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The TOC Files 18: For All Time

Title: For All Time
Series: The TOC Files
Word Count 9043
Summary The TOC meet Shakespeare. (It had to be done, really)



XVIII. For All Time
He was not for an age, but for all time
Ben Jonson "To the Memory of Shakespeare"


The gathering in the courtroom was hushed as the judge entered and took his place behind the bench. The defendant and his lawyer stood and awaited judgment. "After considering all the evidence put forth by both the prosecution and the defense, and having heard the testimony from witnesses as to the defendant's reformed character, I have come to a decision." The court waited for him to continue. "It is rare that a person is given a third chance at a new life. You have shown that you are willing to work as part of a team. You have also risked your life to save your brother, a man who had been your sworn enemy for so many years. But what helped me make my decision was the fact that you voluntarily turned yourself in, knowing what awaited you."

The defendant quickly turned his head to where his family and friends were sitting. One brother gave him a "thumbs-up" signal. He turned his head back to face the judge.

"Ryan Kelly, you may leave this court a free man. However, should you do anything, anything at all to make me regret my decision, you'll be on your way back to a penal colony. Understood?"

"Yes, sir," Ryan answered with a smile.

"Court dismissed."

Ryan could not believe his ears. It was as if a tremendous weight had been lifted from his shoulders. His lawyer shook his hand and patted him on the back. He turned to face his family and his twin brother Alan reached across the rail and hugged him. "I knew you could do it."

Ryan clambered over the rail to join them. His mother's eyes were wet with tears. "Now we can put it all behind us."

"Exactly," said Evan Kelly, his older brother. "You've been vindicated and if anyone says different, they'll have to answer to me!"

"Thanks, all of you. I don't think I could have made it without your support."

"You would have come out all right," remarked Eric Roberts, a friend and fellow member of the Temporal Observer Corps--TOC. "You came out on top after all the adversities you've faced before --though some might say you didn't make the best choices."

Ryan looked at his mother who was standing next to Shannon Flynn, a woman with auburn hair and another member of the TOC. "I'm sorry you had to go through that again, dredging up painful memories."

"I feel better now that I don't have to keep the emotions inside me." She smiled. "I think this calls for a celebration."

"I'm always game for a party," said Evan.

She looked at her watch. "Why don't we all meet at my flat in an hour?" They all agreed.

As they walked out of the courtroom, they saw Captain Hernandez, a pilot who had flown with Alan and Eric, rushing down the hall. "Where's the fire?" asked Ryan.

"That's right. You guys don't know. There's a group of Taborzan warships massing at the Alliance borders. They fear an invasion and are sending a bunch of ships in the hopes that our numbers'll make 'em think twice." He waved as he dashed off.

"Do you think..?" asked Eric.

"Maybe if we hurry, we'll be able to make it." Alan and Eric started off down the hall after the other pilot.

Mrs. Kelly couldn't believe that Alan would rush off to a war like that after all he had gone through. She looked at Shannon. "Maybe you can talk some sense into them."

"I'll try." Shannon went after them. "Don't you think you would have been told about this if they had wanted you to know?"

"Of course. That's why we're hurrying before someone stops us."

"Your mother is still upset over what happened. Do you think it's wise to go off to possible death, leaving her to constantly worry about you?"

Alan slowed down. "She'll have Evan and Ryan to keep her occupied."

"I don't think it's the same. I know my mother used to worry if I just went down the street to a friend's house. I can just imagine what your mother goes through. She just got her sons together, don't ruin it for her."

Alan stopped and Eric nearly ran into him. "You don't have to stop just because I did," Alan told him. "You can go ahead."

"I'm afraid not," said another man coming from the opposite direction. "No offense, but you have a previous engagement."

"Jason, not now."

Jason was their liaison with the Committee that gave them their temporal missions. "With the hearing, you were given leave from the Rangers and you still have time left. You of all people should understand the Military."

"But that's all over with. Don't you think they'd let us?" asked Eric.

"If Jason's here, that must mean we have a totally different assignment," remarked Alan as they retraced their footsteps.

"I guess I should make more social calls and then it might be a surprise," Jason agrees with a smile.

"What would be a surprise?" asked Ryan.

"Take a guess," said Shannon.

"They can spare us for a temporal assignment, but not to fly. What a universe."

"I'm sorry you feel that way, Alan, but I have no real say in the matter. I'm just a messenger."

"And you know what they used to do to the bearer of bad news?"

"No. What?"

"Killed him."

"Thank the Lord it doesn't happen anymore."

"At this point, I'm seriously contemplating bringing it back," remarked Alan.

"You can at least listen to him," said Mrs. Kelly. "It may not be as bad as you think."

"I know where I'd rather be."

"16th century England," said Jason.

"No, that's not it."

"What?" asked Evan.

"London at the time of the Bard," Jason told them.

"Do they want us to find out who really penned Shakespeare's plays?" asked Shannon.

"If you could, but they really want to know more about his personal life and about the times. Who knows, you might get to meet him or even Queen Elizabeth."

Shannon began humming a 20th century tune. "That's catchy," said Ryan. "What are the words?"

"Brush up your Shakespeare. Start quoting him now..."

* * * *

After a long session of intense study of the customs of Elizabethan England, Ryan dragged himself into his room to find a message on his phone. He pushed the playback button and the screen came to life. On it was a young man with ruffled blond hair and wire-frame glasses over his blue eyes. "Sorry I haven't had much of a chance to talk to you, or even congratulate you, but I've been really busy here at the lab. I hear you're going to Elizabethan England. Try to get Shakespeare's autograph for me, will you?" He looked off-screen in frustration. "Sorry, I've got to go. If I don't keep an eye on them, my so-called help will blow up the lab. Good luck and I'll make a point of seeing you when you get back."

