The King And The Playwright: A Jacobean History (2012) s01e01 Episode Script


On a chilly Boxing Day night four centuries ago, the nation's leading theatre company was about to stage a new play for a new, powerful patron.
England's recently crowned King James I.
The play's author was William Shakespeare, and the play was Measure for Measure.
I love the people, but I do not like to stage me to their eyes.
Set in a dark world of vice and corruption, led by an elusive ruler, it was a play the Elizabethan Shakespeare could never have written.
I've spent most of my life absorbed in Shakespeare and the world he inhabited.
A few years ago, I wrote a book called 1599, the year that culminated in Hamlet.
A book that contributed to the idea that Shakespeare was fundamentally an Elizabethan writer.
But finishing that book made me think about what came later.
The dozen or so plays, many of Shakespeare's greatest, that he wrote after Elizabeth died.
Shakespeare's Jacobean plays are dark, complex, and ambiguous, and offer a unique window into the troubled decade of upheaval, plots, and often violent social change.
A decade presided over by the brilliant but flawed King James.
A decade of uncertainty and anxiety that stimulated unprecedented creativity in theatre, in art, in music.
A decade that gave us the King James Bible, the Union Jack, and November the 5th.
A Jacobean decade that challenged the nation's greatest dramatist to find a new voice, the voice of Shakespeare in the reign of King James.
It is late March, 1603, London is in the grip of fear and anxiety.
England's much-loved Queen Elizabeth is dying.
Childless, she has no heir, and the Tudors, the nation's ruling family for over 100 years, will die with her.
The country has veered violently between Catholicism More bloodshed and strife? Living then in the heart of the city, England's foremost dramatist, William Shakespeare, captures the mood in his sonnet.
Those uncertainties might yet bring the nation to violence.
Shakespeare was moving through a city battening down before the coming storm.
The authorities had called up 4,000 troops, an astounding number, given a population of 200,000.
No-one, Shakespeare included, had ever lived through anything like this.
Shakespeare had already written over 20 plays during the last decade or so.
Many of them performed at the theatre across the Thames that he owned and ran with his company, the Lord Chamberlain's Men, the Globe.
Year-round, rain or shine, it played seven days a week, packing up to 3,000 theatre-hungry Londoners into every show.
Fuelled by Shakespeare, and a dozen other major writers, theatre had become the popular medium of the age.
The pulsing heartbeat of the times.
Played out on the stages of no fewer than eight London theatres.
From Southwark, where Shakespeare's Globe jostled with the Rose and the Swan on Bankside, to Blackfriars, and St Paul's in the city, where children's companies were famed for their satires.
From the Boar's Head in the East End, to the more boisterous Curtain and Fortune in the North.
As many as 10,000 people a day watched the anxieties, hopes, and scandals of the times played out on a London stage.
But in that late March of 1603, all those stages were silent.
The playhouses closed on the orders of a government nervous of civil unrest while the Queen lay dying, and the succession remained in doubt.
You could say that Shakespeare himself had helped fuel the atmosphere of tension and anxiety that had led to the closing of theatres.
He had, after all, spent much of his career writing plays about regime change and its often bloody consequences.
Audiences had stood here spellbound, watching Bolingbroke depose Richard II, and Richard III eliminate a host of rivals who stood between him and the Crown.
They had seen Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, die, and Fortinbras, a foreign Prince from the north, swoop down and seize the throne.
England now seemed hurtling toward a similar fate.
The next great act in that drama of spring 1603 opened on Cheapside, the city's main thoroughfare, in the early hours of March 24th.
An expectant crowd gathered, Shakespeare among them perhaps, for he lived just a few hundred yards away.
They hushed as England's Chief Minister, Robert Cecil, arrived.
He had news.
Elizabeth, England's Queen for 45 years, and the last of the great Tudor line, was dead.
Her crown, he announced, had passed to her cousin, a foreign king - Scotland's King James already on his way south to claim his new kingdom.
But questions and uncertainties were on every mind.
