The Shakespeare Diaries : A Fictional Autobiography

The Shakespeare Diaries : A Fictional Autobiography
J.P. Wearing
April 2007
Biography & Memoir
6 x 9

An Educational and Enthralling Window into the World of Shakespeare

What was Shakespeare thinking while he was writing Hamlet? What did he and Ben Jonson talk about when they were having a drink together? Did he meet Queen Elizabeth? What might Shakespeare have said to the formidable monarch?In The Shakespeare Diaries, J.P. Wearing, Professor Emeritus of English at the University of Arizona, blends fact with fiction to create a unique fictional autobiography of the great playwright that takes the reader into The Bard’s life like never before. The Shakespeare Diaries provides a window into Shakespeare’s world—his day-to-day life, his work, his friends and associates, and his view of daily events—thus giving readers a vivid impression of the Elizabethan era and Shakespeare’s role within that society.

Writing in diary form, in the delightfully whimsical style of Shakespeare himself, Wearing incorporates many fragments of lines and phrases from The Bard’s plays and poems. Fascinating endnotes provide further annotation and information for those readers who wish to know more. Readers new to Shakespeare will be drawn in by such an intimate portrait, while seasoned aficionados (students, teachers, scholars, actors, and theatre-goers) will relish this fresh, offbeat approach to the man and his work.

Click below to purchase this book:

For more than twenty years I taught Shakespeare courses at the University of Arizona, and, in the midst of endlessly fascinating and rewarding discussions about Shakespeare’s plays, students would frequently ask me some question or other about the man, his life, his experiences, his thoughts, and his opinions. Initially, I greeted these unanswerable questions with the lame response: “We don’t know.” Then one day, quite spontaneously, I replied jokingly: “I don’t know; but when I get home I’ll dig out his diaries, consult them, and let you have the answer next time.” This response soon became my stock answer to such questions and something of a running joke with my classes (although occasionally a student would entertain serious skepticism about my sense of humor).

Over time that recurring pursuit of answers to the unanswerable became the inspiration for this work. I thought: What if Shakespeare’s diaries did exist? What would they be like? What would they contain? What might they tell us about the man, his life, his work, and his times?

The outcome, after several years’ worth of musings and research, is the current work of “faction,” a blend of fact and fiction: each fact and event is historically accurate, and presented from a contemporary point of view; however, the facts are woven into a fictional narrative. The result is a fictional autobiography: what Shakespeare himself might have penned had he indeed kept a diary. Thus the diaries include virtually every known fact about Shakespeare, details of many of his theatrical and social contemporaries, allusions to numerous contemporary events, as well as putting forth “Shakespeare’s views” on his own plays and those of other dramatists, people, events, and the like.

Moreover, the diaries employ only those words that were available in the Elizabethan and Jacobean vocabulary—Shakespeare’s vocabulary. In addition, many fragments and snatches of lines and phrases from Shakespeare’s plays and poems are incorporated as part of the narrative, although not necessarily as direct quotations.

Naturally, there is much in the diaries—events, facts, allusions—that needs further explanation and elucidation, and consequently I have provided such information: An overview of Shakespeare’s activities and historical events precedes each year of diary entries. Brief explanatory clarifications within a diary entry are provided in square brackets: [. . .]. The endnotes provide much fuller factual information, references to the plays, citations of sources, and additional fascinating information that the curious reader may explore further.

I trust my former students will find their quest for information is now fulfilled, for herein lie the answers to such previous imponderables as “What did Shakespeare and Ben Jonson talk about when they had a drink together?” “What did Queen Elizabeth actually say to Shakespeare (if anything)?” “Was he happily married?” “What was he thinking about when he wroteHamlet?” Perchance my students, and the present gentle reader, will find The Shakespeare Diaries is not entirely “an improbable fiction.”

J.P. Wearing


[The year begins with another successful performance of Henry IV Part 1, but a controversy over the name of the character called Oldcastle forces Shakespeare to rename him. Plagued by pirate editions of such plays as Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare learns there is little he can do about the situation. He is also obliged to please Queen Elizabeth with a reincarnation of Falstaff in The Merry Wives of Windsor. In April the Burbage brothers hint at their plans for the future as the lease on the Theatre expires. Merry Wives is a triumph at the palace of Whitehall; also present is the irascible Ben Jonson, and Shakespeare has his first encounter with this soon-to-be-friend and colleague. Subsequently, they engage in numerous debates on the art of writing plays. Jonson is later in trouble with the authorities for his hand in writing the play, The Isle of Dogs, and is imprisoned. His co-author Tom Nashe manages to flee London, but is never heard of again. During the summer Shakespeare and his fellow actors travel to Dover, Bristol, and Bath. At year’s end, Shakespeare remains at work on Henry IV Part 2.]

