A Look at Upstart Crow – Series 3 , Episode 3 – If You Prick Us, Do We Not Bleed?

A very affectionate look by @ChasquiPenguin at the Upstart Crow episodes, all of which were written by Ben Elton.

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 3 – If You Prick Us, Do We Not Bleed?

The title of this episode is a line from Shakespeare’s play The Merchant of Venice, a comedy believed to have been written between 1596 and 1598.

The first recorded performance of The Merchant of Venice was on 10th February 1605, which was Shrove Tuesday that year. It took place at the court of King James I, though it is likely to have been performed earlier, possibly in the late 1590s, at The Theatre, owned by James Burbage. His son Richard Burbage was cast as Shylock, the Jewish moneylender, a man despised by many, including Antonio, the title-role character.

The episode title is from Act 3, Scene 1 and is spoken by Shylock who lives in the city of Venice, where the play is set. The words form part of his speech and he is pointing out the fact that despite differences, all humans are the same under the surface, including Christians and Jews. A longer extract from Shylock’s speech will be included later in this Facts List. However, the name of this Jewish character is not mentioned in Upstart Crow.

Synopsis of The Merchant of Venice

The play revolves around a love match for Portia, a rich young lady who has many suitors. In his will her father has left three caskets, one of gold, one of silver and one of lead. Inside one of these he has left his written permission for the opener of that casket to marry Portia. Only Bassanio, whom Portia loves, chooses the correct casket – lead – but as he is not wealthy cannot marry her. He asks his friend, Antonio – the merchant of Venice in this play – for a loan but he is unable to oblige as his money is tied up in the cargo on ships which are late arriving in Venice. Antonio sends Bassano to moneylender Shylock for a loan, in Antonio’s name. Despite knowing of Antonio’s prejudice against himself, and Jews in general, Shylock agrees to lend the money but insists on its being paid back within three months or he will take a pound of flesh from Antonio. The deal is agreed but news arrives that all of Antonio’s ships are lost at sea, making him bankrupt. Therefore, he is unable to repay the loan to Shylock who threatens to take the pound of flesh. The case goes to court. By this time, Portia and Bassanio are married, and she dresses as a male lawyer to argue the case. Her servant Balthazar points out that no mention is made of taking blood with the pound of flesh and when she cites this, the case is dismissed, and Shylock shamed.  

This episode opens in Will’s room in London. He is writing a new comedy, at the request of Burbage, and has decided to set it in Venice, with a romantic theme, and with a moneylender as a focal character. 

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A depiction of the Grand Canal in Venice, with the Rialto Bridge in the background

Kit Marlowe, having faked his own death, is in hiding in Will’s lodgings, taking full advantage of his friend’s hospitality, without paying him a penny. He is pleased to see Will writing another play which will earn him some money to pay for the food and drink, though Kit does rather sarcastically wonder whether Will is writing another Henry play, in fact Henry the Nineteenth, Part 12! In reality, Christopher Marlowe is recorded as having died on 30th May 1593 during an altercation with Ingram Frizer over the payment of a bill, but there is a school of thought which believes his death was faked and he lived on to write Shakespeare’s plays. This has led to the Shakespeare Authorship Question which seeks to find the true author of the famous dramas. A fuller account of the facts/speculations can be found in my previous Facts List: https://adoseofdavidmitchell.wordpress.com/2022/06/ 

Will outlines the plot of his new comedy to Kit and Bottom, insisting it is his own original idea. However, Kit refutes Will’s claim, accusing him of “pinching it from a collection of Medieval stories called Gesta Romanorum, a book Kate is reading and has left in the privy”. Will then admits he may have glanced at it but concluded that it was a coincidence that he and the Medieval author had had the same idea! 

It is likely that this tome was written and published in Latin, as the first English version was not printed until the early 18th century. While Kate is fluent in the language, the Upstart Crow Will struggles to understand Latin, though the real Shakespeare is likely to have been more au fait with the ancient language than his sitcom version and could well have been familiar with the original tale.

It is thought by many academics that Shakespeare based The Merchant of Venice on an Italian story by Ser Giovanni Fiorentino entitled Il Percone. Written in the late fourteenth century, it was published in1558, almost certainly in Latin, as one of a collection of tales. Although there is no proof, there is speculation that Shakespeare based the character of Shylock on Rodrigo Lopes. He was a Portuguese doctor, a Christian of Jewish descent, who became Queen Elizabeth I’s physician-in-chief.

There are a few other contenders which may have influenced Shakespeare’s writing of this play, including The Jew of Malta by Christopher Marlowe which was first performed around 1589. The title role was probably played at the debut by Edward Alleyn at the Rose Playhouse, but no details have survived to confirm these suppositions. 

