode past a tilt-yard and several new tenements before coming to a large area on their left enclosed by a brick wall. Over the top of the wall loomed the upper stories of some impressive buildings. "What's that?" Diego asked, pointing to the enclosure.

"That? That is Scotland," Lope said.

Diego scornfully tossed his head. "You can't fool me, boss. You've been scaring me with Scotland for a while now. I know what it is--that kingdom up north of here, the one where the wild men live."

"Some of the wild men," Lope amended. "But that yard, that too is Scotland." He crossed himself to show he was telling the truth. "When the King of the wild men comes to visit England, he is housed there, and so it took its name." He wished the present King of Scotland would come to visit England. But, despite honeyed invitations, Protestant James VI was too canny to thrust his head into the Catholic lion's mouth. Lope continued, "And there beyond lies Whitehall, where the company shall perform."

"Oh, joy," Diego said.

Whitehall had formerly been a noble's residence. Henry VIII, having taken it for his own, had enlarged it, adding tennis courts, bowling alleys, and another tilt-yard, with a second-story gallery from which he and his companions might observe the sport. Elizabeth had also watched jousts from that gallery, but neither Isabella nor her consort Albert much favored them. A wooden stage, not much different from that of the Theatre, had gone up on the tilt-yard, in front of the gallery. The highest-ranking English and Spanish grandees would view El mejor mozo de España from the comfort of the gallery. The rest, prominent enough to be invited but not enough to keep company with the Queen and King, would impersonate the groundlings who packed the theatres out beyond London's walls. They didn't have to pay a penny for the privilege, though.

The Scotland Yard joke is way too perfect. The Palace of Whitehall was the royal residence from 1530 (when the previous royal residence (the Palace Of Westminster) burned down) to 1698 (when the Palace of Whitehall burned down and the royal residence was moved to Kensignton Palace). Only the central hall of the building survives today.

De Vega takes the opportinuty to encourage Catalina with a casual kiss before the performance, which goes quite well.


From the tiring room, Lope heard Catalina Ibañez call, "And here is the man who gave us these golden words to say: Senior Lieutenant Lope Félix de Vega Carpio!"

More applause as Lope, who felt as if he were dreaming himself, came out onto the stage and bowed to the audience--especially to the central gallery, where Isabella and Albert of England sat. How had Catalina learned his full name? No time to wonder about that now; Queen Isabella was calling, "Well done, Señor de Vega. You are a very clever fellow." Lope bowed again. Isabella tossed him a small leather purse. He caught it out of the air. It was heavy, heavy enough to be stuffed with gold. He bowed once more, this time almost double. Dazedly, he followed the company offstage.

Back in the tiring room, he went over to Catalina Ibañez and said, "How can I thank you for calling me out there?"

Her eyes were as warm with promise as an early summer morning. "If you're as clever as Queen Isabella says, Señor de Vega, I'm sure you'll think of something," she purred. Only later did he wonder whether she was really looking at him or at the purse he'd just got.

Turtledove likes to do this "only later did he..." bit. Often, as now, it is fairly annoying because it takes the character out of the moment.

Chapter 9, Part VI: De Vega


SAM KING CAME up to Shakespeare in the parlor of the lodgings they shared. A little shyly, he said, "I have somewhat for you, Master Will." He held out his hand and gave Shakespeare three pennies--two stamped with the visages of Isabella and Albert, the third an older coin of Elizabeth's.

"Gramercy," Shakespeare said in surprise. Up till now, King hadn't had enough money for himself, let alone to pay back anyone else. Shakespeare had almost forgotten the threepence he'd given the younger man for a supper, and certainly hadn't expected to see it again.

But, a touch of pride in his voice, King said, "I pay what I owe, I do."

"Right glad am I to hear't," Shakespeare answered. "You've found work, then?"

"You might say so." But King's nod seemed intended to convince himself at least as much as to convince Shakespeare. "Ay, sir, you might say so."

"And what manner of work is't, pray tell?"

No sooner were the words out of his mouth than Shakespeare wished he had them back. Had Sam King landed an apprenticeship with a carpenter or a bricklayer, he would have shouted the news to the skies, and would have deserved to. As things were . . . As things were, he turned red. "I am . . . stalled to the rogue," he replied at last.

"Are you?" Shakespeare tried to sound happy for the man who slept in the same room as he did. For someone on his own and hungry in London, even being formally initiated as a beggar had to seem a step up. Carefully, the poet went on, "God grant men be generous to you."

He wondered how long they would stay generous. King was young and healthy, even if on the scrawny side. A beggar with one leg or a missing eye or some other injury or ailment that inspired pity might have a better chance at pennies and ha'pennies and farthings. But King smiled and said, "There are all manner of cheats to pry the bite from a gentry cove, or from your plain cuffin, too. I've a cleym, now, fit to make a man spew an he see it."

King continues to explain the new craft, which he proudly proclaims brings in five shillings a week.

There are 12 pence to a shilling, and 20 shillings to the pound. This makes King's five shillings equal to sixty pence. By the prices Turtledove gives, this is a tolerable living - a threepenny supper such as Shakespeare habitually takes each day would consume only a third of it, allowing for some other food and his rent. This does, however, put into some proportion how much Shakespeare is actually getting payed for his two plays. Between the English and the Spanish, he is being paid two hundred pounds - at twenty shillings to the pound this makes 4000 shillings.

King's lessons attract the landlady, who is eager to hound him away until she realizes he is one of her tenants instead of some random beggar.


"We'll say no more about it, then." The Widow Kendall heaved a sigh. "This place is not what it was--by my halidom, it is not. That I should have lodging here, all at the same time, a beggar and a witch and a poet . . ." She shook her head.

Shakespeare resented being lumped together with Sam King and Cicely Sellis. A moment's reflection, though, told him they might resent being lumped together with him. He said, "So that we pay what you require on the appointed day, where's your worry, Mistress Kendall?"

