Radical Shakespeare: Why do we get him so wrong?

By Pauline Kiernan

A timely study which restores the revolutionary message of Shakespeare's art.

Monday, 4 September 2023


Good morning to you all.
History lesson.
If you go to Bankside today, you’ll probably miss a tiny narrow alley(I call Cardinal's Passage) tucked away in a row of old riverside townhouses called Cardinal’s Wharf. On one side of it is Number 49 and if you were to step inside the front door you’d be standing on the spot in the parlour of one of the most notorious houses of Elizabethan London. It was called The Cardinal’s Cap, sometimes Hat. and if you think the premises had anything to do with a high-ranking cleric…. you’d be right!
It was certainly a brothel. It was named for the colour of the tip of an engorged penis. But it was also a gloriously irreverent satiric reference to the man of God who grew fat on the immoral earnings he got from the work of prostitutes.
He owned land between London Bridge and the Rose and Globe theatres, rented it out to the brothels, and licensed them.
Before being made a Cardinal he was the Bishop of Winchester.
And the whores on Bankside were called ‘Winchester’s geese’. Geese being the sound of the hiss or wheeze made by the VD sufferers who frequented the whorehouses. And a phrase to describe swellings in the groin caused by syphilis or victims of it.
Shakespeare savagely satirized the Cardinal in one of his History plays, and you’ll find references to Winchester’s geese in plays throughout the period.
Trivia: Shakespeare's first patron, Lord Chamberlain (and cousin of Elizabeth !, was known for his foul language and swearing. He suffered agonisingly with the clap, and had 10 known illegitimate children including one with his young mistress Amelia Bassano, (43 years younger than he), the first woman in England to the first woman in England to publish a book of original poetry, and who some think was the Dark Lady of Shakespeare's Sonnets.
Did you say history lesson, Pauline? More like Gossip of the Day.

Back to project page
Share on social

Top rewards