Shakespeare the Musical by Cenarth Fox
(OVERTURE begins. Curtain rises on stage with minimum scenery but
maximum cast. It is a frozen tableaux. Dress the stage with your cast.
Drunks are sleeping/swigging. Ladies and gentlemen are out walking.
Children are playing. Prostitutes are laughing with prospective
customers. A man has a bear on a chain. A hawker has tray of goods for
sale. Some strolling players (buskers) are dancing/entertaining
onlookers. One or more enthusiastic ghouls have long spikes with a
decapitated head thereon. A bookseller sells books. TIP. The fewer
props the better. Mime where possible. Through the frozen tableaux,
WITCHES appear from different directions, move downstage and address
the audience. WITCHES indicate those mentioned in their speech)
WITCH 1 (Spoken over the music) Welcome to Merrie England. Did I say
merrie? Ah yes. A land of dreamy summer days, village greens and
rosy-cheeked children. A place of languid beauty, hedgerows, hedgehogs
and steadfast Christian love.
WITCH 2 Sadly, this part of Merrie England is anything but merrie.
This is London, 1593. Bubonic plague is rife. Open sewers invade the
senses. St. Paul's is crowded with drunks, traders and prostitutes.
Bishopsgate has a splendid row of decapitated heads and the Bear Pit
allows dogs and bears to tear themselves apart for your entertainment.
WITCH 3 Even our own Queen Elizabeth loves the Bear Pit. Let's face
it. Who needs theatre? Who needs actors? It's here, right now,
before our very eyes. (Announces) All the world's a stage!
(COMPANY comes alive in boisterous even threatening fashion. WITCHES
either exit or melt into the crowd. The COMPANY sing)
No. 1 All The World's A Stage
COMPANY Human heads on the spikes make a grisly view
(Heads are jiggled, crowd excited/disgusted)
Steal anything and they may well execute you
(Frightened thief pushed forward and jeered)
Plague all around killing parents, children too
(Plague victim screams, collapses)
See the sights of London. See the sights.
Vicious dogs ripping vicious dogs and bears
(Bear on chain moves in and of excited crowd)
St. Paul's church where the drunks and pimps they sell wares
(Drunk and prostitute argue/fight)
Pee or puke by that duke because no-one cares
(Nobleman enraged at impolite urchin)
See the sights of London. See the sights.
Every person's a player, every life is a play
Every street is a scenic treat with a show-time beat every day
Every life is a story of love, hope, grief and rage
Every person's a player, all the world is a stage.
CRIMINALS We're the low life, we're in strife, we're so bad
The low bred, no bread class.
WEALTHY We're the wealthy, more healthy, we're part mad
The well bred, well fed class.
WORKERS We're the workers, no shirkers, we're not glad
The warhead, sorehead class
COMPANY We're the actors, performers, the players
In life's most tragic farce.
(COMPANY enact their lives. Chorus is repeated Song ends. Stirring
finale. COMPANY exit in many directions during exit music. Lighting
dims. WITCH 1 is lit and addresses audience. Speak over the exit music
if possible to keep the show moving. TEACHER enters in darkness)
WITCH 1 Welcome to our tale of love, romance, freshly baked bread and
murder. Welcome to the heart of England and the busy market town of
Stratford by the river Avon. (Light dims. Crossfade to Witch 2)
WITCH 2 The year is 1572, our Queen is Elizabeth the First and
everything you're about to see is absolutely true. (New voice) Well,
almost. (Light dims. Crossfade to Witch 3)
WITCH 3 It's six a.m. and the boys at Stratford Grammar are about to
start school. Let's enter their classroom remembering that, "Some
men are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness
thrust upon them".
(FX Bell rings)
(Light dims on WITCH 3 who exits. MUSIC BEGINS. Lights rise on
smallish part of stage. School boys - aged 10-14 - at Stratford
Grammar enter and stand or sit on floor or benches facing front.
TEACHER stands watching the students enter. They sing)
No. 2 Latin Lovers
STUDENTS Up at five, come alive, say a simple prayer
Farewell folks, no more jokes, enter schoolroom bare
Just a bench, not a wench, school is just for boys
Read and write, get it right, learning has such joys. (Faster
Latin we learn in school, declension's the golden rule.
Habeas corpus, never to warp us, Latin we learn in school.
