Shakespeare’s Britain by Jonathan Bate and Dora Thornton with Becky Allen

Next up in a week-long theme to mark the 400-year anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, a book to transport you back to the Bard’s bad-smellin’, bear-baitin’, witch-huntin’ time.

This book brings Shakespearean Britain to life through a range of objects linked to his plays. So, there are maps of 17th-century London showing the famous ‘wooden O’, rapiers of the kind used during Montague-Capulet gangland fighting in Romeo and Juliet (‘My naked weapon is out. Quarrel, I will back thee.’ Perverts), a witch’s bridle that might have been used to subdue real-life Macbethean ‘weird sisters’, and even a woolen cap of the type worn by ‘groundlings’ in the ‘Yard’. (This is all beginning to sound like a 90s hip-hop video.)

The cover is a painting called ‘Going to Bankside’, from the album amoricum (a sort of 17th-century autograph book) of Michael van Meer, showing some posh types being rowed across the Thames to that borough of theatre and naughtiness, Southwark. I love this picture and, in a Blue Peter moment, photocopied it, framed it and put it on my wall. I’m naff like that. Problem is, whenever I look at it now, I imagine the rowers are recoiling because one of the passengers has passed Elizabethan wind. Funny how the mind wanders.


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