Will Shakespeare may be the future star of the Chamberlain’s Company, but it’s journeyman actor Nick Revill (The Pale Companion, 2002, etc.) who’s set to portray the hero in a performance of Will’s new play, Troilus and Cressida, for the law students at the Inns of Court. Forgetting his copy of his lines, Nick runs back to his room to find an old friend, Peter Agate, recently come from their village of Miching to London to tread the boards himself. When Peter steps in for a missing player in the Chamberlain’s Men, Nick feels a few pangs of jealousy. Those pangs aren’t helped any when his prostitute girlfriend Nell takes a shine to Peter in spite of a new boyfriend who’s cooled things between her and Nick. But he hasn’t long to feel jealous. On Peter’s third day in London, Nick finds the interloper stabbed through the heart. Nick, covered with blood, becomes the obvious suspect. And then another friend, rising playwright Richard Milford, is also killed just as he finishes a sensational play with thinly veiled aspersions on his patrons. Depressed, Nick visits Nell, only to find her strangled with a piece of Cressida’s costume. This last discovery lands Nick in jail, from which he escapes and returns to Miching, where he hopes to avoid the noose awaiting him in London.
Like Troilus and Cressida, Nick can’t decide whether to be cynical or melancholy and ends up sounding, as Dick Burbage tells him, merely “liverish”—or, as we might say, peevish.