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The New York Public Library Celebrates Shakespeare: Shakespeare's Mappery


April 13, 2011

Since the 1990s, critics have argued that Shakespeare was alert to the cartographic developments and innovations of the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. In a number of plays his characters employ maps for military, monarchic, and mercantile purposes, practices which were increasingly common in his period, and practices that align cartography with power and possession. Less critical attention has been paid to the ways in which Shakespeare’s maps act frequently as indexes of loss and death: Shakespeare’s cartographers frequently end up dead, with what they lay claim to slipping through their grasp; when used figuratively, “map” (meaning emblem or epitome) frequently stands for something ephemeral, out of reach, or already passed. Shakespeare’s “mappery” engages not only with the vast possibilities of a rapidly expanding world—possibilities to which the contemporary map-reader was readily attuned—but also the limits of such longings and desires.

A Writer in Residence in the Library's Wertheim Study, Gavin Hollis is an Assistant Professor in the English Department at Hunter College, CUNY. He has published on cartographic literacy in King Lear, Native American and European mapping in 1670s Virginia, and has articles forthcoming on White Europeans dressing up as Native Americans in early modern drama.

Directly after the lecture, the Library’s Lionel Pincus and Princess Firyal Map Division invites you to peruse in the auditorium foyer a selection of maps and atlases printed in the late 16th and early 17th centuries.

To see the other lectures in this Series, click here.