A Bard in the Hand by Liz Turner


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  A BARD IN THE HAND (or Love’s Labours Wonne)

      ACT 1 Scene (i):  Prologue

      (Time – the 16th century)

      (16th C music plays.  The curtains open in semi darkness, moonlit
      from outside, on a gracious 16th century room, the walls panelled; in
      the wall R, is a door opening inwards leading to the corridor.. On the
      back wall a large stone mullioned window, to L of the window, a
      mediaeval picture of the Virgin. A bed with its head against the wall
      UL, downstage of it a modern desk and chair, a door DL. Wood
      panelling, covers the wall R, a small table and stool downstage of the
      door. A large 16thC chair stands C. The room is empty and in darkness;
      moonlight streams through the window.

      We hear an echoey sound of lute strings, a swipe across the open
      strings, then, at first faintly then increasing in volume, echoey
      voices, off, reciting a Latin lesson, first WILL, the teacher, (a
      young man’s voice,) then the pupils, learning by rote.)

      WILL: (off) This, nominative: Hic haec hoc

      PUPILS: (off) Hic, haec, hoc

      WILL: Accusative: hunc, hanc hoc

      PUPILS: (off) Hunc hanc hoc

      (Voices mingle, reverberate, and suddenly stop)

      ACT 1 Scene (i):  (Modern day)

      Lighting for evening, modern day.

      Enter R LADY C, who is carrying JACK’s case with ease, Jack Forrest,
      carrying a scruffy briefcase,  followed by ANNIE carrying JACK’s
      mobile, ipad and laptop. ANNIE and JACK are both very impressed by
      their mediaeval surroundings.

      LADY C: Welcome to Horton Tower”

      JACK:  Wow! Lady Celia, this is unbelievable!

      LADY C:  Oh, call me Lady C, that’s what everyone calls me. To my
      face anyway./

          (ANNIE hands JACK his various gadgets)

      ANNIE: /Don’t forget the twenty-first century – you left them on
      the seat of my car.

      JACK: Oh, thanks Annie…

      LADY C: /Bit old fashioned but hopefully not too cold. Heating’s
      been on all day.

          (She dumps case by desk)

      ANNIE:...and your crib sheets.

          (she hands him a folder which he obviously does not want Lady C to
      see)

      JACK: Thanks-

      ANNIE: Well, if you’re settled, I’d better be off…

      JACK: Thanks a million for the lift – saved my life! Maybe we can
      meet for a drink some time?

      ANNIE: Maybe! Who knows?

      LADY C: Damp, you see. Curse of inherited property. (indicating phone
      etc) Doubt you’ll get much of a signal for those, either.

      JACK: Really, it seems too good to be true. Palatial!

      LADY C: Well, at least it’s habitable!. There’s water coming
      through the ceiling along the corridor. Tea?

      ANNIE: I should really be-

      JACK: I’m fine, thanks-

          (Lady C steps to phone on desk and dials internal number.)

      LADY C: /Rose? Can you bring some tea up to the Schoolroom, please?
      Good girl.

          (JACK and ANNIE exchange helpless glances; Lady C replaces phone)

      ….. And that’s not to mention the bats in the attic.

      JACK: Sorry?

      LADY C: We’ve got bats in the attic. Protected, of course, the
      little beasts, so all the rats, mice and squirrels are having a whale
      of a time up there chewing through the cables,  and we can’t do a
      thing about it.

          (She laughs cheerfully; a slightly awkward pause follows, waiting for
      tea…)

      Do sit down.


      (They sit; LADY C on desk chair L, JACK on bed, ANNIE on
      “Shakespeare” chair R by table)

      That chair’s 16th century. It’s alright, it won’t collapse!  It’s been going
      strong for 400 years or so.

      JACK: So – maybe Shakespeare himself could even have sat there!

      LADY C: Oh, absolutely. (beat) Not in this house though. Got it in
      auction about thirty years ago…..Very good of you, by the way, to
      stand in for Professor Quayle at such short notice.  What was it – a
      broken collarbone, did he say?

