My name is Amanda Bernard, and I am in my final semester as a Graduate Student of English Literature at Georgetown University, although I have spent the rest of my life living and studying in the UK. You can find out more about me on my LinkedIn profile.
I would like to take a little time here to explain my own personal inspirations for this project. While I was an undergraduate student at the University of Warwick I took two classes that referenced early modern London fairly heavily: a class on seventeenth century literature in my second year, and a class on Shakespeare and his contemporary dramatists in my final year. For both of these classes I had lectures by a professor who would, without fail, preface anything that she said with a slide showing a map of early modern London. I have never been able to find a copy of this map online, and so I have to assume that she made it herself. Her map would clearly show the boundaries of the City of London, as well as the locations of all of the theatres in operation before the start of the Civil War. My professor would show us this map at the start of every lecture that she gave to impress on us that London in the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods was not what we think it was; in fact, London was officially only the relatively small area of land encircled by the city walls and the Thames. Therefore, all of the theatres, with the exception of the Blackfriars Theatre, operated outside the City of London, taking advantage of the laxer laws governing the areas to the north of the walls and on the south bank of the Thames.
At the time I was always confused by my professor’s insistence on showing us this image whenever we talked about early modern London, because she rarely went in to any details about London’s geography or the significance of the city to the text we were discussing: showing us a map seemed to be her way of situating us as readers, of signalling that this is the space we should be filtering our readings through, just as other professors who focused more on performance would show us de Witt’s sketch of the Swan Theatre. However, it is extremely difficult to get any real idea of space from a two-dimensional drawing, whether it is of a theatre or of a city, which is presumably why people prefer to visit the Globe Theatre in London rather than reading Shakespeare with de Witt’s sketch to hand. This lack of spatial embodiment may be why I never really engaged with my professor’s map: I understood it as text, rather than space.
The issues that I had understanding the space of early modern London didn’t become really problematic until I began studying city comedies, first at Warwick, and subsequently at Georgetown. When I first read Eastward Ho and Bartholomew Fair I really couldn’t connect with them, because they were so different from the Shakespeare plays that I was used to. Like most students, I suppose, I had been taught that Shakespeare didn’t write about his own time and place to avoid censorship by the Master of the Revels, whose job it was to ban plays that commented negatively on the State. Although by the time that I had reached my final year as an undergraduate I had begun to grasp the idea that Shakespeare wasn’t the only early modern dramatist that mattered, I still found the concept of early modern drama taking a different form to Shakespeare’s plays very difficult to comprehend. As a result, when I read Eastward Ho and Bartholomew Fair I assumed that they were bad plays: in reality I just didn’t know how to read them. The language and the comedy of these plays was foreign to me, containing myriad bawdy jokes and geographical references that I didn’t understand, and I spent as much time reading the footnotes as I did reading the text.
However, during professor Orlin’s class, Transformational Tudor Theatre, at Georgetown I found my way into these plays for the first time. I led the class discussion the week that we were reading Eastward Ho, and in an attempt to clarify a scene in which some of the characters are shipwrecked in various locations along the Thames I printed off maps from the Internet and traced their journey along the Thames. The inadequacy of these crudely marked maps was obvious to me and since then I have been trying to find a way of accurately representing the space of the early modern city as it appears within Jacobean city comedies. As a student reading these plays for the first time I struggled to engage with them on any meaningful level, but I believe that giving students a sense of the importance of the space of the early modern city to these plays will enhance their comprehension and their interpretations.