Raised a Protestant, but with a Catholic mother and wife, where would James stand on religion? And how would he rule his unfamiliar new kingdom? Forgive the prop, it's visual shorthand news.
But there were no newspapers in Shakespeare's day, there was only gossip and theatre.
And with the theatres closed, it was only gossip.
The English knew very little about the King of Scots, so the country was awash with talk about who had met or seen the King on his journey south.
A troubling rumour came from Newark in Lincolnshire a thief had been caught, working the crowd gathered to see the new King.
James decided to execute him on the spot without trial.
He probably thought this was a crowdpleasing gesture, but in England, this wasn't how things were done.
This was another troubling uncertainty.
Would England's foreign king ever truly understand basic English values? It was a key scene in this drama of uncertainty and regime change.
An unpredictable king, fond of grand gestures, taking a personal hand in the law.
James too, as his biographer Pauline Croft told me, was forming powerful first impressions.
As he comes south, he's very impressed, indeed overwhelmed, by the wealth of the English nobility.
That is quite clear.
And that he stays in the two great Cecil houses at Burley House and at Tybalt he's living in a style that, as King of Scots, he had never encountered.
So, one of the key points, I think, is that James assumes from the beginning the enormous, inexhaustible wealth of England, and doesn't realise that what he had seen was the very, very top level of the wealthiest of the nobility.
James was a complex, contradictory figure.
On the one hand, he was an admired intellectual, one of the most published authors of his day, who had written on subjects as diverse as theology and politics.
He produced a celebrated treatise on witchcraft, Demonology, a book Shakespeare would turn to when he wrote Macbeth, and one of the earliest polemics on the dangers of smoking.
On the other hand, he was extravagant with money, obsessed with hunting, and awkward with almost everyone he met.
A man of ideas, he was, a man of charisma, he was not.
James doesn't like crowds, he doesn't like public acclaim, he is worried about assassination.
He is concerned that they don't really love him.
He lacks that instinctive feel for the popular mood, and that's something that you can't teach.
For all his faults though, James hit the ground running, initiating a big political shake-up.
There was bad news for Shakespeare & Company.
Their patron, the Lord Chamberlain, lost his job.
And in one of James's first legal proclamations was another bombshell.
Among new rules to protect the Sabbath, a ban on Sunday theatre.
The best playing day of the week.
It was a sop, no doubt, to England's radical Protestants, the theatre-hating Puritans.
But the King also had a surprise up his sleeve.
Just a week after banning playing on the Sabbath came another declaration about the theatre, this time naming names.
William Shakespeare, Richard Burbage, Augustin Phillips, John Heminges, Henry Condell, Robert Armin, these were the names of the Chamberlain's Men, the best players in the land, Shakespeare's company.
The document goes on to say that from now on, they would be the King's Players, authorised to perform at court, at the King's pleasure, at the Globe, and anywhere in the land.
It must have come as a total surprise, they were made men.
And from now on, Shakespeare would be known as the King's Man.
For Shakespeare, it was a transformative moment.
He was now a royal servant the first playwright ever to become one.
The prestige and security he subsequently enjoyed would change literary history.
As for the King, having his own troupe of players was one more luxury that he'd never been able to enjoy in Scotland, a land with no theatres at all.
So, King and King's Man stood on the verge of new futures.
The one, looking forward to reopening the Globe, the other, to a splendid coronation in Westminster Abbey.
But both events would be delayed for many months, because fate and disease intervened.
London had been visited by plague before.
But the outbreak of summer 1603 was severe.
Theatres presented a high risk of infection, and they remained closed as the death toll rose from 1,000 a week in July to more than 3,000 a week by September.
By the time it was over, 30,000 Londoners would be dead.
The horrors of plague were yet another source of uncertainty.
No-one could figure out what caused it.
For some, it was the alignment of the stars, for others, the poisoned air.
Some were convinced that dogs spread the disease, so they were rounded up and slaughtered.
The Puritans were more certain.
For them, it was a judgement from God.
For what? Sin, and what could be more sinful than theatre? Sympathies with Puritan views held sway in the city and kept it a playhouse-free zone.
