A post from Maggie, one of my adult students. I think this is a great idea. See what you think. Of course you’ll know the play … won’t you!
There is so much being talked about Shakespeare at the moment that it encouraged me to go back and read some of my favourite plays. I started thinking about the role of some of the minor characters in his plays, and wondering what their story might have been. This is a short piece written from the perspective of a lady’s maid, who is gossiping with a friend. It will soon become clear which lady she’s talking about.
The Maid’s Account
I’ve lasted a long time as her serving woman, longer than all the others put together. She’s not easy of course, very beautiful women often aren’t, and she is a beauty. Headstrong though. I’ve always thought that she’s the boss, he’s always been willing to do anything for her. Besotted with her and she’s obsessed with him, at it all the time. Children have to fend for themselves, poor little devils. That’s the trouble with the higher ups, they get someone else to do all that for them, and they haven’t worked out what they’re missing. She wasn’t as bad as some though, she nursed her babies herself, which was a surprise to everyone by all accounts.
That night though, something was going on. I’m not a superstitious person but the wind was howling and birds were calling, in the middle of the night when they should have been silent. I could hear the two of them creeping around and her voice telling him to be a man. Well he was a man afterwards all right. My God, they excelled that night in the bed department, even for them.
She told me later, much later, when she had started walking and talking in her sleep, that she always thought her husband was a good man, but he didn’t have the edge that would make him a powerful man.
‘And you know Elspeth, powerful men are very virile. Don’t you think so?’
Well, I didn’t know how to answer that one. I hardly get to see my Bert, I’m stuck in the bloody castle all the time at her Ladyship’s beck and call. It’s a wonder to me we’ve got any children at all. My Bert’s not like his Lordship though. He’s a gentle soul, not the brightest, but he’ll do me.
Anyway, I was telling you about that night. He came on ahead of the rest of them. You could see she was made up about something, she’d had a letter from him, sent on ahead. Turns out he’d had a promotion, and then the king himself was coming to visit. The kitchen staff were all of a flurry, preparing a big feast. Not everyone seemed pleased though. One in particular, the one who disappeared the following night, he was doing a lot of muttering to himself. Then of course the king’s two sons ran off early hours of the morning, after their father had been found with his throat cut. Everyone started saying that they must have killed him, but I never believed that. It’s surprising what you see and hear when no one thinks you’re important.
I saw her, my Lady that is, washing his Lordship’s face and hands, telling him to change quickly in to his nightclothes. I hardly dare tell you what happened, or what I believe happened, but he’s gone off now anyway, left her to her own devices, which she hasn’t been very happy about.
She talks to me when I do her hair. Tells me all sorts. After she’d told me about her wanting him to be a powerful man, she said that she’d lost him like that. He’d overtaken her, turned in to something she wasn’t expecting. I’m not that clever but it sounded to me as if she was sorry she’d encouraged him, because now he couldn’t stop and she’d gone to bits.
‘Look after your children Elspeth’ she’d said.
‘I’ve said some terrible things about mine and now I’m sorry.’
I overheard that too, all that business about dashing their brains out if she had to. All talk probably.
The country’s gone to the dogs of course, his Lordship seems to be creating chaos and mayhem wherever he goes. I heard a terrible story about someone’s wife and children all being killed, a good man he was too. Did you hear about it? It was all the talk here, but then that’s to be expected with him being the culprit more than likely.
Last night I found her wandering about again, all that beautiful red hair flowing down her back, her feet bare, in her nightdress, wringing and rubbing her hands as if she was trying to scrub them clean. Poor soul. They sent word to him and the doctor came out, but there’s nothing to be done for her. He asked me to take away everything that she might do herself a mischief with, so there’s not much left in her room. I had an aunt like that, but no matter how careful we were she managed to do herself in eventually. People with very troubled minds usually find a way.
Did you hear that noise? Sounds as if she’s creeping about again. I’d better check that she’s all right. Don’t go, I’ll be back in a minute and then you can give me all your news.
© Maggie Himsworth 2016
And the answer: ? printed in 1623 after Shakespeare’s death.