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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