The question

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Historical Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
William and his mortal enemy are about to reach the climax of their decades-old dispute and William's wife only adds fuel to the fire.

A new take on a world-famous writer. What really happened?

Submitted: March 17, 2014

A A A | A A A

Submitted: March 17, 2014



The question
by Alice MLT


Conflict can be found everywhere and every minute of the day. It can have devastating consequences to the opponents in this conflict as well as to those who are indirectly involved. Throughout history, many conflicts have let to many deaths: The Trojan war, Hitler and the Allied powers, the Spaniards and the Natives of America, etc.
This story contains two conflicts: Shakespeare and his mortal enemy, Robert Greene but also Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway, who is - though not the instigator of the entire conflict - the fuel that keeps it burning. And like history has demonstrated, this conflict has grave consequences. Even an innocent will eventually have to pay too great a price.



The question

1583 - 15th of April
‘Miss Hathaway, you’re looking lovely as always,’ the balding actor said, his wet lips slobbering all over the lady’s hand. His left eye kept straying to the rare diamond ring on her elegant finger, while his right one must have been imagining a stain on her mighty bosom, for it was focused solely on the fine lace embroidery barely shielding her virtue.
‘Thank you, Richard, darling. I must say, I’m a bit surprised to find you here, away from the theatre.’ The lady carefully extracted her fingers and when the actor was offered a delicacy from a passing servant, she inconspicuously wiped away the saliva. ‘Didn’t my husband request your aid for the coming part?’
‘He did indeed,’ a booming voice sounded behind the lady as a muscular arm crept around her waist, pulling her into the embrace of the one man she both loved immensely and hated with a passion.
‘My lord, William,’ Richard Burbage exclaimed, trying the hide the blush slowly covering his cheeks but fast revealing his discomfort at being caught. He tried to straighten his posture before the master so as not to appear too guilty, though his efforts were in vain. After all, having lost count after six bottles of beer - he had indeed been surprised to find that such an everyday beverage was served at an event like this - he didn’t know who to stand tall for, the master or his twin brother.
Master William gave the man a look of pure disdain. Without saying another word, he took his wife by the hand and turned his back on the man. ‘I will see you at the break of dawn, Richard,’ he rumbled in afterthought, not bothering to give the man the respect of an eye-to-eye. ‘Let’s hope that you will be able to get rid of that odor you keep breathing. It is simply repugnant.’
The lady Hathaway and her husband excused themselves but as they prepared to leave, Lady Hathaway saw another tipsy man heading their way. Despite the strong jaw and striking blue eyes, the man held no allure, probably caused by the duck-lips and bulging, blot-shot eyes.
The lady heard her husband murmur something she didn’t care to remember, after which he pasted a rather forceful smile on his face. ‘Robert, it has been awhile. Three years, I do believe.’
Robert Greene ignored the hand offered to him and instead gave Lady Hathaway a scorching look. ‘Miss Hathaway, I presume? I have heard much about you.’
The lady gave the man a tremulous smile while shooting her husband a confused look.
William sighed. ‘This, my dear, is Robert Greene. A… let’s say colleague of mine.’
‘Let’s not.’ The sly smile had disappeared and two bushy eyebrows lowered themselves to give Lord William a hateful glare. Robert Greene obviously held no fondness for the Master, the Lady noticed. ‘Let’s call it ‘a better of yours’, shall we? After all, I am very close to drawing level with you, my friend.’ The last word was spat out, venomous and completely untruthful.
William sighed again. ‘Robert, I find your behavior tedious and absolutely uncalled-for. Should you have a bone to pick with me, at least have the decency to address any problems in private. Giving tantrums like a spiteful child will not enamor you with our hosts.’
Robert sneered at the lady’s husband, not moving an inch when they tried to move past. ‘Think you’re so smart, do you. Mark my words, dear William. I will beat you and be victorious. Your name will be wiped out, while mine will thrive in your defeat. The only question is whether it will be today or tomorrow.’
William didn’t back down but instead stared the man straight in the eyes. ‘Your oath will only poison your soul, Robert. You won’t keep any friends if you don’t leave the path you’re going. You must repent before you go too far.’
Robert brusquely shoved William in the chest, making him fall back. ‘You are nothing but an upstart crow with the heart of a lion! You have no soul and soon, others will start to see the truth I speak and you will be nothing but an ugly memory!’
With those parting words, Robert Greene turned and left.
The Lady Hathaway gaped after him.

