In this, the final in our series looking at Shakespeare’s London, we take a quick look at some of the plethora of London locations mentioned by the Bard in his historical plays. Some we have already covered, but here are a few more…
• Westminster Abbey (pictured): We’ve already talked about Poet’s Corner but Shakespeare himself makes mention of Westminster Abbey in his plays, notably in Henry VI, Part I, when it’s the scene of Henry V’s funeral. The Jerusalem Chamber, principal room of Cheyneygates, the medieval house of abbots of Westminster is mentioned in Henry IV, Part II.
• The Houses of Parliament: True, the buildings have changed somewhat since Shakespeare’s day but the former Palace of Westminster is the site of scenes in numerous plays including Richard II, Henry IV, Part II and Henry VI, Part III are set. Among rooms mentioned is Westminster Hall which survives today from the original building.
• The Tower of London: As one would expect, this prominent London landmark pops up in several of Shakespeare’s plays including Henry VI, Part I and Richard III where its plays a rather central role – among the events recorded in the latter play are the infamous drowning of Richard III’s elder brother George in a butt of Malmsey wine.
• Ely House: The London residence of the bishops of Ely, this long gone building is mentioned in Richard II (for more on Ely House see our earlier posts on Ye Olde Mitre Tavern here and St Etheldreda’s Church here ).
• The London Stone: Now at 111 Cannon Street, the London Stone originally was located at another location in Cannon Street and its here in Henry VI, Part II, that rebel Jack Cade stops to strike his sword upon the stone (for more on the London Stone, see our earlier post here).
Other London sites mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays include generic “London Streets” (mentioned in a number of plays), “Eastcheap, near the Boar’s Head Tavern” (Henry IV, Part II), the Temple Garden (Henry VI, Part I) and Blackheath (Henry VI, Part II).
Following on from last week’s post, we look at a couple more London memorials to The Bard, playwright William Shakespeare…
• Leicester Square: Returned to the West End square last year following its restoration (and the square’s redevelopment), this statue of Shakespeare – claimed to be the only outdoor one in London – was designed by architect John Knowles in 1874 when the square was constructed. Now Grade II-listed, it depicts Shakespeare leaning on a pedestal, pointing to a scroll which reads “There is no darkness but ignorance”, a quote from Twelfth Night. An inscription on the plinth upon which Shakespeare stands, refers to the laying out of the square by Albert Grant and doesn’t mention the playwright at all. The statue stands in the middle of a fountain, upgraded as part of the recent overhaul of the site. PICTURE: Carcharoth/Wikipedia.
• Primrose Hill: Shakespeare’s Tree on Primrose Hill was originally planted in April, 1864, to mark the 300th anniversary of his birth. An estimated 100,000 people marched to the site to watch the tree planting by poet Eliza Cooke and actor Samuel Phelps which was organised by the Workingmen’s Shakespeare Committee – apparently in response to the lacklustre efforts of a government-backed committee to mark the anniversary. The tree stood for 100 years before it died and was replaced with an oak sapling planted in 1964 actress Dame Edith Evans. A plaque which was attached to the tree detailing when it was planted has long since gone but there is talk of some sort of a permanent new memorial on the site.
There are other numerous places in London where Shakespeare – and his works – are remembered in London. One of our favourites is based in Love Lane and recalls the work of John Heminge and Henry Condell is getting Shakespeare’s works out to the world (for more on this, see our previous post here).
In our final post in this series next week, we take a look at some of the key London locations mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays.
This week (and next week) as part of our look at Shakespeare’s London, we’re taking a look at a few of the many memorials to William Shakespeare located around London…
• Westminster Abbey: Perhaps the most famous of London’s memorials to Shakespeare can be found in Poet’s Corner, an area of the abbey which has become noted as a burial place and memorial site for writers, playwrights and poets. Designed by William Kent, the memorial statue of Shakespeare was placed here in January, 1741 (there had apparently been some earlier talk of bringing his bones from Stratford-upon-Avon but that idea was squashed). The life-size statue in white marble, sculpted by Peter Scheemakers, was erected by Richard Boyle, the 3rd Earl of Burlington, Dr Richard Mead, Alexander Pope and Tom Martin. The memorial also features the heads of Queen Elizabeth I, King Henry V and King Richard III on the base of a pedestal and shows Shakespeare pointing to a scroll on which are painted a variation of lines taken from The Tempest. A Latin inscription records the date the memorial was created and an English translation of this was added in 1977. For more on the abbey, see www.westminster-abbey.org.