But outside the walls, beyond the reach of London's authorities, were the suburbs.
None so sinful as Southwark, home to the Globe.
Southwark was a wild suburb, home to pleasures of all sorts.
The number of inns, 400 in all, was spectacular.
That's one pub for every 50 inhabitants.
The area was so synonymous with prostitutes that playwright Thomas Dekker called them suburb sinners.
What, with the inns and brothels and playhouses, petty criminals, actors, and prostitutes, it's no wonder that for the Puritans, Southwark was the very definition of Jacobean sinfulness.
By December, the plague had subsided and Shakespeare and company got the call, ordered to Hampton Court to provide for the King's Christmas pleasure.
But James had work on his mind too and had summoned another very different group at the same time.
The Puritans.
Among them, the theologically rigourous John Reynolds, no doubt appalled to find himself cheek by jowl with the Players.
That Christmas, the King's Men had only old favourites to offer at Hampton Court's Great Hall.
Shakespeare had written little of late, still finding his footing in this new Jacobean world.
Between late December and early February, 20 plays were staged in this room.
Eight of them by Shakespeare's company.
A fourfold increase in what had been expected of them by Queen Elizabeth.
Unfortunately, nobody had the wisdom to record the names of these plays, but my best guess is they were classics like Romeo and Juliet, and Henry IV.
While the evenings were rich in theatre, the real drama at Hampton Court that season was taking place by day.
At the heart of that daytime drama was a theology conference that soon turned into a clash of royal power and puritan ideology.
Shakespeare took it all in.
Inspiration for the new play that may already have been forming in his mind.
Court gossip Dudley Carleton wryly noted the amusing contrast between the richly garbed players and the severe Puritans here at Hampton Court that Christmas season.
The Puritans were keen on learning once and for all where King James stood on religion, and were hoping to get him to purge the church of Catholic practices.
King James could debate theology with the best of them and easily outmatched, and often bullied, the dispute-loving Puritans.
He had no intention of delivering their anti-Catholic agenda, but instead, mollified them with an offer to his liking.
What he offered was a new translation of the Scriptures, a new text, for newly Protestant times, purged of Catholic language.
In the seven years in the making, would bear his name, and rank as one of the great achievements of the Jacobean moment, the King James Bible.
It was enough to get the Puritans on his side.
But James's power shake-up was creating enemies too.
A new scene in this real-life drama of regime change was soon playing itself out in the Great Hall at Winchester.
Some powerful English nobles, displaced by Scots, brought into government by the King, were plotting James's overthrow.
The conspirators were a mix of disgruntled Catholics and even more disgruntled, and now disempowered, noblemen, who had failed to find favour with the new regime.
Chief among them was the great Elizabethan hero Sir Walter Raleigh.
The dashing, talented Raleigh was found out.
He and his co-conspirators were rounded up, tried, and condemned to death.
But the day of execution gave the King a chance to show that it wasn't just the King's Man who had a talent for high drama.
Dudley Carleton was there and watched the condemned men mount the scaffold, noting that it was a foul day, fit for such tragic performance.
Carleton records how all the actors were gathered together on stage, as at the end of a play.
Then, at the very last moment, a man pushes through the crowd, one of King James's favourites, a Scot.
He approaches the scaffold and addresses the offenders, reminding them of the heinousness of their crimes, to which they assented.
Then, he pulls out a document and declares, "Behold, "the mercy of your sovereign, "who, of himself, has sent a countermand hither, "and given you your lives.
" It was a moment of spectacular theatre.
Here was a King playing with ideas of punishment and reprieve.
Searching for the limits of his own power, and finding the measure of his own performance.
Shakespeare was taking all this in.
And when the King's Men presented their next season at court, during the Christmas holidays of 1604, the law was something of a theme.
A theme captured in one of the most extraordinary manuscripts to survive from the time.
This is it, the Revels book, 1604 to 1605, Christmas at court.
If there were one document I wish I could own that survives from Shakespeare's day, this is it, there's nothing like it.
