Category Archives: Shakespeare

Books Playwrights Printing Shakespeare

Reader looke, Not on his Picture, but his Book

Close-up of fore-edge and battered binding
©Bodleian Libraries

Today’s post comes from Pip Wilcox, digital editor at the Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford. She unveils exciting news about the digitisation of a rare copy of Shakespeare’s First Folio, which everybody will be able to download and read from 23 April 2013.

A Prodigal First Folio

In the winter of 1623, a copy of Shakespeare’s newly printed First Folio arrived at Oxford’s Bodleian Library from London. Some time later, it left the Library and for years it was lost from view.

But in 1905, Gladwyn Turbutt, an undergraduate at Magdalen College, brought a tattered copy of an early Shakespeare Folio into the Library for advice on its binding. The sub-librarian on duty, Falconer Madan, immediately knew it was the lost Bodleian First Folio, still in its original binding.


Cymbeline © Bodleian Libraries

Excited as he was, Madan publicized the discovery. Word of it reached America, from where an anonymous prospective buyer offered an enormous £3,000 for the book. Later the would-be buyer was revealed as the chairman of Standard Oil, Henry Clay Folger.

The book’s owners, the Turbutt family of Derbyshire, gave the Bodleian a chance to match Folger’s offer. Funds were scarce, but the book was particularly precious, and so the first public fund-raising campaign in its history was born. It needed an extension from the Turbutts and over 80 donors to raise the sum, but finally, in 1906, the First Folio returned to its first owners.

In the winter of 2011, Emma Smith gave a talk on her research into this copy of the book, rarely seen by scholars due to its fragility. Emma’s lecture, her generosity, and her passion for sharing knowledge sparked a new public fund-raising campaign, Sprint for Shakespeare. With support from champions led by Vanessa Redgrave, and hundreds of donors, colleagues from across the Bodleian are working to conserve, digitize, and publish the book online.

Vanessa Redgrave and Thelma Holt with the First Folio © Bodleian Libraries

Emma Smith (the academic whose research started the project) & Maev Kennedy (Guardian)
© Bodleian Libraries 


This book, lost and found, tells an extraordinary story of overwhelming generosity, recent and historic, intellectual and financial. We know an unusual amount about its past: who bound it, and when (William Wildgoose, in February 1624); we know its exact position during the first years of its life – through the theatre closures of the Commonwealth – chained to a shelf in the recently completed Arts End of Duke Humfrey’s Library. Thanks to the efforts of Falconer Madan and Strickland Gibson, we have a detailed description of its state in 1905. E W B Nicholson’s gift for administration has left us a complete archive of its first funding campaign.


Damage with 18th Century patching © Bodleian Libraries  

More surprising may be what we do not know of its history: how the book came to the Bodleian in 1623 – whether through the Library’s agreement with the Stationers’ Company or as a presentation copy; how and when it left the Library; who owned it before the Turbutt family.

But perhaps the best stories are the ones the book itself tells – its plays, of course, but also how it was printed, bound, kept, and above all read. It has plenty left to tell us, with its first-instance Droeshout engraving, the poor quality of its paper, an unidentified manuscript poem, an apple pip squashed flat in its gutter, of how King John appears barely touched while Romeo and Juliet has been read to tatters.

Conservation in action © Bodleian Libraries


We are delighted that public support and digital technology allow us to share, rather than compete for, this treasure of the Bodleian’s collections. On 23 April 2013 we will publish the digital facsimile online, freely available for study and download. We hope you will help us tell its stories.


The battered binding © Bodleian Libraries


Title Page © Bodleian Libraries

Pip Willcox is a digital editor at the Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford

London Maps Shakespeare Theatre

Shakespeare in Cripplegate

I’ve been chasing Shakespeare around London in an attempt to trace his various homes from the early 1590s until his retirement in 1613. I thought it might be fun to compare his approximate locations on the map created by Ralph Agas, who surveyed London in the late 16th and early 17th Centuries (c.1570-1605), with current equivalent locations in modern London. What follows are a series of map locations and images related to Shakespeare’s known accommodation during these years.



Firstly, Shakespeare in Bishopsgate. He is known to have been living here in 1596, when he was assessed on goods valued at £5, and subsequently taxed 5 shillings. We don’t know the exact address at which he lived, but he was recorded as being resident in the parish of St Helens.





