One of the ways we fund the podcast is through affiliate links. If you purchase these items through our links, we make a commission. This, and all the posts here on our website, may contain such affiliate links. If you would like to purchase items from our art shop, you can explore the shop here. on Zazzle, or Etsy. All of our ebooks, diagrams, maps, and worksheets you find in the shops are included in our Members Only Resource Library. Become a Member here.

Welcome to Episode #114 of That Shakespeare Life, the podcast that takes you behind the curtain and into the life of William Shakespeare.

For the entirety of Shakespeare’s life, the Tabard Inn was a well established public inn on the mainstreet of Southwark, leading to London Bridge, and it was famous because Chaucer had set the opening scene of The Canterbury Tales there, but according to a 27 page hand written document once owned by famous antiquary David Laing, the Tabard Inn served as a frequent meeting place for William Shakespeare, who gathered there with famous friends like Richard Burbage, Ben Jonson, and other “roystering associates” of the 16th century, all of whom carved their names into the wooden panels of this iconic public house in an act of graffiti that turns out to be a key piece of history.

This paper record was left unnoticed for decades inside the Edinburgh University Library until a reference to it was rediscovered by Martha Carlin in 2013. Martha is Professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and she joins us today to share with us her fantastic discovery, the history of the Tabard Inn, why Shakespeare and his friends were writing on the walls there in the late 16th century.

Join the conversation below.

Subscribe
Itunes | Stitcher | TuneIn | GooglePlay | iHeartRadio

BECOME A MEMBER

Cook, play, and dance your way through the life of William Shakespeare
with history activity kits that work like science labs for Shakespeare. 

Martha Carlin is Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.  Her research focuses on medieval towns, especially London and its suburbs, and everyday life in medieval England, with special interest in the history of food, work, shopping, the household, household technologies, correspondence, and inns.  In recent years, her research has also turned up new evidence concerning the lives of Geoffrey Chaucer, John Gower, and William Shakespeare.

Professor Carlin's books include: Medieval London: Collected Papers of Caroline M. Barron (co-edited with Joel T. Rosenthal, 2017), Lost Letters of Medieval Life: English Society, 1200-1250 (co-authored with David Crouch, 2013), Food and Eating in Medieval Europe (co-edited with Joel T. Rosenthal, 1998), London and Southwark Inventories, 1316-1650: A Handlist of Extents for Debts (1997), and Medieval Southwark (1996).  

Her recent shorter publications include: “Palaeography and Forgery: Thomas D.'s Book of the Hartshorn in Southwark,” in Medieval Londoners, ed. Elizabeth A. New and Christian Steer (University of London Press, 2019), 71-94; “Gower's Life” (a biographical study of Chaucer's friend and fellow-poet, John Gower), in Historians on John Gower, ed. Stephen H. Rigby, with Siân Echard (Woodbridge: Boydell and Brewer, 2019), pp. 3-120; “Why Stay at the Tabard? Public Inns and Their Amenities, c. 1400,” in Studies in the Age of Chaucer, 40 (2018), pp. 413-421; “Catering for Great Households: Practical Matters,” in The Medieval Great Household, ed. Christopher Woolgar (Harlaxton Medieval Studies 28, 2018), pp. 336-354; “Gower’s Southwark,” in The Routledge Research Companion to John Gower, ed. Ana Sáez-Hidalgo, Brian Gastle, and R. F. Yeager (Abingdon, Oxon.: Routledge, 2017), Chapter 11, pp. 132-49; “Thomas Spencer, Southwark Scrivener (d. 1428): Owner of a Copy of Chaucer's Troilus in 1394?,” Chaucer Review, 49 (November 2015), pp. 387-401; “The Host,” in Historians on Chaucer, ed. Stephen H. Rigby, with the assistance of Alastair J. Minnis (Oxford, 2014), pp. 460-480; “The Bard at the Tabard,” The Times Literary Supplement, https://www.the-tls.co.uk/articles/public/the-bard-at-the-tabard/ (24 September 2014); “The Senses in the Marketplace: Markets, Shops, and Shopping in Medieval Towns,” in A Cultural History of the Senses, Volume 2: The Middle Ages [500-1450 CE], ed. Richard Newhauser (London, 2014), pp. 67-87.