It gives you an incredible snapshot of performance at court that Christmas.
The names of the playing company, the names of the playwrights, the names of the plays, performed on successive nights before King James.
Here they are, all of the classics of the Elizabethan stage.
Merry Wives of Windsor, Love's Labours Lost, Henry V, Merchant of Venice and, by order of the King, Merchant of Venice again, perhaps because he loved that play's exploration of justice and mercy.
And here, among all these great Elizabethan hits, Shakespeare's first great Jacobean masterpiece, Measure for Measure.
I love the people, but do not like to stage me to their eyes, though it do well, but I do not one issue around their loud applause and Aves vehement.
With its crowd-shy leader, Measure for Measure seethes with the political and religious tensions of James's regime.
Echoing the spring of 1603, the play begins at a moment of regime change.
As the Duke of Vienna, out of the blue, hands all his powers to his bemused deputy, Angelo.
To the hopeful execution do I leave you of your commission.
Yet, give leave, my lord, that we may bring you something on the way.
My haste may not admit it, nor need you, on my non, I have to do with any scruple.
Your scope is as mine own, so to enforce or qualify the laws as to your soul seems good.
Give me your hand.
I love the people, but do not like to stage me to their eyes, though it do well, I do not relish well the loud applause and Aves vehement.
Nor do I think the man of safe discretion who does affect it.
The crowd-disliking Duke, like James, is elusive.
The heavens give safety to your purposes.
I thank you.
Even his departure is a fiction.
Fare you well.
Disguising himself as a friar, he spends the rest of the play spying on his city, a city populated by prostitutes, pimps, and thieves, that reeks of Southwark.
Brothel owner Mistress Overdone even moans that the plague has been bad for business.
It's a world that a Duke has lost control of.
He's very clear, he says what he is doing, that's what's extraordinary about it.
He's very open about what he's doing.
He, you know the place is decaying and he needs to get someone to sort it out, but he doesn't want his name attached to it, and he doesn't really like being a public figure.
I think he feels himself removed from the people, and therefore, he needs to see what's happening in order to understand it, in order to improve himself as a leader.
I mean, it's not one million miles away from what's that reality telly programme where the, you know Undercover Boss, it's kind of what he does.
And, to me, it's a play about, at the heart of it, it's a play about leadership, and what leading a nation means.
The new regime of Angelo gets off to a flying start.
He condemns a young man, Claudio, to death for getting his girlfriend pregnant.
The kind of crime that the old regime had let slip.
When Claudio's sister, Isabella, about to become a nun, comes to plead for his life, Angelo is every bit the tough guy.
He must die tomorrow.
Tomorrow? Oh, that's sudden! Spare him, spare him.
He's not prepared for death, even for our kitchens, we kill the fowl of season, shall we serve heaven with less respect than we do minister to our gross selves? Good, good, my lord, bethink you.
Who is it that have died for this offence? There's many have committed it.
The law hath not been dead, though it hath slept.
Those many have not dared to do that evil, if the first that did the edict infringe had answered for his deed.
Now, 'tis awake.
Yet show some pity.
I show it most of all when I show justice.
The scene turns brilliantly from illegal debate, one that James would surely have loved, almost into satire, as the straightlaced puritan is suddenly overcome by Isabella's charms.
Go to your bosom, knock there.
And ask your heart what it doth know that's like my brother's fault.
If it confess a natural guiltiness such as is his, let it not sound a thought upon your tongue against my brother's life.
When they meet again, Angelo has an indecent proposal for the nun-to-be.
Sleep with me, and your brother gets off.
But the spying Duke fixes it all.
A head trick saved Claudio's life.
Angelo gets his comeuppance, and the Duke scatters pardons like James at Winchester.
Shakespeare, though, delivers a twist at the end, with the Duke offering Isabella what she does not want, marriage.
For me, the unsettled and unpredictable world of Measure for Measure perfectly captures the tone of James's England, where the character of the King and his reign remained elusive.
Shakespeare had never before grappled with such a constellation of social and religious issues, where justice is easily confused with mercy, and neat resolutions no longer seemed possible.
