Geoffrey Marsh on Shakespeare's Neighbors

Shakespeare Unlimited: Episode 169

What would we find out about you if we got to know your neighbors? What if we took a walk around the neighborhood where you live?

That's the way that Geoffrey Marsh hopes to learn more about Shakespeare in his new book, Living with Shakespeare. Starting with a 1598 tax roll that lists Shakespeare's name among the residents of St. Helen's parish, the historian and director of the theater and performances collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum meets the people and explores the places that surrounded Shakespeare in the late 1590s. The people include lord mayors, an unusual concentration of doctors, and Shakespeare's savvy but combative colleague James Burbage. The places include St. Helen's Church, the Theatre, and a notable well about a hundred yard's from Shakespeare's house. Geoffrey Marsh is interviewed by Barbara Bogaev. 

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Book cover for Living with Shakespeare by Geoffrey Marsh. A crow stands on a playing card bearing a portrait of Shakespeare.Geoffrey Marsh is the director of the theater and performances collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. His new book, Living with Shakespeare: Saint Helen’s Parish, 1593–1598, was published by Edinburgh University Press. It became available in the US on May 30.

From the Shakespeare Unlimited podcast. Published May 8, 2021. © Folger Shakespeare Library. All rights reserved. This podcast episode, “We’ll Wander Through the Streets and Note the Qualities of People,” was produced by Richard Paul. Garland Scott is the associate producer. It was edited by Gail Kern Paster. Ben Lauer is the web producer. Leonor Fernandez edits our transcripts. We had technical help from Andrew Feliciano and Paul Luke at Voice Trax West in Studio City, California.

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MICHAEL WITMORE: So many of us who love Shakespeare’s work want to get inside his head. Most biographers try the direct route. But what if there was another way? What if you tried to understand Shakespeare by looking at the people all around him?

From the Folger Shakespeare Library, this is Shakespeare Unlimited. I'm Michael Witmore, the Folger’s director. Geoffrey Marsh is an historian of the City of London. He also runs the Theatre & Performing Arts department of the Victoria and Albert Museum. These two areas of specialty serve him well in a new exercise designed to get to know not Shakespeare himself, but the people around him. By that, I don’t mean Shakespeare’s family or Shakespeare’s acting troupe.

Geoff has a new book called Living with Shakespeare. In it, he’s focused in on one of the places Shakespeare is thought to have lived: a little neighborhood in London called St. Helens. There is documentary evidence that suggests strongly that Shakespeare lived in a house in St. Helens during an early part of his career. While this approach may or may not bring us closer to the life of William Shakespeare, it does bring us some remarkable characters and the world they—and likely Shakespeare—once inhabited.

Geoff joined us from his home in London to talk about all of this for a podcast we call “We’ll Wander Through the Streets and Note the Qualities of People.” Geoffrey Marsh is interviewed by Barbara Bogaev.


BARBARA BOGAEV: We did a podcast a few weeks ago with the founder of the Lost Plays Database. He is big on this idea of negative space, which is... he means that, what the place we don’t know about can tell us about what we think we know.

And in your story, as I read your book, it seems like the negative space is Shakespeare. And what you do is, you have all these details about James Burbage and about doctors who lived in St. Helens who we know about, and you use them to tell a story about Shakespeare, who we don’t know much about at all. Is that what you find you do in your work? As you learn more about everything around Shakespeare, it creates an outline of this playwright that we don’t know?

GEOFFREY MARSH: Yes. I guess that was the basic idea behind it. Because obviously, Shakespeare didn’t leave any diaries or any notes. What intrigued me was that in 1598, there’s this record of him paying a tax, or in fact, not paying a tax, but recalling the amount he should have paid. And on either side of his name in the list for the parish at St. Helens, there are a whole series of names. I was looking at them. I was wondering, “Well, who are all these people?”