Ryan smiled and turned off the machine. Dr. Gilbert Connor had been a friend of his when he was a boy living by the name of Cameron James. Gil went on to become a great scientist and inventor of the time machine worn by all members of the TOC. It was good of him to remember Ryan while he was experiencing problems of his own. He took off his boots and socks, loosened his shirt, and stretched out on the bed. Part of him was exhausted and another part was wide-awake and rearing to go. He needed something to help calm him down. He called out to the voice-activated entertainment system and requested a list of Shakespearean productions. He might as well relax and learn at the same time!

* * * *

The four members of the TOC who were assigned to the mission gathered in a small, non-descript room set aside specifically for their departures and arrivals. They were dressed in fatigues--more for comfort than necessity--since upon their arrival, their clothing would change appearance to the current style. It was another of Gil's inventions. An added benefit was that coins, or any money placed by the transmuter, changed to legal tender.

"You look nice and relaxed," Shannon told Ryan.

"I slept well considering it was the last time I'd be sleeping in comfort for awhile."

"How true," added Eric. "What, with hay mattresses, mice, fleas, lice..."

"We get the picture, Eric," said Alan. He looked at his friends. "Are we all set to go?"

"Sure, but why the rush?" asked Shannon.

"He thinks that the sooner we complete this mission, the sooner he'll get to come back and fight," remarked Ryan.

"Enough," said Alan. Ryan couldn't be more right, however. He itched to take part in a good dogfight. These temporal missions were okay, but as a trained fighter pilot, he had been too long on the ground. "Let's go."

They arrived in a back alleyway that had hay strewn all over and it looked like it was home to every stray creature of the four-legged persuasion. It smelled like it as well. "Welcome to Merrye Olde England," remarked Eric. He looked at the others. "The literature and philosophy of this period are wonderful, but the clothing leaves a lot to be desired." The three men wore hose on their legs, padded trunks and doublets, topped off by capes draped negligently over one shoulder. Shannon wore a stiff dress worn over a corset and farthingale.

She kept playing with the dress's neckline in a futile attempt to pull it higher. "I feel so exposed," she complained.

"I don't think it looks too bad," said Ryan with a grin.

"You wouldn't," declared Shannon.

Deciding that their first priority was to find a base of operations, they went in search of an inn where they could find rooms. The smell of the streets was terrible--the refuse and animal dung were overpowering. Now Shannon understood why people used to go around with scented handkerchiefs under their noses. Knowing they needed to stay at a reputable inn that matched their appearance, Ryan asked a passing merchant for directions. The man eyed them carefully before he answered.

"The Anchor. They have clean beds and good food."

"Thank you, sir."

"If I remember correctly, that's on the South Bank," said Alan.

They continued on, trusting Alan's sense of direction. Shannon stumbled on a cobblestone. "I don't understand how women could walk in these things! They're ridiculous!"

"The women who could afford those shoes aren't the type who'd walk," said Eric. "They'd ride horseback, use a sedan chair, or a carriage."

"Now he tells me!"

"Where are we, anyway?" asked Ryan. "None of these buildings seem familiar."

"Most of them burned down in the Great Fire of 1666 or were destroyed during the German Blitz of 1940," answered Alan.

"Then how do you know where you're going?"

"Street names--most of them are the same."

The four stopped when they reached a busy intersection near the Thames. "I don't believe it," exclaimed Shannon.

"What?" asked Eric. She pointed to a row of tall narrow houses crowded together. If they had been anywhere else, they wouldn't have been so remarkable, but these were on a multi-arched bridge spanning the river.

"It's the original London Bridge--you know, the one from the nursery rhyme. It was completed in 1209 and stood for 600 years. It will be the only bridge across the Thames until 1750 when Westminster Bridge is built."

"Good Lord, no wonder it fell down--all that traffic," joked Eric.

"I think we're going to have to add to it," said Ryan as they started across the bridge. "How else did people get across?"

"By boat. There were ferries that shuttled people back and forth across the Thames or even down to Greenwich or up towards Windsor."

They walked along the bridge and saw that the first floors of the houses were actually shops! "The merchants and their families live above," commented Alan. "Let's keep moving. I'd like to make sure we get some rooms tonight. These dockside places probably fill up pretty quick."

Knowing that he was upset over missing out on flying, the others complied without argument.

They stopped outside the Anchor, which was located on Bankside near Park Street. The face it showed the city seemed presentable--a typical Tudor front--but that didn't mean the rest of it was. Inside, the public room had about five long tables with benches for seats. It wasn't very crowded as it was after lunch yet before dinner. The owner, sensing quality and a good tip, rushed over. "How can I serve you, good people?"

"We'd like some rooms," replied Alan. "We're not sure how long we'll be staying."

"I only have two rooms. I can have a cot set up in the room for you gentlemen."

Ryan was about to make a remark about sharing with Shannon, but Alan elbowed him in the ribs. "That will be fine." Alan paid without haggling. "We will be in later in the evening with our baggage. As this is our first trip to London, we'd like to see as much of it as we can while it's still light."

"Are there any plays to be seen? An acquaintance highly recommended the Lord Chamberlain's Men," said Eric.

The landlord smiled. "Nothing at the moment. The Chamberlain's Men are rehearsing now, I think."