Jacobean England was no police state.
But taking on contemporary politics was dangerous.
Setting Measure for Measure in distant Vienna was enough to keep Shakespeare out of trouble.
But others were less careful.
In 1605, Shakespeare's great rival, Ben Jonson, and fellow playwright George Chapman, found themselves imprisoned, under the unpleasant threat of having their ears and noses slit.
A former bricklayer, Jonson was no stranger to trouble.
He'd narrowly escaped the gallows when he killed a fellow actor in a duel, and was jailed for his play the Isle of Dogs, probably for satirising Queen Elizabeth.
The offending piece this time was Eastward Hoe, performed by one of London's children's companies.
It was a city comedy, a genre Jonson had pioneered.
Sharp, satirical, the genre was meant to be edgy.
But the anti-Scots jokes in Eastward Hoe had crossed the line.
I'm holding in my hand an exceedingly rare volume, one of only two surviving copies of the earliest printing of Eastward Hoe.
It contains scandalous words that landed its authors in prison.
They had gone too far, mocking their Scottish King's countrymen, wishing they'd go back to where they came from, or even better, set sail for the Americas.
I'll read one of the offending passages, a classic piece of English xenophobia.
"And for my part, and what 100,000 of them were there, "for we are all one countrymen now, you know, "and we should find ten times more comfort of them there "than we do here.
" This is another copy of Eastward Hoe, printed soon after.
It looks almost identical, but the words that I just read are mysteriously missing.
Jacobean censorship in action.
Airbrushing was not a 20th-century phenomenon.
Jonson was released, Chapman too, ears and noses intact.
But it would not be Jonson's last brush with the authorities.
His city comedies, often set in London in the present, could be dangerously topical.
Much riskier territory than the work of his more politically savvy rival, Shakespeare.
And the King's Man had another advantage.
He was an inside man, a servant of the court, able, at times, to observe James at close quarters.
As he did in 1604, at an event captured in one of the treasures of the National Portrait Gallery.
These Spanish negotiators and their English counterparts had just signed an historic peace treaty, bringing to an end England's long war with Spain.
What I love most about this painting is what's missing the man they are all turning to face, King James himself.
And behind him, his entourage, which included Shakespeare and the King's Men.
As grooms of the chamber, they were officially the King's servants, issued four yards of red cloth for their livery, and expected to show up on demand, and not just to perform plays.
They were there in August 1604, summoned to Somerset House to fill out an underweight English delegation at these peace talks.
Bad timing, since this was peak season for summer performances at the outdoor Globe.
Who better though than actors to stand around looking important? So, for 18 days, Shakespeare and his fellows did just that, and were paid a mere pittance for their services.
For Shakespeare though, this was a rare opportunity to see the workings of power and diplomacy up close, to be witness to history.
James had left the lengthy negotiations to others, spending most of his time out hunting.
But when he returned for the treaty signing, he had a chance to indulge in another favourite pastime extravagance.
This extraordinary object, the Royal Gold Cup, is one of the great treasures of the British Museum.
But it's a miracle that it's in Britain at all because, in 1604, as a gift from one of the departing Spanish negotiators, King James gave it away.
Dora, tell me about this amazing object.
Well, this is one of the finest pieces of a Parisian goldsmiths's work of the late middle ages to have survived anywhere.
Enamelled in basse-taille enamelling, with these amazing scenes from the life of St Agnes, who was a holy virgin.
It's incredibly pure gold, and it's heavy.
So just in terms of bullion, imagine the weight of that cup in your hand, and just guess at its value for yourself.
Around the stem has been added this wonderful collar with the enamelled roses of the Tudor dynasty, and we think that that was probably added early in the reign of Henry VIII.
So, even though this object was made in 1370, 1380, it was already very old by the time Henry VIII altered it.
It shows that it still had significance to the Tudor kings.
Why would anyone give away something like this? I mean, there are a lot of treasures in England, James could have given away a lot of things, why this? Well, I don't know if James thought of it as anything more than a very expensive lump of gold, as a piece of bullion.
