A very affectionate look at Upstart Crow by @ChasquiPenguin.
Each episode has a theme, usually revolving around one of Will’s plays, and in this series of articles my 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.
Episode 3 – I Did Adore a Twinkling Star
This episode is based on The Two Gentlemen of Verona (not 17!), which is one of Shakespeare’s early plays and may have been his first – believed to have been written between 1588 and 1593. There is no confirmed date for its stage debut but a performance of the play is mentioned in the 1598 book Palladis Tamia by Francis Meres who studied Shakespeare’s early plays and poems.
The title of this episode is spoken by one of the main characters Proteus, in Act 2, Sc 6 of The Two Gentlemen of Verona:
‘At first I did adore a twinkling star
But now I worship a celestial sun’
The words refer to his change of heart. When he set off from Verona, he was in love with his girlfriend Julia. However, when setting eyes on Silvia, daughter of the Duke of Milan, he fell in love with her. Adding to the complication, his best friend Valentine is also in love with Silvia.
In Will’s lodgings Kit Marlowe reveals that he is being sent on a spying mission to Verona by Walsingham and is expected to learn some Italian first, while Kate makes disparaging remarks about Marlowe and his lifestyle. This paves the way for the plot which cleverly hinges on The Two Gentlemen of Verona, though in reality none of this is likely to have happened because:
- Kit Marlowe would have been sworn to secrecy regarding his spying activities, due to their clandestine nature, though it is still not known for sure if he was part of Queen Elizabeth’s spy ring, led by her Spy Master Sir Francis Walsingham. However, it is certain that Kit spent time in Rheims, during his student days, working for the English government, as revealed in a letter to Cambridge University from the Privy Council. This led to the assumption that Kit was involved in espionage.
- This Upstart Crow episode must be set no earlier than 1592 (as this was the year of the first episode) but Sir Francis Walsingham died in April 1590, so any spying instructions would have come from either Robert Cecil or the Earl of Essex, who were vying to become the Spy Master.
Having discovered that Kate speaks fluent Italian, Will suggests that she teaches the language to Kit. In the meantime, Will travels to Stratford to write his new historical bloodthirsty play which, according to Robert Greene, had been requested by the Lord Chamberlain, for whom Greene works as his secretary. However, the real Robert Greene never held such a role, nor any other top job, but made a career of writing.
The Lord Chamberlain, Henry Carey, 1st Baron of Hunsdon, was patron of The Lord Chamberlain’s Men, a theatrical troupe with which Shakespeare was closely associated as both an actor and a playwright. Therefore, the Lord Chamberlain would have had a say in the plays which his troupe performed.
Back home in Stratford, Will discovers that his daughter Susanna is keen on a boy called Darren who has so far failed to ask her to the Springtime Woodland Gadabout. Will comes up with an ingenious plan which, of course, involves cross-dressing – something his father regards as a pattern in his plays, though Will denies this. Will suggests that Susanna dresses as her (invented) cousin Shane from Solihull who will get to know Darren and convince him to ask Susanna to the Gadabout. Although these boys’ names are popular today, they are unlikely to have been used in the Tudor era. However, a version of Shane appears in the Bible, though the name is also considered of Irish origin.
Cross-dressing is not unusual in Shakespeare’s plots, notably in Twelfth Night, As You Like It and The Two Gentlemen of Verona. However, one reason given for this is that girls’ roles were always played by boys, often young teenagers, and if in the play a girl had to dress as a boy, it would make playing the part easier for the young actor.
Returning to London, Will has a disappointment when he takes the manuscript of his new play Titus Andronicus to Robert Greene. Finding Will has written a violent historical drama, Greene informs him that the Lord Chamberlain wants the opposite, a romantic comedy, and claims he must have mistakenly misled Will into thinking a bloody, historical play was requested. Will realises he has been tricked by Greene, then goes back to his lodgings to work on a light-hearted comedy.
Interestingly, although Titus Andronicus is known to have been performed by The Lord Chamberlain’s Men at Newington Butts in June 1594, the first recorded performance was at The Rose on 24th January 1594, acted by the Earl of Sussex’s theatre troupe. There is also a school of thought which believes that Shakespeare had a co-writer for this play and, while Marlowe has been largely dismissed because the standard of writing is not good enough, Greene’s name has loomed large as a possibility!