2 January
We presented Harry [Henry IV Part 1] once more last evening. Will Kempe played Oldcastle as Her Majesty had commanded. Lord how she roared through her blackened teeth at Kempe’s antics, though all the while I scarce recognised what I had set down, so much was extempore. I had lief the town crier spoke my words than Kempe give them utterance. Again was I called for by the Queen. “Good Master Shakespeare, you have given us great pleasure in this work of your hand, and we like well this character Oldcastle. It would gratify us greatly to see more of him in another play.” My ever-ready mumbled “majesty.” “Indeed you shall write more, though, if you look to our advice, you were best to call him by some other name. My Lord Cobham appeareth much displeased this evening. Know you not his forebear was an Oldcastle?”1 I explained quickly that I had but taken the name from another play and intended no offence. “Indeed, you should not intend offence, Master Shakespeare. Write this new play, but vex not my Lord Cobham further.” So write I must, though my thoughts rest on what else of Henry IV’s reign and the growth of Hal I might write. Fathers and sons are more to my mind than Oldcastle, or whate’er I shall call him. Yet now Lord Cobham is angered, I fear.

5 January
News from father—uncle Henry hath died and is buried already.2 He was a hard man, resentful, bullheaded, and bloody minded. So, all is past now, and what with all the recent rains I could not have travelled thither, as father knows well. Besides, I would not have gone on any account.

7 January
was played last night at Court, though why it was called for I know not; Her Majesty took such violent dislike of it before.3 Yet last night she did not glower, and seemed much affected. I played Escalus as before, & all the company personated their roles with spirit.

10 January
As I feared, and as the Queen had said, offence hath been taken at Oldcastle. This day from the Lord Chamberlain came a letter wherein is stated that offence is taken by worthy personages descended from Oldcastle’s title and also by many others who hold him in honourable memory. So all is clear that ’tis the Lord Chamberlain himself & his family who are much offended, and I did all but in error & ignorance! When next we play Harry [Henry IV Part 1], Oldcastle must be christened anew. Some name from my histories must suffice.4 Later—and now Harry [Southampton], the master-mistress of my passion, writes of his delight that I used the name of Harvey in my play, as ’tis the name of his mother’s lover, whom she would marry. (Harry, tho’, is disquieted and prays they will not marry.) He would be pleased if Harvey took some offence, and asks, “Know ye that the Earl of Bedford’s given name is William Russell.”5 So Harry may be pleased or no, yet these names must be changed, for I seek but a peaceable life!

26 January
News—Lord Cobham’s daughter Elizabeth hath died while she laboured with child.6 That family haunteth me every & which way, tho’ I intend no harm. Doubtless Oldcastle & myself will be blamed once more. All this pother over names hath left me full of vexation to which only Kate might minister consolation.7

2 February
Today with Dick Burbage to lay his father to rest, who was a violent, rough man, and not over-honest; yet Dick loved him well enough, and Cuthbert too.8 Afterwards we did chat and drank long. Dick believes the business about the Blackfriars [Theatre] is what killed his father, for, ever sithence that petition November last, his father had lost all heart & interest in the least thing. I doubt it not, for a man’s ambition, like salt, gives savour to this life. Weather cold.

9 February
I have read with profit Bacon’s Essays, & find them brimful of wisdom, sound counsel, & fine phrase.9 I dare say it will prove a popular work.

15 February
Father sends news that aunt Margaret is dead and buried. Mayhap she could not live without her husband, tho’ many could have.10 I liked her more than uncle Henry; she was kindly & worthy my prayers, he was a kind of nothing. Kate consoled me this evening.

20 February
Tom Nashe today showed me what Danter hath done to my Romeo. Tho’ it looks much like unto my play, Danter’s book is all a mangled gallimaufry. I asked Nashe what power is in me to stop it. Naught or little, said he, unless I please to bring forth my own copy, which the company might not allow.11 Dearly I desire to berate Danter, a friend ere this, but I needs must write the Falstaff play [The Merry Wives of Windsor] Her Majesty hath commanded (tho’ I desire to proceed apace with Harry [Henry IV Part 2]). Besides, why should I spend my choler when no good will come of it? I have an itch of Kate, which I pray be not the pox.

6 March
Lord Cobham, stricken with grief at his daughter’s death, died yesterday.12 I pray Oldcastle-Falstaff be not thought on now, lest more trouble be cast upon my head. Oh, what’s in a name!

