This is Part One in a series of related stories about the Essex Rebellion.
The next Parts are:
2. Shakespeare's Richard II on 7 February 1601
3. Shakespeare's Hamlet and the Essex Rebellion
4. Shakespeare and the Essex Trial
5. Shakespeare and the Essex Execution
It is early January, 1601.
Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, hears some disturbing news.
|Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex|
There will soon be an attempt on his life.
He must have thought that he had fallen so far from the favor of the Queen that she would prefer him dead.
Robert Cecil, her right hand man, and arguably the most powerful person in England -- more powerful than the Queen herself perhaps -- would gladly kill him, and be done with him forever.
Essex might have thought back to the time when he had been the Queen's favorite -- the courtier without equal in her court, and when she showered him with affection, money and power.
He was her first cousin twice removed. His mother's second marriage was to the Queen's former favorite at court -- Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester.
There had long been rumors that Dudley was his real father, and that the Queen's affection was transferred from father, to him, Dudley's son.
Why else would his mother name him Robert, like Robert Dudley, instead of Walter, after his father Walter Devereux?
But Essex, in early January 1601, didn't have time to dwell on this ancient history.
The Queen had withdrawn her affection, impoverished him and made him powerless.
He had to take action, and he started immediately. He started to fortify his Essex House (now called Essex Hall), on the Strand, which had formerly been Leicester House, and had passed to Essex when Dudley died.
Essex was not the only one in England that thought that the Queen and her corrupt councillors, like Cecil, were bringing the country to ruin. Essex had been cultivating others who might stand with him if the time came to protest to the Queen directly, and demand that their voices be heard.
Now was the time to gather them to Essex House, and the word went out. It didn't take long, and soon there were upwards of 300 men at Essex House.
They were some of the most powerful young men in the country, including Essex's closest friend and ally, Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton.
They plotted day and night. They must have debated and argued over their strategy.
Someone proposed that they should inspire a popular uprising. It could increase their chances of success. If they could get the common people to join their fight, then they would have even more leverage against the Queen and her councillors.
Essex and his fellow plotters thought that the common people of London were as sick and tired of the failures of Queen Elizabeth's regime as they were.
What kind of signal?
It may have been Essex who thought of it first.
Or perhaps Southampton.
Both of them were close personal friends, and patrons to the most powerful and successful playwright in London, whose Globe was the hottest ticket in town.
What if Shakespeare performed a play... a play that would signal that a rebellion was beginning?
There was no greater voice heard louder or more easily in all of London.
But would Shakespeare do it?
Could he be convinced?
It is early January, 1601.
And William Shakespeare is about to be asked a very fateful request, that would put him right between Essex and Robert Cecil.
Would he be willing to perform a play that would signal the Essex Rebellion?
I have written about these events in my version of Hamlet, and I hope you visit this blog in the next few weeks as I tell you about some of these moments.
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