British Museum blog

Spreading the word

Shakespeare’s Restless World is currently being broadcast on BBC Radio 4. Today’s episode Treason and Plot examines a fascinating collection of stories about royal murder plots.

A print of the Lopez Plot from the book A Thankfull Remembrance of God's Mercy by George Carleton, first published in 1624. © British Library

Adam Fox, University of Edinburgh

There were a number of centres in which news was generated. At the Royal Exchange, opened by Elizabeth I in 1571, merchants and brokers from around the nation and across the world met to do business and to exchange gossip and news.

The second crucial centre would have been Paul’s Walk, the central aisle of the old St Paul’s Cathedral, in which the great and good would promenade, meet each other and gossip. The churchyard outside was the centre of the book trade in the Elizabethan period, where books and pamphlets were sold and news items were dispersed in printed as well as in oral form.

The third place would perhaps be the Great Hall of Westminster, a wonderful medieval hall where political information was exchanged and swapped. `Men will tell you all the world between Paul’s the Exchange and Westminster’, one contemporary tells us, but of course from London that news radiated out along the streets and alleyways and along the major thoroughfares going across the country in the mouths of tradesmen, pedlars, itinerants and merchants of various sorts.

`What news at London?’ was the classic opening gambit whenever anyone met anyone else and by that means oral communication helped to spread what may have originated in London to the various corners of the land. However, the information available at these places was often highly unreliable, so they could be centres of information and also of misinformation.

Shakespeare’s Restless World is on BBC Radio 4
from 16 April to 11 May, at 13.45 and 19.45 weekdays.

Listen to today’s programme Treason and Plot

Filed under: Shakespeare's Restless World, What's on

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We’re celebrating our partnership with @googleartproject, and have asked curators to tell us about their favourite objects. Hugo Chapman, Keeper of Prints and Drawings, explains why he chose this chalk drawing by Michelangelo. ‘One of the things I love about drawings is the way they sometimes allow a glimpse into the private, behind the scenes world of an artist, one unseen in finished works in paint or stone. An example of that is a red chalk drawing by Michelangelo of grotesque heads in red chalk that reveal that the Florentine Renaissance artist had a lively, if caustic, sense of humour. The three heads were probably drawn to amuse but at the same instruct his pupils, as the three studies show how slight changes can radically alter the reading of an image with the character and mood of each figure (paranoid anxiety; vacuous joy; and depressive gloom) signalled by the position and erectness of their donkey-like ears.  I wish my ears were as expressive.’ Discover many more incredible works of art in the Google Cultural Institute at

#Michelangelo #art To celebrate our partnership with @googleartproject, we’ve asked members of British Museum staff to highlight their favourite objects and explain what makes them special. Jill Cook, Deputy Keeper of Britain, Europe & Prehistory, chose this stone chopping tool from an early human campsite in Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania. ‘Holding this 2 million year old African tool in my hand I am reminded that whatever differences exist between people now, we are united by our common origin in Africa. The discovery of this piece by Louis Leakey in 1931 began to change our understanding of what makes us human. It illustrates the beginning of a transition from an ancestral ape that walked upright on two legs within the confines of a limited ecological niche to humans with more complex brains capable of changing and eventually dominating the world around us by making tools and weapons. This chopping tool is one of the seeds from which all human cultures and societies have grown.’ Discover the stories of thousands of objects in the Google Cultural Institute at

#MuseumOfTheWorld In Victorian England many people were fascinated by their past, and the ancient tribal leader Caratacus (also spelt Caractacus) was adopted as a symbol of national pride and independence. Like Boudica, Caratacus resisted the Roman invasion of Britain. Although he was eventually defeated, he earned a reputation as a noble and worthy foe. The Victorian sculptor J H Foley portrays him here standing triumphant, the embodiment of courageous English spirit. See this incredible #Movember moustache in our #Celts exhibition, until 31 January 2016.
J H Foley (1818–1874), Caractacus. Marble, 1856–1859. On loan from Guildhall Art Gallery/Mansion House, City of London. Some more #Movember inspiration! Here’s the Museum’s security team from 1902 photographed on the front steps. They include officers from the Metropolitan Police, and the London Fire Brigade (identified by their flat caps). We’re celebrating #Movember with Museum moustaches great and small. Here’s a #Movember fact: Peter the Great of Russia introduced a beard tax in 1698 and this token was given as proof of payment! Our unique new partnership with Google's Cultural Institute @googleartproject now allows you to virtually walk through the whole Museum! The British Museum is the largest space ever to be captured on indoor #StreetView, putting the unparalleled world collection at your fingertips. Come and explore!
#MuseumOfTheWorld #Google #ForEveryone

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