Box Office Bears: Animal Baiting in Early Modern England


It is a well-known fact that Elizabethan and Jacobean audiences flocked to the theatre to see the plays of writers such as Shakespeare. It is less well-known that such audiences were just as likely to attend animal baiting as a form of entertainment. This involved pitting dogs against various kinds of animals, including bulls, bears and even lions. Many of the animals, particularly bears, became named celebrities in their own right with one, Sackerston, mentioned in Shakespeare's The Merry Wives of Windsor, yet we know very little about them or the activity of baiting itself. To date, most scholarly research has viewed baiting as a poor cousin to the human theatrical performances happening at the playhouses. Our project marks the first major attempt to challenge this perception in time for the Shakespeare First Folio celebrations of 2023.