When one thinks of the Renaissance, usually one pictures Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, or the Medicis. But if you travel westward from the Italian countryside, cross the vast western European taiga forests, and swim to the British Isles, one encounters the greatness of the English Renaissance. Here, it is not about the explosion of painting and sculpture, instead, the Elizabethan theater. And one immediately recalls the great wordsmith of 16th century England, William Shakespeare.
Renaissance history for the seventh graders of Davis Waldorf would not be complete without the performance of a Shakespearean play. However, perhaps in the spirit of creativity, and in a very conscious effort to give a balanced amount of lines for each of my students, I wrote a play, which incorporated passages from Shakespeare's plays, epic poems, and sonnets.
The play is titled Star Cross'd. It takes us on a journey from Shakespeare's birthplace of Stratford-upon-Avon to the Globe Theater in London. What had interested me as I imagined the plot of Star Cross'd was how Shakespeare got his start, and what inspired him. His life during the time of Queen Elizabeth I included many people that were as interesting as his fictional characters, so I decided to include some of them in our play. And though while historically they existed, I took creative license in their interactions with Shakepseare.
If love is at the heart of the writer's soul, then it was Anne Hathaway, Shakespeare's wife, who was his muse. When Shakespeare leaves Stratford, he arrives in London at the Master of Revels office where he meets the Burbages, financiers and actors in the Chamberlain's Men. The Master of the Revels is the Queen's censor, and with Shakespeare's wordsmithing prowess, the Burbages ask Shakespeare to join them as their playwright.
The play jumps a few years and Shakespeare is invited as the guest of honor of the Queen and her Royal Court. Here, he meets Sir Walter Raleigh and Bess Morton (Elizabeth Throgmorton). I discovered that Morton was secretly in love with Raleigh and the two eventually married each other. I decided to use their secret love affair as the vehicle that inspires Shakespeare to write his play Romeo and Juliet. So the second half of our play is a "play within a play," as the Chamberlain's Men perform Rome and Juliet (excerts from the play) for the Queen and the Royal Court to convince Bess Morton to follow her heart.
Here is an excerpt of our play, where Shakespeare is quietly talking to Bess Morton:
Oh, Mr. Shakespeare, I hope I did not offend thee
With an amateur’s recitation of your epic poem.
No, not at all! I express the opposite, gentle lady.
Words are just words without heart. And your heart
Sings of one truly in love. And dare I presume, a love
You are keeping in shadow.
Sir, you are gifted in knowing the human soul.
It is no wonder the characters in your plays speak
With genuine emotion.
I am in love, but I must not act upon my heart’s call.
As Lady to the Queen’s Privy Chamber, I am
To serve only Her Majesty.
I am forbidden to fall in love.
Forbidden to fall in love?!
Can a rose be forbidden to bloom in beauty?
Can the wind be ordered to hold sway its might?
Can the sun be estopped from slicing the summer sky
With it glorious rays of light and heat!!
The Queen cannot ever know, else I draw her rage.
Or worse, I become a prisoner of the Tower.
Oh dear Lady Bess, I am reminded of what my
Wife Anne tells me:
Love looks upon tempests and is never shaken.
We were young, foolish perhaps, but impassioned
By the unwavering truth of love.
A Queen’s temper cannot temper love.
You are asking me to disobey the wishes of my Queen.
I am asking you to obey the wishes of your heart.