Shakespeare 400: Where’s Willy?

London as pictured in 1616 by Visscher.

London as pictured in 1616 by Visscher.


On day two, we take a look at Shakespeare’s footprints in and around the ELL boroughs – where he lived, worked… and played.

Dirty; filthy; notorious; seedy. These are just some of the words which have been used to describe Shakespeare’s London by contemporary historians, archaeologists and artists.

Imagining 16th century London can be quite a difficult task – from the Great Fire of London to extensive bombing during the Blitz, there are few physical manifestations of Elizabethan London which are left to the public.

London was a very different city, spilling over the city walls into adjacent districts, particularly to the East in the areas of Tower Hamlets and Hackney. The population grew significantly to in excess of 200,000 during Elizabeth’s reign and London was increasingly a city of international repute.

Francesca Duncan, from the Shakespeare in Shoreditch festival, described a town plagued by vice and sin.

“Shoreditch [was] an exciting and daring area, but also quite scary. People went to the brothels and theatres, but they also went there to have fights and duels. The theatre [was] something that was accessible to everyone but there was an element of danger.”

We shouldn’t be surprised then that matters of sex, death, violence, love and other earthly entertainments feature prominently in Shakespeare’s oeuvre.

Use our interactive map below to embark on a virtual tour around some key locations in Shakespeare’s East London. Clicking on each marker will reveal images, videos and audio explanations of the boroughs four centuries ago, as told by our Shakespeare experts.

These maps were produced with contributions from the Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA), the Shakespeare in Shoreditch Festival and the London Shakespeare Centre.

Meanwhile, in Croydon…

Learn more about experiencing theatre in Shakespeare’s London with our artefacts video.

Image credits: MOLA

Reporting Team: Alex Jackson, Ginger Jefferies, Emmanuella Kwenortey, Isabel Togoh

Read the other articles in the series here:

Shakespeare 400: ELL celebrates Shakespeare in London

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