Episode 85. Shakespeare’s London: Part 1

Join Hazel Baker as she discusses Shakespeare’s London with Carol Anne Lloyd including the way London is shown in Shakespeare’s plays (and even non-London location plays).

They discuss whether Shakespeare has always been so “highbrow”, was he always so popular? And how did he make most of his money?


Recommended Reading:

Henry C. Shelley, Inns and Taverns of Old London, Boston, L. C. Page, 1909

Your host: Hazel Baker

Hazel is an active Londoner, a keen theatre-goer and qualified CIGA London tour guide.

She has won awards for tour guiding and is proud to be involved with some great organisations. She is a freeman of the Worshipful Company of Marketors and am an honorary member of The Leaders Council.

She has been an expert guest on Channel 5’s Walking Wartime Britain (Episode 3) and Yesterday Channel’s The Architecture the Railways Built (Series 3, Episode 7).



Carol Ann Lloyd is a popular speaker, author, and podcaster who brings the stories of history and Shakespeare to life. She presents in-person and online programs for Smithsonian, Royal Oak Foundation, English Speaking Union, and Folger Shakespeare Library, OLLI at George Mason University, and more. Her podcast, British History: Royals, Rebels, and Romantics, explores the lives of famous and infamous characters in history. She is currently working on a book about the Tudors.

Carol Ann also speaks about how Shakespeare can help us develop effective conversation and interpersonal skills. She is the author of Building Relationships, One Conversation at a Time, and an Audible book, How to Build Meaning Relationships through Conversation. Carol Ann in preparing to launch a new “Shake Up Conversation” program. She is a board member of the DC chapter of the National Speakers Association.

Website  |  Podcast:  British History: Royals, Rebels, and Romantics


Shakespeare’s London

Hazel Baker: Hello and welcome to our London history podcast, where we share our love of London. Its people, places, and history. 

This podcast is designed for you to learn things about London that most Londoners don’t even know, all in 20 (ish) minutes. I am your host, Hazel Baker qualified London tour guide and CEO of londonguidedwalks.co.uk

Don’t forget if you enjoy what we do, then please rate and review. It warms the cockles of my heart to read your appreciation of this labour of love. 

Get that cup of tea, put your feet up and enjoy!

When I think of Shakespeare, I think of London. Even though he was born and raised in Stratford upon Avon, some hundred miles away from London, it was in London, however, where Shakespeare made his mark. His plays were first written and performed in London during the late 16th and early 17th centuries. Shakespeare had set ten of his history plays in England, but used London as his landscape for foreign plays too, and to tell us more is Carol Ann Lloyd.

Hello  Carol Ann! 

Carol Anne Lloyd: Hello. It’s so nice to be here. 

Hazel Baker:  Let’s get to know Shakespeare and his works a little bit better. 

Carol Anne Lloyd:  Shakespeare was definitely a man of his time and a man of his place.

And that place was London. We know that by 1592, he was definitely in London. He may have shown up, probably did, a little bit before then, but we can definitely place him with the records in London by 1592. And one of the things that we know that places him there is a pamphlet. Paid for and published under the direction of Robert Greene, who stated that this was his dying wish that this pamphlet be published in London, talking about the London playing scene.

We have public theatres that are actually permanent theatres for the first time, so that players are not wandering around the country performing, there is a physical building that they come to and they perform. And the whole notion of. making these plays a play wright who creates the play in this playing company in the theatre and Robert Greene believed that world belongs to the university and university trained

and graduates of universities and he took on Shakespeare very specifically in this pamphlet, calls him an upstart Crow beautified with our feathers, that his Tiger’s heart wrapped in a player’s hide Supposes he is as well, able to bombast out a blank verse as the best of you. So he is, that little idea that Tiger’s heart wrapped in a player’s hide was a jab at Henry the VI.

I mean, he’s just making it very clear that he’s talking about Shakespeare and he’s saying that Shakespeare isn’t well-trained enough and doesn’t belong in this world. So we know by then Shakespeare been there long enough to make a bit of a name for himself. Cause Robert Greene at the time was very well known and to have a annoyed at least one of these trained, acknowledged experts.

