William Shakspere The Corisco Conspiracy
ONE: So Wan with Care
The eighth day of November 1605 caught me, William Shakspere, in the eye of an armed confrontation such as England had never seen before. I was in Staffordshire all day that Tuesday, ensconced for hours in a priest hole with little hope of escaping arrest and execution, whilst above me the king’s militia burned Holbeche House, a magnificent mansion, to the ground.
That was exactly ten years ago yesterday.
How dispiriting then, that, of all the mornings in the year, Doctor John Hall (my physician son-in-law) chose yesterday morning to tell me that I haven’t much more than another four months to live. And yet how providential that he brought me the news while I was moping in my study, wondering what to do with myself after trying most of the night before, for no particular reason, to recall the wording of a sonnet about old age which I penned when I wasn’t yet half as decrepit as I am today; a sonnet beginning with the line: “That time of year thou mayst in me behold”.
The road which led me to the armed conflict of 1605 was a long and tortuous one. But, since Doctor Hall has in effect signed my death sentence – a privilege denied both Queen Elizabeth and King James – I owe it to posterity to retrace my steps on that road and set a few records straight before I cease to be.
My father, John, who consistently spelt our family name SHAXPER, kept a diary from the day he was elected to the town council of Stratford-upon-Avon until he departed this life in September 1601. His entry on the day of my birth reads as follows.
A veritable miracle. Delivered to house number 23 on Henley Street at precisely 23 minutes before the 23rd hour on this, the 23rd day of the month: a healthy baby boy. Mary wanted him baptized as Edmund (the martyr). I thought George would be more appropriate, more mystical. As a compromise, we have agreed to name him William – after the Norman king.
Notorious vaunter that he was, Father saw the coincidence as a licence to boast, as he did on many an occasion, that it was the delivery of his first surviving child – and not the feast of Saint George – that England celebrated on the twenty-third day of every April after the year of our Lord 1564.
No one ever gainsaid his reasoning on that score. But I wonder now what he himself would have thought forty-one years later about giving me the name of a conqueror had he lived to welcome me home after the fierce gun fight at Holbeche House that unforgettable autumn in which I played my most memorable role offstage: as one of the ringleaders of the Catholic assassination plot which is still being talked about as if it happened only yesterday.
Copyright: Raphael Soné