Shakespeare and the Geography of Difference

John Gillies, Shakespeare and the Geography of Difference (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1994)

From a review by Richard Helgerson, Shakespeare Quarterly, Vol. 47, No. 2, Summer, 1996:

What connection have Shakespeare’s plays to the “new geography” of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries? By at least one account, that of J.D. Rogers in the 1916 volume Shakespeare’s England – an account that may be seldome remembered today by has never been effectively challenged – the answer would be “not much.” While other Elizabethan and Jacobean dramatists set plays in distant parts of an expanding world, Shakespeare didn’t. With the single and much debated exception of The Tempest, “SHakespeare’s scenes are,” in Roger’s words, “laid inside what the ancients called the civilized world, the Christians Christendom, and the geographers Europe.” John Gillies’ book aims to upset this picture, not so much by rewriting Shakespeare as by rewriting the new geography. Despite the discovery of the New World and broader acquainance with the Old, ancient and medieval assumptions continued, Gillies argues, to influence cartographic representation well into the seventeenth century. Far from being the conservative exception that Rogers’s account would make him appear, Shakespeare shared his sense of the world not only with his fellow English dramatists, wherever their plays were set, but also with such leading mapmakers as Ortelius, Mercator, Hondius, the Blaeus, and the Visschers. Playwrights and cartographers alike imagined the world by means of a “poetic geography” or “geography of difference” in which the margins of the map remained a site of radical and potentially disruptive otherness.”

Table of Contents:

1. Mapping the other: Vico, Shakespeare and the geography of difference
2. Of ‘voyages and exploration: geography: maps’
3. Theatres of the world
4. ‘The open worlde’: the exotic in Shakespeare
5. The frame of the new geography

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Cambridge University Press (excerpts)