The Late Mr. Shakespeare

The Late Mr. Shakespeare

by Robert Nye

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Our guide to the life of the Bard is an actor called Pickleherring, who asserts that as a boy he was an original member of Shakespeare's acting troupe. In an attic above a brothel in Restoration London—a half century after Shakespeare has departed the stage—Pickleherring, now an old man, sits down to write the full story of his former friend, mentor, and master. Fond, faithful Pickleherring has forgotten nothing over the years, and using sources both firsthand and far-fetched he means to set the record straight. Was Shakespeare ever actually "in love"? Did he write his own plays? Who was the Dark Lady of the Sonnets? Brilliantly in tune with today's Shakespeare renaissance, Robert Nye gives us an outrageous, language-loving, and edifying romp through the life and times of the greatest writer who ever lived.

Skyhorse Publishing, as well as our Arcade, Yucca, and Good Books imprints, are proud to publish a broad range of books for readers interested in fiction—novels, novellas, political and medical thrillers, comedy, satire, historical fiction, romance, erotic and love stories, mystery, classic literature, folklore and mythology, literary classics including Shakespeare, Dumas, Wilde, Cather, and much more. While not every title we publish becomes a New York Times bestseller or a national bestseller, we are committed to books on subjects that are sometimes overlooked and to authors whose work might not otherwise find a home.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781628720556
Publisher: Arcade
Publication date: 04/23/1999
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 999
File size: 1 MB

About the Author

Robert Nye's novels include Merlin, The Memoirs of Lord Byron, Mrs. Shakespeare, and the award-winning Falstaff. A poet, journalist, and critic, he lives in Ireland.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

A never writer to
an ever reader:

In which Pickleherring takes his pen to tell of his first meeting with Mr Shakespeare

For instance, William Shakespeare. Tell you all about him. All there is that's fit to know about Shakespeare. Mr William Shakespeare. All there is that's not fit, too, for that matter. Who he was and why. Where he was and when. What he was and wherefore. And then, besides, to answer several difficult questions that might be bothering you. Such as, who was the Dark Lady of the sonnets? Such as, why did he leave his wife only his second-best bed? Such as, is it true he died a Papist, and lived a sodomite? Such as, how come he placed that curse on his own grave? All this, and more, you will find answered here. But better begin at the beginning, while we can.

    Who am I? Reader, I will tell you suddenly. My name is Robert Reynolds alias Pickleherring and my game is that of a comedian and believe me I was well-acquainted with our famous Mr Shakespeare when I was young. I acted in his plays. I knew his ways. I played Puck to his Oberon. To his Prosper, I was Ariel. I washed my hands sleep-walking too, as the Scottish queen. Why, once, at Blackfriars, the man was sick in my cap. I loved the lovely villain, ladies and gentlemen.

    By the time I have finished I think you will have to admit it. There is no man or woman alive in the world who knows more than old Pickleherring about the late Mr Shakespeare.

    I call to mind as if it was just yesterday, forinstance, the first time I ever clapped eyes on the dear fellow. He was wearing a copataine hat. You won't know those hats now, if you're under fifty. They were good hats. They wore good hats and they wrote good verse in those days. Your copataine hat was a high-crowned job in the shape of a sugar-loaf. Some say the word should be COPOTINK and that it comes from the Dutch. I call a copataine hat a copataine hat. So did Mr Shakespeare, let me tell you. I never heard him say that his hat came from Holland. And in his tragical history of Antony and Cleopatra he has the word COPATAINE. Which part, friends, he wrote first for your servant: Cleopatra. I never wore a copataine hat myself, but then I was only a boy at the time we are speaking of.

    I was living in those far-off but never to be forgotten days in a cottage made of clay and wattles just outside the north gate of the city of Cambridge. That cottage stood by a fen. Fatherless, motherless, I was being looked after by a pair of sisters, whiskered virgins, Meg and Merry Muchmore, two spinsters with long noses for the smelling out of knavery.

