"Shakespeare in Love": Who was the kid?

This movie includes, as a minor character, a kid who is always ratting on the other characters and who seems to have a penchant for violence. I gather this is an inside joke, and that the kid is destined to play some great role in English history. (One character tells the boy “You’ll go far.”)

Shakespeare asks the kid his name, but I couldn’t make out the reply through the accent.

Who is the kid supposed to be? At first I thought maybe Cromwell, but the kid is too old. Cromwell wouldn’t have been born yet, I don’t think. Anyone got the skinny on this?

John Webster

As I recall from an article on the buried goodies in “Shakespeare in Love”, he was also known for a certain amount of Grand Guignol in his work – kind of the Elizabethan version of slasher films. Hence his mistreatment of animals in the film.

This is true up to a point, but the movie definitely gave him a bum rap. We know almost nothing about Webster-the-man, but I very much doubt that he was either a fink or a sadist. He certainly was one of the most sophisticated poets ever to write for the English stage – the John Donne of the theater. Having spent many hours reading and writing about his plays, I believe he was also a deeply compassionate man.

Grand Guignol stuff – perverted sex and ingenious ways of murdering people – was a virtually obligatory stage convention by the time Webster wrote. (Shakespeare’s stuff is mild compared to most of his successors’.) The interesting part is how differently playwrights handled similar plot elements. Check out Cyril Tourneur’s Revenger’s Tragedy if you really want to see a seventeenth-century slasher film – the play is fast-paced, witty, and incredibly violent, and Tourneur doesn’t waste a minute trying to make us feel sorry for his characters. With a couple of minor exceptions, they’re ALL mad, bad, and dangerous to know. While Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi has as an equal measure of violence and several scenes of far more concentrated cruelty, it’s also got a brave and virtuous heroine and some of the tenderest love scenes in English literature.

Nothing against Shakespeare in Love – it’s a fun movie, and the Webster bit is a pretty good joke. But it is, at best, only half the story.