"So that you do, all's well," she answered. "But with such trades . . . Sweet Jesu, who ever heard of a rich poet?"

She could imagine a rich beggar. She could imagine a cunning woman with money. A poet? No. Shakespeare was tempted to brag of the gold he'd got from Lord Burghley and Don Diego. He was tempted, for a good half a heartbeat. Then common sense prevailed. The best way to keep from being robbed or having his throat slit was not to let on he had anything worth stealing.

It is somewhat amusing that she considers the author and poet (by far the most respectable of the three professions, by modern standards) to be the most likely to run out of cash. Not an inappropriate concept for the era, though.

Sellis's cat enters and begins to rub on Shakespeare. King decides to play with the cat -he gets a mug of ale, and pours some on the ground to try getting the cat drunk. The landlady is furious at the waste of her ale - and Sellis is furious at the treatment of her cat.


Mommet sniffed at the ale slowly soaking into the rammed-earth floor. The cat's head bent. Ever so delicately, it lapped at the puddle. Then it looked up. It eyes caught the firelight from the hearth and glowed green.

"What game play you at?"

Sam King started violently and made the sign of the cross. Shakespeare jerked in surprise, too. But it wasn't the cat that had spoken. It was Cicely Sellis, standing in the doorway to her room, hands on hips, her face furious.

"What play you at?" she asked again. "Tell me straight out, else I'll make you sorry for your silence."

"N-N-N-Naught, Mistress Sellis," King stammered, his face going gray with fear. "I was but, ah, giving your cat, ah, somewhat to drink."

"You play the palliard," the cunning woman said. "Play not the fool, sirrah, or you'll find more in the way of foolery than ever was in your reckoning. Hear you me?"

"I--I do," King answered in a very small voice.

"See to't, then," Cicely Sellis snapped. She made a small, clucking sound. "Come you here, Mommet."

Cats didn't come when called. Shakespeare had known that since he was a little boy in Stratford. Cats did as they pleased, not as anyone else pleased. But Mommet trotted over to Cicely Sellis like a lapdog. The cat's contented buzz filled the parlor.

That frightened Sam King all over again. "God be my judge, mistress, I meant no harm," he whispered.

The look the cunning woman gave him said she would judge him, and that God would have nothing to do with it. "Some men there are that love not a gaping pig," she said, "some, that are mad if they behold a cat. As there is no firm reason to be rendered why he cannot abide a harmless necessary cat, so he were wiser to show mercy, and pity, than to sport with a poor dumb beast that knoweth naught of sport. Or think you otherwise?"

"No." King's lips shaped the word, but without sound. He vanished into the bedchamber he shared with Shakespeare. Jane Kendall disappeared almost as quickly.

That left Shakespeare all alone with Cicely Sellis--and with Mommet. He could have done without the honor, if that was what it was. As she stroked the cat's brindled coat, he asked, "Go you to the arena to see bears baited, or bulls, or to the cockfights?"

To his relief, she didn't take offense, and did take the point of the question. Shaking her head, she answered, "I go not to any such so-called sports. I cannot abide them. I am of one piece in mine affections and opinions, Master Shakespeare. Can you say the same?"

"Me, lady? Nay, nor would I essay it, for my wits are all in motley, now of one shade, now another. And which of us is better for't?" Shakespeare asked. Cicely Sellis thought, then shrugged, which struck him as basically honest.

Sellis is correct to be outraged. Due to low body mass, even a tiny amount of alcohol is extremely dangerous to cats.

Feb 11, 2014

"What we therefore hath joined together, let Gnoman put asunder..."

Chapter 10, Part I: De Vega


A SHARP COUGH BROUGHT Lope de Vega up short. He looked back towards Shakespeare, who advanced across the stage of the Theatre. "You attend not, Master de Vega," Shakespeare said severely. "That was your cue to say forth your lines, and it passed you by. I had not known you as such an unperfect actor on the stage, who with his fear is put besides his part."

"Nor am I such." Lope bowed apology. "You pardon, sir, I pray you. 'Twas not fear put me out."

"What then?" Shakespeare asked, still frowning. "Whate'er the reason, you must improve, else you'll appear not. Would you have the groundlings pelt you with marrows and beetroots and apples gone all wormy? Would you have them outshout the action, crying, ‘O Jesu, he does it as like one of these harlotry players as ever I see'?" The Englishman's voice climbed to a mocking falsetto.

"No and no and no." Lope shook his head. That harlotry struck too close to the mark. "I fear me I find myself distracted--a matter having naught to do with yourself or with your most excellent King Philip."

He wondered how much more he would have to say. But Shakespeare, after cocking his head to one side, got to the nub of it in two words: "A woman?"

"Yes, a woman," Lope answered in some relief. "She hath made promises, made them and then kept them not. And yet she may. This being so, I am torn 'twixt hope and fury."

Lope's angry because he hasn't yet managed to sleep with the mistress of a superior officer. This can't possibly go wrong.


"I understand," Lope said contritely. "You have reason, señor. My private woe should not unsettle this your play."

"As for the wench, a boot in the bum may haply work wonders, as hath been known aforetimes," Kemp said. "And if you cannot cure her by the foot, belike you'll do't by the yard."

He leered. Shakespeare snorted. So did the rest of the Englishmen in earshot. Lope scratched his head. He spoke English well, but every so often something flew past him. He had the feeling this was one of those times.

"I do know my lines," he said, ignoring what he couldn't follow. "Hear me, if you will:

‘This cardinal,

Though from an humble stock, undoubtedly

Was fashioned to much honour. From his cradle

He was a scholar, and a ripe and good one:

Exceeding wise, fair-spoken, and persuading;

Lofty and sour to them that lov'd him not,

But to those men that sought him sweet as summer.

