The night before her beloved Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, is to be beheaded for treason, Queen Elizabeth commands the Lord Chamberlain's Men to perform a play at her palace. The Queen has sentenced Essex to death—and only she can pardon him. With the threat of rioting in the streets, a curfew is imposed and the actors must be lodged that night in the royal stables. Desperately needing distraction from the fateful night's events, Elizabeth seeks out the company of Shakespeare and the actors. But it is not Shakespeare who commands her attention as much as does Ned Lowenscroft, the actor she has seen portray Shakespeare's leading female roles. Covered in bruises and sores, Ned is dying of syphilis—giving him a fool's license as he engages the Queen in verbal combat through the night while she awaits the morning.
Timothy Findley (1930–2002), one of Canada's most celebrated writers, was a novelist, screenwriter and memoirist, as well as a playwright. Born and raised in Toronto, he trained as a dancer and began his career as an actor, joining the original ensemble of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in 1953. There he met Alec Guinness, who encouraged "Tiff" to study acting in London. Appearing at the Edinburgh Festival in the first production of Thornton Wilder's The Matchmaker, Findley was encouraged by the playwright to pursue a writing career. After a brief stint in Hollywood, Findley returned to Canada. In all, he wrote eleven novels, three collections of shorts stories, two memoires, and nine plays, as well as countless television, radio and film scripts, and magazine articles and other works of non-fiction. His fictional work tends towards dark subjects, exploring family secrets, mental illness, and other gothic themes.
Elizabeth Rex was workshopped and premiered, in 2000, at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Canada. Findley received his second Governor-General's Award for the play, his most successful work for the theater. First produced in the U.S. at Houston's Stages Repertory Theatre in 2001, Elizabeth Rex premiered off Broadway in New York in 2008. The CBC produced an adaptation for television in 2004.
With his life partner William Whitehead, Findley lived on a farm in Southern Ontario and wintered in the south of France. At the time of his death, they had moved to Stratford, and his final novel Spadework, an exploration of desire, love and ambition, is set against the backdrop of the Festival.
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