Category Archives: Theatrical London

William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

Shakespeare, Aldermanbury Square.JPG

William Shakespeare was born on or around this day in 1564, and died on this day in 1616.

Although he was born and died in Stratford-upon-Avon, he spent almost the entirety of his productive working life in London, and in truth is much more a London than a Stratford figure. He arrived in London  sometime between 1585 and 1592,  and  lived in the parish of St Helen, near  “The Theatre” and the “Curtain” in Shoreditch, in 1596; in the Liberty of the Clink in Southwark, near   the “Globe”, in 1599; and in Silver Street, near  the  “Blackfriars”, in 1604.

As Peter Ackroyd put it in his marvellous “Shakespeare – The Biography” (Chatto & Windus, 2005), “Shakespeare did not need to address London directly … ; it is the rough cradle of all his drama”.  However, as Hannah Crawforth, Sarah Dustagheer and Jennifer Young suggest in their thoughtful and thought-provoking “Shakespeare in London” (Bloomsbury, 2014), 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”; 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.  Moreover, he did set one of his most famous scenes in London, in Ely Palace: that in “Richard II” in which John of Gaunt utters 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”.

3 - Sam Wanamaker at The Globe, Southwark, in 1947

4 - Wanamaker's reconstructed Globe

5 - Wanamaker Playhouse (inside reconstructed Globe), a model for the Blackfriars Theatre.JPG

 

“Shakespeare’s own play-house” (The Globe)

1 - Sam Wanamaker at the site of the Original Globe in 1947

On this day in 1644, “The Globe” was demolished by order of the Puritan City authorities (and the site redeveloped by Sir Matthew Brand or Brend). The play-house had originally been  built in 1599 by the theatrical impresario Cuthbert Burbage, using some materials salvaged from his father James’s “The Theatre” in Shoreditch, after the expiry of the lease on that latter property.  It had then burnt down in a fire in 1613, after sparks from a theatrical cannon set some thatch alight during a performance of Shakespeare’s “Henry the Eighth”, and been rebuilt in 1614, before falling into disuse sometime around 1642, when the performance of plays was banned by an Act of Parliament forced through by the Puritans (reading, in part: “It is … thought fit, and Ordained, …  That, while these sad … Times …  do continue, Public Stage Plays shall cease, … instead of which are recommended … the profitable and seasonable considerations of Repentance, Reconciliation, and Peace with God, which probably may … bring again Times of Joy and Gladness to these Nations”).

“The Globe” was “Shakespeare’s (own) play-house, and the venue where many of his plays were first performed”.

2 - Wanamaker's reconstructed Globe.jpg

 

The Theatre (1576)

theatre-plaque-1

On this day in 1576, the actor and theatrical impresario James Burbage leased the land on which he later built London’s first play-house, known simply as “The Theatre”, in Shoreditch.  In 1599, sometime after the twenty-one year lease ran out, the building was disassembled and reassembled in Southwark – as “The Globe” – by James’s son Cuthbert Burbage.

MID_SirIanMcKellen_Taryn

The buried remains of “The Theatre” in Shoreditch came to light during archaeological excavations in 2008.

 

The Red Bull, Clerkenwell

Red Bull (2)

On this day in 1661, Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary:

“To the Red Bull (where I had not been since plays came up again) up to the tireing-room, where strange the confusion and disorder there is among them in fitting themselves, … where the clothes are very poore, and the actors but common fellows.  At last into the pitt, where I think there was not above ten more than myself, and not one hundred in the whole house.  And the play, which is called “All’s Lost but Lost” [by Rowley], poorly done; and with so much disorder, among others, in the musique-room, the boy that was to sing a song, not singing it right, his master fell about his eares and beat him so, that it put the whole house into an uprore”.