Maybe a little time for history but barely any time for sport
There's little time for our geography, we've got pronouns to
Latin we learn in school, for writers a triffic tool
To know ipse dixit, helps you to fix it
Latin we learn in school.
if not we burn in, Latin we learn in school. Ole!
(Dialogue over music. Excerpt adapted from The Merry Wives of
TEACHER (Welsh accent) How many numbers is in nouns?
TEACHER What is fair?
TEACHER What is lapis?
STUDENTS A stone.
TEACHER And what is a stone?
STUDENTS A pebble.
TEACHER (Angry) No! It is lapis.
STUDENTS It is lapis.
TEACHER What is he, William Shakespeare, that does lend articles?
SHAK'EARE(Young WILLIAM stands) Articles are borrowed of the
pronoun, and be thus declined. Singulariter nominativo: 'hic, haec,
TEACHER And what is your genitive case plural?
SHAK'EAREGenitivo: 'horum, haram, horum'. (WILLIAM sits)
TEACHER Now, declensions of pronouns. 'qui, que, quod'.
STUDENTS 'qui, que, quod' - thanks be to God.
(They sing again. Song ends. Bell sounds)
TEACHER Five o'clock. The end of another school day. We begin
tomorrow morning at six. Good evening, boys.
STUDENTS (Stand as one) Good evening, sir.
(They turn and slowly exit in solemn formation. Suddenly they yell
and exit running delighted to be out of school. They could even do a
lap or part thereof of the stage, even bump into WITCH 1. Lights dim.
TEACHER exits. Bench, if used, is removed. WITCH 1 is lit. WILLIAM
enters in darkness)
WITCH 1 The mayor of Stratford-upon-Avon is John Shakespeare. A good
man, he makes gloves for a living and dabbles a little in selling wool.
WITCH 2 (Crossfade lights. Up on WITCH 2) But Mayor Shakespeare's a
total loser at business. He's up to his chain of office in debt. And
he's got a wife and kids to support. That was his son William doing
the latin routine in school. (Lights up on WILLIAM who is frozen at
the side of the stage) And speak of the devil.
(Crossfade lights. Up on WITCH 3)
WITCH 3 (Referring to WILLIAM) Young Will's wending his way home to
Mum and Dad in Henley Street. (To WILLIAM) I wouldn't run if was
you, Will. The folks are havin' a bit of a domestic. (Grimaces)
(Crossfade lights. Down on WITCH/ES, up on JOHN and MARY where JOHN
stands/sits diagonally facing front. MARY is upstage. WILLIAM is
frozen UC. Parents are worried)
JOHN It's no use, Mary. I might be the mayor of Stratford but that
doesn't stop my creditors or those damn, snoopy parishioners.
MARY We could sell the property my father left me?
JOHN (Shaking head) No, I won't do that.
MARY Oh John, I warned you about borrowing money. It's so risky.
JOHN I don't want the children to know.
MARY Well fat chance there is of that. You're the mayor who's
stopped going to council. The whole town knows.
JOHN But if I go to council, my creditors hound me. And the same goes
MARY But at least you can only be sacked by the council. If you
don't go to church they'll think you're a secret Catholic.
(Pause. MARY worried) Oh you're not!
JOHN Be quiet. And never discuss this in front of the children,
(WILLIAM comes alive and moves to his parents. Fade UC light. ACTORS
enter in upstage darkness and wait C)
WILLIAM (Excited) Father, Mother, I've just seen the most fantastic
thing. In the market place there's a group of men. I think they're
MARY Hello son. (She embraces WILLIAM who is bursting with
JOHN They're strolling players, the Earl of Leicester's Men.
WILLIAM They've got costumes and swords and masks and drums and
everything. Can I go and watch them? Can I? Can I? Please?
MARY Your father will take you tomorrow.
WILLIAM But I want to go now. Oh please. I promise I'll come
MARY Oh go on, John. Let him go.
JOHN (Gives in) Oh very well. But see you come straight home.
WILLIAM (Thrilled) Yes! (Hurriedly kissing parents) Thank you. Thank
you. (Starts to exit) I can't wait to see what they do. It's
brilliant! See ya! (Exits)
MARY We should be thankful our eldest child is healthy and full of
life. One day he'll make a fine glover just like you.