And in fact, this tax record was found, I think, in the 1840s. But no one’s ever really analyzed the names above and below Shakespeare’s name in it. And I was very fortunate because St Helen’s was actually a nunnery before the dissolution, and it was purchased by the guild of leather sellers. That’s one of the medieval city guilds.

The leather sellers, like many of the medieval guilds in London, still survives. And most remarkably, they still own the land that they bought in 1542. In their archives, they have a complete record of their rent rolls going back to that period.

What it allows one to do is to trace many of the people who lived around where Shakespeare was living. They’re a very interesting cast of characters, except these aren’t made up people. They’re real people with real jobs, real relations.

BOGAEV: Well, that is so wild, and it really highlights the challenge of writing a backstory for someone like Shakespeare. Because it’s not like writing the history or the biography of Dwight Eisenhower, who gave speeches and interviews and wrote memos and letters. I mean, you make no secret about how speculative an exercise this is when it comes to Shakespeare. What do you want the reader to come away with from your work? Answers or speculating or more questions?

MARSH: I don’t think it’s that speculative because these were real people where there’re real records. We know who they married and when they moved in and when they moved out. What we don’t know, of course, is whether Shakespeare ever spoke to them. I live in a street and I know some of my neighbors, but some of them I’ve never spoken to.

I think what’s critical is that Shakespeare was living 50 yards off the parish church, and everybody had to go to parish church on Sunday. At some basic level, Shakespeare must have interacted with these people, if only seeing them once a week. I think that what I tried to avoid is speculation about their relationships, because we simply don’t know.

What I think is factual underneath it is that these were a remarkable group of people. There were members of parliament. There were leading doctors. Shakespeare was living in, actually, a very, very upmarket parish and was almost certainly living next door to one of the lord mayors of London. So this is not someone who’s squirreled away in a back street in the city. This is someone confident enough that he wants to be in that sort of area.

BOGAEV: Well, let’s step back for a second and let me ask you a very basic question. What evidence do you have that Shakespeare lived there?

MARSH: Well that’s a—that’s a very good question. What survives is a tax roll for the parish. It dates to the first of October 1598, and it was what was called a lay subsidy. This is a tax that was levied on the wealthier members of society across the country, essentially to pay for extra costs at the royal… the queen would have had to pay, probably in this case, for the wars that were going on in Ireland. Elizabethan finances were pretty hand to mouth. You know, the queen pretty much spent what came in. So things like wars had to be paid by other means. That’s what the subsidy was.

So it was done in London by things called wards, which would be five or six parishes. And in that, within each parish, the richer people in the parish, a couple of them, would be put in charge of drawing up a list of everybody in the parish and assessing them about what they ought to pay. If you had less than three pounds, you didn’t have to pay. But if you were above three pounds, you did.

Shakespeare was valued at five pounds, which demonstrates that he was in the top 25 percent of maybe 100, 120 households. That document is in the National Archives in London, and you can go and see it if you want to. They’ll let you take it out and have a look at it.

BOGAEV: Did you know about this document when you started the project, or did you just happen upon it? Big find.

MARSH: Well, it came about because the site of the Theatre, which is in Shoreditch about 20 minutes walk away, was discovered about 10 years ago. The Victoria and Albert Museum have been helping the trust that have taken over that site to make it publicly available and hopefully open sometime when COVID is finished.

That was built by Burbage in 1576, and it was pulled down in 1598, and the timbers taken to build the Globe on the Southbank. And that’s where Shakespeare would have worked for the last four years of its existence, from about 1594 onwards.

That sort of got me interested in what Shakespeare was doing at that time. This is the period before the Globe theater, before the great tragedies, but the period when he was writing Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, et cetera. That’s what got me interested and that’s what made me look at this document, because it’s one of the very few references to Shakespeare. If you look at most biographies of Shakespeare, it sort of says, “In 1598, Shakespeare seems to have been living in St. Helens, full stop.” I thought, “That’s kind of curious.” And that’s what got me interested in looking at the document initially.