In this episode, I’ll be asking Martha Carlin about :

  • Was carving their names into the panels of the building an act of vandalism or respect? 
  • Quoting from the record, it states, “ye rest of their roystering associates in King Jameses time as in ye large room they have cut their names on ye Pannels.” “roystering associates” sounds like this group was kind of an early modern playwrighting street gang. Was it typical for certain playwrights to be recognizable as a group like this, or does this record indicate Shakespeare and his compatriots had formed a kind of club that was unique for the period? 

  • Where were the papers when you found them? Were they part of a larger collection of papers?
  • … and more!

Use this Hand Illustrated Print to Explore The Theaters and Inns of 1600 London

Early in Elizabethan times, players performed at any public house that would allow it include Inns and Play yards. In this map of 1600 London, you can see the locations of several of the theaters of London and while this map does not include all of the smaller churches and inns which might have houses plays, it shows most of the major competing playhouses that rivaled Shakespeare when he was writing for the The Globe, and the Blackfriars playhouse.

Sign up for our weekly newsletter right here and immediately download this map as our free gift.

Get Shakespeare Weekly

Join today, and I'll send you this hand illustrated map of Theaters in 1600s London to welcome you.

We won't send you spam. Unsubscribe at any time. Powered by ConvertKit

What, will you walk with me about the town,
And then go to my inn and dine with me?

Antipholus

Comedy of Errors (I.2)

“Some Notes for my Perambulations in and round the Citye of London ca. 1633 -1643” by an Anyonymous Antiquary. 

This image is graciously provided by special permission of The Centre for Research Collections, Edinburgh University Library. The image is from their collections and The Centre for Research Collections, Edinburgh University Library retains sole ownership of said image. Listeners may download, link to and cite the image within That Shakespeare Life in personal research only. Any further use, including, but not limited to, unauthorized downloading or distribution of the image is strictly prohibited. Visitors must contact the Centre for Research Collections, Edinburgh University Library to request additional use, at: is-crc@ed.ac.uk.

Above Image/Document-specific information
Title: Some Notes for my Perambulations in and round the Citye of London
Date: ca. 1643
Repository: Centre for Research Collections, Edinburgh University Library, Edinburgh, UK
Call number and opening: MS La. II 422/211, fol. 8r

The Anonymous Antiquary

The Folger library exhibition listing dates this document to well after Shakespeare’s death, sometime between 1633 and 1643, but indicates that we do not know who wrote the record in the first place.
The very last paragraph of the above document says:

The Tabard I find to have been the resort Mastere Will Shakspear Sir Sander Duncombe Lawrence Fletcher Richard Burbage Ben Jonson and the rest of their roystering associates in King Jameses time as in the large room they have cut their names on the Pannels.

As Martha explains in this week's episode, there is a large and very tantalizing  “JE” inscribed on it. (Not visible on this page here) Martha researched into possible “JE” individuals who might be contenders for this title. For one brief moment, she considered it could be John Evelyn (whose wife Duncombe treated as a medical professional so there was a connection). That theory was hopefuly, but ultimately disproven. Then there was another JE connected with Wencellas Hollar who was friends with a JE. Hollar gave his “JE” a drawing and JE has some notes reminiscing about his friendship with Hollar. That “JE”, too, proved in vain. All we do know about the writer of this Tabard Inn record is that he was a young unmarried royalist interested romantically in Mable Acton, and that he took substantial notes on Southwark and other London locations.

RELATED EPISODE YOU MIGHT ENJOY: 

Dr. James Loehlin explores the history of the question mark, including a specific kind of word battle called “Flyting” which is the kind of verbal contest Martha Carlin references for Shakespeare against Ben Jonson in today's interview.

[Enter Attendants, and BIGOT, carrying KING JOHN in a chair]
Stage Directions

King John (V.7)

Nicolai Copernicito Torinensis De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium, Libri VI (On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres, in six books) (title page of 2nd edition, Basel, 1566) Source

Roystering Associate Sanders Duncombe

Quoting from the record Martha discovered, it states, “ye rest of their roystering associates in King Jameses time as in ye large room they have cut their names on ye Pannels.” 

