A painted map of all the plays of Shakespeare
William Shakespeare died in April 1616; next year marks the 400th anniversary. Like him, I too was born and bred in Stratford-upon-Avon, something of which I am very proud. So I wanted to mark this occasion and acknowledge his influence in my life. I thought it would be quite fun to make a painting of all his plays in their approximate geographic position. The result is this painting.
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’.
Locations in Europe
From Hamlet and Macbeth in the north (top left), the Antony and Cleopatra in the far south east (bottom left), 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. Not least, how would I fit all the plays set in the British Isles into such a small space? Or indeed all those plays set in Italy? Luckily, some plays have more than one location, so Shakespeare built in a bit of wiggle room for me. Henry V, for example, he’s over in northern France. Still, 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 considerably, it would be impossible without doing so. You are not intended to use it to travel anywhere! Think of it as a bit of visual pantomime.
And then there was a lot of thinking and research into which quote from each play to use, and how to illustrate it. 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 and pathos of ‘Brutus is an honourable man’ is, to me, way more powerful.
Purists and aficiondos might like to consider why Falstaff gets a special mention. Well, he’s a pretty powerful & perennially popular character so I wanted to include him in his own right. The reason he’s in the Netherlands, although he never went there, is because there was a convenient space to put him.
Another point of controversy might be ‘As you like it’ in the heart of England. Some suggest that Shakespeare was referring to the Ardennes Forest in Belgium. I think it more likely that as Shakespeare would be referring to the Arden Forest – his home turf – which at his time stretched north of Stratford. Small pockets of woodland from this once large forest still exist.
I’m sure there will be other controversies which aficionados will will want to debate!
Ships and shipwrecks
Hot on the heels of a map I painted earlier this year of the shipping forecast, ships are very much on my mind, and 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.
Who did I paint it for?
For me! I wasn’t commissioned by anyone to do this, this was just a bit of fun and a good excuse to learn more about my fellow Stratfordian. Including time for research it took me six weeks of my (so-called) spare time to pull it off. I thought I knew a reasonable amount about Shakespeare, having been to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre many times, but it turns out I knew hardly anything. I learned so much! All – everything – you need to know about the human condition is within his works; love, death, politics, superstition, jealousy, envy, compassion, irony, justice, wit, the lot. He was a genius, and it’s hard to imagine he will ever be surpassed either in his ideas and his use of language.
I hope he would have been amused by my watercolour tribute to him. And I hope you are too.