Will makes a reference to the popularity of his plays, claiming his Richard III title has inspired London costermongers to use it as part of their Cockney Rhyming slang. Although Richard III has been incorporated into rhyming slang, it would have been much later than the 16th century as it wasn’t till the 1840s that East End Londoners started to develop their unique method of communication. It is said to have originated among the less honest citizens, so the police and other more upstanding members of the city couldn’t understand their conversations. There is also a theory that the servants in the households of the wealthy used it so their masters were unable to comprehend any overhead chats “below stairs”. There is possibly an element of truth in both, and a likelihood that some were part of both groups of rhyming slang speakers. Usually only the first half of a rhyming slang phrase is used, but it is the latter part which contains the rhyme, so it was often difficult for outsiders to understand. An example of this is, ‘use your loaf’, the latter word being the first part of the full phrase ‘loaf of bread’ which translates as “head”. It should also be said that not all rhyming slang is as mild as this example; many are crude, with ‘Richard III’ is in this category! 

The term ‘cockney’ has existed for centuries and was used by Chaucer. It is thought to have originated from the Norman word ‘cocaigne’ meaning a sugar cake. It may also have stemmed from a word for an oddly shaped egg. The word later came to be used by rural communities to describe city dwellers as weaklings. However, during the 17th century, the word ‘Cockney’ was applied exclusively to Londoners, who were still regarded as weaklings! Although anyone from the East End of London is regarded as a Cockney these days, a true Cockney is defined as one born within earshot of Bow Bells. Nevertheless, the radius over which these church bells could be heard, must often have been determined by wind direction!

The word ‘costermonger’ dates from the early 16th century and describes a fruit and vegetable seller. It is s a combination of the words ‘costard’, the name of a type of apple eaten in the Middle Ages, and ‘monger’ meaning seller. In fact, the term was used by Samuel Pepys in his diary written in the 17th century. 

Returning to the outline of his play, Will refers to Portia’s suitor Bassanio, and it has been speculated that Shakespeare’s inspiration for this name (and variations on it in other plays) came from Emilia Lanier’s maiden name, Bassano. It is thought that they knew each other, but whether she was the Dark Lady of his sonnets remains a subject for debate.

Back at Will’s lodgings, Kate returns home, having taken part in a counter-riot supporting the rights of Dutch and French Protestants to remain in England. These immigrants had fled their homelands to escape religious persecution. She refers to the Dutch Church Riots of 1593, but this must be very soon after, if not in the same year, as Upstart Crow Kit had recently faked his death.

Will has an appointment with his actor friends at the theatre and asks Kate to accompany him for a female opinion. They are to audition an actor for Will’s new play. Burbage and colleagues agree that the successful applicant needs to have the qualities of shouting and strutting. The actor arrives and introduces himself in the third person, ‘I am the actor Wolf Hall’, an amusing trend which runs throughout his dealings with the theatre company. He is quietly spoken and apprises them of the fact that the actor Wolf Hall does not shout and does not strut but has ‘developed a revolutionary new style, subtle, nuanced, emoting from within, by means of long sad-eyed stares, pregnant with weary wisdom and penetrating perception’, and he goes on to demonstrate this in his audition. This fictional Upstart Crow character, played by Ben Miller, seems to have been inspired by Sir Mark Rylance’s portrayal of Sir Thomas Cromwell in the televised historical drama Wolf Hall. It is also interesting to note that Sir Mark Rylance is President of the Marlowe Society and supporter of the Shakespeare Authorship Question – did Shakespeare actually write the plays attributed to him?

While Burbage is initially unimpressed by Wolf Hall’s acting, Condell, Kempe and Kate see promise in it. She is convinced that ‘brainy girls will go wibbly, wobbly over an actor like that’. Will is also in favour of this new, slow approach to acting, delighted at the thought that Wolf Hall could double the length of his Richard III to eight or nine hours! Burbage agrees to take him on but in smaller roles only. However, the actor Wolf Hall has other ideas, stating, ‘There are no small roles for Wolf Hall’. He then turns and walks to the door with the words, ‘The actor Wolf Hall bids you good day’.

Meanwhile, Robert Greene has been secretly listening to the audition and, fearing that Wolf Hall’s acting may enhance Will’s fame as a playwright, comes up with a plan to thwart such an outcome, which will be revealed in a later scene. 