So Shakespeare is making a name for himself by 1592. And it’s very much in that London scene where we find him and that’s very important to his career. 

Hazel Baker: And just to remind our listeners that 1592. So we are talking during the reign of Elizabeth, the first, the very last Tudor monarch. And this is where the time when London is bursting at the seams, the old city of London and all the fun stuff, a lot of the theatres and the bear baiting is down in Southwark

London Bear Garden Credit_Getty Images

Carol Anne Lloyd: And that’s where Shakespeare’s world really is. And the fact that we go he’s first in a theatre performing, that’s very cleverly named The Theatre. Whew. But eventually he has to move the owner of the land, keeps raising the rent. And so his company decides to move. And so they move into Southwark where they can get land and have their own land and build their own theatre.

And that’s where the globe is built. And Shakespeare becomes a shareholder. So as the globe is built, he has even more. Stake in the success of the plays, because that’s the way he’s going to make money is when people pay to see the plays, he doesn’t really make much as a playwright. When he writes and sells the place to the company, he has made some and continues to make some money as an actor, but his real income is going to be filling the theatre. And so he wants to be writing plays that are entertaining and appealing to the audience appealing enough that they’ll decide to go to the theatre instead of the bear baiting, because that’s the competition. And perhaps there’s even a beheading that afternoon or a hanging. So it’s really important that these plays speak to what people are interested in and attract people who live in London.

And that could be London. That could be foreigners have come to London. There could be people going through on their trading route. All kinds of people are crowding into these spaces and he wants to capture them to come see his plays. So they have to be entertaining. They have to be engaging and they have to really speak to issues.

People care about. In a way that’s still entertaining and engaging. So that idea that we mentioned, you know, you mentioned earlier that Shakespeare can seem serious. Oh, we have to dress up and be quiet when we go see Shakespeare. It’s all serious. That was so not the case. You wanted everyone having a rollicking good time.

Hazel Baker: I’ll sign up for that! 

Carol Anne Lloyd: And that’s really partly because he’s on the wrong side of the river the Thames cuts right through London and he’s in the bad side. He’s in the side with the houses, with the women of ill repute, with the taverns, with the bear baiting, that’s the world where he’s living and writing and performing and producing these plays.

So it’s really quite an exciting place. 

Hazel Baker: I think that’s something that’s really quite important when you’re thinking about London, the Thames really does divide London. And of course on the north side, you have the law, the order, the traditions, the systems, or within the city of London and all the fun stuff is breaking out in Southwark, as you said, with the Winchester geese and all the taverns.

Bear Gardens
Bear Gardens, Southwark

And it’s a really it’s a really busy place. And it’s created by people who were just trying to get a leg up, and they’re not being helped within the system. And so they’re going alone. And the only way to do that is in Southwark where there is land. There is opportunity. 

Carol Anne Lloyd: And yet, and you see this in the plays so even though that’s where he’s writing, you can see edifices, London landmarks, like the Tower of London looming from across the river and their shadow coming over into the plays and into the lives. Like Westminster Hall on the other side, looming from across the river and these buildings show up in such interesting ways in the play.

That part of what has happened in the play is it’s a sort of a sandbox for Shakespeare saying, okay, we’re going to have a little bit of this coming into play. We’re going to have a little bit of these people coming into play. We’re going to have the Tower of London coming into play because the shadow of the Tower, boy that’s seen by everybody, we’re going to have Westminster Hall.

So I want to talk about just a couple of the plays where these buildings really show up so you can see the very serious, important buildings show up. And then we’ll look at some of the other things that show up. One of the things is the Tower of London. This is there at least 20 times in the Henry VI plays that references are made to the Tower of London.

Now we know the Henry VI plays where some of the very earliest Shakespeare wrote, there are three parts of Henry, the sixth. He probably started with part two. And then wrote part three and then went back and wrote part one. It appears from the records, they were not written chronologically. You started in part two when the action was already underway and it wasn’t for a while that he went back and set everything up.