Bishopsgate c.1595

The arrow indicates the church of St Helens.



Bishopsgate 2012

St Helen’s church today, indicated by the arrow.



By 1599, Shakespeare had left Bishopsgate and moved across the river to Bankside. He is believed to have lodged in the liberty of the Clink in Southwark, just down from the newly-built Globe theatre.





Liberty of the Clink c.1599



Clink 2012



Bankside before 1599



Bankside 2012



The Globe 2012




In 1604, Shakespeare was living with the Mountjoy family on Silver Street, Cripplegate.


City of London



Cripplegate c.1600

The arrow indicates Shakespeare’s lodgings, in the house at the corner of Silver Street and Monkwell Street.



City of London 2012

The arrow indicates the approximate site of Shakespeare’s Cripplegate lodgings today, on the corner of Noble Street and London Wall.



In March 1613, Shakespeare bought the Blackfriars Gatehouse. It is unclear whether he ever lived in it, but after his death in 1616, it passed to his daughter Susanna:

And also all that tenemente with the appurtenaunces, wherein one John Robinson dwelleth, lying and being, in the Blackfriers in London, nere the Wardrobe. And all my other landes, tenementes, and hereditamentes whatsoever.





Blackfriars c.1600

The site of the Blackfriars theatre. Shakespeare owned the Gatehouse nearby.



Blackfriars 2012



Finally, I’ve highlighted many of the theatres familiar to Shakespeare’s audiences on the Agas map.

 Left to Right top Row:

1)The Phoeneix/Cockpit, Drury Lane 2) The Red Bull, Clerkenwell 3) The Fortune, Whitecross Street
4) The Curtain, Shoreditch, and above it 5) The Theatre

Left to Right Middle Row:

1) Whitefriars 2) Blackfriars

Left to Right Bottom Row:

1) The Swan 2) The Hope 3) The Rose 4) The Globe



Source for Shakespeare’s addresses: Charles Nicholl, The Lodger: Shakespeare on Silver Street (Penguin, 2007). Nicholl’s book provides lots of fascinating detail about Shakespeare’s life in Cripplegate.

Explore the Agas map in detail here

Curiosities Death Gunpowder Plot London Playwrights Shakespeare Uncategorized

Fatal Vespers: The Dismall Day at the Black-Fryers


On 26th October (os dating), 5th November (ns dating) 1623, a fatal accident occurred in London. The location of the accident was a gatehouse in the precinct of Blackfriars. Between two and three hundred Catholics gathered together in a small garret room, to hear the Jesuit Robert Drury deliver a sermon, and to celebrate evensong. Half way through Drury’s sermon, the wooden floor gave way and the priest and almost a hundred people fell two storeys to their death. Some people survived the fall, others were trapped in the rubble, and some managed to break through a wall surrounding the collapsed floor itself and escape into an adjacent house. Crowds quickly assembled, many to assist in the rescue of survivors, and others merely to taunt the unfortunate Catholics victims. The following day the dead were extracted from the rubble, but due to an order from the Bishop of London, which prohibited their burial in any consecrated city ground, sixty or so corpses were interred in two common pits near the spot where the accident had occured. A large pair of black wooden crosses were hastily erected, only to be subsequently removed.

There is some extant contemporanous evidence of the event. A ballad exists, entitled The Dismall Day at the Black-Fryers, the illustration from which can be seen at the top of this post, and one account, written by a supposed Catholic, Thomas Goad, describes the accident itself:


The floare, whereon that assembly stood or sate, not sinking by degrees, but at one instant failing and falling, by the breaking asunder of a maine Sommier or Dormer of that floare; which beame, together with the Joyces and Plancher thereto adjoyned, with the people thereon, rushed downe with such violence, that the weight and fall thereof, brake in sunder another farre stronger and thicker Sommier of the Chamber situated directly underneath: and so both the ruined floares, with the people overlapped and crushed under, or betweene them, fell, (without any time of stay) upon a lower third floare, being the floare of the said Lord Ambassadors withdrawing Chamber; which was supported underneath with Arch-work of stone, (yet visible in the Gate-house there) and so became the boundarie or terme of that confused and dolefull heape of ruines, which otherwise had sunke yet deeper by its owne weight and height of the downfall: the distance from the highest floare, whence the people fell, to the lowest, where they lay, being about two and twentie foot in depth.