Then, from that, working out and realizing that these people who were listed above and below him were real people with real lives and relationships. And also, that the list actually appears to be the list in which houses were the layout of the houses in the parish. So that by looking at the people above and below him, it indicates that people probably were living on either side of him.

BOGAEV: Just so people can picture it, this neighborhood, most people might know, because it’s—even Americans—because it’s got these significant landmarks: the Gherkin and the Cheese Grater.

MARSH: Yeah.

BOGAEV: You started to describe it a little earlier, but let’s talk about that. What was it like when Shakespeare likely lived there?

MARSH: First of all, this parish was tiny. It was seven acres, so about twice the size of Trafalgar Square. I mean, the sort of... so these parishes were tiny, and the anchor of the parish was the parish church. And it’s been restored. Apart from Holy Trinity in Stratford, it’s actually the largest physical artifact that survives associated with Shakespeare. So you can actually walk into the building and look at the space that he would have known.

BOGAEV: You said earlier the mayor lived there. So was it a really upscale neighborhood? What was the neighborhood like? Upscale, poor, completely mix? Like, crazy mix like Manhattan?

MARSH: Probably not that. I mean, for those that know London, I think the area that I would associate it with is Notting Hill. It had lots of wealthy merchants and bankers. Well, not bankers, but money lenders. But also, a lot of creatives. So Thomas Morley, the composer and music publisher, lived probably within a matter of yards. Interesting enough, there was also a cluster of doctors there. Not that many doctors in the city of London, maybe 20 or 30. And certainly three of them were living in this parish.

BOGAEV: Yeah, and I’d love to think that this is such a small neighborhood that Shakespeare would brush up against everyone, really. But on the other hand, we don’t really know why Shakespeare came to live there. But you do make the case that he might have chosen it because it was quiet, and he could be a quiet writer.

MARSH: Well, well, yeah. I mean, for anybody who writes… you know, Shakespeare, of course, we know what he wrote. But of course, what we don’t know is how much ended up in the wastepaper bin. Most writers like going somewhere reasonably quiet.

What’s interesting is, two of the streets in St. Helens were dead ends and therefore wouldn’t have carts and horses and things traveling through them. The place it seems most likely that Shakespeare was living was between those two roads. In fact, Little St. Helens is still owned by the leather sellers, and is actually a private road. If you go there today, there’s a man at the end of the road who’ll stop you walking down it unless you have business there. So it’s not certain, but I think it’s pretty likely that that was one of the reasons. And also, just for security.

BOGAEV: Are you speaking from personal experience as a writer? I mean, you’ve written this book. Or are your friends writers, that you assume they’d want a quiet neighborhood?

MARSH: I lived for quite a long period with the daughter of quite a famous writer who specifically lived in an area where he hated the local residents, so that he didn’t have to talk to any of them, so he could do nothing but write.

BOGAEV: Oh, let’s name names. Who is this?

MARSH: No, no. No, no. I think I won’t tell you. They’d be very unpopular. But I mean, the thing of course is that, you know, Shakespeare wasn’t just writing. He’s having to write in the time that he had separate from working as an actor. You know, if you actually look at what his day or his week or his year must have been in the 1590s, I think his time was pretty precious to him.

I mean, if you look at his kind of output over that period. Probably in an average evening, he was having to write 20 lines on average. The amount of time you need to do that is considerable, even someone as talented as Shakespeare.

Some years ago, you may know that I did an exhibition about David Bowie at the Victoria and Albert Museum which traveled around the world, came to Chicago. You know, people have this idea of pop stars sort of lazing around by the swimming pool drinking colored bottles of champagne. But between 1974 and 2003, David Bowie, on average, sang once every seventeen days. I mean, that is a remarkable output for anybody. And, you know, alongside that, he was doing films, making records, and all the rest of it. I mean, he was a workaholic.

