Much Ado About Maps


Here at The Map House, we’ve let Shakespeare transport us to some of the most glorious settings from his greatest plays.

It is in fair Verona where we lay our scene…


Sixteenth-century Verona provided the backdrop to one of the most enduring tales of love and tragedy, Romeo and Juliet. This view of the Roman Theatre at Verona published by du Pinet in 1564 would have been the perfect location for a performance of Shakespeare’s great work!



It is in Paris that the cunning Helen sets her heart on Bertram in the comedy All’s Well That Ends Well. And it is to Florence that he flees! This map of Paris (fig.2.) was published in 1572 by Braun and Hogenberg in the first atlas of city plans: the Civitates Orbis Terrarum.



Published in 1602, Orlandi’s birds-eye view of Florence (fig.3.) was engraved only two years before Shakespeare is believed to have written All’s Well That Ends Well. The view bears the Medici coat of arms, which would have been familiar to Bertram fighting in the army of the Medici Duke of Florence.



From one great Italian city to another! Merian’s panorama of Venice published in 1641 (fig.4.) depicts the great Venetian Republic. The city served as a setting for both The Merchant of Venice and Othello, although it is thought that Shakespeare never visited Italy. He would have relied on the accounts of others and also printed material such as this!



On to colder climes! It is to Scotland that we journey to find the setting of Macbeth, a tale of witches, war and murder. The play was first performed in 1611 at The Globe; the same year in which John Speed’s map of Scotland (fig.5.) was published. This map also features a full-length portrait of James I, one of Shakespeare’s most significant patrons.



Arguably one of Shakespeare’s finest works, the tragedy King Lear is set in Ancient Britain. Historians have deduced that the great play is likely to have been set in the county of Leicestershire. Speed’s map of 1676 (fig.6) shows the area of this county under the rule of the Kingdom of Mercia, an Anglo-Saxon Heptarchy.


And so we return to Elizabethan London. Braun and Hogenberg’s map of London (fig.7) was published in 1572 and is the earliest extant map of London available to the collector. It represents the city as Shakespeare would have recognised it – complete with the bear-bating pit which was only a few years later to become the site for the Globe Theatre.

Merian, 'London', 1641. An original copper-engraving. 28" x 9". £POA.Fig.8.

The Globe Theatre could only be reconstructed using very limited resources after its destruction. One of the most important sources was Visscher’s great panorama of London. Here is a unique Italian derivative, published by Stefano Scolari c.1670. We can see the distinctive structure of The Globe in place of the Elizabethan bear-bating pit in one of the finest and most enduring views of pre-fire London.

As so we are at our journey’s end! But you can browse our entire collection of maps at !