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