Now I’m not quite suggesting that Shakespeare was a workaholic on that level, but given that he was certainly acting during this period, that would have taken up most of his days. Even assuming, you know, there were periods when the theaters were closed and all the rest of it, he had to basically write in his spare time, if I can put it that way. And, you know, to turn out a couple of plays a year, year in year out, is no mean feat. Of course, the thing we don’t know is how much of the time he was helping other people with plays or perhaps coming up with story lines which then went on to other people, and all the rest of it.

I think St. Helens provided him, potentially, with a neighborhood where he would get on with work. But also, it had the right social status for someone who, at this time, was just about to buy his house in Stratford and was also working to get back... to get his coat of arms and kind of reestablish his family’s reputation.

BOGAEV: Well, another important thing about St. Helens is that it was really close to where Shakespeare worked, at the Theatre, as it was called. James Burbage’s theater. You have this wonderful material about James Burbage. And you point out in your book—which has a lot of fabulous material about James Burbage. Here’s a quote: “That at the start of every innovation in the leisure sector, there’s always an individual who believes there’s a gap in the market that only his or her own particular idea can fill.”

So what was it about Burbage that he grasped this particular opportunity to start a theater? Because, as you point out, he was a joiner, a carpenter, by trade until he was 40 years old.

MARSH: That’s a very interesting question, and to be honest, I don’t know the answer. I mean, what fascinates me about Burbage is, he cracked the basis of the entire modern entertainment industry, in that prior to the creation of the Theatre, the first theater in London since... well, since the Roman period, obviously there was theater. It was done in inns. It was done, probably, in the open air. It was done in guild halls up and down the country.

But these were generally places where the money didn’t come from an entrance fee. You know, someone would pay for it. The local council or someone who usually went around with a hat and cases and all the rest of it.

Burbage, or maybe it was other people with him, cracked what is the basis of all mass entertainment, which is you basically get people to pay up front. He put a paywall, I suppose we’d call it nowadays, by building the Theatre. He may not have been the first, because obviously there were bear-baiting rings and those sort of things. But he was certainly the first person to do it with a specific built structure: the Theatre up in Shoreditch. I do think that side of his life has been somewhat slightly underestimated.

And of course, the interesting thing is that the Curtain Theater—which seems to have been perhaps open in 1577, a year later. To get the timbers for a theater, you’d have to pre-order them. So it’s quite likely that within literally a few months of the Theatre opening, somebody else had said, “This is a great financial model. I’m going to build one a few hundred yards away.”

I think, again, because the Theatre was involved in such terrible financial shenanigans, people have slightly ignored the fact that what was clear, right from the start, was that this is a financial business model which would work. And of course, what it guaranteed was that he’d have a good income and, eventually, that he could pay off his debts. If he could hang onto his assets.

BOGAEV: Which he did.

MARSH: Which he did. And of course...

BOGAEV: Amazingly, yeah.

MARSH: Amazingly. And so much so that in 1596, he paid 600 pounds, which was a huge sum of money, to acquire the Blackfriars building.

BOGAEV: Well, you paint him and his family as such a colorful bunch. I want you to read a little bit from the book, which is so great. It’s like, you can’t make this stuff up.

MARSH: Yeah, just to be clear, I didn’t write this. This is from a legal account of a court case.

BOGAEV: Exactly.

MARSH: And it’s...

BOGAEV: And also, could you—it’s a legal account of a court case, and could you explain who everybody is, and what their relationship to each other is, and what exactly they’re fighting about before you read this?

MARSH: Okay, so James Burbage, who built the Theatre, did it with his brother-in-law, who put in the money, basically, as far as we can tell. But there was no legal agreement, and so basically, they fell out with each other. They had to mortgage the Theatre. And the court case, in fact, went on for decades, well after, in fact, all the people involved in it had died. Because...

BOGAEV: And his brother-in-law’s name is Brayne and his wife’s name is Margaret Brayne.