      JACK: Er yes, I believe so….. /Fell off a ladder.

      ANNIE: (at the same time).../fell off his bicycle…

          (she shoots a surprised glance at JACK)

      LADY C: Really? I could have sworn you said he was thrown by a horse?

      JACK: Oh, yes, yes, it may well have been a horse. He’s American, of
      course… I didn’t really get the full story.

      ANNIE: (quickly) The English department was very grateful that Jack
      was available….

      (changing the subject -there is obviously something wrong here)

      So; how old is this house?

          (she picks up the printed Guide to the house, on the table R, and
      studies it)

      LADY C: Earliest part’s thirteenth century -  And I expect you know
      about our tradition that William Shakespeare was a tutor here as a
      teenager?

      ANNIE: Is that really true?

      LADY C: There’s some quite convincing evidence, including a bequest
      to one young William Shakeshafte in a 16th century will – I can show
      you some time….Anyway, it’s our tradition and we’re sticking to
      it. Now -I’m afraid the WiFi’s a bit patchy up here- and there’s no TV…

      JACK: (moving back to C) I’ll have plenty to do once the students arrive.

      LADY C: They’re mostly American and Japanese. No idea of history at
      all – one of them asked me once where King Arthur lived. She seemed
      to think he was a contemporary of Queen Victoria and Gandalf!...Mind
      you, on the other hand, we’ve had people who actually like to dress
      in sixteenth century costume. Takes all sorts! Oh, by the way, the
      electrics can be a bit temperamental. There’s a little torch on the
      desk over there for emergencies.

      JACK: Right…

      (There is a knock at the door and ROSE comes in with the tea. She is a
      Lancashire lass)

      LADY C:  Ah! Rose! This is Rose Livesey, our housekeeper. Basically
      keeps the place going singlehandedly. This is Jack Forrest, Rose, and
      Annie Walsh, from Manchester University..

      JACK:  Pleased to meet you, Rose

          (ROSE smiles, nods, and serves tea)

      LADY C: All shipshape for the workshop, Rose?

          (ROSE moves to between Annie and Lady C)

      ROSE: All sorted Lady C. I’m sure Jack’ll be fine – as long as
      he doesn’t bump into the ghosts

      JACK: Oh, you have a ghost?

      LADY C: Well, of course! Every self respecting ancient pile has. The
      house, that is, not me!

          (she laughs at her own joke, JACK and ANNIE join in politely)

      ROSE: We’re supposed to be the fourth most haunted house in England.
      (reciting in her “guide” voice) We’ve got a White Lady who mostly walks at
      night, across the main road outside the house – she’s stopped a few cars!
      And there’s summat on the back stairs- and then of course this room is
      supposed to be haunted by William Shakespeare himself!

      ANNIE: This is just for tourists, I assume? I mean, you don’t really
      believe in ghosts?

      LADY C:  (laughing heartily ) Good God no! Lot of nonsense. I’ve
      never had so much as a sniff of one. But I’m not from Lancashire
      originally – maybe you need to be a Lancastrian! It’s good for the
      visitors, though, eh Rose?

      ROSE:  (grinning)  Course it is. It’s amazing how many of them seem
      to get a funny feeling after you’ve told them that there’s supposed to be
      a ghost haunts just about where they’re standing.

      ANNIE: So what about you Rose? Are you local?

      ROSE: We’ve been here as long as this house, and probably longer.
      Graveyard’s stuffed with our family names – Liveseys, Cottams, Moxhams.

      LADY C: You’re not from these parts of course, Jack…?

      JACK:  (inventing) Well, actually - according to my Dad we did have
      some sort of family ancestor from a place called ...Clayton–le-Woods?

      LADY C: Oh, yes – just a couple of miles up the road. What was he
      – farmer? Landowner?

      JACK:  Actually,  he was – um – a poet. I believe he went by the
      name of er -Jack the Rhymer.

      ANNIE: (sceptically) Jack the Rhymer. Of Clayton-le-Woods? Sounds as
      if he was a mate of Chaucer’s.

