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William Shakespeare In Spitalfields

May 31, 2022
by the gentle author


This Staffordshire figure of Shakespeare stands on my dresser in Spitalfields to remind me of the writer I love best. On the right is Sarah Siddons as Lady Macbeth and on the left is her brother John Phillip Kemble as Hamlet.

Learning that some of his plays were were first performed in our neighbourhood set me wondering about whether he was actually here in Spitalfields.

According to a memo by fellow actor Ned Alleyn, in 1596 Shakespeare lived “near the Bear Garden in Southwark.” London Bridge was the only crossing over the Thames in those days, so Shakespeare must have walked up and down Bishopsgate while his plays were being performed at the Theatre and the Curtain Theatre on Curtain Rd.

Maybe he got sick of trudging to and fro, commuting across the City? – because in  1598 there is a William Shakespeare listed by the tax collector in the parish of St Anne’s, Bishopsgate, though we cannot be certain if this was our man. We know he was lodging on Silver St (at the south of the Barbican) in 1604, based on the words of a maid “one Mr Shakespeare laye in the house” and a court deposition signed by Shakespeare himself when his landlord was challenged with not paying his daughter’s dowry.

In the First Folio of Shakespeare’s plays I came across Falstaff’s line from “Henry IV Part One” in a scene at the Boar’s Head, Eastcheap in the City of London, “I would I were a weaver. I could sing all manner of songs.” In Spitalfields we have Tenterground, where once pieces of newly woven woollen cloth were staked out to dry. Did Shakespeare hear the weavers singing when he walked through Spitalfields?

Ben Jonson‘s “The Silent Woman” has the line, “He got his cold with sitting up late and singing catches with clothworkers”.

It is no stretch of the imagination to envisage him and Jonson enjoying late night sessions with the weavers here, just like the guys who come on all-night benders in Brick Lane nowadays.

Shakespeare portrayed a weaver in the character of Bottom in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” – is it possible he met the prototype in Spitalfields?

Archaeologist Heather Knight holds up a goblet found at the site of ‘The Theatre’ in Shoreditch

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At Shakespeare’s First Theatre

The Door to Shakespeare’s London

Shakespearian Actors in Shoreditch

Shakespeare’s Younger Brother, Edmund

In Search of Shakespeare’s London

One Response leave one →
  1. Bill permalink
    May 31, 2022

    Could fingerprints last centuries? Could oils etch glass enough to leave impressions? Should such objects be subjected to examination immediately upon discovery? Imagine finding such ancient records and wondering whose they were.

    Not far-fetched. Da Vinci’s fingerprints have been detected on the surface of his oils. Apparently, they could tell his hands were filthy. But then, back then, whose weren’t?

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