MARSH: That’s right. So I’ll just read this now. So James Burbage’s wife is called Ellen. “And then the wife of the said James and their youngest son, called Richard Burbage, fell upon the said Miles and beat him. And drove both him and the complainant, Margaret Brayne, away, saying that if they did tarry to hear the play as others did, they should, but to gather none of the money that was given to go upon the galleries. Furthermore, the said James Burbage’s wife charged him to go out of the ground, or else she would make her son break their knave’s head, and so hotly railed at them. And then the said James Burbage, her husband, looking out a window upon them, called the complainant, Margaret Brayne, a murdering whore.”

So that gives you some idea of the tempers that were involved. And I think, actually, this was due to the fact that people knew there was money to be made out of it. In fact, later on in the book, there’s also a description of Francis Langley turning up at the Boar’s Head basically with a gang of thugs and attacking the owners there. And there’s a great description of the court case of them throwing daggers at them. So this is sort of the under... yeah, this is...

BOGAEV: What a mess. I mean, you can really imagine Shakespeare hearing all this and writing down, “These knaves and rascals and scoundrels comes up,” and, you know, “Whoresons and murdering whore.”

MARSH: Yeah. But I think what’s lying underneath this—and we all know dodgy people who operate in the cash economy which, of course, these theaters did. It was generating every day. People handed over their money. You know, you could see the amount of money that was coming out of it, and people thought, “Mm. You know, I want a share of that.” And I think that’s the other side to the fantastic words that Shakespeare created, is that underneath this was a financial model which attracted some pretty vicious fighting.

BOGAEV: Well, right. And then you’ve anticipated my next question, which is that we’re always talking about what a business theater is, what a businessman Shakespeare must have been. It seems that it’s so easy for people who love Shakespeare to kind of lose track of the business element of the work he was immersed in.

MARSH: Yeah, I mean, I love the words, so, you know... but I also think...

BOGAEV: But you work in theater.

MARSH: Yeah. But I do think it’s interesting. And of course, a book came out a couple years ago called Shakespeare’s Money, which was looking at Shakespeare’s earning capacity. Of course, when he came down to London, his father was obviously in pretty serious financial problems. And several people have suggested recently that Shakespeare would have come to London probably without much financial backing.

It’s interesting that St. Helens had the leather seller’s hall, because his father was a glover. Although in London there was a separate guild for glovers, one has got to ask oneself the question, you know, “When Shakespeare came down, was he actually an established writer and actor? Or was he working in the kind of mixed economy where he thought, ‘Well, if the worst comes to worst, you know, I can work as a leather worker’s assistant.’” Because presumably, he learned...

BOGAEV: You always need a plan B in the arts.

MARSH: Well, a plan B. Indeed, a plan B. And of course, you know, he must have lived in his teens, he was still living in Stratford and presumably must have seen what his father, what a leather working workshop was like.

BOGAEV: Yeah. Why do you think, though, there’s such a... I don’t know. We always put the art—or it seems like we put the art first and the commerce second in talking about Shakespeare. It’s like that with film, too. Is it because, you know, the academy dominates Shakespeare, the Shakespeare community, in conversation? You know, maybe business people would approach Shakespeare very differently from the way English majors do.

MARSH: Yeah. I think part of the reason is that, since Shakespeare’s time, we’ve had the plays. We’ve had the poems. And so you can read them.

To be honest, the detailed financial data, the sort of—and also the material that I put in my book, is pretty inaccessible. You know, it’s reading a lot of original documents. It’s rather like constructing a 3D puzzle where a lot of the clues are missing. It’s hard work, and if you’re not interested in the financing of theater, I think most people think, “Well, the play’s the thing.”

I think that’s a pity, because I don’t think looking at this underlying financial side makes Shakespeare any less interesting. I think it actually makes him, in many ways, more interesting. Because he was working in a commercial economy, and you only need to talk to anybody who’s working on Broadway. Yes, you’ve got the play. You’ve got the lead actor. You’ve got the theater. But in a sense, that’s just the start of your problems. You know, it’s everything that comes together to make a huge success.

I think that’s why theater fascinates people. Why so many people want to work in it. It’s that extraordinary teamwork that you get which produces something. But even when everything goes, or appears to be going, absolutely right, until the opening night, you never know.

