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The Lunatic, the Lover, and the Poet

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Will's not a boy, although his bumpkin manner and his Warwickshire accent (he's still got them both after half a year in London) make him seem like a lad just run away from his father's farm. In truth, Kit knows, they're of an age, and Will has a wife and three children back in Stratford. In a strong light, one that shows up Will's thinning hair and the lines around his eyes, Kit can see the dully respectable alderman he might have been.

At other times, when he's chewing the feather end of his pen or bounding among the booksellers at St. Paul's, Kit can see the innocent. The simpleton, Kit says in his choleric moods. Will gives farthings to beggars, when he has any, and listens to old sailors' lies in taverns. Kit only once took him to the bear-baiting, because he wept. He even goes to church sometimes, and not just to avoid the fine. No wonder that huswife, that mantrap, was able to cozen him into marriage as a boy of eighteen. He's a perfect coney.

But if Will's got a boy's mind sometimes, he's got a boy's hot blood, too. Those prayers haven't made him an alabaster saint. It was his doing, the first time they lay together. They'd been drinking canary half the night, and the conversation had sunk from Aristotle to Aristophanes, with Kit reciting the dirtier bits in his own translation. He'd just got to the line about the charming imprints left where boys sat naked in the sand when Will kissed him. Will made him snuff the candle once their clothes were off, but by morning he wasn't half so coy, and Kit taught him that the act of darkness is even more bewitching in the light. "I was pining for this," Will said later, with his arms clapped round Kit's neck. "Sickening for it like a breeding woman for apricots, but I never knew." They spun the figure into a few lines of poulter's-measure doggerel about sweet sins and laughed themselves dizzy.

In bed, Kit calls Will "lovely boy" or "pretty Ganymede." He likes words to spice his pleasures, like mustard with beef, and these are the only words he knows for it. Erastes and eromenos, the Greeks say. Paiderastia. Someone has to be the boy. And in the matter of words, of poesy, he's Will's master yet.

When they turn it all arsey-versy and Will takes him, they do without words. Sometimes Kit likes this best of all, this trick that even the sodomitical Greeks would have thought perverse. They're not philosophers, after all, but players. They can play the boy, play the woman even, and be a man again when it's over. And what's manhood anyway, Kit wonders, but a beard and a doublet, a costume anyone can wear?

This is why godly men hate players. Players turn laws into empty rags and airy nonsense. Someday, Kit will find words for unthought things, and he'll write the world anew.