At their little cottage, Lady Hathaway felt most at home. It was surrounded by flowers from the most exotic lands and a sphere of peace and tranquility hung in the air.
However, she didn’t plan on taking advantage of that tranquility. No, tonight, she was a woman with a mission and she was going to see it through.
And so it was that her husband, her dear William walked into their bedroom and found her in the big canopy bed, completely bare to his gaze. The moonlight only enhanced the beauty the gods had gifted her with and she could see that her husband did not remain untouched.
‘Anne,’ he whispered, his voice broken and eyes turning sad with regret. ‘You know I can’t.’
‘Just one more time,’ she whispered also, not wanting to break the spell of the moment. ‘You have given me one child, William, my beloved Susanna, but I beg you.’ Slowly and sensually, she crawled to the edge of the bed and started unbuttoning William’s shirt, her hands gliding over the massive expanse of his chest. Her husband was a fine specimen of masculinity, she had always known this and tonight he would be putting that masculinity to use once more. ‘Grand me my wish, my love; give me a son.’ Her tongue snaked out and curled around William’s ear, his weak spot.
William groaned.
Lady Hathaway grinned.

1583 - 5th of August
The master smacked Richard on the back of his head. It was only the umpteenth of thousands of smacks that evening. As Lady Hathaway watched, the actor messed up the scene again.
Her husband was a patient man, she knew, but even he had his limits and that foul man was surely testing his boundaries. Who could possibly be that idiotic; it was as if he did it on purpose.
She didn’t care, though. Her husband could spend the rest of his live at the theatre, smacking around his cast, and she would still be the happiest woman on earth.
Her hand crept to the bulge covering her abdomen, softly caressing the growing mound.

1583 - 26th of November
‘I’m sorry, Miss Hathaway, but I assure you; you are not pregnant. It was simply the gaining of a little weight, that’s all,’ the doctor said, obviously not noticing her eyes spitting fire.
Lady Hathaway stared at the far wall, silently knitting a sweater for Susanna. She was six months old now, her beautiful little girl. She was the spitting image of her husband, people always said, expecting her to be proud. But she wasn’t proud. She wanted a son, a baby boy with her father’s warm brown eyes and chiseled jaw and cheekbones. But he didn’t give her a son.
Bitter and angry, she had left William to his plays. It was what he did best, after all.
No, she thought angrily, it was all he did. The pieces he created were unequaled and everyone cheered and bathed him in glory. But giving her a son was impossible, he said. The accident had taken his ‘procreative abilities’, as he so nicely put it.
But she knew what she wanted.
She stood and walked to the crib where her daughter was lying peacefully and without any notion of her mother’s troubling thoughts.
As she started swaying the cradle, humming under her breath, her eyes fell upon her father’s portrait. The poor man had died very young. He had always been her hero and she wanted a son to remember him by. Surely, his looks would be given to her son, through her family’s bloodline?
She knew what she wanted and she was going to get it.

1584 - 30th of June
As William corrected Richard’s pose and repeated the line he was meant to say, Lady Hathaway made her way to the theatre’s entrance. Of all the things she had to endure these days, her husband’s insistence on her presence at the theatre was the most tiresome.
It was to keep the spirits high, he told her. As if her appearance alone could cure that man of his incompetence.
Outside, she leaned against the wall, mindful of her new dress. The corset gave her cleavage new depths and now and then, she caught a passer-by leering at her. Let them, she thought. If they wanted her enough, they might yet give her the son she so desperately wanted.
‘Nice weather, isn’t it,’ a deep voice whispered in her ear. On alert, she tried not to make any sudden movements. Was this one of those thieves mugging people in broad daylight? Lately, the papers had been overflown with news about London’s resident criminals.
‘Not really,’ she whispered back.
‘Don’t like the cold, do you? Such a beautiful woman as yourself, you are probably used to spending your days at a fireplace, lit by servants. Or does your husband not gift you with life’s luxuries?’
‘Y… You know my husband?’
‘We are on familiar terms, yes.’
Slowly, she turned around and looked up in a pair of familiar eyes.

‘Are you sure this is want you want, milady? I wonder what your husband would say.’ Warm and husky, that voice lured her closer still.
‘He doesn’t need to know. If he doesn’t give me what I want, I will seek it myself.’ Her voice was laced with anticipation, waiting for the coming passion and the resulting birth of her son.
‘Let’s do this, then,’ he whispered in her ear and started unlacing her dress.

