A Word In Edgewise: You’re In The Room Where It Happens

The doors have closed, the lights have dimmed. They’ve taken the stage. You can’t slip out now. You remain very, very quiet, fearing to be seen or heard. The atmosphere’s electric, the times are dangerous; spies are everywhere, and terrible things can happen to the unwary…

Two writers have met in this tavern backroom to collaborate on a history play cycle about Henry VI, but that doesn’t quite seem to be happening. “I just want to write,” asserts newcomer Will Shakespeare, while Christopher “Kit” Marlowe, the elder and more established playwright, seems to want to do anything but. Marlowe is everywhere, preening, sparring, insulting his co-author; they feint, sally- and-thrust, make romantic/sexual innuendos, but little writing gets done.

How are we privy to this? How did we come to be voyeurs in this 16th century pen-and-sword duet? Why are we in a near police-state between a rock and a hard place? Who put these two scorpions in a bottle and gave it a shake?

Playwright Liz Duffy Adams has drawn us here to witness. A lifelong love of Shakespeare created a foundation of Bard-based knowledge against which she bounces 21st century findings. In 2016, editors of The New Oxford Shakespeare, using computer-based stylometric analysis of word frequencies in the Bard’s plays, determined (though there’s lots more involved), that sections of two of the Henry VI cycle plays were written by Marlowe himself.

That being rather more than digestible in an evening’s theatergoing, Adams was quoted as having decided, “You pick one moment. You don’t try to tell a big, broad story– that’s a biopic. You pick one moment and you keep it in the moment.”

So here we are, alone with just the pair, Matthew Ament’s Marlowe swaggering in his Elizabethan-punk finery shooting barbs at his “victim,” Dylan Godwin’s Will, who scribbles with his quill–until, à la Greg Louganis, he dives upon his tormentor and plants a smoking smooch.

The title itself is drawn from Henry VI, Part III, as Gloucester, having stabbed the King, soliloquizes in part, The midwife wonder’d and the women cried ‘O, Jesus bless us, he is born with teeth!’

But is the lightning-fast, whiplash-tongued Marlowe the only one with teeth? Will seems more faint of heart, quicker on the look-out for spies–Elizabeth’s minions are  everywhere, after all, and many have already been disappeared to suffer hideous deaths.

Historically, Shakespeare did purposely avoid the path of espionage, while Marlowe, to an undetermined degree, indulged, and perished early, leaving a path open to his younger rival. Would Shakespeare be today’s theatrical colossus if Marlowe had not died? Would the Guthrie’s 2024 rotating repertory of Richard II, Henry IV and Henry V now be cited as “William Shakespeare’s” or “Christopher Marlowe’s”?

The meek shall inherit the stage?

But was Will as meek as he presented? “I just want to write!” How badly? To what lengths might he have gone to write, to become the foremost playwright of his time? Was Marlowe the only one born with teeth? Will’s final words, spoken solo, spotlighted on the darkened stage, run a chill frisson up our spine, and while applauding, we still are loath to be singled out.

The duo will continue to spar on the Guthrie’s McGuire Proscenium Stage through April 2.

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