On the Agas map, the Bear Garden is a circular arena with an open roof and a clear label—
The Bearebayting—located in the Liberty of the Clink, Southwark. The Bear Garden was never a garden, but rather a polygonal bearbaiting arena whose exact locations across time are not known (Mackinder and Blatherwick 18). To complicate matters of historical accuracy, by 1620,
bear gardenwas the generic name given to a set of permanent structures—wooden arenas, dog kennels, bear pens—dedicated to bearbaiting, and rebuilt on various occasions during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (Mackinder and Blatherwick 19). Prior to the mid-sixteenth century, animal baiting occurred in an open field, so it was significant that the Elizabethans established permanent buildings for the practice, which typically occurred two days a week (including Sundays).
Location on Early Maps
Locating the first permanent structure is difficult. Henry Polsted is thought to be the first recorded owner of the property where one of the Bear Gardens would eventually be built. In 1538/9, Polsted bought property from Ralph Sadler, who received the Prioress of Stratford’s land at the Dissolution (Mackinder and Blatherwick 9). The first recorded use of Polsted’s land for bearbaiting occurs in a lease of 1552, which includes
a capital curtilage called le Beara yarde with le Berehouse and a garden(Roberts and Godfrey). Mackinder and Blatherwick believe that there was a second bear garden operated by William Payne and built on part of the Bishop of Winchester’s land.
Immediately west of the Bear Garden on the Agas map is a second, similar edifice labeled
there is no record of a place on the Bankside reserved specially for the baiting of bulls, but there is plenty of evidence that bulls (and other animals) were baited at the bear-rings(Braines 48). Giles E. Dawson makes a similar argument based on an eyewitness account by a Venetian, Alessandro Magno, who wrote in 1562 that bull and bearbaiting occurred in the same arena. Dawson argues that, if there were two distinct arenas for each sport so proximate, Magno (and others) would have mentioned this fact. Braines speculates that Agas’s bullbaiting arena may have been the newer Bear Garden, while the eastern ring was an older version. Mackinder and Blatherwick, however, believe that the
earliest documentary evidencefor animal baiting is a bullring on an unpublished manuscript map of Southwark dated 1542, which seems to be corroborated by Wyngaerde’s panorama of 1543 (Mackinder and Blatherwick 18). John Stow’s Survey of London supports the existence of two arenas, but states that both were bear gardens. On Claes van Visscher’s 1616 map of London, the two identical arenas appear again, but their names change. The eastern ring, Agas’s Bear Garden, becomes the Globe theatre and Agas’s bullbaiting arena to the west becomes the Bear Garden. For Braines, whose real concern is the site of the Globe, Visscher reproduces the Agas map’s inaccuracies; visually, Visscher’s map suggests that the Globe is built on top of an animal baiting arena. It is not until Wenceslas Hollar’s 1647
long viewof London that these two buildings are drawn and positioned accurately—but their names, as Braines argues, are again incorrect. Hollar’s Thames, is really the Bear Garden, while Hollar’s
Beere bayting h(which has a tiring house) is the real Globe.
Bear Garden shared its Bankside home with both theatres and brothels. Martha Carlin characterizes Southwark as
a haven of criminals and forbidden practices within sight of the royal court and law courts at Westminster(Carlin xix). Early references to Bear Garden—including Stow’s Survey of London and John Leland’s Antiquities—often precede or follow a discussion of Southwark’s brothels. In the 1603 Survey, Stow writes,
Now to returne to the Weſt banke, there be two Beare gardens, the olde and the new places, wherein be kept Beares, Buls and other beaſtes to be bayted. As also Maſtiues in ſeuerall kenels, nouriſhed to baite them. These Beares and other Beaſts are there bayted in plottes of ground, ſcaffolded about for the Beholders to stand ſafe(Stow sig. 2D4r). He then shifts to a brief legal history of the
Bordello or ſtewesand their privileges, which date to the reign of Edward III. John Bagford’s
A Letter to the Publisher,part of the prefatory material in John Leland’s Antiquities, suggests that the stews existed long before baiting arenas:
As to the Brothel-Houſes formerly in Southwark, we find a Statute as old as the Reign of Edw. III. for their Toleration [...] ’tis probable that they were firſt eſtabliſhed by the Romans, (for the Bull and Bear Garden in that Place is but of late Settlement,) who had alſo a Play-Houſe on that ſide, and had their Abode very much in Southwark, which was then a Place of Fortification(Bagford sig. K2r). An ordinance dated April 1546 from the reign of Henry VIII abolishes both stews and bearbaiting (Roberts and Godfrey). However, a few months later in September 1546, the crown granted a license to Thomas Fluddie, yeoman of His Majesty’s bears, to
make pastimewith the king’s bears at the stews (Roberts and Godfrey).
