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THE WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE DOUBLE ANNIVERSARY WALK

MANY HAPPY RETURNS TO
AND IN MEMORIAM OF THE BARD

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April 2017 sees William Shakespeare's 453rd birthday and, to celebrate such a landmark occasion, Richard Jones will be leading a celebratory walk, in the course of which participants will be able to explore the streets and places that loomed large throughout Shakespeare's life in London.

An image of William Shakespeare in a Happy Birthday hat.

The honest truth, however, is that we don't know for certain what day Shakespeare was actually born on, since it was the Christening, as opposed to the actual birth, that tended to be recorded in Elizabethan times.

But, since he was Christened on 26th April 1564, wiser minds than ours have mulled over the issue and have settled on April the 23rd as the accepted day on which the infant Shakespeare entered this World and set about mewling and puking in the nurse's arms with all the gusto that a new born Bard-to-be - or as may well have happened, as you will hear on the tour, Bard-not-to-be - could muster!

So, April 23rd it is, although, truth to tell, it could have been any day either side of the 23rd!

THE 400TH ANNIVERSARY OF HIS DEATH

Which, if that be the case, means that William Shakespeare also has the distinction of being one of that rare breed of people who had the misfortune to actually die on his birthday.

So, our celebratory walk will, in addition, be tinged with sadness at the knowledge that this was the day upon which one of the most prolific mind's and pen's in the history of English literature shuffled off this mortal coil and slipped away into mere oblivion

WALK THE STREETS OF SHAKESPEARE'S LONDON

Shakespeare might have been born in Stratford-upon-Avon, but the Shakespeare that we know - the Shakespeare whose words have brought joy to millions, if not billions, of people the World over - was, very much, a man of London.


A bust of William Shakespeare.

He lived in and walked through the very streets you will walk through; he knew every twist and turn intimately; and he drew inspiration from the places and the people that he encountered on a daily basis.

He even drank and caroused in some of the historic taverns you will encounter; and he won the respect of just about everybody with whom he came into contact.

That's the Shakespeare you will get to know on this special walk, as you delve into the hidden alleyways and tucked away courtyards where remnants of his London are awaiting your discovery.

So, if you are ready to allow your imagination to travel back across the ages, then let the curtain rise on the William Shakespeare Birthday Walking Tour around the historic streets of old London and let the revels commence.

ACT ONE, SCENE ONE

The prologue to what promises to be a fascinating tour is a truly stunning vision, as we crane our necks skyward to look up at the soaring majesty of St Paul's Cathedral.

Old St Paul's Cathedral.

As Richard will explain, this is not the Cathedral that William Shakespeare would have known, since, as with so much of his City, that one was lost to the flames of the Great Fire of London in 1666.

But, worry not, for the mark of a good walking tour guide is the ability to make you see again what is no longer there, and, to that end, Richard will paint a verbal picture of what the older foundation looked like when it dominated the London skyline, and, within moments, your minds eye will be filled with the vista of its commanding presence as you picture Shakespeare heading towards the booksellers and printers premises that then stood in the churchyard beside the Cathedral.

One of those printers, Richard Field, was an old friend of Shakespeare's from Stratford, and it was he who printed several of Shakespeare's early non-dramatic poems, so we're off to a memorable start before we've even taken our first tentative steps across the boards of the Bard's birthday perambulation!

Exit St Paul's.

ACT ONE, SCENE TWO

Moving on, we make our way into a series of historic locations, the very names of which are steeped in London's past.. Paternoster Square, Ave Maria Lane, Amen Corner, forsooth their names resonate with distant folk memories, remembering as they do an ecclesiastical past that is now - long passed.

It is with such memories that we arrive in a tucked away courtyard where you will gaze in wonder upon another glorious building, the magnificent Stationers' Hall.

The exterior of Stationers Hall.

Although we won't be going inside it, you will hear all about its connections with the Bard and, in so doing, you will gain a terrific understanding of just how important its role was to publishers and writers alike in days of yore.

You will also learn of its famed stained-glass window, which consists of a portrait of Shakespeare underneath which runs the apt inscription "He was not for an age but for all time".

Exit Stationers' Hall.

ACT ONE, SCENE THREE

And now, the surprises come thick and fast.

We delve into a warren of time-locked backstreets that still maintain their medieval layout. Narrow, twisting, sloping thoroughfares in which you almost expect Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, Christopher Marlowe or any other citizen of Elizabethan London to come strolling out of the wings.

More impressive still, are the number of Shakespearean associations that are still there to be seen, if you take the trouble to notice them.

A cartoon image of William Shakespeare

How about the easily missed plaque that remembers the old inn at which the only extant letter written to William Shakespeare in his lifetime was composed? We'll even ponder the mystery as to why it was never sent.

How about the wardrobe from which Shakespeare collected four and a half yards of red cloth in order to ensure that he was appropriately dressed when he attended the coronation procession King James 1st?

How about the old monastic gatehouse that Shakespeare took a lease on in March 1613 as part of his expanding and impressive property portfolio?


The sculpture depicting Shakespeare's Seven Ages of Man.