And, to add greater honours to his age

Than man could give him, he died fearing God.' "

"In sooth, you have them," Shakespeare agreed. "It were better, though, to bring them forth when called for."

"And so I shall," Lope promised. "Before God, I shall."

"Before God, ay--we are ever before God," Will Kemp said. "But can you stand and deliver before the groundlings? There's the rub."

He couldn't mean he thought the groundlings a more important and more difficult audience than God . . . could he? No one could be that blasphemous. The English Inquisition would get its hooks into a man who dared say anything of the sort--would get them in and never let go again. An ordinary man, fetched before the inquisitors, would have no defense. But a player, Lope realized, just might. He could say he'd put the thought of his craft ahead of his soul for a moment. He probably wouldn't escape scot-free, but might avoid the worst.

The lines here are taken straight from Act IV, Scene 2 of Shakespeare's Henry VIII without edits, although several lines from the historical play are elided.

One thing that Turtledove does well in this book is these little philosophical interludes on the relationship between God and actors/playwrights. In an age where religion holds so much sway, such comparisons are appropriate. I am not enough of an early modern scholar to know of any, but it seems inevitable that such things were.

Also note Kemp's joke here.


"Let us try again," Shakespeare said. "The more we work afore ourselves alone, the better we shall seem when the Theatre's full."

"Or not, an God will it so," Kemp said. "The best-rehearsed company will now and again make a hash of things."

"I have myself seen the same, more often than I should wish," Lope agreed.

"Ay, certes. So have we all," Shakespeare said. "But a company less than well rehearsed will make a hash of things more than now and again. Thus I tell you, once more into the breach, dear friends, once more; or close the show up with our bungled lines. Disguise fair nature with hard-summoned art. When the trumpet's blast blows in your ears, then imitate the action of the Spaniard."

"I need not imitate," Lope pointed out.

Shakespeare made a leg at him. "Indeed not, Lieutenant. But as for you others, I'd see you stand like greyhounds in the slips, straining upon the start. Follow your spirit, and upon your cue cry, ‘God for Philip! Sweet Spain and Saint James!' "

Richard Burbage had left the stage, probably for the jakes. Returning, he clapped his hands and said, "By God, Will, I've gone off to war with words less heartening ringing in my ears."

"Never mind war," Shakespeare said. "Let us instead piece together this King Philip. Take your places. We shall once more essay the scene."

Rehersal begins to go well, and is followed by unusually friendly banter between De Vega and Will Kemp. This culminates in a most interesting exchange.


The players laughed. Will Kemp's grin showed uneven teeth. "By my troth, no," he answered. "D'you take me for Kit Marlowe?"

More laughter arose, the baying laughter of men mocking one another's prowess. "I am wounded," de Vega said, and clapped both hands over his heart.

"Which only shows you know not where Kit'd wound you," Kemp said, and clapped both his hands over his backside. That coarse, baying laughter redoubled.

Lope joined it. He'd admired--still did admire--Marlowe the poet. It was as if Marlowe the sodomite were some different creature, divorced from the other. Life would have been simpler were that true. But they both made up different parts of the same man. De Vega wondered, not for the first time, how God could instill such great gifts and such a great sin into the same flesh and spirit. He sometimes thought God did such things to keep mortals from believing they understood Him and getting an exaggerated notion of their own cleverness.

Does Marlowe's fall, then, save other men from sins of their own? he wondered. If that be so, does it not make Marlowe like our Lord? Lope shook his head. There was one bit of speculation his confessor would never hear. If it should reach an inquisitor's ears . . . No, Lope didn't want to think about that.

More philosophizing. The real Lope De Vega spent his last 21 years as a Catholic priest, so having him ruminate this much on religious matters is fitting. Again, I regret a lack of knowledge here - this feels very much like Turtledove is cribbing from some period source.

As De Vega is heading into Bishopsgate after the rehersal, there is a most fateful meeting.


Not far inside the gate, he was struck by the spectacle of a handsome woman coming out of an ordinary with a cat perched on her left shoulder as if it were a sailor's bird. He reined in. "Give you good day, my lady," he said, "and why, I pray you, sits the beast there?"

She gave him a measuring look. "Good day to you, sir," she answered. Lope realized then she was a few years older than he; he hadn't noticed at first glance, as he would have with most women. Her smile held a certain challenge. "As for Mommet here--well, porqué no?"

Of course she would know him for a Spaniard by his dress, his looks, his accent. He laughed. "Why not indeed? What an extraordinary beast, though, to stay where you choose to set it."

The cat--Mommet--sent him a slit-eyed green stare a good deal more dismissive than its mistress'. Its yawn displayed needle teeth and a pink tongue. The woman said, "What cat is not an extraordinary beast? Come to that, what man is not an extraordinary beast?"

Lope blinked. He was in love with Lucy Watkins. He was also in love with Catalina Ibañez, a love that tormented his soul--among other things--all the more because it remained as yet unconsummated. Even so, a woman who spoke in riddles could not help but intrigue him. Love of the body, yes. Love of the spirit--yes, that, too. But also love of the mind, especially for a man with a leaping, darting mind like Lope's, a love neither of his two present amours returned.

"Who are you?" he asked urgently.

He wondered if she would tell him. A modest woman wouldn't have. But then, a modest woman wouldn't have spoken to him in the street at all. "I'm called Cicely Sellis," she answered, with no hesitation he noted. "And you, sir, are . . . ?"

With another woman, or with a woman of another sort, he would have given his rank and the rolling grandeur of his full name. To this one, he said only, "I am known as Lope de Vega." He couldn't help bowing in the saddle and adding, "Very much at your service, Mistress Sellis."

Mommet yawned again, as if to say how little his service meant. Cicely Sellis dropped him a token curtsy, careful not to dislodge the cat. "You are Master Shakespeare's friend," she said.

