City Walks: Shakespeare's London

City Walks: Shakespeare's London

William Shakespeare was born in 1564 in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire. He is widely acknowledged as the greatest dramatist the world has ever known. He came to London sometime between 1585 and 1592, and his acting career was spent with the Lord Chamberlain's Company, later renamed the King's Company. His writing, including collaborations, consist of approximately 38 plays, 154 sonnets, two long narrative poems and a few other verses. His plays have been translated into every major living language and are performed more often than those of any other playwright. He retired back to Stratford in around 1613, where he died three years later aged 52. He is buried in the chancel of Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon.

William Shakespeare was born in 1564 in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire. He is widely acknowledged as the greatest dramatist the world has ever known. He came to London sometime between 1585 and 1592, and his acting career was spent with the Lord Chamberlain's Company, later renamed the King's Company. His writing, including collaborations, consist of approximately 38 plays, 154 sonnets, two long narrative poems and a few other verses. His plays have been translated into every major living language and are performed more often than those of any other playwright. He retired back to Stratford in around 1613, where he died three years later aged 52. He is buried in the chancel of Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon.

This month (April 23rd 2016) is the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death.

Today's walk (started at lunchtime and finished after work) follows the City of London's "Shakespeare's London" self-guided walk, following in the footsteps of the world-renowned dramatist  and discovering the city he made his home. I amended the walk slightly to start at Temple Church but then followed the pamphlet route around the City, over London Bridge and ended at Shakespeare's Globe on the South Bank.

Distance: around 4 miles.

Middle Temple Hall and Temple Church was built in 1572 and has the finest Elizabethan interior in London. In February 1602 the first recorded performance of Twelfth Night took place here. The Cockpit Pub marks the approximate site of Shakespeare's gatehouse, the old priory gatehouse, which was purchased by him in 1613 and is the only property he is known to have owned in London. The deed of purchase still exists and is housed at the London Metropolitan archives and contains one of only six 'authenticated' examples of Shakespeare's signature. Playhouse Yard was once the site of the Blackfriars Playhouse, opened in 1609, and is regarded as one of the most important sites in English theatre history. It is widely believed that The Winter's Tale and Cymberline were written with the Playhouse in mind, though they were also performed in the Globe. The final show was performed there in 1642 before it was demolished in 1655. The old St. Paul's Cathedralwas one of the largest medieval churches in Europe, until it was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666. It dominated the skyline of Shakespeare's London and was the centre of religious and social life. It was also the heart of London's book trade and first editions of Shakespeare's plays were bought and sold here.

On the corner of Cheapside and Bread Street stood the Mermaid Tavern, it has been long thought that Shakespeare met here with a small group of writers and actors and supposedly formed a lively club which has been depicted by various artists. The Guildhall Library houses one of the First Folios, which was printed where Barbican stands today, and whilst many copies survived, few are in mint condition. The one housed at the Library is considered one of the five best in the world. Two of Shakespeare's fellow actors are buried in the churchyard of St. Mary Aldermanbury, Henry Condell and John Heminge, and after his death they played a vital role in publishing the First Folio. In the south-west corner of Monkwell Square is the site where Silver and Muggle Streets met and it was here in the house of Christopher Mountjoy that Shakespeare lodged in 1604 and wrote Othello and King Lear.

St. Giles without Cripplegate survived the Great Fire and is one of the few medieval buildings still standing in the City. Shakespeare's nephew, Edward, was buried here in 1607. St. Helen's Bishopsgate is another survivor of the Great Fire and for sometime would have been Shakespeare's parish church and it is believed that he worshipped there. Eastcheap was one of London's chief meat markets. It was home to many taverns and most likely the site of the Boar's Head Tavern which appears in Henry IV in a scene between Falstaff and Prince Hal. In Shakespeare's time London Bridge was the only bridge that crossed the Thames to the City. It  stood 480 metres (800 feet) long, was built of stone and had houses and shops along its length. East of London Bridge is the Tower of London, a looming symbol of fear and mystery in many of Shakespeare's history plays. Much of the tower appears the same today as it did in Shakespeare's time. Southwark was once the chief entertainment district and home to many playhouses, animal-baiting rings, inns and brothels.

The George, now a National Trust property, stands on the site of an inn built around 1542 and once surrounded three sides of a courtyard. Before purpose built theatres were constructed, inns such as this were commonly used for performances. Inside Southwark Cathedral stands a monument to Shakespeare, located in the south aisle, created in 1912 by Henry McCarthy. Above the monument is a memorial window created in 1954 by Christopher Webb, which replaced an earlier damaged window, and next to it is a memorial to Sam Wanamaker who led the project to reconstruct The Globe. The site of The Globe is marked by a plaque and a series of panels, the partly excavated foundations verify the original theatre was a 20-sided polygonal building. About 15 of Shakespeare's plays had their first or very early performances at The Globe.

The remains of The Rose theatre are covered by a large office block. It was the first open-air playhouse to be built on Bankside and many of Christopher Marlowe's plays were first performed there, as were Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus and Henry VI Part I. Bear Gardens was the site of The Hope playhouse which provided Londoner's with entertainment in the form of both animal bating and theatrical shows. The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, opened in 2014, is an archetype of a Jacobean indoor theatre and is the closest example of the indoor playhouses where Shakespeare's company would have performed during the winter months. Shakespeare's Globe has been constructed as the closest estimate to Shakespeare's theatre. It is a masterpiece of authentic timber-frame craftsmanship using green (untreated) oak, lime plaster reinforced with goat hair, bricks created to an Elizabethan recipe and Norfolk reed thatch. It opened in 1997 and was made possible by the uncompromising vision of Sam Wanamaker and a team of scholars, architects and craftsmen.

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