This episode presents a fanciful and unconvincing scenario of how Shakespeare crafted his early comedy "The Two Gentlemen of Verona." At the start of the program, we see Will with a frightful case of writer's block. He is desperate for cash and about to be evicted from his quarters. He has penned a dreadful play that Burbage refuses to produce. Then, young Alice Burbage has the bright idea for Will to read books with stories that will engage his theatre audience. Will and Alice go to the London bookstalls where she steals a volume that contains the Italian romance that will be the basis for the play "The Two Gentlemen of Versona. In other words, the Will depicted in this program was so poorly educated and was so hopelessly barren of ideas for his plays that he required the assistance of the theatre owner's daughter to find a work that he could plagiarize.
The problem with this absurd hypothesis is that it misses the point that Shakespeare never had difficulty in writing stories. He also had the kind of education that offered his mind unlimited potential for culling classical, historical, and contemporary works for his plays. And, in the case of "The Two Gentlemen of Verona," the author had undoubtedly traveled to Italy and drew on personal experience of Italy, as Shakespeare's play includes detailed references to geographical places and captures the spirit of Renaissance Italy.
In the religious subplot of this episode, Will finally pays a visit to his cousin "Mr. Cotton," who is in fact the Catholic recusant, Robert Southwell. Father Southwell gives confession to Will and warns him that Alice Burbage is tempting him as part of the work of the devil. Marlowe has a change of heart and warns Southwell that Topcliffe is about to raid his publishing house. Southwell gives Will a copy of his manuscript in which he hopes to convince the Queen that England should return to Catholicism. But what is the factual basis for this curious subplot?
The program seeks to find a connection between religious zeal and the creative impulse of Will Shakeshaft in the concept of "the hidden pattern." But there is no evidence that Shakespeare had a "cousin" who was a priest. And there is no evidence that Shakespeare ever had writer's block or problems in locating dramatic material. This was an author who did not need a "hidden pattern" because he had unlimited ideas for plays and a breadth of understanding of nearly every field of human endeavor, including plants, medicine, science, warfare, politics, religion, and philosophy.
This episode was another disappointing effort to come to terms with the Elizabethan theatre, the life of Shakespeare, and the creative process of dramatic writing of the greatest author in the English language. What a disappointment!