How to Track a Bear in Southwark

Browse Exhibits (3 total)

Directions to the Bear Garden

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In our search for the early modern London Bear Garden, there are many forms of 'direction' to consider: we find geographical and descriptive clues furnished by contemporary maps that include views of the Southwark playhouses, leases and property agreements, and court documents identifying the location and parameters of the grounds, and literary witnesses offering sometimes juicy details of the playhouse character. This exhibit explores a variety of these documentary sources for the elusive and often multiple and simultaneous location(s) of the Bankside Bear Garden. 

Some of the following exhibit items include images of related primary source documents and transcriptions from the REED team, while others include an image of the original record from the EMLoT database.

A Day at the Bear Garden

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With an idea of where the Bear Garden - and its cognate locations - could be found, we can now consider what bearbaiting entailed as an essential facet of social recreation in early modern London. Possibilities include descriptions of baiting events, traces of the animal-performers and their keepers, and the troupes associated with the Bear Garden/Hope theatre venue. Alongside these details of the quotidian operations of the Beargarden as a centre of popular entertainment, there are also records of its status as an official form of courtly leisure, administered through the highly sought-after office of the Master of the King’s Game.

Imagining the Bear Garden

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In addition to its elusive geographical identity and its established position as an element of recreational life in London, the Bear Garden was also the locus of voluminous and varied opinion, in both public and private spheres of discourse. These traces of a complex cultural identity include records of reputation and audience response, figural use in popular idiom and literary representation, and in the polemical moral judgements of its detractors. As the final exhibit, the idea of the Bear Garden as the object of imaginative re-creation also presents some next steps in the study of the early modern playing venues and the pursuit of archival studies using the tools and resources of the EMLoT database.