Here some bruised, some dismembred, some onely parts of men: there some wounded, and weltering in their owne and others bloud, other some putting forth their fainting hands and crying out for helpe. Here some gasping and panting for breath, others stifled for want of breath. To the most of them being thus covered with dust, this their death was a kinde of buriall. Have the gates of death beene opened unto thee? Or hast thou seene the doares of the shadow of death? Verily if any man could looke in at those gates, and returne, he would report such a pourtrait as was this spectacle.

Such was the noise of this dreadfull and unexpected downefall, that the whole city of London presently rang of it, and forthwith the Officers of the city (to whom the care of good order chiefly appertaineth) and in speciall Sergeant Finch the Recorder, repaired thither the same evening. With all speed possible some were employed for the relieving and saving such as yet struggled for life under this heavy load. Which could not so soone be effected, as they in charity desired; for that the ruines, which oppressed the sufferers, did also stop up entrance to the helpers: who thereupon were faine to make a breach in through an upper window of stone. From hence they hasted downe with pickaxes and other instruments, to force asunder, and take of, by peecemeale, the oppressing load of beames, joyces, and bords.

In this dolefull taske of withdrawing those impediments, laying forth the dead bodies, and transporting the maimed, all that night, and part of the next day was spent, though charitie and skill did whet their endevours with all dexteritie and expedition.

A young girle of the age of ten yeeres, or thereabout, who then crying said unto him [a rescuer], O my Mother, O my sister, which are downe under the timber and rubbish. But hee wishing her to be patient, and telling her that by Gods grace they should get forth quickly, the child replied, that this would prove a great scandall to their Religion.


Contemporary engraving of the ‘Fatal Vespers’ of 1623 –  an impression of the collapse of the interior


Given the date of the accident, so near to the anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot, many believed it was the result of divine providence; God punishing Catholics for the conspiracy of 1605. In a touching tribute to the victims in his account of the event, Thomas Goad lists their names and occupations, which I have reproduced at the end of this post.

However, there is a curious Shakespeare connection to this story. In 1613, Shakespeare bought a property near the Blackfriars theatre from Henry Walker, ‘citizen and minstrel of London’. Shakespeare paid £140 for the property on 10th March 1613. It had originally belonged to Mathias Bacon from about 1590, until he sold it to Walker in 1604. The property had long been regarded as a centre of Catholic agitation and intrigue. Part of it was built over ‘a great gate’, and in 1586, Richard Frith reported that ‘It hath sundry back doors and bye-ways, and many secret vaults and corners. It hath been in time past suspected and searched for papists but no good done for want of good knowledge of the back doors and bye-ways and of the dark corners.’ Shakespeare bought the property with other men; possibly a William Johnson (identified as landlord of the Mermaid Tavern), John Jackson, a shipping magnate, and John Heminges. However, it was Shakespeare alone who put up the cash, the others serving as his trustees. Of the extant Shakespeare signatures, one is on the purchase deed, the other on the mortgage. There is no evidence that Shakespeare ever lived in the house. Could the contemporaneous illustration above be the same house Shakespeare bought in 1613? It’s tempting to speculate.


A list of the dead, taken from Goad’s account of the accident. The names, occupations, and in some cases, addresses, provide some lovely detail.


 Mater Drurie the Priest that preached. Mr. Redy the Priest, whose lodging was under the Garret that fell: the floore of which lodging fell too. Lady Webbe in Southwarke. Lady Blackstones daughter, in Scroops Court. Thomas Webbe her man. William Robinson Taylor, in Fetter lane. Robert Smith, Master. Anne Davison, Mr. Davisons daughter, of the Middle-row in Holburne, Tayler. Anthonie Hall his man. Anne Hobdin. Marie Hobdin, lodging in Mr. Davisons house. John Galloway Vintener, in Clarkenwell Close. Mr. Peirson, Jane his wife, Thom. & James, his two sonnes, in Robbinhood Court in Shooe lane.


Mistris Udall. Katharine Pindar, a Gentle woman in Mrs. Udals house in gunpowder alley. Abigal her maide. John Netlan a Taylor of Bassingborne in Cambridge shiere. Nathaniel Coales, lying at one Shortoes in Barbican, Tayler. John Halifaxe, sometimes a Waterbearer. Mary Rygbie, wife to John Rygbie in Holburne, Confectioner.


