WSU Production

FIU Production

SHAKESPEARE’S JOURNEY is a romantic drama, a love triangle that explores the conflict between Shakespeare’s love of Anne and his love of the theatre. A cast of 6 men and 4 women play a variety of roles and move various simple props as part of the action to create the different locales. The play begins as Will leaves his wife Anne to join Burbage’s players and go to London. As his career takes off and he becomes successful as an actor, playwright, and businessman, his personal life sours. He becomes alienated from his wife, his mistress leaves him, his relationship with a fellow actor becomes volatile, and his son dies. Finally, his journey takes him full circle as he struggles to find his way back to Anne and regain her love. The play is structured and written in the style of an Elizabethan play and is in turn serious, comic, and romantic. It was produced at Wichita State University in December 1998, and at Florida International University April 2001, October 2001, and February 2002. The author received the Kansas Arts Commission Fellowship in Playwriting for the play. The show was also produced at Oregon State University in May, 2009."


William Shakespeare
Anne Hathaway, his wife
John Shakespeare, his father
Mary Arden, his mother
Gilbert Shakespeare, his brother
Susanna, his daughter
Hamnet, his son
The Dark Lady, his mistress
Richard Burbage, leading actor of the company
Cuthbert Burbage, his brother
Will Kempe, actor of clown roles
Thomas Pope, older actor
Nicholas Tooley, an apprentice, then a hired man
Margery, Hostess of the Tavern
Donna Holland, a young prostitute
Henry Crosse, a Puritan
Mrs. Crosse, cousin to Henry
Robert Armin, another clown

The play was conceived with the idea of actors playing multiple roles.
The roles may be played by 10 actors: 4 women and 6 men.

Will Shakespeare
Anne Shakespeare
John Shakespeare, Henry Crosse, Thomas Pope
Mary Arden, Margery
Nicholas Tooley, Hamnet
Dark Lady
Donna, Susanna, Mrs. Crosse
Richard Burbage
Gilbert Shakespeare, Cuthbert Burbage
Will Kempe, Robert Armin

SCENE: Various locales in Stratford and London.

Running time is about 2 hours, 15 minutes


The play is written in Elizabethan style in that there are many scenes
and locales, but the action is meant to be continuous with just a
lighting change for each scene. In some cases characters for the next
scene may enter before a scene is over. The only blackouts are at
intermission and at the end of the play. There should be a unit set.
Changes in the set and hand props need to be incorporated into the
action of the scenes and done by the actors or done during the

Since most characters in the play are common people, costumes
should reflect the dirt and distress of a poor society that patched and
handed down clothes until they became rags. Most costumes are of the
plainest kind at the beginning except for a few roles such as Richard
Burbage and Dark Lady. There should be some distinction between
the look of those in London and those in Stratford. There should also
be a growing richness in Will and Anne’s clothing and that of the
actors as their fortunes grow.

While thousands of books and articles have been written about
Shakespeare, the known facts about his life are few, causing a great deal
of speculation and disagreement among scholars. Any play about
Shakespeare must create his world based on creative interpretation.
A writer uses his own experiences in his work. Reversing that, I have
borrowed from Shakespeare's works various lines and moments to reflect
his life. My intent is to tell a story of how Shakespeare struggled to find the
balance between his work in London and his relationship with his wife in
Stratford. Other themes include his determination to make his mark as
an actor-playwright, theatre owner, land owner, and businessman
to gain the kind of prestige his father once had as High Bailiff of
Stratford. There is also the conflict between the players and the
Puritans, made more important to the story because Will's wife is a
Puritan. There is also his conflict with Will Kempe, a clown who holds
no respect for the text of Shakespeare’s plays. There is the theme
of adultery. There is the death of Will's son. All of these conflicts make
him reconsider his actions and purpose in life.

The play begins when Will leaves Stratford to become an actor and
ends when he is at the pinnacle of success with the opening of the Globe
and the production of Henry V. My intent is to create a romantic drama
and a down-to-earth portrait of the man named Shakespeare with the major
conflicts in his life.


