Shakespeare’s Grand Tour (part 17)

17 – London



This will be my penultimate post on Shakespeare’s Grand Tour – I mean once you get home, the tours over right? But as Ive said before, the legacy of his travels are still being felt today, such as the very words half the world speaks that were enriched by the foreign words that Shakespeare heard as he wandered Europe with William Stanley. We last left them together at Knowsley Hall, where the Christmas festivities of 1587 had seen Thomas Hesketh’s players in the area – one imagines them working with Shakespeare, who would have been one of the principle actors of the play they performed for the Earl of Derby. Impressing Ferdinando, Stanley’s brother, Shakespeare soon found himself in London, writing plays, it seems, for Ferdinando’s acting company – known as the Lord Strange’s Men.




This was a time of great national importance, for all through the first half of 1588. he Spanish had a massive army waiting on the French coast, poised to invade England, & a huge fleet sailing up the Channel in order to help them do it. Cue Sir Francis Drake cutting short his bowling match, Queen Elizabeths stirring speech at Tilsbury, some rather brutal & desperate naval battles, the fireships at Calais which broke up the Armada, & the subsequent securing of English freedom. This victory seemed to operate as some kind of catalyst to national greatness, the age was galvanised with promise & energy, & it was into these exciting times that Shakespeare  stepped, perhaps feeling a motivation that would one day find its way into Macbeth, as in; ‘I have no spur to prick the sides of my intent, but only vaulting ambition, which oerleaps itself, & falls on the other (1-7).’




The same year also sees the sole mention of Shakespeare in all his ‘lost years,’ an indirect mention of him being his father’s son in a legal case presented before the Queen’s Bench in London. It took place about Michalemas (September 29th), & concerned John Shakespeare’s remortgaged property at Wilmcote. Edmund Lambert’s son, John, had taken on the property, but had refused to pay £20 that Lambert owed him. This saw John bring a ‘bill of complaint’ against him, naming William as a partner in the suit.

…et quod dictus Johannes Shackespere et Maria vxor eius, simulcum Willielmo Shackespere filio suo…”

“…idem Johannes Shackespere et Maria vxor eius, simulcum Willielmo Shackespere filio suo…

Clement's Inn
Clement’s Inn


What is absolutely fascinating about the case, is that of all the attorneys in London John Shakespeare could have chosen, he selected John Harborne, the son of William Harborne, the ambassador in Constantinople where we have just placed William Shakespeare. In the past, scholars have brushed over John Harborne, imagining there to be no relevance in the quest for the historical Shakespeare, much in the same way the anti-shakespearians (as i now call the anti-stratfordians) completely ignored the Garland of William Stanley. That Harborne’s father was an ambassador in Constantinople would have been irrelevant, for the academic community scoffed at Shakespeare’s presence in Italy, let alone Turkey. Instead, it is through him that we gain even more support for the Shakespeare – Stanley – Constantinople chain, & inspires us to be more alert about every person connected to Shakespeare, for their may be evidence yet lurking in their own back stories which can help to colour in our great dramatist’s life. For example, John Harborne was trained at Clement’s Inn & seems to be the figure of Justice Shallow in Henry IV Part 1, who is said to have studied law at Clements. One passage in particular relates to our investigation


By yea and nay, sir, I dare say my cousin William is
become a good scholar: he is at Oxford still, is he not?


Indeed, sir, to my cost.


A’ must, then, to the inns o’ court shortly. I was
once of Clement’s Inn, where I think they will
talk of mad Shallow yet.
Where Justice Shallow refers to ‘my cousin William’ who is at Oxford and who ‘must then to the Inns of Court shortly,’ we gain a complete match for William Stanley, also an Oxford man, that ‘good scholar’ who enrolled at Lincoln’s Inn in late 1588.


Lincoln's Inn
Lincoln’s Inn


While in London, Shakespeare would have been in his poetic element, buying books from St Pauls (one of only three places in the country where it was allowed) to feed his muse, he would have happily embraced a life as a dramatist. In 1588, he began to convert all the materials he collected, & all the observations he made whilst traveling, into theatrical gold dust. He may have had a mind burgeoning with ideas, even a few rough sketches of scenes & storylines, & a number of drafted passages of poetic speech. What he needed now was focus, & perhaps he had conversed with George Puttenham, whose Arte of English Poesie was entered at Stationers’ Hall in 1588. WL Rushton has identified over 200 literary links between the Puttenham’s Arte & the works of Shakespeare, showing how the bard must have read it. Shakespeare may even have read the work in manuscript, for there is one passage in particular that seems to be the Shakesperian manifesto;

There were also poets that wrote openly for the stage, I mean plays & interludes, to recreate the people with matters of disport, & to that intent did set forth in shows & pagaents common behaviours & manner of life as were the meaner sort of men, & they were called comical poets, of whom among the greeks Meander & Aristophanes were most excellent, with the Latins Terence & Plautus. Besides those poets comic there were others, but meddled not with so base matters: for they set forth doleful falls of unfortunate & afflicted princes, & were called poets tragical. Such were euripedes among the others who mounted nothing so high as any of them both, but in based & humble style, by manner of dialogue, uttered the private & familar talk of the meanest sort of men, as shepherds, haywards & such like

He was probably inspired also by the growing popularity of playwrights, especially Thomas Kyd, whose Spanish Tragedy had just taken London by storm, & Christopher Marlowe, the writer of such fantastic pieces as  Dido, Queen of CarthageTamburlaine the Great, &  Doctor Faustus.The keen-eyed Shakespearian scholar, TW Baldwin, also places Shakespeare in London, 1588, writing the Comedy of Errors, highlighting allusions in the play to the Armada & Christopher Marlowe’s Tamburlaine, which was also published in 1588. Baldwin also highlights a passage in the play which seems to describe Finsbury Fields, one of the sites of London’s public executions;

The Duke himself in person
Comes this way to the melacholy vale
The place of death & sorry execution
Behind the ditches of the abbey here

In the 16th century, Finsbury Fields were indeed seperated from Holyrood Abbey by ditches. Baldwin goes on to say, ‘It would appear that on Saturday morning, October 5, 1588, William Shakespeare attended the execution of William Hartley, seminary priest, in Finsbury Fields, near the Theatre & Curtain; & there received certain impressions which shortly afterward appeared, transmuted by the magic of his imagination, in the Comedy of Errors.’ In the locality stood both the Theatre & the Curtain playhouses, in which Lord Strange’s Men performed their plays in 1588 & 1589. This particular company was under the patronage of a certain Ferdinando, the very brother of William Stanley, whose curious name came from being a member of parliament for the barony of Strange (pronounced strang).


The Curtain Theatre
The Curtain Theatre

For the Christmas of 1588, however, both Ferdinando & Shakespeare were back in Lancashire, I believe, for the true unveiling of Shakespeare’s first solo compositions, the plays we now know as Love’s Labour’s Lost & Twelfth Night





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