15 January 1601
Before I truly begin writing in this little book, I wish to make something quite clear. To many young ladies of my birth, such books as these are called “diaries.” I, however, have heard multiple times and in raised voices that I am anything but a traditional young lady. Therefore, in keeping with my spirits, I refuse to call this book a diary. It shall be known as a thought book.
My name is Rosalind Isabel Sackett. I am twenty years of age, and I have long been a source of headaches to both of my parents. My father John is a citizen, a merchant who sells and trades his wares up on London Bridge. We are not of the higher social classes, but we have enough money to live decently well. Father is also of the Puritan sect, a branch of Christianity that denounces any form of frivolity as either useless or sinful. Puritans are tolerated as long as they hold their tongues, but Father is incapable of keeping his silence: once, after arguing with a constable about being out after curfew, he was thrown into the Tower.
My mother Amelia, daughter of a Spanish count, is a silent and dutiful wife to him, and she has attempted to teach me the proper way for a decently bred woman to behave. Oh, her lessons have not gone to waste on me. I can keep a home tidy, sew, sing and bake a fine loaf of sourdough bread, and I am blessed with the ability to read, books and musical notation. But there are other things I would prefer to do than serve a husband like a slave. Perhaps this is why men seem to be afraid of me. I have never had one interested in asking for my hand in marriage.
That is Father’s largest concern: that young men avoid me as they avoid the plague. Here in London most women of twenty have been married at least two years and given their husbands multiple children. Father is worried that I will never give him a male heir to the family business. As I am the only child, after my elder brother Robert’s death of the pox, there are no other chances for grandchildren.
I have little interest in being a housewife and mother, but Father tells me that if I do not marry soon, he will send me to a nunnery. I think I would prefer marriage to a life cloistered in some lonely nunnery. At least I could have the company of the outside world as a housewife.
Mother is calling me to our daily Bible study. I must go. I shall attempt to write in this thought book whenever I can.
22 January 1601
Today I managed to escape our dreary house on the grounds of meeting my friend Margery Sleade, the milkmaid. Father dislikes her. He believes that her lower class, along with her love of playhouses, is a bad influence on me. But who better to spend my time with than a woman who shares my own passion for the stage?
Margery and I journeyed up the Thames on foot, always taking care that our dresses did not drag in the mud and animal feces. I do love to walk in the city. London is a symphony of noises: animal grunts and shrieks, the calls of the ferrymen on the river, peddlers attempting to convince passersby to purchase their wares. Even though the cold went through my overcoat and froze me to the bone, I was thrilled to not be inside studying verses with my parents. I was so overjoyed that I began singing an old folk tune that Margery had taught me out loud, before complete strangers.
We joined a large crowd of ragged workmen and wild young apprentices who all seemed to be heading out the city gates, in the direction of the Globe Theatre. I had never been to that particular playhouse, because the Rose and Swan Theatres are much closer to my home in Bankside. However, I was most intrigued as to what was drawing such a large crowd.
I pulled one of the apprentices aside as he made to dart past me. “Tell me, young man,” said I, “have you any idea what is causing all of the excitement here?”
“Ay,” he squealed over the hum of the eager chatter. His tiny face, though blackened and smudged with dirt, glowed with excitement. “I ‘eard one of Master Will Shakespeare’s plays is bein’ put on there today.” He pointed up at the banner fluttering high above the Globe, the signal that a play was about to begin.
Instantly I felt a jolt of excitement myself. William Shakespeare, the great playwright! “Thank you, lad,” said I graciously, and I gave him a shilling. Looking delighted at the riches that had come his way, the apprentice darted off into the crowd.
“What think you, Margery?” I asked. “Shall we go hear Mr. Shakespeare’s play?”
She smiled mischievously. “Do ye not worry what your father might say if ‘e found out ye was at a play’ouse again?” she teased. Both of us knew what my answer was.
“Let’s go!” I cried, running forward. We scrambled down the streets, past a brothel and the tanner’s, averting our eyes from the one and wrinkling our noses upon passing the other. I had never heard one of Mr. Shakespeare’s plays, but I knew of his brilliance. After all, he and his company of players have performed before Queen Elizabeth herself. I wished to see if all of the rumors of his great writing skills were true.
The play, as listed on a handbill given to us as we drew near the Globe, was The Tragedie of Julius Caesar. What an amazing spectacle! One particular moment of the play remains in my mind now: when the ghost of Caesar returns to visit Brutus and says to him, “Thou shalt see me at Philippi.” I swore that I too stood in Brutus’ tent, trembling before that ghastly apparition. Looking around, I realized that I was certainly not the only one so affected by that scene.
And the playhouse! Oh, the playhouse! The Globe, as many public playhouses are, is open to the elements. It is rounded in shape, with rows of wooden balconies all along the walls up to the thatched roof. There is plenty of room on the earthen floor for the “groundlings,” audience members who only pay a penny to stand before the stage. The stage itself juts out into the audience, and it has many places from which the players enter and exit their scenes. It is truly a grand place, fitting for such plays as Mr. Shakespeare’s.
My family heartily disapproves of playhouses and all that goes with them. Father claims that plays are sins against God, and that He punishes London with the plague because of them. But when I saw how Julius Caesar was received, the wonderful passions of both players and audience, I wondered why God would be displeased with something as beautiful as a play.
5 February 1601
Over the past two weeks, I have taken every possible opportunity to sneak away to the Globe Theatre. Mr. Shakespeare’s words and the skill of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men have inflamed my very soul! I wish to become a player…I long to make those stories come to life before an audience. I yearn to know what it feels like to live inside the characters’ heads and hearts!
Unfortunately, there are complications. I have also been wandering between playhouses around the city, attending plays and paying close attention to the companies. From my observations, I have concluded that it is not common for women to be players. I have never seen a woman on any stage. Boys whose voices have not deepened take on female roles.
In spite of this, strange half-formed ideas have been chasing each other in my mind. I fear what may happen to me should I attempt to join a playing company, and yet…a fire burns in my heart for acting, a fire that I cannot quench with logic. I am certain that there is a way, but I have not seen all of the pieces yet. What I know is this: I intend to become a player in the Lord Chamberlain’s Men.
And nothing, nothing, will stop me from pursuing that dream.