10a. London Lodgings

previously unpublished; © the estate of eric sams


(Numbers in bold refer to the Documents section and bibliographical citations refer to the Bibliography of The Real Shakespeare II, on-line edition)



   Shakespeare was long a lodger in London; no doubt that somewhat solitary mode of life suited him well everywhere. 'He was not a company keeper' (608); 'what particular Habitude or Friendships he contracted with private Men, I have not been able to learn' (632); so said his first biographers Aubrey and Rowe, each after due inquiry. In his youth he had been 'a schoolmaster in the country' (608), and perhaps an actor, musician and tutor in Lancashire (RS1 36-38). Catholic houses and families like the Heskeths of Rufford Hall would afford access to good living and libraries; his hosts and mentors, such as the Wriothesley circle, were repaid with verse that varied from the valuable to the priceless. All experience seeps into the writer's mind and may make an Artesian reappearance as art, such as the creation of imaginary earls and heroes of Southampton (RS1 162), or the dilapidated manor-house mentioned in the real Earl's letter of 1592 written 'from my lodgings in the Strand' (RS1 195). No doubt his amanuensis stayed there too.

   Shakespeare's documented London addresses are well worth serious study. In about 1589 he had lodgings, perhaps shared with or near those of Kyd (RS1 72). This was the year when his family lawsuit about loss of lands was first heard in Westminster, where the courts were held and the lawyers lived; and his legal text-book, the compilation of early statutes Archaionomia, bears not only his well-attested signature (RS1 194-5) but the lodging-house address, thoughtfully supplied in a later hand: 'Mr. Wm Shakespeare lived at No. 1 Little Crown St. Westminster NB near Dorset Steps St. James's Park', i.e. not far from where Downing Street now stands. In all his affairs he would, like a sensible person as well as a dedicated artist, live as near as possible to his current place of employment or activity, especially in a Tudor metropolis devoid of public transport. Thus he would surely seek lodgings near the Burbage Theatre in Shoreditch; and sure enough his first biographer, who dates the beginning of his London career to about 1582, says 'lived in Shoreditch'1 (Aubrey 1681608). Even in 1596 he is still found in that area, though not by the tax collectors, in the parish of St. Helens in Bishopsgate (220). But in November 1597 those zealous officials recorded him as 'departed and gone out of the said ward' leaving a second instalment of 5 shillings unpaid, in respect of goods valued at £5 (234). He was still unavailable in October 1598 (244) and again in 1598-9 (255) and October 1599, to settle a further assessment of 13s 4d on the same assets. By the latter date however (264) he had been identified as having moved into the jurisdiction of the Sheriff for Surrey and Sussex (including Bankside), where he was still living in October 1600 (284).

   These facts have been variously represented; Schoenbaum (1975, 161-3) gives a useful summary of sources and commentary. But to call Shakespeare a 'tax defaulter' (ibid. 162) seems over-censorious. He had paid his first instalment at Shoreditch in 1596; but then moved out of that ward (255), prima facie very soon afterwards, and perhaps at short notice, unaware of further liability. His family lawsuit about land ownership was also scheduled for hearing at a Westminster court in the same month as his first record of tax arrears in Shoreditch, November 1597, while all his debts were discharged by October 1600 at the latest (284), and perhaps by 1599, well within the permitted period.

   That still leaves the question of why, and when, he had moved south across the Thames, c. 1596. But the main inference is manifest; he went to Bankside in the 1590s for the same reason that had taken him to Shoreditch in the 1580s, namely to be with his company and near his theatre, for the sake of his and their livelihood. Further extant facts, in a different context, independently confirm that this is indeed what happened.

   First, his removal to Bankside can be to some extent corroborated by data described by his biographer and editor Edmund Malone (227, 385) which offered evidence of residence on Bankside, at first or always 'near the Bear Garden', from 1596 to 1608. Of course the later disappearance of those documents is deplorable, but that is no reason for rejecting the latter date (as in Chambers 1930, ii, 90 echoed by Schoenbaum 1975, 163) merely because Shakespeare is (as we shall see; Chapter 29) also on record as having stayed with the Mountjoys in Cripplegate, north of the Thames, in 1604; there is no necessary contradiction. The former transfer date of 1596, furthermore, is clearly corroborated by other reasons, both for quitting Shoreditch and settling in Bankside. The Theatre premises were becoming untenable; they were nearly twenty years old, and their builder and owner James Burbage was behind with his rent and in dispute with his landlord Giles Allen about the terms for renewing the lease. The Bankside area was more populous and prosperous, and the closure of the Newington Butts playhouse c. 1595 would have left a vacancy. Its own parent theatre, the Rose, was dominated by the Admiral's Men led by the great actor Edward Alleyn and the impresario Philip Henslowe; and that building was already ten years old. That left the large, new and well-constructed Swan theatre, which was finished and ready by 1595.