18 March
Today came to me my Lord Hunsdon, newly created Lord Chamberlain after Lord Cobham, and our company is now to be called the Lord Chamberlain’s his men. His Lordship asked of me what I have set down of the play that Her Majesty hath commanded. I told him I had done but little, for my mind is still on Henry [Henry IV Part 2], yet I had not forgot H.M.’s command to see more Oldcastle, or rather Falstaff as I call him now. His lordship then said he desired in a great way to please H.M. who, besides making him Lord Chamberlain, is to create him a knight of the Garter. He would present, therefore, before H.M. this play with Oldcastle-Falstaff at the Garter Feast that shall be held at Whitehall Palace on St. George’s day that is to come. Could it be ready & prepared by then, he asked. Before I could think, I heard myself say “aye,” and “we are born to do as befits us,” & saw myself bow low. “Then ’tis settled,” said he, “and spare no expense for the great occasion, for we must honour Her Majesty right thoroughly.” And then he departed. Ye gods & heavens, what foolishness have I said & promised, and the performance is set for my birthday.13 No more Harry—I must set that aside, and this Falstaff play must be all my care.

19 March
I spent all day with Will Kempe from dinner [lunch] until bed. I told Will what a parlous pickle I had gotten myself and all our fellows into. And, since Her Majesty must have Will and Falstaff, I yielded myself up to Kempe’s hands (with what dislike I did not tell Kempe). I told him I had penned but a few points that perchance might be made into more. Love, comedy, and confusion is what’s wanted. If Kempe might prick my imagination, something might body forth & be made much of. Well, Kempe smiled mightily, and a torrent of notions issued forth—disguises, concealment from irate husbands, hiding in a basket of linen, place—the Garter Inn, scene—around Windsor, & much more I cannot recall. I scribbled down all as swift as quill could fly. To my amazement, and some delight, there was something of a poor scaffold, a scarecrow I can dress, if not invest with great life, & save mine own labours to boot. I thanked Kempe with some warmth. “’Tis no matter,” said Kempe. “Ye may not care much for my method, for mayhap ’tis a madcap method, yet there is method in my madcapness, and, on the day, we shall be as right as the rain.” So we drank ale a while longer, & I believe I like the man somewhat the better.

26 March
Now a week spent with Kempe, and I fear I have had more than sufficient of his company. More of his conversation would infect my brain. Yet together we have fashioned this play on Falstaff and Windsor [Merry Wives] which may answer. Much of what is plot, so called, is Kempe’s doing, but I have sewn it together with what words I can. What I truly call my own I set down now, lest I forget too readily what in the piece be mine. I) prattle on the coat of arms and Sir Thomas Lucy, tho’ ’tis a jest only I know.14 II) I own and acknowledge the Welsh parson [Sir Hugh Evans] is mine, tho’ his Welsh is but a travesty, not as in the first Harry [Henry IV Part 1]; yet am I endeared to the tongue. III) the gesture to Kit’s memory; I had the poem by me and thought of Kit.15 IV) the lesson on Latin [4.1] culled from my schoolboy days, wherein I take much delight, leastways in the memory thereof. V) Falstaff dressed in a buck’s head [5.5], tho’ that I have stole from the dream play [A Midsummer Night’s Dream], which the wary shall know if they do but listen.16 As for the rest, Kempe may make as merry with it as he chooses, as I doubt not he will do.

14 April
Yester even to the Boar’s Head, with Dick & Cuthbert Burbage. Tho’ the Boar’s Head doth remind me of the Harry play [Henry IV Part 2], Dick & Cuthbert had not asked me there to prate on that. Said Dick, “What concerns us now is what to do,” as if I knew what he meant. Cuthbert broke in to tell me what had passed. Their father James, dead but these two or three months, had a lease for the Theatre with one Giles Allen for one and twenty years, the which are now passed.17 Their father had tried to buy a new lease, and even offered Allen £24 per annum, which was £10 more than before. But Allen would not agree beyond five years more because he desired to put the playhouse to his own purposes. “Today,” said Cuthbert, “is the very day of expiration. E’en tho’ father built the Theatre, ’tis no longer ours to use.” I asked what was to be done. Cuthbert said, though Allen might yet agree to terms, he had plans, but for the present our company might have use of the Curtain. Dick said that it is a fair place, and he cares not where we go so long as we may perform and bring in money. I told them I would likewise be happy, and desired only that my plays were heard and seen. “I’ve plays aplenty that just want penning,” I said. “Aye,” said Dick, “that’s true enough, tho’ Will Kempe says thy brain runneth dry.” “Blast Kempe,” I said. “That thing [The Merry Wives of Windsor] fulfills a command merely, and his lordship gave me precious little time to think what might be best. And as you know, I care not for Kempe’s antics, and my heart was not in the thing. I pray it goes well on George’s day.” Well, we chatted on further, tho’ I was angered and drank wine deep. Sore head and cough today.

Later—Blast Kempe yet more. He presents his list of characters and actors—himself, Falstaff; Burbage, Fenton; [Robert] Gough, Mistress Ford; Dick’s prentice Nick, Mistress Quickly;18 And whatever else I will!! “They are but suggestions, Will,” said he. And I care not, tho’ I do confess I am full of anger.

