The Rose (the first to built, in 1587), the Globe and the Swan were all built in late Elizabethan times, within a hundred yards of each another, underneath what is today the southern approach of Southwark Bridge. The Rose is the theatre in which the film Shakespeare in Love was set and was home to many of Shakespeare’s and Marlowe’s first productions. The outline of the foundations of the Globe can still be seen, a couple of minutes walk from the new Globe Theatre.
The reason these theatres all sprang up so close to each other, was that Southwark, where they are located, was a separate city from the City of London in those days, with its own laws. It was under the jurisdiction of the Bishopric of Winchester, with the great riverside Palace of Winchester (where Henry V111 first met Catherine Howard) at its heart. The ruins of this palace are still there, and its famous prison, The Clink, is now a museum. The City of Southwark had far fewer and less stringent rules than the City of London, so it became the home of many popular entertainments that were banned or frowned upon in the City. Theatre was one of them. Southwark was also a safe haven for people who had fallen foul of the authorities in the City, and the crowds that flocked to these entertainments also attracted pickpockets and other thieves, beggars, and hawkers of every conceivable service and goods. The lowest of prostitutes plied their trade here, and some of London’s most infamous, roughest inns & taverns were located here too.
Being a promising young playwright in this area was all well and good from a business point of view, but it wasn’t the sort of place the young Shakespeare wanted to live in full time. There was the squalor, disease, danger and general unpleasantness of the area, but also it was a time when a successful young man would look to invest in property, and sordid Southwark was not a place for investment. Thus, you won’t find a “Shakespeare lived here” blue plaque in Southwark. Shakespeare invested his money in the Wardobe area of London, immediately across the river from the theatres. It had been an affluent area right back to when Dick Whittington, the most famous of London mayors, had lived there two centuries earlier. A pub now stands on the spot where Shakespeare invested.
London Bridge was the only bridge across the river in those days, so it was a couple of miles to walk from Southwark to the Wardrobe. A short walk by the standards of the day, but whenever young Shakespeare had money in his pocket he probably would have treated himself to getting one of the numerous little boats that ran ferry/taxi services across the river.
Perhaps because Shakespeare has become synonymous with Stratford upon Avon, rather than London, there are few statues/plaques etc to the great man in London. One fine little statue of him must be the least visited, least photographed statue of a world famous person in London. It’s close to several tourist sites and a major musem, yet I’ve never seen anyone take any notice of it. Although it’s Shakespeare’s head on the statue, the inscription below tells us that it’s actually to commemorate, two of his supporters rather than the bard himself. They were the men who saved his great works from simply disappearing over the ages. When you think about it, it is remarkable that so much of his works were kept for posterity, surving Puritanism, the Great Fire of London, numerous theatre fires and riots, a Civil War and much else.