"Thank you."

Outside, Shannon let out her frustration. "I hate wearing this dress, it's so damned uncomfortable!"

"Don't complain," said Ryan. "At least you have your own room."

"Yeah, even though you tried to change that fact. Still, how can I run with all these petticoats? I probably couldn't even pull off a decent karate move."

"I don't think that outfit was designed for karate," said Alan with a smile. "Embroidery, music, and dance were the more gentle pursuits of the time. Aristocratic women were also supposed to be excellent on a horse and in hunting."

"I guess that means I'll never be an aristocratic Elizabethan."

"You do have a point, though," said Eric. "These clothes aren't the most comfortable. Just think, in a little over 200 years, showing this much will be considered indecent."

"Victorian clothes did leave more to the imagination," agreed Ryan.

They walked down Clark Street until they saw the round wooden building ahead of them. "Is that what I think it is?" asked Eric.

"The Globe Theatre, built around 1598, home of the Lord Chamberlain's Men under James I," said Shannon.

"Okay, Miss Know-It-All, what play would they be rehearsing?" teased Ryan.

"It could be any one of a number of plays. There was never an agreed-upon chronology. Shakespeare was at his height at this point, writing his great tragedies--Romeo & Juliet, Hamlet, Julius Caesar..."

"The big guns, eh?" commented Eric. "Isn't it amazing that all those marvelous words came out of one man?"

"That point is open to argument," said Alan.

"Let's just go inside and see if they're rehearsing now," said Ryan.

They walked into the theatre and Shannon nearly gagged at the stench. "Good Lord, what is that?" she hissed.

"There were no restrooms and no efficient way to clean up after a performance," answered Alan.

"It's disgusting."

"Ssshhh," whispered Eric. "Look at the stage."

A man dressed in the relaxed style of one who has been working for most of the day was trying to recite a speech from memory. "I will tell you why; so shall my anticipation prevent your discovery, and your secrecy to the king and queen moult no feather..."

"</i>Hamlet</i>," said Ryan. "Probably </i>the</i> best play in literature."

"No. Stop," a second man called from the floor. "Something doesn't sound right." He stood and walked onto the stage. He wore somber clothes of good quality, but it was his face that grabbed their attention. He had dark hair that fell to cover his collar from a high forehead, a short, pointed beard and mustache, hooded brown eyes, and a gold hoop earring in his left ear.

"That's him," said Alan. "That's Shakespeare,"

"It seems fine to me, Will," said Richard Burbage, and actor and partner with Shakespeare in the Globe. "The meter is right."

"It does not convey what I want it to, Dick. I want the audience to understand his despair."

"I was wondering why it sounded so familiar yet so different. It's a perfect first draft," said Shannon.

She must have spoken louder than she thought for the two men on stage looked out at the seats. "What are you doing here? There is no performance today," said Burbage.

"Your pardon, good sirs," said Eric. "We could not resist a look at the theatre where so many immortal characters have walked the boards. When we saw two such famous personages, we could not resist a closer look."

Shakespeare caught the flattery in his excuse and smiled. "At least you now know we are not infallible."

"What seems to float on paper can sink like lead when heard from another's lips," put in Ryan.

"Well said, young sir," Burbage said, warming up to these strangers.

"I could not help but overhear that you are having troubles with this speech," said Alan. "If I could perhaps try something?"

After a slight hesitation, Richard handed Alan the written speech and stepped away to give Alan center stage. Alan read over the speech and recalled the finished product. "From what I heard, this character Hamlet learns that his uncle murdered his father and, less than two months later, married his mother and now feels that everyone is not what they seem. I think you need to add a touch of disillusion.

What a piece of work is man! How noble in reason! how infinite in faculty! in form, in moving, how express and admirable! in action, how like an angel! in apprehension, how like a god! the beauty of the world! the paragon of animals! And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust? man delights not me; nor no woman neither...

When he was done, Alan stood there, stunned by his own performance. "You have a way with words, young sir."

"It must be the Irish in me," Alan replied with a smile.

"That is something best kept secret," cautioned Burbage.

"Even if we didn't speak," said Shannon, "our names and looks would tell."

Shakespeare looked at her. "Certainly with you, mistress. Your coloring is most striking."

"As it seems to have been neglected," said Ryan, "allow me to make the introductions. My name is Ryan Kelly. This is my brother Alan, sister Shannon, and good friend Eric Rader."

"A pleasure, friends," said Shakespeare. "The hour grows late. Have you eaten?"

"Not since morning," answered Eric.

"Good, then you can join us for dinner."

"We couldn't possibly..." protested Alan.

"Nonsense," said Dick as he put on his doublet. "You must give us both a few pointers."

Shakespeare and Burbage were greeted at the tavern as regulars and ushered to a private room so Shannon could join them. While their hosts were ordering the meal, Shannon kept saying, "I can't believe this" over and over like a mantra.

The ale arrived while they were waiting and Alan took a deep drink. God, that's good. He looked at Ryan and Eric and saw by their faces that they agreed. Shannon had a small glass of sherry in front of her that she virtually ignored, longing for a drink of ale.

"So, Mr. Kelly," started Burbage.

"Yes?" Alan and Ryan replied in unison.

Shakespeare smiled. "It looks as if Christian names are called for."

"Well, Alan, surely you must have thought about acting? Your voice is very powerful and you convey such strong emotion."

"I have played a few roles, though not professionally."

"Don't we all, at some point in our lives, act?" said Eric. "We pretend to be something so as not to hurt another's feelings. Or feign innocence when hiding a guilty secret?"