1585 - 30th of January
‘What shall we call him?’ William softly asked her, staring adoringly at his newborn son.
‘I don’t know. I haven’t really thought about it.’
They both stared at the beautiful boy. Now, his eyes were resting after that horrible labor, but as he was crying his victory of birth, he had stared at her and it was as if she were looking at her father himself.
‘How about Jude? It means ‘praise’. So that we may praise the lord for finally granting us our wish.’
But she was already shaking her head. ‘No, it must be something more masculine, like the name of a hero.’
‘Romeo, perhaps?’
‘No, that sounds too exotic, too romantic. I want him to have a fierce name, but still unique.’
Both stared at the sleeping child, its chubby cheeks begging to be pinched.
The baby choose that moment to open his eyes and those beautiful browns stared at her, seeming to study her as much as she had already studied him.
She smiled and started cooing at the little baby boy.
‘My little Hamnet,’ she whispered.

1590 - 13th of March
‘What are you doing, my sweet?’ Lady Hathaway asked her husband, who was fervently writing illegible words on an old piece of paper.
‘I’m going to destroy that swine! He’ll rue the day he tried to best me!’ William’s booming voice echoed throughout the house and spurred their three children into a cascade of tears and cries.
‘Oh dear.’ The Lady worried over her husband. After his heated discussion with Robert last Saturday, he had been brewing steam non-stop. ‘What is it, darling?’
William threw down his feathered pen, thus staining his new piece.
‘I’ll tell you what’s wrong! That hog had the nerve to tell my friends all kinds of lies and now they are all mad at me for reasons none of them are willing to explain to me!’
He stood and stalked to the cabinet above his worktable, pulling out another rumpled piece of paper. ‘But I’ll make sure he pays for this. He believes to be a better writer than I? We’ll see. I’ll yet make him repent his words to me.’
And with a fluent move of his practiced hand, he titled his newest piece ‘The repentance of Robert Greene.’

1587 - 28th of September
Her husband hadn’t said a word since he had attended the performance of Robert’s new masterpiece. It had been a trap in the guise of a peace offering. A play dedicated to her husband, he had said, to mend their broken bond and restore their old friendship.
That was not how it went, though. After the disappearance of those angrily written words, neither of them had expected to find that Robert’s performance bore the same name. The feelings of coincidence had disappeared altogether when Robert’s cast had cited Williams’ piece, cleverly changing names and several phrases and thus placing Robert in a light of reverence.
At least the thief had been found, but unable to prove anything, William had locked himself in his private room. When he had come out, all light seemed to have left his eyes.

1591 - 1st of January
 ‘William, old friend, I didn’t expect to see you here. Actually, I didn’t expect to see you at all.’ Robert cackled loudly, slowly drawing a crowd with his outrageous behavior. William was obviously ill-at-ease with all the attention, looking around for an escape route. Lady Hathaway soothingly stroked his arm.
Robert continued on. ‘I did take your crown after all. No longer number one at the theatre, isn’t that right? The king has been defeated! From the golden throne to the rats-infested gutter!’
Cunning eyes found William’s and a devious smile curled that sweating upper lip. The stench of alcohol hung heavily in the air. ‘I do hope you’ve been able to attend the performance of ‘my repentance’. It was an incredible success! Maybe even better than Romeo’s charms!’
Lady Hathaway was starting to lose her patience with this man. He obviously lived for making her husband miserable and she couldn’t just stand there and let him keep spouting those foul words.
‘Mister Greene, may I have a word with you?’
Without waiting for an answer, the Lady made her way through the crowd and swiftly walked into the kitchen.
‘Lady Hathaway, what can I do for you?’ Robert asked heartily, pretending like nothing was going on.
‘You can stop bothering my husband,’ she answered abruptly but firmly. ‘You got what you wanted. There’s no further use in tormenting him like that.’
‘Oh my sweet,’ he chuckled, ‘there is so much more I want from him. You see,...’ a heavy arm was slung over her shoulder, forcing her to hunch over in order to keep upright. Her cleavage almost spilled out in this position and Robert openly ogled her bosom. ‘William always had everything: the fame, the money and of course, the beautiful wife. I already took two of those valuable things; now I just need to conquer the most precious one.’
He turned her around, grabbed her waist and pulled her against the sweat-soaked shirt covering his chest. ‘And I’m already halfway in accomplishing that, aren’t I?’
Behind them, her husband’s voice demanded: ‘What is that supposed to mean?’