BOGAEV: It’s a mystery.

MARSH: It’s a sort of mystery. As, you know, many famous producers have said, “If I knew what the secret of doing a successful play was, I’d be a very rich person.” Even the very rich ones say that, let alone the ones who’ve suffered financial losses, as most people have at some time in their career.

I think that’s the world that Shakespeare’s in. Shakespeare wasn’t subsidized by anybody. He was living in a world where if you got into debt, you went to prison. It was a very, very tough environment. You had to be tough to survive and to flourish.

BOGAEV: Well, let’s shift gears a bit and go the time-worn path from talking about money to talking about religion. We’ll talk about the church, because that was such a big part of this parish’s life and community’s life then. And it was required by law that everyone go to church in Shakespeare’s time, so Shakespeare would have been required to attend services at St. Helens. Maybe this is a dumb question, but just because it was a law, did people really obey it?

MARSH: Well, first of all, there were people who wouldn’t go. I mean, Catholics. Strictly speaking, it would be considered rather abnormal not to go to your local parish church, because why wouldn’t you?

I think it’s important to realize that when you went to a parish church in that period, it was a way of showing very much the social gradations of the parish. The church would have been filled with what are called box pews, and you’d have had to pay for them. Generally speaking, the wealthiest people were at the front, near the communion table, in a Protestant church. The poorer people would be towards the back and sort of scattered around. And right at the back of the church would be the two church wardens who were positioned at the back; A, to check who was coming in and, B, to make sure you paid attention.

BOGAEV: So Shakespeare, he went to church? What do you imagine the scene was? Where did he sit and what did the people around him… how did they think of him or react to him? Or was he a famous star at some point, you know?

MARSH: Well, yeah, yeah. Well, that’s an interesting question. Of course, I mean, there were some pretty heavyweight Puritans in the parish. Some pretty severe people who would probably have considered Shakespeare rather unsuitable company. You know, they would not have been in favor of theater.

On the other hand, I think for a lot of other people he’d have been something of a star. I mean, he wasn’t just a writer but would have been seen as an actor and someone that many of them would have seen on the stage. You know, the thing that I always think is rather curious is that everybody writes about how Shakespeare controlled his audience. It’s rather interesting to imagine him in a situation where he would have been the audience.

And there were actually lots of benches which filled up the back and the sides of the church and you could probably sat there for free, so that’s probably where poorer people stayed. So, of course, one doesn’t know, and this is pure speculation. But my guess is that Shakespeare would have probably had a lot of things apart from the service on his mind and probably, in an ideal world, would’ve have chosen to be behind one of the pillars which run down the middle of the church so that he would get on with whatever project was in his mind.

BOGAEV: Or maybe taking notes on the sermon, right? Because that’s what writers do.

MARSH: Well, yeah. Yeah. I mean, one of the interesting things is that in the—all churches then had a thing called the “paraphrase,” which is where the paraphrases of the Bible were put on. So there would have been a large table in the church with improving literature, if we can put it, on it. So you can almost imagine him sort of, you know, drifting off and thinking, “Oh, I’ll go pick up one of those and have a read.” But this...

BOGAEV: Well, actually, now we’ve gotten into the idea of imagining yourself into the mind of Shakespeare and the life of Shakespeare, which you do really well, actually beautifully, in this book. Because you have these passages where you write really vividly about Shakespeare being torn between Stratford-upon-Avon and plague-ridden in London or needing to be around dynamic people. It is as if you are, you were, writing a novel about him. Just for certain portions of your book. Tell me about your decision to do that, to include these more fiction-like passages.

MARSH: Well, I... Yeah, I mean, that goes back to the nature of the book, which is—I work in a museum. I’m not in an academic university, and so I spend a lot of my day-to-day time thinking, “How can you get general visitors interested in the subject?”

