Walking Space, Making Place in Early Modern England

Calendar Description

An overview of modern and early modern theories of space and place, and application thereof to Shakespeare’s “matter of Britain” plays, selected chorographies, pageants, progresses, maps, travelogues, and poems. Provides an introduction to the spatial turn, the geohumanities, and literary GIS, and an overview of recent Shakespeare criticism.

Rationale for the course

Do modern theories of space and place apply to early modern texts? In the era of GoogleMaps, GIS, global travel, and satellite communications, how can we make sense of a culture that was just developing mathematically-based cartographic techniques, travelled primarily on foot, understood space through toponyms (placenames), and encountered both history and news in dramatic form on a bare, unlocalized stage? This course begins with modern theories of space and place (de Certeau, Bakhtin, Foucault, Lefevbre, Williams, Moretti) and considers the “spatial turn” and the rise of the “geohumanities” before turning to early modern maps, gazetteers, chorographies, travelogues, civic entertainments, and progresses. Our focus will be on early modern English understandings of space and place, with particular attention to texts that traverse a route between towns, through cities, or across a stage. How do texts map out movement? Are maps like texts in their representation of space or do they have different rhetorical strategies? How do plays create place out of stage space? We will discuss the differences between modern and early modern views and experiences of space (asking, for example, if de Certeau’s widely cited “Walking in the City” is applicable to early modern texts), think about conceptual mapping of space, theorize the difference between space and place, investigate the origins of geographical information systems, and ask what a literary GIS might look like. By the end of the course, we will have formulated a theory of early modern space and place as they were walked, written, and mapped. Our core texts will be four of Shakespeare “Matter of Britain” plays (2 Henry VI, 1 Henry IV, King Lear, and Henry VIII) and three chorographies (two of which are new acquisitions for UVic Special Collections): Lambarde’s The Perambulation of Kent, Stow’s Survey of London, and Drayton’s Poly-0lbion (one of the earliest eco-critical works). The questions raised in this course lend themselves to theoretical methodologies, digital humanities projects, and bibliographic investigations, depending on the students’ inclinations.


Spatial turn; literary GIS; geohumanities; walking; chorography; cartography; chronicle; cosmography; geography; topography; toponymy; space; place; chronotope

Tentative Text List

Texts marked with * are in Special Collections.

Acts and Orders

1572 Act for the Punishment of Vagabonds (HLRO HL/PO/PU/1/1572/14Eliz1n5; transcription at National Archives)


* William Lambarde’s The Perambulation of Kent
* John Stow’s A Survey of London (excerpts from 1598, 1603, 1618, 1633 texts)
* Michael Drayton’s Poly-Olbion


Henry IV¸ Part I
Henry VIII
Henry VI, Part II
King Lear


Richard Mulcaster, The Queen’s Majesty’s Passage
Thomas Dekker, The Magnificent Entertainment
Thomas Middleton, The Triumphs of Truth
Ben Jonson’s Walk to Scotland (old-spelling text available from CUP).
William Kemp’s Nine Day’s Wonder

Toponymic Texts and Gazetteers

Isabella Whitney, Last Wyll and Testament
John Taylor, The Carriers Cosmographie (selection)

Local Literary Voyages

Ben Jonson’s On the Famous Voyage
John Taylor, A New Discovery by Sea (1623)

Maps of England and London

Agas map; Copperplate map; maps in the *Brown Collection; Speed’s Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine; Christopher Saxton’s Atlas of England and Wales; William Camden’s Britannia, maps of English cities in Civitas Orbis Terrarum; Ditchley portrait of Queen Elizabeth. Ogilby’s Britannia (1675, the “strip maps”)

Travel Writing and Geography

Selections from:
Richard Hakluyt, Principal Navigations (1589)
Thomas Blundeville, Brief Description of Universal Maps and Cards (1589)
Georg Sandys, A Relation of a Journey (1615)
Fynes Morison, Itinerary (1617)