AWARDS FOR SHAKESPEARE INCORPORATED
Shakespeare Incorporated won first-place in the 2009 Rocky Mountain Theatre Association Festival Playwriting Competition. The competition was open to playwrights from Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Idaho and Montana. The play was also selected as one of the winners of the Paragon Theater’s Trench New Play Development Competition, and had a public reading at the Crossroads Theater in Denver in early 2009.
The lights come up on what appears to be a scene from an Elizabethan play. When the hero pulls out a squirt gun and soaks the villain, we discover that the actors are taking part in a current day theatrical house-party in Wilton House, the ancestral home of the Earls of Pembroke. The participants are all descendants of William Shakespeare and other authors who are rumored to have had some part in writing Shakespeare’s works — Christopher Marlowe, Francis Bacon, Ben Jonson, Edward de Vere, Mary Sydney and William Stanley. Mary, the owner of the house shows Christopher a manuscript that she has found in her attic, which purports to be a true account of how Shakespeare’s works were written.
Marlowe, still in Elizabethan costume from the play scene, begins to read the manuscript and without warning, we are in the Mermaid Tavern in 1593, where he meets the hopelessly untalented aspiring young writer, William Shakespeare. Shakespeare convinces Marlowe to help him with his writing, and Marlowe begins composing “Venus and Adonis.” De Vere and Stanley come looking to hire Marlowe to polish de Vere’s brilliantly conceived but poorly executed plays. For various reasons, none of the three can use their own names, so they decide to use the oblivious Shakespeare’s name as a front. The successful venture appears to be jeopardized by Marlowe’s death in a tavern brawl, but it is later revealed that the death was faked to keep Marlowe from going to prison.
Marlowe, now hidden in Wilton House and disguised as the Scottish academic, Newgate, continues to write, assisted by rest of “Shakespeare Unlimited” – de Vere, Sydney, Stanley, and a growing army of consultants. Meanwhile, Shakespeare’s head has been turned by his growing fame and wealth and he constantly seeks a bigger piece of the proceeds.
Francis Bacon and Ben Jonson, who are jealous of Shakespeare’s success, come to Wilton House with Queen Elizabeth to meet the Bard. Queen Elizabeth quickly realizes that Shakespeare couldn’t be writing such brilliant works, and there is some sort of cover-up. To the delight of Shakespeare Unlimited, she decides that Bacon is the true author.
Bacon becomes increasingly frustrated with his rumored status as a successful playwright, a status from which he derives no benefit, and convinces Shakespeare to let him “franchise” the name to a host of other writers. The principals of Shakespeare Unlimited are angered by the degradation of the reputation they worked so hard to create, and consider what they can do to end Shakespeare’s career — even murdering him. At the same time, a jealous Ben Jonson is intentionally ruining Shakespeare’s health by taking him on drinking bouts in bad weather. In the end, it is unclear whether Shakespeare Unlimited or Ben Jonson is responsible for Shakespeare’s death.
At the play’s conclusion, we are again in the present day, where the descendents prepare to continue the battle on their ancestors’ behalf.