I'm not sure he would have seen anything more in it than that.
But we know that the Duke of Medina saw much more in it.
He thought that it was one of the great royal treasures, that it had ancestral value to the English kings.
I can't think of any other object that carries the weight of significance that this one does for Shakespeare's world.
For James though, it was just another piece of England's inexhaustible wealth.
He had always been extravagant, and by 1605, his debts were a heady four times those of the late Queen.
His Privy Council wrote him a stiff letter expressing their concern.
In an extraordinary speech to Parliament, James admitted that his first three years on the throne had been, to him, as Christmas.
James would have been well advised to take more Privy Council instruction.
And also, the fact that they never managed to get across to him that the financial resources of the English monarchy were much more limited than he thought.
The problem is, James has no idea what he's giving away.
He gives away far too much.
He gives it in an ill thought-out fashion, rewarding favourites lavishly, not rewarding hard-serving Privy Councillors.
So, it's not so much the largesse in itself, as the, um, the lack of sense about distributing it.
Shakespeare was never crudely topical, but was always alert to the tensions around him.
And his next play featured the destruction of a spendthrift rich man, Timon of Athens.
"Who would not wish to be from wealth exempt, "since riches point to misery and contempt?" Timon of Athens is Shakespeare's coldest, bleakest play.
Its subject is money, and the greed and corruption that flow from it.
The play is set in ancient Athens, but when Timon rails against what he calls, "the coward and lascivious town", everyone at the Globe theatre would have recognised that Shakespeare was describing their own money-obsessed London.
The play begins in a moment of high commerce, with a jeweller, a painter, and a poet all discussing their art and business, and how easy it is to extract cash from the town's wealthiest patron, Timon.
But Timon's deep pockets, like England's, were not bottomless.
In crisis, he calls on his friends.
They rebuff him.
Timon flees the city in despair.
Timon has long been a neglected play, little read, rarely staged, but there was one 19th-century critic who saw its brilliance Karl Marx.
His favourite quotation, "Gold? Yellow, glittering gold, "this can make black, white, "foul, fair, "wrong, right.
" The high price of living in a money-driven world is made all too clear by the end of the play.
Timon turns his back on the world, flees to the woods outside of Athens and, eventually, kills himself.
He leaves behind a bitter suicide note, which reads, "Here lie I, Timon, who all living men did hate.
" Still finding his footing in these ambiguous times, Timon was a bold experiment for Shakespeare, his own dark version of a genre not his own city comedy.
But instead of a comical tale set in London in the present, Shakespeare locates Timon in ancient Greece, and gives it a tragic ending.
Shaking his audience up at every turn.
City comedies are about the intersection of social mobility and money.
These are plays that mock the greedy yet, at the same time, celebrate Londoners' pursuit of wealth.
'Timon of Athens' is a very Shakespearean take on the genre.
But to pull it off, Shakespeare had to do something he had not done in a very long while collaborate with another writer.
Thomas Middleton fitted the bill.
Flush with recent city comedy successes, the younger writer had the knack of the new genre.
Timon's a difficult play, not often performed, but I was lucky enough to see a production here at the Globe, directed by Lucy Bailey.
When I first started studying and teaching this play, no-one talked about collaboration and Shakespeare working with a writer of city comedies, Thomas Middleton.
Did you feel, at various points, two hands in this play, or two consciousnesses involved in the creating of it? Yes, I think almost black and white moments.
Really? Literally, you'd hit a moment and you'd know it was Middleton.
When the writing switched to more character satire, small-time character satire of the immediate, say, senators, portraying them almost in a Ben Jonsonian way, that, I would feel, wasn't Shakespeare.
It feels to me within the play that the interests vary.
Timon, the extraordinary journey of this man, is Shakespeare.
The mercantile London, the satire of that world, is Middleton.
Why was he wanting to collaborate? Does he just feel that he needed someone who had Middleton's way of capturing these greedy people in a better way than he would, in a faster, more cartoony way than he could? Lucy's production had extraordinary timing, coinciding with the global economic meltdown of 2008.