          (JACK tries to look sincere)

      You’re kidding me!

      JACK: Not at all. My old Dad often spoke of him. Mind you he was often
      drunk.

      ANNIE: So - creativity obviously runs in the family.

      LADY C:  (having lost interest)  Really. How interesting. Now –
      Annie -you’re welcome to stay the night. You can drive back to
      Manchester tomorrow, surely?

      ANNIE: Thanks, but I only came to give Jack a lift because his car’s
      off the road.

      LADY C: Well, drive safely. I need to get some shut-eye. Off to
      Norfolk tomorrow.

          (JACK stands)

      Got an old schoolfriend down there –she’s on her last legs, poor
      old thing so I thought I’d try to see her before she pops her clogs….
      Enjoy your stay.  Nice to meet you Annie.

          (exit LADY C)

      JACK: Goodbye – bon voyage.

          (He turns to find ROSE still waiting)

      ROSE:  Anything else I can do for you?

      JACK:  I’m fine, I think. – The bathroom..?

      ROSE:  Oh yeah – that door, there. This used to be the schoolroom
      centuries ago. It was made into a bedroom in the thirties. Luckily,
      it’s been modernised since. Lots of “modern features,” as the
      estate agents say. I can show you, if you like?

      JACK:  I expect I’ll find them ok. Thanks, though. So – this is
      actually the room where Shakespeare might have spent some time? As
      tutor to the kids? If he ever really was here, that is?

      ROSE:  It’s a very old house. And he must have been living
      somewhere, mustn’t he?

      JACK:  It’s a great story, anyway.

      ROSE:  Nothing wrong with stories though, is there? We all need
      stories….Well,I ’m off now, then.  (to ANNIE)  I’ll be waiting to lock
      up – give me a knock in the parlour by the front door as you’re leaving.

      (She takes the tray and heads for the door. JACK opens it for her –
      she pauses for a second on the threshold, holding his gaze. She
      leaves, he shuts the door)

      ANNIE: Got a fan there, I think.

      JACK: My manly charm – irresistible as ever. Look – thanks for the
      lift, I really appreciate it

      (During the next he goes to suitcase and puts it on stand/table, and
      starts unpacking. Gets toiletries, goes off L to put them in the
      bathroom. Checks the wardrobe for hangers etc. Annie sits watching
      him, finishing her tea. Jack speaks would-be casually.)

      It really would be great to see you – maybe if you can spare an
      evening this week – I don’t expect I’ll be teaching in the evenings.

      ANNIE: I’ll have to check my diary….So…(teasing)  “Jack the
      Rhymer of Clayton-le-woods.”…!?

      JACK:  (still lying, defensively)  He’s – there’s a family
      legend. I just felt a bit out-ancestored. Even Rose’s family’s
      been here for generations….Very Elizabethan, isn’t it? I keep
      expecting the Bard to walk in any moment.

      ANNIE: Lady Macbeth seems ok, doesn’t she?

      JACK:  Very English, very tweedy. Not a dagger in sight. Hope she
      doesn’t suss that I’m a fraud. I was shitting myself she’d start
      asking me difficult questions about his early life. Good thing she’s
      leaving tomorrow.

      ANNIE: How d’you mean, a fraud?

      JACK:  (flustered, needs to think)  I meant – umm…...not the first
      choice.

      ANNIE: So – remind me how come you’re standing in for Professor
      Quayle?

      JACK:  I just happened to be hanging around the staff common room when
      Professor Quayle phoned in ill… But thanks for printing out those
      study notes on the plays. Just as a memory jogger. You know.

      ANNIE: Jack….you ARE an English graduate, aren’t you? You must
      have done loads of Shakespeare. You’ll be fine.

      JACK: Oh, yes, absolutely. Well, to be honest, I may be a bit rusty,
      and I don’t claim to be a world famous Shakespearean authority like
      Professor Quayle -

      ANNIE: Jack, you’re beginning to worry me. I told the Head of
      English that you were fine to take over. Don’t let me down!

      JACK: I won’t, I won’t.