24 April
Whitehall was resplendent for the Garter Feast yesterday, and I might have rejoiced in it greatly, but for the Merry Wives that bore my name. Never have I seen Kempe act so wild & boisterous, so stuffed with his own importance. Tom Pope would have personated Falstaff better to my mind. But Her Majesty needs must have Falstaff, & Kempe as Falstaff. Lord, how she and all her courtiers laughed. I was called for, as is the custom. “We are right well pleased Master Shakespeare,” quoth she. “Ye shall be rewarded most handsomely, as shall Master Kempe. Forget not this Falstaff.” I mumbled my reply. His Lordship [Hunsdon] pranced to me in gay excitement, all smiles, & said I had done exceeding well, would be rewarded, and so forth. Yet what ensued was far more remarkable. From behind me I heard, “So you are Shakespeare,” the voice gruff and blunt. I turned and saw a middling-sized man, his thin copper face marked by the pox, eyes deep set and somewhat far apart, nose prominent. Before I replied, he repeated his words, blunt again. I told him I was, whereupon he assailed the play [Merry Wives] with mighty vituperation & most volubly. It wanted characters, plot, sense, and much else besides. “And what’s its point?” he asked, “where is the satire? Why, almost any man alive could pen such trash.” Then his scolding grew again. I thought I would be angered, but, for some reason, I know not why, I laughed, and told him he was correct, and that the piece was not worthy of many a man who could improve upon it. And, indeed, almost “any man” (I meant Kempe) had penned much of it. At this he was astonished, for verily he had expected an angry reply. Then I told him how the whole thing had come to pass, that the Merry Wives was commanded merely, that Kempe had provided the action mostly, and that I had patched it up swiftly. “And you saw how well pleased Her Majesty and the Court was,” I said. “Then is the Court an ass,” said he.

After that there was naught else to do but go and drink ale and chat. It was only at the Feathers Inn in Cheapside that I thought to ask his name—Ben Jonson, sans the “h” he was quick to say,19 a quondam bricklayer, erstwhile soldier, & actor of little account. Since this February past he hath been with Pembroke’s Men at Langley’s Swan, tho’ Jonson was unkind in his opinion of the company.20 “What we need is plays, something that hath bite to it. I’ fecks I would write myself, tho’ not after your fashion Shakespeare.” I told him he should seek out Tom Nashe, for I thought together they might do well. Jonson was pleased. Then most strangely, since we had but a three hour acquaintance, he added, “I am given much to venery, and I mean not hunting.” Then he departed, but I am certain we shall meet again.

4 May
. Anne is pleased, she says, to see me. The girls grow apace—Susanna becomes 14 this very month, Judith 12, as would have my beloved Hamnet had he lived. Tho’ Judith reminds me of my son dearly, she is not the same; yet the fault lies not with her. But I please all three (and father and mother) in buying New Place, the grandest house there could be, with rooms and fireplaces aplenty. And what a fine garden we shall have. Anne cares not for the murder, but I told her she need fear not. “Nay, indeed,” quoth she, “for ye are but here rarely.” Then her anger died, & we set to devising the how and the what, for we shall occupy the house before too many months are out.21

10 May
London once more. Anne was all tears when I departed, though happy and proud enough of the new home, once the chattels are there. Well, there is little else I might do, as I needs must be here in town for our plays, and neither do I lust for her. Such are our fortunes; i’ fecks, I believe a fairer fortune than I have seen lies before me. This afternoon I spent at the Bunch of Grapes with Tom Nashe; ’tis a long time since we had met & talked. I told him of this new man Jonson and how he did accost me at the Merry Wives at Whitehall. Forewarned is forearmed. Tom said he had a mind to meet so forthright a man, and perchance they might well devise a new piece together. After some while we went over to the Mitre & found Jonson sitting there deep in thought. Ale and chat. Tom & Jonson became fast friends on the instant, so I departed, musing on what might become of this new amity.

24 May
At Windsor for the installation, this day, of his lordship [Hunsdon] as a Knight of the Garter, as well as other knights. Yesterday was a grand procession that began somewhat after four o’clock in the afternoon. First, Sir Henry Lee & his company rode through the town, his men in blue coats and badges. Next after them rode the Lord Mountjoy,22 his men in blue coats, a plume of purple estridge feathers in every man’s hat, and his gentlemen with chains of gold. Immediately after them, came his Lordship [Hunsdon] with us marching along. We made a brave company, us, his gentlemen, the servants, and retainers, with our blue coats faced with orange taffeta, and orange feathers in our hats, and many with chains of gold. And besides, there was a great number of other knights and gentlemen who accompanied his lordship. Then, last, following our company, Lord Thomas, with a like troop in blue coats faced with sea-green taffeta and feathers of the same hue, and also many chains of gold. ’Twas a goodly show, & why I know not, but I did feel pride swell within my breast. It was late when our company returned to the city, bed & rest.

