London in 1600London in 1600 was a rapidly growing city of 75000 residents, with perhaps twice as many in the suburbs outside its walls. One focus of the city was the Tower of London, the citadel where prisoners of the state were kept and sometimes executed. Another focus was London Bridge, a stone structure of many small arches spanning the river Thames. The top of the bridge was lined with shops and even small buildings. Though it needed occasional repairs--giving rise to the children's song "London Bridge is falling down"--it survived until 1832, when it was replaced by a more modern structure, now in Arizona.**
Under Queen Elizabeth I the city became a prosperous center of commerce. The defeat of the Spanish Armada (1588) opened the way to the British settlement of North America, where a short-lived colony had already existed 1585-7 on Roanoke Island, now in North Carolina. The second attempt, in 1606 at Jamestown Virginia, took root. The big news of 1600 was the downfall of the Earl of Essex, once Elizabeth's favorite; he was executed in 1601.
The city was congested and unsanitary, and rats carrying bubonic plague thrived in it. Outbreaks usually ocurred in the summer, and at such time the royal court sometimes prudently retreated to the countryside. Physicians such as William Gilbert had their hands full, but they could do little and were unaware of the role of the rats. Gilbert, appointed royal physician in 1601, himself died of the plague in 1603.
Shakespeare's creative genius was in full bloom in 1600. He put on his plays in the Globe theatre, a ring-shaped structure built in 1599 on the banks of the Thames from the remains of an earlier theatre. His plays of the 1599-1600 season were Julius Ceasar, 12th Night and As You Like It; in 1600-1 came Hamlet and Merry Wives of Windsor. It is quite likely that Gilbert attended at least some of those plays.