I just can’t shake off this London interest.
I was playing the ‘If you could travel to any time and place in history where would you go?’ game with a friend once and he said he would go to Bankside in Shakespeare’s day. I was just about to stifle a yawn, when he said he didn’t want to go for the plays alone. Cancelling the yawn, I took an interest. He pointed out that there was a whole universe of entertainment in that area, situated neatly just outside the City’s jurisdiction.
There were the plays, of course, which rubbed shoulders with a host of other theatrical entertainments of various degrees of cultural merit. There were jigs and what we would now call sketch shows or cabarets alongside some of the most sublime works of literature.
Then there were the various sexual entertainments available, with brothels and prostitutes circulating in and around the theatres and ale-houses.
And then, and it’s a trade-off for the most profane between the sex trade and this aspect of London entertainment, there were the animal blood-sports. There was the usual round of cock-fighting and dog-fighting. The yards of some theatres may have doubled as pits for such events. But for those interested in more spectacularly violent entertainment, one needed to see a bear-baiting.
The standard format was that a bear would be chained to a post and dogs released to attack it. Many of the breeds now gaining or reinforcing vicious reputations were bred specifically for the purpose of attacking animals much larger than themselves for sport. ‘Pit’ and ‘Bull’ are not idle echoes of a breed’s genesis.
In a particularly grisly variant I came across somewhere in a history book, an imported ape would be lashed to the back of bull which would in turn be attacked by dogs. Now there’s a colourful image.
And then you’d go and watch King Lear. And people think Grand Theft Auto is a corrupting way of spending your leisure time…