1 Beyond Poetry

*No characters, except Olivia and her mother, are mine and should not be construed as such. Please R/R*



Chapter 1

Olivia stared at the pile of costumes Henslowe had given her to mend. They were to be for Master Shakespeare's newest play, "Romeo and Ethel". Or was it "Romeo and Juliet"? He couldn't seem to decide. No matter, she knew what her orders were: remove the gold cords from the blue doublets and sew them on the red ones. Tedious work, yes, but it was better than living on the street, or worse yet, being a whore like her mother.

Olivia had come to work for the Rose Theatre not long after her sixteenth birthday. It wasn't worth much, but someone had to pay the rent, and her mother drank most of her earnings away. Besides, Olivia's job as a laundress wasn't enough to feed them as well. She and her mother occupied a two-room garret above a young writer's flat. Little did she know at the time, he was young William Shakespeare, playwright and actor. But Olivia cared little for that. She couldn't even read, and hardly ever had the spare money to see a play.

"What's that we have here?" Will stopped her one day as she hurried along with her basket of dirty clothes.

"It's the washing," she replied quickly, her head down. She tried to sidestep around him, but he put his arm out to stop her.

"Don't you know me? I believe we are neighbors!" Will exclaimed. Olivia looked up into his intense brown eyes and dark, curling hair. "I'm Will, by the way."

"Olivia," she said softly.

"Olivia, a lovely name. I shall have to put it in one of my plays someday."

"Plays?" she said incredulously. "You're a writer, then?"

"Will Shakespeare, at your service," he gave an elaborate bow to her. Olivia looked around, color rising to her face.

"Stop it, stand up!" she said. "People are staring."

"And that they should, for how often do people in this city encounter beauty as splendid as yours?"

"Is this how you get all the girls to fall at your feet?" she asked dismissively.

"Well, not exactly at my feet," he muttered. She started off. "But I see my reputation precedes me!" he exclaimed, trying to prevent her from getting away. Olivia stopped in her tracks and shook her head in mock exasperation. "I can see you are not so easily impressed," he said.

"Should I be?" she asked, turning to face him.

"Perhaps you will be, when I write a sonnet just for you to read," he said.

Olivia shrugged and again started on her way.

"Well, you'll just have to recite it for me. I can't read," she told him plainly.

Will turned his head to one side and looked at Olivia, slightly surprised.

"They don't exactly have schools for people like me," she muttered, walking past him. Will started off behind her.

"Then I will teach you!" he proposed.

"Will you, then," Olivia said incredulously.

"Yes! I shall. No one should be deprived of the ability to read and enjoy—" he began.

"Your poetry?" Olivia asked.

"Yes, well, mine and others'," he continued confidently. "But you'll let me teach you, won't you?"

"Very well. I shall come by your flat after I finish with work this evening," she told him.

Later that evening, Olivia arrived at Will Shakespeare's one room garret for her lesson. She sat at his desk as he introduced her to the alphabet and began to show her how to write. He placed his hands on her shoulders in a brotherly sort of way, and Olivia knew he thought more of her than of the legions of other girls he brought to his room for slightly more carnal purposes.

Weeks passed, and Olivia progressed quickly in her studies. She devoured Will's plays and poetry, keeping a folio or two hidden beneath the laundry she took out to wash. When no one was looking, she would steal a few minutes and read, savoring his words. Meanwhile, she would watch from her bedroom window as Master Shakespeare dallied in the courtyard with the idiot costume girl from the Curtain Theatre, Rosaline. Olivia just sighed and rolled her eyes, knowing that this girl would be no different from the rest, just a phase that Will would eventually pass through.

She sat up late one night, staring out her window at the bleak dirt streets below, trying to ignore the sounds of crying babies in the next building. Soon, Will, obviously drunk, came stumbling down the street, clinging to building walls to maintain his balance. He noticed the candle burning in Olivia's window and began calling her name."

"O-LIIIIIIIV-ia!!!" he yelled. "I know you're awake up there! OLIVIA!!! Come down here!"

Various inhabitants, awakened from their somewhat peaceful slumber, began yelling expletives at the noisy young drunk in the street.

"SHHHH!!" Olivia said, exasperated, but she couldn't help but smile down from her window at Will's arms outstretched in drunken entreaty. She bounded down the stairs to find Will slumped on the ground. She shook his head, and then attempted to stand him up.

"I've done it this time, Livvy," he said.

"Done what?" she asked, as she placed his limp arm around her shoulder, but he didn't budge.

"Well, you see, it's quite a dilemma. I told Burbage, you know, pompous ass from the Curtain, that I had this play for him, 'Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate's Daughter' or some rubbish like that," Will began, his words slurring together. "Only problem is, I promised Henslowe the same play, and they've already held auditions. But I haven't gotten a thing written, save for a few scenes!"

"Seems like you've got some explaining to do to both of them," Olivia said.

"Oh, but that's not all. You see, I've promised plays to these two men, but the thing is, I haven't written either of them," he continued.

"And you're telling this to me because…?" Olivia trailed off.

"I need someone to be my muse!" he exclaimed grandly.

Olivia heard her mother stirring in her bed. She had come home from work, drunk as usual, but Olivia knew it was better not to cross her in this condition. She had received enough bruises in her childhood to learn this.

Olivia sighed loudly.

"What about that baggage Rosaline you were so keen on just yesterday?" she asked bitterly.

Will's face suddenly became pensive.

"Forget about her!" he called. "Please, come down here!"

Olivia pondered what it might mean to be Will Shakespeare's muse. Would he put her into his play then? She thought it was time for a good character named Olivia! And so, she relented and descended the stairs to the courtyard, where the drunken writer had nearly collapsed. She helped him to his garret.

"Must write another scene tonight, rehearsals are tomorrow," he said, sounding exhausted. He attempted to take a seat at his desk and pull out a pot of ink and stack of paper to begin his work. But no sooner had he done that, his head suddenly slammed down on the desk, asleep.

Olivia rolled her eyes, and gently lifted his head from the desk.

"All right, Master Shakespeare, it looks as though there isn't going to be any writing getting done tonight. Let's get you off to bed," she said authoritatively, helping him toward his bed.

"Oh, will you be joining me?" he asked in a ridiculous voice.

"Certainly not."

"But I've a play to write! Rehearsals begin tomorrow, and I've told Henslowe—" Will began, growing frantic.

"I'm sure Henslowe and the actors will be satisfied with the one or two scenes you've already completed. You can write the rest tomorrow or the day after. Now go to sleep," Olivia told him in an almost maternal tone. "Good night, Will."

"Good night, Olivia," he responded. "You'll still be my muse, won't you?"

"For now, I will. Good night," she smiled and shut the door to his flat.

She paused for a moment and leaned against the door frame, realizing what had just happened and what she was feeling. It was not just sisterly amusement; indeed, it was something much deeper than that.

"I think I'm falling in love," she thought.