Where Shakespeare lived

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John F
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Where Shakespeare lived

Post by John F » Mon Jul 15, 2019 6:43 am


How finding Shakespeare’s lost London home could unlock secrets to his most popular plays
by Nick Smurthwaite
Jul 12, 2019

Where did William Shakespeare live in the City of London in the late 16th century, and who were his influential friends? These questions prompted theatre historian Geoff Marsh to undertake almost a decade of painstaking research.

What he concluded from cross-referencing various tax and leasehold documents of the time, was that the playwright – then in his early 30s – almost certainly lodged in St. Helen’s Place, Bishopsgate, just south of Liverpool Street station. It was one of the City’s more affluent parishes, and he would have been living among well-travelled physicians, merchants, lawyers, musicians and writers.

“We know that the young Shakespeare was extremely driven and aspirational, and that living in this corner of London, among these movers and shakers, would have enhanced his status,” says Marsh, whose day job is running the theatre and performance department of the Victoria and Albert Museum. “It was a bit like being in with the trendy set of Notting Hill today.”..

The main source of Marsh’s findings was the centuries-old Leathersellers’ Company, one of the livery companies of the City of London, which still owns properties in and around St Helen’s Place 500 years on. More importantly, it has the leasehold documents for St Helen’s dating back to the 1550s. Shakespeare himself is not mentioned as a tenant in any of the Leathersellers’ documents, but Marsh was able to reconstruct who lived where by cross-referencing the Leathersellers’ documents with the wealth-tax returns for 1598, in which Shakespeare is listed alongside one of the St Helen’s leaseholders.

He says: “Everything we know about Shakespeare’s life has been picked over ad nauseum, but curiously little has been written about the tax document from the parish of St. Helen’s, which lists 49 people who were rich enough to pay this wealth tax. The richest person in the parish was Sir John Spencer, a one-time lord mayor of London, who was valued at £300. while Shakespeare is valued at £5.”

Marsh believes that what attracted the playwright to St Helen’s Place was its reputation as a fashionable enclave where he would be mixing with men of influence, wealth and education. He says: “If you accept that he lived in St. Helen’s Place, he would have known these people. At that time everyone was expected to attend church – you were fined if you did not – and so Shakespeare would have met his neighbours there. Basically, he was a provincial boy from Stratford-upon-Avon who wanted to be considered a success in a very competitive environment.”

Undoubtedly, the most intriguing aspect of Marsh’s research is the conclusion he reached about the possible influence of Shakespeare’s neighbours on the plays he was writing at the time, which included "Romeo and Juliet," "The Merchant of Venice" and "Macbeth." The merchants living in St. Helen’s had connections across Europe and two highly distinguished physicians – Peter Turner and Edward Jorden – were linked to the latest progressive medical thinking in universities in Italy and Germany. There were also five musicians living in the parish, most notably Thomas Morley, who is thought to have composed the music for "It Was a Lover and his Lass" in "As You Like It."

Since there is no record of Shakespeare having travelled to foreign lands, how did he acquire the knowledge and insight needed to set more than three quarters of his plays abroad? One of the reasons Shakespeare favoured Italy as a backdrop – at least in part – for 14 of his plays, is that Elizabethan theatregoers were drawn to anything with an Italian flavour, seeing it as a promise of passion, sex and, better still, violence

Marsh conjectures that Shakespeare became friendly with Dr Jorden, who had travelled and studied widely in Italy and specialised in women’s health, both physical and mental. He says: “We can’t prove they sat down to dinner together, but we do now believe that Jorden lived 50 yards away from Shakespeare, and I think we can assume that conversations took place.”

Is it fanciful to suppose that the intelligence the playwright gleaned from Dr Jorden’s extensive knowledge of Italy and female psychology contributed to "Romeo and Juliet" and, later, "Macbeth"? Jorden was called as an expert witness in a witch trial in 1602 – shortly before Shakespeare wrote "Macbeth" – and he might even have given his neighbour a few pointers for Lady Macbeth’s descent into madness.

What has been the response from Shakespeare scholars to Marsh’s findings? James Shapiro, professor of English Literature at Columbia University, and author of "1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare," said it helped us to see how Shakespeare, “a writer we like to think of as universal, was, like the rest of us, very much a product of his time and place”. Emma Smith, professor of Shakespeare studies at Oxford, has declared the research “very significant”.

Marsh says he hopes to publish his research “at some point”, although his busy day job at the V&A makes it difficult to find the time to “put all the pieces of this three-dimensional puzzle together”.

https://www.thestage.co.uk/features/201 ... lar-plays/
John Francis

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Joined: Fri Aug 01, 2008 11:12 pm
Location: Melbourne, Australia

Re: Where Shakespeare lived

Post by barney » Mon Jul 15, 2019 6:07 pm

Thanks for posting this, JohnF. I love this sort of historical detective work - if I had my life again, I might be an archaeologist. The apparently speculative nature re Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth just adds to the fun.

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