2 June
Yester even, as I would go to the Mitre, I saw Sir Walter Ralegh riding abroad with Her Majesty. So is he restored to his place at the Court. Such are the changes of fickle fortune, & I am happy my lowly station keeps me safe from harm. Ever blessed is the humble suitor.

3 June
At the Rose this afternoon, Ned Alleyn in Frederick and Basilea, a play noteworthy only because I cannot recall its import.23Ned played as fine as ever, tho’ it did not seem his heart was in the piece. Ale with him afterwards and, i’ faith, he spoke of leaving off playing. I asked him, in God’s name, why an actor of his power would think such a thought. Ned replied he was tired of the many parts which he had played o’er too many times. “Will, there are times, now, when I can no longer discern what is life and what be the stage. Why, only the other day I was enacting Faustus, and I thought I saw a devil on the stage. So strong was this illusion that it seemed the rabble saw it too.”24 He continued after this fashion for mayhap a hour, and he was much disquieted. After I had left Ned, I returned to my closet to muse on my own dilatory sloth. There lies the Harry play [Henry IV Part 2], which is still no more than jumbled scribbles. Where now is mine ambition to finish it? Shall I become another Ned & cease my work? Yet I think I lost the taste for the thing because of Falstaff that Her Majesty would have more of. Falstaff is but a part, a fragment of the whole I must present. I needs must ponder anew, for my muse wants some subject to devise, some argument, some invention.

10 June
Fair words from Harry [Southampton], whom I have scarce seen or heard from these many months. He goes with the Lord Essex on an expedition against the Spanish.25 I wonder why Harry wrote now; mayhap because of the dangers he will face. I wish him God speed & safe return.

That god forbid that made me first your slave

I should in thought control your times of pleasure,

Or at your hand th’account of hours to crave,

Being your vassal bound to stay your leisure.

O, let me suffer, being at your beck,

Th’imprisoned absence of your liberty,

And, patience-tame to sufferance, bide each check

Without accusing you of injury.

Be where you list, your charter is so strong

That you yourself may privilege your time

To what you will; to you it doth belong

Yourself to pardon of self-doing crime.

I am to wait, though waiting so be hell,

Not blame your pleasure, be it ill or well. [Sonnet 58]

12 June
This evening with Jonson at the Mitre. He railed much as he had before. ’Tis some odd, sour humour that pricks him to this fashion—and he wanted to know if I had done with Falstaff. Jonson and Tom Nashe work together on a play, tho’ Jonson said but little on’t. I muse why I stay to be baited with one that wants his wits betimes.

1 July
We are to play at Sir Robert Cecil’s house before him, the Lord Essex, and Sir Walter Ralegh. My Richard II play hath been asked for, though why in particular, I know not, but go we shall.26

14 July
News from father that Fulke Underhill hath murdered his father [William], at which I am astonished & vexed mightily, for this confounds in a degree the purchase of the house [New Place] that I made from the father. I fear it doth presage some ill event, & our legal woes will be the more protracted. I expect Anne will be all tears.

15 July
To Shoreditch with the Burbages [Richard and Cuthbert] to bury Cuthbert’s poor mite.27 Both brothers wept grievously as Cuthbert’s hopes were laid in the ground.

29 July
What a day was yesterday. Early in the afternoon, the Players at the Swan [Pembroke’s Men] performed a play entitled The Isle of Dogs—this being the very piece that hath made Jonson and Nashe confederates. Before the play was ended, in marched a troop of guards that arrested Gabriel Spencer, Robert Shaw, and Jonson, the others having made good their escape. All three are committed to the Marshalsea. Later I heard from several folk that the Privy Council did consider The Isleto be full of seditious and slanderous matter, and that all playing is to be stayed at Her Majesty’s pleasure. That night, Nashe, wrapped close in his cloak with a hat pulled half over his face to avoid discovery, crept into my closet. He said, “Will, I must commune with you of such things that want no ear but yours.” He spoke of how those in authority talk of great disorders, the chaos that ensueth, and lewd matters in the theatres, that they, meaning the theatres, be the resort of idle apprentices, masterless men, vagrants, coseners, whores and whoremongers, thieves, and all manner of evil people. Nashe believes that Topcliffe28 was the cause of all the trouble, for the man would prank up himself in authority upon the least occasion. Tom was greatly troubled because his lodgings have been searched & his papers removed, tho’ he rejoiced he was not therein when they ransacked his room. Well, now he hath fled to Yarmouth, tho’ I could have wished he had not told me this, for then I would not know where he is, and have no cause to betray him if I am questioned. Now the theatres are closed, and we lose our livelihood. The other fellows will take to the road to do what they may, but I have resolved to go home first for awhile, and perchance will seek them out later.29