He started to cross himself--it hadn't been a question, but a calm statement of fact. Arresting the gesture, he demanded, "How know you that?"

"No mystery." Amusement sparkled in her eyes. "His lodging-house and mine own are the same, and full many a time hath he spoke your name."

"Oh." Lope wanted to ask what Shakespeare had said about him. Regretfully, he decided that wouldn't be a good idea. With a nod, he urged his horse forward. "I hope to see you again, Mistress Sellis."

"May it be so," she said, and English spring truly came home to Lope.

Surely we can't have a named female character that De Vega doesn't make a pass at, unless he never meets her.

Chapter 10, Part II: Shakespeare


Jack Hungerford showed Shakespeare a row of cheap, rusty helmets somewhat brightened by splashes of silver paint. "With feather plumes, Master Will, they serve passing well for Roman casques," the tireman said. "See you how the cheek pieces I've added help give 'em the seeming of antiquity?"

Shakespeare reached out and touched one of those cheek pieces. It was, as he'd expected, nothing but cut tin, hardly thicker than a leaf of paper. That didn't matter. It would look all right to the audience. What the players wore and what the groundlings saw--or imagined they saw--were two very different things. He knew that. No one who'd ever gone on up on stage could help knowing it. Still . . .

"Can we not make it plainer who these Romans are, whom they personate?" he inquired.

Hungerford frowned. "They are Romans, not so?" He scratched his head.

"Ay, certes, they are Romans." Shakespeare drummed the fingers of his right hand on his hose. The tireman, who dealt in things, cared nothing for symbols. "But bethink you, Master Jack. They are Romans, yes. They are invaders, come to Britain to conquer her, to change for their own her ancient and ancestral usages. In the doing, they have cast down a Queen. . . ." How many examples would he have to string together? How long before Jack Hungerford saw where he aimed? Would the tireman ever see it?

Scratching again, this time at the side of his chin, Hungerford spoke in thoughtful tones: "They fair put you in mind o' the dons, not so?"

"Even so, Master Jack! Even so!" Shakespeare wanted to kiss him. Hungerford had seen where he was going after all. "Can you devise somewhat wherewith they have at once the seeming of Romans and Spaniards both?"

Hungerford figures out how to adapt Spanish-style helmets to look Roman, and rig appropriate armor to enhance the effect. One more matter remains.


"Indeed--it pleases me greatly." Shakespeare nodded. "Now, one thing more. What have we here of queenly regalia?"

"Queenly . . . ?" Even with bit between his teeth, Hungerford didn't change gaits quickly; he needed a moment to shift his thoughts from one path to another. But then he snapped his fingers. "Ah! I follow! For the lad who is to play . . ." He snapped his fingers again, this time in annoyance. "Beshrew me if I recall the name."

"Boudicca," Shakespeare said patiently. How many people these days knew of the Queen of the Iceni, defeated and dead more than fifteen hundred years? Only those who'd fought through the Annals. Maybe his tragedy would change that. Then again, maybe it would never take the stage. But he had to go on as if he thought it would.

"Boudicca," Hungerford echoed. "A heathen appellation, if ever such there be. Well, what would you in aid of the garb purposed for that part, Master Will?"

"That it resemble a certain other deposed Queen's, as close as may be," Shakespeare answered.

He would not say the name. He didn't know why not. This conversation was already so manifestly treasonous, the name couldn't make it worse. But no one ever said it in today's England without a shiver of fear, without wondering who might be listening. He wondered if any girl child born after the summer of 1588 bore it. He had his doubts. He knew he wouldn't have given it to a little girl, not in an England ruled by Isabella and Albert. Maybe some folk were braver than he. No: certainly some folk were braver than he. But were any that brave, or that reckless?

Again, the tireman needed a heartbeat or two to catch up with him. "A certain other . . . ?" Hungerford said, and then nodded. "Oh. Elizab . . ." He stopped. He would not say all of the name, either. His eyes widened. "I take your drift. Whatsoever we may lack, I can get for barter from other companies. They need not know our veritable intent, only that it is to garb a Queen."

"You may say Queen Mary, an't please you," Shakespeare said. "She hath some small part in King Philip."

"As she had some small part in King Philip his life," said Hungerford, who was old enough to remember when Mary and Philip had briefly shared the English throne. He nodded. "Ay, that will suit well enough, should any presume to make inquiry. Are you fain to have me give him a red wig and powder his face white, as was . . . her custom for some years?"

"However your wit may take you," Shakespeare answered. "The greater the semblance, though, the more likely the play to seize the auditors."

After impressing the need for silence on Hungerford, Shakespeare ruminates a bit.


He still had no guarantee Boudicca would come off well, or that it would do as Sir William Cecil hoped and help rouse England against the Spanish occupiers. He had no guarantee the play would even appear on stage. (That gave rise to a new worry. If Boudicca didn't appear, if King Philip did, how could he reclaim the written parts? Any of those, should a Spaniard see it, would be plenty to get him dragged to Tower Hill, hanged, cut down, drawn, quartered, and burnt. His danger didn't end if Boudicca failed to play. If anything, it got worse.) But if his tragedy of the British Queen did reach the stage, Jack Hungerford would do everything in his power to make it look the way it should. And the tireman took it seriously. He understood the stakes for which they were playing.

Rember this passage, because this concern is effectively forgotten. This won't be the last time they consider putting on King Philip instead.

After some more conversation, he heads to the stage where rehersal is underway for his treasonous play.


He left the tiring room and went out on stage, where rehearsal for Boudicca went on. Burbage, as Boudicca's brother-in-law Caratach, traded barbs with Will Kemp, who played Marcus, a Roman soldier now captured by the Iceni, and with Peter Baker, the boy playing Caratach's nephew, Hengo.

"Fill 'em more wine; give 'em full bowls.--

Which of you all now, in recompense of this good,

Dare but give me a sound knock in the battle?"

