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Welcome to Episode #62 of That Shakespeare Life, the podcast that takes you behind the curtain and into the life of William Shakespeare. 

During William Shakespeare’s lifetime, the central spot for gathering news of the day, purchasing the latest books, or catching up on what’s new from your favorite author, poet, or playwright, was the churchyard outside St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. Frequenter’s to this spot were known as “paul’s walkers” and it was a huge number of walkers indeed that crossed the yard to search the various stalls for literature. There are at least 8 references to St. Paul’s cathedral and it’s reputation for promoting the works of authors like William Shakespeare, to be found inside the plays of the bard and today we have our special guest Amy Lidster, a research fellow at King’s College London here with us to share some of what she has discovered during her work into the Shakespearean history of St. Paul’s Cathedral, and to walk us through how Shakespeare would have been impacted by this remarkable place.

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Amy Lidster is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at King’s College London, where she is working on a Leverhulme-funded project called Wartime Shakespeare: The Fashioning of Public Opinion through Performance. She is also a 2018/19 Postdoctoral Fellow at the Society for Renaissance Studies for her research on authorship and authority in early modern playbooks. Most of Amy’s other research concentrates on history plays, historiography, and the book trade: she is finishing a book called Unruly Histories: Publishing the history play in the age of Shakespeare; she is co-editing Edward III for Internet Shakespeare Editions;and she is co-organizing a conference called Changing Histories: Rethinking the early modern history play, which will be held at King’s College London in July 2019. For more information, see Amy’s full research profile.


In this episode, I’ll be asking Amy about :

  • Why is the St. Paul’s Cathedral from Shakespeare’s life called Old St. Paul’s Cathedral?

  • Was the environment here among what you call “Paul’s Walkers” really closer to what we think of as a back alley bar than a churchyard?

  • One of the main records we have of William Shakespeare himself is when his plays are recorded in what’s known as The Stationer’s Register. Would you draw a distinction for us between being a stationer who runs a book stall and the official stationer’s register?

    … and more!

Now, by Saint Paul, this news is bad indeed. 
Richard III (Duke of Gloucester)

Richard III, I.1

Detail showing St Paul’s Cathedral from the “Copperplate” map of London, 1550s. circa 1553. Ann Saunders and John Schofield (eds), Tudor London: a map and a view (2001) Source

Old St. Paul’s Cathedral

The original St. Paul’s Cathedral was completed in the 14th century.At its final state of completion in the middle of the 14th century, the cathedral was one of the longest churches in the world, with one of the tallest spires, and exceptional stained glass.

Geoffrey Chaucer utilizes a metaphorical reference to the beautiful stained glass windows of St. Paul’s Cathedral when writing The Miller’s Tale as part of the Canterbury Tales. He wrote these lines knowing that other Londoners would understand the comparison:

His rode was red, his eyen grey as goose,

With Paule’s windows carven on his shoes
In hosen red he went full fetisly.


Following Chaucer’s lead, Shakespeare himself would use the cahtedral in a similar understanding that Londors would recognize the reference, demonstrating the security of this image and reputation in the minds of his theater audiences.

The cathedral survived centuries of thunderstorms and lightening, but one particular lightening strike took out the largest spire in the church. Neglecting to replace the spire, it was left disfigured, and was a cultural legend for the life of William Shakespeare. Everyone who knew of St. Paul’s knew of the missing spire.


I bought him in Paul’s, and he’ll buy me a horse in 


Henry IV Part 1, I.2

John Franklin’s illustration of Paul’s Walk for William Harrison Ainsworth’s novel, Old St. Paul’s, published London : Chapman & Hall, 1841. John Franklin (fl.1826-1861) Originally inside this book. (Source where I found it)

Paul’s Walkers

The nave of the church began to be called “Paul’s Walk” around the late 14th century, as the church was being used as a marketplace. Many churchgoers, bishops, and religiously minded decried the use of Paul’s as such a marketplace, as is evidenced in Bishop Braybrooke’s letter from the early 15th century where he says Pauls should not be used for selling  “wares, as if it were a public market” and “others … by the instigation of the Devil [using] stones and arrows to bring down the birds, jackdaws and pigeons which nestle in the walls and crevises of the building. Others play at ball … breaking the beautiful and costly painted windows to the amazement of spectators.” (Benham, 16

Despite being threatened with excommunication for going there, by the time William Shakespeare is born, the cathedral is well established as the center of London gossip. Many people gathered there to learn and pass along the latest news about life and people living in London. These particularly prolific gosspis were terms “news mongers” and the people who came to the cathedral specifically in search of the latest news were known as “Paul’s Walkers”

According to one English essayist popular after the Restoration, Francis Obsborne, (1593–1659):

It was the fashion of those times … for the principal gentry, lords, courtiers, and men of all professions not merely mechanic, to meet in Paul’s Church by eleven and walk in the middle aisle till twelve, and after dinner from three to six, during which times some discoursed on business, others of news. Now in regard of the universal there happened little that did not first or last arrive here … And those news-mongers, as they called them, did not only take the boldness to weigh the public but most intrinsic actions of the state, which some courtier or other did betray to this society. (Chamberlain, 1. Quotation of Osborne, Francis (1689), 449–451)

It was not merely gossip of the back porch variety that was shared in the courtyard, however. Since William Shakespeare was living in a pre-newspaper era, St Paul’s gathering of travellers, and therefore information, is how residents of the city discovered what was going on in current affairs, war, religion, parliament, and the court. One contemporary of William Shakespeare, William Haughton, wrote in his play Englishmen for my Money that Paul’s walk was a great open area filled with “great store of company that do nothing but go up and down, and go up and down, and make a grumbling together”. (Quoted in Ostovich, 61). Helen Ostovich is a guest inside Episode 19 of That Shakespeare Life listen to that here.

