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God stands up for bastards: an extract

‘Gods Stand Up For Bastards’: An Extract

Roles in the Play

Christopher MARLOWE, A malcontent atheist, former spy, presumed dead;

Benjamin JONSON, Prolific playwright, unhappy in marriage;

Emilia BASSANO, Aristocratic poet and flirt;

Earl of DERBY, Committed agent of the monarchy.

Enter Bassano and Jonson

Bassano I thought the King had more affected the Earl of Derby than Sir Bacon.

Jonson It did all ways seem so to us, but now past coronation all the world has been turned on its head. He weighs equalities so curiously these days.

Bassano I hear that Derby near tore his sister’s head in court last Wednesday.

Jonson I have heard these tales of our esteemed chairman, yet we are his devoted officers, and we must act accordingly. Just a pin-prick upon his Courtly Self might prove dire.

Bassano Perhaps. Yet as my history with pin-pricks dictates, a little stab at the thing can never really crack it.

Jonson So best to take a bludgeon and be don w’it?

Bassano Wit is perhaps what needs sharpening in you, Sir.

Jonson Pray tell me what you mean?

Bassano A little tattle about the Earl of Derby’s sister is nothing. Any old player can fashion a knife from dreams, and prick others w’it, who might beget such wounds further, yet the Lord lives on, and his truth is the sword.

Jonson Do not let Mephistopheles catch your words of Christ. I cannot bear to hear him prattle on about it.

Bassano Mephistopheles? Fie, has the atheist worked himself upon you so, that you call him by Satanic names?

Jonson It is but a tease.

Bassano Does the wretched fellow have a worthy friend? Oh, the scandal: forthright Jonson mingles with the deceased!

Exuent. Enter Marlowe.

Marlowe Again, to the chamber.

How prison cells can stretch ‘cross time and space:

He, somehow, is here once more. For ten years–

or is it twelve? his mind plays dirty tricks–

His secret self has slept on grainy stone,

Where royal dungeons, Hell for Faust on Earth,

Proved too much suffering is not enough.

He asks, to nothing in particular,

But visions of the muse upon the rock

Why now do memories come flooding back?

What purpose has his meaninglessness wrought?

In brief, the fiction he has always chased:

How Marlowe fell to Earth without a trace.

Though Christ was there when he was borne to God

His back was turned, His voice projected on

To Great Green fields that England thought were hers

And Kings and Queen that bore the crown of thorns…

Who turned it to a gilded ornament?

Who sat on velvet cushions and decreed,

Their subjects err should they reject the creed?

His voice, too loud for the auld Tudor crown,

(Or is it Godwin, or Plantagenet?

His stars, aligned, have forced him to forget)

Proved his petard to hoist him from the scene

And brand him traitor, atheist or rat

Or worse: by death she offered him reprieve

But subtle choice was placed before his feet.

To write for her, in covert terms, pander

To messages her court would wish to send

Out to freemen o’the land, but hidden

Behind a face called Shakespeare. (Poorly written).

Alas, why would the Lord grace his dreams now

If he could make him shudder with such fear?

To cast him down, for Her his life to pluck

For asking if the Queen had teats to suck.

Now she is gone. He could not ask for more,

Because the Scottish King is due to fall.

Before our Virgin Queen’s quite timely death

This group of writers scurried in a line

To kneel before her censured made-up face

And please those formless, daffodillic eyes;

Though information spread to them before

Her nightgown held a cold and diseased shell,

Great Derby, man of esteemed rights and wealth

Shed not one tear, nor verse. We are alike.

He is the greatest barrier to truth,

And the great fiend he must avoid to please…

Sometimes Marlowe is stopped by questions dear.

If in the Crown, or Dukes, or Earls, God lies,

Then Lust and Greed and Fear are Godly ties.

To see beyond the veil of Isis is

To find in power dust, or lack of it.

Tempted, yes, to pack up his case and flee:

But now what nourish him has destroyed me.

Enter Derby, Jonson, Bassano

Bassano I see the devil rises once again.

Marlowe I see her face before me as I speak.

Jonson Be calm, Marlowe.

Marlowe Calm comes quick to stupid men.

Jonson I observe foul moods today.

Derby As any other. While His Grace maintains the status quo in London we shan’t know any different.

Meantime we will express our darker purposes.

The map there. Know we have unified

Our three kingdoms into one; and ‘tis our intent

To shake all notions otherwise from view

Confirming them on blasphemers.

Marlowe Perhaps the plot against the King has worsen’d his fears.

Derby Far from it. The King, with great resolve,

Has caught the trespassers in the midst

Of sabotaging our great Parliament in London.

They sit in the same cells you once slept, Marlowe.

Marlowe Oh, what perfidious scheme did these villains play out?

I picture goat’s feet, hung from walls

In tribute to their Pompous Head

And minute scribblings of rituals

To summon Cath’lic ghosts to haunt his bed…

Derby They tried to blow it up.

Marlowe With evil brimstone? The horror, Derby…

Derby Gunpowder. They shall be tried come Micklemas.

Marlowe Surely, some romantic notions of the liberators

Might not spring to mind in the visions of our fair people?

Derby With any grace, they do not need to know.

Marlowe (Aside) Fie, his brittle mind is cancerous.

Jonson (Aside) Said the Cancer on our Crown.

Derby To wit. I have brought Holinshead again.

Bassano But why, dear Derby? Holinshead is such a bore.

Derby Because your fickle and unrepentant female mind

Has like to spin it into gold. Now, I have found a tale:

Told, according to the distinguished historian

By a fellow named Monmouth, who wrote of the King, Leir

Of the Britons; who divided his kingdom between his daughters

Only to have them fall into disrepair and conflict.