Or, a striking sculpture, which few people - even those who pass it day in and day out - fail to notice, and which depicts one of Shakespeare's most oft quoted passages, Jacques melancholic monologue The Seven Ages of Man from As You Like It.?

And, if all that is insufficient to set your head spinning and your synapsis tingling, then how about the place from which Shakespeare was awarded a Coat of Arms?

A grant which caused more than a few raised eyebrows amongst his fellow playwrights, one of whom mocked him mercilessly over it.

But, the award also saw him singled out in an investigation for corruption, when it was suspected that too many of these social climbing adornments had been awarded to too many "base persons", of which he was, evidently, considered one.

Exciting stuff indeed!

What is certain is that, by the time you emerge from the warren of twisting backstreets, you will have gained a terrific insight of, not just everyday life in Elizabethan London, but also an intimate knowledge of Shakespeare the man.

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ACT TWO, SCENE ONE

You can't get more 21st century than the next section of the walk, because we're going to cross the River Thames via the Millennium Bridge.

In so doing we'll be heading for the very area in which Shakespeare made his name, the riverside landscape that formed the nucleus of Elizabethan Theatreland.

The exterior of the New Globe Theatre

One of the first things we'll glimpse as we edge our way across the bridge - edge because you'll want to take your time and admire every vista that you will encounter - is the magnificent reconstruction of the original Globe that stands proudly on the south bank of the Thames.

Nearby, is one of the oldest houses on this stretch of the River and alongside that is a suitably sinister alley reminiscent of the days when this side of the Thames was riddled with these narrow passageways.

In Shakespeare's day, those crossing over the Thames, would have used the services of a Ferryman or a Waterman to get to the spot on which we, by this point of the walk, will be standing.

Indeed, we'll have paused alongside a true leftover from days of yore - a ferryman's seat that is of uncertain age but which is generally agreed to be of "ancient origin." You'll be amazed by the fact that - even in the short time that we will be standing here - so many people will have passed this wonderful survivor, totally oblivious to this slice of bygone London that is hiding in plain view!

ACT TWO, SCENE TWO

Then, we pick our way through some more atmospheric alleyways to arrive at one of the most important Shakespearean relics that London has to offer.

The plaque marking the site of the Rose Theatre.

The site of the Rose Playhouse, the very theatre at which a Shakespeare play, as far as we know, was first watched by an appreciative audience.

It really did wow that audience, and it continued to do so each time the theatre's owner, Philip Henslowe, staged it - in short, it broke all box office records.

So much so, that the young Shakespeare managed to attract the opprobrium of at least one university educated playwright who accused the fledgling Bard of plagiarism and referred to him as an arrogant "upstart crow" who kept his tiger's heart "wrapped in a players hide." We will lament the fact that the age of the literary insult has long passed, as we add some of Shakespeare's own put downs to this poetic diatribe. Would that social media could be so inventive in its invective!

ACT TWO, SCENE THREE

Our revels now will be ending. These, the people whom we have encountered along the way were, so it will transpire, as will have been foretold at the start of the tour, were all spirits and will have melted into air, into thin air.

But, just as every good play required a grand finalé, so every walk needs a memorable finish and, from a Shakespearean perspective, we end on a truly high note.

For, just a few minutes walk from the site of the Rose Playhouse, is the site of The original Globe Playhouse. The place where many of Shakespeare's greatest plays and lines were first heard by those long ago audiences.

An illustration of the Old Globe Playhouse.

At this site, Richard will regale you with theatrical tales that will both fascinate and amuse.

Tales of groundlings and stinkards; of cut-purses and cut-throat competition; of play actors and plagiarists.

And through it all, the spirit of William Shakespeare will loom large upon the very ether around the ground on which you will be standing.

You will hear about the highs and the lows of his eventful life. of his interactions and clashes with his fellow actors and playwrights.

In short, he will have sprung from the dry and dusty pages of academia to become a living, breathing man - resplendent with all the foibles, faults and facets that flesh is heir to.

A LOVELY QUOTE TO ROUND OFF OUR REVELS

You will also have the opportunity to marvel at the sheer genius of his ability, as Richard rounds off a memorable tour with one of the loveliest quotes from the pen of the Bard. A quote which, in so many ways, encompasses the very passage of time, whilst capturing perfectly the sheer fleetingness of life.

But, above all else, a quote that seems to acknowledge the fact that, in the greater scheme of things, the Globe's existence, here on the south shore of the River Thames, was a mere blip in London's timeline.

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

William Shakespeare
From The Tempest, Act 4, Scene 1

THE FINAL CURTAIN

And thus, the curtain descends upon the final moment of our Shakespeare Birthday Walk, as we contemplate the fact that April 23rd not only remembers the date of his birth, but it also marks the anniversary of the day on which his - not so - little life was rounded with the sleep of uninterrupted immortality.

EPILOGUE

With the tour over, there'll be lots to do in the immediate vicinity.

There is, for example, a goodly smattering of restaurants catering to all tastes and pockets.

And, if you want a real taste of London history, we'll be just a few minutes walk away from one of London's most historic riverside taverns, The Anchor, where you can rest your feet and enjoy a hearty meal before heading home.

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