John Worralls sonne in Holburne. Thomas Brisket, his wife, and his sonne, and maide, in Mountague close. Mistris Summers, wife to Captaine Summers in the Kings Bench. Marie her maide. Mistris Walsted in Milkestreet. John Raines, an Atturney in Westminster. Robert Sutton, sonne to Mr. Worral a Potter in Holburne. Edward Warren, lying at one Adams a Butcher, in Saint Clement Danes. A son of Mr. Flood in Holborne, Scrivener.


Elizabeth White, Andrew Whites daughter in Holburne, Chandler. Mr. Stoker Tayler, in Salisburie Court. Elizabeth Sommers in Graies-Inne lane. Mr. Westwood. Judeth Bellowes, wife of Mr. William Bellowes in Fetter lane. A man of Sir Lues Pembertons. Elizabeth Moore widow. John James. Morris Beucresse Apothecarie. Davie Vaughan, at Jacob Coldriches, Tayler in Graies Inne lane. Francis Man, brother to William Man in Theeving lane in Westminster.


Richard Fitzgarrat, of Graies Inne, Gent. Robert Heifime. Mr. Maufeild. Mr. Simons, Dorothy Simons,Thomas Simons a boy, In Fesant Court in Cow lane. Robert Parker, neer Lond stone, Merchant. Mistris Morton, at White-fryers, Mistris Norton, Marrian her maide at Mr. Babingtons in Bloomesburie. Francis Downes, sometimes in Southamp|ton house, Tayler. Edmond Shey, servant to Robert Euan of Graies Inne, Gent. Josilin Percy, servant to Sr. Henry Carluile, lying at Mistris Ploidons house in high Holburne. John Tullye, servant to Mr. Ashborn, lying at Mr. Barbers house in Fleetstreeet.


John Sturges, the Lord Peters man. Thomas Elis, Sr. Lewis Treshams man. Michael Butler in Woodstreet, Grocer. John Button, Coachman to Mistris Garret in Bloomesberry. Mistris Ettonet, lying at Clearkenwell greene. Edward Revel, servant to Master Nicholas Stone the Kings Purveyor. Edmund Welsh, lying with Mr. Sherlock in high Holborne, Tailer. Bartholomew Bavin, in White Lyon Court in Fleetstreet, Clarke.  Davie an Irish man, in Angell Alley in Graies Inne Gent. Thomas Wood, at Mr. Woodfalls over against Graies Innegate. Christopher Hopper, Tailer lying there.


George Cranston, in Kings street in Westminster, Tailer. John Blitten. Jane Turner, lying at one Gees in the old Baily. Frithwith Anne. Mistris Elton. Mr. Walsteed. Marie Berrom. Henry Becket, lying at Mistris Clearks house in Northumberland Alley in Fetter lane. Sarah Watsonne, daughter to Master Watsonne a Chirurgian. John Bevans, at the seven Stars in Drury lane. Master Harris. Mistris Tompson, at Saint Martins within Aldersgate, Habberdasher. Richard F[…]guift. George Ceaustour.


Master Grimes, neere the Hors-shooe taverne in Drury lane. Mr. Knuckle a Painter dwelling in Cambridge. Master Fowell, a Warwickshire Gent. Master Gascoine. Francis Buckland and Robert Hutten, both servants to Master Saule Confectioner in Holburne. John Lochey, a Scriveners sonne in Holburne. One William seruant to Master Eirkum. John Brabant, a Painter in Little-Brittaine. William Knockell, A man-servant of Mr. Buckets a Painter in Aldersgate street. One Barbaret, Walter Ward, Richard Garret, enquired after, but not found.


From Anon, Death’s Universal Summons (1650)



Anon, THE Dismall Day, at the Black-Fryers. Or, A deplorable Elegie, on the death of almost an Hundred Persons, who were lamentably slaine by the fall of a House in the Blacke-Fryers, being all assembled there (after the manner of their Devotions) to heare a Sermon on Sunday-Night, the 26. of October last past (1623)

Thomas Goad, The dolefull euen-song, or A true, particular and impartiall narration of that fearefull and sudden calamity, which befell the preacher Mr. Drury a Iesuite, and the greater part of his auditory, by the downefall of the floore at an assembly in the Black-Friers on Sunday the 26. of Octob. last, in the after noone Together with the rehearsall of Master Drurie his text, and the diuision thereof, as also an exact catalogue of the names of such as perished by this lamentable accident: and a briefe application thereupon (1623)