"How true, Mr. Rader," said Shakespeare.

"Please, call me Eric."

"I'm Will. That is so true. The character of my play, when he learns of the murder, feigns madness so he can say what he wants."

Shannon still had to get it past these men that just because she was a woman didn't mean she was an airhead. "I especially like when your heroines masquerade as men, but do you not feel that their opinions would be the same regardless of their garments?"

"Of course, Mistress Shannon, one's ideas are always their own, but women would not be accepted in a man's world."

"But surely in the age of Gloriana," remarked Shannon, using the poetic name for Queen Elizabeth.

"Yes, well, perhaps in future I will be able to create a strong female role."

"I'm sure the boys will appreciate not having to whisper," added Dick.

"Since there were so few of us putting on our own productions," said Ryan, "Shannon played all the female leads, but always felt that our roles were much more interesting."

"You used to put on your own plays?" asked Will.

"Nothing elaborate, of course," said Eric. "They were mainly done for fun at gatherings."

"Perhaps you would like to watch rehearsals," said Dick. "As you saw earlier, we still need to smooth things out."

"We'd love to," said Alan, finally warming up to the assignment.

Loud noises were emanating from the public room. "It sounds as if we'll have a tough time getting out tonight," said Will.

"What is it?" asked Eric.

"A brawl," answered Will. "We had best escort the lady out discreetly." He took Shannon's hand. Disappointed about not being able to take part in the fight, Shannon took comfort in the fact that William Shakespeare himself was concerned for her welfare.

The other four went out first to form a barrier, but were soon pulled into the melee. The three time travelers fought away, throwing punches and bodies, breaking furniture and glass. Dick, however, got caught by three others and held his own until he tripped on an unconscious man lying on the floor. Dick fell then banged his arm against the wall. Alan, Ryan, and Eric saw him and rushed over.

As they helped him stand, Eric noticed how he favored his right arm. "Are you okay?"

"Just a little pain. It'll go away in a couple of days."

Once outside with Shannon and Will, Alan said, "Let me take a look at that arm."

"I'm fine," protested Dick as Alan gently probed. "Ouch!"

"It's broken. You had better get a doctor to set it right away."

Dick tried to object again, but Will stopped him. "Alan is right. It couldn't hurt for a doctor to check it." He looked at Alan. "How do you know it's broken?"

"I've seen enough of them to know. Can you walk?" he asked Dick. His patient nodded. "What we need is a temporary sling." He looked around for something. "Shannon, your petticoat."

"What?"

"Rip the edge off your petticoat."

"Oh, okay." Shannon motioned for Eric and Ryan to block her from view as she lifted her skirts and tore the fine linen. She then handed the strip to Alan.

"Perfect." He wrapped it once around Dick's wrist then tied the two ends behind his neck. "That should help keep it still until you reach the doctor."

"Thank you, Alan. I had not intended for the evening to end like this," said Shakespeare.

"There's no need for you to worry about us. Just get Dick to the doctor. We've had a long day as it is."

"Come visit the theatre tomorrow. I have some ideas for a speech floating in my mind inspired by our conversation. Perhaps you can help capture them on paper."

"Thank you for your kind invitation," said Shannon. "What time shall we be there?"

Shakespeare was a little surprised that Shannon was making the appointment. "Mid-morning should be fine." He made his good-byes and helped Burbage to the doctor's.

"So that's the Bard of Stratford," said Eric. "Seems a regular guy."

"I know. It's amazing," agreed Ryan. "I wonder how we inspired him tonight?"

"Well, Shannon set the way for Goneril and Regan from Lear as well as Lady Macbeth with that remark about strong women," stated Alan.

"That's not exactly what I meant, but at least they stuck to their guns."

They reached the inn and climbed the steps to their rooms. "Sleep well, gentlemen. At least two of you will," she remarked with a laugh as she closed the door behind her.

"Damn! Who gets the cot?" asked Eric.

Ryan and Alan exchanged glances. "You do!" they cried as they raced into the room.

* * * *

The following morning Ryan discovered that they could change their clothes by pressing a button on the time machine. "That makes things a whole lot easier."

"I wonder if Shannon knows?" asked Eric, rubbing his stiff neck.

"Wonder if I know what?" asked Shannon from the doorway. She was wearing brown hose, trunks, a doublet lined with red, and a white shirt.

"Never mind," said Alan. "What are you doing, wearing those?"

"These are much more comfortable. I told you I'd find a way."

"What's Shakespeare going to think?" asked Ryan. "We're just starting to cultivate a friendship with the man. Seeing you dressed like that could put him off."

"He's written enough plays about women dressing in men's clothes. Actually meeting one should be interesting for him."

Knowing that she wouldn't change her mind--or her clothes--Alan gave in. "Okay, just don't do anything ridiculous."

They had a simple breakfast of bread and eggs and washed it down with coffee. They then decided to tour renaissance London before heading to the Globe at 10:00. They were surprised to see Dick there as well. He noticed their faces. "Even if I can't perform, I should be here as a partner."

"Who will play Hamlet, then?" asked Ryan.

"We were hoping your brother would," said Will.

"What?" asked Alan in disbelief. "I can't--I mean, I've never performed professionally."

"What better way to start?" said Dick. "Think of it as repayment for your help yesterday."

"But--"

"You can read a scene with the company and see what they think." Will motioned for Alan to join the other actors on the stage. "This is Alan Kelly, a friend. He helped us yesterday and I thought we'd let him try for the part of Hamlet." He handed Alan the script. "Let's try the funeral scene."

