Episode 86. Shakespeare’s London – Part 2

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

They discuss whether censorship, curses and real London locations used in Shakespeare’s London plays.


Related podcast episodes:

Episode 85: Shakespeare’s London – Part 1

Episode 50: History of Shoreditch

Episode 76: Elizabeth and Mary: Tudor Cousins

Episode 77: The DeLaunes of Blackfriars

Episode 80: Disability in Tudor Times

Episode 52. St George’s Day

Episode 5. Dragons of London

Related articles:

Tudor London

Richard Tarleton: a Tudor Clown



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!

23rd April is not only Shakespeare’s birthday, but also St. George’s day. In episode 5 Dragons of London, you can hear me talk with Hannah chutzpah, chief dragon twitcher from dragons of London in the show notes, along with the transcript and images is a free dragon download of my top 10 best dragons in the city of London, which you can explore in your own time. If Dragon’s not your thing, then maybe you’d like to learn a bit more about St.George’s day, patron saint of England, plus others, and the statues and churches we have in London in his name. Then if that’s the case, then you can listen to episode 52 St. George’s Day and links to both of those are in today’s show notes. 


Last week, we had a pre-birthday party for William Shakespeare.

And today we have part two of Shakespeare’s London with the lovely Carol Anne Lloyd. So if you haven’t listened to episode 85, Shakespeare’s London part one, then I suggest you do so, but it’s not absolutely necessary. You can always pick up the conversation where we left off and it’s right here. 


Carol Anne Lloyd: 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 pretty ironic, but in Henry VIII all is true. There’s a really important moment. And this is in the play where Henry’s first marriage to Catherine of Aragon is 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 is this trial because Henry the eighth has decided to set aside his first wife and to do so he’s claiming the marriage never really happens. So there’s this trial to look at the voracity of the marriage that took place in Blackfriars. Now between the time that took place in the reign of Henry the eighth, 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’s 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 I that is happening during the reign of king James, that Shakespeare is tapping into just a little bit in his play, Henry VIII, what 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 play and he does that deliberately. He knows what he’s doing when he sets these scenes in certain locations. 


Hazel Baker: And for those of you with access to London, its streets or indeed street view, then have a look at the south west side of the city of London where Blackfriars station is now. And then move your way up a little bit to Playhouse Yard gives you a name of what used to be here, that’s right, Shakespeare’s playhouse called the Blackfriars Theatre and this on this spot, pre-dissolution of the monastery’s, was the refractory for the friars of Blackfriars. What I find amazing is that these plays not only got written, but they also got performed. I mean, this is a time when censorship was really, really heavy,  they were concerned with profanity, heresy politics, and this is getting pretty close to, well, two out of the three.


And what we often forget now is that the play that we know is not necessarily the original, because of course, Shakespeare throughout his career. And also his company and other playwrights would have needed to get a licence from the master revels in order to perform and also print the plays. 


Carol Anne Lloyd: Richard II is a really good example of a play that gets approved.

And then the sensors come back and say, Wait a minute. We’ve decided we don’t like this particular scene. And that’s another place where we see an edifice, a really important London landmark show up in the play and that’s Westminster. So Shakespeare takes the deposition scene where Richard, the second and anointed king is deposed.


Now, one of the really interesting things. If you look at the play Richard, the second is that the king who was considered at the time, fairly ineffective is given really beautiful piercing language. He really is given. Lyrical poetic. He speaks in poetry, people around him speak in prose, but he speaks in poetry.

It’s just an interesting decision, but Shakespeare sets the scene where he gives up his crown. With some consternation in Westminster hall, another building that cast a huge shadow over all of London, including all the way to Southern and all the way to Shakespeare’s audience and Shakespeare’s theatre goers who were escaping the city.


So Westminster Hawk has this huge shadow and it is in that hall. That scene takes place in Shakespeare, not necessarily in history, but in Shakespeare. And that’s what he wants. He uses it to get that notion there. So you see the king Richard, the second talk about how there are two buckets and as his bucket is going down and.

Now the empty Henry bawling bucket is coming up full because he is taking power from Richard and Richard talks about being unclean. And it’s just this amazing language about losing power. Now that scene is later. So after the play was performed later, the sensors came back and said, okay, you can keep the rest of it.

