“It was an anonymous play, I believe,” William said, trying to recall the precise wording of the handbill.
“Aye, all according to Her Majesty’s orders,” Greene chuckled. “She knows Lord Oxford wrote every word of it. She’s afraid of exposing his authorship, even though audiences don’t care who a playwright is, as long as he offers a motley swarm of bawdy fools and vile assassins. Never mind that Lord Oxford draws his characters from real life. They’re all people he knows, some of them quite well, like Lord Burghley.”
“I can’t imagine any man being so brazen as to make an enemy out of Lord Burghley.”
“Imagine it, sir, and that man would be Lord Oxford,” Greene said, pleased at having snagged William’s curiosity. “The two men had a terrible falling-out that started years ago, when Lord Oxford was orphaned and sent to Lord Burghley’s home as a royal ward. The old man objected whenever the spendthrift youth wrote and presented court masques for the Queen. He didn’t care that a courtier’s duty is to give Her Majesty expensive gifts and tributes, and that she desires a rousing entertainment more than anything else. The Queen owns all the gold and jewels she could want, and even as a youth, Lord Oxford was the only one among her noble bucks able to devise a provocative diversion.”
“But you said she banned his plays.”
“Not at the royal court,” Greene explained. “Those masques are very private affairs. The after-dinner audiences are small and selective, entirely different from the hoi polloi at the public playhouses. I watched a court masque once, from behind the curtain on the gallery stairs. It won’t do for our nation’s commoners to learn the truth about their superiors in a comedy, tragedy or history play -- even though, as they say, the truth will out.”
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