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Shakespeare and the Guildhall

William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare

A city of such status and size as Coventry, at one time the fourth largest in England, was an attractive destination for many companies of touring actors during the Tudor and Jacobean age. The city archives record many such performances, which continued a tradition of drama that had started with the cycle of medieval 'mystery' plays (performed by the guilds of craftsmen or 'mysteries'), for which Coventry had become famous in centuries past.

As a young man growing up in nearby Stratford upon Avon, Shakespeare will certainly have travelled to Coventry to witness these public plays, evidence for which some Shakespeare scholars have identified in his works. In the company of his father, who held a civic position in Stratford, a young Shakespeare may also have been present at plays by professional touring actors performed in Stratford's guildhall, kindling an interest and career choice that would produce the world's most celebrated playwright.

In Coventry, it would have been a requirement for new plays to be performed before the mayor and an invited audience for approval, and it is almost certain that such performances would have taken place at St. Mary's Guildhall. While not proven by documentary evidence (as with much of Shakespeare's life and career), there is a strong likelihood that Shakespeare would have visited the Guildhall, either as a young man accompanying his father on official civic business, or later in life as an actor-playwright, as companies he is known to have performed with are recorded in the city around the time that he was among their members. It has even been proposed that the magnificent tapestry in the Great Hall, with its depictions of characters central to the turmoil of the Wars of the Roses, may have proved inspirational to Shakespeare's history plays.

Discover more about Shakespeare's connections to Coventry and the Guildhall.