DISCLAIMER: Although the story references real historical people, the characterisation is based on the film 'Shakespeare in Love' which doesn't belong to me.


The Mystery of Love


London, February 1601. Friends of The Queen's favourite, the Earl of Essex, pay the Lord Chamberlain's Men at the Globe a bonus of 40 shillings to put on Richard II, including its banned deposition scene, on the 7th. The next day Essex rises in revolt against the Queen, but finds no support among the common people and is defeated. On the 24th the Chamberlain's Men are called upon to perform before the Queen at court. There is no record of which play was chosen. Essex was beheaded on the 25th. The Queen dies two years later in her 70th year.


"Go hence, to have more talk of these sad things; Some shall be pardon'd and some punished; For never was a story of more woe Than this of Juliet and her Romeo."

The last 'O' echoed in the chamber and all there held their breath until the Queen began applauding, whereupon they joined in with desperate appreciation. She beckoned to the actor who had spoken the final words and he stepped down from the stage, coming to bow low before the sumptuously dressed and bejewelled woman.

"An audacious choice of play, Master Shakespeare," said the Queen. "Although not as rash as some you have played recently."

"A player must earn his money where he can, Your Majesty, or be whipped as a vagrant." The man that spoke appeared in his late thirties, but still had enough good looks to be able to gamble an imploring look from fine, dark eyes.

"If I gave every man his just desert, then who indeed would scape whipping? But why did you choose this play?" The Queen did not appear angry, merely curious.

Will took a deep breath. "I thought to remind you of when first you saw this piece, Your Majesty. You were pleased to judge this play the very exemplar of the truth and nature of love. They were happier times then for us all."

A small smile appeared on the Queen's face. "Indeed they were, Master Shakespeare. Indeed they were. Although I fear it was a sad day for Mr. Tilney, my Master of the Revels."

"An easy mistake to make, Your Majesty," said Will spreading his hands wide in generous defence.

"Quite so. Your Juliet tonight was very dainty, but I have ne'er seen any to match Thomas Kent."

"Neither have I, Your Majesty."

They shared a moment of melancholy silence before the Queen continued, "No, not since Lord Wessex was lost with his wife. That was the same year Marlowe died, was it not?"

"Indeed it was, Your Majesty. Such light was lost that season. If only Kit, Marlowe, that is, Your Majesty." He stumbled over his words in his enthusiasm. "If only Marlowe had lived, what plays you would have had then for your enjoyment instead of my poor shadows."

The Queen snorted and spoke tartly, "Do not put yourself down, Master Shakespeare. My brother would have made the better king." She held up her hand sternly as he opened his mouth to speak. "Hah, none of your fol-de-rol compliments, sirrah. He would have been a good king. For one thing, he had the cock for it. But I was the best Elizabeth that I could be and if there should come other queens to bear my name then I shall still be first amongst Elizabeths. Never try to be a pale imitation of another, be true to yourself and be the best William Shakespeare you can be."

"We are blessed to have your wisdom over us still," he said with a deep obeisance.

"And we are happy in our players that take care to remind us of the nature of true love. Thank you, Master Shakespeare."

He walked backwards a few steps before turning and disappearing behind the curtain by the side of the makeshift stage. He paused a moment to look back at the glittering figure as if seeing her for the first time.

A voice interrupted his musings. "How went it, Will? Why the grim face? Are we joining Essex in the Tower?"

He turned and looked at his friend Richard Burbage who did not look too concerned so had probably been peeking through the curtain at his audience.

"No. Her Majesty was pleased with the play. I was just thinking that she has been my Queen all my life but how much longer can she endure?"

"Well hopefully long enough to pay us for this evening. Come, Will, I have a boat waiting for us and a warm bed waiting for me."

"A warm bed, eh?" said William with a smirk as he followed his friend through the corridors. "So you finally decided between the two lovely Greville sisters? Which is it then, Hannah or Ruth?"