As chairman of the Society for His Admirable, Kind and Esteemed

Shadow Playwrights in Earnest Action Regarding England, I propose our next play as Leir; for what might be

More apt a tale to tell? Leir, strong, follows folly

In his divisions. United, he may not have fallen.

Marlowe If we are so content to follow through with unity,

Should not our good friend now go by Shakespeargb?

Derby Unproductive, heathen, and importantly lacking substance.

Marlowe My deepest sympathies, dear Derby. I shall remove myself forthwi—

Derby You shall sit in your chair or the chimes will ring for you.

Marlowe (Aside) How he uses my own Falstaff ‘gainst me!

Derby And, with the necessary instruction, I shall leave the committee

With Chronicles and bid farewell. There is a matter of

urgent importance, and it is my burden alone. Exit

Marlowe United. Pah! What roguish Irishman would kneel?

Bassano Why, any that might wish to live, Marlowe.

Is thy head so full of poison that the idea might be lost?

The King is the King. There is no other, and by his

Gracious sceptre must the kingdoms fall in place.

Otherwise, what state exists? To bind together,

Not to pull apart, is the divine duty of the monarch.

Marlowe Yet how difficult to comprehend for you,

That any kind of holy work may not be done

If it be done by human hands. And what is the King,

But a man?

Bassano The man may have been borne to that disastrous Northern Queen,

And perhaps he was called James and perhaps he was a boyish sort,

With dreams of life at peace and a harlot on his arm.

But on his ascension, by the grace of God almighty,

(And whether you believe or not, old knave,

All people worship God; and thus, it makes Him so)

The man was cast from record, stripped of all his deeds

And in his place was erected a monument to Christ,

A tower, viewed from everywhere, to bind the land it sees.

A man is not a man if he is but a walking symbol;

This image is collected. It is known by people.

Jonson Good devil, see this very room.

Who is our esteemed playwright if he is not all of us?

Marlowe And if our playwright held his merit as a symbol,

All of Christendom would be shaking their cocks.

Bassano Pah. As always, he resorts to baser measures.

I grow tired of this – today, you are quite vile.

Gentle Jonson, man of great thoughts and greater wealth –

Acquaint thyself with Holinshead

And write to me should beatific poetry be needed.

Adieu, mon cher, and think of me tonight

When that sour grape begins to snore.

(Aside) Away; for otherwise I shall lose track of him.

Oh Derby, though your swift and proper nature may suffice

To fool the royal court for years

I know a farmer’s girl in Stratford

Who wishes you to taste her tears… Exit

Marlowe Why do you let this dainty adder seduce you Jonson?

Not only does she pile the work t’you,

But thy own scripts dive deeper than her cunt.

Surely your wife cannot be so disgusting.

Jonson Aye, the wife would make a cuckold of me

If she had Emilia’s body. Just a game, dear wretch;

And besides, what have you done since Hamlet,

But sit and sulk and wish us dead?

At least she wrote some songs last time.

Marlowe Lately confinement has me wresting

With the shadowwes of my glorious past.

I remember the favour of the Queen,

While I was printing coins in the seditious lowlands.

Humorous. I now recall the Catholic I was after

Bore the same name as the old Earl of Oxford.

Jonson Mephistopheles. Thy memories are wrong’d

When they are taken o’ th’ grave. I fear

You are not in your perfect mind.

Marlowe Perfect mind? Have you gone mad with softness?

Should I inform the King?

Jonson For my own peace, I would stay far from the King.

In privacy – and trust, moreover –

I give to you a truthful secret:

Things in our great and, yes, Godly State

Will get much worse before they get better.

Marlowe Perhaps, Jonson, we could plot a scheme together.

Jonson I do love a scheme.

Marlowe Dost thou purport to believe in the unity of the symbol?

Jonson Once, perhaps, but no longer.

Marlowe And woulds’t thou, mayhaps, be amenable

To taking Leir and shaking him?

Difficult, but not impossible,

As we have come to learn so slowly

To tell two stories in a script;

One easy t’swallow, sweetbread, fruit

The other bitter to the lecherous tongue;

One side affirming all who perceive

In their rightful place on Earth;

The other side to pluck him up

And through a tempest throw his mind?

To write, in brief, a play that might

Stir underneath the conscious man

A monolithic creature of the deep

Who, one day, awakens with a start.

For it is truth we pursue, good Jonson,

And truth is but an angle on a fact.

Jonson You are a devious sort, you know.

Marlowe And you a good, upstanding man.

Yet smirks and gestures with the head

Are the pure testaments of truth;

Not scribbled words, nor made up symbols.

Jonson I shall read the Histories, and we shall speak no more on this…

Unless thy will dictates you help me with my problem.

Marlowe Ho, what?

Jonson Convince the Lady Bassano to spend a night

With feeble, ever-loving Jonson

Perhaps in Parliament, next to the Lords

Or down in Canterbury, Kent.

Marlowe Ah ha! Not so upstanding is the man

Who would bring shame upon his wife.

But surely you are quick enough to tell

Bassano’s villainy with men?

Jonson If the world be ready to explode,

I have a many sinner to offload.

Marlowe Of course! Why, of the sins I myself carry,

‘Tis pride that bursts from seam to seam for thee.

Jonson: you shalt make a gracious goon

And Leir the symbol falters soon.

For if this is all Kingship be,

When Leir’s realms split The man must flee.

All ornaments fall off him,

All holy grounds become but dirt.

What made him King was brutal rule.

What cause him death is but the truth.


- Jack Helsdown

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