In 1601, Queen Elizabeth I was forced by duty to condemn to death a man widely believed to be her former lover. On the night before the execution, she demanded that William Shakespeare's acting troup, The Lord Chamberlain's Men, perform a play to distract her from the heartbreak that would occur in the morning. This much is truth. Timothy Findley takes these historical facts, blends in a few "what if's?" and creates a powerhouse play about men, women, fantasy, death, and ultimately, love.
After a performance of Much Ado About Nothing, Queen Elizabeth goes backstage to talk with the actors, and finds them all mourning the iminent death of the Beatrice of the evening, their terminally ill leading "lady," Ned. Ned has lived all his life as a woman, and does not know how to face his upcoming death with the courage of a man. Elizabeth, by contrast, has had to destroy her feminine side in order to rule England successfully. Realising this, the two strike a bargain: Ned will teach Elizabeth how to be a woman, if she can teach him how to be a man. What follows is a heartbreaking journey of self-discovery in which Elizabeth learns how to mourn, Ned learns how to die with grace and how to live with love, and William Shakespeare finds the greatest play never written.
This is an excellent choice for any Shakespeare fan, and for any lover of theatre. Powerful, enlightening, heartbreaking and uplifting, Elizabeth Rex is an exquisite journey for the heart, with beautiful dialogue, strong characters, and fascinating arguments. A must-read.