Whether you are a literature fan or not, chances are, you probably know Romeo and Juliet’s dramatic love story. Or maybe you have heard Hamlet’s famous quote “to be, or not to be: that is the question”. Few works of literature have echoed across languages and cultures like those of William Shakespeare, and his writing career started and unfolded right here - in London! Over four centuries later, London is still Shakespeare’s stage. Come this way and watch his magic happen, this is Shakespeare's London.
Did you know you have been quoting Shakespeare in your everyday chatter?
Sceptical? Have a look at these…
- “Wear your heart on your sleeve” – from Shakespeare’s play Othello
- “Love is blind” – from The Merchant of Venice
- “Come what may” – from Macbeth
- You’ve got to be cruel to be kind.” - Hamlet
- “For goodness sake” – Henry VIII
- “Neither here nor there” – Othello
- “Knock, knock! Who’s there?” – Macbeth
- “A wild goose chase” – Romeo and Juliet
- “Too much of a good thing” – As You Like It
- “A Heart of Gold” – Henry V
- “Be-all, end-all” – Macbeth
- “Break the ice” – The Taming of The Shrew
- “Lie low” – Much Ado About Nothing
- “Not slept one wink” – Cymbeline
- “There is method in my madness” – Hamlet
- “Own flesh and blood” – Hamlet
- “Send him packing” – Henry IV
- “Naked truth” – Love’s Labour’s Lost
- “Faint-hearted” – Henry VI
There are many Shakespearean phrases we use today as sayings and everyday expressions. You can read more about them here and here. Can you imagine your writing being so influential that four centuries later people still use your phrases as everyday expressions? Take a moment to absorb how grand that really is. Somehow, we don't see the Facebook updates of today lasting four centuries…
Feeling a spark of admiration? If we have piqued your interest, walk this way.
There are many monuments and articles dotted around the city that honour the literary genius that was Shakespeare. Here is where you can spot them without changing your sightseeing plans:
1. Leicester Square Gardens – in the middle of the garden stands a statue of Shakespeare leaning on books and pointing at the phrase “There is no darkness, but ignorance”.
2. The British Museum – if you are already visiting the museum, see if you can find William’s articles.
3. The National Portrait Gallery - the portrait you see here is one of a few images of Shakespeare considered authentic by scholars and it’s probably one of the most well-known portraits of him.
4. Westminster Abbey – a statue of the writer takes pride of place in the Poet’s Corner.
5. Guildhall Art Gallery – a bust of the playwright is outside the entrance alongside former Members of Parliament Oliver Cromwell, Tim Crawley and Samuel Pepys
6. The British Library – where you can see Shakespeare’s First Folio, the collection of his plays published seven years after his death in 1616. Learn more about the First Folio here.
7. Southwark Cathedral – is not only home to a Shakespeare memorial, but also to a stained glass window featuring some of his characters and the grave of his younger brother who was also an actor, Edmund Shakespeare. Southwark Cathedrals and the Shakespeare's Globe (number 11 below) are two of the sights you will see if you follow our River Thames walking route.
8. St Mary Aldermanbury – holds a memorial in its City churchyard. Interestingly, while the bust is of Shakespeare, the memorial is actually dedicated to the two actors close friends of his who helped preserve his plays by writing and printing the First Folio collection after his death.
9. There are many libraries, schools and churches you might have walked passed that have statues or images of Shakespeare. Click here for a list of a few, but more importantly, look up and admire the carvings on old buildings. You might just spot one of his cameos.
10. Pubs (public houses) - Google Maps helpfully tells us there are three ‘The Shakespeare’, one ‘Shakespeare’, and three ‘Shakespeare’s Head’ pubs dotted around the capital. The most interesting of them is the Shakespeare’s Head on the corner of Great Marlborough Street and Fouberts Place, Carnaby, where a Shakespeare statue peers on passers-by from a window at the corner of the building.
11. Shakespeare’s Globe – a destination on its own, the Shakespeare’s Globe is a replica of the original theatre owned by Shakespeare’s playing company, where the playwright performed his plays. The original theatre was located somewhere else in the city and burned down when a cannon set fire to the thatched roof after being fired as a sound effect. A second theatre was built in its place and subsequently closed by order of the Long Parliament who felt the arts were interfering with politics.
Curious facts we bet you didn’t know about Shakespeare…
- He was 18 when he got married to a woman 8 years his senior.
- He had a shotgun wedding, as his fiancé was already expecting their first child.
- Although he was living with his wife at the time of his death, he didn’t live with her during his writing career. She lived in Stratford-upon-Avon and he lived in London.
- While he wrote about Italian lovers, Danish and Scottish Royalty, there is no proof Shakespeare ever left England.
- Although his stories were fiction, he based many of them on real people or legends of old.
- Some of his plays were never published and for that matter were “lost” even though they are known to have been written and performed by him in London. A good example is The History of Cardenio.
- Hampton Court Palace is the only place still standing where Shakespeare performed one of his plays during his lifetime.
- Shakespeare never went to university, even though universities already existed.
- There are scholars who don’t believe Shakespeare was really the author of the plays attributed to him. Exactly because he didn’t go to university and wasn’t travelled.
- The plays we know today weren’t physically written by Shakespeare per se. After his death, two of his close friends who were also actors and had worked with him in many of his plays, John Heminge and Henry Condell, edited and published a collection of them. Without their work, most of Shakespeare’s plays would have been lost to time as there are only fragments left of Shakespeare’s own handwriting. It’s to these two actors that the monument at St Mary Aldermanbury is dedicated.
- Shakespeare did not want to be moved from Stratford-Upon-Avon after he retired. So much so, that he placed a curse on his epitaph: “Good friend for Jesus sake forbid, to dig the dust enclosed here. Blessed be the man who spares these stones and cursed the one who moves my bones.”
- Shakespeare’s Death Mask was purchased by a German traveller and today is at Hesse Lan and University Library in Darmstadt, Germany.
- Oxford University has a course called Shakespearean Studies.