Alan shrugged his shoulders and took his spot.

The Queen, the courtiers; who is it they follow?
And with such maimed rites? this doth betoken
The corse they follow did with desperate hand
Fordo its own life: 'twas of some estate.
Couch we awhile and mark.


Shannon, Eric, and Ryan watched and listened as the act continued. Shannon looked over and saw that both Shakespeare and Burbage were enthralled. She switched her attention to the stage when Hamlet revealed his presence.

What is he whose grief
Bears such an emphasis? whose phrase of sorrow
Configures the wandering stars, and makes them stand
Like wonder-wounded hearers? this is I, Hamlet the Dane.


In his mind, Alan tried to conjure up pictures of different performances--Laurence Olivier, Derek Jacobi, Kenneth Branagh, even Mel Gibson--combining them with a bit of himself. Once he got started, he could practically recite from memory. He had to remind himself that this was the first time he had seen it as far as the others knew. At the end of the scene, he brought himself back from Elsinore.

"That was marvelous," said Shakespeare.

The others agreed and Alan became a member--albeit temporary--of the Lord Chamberlain's Men.

"There were some phrases you used that I don't recall having written," said Will.

"Oh, I'm sorry. I guess I just said what I thought was there. I hope that's not a problem."

"No. Actually, I like what you said better. What did you think, Dick?"

"I think I might be out of a job," the injured actor replied with a smile. "How do you do it?"

Alan was embarrassed. "I just tried to imagine myself in his place. The only person he had truly loved was dead and those who claimed to love her didn't help her."

"I feel sorry for Ophelia," said Shannon. "She loved Hamlet, but as part of his 'madness', he had to push her away. He then kills her father and she is the one to go mad."

"You have quite a comely face for a lad. You could play the part of the doomed Ophelia," said Dick, recognizing Shannon.

"Me? Wouldn't that be putting one of your boys out?"

"They don't always like playing girls. I don't think you'd mind, having the chance to act on a professional level." He was baiting her.

"C'mon, Shane. It'll be fun."

To hear Alan sincerely use the word "fun" decided things for Shannon. "Okay, I guess so. What scene would you like me to try?"

Will looked at Dick who shrugged. He picked up the papers he had spread out. "How about the scene when she is in her madness." He looked at Eric and Ryan.
"Will one of you read this with her?"

"I'll do it," said Ryan. He joined Shannon on the stage.

She entered singing. "They bore him barefac'd on the bier; Hey non nonny, nonny hey nonny; And in his grave rain'd many a tear."

"Hadst thou thy wits, and didst persuade revenge, It could not move me thus."


Alan was amazed at how Shannon conveyed the madness of a young woman who has withdrawn from the reality of life.

There's fennel for you, and columbines; there's rue for you; and here's some for me; we may call it herb of grace o' Sundays. O! you must wear your rue with a difference. There's a daisy; I would give you some violets, but they withered all when my father died. They say he made a good end.

When the scene was over, Alan applauded and Shannon blushed. "You had better get used to the sound, since this theatre will be echoing in your praise," declared Will. "And you," he said to Ryan, "showed the ideal mix of concern for Ophelia and hatred for Hamlet who caused her madness. You shall be Laertes." He looked at Eric. "Now we need a part for you."

"What of Hamlet's confidante, Horatio?" asked Dick.

"Of course! You look the loyal friend."

"But what of the rest of the company?" asked Eric. "Won't they be upset that you've given four major roles to a group of provincials?"

"They may be, but I would think on it as giving someone a chance. We all have to start somewhere, and I would like to help you. If you get a taste and like it, you can stay with us or find another company. If you don't like it, at least you tried."

Eric shrugged. He had always thought that companies jealously guarded their own plays and let no one inside their ranks. If Shakespeare wanted to play fairy godfather and let them act in the play, so be it. "Okay, so what scene would you like me to read?"

Burbage suggested, "The scene when Hamlet first sees the ghost of his father."

Eric picked up the script. "It beckons you to go away with it, As if it some impartment did desire, To you alone." Marcellus, a guard, tells Hamlet not to go, but the prince sees no harm. "What if it did tempt you toward the flood, my lord, Or to the dreadful summit of the cliff..." Eric let all his memories of past concern for Alan come into play, for there had been times when Alan refused to listen to reason.

"Our play is cast," said Shakespeare. "We will break for nuncheon and rehearse this afternoon."

* * * *
Their days fell into a simple routine: rehearsal, rehearsal and more rehearsal. It was somewhat ironic since the time travelers knew the play virtually by heart. They mainly had to learn inflection and action; they couldn't merely stand in the middle of the stage and recite the play.

One morning they were on the way to the Globe when they met Shakespeare. "Where are you rushing off to? What about rehearsal?" asked Shannon.

"A royal summons. Dick is overseeing the rehearsal today."

"But I had some ideas about the play," said Alan.

Shakespeare hesitated. "Oh, all right, we can talk on the way." He smiled. "Perhaps she'll even ask you for an advance performance."

The travelers were struck speechless at the prospect of performing before the remarkable Queen Elizabeth. As they crossed the bridge, Will asked, "So what did you want to say about the play?"

"It's about the ending."

"You don't want Hamlet to die."

"He has to, otherwise it wouldn't be a tragedy. No, I think it needs work, tying up loose ends. You mention Fortinbras, so why not bring him in? And whatever happened to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern? I also think that Horatio should have more of a role than just saying 'Yes, my lord' to Hamlet every other sentence."

