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When he dropped in his chair the revelers went wild with enthusiasm, and Marlowe and Southampton wished to know where the “Stratford Boy” got the poem !
William smiled, tapped his forehead and tossed off a bumper of brandy to the cheers that still demanded more mental food.
But as it was two by the clock, our friend Field suggested that we retire, when Marlow and himself took us in a carriage to the Devil Tavern, where we slept off our first spree in London.
“O thou invisible spirit of wine,
Let us call thee Devil!”
and William had a shade of melancholy remorse flash over his usually bright countenance.
He abstractedly remarked: “Well, Jack, we are making a fine start for fame and fortune. The stride we took last night, at the Boar's Head, will soon land us in Newgate or Parliament !"
I replied that it made little difference to intellectual artists whether they served their country in prison or in Parliament, for many a man was in Newgate who might honor Parliament, and many secret scoundrels who had not been caught should be inmates of Newgate, or, if equal justice prevailed, their bodies be dangling on the heights of Tyburn! “A Daniel come to judgment; yea, a Daniel! O wise young judge, how I do honor thee!”
Poise the cause in justice' equal scales,
It was ten o'clock when we stretched our weary legs under the breakfast table of Meg Mullen, who had prepared for us a quartette of fat mutton chops, with salt pork, baked potatoes, a huge omelet and a boiling pot of black tea, sent, as she said, by the Emperor of China for the guests of the Boar's Head Tavern!
Meg was a jolly wench, and garnished her food with pleasant words and witty quips, believing that love and laughter aided digestion and cheered the traveler in his journey of life.
I reminded William that he had a business engagement with the great theatrical monarch, Richard Burbage, at noon at the Blackfriars.
The Bard was ready for a stroll, and after brushing our clothes and smiling at the variegated guests, we sauntered into the street toward the Thames, and soon found the entrance to the renowned Blackfriars Theatre.
A call-boy ushered us into the presence of the great actor and manager, who greeted us with a snappish "Good morning!”
A number of authors and actors were waiting their turn to see the prince of players, whose signet of approval or disapproval finished their expectations. It was Saturday and pay day.
Turning abruptly to William, the proprietor said: “I understand you know something about theatres and acting ?”
"Try me; you shall be my judge." “Then, sir, from this hour you are appointed assistant property man and assistant prompter for the Blackfriars, at sixteen shillings a week, with chance of promotion, if you deserve it!
“Your business hours shall be from noon, every week day, until five o'clock; and from eight o'clock in the night until eleven o'clock, when you are at liberty until the next day!
“Do you accept the work ?" William promptly replied:
“I accept with immeasurable thanks, and like Cæsar of old, I cross the dramatic Rubicon."
The Bard was then introduced to Bull Billings, the chief property man and prompter, who at once initiated William into the machinery secrets of the stage, with its scenes, ropes, chains, masks, moons, gods, swords, bucklers, guns, pikes, torches, wheels, chairs, thrones, giants, wigs, hats, bonnets, robes, brass jewels, kings, queens, dukes, lords, and all the other paraphernalia of dramatic exhibition.
William was now launched upon the ocean of theatrical suns and storms, with Nature for his guide and everlasting glory for his name. "Lowliness is young ambition's ladder, Whereto the climber turns his face; But when he once attains the utmost round, He then unto the ladder turns his back, Looks in the clouds, scorning the base degrees By which he did ascend!”
"Sweet are the uses of adversity,
SHAKSPERE had now his foot firmly planted on the lower round of the ladder of fame, whose top leaned against the skies of immortality!
The fermentation of composition began again to work within his seething brain, and the daily demands of the Blackfriars spurred him on to emulate if not surpass Kyd, Lodge, Greene and Marlowe.
During the time Shakspere had been a strolling player through the middle towns of England he had studied the works of Ovid and Petrarch, and read with pleasure the sonnets and Arcadia of Sir Philip Sidney.
While playing at Kenilworth, the Lady Anne Manners, young and beautiful cousin to the Earl of Leicester, honored the young actor with great praise for his part in playing the Lover in “Love's Conquest.” She presented the Bard with a bunch of immortelles, that. even when withered, he always kept in an inside pocket, and at various times composed sonnets to his absent admirer, playing Petrarch to another Laura.
The languishing, luscious, lascivious poem of “Venus and Adonis" was really inspired by the remembrance of Miss Manners, and imagination pictured himself and the lady as the principals in the sensuous situation !
William, like Dame Nature, was full of lifesap, that circled through his body and brain with constant motion and sought an outlet for the surplus volume of ideal knowledge, in theatrical action, teaching lessons of right and wrong, with vice and virtue struggling forever for the mastery of mankind.
The Bard worked night and day in his duties as theatrical drudge for the Blackfriars, and made himself valuable and solid with old Burbage, who saw in the young actor a marvelous development of new thought and force, that had never before been seen on the British stage.
In a few weeks Bull Billings was discharged for tyranny and drunkenness, and my friend William was given the place of chief property man and prompter.
Various plays were put on and off the Blackfriars stage, through the hisses or cheers of the motley audience, the autocrats of the “pit" seeming to be the real umpires of the cessation or continuance of the most noted plays.
The last week in October, 1586, was a mournful time for London, as the greatest favorite of Queen Elizabeth, Sir Philip Sidney, was to receive a State funeral at Saint Paul's.