JOHN (Scoffs) A glover! Wake up, woman. He's not like us. He goes to
school. He can read and write. He's got big ideas.
MARY But he's a good boy. He'll do what's right for his family.
JOHN Maybe. (Actors mutter in the darkness) Time'll tell.
(Lights fade on JOHN and MARY who exit. Crossfade lights C where
troupe of actors are unpacking from large trunk. NOTE. The actors
playing the ACTORS in this scene could double as the actors in the
London group later joined by Shakespeare. The muttering before the
last scene ends helps link the scenes, helps keep the story moving and
at a brisk pace)
ACTOR 1 Careful with those costumes, Charley. That one cost the
ACTOR 4 (Stop picking on me) I'm careful, all right?! Stop pickin'
ACTOR 2 What play are we doing? And don't say that old religious
thing again. (WILLIAM enters and watches)
ACTOR 3 (From inside/behind trunk stands up wearing horse's head) I
say, I say, I say. I'd like to horse around. (Removes horse's
head) Da-dah! (Ignored. Gets on with unloading) All right, please
ACTOR 1 And you mind those props. Damage that, lad, and you're a
ACTOR 2 (Sees WILLIAM) Well, hello there, young fella. What's your
WILLIAM (Moving closer) William, sir.
ACTOR 2 (Gentle mocking) William, sir. Sure that ain't Sir William?
ACTOR 1 Hey, you. Clear off, son. We're busy. (Returns to work)
ACTOR 2 (To WILLIAM) Don't mind him. He's just a frustrated actor,
manager, playwright and general dogsbody who ain't had his supper.
ACTOR 3 (Holding up crown) Hey. Shouldn't this 'ave more jewels?
(Others stop what they're doing and look at crown)
WILLIAM My father's the mayor.
ACTOR 1 If that's broken, matey, I'll ...
(Stops in mid-sentence. All ACTORS freeze and turn to look at
WILLIAM (Pause. Speaks confidently) My name's William Shakespeare
and my father's the mayor of Stratford-upon-Avon.
ACTOR 4 (Impressed) Your old man's the mayor? (WILLIAM nods)
ACTOR 2 (Sees WILLIAM in new light) Here? In Stratford? (WILLIAM
(ACTORS surround WILLIAM. They are suddenly very friendly. The mayor
determines their site, if they're allowed to perform - their RATE OF PAY)
ACTOR 1 William Shakespeare hey? That's a fine name. (OTHERS agree
"Fine name" etc) And what are you going to be when you grow up,
WILLIAM I help my father in his work. He makes beautiful gloves.
ACTOR 2 Ah, that's a fine trade, William. You'll be a first-class
ACTOR 3 Just like the old man, 'ey? (Other ACTORS agree)
WILLIAM Perhaps. But sometimes I think I might like to be something
ACTOR 1 (Playing a game) Ooo, I know, I know. You're going to be a
butcher. (OTHERS scoff. "A butcher!") No, a teacher. No, no. A
(The other ACTORS laugh. WILLIAM smiles but shakes his head)
ACTOR 2 Get real. The Reverend William Shakespeare. Never. He's
going to sell Stratford's finest ales and be a publican!
ACTOR 3 Nonsense. The lad's got a mind like a razor. He'll be
ACTORS (All teasing in a kind way) Ooooo. A gentleman. Ooooo.
WILLIAM Perhaps. (ACTORS settle) They all sound very interesting. But
I've decided. (Pause) I'm going to be an actor.
(ACTORS stunned. Genuine concern)
ACTOR 1 (Shocked. Gasps) An actor?
WILLIAM Yes. A strolling player. Just like you.
ACTOR 4 Dear child, have you gone mad? Are you insane?
ACTOR 2 (Upset) We're vagabonds, gypsies, tramps, the lowest of the
ACTOR 3 (Distressed) Shunned by au-forities, scorned by universities,
despised by the Church. Think well, my boy. This ain't no occupation.
ACTORS It's a life! (MUSIC BEGINS)
(ACTORS drag box DC produce shortish boards. You could have a mini
stage simply dragged out from the wings or just mime the construction
of a stage. The fewer props the better. WILLIAM becomes the audience
and the song is directed at him. He might sit on a barrel/trunk)
WILLIAM What are you doing?