It seems from this evidence that Shakespeare had a kind of “band of brothers' Or even an earlymodern playwrighting club who frequented the Tabard. As Martha explains, they likely frequented a great many inns and taverns in London as there were a wide variety to choose from, all in close proximity to one another. The casual and even flippant manner of a phrase like “roystering associates” does tempt the conclusion that these men were known to hang about together and had something of a reptuation for stirring up mischief. There's nothing in the record to provide hard evenidence to that effect, but as Martha explains, there is anecdotal evidence for William shakespeare and Ben Jonson engaging in a kind of word battle back and forth, which is aking to the popular street word battles we know about from the 16th century called flyting. (Martha references Fuller’s account for the anecdotal evidence.)

What this record of the Tabard Inn does suggest is that groupings of playwrighting contempoaries gathering together socially at a tavern or inn did, indeed, occur.

For this record, most of the names recorded in the log are readilyrecognizable in terms of Shakespeare history–of course William Shakespeare but also Richard Burbage, John Fletcher, and Ben Jonson we know as actors or playwrights whose works we often study alongside that of Shakespeare himself, but one particular name that was no so obvious to place was that of Sir Sander Duncombe. 

Dumcombe was a generation younger than Shakespeare and knighted in 1617. He was a Justice of the Peace for the 1640s in Middlesex, and in the 1630s he introduced the concept of sedan chairs to London. Travelling in France, and saw them there, then brought it back to England for towns where coaches were not practical (Ben Franklin would later be enamoured by these same French Sedan Chairs and was known to travel upon them in Colonial America).

Charles I, who was King beginning in 1625, (after James I) liked these sedan chairs for London as a pratical alternative to coaches. London streets were very crowded. It was dangerous and incovenient to try and take coaches everyone and not an option to walk everywhere. Sanders Duncombe had the monopoly to develop a kind of taxi system for these sedan chairs. He also is known to have kept bears and animals for bating exhibitions. He is associated in one historical record as having owned one bear which killed a gardener.

Knowing that The Globe theater housed bear baiting activities and the close association between animals and the theater (Philip Henslowe, for example, was in charge of the King's animals under James I, and used animals in his theater), we can infer several possible relationship connections for Duncombe and Shakespeare as one of these “roystering associates.” 

BECOME A MEMBER

Cook, play, and dance your way through the life of William Shakespeare
with history activity kits that work like science labs for Shakespeare. 

Men so disorder'd, so debosh'd, and bold
That this our court, infected with their manners,
Shows like a riotous inn

Goneril

King Lear (I.4)

Drawing of the Tabard Inn, Southwark, London SE1, created just before it was demolished in 1873. Published in Southwark: High Street, Old and New London, Volume 6 (1878), pp. 57-75. Source

The Tabard Inn

 In 1298 the site of the Tabard Inn contained a large house and a separate kitchen and brewhouse with upper rooms, all set behind a gated entrance with shops on either side of the gatehouse. It is not known if these buildings served as someone’s home, or it operated as a business. It is thought to have been converted to an Inn by 1381 because that’s when the tax roll records the innkeeper, Henry Bailif (Also called Bailly) as living there with his wife Christian, and their servants William and Margery. Despite the uncertainty about when it became an Inn, once thus established, the Tabard would serve for hundreds of years as a popular meeting place for creatives, including Geoffrey Chaucer, who wrote in The Canterbury Tales about a Harry Bailey that hosts the Tabard Inn for the fictional pilgrims. Chaucer’s use of the name Harry Bailey is significant since that name is in real life the name of the actual host at the Tabard Inn that existed in London right when Chaucer was writing these lines. A hugely popular spot, the Tabard was lost either to the fire itself or as a product of fire relief efforts trying to contain the blaze, but the original structure was lost in the Great Fire of Southwark in 1676. Quickly rebuilt and renamed the Talbot, the Inn would serve the city of London for another 200 years before it was eventually demolished in the late 1800s.

Products from That Shakespeare Shop:

Members of That Shakespeare Life get an additional 20% off everything in the shop. Use the coupon code inside “Special Offers” in the member's area. Want to get 20% off your favorite Shakespeare history items? Become a Member Here.

…thou most beauteous inn,
Why should hard-favour'd grief be lodged in thee,
When triumph is become an alehouse guest?

