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Fribbling report part 10

John Fribbling is a fictional character. Despite his non-existence, the characters and events that he describes are, to the best of our knowledge, true and accurate...

1599, London

Your most stealthy sirship Lord Walsingham sir,

It has been a good long while since my last communication with you on account of my nearly dying from the plague. Happily, according to my doctor, despite the evil swellings, dehydration and such forth, the angel of death took one good look at me and promptly changed his mind, instead chomping his way through the Puritan family next door. I swear it was the happiest I've ever seen them when they threw their corpses on the cart.

Actually when I say doctor, I mean innkeeper, but I reckon he knows as good as any what's right for me by now. Had I a few more pennies to my name I might go see that Simon Foreman who practices medicine, astrology and such like for the local respectable folk, and also the theatre types. Mind you if he's such a good astrologer, how come he doesn't foresee them getting ill in the first place? I hear tell he has a lively way with the ladies too. He certainly brings some color to their cheeks!

Don't play in the sewers and stick clear of Frenchmen and you'll never ail, as my old Mum used to say.

But I digress.

The Globe Theatre, London seen from the air
The Globe
Since our last communication I have found gainful employment of sorts as an ostler at The Globe theatre in Southwark. Parking the horses of the well off isn't my idea of career heaven, but I swear I've now got the best rose garden in all London! It can be a dangerous job too. Some of these young scamps come cantering into the yard quick as you please, and you've all on to avoid getting a nasty knock. That young Master Diesel is a bit fast and furious for one – personally I reckon the polished hooves and the go-faster stripe are him needing to compensate for not having no hair.

As I write to you I am stood just off stage, spear in hand awaiting my cue. As well as handling the horses I am now employed as a member of the prestigious cast – albeit a lowly one. In a company like ours it's all hands on deck and I shall at various points during tonight's performance be rendering a sterling performance variously as a spear carrier, lowlife, tree, and prostitute. Obviously I have no experience of carrying a spear but I'm sure it's something I shall soon pick up.

Where I'm stood I can feel the boards shake every time the groundlings laugh or get all patriotically worked up. It can't be easy for many of them to find the penny that it costs to get in, but these days no-one wants to be the man or woman at the well that hasn't seen master William Shakespeare's latest.

The Globe Theatre, London
Food-throwers of the upper classes
Upstairs the more well to do can amuse themselves with the play or in quieter bits flick morsels from their plate at the groundlings below – the benefits of privilege eh? Them that has the real influence and wants everyone to know it of course gets a seat on the stage itself, though you'd have to be a duck to enjoy getting in Mr. Burbage's way when he's in a full spittle-spouting soliloquy mood.

So as I am sure you will have gathered, young master Shakespeare isn't so young anymore, and he's done right well for himself as a playwright, 'specially for someone as can't remember how to spell his own name!

He might once have been elusive, but now he's more untouchable. Right popular with the crowds, he never seems without his entourage, and his new fine clothes. These days he spends his time in a quiet corner of the inn scribbling away, or squabbling with Ben Jonson and in the evenings turns up on a stretch pony for the performance. Old Mother Jaylo who sells hazelnuts to the audience, and knows about these things from her time in the colonies, tells me that our Master Shakespeare's new seal ring is very "bling, bling". I'm not quite sure of the exact translation, but I think it means "just begging to be robbed."

Anyway, he's done well.

There's not too much of the country boy left on the surface, but you can hear it in his writing. Almost all his regular cast are sheep botherers from his neck of the woods. Well I suppose it helps get his message across if they speak with the accent in which the play was written. They don't trouble me to learn any words. I once went forward for a part as a dancer of jigs, but they rightly pointed out that I was too stupid to be a fool.

Apart from the odd prostitute, who they don't seem to mind sprouting a full beard (I mean REALLY odd prostitute), I'm largely steered away from the female roles. Sometimes when one of the really young lads goes on in a dress it goes proper quiet out in the audience, like they're all suddenly not sure if they're seeing what they're seeing, or whether they should be enjoying the spectacle quite as much as they are. It goes without saying that theatre can be a bit rough and ready, and lord knows our William seems to want to bawdily go where no one has gone before. But for the powers that be to suggest that the stage is too ripe and rude for a woman to tread has obviously never heard a baker's wife after you've accidentally emptied your chamber pot on her head. Gentle sex, my armpit!

Although he's one with the city and the goings on of court and suchlike, I think William must still have a great chunk of Warwickshire in his heart. He goes there when he can and from all accounts he's buying up land and property at a fair old rate. Preparing for a time when his quill lets him down I suppose.

I often see him writing notes and tweaking the plays – even those that have been played a dozen or more times to rapturous approval, he still thinks he can make better. Quite a tonic that is after Marlowe's arrogance, though Ben Jonson ribs him something cruel about it all. They all help out when need arises though – 'specially if the jobsworth censors are having a go. It's all down to bargaining it seems – apparently using one satirical aside means they have to lose five penis jokes and a double entendre.

If I'm honest, I feel like a lot of what I'm listening to in the wings as I wait to go on stage goes right over my head. But there's enough sniggering and snickering and accidental flatulence from the better educated types up in the gallery for me to know it must have been right clever what was just said. Other times he has me in stitches, sometimes tears, sometimes with my fist in my mouth, and other times with my hand over my codpiece. Sometimes I find myself nodding like an idiot as he makes his characters say something so wise and so true that you feel you must have heard it somewhere else once before – maybe in your own thoughts and dreams.

It's at times like that I feel it must be a far greater thing to make people laugh, cry and learn than simply following ordinary folk around in order to catch them doing something that the State thinks they ought not to be doing. No offence.

There's some that thinks that seeing riot and pillage and bloody insurrection up on a stage will happen make men take to the streets in search of the same, but I've not a lot of truck with that. As I see it, what we see up on those bare boards helps us recognize the things we have in common, and work through and live with a lot of what we've no real power to control. It won't make us act, nor will it stop us forgetting, but every now and then it will make us think. Now that's got to be a better calling than sticking hot pointy sticks into people.

back of the stage at The Globe Theatre, London
The Globe Theatre, London
Now if you'll excuse me, them that now pay my wages needs me to do my bit on the stage. It's not much I know, and happen later I'll be mopping up Mr. Burbage's spittle off the very same stage (unless the rain does it for me), but just for a few minutes, whether it be ancient Rome or Venice, Athens or Egypt I'll be in a much finer place than I could otherwise ever choose to be.

Yours, John Fribbling

PS: Please find enclosed the generously proportioned rock that you so kindly threw to me on my last visit to your home. I fear I am not worthy of such a gift.

PPS: No seditious activity observed

Fribbling Reports

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7
Part 8
Part 9
Part 10


portrait not availableJohn Fribbling

Sir Francis Walsingham portraitSir Francis Walsingham

Richard Burbage portraitRichard Burbage

the Dark Lady at virginalEmilia Lanier (the Dark Lady?)

Ben Jonson portraitBen Jonson


Southwark, LondonSouthwark, London

The River Thames, LondonShakespeare's London

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