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London landscape hides Shakespeare puzzles

A boat called EXIT speeding down the River Thames, pursued by a police launch named Pooh, warrants a second glance.

This image, which is hidden in a new pen-and-ink panorama of London, is a visual reference to a stage instruction in one of William Shakespeare’s lesser-known, but nonetheless famous, plays.

Devised by Berkshire-based artist Robin Reynolds, Visscher Redrawn is more than a new take on a famous 1616 engraving of London before the 1666 Great Fire of London. It is part of the City of London’s official programme to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the death of the Bard, which falls on Saturday 23 April. In total, there are 41 visual puzzles in the new work, each referring to a different play or poem in Shakespeare’s canon, and it also features an online quiz to test people’s general knowledge about his work.

Visscher Redrawn matches the original by Dutch engraver Claes Jansz Visscher in size and more than matches it for detail. The artist has arranged the skyscrapers and office blocks of modern London on the quirky waterfronts that were, during Visscher’s lifetime, dominated by St Paul’s Cathedral.

Robin Reynolds said: “The Visscher panorama shows us two and a half miles of London – from Westminster to the Tower of London – facing just half a mile of the south bank. This aspect of the work makes his river so wide and his view so distinctive, and I’ve tried to match that in my view of the modern city. But along the way, I’ve had a lot of fun populating the streets and the sky and the river with references to Shakespeare so, if you look carefully, you will find Puck with a three-legged stool [A Midsummer Night’s Dream], parrots laughing at a bagpiper [The Merchant of Venice], a baby beating its nurse [Measure for Measure], and many more.”

Some buildings survive from the original – notably the Tower of London and Guildhall itself – and so do some of the characters. The piece invites observers to find the barrow boy who has been crossing the road for 400 years.

The drawing, which took Robin two years to complete, also features the Anchor pub which stands to the west of Cannon Street railway bridge. According to the sign above the door, it has been there since 1615, so it may well have been frequented by Shakespeare himself between shows at the nearby Globe Theatre.

The work is on display at the Guildhall Art Gallery, EC2, until 20 November 2016. Admission FREE.

You can also try the Shakespeare challenge here.