Tag Archives: Southwark



London is about to host an Olympics, but there is also a Cultural Olympics going on and a Shakespeare fest too. There is useful work being done at the moment mapping Elizabethan London, and Southwark. It is work that a lay student can join in with too and an example is the use of the so-called ‘Agas Map’ Click here. A little doubtful here of ‘Virtual Reality’ or ‘interactive history’, often supposed facts and dates too, it still helps readers imagine the ground, four hundred years ago.

To start imagining Bankside though, go there today, and visit Sam Wanamaker’s Globe Project, which stands near the area of old ‘Paris Gardens‘, a Liberty, where Francis Langley’s Swan Theatre once stood, a Bull and Bear baiting arena, and the Royal Barge house on the Thames, that the landlord and impresario Philip Henslowe franchised and re-equipped. Just South East of the modern Globe, parallel with the Thames, runs dreary modern Park Street, which more or less follows the line of old Maid Lane, which for a time became the Broadway or Shaftesbury Avenue of its day. It was on Maid Lane that Henslowe put up his Rose Theatre, and in 1599, the Burbages, with Will Shakespeare a sharer, The Globe. It is possible that another figure involved in the theatres, Jacob Meade or Maide, a prominent waterman, like so many in the district, took his name for Maide Lane.

The Elephant Tavern, perhaps referenced in Twelfth Night, stood on one Maid Lane corner, as did The Vine, in a group of properties called Hunt’s Rents. The Vine included, as did many monastic and also tavern properties, a brewhouse, in a celebrated brewing area by the river, and a ‘messuage’ of land, tenements, stables and gardens. So it was like hundreds of taverns located in Southwark. It was bequeathed in the Online will of Edwarde Hunt, to his ‘beloved wife Mary’, who was pregnant, in 1588. It is uncertain when it went up, but a Vyne is mentioned in the 1530’s, and it belonged to a John Le Hunte, under Henry VI. Or rather to that Brotherhood of Our Lady of Assumption, connected to St Margaret’s Church, granted rights to buy Land and properties by the King of up to Twenty Marks. In the Token Books of Southwark Cathedral, registers of locals buying church tokens handed in to prove communion attendance, Edmund Shakespeare’s name appears at the Vine in 1607. He died that freezing December and was buried on the 31st, though the furiously chill weather extends the possible time of fairly rapid burials. Alan Nelson and his colleague Professor Ingram have been listing all the names in the Token Books to put up on line.

They include the likes of Edmund Shakespeare, Phillip Henslowe, and Edward Alleyn, several actors and some characters who appear in other references to Shakespeare. Keep walking East passed the modern sites of The Rose and Globe excavations, and you get to the point Park Street turns right and South. It was once called Deadman’s Place. If you had gone South West four hundred years ago you would have got to St Margaret’s Cross, where St Margaret’s Church once stood, dissolved during the Reformation, to become a local prison. We think Deadman’s Place is linked to land called, in one document, Lord Farrar’s Place, that St Margaret’s Church bought up for a new burial ground and sepulchre.

Above the Park Street bend, at the modern wine mecca Vineopolis, begins what was once the Liberty of The Clink, running along Clink Street, where London’s oldest prison stood, passed the remains of Winchester House, the London palace of the Bishop of Winchester, and you get to St Saviour’s Dock, where the Golden Hinde replica is, Winchester Street and then Southwark Cathedral. We can now prove that Phillipe Henslove lived in a house that was effectly No 5 Bell Alley, just before Clink Street, on the edge of the Church Square, probably part of another tavern and tenement complex, like The Vine, or the nearby Green Dragon Inn.

Henslowe lived in Southwark for over 20 years, but for several years his Son-in-law the famous actor Edward Alleyn moved in with him. Both were to become Wardens of St Saviour’s Church, for a time. Both were also involved in something called The Great Enqueste. It began with the Coronation of James I, into many affairs, but in Southwark coalescing about complaints against the Church Vestrymen and local administration, that is its own important and fascinating story. Here we think, because the Wardens oversaw legal agreements and purchases, it was very important in the Shakespeare story, and may have been one of the reasons William Shakespeare moved out of the area again. If Charles Nicholls is right about the dates surrounding Shakespeare’s sojourn on Silver Street, around Elizabeth’s death, then it makes sense, if a rival like Henslowe came more to the fore as a Southwark Man, with the Queen’s death.

The topography of the area has of course changed enormously, with the rise in height, the crowding of concrete buildings, and above all the movement of London Bridge, west by over fifty yards. But what remains is the dominating space of St Saviours Church, Southwark Cathedral, and the fact that Bankside, once Stewside, has not moved at all, unlike the North Shore. Olympic visitors disgorging next week at London Bridge Tube Station, or people trying to get away from it all, and rediscover an extraordinarily interesting and important area, threatened by buildings like the Shard and the activities of Thames Water, may find it difficult to imagine. But perhaps the coming blogs and precise details will help. In the meantime, here is a picture of JJ Visscher’s famous engraving of 1616, the year both Shakespeare and Henslowe died.

Let the eye dwell on the bottom shore, across the river from the old wooden, walled City of London. To the right is the small church of no longer standing St Olaves, the spire of which Peter Ackroyd says is mentioned more than any other in Shakespeare’s Plays, although London then had five St Olaves. Go West to the old covered London Bridge, famous throughout Europe, then to the large church of St Saviours, originally St Mary’s Overies, now Southwark Cathedral. Keep going left and you get to Winchester House or Palace, in the Clink Liberty, and then you get to Maid Lane, where the round bear gardens and theatres stood. In time we will pinpoint where Edmund Shakespeare was staying in 1607. (The panorama is taken from Wikepedia. If there are any copyright issues please contact the blog.)


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Well, John Constable is another one who is quite guarded about his ‘Shakespeare’, but does interesting stuff, so for anyone wanting to explore Southwark, grimace at the Shard, or listen to stories…

Discover the most historic part of London with writer and performer John Constable, author of The Southwark Mysteries and Secret Bankside – Walks In The Outlaw Borough. Meet: Tabard Street Piazza, SE1 1JA. Between St George the Martyr Church and John Harvard Library. Nearest tube: Borough. Please arrive 15 minutes before departure time. Tickets: £10 / £7 concessions including booking fee. Pre-booking advised.
More info and online booking: http://www.southwarkmysteries.co.uk/guided-walks

SHAKESPEARE’S BANKSIDE – Sun 29 July: 11am. Mon 6 August: 11am and 6.30pm
London’s oldest pleasure-quarter and the birth of English theatre. Taverns, bear-pits, theatres and stews – licensed by the Bishop of Winchester. This walk conjures up an unforgettable gallery of Elizabethan characters!

DICKENS WALK – Wed 1 August: 6.30pm. Tue 7 August: 11am and 6.30pm. Wed 8 August: 6.30pm
Celebrating the 200th anniversary of Charles Dickens’ birth, this walk explores his childhood encounter with the Victorian underworld, visiting places which cast a shadow over his entire life and inspired scenes in his novels from ‘Little Dorrit’ to ‘Oliver Twist’.

ROMAN LONDON REVISITED – Thu 2 August: 6.30pm. Wed 8 August: 11am
Recent excavations near London Bridge have uncovered the sites of Roman baths, a market-arcade, temples and a cemetery with the bones of a female gladiator. This walk uncovers 2,000 years of settlement around Borough and Bankside.

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The Edmund Shakespeare Blog

William Ray described Alan Nelson as a somewhat rude Shakespeare critic, or words to that effect. That impression also emerged in a spat that took place between him and Katherine Duncan Jones on the Net, or his Socrates site. I first contacted the Berkeley University theatre historian about a novel I had started on Edmund Shakespeare, when a teacher in a Clapham pub told me about the tomb stone in the centre of Southwark Cathedral. It must be said, a late eighteenth or early nineteenth century addition to the sculptured dead there. Professor Nelson was working on listing the names in the Southwark Cathedral Token Books with a colleague, Professor Ingram, and certainly deserves the credit for naming the place Edmund Shakespeare turns up in Southwark, The Vine, at a little lecture to his students at The Globe Theatre. I hope I would have eventually uncovered it alone, but along with the difficulty of deciphering names and Elizabethan writing, you have to let a period into your blood, before you wake up to who and what, and interesting connections, that can suddenly vanish again, like wood smoke.

I was rather less impressed with a desire to ‘protect moral copyright’ in that work, since Edmund’s presence in the Token Books was already up on the net, and there is no copyright, moral or otherwise, in fact. To be fair, Alan Nelson quickly announced that at a first talk to the friends of Southwark Cathedral and how the name just might have been a forgery of John Payne Collier’s. He does not think so, though I am less certain about the name attached to The Vine, than Edmund’s certain burial record in Southwark Cathedral in 1607. I was also less impressed when I invited him to lunch in London, to discuss the whole subject, even perhaps seeking support from Berkley University, but never even got an answer.

As James Shapiro, doing 1608 for Faber and Faber, was not exactly hugely supportive of an Edmund Shakespeare project, although he said it was important. Well, our American cousins are as capable of being as protective of ‘new’ information about Shakespeare as anyone, not least because of waspish voices everywhere, in an increasingly competitive publishing world, and that there is gold in them there Shakespeare hills, or academic kudos. Except here, because frustration means we are giving work done for free! I hope it is of interest and value.

I also hope the scholars can be a little more open to work from those who are not the supposed ‘authorities’. I think writers’ and players’ instincts are very real authorities, but you must also have respect for what is actually said in the records. Alan Nelson made that point about the record of Will Kemp’s death, and the relaying of mistakes into the ‘mainstream’, picked up as ‘truth’. Go back to the source then, but do not get too fustion either about the nature of historical imagination and insight needed, nor the certain reliability of records or indeed scholarship. Much American interest in Southwark now, with Sam Wanamaker’s Globe, does seem to come straight out of the American search for its own roots, from an age of New World Discoveries, but I for one am rather dubious about the supposed name of John Harvard highlighted by an arrow in the Southwark burial records. Perhaps I am going blind!

