The Bard at large in the cap­i­tal

De­spite the time the play­wright spent in the city, he never be­came a Lon­doner, says Lisa Hop­kins

THE (Times Higher Education) - - BOOK OF THE WEEK - Lisa Hop­kins is pro­fes­sor of English at Sh­effield Hal­lam Univer­sity.

Shake­speare and Lon­don By Dun­can Salkeld

Ox­ford Univer­sity Press 224pp, £50.00 and £16.99 ISBN 9780198709947 and 9954 Pub­lished 27 June 2018

Awhile ago, my neigh­bour’s daugh­ter, do­ing a school project on Shake­speare, asked me what was the most in­ter­est­ing thing I knew about him. My an­swer was that he never went to prison. This was, of course, good news for Shake­speare, and a tes­ti­mony to his skill in drama­tis­ing dif­fi­cult is­sues, but it might have been bad news for Dun­can Salkeld’s book, whose lifeblood is peo­ple who went to prison, or at least came to the at­ten­tion of au­thor­ity.

Salkeld is the mas­ter of the un­promis­ing-look­ing record. He can do won­ders with a bap­tism or burial en­try, as with that for Richard Burbage’s daugh­ter Juliet (he also iden­ti­fies other res­o­nant names, such as the cou­ple named Elsi­nore who kept a vict­ualling­house). He can do even more won­ders with the re­port of an ac­tual or sup­posed crime (one of the few times Shake­speare him­self sur­faces in Salkeld’s archive is when a move to South­wark left him ap­par­ently still li­able for tax at his pre­vi­ous ad­dress). He is par­tic­u­larly good with sex crime, al­though he has an ad­van­tage here be­cause there was such a lot of it about. In­deed, one might al­most con­clude that the French and Ital­ian pop­u­la­tions of early mod­ern Lon­don never did any­thing else, al­though I’m sure that the Ge­noese fi­nancier Sir Ho­ra­tio Pallavi­cino and his un­cle led full, rounded lives when not ha­rass­ing very young girls.

The star of the show, the madam Black Luce, is al­ready fa­mil­iar as one of Salkeld’s pre­vi­ous con­tri­bu­tions to the re­cov­ery of black lives in Lon­don, but there is other ma­te­rial that is new and wel­come. Black Luce’s story is also one of many places in which Salkeld shows him­self alert to the fact that Lon­don was a very dif­fer­ent city for men (for whom it could rep­re­sent op­por­tu­nity) and for women (for whom it was all too of­ten a place to be ex­ploited). There is also a nice sense of the ma­te­ri­al­ity of the early mod­ern city – its rivers, its Ro­man wall, the mys­te­ri­ous Lon­don stone of which it was so proud – and some ju­di­cious re­flec­tion on how Shake­speare does (or, more usu­ally, does not) re­flect it in his plays.

In the end, though, Salkeld con­cludes that, de­spite his long res­i­dence there, Shake­speare was never re­ally a Lon­doner. His early plays trans­mit a strong sense of the ex­cite­ment of a young man ar­riv­ing in a strange city, yet the later ones lay the em­pha­sis pri­mar­ily on the strange­ness. Salkeld notes too that Shake­speare tended to live in ar­eas with a high pop­u­la­tion of other na­tion­al­i­ties, and that an ac­count of Jon­son’s Lon­don, or Mid­dle­ton’s, Hey­wood’s or Dekker’s, would look very dif­fer­ent.

Per­son­ally, I would have pre­ferred a straight bib­li­og­ra­phy to the an­no­tated list of fur­ther read­ing, which I found cum­ber­some, and the book could some­times be a lit­tle kinder to the non-spe­cial­ist (for in­stance, John Hall is men­tioned with­out the clar­i­fi­ca­tion that he was Shake­speare’s son-in-law).

Yet Salkeld has pro­duced a valu­able, schol­arly ac­count of an im­por­tant topic that is in­formed by re­cent ar­chae­o­log­i­cal dis­cov­er­ies as well as archival work, and which never loses sight of the hu­man touch.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.