The Red Bull Inn in Clerkenwell had previously been leased  in 1604 to Aaron  Holland, a servant of the Earl of Devonshire,  to be converted to an open-air  play-house (or possibly a covered theatre – an illustration of it from Kirkman’s “Book of Wits”, published in 1662,  appears to show chandeliers suspended from a roof).  It had then functioned as such between the beginning of 1606/7 and 1642, when the performance of plays was banned by an Act of Parliament forced through by the Puritans (although there is some evidence to suggest that plays continued to be staged there even after the ban).  And it had re-opened as a play-house after the Restoration in 1660.  Its new lease of life was short-lived, though, and it appears to have closed by 1663, and been demolished by  1665.  It was not destroyed by the Great Fire of 1666, as some sources maintain.

The play-house was home to various acting troupes, including Queen Anne’s Men (or the Queen’s Servants); Prince Charles’s Men (later the King’s Men), partly financed by the theatrical impresario Edward Alleyn, who was also involved with the Fortune in nearby Finsbury; the Red Bull Company; and, after the Restoration, Michael Mohun’s Company and George Jolly’s Troupe.  A number of specially-written new plays by, among others, Heywood, Dekker and Webster were staged here.

Red Bull (3)

 

Shakespeare buys a house in Blackfriars (1613)

Shakespeare's house plaque

On  this day in 1613, according to the surviving Deed of Conveyance in the London Metropolitan Archives, William Shakespeare bought for £140 a “dwelling house or Tenement with th’appurtenaunces situate and being within the Precinct, circuit and compasse of the late black Fryers London, …  and now or late being in the tenure or occupacion of one William Ireland or of his assignee or assignes; abutting upon a streete leading downe to Pudle wharffe on the east part, right against the Kinges Maiesties Wardrobe; part of which said Tenement is erected over a great gate … ”  [the former entrance to the Black Friars Priory, dissolved by Henry VIII in 1538].

There is no evidence that Shakespeare  ever lived in this particular  house in London, returning to his native Stratford-upon-Avon in 1613, and dying there in  1616, but  he is known to have spent almost the entirety of his productive working life in London, and in truth is much more a London than a Stratford figure.    He is known to have arrived in London  sometime between 1585 and 1592,  and  to have lived in the parish of St Helen, near  “The Theatre” and the “Curtain” in Shoreditch, in 1596; in the Liberty of the Clink in Southwark, near   the “Globe”, in 1599; and in Silver Street, near  the  “Blackfriars”, in 1604.

As Peter Ackroyd put it in his marvellous “Shakespeare – The Biography” (Chatto & Windus, 2005), “Shakespeare did not need to address London directly … ; it is the rough cradle of all his drama”.  However, as Hannah Crawforth, Sarah Dustagheer and Jennifer Young suggest in their thoughtful and thought-provoking “Shakespeare in London” (Bloomsbury, 2014), 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”; 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.  Moreover, he did set one of his most famous scenes in London, in Ely Palace: that in “Richard II” in which John of Gaunt utters 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”.

 

 

“Ye should do very well to inhibit all plays” (Edmund Grindal, 1564)

Grindal

On this day in 1564, Edmund Grindal (then Bishop of London and later  Archbishop of Canterbury) wrote in a letter to William Cecil, the  First Baron  Burghley or Burleigh (a statesman and advisor to Queen Elizabeth I through much of her reign):

 “Mr Calfhill this morning showed me your letter to him, wherein ye wish some politic orders to be devised against infection.  I think it very necessary … .  By search I do perceive that there is no one thing … more like to have renewed this contagion than the practice of an idle sort of people which have been infamous in all commonweals: I mean these histriones, common players, who now daily, but specifically on holidays, set up bills, whereunto the youth resorteth excessively and there taketh infection: besides that God’s word by their impure mouths is profaned … .  For remedy whereof in my judgement, ye should do very well to … inhibit all plays for one whole year (and if it were for ever, it were not amiss) within the City or three miles’ compass, upon pains as well to the players as to the owners of the houses where they play their lewd interludes”.