      ANNIE:  Maybe I should just check back with Professor Quayle – he
      may be well enough to take over/ in a few days -

      JACK:  /NO!

      ANNIE:  Sorry?

      JACK:  Annie – look, ok, Professor Quayle may not actually know that
      I’m here.

      ANNIE:  What do you mean? Of course he knows about it – you showed
      me his email- you told me he’d fallen off his bicycle -

      JACK:  He didn’t write the email. I did. I saw the note about the
      workshop on the noticeboard a few weeks ago, and I nipped into his
      secretary’s office.

      ANNIE:  So he didn’t even know about the workshop? Let me get this
      straight. You wrote the email, supposedly from Professor Quayle,
      saying that he was too ill to take on this week’s workshop at Horton
      Tower, and recommending yourself as his substitute?

      JACK: Yes.

      ANNIE: Why on earth?

      JACK:  Because I’m broke! Because I’m only employed on a temporary
      part-time basis at the University! and I thought this place might inspire me
      and give me space to write.

      ANNIE: You said you were fully qualified!

      JACK: I am! Well,  I have got a degree in English, I’ve read a
      reasonable amount of Shakespeare, and I do think you’re gorgeous, if
      that helps.

      ANNIE:  (really angry, but trying not to shout)  Don’t even begin to
      think that that’s getting you anywhere, sunshine! What’s Professor
      Quayle going to think when he finds out?

      JACK: Leave him to me.

      ANNIE: Oh, I will!

      JACK: Look. Quayle had gone awol, not answering his emails, obviously
      not available for work – possibly drunk, we don’t know - so I
      stepped in. What could anyone possibly object to?

      ANNIE: I’m speechless.

      JACK: Will you come and see me this week? I’d like to take you out
      to dinner. Or lunch.

      ANNIE: You’ve got to be kidding! Anyway, what with? You’re broke.

      JACK:  Not that broke. I still eat dinner. Annie – seriously –
      I’m sorry if you think I’ve tricked you – but I just really need
      this job. Sometimes, I don’t think I’ll ever write again.

      ANNIE:  I’m not a writer, but I’ve heard that determination and
      hard work are ninety per cent of the game. There’s no such thing as
      “inspiration.” You’ve got to work at it. No point just lying
      back and waiting for failure.

      JACK:  It saves time.

      ANNIE:  Don’t be flippant. I’ve seen it happen before, with my Dad
      – he had so much talent, but no ambition. Never got off his arse so
      he wasted his potential and died a defeated drunk.

      JACK:  Oh, I think I could be quite a successful drunk.

      ANNIE: Not even slightly funny.
          (beat)
      You’ve put me in a really difficult position.

      JACK:  Let me make it up to you – come and have lunch on Wednesday.

      ANNIE:  Why on earth would I do that? I should just inform the
      university!.....Jack – you’d better make this good, here! It’s
      my arse on the line as well as yours!

      JACK:  I will, I promise. For you. Annie, I really appreciate this –
      you’re a star!

      ANNIE: Don’t push it. OK. For now, I won’t say anything at Uni –
      but you’ve got to make a success of this week!

          (She goes to the door and turns, relenting slightly.)

      Midsummer’s night tonight, you know. Let’s hope it’s a good
      omen.

      JACK:  So I should probably be out washing my face in the dew at
      midnight, or going out to the woods to see if I can dream up my future
      husband..…Sure you can’t stay? ... See you Wednesday, then?

      ANNIE:  I’ll leave you to the ghosts. Don’t let me down!

      JACK:  Thanks, Annie. I mean it.

      ANNIE: Yeah…. got to go. Good luck.

      (JACK shuts the door behind ANNIE. He breathes a huge sigh of relief.
      He switches off the main light, sits down at the desk and turns on the
      desk light, opens his lap-top, looks at the print-outs from ANNIE,
      flips through a few pages, and makes some notes. The desk light
      flickers a few times. He looks up the first couple of times, then is
      reassured when the desk light steadies.  Suddenly the light goes out
      completely. He shudders.)

