Shakespeare Avenue, UB4

Place Name

William Shakespeare (April 23, 1564 – April 23, 1616), England’s national poet… or simply the Bard was, and indeed still is, regarded as the greatest writer in the English language. His works continue to be performed in playhouses across the the world and inspire each and every new generation, in films, books, music, and theatre. That he was successful during his lifetime is beyond doubt. Born and raised in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, he married at 18 and became a father to three children but soon afterwards took off to London where he became an actor, owner and playwright of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, the leading theatre troupe of its day. They were hugely successful, performing Shakespeare’s own plays, much to the chagrin of his rivals including one who described him as an “upstart crow”. But there was no denying either his popularity or the brilliance of his works, among them Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, Othello, King Lear, and Macbeth. Certainly it was enough to help the troupe become rich men. His lasting fame, however was in no small part thanks to Shakespeare’s friends who collated and published his works soon after his death, and which have never been out of print. Even for those who have no interest in the theatre his legacy endures in our everyday speech: “All that glitters is not gold” (Merchant of Venice); “Break the ice” (The Taming of the Shrew); “Eaten me out of house and home” (Henry IV); “Wild-goose chase” (Romeo and Juliet), are just a few of the phrases that continue to be used daily. All of which would make the name Shakespeare an obvious one for developers to use for street names. But that was not always the case, as late as March 27, 1866, a letter to The Times complained that many of the great figures of English history had been ignored in London’s street nomenclature. “We have one little out-of-the-way terrace called Shakespeare” (a reference to small group of houses around a pub named after the Bard in Holloway Road – now gone), Civis wrote. That changed over the following years, as the capital expanded under rapid urbanisation, developers turned to the nation’s poets and military heroes for street name inspiration, and with it Shakespeare became embedded into addresses around the capital. Poets and playwrights were, and remain a popular subject matter for street names. This is one of a small cluster of streets named after famous poets and playwrights, nearby are Spencer Avenue, Milton Close, and Keats Close.

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