Burbage boomed the words: Caratach was a fierce, blustering soldier.

"Delicate captain,

To do thee a sufficient recompense,

I'll knock thy brains out,"

Kemp replied. Marcus' talk was far bolder than his performance. He mimed gobbling down food in front of him.

"By the gods, uncle, If his valour lie in's teeth, he's the most valiant," the boy playing Hengo jeered. He shook his fist at Will Kemp.

"Thou dar'st as well be drat'd: thou knock his brains out,

Thou skin of man!--Uncle, I will not hear this."

"Tie up your whelp," Kemp told Burbage, exactly as if he were a proud Roman in barbarous hands.

Peter Baker capered about in a well-acted transport of fury.

"Thou kill my uncle! Would I

Had but a sword for thy sake, thou dried dog!"

"What a mettle this little vermin carries," Will Kemp muttered.

"Kill mine uncle!" the boy screeched.

"He shall not, child," said Burbage, as Caratach.

"He cannot; he's a rogue,

An only eating rogue: kill my sweet uncle!

Oh, that I were a man!"

Peter Baker cried.

Will Kemp smirked.

"By this wine, which I

Will drink to Captain Junius, who loves

The Queen's most excellent Majesty's little daughter

Most sweetly and most fearfully, I will do it."

"Uncle, I'll kill him with a great pin," the youngster playing Hengo squeaked.

"No more, boy," Richard Burbage began. Before he could go on and drink to Kemp's Marcus in turn, the tireman's helper started whistling the bawdy tune of which he was so fond. Instantly, Peter Baker ran off the stage. Burbage went from fierce Caratach to majestic Philip by leaning forward a little, letting his belly droop down, and dropping his voice half an octave. Will Kemp was as quick to turn, chameleonlike, into a cardinal hounding the Mahometans of southern Spain: the drunken, lecherous Roman he had been was forgotten in the wink of an eye.

These lines are from Act II, Scene 3 of John Fletcher's Bonduca, with only one alteration - Turtledove states in his endnotes that he felt the name "Judas" to be too unsubtle for the very different purpose of the fictional play, and substituted "Marcus" instead. This play was performed by Shakespeare's company in 1613, the same year that Shakespeare himself wrote his last works. John Fletcher served as Shakespeare's successor with the company, and aided the Bard with at least two plays before writing a great many of his own.


By the time Lope de Vega walked into the Theatre, what had been a rehearsal for Boudicca had metamorphosed into a rehearsal for King Philip. "Good morrow, gentles," the Spaniard called as he walked towards the stage. He waved to Shakespeare. "Give you good morrow, Master Will. You go on without me, is it not so?"

"A good day to you, Lieutenant," Shakespeare answered. "All of us must take our parts."

"That is so." Lope nodded. "Tell me something, an't please you."

"If I do know it, you shall know it," Shakespeare said. It sounded like a promise. But it was one he had no intention of keeping if de Vega wanted to know anything he shouldn't.

All Lope said, though, was, "Whensoever I come hither of late, some fellow in yon topmost gallery whistles the selfsame song. What is't? The music thereof quite likes me. Be there accompanying words?"

Shakespeare coughed. Richard Burbage kicked at the boards of the stage. Will Kemp guffawed. Still, Shakespeare could answer safely, so he did: "An I mind me aright, the ditty's named ‘A Man's Yard.' "

"Not a tailor's yard, nor a clothier's yard," Burbage added, perhaps helpfully. "Any man's yard."

"Ah?" Lope looked unenlightened. "Can you sing somewhat of't for me?"

That made Shakespeare cough again, cough and hesitate. Very little made Will Kemp hesitate. He sang out in a ringing baritone:

" ‘Rede me a riddle--what is this

You hold in your hand when you piss?

It is a kind of pleasing sting,

A pricking and a pleasant thing.

It is a stiff short fleshly pole,

That fits to stop a maiden's hole;

It is Venus' wanton staying wand

That ne'er had feet, and yet can stand.' "

He would have gone on, but Lope, grinning, held up a hand. "Basta," he said. "Enough; that sufficeth me. And now, por Dios, I take your jape of a few days past. We have such songs also in Spanish." He too began to sing. Shakespeare followed a little of it; he knew Italian and French, which were cousins to Spanish, and had picked up some of the conquerors' tongue itself during their ten years in England. From what he got of it, it was indeed of the same sort as "A Man's Yard."

Although most searches for this verse bring up the novel, there are books of folk songs that include it and predate this book. By all appearances, this is a genuine bawdy song from this era. Also note the payoff to Kemp's joke earlier - De Vega not perfectly grasping English idiom is a good touch.

De Vega is here with no particular purpose, inciting yet another round of wordplay and argument involving Will Kemp


De Vega's gaze went from one of them to the next in turn. "You give a better show now than when the groundlings spend their pennies."

"I say two things to that," Will Kemp declared. "Imprimis, say I, piss on all those who spend their pennies here." Shakespeare and Burbage both groaned. Lope de Vega only looked puzzled again, as he had at the title of "A Man's Yard." Before anyone could explain the English phrase to him, Kemp went on, "And secundus, say I, 'tis no wonder we're better now. Come the play, he writes all the lines." He pointed at Shakespeare by thrusting his thumb out between his first two fingers, and added, "I care not a fig for him."

"Thou knew'st not what a fig meant, till thy mother taught it thee," Shakespeare retorted, giving back the gesture. "And would thou wert a figment now." Kemp flinched. Burbage clapped his hands. De Vega sat at the edge of the stage, smiling and waiting for the next exchange.

And here we have another "De Vega doesn't get the crude joke" instance. This suffers badly for being so close to the resolution of the previous one, but even worse for being called out.

