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A Visitors Guide to Shakespeare's London Review

Posted: 2016-06-08

A Visitors Guide to Shakespeare's London Review

William Shakespeare would be pilloried in the tabloid press today; he seems to have made a habit of avoiding paying his taxes, and in 1599 the authorities came after him.

That is just one of the fascinating pieces of information about the Bard of Stratford contained in David Thomas's wonderful book, 'A Visitor's Guide to Shakespeare's London'. Thomas brings to life the colourful, often turbulent, world of London at the turn of the 17th century in a readable, enjoyable style.

Though the title might lead you to think that the book is a travel guide to Shakespearian attractions in modern London, it is actually much more. It is a treasure trove of historical detail, covering every facet of daily life in Shakespeare's London in an entertaining style.

The book begins with an overview of London in the last decade of the 16th century, showing how people travelled in and around the capital, and where they lived, ate, and worshipped. There is a fascinating look at the place of women in London society; according to Thomas, foreign visitors often remarked on the freedom enjoyed by English women, who were more apt than men to visit ale houses for their entertainment.

A whole section of the book is devoted to eating, drinking and shopping. There is a wonderful account of the Londoner's addiction to the newly fashionable tobacco, called by some, 'the queen's weed'.

Given the focus of the book it is not surprising that a section is given over to entertainment, including, though not limited to, London theatre. Thomas looks at each of the major playhouses and the theatre companies who played them, including The King's Men, who were closely linked to Shakespeare.

One fascinating account tells the story of the children's theatrical troupes, including the 'Children of the Chapel Royal'. The Children were under the leadership of Nathaniel Giles, who somehow gained the legal right to compel boys to join the choir, and used that right so often that he was brought before the Court of Star Chamber on the charge of kidnapping a boy on his way to school.

That's the sort of fascinating story that you find on almost every page of this delightful book.

But what did Londoners do when they weren't visiting Shakespeare's new Globe Theatre? They went to cock fights, or bear baiting, watched sports such as tilting, football, and wrestling, or enjoyed raucous fairs.

I have a lot of books on London travel and history; they take up an entire shelf on my office bookshelf. A Visitors Guide to Shakespeare's London is easily one of the most entertaining, detailed, and enjoyable books on historic London that I have ever read. It deserves a place on your bookshelf too.

A Visitor's Guide to Shakespeare's London is published by Pen and Sword books and is available from the publisher and from and in both paperback and Kindle versions.

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