Stephen Harrison, The Garden of Plenty (Fifth Arch), from The Arches of Triumph. London, 1604. Image © The Trustees of the British Museum, CC BY-NC-SA 4.0.

To move from the individual theatre of the mind to collective staging on a monumental scale: the entire city of London regularly became a staging area for civic pageantry, including Lord Mayor’s shows and royal entries. These lavish entertainments were free public events, offering spectacles such as musical and theatrical performances, dancing, and fireworks.

James I’s entry into London in 1604 was scripted by the playwrights Thomas Dekker and Ben Jonson, with a poem contributed by Thomas Middleton. Seven triumphal arches were designed by Stephen Harrison: pictured here is the fifth, the Arch of the Bower of Plenty, which features the nine Muses and the seven Liberal Arts (Grammar, Logic, Rhetoric, Music, Arithmetic, Geometry and Astrology), in a literal staging of knowledge. The ‘Genius of the City’ is personified by the actor Edward Alleyn, playing to an implicit shared knowledge about the entwinement of the theatre with the city. This was a textual as well as a live theatrical event, with multiple printed accounts offering alternative visual and narrative experiences.