W.S.’s SIDE HUSTLE  

March 1, 2024
3 mins read

As a middle-aged man working in London, William Shakespeare, writer, poet, and so on had a legal restraining order taken out against him, requiring that he not get close to William Wayte because of a conflict in which he was marginally involved.

And back home in Stratford, he was fined for illegally hoarding grain during a minor famine. You can look up both of these facts, regarding his occasional disregard for laws.

But do not -yet- look up the “facts” in this “report”… about the fictitious recent discovery in what was a warehouse district near the Thames of a theatre-cum-brothel in which short, witty, and quite vulgar plays were put on for the entertainment of men from London and beyond before, after, or instead of their events with females who were not allowed to perform as characters on stage but still played roles as commissioned by their customers, their “johns,” in the private rooms above the stage.

The building had been locked and unused for nearly 400 years, having been shut in 1642, when the Puritans took over. But since it was owned by the Church of England, it could not be sold, taxed, or even entered without express permission. And so, there it sat, with legends and rumors and guesses as to everything about it. But two years ago, a team of theatrical archeologists from the University of London was granted permission to investigate its contents… and their initial reports are either unsettling or amusing, depending upon one’s interpretation of morality.

The researchers had to provide a big generator and several lamps to deal with the lack of electricity. After a few days they discovered and opened the matching shutters on the inside and the outside of several windows, both upstairs and down, which provide plenty of light for the theatricals and in the cribs. Ofcourse, they often also used flashlights and helmets with lights.

Clearly the building was closed in a hurry, back in 1642, with objects now covered with dust lying about in artistic disarray. 

The professors and their students are as careful here as they would be in any archeological exploration. And they film, notate, and otherwise record and protect the astounding discoveries.

Early in their work, they found, near the Entrance/Exit, a ticket booth, with a tray built to handle different denominations of currency. And just inside they made a stunning discovery: a “gift shop” with octavos, small booklets, evidently of some of the plays being presented; and several have, on the title pages, the initials W.S. -which, of course, could be others than the Bard; but some of those have names similar to those in his Folio. Loves Labours Worn Out, Two Gentlemen Of Verona At The Spa, Romeo And Juliet And Ted And Alice, King Leer, Oliver The Magnificent Tames The Shrew, and Desdemona Does Dublin, among others. And a few are autographed by such names at Weewillie Shakespittle, Woeful Stratfordian, and Wanton Scribbler. His -W.S.’s- noms de plume, perhaps?

Among the surviving costumes, in cedar chests and closets, were two “monkey costumes” marked “for Merchant of Venus.

And boxes of dirty pictures, evidently connected to specific plays, and perhaps illustrating famous actors and “actresses,” had their price written in nearly faded ink.

In one corner is a large doghouse, with a leash and a collar hanging on its roof, with the name “Oliver The Magnificent” written on its front and the collar. A reference to the great puritanical ruler during the Interregnum, Oliver Cromwell? “Never work with dogs or children” is a theatrical adage; but imagine the laughs as the dog, probably a “star,” clearly bearing the name of the dictator, came on stage. What names might be equivalent now?

One of the professors told me that they are hoping to find the trove of original manuscripts, hoping that some may even be “in his own handwriting!” We can only hope.

Of course, the contents will be kept secret -except for letting me and a few others in on them in advance, with our devout promises not to leak more than this- because the combination of hyper-religious and hyper-awed fans of W.S. could, individually or collectively, cause irreparable problems.

One of the students confided, over tea, that there is a plan to collect the scripts and drawings and such, to make a Dirty Folio, for sale only to subscribers, to avoid censorship problems.

Perhaps soon select audiences will be able to see live productions of All’s Well That Gets You Off, Ophelia I Wanna Feel Ya, Julius Seizes ‘er, or Is Andronicus Tight Enough?

Almost certainly there won’t be recreation upstairs. Maybe next door…. It might even be called The See You Next Tuesday Inn, or such. 

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