THE CITY IN SEPTEMBER
Envie is seldome idle. (Greenes Groats-worth of Witte, 1592) [Your wife] prayeth unto the lord to seace his hand frome punyshenge us with his crosse that she mowght have you at home with her hopinge hopinge then that you should be eased of this heavey labowre & toylle ( Philip Henslowe in London, to the actor Edward Alleyn on tour with 'my lorde Stranges Players', 14 August 1593)
Viewed from the bankside south of the river, London would have seemed tranquil and beautiful in the late summer of 1592. Then as now, some days brought haze over the Thames. In low-lying southern liberties near the amphitheatres, the air could be hot and humid. Here, though the tenements were sealed off from the Thames by rising embankments, the working lives of people within the river's floodplain were influenced by the river's commerce and the city to the north. Above a line of public and private houses on the north bank, steeples and towers rose into the September air. Wherries and barges would have moved on the river deliberately as ever -- but watermen did not bring play-goers over to Paris Garden and the Clink.
What were Shakespeare's relations with a city which was about to be struck by the worst plague since his birth? About 14 per cent of London's populace were to die. That calamity -- with the fear, disruption, suffering, and bitter loss it entailed -- is so overwhelming that his attitude to the theatre, or the effects of pamphleteering by University