Dick Burbage’s acting troupe, The Queen’s Men, which includes Will Shakespeare as assistant stage manager and his best buddy Tuck Smythe as ostler and general dogsbody, is leaving London to perform at the lavish estate of Master Godfrey Middleton during his daughter Catherine’s nuptials. While her younger, prettier sister Blanche flirts with many suitors and her best friend Elizabeth Darcie and Tuck moon over each other, Catherine, in love with Sir William Worley’s stableboy, takes a potion and dies rather than wed the aged, foppish Sir Percival. But wandering through the garden maze in search of Elizabeth just before Catherine’s death, Tuck has overheard two men plot to kill Catherine, marry Blanche, and bilk her wealthy dad of all his assets. Did Catherine die by her own hand, or theirs? Indeed, is Catherine really dead or just pretending until she can flee with her lover? While Will, Tuck, and wedding guest Sir William search out the maze whisperers, the plot takes on aspects of The Taming of the Shrew, Romeo and Juliet, and even Twelfth Night, with star-crossed lovers, crossbows galore, bodies piling up, and buffoon relief from comic actor Kemp. Tuck escapes diverse rapier thrusts and crossbow bolts, and Will gets some stunning ideas for plots and dialogue before both a father and a suitor’s perfidy come to light, though too late to save either Catherine or Blanche.
Hawke (A Mystery of Errors, 2000, etc.) dearly loves tweaking Shakespeare’s hallmarks—the mistaken identity, the death pacts, the love triangles and quadrangles—and his insouciance is catching.