"What do you propose?"

"That he lives to tell the tale."

"I like that. We'll work on it this afternoon."

They arrived at Whitehall and were ushered into the audience chamber where Elizabeth was waiting. Her dress was stiff with jewels, cinched tightly at the waist, and had a high collar. The red of her hair had given way to wigs and her face was caked with white makeup composed mainly of lead. Despite all that, she was still an imposing figure at the age of 66. "Master Shakespeare, we are glad you answered our summons so quickly."

"How could I refuse, Your Majesty? I left the theatre as soon as I could," he said with a bow.

"And your companions?" asked the queen.

"New actors in the company," explained Will. "Alan and Ryan Kelly, their cousin Shane Flynn, and friend Eric Rader."

They each bowed as Elizabeth nodded. "What type of play is this new production?"

"A tragedy, Majesty, the story of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark."

"Pray, what is his story?" The Queen seemed most interested. Shakespeare briefly relayed the tale and Alan could see it in her eyes and how her hands tended to grip the arms of the throne. "It sounds most enthralling, Master Shakespeare. Perhaps your actors would care to perform a scene?"

Here? Now? Ryan knew this would be his first--and probably only--royal command. He looked at Will who had an almost pleading look on his face. Ryan then looked at the others and shrugged. "We would be honored, Your Majesty."

They decided upon the scene when Hamlet denies his love for Ophelia. Alan and Shannon started somewhat stiffly before they warmed up to their scene. "I did love you once."

"Indeed my lord, you made me believe so."

"You should not have believed me; for virtue cannot so inoculate our old stock but we shall relish it; I loved you not."

"I was the more deceived."

"Get thee to a nunnery; why wouldst thou be a breeder of sinners?"


Eric watched the two of them and the hurt in Shannon's eyes seemed quite genuine. Could she really be in love with Alan?

And I, of ladies most deject and wretched,
That suck'd the honey of his music vows,
Now see that noble and most sovereign reason,
Like sweet bells jangled, out of time and harsh;
That unmatch'd form and feature of blown youth
Blasted with ecstasy: O! woe is me,
To have seen what I have seen, see what I see!


Elizabeth clapped liked a delighted schoolgirl. "Marvelous! Your actors do you much credit, Master Shakespeare. That one playing the girl will be most convincing in a dress."

"My thoughts as well, Your Majesty," agreed Will. "It will be a pity to lose him when he grows older."

"And how do you like acting Master Shakespeare's plays, lad?" Elizabeth asked Shannon.

"Very invigorating, Your Majesty. I don't even mind having to wear a dress," she answered with a smile.

"And the rest of you?"

"His characters are like none I've ever played before," said Ryan.

"Each scene, each word has meaning," replied Eric.

"While acting, I feel as if I am transported," answered Alan.

"With such acclaim as this, Hamlet should prove to be your greatest work to date. But this is not the only reason for our summons. We have an idea for a new play."

"Majesty?"

"We would like to see Sir John Falstaff in love."

Falstaff was the great comic character in Henry IV, parts 1 and 2, remembered Eric. He was supposedly based on Sir John Oldcastle, one of the members of the court. That was probably the reason for the Queen's idea.

"An interesting proposition, Your Majesty. I will do what I can. It may have to wait until after the performances."

"Do not forget."

"Nay, Majesty, I shall not."

She dismissed them with a wave of her hand and the actors backed out of the room. Outside, they heaved a collective sigh. "I cannot believe we just had an audience with the Queen," said Ryan. "Wait till the people back home hear of this."

Eric looked at Shakespeare. "Does she do that often--summon you for an audience?"

"Upon occasion. I am amazed that she would deign to think of a poor scribbler like myself. Each time her message comes, I feel exhilarated and terrified at the same time. I wonder if I have offended her at some time or even if I will be sleeping at home that night."

"I had heard that you were thought to be a co-conspirator with Essex in his plot against the Queen because you performed Richard II the night before," said Shannon.

"Ah, those were dark days. I feared for my life. I feared for my life until out innocence was proved."

"What happened?" asked Alan.

"We were asked to perform the play in front of a gathering for a large sum--nothing unusual to that. We had no idea what was happening until after the attempt had failed and it was pointed out that the play we performed had to do with a monarch being overthrown."

"You must have been highly thought of if Essex wished to use your play as a diversion," remarked Eric.

"Yes, but how high is it when the diversion is for a traitor?"

"If he wished to win many people over to his cause by showing one of your plays, he must have known that anything you staged would draw a crowd," said Shannon.

"True." They crossed into the City and headed for the bridge. "The rehearsals are coming along nicely and we should be able to go on as scheduled. When we reach the theatre, Alan, you can come with me to work on the final scene while the others rehearse the scenes without you. Tomorrow, I'd like to run through the play completely."

* * * *

The days passed quickly and the play was then ready. The dressing area was behind the stage was bustling and the three men tried to block Shannon from view as she changed into a dress. It wouldn't do for the rest of the company to learn that she was a woman at this stage. They would consider it bad luck--actors being perhaps the most superstitious group of people.

Eric was the first to go on, so the others watched from the wings as he and the soldier Marcellus set the tone of the play and encountered the ghost of the dead king--played by Shakespeare himself. "He's good," whispered Ryan. "Subtle and sincere. I hope I come out that good."

"You've always been a consummate actor," joked Alan. "What with the number of identities you've had."

"Ha, ha. Very funny."

"Ssshhh, it's time for your entrance," said Shannon.

