King's College London
Online Exhibitions
'The very age and body of the time': Shakespeare's world

A panorama of London

London in the early modern period rapidly expanded from a bustling yet compact medieval city, still largely compassed by its Roman boundaries, to a burgeoning world capital of trade and empire. Shakespeare’s residence in London came during a population explosion, from around 50,000 inhabitants in 1530 to over 225,000 by 1605.

View of the western reach of the Thames towards WestminsterSection showing the western reach of the Thames towards WestminsterThis rapid growth saw the city spill over its traditional boundaries, consolidate the link with nearby Westminster, and begin the process of incorporating outlying towns and villages that continued until the 20th century. Images of the city as a complete entity thus became more difficult to accomplish due to its sheer size.

Wenceslaus Hollar (1607-77) was a Bohemian etcher and artist who in the early 1640s made sketches of the panorama of London as viewed from the tower of St Saviour’s Church on Bankside (now Southwark Cathedral). These were later worked up into six large etched plates, resulting in a print 2.7 metres long. More or less unchanged between 1600 and 1640, this would have been the view of London by the end of Shakespeare’s career.

The section reproduced here shows the western reach of the Thames towards Westminster. The Globe Theatre and the bear-baiting pit (mistakenly transposed by Hollar in his etching) beyond the bounds of the city, south of the river in Southwark, contrasting with the more reputable houses of the nobility along the Strand on the northern shore.

In this exhibition

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