As I have said though, I think the direct link of The Vine, in a group of Southwark buildings in the Token Books called Hunt’s Rents, to John Le Hunte, and The Brotherhood of Our Lady of Assumption, is a new and extremely important window into the vitally under studied area. As far as I know, no one else has revealed that but a scholar will have to tell me if I am wrong. Following the records of St Margaret’s Church there, which became one of the Compter Prisons, it is wonderful to find records of ‘pleyers‘ in the church, a hundred and fifty years before the new permanent Theatres. It ties that playing tradition to everyday and church life, to the great festivals and to the mystery plays, that were effectively banned under the Reformation. So theatre became essentially secular and political, in an intense and dangerous London environment. But as Ackroyd says, a Roman gladiator’s trident has been found in Southwark, and there was a very long tradition of ‘entertainments’ there.

So the dirge being sung for Henry VIII, at his death, by priests in St Saviours, now the Cathedral, was interrupted by the rowdy sound of players in the Southwark streets. Ah, time and history stop for no man, as was written over London Bridge. That band of ‘low life’ scum that William Ray tries to refer to then, or a great tradition of player troupes in England, that Shakespeare joined and fed from, however much he and Hamlet may have redirected the vision of theatre, or not, as the case may be. But it is of course Hamlet, and Hamlet’s reaction to the players’, with their vital reports, their window into truth, the play being the thing to catch the conscience of the king, and everyone else, that is one of the most obvious signs of Will Shakespeare’s living engagement with the playhouses. As that ‘magestical roof, fretted with golden fire’, gives a new resonance to an actor’s consciousness, standing physically on stage, referring to the props and artifice of the wooden O. The echo chambers to his art and his metaphysics. But it works throughout the plays, as Shakespeare engages in a dialogue about his own art, and what is truth and what show. What ‘History’ is too.

If you try and read my handwriting, in my large notebook, out of six months work at the London Metropolitan Archive, you might think mine an example of sloppy, mispelt Elizabethan writing, before spelling codified, like so much else! I have not got that with me, but it will come out in time. The picture you can begin to build up of Southwark, what was there, who living there, and how that assists Shakespeare scholarship, is one that should be shared, and shared by people on each other’s ‘side’, not trying to be the harbingers of the only truth around. Shakespeare scholarship does stand on the cusp of recorded ‘history’, perhaps a new consciousness of English or British history, suddenly being dramatised so powerfully by Shakespeare, not least because it was the beginning of parish records themselves.


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You can read some of the arguments about a Stratford vs supposed Oxford camp, around Shakespeare authorship, mostly in the comments under the post EDMUND SHAKESPEARE, THE EARL OF OXFORD, FALSTAFF AND THE HOLLOW CROWN, in William Ray’s and our notes. First little Phoenix Ark should declare an edge of ‘prejudice’ and that is all instincts here are towards Rowe, Aubrey and the ensuing Shakespeare tradition, of Stratford Will Shakespeare. Not as blind followers of any tradition though, and not without interest in other authorship ‘theories’. Then we would say that there is not a significant Oxford camp, in a theory dreamt up in the troubled 1920s and that any onus towards proving anything lies most assuredly there.

But if anyone starts to trumpet the research they do, Phoenix Ark want to suggest the value, even the singular importance of the Edmund Shakespeare story, in Southwark, to the debate. If a link can be made, and it has not been yet, between a London Hunt family, that owned The Vine in Southwark, where 27 year old Edmund Shakespeare was staying in 1607, (in the tenement rooms of one Edward Woodroofe, and perhaps his wife, probably at least, from the Southwark Cathedral Token Books) and the Stratford Hunts, it is at least suggestive. We tracked The Vine back to The Brotherhood of Our Lady of Assumption, linked to St Margaret’s Church, and founded under Henry VI, in the name of John Le Hunte, Peter Averne and others. But in a highly interconnected world, perhaps Shakespeare’s player brother, young and ultimately tragic Edmund, came to London to stay with people already known in Stratford. That has yet to be proved.

Southwark though, and especially St Olave’s Church, no longer there, but the spire of which is mentioned more than any other in Shakespeare’s plays (Ackroyd), also has strong Wessex ties. But there too, among many players and writers, is another actor in the Shakespeare family. Indeed the tradition of acting families was to emerge out of the Shoreditch, Southwark, and London circles. The significance of brothers in the plays is its own field of study, though echoes in fiction do not absolutely prove historical fact. But beyond any authorship debate, what is wonderful too are the vivid bits of evidence about lives and deaths in Southwark, so evocative of extraordinary times and a world that still raises marvellous passions.


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Wonderful to see the BBC series of plays, and actor’s commentaries, in The Hollow Crown. To see Simon Russel Beale talking about that empty word ‘honour’, or Falstaff, though honour was very important to Shakespeare and the time, in a sense beyond the Knighted meaning, that might evoke Calvino’s The Ancestors. To see Jeremy Irons rowing The Thames, recalling those events James Shapiro describes so powerfully in 1599, when the Burbages and Shakespeare, perhaps his youngest brother Edmund, a player too, carried the wood from The Theatre across to river to Southwark, to build The Globe. They took their theatre, their craft and their vision on their backs, and Phoenix believe in very conscious opposition with the likes of impressario and landlord Philip Henslowe, as Will Kemp, an original Globe sharer, split away, although any good story needs its baddy and Henslowe is quite a complex character.

If the experimental blog on Edmund Shakespeare here, Shakespeare’s Brother, is of any value, it has turned up some startling and unknown facts about Southwark and a London district we think completely underestimated in understanding a period and those plays. One of those insights is Jeremy Irons’ reporting that Falstaff was based on the Lollard soldier Sir John Oldcastle. An ancestor of the temporary Master of the Revels, Lord Cobham, whose wife lived on London Bridge and owned Southwark property, Oldcastle may have been an inspiration, though one chorus actually denied it on stage, mentioning Oldcastle, out of the little controversy, and saying ‘this is not the man.’

But another candidate is the real Sir John Fastolf. If you believe in the literal translation of authors, out of people or events, he seems an obvious candidate. Perhaps the point is that the Fastolfs actually owned a Southwark Tavern called The Boar’s Head. The sight was excavated by the Museum of London, though nothing found. Then there is that very famous Boar’s Head of Henry IV and East Cheap. There was a Boar’s Head in the walled City too, and perhaps two in Southwark, with its hundreds of taverns, but again it has been slightly translated. For those who have been following the little spat about the Edward Devere, Earl of Oxford, authorship theory though, it brings up the subject of how writers actually work, moving between facts and fictions, drawing from many ideas and sources, and translating their realities, as Bottom is translated in his fairy dream, in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Perhaps then Will was thinking of Oldcastle, but a local tavern owning family too, the Fastolfs, and their cowardly ancestor Sir John Fastolf, soon to be made a False Staff, with a rival tavern in Southwark actually in the frame. Was he taking revenge for some local goings on, as he got caught up in that battle over the Soer house? He might simultaneously have been firing a purposeful shot at the walled City. But perhaps the point, if we are seeking Shakespeare’s ‘identity’, out of the nonsense Devere theory (that’s a friendly shot at William Ray) is the difficulty of biography and the real value being the realised vision on the page.

But what is really thrilling, with unknown Edmund Shakespeare in the frame too in Southwark, now linked to a tavern called the Vine, owned by the Hunt family, probably bought under Henry VI, by a local fraternity called The Brotherhood of Our Lady of Assumption, Edmund being the missing player if you like, is building up the localised picture, however faint, however filled with semi-fictive imaginings, of a real place and very interconnected people. There is a great deal more to come.

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So Renzo Pianzo’s Shard finally opens officially, if mostly unoccupied! A soaring inspiration, a blinding nonsense or a blot on the landscape? Simon Jenkins calls the building, owned largely by the Quataris, ‘an outrage’ and nothing to do with the landscape and heritage of the area. He is largely right, though it is hard to keep in check the architectural visions and nightmares of London. Then, when the viewing gallery opens in 2013, perhaps it is a chance to look down on the history of little Southwark beneath and perhaps turn any fight towards Thames Water’s plans, or what preserving history in any area, but especially phenomenally important areas like Southwark, means. Perhaps the inspiration on the ground are real people, shops, businesses, Borough Market and the story of the theatres there 400 years ago.

ps Bless Boris johnson for his ‘Shardenfreude‘ joke to the Germans, but we are clearly all overgrown schoolboys and love our tribal quips, as the planet goes to the Isle of Dogs!

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All cough in ink, all think what other people think,” Yeats

It is not the acceptance of the absolutes of ‘worthy’ scholarship or ‘establishment’ theory, even if Prince Charles did put his face on the Shakespeare Birthplace website in reply to Anonymous, upholding the very merry Shakespeare industry and RSC land, that makes an ‘attack’ on the Oxford authorship theory for Will Shakespeare important, but because it is an irritating sideshow. In fact, the supposed authority of the scholars on a Stratford Shakespeare can be just as irritating, since documentary evidence is so thin, and truths lost to the veils of time. Half of the reason for scholarly tentativeness seems to be you might get your head bitten off, but in terms of the supposed authority of established truth, of course Shakespeare has been reinvented and rediscovered for four hundred years. As history is a dialogue between past and present. So he has been co-opted as protestant path finder, a staunch monarchist, pure revolutionary, the voice of Brit propaganda, or simply the God of the word.