William stared at his wife, sleeping in their bed, in their house, but in her own web of deceit and lies. She was restless, he could tell. Her otherwise flawless skin was marked with lines of worry and even her sweet rosy lips were pressed tightly together.
He left the room and gently closed the door. He had a guest to attend to.
Richard was staring at a picture of Hamnet, painted right after his birth. It had been quite difficult to make the baby stop squirming, making for a very expensive portrait. At the time, he thought the result was worth the money. Now, he would like nothing more than watch the painting burn to ashes.
Richard must’ve heard him coming. ‘That him?’ he asked, not turning around.
‘Yes,’ William answered, no emotion in his voice. ‘That’s the bastard.’
As the silence grew, they both studied the picture.
Finally, William asked: ‘You know what to do?’
‘As long as you keep your promise.’
‘I will. You will be famous and every woman will long to be your next conquest. You have my word.’
William kept his eyes on the boy’s. Although they were brown, they might as well have been piercing blue. He hated them.
‘Why his eleventh birthday?’ Richard inquired.
A slow smile began to curl William’s lips. ‘It is my wife’s favorite number.’

1592 - 3rd of September
William stared at Robert’s broad back. So far, he hadn’t been noticed watching Robert rummage through the wooden desk.
He wouldn’t find anything worthwhile. Only a few unfinished pieces had been left as to keep the appearance of reality. Nothing was real about this day, though. Not his wife’s morning kiss and not Richard’s promise to Robert; he wouldn’t be finding any new masterpieces of William’s, not on his own desk at the theatre.
Robert had been there for half an hour now; he must be really motivated.
‘Found what you were looking for,’ William rumbled angrily.
Startled, Robert spun around and stared wide-eyed at the last person he had expected to see.
‘W… William? What are you doing here?’ he stuttered.
William raised an eyebrow and chuckled darkly; ‘I do believe this is my desk. What should I be doing here?’
‘Richard said you would be gone for the day. Why would he lie? He despises you!’
William couldn’t help it; a roar of laughter escaped his lips. Seeing Robert’s confusion, he smirked. ‘Richard and I have come to an understanding. I give him what he wants and he returns the favor.’
‘And you wanted me here?’ Robert asked suspiciously.
An evil glint in his eyes, William answered truthfully: ‘Most certainly,’ and he swung a heavy object at Robert’s head.

Robert moaned, the pain in his head simply unbearable. He tried to move his hands, but they seemed to be too heavy to lift. Even his legs felt past lethargic.
Opening his eyes, he stared at a writer’s desk. William sat there, holding a big feather that he dipped in ink. He saw Robert watching him and smiled.
‘Welcome to my domain, Robert. I would give you a tour, but I have a feeling you’ve already been here. After all, I did store one of my pieces here. You might even know it. I titled it ‘Robert Greene’s repentance’. Sound familiar?’
Robert didn’t dare speak. Something wasn’t right, and it wasn’t just that big knife lying on a table next to him. William seemed different, more edgy. Had he gone mad?
That was when he finally noticed that he was tied down on a cot, his arms and legs bound to the posts.
‘There,’ William said, placing a big dot on the piece of paper in front of him. ‘All done.’
‘A new piece?’ Robert asked nervously.
‘Not quite. It’s more of a… goodbye letter,’ he said with a little secretive smile.
‘Are you going away? From London?’
‘No. But you, on the other hand, are. Away, that is.’
Shock must have registered all over Robert’s face. ‘You’re deporting me?’
William picked up the big knife and slid a finger along its sharp edge. ‘I don’t have to.’

1592 - 10th of September
Lady Hathaway watched her husband through a gap in the door. He had been there all week now even though she had expected him to celebrate Robert’s demise. The news of his suicide letter had spread like a wildfire; the entire city was in uproar and yet her husband didn’t seem to care that the man he despised most was finally out of their lives.
Instead, he just stood there, staring at a human skull.
She heard him murmuring, but couldn’t make out any words.
Sighing, she closed the door and left.

William stared at the skull in his hand. For such a foul beast, he most certainly had a very nice bone structure. The eye sockets were too large though and two rotten teeth spoiled the whole image. Luckily, it did inspire William to a river of unspoken thoughts that would soon find their way on paper.
Until that time he would admire this token of his victory.
‘It appears you were also a liar, my dear friend,’ he told the skull affectionately. ‘Tomorrow or today might be an important question, but it is not THE question.’
His eyes fell on the layers of skin he had so carefully acquired and he smiled. He had held a live in his hands and for just a moment, the power of God himself had been in his control. To spare the tainted soul or to rid the world of an unnecessary evil?
He couldn’t help but turn back to the skull, fascinated as he was by what it represented. ‘No,’ he murmured, ‘to be or not to be, THAT is the question.’

- The End -


© Copyright 2020 Alice MLT. All rights reserved.

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