‘Elizabethan London was livelier, noisier, smellier, probably more dangerous and certainly more colourful than the city we know today.’
Gamino Salgãdo, The Elizabethan Underworld, (The Folio Society, London: 2006)
Just another Saturday night at The Boar’s Head, Eastcheap?
I needed cheering after going back to school today at the end of the Easter Holidays. And, look what I collected from the Post Office on the way home …
Is that William Shakespeare himself in the top right, being face-palmed by someone brandishing a ‘gage of booze’ (a quart of ale, the brilliant ‘Glossary of Underworld Terms’ at the end explains)?
Shakespeare spent some of his working life living on the lawless south side of the river Thames, not far from The Globe. We see the people he lived amongst brought to life on the stage at The Boar’s Head in Henry IV part 1, or in Jack Cade and his violent, uneducated mates who would lynch a man for knowing how to read and write – in fact there seems to be a small element of the working (and not-working) class in all his plays. Not just that: no doubt some of these characters would be paying a penny and standing amongst the groundlings at his plays. They would include groups like the Apprentices who rioted almost every Shrove Tuesday, those who enjoyed a good public execution or bear-baiting, and the people who were simply too poor to flee London when the plague arrived in the summers.
THIS is the London, I’m sure, that Shakespeare lived in – the city that saw him involved in at least one tavern brawl; the one that killed Christopher Marlowe off far too young; the one that resulted in Ben Jonson being branded on the thumb after a duel in 1598 …
I’m massively looking forward to meeting some of these characters up close when I get round to reading this … straight to the top of the reading pile!