Sir John Falstaff arrested, at the suit of Mrs. Quickly! [Henry IV, pt. 2], engraving by George Cruikshank (detail)
When young Will Shakespeare showed up in London some time before 1592, he found himself in a completely unfamiliar scene. London was becoming the largest and most important city in Europe. It was full of travelers from all over the world—a polyglot of different cultures and languages crammed together in narrow streets and taverns. The work of writing and performing plays was changing for playwrights and actors with the establishment of permanent playhouses and acting companies. Shakespeare was primed to make his mark.
Tudor and Renaissance scholar Carol Ann Lloyd-Stanger explores how London served as a backdrop and inspiration for his plays. It’s there, for example, in the ominous shadow the Tower casts over the history plays, the taverns that became Falstaff’s beloved Boar’s Head Inn, and the indoor playhouse at Blackfriars, close to the spot where Katharine of Aragon’s trial in Henry VIII had actually occurred.
She reveals how Shakespeare was inspired by the humanity he observed—London’s nobility, merchants, artisans, laborers, actors, beggars, thieves, and more—to create the unforgettable worlds of his plays.
Lloyd-Stanger is the former manager of visitor education at the Folger Shakespeare Library.
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