Chapter 10, Part III: De Vega


"BY THE VIRGIN and all the saints, my dear, I wish you had been there and understood the English," Lope told Catalina Ibañez. "They might have been fighting with rapiers, save only that their words pierced again and again without slaying, however much they might make a man wish he were dead."

Catalina shrugged. Her low-cut, tight-fitting bodice made a shrug worth watching. "From everything I've seen, actors are always bitchy," she said.

"No." He shook his head. "You make it less than it is. Could I have written this down as it was spoken, and then rendered it into Spanish--"

"It would probably sound petty and foolish," she broke in. "Such things always do, when they're not fresh." She looked at him from under lowered lashes. "Besides, Senior Lieutenant, did you bring me here to babble about mad Englishmen?"

"Certainly not, my beautiful one," Lope answered. "Oh, no. Certainly not." They sat side by side on a taffeta coverlet in the leafy shade of a small grove of willows in the yard by Whitehall, the yard given over to the Kings of Scotland whenever they chose to visit. No visit from King James seemed imminent, however much the Spaniards would have liked to see him fall into their hands. But the English kept up the yard and the buildings inside even so. Lope lifted a bottle. "More wine?"

"Why not?" Catalina answered. As he poured, a bird began to sing. She frowned. "What's that? I don't recognize the song."

"A seed warbler, I think," he answered. The name, necessarily, came out in English. "The bird does not dwell in Spain. I never heard it before I came here, either."

After some conversation, one of Turtledove's trademark awkward sex scenes ensues.


Her mouth twisted in regret when he pulled out of her. But she quickly started putting herself to rights. De Vega got dressed, too. He reached out to pat her bare backside as she pulled up her drawers. "Even more than I imagined," he told her.

"Imagined?" She raised a hand to her face, as if to hide a blush, as if to say she couldn't imagine a man hungrily imagining making love to her.

"It was all I could do," he said. "It was. But no more." Had he been a few years younger, he would have laid her down on the taffeta coverlet and taken her again then and there. He sighed for lost youth. There would be other chances, though, and soon. And he would be seeing Lucy Watkins again before long. It wasn't as if he'd fallen out of love with her when he fell in love with Catalina Ibañez.

And what might that Englishwoman with the cat be like between the sheets? Lope hadn't thought about finding a lover older than himself since he was eighteen. For that one, he thought he would make an exception.

This scene is oddly placed - this chapter opens with De Vega moping about not getting anywhere with Catalina, only for his very next POV segment landing here. Also, he's barely gotten dressed and he's thinking about adding another conquest. He's a bit of an rear end.

On their way out, they are interrupted by the guy Catalina's supposed to be doing this with.


"¡Ay, madre de Dios!" Catalina Ibañez yelped. She dropped Lope's hand as if it were on fire. Under her paint, her face went white as milk. "It's Don Alejandro!"

Lope let the coverlet fall to the grass. The wine bottle clanked against the honey pot. He hoped they didn't break, but that was the least of his worries right now. His right hand fell to the hilt of his rapier. He'd worn it as much for swank as on the off chance of trouble. Without it, he'd be a dead man now.

I may be a dead man anyhow. Don Alejandro went from purposeful walk to thudding trot. His rapier leaped free of its sheath. The long, slim, deadly blade glittered in the sun. "De Vega!" the nobleman bellowed. "Ten thousand demons from hell, de Vega, what are you doing with my woman?"

Had de Recalde come in a few minutes earlier, he would have seen for himself what Lope was doing. By Catalina's delighted response, the nobleman would have learned something, too. This seemed neither time nor place for that discussion. Lope drew his own sword. But he gave as mild an answer as he could: "Talking about the theatre."

"Liar! Dog! Son of a dog!" Don Alejandro shouted, and roared down on him like an avalanche. Steel clattered from steel. Sparks flew. Catalina screamed. "Shut up, you little puta!" Don Alejandro shouted. "You're next!"

His first long, abrupt thrust almost pierced Lope's heart; de Vega barely managed to beat the blow aside. He couldn't counter. Fast as a striking serpent, Don Alejandro thrust for his belly. Only a hasty backwards leap saved him from owning a second navel. And any puncture a couple of inches deep probably meant death, either from bleeding or, more slowly and painfully, from fever.

Don Alejandro de Recalde was a picture fencer, with a style as pure as any Lope had ever seen. He kept his blade in front of his body and poised to strike at every moment, and he was quick and strong. He might have stepped out of a swordmaster's school and straight into the King of Scotland's yard. For their first few exchanges, Lope wondered how he could possibly come through the fight alive. And then, as he managed a thrust at Don Alejandro's belly and the nobleman beat his blade aside with a perfect parry, he suddenly smiled a most unpleasant smile.

His next thrust wasn't at Don Alejandro's midriff--it was at his face. Catalina's keeper turned that one, too, but not so elegantly, and he jerked his head back in a way no fencing master would have approved. Lope's smile grew wider and nastier. "Don't do a lot of real righting, you say?" he panted.

"I say nothing to you, de Vega," de Recalde snarled, and bored in again. "Nothing!" Clang! Clang! Clang! went their swords, as if they were battling it out up on stage.

But swordplay in real fighting was different from what went on with the groundlings cheering down below. It was different from what the fencing masters taught, too. Lope thrust at Don Alejandro's face again. This time, his foe didn't jerk away fast enough. The point pierced his cheek. The nobleman howled in pain. Blood ran down the side of his jaw. Catalina Ibañez shrieked.

"They don't show you that in school, do they?" Lope jeered. He knew perfectly well they didn't. Nobody included blows to the face in fencing exercises. They were too dangerous. Swordmasters who slaughtered their students or scarred them for life weren't likely to get much new business.

Don Alejandro tried to answer him, but blood poured from his lips instead of words. De Recalde was game. He kept on doing his best to skewer Lope. His best was alarmingly good--but not quite good enough.

