In Search of Shakespeare's London

In Search of Shakespeare's London

William Shakespeare was born in Stratford — but he lived in London throughout his professional life. Although the capital has changed greatly over the past 400 years, traces of the city that the playwright called home can still be found. Join journalist and author Dan Falk on a brief tour of Shakespeare’s London.

although William Shakespeare was born in Stratford it was in London that he wrote his great plays works that are still performed and enjoyed today four hundred years after his death leaving his wife and three young children behind Shakespeare made his way to London arriving in the mid 1580s of course London was a lot smaller back then it had a population of a bit more than 200,000 about one twentieth of its size today but it wouldn't have felt small to Shakespeare for the playwright coming from a small provincial town the bustle of London would have taken some getting used to as a visitor from Switzerland noted in 1599 this city of London is not only brimful of curiosities but so popular that one simply cannot walk along the streets for the crowd of course the capital has changed a lot over the past four centuries much of Elizabethan London is now gone but a few buildings have survived like the staple Inn on High Holborn with its distinctive tudor facade it dates from 1585 around the time Shakespeare arrived in the city but we'll begin our tour on the south side of the Thames a good place to start is the majestic Southwark Cathedral it's just a stone's throw from where the original Globe Theater stood and members of Shakespeare's Acting Company would have worshipped here begun around 12:20 it's the oldest gothic building in London and it's survived the centuries almost intact stepping inside the cathedral is a welcome escape from the surrounding urban bustle along the South aisle there's a life-size sculpture of Shakespeare file a set of stained-glass windows illustrate scenes from the plays including The Tempest and Hamlet there's also a plaque honoring Shakespeare's younger brother an actor named Edmund who was buried in the cathedral in 1607 nearby is the tomb of playwright John Fletcher who collaborated with Shakespeare on several of his later plays just down the street we find the Globe Theatre well sort of the theatre that stands there now known as Shakespeare's Globe is a modern reconstruction of the Elizabethan original it opened in 1997 but the original globe stood just a few blocks away 400 years ago this was where many of Shakespeare's plays including Julius Caesar Hamlet and King Lear made their debut back then the price of admission was one penny while the original Globe is gone the remains of another Elizabethan theatre the rows have survived and have been preserved even as modern office blocks have gone up on all sides theatres weren't just for plays bear-baiting in which a bear was chained to a post and then attacked by hungry dogs was popular entertainment both Henry the Eighth and his daughter Queen Elizabeth enjoyed the spectacle the name of the small side street still serves as a reminder of the cruel pastime shakespeare's globe stood on the south bank of the River Thames but for several years the playwright lived north of the river and if we look carefully we can find reminders of Shakespeare's time here if we look in the neighborhood just north of the city's ancient centre st. Paul's Cathedral looms above London's historic center it's a focal point of city life here in the oldest part of the capital but in Shakespeare's time these views would have looked quite different back then Sir Christopher Wren's masterpiece with its enormous dome did not yet exist instead we'd be looking at the original gothic structure significantly larger than today's Cathedral it was the largest church in all of Europe it would have towered over the city's skyline right up until 1666 when it was reduced to ashes in the Great Fire of London in Elizabethan times the area around the cathedral would have been crammed with book stalls it was here that printers had their workshops and booksellers hocked the latest titles ok these pictures are a bit of a cheat this is a popular bookshop in Paris as it happens one that's named after Shakespeare but you get the idea Shakespeare was almost certainly a regular browser at the London book stalls getting ideas for his plays as he leapt through the latest offerings including Holland's heads Chronicles and Plutarch's lives of the noble Greeks and Romans books that provide the backbone of several of Shakespeare's history plays the area around Saint Paul's remained the center of London's book trade right up to the second world war a little further north we come to an area called cripple gate named for the ancient Roman gate that stood nearby for a time Shakespeare called this neighborhood home in fact of Shakespeare's various residences this is the only one that can be pinned down with any precision we know that sometime around 1603 Shakespeare rented a room in a house on the silver street the landlord was a hat maker a Frenchman named Christopher Mountjoy documents show that the Mount Joy's lived at the northeast corner of the silver Street and moogle Street unfortunately you won't find either of these streets in your AZ guide sadly neither Street exists today but we can figure out roughly where they were in his book the lodger author Charles nickel pieces together the clues and he says that the Mountjoy house was just across the street from st. olaf's church which stood on the south side of silver Street today it's where Noble Street meets London wall unfortunately almost everything from that time has disappeared the original Street grid is mostly gone the Mountjoy house is long gone and the Church of st. olaf's is gone – about as close as we can get is this small Park on the site where st. Olaf's Church used to stand a pair of memorial stones tell just a little bit of the site's history although one of the stones is now almost illegible beneath a somewhat ominous skull and crossbones it explains that the parish church of st. Olav silver Street was destroyed in the dreadful fire in 1666 after the fire the neighbourhood was rebuilt only to be destroyed again this time during a German bombing raid during the Second World War post-war redevelopment brought the Barbican complex and the nearby Museum of London and gave the neighborhood a distinctly modern flavor because street level has risen over the years Charles Nichols best guess is that the Mountjoy house occupied what's now an underground carpark so as you walk around the neighbourhood today just remember that Shakespeare might have lived just below where you're standing but Shakespeare hasn't been completely forgotten here in cripple gate just a few blocks away there's a charming memorial to the playwright nestled in a tiny tree-lined Street called Love Lane although topped by a bust of the playwright the memorial is also a tribute to two of his fellow actors John Hemings and Henry Condell seven years after Shakespeare's death the two men collected their colleagues greatest plays for publication in the book we now call that first folio in a sense this sculpture is as much a memorial to that book as it is to the man who wrote the words inside it there's another site nearby that reminds us of what life would have been like in Shakespeare's time just a few blocks away is the barber-surgeons Hall in Elizabethan England Doctor didn't perform surgery cutting open the human body was considered beneath their dignity so surgery was left to the barbers who at least knew how to use knives and scissors needless to say in those days before the invention of anesthetics surgery was pretty much a last resort by the middle of the 18th century the barbers and the surgeons went their separate ways but the old name lives on it can still be seen on the modern building that stands on monk wall square close to where the original Hall once stood historians have often wondered where Shakespeare picked up the medical knowledge that we see in his plays one possible route at least in the latter part of the playwrights career was from within the family his oldest daughter Susanna had married a successful doctor named John Hall in 1607 even though Shakespeare had often made fun of doctors in his later plays medical men are treated reasonably well perhaps out of respect for his son-in-law there's more of Shakespeare that can be found in London but that's as far as we'll go on this brief tour if you want to read more about Shakespeare and his world there are quite a few terrific books out there almost too many to name these are just a few of my favorites and I'll mention my own book the science of Shakespeare which examined the changing times that Shakespeare lived in and especially what the playwright might have known about developments in science that were happening at that time