Stratford—’Ods my life & lungs, the air is so sweet & fresh I wonder how I breathe in London. Anne is happy now I am home once more, & my daughters grow fine and bonny. Yet, where’er I go, I am minded of how dearest Hamnet and I walked together. But I must work and flesh out the second Harry play [Henry IV Part 2] ere I rejoin the men at Dover, which gives me little enough time. Notandum:—amend Love’s Labour’s—Heminges says we must present a comedy for the court festivities at Christmas.30 And I must look o’er the second Richard play [Richard II] ere it be published, tho’ I think little need be amended there.31

After the tedious process of my travel, with limbs tired and exceeding weary for dear repose, I have come to Dover, to join my hearty good fellows. I marvel that, as I have oft heard people say, the cliffs of France can be seen afar off across the sea. Carcasses of many a tall Spanish ship, the hulks of that Armada, lie scattered still on the beach, rotting with the waves. Also strange to see were some men and women clinging to the chalky sides of the cliffs to gather up herbs, tho’ they make a poor living.32 Poverty is the father of unnumberable infirmities. The town is pleasant, indifferent large, the air salt sharp and fresh to the nose. We sojourn here but a day or two before we journey on to Bath, & Bristol, then we return to the city.

These last several days we have passed in Bath and then Bristol. His lordship [Hunsdon] keeps a fine house in Bath, for the sake of taking the waters for his health, as do many of the nobility that visit the town. Bristol is a fair enough city, though it hath, of late, fallen upon hard times for want of good harvests. I saw many a poor beggar going about the city. For all that, we played at the Guildhall, and received thirty shillings from the Mayor for our pains. Tho’ I might, if I wished, journey home, I shall return to London with the other fellows.

25 September
The King of Spain is dead, though I know not whereof he died.33 There will be few Englishmen will mourn his death, what with his marriage to Bloody Mary, the Armada, and such. He was a cruel tyrant to Protestants—yea, the demon of the south. I have heard tell that he said he would burn his own son at the stake if he were condemned to death for heresy. Well, he will answer to the Lord now for all his sins, and God rot him.

8 October
Ben [Jonson] with me this morning. A long deep chat. He was gaunt, for he was released from the Marshalsea but this very day. He told me the order for his release, and that of Robert Shaw and Gabriel Spencer, had come the third of the month, but they were detained all this while. “They have given me a harsh, rough time, Will,” he said. “I made them all the more angry and vicious because I would admit nothing. Twice they tried to trick me by placing informers in my cell, but I swift smelled out the bastards for what they were, two damned villains that would catch advantage of me.” Ben believes [Richard] Topcliffe contrived the whole investigation, for ’twas he showed Ben the rack and hot irons. He spoke more of the vile food and so forth, yet Ben is not the man to yield in such conditions. Then we spoke of plays & such: Ben has many ideas for plays, but will not give more offence, leastways not for the moment. Though I have borne many a blunt upbraiding and bitter scoff from him in times past, I am heartily sorry that Ben hath been abused and hath suffered thus.

11 October
Today I went to the Rose where they gave Kyd’s Tragedy.34 Ned Alleyn possessed not his fire of yore as mad Hieronymo, and I doubt not he will leave the stage as he hath said, for his passion hath left him.

21 October
In the street this morning, I saw [Andrew] Wise. Quoth he, “I have not seen you long; how goes the world?” And then he told me he was well pleased to have registered my book of Richard [Richard III] on the day before. I told him I had not the time yet to amend it, & that I thought it not complete if it be the book used this summer past. He said it was no great concern, for all the world would recall how Burbage had played Richard to great applause. Well, I know my rank & rate; the actor is ever prized the higher.35

24 October
Parliament assembled today, and I had thought to see the procession to the Parliament house. Yet the crowd which pressed about the streets was so thick I could see nothing and I came away. Later I learned from a man that had been there that, as the queen and the nobles passed by, several people (he knew not how many) had been crushed to death as the way was cleared before the queen. In little, that is the way of this world—like ears of corn in the wind, the lowly bend before the high & mighty.

30 October
At the Bunch of Grapes this afternoon I drank ale with a west countryman who said there is news that the Spanish will invade again down there. Thus there is much mustering of forces. This last intelligence gave me a notion for the Henry play and its beginning [Henry IV Part 2]. There shall be a Prologue named Rumour, who shall spread false report & hope of the rebels’ victory, and all shall be dashed when the true news is revealed. Thus shall the audience be put in mind of what passed in the other play [Henry IV Part 1]. As a jest, I shall enact Rumour.