After the audition, Will and colleagues adjourn to Lucy’s Tavern to discuss the forthcoming charity event for the Dutch and French immigrants – a venture they all seem keen to embrace as it will promote their careers. They have chosen to call it Inflated Pig’s Bladder Day, a parody of Red Nose Day, as participants in a visual joke hit an opponent in the face with a pig’s bladder and the victim’s nose turns red! On the night of the show, which features the pig’s bladder slap-stick routine, the merriment of the entertainment is then replaced by a serious speech by Burbage and Condell on the plight of the immigrants and then the amount of money donated is revealed: £4.18.6d (four pounds, eighteen shillings and sixpence), but as Lucy pointed out earlier actual help, accompanied by laws, would be the better option for the immigrants, but in the absence of those, a bunch of lovey-kissies showing off will have to suffice. Kate feels that such a timeless issue brought to public attention would be a good way to help the immigrants and this gives Will an idea.

In the next scene Robert Greene is in his office with Wolf Hall, convincing him that Shakespeare does not have the education to have written the plays credited to him, and wonders if some ‘educated posh boy’ had written them in secret, suggesting university men such as Francis Bacon, the Earl of Oxford – or even Christopher Marlowe, adding ‘They say he’s dead, but is he?’ This gets Wolf Hall thinking, as he comments “The actor Wolf Hall is intrigued”.

Back in Stratford, Susannah has a job at the local school helping the children with their reading and writing. However, after her first day she is angered and disillusioned to find one boy being picked on by his classmates and would like to make her class realise that this boy ‘has exactly the same feelings and exactly the same human value as they do’. Anne suggests to her daughter that she speaks to her father as he ‘can be astute in matters of human nature’, while Mary (Will’s mother) agrees as ‘he knows a bit about being bullied too. He started to go bald when he was seven’!

In his London lodgings, Will has concluded that at the centre of his new play there needs to be an outsider who is ‘despised and belittled’. He then goes on to say, ‘I’ll make him the moneylender and create an iconic figure who will stand for all time as an affront to prejudice and bigotry’. Influenced by Kate’s words about the anti-immigrant riots, he announces that he will make this character a Dutchman. However, Kate informs Will that the Dutch are not hated in Venice; in fact, the Venetians and Dutch are trading partners. Kit then points out that, aside from recent events, the Dutch have long been our allies. After some thought, Will decides to make his moneylender a Jew and to make him a character which will partly bring out audience sympatheties.

In the next scene a rehearsal of The Merchant of Venice is taking place, with Burbage playing the Jewish moneylender, not very sympathetically. Wolf Hall is sitting at the side watching and during a pause, walks towards the stage with the script in his hand and begins to recite a lengthy speech by the Jew, with much feeling:

Hath not a Jew eyes? hath not a Jew hands, organs,
dimensions, senses, affections, passions? fed with
the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject
to the same diseases, healed by the same means,
warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as
a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed?
if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison
us, do we not die? and if you wrong us, shall we not

Moved by the portrayal, Will declares that Wolf Hall must play this part of the moneylender. Burbage, however, reminds him that he always plays the title role. Will agrees, stating that he still can, as the Jew is not the merchant of Venice, but Antonio. Despite landing the role of the Jewish moneylender, Wolf Hall has his own ideas and accuses Will of not writing his plays, suggesting that the author is a posh boy. Will is astounded and incensed, especially as none of the actors backs him. Will bans Wolf Hall from appearing in his plays and receives the reply, ‘How very rude. I was only expressing reasonable doubt.” He then walks out, having uttered his last words in that theatre, “The actor Wolf Hall bids you goodbye”.

This year sees the 400th anniversary of the publication of Shakespeare’s First Folio. This consists of 36 of the Bard’s plays, collated by his acting friends Henry Condell and John Hemminges, under the title Mr. William Shakespeares comedies, histories, & tragedies. Published according to the true originall copies. The British Library houses one of 235 extant copies, featuring the original engraving of William Shakespeare by Martin Droeshout, before improvements to the artwork were made. However, as the engraver was only 15 when Shakespeare died in 1616, it is unlikely that they ever met, and it is thought that the engraving was achieved by copying a portrait. Ben Jonson, who was one of Shakespeare’s friends, declared it a good likeness and so from this we can picture William Shakespeare in his later years. 


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Engraving of William Shakespeare by Martin Droueshout for Shakespeare’s First Folio, published in 1623

Back to The Merchant of Venice, and the first performance sees Burbage on stage, portraying the Jew as a nasty character, the villain of the play. Therefore, he is being booed by the audience. Will’s plans to promote tolerance and understanding, have backfired but he has another use for the speech.

In the real world of Elizabethan theatre, although it is not certain, it is thought that Richard Burbage (son of James, owner of The Theatre) played Shylock when it was first performed. From his earliest days as an actor, Richard had taken many important roles in Shakespeare’s plays and so this is likely to have been among them.

In the next scene Susannah is seen in the classroom of the Stratford school and tells the boys that she is going to choose one of them to speak the lines of one of her father’s plays at the village Gladsome Gadabout. Much to the amusement of his classmates, she chooses Rodney, the bullied boy, and asks him to read a few of the lines, in fact most of those read by Wolf Hall. As Rodney concludes the reading of the lines, the pupils appear more sympathetic towards him, seeing the error of their ways in their treatment of him, and so Will’s words have been effective for someone. We then see Will and Anne standing at the back and joining in the round of applause. 

The final scene focuses on Anne and Will chatting late at night in their Stratford parlour. She is impressed by those lines her husband has written, but he goes one further and thinks they will change the world. Anne then tells him that she doesn’t think his hair is receding – his head has just got bigger! On that note the episode ends.

The Merchant of Venice is certainly one of Shakespeare’s best-known plays, with Shylock among the most famous characters. Although written with a partly sympathetic slant, the actions of this man cannot be condoned even though he has been wronged repeatedly, and so the question of Will’s true feelings about this character remains.  

The next Facts List will concentrate on the Upstart Crow episode Sigh No More (S3, Ep 4), with Adrian Edmondson playing one of Shakespeare’s well-known comedy characters.

Vote for David in the British Comedy Guide Awards

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Both WILTY? And The Unbelievable Truth are nominated. Plus you can apply for tickets to the new series of The Unbelievable Truth recording in London this February.

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The Upstart Crow Returns to the Stage – A Review

It’s hard to believe that it has been over two years since The Upstart Crow debuted to 5-star reviews at the Gielgud Theatre in London’s West End. It was bizarre, tragic, yet strangely apposite that a Shakespearean play that predominantly featured the plot of King Lear would be halted by a pandemic – a popular hypothesis states that William Shakespeare wrote King Lear during the 1606 outbreak of plague in London, which itself closed all the theatres.

Cut off in its prime, Upstart Crow’s big West End theatre run couldn’t possibly have closed forever mere weeks after it was declared a triumph. Thankfully now, after a lengthy hiatus the show is back. What’s changed?

As with every Shakespeare play, Upstart Crow, (although always magic on screen) has a particularly captivating quality when performed live – there’s a magic about the show, a special thing that happens when an entire cast and crew come together to create something that just works, and leaves its audience with a warm glow (something all truly great sitcoms possess). This was evident at the TV recordings, where, at the now sadly departed ITV Studios (often known simply as The London Studios) the atmosphere was electric, despite the temperatures outside being typically freezing – the series was always recorded in early January, queuing outside amidst bitter winds blowing in from The Thames was cold to say the least. The studios themselves were air conditioned to help prevent any bald caps melting, but still the atmosphere was alive with beautifully crafted comedy.


There was no doubt that Upstart Crow’s subject matter lent itself to the theatre, and with Ben Elton’s background in the West End and sitcom, it seemed almost inevitable that this was where the series would find its natural home.

And so, to The Upstart Crow… Things have moved on from where we left the TV series, we’ve jumped from the late 1500s to 1605. Will’s got to come up with a brilliant new play after Measure for Measure was deemed incomprehensible bolingbrokes and All’s Well That Ends Well didn’t even end well! He’s lacking inspiration. Kate remarks that his last well received play was Hamlet. The idea that Hamlet had been written for Shakespeare’s lost son is explored well here, without the mood getting too melancholy over young Hamnet’s death. Shakespeare rebuffs these ideas and against Kate’s advice refuses to look within himself to write another classic. Meanwhile, he also wants to come up with a truly iconic stage direction – enter the bear, Mr Whiskers, played by Reice Weathers, a very sweet addition to the cast. He only appears occasionally, but when he does, he’s truly great and a real hit with the audience.

At the start of the play, we meet Desiree, played by Gloria Onitiri, an African Princess washed up on the shores of England after a shipwreck – she seeks her brother and hopes to be reunited, in a nod to Twelfth Night. This theme continues with Dr John Hall, Mark Heap’s role in the initial run, now played by John Gordon Sinclair, the resemblance is pretty uncanny. Sinclair steps into Heap’s role with ease, it’s no discredit to either actor that you can hardly tell them apart.

Having jumped ahead in the timeline of William Shakespeare’s life (something Ben Elton has always paid close attention to) we are to assume that Robert Greene has finally bowed out and Dr John Hall, someone not so dissimilar in his disdain for Shakespeare has taken his place.

We first meet John as an eccentric plague doctor and as we see him throughout the play, he attempts to win the affections of Kate by donning an ever-growing pair of outrageous puffling pants. This goes down extremely well with the audience, a huge credit should be given to the costume department, who really have done a beautiful job with each character’s costume, the aforementioned Mr Whiskers, probably has the best bear costume you’ll ever see.