• Guildhall Art Gallery (pictured above): Facing into Guildhall Yard from niches under the loggia of the Guildhall Art Gallery are four larger-than-life busts of historical figures connected with the City of London. As well as one of Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell, architect Christopher Wren, and diarist Samuel Pepys (along with a full-length statue of Dick Whittington and his famous cat) is a bust depicting Shakespeare. Carved out of Portland stone by sculptor Tim Crawley, the busts were installed in 1999. Much attention was apparently paid to creating a bust which resembled pictures of Shakespeare. Follow this link for more on the gallery.
• Former City of London School: This Thames-side building, dating from the 1880s, features a full length statue of Shakespeare who gazes out over the river. He’s not alone – poet John Milton, Sir Isaac Newton, Sir Thomas More and Sir Francis Bacon stand nearby, selected, apparently, to represent various disciplines taught at the school. The statues were the work of John Daymond who depicted Shakespeare flanked by representations of classics and poetry and drawing and music. The school vacated the building on Victoria Embankment in the 1980s and it’s now occupied by JP Morgan.
We’ll be looking at some more works depicting Shakespeare next week…
10 sites from Shakespearean London – 7. Shakespearean connections in the Elizabethan world – St John’s Gate and Staple Inn…
July 16, 2014
Following on from our post last week, we take a look at a couple more of London’s buildings that had some sort of association with William Shakespeare…
• St John’s Gate, Clerkenwell (pictured): This former gatehouse into Clerkenwell Priory was at the time of Shakespeare home to the Master of the Revels and where the playwright would have had to have brought his plays for official government approval. Thirty of the Bard’s plays were licensed here and the Master of Revels during all but the final few years of Shakespeare’s career was Edmund Tilney (or Tylney), who served in the post under both Queen Elizabeth I and King James I. The gatehouse was later used as a coffee house and pub among other things and is associated with everyone from artist William Hogarth (his father Richard ran the coffee house), Dr Samuel Johnson and Charles Dickens. These days, the gatehouse is part of the Museum of the Order of St John (for more on that, see our earlier post here).
• Staple Inn, Holborn: OK, there’s no direct link at all between Shakespeare and this building on High Holborn but it was built during his lifetime – in 1585 – and as such is one of very few surviving examples of buildings of his era. Its name comes from the fact the site where it stands was originally a covered market where wool was weighed and taxed (the word ‘staple’ apparently relates to the duty on wool introduced in 1275). It later became an Inn of Chancery – a medieval school for lawyers which fed students through to the Inns of Court (in this case mostly Gray’s Inn), and it was members of the Society of Staple Inn who built the new building here in the 1580s. The building – which still boasts a grand hall – survived the Great Fire of London in 1666 and, albeit with considerable damage, the Blitz. Since the late 1800s, it has been home to what’s now known as the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries. The building, which was restored in the 1990s, is a great example of an Elizabethan-era structure and gives some sense of what Shakespeare’s London was like.
10 sites from Shakespearean London – 6. Shakespearean connections in the Elizabethan world: The George Inn and Middle Temple Hall…
July 9, 2014
Today we’re taking a look at a couple of still extant London buildings which have strong associations with playwright William Shakespeare…
• The George Inn, Southwark. Located at 75-77 Borough High Street, the George Inn is London’s last remaining galleried inn. The current building has its origins in the late 17th century after the original inn, which can be traced back to at least the mid-1500s – was destroyed in a fire in 1676. Now owned by the National Trust, it is leased out and remains open as a public house – part of the Greene King chain. While its known for its connections with 19th century writer Charles Dickens – he was a patron of this establishment and mentions it in Little Dorrit (a fact we mentioned in our series on Dickens back in 2012), the inn (or at least the previous version of it) also has Shakespearean connections with its prime Southwark location meaning it’s quite possible Shakespeare himself may have visited. Whether that’s the case or not, it is known that the premises served at time as a theatre of sorts in his day with acting troops performing in the courtyard while audience members could stand in the courtyard and watch or pay extra for a seat in the gallery. For more on the inn, see www.gkpubs.co.uk/pubs-in-london/the-george-inn-pub/.
