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Visscher's View of London

Shakespeare was associated with several London theaters, but the playhouse with which he is most closely linked was the Globe, visible in the foreground of this view of London by the Amsterdam engraver Claes Jansz. Visscher. The first version of Visscher's engraving was issued in 1616, the year of Shakespeare's death; the Folger's unique, very early copy has been dated to 1625. This is only a portion of the entire engraving, which is more than seven feet wide.

For many years, Visscher's view of London was crucial to theories about the Globe's construction. More recently, it has been shown to be inaccurate in many respects; the Globe, for example, is now thought to have been a many-sided polygon, not the towerlike octagon shown here. But the view still offers a useful look at early seventeenth-century London as it may have appeared before the Great Fire of 1666.

In the early 1600s, the city probably looked much as it did when Shakespeare first arrived in about the late 1580s—a large, bustling metropolis with the River Thames as its main thoroughfare, and small boats for hire like taxicabs on modern city streets. Among the many labeled churches here is old Saint Paul's Cathedral, later destroyed in the fire and replaced by the familiar domed structure by Christopher Wren. Along the north bank of the river, stairs led to the houses of the great families.

The Globe, as well as other theaters, was located on the south bank of the river, outside the jurisdiction of the city. Already, the influence of the Protestants known as Puritans was being felt, and the city fathers were unfriendly to stage productions.

Claes Jansz. Visscher. London. ca. 1625 (Detail).

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Infinite Variety
To find similar stories about other items from the Folger collection, look for Infinite Variety: Exploring the Folger Shakespeare Library.

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