The incredible Gemma Whelan is back as the wonderful Kate, as is the winsome Rob Rouse as Shakespeare’s man servant ‘Bottom’, Stewart Wright takes over from Steve Speirs as Burbage and gives us a new spin on the character.

The play isn’t just an episode of Upstart Crow adapted for the stage, The Upstart Crow marks itself out as something different – never focusing on just one play, Ben Elton has stuffed the script with nods to Othello, Twelfth Night and King Lear, and for King Lear and Othello things get serious.

Towards the end of the first act Will announces that he will be dividing up his wealth and property between his two daughters, Susanna and Judith (Helen Monks reprises her role from the TV series as Susanna, and we now see Danielle Phillips as a grown-up Judith). Will incenses the pair by announcing that he will treat Kate as one of his daughters and will be dividing his estate up between the three of them, the culmination of this results in an almost abridged King Lear. David Mitchell really shines here, not just as a comic performer, but as a serious Shakespearean actor. We’d all love to see his King Lear in an RSC performance, but we do get to see a glimpse here, and it’s glorious! The storm scene stands out from all others, as Bottom plays ‘the fool’ to Shakespeare’s Lear. It’s serious, moving and funny all at once – a real spectacle to watch.

The drama gels really well with the comedy. As the play reaches its climax, we see a scene from Othello played out between Kate (Gemma Whelan) and Jason Callender as Arragon, the brother of Desiree, who by astonishing coincidence has also washed up on the coast very near to Shakespeare’s London lodgings (it’s a long story). This serious scene was a great idea; we even get a nod to ‘The Globe’ as its famous red pillars come down to immerse us completely in a beautifully acted moment. It was only right that this incarnation of Upstart Crow would have more of ‘The Theatre’ about it, but there are plenty of gags about cod dangles too, lots of social commentary, and of course transport rants. At the opening night the ‘See it, say it, sort it’ gag almost brought the house down! And at this revival, it continues to evoke the same reaction – typically Ben Elton writes up to the minute satire which has been added in to much aplomb.

Upstart Crow’s fundamental genius lies in making Shakespeare accessible and entertaining. To have the nerve to announce some plays are ‘crappage’ whilst revelling in the glory of others. Ben’s scripts have such a wealth of detail about the Bard’s life and plays, that with David Mitchell at the helm, he now becomes a more accessible figure.

The play gives us so many interesting insights into the Bard’s life, for example, Shakespeare’s King Lear originated in ‘The History of King Leir’, the story of King Leir and his three daughters was apparently well known in England centuries before Shakespeare wrote his iconic play … Yet, another idea that he may have pinched from the books Kate keeps leaving in the privy.

The dance finale will surprise many David Mitchell fans, as the man who doesn’t dance (as famously lampooned by Jonathan Ross in a Big Fat Quiz of The Year episode) dances! It’s a full-on dance routine too, traditional at first (in the style of many of Shakespeare’s comedies that finish on a dance) and then it transitions into an almost ‘street dance’ style performance with all the players having their moment (including Mr Whiskers).

If you love Upstart Crow, Shakespeare, or just a really good comedy, then you must come and see The Upstart Crow, now playing at Shaftesbury Avenue’s Apollo Theatre, it’s a love letter to Shakespeare, and one that we can all enjoy!


Full Cast Announced for The Upstart Crow

Casting has now been revealed for the West End return of The Upstart Crow. The stage play enjoyed great sucess in early 2020, but its run was cut short due to the pandemic, now the show returns with same core cast as before although there are some changes…

David Mitchell will be joined by Gemma Whelan as Kate, Helen Monks as Susanna, Rob Rouse as Bottom, Jason Callender as Arragon, Danielle Phillips as Judith and and Reice Weathers as Mr Whiskers.

Although this time Mark Heap, Rachel Summers and Steve Speirs won’t be reprising their roles, instead John Gordon Sinclair joins the cast as Dr John Hall, Gloria Onitiri takes on the role of Desiree, while Stewart Wright completes the new cast as Burbage.

Writer Ben Elton said: “Besides Will and Kate many of the other characters from the TV sitcom feature in this new play. Hilarious Helen Monks is back as Shakespeare’s grumpy daughter Susanna. Top comic Rob Rouse will once again have us laughing at his Bottom! Gotta say, the brilliant new actors who are joining The Upstart Crow for the first time will have to really pull up their puffling pants if they don’t want to get upstaged!”

The production is directed by Sean Foley, with further creative team members to be revealed by the production.

