Vote for Back, WILTY?, The Unbelievable Truth and Mitchell on Meetings in The British Comedy Guide Awards

It’s that time of the year again! Yes, the annual British Comedy Guide Awards are here, with your chance to vote for your favourite comedies of the year. This year you can support David in 4 categories, including Best Sitcom and Best Radio Panel Show.

We are yet to hear whether Back will be getting a third series, so a vote for the show maybe especially important terms for future commissioning – it could make all the difference!

Many thanks Mitchell fans and a belated Happy New Year!

A Look at Upstart Crow – Lord, What Fools These Mortals Be!

A very affectionate look at Upstart Crow by Chasqui Penguin.

Each episode has a theme, usually revolving around one of Will’s plays, and in this series of articles the aim is to give a little more background to those and the surrounding Upstart Crow storylines, together with the facts, deliberate anachronisms and the characters involved.

Series 3

Episode 1 – Lord, What Fools These Mortals Be!

This first episode in the third (and, so far, final) series of Upstart Crow is based on Shakespeare’s famous comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream (AMND). Though the episode does not closely follow the play’s storyline, the use of a magic potion is central to the plot, as in the play.

AMND is set in and around Athens and thought to have been written around 1595–96, its premiere recorded as taking place on 1st January 1605 at court – probably for the entertainment of James I as well as his family and entourage – though its stage debut was at the Globe some time later. However, these dates do not coincide with those hinted at in the Upstart Crow episode, as we shall see later. Below is a synopsis of the play, followed by a more in-depth look at the episode.

The title page of A Midsummer Night’s Dream from the first quarto, published in 1600


Main characters:

Puck (also known as Robin Goodfellow) – a mischievous fairy who lives in an enchanted wood and is a servant to Oberon, King of the Fairies

Titania – the Fairy Queen, Oberon’s wife

Nick Bottom – a weaver

Lord Egeus – courtier of Duke Theseus

Brief Story Outline:

AMND follows the play-within-a-play format, often associated with Shakespeare, and consists of several subplots. One subplot involves two Athenian couples escaping to the woods; Lysander and Hermia decide to elope and are soon followed by their friends Demetrius and Helen. At the request of Oberon, Puck plays a trick on all four of them when they are asleep. This involves rubbing the juice from a certain purple flower on their eyelids. The effect of the potion is to make each fall in love with the first person they set eyes on when waking. Inevitably, this results in Lysander and Helen becoming a couple and the same happens to Demetrius and Hermia. Added to this, for the rehearsal of the play within, mischievous Puck gives lowly weaver Nick Bottom an ass’s head to wear. To complicate matters Oberon and his wife Titania have quarrelled and Puck anoints the eyes of the sleeping Titania with the magic juice from the purple flower. On awakening she sees Bottom complete with ass’s head and, despite his appearance, falls in love with him. At Oberon’s command, Puck reverses the effect of the potion on Titania and the two couples, restoring normality, with a happy ending for all.

UPSTART CROW – Lord, What Fools These Mortals Be!

The title of this episode is a line spoken by Puck in Act 3, Scene 2 of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.He is speaking to Oberon and remarking on the behaviour of the two couples in the woods, though he is actually the instigator of it with the magic potion.

This episode opens with Will overseeing the rehearsal of his new play A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Red Lion theatre, though in reality none of Will’s plays were ever linked to this Tudor playhouse. His plays were performed at the Curtain, the Rose and later the Globe, by the King’s Men (formerly the Lord Chamberlain’s Men), though where rehearsals took place is unclear. Condell is playing the fairy queen Titania and Kempe is portraying a lowly weaver. Titania awakes and sees the weaver; both speak the actual lines from Shakespeare’s play (Act 3, Sc 1), though in the original the weaver sings his words:

What angel wakes me from my flowery bed?

The finch, the sparrow and the lark,
The plain-song cuckoo grey

I pray thee gentle mortal, sing again.
I love thee.               