How were you able to harness what was going on in the world outside and bring it into a production of this play here at the Globe? It wasn't very difficult.
It was easy to look around you and see parallels to what we were exploring in terms of Timon's excess of spending and the kind of blindness that he was showing in that spending.
He was not aware that he was already bankrupt.
A key moment for us, myself and the designer were travelling to the Globe and we were going through London Bridge and up on this billboard, it had these vultures picking and nipping at all these gold coins.
It was advertising a credit card, a gold card.
It didn't get it that this was actually a sick image.
That was a perfect symbol of that time for this society and where it was going.
And how Timon went, "That's it!" We used the idea of the vulture absolutely in our play.
In fact, we dressed our people sort of subliminally.
They were all vultures.
If you looked closely, they all had feathers.
And, of course, we put our actors above the audience and they behaved as vultures that would finally feed off Timon.
Gold in Timon is destructive and pernicious.
For James though, its glittering surface offered a perfect opportunity for self-expression.
The coins he minted gave a unique insight into his vision of the Stuart brand and of the policies he planned to pursue.
I'm holding in my hand a sovereign minted in 1603.
A high value 20 shilling coin, the first James had issued after coming to the throne.
He describes himself here predictably as King of England, Scotland, France and Ireland.
A year later, a second sovereign was produced.
Superficially, the same in weight and size and value, but this one came with a very different message.
Here, England and Scotland are gone, replaced by a new political identity.
Mag Britt.
Magna Britannia.
Great Britain.
It's a familiar notion today, but for Shakespeare and his contemporaries, this would have been a bold, radical suggestion.
In case anyone missed the message on the back, James, quoting from Ezekiel, declares, "Faciam eos in gentum unam.
" "And I will make thee one nation.
" This was James's big idea.
The union of Scotland and England.
The coin soon became known as the 'Unite'.
But when he pitched the idea to Parliament, the reaction was bewilderment.
What the English wanted now was stability, not more uncertainty.
Maybe this was James's curse.
A brilliant man with great ideas, but poor timing.
King James felt that he embodied in himself the successful union of the two nations.
But hardly anybody else felt that way.
It's hard to know who hated the idea more the Scots or the English.
Queen Elizabeth and her Tudor forebears had done so much to foster a sense of England's exclusiveness.
Shakespeare and his fellow playwrights had only reinforced that in their history plays.
King James's idea flew in the face of all this and showed once again how poorly he had read the desires of his subjects.
The union agenda created something unexpected and unwanted an identity crisis.
These new tensions and anxieties were great territory for a dramatist and a new play was soon forming in Shakespeare's mind.
Early in the autumn of 1605, he set out along a familiar route.
From his lodgings on Silver Street near the Roman wall, he walked down Noble Street, emerging soon on to the city's main commercial thoroughfare, Cheapside.
He turned west at St Anne's, south along St Martin's Lane, then west again towards Newgate Market.
There were bookstalls here in Shakespeare's day in front of Christ Church.
A budding Newgate Market on my right.
It was here, browsing at John Wright's shop, that Shakespeare came upon an unexpected find.
An old, anonymous play from the 1590s, never printed before.
It's from this moment that we can trace the creation of Shakespeare's greatest Jacobean play 'King Lear'.
"O Lear, Lear, Lear! "Beat at this gate that let thy folly in "and thy dear judgement out.
" 'King Lear' goes to the heart of the national angst created by James's union agenda.
But as always, Shakespeare comes in from an oblique angle.
The play begins in a united Britain that's about to be divided.
A map before him, Lear splits his kingdom between his three daughters, but demands a show of love from each.
His youngest, Cordelia, will not submit and is banished.
So begins Lear's dissent into a hell of regret and betrayal.
Detested kite! Thou liest.
My train are men of choice and rarest parts that in the most exact regards support the worships of their name.
O most small fault, how ugly didst thou in Cordelia show, which like an engine wrench'd my frame of nature from the fix'd place, drew from my heart all love and added to the gall.