ACTOR 4 These are boards, William. We place the boards together and
make a stage. And then ..... (Make the dialogue fit the opening music)
No. 3 Treading the Boards
ACTOR 1 Everybody's got to have a job
Earn their living, make an honest bob
ACTOR 2 Everybody's got to go to work
No forgiving if you're gonna shirk
ACTOR 3 We chose our occupation carefully
TROUPE A noble troupe of thespians are we.
We're treading the boards, just treading the boards
We practise histrionic art
We entertain hordes from lackeys to lords
Our jester will gesture and play every part.
The pay is pathetic, we're on if we get sick
And hope and pray some patron applauds
It's comic and tragic, the theatre is magic
When tread, tread, treading the boards.
Tread, tread, tread, treading the boards.
(TROUPE act out simple melodrama at bar 48 then at bar 80 invite
WILLIAM to join them. "Come on, son .. Up you come .. Of course
it's all right" etc. WILLIAM dances then sings with players. He
loves it. Be great if he can tap. This number is a joyful celebration
of showbiz and it should really fire the young Stratford boy - give
him something to dream about, to get excited about. Song ends with
ACTORS and WILLIAM in frozen pose. MARY enters as applause dies)
MARY (Stands and delivers. She's cross) William Shakespeare! (ACTORS
(Immediate action. Lights fade DC as the ACTORS bundle props into
trunk and exit. WILLIAM crosses to his mother. He is excited. He now
knows he wants to be an actor. MARY is dressed for church. We have
gone forward to next Sunday. Worshippers enter in darkness and gather
WILLIAM Oh mother, it's stupendous, it's awesome! I'm going to
be an actor.
MARY Not today you're not. Today you're going to church.
WILLIAM But mother. There are stories and travel and adventure and ...
MARY That's enough. Your family and the law are far more important
than this nonsense about play-acting.
WILLIAM (Polite defiance) It's not nonsense, mother. It's what I
want to do.
MARY You'll do as you're told. The Shakespeares go to church every
Sunday. We sit in the front pew. Today. Now!
(MUSIC BEGINS. They exit. Spot C. VICAR steps into it and begins
singing/speaking. When rap intro ends, bring up lights as congregation
move into church. They might be there already. The SHAKESPEARES could
enter UC when others are settled. JOHN could be wearing mayoral robe.
WILLIAM'S siblings - if used - with approx. ages are GILBERT 10,
JOAN 8, ANNE 5 and RICHARD 3. No seats need be used. Make use of
boxes/rostra for varying levels. Maybe bench from school or props from
players in previous scene. VICAR could be on a box a la pulpit)
No. 4 C of E
VICAR (Rap style. Yo, bro)Welcome people, share a smile,
Holy Trinity, Stratford style
Sabbath comes but once a week,
Worship 'specially for the meek
Vicar, congregation too, All we need is little old you
Prayers to pray and songs to sing
Okay folks now let's begin. (LIGHTS UP on congregation here or*)
King Henry told the Pope to go
I want my own church, don't you know
A local, vocal English show
And so we're C of E. (*or here)
COMPANY And so we're C of E, and so we're C of E
A local, vocal English show and so we're C of E.
CHURCHGOER 1 We go to church to show we're just
In God and Monarch both we trust
The law is sure we can't ignore the
Good ol' C of E.
COMPANY The good ol' C of E. The good ol' C of E
The law is sure we can't ignore the good ol' C of E.
CHURCHGOER 2 Our church was once a shining light
With tapestries and candles bright
King Henry's gruff, that stuff ain't right
And now we're C of E.
COMPANY And now we're C of E. And now we're C of E
King Henry's gruff, that stuff ain't right
And now we're C of E
VICAR The bible's full of triffic tales
Of curses, verses, giant whales
And Abel's fable's full of wails
Within the C of E.
COMPANY Within the C of E. Within the C of E.
And Abel's fable's full of wails within the C of E.
JOHN SHAKSPNow some of us we live in hope
That one day we'll get back our Pope
And each such dope will swing on rope
Unless they're C of E.
COMPANY Unless they're C of E. Unless they're C of E
And each such dope will swing on rope
Unless they're C of E.
Oh yes we're C of E. Oh yes we're C of E
The King's ring fling did bring this thing
Oh yes we're C of E!