Will declares this scene a ‘celebrated comic moment’, which is disputed by Burbage and Condell, who points out, ‘Surely, to be a celebrated comic moment it has to be funny.’ Will explains that it is funny as the fairy queen falls in love with a common weaver, an unlikely situation. This does not convince the actors and Burbage threatens to find another writer if Will fails to come up with ‘a funny name and an inspired visual gag’ which, throughout most of the episode, the Bard finds an almost impossible task.

Back in the London lodgings, Kate picks holes in the plot, especially objecting to the inclusion of fairies but Will reveals that he has met one called Puck and it was this sprite who gave him the idea for the potion in his latest comedy. In reality, fairies were popular characters in plays of Shakespeare’s era and AMND with its three fairies proved to be a crowd-pleaser. However, in the course of conversation Will reveals to her and his servant Ned Bottom that he never felt worthy of his wife Anne, feeling convinced that she married him not out of love but because she was expecting their baby. He longed for her to love him, as he loved her. There is then a flashback: Shortly before the day of his marriage, Will is walking in the greenwood near his home in Stratford when he encounters a fairy and with the words from the play (Act 2, Sc 1) addresses him:

Either I mistake your shape and making quite,
Or else you are that shrewd and knavish sprite
Call’d Robin Goodfellow: are not you he
That frights the maidens of the villag’ry

Thou speak’st aright;
I am that merry wanderer of the night.
I jest to Oberon, and make him smile
When I a fat and bean-fed horse beguile

Puck already knows Will’s love predicament and offers him a solution, which is a bottle containing a magic potion for his sweetheart’s eyes, to ensure her love for him. The flashback ends and Will continues with the story, telling Kate and Bottom that Puck sold him a love potion for five shillings. On their wedding night Will gave this to Anne, suggesting she should rub it on her eyes to soothe them. As she has shown love for him throughout their marriage, he is convinced that the potion worked, though Kate and Bottom seem sceptical. While this scene with Puck does not follow the AMND plot exactly, it fits well within the Upstart Crow setting.

Will is still stuck for a funny name for the lowly weaver and for a visual gag when Kit, who has moved into Will’s lodgings till he gets his ‘permanent digs’, arrives wearing an ass’s head. He has returned from a stag hunt where he targeted a donkey tethered to a post as it was much easier to catch! He cavorts around the room wearing the ass’s head before asking Bottom to mount it – a double entendre slipped in there – and despite the fact that both Bottom and an ass’s head are in front of him, Will fails to see any comedy potential in either of these.

Kit goes on to admit that the ass’s head is a disguise as he fears for his life, due to ‘debts, vengeance, spying, betrayal’. The real Christopher Marlowe did have reason to fear for his life. He had been accused of heresy and if found guilty would have faced execution. However, before any court case took place Marlowe was reported to have died on 30th May 1593, the result of a violent altercation in a government safe house in Deptford. Whether he was murdered or secretly left the country, possibly permanently, has been open to speculation since the coroner’s report was discovered in 1952 and certain anomalies in the recording of events were queried. However, these events in Marlowe’s life pre-date the writing and performance of AMND.

Veering further away from the plot of AMND, Robert Greene arrives with a marriage proposal for Kate from Lord Egeus, ‘the richest man in Southwark’, who owns the house where she, Will and Bottom live. Should Kate refuse to marry him, it could mean eviction. Kate points out that her mother has a lease for the house, but Greene hints at this carrying no weight in court, due to Lord Egeus’s influential status. He then informs Kate that she has a fortnight in which to make her decision. Despite the eviction threat, she refuses the proposal there and then, saying there is no way that she would become the wife of this ageing, warty aristocrat. After Greene has left, Will and Kit try to persuade her to marry Lord Egeus, but Kate is adamant that she will marry for love only. Although Kit concludes that they can’t make Kate love Lord Egeus, Will is not so sure.

Robert Greene has been one of the regular characters in Upstart Crow since the first episode, set in 1592. Throughout the three series, he is employed in a variety of positions, none of which he held in real life. However, in Upstart Crow these positions give him power through which he regularly tries to discredit Will. University-educated and among the better-known writers of the era, the real Robert Greene died on 3rd September 1592 and, therefore, his appearances in all episodes beyond this date constitute anachronisms. Undeniably though, without his presence as the antagonist, Upstart Crow would have lost a valuable asset as he is generally an integral part of the plot in each episode.