Perhaps that’s why it is important to resist received authority too, especially when setting out to make discoveries. When trying to present ideas on Edmund Shakespeare to one major publisher, and also bringing up the three signatures in the Catholic English college in Rome, the only comment was ‘they would say that, wouldn’t they?’ Because the Reformation itself still carries such deep echoes. But if a person’s ‘faith’ or lack of it can be a private and intimate thing, or should be, there is much evidence for Shakespeare’s involvement with prominent Catholics, as a society mutated from ‘Catholic’ to ‘Protestant’. So the ‘truth’ carries deep felt echoes and controversies, but is also defended so hotly because there is gold in them there hills. Though it is circumstantial, the residence in his last days of Edmund Shakespeare, Will’s youngest brother, living at The Vine in Southwark, ties into the London Hunt family’s involvement, under Henry VI, and the likes of Peter Averne, with the very Catholic Brotherhood of Our Lady of Assumption in Southwark. Perhaps the overriding point though is that Southwark itself is such a fascinating area and an absolute fault line for London politics and the Reformation too. It does irritate too, much as facts are a guide, when the new voice of American literalism swings onto the scene, if it loses Peter Ackroyd’s sense of the intrinsic mysteries of identity, creativity but above all a shifting English language.

St Margeret’s Church, where the Brotherhood began, was thrown down by Henry VIII and turned into a prison, and its parishoner’s transferred to the large St Saviours, previously St Mary’s Ovaries, now Southwark Cathedral. But at that Cathedral, five minutes walk away, there Becket had preached, there too Bloody Mary staged heresy trials against Protestants, and nearby at St Thomas’ ‘hospital’ they produced the first English language bible, in the form of the Vulgate. It lay on the Canterbury Road, real and metaphorical, running down towards the continent. It was filled with Protestant Dutch, many involved in the tavern-brewing business that swallowed up the district, but also notable for many years for Catholic dissenters, especially under the Jacobites. The Bishops of Winchester there were at the heart of Henry’s divorce and ensuing Reformation battles, but also excerised their power and protection in the liberties, until the Puritans and the Civil War closed them down in London, and the theatres too. So exactly the place, with it taverns, brothels and theatres, used but complained about by the City of London across the water, or local ‘respectable’ folk, to encourage the stews of free thought and creativity. A place to be wary of too. Evidence suggests Will did not live there all the time, in that ‘Domus et Aliorum’, also living in St Helen’s, at the Bishop’s Gate, Silver Street or Stratford, but he may have lived and worked there for ten years and more, and the place has been underestimated in its significance. Go back to the source, though the ‘source’ of Shakespeare’s mind and art is another thing, the different ‘countries’ he journeyed to, as is what we are really talking about when we talk of his ‘identity’. It was Bulgakov who wrote the life of Mr Moliere, Shakespeare’s only comparative rival in Paris, but doubting the easy validity of documentary biography, believed an artist had to inhabit an artist to get close. To do that with a mind like Shakespeare’s, through the currents of his time, can be a slightly dangerous exercise and you might do better just to enjoy the work!

Arguments can be followed in Shakespeare’s Brother, posted experimentally above.


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THE BAIT, by John Donne

COME live with me, and be my love,
And we will some new pleasures prove
Of golden sands, and crystal brooks,
With silken lines and silver hooks.

There will the river whisp’ring run
Warm’d by thy eyes, more than the sun ;
And there th’ enamour’d fish will stay,
Begging themselves they may betray.

When thou wilt swim in that live bath,
Each fish, which every channel hath,
Will amorously to thee swim,
Gladder to catch thee, than thou him.

If thou, to be so seen, be’st loth,
By sun or moon, thou dark’nest both,
And if myself have leave to see,
I need not their light, having thee.

Let others freeze with angling reeds,
And cut their legs with shells and weeds,
Or treacherously poor fish beset,
With strangling snare, or windowy net.

Let coarse bold hands from slimy nest
The bedded fish in banks out-wrest ;
Or curious traitors, sleeve-silk flies,
Bewitch poor fishes’ wand’ring eyes.

For thee, thou need’st no such deceit,
For thou thyself art thine own bait :
That fish, that is not catch’d thereby,
Alas ! is wiser far than I.

It is just a pet theory here, but might be fun in talks about Shakespeare or Southwark. John Donne, soldier, poet, father of 12, and preacher, must have been a constant Southwark visitor and his daughter Constance married the actor manager Edward Alleyn, who lived with his father-in-law Philip Henslowe there, and became a warden at St Saviours. In trying to fictionally imagine London and Southwark of the time though, first in a film script, that Charles Dance promised to comment on and never did, though SKY thought it good (!), then a novel about Edmund Shakespeare, William’s unkown youngest brother, Donne’s poem The Bait suddenly sang of the area. It was part of that little poetic contest between Marvel and Marlowe, The Passionate Shepherd, but there is one line that sounds with brothel tenements and taverns in Southwark, and that is ‘windowy nets’, quite apart from the running river that speaks of the Thames. Then there are those sleeve-silk flies, factually accurate, but perhaps also redolent of an area swarming with Walsingham’s spies, in Elizabethan cuffs, or others betraying themsleves, or each other.