      JACK:  God it’s cold in here – I swear there’s a draft that
      comes right from the bowels of the earth

      (he waits a few seconds, then fumbles about for the torch and switches
      it on. It is a little maglite, small but quite powerful in a small
      area. He goes to light switch by the door – flips it up and down,
      but nothing happens, opens door and sticks his head out)

      Hello? Hello?

          (he listens)

      Anyone there?

      (he waits a few seconds, undecided, then shuts the door. We see his
      torch light heading for the bathroom off L, We hear the toilet flush,
      then he re-enters and goes to his bed, which he gets into, switching
      off the torch and settling down to sleep. We soon hear deep and even
      breathing.

      A drift of twangy, echoing 16thC lute.We see the light flicker on
      again - i.e. the desk lamp which he hadn’t turned off after the
      power failure. By its dim light we catch a fleeting glimpse of someone
      in doublet and hose leaning by the window, his back against the R hand
      frame, apparently watching JACK)

      Blackout.

      Act 1 Scene (ii)

      (Morning of the next day. Cheerful modern music.  JACK comes out of
      his bathroom, rubbing his face with a towel, half dressed. There is a
      knock on his door.)

      ROSE:  (off)  Hiya, morning Jack, I’ve brought you a cup of tea. Do
      you want breakfast?

      JACK:  Oh, thanks! – er – yeah, come in, Rose.

      (Enter ROSE with the tea tray, leaving the door, which opens inwards,
      ajar. She puts the tray on the table by the door)

      ROSE:  Sorry about the electrics going off last night.  Need to get
      the whole place rewired, in my opinion. Did you manage OK?

      JACK:  No problem. Slept like a log.

      ROSE:  Breakfast downstairs. Turn right at the foot of the stairs and
      third door on your left.

      JACK:  Thanks, Rose, I’ll be down in ten minutes.

      (She exits. He shuts the door and turns away into the room – WILL
      touches his shoulder as he passes then- double take – JACK turns
      back towards the door. Behind it is WILL, dressed in 16th century
      doublet and hose, pressed against the wall. JACK sees him and freezes.
      Five long seconds pause)

      WILL:  (tensely)  What country, friend, is this?

          (JACK is speechless, backs away)

      Speak, friend!

      (JACK supposes this must be one of the workshop students who has
      wandered in by mistake. WILL is disoriented, looking round at the
      room, checking for familiar landmarks, and for any dangers)

      JACK:  You’re – oh, God, of course! Um –actually, registration
      is downstairs. You gave me a hell of a fright, I can tell you!

      WILL:  Why, what’s the matter?

      JACK:  You’re in my room, that’s what’s the matter! I suppose
      you are here for the course. – How did you -?

      WILL:  This is the schoolroom! I knew it well.

      JACK:  Did you? Did you come last year? But this year, I’m afraid,
      the schoolroom is actually my bedroom, so if you wouldn’t mind…

      WILL:  You speak strangely, friend.

      JACK:  Well, I thought you were –

          (pause for him to remember how very uncomfortable he felt)
      Anyway, as I was explaining, this isn’t the schoolroom nowadays, the
      course is being held downstairs.

          (WILL is still looking around at the walls, the window, the beams)

      WILL:  And yet – I see these walls, and summon up remembrance of
      things past – some fifteen years agone, since last I dwelt here –
      but such a change since then?.

      JACK:  I know, I know, it’s quite overwhelming, isn’t it? All this
      history – but I must say, you’re certainly dressed for the part.
      In fact, go on, then, who are you supposed to be? No, let me guess –
      you’re William Shakespeare!

      WILL:  If I do not usurp myself, I am.

      JACK:  Oh, very good, very good! No, it’s a great costume, looks
      really – lived in.

      WILL:  Nay but truly ...

          (He pushes off the wall, looking around warily, and steps towards
      JACK)

      ... tell me friend, how come you here, why speak you so strange, and wear
      such outlandish apparel?

      JACK:  Me? That’s rich!  I’m not the one in fancy dress -

[end of extract]



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