In the next scene Will has returned to Stratford and, with his daughter Susanna, goes for a walk in the greenwood, where he tells her of his encounter with the sprite years before. Susanna is not convinced of the potion’s efficacy but suddenly Puck appears and, after some preliminary conversation, sells Will another bottle of the magic solution, though the price has increased to 10 shillings (‘10 bob’, as Puck tells Will).

Back in London, Will reminds Kate that Lord Egeus will visit in person the next day for her answer to his marriage proposal. Kate still stands fast by her decision and seems undaunted by the consequences of refusing the offer of marriage from this influential man. In a clandestine attempt to change Kate’s mind, Will tells her that he can see she has been crying, a statement she emphatically denies. He then leaves her the bottle of magic potion, referring to it as balm, and suggests she should apply it at night to soothe her eyes. Unbeknownst to Will, Kate sees through this ploy, as it seems to mirror his gift of a similar bottle to Anne, and makes plans for the morning.

The next day, Robert Greene arrives ahead of Lord Egeus. Will, thinking Kate will have used the potion, insists all hide so the first person she sees will be her future husband. Meanwhile, Kate calls Bottom into her room, looks straight at him, speaks the words ‘What angel wakes me from my flowery bed?’, then pretends she is madly in love with him. Bottom is perplexed by her behaviour but Will believes that Kate did use the potion but the plan has gone wildly wrong. At this point Lord Egeus arrives and announces he has ‘come for the girl’. Kate walks towards him and tells him, with an apology, that she is in love with her Bottom. Believing that she loves another, Lord Egeus threatens to ruin them all, especially Bottom, and turns to leave. However, Will has a plan. He tells Bottom to put the ass’s head on, calls Lord Egeus back, then throws the potion in the nobleman’s face. On opening his eyes, Lord Egeus catches sight of Bottom wearing the ass’s head and instantly falls in love with him, asking, ‘What angel wakes me from my flowery bed?, before mayhem ensues.  Bottom is chased out of the room by Lord Egeus, with Robert Greene following, believing sorcery afoot. The summing up of the previous few minutes by the three remaining characters in the room differs slightly. Kit thinks it weird, Will is certain that Lord Egeus is over his infatuation with Kate and she admits that she is not in love with Bottom, didn’t use the potion and is amazed that it worked, adding that she retracts her views on Will’s new play as it now seems ‘grittily’ realistic.

With the turmoil over, Will returns to the difficult subject of finding a funny name and visual gag for his new play. The penny suddenly drops as, with his familiar exclamation of ‘Hang on, hang the futtock on!’, he realises he has both with Bottom and the ass’s head. This, of course, adheres to AMND, with Bottom wearing the ass’s head and the two comic ideas centring on his character, though Shakespeare himself seems to have gone one better by also giving the weaver the first name of Nick. All that said, in the late 16th century the word nick was used to mean stealing. Regarding the weaver’s surname, there is no clear evidence that the word bottom meant buttocks in Shakespeare’s day – academic opinion differs on this question – but it did imply end or base and may have been used by the Bard to convey the idea of a person of lowly social status, though the character of Nick Bottom was by no means shy and retiring, more inclined towards bossiness than subservience.

Kempe plays AMND’s Bottom in Upstart Crow, and it is conjectured that Shakespeare wrote the role for the real Will Kempe, the famous comic actor. However, he would never have played the part in front of an audience as he left the Lord Chamberlain’s Men in the late 1590s and is believed to have died in 1603, though that date is unconfirmed.

Unusual though the word ‘futtock’ is, it is not invented; the dictionary definition is the singular name for timbers forming part of a ship’s frame. However, this meaning is unlikely to have been the inspiration for its inclusion in Upstart Crow. It is more probable that Ben Elton chose to use it as Futtocks End is the title of a 1970 short comedy film, written by and starring the late great comedy actor Ronnie Barker whose character was General Futtock. Ben Elton is known to be a big fan of Ronnie Barker and presumably used the word as a tribute to the man who also became his friend.