As with any open gathering of people, such congregating brought with it an infestation of beggars, thieves, prostitutes, and criminals. In  Microcosmographie (1628), a series of satirical portraits of contemporary England, John Earle (1601–1665), described Paul’s as:

[Paul’s walk] is the land’s epitome, or you may call it the lesser isle of Great Britain. It is more than this, the whole world’s map, which you may here discern in its perfectest motion, justling and turning. It is a heap of stones and men, with a vast confusion of languages; and were the steeple not sanctified, nothing liker Babel. The noise in it is like that of bees, a strange humming or buzz mixed of walking tongues and feet: it is a kind of still roar or loud whisper … It is the great exchange of all discourse, and no business whatsoever but is here stirring and a-foot … It is the general mint of all famous lies, which are here like the legends of popery, first coined and stamped in the church. (Earle, 103–104.).

This oily rascal is known as well as Paul’s.
Go, call him forth.

Henry V

Henry IV Part 1, II.4

Old St Paul’s (sermon at St Paul’s Cross) John Gipkyn (fl 1594–1629) 1616, Society of Antiquaries London, Public Domain

Shakespeare Published at Paul’s

During Shakespeare’s lifetime, many versions of his plays and poems were published. Most of these were circulated from St. Paul’s Cathedral, as the courtyard functioned as a set of book stalls where publishers could print and sell pretty much as they pleased. There were no regulations surrounding things like plagiarism or book contracts at this time, so whenever someone attended a play, if they wanted to write down the lines (from memory or while watching the play) then go and have those words printed, attributing the popular name of the real author to what they penned, and sell the book by capitalizing on the name of someone like Shakespeare, they were perfectly free to do that. Consider it the 16th century version of information piracy, without the rules making such actions illegal. 

This prolific sharing of his works was a double edged sword for Shakespeare, who as far as we know never authorized the publication of his plays. The only authorized version, the only legitimate copy of the works actually penned by Shakespeare, were the ones put together by Heminges and Condell in the First Folio. Hear Paul Edmondson share their story, and the history of the First Folio inside Episode 44 of That Shakespeare Life here

Whether he authorized them or not, Shakespeare’s poems, plays, and sonnets were published under his name in the book stalls at St. Paul’s Cathedral during his lifetime. These book stalls were also highly likely to have been one of the places William himself picked up copies of the many books and histories we know he used as sources for his works. 

This is the indictment of the good Lord Hastings; 
Which in a set hand fairly is engross’d, 
That it may be this day read over in Paul’s


Richard III, III.6

Nathaniel Butter, Stationer


Nathaniel Butter might well be considered one of the world’s first newspaper men. Towards the end of his career, he would renounce plays all together and focus exclusively on news. It was his compilation of records at the Stationer’s Register that is often cited as one of the first newspapers. However, before he was known as one of the first newspaper men, he was a publisher in London.

Butter was the first to print an edition of Shakespeare’s King Lear in 1608. In the Stationer’s Register for November 26, 1607, Butter and Busby are the ones who entered King Lear into the official record. The first quarto version of King Lear was printed in 1609 by Nicholas Okes and Nathaniel Butter is listed as the publisher. 

King Lear has a famous “textual problem” because different versions of the play say different things. The first printed version done by Nathaniel Butter differs from the First Folio version, and the differences, along with this quarto version of King Lear being Okes first printing job (lending some to believe he was at higher risk for mistakes) to question the certainty of what Shakespeare wrote in certain parts of King Lear. 

Things get even more complicated when you consider that in 1619, William Jaggard published a third copy of King Lear, but without Butter’s permission. He printed it with the date 1608 and inscription “Printed for Nathaniel Butter” on that publication, but both were false.

The authentic version of Butter’s 1608 publication is identified as such because Butter’s London shop was at the sign of the Pied Bull, and the title page of his genuine 1608 quarto is marked “to be sold at his shop in Pauls Church-yard at the signe of the Pide Bull neere St. Austins Gate.” Modern scholars now refer to Butter’s version as the Pied Bull version to distinguish it from the one Jaggard printed later.  


Resources Recommended by Amy: 

Shakespeare Documented is a great resource for viewing primary materials from Shakespeare’s life and times, and features high-quality images, transcriptions, and introductions.

The Agas Map at the MoEML is an excellent interactive map of London, which has its origins in Civitas Londinum, a woodblock map that was first printed in 1561.

A new book – Old St Paul’s and Culture, ed. by Shanyn Altman, Katrina Marchant, and Nicole Mennell – is forthcoming next year, and will feature my chapter about the publication of King Lear (1608) by Nathaniel Butter in Paul’s Churchyard (I will update this link once this book is published)

For the emergence of Shakespeare as a published dramatist in St Paul’s Churchyard, see my article: Amy Lidster, ‘At the Sign of the Angel: The influence of Andrew Wise on Shakespeare in print’, Shakespeare Survey 71 (2018), 242-254.

Books Recommended by Amy: 

One of the authors of Shakespeare in London Sarah Dustagheer is a guest on That Shakespeare Life
inside Episode 50. Listen to that episode here.

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