William Shakespeare. The Bard. The Swan of Avon. England’s national poet is both a legend and an enigma, with many years of his great life shrouded in mystery. But one thing we do know; he spent the majority of his creative, professional life in the British capital.
Many traces of the London Shakespeare would have known were destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666, as well as during the Blitz, while others quietly succumbed to the vicissitudes of time. But never fear, Shakespearean adventurers, London is a city that remembers. Stay with us at The Montague on the Gardens in Bloomsbury and you’ll be right in the thick of things. From Southwark Cathedral to The Globe, here’s where to find Shakespeare in London.
The Globe and Bankside
Although The Globe is a replica built in the 1990s and not the real deal, it was modelled on the original 1599 theatre and makes for an atmospheric visit. Take a look at the top-notch on-site exhibition, go on a tour or, better yet, catch a show while you’re there. And take a stroll through Bankside during your visit: filled with playhouses and taverns, this was a buzzing area of London back in the day (some even call it the “Soho of Elizabethan London”).
Gaze upon the man himself at the National Portrait Gallery. The so-called “Chandos portrait”, found in Room 4, is generally agreed to be the only portrait of Shakespeare that could have been painted from life. Quite a handsome chap, don’t you think?
The First Folio is essentially the ultimate first edition in the bibliographical world; it’s the first collection of Shakespeare’s plays, printed in 1623, seven years after he died. There are only around 232 copies of the First Folio left in existence – to see one for yourself, head over to the British Library or make an appointment at the National Art Library at the V&A.
St John’s Gate and Middle Temple Hall
All hail the Master of the Revels. Based out of the ancient St John’s Gate in Farringdon, the man who held this powerful office in the Elizabethan era had the final say on what went on the London playhouse stages, meaning that the Bard would have definitely paid a visit (especially as he is thought to have lodged just around the corner on Silver Street – now the site of the Barbican).
Not far from the site of the censor, you’ll find the perfectly preserved Elizabethan Middle Temple Hall. The first ever performance of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night took place in this room in February 1602.
St Helen’s, Bishopsgate
Head a little further east on your quest for Shakespeare in London, and you’ll find yourself at the parish of St Helen’s in Bishopsgate, where the Bard lived in the late 1590s. We know this snippet of Shakespearian trivia from court records; it turns out the incorrigible playwright didn’t pay his taxes. The area is greatly changed (it’s in the shadow of the Gherkin), but you can still visit the historic church of St Helen’s and see the Shakespeare stained glass window.
Shakespeare is known to have come to Southwark Cathedral for the funeral of his younger brother in 1607. Pay your respects to Edmund (although his actual grave is lost, he is commemorated with a stone in the floor of the Choir) and stop by the Shakespeare memorial and stained glass window while you’re there.
After a day spent in search of Shakespeare in London, head back to the elegant environs of The Montague on the Gardens for a night of fine dining and delicious drinks at the Blue Door Bistro. The perfect end to a memorable day.
Header image © Linda Nylind