Meanwhile, in London, Kate has reluctantly taken on the task of teaching Kit Italian, with great success, preparing him for his trip to Verona and the time he will spend with Contessa Silvia who is a secret agent with a list of Catholic assassins to pass on to him. However, the real Christopher Marlowe is believed to have been a multi-linguist. He spoke fluent Latin, translated from it into English and is thought to have had more than a passing knowledge of a number of other languages. It is likely Italian was among them as it is very closely related to Latin, though each region spoke its own dialect (still common today, well over a century after all the regions were unified into the country of Italy), and it is possible that communication between Kit and his associates in Europe was entirely in Latin.
As the Italian lessons draw to a close, Kate and Kit find that, against all odds, they have fallen in love. He is reluctant to leave her, but the ship to Verona sails that night and he is to meet his spy ring colleague Valentine in the tavern.
Back at his lodgings, Will is convinced he has the capability of writing a comedy despite the doubt expressed by Kate and Bottom. He admits that he has written only comic scenes and not a full comedy play, but to prove his claim he refers to his previous inclusion of hilarious names such as Doll Tearpants, which is an Upstart Crow variation on Doll (Dorothy) Tearsheet in Henry IV Part II. Perhaps he should be considered a forerunner of Dickens in this wild and amusing names department!
Chatting to Kate and Bottom, Will is not too pleased to hear that she and Kit are in love and tries his best to convince her that it is a doomed love as Kit would never be faithful to her, but she refuses to believe him.
In Lucy’s tavern Kit introduces Will to Valentine, his sidekick who immediately retaliates by claiming Kit is his sidekick. It is obvious that they are not best friends. Will has a chat to Kit and threatens to write ‘a pretty stern sonnet’ if he breaks Kate’s heart, though Kit claims to have changed his bad-boy ways. Lucy offers Kit a bunch of roses for Kate, but he refuses these, explaining that he suffers with the summer snottage (i.e. hay fever) and roses in particular make his eyes water. As far as my knowledge extends, there are no records to indicate whether or not Kit suffered with hay fever, but it seems unlikely as it is an affliction more common today, partly caused by our modern environment. Centuries ago people who survived to adulthood generally had a very robust immune system and were therefore less affected by allergic reactions. Let’s hope the real Kit wasn’t allergic to roses, as most of his plays were performed at London’s Rose playhouse in his lifetime!
Kit returns to Kate to say goodbye. They are looking out of the window together and Kate quotes these words:
‘Oh, how this spring of love resembleth
The uncertain glory of an April day
Which now shows all the beauty of the sun
And by and by a cloud takes all away’
Kit is impressed by the poetry, and Kate admits that the lines were written by ‘Mr Shakespeare’. In fact, they appear in Act 1, Sc 3 of The Two Gentlemen of Verona, spoken by Proteus.
After this Kate and Kit exchange love tokens – she gives him her grandmother’s communion ring, while he hands her his grandfather’s nipple ring which he has to remove from within his clothing first. She is not exactly delighted by this gift.
Kit has left for Verona and Will, despite his efforts, is having trouble concentrating on writing a comedic play about parted lovers ‘in an exotic foreign location’, as Kate is pining because she is parted from her lover ‘who has gone off to an exotic foreign location’. Then he realises Kate and Kit are the inspiration. Before long, Will, Kate and Bottom have arrived in Verona. While there is no evidence one way or the other, it is generally believed that the real William Shakespeare never travelled abroad, acquiring his knowledge of other lands by speaking to people who had travelled and from books.
Events in Verona do not go to plan, as Kit’s infidelity there kills Kate’s love for him. Back in the familiar surroundings of Will’s London lodgings, Kit and Kate agree that they were not made for each other, as he recovers from the black eye and other wounds she inflicted on him. However, he is grateful for her keen observation in noting the Catholic wedding arrangements Silvia requested on accepting Valentine’s proposal, thus proving the contessa was not a Protestant, as she had claimed, but a double agent. Kit admitted to not pointing all this out to Valentine!
However, none of this deters Will in his writing, as he decides that instead of one wedding for Valentine and Silvia, he will write of a double wedding for the two best friends and their true loves in his play.
This ending for the play displeases Kate because one of the protagonists had been unfaithful to his sweetheart and should not have been forgiven and, even less, rewarded with marriage to the once-abandoned girl. Kate’s summing up of The Two Gentlemen of Verona, ‘Honestly, it is not going to be one of your best’,rings true as it is often considered one of Shakespeare’s weakest plays. However, this romantic comedy did pave the way for the development of themes which Shakespeare used in some of his later dramas. It is obvious he drew heavily from various works of literature available at the time, weaving his own story around these – a trick he was to use time and time again in the future.
