Today we launch our #Shakespeare400 project, exploring Shakespeare’s East London Lines 400 years on from his death.
Four hundred years ago, William Shakespeare died. He left an indelible mark on British culture, language and identity: in terms of the English language alone, some 1,700 words are owed to his invention, uttered throughout his 37 plays and 154 sonnets. Even today, Shakespeare is one of the most recognisable names in Britain and globally.
Born and schooled in the Warwickshire town of Stratford-upon-Avon, he made his stomping ground east London, notably Shoreditch. And, although he probably didn’t ride a fixed-gear bike and wear Supreme beanies, he at least modelled a (very hip) gold hoop earring and an enviably lush beard, as seen in the famous Chandos portrait (named after the original owner, now in the National Portrait Gallery). Despite his personal life not being as public as it might be today, Shakespeare was self-conscious about his status and was keen to be identified as a gentleman.
As the OG hipster, perhaps Shoreditch being the creative hub it is today is down to him; the first renditions of Romeo & Juliet and Henry V were shown at the Curtain Theatre. There is also a chance that the Bard visited the area we now know as Croydon, where he put on a play for the Archbishop at the time who owned a palace there. Blackfriars, now on the edge of the City of London, is where he made his home.
When setting out to explore exactly who Shakespeare was and what he did, most people start with the plays. But in our four-day series, Shakespeare’s ELL, starting today, we explore the man’s connections to the area. So join us for a walk through Shakespeare’s east London Shakespeare (tomorrow), and trace the Shakespearean origins of the hipster beards (Elizabethan men were serious pogonophiles). On Wednesday, compare the bard to Kanye West, a modern-day “Shakespeare in the flesh” (his actual quote, unsurprisingly). And then on Thursday, check out our guide to the fantastic celebratory events in the ELL boroughs.
Be sure to keep up with us on Twitter using the hashtag #Shakespeare400.
Reporting Team: Alex Jackson, Ginger Jefferies, Emmanuella Kwenortey, Isabel Togoh