But that scene is gone. It had been published in quarto. It had to be taken out. You were supposed to take your quarter, which was your small copy and your Quill and strike out that scene because that is not. Appropriate we have realised. And Queen Elizabeth has realised that the deep hosing of a Monarch is something we ought not be putting on stage and looking at, okay, Fast forward. Just a bit. So this is in the 15 night plays or performed for a while they fall out of fashion. It’s no longer being performed. And we come up into the early 1601/ 1602, and we have the Essex Rebellion asset claims. He is rebelling against not the queen herself, but her ministers, but he believes he can rally London around him. Essex orders Shakespeare’s company to do a private performance. Of that play with that scene back in. So the king being deposed in Westminster hall is what he puts on in fights. All these people. He’s going to use it as a rallying cry. That there are times we have to take drastic measures and that is a very specific step Essex took.

Scene from Richard III Credit_photos.com


We know that Essex failed his rebellion, petered out. The people of London did not come running to him, but Shakespeare’s company did. I got called in and they were not punished in any way. They were paid to do a performance. It wasn’t, it wasn’t something that they really lost a lot over. But Queen Elizabeth is reported to have said to her Almanor I am Richard II, you know that. So that moment in that play in Westminster hall was so haunting to Elizabeth. That she had it censored, but Essex, who knew the queen very well and may have known what a tipping point that scene was for her, ordered that play that was out of fashion that play to be produced with that scene.


You really see that there are ways that censorship stops and then things get through. Anyway, we certainly still have that scene today. Not everybody crossed it out as our copies and when the first folio was published in 1623, it included that scene. And so it was a very interesting way of life at the time.


Does continue to show up in politics and the spaces in these really interesting ways. And sometimes that happens even when the plays aren’t set in London, which seems like a minute, how could it play? How can London show up in another? City or whatever, but when you look at Shakespeare, sometimes he says he actually pretty much limits his London plays. A lot of the playwrights at the time wrote a lot of London plays, his history plays are based in London.


They have to be, and the Merry Wives of Windsor is placed near London. We may think of London and Windsor almost being the same. Now in his time, it took longer to get to Windsor. So Windsor is nearby. But when you think of Romeo and Juliet or much ado about nothing, some of these other plays, tragedies and comedies alike are often set elsewhere.


And yet you see a lot of the contemporary concerns of London showing up in these plays. And I want to use Romeo and Juliet as an example. Because there are a couple of ways that it could be London. I know we’re told right off the bat, we’re in fair Verona, right in fair Verona, where we lay our scene. And yet the street violence that you see throughout Romeo and Juliet was very much what was happening in London.

Fair Verona

So in a theatre, if everybody’s cramming into the globe, most of those men. Have some sort of a weapon on them, a sword or a knife, a dagger, something with which they can defend themselves. It was entirely possible. As you walked to the theatre in Southern, in the bad part of the city that you had seen a fight, perhaps a sword fight.

You may in your lifetime have participated in one, many of the men had, there’s a reason they’re all armed. And in fact, the person who’s the fight. What we would call today, the fight choreographer or the fight master was considered one of the most important people in a plane company because the staged fights needed to look real.

Men sword fighting _ Credit_Getty Images

Because people knew what they really looked like. Most people had seen a sword fight and so they had to look real enough that people didn’t say, oh, give me a break because then they won’t keep coming to the theatre. Remember his bottom line is not to become famous. 400 years later, his bottom line was to make money in his lifetime.


So he wants these fights to look real and fair. Verona is full of street fights just like London. What. And that sort of unsettled, inability to stop them. And it threw out the play. People are trying various ways to stop all that street fighting and it doesn’t work right up to the end. They’re stabbing each other. There’s a little poison involved too, but mostly people are stabbing each other. That’s what’s happening throughout London. And the other thing that shows up in Romeo and Juliet, that is just a very quiet thread in some of Shakespeare’s plays, but it really pops up a few times is the plague.


So remember that the plague keeps rolling through and it’ll shut down the theatres and. Really wreak havoc on the country and London as a city, as a gathering place is particularly vulnerable. Play houses are especially vulnerable. We find that, and we’ve experienced some of that large gatherings and all of that recently, but when there’s a sword fight, And someone says a plague on both your houses. We hear it. It’s Mercutio, a character we care about. It’s a character that Romeo cares about. It’s a character whose voice matters and as he’s shouting. We tend to think. And sometimes I work with schools and kids and they seem to think or tend to think, oh yeah, that means you’re both at fault. You could say you’re both at fault, but to say, uh, the plague meant something different than that was a shivery moment to invoke the plague was a moment that would have given people pause and later in the play. People didn’t die of the plague, but because of the plague, so the plague causes a house to be shut up because of contagion and therefore the fryer can’t get the word to Romeo that they’ve hatched this plan.