Bearbaiting is more clearly documented in the seventeenth century. In 1594 Edward Alleyn began to buy shares of interest in the Bear Garden on Polsted’s property (now granted by the Queen to Robert Liveseye and Gerrard Gore). Alleyn continued to be involved in its operation until his death in 1626 (Höfele 7, Mackinder and Blatherwick 20). On 24 November 1604, Henslowe and Alleyn were granted a royal patent for
Mastership of the Game of Bears, Bulls and Mastiff Dogs(Greg 101). The document gives Henslowe, Alleyn, and their deputies authority to
bayete or cause to be baytedthe crown’s bears (Greg 101). Henslowe and Alleyn jointly held this office until 1616.
During the Commonwealth period, bearbaiting continued despite Puritan opposition. Briefly closed in November 1643, the Garden must have been open again by July 1645, when it appears in a
accuses the Parliament of even stooping to lure young men to the Bear Garden under the guise of showing a new kind of bear-baiting, and then impressing them into the Army(Hotson 278). The Bear Garden continued to operate until 9 February 1655, when the Hope Theatre (alias Bear Garden) was pulled down, the mastiffs were sent to Jamaica, and all of the bears (except a single white bear cub) were shot and killed by musketeers under the order of Colonel Thomas Pride, sheriff of Surrey (Ravelhofer 292). The Hope was converted to tenements a month later. Bearbaiting returned after the Restoration, however, with Charles II opening a new arena south of Henslowe’s in 1662 (Hotson 288). The last recorded reference to the Bear Garden is an advertisement published in 1682 (Roberts and Godfrey).
Bears and English Mastiffs
Bears were trained by their bearwards, almost like Roman gladiators, to defend themselves in carefully timed and choreographed matches against English mastiffs, a particular breed of dog known for its courage (Ravelhofer 288). When the bears were old and blinded by wounds from dogs, they were simply staked to the ground and whipped until blood poured down their backs (Ravelhofer 288). As Ravelhofer argues, when bears were not beaten, but rather trained to dance or
tumble,the bearward’s methods were equally horrific. Even so, there were many vocal supporters of bearbaiting, including watermen, whose livelihoods depended on ferrying passengers to and from Southwark. John Taylor, known as the
water poet,promoted animal baiting through his published pamphlet, Bull, Beare, and Horse, Cut, Curtaile, and Longtaile (1638), and even concludes with a list of each bear’s name:
- Ned of Canterbury.
- George of Cambridge.
- Don Iohn.
- Ben Hunt.
- Nan Stiles.
- Beeſe of Ipſwich.
- Robin Hood.
- Blind Robin.
- Iudith of Cambridge.
- Beſſe Hill.
- Kate of Kent.
- Roſe of Bedlam.
- Nan Talbot.
- Mall Cut-Purſe.
- Nell of Holland.
- Mad Beſſe [(one of] two white Beares.[)]
- Will Tookey [(one of] two white Beares.[)]
- Beſſe Runner.
- Tom Dogged.
(Taylor sig. D9r-D9v)
Taylor appears to list these bears by name for a specific reason. Nick de Somogyi argues that, since
the anonymous dogs [...] were expendable,while the bears—especially George Stone, Harry Hunks, and Sackerson—attained celebrity status, such specificity suggests a broad cultural acceptance and awareness of the bears’ significance (de Somogyi 102). For example, Master Slender boasts that he has seen
Sackerſon looſe, twenty times, and haue taken him by the Chainein The Merry Wives of Windsor (The Merry Wives of Windsor [F1] D3r). Oscar Brownstein, on the other hand, argues that, although the bears were given human names,
the spectator’s interest was in the dogs, their willingness, pursuit, attack, and tenacity:
it was the dogs which won the prizes which were offered and it was the dog’s owners, primarily, who made the wagers(Brownstein 243-244). Regardless which creature was the object of immediate attention at the baiting event, the specific naming and cultural celebrity status of the bears is sufficient to suggest public awareness of them as individual combatants.