Richard strode out briskly as they entered the gardens that sloped down to the river, so Will had to almost run to keep up. Then Will suddenly stopped short and, cocking his head to one side, said, "You haven't? You couldn't? Not the both of them?"

Richard turned round, looking highly uncomfortable and seeming to be fascinated by the lights flickering in the palace behind them. "Well they were both so damned unhappy. And you know I can't bear a woman's tears. And each as well-favoured as the other."

Will's voice came out almost choked with suppressed mirth. "So you didn't like to split up a matched pair?" Richard met his gaze ruefully and Will let his laughter peal out into the cold night air. He stepped forward and linked his arm through Richard's, turning him round and heading down to the place where the boats waited.

"Let's not keep the lovely Grevilles waiting then."

Richard waited until they were in the boat and the boatman had manoeuvred them away from the bank before attempting a comeback.

"At least I tell my friends where my fancy lies and do not make some dark secret of it," he grumbled.

"Dark indeed she is, as like the night as Thomas Kent was like the day," replied Will with a wistful smile. The boatman missed a stroke.

"Ha." Richard slapped his thigh. "I knew you'd be thinking on him tonight, and he was indeed a pattern for your loves. Did you tell any of your long-suffering friends about your hidden Juliet?"

Will grinned. "If I remember rightly, Richard, at the time you were doing your best to break my pate."

"I had every right! In fact that reminds me, you still owe me a play."

Will leaned forward and whispered seductively, "A noble prince driven mad by a father's death. A ghost seeking revenge. A play within a play. Duels and foul murders. Such speeches, Richard, such speeches."

Richard had leant ever nearer as Will tempted him and in a beseeching voice asked, "It is writ?"

Will leant back swiftly, surprising the boatman who had also been leaning forward to catch his words, and said cheerfully, "Almost."

"Argh!" Richard grasped his hat in both hands and threw it in the river. The boatman made a valiant sweep with his oar which spun them around but managed to trap the hat which he fished out and handed back. Richard looked at it in disgust but tentatively began to wring it out, scowling at Will who was wagging his finger at him.

"You should not be so choleric, Richard. Your hot temper will land you in trouble. I was thinking on poor Marlowe earlier this evening, and wondering what plays he would have written if he could have curbed his passions. Although, of course, his passion was one of his most attractive features."

Richard stopped trying to pull the hat into some resemblance of its former shape and opened his mouth but no sound came out.

Will smiled innocently. "Oh didn't you know about me and Kit?"

Richard managed to choke out, "You and Kit? Kit as in Marlowe? But you've never even cast an eye over a pretty boy while I've known you. You're spinning a tale for me."


"But why Kit?"

Will shrugged his shoulders. "Buggered if I know." There was a choking sound from the boatman which he managed to disguise as a cough.

Will continued, "Perhaps it was simply his passion. When he decided on anything it was with his whole being. When he decided on me ... Well, I could no more resist him than the sun can flee the west."

"But your Juliet, did you not love her?" asked Richard puzzled.

"With all my heart," said Will simply.

"So Kit was just lust?"

"No, I loved him truly, but we quarrelled. I don't even remember what about now, and he left to find a sweeter blossom."

The boat knocked against a wooden landing stage and Richard climbed out. He watched with a frown on his face as Will directed the boatman to pull out and make for further down the river where his own destination lay.

"Off to see your secret love?"

"Yes, if she'll see me," said Will as the boatman began to pull on the oars.

"And do you love her with all your heart?" asked Richard wryly.

"Of course. You cannot start a love half-hearted for then it will be a flower in poor soil and have no chance to bloom."

Richard had to raise his voice to reach the boat now it had moved into the swift-moving current. "How do you do it, Will? How do you keep on hoping that love will turn out well in the end?"

The boat was too far out in the river for him to see his friend's features, he could only make out a dark silhouette in the torchlight. But the voice that carried over the water was strong and almost exultant.

"I don't know. It's a mystery."