On the eve of his death, William Shakespeare relives another fateful night, fifteen years earlier, when the Lord Chamberlain’s Men were invited to perform for Queen Elizabeth—the night before her beloved Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, was to be beheaded for treason to the Crown.
The Queen sentenced him to death, and only she can pardon him before the morning. With the possibility of rioting in the streets, a curfew is imposed and the acting company must be lodged that night in the royal stables. Desperately needing distraction from the fateful night’s events, Elizabeth seeks out the company of Shakespeare and the actors.
But it is not Shakespeare who commands her attention as much as does Ned Lowenstein, the actor she has seen portray Shakespeare’s female roles, including that evening, Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing. His body covered in bruises and sores, Ned is dying of syphilis—giving him a fool’s license perhaps as he engages the Queen in verbal combat through the night as she awaits her Robert’s execution. The actor is set upon revealing the woman who is buried beneath the role the “Virgin Queen” has played, as she, in turn, demands that Ned discover the strength of a man facing his own death, without script in hand.
Timothy Findley (Playwright) known to most as Tiff, began his career as an actor, part of the original Stratford Festival company in the first production of Thornton Wilder’s The Matchmaker.
Playwright Ruth Gordon, encouraged Tiff to write, and he eventually left acting to become a full-time writer in the 1960s. Tiff’s first two novels— The Last of the Crazy People (1967) and The Butterfly Plague (1969)— were rejected by Canadian publishers and first published in Britain and the United States. His third, The Wars, won the 1977 Governor General’s Award and was released as a film in 1981. As well as four collections of short stories and eleven novels, including Famous Last Words (1981), The Pianoman’s Daughter (1995), and Pilgrim (1999), Findley was the author of three memoirs and eight plays, including Elizabeth Rex, which premiered at Stratford Festival and won a Governor General’s Award.
Tiff met his life partner, writer William Whitehead, in 1962. The two collaborated on several documentary projects, and for many years lived together at Stone Orchard near Cannington, Ontario, later moving to southern France.
In 1996, Findley was invested as Chevalier de l’Ordre des arts et des lettres. An outspoken and lifelong champion of human rights, Tiff was president of PEN Canada and a founding member and chair of The Writers’ Union of Canada. He was appointed to the Order of Ontario and in 1985 became an Officer of the Order of Ontario. In 2002, he was inducted into Canada’s Walk of Fame.
Nov. 29, 2011 – Jan. 22, 2012 at Chicago Shakespeare Theater – Navy Pier