1. Will Shakespeare Will is 23 at the beginning of the play in 1587, young and energetic. He is a slim man, energetic, agile, warm, sympathetic.
2. Anne Eight years older than Will, she is an attractive, bright, strong
woman and lively, able to match his wit.
3. John Shakespeare In his 50's, John is a glover, a business man, trader. He was active
in politics, a member of the town council, and eventually High
Bailiff (mayor). Financial debts ended his political career. He is a
tall, strong, and kind man.
Thomas Pope An older gentleman, he is the fat and jolly type.
Henry Crosse He is a Puritan, a zealot, smug and unpleasant.
4. Mary Arden Close in age to John, she is sweet and matronly. She is in charge of
the home.
Margery She is a buxom and sassy tavern wench with a good disposition,
but bad teeth. She's uneducated but street wise.
5. Gilbert A few years younger than Will, he is playful, a hard worker, and
never married. He and Anne are great friends. He may be a
homosexual, but he is manly, not effeminate.
Cuthbert Burbage The eldest son, trained as a business manager, he is sharp,
intelligent, tall and thin, clumsy, a contrast to Richard.
6. Susanna Will's teenage daughter is a pretty blond, playful and willful.
Donna Holland She is a prostitute in her mid-teens with red hair destined later to
run a brothel for rich gentlemen. She likes to laugh and have fun,
but she is clever and able to take care of men.
Mrs. Crosse She is a young Puritan, sour and spoiled, with dark hair and dark
7. The Dark Lady She is a raven haired Italian beauty about 17, spoiled, rich,
voluptuous, sensuous, a sophisticated girl from a higher class. She
is independent, self-willed, a risk-taker, educated.
8. Richard Burbage He is dashing, masculine, physically larger than Will. He has a
deep melodious voice, dark red brown hair, beard and moustache.
He has flair, self-confidence.
9. Nicholas Tooley He a teenage apprentice who is small, slim, cocky. He has more
training than Will and is good at fencing, tumbling, dancing. Later
in the play he is a hired man.
Hamnet Will's son, a lad of eleven who is ill and faces death bravely.
10. Will Kempe He is a lively clown, very energetic, getting a paunch, and in his
40's. He dances jigs and has a quick wit. He lives hard, drinks
heartily, wenches frequently, and is self-absorbed.
Robert Armin Another clown, flamboyant


The Set Designer is free to use his or her own creativity in approaching the play. Whatever is provided visually, it needs to be a unit set, simple, theatrical, allow for the actors to change it quickly, and must not hinder the flow of the play.
At the beginning the actors set the stage. A rectangular crate is moved far down stage right with a stool to create Will's desk. A long hollow crate open on the upstage side is placed far down stage left to create a bench. Hidden inside is a pillow and blanket used to turn the crate into Hamnet's bed. Another long crate is stage right. This is used as a bench. It also is hinged to open up and create the bed for Will and the Dark Lady. The inside of the crate is filled with foam padding and covered.
There are four other rectangular crates used by actors to sit or stand on. When turned with the tallest sides vertical, each pair becomes the base for a table, one in front of the bench right of center and one left of center. There is a small stool, two barrels, and another small box up left which are pulled around the left table for seating. This table left of center is used for all the Stratford scenes and some of the theatre scenes. Both tables are used for the tavern scene. Each table top is made of two or three planks hinged so that all three pieces fold easily. These are stored on or under the wagon when not in use. There is another box placed left of down center. The boxes and set pieces need to be sturdy enough to stand on, but light enough for the actors to easily move them. They also should be weathered and not completely uniform in color .
In the first two productions of the play a player's wagon was used on a bare stage (black masking drapes on the sides, a cyclorama across the back). The first production used a wagon like that in the film of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in which one side opened down to become a stage. The second production used a simpler wagon adapted from an old farm wagon about five feet wide and eight feet long. Steps were placed at one end and at the two sides. There was a seat and floorboards at the other end for the driver. The wagon contained a number of specifically designed crates, barrels, planks, baskets, and other props. There were posts at the corners of the wagon and four boards attached at the top for a canopy and curtains between the posts. Another post was placed in a holder on the upstage end of the stage right bench and a clothes line was strung from the post to the wagon for one scene. Some props were left on the wagon for color and use such as a lute, masks, a wooden bucket, etc. The play began with the actors also on the wagon as though they had just arrived. Will Kempe led the actors in singing as they set the stage.
In the third production the wagon was eliminated because the stage wasn’t large enough. There had been criticism that the wagon had not been used enough in the action in the previous productions, so this solution solved both problems. In addition it made the lighting of the cyclorama more important and resulted in a beautiful show.

In the fourth production at Oregon State University directed by Charlotte Headrick, set and lighting designed by George Caldwell with costumes designed by Elizabeth Helman, Caldwell used two major set pieces: a wagon showing the corner of a room with a table that was used for the Stratford Scenes and a large rolling archway with a curtain that represented London. This simplified the changes and clearly grounded each of the contrasting worlds.