Now that “Elizabeth I” is through the creative process and at the printer’s, I took a short trip to London, as a sort of nightcap to the project. I wanted to revisit some of the things I had just written about, and see if they seemed different to me now. I think all my senses were on alert and as the cab took me through the streets enroute to my hotel, the first thing that struck me were all the posters for Shakespeare plays—Henry IV, parts I and II; Hamlet, of course; Antony and Cleopatra, As You Like It, Julius Caesar, King Lear, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, Merry Wives of Windsor, Richard III, Comedy of Errors, The Winter’s Tale. I wondered what in the world Shakespeare would have thought if he could have known this. Would it have changed his behavior? Would it have given him writer’s block? (“I have to write something that London audiences of 2010 can relate to!”) Since Shakespeare is a major character in my book I’ve become quite curious about his thought process.
My first day there was a bright sunny Sunday and I headed over London Bridge like people did in Elizabeth’s day. The Southwark area on the south bank of the Thames always had a dicey reputation, at least in the middle ages and Elizabeth’s time. All the fun vices were there—taverns, bawdy houses, and theaters, not to mention bearbaiting pits. As recently as twenty years ago, though, the pleasure aspect had faded and it was a derelict, depressing warehouse area. However, with the building of the new Globe Theater, and the opening of the Tate Modern, the south bank got a revival and today it’s a lively, bustling place. The theater is back, as are the taverns and bands of carousers. Lurid museums about torture and executions are wildly popular. Only the bearpits are missing. The Globe was having a matinee and scads of people were arriving by boat and by the river pathway, as they must have done in Elizabeth’s day. I got a good glimpse of what the atmosphere must have been back then. I got lunch in a pub overlooking the river, which was at low tide, and saw many boats out, filled with rowers and sightseers. When the sun shines in England, everyone wants to be outdoors. That, too, hasn’t changed.
The other big posters concerned the impending visit of the Pope to England that week. I truly think Elizabeth must have been stirring in her marble tomb in Westminster Abbey, where the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury would hold a joint service. The thought that a pope would ever set foot in England would have seemed impossible to her, considering that the one she dealt with blessed the Armada and issued a proclamation that she was not the true queen, called her “the servant of crime” and even, off the record, said whoever assassinated her would be doing a good deed! Truly, what a difference four hundred years makes! The present Queen was formally receiving him, and the present Prime Minister welcoming him.