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The World of William Shakespeare: Elizabethan Era London

Research guide devoted to the work and historical background of William Shakespeare.

Elizabethan London



Image from, accessed August 25, 2021.


From Shakespeare, Anthony Burgess, 1978:

"...The City meant roughly what we mean by the City of London--a crammed commercial huddle that smells the river. The Thames was everybody's thoroughfare. The Londoners of Chaucer's time had had difficulty bridging it; the Elizabethans had achieved only London Bridge. You crossed normally by boat-taxi, the boatmen calling 'Eastward-ho' and 'Westward-ho'. There was commerce on the river, but also gilded barges, sometimes with royalty in them. Chained to the banks there were sometimes criminals, who had to abide the washing of three tides. The river had to look on other emblems of the brutality of the age--the severed heads on Temple Bar and on London Bridge itself...."

The streets were narrow, cobbled, slippery with the slime of refuse. Houses were crammed together, and there were a lot of furtive alleys. Chamber pots, or jordans, were emptied out of windows. There was no drainage. Fleet Ditch stank to make a man throw up his gorge. But the City had its natural cleansers--the kites, graceful birds that made their nests of rags and refuse in the forks of trees. They scavenged, eating anything with relish. ... And countering the bad, man-made odors, the smells of the countryside floated in. There were rosy milkmaids in the early morning streets, and sellers of newly gathered cresses.

It was a city of loud noises--hooves and raw coach wheels on the cobbles, the yells of traders, the brawling of apprentices, scuffles to keep the wall and not be thrown into the oozy kennel. Even normal conversation must have been loud since everybody was, by our standards, tipsy. Nobody drank water, and tea had not yet come in. Ale was the standard tipple, and it was strong. Ale for breakfast was a good means of starting the day in euphoria or truculence. Ale for dinner refocillated the wasted tissues of the morning. Ale for supper ensured a heavy snoring repose. The better sort drank wine, which promoted good fellowship and led to sword fights. It was not what we would call a sober city."

From; accessed August 25, 2021.

Works on Shakespeare and his era in the HMCPL Catalog

Following are works on Shakespeare and his era in the Huntsville-Madison County Public Library catalog: