“Shakespeare’s London”: the Scene of London in the Second Tetralogy and Henry VIII

  • Ian Munro
Part of the Early Modern Cultural Studies book series (EMCSS)


Where do we find “Shakespeare’s London”? The old-fashioned possessive phrase could be interpreted in at least two ways, producing two different, though related, answers. If the expression is cognate to “Shakespeare’s Rome,” meaning his artistic creation of the city, then perhaps Shakespeare’s London only ever existed in the past tense. One of the many things that sets Shakespeare apart from other early modern playwrights is that none of his plays is set in his contemporary city; while dialect, custom, and anachronistic detail may reveal Falstaff’s London to be Shakespeare’s city in disguise, the disguise is significant, reinforcing a sense of temporal dislocation: this is not now, this is then.1 From such a perspective, the London location of the history plays acts as a boundary, helping to distinguish past from present and play from reality. The boundary can be crossed—through the extra-dramatic efforts of Prologue, Chorus, or Epilogue, for example—but this crossing typically maintains the integrity of the staged world, and thus the theatrical illusion, by making explicit the transposition from one conceptual realm to another. If, on the other hand, we understand “Shakespeare’s London” in the usual sense of referring to the world he inhabited rather than created, it would seem (to judge by the critical tradition) that it only exists outside his plays.


Theatrical Space Urban Space Absolute Space Crowd Scene Henry VIII 
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© Ian Munro 2005

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  • Ian Munro

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