O Lear, Lear, Lear! Beat at this gate, that let thy folly in and thy dear judgment out.
Go, go, my people.
The King is soon driven out of the world of courts and palaces on to a primal windswept heath where he keeps company with a madman.
Lear's eyes are opened to the suffering of the poor.
"I have taken too little care of this," he says, while he tries to comfort his blinded friend, Gloucester.
All this at a time when an unloved James was keeping perpetual Christmas, in hiding away from his people in extravagant self-indulgence.
Only Shakespeare could have been so bold.
Shakespeare, as a rule, did not invent the plots to his plays.
He found them in the works of other writers, in which he discovered the aesthetic potential and the political resonance that was lacking in them.
These are the ingredients that went into the making of King Lear and we can imagine them spread out in front of Shakespeare as he was at work on the play.
The immediate stimulus for his new play was clearly this volume.
A copy of that old, anonymous play he had recently picked up at John Wright's shop opposite Christ Church.
Its title? 'The True Chronicle History Of King Lear'.
Shakespeare, turning through the opening pages of this play, discovering how clumsily its anonymous author had handled the love test that King Lear put his daughters through, realised how much more he could do with this play.
But it did not stop there.
Shakespeare needed a subplot to the play, and he needed some atmosphere and texture.
He found both of these in two of the great Elizabethan works of his predecessors.
'The Faerie Queen' by Edmund Spenser, which talks about the death of Cordelia.
And Sidney's 'Arcadia', another extraordinary Elizabethan work, in which she found the subplot of Gloucester and his sons, Edgar and Edmund.
Shakespeare searched not only for history or subplots or philosophical richness, he also tried to find the sounds and the words that would feed into his play, and he found some of them in a really unusual source.
Harsnett's 'Declaration of Egregious Popish Impostures'.
A strange book that describes how Jesuit missionaries had tried to persuade young English men and women they were possessed by devils.
Shakespeare, in reading or re-reading this text, came upon the names of devils that go right into King Lear, in the speech that Edgar gives when feigning daemonic possession himself.
Modu, Maho, Hoberdidance and Flibbertigibbet.
There's one more thing that testifies to Shakespeare's brilliance as a creative artist which brings us back to that foundation text, 'The Chronicle History of King Lear'.
This play, as every theatregoer who had seen it knew, ends on a happy note, with Lear restored to his throne and to his loving daughter, Cordelia.
He takes that ending and crushes it, turning comedy into the darkest of tragedies imaginable.
Howl! Howl! Howl! O, you are men of stones.
Had I your tongues and eyes, I'd use them, so that heaven's vault should crack.
She's gone forever.
The sight of King Lear with Cordelia in his arms howling with grief is one of the most haunting images in all of Shakespeare.
By the end of the play, the tally of dead bodies is extraordinary, even by Shakespearean standards.
The King himself, his three daughters, Edmund the bastard and, of course, the fool.
It's the only Shakespearean tragedy in which the characters don't head off somewhere at the end of the play.
Hope has vanished.
As Kent puts it in the final lines, "All's cheerless, dark and deadly.
" The promise of a happy ending is gone.
Lear speaks to a Jacobean England where the uncertainties of 1603 remained unresolved.
Where James's unpredictable leadership and policies had only added more anxieties and questions.
Questions that Shakespeare and his fellow writers were still grappling with.
In three years as a King's Man, Shakespeare had been on an extraordinary journey.
From the twisted comedy of 'Measure for Measure' with its strangely absent ruler and its collision with Puritan ideology, to the caustic anti-money world of 'Timon of Athens'.
These early ventures were flawed perhaps, but in retrospect, necessary steps on the path to King Lear, one of the great achievements of this Jacobean moment.
It had taken some time, but Shakespeare and other great writers had found a new register, a new tone for these new times.
Times that threatened to grow darker still.
Next - the regime comes close to destruction in the Gunpowder Plot.
Shakespeare responds with his bloodiest play of violent overthrow Macbeth.
And old skeletons are dug up as the King tries to lay the ghosts of the past to rest.