A painting of all the plays of Shakespeare
William Shakespeare died in April 1616, so to mark the 400th anniversary of his passing, I set about mapping his works.
Like The Bard, I too was born and bred in Stratford-upon-Avon. I thought it would be fun to make a painting of all his plays in their approximate geographic position. After six weeks research and painting, the result is my map of the plays of Shakespeare.
It shows all the plays featured in the First Folio, plus Pericles, superimposed on a map of Europe and the Mediterranean. Purists may argue about the lack of Two Noble Kinsmen or no referencing of the ‘lost plays’. But it is what it is and ‘what’s done cannot be undone’.
Mapping Shakespeare in Europe
From Hamlet and Macbeth in the north, the Antony and Cleopatra in the far south east, I have illustrated them all.
There was a good deal of preparation and research to be done before I could even begin sketching and painting. How would I fit all the plays set in the British Isles into such a small space? Or all those plays in Italy? Luckily, some plays have more than one location so there was a bit of wiggle room. I knew that many plays would spill over from their precise location, and that’s OK; this is a schematic map. I had to distort the underlying map of Europe, it would be impossible without doing so. Think of it as a bit of visual pantomime.
Each play has an illustration and a quote. I tried to not always use the ‘obvious’ or most famous quote, but to find something else that gave a flavour of the main themes of the play or a particularly dramatic moment. For example, in Julius Caesar, it would have been so easy to go for ‘Et tu Brute’, or ‘Friends, Romans, Countrymen’. But the irony of ‘Brutus is an honourable man’ is, to me, way more powerful.
I wanted to include Falstaff him in his own right. He appears in the Netherlands, simply because there was a convenient space for him!
I’ve put ‘As you like it’ in the heart of England. Some suggest that Shakespeare was referring to the Ardennes Forest in Belgium. I think this is nonsense. Shakespeare would surely be referring to the Arden Forest, which in the 16th century stretched virtually to Will’s doorstep at the top of Henley Street in Stratford-upon-Avon. Small pockets of woodland from this once large forest still exist.
Ships and shipwrecks
Hot on the heels of a map I painted of the shipping forecast, ships are very much on my mind. There are lots of ships and shipwrecks in Shakespeare. The Tempest, Love’s Labour’s Lost, Twelfth Night, Pericles… And I couldn’t resist putting in a trireme near Antony and Cleopatra.
I thought I knew a reasonable amount about Shakespeare but painting this map of Shakespeare showed me that I knew hardly anything. Everything you need to know about the human condition lies within his works; love, death, politics, superstition, jealousy, envy, compassion, irony, justice, wit, the lot. He was a genius.
I hope he would have been amused by my watercolour tribute to him.
See my Shakespeare collection.
This blog was originally posted in 2016, revised and republished in 2022.