Could east London be the inspiration for Shakespeare’s Tempest?

New research by St Mary’s University College academic Dr Peter Howell, which is due to be published in the autumn, suggests that Hoxton in Hackney is a source for Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Dr Howell, Lecturer in English Literature at St Mary’s University College, Twickenham is publishing the research, which identifies the long poem Pimlyco: or, ‘tis a mad world at Hogsdon as a source for the Shakespeare classic.

Pimlyco: or ‘tis a mad world at Hogsdon (1609) was published anonymously in praise of a tavern and its famous beer, located just off Hoxton Street (N1) near what is now Pitfield Street. The poem describes Hoxton as the ‘Isle of Pimlyco’, an area which is celebrated as an out-of-town leisure resort, characterised by drunkenness, sexual promiscuity and equality between the classes, away from the restrictions of the City of London.

The research identifies a number or marked similarities between this description and Prospero’s island in The Tempest, suggesting that one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays has its origin, at least in part, in Hoxton.

To mark the research findings, Dr Howell and fellow lecturer Matthew Hahn, have written a dramatic adaptation of the poem, which is being performed at Hoxton Hall on Thursday 23rd May. The performance, Shakespeare in Hackney: or, ‘tis a Mad World at Hoxton, will star Jack Klaff, and will be followed by a feature talk on Jacobean Hoxton and its Shakespearean connections by Dr Howell.

About the new research, Dr Howell said, “What’s so fascinating about this research is that it suggests that one of Shakespeare’s greatest plays – full of ‘timeless’ themes of love and life, nature and civilisation, colonisation and lost voices – is actually rooted in something very local, almost banal: drinking, socialising and sexual promiscuity in east London!”

Peter Howell is Senior Lecturer in English Literature at St Mary’s University College, Twickenham. His recent books include Cultures of the Sublime (Palgrave 2011) and Romantic Adaptations (Ashgate 2013).

Matthew Hahn is a writer and director, and lectures in Drama at St Mary’s. He has recently written and directed The Robben Island Bible, based on testimonies of former political prisoners in South Africa.

Jack Klaff is an actor, writer, and director who has had a distinguished and varied career on film (Star Wars, For Your Eyes Only, King David, 1871); on TV (Vanity Fair, Sherlock Holmes, Jack Hargreaves Award for Innovative Use of Television Drama); on radio (Two Sony Silver Certificates); and on stage (RSC, Two Fringe Firsts, Herald Archangel Award). He has starred in and directed many of his own works (Director: Best Act Melbourne Comedy Festival and Best New Act Hackney Empire) and has held four visiting professorships at Princeton University.

The research is due to be published in the autumn edition of the Literary London Journal, with a pre-release expected next week. For more information, please contact Peter Howell on peter.howell@smuc.ac.uk or call 07748 155 477. Alternatively please contact the St Mary’s press office on 020 8240 2350 or email marina.boor@smuc.ac.uk.