Hazel Baker:  It’s a bit like Hollywood then. Isn’t it? When they do the pre-qual 

Carol Anne Lloyd: yes. Yes. It was a prequel. Absolutely. And it dealt with the wars of the roses. So called. They weren’t called that at the time, but Shakespeare really emphasised that notion in his Henry VI plays, he has characters go out into the garden and pluck roses, red roses, and white roses off a bush to reinforce what Henry VII had set up as well.

We’re going to refer to this as a battle between these two houses and these lovely roses. And so now here’s Queen Elizabeth, the Tudor Rose, and she’s sort of the outcome of all of this, but he looks back to the time of the war and the consternation and the Tower keeps showing up. And then shortly after Henry VI plays, he does (Edward IV shows up as a character, but he doesn’t get his own play), we also have the Richard III that marvellous, popular, controversial, but marvellous play. And there are 25 references to the Tower in just that one play. So Shakespeare is reminding people of the potential danger and violence and all of that is associated with the Tower that keeps creeping into his plays and he talks about heads on spikes and he talks about, young Edward V says “I do not like the Tower of any place” when uncle Richard said, here’s where you’re going. And that notion of the Tower is quite ominous in the plays. And it’s just interesting how, even in a world where you’re saying, okay, for these hours in the afternoon where I’m watching this play, and yet we can’t quite escape that notion of authority and how are we going to carry on here?

Tower Hill Smartphone Photography Tour
Tower of London

So that’s a really interesting way. I think London shows up in the plays and shows us a component of Shakespeare and his world and what people are concerned about. They know what the Tower represents, that it’s looming and worrisome all the time. At the same time that we have this sort of image of the Tower in Shakespeare’s plays, it’s one of the great things that we have.

And I love to talk about the Tower and the Tavern, because another place that he puts right on stage is the Tavern. And so many people who come to the plays on the wrong side of the river would have spent some time in taverns. Now, certainly there were also elite people who came to the place and honestly, some of them spent time in taverns, too.

Boar’s Head Tavern – unknown artist, 1829, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The taverns, like the theatre were these huge gathering places but in the Henry IV plays and especially in Henry IV Part 1 the Boar’s Head Inn in Eastcheap is this hugely important spot on this stage in a way. So it’s almost a play within a play sometimes because Prince Hal, and we all know Prince Hal is going to grow up and become Henry V who through the Tudor reign of course, was held up as this great warrior who managed to conquer France something the Tudors couldn’t quite get done, but Henry V was this great warrior king. But Shakespeare gives us a little glimpse into what happened before he became the great warrior king and has this creation of Henry IV princeHal in the play Henry IV, who has his kingdom is the Tavern.


That’s where prince Hal holds court. That’s where he’s loved. That’s where he goes to play. That’s where he spends his time when he gets to spend his time doing what he wants. He has these friends, he has these wonderful conversations and he has Falstaff. And so what Falstaff represents is always in the Tavern and there’s one particular scene in Henry IV Part 1 where Henry, Prince Hal has been summoned by his father king, Henry IV, and he knows he’s in trouble, that kind of thing, or the principal calls you to the office or your father calls you to his, his study or whatever, he’s been called to court and he knows he’s in trouble and he’s hesitant to go.

So Falstaff says. Let’s practise what you’re going to say. So there’s this little play acting where Falstaff plays the king and prince Hal plays himself and they have this little encounter and then they switch roles. And now prince Hal is playing the king and Falstaff is playing Prince Hal and as king , Prince Hal says.

“So I’ve heard that you’ve been hanging out with all these terrible characters. Should I banish them?” And Falstaff makes this plea and he says, 

“No, my good lord, banish Peto, banish Bardolph, banish Poins, but for sweet Jack Falstaff, kind Jack Falstaff, true Jack Falstaff, valiant Jack Falstaff, and therefore more valiant being, as he is, old Jack Falstaff,

Banish not him thy Harry’s company,

Banish not him thy Harry’s company.

Banish plump Jack, and banish all the world.

Prince: I do; I will.”


So as an audience member, you see that scene played out in that Tavern. Now is the stage on the Globe. Near a Tavern you might’ve stopped at. So you really see yourself coming into this Royal world.

