Episode 170: Printers, Plague and Poets

In this episode, we examine the connection between poetry and plague in the early 1590s. An outbreak of the recurring sickness contributed to Shakespeare’s early career as a poet, and that poetry likely included his many sonnets. We also examine how an old acquaintance from Shakespeare’s hometown emerged as one of the leading printers in London and how his print shop influenced the development of English during the Elizabethan period.


11 thoughts on “Episode 170: Printers, Plague and Poets

  1. I have been listening to your podcast for ages and love it. Listen while walking the dog! I just finished episode 170 and can go no further. I thought there were more episodes?

  2. The name “Bash Bish Falls” in western Massachusetts is a beautiful place to visit, but the name never sounded right to me. After listening to this episode, I know why. I don’t want to give it away here. And of course, “Bash Bish” does not negate your point in the podcast, as this name is not of English origin.
    Kevin, thanks for the great work you do.

  3. Thanks for the episode! I wonder if you took a look at the oddball Sonnet 145. Though in the Dark Lady sequence, some evidence suggests it was written much earlier, perhaps in 1582 when the 18-year old Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway. In the closing couplet, “hate away” resembles “Hathaway” (in Elizabethan pronunciation), and “And sav’d my life” might be heard as “Anne saved my life”. Further, this sonnet deviates from all the others by Shakespeare, being in (iambic) tetrameter, rather than pentameter. See the “Sonnet 145” Wikipedia article for more details.

  4. Great show every time! Much of what you discussed is covered by German scholar Hildegard Hammerschmidt-Hummel in her “Life and TImes of William Shakespeare.” I’d love to hear more about the sources you used for this excellent episode. Thanks!

  5. Just out of interest, is there anywhere I can find additional information on the non-phonetic pronunciation of Henry Wriothesley’s (Southampton’s) name?

  6. There is a waterfall in western Massachusetts named Bash Bish Falls. I have always found if difficult to say “Bash Bish”. I would much rather say “Bish Bash”. Now I know why. Thanks.
    I love the podcast

  7. I’m sure that many listeners to this podcast already know this, but at the website Librivox – librivox.org – you can listen to and download all of Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets as audiobooks for free – all read by volunteers. There are also collections of some of the most famous monologues and dialogues from his plays.

    Another great source is Project Gutenberg – gutenberg.org – where you can read and download all of Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets for free in text form.

  8. Kevin,

    I have to say how much I appreciated this episode in particular.
    Shakespeare was a remarkable singularity in history, but you have rendered the inexplicable understandable.
    Especially: his access to a fellow Stratford’s printer library, the poetry instruction book and his general playfulness with words – this latter no doubt related to his acting career.
    Also salient: London’s two years of downtime, and his plausible patronage efforts. A two sonnets per week arrangement, maybe, with time to write plays.

    Context is so important, even while acknowledging his mastery.

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