    It was the pleasure of each of these ladies in turn to spank me naked while the other watched. I think they liked to see my little pintle harden. Meg's lap smelt of liquorice but there was no pleasing Merry. I had a well-whipped childhood, I can tell you.

    All their long lives these two weird sisters had dedicated themselves to piety and good works, and I, the bastard son of a priest's bastard, conceived in a confessional, born in a graveyard, was one of the best of them. I mean, what better work than Pickleherring?

    I was a posthumous child. Of my father, I heard from my mother only that his mouth was so big and cavernous that he could thrust his clenched fist into it. How often he performed this trick for her amusement I know not. I know only that he could do it, and that also he had some interest in the occult. That is an interest which I do not share.

    Reader, don't get me wrong. I believe in ghosts and visions. I pray only to be spared from seeing them.

    My mother died when I was seven years old. She smelt of milk and comfrey fritters. She used to tell me tales by the chimneyside. It was from her sweet lips that I first heard of Tattercoats and of Tom-Tit-Tot and of Jack and his beanstalk. She sang to me, too, my mother — all the old English songs.

    I remember her singing me to sleep with a ballad called O Polly Dear. But she died of a fever and then there was no more music. My bed was under thatching and the way to it was up a rope ladder.

    I had never before been spoken to by a man in a copataine hat. Mr Shakespeare was tall and thin, and he wore that hat with an air of great authority. He had also a quilted silken doublet, goose-turd green; grey velvet hose; and a scarlet cloak. Never believe those who tell you he was not a dandy.

    This first meeting of ours took place in the yard of a tavern called the Cock. A small rain fell like brightness from the air. Ah, what a dream it seems now, seventy years away.

    One thing I can tell you that you'll perhaps not learn elsewhere. Mr William Shakespeare never minded a bit of rain. He sat under the springing mulberry tree that grew in the middle of the Cock's back yard. He had a damask napkin over his knee and a little knife of silver in his hand. He was opening oysters.

    As for me, I had climbed up on the red-brick wall to keep him in my sight. My friends mocked me. One of them said the man was from Wales, and an alchemist. They said he could make gold, and fly in the air. They said he was in Cambridge for blood for his lamp. I pretended not to care. I did not want his art, but I had no father.

    'Pickleherring's mad again!' piped my playmates.

    Then they all ran away and left me on my own to face the necromancer.

    Mr Shakespeare must have seen me watching him. But I don't believe that his eyes ever left the oysters.

    His voice was soft and gentle when he spoke. But it was the sort of softness that you stop and listen to, like the sound of the theorbo.

    'Boy,' he said, suddenly.

    I nearly fell down off the wall. Instead I said, 'Yes, sir?'

    I was shaking in my boots.

    'Say this, boy,' he said. 'I am afraid, and yet I'll venture it.'

    What kind of spell was this?

    I looked at Mr Shakespeare.

    He looked up from his oysters and looked at me.

    Something in his look made me take him straight. So I forgot all about spells and I said the words he said. I said them simply. I do not think I can say that I said them well. But I said them more or less as he said them, which is to say that I spoke the speech trippingly on the tongue, not mouthing it, not sawing the air with my hand.

    It was, as I learned later, the way he liked it. He never could abide the ranting sort. Truth to tell, I had never then acted in my life, so I knew no worse. Also, I was afraid, which helped me to say that I was as though I meant it.

    My performance seemed to please Mr Shakespeare.

    He took off his hat to me.

    'Good,' he said. And then, 'Good, boy,' he said. And then again, after a little while, 'Good boy,' Mr Shakespeare said finally.

    He swallowed an oyster.

    'Say this,' he said. 'Say that.'

    I mean, I can't remember now all Mr Shakespeare bade me say then. He sat there downing oysters while I recited. Sometimes he said 'Good' and sometimes he said 'Good, boy' and once he said 'Good boy' again and more than once he said nothing but just wiped his mouth with his napkin.

    I do recall that he asked me at last to sing.

