Link between Elizabethan theatre and bear-baiting

This week ( September 26,2016) saw the scheduling by Historic England of several London bear pits so they will not now be built over. The listing of these baiting areas in Bankside near the Globe theatre has highlighted the close relationship between bear baiting, when the animals were chained to a post and attacked by dogs in front of baying crowds, and the Elizabethan theatre.

One of these arenas was a the Hope theatre-the last Elizabethan playhouse, which also hosted animal baiting involving bears, bulls and horses on Thursdays and Sundays . In Shakespeare’s day bear gardens stretched along the banks of the Thames near the Globe theatre.

Bear baiting was popular with Elizabeth I, and Shakespeare makes a number of references to it in the Merry Wives of Windsor.

Some scholars believe that Shakespeare’s stage direction from the Winter’s Tale  “Exit, pursued by a bear” would have involved an actual bear from one of London’s baiting arenas.

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