Tag Archives: William Shakespeare

“Shakespeare and his fellow actors promise to be good neighbours” (Henry Carey, 1594)

Cross Keys  plaque.JPG

On this day in 1594, Henry Carey, 1st Baron Hunsdon, wrote to the Lord Mayor of London:

“Where my now company of players have been accustomed … for the service of her majesty [Elizabeth I] …  to play this winter time at the Cross Keys in Gracious [Gracechurch] Street; these are to require and pray your lordship (the time being such as, thanks be to God, there is now no danger of the sickness [plague]) to permit and suffer them to do so.  The which I pray you rather to do for that they have undertaken to me that, where heretofore they began not their plays till towards four o’clock, they will now begin at two and have done between four and five and will not use any drums or trumpets at all for the calling of people together and shall be contributories to the poor of the parish where they play, according to their abilities”.

Henry Carey, 1st Baron Hunsdon

Henry Carey, 1st Baron Hunsdon (1526-96) was a nobleman, a courtier to his cousin, Elizabeth I, and a politician as well as a patron of Shakespeare’s playing company, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men.  He was the son of Anne Boleyn’s sister Mary, and it has been speculated that he was fathered by Henry VIII.

Shakespeare’s Two Playhouses

9781316640326

I am currently greatly enjoying reading “Shakespeare’s Two Playhouses” by Sarah Dustagheer (Cambridge University Press, 2017) …

The two performance spaces in question are the “Globe” playhouse on Bankside in Southwark, and the less well-known – Second – “Blackfriars” in the City.

The “Blackfriars” was purpose- built or -adapted  by James and Richard  Burbage in 1596-1600, on the site of the Parliament Hall of the dissolved Blackfriars Priory (*).  It was a covered theatre, and was able to be used by theatre companies throughout the year, including in the  winter,  when the open-air “Globe” playhouse  was rendered unusable by bad weather.   It was also an “all-seater”,  seating 6-700 in some – although not much – comfort, and charging a minimum of 6d a head (in contrast, the “Globe” seated or stood more (2-3000), but charged much less (1d a head)).  In time, the theatre became extremely popular with the fashionable set, and equally profitable.    In 1608, it came to be part owned by Shakespeare’s acting company,  “the “King’s Men” (formerly the “Lord Chamberlain’s Men”), and became, with the “Globe”, their joint home.  The theatre was eventually closed down by the Puritans in 1642; and demolished in 1655.

On a plot adjoining the reconstructed Elizabethan “Globe” on Bankside is a modern replica of a Jacobean theatre,  named the “Wanamaker”.  Its design was in part based on a set of plans once – although no longer – thought to have been of the “Second Blackfriars”, and its interior conveys a real sense of what that theatre would have been like.  A   sense of enclosed space, of intimacy, of proximity to the players, of exclusiveness perhaps.  Of  being surrounded by the shadowy  light of dancing candles and reflecting costume jewellery.  And, perhaps even more particularly,  of being surrounded by sound, and in interludes by the sound of music.  Note in this context that the music in certain of Shakespeare’s later  plays, such as  “A Winter’s Tale”, “Cymbeline” and “The Tempest”, was not only well suited to, but probably also  specifically written for, performance in the indoor arena of the “Second Blackfriars”.

(*) Here in  1529 an earlier  high drama was enacted when the  Legatine Court, under  the Papal Legate, Cardinal Lorenzo Campeggio, and King Henry VIII’s representative, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey,  met  to discuss Henry’s   proposed divorce from his first wife, Catherine of Aragon – eventually ruling against any such action.

“Immortal with a kiss” (Christopher Marlowe)

1 - Christopher Marlowe

On this day in 1593, the colourful Christopher Marlowe, poet, playwright, lover of tobacco and boys, and supposed spy, was fatally stabbed in a tavern in Deptford, under somewhat mysterious circumstances. The Coroner’s Inquisition at the time concluded that he had been killed in self-defence by one Ingram Frizer, during an argument about a bill or “reckoning”.  It is believed that his death is alluded to, in his friend William Shakespeare’s “As You Like It”, as “a great reckoning in a little room”.  Marlowe is buried in the ancient church of St Nicholas in Deptford.

(*) Readers may also be interested to know that the recently-discovered site of the “Rose” playhouse in Southwark, where many of Marlowe’s plays were performed, is open to the public every Saturday from 10:00-5:00 (entry is free, although donations are of course welcome).

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 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”.

 

 

Facial Hair through the Ages

November 1st

To mark the beginning of ‘Movember’, here’s a look at some of the facial hair styles adopted by the  Tudors and Stuarts, ranging from “boyish” to “strictly no-nonsense”, by way  of the peculiarly popular “rakish”.

Top row, left to right: Christopher Marlowe; “The Laughing Cavalier”; Francis Drake.

Middle  row, left to right: William Shakespeare; James I; James I’s “favourite” George Villiers, the First Duke of Buckingham.

Bottom row: Henry VIII; William Cecil, Lord Burghley; Thomas Cranmer.

(Click image to see full-sized original)

Facial hair through the ages

Facial hair through the ages

Shakespeare and London

12th September 2013 – I’ve just got back from a fascinating behind-the-scenes tour of the London Metropolitan Archives (www.cityoflondon.go.uk/lma), organised by the London Historians (www.londonhistorians.org).
The highlight was the “Shakespeare and London” exhibition, which features not only “The Shakespeare Deed”, a property deed signed by Shakespeare (one of only six surviving examples of his signature), but also other documents from his lifetime, along with maps, photographs, prints and models which explore his relationship with London.  The exhibition runs until 26thSeptember 2013.