Genre: Historical Romance
All the World's a Stage
Duchess is a common pickpocket who will lie, cheat and steal to gain her freedom from the streets of London. Her partner-in-crime, Hannah, works as a maid at a brothel and collects Duchess' take at the end of each day. The two girls dream of amassing enough money to buy a small, rural plot of land.
Duncan March, Earl Ravenscroft, is known to his friends as "the Honest Nobleman." He, too, longs for freedom, but the chains that bind him to the dissembling world of London society are his deathbed pledge to his grandmother to find his impossibly histrionic sister a suitable match, and later, an assignment from the Queen to help uncover a plot against her dear Essex's life.
ALL THE WORLD'S A STAGE finds Duchess and Duncan on a collision course when one autumn afternoon she steals the baron's purse. (what baron?) To elude both the baron and Duncan, she dons the stolen garments of an apprentice, leaves the money with Hannah but keeps the purse, and hides under the stage at The Rose.
The baron recovers the money from Hannah, but Duncan's suspicions are aroused when the baron refuses to give up searching for the purse. In order to protect Hannah from the baron's brutal rage, Duncan takes her home, hoping Hannah's expertise with potions will help his sister.
Duchess needs to get Hannah out of the Duncan's clutches, yet her own strong attraction to the man keeps her longing to be near him. If she reveals her true identity, she fears the "Honest Nobleman" will have her thrown in Newgate.
Penniless and posing as Hannah's brother Hob, Duchess unwittingly becomes involved in an absurd wager between the two preeminent acting companies of the time. They wager against one another that "Hob" would make a fine heroine for one of Shakespeare's plays. Duchess agrees to the wager with the stipulation that if she succeeds, she should take the lion's share of the winnings-- more than enough to escape London with Hannah. It is finally agreed that "Hob's" debut be performed before the Queen herself at Christmas Revels.
Throughout the weeks leading up to Revels, Duchess and Duncan find themselves often in each other's company. The attraction Duchess feels for Duncan deepens with every encounter, and she is torn by her need to protect her identity, his unbending honesty, and their very different lives. Yet they find kindred spirits in one another-- two caged birds longing for the peacefulness of the pastoral life.
Hannah enlists the aid of the earl's sister to help "Hob" learn how to wear a farthingale, hold a fan -- things with which Duchess has no experience. When Duncan sees Duchess dressed as a woman, he finds himself both attracted to her beauty and repulsed by the fact that HOB IS A BOY!
Duncan whisks Duchess off to an alehouse, intending to foist "Hob's" virginity off on an old whore, and secure his own masculinity with a young one.
Duchess cleverly escapes the old crone, and takes refuge in a darkened room, only to find a very drunk, very naked earl alone in the bed. Duchess' curiosity gets the best of her.
Duncan mistakes her for the young doxy and asks her to please play a role for him - his angel. Duchess is swept up in the charade, allowing herself to believe he longs for her. But her bliss is destroyed when Duncan abruptly lurches out the door, tossing a bag of coins at her feet.
Duncan is tortured by the vision of "Hob" that plagued him in bed at the alehouse.
At Christmas Revels, Duchess successfully fools the Queen, but the rival actors cannot make good on the wager, so Duchess is forced to stay "Hob" awhile longer.
For extra coinage, Duchess helps the Shakespeare's men dismantle The Theatre and haul the timbers over the frozen Thames to build the Globe. The plan goes awry when Duchess falls through the ice.
Ok, I just read about this in 1599: A Year in the Life of Shakespeare by James Shapiro. They DIDN'T haul the timbers across the Thames..they stored them.
Duncan arrives in time to pull her from the river and rushes her to a nearby alehouse. He strips unconscious "Hob's" icy clothes and discovers HOB IS NOT A BOY!
Suddenly his strange attraction to "Hob" makes sense. But he finds among her frozen clothing the baron's stolen purse, and within it smeared writing of which he can only make out a few words - a list of poisonous compounds.
Duncan suspects the purse is key to the plot against Essex, but cannot discover whether Duchess is a party to it. He only knows he can never trust this woman who went to such lengths to live a lie.
Once she recovers, Duncan follows her as she reverts back to picking pockets to finance her escape. But an old enemy named Cutlip accosts her. Having kidnapped Hannah, he demands Duchess bring him items Hannah needs to make a poison. Duchess discovers that the baron has hired Cutlip to ensure Essex's murder.
Duchess resolves to tell all to Duncan. But Duncan, who witnesses their seemingly conspiratorial meeting, tells the Queen.
Duncan and Duchess find themselves on the same side in a battle against Cutlip and the baron. Duchess kills the baron to spare Duncan's life.
Duchess is sentenced to death. Duncan visits her cell. She confesses all and hopelessly proclaims her love for him. He flees the cell, and she fears she will never see him again.
Duchess is strung up on the gallows, only to have Duncan arrive to save her just before her soul leaves her body.
The Queen rewards Duncan for foiling the plot against Essex by betrothing his sister to a Scottish lord. Duncan concocts a story in which he is the baron's slayer. His foray into deception convinces the Queen, and she alters Duchess' sentence. She banishes Duchess, promising Duncan he may do as he please with her, as long as she never returns to London.
Duchess and Duncan find their freedom in each other's arms.
Does Gwynth Paltrow get an Oscar for this?
The synopsis is clear and well organized. Not much hint of voice or depth of character, but that’s not a deal breaker when you’ve got a lot of territory to cover in 1000 words.
Of course, in historical fiction, you gotta get the details right, so you want to keep up on the current stuff like James Shapiro’s book.
I’d look for very very good writing to make this rise above “been there done that” plot elements.