Moving on, AMND’s debut performance is underway at the Red Lion, and we have a glimpse of the scene which was being rehearsed earlier, but this time with Kempe’s Nick Bottom wearing the ass’s head and Condell still playing the Fairy Queen, Titania:

What angel wakes me from my flowery bed?

The finch, the sparrow and the lark,
The plain-song cuckoo grey,
Whose note full many a man doth mark,
And dares not answer nay

The audience erupts into laughter. Burbage is delighted with the reaction to the play and is convinced that the comedy will ‘ring through the ages’. Will agrees, adding ‘those who don’t find it funny will feel obliged to pretend to…’ and he’s happy with that! However, Ned Bottom takes exception to his name being used for comedic purposes!

As mentioned towards the start of this article, none of Shakespeare’s plays were performed at the Red Lion. This theatre was built by John Brayne in 1567, closing the following year when Shakespeare was four years old. Burbage had no connection with this playhouse, though he did join forces with John Brayne, his brother-in-law, in 1576 for the building and co-ownership of The Theatre, where some of Shakespeare’s early plays were staged.

The penultimate scene in this Upstart Crow episode focuses on Will and Anne having their usual late-night chat, with him telling her the saga of Kate, the potion and all the mayhem it created. Anne recalls Will giving her a bottle to soothe her eyes on their wedding night. She admits that her eyes didn’t need soothing, she did not use the potion and certainly doesn’t need such a concoction to love him, which surprised him.

All episodes but one end with Will and Anne’s late-night chat, Lord, What Fools These Mortals Be! beingthe exception. The final scene takes us back to the greenwood with Puck speaking a soliloquy from AMND (Act 5, Sc 1):

If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended.
That you have but slumber’d here
While these visions did appear.⁠
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream

He then finishes with ‘If fun you’ve had and fun you seek/Dream again with us next week’, lines which can be attributed to Ben Elton, one of the finest comedy writers of our age.

The next Facts List will delve into Series 3’s second episode Wild Laughter in the Throat of Death and the speculation surrounding the report of Christopher Marlowe’s death in 1593.

Twitter: @ChasquiPenguin

Outsiders annouced for Dave + Vote for Back in The 2021 TV Choice Awards

Outsiders is a brand-new game show for Dave hosted by David Mitchell. David, says:

“Civilisation is clearly crumbling so it’s high time we worked out whether we can cope without it. And if you can think of a better way of doing that than making six comedians learn survival skills, then you weren’t involved in the development process of this programme.”

There’s more information about the new series here:

In other news, Back is nominated in the TV Choice Awards long-list. It would be fantastic if you could take the time to give it a vote here:

Many thanks Mitchell fans!

Upstart Crow Facts – Series 2 Episode 6 Sweet Sorrow

A very affectionate look at Upstart Crow by Chasqui Penguin.

Each episode has a theme, usually revolving around one of Will’s plays, and in this series of articles our aim is to give a little more background to those and the Upstart Crow storyline surrounding it, together with the facts, deliberate anachronisms, and the characters involved.

Series 2

Episode 6 – Sweet Sorrow

This final episode of Series 2 follows the course of the first ever episode by concentrating on Romeo and Juliet, from which the title Sweet Sorrow is taken, spoken by Juliet in Act 2, Sc 2. In the Upstart Crow introductory episode, Star Crossed Lovers,Will was at the writing stage of this play, and the episode storyline mirrored some of the famous parts of the play. However, in Sweet Sorrow, the writing of the play is nearing completion, with auditions, rehearsals and its stage debut the focal points. Romeo and Juliet is the only play which is integral to the plot of two Upstart Crow episodes.

Sweet Sorrow opens in Lucy’s tavern with Richard Burbage and Will Shakespeare discussing with Kit Marlowe the opening of their new theatre and the first performance of Romeo and Juliet. This is obviously a reference to The Globe which opened in 1599, though it is never mentioned by name in Upstart Crow.