Bearbating and the Renaissance Stage
Studies of bearbaiting by literary critics and cultural historians often consider the mindset whereby early modern Londoners could consider bearbaiting as a form of entertainment. Such questioning might appear significant for those Shakespeareans who recognize that bearbaiting arenas and playhouses practically overlapped in popular appeal, while, in the case of the Hope Theatre, the two activities actually did overlap. Ravelhofer proposes that, on at least two occasions, the bears were perhaps called upon to perform in plays: (1) King James’s two white polar bears (also named in Taylor’s list) might have drawn Prince Henry’s chariot in Ben Jonson’s court masque, Oberon (1611), and (2) one of the bears might have appeared in Mucedorus (1610 or 1611) and The Winter’s Tale (1611, 1613) (Ravelhofer 297-298). Ravelhofer’s conjecture is counter to the traditionally held belief that these instances refer to actors in bear costumes. Because of the physical proximity between blood sports arenas and the Bankside theatres, and what Andreas Höfele refers to as the
typological kinship of the buildings,it seems reasonable to suggest that there are crucial parallels between these worlds, one of which (bearbaiting) has ceased to exist (Höfele 6). We tend to identify the Elizabethan and Jacobean stage as a site of philosophical inquiry, artistic creation, and humanist thought, while we criminalize dogfighting, cockfighting, and animal baiting. How could the same crowd attend both events without experiencing cognitive dissonance?
For Jacqueline Vanhoutte, the Bear Garden appealed to early modern spectators since, when a strong, powerful beast was tied to the stake and rendered weak, if not impotent, this enforced bondage mirrored the affairs of men who likewise suffer impotency when confronted with the vagaries of life. Vanhoutte illustrates this by focusing on Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester, who displayed his family’s crest—a bear tied to the stake—on so many print publications that the symbol was eventually considered illustrative of his own plight. For example, see the title-page to a selection from Arthur Golding’s translation of Ovid, The xv. Bookes of P. Ouidius Naso, entytuled Metamorphosis (1567). Dudley’s critics claimed that the earl’s relationship to Elizabeth I was that of a staked bear to its currish tormenters: with dog-like tenacity, Elizabeth supposedly overpowered, emasculated, and silenced him. Vanhoutte also argues that crowds identified with the baited bear, on whom they projected their own struggle in unfair fights with authority or in the ongoing battles of daily life. This use of bearbaiting language as a resigned acceptance of a character’s fate can be found in Shakespeare, especially with Gloucester’s prescient sense of imminent danger in King Lear, and Macbeth’s defiant rage against his enemies. As Macbeth says in 5.7,
They haue tied me to a ſtake, I cannot flye, [b]ut Beare-like I muſt fight the courſe. What’s he [t]hat was not borne of Woman? Such a one [a]m I to feare, or none(Macbeth [F1] sig. 2N3v). And as Gloucester laments in 3.7 of King Lear, he says
I am tyed to’th’Stake, / And I must ſtand the Courſe(King Lear [F1] sig. 2R4v).
Cultural critics also note that bearbaiting, while obviously relying on blood sport, spectacle, and violence, was nevertheless often advertised as festive and comical. In addition, as Stephen Dickey notes when considering the undeniable
violence of bearbaiting,records exist of animals refusing to fight or of stalemate baiting endings, which appear to confirm how
inconclusivesuch violence might appear in a
typical bearbaiting match(Dickey 260). Ravelhofer likewise acknowledges that baiting was
a showpiece of controlled violence under the auspices of a master-producerwhere
opponents could be separated before serious harm ensued(Ravelhofer 288). Whatever our modern predisposition and opposition to blood sport activities, it is important to recognize the sites of baitings, such as those held at Bear Garden, as culturally significant in an early modern historical context and no more or less likely to be condemned than their near neighbors, London’s playhouses.
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Last modification: 2016-07-27 09:35:13 -0700 (Wed, 27 Jul 2016) (tlandels)