And after Falstaff makes this heartfelt plea prince Hal responds, I do, I will. And in that moment, We get a glimpse of, oh yeah, he’s going to become Henry the fifth. Isn’t he going to become this king, who is the leader who was no longer in the Tavern. So we see this transition from the Tavern to the position of power from being prince.

How to have a good time, now to being Henry V at Agincourt, all of that is how London is now, not all of Henry V takes place in London. Some of it, we pretend, you know, he asks us to pretend, let this become the vast fields of France, but those important moments are often London on the stage.

And that happens frequently in those history plays. So we have these really important moments that people know about and then see played out on the stage. And in that case, people who would never be invited to court, get that moment to come in, to see prince Hal in a Tavern, have this conversation.

That’s a very revealing moment when he says I do. I will and we know that eventually in Henry V later on, he says, I know the old man falls to thy prayers when Falstaff comes toward him and wants to be recognised. So the Tavern is also gone by that point, he moves on to another world and Shakespeare uses London locations to show us how that happened.

So it’s just this fabulous way that Shakespeare jazzes us with some locations. And one of my very favourites. So later in Shakespeare’s career, so we’ve got the Globe up and running doing well before it burns down, but Shakespeare’s company has also had their eye on an indoor theatre. And in fact, they purchased or Burbage purchased Blackfriars before he built the Globe, but he couldn’t get permission because the Blackfriars theatre is in the good part of London.

And they didn’t really want players and theatre there. Eventually they are able to get permission to start performing at the Blackfriars. It’s a smaller theatre and it’s indoors. People are seated. They’re not standing and wandering around. So it’s a different kind of experience. But one of the most fascinating things is later in Shakespeare’s career.

When he, along with Fletcher writes the play Henry the eighth subtitled all is true, which is just hilarious. When you think about Henry the eighth and the way he presents himself so much is not true, but anyway, be that as it may be pretty ironic, but in Henry, the eighth all is true. There’s a really important moment.

That. And this is in the play where Henry’s first marriage to Catherine of Aragon has put on trial. Historically that trial took place at Blackfriars church. In that moment, everyone was Catholic. This was the beginning of the religious tension that is still reverberating dangerously in Shakespeare’s time; this is still something that people are facing every day.

We call those religions now, Catholic and Protestant. Of course, the terms we use now did not mean the same thing then, but there are these two camps and Protestantism is splitting into different factions. And so we have all of this religious tension and one of the very first moments of. Is this trial because Henry VIII has decided to set aside his first wife and to do so he’s claiming the marriage never really happened.

So there’s this trial to look at the veracity of the marriage that took place in Blackfriars. Now between the time that took place in the reign of Henry VIII, and now in the reign of Elizabeth. The reformation has happened and the dissolution of the monasteries has happened and Blackfriars has become a theatre.

So you could watch that scene, that trial scene in the same building, where it originally took place. And perhaps your parents by Elizabeth rain, it’s very possible that your parents may have been involved or may have been a witness to that first, the actual trial, the first playing out of this, in this building.

And now it is a part. Of this play, that Shakespeare is bringing to you. So it’s really wonderful. And this is again toward the end of Shakespeare’s career. So it’s in the time of king James, but it’s a time of looking back. To the earlier queen, she’s now gone there, a resurgence of nostalgia about queen Elizabeth.

The first that is happening during the reign of king James, that Shakespeare is tapping into just a little bit in his play, Henry the eighth, is that he’s also recognising that religious tension that has lasted. All these years and has not yet been resolved. And as we know, historically, won’t be resolved for hundreds of years, but to see that moment that happened in Blackfriars now happening now being put on a stage in Blackfriars is another way that London just shapes Shakespeare’s plays.

And he does that deliberately. He knows what he’s doing when he sets these scenes in certain locations. And he reminds us all what, this is really all about. 

Hazel Baker: Carol Ann, you have given me goosebumps. 

Carol Anne Lloyd:  Oh, that’s wonderful.

That’s all for now. Part 2 will be released next week, just in time for the Bard’s birthday!

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