It was of course London’s most thriving tavern, brothel and theatre district, and Elizabethan or Henretian brothels, there for centuries, were also called the “stewes”. The medieval word seems to have dropped out of usuage during the Reformation, as it became better known as Bankside, but there has also been debate about the derivation of that term. Whether it stemmed from the Scandinavian for a stove, or the medieval ‘”stewes’, or Pike and carp fish ponds, that still existed in Southwark. The obvious link is the second, for many fishy reasons, and of course London bridge was a great centre for those fisherwomen, hawking their catch out of Billingsgate, with their pretty or lewd songs. If you are trying to imagine what the Shakespeare’s saw there at the time, in the face of the sturdy, power seeking City of London across the water, Fishmongers Hall stood right opposite St Saviours, now Southwark Cathedral. The Thames too, only beginning to touch the days of mass Urban pollution, long before the silted or darkened waters of Dickens, was a broad river many fished. Wand Mills had also grown up right along its banks to feed the new, and often Dutch, hop brewing trade in London, that spread down into Surrey and Kent. There, just a little food for Elizabethan thought and reality.



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It was the US academic, and very nice guy, even if he would not help with an agent, who said that any work on Edmund Shakespeare was a ‘good idea’. So it was gloomy to take it to Faber and Faber and discover James Shapiro is doing another book on the year 1608 there, after his very valuable and enjoyable 1599. Sorry to correct editors though, but there is a great deal that was and is completely new in writing about Edmund Shakespeare and Southwark, in Shakespeare’s Brother.

Firstly is the precise discovery of where Edmund was living in Southwark and probably died in 1607, The Vine, who owned it and what it was. It was based on initial information in a lecture by Berkeley Professor Alan Nelson on the Token Books at Southwark Cathedral, but then original research into deeds and the ownership of The Vine by the Hunt family. That family also played a part with a fascinating local Catholic fraternity called The Brotherhood of Our Lady of Assumption, linked to the leatherworking Guild that played a large role at the all important church of St Mary Ovaries, later St Saviours, now Southwark Cathedral, where Edmund Shakespeare is buried.

There are jewels of information in those Token Books, that read like an Elizabethan Address Book, as there are in birth and death records, new to the Reformation, proving how long Philip Henslowe, who became a warden, lived in Southwark, precisely where, and the residence there of his son in law Edward Alleyn and his family. There are a great many things about other players living in Southwark at the time too. But following the trail of that Brotherhood of Our Lady there are also unknown facts, as far as we are aware, about ‘pleyers’ in the district and at the Church of St Margarets, that was thrown down during the Reformation, well over a hundred years before Shakespeare’s troupe, especially performing on St Margaret’s and St Lucy’s days. But in that Reformation earthquake also specific evidence of how The Bishops of Winchester were running and licencing brothels, and how so much of the history of Bankside was about the tavern and then coming brewing industry, and the battle for money and wealth in the great capital.

Much of the writing on Shakespeare nowadays comes from the US, perhaps because of the forming of a consciousness at a particular time, or a US need for roots, especially in Southwark, with the likes of John Harvard being born there (if he was). Also because of those religious echoes that still sound so loudly in America. But much as American academics can be very brilliant, and well funded, there seems also the danger of American literalism in work on Shakespeare that does miss some point about the mysterious well springs of language and inspiration itself. Read the story with us, as it happens, and perhaps James Shapiro can tell if it is of further importance or value.

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“Whatever they say I am, that’s what I’m not.” Alan Silitoe.

Always good to see Derek Jacobi, whose I Claudius made everything forgivable, and his programme about Richard II last night, despite that desire to roll the wooorld around the plum of his English tongue. But why, like great actor Mark Rylance, does he go on about the fatuous Edward Devere, Earl of Oxford authorship theory for Shakespeare’s work? Perhaps because both were in Anonymous,or because of strange chips on acting shoulders? He said, with that cheeky grin of supposed assumed knowledge, it would ruffle feathers, or something, but it only ruffles feathers because it is rubbish. We all know nowadays you have to sell a thing by supposedly being controversial, or coming up with the great conspiracy. Though the most moving elements in the programme were actors talking, through the insights of Richard II, of how we are all nothing, specks in eternity, simply a part of the mysterious pattern.