Lope thrust at his head again, this time pinking his left ear. More blood flew. Don Alejandro shook his head and kept fighting. Both he and Lope ignored Catalina's screams.

Once more, Lope thought. He gave this thrust all the arm extension he had. His point pierced his opponent's right eye, pierced the flimsy bone behind, and penetrated deep into de Recalde's brain. With a grunt that seemed more surprise than pain, Don Alejandro toppled to the grass like a kicked-over sack of clothes. His rapier fell from fingers that could hold it no more. His feet drummed briefly, then were still. A sudden stench said his bowels had let go. Catalina screamed one last time. She gulped to a stop, tears streaming down her face.

"Stupid bastard," Lope said wearily, tugging his sword free and plunging it into the ground to cleanse it. "You never really tried to kill anyone before, did you? Well, by God, you won't try again, that's certain sure."

Quoted in full because we get so few action scenes in this book. This one's vivid and quite believable - Don Alejandro is a better fighter in pure technique, but De Vega wins with some dirty tricks.


He turned to Catalina Ibañez. "Come on," he told her. "We have to let the authorities know what happened here. You are my witness I slew in self-defense."

She nodded. "You are my hero, my champion." she said. "You killed for my sake, for . . . for me." Tears still wet on her cheeks, she gave him a glance full of animal heat. Lope had never had a woman look at him that way for that reason. He hoped to heaven he never would again.

((Chapter split here for length))

Gnoman fucked around with this message at 03:32 on Sep 3, 2020

Crazy Joe Wilson
Jul 4, 2007

Justifiably Mad!

I read Harry Turtledove a lot in high school. His Southern Victory series started off very strong, but the last section of it (WWII) was too much of a play-by-play of the actual WWII but just in America.

I hear his "War that Came Early" series suffered from the same problem, but I haven't read it.

Feb 11, 2014

"What we therefore hath joined together, let Gnoman put asunder..."

If I can ever manage to get past this book (hoping for an update later this week), that's much of the criticism that I'd have for the 191 series. War that came early is actually much less so.

Apr 10, 2010

College Slice

Gnoman posted:

If I can ever manage to get past this book (hoping for an update later this week), that's much of the criticism that I'd have for the 191 series. War that came early is actually much less so.

I found The War that Came Early forgettable. I mean, I remember reading it, I just don't remember anything that happened in it except that that one member of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade sniped Franco, I think? And there was a Czech with an anti-Tank rifle who joined the French Army, maybe?. It just didn't leave an impression on me.

Feb 11, 2014

"What we therefore hath joined together, let Gnoman put asunder..."

Epicurius posted:

I found The War that Came Early forgettable. I mean, I remember reading it, I just don't remember anything that happened in it except that that one member of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade sniped Franco, I think? And there was a Czech with an anti-Tank rifle who joined the French Army, maybe?. It just didn't leave an impression on me.

The Czech with an AT rifle is the guy who sniped Franco and Sanjurjo, single-handedly winning the Spanish Civil War

Apr 10, 2010

College Slice

Gnoman posted:

The Czech with an AT rifle is the guy who sniped Franco and Sanjurjo, single-handedly winning the Spanish Civil War

So I think he's the only character I remember. Unless...was there also a Midwestern tourist stuck in Germany and a Soviet pilot?

Feb 11, 2014

"What we therefore hath joined together, let Gnoman put asunder..."

Epicurius posted:

So I think he's the only character I remember. Unless...was there also a Midwestern tourist stuck in Germany and a Soviet pilot?

Socialite tourist, and a couple of Soviet pilots.

Apr 10, 2010

College Slice

Gnoman posted:

Socialite tourist, and a couple of Soviet pilots.

You can see the impression the books left on me!

Hyrax Attack!
Jan 13, 2009

We demand to be taken seriously

Crazy Joe Wilson posted:

I read Harry Turtledove a lot in high school. His Southern Victory series started off very strong, but the last section of it (WWII) was too much of a play-by-play of the actual WWII but just in America.

I hear his "War that Came Early" series suffered from the same problem, but I haven't read it.

(Sorry for thread necromancy) oh yeah agreed on Southern Victory. I think How Few Remain is his strongest work as he challenged himself to imagine a war without a clear historical analogue. The intro where the South wins after there’s no Antietam and McClellan gets trapped against a river and wiped out was plausible, and Lincoln launching the socialist party in the US was well handled.

The Great War series was also enjoyable if not high literature, but agreed on WWII falling apart badly. Exactly what you said. Kinda like the Hot War series is one good book stretched into three with some of his worst characters. 1950s America with serious nuke damage? Give us a civil rights organizer in the Deep South when his state’s congressional slate is vaporized, or an FBI agent in the middle of a case when Bureau HQ goes up in smoke, or maybe a French Louvre worker trying to save masterpieces from the rubble. Instead by the end I think two characters were making refrigerator deliveries in LA.

Great thread, I got to meet Turtledove when he was on a book tour for Ruled Britannia and he was nice and patient with my goony questions about Worldwar sequels, and afterwards signed my copy of How Few Remain.

Feb 11, 2014

"What we therefore hath joined together, let Gnoman put asunder..."

I'm thinking about restarting this and skipping to Guns of The South. It turned out that Ruled Britannia is a very boring book to dissect because of the large number of chapters where nothing much happens.

Hyrax Attack!
Jan 13, 2009

We demand to be taken seriously

Gnoman posted:

I'm thinking about restarting this and skipping to Guns of The South. It turned out that Ruled Britannia is a very boring book to dissect because of the large number of chapters where nothing much happens.

Yes please. That was interesting for teaching me a lot mundane stuff like what winter quarters were like, and while the forgiving portrayal of Lee hasn't aged well it didn't seem like Turtledove was trying to make the south sympathetic.