(During instrumental break, maybe hold mock execution. Noose dangled
in front of JOHN who is terrified. Noose removed. Song ends with
congregation happy. BLACKOUT. COMPANY exit. WITCH 1 steps into spot
WITCH 1 We live in perilous times. Steal anything worth more than
seven pence and be hanged. Be a Catholic and y'middle name's
Martyr. And not just here in Stratford. Everywhere in England people
are touched by religion. (Her spot dims)
WITCH 2 (Steps into new light) Henry the Eighth wanted another
divorce, the Pope said "no" so Henry created the C of E, made
himself boss and gave himself a divorce. Hence the current suspicion,
hatred and bloodshed all in the name of religion. (Her spot dims)
WITCH 3 (Steps into new light) Now Henry's daughter, Elizabeth, our
present Queen, has followed in Daddy's C of E footsteps. This upset
the Pope no end. He called Lizzy a heretic and ex-communicated her.
Wow! Needless to say, the Pope isn't flavour of the month here in
England. (Light dims)
WITCH 1 (Her light returns) And here's the paradox. Some English
folk are loyal to their monarch and their Catholic faith. That's
dangerous. To be a Catholic in England in 1582 was a capital offence!
(Squeal and laughter heard upstage in darkness. WITCH 2 is lit)
WITCH 2 But life ain't all doom and gloom. Sex was still alive and
well. And that young kid, William Shakespeare, the one keen on acting,
well he's no longer a kid. He's hit the ripe old age of eighteen.
(WITCH light dims. LIGHTS UP on WILLIAM and ANNE HATHAWAY sitting,
holding hands and courting)
WITCH 3 (Her light returns) And his passion for acting's been
replaced by his passion for passion. The theatre's out and sex is in.
You know, a famous writer once wrote, "The course of true love never
did run smooth". (Indicates couple) Let's see if it's true.
(Immediate squeal/laughter from COUPLE. LIGHTS off WITCH 3 who exits.
Set lights on couple. The actor now playing WILLIAM is the older
WILLIAM Come on, Annie. Stop muckin' about. Give us a kiss.
(He tries but she won't co-operate)
ANNE Not till you tell me about Anne Whately of Temple Grafton.
ANNE You heard.
WILLIAM Never heard of her. Now listen to me you gorgeous girl.
ANNE Girl! That's a joke. Do you know how old I am?
WILLIAM No and I don't care. All I want are your luscious lips. Now
(He tries to grab her. She moves, avoiding his clutches)
ANNE I'm twenty-six, Will. I'm not exactly an old maid but I'm
carrying on with some slip of a lad just out of school.
WILLIAM Carrying on? Is that what we're doing? (Goes to her) Oooh, I
like it. Let's carry on. (She's reluctant) Oh come on, Annie. You
know I love you.
ANNE (Pause) I sure hope you do, Will, 'cos there's something you
oughta know. (MUSIC BEGINS. She leads him back to seat)
WILLIAM Oh yeah? And what might that be?
No. 5 Back To Front
ANNE I'm a comely lass age of twenty-six
You're my favourite lad but you're full of tricks
And because of you I am in a fix
I've got a bun in the oven. (WILLIAM shocked)
WILLIAM I'm a likely lad only just eighteen
And about you dear, I am rather keen
But this piece of news it was unforeseen
You've got a bun in the oven? (She nods. He doesn't mind)
DUET But that's how it sometimes is
No use getting in a tizz.
First you approach the vicar, tell him that you wish to wed.
He reads the banns out, speak up who has doubt
Then down the aisle you tread.
Next try the grog and goodies
Follow with a grope and grunt (He pinches her, she squeals)
It's supposed to be marriage then mating, but we've got it back
ANNE I'm a simple lass, barely write or read
Though can cook and sew and a garden weed
But we're going to have an extra mouth to feed
I've got a bun in the oven.
WILLIAM I'm a steady type at a tender age
And had rather hoped to go on the stage
But for now I must other plans engage
She's got a bun in the oven.
DUET But that's how it sometimes is
No use getting in a tizz. (etc)
(During instrumental music, VICAR enters. Dialogue over music)
VICAR Ah, my children.
WILLIAM Vicar, we have news.
ANNE We wish to marry.
VICAR Splendid. I'll announce the banns on Sunday.
WILLIAM Ah, could you expedite matters.
VICAR (Touch worried) Expedite!