There is a great deal of evidence for the Stratford Shakespeare though, despite the difficulty of reading contemporary records and the obvious desire of a poet and playwright, unlike self trumpeting Ben Johnson, to remain forever mercurial, behind the dangerous, ever watching London scenes. That was about preserving the well-spring of his art itself, dark and light, and not being pinned by anyone. Also the delicate nature of his temperament. There is little or no evidence for the 17th Earl of Oxford, Edward Devere, who published under his own name during his lifetime, as a minor and rather bad poet. There is that little bit of interesting self flattery about Devere being called the ‘spearshaker’ at court, but this was an age of impresses and also the fluid change in the fixity of Sirnames themselves. Did Shakespeare think he was Shakespere, Shakesbye, Shackspere, or was he a mind and spirit on a great journey, capable of inhabiting everyone, who then sured up his own name, as spelling codified, and he found the right to survive and buy New Place in Stratford? To make good where his father had gone wrong.

It is continued social snobbery though that supports the Edward Devere authorship theory, that emerged in the nascent proto-fascist climate of the 1920’s, and incidentally an insult to today’s fluttering Free School movement too. It underestimates how advanced was the Edwardian and later Elizabethan Grammar school education, well beyond learning by rote from the school Horn Book, how grand were some of Stratford’s historical links to London and how a young Shakespeare could well have moved among very educated circles, as a young man, either as player or tutor, or in prominent Catholic families. Besides, if Tony Blair could go on about “education, education, education,” he might go on about what’s being taught, how the teachers around you, in school, life or home are inspiring or destructive forces, or, in the realms of freeing imaginations, sing snatches of “teacher, leave them kids alone.”

The conspiracy thesis of Anonymous, and those who must somehow vindicate lineage alone, perhaps a symptom of any actor’s search for identity too, is that Elizabethan society was highly stratified and players the scum of the earth. All the evidence suggests the opposite, at a time of huge mobility in London and the building of permanent playhouses under James Burbage and others, despite the rich City of London’s attempts to drive them out. The actor Edward Alleyn became a superstar of his day, as did James’ son and Shakespeare’s brother-in-arms, Richard Burbage. Indeed, in terms of the ‘celebrity’ values of their day, perhaps little changes, and it was Burbage’s not Shakespeare’s death that was so mourned in his time. But at least those celebrities set very high cultural standards and the whole of London thrilled to poets and writers, good and bad, as well as brothels, gambling dens, cockpits and bear pits.

As for any claim that writing plays was NQOCD, so not to be linked to an Earl, the Earl of Essex paid for the funeral of Edmund Spencer and writers processed proudly to the grave to throw in their quills. The idea that what was said in those plays could be dangerous, even fatal, so supporting secret authorship, might be more convincing, except for all the other evidence and arguments, and the fact that not only can Shakespeare be as conservative as radical, on the side of Kingship, as against its excess or madness, but he very carefully wrote and rewrote his plays in tune with the changing political weather vane of the time. No time-server, but aware, and also a writer trying to succeed, appealing to popular kinds of opinion, imagination and humour, and going beyond it all. Just as a very aware court protected the players, in part because of its need for the popular pulse and battles with The City of London.

As one commentator briefly said though, on Derek Jacobi’s programme of course, perhaps the most important thing is how all Shakespeare’s plays so breathe and resound with the working life and metaphors of theatre, of the fact of acting, seeming, playing, that you do not pick up as some clever or mediocre nob in the wings. They were written and semi-literally wrought in the revolutionary and thrilling climate of London playhouses, a largely nasty, brutish, dangerous and very smelly place. The Globe Theatre itself, built in 1599 out of the wood of the dismantled Theatre, across the river in Shoreditch, was partly Shakespeare’s owned triumph, and house of vital independence too, sounded out so loudly in plays like Henry V. His independence too from the likes of playhouse owner, bear baiter, Master of the Game, brothel owner, local grandee and all time creep Philip Henslowe. To be fair, Henslowe protected writers sometimes with loans, but fell foul of what he thought it was only about, money. You could go on about the metaphors of Arden forests though in As You Like It, the constant repetition of imagery of gloves or clothes, out of professional working people like his father John, very far from the bottom of any social heap. The journey too of the plays, from experimental bums on seats pot boilers like Titus Andronicus, worthy of blood-soaked Anonymous, through to such an astonishing flowering, speak of one man, one consciousness, rooted in the countryside, on a momentous journey, physical and metaphorical, who lived through his times, and out of Stratford. You do not get to the metaphysical astonishments of Hamlet, under magestical rooves fretted with golden fire, inside the physical echo chamber of his imagination, a working theatre, unless you have walked the boards and written for them too.