  1. Actually Shakespeare was born in Stratford Upon Avon, Warwickshire, not Stratford, which is in East London. Two completely different places. Regardless of the nationality and the intelligence of any narrator and composer of any video on YouTube about him, this simple fact can be checked out.

  2. The groundlings paid a penny, seats in the gallery cost more. Occasionally an aristocrat or two sat on the stage while the play was being performed. The Chandos portrait is probably not of WS. The most reliable depiction of WS was the Droeshout, which Shakespeare's thespian colleagues endorsed in writing as a good likeness. It is highly unlikely that a mere player would have a portrait painted, though we know that Ben Johnson did, and we know that WS was ambitiously 'upwardly-mobile'. Speculation runs wild, as usual. Crackpots proliferate.

  3. Christopher Marlow was the real Shakespeare. This illiterate Shakespeare who could not sign his Will properly (he signed the Will three times in an haphazard manner) and no mention of the Works he had written amply prove thst Shakespeare, a little known stage hand of Globe Theatre was not person who wrote the plays and sonnets. I t was actually Christopher Marlowe, who had to go underground for his clandestine spy works used the uneducated and fraudulent William Shakespeare, a low stage hand of the Globe Theatre .The only existing textimony of Shakespesre is his Will now in the museum in London and baptising in the Trinity Church(?) in Stratford -upon-Avon. Do not upload such rotten episodes again.

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