Tickets are available here: https://upstartcrowthecomedy.com/

Upstart Crow: The Facts – Wild Laughter in the Throat of Death

A very affectionate look by Chasqui Penguin at the Upstart Crow episodes, all of which were written by Ben Elton.

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 2 – Wild Laughter in the Throat of Death

The title of this episode is from Shakespeare’s comedy Love’s Labour’s Lost and is spoken by Lord Berowne (also known as Biron) to Rosaline in Act 5, Sc 2. Love’s Labour’s Lost is believed to have been first performed in 1597 at the Inns of Court for Queen Elizabeth I, and the full quote is:

To move wild laughter in the throat of death?

It cannot be, it is impossible

Mirth cannot move a soul in agony

Although this Upstart Crow episode includes references to Love’s Labour’s Lost, it is not based on this, nor on any other Shakespeare plays. In fact, it has a more historical theme surrounding the death of Christopher Marlowe and the associated speculation which arose centuries after. 

Scene 1 opens in Will’s lodgings in London with the Shakespeares, as well as Kit and Bottom, celebrating the actual historical granting of a coat of arms to John Shakespeare. In late 1596, John received a coat of arms (making him a gentleman officially), after an unsuccessful application in 1570. William’s later application, on behalf of his father, to the College of Arms in London still exists, together with the drafts for the coat of arms, and once this had been granted the Shakespeare family would have been allowed to display it over the front door of their house and on their possessions. The French motto on the Shakespeare coat of arms is ‘Non sans droict’, meaning ‘Not without right’. In addition, the family would have received the letters patent, this being the official document granting the coat of arms. Although this does not appear to have survived the passage of time, it is known that it was written in English, while many others of the era were in Latin. In this episode Hamnet is included in the family celebration, but in reality he died in August 1596, at least two months before the coat of arms was granted to his grandfather John. As a footnote, Robert Greene was never an official with the power to approve applications for coats of arms, as inferred in Upstart Crow. Added to that, he had died in September 1592, but without him Upstart Crow wouldn’t be the same and wouldn’t have a ‘baddie’.

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The Shakespeare Coat of Arms, granted to John Shakespeare in 1596Credit:‘File:Shakespeare1COA.png‘ by Tomasz Steifer, Gdansk is licensed under CC BY 2.5.

Kit reveals that his life is in danger as the government suspects him of being a double agent, and he is consequently lying low, apparently in Will’s London home. There were certain events which led to the arrest of the real Marlowe in 1593 – three years before John Shakespeare took possession of the coat of arms.

Meanwhile, Burbage has demanded that Will writes another comedy, following the popularity, even with Queen Elizabeth I, of his ‘big donkey gag play’, known to the world as A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Will’s main problem is not having any comedy ideas, which prompts his father to remark, ‘That’s never stopped you before’.

The story shifts to Robert Greene in his office, and it is obvious he is very annoyed that Will is now considered a gentleman, reasoning that the coat of arms was only issued to his father on the strength of the queen’s liking of Will’s ‘big donkey gag play’! He then begins to hatch a plot whereby William Shakespeare will be denied credit for his writing.

Back in Will’s London lodgings, Kate mentions the comedy play he is working on. It transpires that this is Hamlet which she, Kit and Bottom find hilarious, while Will tries unsuccessfully to defend it as a tragedy by pointing out its salient points, but his friends continue to find these amusing.

Shortly afterwards, Bottom brings Kit a letter, found on the mat behind the front door. This is rather worrying as Kit is lying low in Will’s home yet someone knew of his whereabouts. Kit remarks, ‘Live by the sword, die by the sword’ – a saying Will instantly claims to have coined, having used it ‘in my Richard or a random Henry – a lot of swords in those’! Kate immediately tells him that he has been plagiarised, and when Will indignantly asks by whom, Kate replies, ‘The Apostle Matthew’, going on to tell him it is in the Bible, Chapter 26, Verse 22. She then informs him that this sentiment appeared in the Greek play Agamemnon by Aeschylus (first performed in 458 BC). Despite this, Will is convinced that he will eventually be credited with inventing the entire English language! 

Turning to the letter he has just received, Kit discovers that it is an invitation from Robert Greene to an intellectual salon of London’s foremost writers, and attendees are to spend a year at a countryside retreat discussing Roman philosophy while having no contact with women. Kit sees this as a good place to lie low, but Will is outraged at not being invited and decides to return to Stratford for a while, where he will host his own literary salon, which ends up being attended by just him!

In Lucy’s tavern Robert Greene is meeting Sir Francis Bacon and the Earl of Oxford. He has a long-term plan to destroy Will’s reputation as a writer and outlines his thinking to his two companions. His first step is to lure Christopher Marlowe to the literary salon in the countryside, kill Marlowe and the sow the seed of doubt regarding the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays. More details of this idea are revealed later in the episode. In reality, with the writing of the works of Shakespeare in mind, both Bacon and Oxford, alongside Marlowe, have been named in more recent years as candidates in the Shakespeare authorship debate. 

When Will, accompanied by Bottom, arrives in Stratford, he gives vent to another transport rant. Having paid three shillings for his coach ticket, he found his fellow travellers had paid much less as they had taken advantage of various offers, including paying a farthing in a previous life for a ticket valid only on services where the driver’s middle name is Gerald! This is a particularly amusing observation by Ben Elton of today’s UK train services with their confusing multitude of ticketing prices and options, often available for booking online only. 

Will informs the family that he has come home to write amid the peace of the countryside but has few ideas for a new comedy. Susanna gives him an outline of a story, based on the literary salon to which he wasn’t invited, and Will then declares that all it needs is for him to ‘crowbar in the incomprehensible subplots and pointless minor characters’! These he envisages will become more popular as time goes by, especially with schoolchildren. Hamnet and Judith give him a look of disdain while John expresses his view that ‘It’s like a curse on youth ricocheting down the years’.

Undeterred, Will works on his new comedy which he intends to call Love’s Labours. While this is met with some interest by the family, Susanna thinks it is missing something – perhaps a third word beginning with L. This prompts the family to make their own suggestions:

Mary: lampooned?

Bottom: lanced?

John: lubricated…

Susanna: lost!

Will: licked!

As we know, ‘lost’ is the word which completed the title, with the end of this episode inferring that the family had decided this was the best, while Will still seemed to adhere to his suggestion of ‘licked’!  

Prior to this, Lucy calls into Will’s lodgings to warn Kit that his life is in danger. Having overheard Robert Greene’s conversation with Sir Francis Bacon and the Earl of Oxford, she has gathered that there is a plan to kill Kit at the countryside retreat. His disappearance would fuel rumours, spread by Greene, that he has gone into exile and is writing plays in secret under the name of William Shakespeare. Kit is alarmed by this and decides not to accept the invitation to the literary salon.

In the midst of the Love’s Labours discussion, Kit arrives at the Shakespeare family home in Stratford in a panic, requesting help in faking his own death which must be convincing. Will agrees, adding that it must be ‘forensically astute, fearlessly realistic – a masterclass in the true nature of life and death’. Though initially enthusiastic, Kit becomes unimpressed when he realises that Will is referring to a scene in Hamlet

Robert Greene is next seen with Sir Francis Bacon and the Earl of Oxford, already at his countryside literary salon, and suggesting that in their writing they mirror William Shakespeare’s style with similarities in words and punctuation. Sir Francis reminds him that as he and Shakespeare both write in English there will certainly be similarities. The Earl of Oxford also points out that there would be no evidence to support the theory that either he, Sir Francis Bacon or Marlowe are the writers of Shakespeare’s works. However, Robert Greene is convinced that this lack of evidence will serve as excellent proof of a cover-up, and on this basis has contrived a sequence of events beginning with the death of Christopher Marlowe. There is a parallel here with the Marlovian Theory which holds the view that Christopher Marlowe did not die in 1593, but lived on to write under the pseudonym William Shakespeare. There are many eminent scholars who subscribe to this theory and many others who refute it, and so the debate continues.

Back in London at the Red Lion theatre, Will is speaking to Burbage, Condell and Kempe and has revealed that Kit is desperate to fake his own death, giving the reasons. Will’s idea is for Kit and Burbage to have a fight in a tavern in which Kit will supposedly die. The plan follows the storyline of his new play Hamlet, but the actors, as well as Kate who is also present, just laugh at the various scenes described. In the midst of this Bottom arrives with the news that Christopher Marlowe is dead. It is just as well Will’s plan didn’t go ahead; Burbage would surely have been arrested and charged with murder when he had committed no crime. 

The next scene shows Will, Kate, Lucy and Bottom at Kit’s unmarked graveside in Deptford, now in South London but in the 16th century it was within the borders of his home county of Kent. They are mourning his passing, with Will reminiscing:

‘I had prepared for him a truly great death scenario, but instead he is stabbed in the eye, in a brawl in a small room over the reckoning of a bill, and such were the number and variety of his enemies at his end, that we four are all that come to mourn him.’

A voice agrees – the voice of Kit himself, who is alive and expressing his disappointment as he had hoped for a state funeral. Surprised to see his friend again, Will checks and is assured by Kit that he is alive, his death having been faked with three friends from the spy ring who rigged a fight with a stage dagger; ‘a plague corpse’ lies in the buried coffin. Will is a little put out as he had intended to help with the faked death, but Kit admits he wasn’t keen on the Hamlet influence, with Bottom adding, ‘He didn’t want people to think he’d laughed himself to death.’ Kate now concludes that with Kit believed dead instead of having mysteriously disappeared, there can be no suspicion of his writing Mr Shakespeare’s plays, while Lucy is of the opinion that people will believe anything they want to believe.

In reality, Christopher Marlowe is recorded as having died on 30th May 1593, stabbed above the right eye by Ingram Frizer in a fight over ‘the reckoning’. This is said to have taken place in a building thought to have been a government safe house, not a tavern, in Deptford. It was owned by Eleanor Bull, a respectable widow from a minor aristocratic family, who let rooms and served meals, often to government employees, and Marlowe was spending time there with Robert Poley, Nicholas Skeres and Ingram Frizer, almost certainly all members of the spy ring, when the alleged altercation arose. An inquest took place on 1st June 1593, and in 1925 the coroner’s report was discovered in London’s Public Record Office by academic Dr Leslie Hotson. Since then, doubt has been cast on the accuracy of this document, though this is not unanimous and scholarly opinion is divided.

The three gentlemen with whom Marlowe spent time on 30th May were present at the inquest, but the reliability of their evidence has been queried, their roles in the spy ring leading them to be labelled ‘professional liars’. At the inquest, Frizer was found not guilty of Marlowe’s murder, being deemed to have acted in self-defence, and on 28th June 1593 he was pardoned by the queen. There is also question relating to the legal status of the coroner. These and other details have led to the Marlovian Theory which is defended by some academics while others hotly dispute its ideas.

Kit Marlowe is said to have been buried in an unmarked grave later on the day of the inquest. Given his success as a playwright and probable service as a government secret agent, many dismiss the idea that this was his final resting place. However, others argue that as he had fallen out of favour with the authorities, a more impressive burial would not have been considered. Whatever the truth, the debate continues, and it is interesting to note that Marlowe was no stranger to controversy – during his life, through the content of his plays and even in death. Nevertheless, he is still recognised as an outstanding playwright, in fact a pioneer whose dramatic skills influenced Shakespeare and many other writers of his era and after. In the Deptford churchyard where Christopher Marlowe is said to have been buried there is a plaque on the wall, with a quote from his famous drama Doctor Faustus:

A close-up of a document

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The plaque on the wall of the churchyard of St Nicholas in Deptford, dedicated to the memory of Christopher (Kit) Marlowe© Copyright Mike Quinn and licensed for reuse under creativecommons.org/licenses/by-s

Returning from history to Upstart Crow, the final scene is the familiar one of Will and Anne chatting in their Stratford home late at night. Aware of Kit’s faked death and sojourn in Will’s London lodgings, the astute Mrs Shakespeare warns her husband that his friend won’t rush to get a new identity and move to a place of his own. She is of the opinion that Kit will be happy to continue accepting Will’s hospitality with free ale and pie provided. 

As no one knows for certain whether Marlowe survived 30th May 1593, the idea that he went into exile abroad, at least for a while, is often put forward. On the other hand, perhaps he was quaffing Will’s ale and gorging on his pies, as portrayed in Upstart Crow! Who’s to say?!

© Chasqui Penguin, 2022

Twitter: @ChasquiPenguin

June Update – Upstart Crow Returns to the Stage and Outsiders Is Recomissioned

Hello Mitchell fans!

Well we’ve had some exciting news of late, namely that Upstart Crow is returning to the West End this autumn after Covid forced the critically accliamed show to close early in 2020. A new 10-week run was announced a few weeks ago, comencing in late Sptember and ending early December. This new run will be at the Apollo Theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue. All details can be found here:


David stated: “A whole pandemic later, I’m delighted to have the opportunity to continue my West End debut as history’s most famous balding dramatist and escape back to 1605 through the amazing comic imagination of Ben Elton. We aim to bring Shakespearean London back to life in every way apart from the smell.”

Another piece of eciting news was spotted by one of the lovely David Mitchell fans over on the Facebook appreciation group. It was a casting call asking for volunteers to come forward for a haircut. The advert confirms that a second run of Outsiders will be filming fairly soon, most likely later this month, airing again on Dave this autumn.

Lastly David, Lee and Rob’s tour, which has been travelling up and down the country for the last few weeks – a continuation of their orginal 2019 Town-to-Town tour, has been recieved very warmly by Would I Lie To You? Fans everywhere. Some have even come over from abroad to see the show which is lovely. Do tweet us your pictures. I love to see them.

Until the next update Mitchell fans! X

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