The actual room where little Will learned his lessons. From my visit to Stratford-upon-Avon in 2020.

I call them ‘Shakespearean Birthers’, those scholars and academics who insist the Bard’s body of works are just too amazing to have been written by an undereducated son of a glove-maker. The various conspiracy theories stand upon assumptions, presumptions and connections more implausible than the traditionally accepted notion that the ‘country bumpkin’ Will from Avon penned the plays, the Sonnets, and the other major verse. Having been born, raised and retired in Stratford-upon-Avon, Will Shakespeare was a Warwickshire man.  His plays contain many references to Warwickshire, and his six years of education in the Stratford-upon-Avon school house taught him Latin and the ancient classics more rigorously than any Bachelor’s program today.  He was unable to go to Cambridge or Oxford (the only English universities that existed then), and was consequently left unfettered to invent. Invent he did.

The miracle of Shakespeare’s genius aside, there are mysteries aplenty about his life. The one in particular that’s drawn my attention and inspired me is, who was the Dark Lady of Shakespeare last 28 Sonnets? 

My novel The Dark Lady suggests one possibility: Chrononauts. The Dark Lady is a sequel to The Tell-Tale Art, and continues the adventures of some of the same characters. It’s a work in progress, but find below as snippet.   

Act I ~ London

 Autumn 1596

Scene i:

Finding the first conceit of love there bred

Where time and outward form would show it dead.

Will Shakespeare first lays eyes on the supreme love of his life on her deathbed, beholding a wretched wrack of a woman, horror, horror, whose leg- and arm-bones the torturers hath cracked into halves.  The dungeon hath dunned her flesh, and from her split lips a wisp of a breath trickles.  Awls hath blinded her eyes into wet wells.  The gaoler’s lantern bleeds upon her breast, where the fire-keeper’s irons hath made a Gorgon’s masterpiece of her cinnamon and cream.

            Dread silence shrouds the dungeon until Will’s friend, John, who hath dragged Will to visit this witch, tasks the gaoler: “This be my sister condemned.  Who hath done this?” 

            Chewed-up gouts of meat-pie sputter from the gaoler’s lips.  “Sirs–I but keep the keys.  It is I who have kept her breath in these dank depths.”   

Dank it is, and Will wants to choke on the musk of worms, the sulfur of piss, the iron-chilled tincture of spent blood.  He lofts words, as if speaking can wash the stench from his mouth: “Out with it, John, who’s this so-called sister?”

            John twists his lips, quieting all but a name, a name he seems loath to utter: “Ophelia–”  

The gaoler titles her name: “Lady Witch Ophelia, casting dark spells of death.”  

A moorish witch as sister?  Whether real or rumored, evil witches be condemned to hang.  Thus a gaoler cannot release her for any amount of coin.  

John wraps his fist around the gaolor’s doublet, cinching his collar into his fat throat.  “Come your ways, man, thou hast kept breath in her only so she can suffer.”  

            “Nay, pity me, for I pitied her.” 

            John grinds his teeth as if to spit, then releases the corpulent key master.  

            “Pity?”  Will casts out his word like a curse: “Pity?  Pity would be to press the breath from her.”  Pity, the word, leadens Will’s gut with the weight of stone.  Pity lives not in this world.  There’s no pity for this witch.  Was there pity for Will’s child?  Nay, Hamnet, a mere eleven summers, so freshly interred the dirt’s still wet, overwhelms Will, so that he thinks to kiss–yes, kiss Ophelia!–to ease her on her way, offering beatitudes without the power to cure, but perchance to console.  A consolation never granted his dead boy. 

            How now, doth John seem to think the same?  He bends as if to kiss her!  No–this is Will’s kiss.  Fate stole Hamnet’s goodbye–this too?  Will starts to stop John, as if John’s lips might be brands, newly stoked to burn.  Then Will’s eyes open: Envy.  Ugly as the ugliest horror here.  Naked envy pours over Will.  In that dank dungeon, with a woman’s ruinous station smiting him, Will knows only what blights his sight: her breath, her beauty, her dreams destroyed, his dream aborted, unborn.  Then, not pity, not envy.  Grief.  That is the stone’s name that sinks his gut. 

John wedges himself between Will and the prone Ophelia.  He lowers his lips to Ophelia’s, to mix his living exsufflation with her death breath.  

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