15 November
Parliament debates once more the subsidies for the defence of the realm, or should I write Her Majesty’s realm. I suppose we shall be assessed, tho’ in truth I did not pay the last reckoning.36

1 December
Jonson gave me news that the wretch Gardiner is dead.37 Well, let him rot thoroughly for, e’en though he was but a small thorn in my side, yet was he a monstrous slanderer of heaven and earth, and was full evil to others. Ben said Gardiner was a man of such an evil mind and conversation that he would deny what he had but just spoke, and that he was the subtlest knave in the whole county. And ’tis curious strange that, as Ben would have it, Gardiner’s funeral is to be prepared by Camden. But true it must be since Ben & Camden are fast friends.38 Ben told me also that he had shown the plot of a play he means to write to Henslowe’s company. Henslowe is to give him twenty shillings, & Ben hath promised that he will make all complete come Christmas.39

Another long dreary journey and for little reward, save I can see how my amendments to Love’s Labour’s may succeed.40 So shall we yet have time until we perform it for the queen. The countryside hereabouts is ill-fitted for this winter weather, though it must be a fair sight to behold in springtime.

22 December
Jonson went to Gardiner’s funeral today; I would not have gone for a wilderness of monkeys. Bought a half gallon of sweet wine, 2 shillings.

27 December
Yester eve we performed Love’s Labour’s Lost (amended) for Her Majesty, and she and her courtiers did seem mightily pleased withal. We were given food and drink aplenty afterward, though Her Majesty asked not for me as she hath done on like occasion. Mayhap she took offence that I played the king? Others—Berowne-[Dick] Burbage, Longaville-[Gus] Phillips, Dumain-[George] Bryan, Armado-Kempe (blast him), Holofernes-Heminges (fine), Dull-Cowley,41 Costard—Tom Pope, Rosaline-Sam Gilburne (as sweet a girl as he is a boy).



1. William Brooke, 7th Lord Cobham (d. 1597) and his son Henry Brooke, 8th Lord Cobham (d. 1619) were descendants of Sir John Oldcastle (c. 1377–1417), soldier and friend of Henry V. William Brooke was Lord Chamberlain from August 1596 until March 1597.

2. Henry Shakespeare was imprisoned for debt in September 1596. He was buried at Snitterfield on December 29, 1596.

3. See entry for December 8, 1594.

4. Shakespeare appears to have turned to Henry VI Part 1 and Sir John Fastolfe as the inspiration for “Falstaff.” Interestingly, the historical Fastolfe commanded someone named “Bardolph” (see next footnote).

5. In Henry IV Part 1 “Harvey” was the original name of “Peto,” and “Russell” the original of “Bardolph.” Sir William Harvey or Hervey (d. 1642), soldier and courtier, married Southampton’s mother in 1598.

6. She was also the wife of Sir Robert Cecil.

7. A mistress?

8. James Burbage was buried at St. Leonard’s Church, Shoreditch, on February 2, 1597. Cuthbert Burbage (1566–1636), James Burbage’s son, was a theater owner and connected with the Theatre, Globe, and Blackfriars theaters. He did not act, however.

9. Francis Bacon’s first edition of 10 essays was on sale on February 7, 1597.

10. Margaret’s husband was Henry Shakespeare (d. 1596), Shakespeare’s uncle. Margaret and Henry had two children: Lettice (b. 1582) and James (1585–89).

11. In 1597 John Danter printed An Excellent conceited Tragedie of Romeo and Juliet, As it hath been often (with great applause) plaid publiquely by the right Honourable the L. of Hunsdon his Servants. This “bad” first quarto lacks some 800 lines found in the authoritative second quarto (1599). Shakespeare’s company was known as Lord Hunsdon’s Men only from July 1596 to March 1597.

12. Cobham’s daughter Elizabeth had died on January 24, 1597.

13. By tradition Shakespeare’s birthday has been assumed to be April 23, 1564, although only his baptism on April 26, 1564 is recorded.

14. The Merry Wives of Windsor, 1.1.13–25 contains possible references to Lucy’s coat of arms (“the dozen white luces in their coat”), while 1.1.100–02 mentions deer poaching (see entry for Summer 1585).

15. The Merry Wives of Windsor, 3.1.16–19 and 22–24 is a slightly mangled version of lines 7–10 of Marlowe’s “The Passionate Shepherd to his Love.” An inferior version of Marlowe’s poem was published in The Passionate Pilgrim (1599); the full text appeared in England’s Helicon (1600).

16. See Falstaff: “I do begin to perceive that I am made an ass” (The Merry Wives of Windsor, 5.5.117), and Bottom: “I see their knavery. This is to make an ass of me” (A Midsummer Night’s Dream, 3.1.108).