• Middle Temple Hall. Built between 1562 and 1573 by Edmund Plowden (memorialised with monuments in both the hall and nearby Temple Church), this magnificent Tudor hall has survived both the Great Fire of London and the Blitz and continues to serve the legal profession today. It too was used as a theatre/concert hall in Elizabethan times and later as a site for Inigo Jones’ masques but in terms of the Shakespearean connection, it is known for being where the first recorded performance of Twelfth Night took place – on the night of Candlemas (2nd February) 1602. The Lord Chamberlain’s Men performed the play and it is thought that Shakespeare himself was among the players. For more on the hall, which is only rarely opened to the public, you can visit our earlier posts here and (on ‘Drake’s Cupboard) here or the official website at www.middletemple.org.uk/home/.
For more on the George Inn, check out Pete Brown’s social history Shakespeare’s Local: Six Centuries of History Seen Through One Extraordinary Pub.
Last week we had a look at two former theatres in Shoreditch which had strong associations to William Shakespeare and in previous weeks we’ve talked about both The Globe and Blackfriars Playhouse. So this week we thought we’d wrap up our look at Elizabethan theatres with a brief glance at a couple of other theatrical establishments which may have had some association with The Bard…
• The Rose. Built by Philip Henslowe in 1587, the theatre is located close to where The Globe later stood in Bankside. Many companies performed here – including Lord Strange’s Men in 1592 when, according to some, Shakespeare may have been the actors in the company. The theatre’s remains are open to the public. For more on The Rose, you can see our earlier Lost London entry.
• The Swan. Built by Francis Langley in the mid 1590s in the Paris Gardens area in the west of Bankside, The Swan was the most impressive of London’s theatres when first constructed due to both its size – it’s believed to have held an audience as big as 3,000 people – and the manner of its construction. It’s a matter of debate whether the Lord Chamberlain’s Men – the acting troupe Shakespeare was a part of – ever performed here while waiting for the Globe to be built. By the early 1630s, the theatre had apparently fallen into disrepair.
• Newington Butts. In use from 1580, this theatre was located in Surrey (the name is now preserved in that of the street still known as Newington Butts just to the south of the Elephant & Castle roundabout). Little is known about the theatre but it’s believed the Lord Chamberlain’s Men played here in the mid 1590s and apparently gave their earliest known performances of a number of Shakespeare’s plays including Titus Andronicus and The Taming of the Shrew took place. Butts were typically used in the national sport of archery but that may not apparently be the explanation behind the name here which may instead refer to an odd-shaped area of land.
For more on Elizabethan theatre, check out Elizabethan-Jacobean Drama: The Theatre in its Time.
While the association between the Bard and Bankside’s Globe Theatre is well known (see our earlier post here for more), the Bard and his plays were also performed in various other theatres around London. Here we take a quick look at a couple in Shoreditch, then a more rural suburb of London known for its associations with the (somewhat seedy) entertainment industry…
• The Theatre, Shoreditch. Built in 1576 by James Burbage on property that had once been part of Holywell Priory, the Theatre was the home of a number of acting companies including The Lord Chamberlain’s Men of which Shakespeare was a member. The polygon-shaped theatre served as the home of the company between 1594 and 1598 when a dispute with a landlord over the lease led them to leave, temporarily settling at The Curtain Theatre, before rebuilding their theatre, now renamed The Globe, in Southwark. Between 2008 and 2010, archaeologists from Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) carried out an investigation beneath a disused warehouse in New Inn Broadway, near the intersection of Curtain Road and Great Eastern Street, and found the remains of a 14 sided theatre about 22 metres across. Plans have been mooted to build a new theatre on the site. To find out more about The Theatre and see a terrific animated recreation by Cloak & Dagger Studios and MOLA (pictured), head to www.explorethetheatre.co.uk. PICTURE: Courtesy of MOLA (Museum of London Archaeology) and Cloak and Dagger Studios.
• The Curtain Theatre, Shoreditch. The Lord Chamberlain’s Men only performed here temporarily, between 1598-1599, before relocating to Southwark. Henry V (the reference to “this wooden O” in the prologue of the play is taken to refer to this theatre) and Romeo and Juliet are believed to be among Shakespeare’s plays which premiered here. Located just a couple of hundred yards south of The Theatre and built the year after it, it also hosted Ben Jonson’s Every Man in his Humour, a play in which Shakespeare is known to have performed. The polygonal theatre’s name comes from the road on which it stood – Curtain Road, which, it has been suggested, was named after the Holywell Priory’s ‘curtain wall’. It continued as a theatre until the 1620s and was later converted into tenements. The remains of what is believed to have been the Curtain Theatre were found by MOLA archaeologists in 2012 and further excavations are expected with the hope that one day the site will be open to the public with plays performed here. There is a plaque commemorating the site at 18 Hewett Street which is only a short distance from where the excavations were carried out. For more on the Curtain Theatre, check out www.shakespearesshoreditch.com.
