Chris Wortham

Associate Dean School of Arts and Sciences @ University of Notre Dame Australia

Shakespeare’s Maps: Meaning of Place and Places in the Plays


Not all the locations in Shakespeare’s plays have a significant meaning, but some do. In most of the comedies the places are invented and have no substantial meaning. Only in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and As You Like It does place really signify much more than a romantic “otherwhere”. Place is particularly important in the history plays, partly because they’re steeped in English history and in any case Shakespeare’s first audience were living in a time when a sense of their own place was becoming more and more meaningful to them. So place becomes important, both at home in the Henry IV plays and abroad in Henry V. In the tragedies place becomes symbolically and thematically prominent, not least in Othello and Antony and Cleopatra as plays about the Mediterranean world and its values. In the pseudo-historical King Lear, the action is on home soil again and in this later play the concept of country expands to Britain, whereas in the earlier history plays it had been limited to England: the change is politically significant.

The talk will be supported with a visual presentation of relevant maps.


Emeritus Prof Christopher Wortham is Professor of Theatre Studies and English Literature at the University of Notre Dame Australia in Fremantle. In addition he is a Cathedral Scholar at St George’s Cathedral in Perth. Among previous roles, he has served as Founding President of the Perth Medieval and Renaissance Group and as President of the ANZ Association for Medieval and Renaissance Studies. He is Chairman of the Board of Directors of Shakespeare WA, a professional theatre company. He is currently working on a book commissioned by Palgrave Macmillan, entitled Shakespeare’s Maps: Place and Places in the Plays. His previous publications include This Earthly Stage: World and Stage in Late Medieval and Early Modern England (2010; co-edited with Brett Hirsch) and Early European Perceptions of Terra Australis (2011; co-edited with Anne Scott et al). Most recently, he has a chapter entitled “Displacement: Maps and Emotions in Othello” in Shakespeare and Emotions (2015; ed. R.S. White et al).