'No want of conscience hold it that I call / Her 'love' for whose dear love I rise and fall.'
Shakespeare in Lust is a literary walk.
Its aim is twofold:
1) to show off Shakespeare’s stomping ground in the East End of London, from the Tower of London to his Bishopsgate digs, via Ye Crosse Keyes Inn and Bedlam, to the sites of newly discovered The Theatre and The Curtain in Shoreditch.
2) to show how his complicated love life inspired not only the Sonnets but many of the plays and their heroines.
Shakespeare arrived in London in the mid-1580s, and lived in Shoreditch, the theatreland of the Elizabethan era. It was a wild, bohemian, lowlife zone, outside the jurisdiction of the City. An apocryphal story says he began his career minding horses for playgoers.
Though a married man and father, he was still just out of his teens. He began working as a talented boy-actor in female parts, and graduated to male parts. There were no ‘lost years’. He deserted his family and ran away to London as soon as he could, probably on the strength of a job offer, arriving in 1585.
Undoubtedly he acted in plays by Marlowe, and would also have hung out with Marlowe in his tenement in Norton Folgate. The atheist Marlowe lived there because it was a Liberty, which meant he didn’t have to go to Church – by law – every Sunday. Marlowe’s example inspired him to try his hand at playwrighting.
Alas! ’tis true, I have gone here and there,
And made my self a motley to the view,
Gored mine own thoughts, sold cheap what is most dear,
Made old offences of affections new;
Motley Avenue was a suitably seedy lane in Shoreditch. The name itself was derived from ‘sewer ditch’.
It was in this neighbourhood he met the poet-musician Emilia Bassano who was a member of the illustrious Bassano family, court musicians to King Henry VIII and to Queen Elizabeth.
Shakespeare was so smitten with the sultry Anglo-Italian Jewess, that he immediately encoded her into his writing. Titus Andronicus includes two characters called Aemilius and Bassianus, and The Comedy of Errors is where the first of his many Emilas appears.
Her unusual looks and proto-feminist ideas are also immortalised in such plays as The Taming of the Shrew, Love’s Labours Lost, The Merchant of Venice, Othello, and Anthony and Cleopatra.
She later achieved a much greater notoriety as the Dark Lady of the Sonnets.
'For I have sworn thee fair and called thee bright / Who art as black as hell, as dark as night.'
Today she has been rediscovered and resurrected as the greatest poetess of the early Jacobean era, a heavyweight feminist author 200 years before Mary Wollestonecraft.
Shakespeare in Lust is an astonishingly erudite, hilariously funny walk by poet Niall McDevitt. It tells the story of Shakespeare’s life and work as you’ve never heard it before and on the very streets where it all happened.
For group bookings contact Niall McDevitt at 07722163823 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Text: Niall McDevitt
Photos: Helen Moore