The Globe was actually the brainchild of James Burbage, father of Richard. James was an actor, theatre entrepreneur and joiner who built and owned a London playhouse called The Theatre, situated north of the Thames. He planned to open another purpose-built playhouse on the south side of the river but, sadly, didn’t live to see his dream fulfilled, as he passed away in 1597. However, his two sons, Cuthbert and Richard, along with many in the Lord Chamberlain’s acting troupe, including Shakespeare, pushed ahead with its building, using materials from The Theatre, and in 1599 The Globe opened to paying audiences.

Site plan of The Theatre in Shoreditch – built in 1576

The Globe’s first staged production is thought to have been Julius Caesar. It definitely wasn’t Romeo and Juliet – known to have been performed by 1597, probably at The Theatre.

Richard Burbage in Upstart Crow is much older than the real actor would have been at the time, more the age of his father. Richard was born in January 1568, so was almost four years younger than Shakespeare. He took many of the lead roles in the plays of the day but was mainly famous for playing The Bard’s main male characters over the years.

In this Upstart Crow episode, Burbage mentions that his acting troupe is no longer part of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men and they are in need of a patron. Kit suggests wealthy aristocrat Lord Southampton, even though, as Will points out, he dislikes the theatre, especially romantic comedies and historical plays. Kit then counters this with the idea of a romantic tragedy to ‘lure him in’. As this has never been done before, Will takes on the challenge, and his Romeo and Juliet fits the description perfectly.  

In the Tudor era acting troupes were known as playing companies, and in reality the patron of The Lord Chamberlain’s Men at this time was Lord Hunsdon, who died in 1596. The playing company was then adopted by his son George Carey, the second Lord Hunsdon, and became known as Hunsdon’s Men. When he was appointed Lord Chamberlain in 1597, succeeding his father, the playing company reverted to its name of The Lord Chamberlain’s Men and performed as such until after the accession of James I in 1603. The new monarch became its patron and following this it was known as The King’s Men.

Portrait of the 1st Baron Hunsdon by the artist Steven van Herwijck

There is no historical mention of Lord Southampton as patron of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men or the new theatre, though he was patron of the arts. He was also one of Shakespeare’s patrons, so not surprisingly was an enthusiastic theatre-goer. He is often considered to have been the mystery ‘Fair Youth’ to whom The Bard dedicated 126 sonnets.

Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton (Lord Southampton), one of Shakespeare’s patrons. The painting is attributed to John de Critz.

While speaking to Burbage and Kit, and to prove his ability to achieve something never done before, Will claims to have invented three original words that morning: multitudinous, new-fangled and scuffle. The origins and Shakespeare’s use of these words are as follows:

Multitudinous – first thought to have been used in 1603, with either Shakespeare or Nashe being the first to commit it to the written word. Shakespeare included it in Macbeth (Act 2, Sc 2), spoken by his title character:

The multitudinous seas incarnadine

Making the green one red

New-fangled – a 15th-century word, so definitely pre-dates Shakespeare and his writing of Love’s Labour’s Lost (Act 1, Sc 1) when Biron speaks these lines:

At Christmas I no more desire a rose
Than wish a snow in May’s new-fangled mirth;

Scuffle – thought to have entered the English language as a verb around 1570, when Shakespeare was a child. However, he seems to be the first to have used it as a noun. This was in Antony and Cleopatra (Act 1, Sc 1)when spoken by Philo

His captain’s heart,

Which in the scuffles of great fights hath burst

The buckles of his breast

In actuality, these words were probably in conversational use in Tudor times and not Shakespeare’s inventions, though he may have been the first to include them in written and published work.