So Romeo thinks Juliet is really dead and that spirals into the whole final scene. So because of the plague, it all goes through. So the plague is there and that would have felt so much like London to those theatre goers, all of these street fights and the plague weaving its way in these very subtle ways that some of us miss today, but in Shakespeare’s time, that would have been a shivery kind of thing throughout that.

So again, London keeps showing up even in fair Verona, so you can really see how important the city was. The city also enabled Shakespeare to know. To hear the voices of all kinds of people around him. So going to church was required. So you went to church with the people from your neighbourhood and Shakespeare bought a very nice home in Stratford in London, he rented rooms.


So he was surrounded by people all the time who did not like. Who maybe were from another country who were from another walk of life, who might be a merchant who might be a sailor who had travelled the world and told all kinds of fanciful stories about different cities. When you look at some of the ways the cities are described in Shakespeare’s foreign plays, they don’t, they sound like stories.

It’s not necessarily, it’s pretty clear. He hasn’t been. ’cause he’s got ports in the wrong place and the borders and things are in the wrong place, but it’s all about the stories about these cities that he’s heard. He’s hearing stories all the time. He’s hearing all these different voices. He’s hearing lawyers talk.


He’s hearing healers, talk, doctors and midwives. He’s with these kinds of people in the taverns and where he lives in a church, the streets are full of all these voices. And so London, by being so compressed and so vibrant and so exciting and literally bursting at the seams because so many people from all over England and from all over the world are coming to London.


And what better place for someone who has this sense of what to do with all these cacophony of voices that he’s hearing, how he can use those voices, use the conversations he’s overhearing to create these worlds of his plays. And all of that starts with his life in London. I think this is such an exciting way to think about Shakespeare and the reality of this man.


Hazel Baker:  Especially the plague, but I just had never considered that at all. I had considered the danger of the Duggars, if you think of Marlow and how many, no stabbings, and here, I’m not very different to nowadays really, but like the plague, I hadn’t really thought about it at all. Um, that’s fascinating.


Carol Anne Lloyd: So those things that, again, he wanted to be dealing with what was on people’s minds at the time. And one of the ways to get around the sensors was to place a very London problem in another country or in another time. And so concerns are placed elsewhere and it’s easy to get through the sensors. This is about what’s happening in Italy. Come on. So that was one way. He was a lot of these issues are very contemporary, but they’re placed in other places or other times, but people still want to come and see it. And one of the things, again, at the end of Romeo and Juliet, when there is a bit of an authorial voice at the end, he tells people to go and talk more about these things and he is regularly making space for people to take on some of these issues, like the plague and violence. Okay. I’ve set them in Italy, but talk more about these things. And I think that’s part of London too, with everything that’s happening. 


Hazel Baker: And I suppose talking about them also means that you may be talking about the play and so more people want to go let’s see it.


Carol Anne Lloyd: That’s right. That’s right. Because we forget, I think because we know he becomes successful. That was not guaranteed. So he did anything he could to get people paying that penny to get into that theatre, to stand there in the globe, the Groundlings, that was the biggest percentage of the audience. Get them in there, pack them in.


And that’s what he was after. He was a man trying to make a living to buy a nice home for his family. What could be more like us than that? Those are some of our concerns to be successful in your career. Achieve a level where you can feel like, okay, I’m living where I want to be living. I really like this place.

I feel successful and I’m dealing with what’s going on with my life and my neighbours and the world around me. That’s what he was trying to do because London was such a big part of his life and his place. It just really shapes it. So I love seeing them there. 


Hazel Baker: How brilliant. Oh, you’ve got me thinking all differently now.

Oh, Caroline. Thank you. Thank you so much. That was absolutely brilliant. 


Carol Anne Lloyd: I’m delighted to have been here and been able to chat with you about it. 


Hazel Baker: I hope you’ve enjoyed our bumper edition episodes, 85 and 86, Shakespeare’s London. What’s up next week? I wonder. Tune in to find out. Till next time.


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