Gift to the Future

A play for one actor by Colin David Reese

Author’s note

As all biographies of William Shakespeare, this is essentially a fiction.  The known facts about the man being that he was born, married, had children, bought property and died.  The rest remains conjecture.

 “Gift to the Future” brings to life what I consider to be a plausible vision of a man of the theatre as viewed by a life-time friend and colleague. 

As a man of the theatre myself, the research that I have done over the years into the vast body of work written about the man, the theatre of the time, the social place of the players in Elizabethan/Jacobean life, has been naturally influenced by my own curiosity into what it must have been like to be a player on the boards of The Theatre, The Globe and subsequently The Blackfriars. 

By illustrating the story line with readings from the plays, I have tried to show the eclectic nature of his creations.  It is impossible to assess the character of an artist from his works.  Imagine a psychologist trying to analyse Picasso from his paintings (or better still Jackson Pollock).  Shakespeare created hundreds of very different personalities from his imagination, none of which gives us any real insight into the man himself.  There are various contemporary references to Shakespeare which are for the most part highly complimentary (with one notable exception) and it seems that his reputation at the time was of a likeable person and talented ‘poet’.   

Much of this research has been within the world of academic studies – written by academics, for academics.  Many times I felt that the resulting works were missing the point.  The plays were written to be “played”.  Not as philosophy and certainly not as literature.  A playwright, particularly a playwright working within an established company and creating parts for specific actors, has only one aim in mind – to create characters and a story that will live on stage and hold an audience.  Furthermore the players of the time were working under a very specific set of conditions and so for the play to progress, much of what was written into their  texts would be necessary instructions concerning what we in the modern theatre would consider to be “the direction”.

The theatre is ephemeral and all the indications point to the fact that Shakespeare considered his theatrical creations as such.  It is reasonable to suppose that only Heminges and Ben Jonson recognised the eternal value of his works.  Heminges being the financial and management controller of the company was uniquely placed to achieve the – what must have been massive – task of accumulating the disparate documents (cue scripts, plot sheets, prompt books, etc.) necessary to create the Folio.

That a man should consecrate so much time and energy to such a task at an advanced age (he was 67 at the time of the final printing) with little hope of financial reward for his efforts indicates a singular dedication to the memory of a friend and genius.

A veritable “Gift to the Future”

The Staging

The Set

The house next to The Globe was built for John Heminges presumably after the death of his wife, Rebecca, some 4 years prior to the action.  There is some speculation that he ran an alehouse from it but this need not concern us here as we are in his personal space. 

The space belongs to an old man living alone, giving the effect of a room full of the memorabilia of 40 years of playing.  As manager of the company he was organised and one should have the impression that if you asked him for anything, he would be able to lay his hands on it immediately.  The fact  that he has lost Florio’s translation of Montaigne that Young Will had given him is the exception rather than the norm.

The furniture would be a collection of different periods leading up to 1623; on moving in he would have kept his favourite pieces, a comfortable chair, maybe a stool and a table.  He was wealthy but not rich, so they would be of a quality without being ostentatious. 

The walls should be of panelled wood, giving a masculine feel to the environment, possibly hung with some portraits of his colleagues.  I am tempted to suggest that he has recuperated the Droeshout engraving from the printing shop, but I leave that to the designer to integrate into the general visual effect.  There are extant small Jacobean houses, notably the almshouses in Chipping Campden or the Great Yarmouth row houses, which could serve as models.  The fire place need not concern us as it could be on the ‘fourth wall’ and indeed his ‘ghosts of the future’ could be in the flames of the fire. 

Overall one should have the impression that we are at home with him, that this is a day like any other. 

The Costume

It is November and he is coming in from the outside, so a warm coat would be discarded and replaced by something that he feels comfortable in.  The outside coat should be of a quality and contemporary to 1623.  He would not be seen abroad incorrectly dressed.  At home, something more comfortable that maybe he has had for many years. 

The Book

When buying a book of this size, it would be delivered unbound; the purchaser then choosing the binding to match the rest of his library.  It should of course look absolutely new.  
The book that Heminges arrives home with would have no cover and be wrapped in a cloth to protect it, starting with one blank page before the page known as “To the Reader”,  the page precedent to the Droeshout engraving.  There are various facsimiles available, the best being the Norton, published by The Folger Institute

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