Back at his lodgings, Upstart Crow Will is putting the finishing touches to the writing of Romeo and Juliet, which he is struggling with. Kate puts forward the phrase ‘Parting is such sweet sorrow’, with Will then claiming she has read his thoughts, and he gives a similar response to Bottom’s suggestion of ‘morrow’ to compete the second line. These famous words are spoken by Juliet to Romeo in the balcony scene (Act 2, Sc 2):

Good night, good night! Parting is such sweet sorrow

That I shall say good night till it be morrow

With Will still seeking more verbal descriptions for the balcony scene, Bottom recounts a childhood tale of when he would catch a sparrow or lark, and tie a silk thread to it as he could not bear to give the bird its freedom beyond the length of the thread. Kate thinks this describes very well Juliet not wanting Romeo to leave and then Will, while decrying Bottom’s animal cruelty, takes the story and converts it into lines spoken by Juliet to Romeo earlier in Act 2, Sc 2:

’Tis almost morning, I would have thee gone;

And yet no farther than a wanton’s bird,

That lets it hop a little from his hand,

Like a poor prisoner in his twisted gyves,

And with a silk thread plucks it back again,

So loving-jealous of his liberty

Having finished writing his star-crossed lovers play, Will agrees that Kate can play the part of Juliet as she has read all this character’s lines perfectly and with feeling. However, as it is still illegal for women to act on stage, she must go to the audition disguised as a boy actor.

Will arrives at the playhouse to find Burbage and Condell rehearsing in the roles of Romeo and Juliet, reading from scripts. Knowing neither ageing actor is ideal, he tells them that it is only right they should play the title roles but the title has been changed to Prince Escalus and the Nurse. This erroneous piece of information persuades both to accept these parts, leaving vacancies for the juvenile lovers. Burbage informs Will that Lord Southampton has agreed to attend the opening night of Romeo and Juliet and if he approves of the play, will grant the playing company his patronage. He also mentions a young actor called Augustine (Gussie) Snootyloin who has made a good impression at the nearby Curtain playhouse, as Isabella in Thomas Kyd’s Spanish Tragedie and could be considered for the role of the teenage ingénue, which Will agrees to while secretly planning to cast Kate.

The Spanish Tragedie by Thomas Kyd is believed to have been written between 1582 and 1592, though the date of its first performance is unknown. It is considered one of the first mature Elizabethan dramas, along with Tamburlaine the Great by Christopher Marlowe. The latter had its London debut at the Rose Playhouse, probably in 1587 though it is thought Marlowe wrote it while a student at Cambridge University.

The title page of Thomas Kyd’s play The Spanish Tragedie: or, Hieronimo is Mad Againe

Although in the rehearsal scene Burbage and Condell each hold a script, the reality is that in the late 16th century actors were not given scripts and had to learn only the lines for their roles. Whether they copied them from the original or just had to borrow the relevant pages and memorise the lines is not clear, and may have varied. This practice probably arose from the fact that most plays were not published till quite a while after they were initially performed – sometimes years later – and the task of writing out a script for each cast member would have been too time-consuming and costly. Despite these problems, most actors of the day played the same characters each time a play was performed and, with only a small amount of revision, were able to remember their lines in full. Understudies were unknown then, so if an actor could not appear, the play concerned was replaced by another, often previously performed. Therefore, actors had to be prepared to take on former roles at short notice, and many had a vast repertoire.

When Upstart Crow’s Robert Greene hears of Lord Southampton’s potential patronage he decides to sabotage the show. He is also aware that Gussie Snootyloin will be auditioning for the role of Juliet and invites him to his office for a chat, to outline his plans which hinge on Gussie securing the role. Gussie assures him he will get the part, and is persuaded by Greene to set fire to the theatre during the balcony scene in the first performance of Romeo and Juliet – for a generous fee. Gussie’s agreement has Greene thinking his plan to ruin Will is well on its way. His planned arson attack may be a reference to the fire which burned down The Globe in June 1613 when a cannon, an on-stage prop, accidentally misfired and set the theatre alight, thankfully with no casualties. However, it was after this that Shakespeare decided to retire from the theatre and writing and returned to Stratford-upon-Avon.

As the episode progresses to the audition, Kempe is playing Romeo and the last two candidates for the leading female role are Gussie and Kate. Both are impressive but Condell is correctly convinced that one of the ‘boy actors’ is a girl, though he appears not to recognise her as Kate. However, her acting talent is evident and she is chosen for the part, leaving Gussie disappointed and a little bitter. He returns to see Greene, with news of this boy actor being a girl. Greene is delighted with this information and believes it will give him more ammunition to discredit Shakespeare and lose the acting company the patronage of Lord Southampton. When Greene denies him payment because he has made the mistake of not demanding his fee before revealing the news, Gussie switches allegiance to Will, as we see later.