Back in Stratford the second storyline, with just a vague link to Julia/Sebastian in The Two Gentlemen of Verona, comes to a conclusion with another cross-dressing scenario having taken place. Much against her better judgement, Susanna did dress up as her cousin Shane and got to know Darren. However, it was futile as Darren didn’t ask Susanna to the Woodland Gadabout, but he did fall in love with her as Shane!
As to whether the list of assassins was ever passed to Kit or Valentine by Silvia is left to viewers’ imaginations, along with the stern sonnet which Will threatened to write if Kit broke Kate’s heart, and despite his Italian lessons, it seems Kit used only English in Verona!
PARALLELS AND DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA AND UPSTART CROW’S I DID ADORE A TWINKLING STAR
The two gentlemen of Verona, Proteus and Valentine, are best friends. Valentine decides to travel, but Proteus is so in love with Julia that he doesn’t want to be parted from her so opts to stay in Verona to be near her. Valentine reaches the court of the Duke of Milan, who makes him very welcome, and soon falls in love with the duke’s daughter Silvia.
While I Did Adore a Twinkling Star is based on The Two Gentlemen of Verona, it does not follow the story fully, though Kit represents Proteus and Valentine parallels his namesake in the play. Kit and Valentine are not even friends, let alone best friends, more rivals in the spy ring.
Proteus is then sent by his father on business to the court of the Duke of Milan but before leaving Verona exchanges rings with his true love Julia, a mark of their love commitment to each other.
Kit and Valentine travel to Verona together from England on a spying mission to meet Contessa Silvia who has a list for them of Catholic assassins. Although Kit and Kate exchange rings as love tokens, theirs are not as romantic as the rings exchanged by Proteus and Julia.
At the Duke of Milan’s court Proteus finds Valentine and learns that he is in love with the duke’s daughter. On meeting her, Proteus also falls in love with her, abandoning his feelings for Julia, even though he realises he is now his best friend’s rival for Silvia’s hand.
Once in Verona, Kit proves Will’s view that he has a wandering eye, as he abandons his love for Kate and becomes Valentine’s rival for Silvia.
Silvia’s father wishes her to marry Thurio, whom she doesn’t love, so she suggests to Valentine that they elope.
In Upstart Crow there is no Thurio equivalent, nor thought of elopement.
Jealous of Valentine who has Silvia’s love, Proteus tells the duke of the couple’s elopement plans. When Valentine is discovered with a rope ladder, he is banished from the court but is captured by a band of noble outlaws who make him their captain.
No band of outlaws features in the Upstart Crow plot.
Meanwhile Julia, dressed as a pageboy called Sebastian, has followed Proteus.
Kate, dressed as a boy, travels to Verona with Will and Bottom to be nearer to Kit.
Proteus and Sebastian meet up but he doesn’t recognise this young boy as Julia. He asks the pageboy to declare his love for Silvia and to give her a ring – it is the very ring Julia gave him, which of course she recognises. She does not offer it to Silvia, later telling Proteus she forgot.
Due to his blurred vision caused by the summer snottage, Kit fails to recognise Kate, and, believing she is a boy, employs her as his servant, asking her to give Silvia the communion ring Kate gave him.
Silvia sets off in search of Valentine but is captured by the same band of outlaws. She is rescued by Proteus who then tries to force himself on her but she resists and is then rescued from Proteus by Valentine.
There are no parallels with this scene in Upstart Crow.
The two young men argue over Silvia and all is overheard by Julia, dressed as Sebastian though still wearing the commitment ring. She mistakenly believes that Valentine wishes to give Silvia to Proteus.
Although there is tension between Kit and Valentine, Kate is unaware of this.
When Proteus sees Sebastian he recognises the ring and realises that the boy is Julia in disguise. She confirms her identity, producing the other ring, which she failed to give to Silvia, and Proteus has a revival of love for Julia and forgets Silvia.
Rather than present Silvia with the communion ring, Kate opts to give her the nipple ring and Kit, who is secretly watching, instantly recognises it and sees through Kate’s disguise. With Kate removing her boy’s hat and shaking her hair loose, Kit’s love for her is rekindled.
Following threats from Valentine, Thurio willingly gives up Silvia as he has never loved her. Silvia’s father agrees to her marrying Valentine and, with Proteus and Julia now reconciled, a double wedding is arranged.
With Valentine appearing and proposing to Silvia who accepts, Kit then asks Kate to give him her hand. She agrees and punches him! Silvia misinterprets this as Kate’s agreement to marriage and immediately calls for the priest, candles and incense, assuming there will be a twin wedding. However, no double wedding will take place, as Kate has emphatically turned Kit down.
In the next Facts List, we shall meet Thomas Morley and learn about the apparent origin of musicals!