For more on Elizabethan theatres, see Julian Bowsher’s Shakespeare’s London Theatreland: Archaeology, History and Drama.
Located close to the Bankside theatres where William Shakespeare’s plays would have been performed, Southwark Cathedral – known then as St Saviour’s Church – has plenty of connections to the Elizabethan theatre world.
Not only was the Bard’s youngest brother, the actor Edmund, buried here in 1607 (the grave is unmarked but there’s a commemorative stone in the floor of the choir), the playwrights John Fletcher and Philip Massinger and theatre owner Phillip Henslowe were also buried here. And like them, another theatre owner (and Henslowe’s son-in-law), Edward Alleyne, also held positions at the church.
The cathedral has several memorials to Shakespeare. These include a memorial window in the south aisle – unveiled in April 1954 on the anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, it depicts characters from some of his works and was designed by Christopher Webb to replace an earlier window which had been destroyed during World War II. Below it is an alabaster reclining figure of the playwright set against a relief of Southwark as it appeared during the 17th century. Carved by Henry McCarthy, it was unveiled in 1912.
The history of the church is believed to go back to at least Saxon times. Between 1106 and 1538, it served as the church of the Augustinian Southwark Priory and was dedicated to St Mary Overie. Following the Dissolution in the mid 16th century was re-dedicated as the parish church of St Saviour’s. It only became a cathedral in 1905 with the creation of the Diocese of Southwark. While some scant parts of the building date back to the 12th century (the church was rebuilt after a fire in the 13th century), much of it has been altered.
For more on Elizabethan England, check out Ian Mortimer’s recent book The Time Traveller’s Guide to Elizabethan England.
May 21, 2014
Mention William Shakespeare and London in the same breath and everyone immediately thinks of one building – the reconstructed Globe on Bankside. So we thought that to kick off our new series – being run in honour of the 450th anniversary of the playwright’s birth – we’d take a look at history of the iconic structure.
The original Globe Theatre, located a few hundred metres to the south, opened in 1599 as a home for the actors’ company known as the Lord Chamberlain’s Men (later renamed the King’s Men on the accession of King James I in 1603), of which Shakespeare was a member. Founded by James Burbage, this merry band was originally was housed at London’s first purpose-built playhouse Shoreditch before lease disputes led them to establish a new theatre in Southwark, close to the then existing theatre, The Rose.
Up and running by 1599 (Shakespeare was among four actors who bought a share in the property to help fund the new building which used timbers from the former Shoreditch theatre), the new theatre was used for 14 years until, during a performance of Henry VIII in 1613, wadding from a stage cannon ignited and the theatre burned to the ground. Rebuilt with a tiled roof, it remained the home of the company until it was closed down by the Puritan government in 1642 and demolished two years later.
You can see the original site of The Globe just in nearby Park Street. The shape of the structure is marked by a dark line embedded in the pavement (pictured).
The reconstructed building which stands proudly by the water today was the vision of the late American actor, director and producer, Sam Wanamaker. He founded the Shakespeare Globe Trust which, with the on-site assistance of Queen Elizabeth II, opened the theatre at its current site in 1997 (sadly, Wanamaker had died three-and-a-half-years previously).
The building’s design was drawn from sifting through what little historical evidence could be found including the findings of an archaeological dig at the original site, descriptions contained in Shakespeare’s plays (including the line from Henry V – “Or may we cram within this wooden ‘O’), and printed panoramas from the time, although it should be noted that much – particularly the design of the stage – is speculative.
Meanwhile the techniques used in the construction of the theatre were the subject of years of research and were in accord with those of the early 17th century and included using oak laths and staves to support lime plaster and then covering the walls in white lime wash while the roof was made of water reed thatch.
One of the best ways to see the theatre and make the most of the atmosphere is to see a play from a standing position in the pit!
WHERE: Globe Theatre Exhibition & Tour, Shakespeare’s Globe, 21 New Globe Walk (nearest Tube stations are Southwark and London Bridge); WHEN: Exhibition is open 9am to 5.30pm daily – tours run at various times, see website for details; COST: Exhibition and tour cost is £13.50 adults/£12 seniors/£11 students/£8 children (5-15 with children under five free)/£36 family of four; WEBSITE: www.shakespearesglobe.com.