It's a fun read but I didn't understand the AWB plan near the end. They have modern tech and wealth but zero support among the general CSA population. Forrest accepts their political support but that's totally gone after they take a shot at Lee. Their numbers were far too limited to be trying to make a coup, then afterwards they hole up in Rivington with no ability to project power. I guess it could reflect them being fanatics who hadn't made a plan for the post-war if Lee pushed back and allowed for a big final battle but did seem a bit underdeveloped.

Charlz Guybon
Nov 16, 2010

If you're going to do a World War series you have to do the World War series! I want to talk about Lizards!

Hyrax Attack!
Jan 13, 2009

We demand to be taken seriously

Charlz Guybon posted:

If you're going to do a World War series you have to do the World War series! I want to talk about Lizards!

It’s a fun series, though I’m a Turtledove apologist and struggle with why even a very cautious race would bring such vast quantities of air to air missiles (and Patriot missiles) when expecting enemies on horseback.

Charlz Guybon
Nov 16, 2010

Hyrax Attack! posted:

It’s a fun series, though I’m a Turtledove apologist and struggle with why even a very cautious race would bring such vast quantities of air to air missiles (and Patriot missiles) when expecting enemies on horseback.

It goes off the rails in book 3.5 and the less we say about the sequel series the better. That map is really wretched. I made my own back in the day to say what I thought would be a more realistic outcome. :spergin:

Lawman 0
Aug 17, 2010

Hyrax Attack! posted:

It’s a fun series, though I’m a Turtledove apologist and struggle with why even a very cautious race would bring such vast quantities of air to air missiles (and Patriot missiles) when expecting enemies on horseback.

Honestly if you were sending out an interstellar expedition, even with FTL or something I would simply bring a factory ship or something to make whatever you needed instead bringing along a bunch of obsolete crap you don't need. :v:

Charlz Guybon
Nov 16, 2010

Hyrax Attack! posted:

It’s a fun series, though I’m a Turtledove apologist and struggle with why even a very cautious race would bring such vast quantities of air to air missiles (and Patriot missiles) when expecting enemies on horseback.

What if another advanced race beats you to the target?

Feb 11, 2014

"What we therefore hath joined together, let Gnoman put asunder..."

Lawman 0 posted:

Honestly if you were sending out an interstellar expedition, even with FTL or something I would simply bring a factory ship or something to make whatever you needed instead bringing along a bunch of obsolete crap you don't need. :v:

They actually so that - the conquest fleet has organic manufacturing capability. They just need way more than any reasonable person would expect when bringing T-72s to fight knights on horseback.

Hyrax Attack!
Jan 13, 2009

We demand to be taken seriously

Gnoman posted:

They actually so that - the conquest fleet has organic manufacturing capability. They just need way more than any reasonable person would expect when bringing T-72s to fight knights on horseback.

Yeah, Turtledove makes some good calls in setting the premise like not mentioning an exact number of spaceships or invaders to give him some leeway. One part that was a bit off was how devastating poison gas was against lizard infantry as they don't carry masks or wear clothes. Their efforts to begin producing masks are slow (and I don't think they ever start wearing skin protection) so at that point dunno how they could hold any positions if a basic mustard gas attack would force them to retreat every time. I've thought too much about this.

Lawman 0
Aug 17, 2010

Gnoman posted:

They actually so that - the conquest fleet has organic manufacturing capability. They just need way more than any reasonable person would expect when bringing T-72s to fight knights on horseback.

Hyrax Attack! posted:

Yeah, Turtledove makes some good calls in setting the premise like not mentioning an exact number of spaceships or invaders to give him some leeway. One part that was a bit off was how devastating poison gas was against lizard infantry as they don't carry masks or wear clothes. Their efforts to begin producing masks are slow (and I don't think they ever start wearing skin protection) so at that point dunno how they could hold any positions if a basic mustard gas attack would force them to retreat every time. I've thought too much about this.

Good lord that's dumb.

Feb 11, 2014

"What we therefore hath joined together, let Gnoman put asunder..."

For anybody wondering how the other book turned out, Shakespeare's play set off a rebellion, they kicked out the Spanish. Shakespeare got knighted, divorced, and lived happily ever after with his barmaid girlfriend.

Going to get started on The Guns Of The South this weekend.

Hyrax Attack!
Jan 13, 2009

We demand to be taken seriously

Lawman 0 posted:

Good lord that's dumb.

Yeah. On a different note, as Turtledove is Jewish his work did a lot to help young dumb me learn a lot about that culture like what a Kaddish prayer is, how Hanukkah isn’t a major holiday, or what Shtetls were in Eastern Europe. Also meant in his WWII books never gets into sympathetic portrayals or admiration of the nazis or downplays the horrors of the Holocaust.

I know these are space lizard books but reading about a character trying to survive in a Warsaw ghetto helped young me understand what really happened. And while the Colonization series was weak I did like how Turtledove had Germany start an ill advised war in the 60s and got wrecked, which Turtledove mentioned including as he really hates those guys.

Feb 11, 2014

"What we therefore hath joined together, let Gnoman put asunder..."

The ending of Timeline 191 where Confederate Hitler gets shot by a black resistance fighter who lost his entire family in the Population Reduction comes off as pretty blatant wish fulfillment.


Dec 25, 2003

Harry Turtledove himself said the following about his work:

History Roundtable 16.3.259, GEnie network, Mon Apr 18, 1994

I may have been trained as a historian, but (what I tell you three times is
Stories are for entertainment first, or they fail. I have no obligation,
and no intention, of being consistent in historical viewpoint from one
story or set of stories to the next, especially if looking at things is
style B rather than style A lets me do something new and I hope more

In that light, Turtledove writing in a Confederate Hitler and lizardpeople from other worlds getting wrecked by mustard gas are just part and parcel of what Turtledove did to jazz up his more contrived/boring what-if? mil-fiction scenarios.

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