As Eric passed the others on his way back from the stage, he whispered, "Break a leg." He stood by Shannon.

"You were great," she told him.

"I was nervous. This is Hamlet for God's sake!"

"I know. I still can't get over it."

On stage, Alan portrayed the role of a young man mourning the passing of his father while the rest of the court was rejoicing on the marriage of his uncle to his widowed mother that followed not two months after. He was a man who had lost faith in his mother, believing that, if she truly loved his father, she would not have remarried so soon. Eric then joined him and told him of the ghost. The prince then decides to join them that night in the hopes of seeing it for himself.

Alan and Eric came off. "Your turn," Alan said to Shannon and Ryan. Shannon crossed herself and said a quick prayer.

Laertes, before leaving for school in France, stops to see his sister and tell her not to believe that Hamlet truly loves her--he is a prince, after all. They are joined by their father Polonius who gives Laertes advice on how to handle himself.

Neither a borrower nor a lender be;
For loan oft loses both itself and a friend,
And borrowing dulls the end of husbandry.
This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.


Ryan then left the stage while Shannon remained to be told to stay away from Hamlet, for his feelings could not be true.

The scene changed to that night when Hamlet, Horatio, and Marcellus went in search of the ghost. The ghost beckoned to Hamlet and Horatio tried to talk him out of following. It was the scene Eric had performed to get the part. Alan followed Shakespeare to the far side of the stage. With a deep, sonorous voice, the ghost of the king told how he was murdered by his own brother then made his son swear revenge.

Alan, carried away by actually acting with Shakespeare, felt he would do anything the man asked. The ghost disappeared and Hamlet then made Horatio and Marcellus swear to keep everything they saw secret.

"You were amazing," said Ryan as Alan and Eric joined them in the changing area between acts. "I never would have guessed you had it in you."

"It's fun to surprise you for a change. Where's Shannon?"

"She's in the next scene," said Eric. "She just had to change her dress."

"I've got a little time, then. Have you got any water?"

"I think ale would be safer," commented his brother.

Alan thought of the stagnant water he had seen. "I think you're right." He took a long drink of the offered mug. "I'd better get up there." He unbuttoned his doublet and loosened his shirt. "Do I look disheveled enough?"

"Perfect," laughed Eric.

"Good. See you out there." Alan made his way to the wings and waited while the actors on stage described the prince's acts of madness and blamed them on his grief for his father and his love for Ophelia. He took a deep, relaxing breath and walked onto the stage. After convincing Polonius of his mental state, he then confronts two acquaintances from school, brought by Claudius the king to try and lighten his mood. Entertainment had also been arranged in the form of traveling players. Unable to come to a decision on how to take his revenge, Hamlet decides to arrange for the players to re-enact the death of his father in a fictitious setting. "The play's the thing Wherein I'll catch the conscience of the king."

He walked off the stage, shaking with his pent-up energies. "What a rush," he said to the others. "It's almost like the feeling I get before going up in a fighter."

"The audience unnerves me," remarked Shannon, as she got ready for her scene.

"Try to ignore them. Just pretend that you really are Ophelia and act how she would act. Go on."

Claudius and Polonius had hatched a plan to watch Hamlet as he confronted Ophelia to see if that is the reason behind his madness. Alan took his cue and entered, musing on life in general, his in particular.

To be or not to be: that is the question:
Whether t'is nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing, end them? To die; to sleep;
No more: and, by a sleep to say we end
The heartache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, 'tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish'd. To die; to sleep;
To sleep; perchance to dream: Aye, there's the rub!


Upon seeing Ophelia, Alan and Shannon then performed the scene they had done for the Queen.

"Is it just me," whispered Ryan, "or are there really feelings between those two and not just acting?"

"Wouldn't surprise me," answered Eric. "I've thought there has been all along. I think it would be best not to say anything. Here comes Alan."

"Nice going, brother mine. You handled the soliloquy like a pro. Said it like you really meant it."

"There were times when I did." He stretched. "I never realized that acting was such a draining experience." He turned and watched as Claudius decided to send Hamlet to England in the hopes that the journey would help clear his mind of his melancholy.

That night, the players perform the play as Hamlet had instructed. At the instant of the "murder", Claudius leaves, proving Hamlet's theory. The king then commissions Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, the two acquaintances of Hamlet, to travel with the prince to England. Alone, Claudius attempts to pray for forgiveness for the murder as his conscience surfaces. Hamlet comes upon him and is ready to kill him, but has second thoughts when he realizes that the king's soul will immediately go to Heaven. He leaves to go see his mother.

Alan felt that this was possibly the toughest scene of all. Hamlet must act truly mad to deceive his mother. Scared, Gertrude calls out for help, and Polonius, hiding, echoes her and Hamlet kills him.

"Oh, what a rash and bloody deed is this!"

"A bloody deed! Almost as bad, good mother, As kill a king and marry with his brother."

"As kill a king!"


Hamlet lifts the tapestry and realizes his mistake. "Thou wretched, rash, intruding fool, farewell! I took thee for thy better," He then goes on to berate his mother for her actions until she cries no more. The ghost appears to boost his flagging commitment. The prince then begs his mother "Confess yourself to Heaven; Repent what's past; avoid what is to come." He then warns her to stay away from Claudius. He leaves, dragging the body offstage.

Once in the wings, Polonius got up and dusted himself off. "You're good, lad. You had me near to tears with that scene. Don't tell him I said this, but I doubt Burbage could have done it better."

