Book Review – “Shakespeare in London”

Shakespeare in LondonShakespeare in London” by Hannah Crawforth (Lecturer in Early Modern Literature at King’s College London), Sarah Dustagheer (Lecturer in Early Modern Literature at the University of Kent) and Jennifer Young (Teaching Fellow in English Literature (1590-1700)  at the University of Leeds), published by Bloomsbury in 2014 (ISBN (PB): 978-1-4081-4596-8).  Available from your friendly local book-shop (or faceless tax-avoiding online giant).  Price £16.99 or less.

The core contention of this fascinating, thoughtful   and thought-provoking book, akin to Ackroyd’s, is that Shakespeare’s adopted home of London informed, and indeed was the nourishing womb of, all of his writing.

He did not often directly reference it in his works.

However,  he may have indirectly referenced the violence of Tyburn in “Titus Andronicus”; the political machination of Whitehall in “Richard II”; the class distinction of the Strand in “Romeo and Juliet”; the legal machination of the Inns of Court in “The Merchant of Venice”; the religiosity of St Paul’s Cathedral in “Hamlet”; the madness of Bedlam in “King Lear”; the misery of imprisonment for debt in the King’s Bench Prison in Southwark in “Timon of Athens”; and the strange new world of the “cabinet of curiosity” on Lime Street in “The Tempest”. And the rich variety and cosmopolitanism of one of the first true World Cities in the form of an ever-present back-drop. The City was the World, in Microcosm.

Moreover, he set one of his most famous scenes here, in Ely Palace: that in “Richard II” in which John of Gaunt utters in his dying speech the immortal words: “This royal throne of kings, this sceptr’d isle,|This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,|This other Eden, demi-paradise,|This fortress built by Nature for herself|Against infection and the hand of war,|This happy breed of men, this little world,|This precious stone set in the silver sea,|Which serves it in the office of a wall,|Or as a moat defensive to a house,|Against the envy of less happier lands,|This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England”.


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