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An anonymous dairy was written in 1608 cataloging the keeping of bears for the sport of bear baiting in England. Our guest today calls this diary the “Bearward Diary of 1608” and the term “bearward” is used to describe individuals whose job it was to take care of or travel with a bear (or in the case of this diary, multiple bears), for the purpose of putting on bearbaiting shows around England.The diary is a fascinating glimpse into the history of bearbaiting and the logistics behind finding, showing, and traveling with, bears in the 17th century, To help us explore the diary in more detail and understand some of the history it reveals about bears in Shakespeare’s lifetime is our guest and contributor to the Box Office Bears project, Callan Davies. 

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Callan Davies works across early modern literary, cultural, and theatre history. His new book, What is a Playhouse? England at Play, 1520-1620, is an accessible account of the playhouse across early modern England, forthcoming with Routledge in 2022.  Callan is part of the Box Office Bears project (researching animal sports in early modern England), as well as the Middling Culture (www.middlingculture.com) team examining early modern status, creativity, writing, and material culture, and the Before Shakespeare team (www.beforeshakespeare.com). The Box Office Bears project is what Callan joins us to discuss today, which is  a UK Arts and Humanities Research Council-funded project bringing together researchers from the Universities of Nottingham, Roehampton and Oxford and project partner Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA). They are using Zooarchaeology, Archaeogenetics (the study of ancient DNA), Archival Research, and Performance studies to examine the history of Bears in Early Modern England. Learn more about Callan and see more of his work in the show notes for today’s episode.

He is the Editor of the Curtain playhouse records for Records of Early English Drama’s Records of Early English Drama REED London Online and his first monograph, Strangeness in Jacobean Drama, is published by Routledge (September 2020). His article on bowling alleys and playhouses in sixteenth century London for Early Theatre won the MRDS Barbara Palmer Award 2020, and he has pieces forthcoming on middling community and Bristol’s Wine Street playhouse for English Historical Review; prose and playing for The Oxford Handbook of Thomas Nashe; on the early years of the St Paul’s Playhouse for a collection on Old St Paul’s and Culture; and he is co-editing a collection on early modern ephemera with Hannah Lilley and Catherine Richardson.

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I’ll be asking Callan Davies about:

  • Why were there people traveling around England with bears? Were sports like bear baiting portable like a traveling circus?
  • The Bearward diary of 1608 includes a map of the places the bears and their handlers traveled that year. Callan, where were the major bear performance hot spots for 1608?
  • In addition to the bears and the “bearwardens” who was it that traveled as part of this group?

…and more!

Books and Resources Callan Davies recommends:

Box Office Bears.com This is a great place to see pictures and diagrams of 16-17th century bears.

Book coming out in August , What is a Playhouse (available for pre-order)

Erica Fudge, (series of chapters, Routledge companion to Shakespeare and Animals) (Note from Cassidy: This is a $250 book. That’s not going to be reasonable to anyone that buys several books. I recommend you get a copy of this at a library and make a photocopy of the chapters by Erica Fudge) Connect with Erica at her university website page linked at her name here. She’s at the University of Strathclyde Glasgow

Records of Early English Drama series, REED, amazing compendium of documents to do with entertainment industry and it now has digital editions of their latest volumes. (Note from Cassidy: Jumping up and down with happiness! I enthusiastically support this recommendation. REED is amazing!)


Here’s What’s Inside For This Episode:

  • 17th century list of named bears, bulls, and horses being used at The Bear Garden
  • 17th century engraving of bear baiting
  • 1560 illustration of bull and bear baiting rings
  • 1580 illustration of London showing bear baiting rings
  • 1616 Illustration of The Bear Garden
  • Painting of a bear fighting a pack of dogs from 1600s
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That’s it for this week! Thank you for listening! I’m Cassidy Cash and I hope you learn something new about the bard.

I’ll see you next time!