    So I sat down on the wall and I sang for Mr Shakespeare.

    I had a good voice in those days.

    I sang for him the ballad of O Polly Dear.

    The sweet rain fell and the drops ran down my face and I sat there in the rain, legs dangling, singing O Polly Dear that my mother used to sing to me.

    Mr Shakespeare listened with his eyes as well as his ears.

    When I finished he nodded and he clapped his hands three times together.

    It was the first applause I ever had.

    Then at Mr Shakespeare's instruction I jumped down off the wall.

Chapter Two

In which Pickleherring makes strides in a pair of lugged boots

The first part I ever played for Mr Shakespeare on the London stage was that of young Prince Arthur in his play of The Life and Death of King John. That's why he asked me to say I am afraid, and yet I'll venture it. It is what that poor boy says before he kills himself by jumping from the battlements of the castle where he is confined.

    When I jumped down off the red-brick wall and into the back yard of the Cock Tavern, Cambridge, Mr Shakespeare stopped eating his oysters and he asked me my name and where I lived and who my father was. So I told him of the cot beneath the thatch and my fatherless fate.

    As I spoke to him of fathers, I saw tears run down his cheeks. I thought it was rain.

    'O my poor Hamlet,' Mr Shakespeare said.

    Like a fool, I repeated the four words.

    Mr Shakespeare flushed. His face was all at once a crimson rose. He blinked at me in anger through his tears. I think he thought that I was mocking him. Then he must have realised that I'd mistaken what he said for another speech to try. He pinched his nose between the thumb and the first finger of his left hand, shaking his head a moment as he did so. When he looked at me again his eyes were dear.

    'Do you have perfect pitch?' Mr Shakespeare asked me.

    I told him that I had. (It was a lie.)

    Then Mr Shakespeare took my hand, unsmiling, and he promised me that if I chose to come with him to London and join his company he could make me a player like himself.

    My heart thumped in my breast. I felt as if I had suddenly grown taller by an inch.

    Well now, my dears, it happens that this part of Prince Arthur might contain the key as to why Mr Shakespeare first noticed me and thought to give me employment as a player.

    I think perhaps that I put him in mind of his son.

    I was wearing, do you see, a pair of lugged boots. Those boots were all the rage that year of our first meeting. They were boots of soft leather, hanging loose about the leg, turned down and fringed. I think they called them lugged because the fringes looked like ears.

    Be that as it may. I learned later that young Hamlet Shakespeare begged for a pair of these boots to wear as he lay dying. He was eleven years old. It was Mrs Shakespeare herself who told me that she got them for Hamlet to wear as he tossed on his death-bed. He never so much as walked in them anywhere.

    So it might be that my lugged boots were what caught Mr Shakespeare's eye.

    But then (you ask me), what has this to do with that other boy Arthur in King John?

    Permit me to tell you.

    Little Hamlet died not long before I first met Mr Shakespeare. I think that Mr Shakespeare was still writing King John in his head that day in Cambridge, and that in any case he was thinking of his own son when he has Queen Constance in Act III Scene 4 lament the fate of her son Arthur in these lines that follow:

Grief fills the room up of my absent child, Lies in his bed, walks up and down with me, Puts on his pretty looks, repeats his words, Remembers me of all his gracious parts, Stuffs out his vacant garments with his form: Then have I reason to be fond of grief.

    Of course, I could be wrong. My linking of the writing of this speech with what Mr Shakespeare may possibly have felt about the loss of his own (and only) son might deny the man's imagination or at the least insult it. Or it could be that I mistake or misconstrue the way the mind of a poet works upon the things that happen in the poet's life.

    I confess that I never dared to question Mr Shakespeare directly in the matter. But I remember a night at the Mermaid when having recited those tender lines which he gave to Queen Constance, I expounded my theory and quizzed his fellow playwrights as to what they thought.

    Mr Beaumont said I was right, and wiped away a tear.

    Mr Fletcher said I was wrong, and that my supposition accused Mr Shakespeare of a want of heart, or a want of imagination, or of both wants together, and only went to prove my mediocrity.

    Mr Ben Jonson said nothing, but belched and hurled a flagon at my head.

    It was an empty flagon, naturally.

    Ladies and gentlemen, Beroaldus (who was a wise doctor) will have drunkards, afternoon-men, and such as more than ordinarily delight in drink, to be mad. I am of his opinion from my own experience. They are more than mad, much worse than mad.

    Speaking of which, before we quitted Cambridge finally Mr Shakespeare saw fit to try to teach me the joys of tobacco. He was not one of those who suppose that plant divine in its origin or its powers. But he liked his white clay pipe. He gave me sweetmeats also, and called me his doxy. It was not for such things that I loved his company.

    As to why Mr Shakespeare liked mine, if he did, who now can rightly say?

    I suggest only that the least that can be supposed — leaving lugged boots and young Hamlet out of it — is that the great man was pleased when he found that rainy afternoon that I said his lines plainly and true even when perched upon a red-brick wall. And perhaps it pleased him further when he discovered that I had some rudimental feeling for the shape of English verse. The Sisters Muchmore had taught me rhythm on the arse with their striped tawse.

    For whatever reason, or none, Mr WS took me along with him like a prize bull-calf when he went back to London to rejoin his company of actors.

    They were called the Lord Chamberlain's Servants and they played at that time at the playhouse called the Curtain, in Shoreditch. Our master was Mr James Burbage, a stubborn old man with an anchor on his thigh, who died of a surfeit of lampreys the Easter after I made my first entrance.

    I wore my lugged boots and I made great strides.

Table of Contents

IIn which Pickleherring takes his pen to tell of his first meeting with Mr Shakespeare1
IIIn which Pickleherring makes strides in a pair of lugged boots5
IIIPickleherring's Acknowledgements8
IVAbout John Shakespeare and the miller's daughter13
VHow to spell Shakespeare and what a whittawer is15
VIAbout the begetting of William Shakespeare19
VIIAll the facts about Mr Shakespeare23
VIIIWhich is mostly about choughs but has no choughs in it25
IXAbout the birth of Mr WS29
XWhat if Bretchgirdle was Shakespeare's father?33
XIAbout this book38
XIIOf WS: his first word, & the otters43
XIIIWas John Shakespeare John Falstaff?47
XIVHow Shakespeare's mother played with him51
XVWhat this book is doing54
XVIShakespeare breeches56
XVIIPickleherring's room (in which he is writing this book)62
XVIIIThe Man in the Moon, or Pickleherring in praise of country history66
XIXPositively the last word about whittawers70
XXWhat if Queen Elizabeth was Shakespeare's mother?73
XXIThe Shakespeare Arms81
XXIIPickleherring's Song85
XXIIIAbout the childhood ailments of William Shakespeare88
XXIVAbout the great plague that was late in London90
XXVBretchgirdle's cat94
XXVIOf the games of William Shakespeare when he was young96
XXVIIThe midwife Gertrude's tale99
XXVIIIOf little WS and the cauldron of inspiration & science102
XXIXSome tales that William Shakespeare told his mother107
XXXWhat Shakespeare learned at Stratford Grammar School110
XXXIAbout Pompey Bum + Pickleherring's Shakespeare Test116
XXXIIDid Shakespeare go to school at Polesworth?119
XXXIIIWhy John Shakespeare liked to be called Jack121
XXXIVWhat Shakespeare saw when he looked under Clopton Bridge125
XXXVAbout water127
XXXVIOf weeds and the original Ophelia130
XXXVIIThe revels at Kenilworth 9th July, 1575136
XXXVIIIMore about Jenkins144
XXXIXJohn Shakespeare when sober147
XLJack Naps of Greece: his story151
XLIJack Naps of Greece: his story concluded160
XLIIIThe speech that Shakespeare made when he killed a calf165
XLIVIn which there is a death, and a birth, and an earthquake167
XLVPickleherring's peep-hole172
XLVIAbout silk stockings176
XLVIIHow Shakespeare went to teach in Lancashire179
XLVIIIHow Shakespeare went to sea with Francis Drake181
XLIXHow Shakespeare went to work in a lawyer's office184
LHow Shakespeare went to the wars & sailed the seas (again?) & took a long walk in the Forest of Arden & captured a castle187
LIPickleherring's confession191
LIIIn which Anne Hathaway195
LIIIShakespeare's other Anne201
LIVPickleherring's nine muses204
LVIn which John Shakespeare plays Shylock209
LVIIn which Lucy is lousy212
LVIIShakespeare's Canopy, or Pickleherring in dispraise of wine215
LVIIIPickleherring's Poetics (some more about this book)218
LIXWhat Shakespeare did when first he came to London220
LXIn which Pickleherring eats an egg in honour of Mr Shakespeare225
LXIIn which Pickleherring speculates concerning the meaning of eggs227
LXIIAbout Mr Richard Field: another ruminating gentleman230
LXIIIAbout a great reckoning in a little room233
LXVA look at William Shakespeare244
LXVIPickleherring's list of the world's lost plays246
LXVIILove's Labour's Won248
LXVIIIWas Shakespeare raped?252
LXIXAll about Rizley257
LXXA Private Observation262
LXXIIn which Pickleherring presents a lost sonnet by William Shakespeare268
LXXIIWho was Shakespeare's Friend?270
LXXIIIThe Dark Lady of the Sonnets 1275
LXXIVThe Dark Lady of the Sonnets 2277
LXXVThe Dark Lady of the Sonnets 3281
LXXVIThe Dark Lady of the Sonnets 4285
LXXVIIThe Dark Lady of the Sonnets 5289
LXXVIIIOf eggs and Richard Burbage297
LXXIXA few more facts and fictions about William Shakespeare302
LXXXIn which boys will be girls307
LXXXIIn which Mr Shakespeare is mocked by his fellows312
LXXXIIPickleherring's poem317
LXXXIIIIn which Mr Shakespeare plays a game at tennis321
LXXXIVWhat Shakespeare got from Florio + a word about George Peele326
LXXXVDeaths, etc.332
LXXXVI'Mrs Lines and Mr Barkworth'336
LXXXVIIShakespeare in Scotland & other witchcrafts342
LXXXVIIIAbout Comfort Ballantine348
LXXXIXIn which Pickleherring plays Cleopatra at the house in St John Street351
XCTom o' Bedlam's Song356
XCIIn which William Shakespeare returns to Stratford361
XCIIISome sayings of William Shakespeare370
XCIVA word about John Spencer Stockfish373
XCVPickleherring's list of things despaired of375
XCVIShakespeare's Will (with notes by Pickleherring)378
XCVIIIThe day Shakespeare died (with his last words, etc.)384
XCIXAbout the funeral of William Shakespeare & certain events thereafter389
CIn which Pickleherring lays down his pen after telling of the curse on Shakespeare's grave396

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The Late Mr. Shakespeare 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
manque on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Engaging from the start, Nye's novel never disappoints. In the guise of a bawdy "country history" of Shakespeare's life, with all of its attendant variations on the "facts," Pickleherring (our narrator) gives us a wonderful celebration of life and of the extraordinariness of the ordinary persons who live it.Though chock-full with interesting facts and rumors surrounding Shakespeare's life and works, and not lacking in insight into the plays (tossed in as casual observations from Pickleherring's experience in the acting troupe), in the end the novel is as much a celebration of us all as it is a novel about Shakespeare. The famous author's life and works serve as a wonderful lens and jumping-off point for Pickleherring's evocation of our common divinity, of his revelation of what's divine and sublime in even the most common of human activities.Wonderful reading for the literary reader or fan of Shakespeare, or for that matter anyone who likes a good story told with wit and energy through a memorably realized narrator.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago