Shaker_coverFrancis, concerned with the risk of exposure of his mask, asks Will Shaksper to leave London

On an early spring Saturday afternoon, Thomas Nashe, George Peele and Francis discussed the question of the authorship of the many of his anonymous plays which were being performed around London as they drove in a carriage to the Rose theatre to see James Burbage and his men put on a special double bill of The Merchant of Venice and Romeo and Juliet. Francis was not completely satisfied with either yet.  He made a note to speak with Burbage and Shaksper after the performance.
Nashe was saying, “I really think you are right about putting a name on the plays before someone else does, Francis. There is more and more stealing going on these days, and unauthorised publications. I still think that Shakespeare is the ideal name. You may not be concerned with the financial aspects, but others are. You need a minimum of protection against the printers and booksellers.”
“I would be concerned about the risk of using the Shakespeare name,” said Peele. “Greene’s warning about Shaksper has sadly turned out to be true. His greedy money lending at atrocious rates has given him a bad name among the actors.”
“I agree with both of you,” said Francis. “The name is good, but the risk is high if anyone starts to dig into the matter. And there is a limit to how far we can go with the Marlowe mask. The key is to get Shaksper out of London. I have a proposal to put to him, with the backing of Lord Essex and Southampton.”
After a very successful double performance, Francis stuffed his copious notes into his briefcase and made his way to the pub with Nashe and Peele for the usual drinks with the boisterous Richard Burbage.
“Well done, Richard,” congratulated Francis with a broad smile. “We are almost there with Romeo and Juliet, but I am less sure about The Merchant of Venice. I am wondering whether I have put in too much legal jargon. I have been strictly faithful to Venetian law, but I wonder, is it distracting from the total experience? As a lawyer, it is hard for me to judge.”
“Do you know what, Francis?” said Burbage, “The audience does not understand the niceties of the legal details, but that does not matter. The message is very clear. I have had only positive feedback. Besides, it is an educational experience, an eye-opener. It makes people think. It challenges them. That raises it above ordinary theatre. And the audience likes that; makes them feel good. I wouldn’t change a line if I were you. Money lending will never be the same again.”
“Speaking of which,” said Francis, “I hear that Mr. Shaksper is getting something of a reputation.”
Burbage frowned. “I wouldn’t exaggerate it, but yes, there have been some complaints about his rates. He has done well with his “Shaksper’s Boys” and lends small amounts here and there, including to the actors. He is very shrewd.”
“I will be blunt, Richard. I am not willing to use his name on the plays until he is out of London. He is too big a risk. But I believe I can make it worth his while to leave, if you have no objections.”
“For me it is no problem. But I don’t know how willing he would be,” said Burbage. “He has a good business going here. But we can talk to him. There are quite a few of your plays out now, so he does stand to gain a lot if he co-operates. Shall I get him?”
Francis nodded. Burbage returned shortly with the Stratfordian, who seemed to have matured since Francis had last seen him. He projected a greater aura of self-confidence. Shaksper was now officially a ‘gentleman’ since his father had recently had his coat of arms application approved after many years of trying.
“Ah. Mr. Bacon. A pleasure to see you again,” said Shaksper with a slight bow.
“My pleasure, Mr. Shaksper, replied Francis, smiling. “I understand your business has prospered since we last met.”
“Yes, going very well. The theatres are attracting many more people nowadays. Good for business.” Francis noted his dialect was much less distinct than previously. “I am a little disappointed though that our arrangement has not produced more than two efforts,” he said a little sourly. “I had hoped for better.”
“Well, that could change. That is why I wished to speak with you today. I will be frank with you, Mr. Shaksper,” said Francis. “I am concerned about whether the mask could stand up to scrutiny. I have written a number of pieces since we last talked, some of which are quite controversial politically. It would be embarrassing for me to have the authorship attributed to me. However, I do find the ‘Shakespeare’ name attractive, and would be willing to use it quite extensively if you were to return to your family in Stratford. Is that a possibility we could discuss?”
Will Shaksper considered his situation. He had in fact been giving it a great deal of thought lately. It had been over ten years since he arrived in London, and he missed his family. The children were growing up without their father. It had been a long time since he had seen Anne. It was always his intention to return at the appropriate time, and he had been wondering recently if that time were near. His boyhood friend John Combe had recently suggested that they might do some business together in Stratford. There was a lot of money to be made there in buying and selling grain as well as in money lending, Combe had said. But both required capital, much more than he had.
Then there was his business here. It was excellent and he had every expectation that it would continue to grow, both “Shaksper’s Boys” and the money lending. Bacon must realise that, he thought, and must be prepared to compensate him. Shaksper had heard that Bacon was well connected, especially to his “patron”, Lord Essex, who was quite wealthy. He decided to play hard.