Why is it important? Because, apart from truth, given the right soil, and in revolutionary times, genius can grow from and come from anywhere, and die anywhere too, which is not to say Shakespeare did not take on aspirations of the Court, and move increasingly freely in those circles, as patrons fought political battles of patronage around the City of London, that were also about influencing public opinion. The power of imagination is also linked to real life power. As he got his coat of arms and his ceremonial sword that he wore at the accession of James I, and his mind went high to low, probably found more beauty in the high, though far from always, and as much energy in the low. Although Shakespeare died not a hugely rich man, but a moderately wealthy one. Jacobi is an actor who inhabits other’s words, but Shakespeare was actor, poet and playwright too, formative in his understandings and visions, increasingly distancing himself from players, or players that don’t know the purpose of the whole play, or ‘stand beside their part’, and there perhaps is the key. The writer distinguishing himself from the acting he also knew so well. A mind that so imbibed what Shakespeare is all about, living language, where the basic secret lies, of course, at a time of vital metaphorical richness and linguistic fluidity, living and flowering in and through it, completely in tune, perhaps at a time when such imagination was possible, in a way it no longer is. Science has compartmentalized and ‘rationalised’ language itself, so it is hard to even use it in the holist, organic way Shakespeare lived it. That organic connection of language is also about the sonnets and his being a poet.

But that personal relationship to language, a gift for everyone, is not the exclusive preserve of Earls of anything, and great poets and writers come from many soils. Shakespeare also very quickly consumed the sources of his day, in the revolutionary age of the printing presses, from Holinshed to Plutarch, to all the renaissance stories and legends that abounded. He ‘stole’ plots like an ‘upstart crow’, then made them his own, constantly translating through the glass of his soaring, refracting imagination. That attack on an ‘upstart’ came from one of the Oxbridge wits of the time, Robert Greene, who first proved you could make good money from scandalous diaries, as you can’t anymore, and it has marked the divide ever since, that leads straight into the weary Devere theory. So splitting editions between the Arden and Oxford Shakespeares, summoning attacks from the establishment ‘educated’ that ‘he weren’t half as good as them’ and marking a fault line in English consciousness and social values.

There is another element to the ‘proof’ and that is increasing evidence of Stratford links with that vital centre of London life and theatre, Southwark and Bankside. That is one of the themes of coming blogs and original work on Edmund Shakepeare, William’s youngest brother, who is virtually unknown, but was also a player in London, died at only 27, four months after his bastard baby son, in the greatest freeze London and the river had seen in decades, and is buried in beautiful Southwark Cathedral. He lived in a property near the Globe just before his death, called The Vine, that belonged to a Hunt family, and though the link has to be yet made, there were also prominent Hunts in Stratford, one of whom talked of William Shakespeare as the ‘Rocius’ of his time. The Berkeley Shakespeare academic Alan Nelson has highlighted the significance of that.

As Peter Ackroyd argues though, Shakespeare the London playwright was not only known in his day, but a phenomenon, as actor, playwright but also Globe theatre sharer. The secret of ‘no Shakespeare the playwright’ on Stratford documents is about how all signed themselves in legal documents as associated to the Guild trades that legally marked social status and London citizenship. In the country it was about land and property ownership. But many of those people, at a time when Henry VIII’s reformation was also systematizing parish records themselves, making the perceived structures of recorded history, for administrative and tax purposes, for reasons of power, often had very good cause to avoid being put on the record. Shakespeare avoided local London taxes and may possibly have been protected by the Bishop of Winchester, in the Liberties in Southwark. But if Joe Orton advised in Loot, ‘never get caught’, that vanishing act is also about the freedom of the artist, poet and writer. The knowledge of how powerful but also dangerous it can be at the creative centre of the circle.

The work on Edmund though brings to light fascinating unknown material too on players in Southwark, as far back as the reign of Henry VI, a cycle of History plays that have been completely underestimated in their importance in Shakespeare’s ingathering of a time, an age and very specific place too, radical and divided Southwark, an almost physical fault line of the Reformation in London. Henry VI very possibly began the whole history cycle, but it is Henry VI’s reign, really defining the ‘Wars of the Roses’, and what is said about London, power, faith and miracles in those plays, that also links the poet to Southwark, the Bishops of Winchester and the all important religious battles of his day. That makes them just as important as Richard II, if not as good artistically. As Catholicism and Rome were pushed out, or into the shadows, and Kit Marlowe played dangerous games with ‘God’ and the ‘Devil’, and English spying too, Shakespeare turned to the humanist playwright’s art, grounded in very secular themes, the stuff of life, but understanding it all as metaphor to summon the creative energy and visions inside himself, the magic of his art and characters, culminating in Prospero. It was also a journey to other ‘countries’ of reality and imagination, as ‘The Globe’ and England opened in the discovery of the Americas, the breach with Rome, the explosion of City trading expeditions, and Shakespeare felt the tectonic conflicts of his time in his blood.

It is another frustration of Phoenix Ark though that DCD, unagented, and damaged by the story in America, or perhaps it’s just today’s terrified or cynical publishing climate, could not get backing after months of work at the Metropolitan Archive. Perhaps a grand ambition is to make Phoenix Ark Press a ‘Globe Theatre’ for writers then(!), but we’re pleased to give it to readers for free instead. All the world’s a page!

New addition to Phoenix Ark in pages above: Shakespeare’s Brother, the story of Edmund Shakespeare, the missing player, and the biography of an unrecorded life.

Phoenix Ark Press


Filed under Culture, Education, London, The Phoenix Story