Some Notes From Behind The Scenes


POACHING There is a legend that Will poached deer on Lucy’s land at the age of 17. It seems reasonable to suppose he might have started sooner with smaller game. For Will’s life I first went to Michael Wood’s excellent book ‘In Search of Shakespeare,’ based upon his TV series. I also gained a lot from ‘Shakespeare’ by Anthony Holden.

HAMNET Hamnet Sadler was a lifelong friend of Will’s. He and his wife Judith were godparents to Will’s twins who were named after them.

BROGGER A ‘brogger’ was someone who traded in wool without a license. John Shakespeare was accused of this crime twice in 1572.


Will himself spelled his own name in a variety of different ways in the documents we have. In Elizabethan times spelling was not standardised and many words had several different versions.

BEESTON An early record of Lord Strange’s men refers to them as ‘Beeston’s men.’ This Beeston is thought to be the father of Christopher (Kit) Beeston who would later act on stage alongside Will and eventually run his own company of boy players.

WOMEN On the Continent women performed on stage, but in England this was considered to be immoral and was against the law. Therefore women’s roles were played by boys.

KEMP Will Kemp was the greatest clown of his age, and performed in the same company as Will for many years, playing many of his most famous fools. He was famed for his dancing and in 1600 he performed a morris dance from London to Norwich, celebrating the feat in a book called ‘Kemp’s Nine Days Wonder.’


CAMBYSES This play was entered for publication in 1569. It tells the tale of a Persian king who after many acts of murderous brutality gets his just desserts when he accidentally stabs himself to death with his sword while getting on his horse. It is typical of the very simplistic dramas Will would have seen performed in his boyhood.


JOHN DEE In fact Dee’s mother, his wife and his newly born son all lived in the house with him. I locked them all in the cellar so as not to clutter the story with too many characters. For more on Dee see ‘The Queen’s Conjurer, The Life And Magic Of Dr. Dee’ by Benjamin Woolley.

SHAKESHAFT The 1581 will of Sir Thomas Hoghton of Lancashire bequeaths money to a player in his service named William Shakeshaft. Some believe that this was Shakespeare, who had taken refuge with this northern Catholic family to escape persecution by Sir Thomas Lucy.


was a dwarf in the Queen’s service. She was well known for her remarkable memory and was a visitor to Dee’s house.

WALTER RALEIGH became one of the foremost explorers of America and from there introduced the potato and tobacco into England.


MERMAID The term was sometimes used to refer to a prostitute, so Walter is making a joke of this here.


SPIRITS It was about this time that Dr. Dee began his experiments in cummunicating with spirits. Over the next few years he believed he was receiving messages from a spirit named Madimi.


MADDIE’S SONG The song is in Gaelic and the words say:

‘Welcome, O woman who was sorrowful,
We were desolate while you were imprisoned.
Oro – and welcome home,
Would that the Summer is here.’


In an earlier draft of the novel this chapter was followed by Will’s first poem, a feverish ode to Maddie. I removed it for the sake of pace, but if anyone is interested, here it is (and the reason why it never saw the light of day):

Thou art inconstant as a weathercock
That to and fro doth spin with everie shock
Of Boreas' breath or gustie breeze,
Now north, now south, now west. No rest nor ease
Will pacifie thy wild, dishevelled locks
Nor sweet that bitter tongue that sourly mocks.
Words hot then cold can flush the strongest Will
And make it Mad, unsettled, never still.
And what if Will be Mad? Will Mad be Will?
If bad be good, will all be good or ill?
William Shackspere

(I should throw this on the fire before somebody sees it. I don't think it's very good - Will)


CATHOLICS At this time, Mary, the deposed Catholic Queen of Scotland, was being held prisoner in England. She had a legitimate claim to the English throne, and Elizabeth and her ministers were very much afraid that she would become the figurehead for a Catholic rebellion.


All we know of this play is that it was performed in 1579. From the title we can assume it was a tragedy.


GRACE O’MALLEY For more on Grace see ‘Granuaile, Ireland’s Pirate Queen,’ by Anne Chambers or ‘Pirate Queen, The Life of Grace O’Malley,’ by Judith Cook.


was a renowned soldier who fought for 15 years in the Low Countries. He was appointed ambassador to England in 1578 and acted both as a diplomat and a spy. In 1584 he was expelled from England because of his involvement in a plot to overthrow Queen Elizabeth. For the next six years he was ambassador to France until ill health forced him to retire. He was also a writer, publishing an account of the war in the Low Countries and a book on the art of warfare.

This is a painting of the Battle of Lepanto where the combined fleets of Spain and Venice won a famous victory over the Turkish navy in 1571.


Sir Francis Walsingham is credited with creating the English Secret Service, spreading his intelligence network across Europe. He said, “Knowledge is never too dear.”

In 1580 Walter Raleigh was given a military command in Ireland. Walsingham was compelled to leave the royal court for a while, having incurred the queen’s displeasure by opposing the marriage to Anjou.

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