"Thanks. That means a lot coming from an actor such as yourself." The others were waiting. "Thank God I have a short break in a couple of scenes. You ready for your big scene?" he asked Shannon.

"As ready as I'll ever be. Do I look like someone who's gone over the edge?" Her hair was matted and tangled, her face pallid, and her dress dirty.

"You could have fallen off Everest," said Eric. "Looks like you're on again," he told Alan.

On the way to England, they encounter the Norwegian army led by Fortinbras. Hamlet compares his indecision with the ambition and drive of the young general.
It was then time for Ophelia's final scene when her madness is at its height. Shannon felt that if the girl were really mad, she would use weeds or twigs, believing them to be real flowers. Ryan played the stunned brother magnificently, swearing vengeance on the man who caused it.

Upon hearing of Hamlet's return, the king plans to use Laertes's anger to his own purposes. He arranges for a duel to be fought so Laertes can have revenge on the man who killed his father. One of the swords will be poisoned, and, if that doesn't work, the king will have a chalice of poisoned wine set aside. While they are planning the death of Hamlet, Gertrude comes in with the sad news of Ophelia's death.

Hamlet arrives at the funeral, fights Laertes, and the two have to be pulled apart. Alone, Hamlet tells Horatio that Claudius had planned to have him killed in England. Hamlet changed the orders and resealed the letter. They were attacked by another ship, Hamlet was taken prisoner then released. He immediately made his way home.

Before the duel, Hamlet puts the blame on his madness, stating that he was just as wronged. Alan and Ryan began their staged fight, choreographed by themselves with the help of Shakespeare. Alan touched him twice, the "Queen" mopped his sweaty brow, then drank from the poisoned cup.

Laertes wounds Hamlet and, in the scuffle, they exchange swords. Hamlet then wounds Laertes. The Queen cries out she's been poisoned, then dies. Hamlet calls for treachery to be found. Laertes confesses. "The treacherous instrument is in thy hand, Unabated and envenomed. The foul practice Hat turned itself on me; . . . The king, the king's to blame." Hamlet rushes up to the king and stabs him.

Ryan played his death scene like a man whose love of his family was ill used by a tyrant. "Mine and my father's death come not upon thee, Nor thine on me!"

Alan fell to a sitting position front center stage and Eric rushed to kneel by his side. He reached for the poisoned cup, willing to follow his friend in death. Alan looked at him.

If thou didst ever hold me in thy heart,
Absent thee from felicity awhile,
And in the harsh world draw thy breath in pain,
To tell my story.


The sound of soldiers heralded the coming of Fortinbras, but the Danish prince died before seeing him.

Eric let a tear fall down his cheek. "Now cracks a noble heart. Good-night, sweet prince, And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest."

Fortinbras arrives, as well as ambassadors from England with news that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead. Horatio asks that the bodies be placed on view while he tells the story of what happened. Fortinbras, who, through death and misfortune, has inherited the crown, decrees, "Let four captains Bear Hamlet like a soldier, to the stage; For he was likely had he been put on, to have proved most royally."

Eric followed the soldiers as they carried Alan offstage and set him down. "We've done it!" he said excitedly. "We made it through the whole play without one goof!"
Shannon hugged them both and kissed them. "Shane, your image," reminded Alan.

"Why bother? If they haven't realized by now that I'm a woman, they're blind!"

Ryan joined them. "That was one of the best fights we've had, and we've had quite a few."

"This one was staged, that's why."

"Wonderful performances from you all," said Burbage. "We could definitely find places for you."

"Thank you for giving us the chance, but I don't know if I could handle the pressure," said Alan with a smile.

"I know what you mean. Ah, here comes our playwright now. Well, Will, what did you think?"

"You all brought my characters to life better than I had imagined. You have great talent."

"Thank you, Will, but I'm afraid this will be our only public appearance," Ryan informed him. "It was a wonderful experience, but it's just not for us."

"What will you do?"

"Go back home and do our own plays," answered Shannon. "At least we can say we performed in the Globe."

"You have certainly inspired me on the strength of the female character. Perhaps someday women will be able to act on stage without hiding in men's clothing."

"Perhaps," she agreed with a smile.

"Godspeed, my friends."

"And may you never lack Divine Inspiration," Eric said as he shook his hand.

They left the Globe and headed back to the inn to pay their bill.

The landlord greeted them like old family friends. "Everyone has been saying how wonderful your performance was. I couldn't make it myself. I told them all that you were staying here."

"I hope you didn't raise the price of the rooms," said Shannon.

"No, of course not," he protested. "Only the ale," he added for their ears only.

"A good thing," said Ryan, "for we're here to settle our bill."

"Have you found permanent lodgings?"

"No, our father has taken ill," answered Alan, "and we must return home."

"And you only had a taste of success."

"Which will linger in our memories," said Eric.

Once they had paid, they went outside and walked to a secluded spot. "Too bad we couldn't capture any of that on video," remarked Shannon. "To have actual footage of the premiere of Hamlet..."

"Lucky for you that I brought along that little camera that Gil gave me for that Robin Hood trip," said Eric.

"You little--"

"Yep, I have you all immortalized for posterity." He grinned.

"Okay, we all meet at Alan's place," said Shannon. "I'll bring the popcorn." The others stared at her. "I'm interested to see how it came out."

"Okay. I'll set the date," said Ryan. He did so, pressed the button, and the travelers vanished.

They arrived in the usually immaculate TOC room to find it in shambles--cobwebs and dust everywhere with graffiti scrawled on the walls. "What the hell happened?" cried Alan

19. Accepted Time.

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