One of the motivating factors behind the fashion for large country houses in the early 16th century was the fear of plague in London. Outbreaks of plague were annual and those who could afford to moved their families to a safer house in the country, such as Place House at Titchfield

The authorities in London understood little about the causes of disease but it was plain to them that close contact with other people hastened its spread. The default action, then as now, was to close down events which drew crowds. In Elizabethan London any outbreak of plague resulted in an immediate closing of the theatres.

Plague was particularly virulent in London in 1593 and successive outbreaks forced the theatres to close early that year and they were not to reopen until May 1594. This was a long time for actors to go without work and income, and of course there was no social safety net. Some actors resorted to touring, although the returns from this enterprise were often meagre. It seems that William Shakespeare turned his hand to writing narrative poems and after securing the patronage of the young earl of Southampton was able to publish Venus and Adonis. It turned out to be a best seller and the poem made the names of both men.

What does this have to do with Titchfield? William Shakespeare had no work in London and it was not a safe place. He may have returned to his young family in Stratford on Avon, or, given his new connection to the Earl of Southampton, may have been tempted by an offer to work at Titchfield.

Was it in Titchfield that he composed his second narrative poem The Rape of Lucrece?

A later 17th century writer, John Aubrey, recorded that Shakespeare was ‘sometime a schoolmaster in the country.’ That could be anywhere, if indeed it is true, but it is tempting to believe that the out of work actor found some such employment between 1593 and 1594, and that the old schoolhouse at Titchfield was his residence and workplace.