One of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men/King’s Men was an actor called Augustine Phillips. Whether Gussie is based on him is unclear but Phillips was an adult by the time he joined the playing company and would not have been eligible to portray Juliet, though there are few details available of the roles he played during his career. However, he was one of The Globe’s shareholders, along with Shakespeare, the Burbage brothers and other actors in the company.

Rehearsals take place with Kate in the role of Juliet and Kempe as Romeo. He takes Juliet’s hand and speaks the following words to her in Act 1, Sc 5:

If I profane with my unworthiest hand

This holy shrine, the gentle sin is this:

My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand

To smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss

Juliet replies with:

Good pilgrim, you do wrong your hand too much,

Which mannerly devotion shows in this

For saints have hands that pilgrims’ hands do touch

And palm to palm is holy palmers’ kiss

They place the palms of their hands together. Will is the only one who seems amused by his ‘highly amusing internal pun’, revolving around palmer being an archaic word for a pilgrim, as his joke falls flat among all present. However, he feels sure that over the centuries it will be all the more amusing to audiences as its meaning becomes more obscure! This has yet to be proved but it is accurate that, particularly during the Middle Ages, palmer was a word for a pilgrim who had returned home from the Holy Land with a palm branch. The word palmer has its origins in Old French.

There is a twist towards the end of the episode. The play is being staged at The Red Lion Theatre on the first night and Lord Southampton is in the audience, sometimes overcome with emotion and holding hands with Kit as the play unfolds! Kate is set to play her much-longed-for role but before the play begins Gussie arrives, no doubt with a well-thought-out ploy, and announces that Juliet is a girl. This convinces Greene, who is watching events with interest, that his plan will run smoothly. Will, upset that Kate is being denied her chance to play Juliet, feels there must be a way to overcome the problem. Once the play is under way Greene disrupts it by accusing Juliet of being a girl. However, there has been a last-minute change of cast, with Gussie playing Juliet, while Kate is Romeo. When Gussie is revealed as Juliet, Greene is frustrated. However, annoyed by the interruption of the ‘beautiful play’, Lord Southampton orders the guards to arrest Greene who is then escorted out, unaware that Kate is playing Romeo. So Gussie has got his revenge on Greene and eventually secured the role of Juliet – no doubt having suggested the change of cast – while Kate has achieved her ambition to be an actor. Kempe, on the other hand, is puzzled as to how he came to be locked in the privy!

In reality, the first performance of this play was probably staged at The Theatre, with Richard Burbage almost certainly portraying Romeo opposite young actor Robert Gough as Juliet. However, it is definite that the comedy role of Peter, the nurse’s servant, was played by Will Kempe. Although in Upstart Crow The Red Lion is always shown as the playhouse owned by Burbage, this was not the situation, as he owned The Theatre instead. The Red Lion was owned by John Brayne, James Burbage’s brother-in-law. It was built in 1567, making it the first purpose-built playhouse in London as far as is known. There is no indication that the Lord Chamberlain’s Men ever performed at The Red Lion which welcomed touring companies, whereas The Theatre had more permanent playing companies treading its boards.

Programme Name: Upstart Crow – TX: n/a – Episode: Sweet Sorrow (No. 6) – Picture Shows: Marlowe (TIM DOWNIE), Southampton (ADAM HARLEY) – (C) BBC – Photographer: Colin Hutton

The episode ends with Will hoping that in the future there will be lady actors on theatre stages, though Anne thinks they will have clichéd lines and be required to appear topless. However, she can’t believe Will’s view that they will not be paid the same as their male counterparts, regarding that likelihood as ‘just ridiculous’.

The next Facts List will focus on the first episode of Series 3, Lord, What Fools These Mortals Be!, which revolves around A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the various characters in this play, from Puck to Lord Egeus. The three Christmas specials will be covered separately after Series 3.

Twitter: @ChasquiPenguin