So when Edinburgh University Press agreed to publish the book, I suggested we did it as a kind of crossover so that it’s got some hardcore academic research in it. But I wanted to try and make it accessible to people who were sort of generally interested in the subject.

This is a microhistory of a tiny corner of the city where probably most readers will never go to. I therefore felt that in a few places, what I’ve tried to do is evoke, almost in a reconstruction, what the parish would have been like. Because the church is still in the same place, and in fact, large parts of the streetscape, in fact, survived until the 1960s, when they were torn down for office buildings. I think you can make some reasonable assumptions. But I have made it very clear where these are.

Also, I suppose because I’m interested in theater, this is a bit like the fourth wall where the actors address the audience directly. So it’s sort of based on a theatrical technique. I think—well, if people don’t like it, that’s their choice—but I think it’s justified in the context of what is a massive, very, very detailed information from some pretty dry documents. But as I said, I have made those bits clear.

I think the other thing that came to me writing the book is how dependent we are now on so many specialists; from really, really… from areas of Renaissance studies which, even a few years ago, one probably wouldn’t have thought about. I benefited greatly from advice, for instance, on people who specialize in Elizabethan medicine, which is a pretty specific subject.

I think that part of what I was trying to do in the book was sort of say, “This is really just a start.” At the end of it, I say there are all these people where we, you know, I haven’t been able to find out where they came from or where they ended up. I hope it’s a jumping off point for people who might be interested in doing research on Shakespeare as documents come increasingly available on the internet. You don’t have to necessarily go into archives to study them. You can almost do it at home.

BOGAEV: So what do you conclude, then, as a writer who’s making these, you know, taking some speculative leaps when it comes to Shakespeare?

MARSH: I think the one I might end on, because I think it’s so interesting that I’m pretty certain there’s something in it. Which is that the parish church, which was actually the next parish, St Martin’s Outwich—which, unfortunately, it has been demolished—was literally, sort of about 100 yards away from Shakespeare’s lodgings. It was actually known as St. Martins by the Well with Two Buckets. The reason for this was the parish well was actually in the street, in the middle of Bishopsgate, and it had a well where as one bucket went up, the other went down. Of course, you have that magnificent description in Richard II where he describes his fortunes going down, his bucket full of tears. Of course, there may have been other wells with two buckets, but the fact that Richard II was written at the time when Shakespeare was living in the parish adjacent to a church with such a remarkable name, I do think it’s an example of where he has picked up something just from walking around in his locality. You can never be certain, but there are things like that. And obviously, in the book, I’ve discussed some other ones.

But I’m sure that underlying this is the fact that, you know, Shakespeare, we’ve always known, was a great observer of human nature. But also that he took entire sections of plays from other people. Again, I don’t think the fact that he did that makes him any less interesting. He was having to survive in a very hard commercial climate where the price of failure was often the debtor’s prison. And he was driven to succeed.

BOGAEV: Well, thank you so much. I really, really enjoyed the facts and the speculation.

MARSH: Well, thank you. And it was great to talk to you. And hope to meet up in Los Angeles sometime.

BOGAEV: Oh, that would be lovely. Or London!

MARSH: Or London.


Geoffrey Marsh is the director of the theatre and performances collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. His new book, Living with Shakespeare: Saint Helen’s Parish, 1593–1598, was just published by Edinburgh University Press. It became available in the U-S on May 30th, 2021.

Our podcast episode, “We’ll Wander Through the Streets and Note the Qualities of People,” was produced by Richard Paul. Garland Scott is the associate producer. It was edited by Gail Kern Paster. Ben Lauer is the web producer, with help from Leonor Fernandez.

We had technical help from Andrew Feliciano and Paul Luke at Voice Trax West in Studio City, California.

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Shakespeare Unlimited comes to you from the Folger Shakespeare Library. Home to the world’s largest Shakespeare collection, the Folger is dedicated to advancing knowledge and the arts. You can find more about the Folger at our website, Thanks for listening. For the Folger Shakespeare Library, I’m Folger Director Michael Witmore.