Queen

Richard II (V.1)

The Tabard inn, Southwark, mid-19th century. From a mid-19th century engraving. Source

The Tabard was part of a network of taverns

The historian John Stow wrote a Survey of London in which he recorded that by the 16th century, the Tabard Inn was one of several inns in Southwark, including “many fair inns, for receipt of travellers, by these signs: the Spurre, Christopher, Bull, Queen's Head, Tabard, George, Hart, King's Head”

The Tabard is famous today because of its’ lasting connections to Chaucer and Shakespeare, but the Inn was already famous, well known, and beloved by travellers and locals alike during Shakespeare's lifetime. 

Shakespeare would have been a fan of Chaucer and the Inn would have been a keen spot for visiting for that connection.

One unknown antiquary wrote: “old Inn is of Timber, nearly” “and very large, and appeareth to me to have been but little changed, as may be seen by the inside.” This record indicates that The Tabard was clearly distincitve in the 1640s. Not only for its association with Chaucer, and by the 1640's its' association with Shakespeare and the roysterers, but also because it looked medieval (large, still timber built). 

The Tabard had been architecturally expanded in consequence of the dissolution of the monasteries which had joined a monastic property, and after the dissolution, had acquired then absorbed the monastery land by the time Shakespeare was visiting there. The main building of the inn still looked ancient to someone writing in 1643 (though we don’t know this antiquary’s name)

The Tabard was close to Globe, located ¼ mile south of London Bridge. The Globe was on Bankside—due west of London Bridge. The Tabard was about ½ mile if you’re walking from The Globe. High Street was the prime street for early modern London–everyone went there right up until the railroad put them out of business in the 19th century.

BECOME A MEMBER

Cook, play, and dance your way through the life of William Shakespeare
with history activity kits that work like science labs for Shakespeare. 

Books & Resources Martha Carlin recommends:

 

Martha Carlin, “Shakespeare at the Tabard,” Times Literary Supplement, 24 September 2014, available online at https://sites.uwm.edu/carlin/tls-shakespeare-at-the-tabard/

Martha Carlin, “Shakespeare the Roisterer at the Tabard Inn” (Folger Shakespeare Library exhibition entry, 2016), https://shakespearedocumented.folger.edu/exhibition/document/shakespeare-roisterer-tabard-inn

Martha Carlin, “The Host,” in Historians on Chaucer: The General Prologue of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, ed. Stephen H. Rigby, with the assistance of Alastair J. Minnis (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), pp. 460-480.

Martha Carlin, Medieval Southwark (London: Hambledon, 1996).

Pete Brown, Shakespeare's Local (Macmillan, 2012) – argues that when Shakespeare was working at the Globe in Southwark, he may have gone drinking at the George Inn, a public inn in the High Street, near the Tabard. See Pete's very gracious blog comments after I notified him of the evidence that linked Shakespeare instead to the Tabard: https://www.petebrown.net/category/pubs/the-george-inn/

Folger Library Digital Exhibition, Shakespeare the Roisterer at the Tabard Inn
https://shakespearedocumented.folger.edu/exhibition/document/shakespeare-roisterer-tabard-inn 

Use this Hand Illustrated Print to Explore The Theaters and Inns of 1600 London

Early in Elizabethan times, players performed at any public house that would allow it include Inns and Play yards. In this map of 1600 London, you can see the locations of several of the theaters of London and while this map does not include all of the smaller churches and inns which might have houses plays, it shows most of the major competing playhouses that rivaled Shakespeare when he was writing for the The Globe, and the Blackfriars playhouse.

Sign up for our weekly newsletter right here and immediately download this map as our free gift.

Get Shakespeare Weekly

Join today, and I'll send you this hand illustrated map of Theaters in 1600s London to welcome you.

We won't send you spam. Unsubscribe at any time. Powered by ConvertKit


Comment and Share

Please consider rating the podcast with 5 stars and leaving a one- or two-sentence review in iTunes or on Stitcher.  Rating the podcast helps tremendously with bringing the podcast to the attention of others.

We encourage you to join the That Shakespeare Life community on Facebook. It’s a community of fans of That Shakespeare Life and a meeting place of professional Shakespeareans and Shakespeare enthusiasts.

You can tell your friends on Twitter about your love of Shakespeare and our new podcast by simply clicking this link and sharing the tweet you’ll find at the other end.

And, by all means, if you know someone you think would love to learn about the life of William Shakespeare, please spread the word by using the share buttons on this page.

And remember: In order to really know William Shakespeare, you have to go behind the curtain, and into That Shakespeare Life. 

%d bloggers like this: