Opening Lecture by Christopher Wortham
Invisible Maps: Cartographic Coding in Shakespeare’s Henry V and Julius Caesar
By Professor Christopher Wortham (University of Notre Dame)
The year of 1599 was a turning point both for England and for William Shakespeare. Ever since the failed Spanish armada of 1588 there had been serious threats of a fresh incursion. Contrary to much popular belief today, the Spanish threat did not die with Queen Mary’s widowed husband, Philip II of Spain, in 1598. Unwillingly and with great reservations Queen Elizabeth sent the Earl of Essex to quell rebellion in Ireland early in 1599, which was feared to become the launching point for a combined attack from the two Catholic countries of Spain and Ireland. Essex’s mission to defeat or enlist support from the Irish, who had taken a dislike to being progressively invaded and colonised through several monarchies in the sixteenth century, quickly came unstuck. He sailed for Ireland in March with the prospect of victory loudly proclaimed (by Shakespeare among others) but was to return in disgrace by September, uninvited and unwelcome. His sole achievement seems to have been taking the initiative of being the Queen’s deputy in Ireland to knight hundreds of his followers. The queen was not amused to have her authority so lightly traduced.
In Henry V Shakespeare implicitly parallels the expected progress of Essex with the actual progress of the warrior-king. Momentarily the comparison becomes explicit in the Chorus preceding Act 5 of the play, with a prayer for the safe return of Essex. The play would have been first performed soon after the departure of Essex to Ireland. Towards the end of the year came Julius Caesar. Again there is a warrior figure in the title role, but this time the story is one of failure: the play tells of suspicion that dangerous ambition will overwhelm the state. Allusion to the fall of Essex is suggestive rather than precise, but Shakespeare’s audience would have made connections between Essex and Caesar: there were fears that Essex would use success in Ireland to depose the Queen or at least render her subservient to his power. As it happened, a little over a year after his return, Essex did attempt to ride into London with his followers, fulfilling an absurd ambition to take control.
In this lecture, each of these plays will be conceptually charted against a specific cartographic model. For Henry V there is the Ptolemaic map of Anglia by Christopher Saxton (created as the frontispiece to his atlas presented to the Queen on the twenty-first anniversary of her rule). For Julius Caesar the mappa mundi of humanist tradition is evoked, with specific reference to the Hereford map. Each of these two cartographic paradigms suggests its own network of cultural significances in the two plays. This discussion will be offered with illustrated reference to specific maps and their meanings.
Christopher Wortham has been Professor of Theatre Studies and English Literature at the University of Notre Dame since 2009. He is also Associate Dean (Teaching and learning). Prior to joining Notre Dame, Chris taught for ten years at the University of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and for 30 years at The University of Western Australia. His publications include European Perceptions of Terra Australis (2012), co-edited with Anne Scott et al and, This Earthly Stage: World and Stage in Late Medieval and Early Modern England (2011), co-edited with Brett Hirsch. He is currently preparing a book on cartographical significances in the work of Shakespeare, provisionally entitled ‘Shakespeare’s Maps’.
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