William Shakespeare had good reason to hope that 1596 would prove a prosperous year for him. At great expense the impresario James Burbage had recently acquired and refitted a magnificent theatre where Shakespeare’s works could be staged. Unlike the premises at which Shakespeare’s theatrical company was then based, the new theatre at Blackfriars was not open to the elements, so plays could be put on even in winter. Large sums had been invested to provide excellent lighting and special-effects technology. Seats would be pricey and Shakespeare would be entitled to a share of the profits. Unfortunately for Shakespeare, the venture incurred the disapproval of Elizabeth, Lady Russell, a venerable Blackfriars resident who set about organising a petition against the theatre. She prevailed upon almost all her neighbours to sign it, including her friend Lord Cobham.
Lady Russell was a fearsome adversary. As the sister-in-law of Queen Elizabeth I’s lord treasurer, Lord Burghley, she was extremely well connected, and she was also a formidable personage in her own right. Most unusually