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While I was researching for Rival Poet, I ran across a really interesting article by David Kathman about Shakespeare’s Stratford acquaintance Richard Field. The article makes a compelling case for Shakespeare getting some help as a green playwright just arrived in London.
Field was the son of a Stratford tanner, and he was three years older than Will. They probably went to school together for a while, and then in 1579, Field went to London to be a printer’s apprentice. When his master died, he took over the business together with the widow. Among the books he printed, there are several that may have been used as sources by Shakespeare. He also printed Shakespeare’s first poems, Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece. Therefore it’s not a big leap to assume that they knew each other.
However, many who acknowledge this connection routinely paint printer Field as a friend, and I wanted to do something different. After all, there are thousands of books about Shakespeare, so if you do embark on yet another story, you need your own twist. Add to this that every story needs a villain.
Therefore I decided that Dick Field wasn’t really a friend, but a childhood enemy, a bully who almost stopped Will from writing at all. While staying true to the known facts, I made Dick a different kind of catalyst for the budding poet, hopefully resulting in a more interesting plot.
The rope cut into his throat. Not tightly enough to choke him, but not loosely either. Dick took a step back and surveyed his work. “So, Willie… you going to tell Master Jenkins about this, then?”
Will tried to shake his head, but stopped when the rope chafed at his neck.
“That’s right, because I know for a fact that our teacher hasn’t been to church for… what is it, six Sundays in a row? Naughty, naughty…” Dick laughed. His minions joined in. “If you think that godless man will help you, you’re in for a disappointment.”
Will’s mind was racing too fast. He was tied to a tree and couldn’t move, so his only way out of this was through words. But what words? What could he say that would melt the stony heart of the tanner’s son?
Blurting the first thing he could think of, he said, “I’m not like Master Jenkins.” The words hurt his throat. “I’m not a recusant.”
At once, Dick’s eyes narrowed. With a sickening twist of the stomach, Will knew that he had made a mistake, but it was too late to take it back.
“You think you’re pretty smart, don’t you? Re-cu-sant. Wow. Good boy, to know such fancy words. Just like Master Jenkins. You’d make a lovely couple, you would.”
Dick’s fist landed in Will’s belly. Completely unprepared for the blow, Will’s bound body tried to double over, and his spine slammed into the tree trunk.
“Well, we can’t have men marrying boys in a proper God-fearing town like Stratford,” Dick sighed, feigning remorse. “Sodomy is a capital offence, you know. We’ll just have to hang, draw and quarter you. So tell me, Willie, before you die…” Dick took his deformed hand and caressed it almost lovingly. “Do you think Master Jenkins will cry when his star pupil is gone?” He lowered his voice to a raucous whisper. “Or do you think he’ll be relieved?”