...are Shakespeare and his troupe, facing a doubtful future when Elizabeth dies and the plague has terrorized London. The ""poor wandering players"" find succor in Shakespeare's old friend, Southampton, recently released from prison; they wonder about the unknown quantity of the new ruler -- whoever he may be-; and Shakespeare is beset with worries about his sick brother, Ned, his gifted boy actors, Jamie and Robin, and the needs for entertainment -- to be written by him. Scots James, on his accession, turns out to be a loyal follower of the Master's plays and would offer many rewards but Shakespeare, willing enough for his band to be known as the King's Men and wear his colors, is dedicated only to his theater. He discovers his ""secretest"" love in his daughter Judith; is tempted by Ned's Margaret; finds in his illness, the seeds of Lear; his landscape changes to the brightness of Antony and Cleopatra; Ned's death finishes his own participation in his plays for a future of only writing. A strutting of the boards which is immersed in the highflown, brawling and boisterous attitudes of the period, this continues Payne's succession of romantic fabrications, well steeped historical recreations.