ANNE He means get a move on.
WILLIAM You see, she's in a delicate condition.
VICAR (More worried) Delicate condition!
ANNE He means I'm up the spout!
VICAR (No big deal) Oh! You've got a bun in the oven! (Happiness all
(Vicar joins them in fun repeat of chorus)
VICAR (Sung) I now pronounce you man and wife.
TRIO We've got it back to, We've got it back to, we've got it
back to front!
(BLACKOUT. Trio exit during last bars of song. WITCH 1 steps into
spot DL. JOHN and MARY enter in darkness DR)
WITCH 1 So Anne Hathaway, 26, married her teenage lover, William
Shakespeare, 18. They weren't wealthy and did what many young
married couples did they moved in with the folks.
WITCH 2 (Steps into spot) In this case, William's folks in downtown
Henley Street. And yes, the house is still standing today and is
absolutely chockers with tourists from Japan, Australia, the United
States, Sweden, South Africa, South America, South Everywhere.
WITCH 3 (Spot picks her out) Mind you, the house was fairly crowded
even in those days. There was John and Mary, the newlyweds William and
Anne, William's younger siblings and, (FX Baby cry) of course, the
first grandchild, a girl, Susanna. And life wasn't always rosy.
(Fade light on WITCH. Crossfade light up DR where JOHN is seated
facing diagonally front. MARY beside/behind him. They are worried) So
let's return to Henley Street and catch up with the family
Shakespeare. (Exits into darkness)
JOHN (Argues) But this time I'm hopelessly in debt. I'm gunna go
MARY It's never hopeless, John. And don't you dare die and leave
your family with debts!
JOHN William's the key. If he supports me, I might just make it.
MARY But we can't rely on William. He's restless, he's got ideas.
JOHN He's got a wife and a child for God's sake. Children must
support their parents. Especially a son his father.
MARY (Looking offstage) Here he is now. Just go easy. You know he's
got a mind of his own.
WILLIAM (Enters) Hello Mother. Father. (Pause. Senses something is
wrong) What's wrong? What's happened?
MARY Nothing. Your father's still worried about his debts. How's
WILLIAM She's fine and I've got news on that front.
JOHN Here's some free advice, son. Neither a borrower nor lender be.
MARY (Keen to know) What news?
JOHN My debts are killing me, William. More than ever I need you here
MARY (Keener) William? What news?
WILLIAM (Distracted but back to his Mother) Ah, it's Anne. She's
MARY (Delighted) Oh William, that's wonderful.
JOHN (Not happy) Great. Another mouth to feed.
MARY This time you'll have a boy. I know you'll have a son.
ANNE (Enters obviously pregnant) Who's having a son?
JOHN (Changes mood, fussing) Ah, here Anne, (Offers chair) sit
ANNE (She sits) Thank you father-in-law.
MARY (Fussing) William's just told us the news. We're so happy.
Aren't we, John?
JOHN Delirious. We're over the bloody moon.
(Pause. There is tension in the room. WILLIAM covers up)
WILLIAM Mother seems convinced we'll have a boy.
ANNE Well she's doubled her chances. I'm expecting twins.
(MARY delighted, WILLIAM stunned, JOHN despairs)
WILLIAM (Shocked) But that means I'll have three kids before I'm
ANNE Really? Here was I thinking the woman had the kids.
WILLIAM (Frustrated) Oh you know what I mean, Anne. We've got no
money, I've got no trade, Dad's in debt. What am I going to do?
JOHN You'll do what any good father would do. Take a steady job in
Stratford and care for your wife and kids.
MARY You know you can stay as long as you like. Our home is your
WILLIAM (Distressed) But I can't stay. It's not what I want to do.
JOHN Can't!? What do you mean 'can't'?
ANNE (To her in-laws) Your son and heir has dreams of being someone
better than a simple glover in a quiet country town.
WILLIAM (Upset) Aw come on, Annie, that's not fair.
MARY Something better? What could be better than raising a family?
JOHN Listen William, I'm in real trouble. I need you. Please. You
must stay and help.
(Pause. Tension. WILLIAM is deeply trouble)
WILLIAM (Quietly) I can't stay. (OTHERS despair)
ANNE Will, please. Don't leave me with three babies.
MARY They're your babies, son. You brought them into the world, you
must provide for them, your wife and your parents.