Title: The Show Goes On
Word Count 541
The Show Goes On
Out on the benches one sits in shadow-- looking at the sun-bright stage.
The audience sees, as they feel themselves unseen. That is the first delight, the first transgressive shiver. Even on a cloudy day, even in rain, the stage glows.
But sitting where I was, I could see behind, where the players waited, all a hurry of costumes and wigs, of props and paints. Here boys become girls, old gods walk, all the jokes are bawdy. Here, words become story, men become heroes. No wonder the puritans gnash their teeth.
Today was a comedy, complete with a clown between acts. At the end the clown jigged and small boys threw free sweets from the rafters. (They had been up there all through the last act, stifling their giggles.) The little boys had been Ned Alleyn's idea. He had picked therm out himself, poor foundlings destined for the sea. They climbed like little monkeys. Chattered like them too, until he scowled them silent. He had paid for the sweets from his own pocket. Of course they had been underfoot all day, stuffing themselves He had allowed for that, bought extra. Well, it is his coin, he can do as he likes. Ned is a shareholder, he has money as a dog has fleas. He has money, and women, (and men for that matter,) throwing themselves in his lap. If he were another sort of man he would be hated for it. But he is himself, honest, grave and kind. He is quiet, off-stage. He is impossible to dislike, I have tried.
So, I sat, and the old story unfolded. The boy got the girl, the good were vindicated. The wicked men were eaten by a lion. (This offstage, with stuffed, painted, severed arms and legs thrown to the shrieking groundlings.) The story was foolish, but satisfying. The good ones satisfy. This one had socked home like a landed punch.
I waited until the crowd thinned. You can hear when they leave, that they are still half in the story. Their voices are hushed. They move slowly, the sharp edges they brought with them are gone. It is better than praise, to a poet or a player, that sound. It is better than money, though we need money too.
I had thought to stop and speak with Ned, but he was sitting with Henslowe's daughter. I forget her name. It is something ordinary. Ned Alleyn calls her Mouse. She is sweet and shy, a proper little maiden. Her eyes are grave, her hair is fair. Tonight he had gone so far as to hold her hand. I could see her little mouth was open. She was leaning forward to hear what he was going to say. Her teeth were small and white. Allyn can fill the stage with his voice. But he is quiet with Mouse.
So I smiled to see them, though they did not see me. And I turned for home.
The streets were cold, shadowed. Out beyond the city the winter sun met a meager death . I pulled my hat down, and my cape close. Several times I thought I sensed pursuing feet. But I could not be sure, after all.
This is a brief little scene, but it has truth in it. Ned Alleyn did eventually marry Henslowe's daughter. And he did call her Mouse. Some letters Ned wrote her are preserved, form a time when he was touring and had had to leave her behind in plague struck London. The letters are quite sweet. Certainly she was a capable woman.
The little boys with the snacks happened at a performance at Cambridge, And it was years before my story is set. Maybe it was only that once, but is an appealing image.