   So of course Shakespeare and his great colleague, the actor Richard Burbage, on behalf of their Chamberlain's company, would have considered a season or more at the Swan, as a matter of urgency. As it happened, Burbage's father James was ill, and died in February 1597. But that cannot have been the time for a trial transfer because a document dated that same month records an agreement for the Swan to be occupied for a year by the reconstituted Pembroke's Men. Their tenure was notable for a performance of The Isle of Dogs by Thomas Nashe and Benjamin Jonson, now lost, but then deemed so 'seditious and sclanderous' that the players including Jonson were imprisoned from July to October 1598 and all performances at all the London theatres were forbidden during that summer by the authorities. By 1598, Shakespeare's Shoreditch company had decided on a radical solution to their problems; they would build a great new theatre of their own on Bankside. This was the world-famous Globe, erected in 1599.

   It follows that the first transfer, when Chamberlain's Men from Shoreditch, including Shakespeare, playedHamlet at the Bankside Swan, took place in 1596, the year when he is twice recorded as resident in that area (221227). That theatre's owner, as we shall see, was well known to Shakespeare in that same year. By further irresistible (yet universally resisted) inference, the famous 1596 sketch of the Swan Theatre made by Johannes de Witt (Schoenbaum 1975, 109) shows Shakespeare's own company on stage, performing one of his plays – economically, the early Hamlet, since that was known to have been performed there. Indeed, the figure with the spear moving across the stage may well be Shakespeare himself, as the Ghost, to whom the head of Burbage as Hamlet turns in amazement while the Queen, seated on her bed, stares unseeing in front of her, full-face. Hamlet is saying some such words as the First Quarto's 'Do you not come your tardy sonne to chide/That I thus long have let revenge slip by?' No wonder Dekker could safely suppose that the catch phrase 'Hamlet, revenge' would be famously familiar to London playgoers; the Paris Garden Swan accommodated, according to de Witt, no fewer than three thousand persons.

   In a writ of attachment (221) returnable on 3 November 1596 the Swan's owner Francis Langley sought action against William Gardener and William Wayte, who counterclaimed later the same month against William Shakespeare, Francis Langley and others;2 the issue to the Sheriff of Surrey shows that Shakespeare and no doubt Langley too were living in the Bankside Swan area. These legal procedures were invoked in cases where individuals had been threatened or menaced; common law gave them the right of appeal to a court which would hear the case and adjudicate in the interests of preserving the Queen's peace. There is much to be said for reintroducing these humane practices. The two writs in question, discovered by Leslie Hotson in 1930 (Hotson 1931), record in legal Latin that the complainants craved sureties of the peace against their adversaries for fear of death, and so forth (the formulaic phrase customarily cited in such applications). Gardener and Wayte were a Surrey county official and his stepson; the latter's counterclaim against Shakespeare and Langley together, in that order, and others, suggests that the unspecified casus belli was their joint theatre enterprise at the Swan. Gardener was known as an unscrupulous money-lender (ibid.) and Wayte as his agent. It would be fully conformable with the facts if, for example, Langley had raised a loan from Gardener to build the 3,000-seat flintstone Swan, an expensive project, and then defaulted on regular repayment, as Burbage had with his own Theatre. Gardener as a county official might well also side with the City authorities against the theatres. No wonder that tempers were frayed and writs flew. For whatever reason, however, the Chamberlain's season at the Swan proved unsatisfactory as a permanent solution to that company's problems, however successful in the short term. They were soon replaced by Pembroke's Men, and resolved to construct new premises. Posterity should be grateful for the outcome that 'all the wood and timber' of the Shoreditch Theatre was transported bodily to Bankside, and there rebuilt as the world-famous Globe.

   Other lodgings were needed on the regular journeys between Stratford and London – some sixty or more all told, since 'he was wont to goe to his native Country once a yeare'; and he stayed at Grendon in Bucks and also with the Davenants at Oxford (Aubrey 1681, 608). It was a way of life, and perhaps one well suited to him, since 'he was not a company keeper' (ibid.) He was well aware of its hazards as well as its attractions: when 'good things of day begin to droop and drowse'…'now spurs the lated traveller apace/to gain the timely inn' (MacIII.ii.52, iii.6-7).

   So gifted and devoted a son, so helpful to his father about coats of arms and land ownership (Chapter 9) and so close to his mother (if Mullidor is any guide) would always have had a home in the Stratford family house, where his wife and children also presumably lived until the purchase of New Place in 1597. In London, Shakespeare had certainly lodged with the Mountjoys, and later bought a house in Blackfriars, two topics that demand separate detailed treatment (Chapter 29 and Chapter[...]*).



* Only the first few lines of this chapter were written, as follows:


                                    The Blackfriars Gatehouse, March 1613


   On 10-11 March 1613 Shakespeare bought property in London for £140 cash (423). The transaction was effected through trustees who included 'John Hemmyng', no doubt Shakespeare's colleague in the Lord Chamberlain's Men and co-editor with Henry Condell of the 1623 Folio collection.


1 Aubrey may also have added the approximate address; he goes on to mention a potential informant in Norton Folgate 'within 6 doors' - of where Shakespeare used to live?

2 namely Dorothy Soer wife of John Soer and Anne Lee, all three now unknown.