Mathew Rhodes, The dismall day at the Black-Fryers, or, A deplorable elegie on the death of almost an hundred persons, who were lamentably slaine by the fall of a house in the Blacke-Fryers (1623)

Arthur Freeman, ‘The fatal vesper and The doleful evensong: Claim-Jumping in 1623’, Library (1967) s5-XXII(2): 128-135

The Oxford Companion to Shakespeare, OUP (2001)

Review Shakespeare

‘If Music Be The Food Of Love’ – Review: Twelfth Night at the Globe


Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night is a festive comedy, thought to have first been performed during Christmas 1601-2. Its composition may have been inspired by a visit to the Elizabethan court of Don Virginio Orsino, Duke of Bracchiano, and Shakespeare himself may even have performed in the play before the Queen and her Italian guest.

The latest production of Twelfth Night at the Globe certainly delivers a sense of festive merriment and celebration. The staging is, as ever at the Globe, simple; greenery adorns the balcony above the stage, and is entwined around the parallel pillars, delivering both a sense of the magical ‘green’ world of the play, and traditional English Christmas ornamentation. Musicians in Elizabethan costume play traditional music on the stage as the audience finds its seat, or plants its feet firmly in a small space in the yard.

In the opening act we meet the shipwrecked Viola; a vision in white, and as she transforms herself into Cesario, the only clue to her feminine identity is her long red hair. Johnny Flynn’s Viola is hesitant, almost shy, yet her lively temperament gradually emerges as she delivers messages of love from Orsino to the grieving Olivia. In its use of an all-male cast, this production beautifully highlights the double comedy within the play: a young man playing a young woman playing a young man. And it works. Flynn is a charming Viola: nervous but self-assured, comic yet radiating passion and infatuation.

The comic capers of Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Aguecheek, played respectively by Colin Hurley and Roger Lloyd Pack, are a sheer joy to watch. Hurley’s Belch staggers about the stage in a state of perpetual inebriation, and Pack’s Sir Andrew is both farcical and quietly touching. Mark Rylance’s Olivia however, while clever and very funny, left me with a vague sense of unease. His age at times undermines the innocence and grief of Olivia, and his infatuation with Cesario, played for laughs, detracts from the more serious issue of his character’s self-deception.

High laughs also come thick and fast from Paul Chahidi’s Maria; his split-second comic timing, and his portrayal of Maria, caught as she is between her duty to Olivia, and her enjoyment of merry-making with Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew, is beautifully delivered. Chahidi explores every facet of Maria’s character while remaining superbly consistent.

The surprise of the show perhaps is Stephen Fry. It was always to be expected he would be the star turn, given his fame, but in fact it is his talent at acting, not his celebrity, which is very much in evidence. A pompous killjoy, an ‘affectioned ass’, Fry’s Malvolio gleams with a refreshing verve and energy. Malvolio can be a difficult character, but in Fry’s hands he is every inch the entertaining Puritan. The gulling letter scene works particularly well, and Fry portrays the dawning potential for Olivia’s affection with superb comic aplomb. I had anticipated the production being rather top heavy, with Fry’s presence on the stage the major event, but the sense of an ensemble, of a company of players, is evident throughout, and while he shines as Malvolio, he does not cast his fellow actors into shadow, which is a testament to both his fine skill as an actor, and the excellent direction of Tim Carroll. It is to be hoped that this is not Stephen Fry’s last appearance on the Shakespearean stage.

This is a fun, engaging production of Twelfth Night. Its focus on high comedy perhaps leaves some of the more subtle elements of the play behind, but its sense of festive fun abounds. There is in this production a communal sense of celebratory sharing, a ‘cakes and ale’ atmosphere, which is reflected in the very obvious enjoyment of the audience. Whether standing in the yard, or sitting in the galleries, it is impossible not to be swept along on the energised tide of cheering, laughing, clapping, and stamping which this production provokes. As I left the theatre, dark chilly autumn skies overhead, it was impossible not to smile and look forward to the merry festivity of winter.

Twelfth Night runs at the Globe until 14th October. It is currently sold out, although returns are possible on the day. It transfers to the Apollo Theatre for a limited run from 2nd November.


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