17. Giles Allen (or Alleyn) had leased James Burbage a plot of land in Shoreditch on April 13, 1576. Burbage built the Theatre there with considerable financial backing from his brother-in-law, John Brayne.

18. Nicholas Tooley (c. 1575–1623) became a full member of the King’s Men (previously the Lord Chamberlain’s) in about 1605.

19. He was born Benjamin Johnson.

20. At the time, Pembroke’s Men included William Bird (d. 1624), Thomas Downton , Richard Jones, Robert Shaw (or Shaa, d. 1603), and Gabriel Spencer. The company had leased the Swan from Francis Langley on February 21, 1597.

21. New Place was the second largest house in Stratford, for which Shakespeare paid an official £60, though the price was nominal and fictitious in order to keep its taxable value low. The house, built by Sir Hugh Clopton (d. 1496) in about 1490, sat on an acre at the corner of Chapel Street and Chapel Lane. It was three stories high (28 feet), had a 60-foot frontage, 10 fireplaces, two gardens, two orchards, and two barns. The owner, William Underhill (d. 1597), had bought New Place from a William Bott in 1567; Bott poisoned his daughter in order to possess her husband’s lands. Two months after Shakespeare’s purchase, on July 7, 1597, Underhill himself was poisoned by his son, Fulke (1579–99), who was eventually hanged in 1599. Thus the complete transfer of New Place to Shakespeare was not completed until 1602 when Underhill’s son, Hercules (b. 1581), came of age.

22. Charles Blount, 8th Baron Mountjoy (1563–1606), soldier, friend of Essex, and Lord Deputy of Ireland 1601–03.

23. Frederick and Basilea was probably a new play, but is now lost. Alleyn played Sebastian, Richard Allen (d. 1601) was Frederick, Samuel Rowley (d. 1624) was Heraclius. Three boy actors named Dick, Griffin, and Will played Basilea, Athanasia, and Leonora.

24. From October 1594 to October 1597 Alleyn’s company, the Admiral’s Men, performed Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus 24 times. Alleyn did retire for a time in 1597, but returned to the stage in 1600.

25. Essex’s fleet tried to depart from Plymouth on June 15, 1597, but was prevented by storms. There were several more attempts in June and July; the final successful attempt came on August 14, 1597. John Donne was also part of the expedition.

26. Apparently this took place on July 6 and was designed to sooth tensions between Essex and Ralegh over their joint Spanish expedition. Ralegh reported to Cecil that Richard II had made Essex “wonderful merry.”

27. James Burbage, son of Cuthbert Burbage, was buried at St. Leonard’s, Shoreditch, on July 15, 1597.

28. Richard Topcliffe (1532–1604), notorious torturer and persecutor of Catholics.

29. In August and September 1597 Shakespeare’s company travelled through Sussex and Kent, visiting towns such as Rye and Dover, as well as stopping in Bristol in late September.

30. When the first quarto of Love’s Labour’s Lost was published in 1598, the title page read: A Pleasant Conceited Comedie Called, Loues labors lost. As it was presented before her Highnes this last Christmas, Newly corrected and augmented by W. Shakespere. It was the first published play with Shakespeare’s name on it.

31. Richard II was entered in the Stationers’ Register by Andrew Wise on August 29, 1597. A first quarto was published later in 1597 but with the scene depicting Richard’s deposition omitted (4.1.154–318). The scene was restored in the fourth quarto, published 1608.

32. Shakespeare recalled the Dover cliffs, their samphire gatherers, and seashore in King Lear, 4.6.

33. Philip II (1527–98), who died on September 13, 1598, had married Mary I (“Bloody Mary”) in 1554.

34. The Admiral’s Men and Pembroke’s Men resumed playing at the Rose on October 11, 1597, performing The Spanish Tragedy.

35. The first quarto of Richard III lacks some 200 lines found in the First Folio.

36. On this same date the petty collectors for the Bishopsgate ward noted Shakespeare as one of those who had not paid an assessment of five shillings levied in October 1596.

37. Justice William Gardiner died at his house in Bermondsey Street on November 26, 1597. He was not buried until December 22, 1597. See also entry for November 29, 1596.

38. William Camden (1551–1623), scholar, antiquary, and historian, was appointed second master at Westminster School (which Jonson attended) in 1575 and headmaster in 1593. Camden was made Clarencieux King-at-arms in 1597. His written work includes Annales (1615).

39. Philip Henslowe gave Jonson 20 shillings on December 3, 1597, for his work on an unknown play.

40. In December 1597 the Chamberlain’s Men gave a performance for the mayor and aldermen in the Guildhall, Marlborough, Wiltshire, for which they were paid 6s 4d.

41. Richard Cowley (d. 1619), listed as one of the principal actors in the First Folio, was probably an original member of the Chamberlain’s Men.