A mid-spring’s exhibit featuring two gentlemen at Van Pelt
Commemorating the deaths of legendary writers William Shakespeare and Miguel de Cervantes, and celebrating the lives their literary works have led since their passing, the exhibition “The Stage and All the World: Shakespeare, Cervantes, and Early Maps” is on display at Penn Libraries’ Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts through Friday, June 17.
Laura Elizabeth Aydelotte, a postdoctoral fellow at Penn Libraries and curator of the exhibit, says it originally came about as a way to mark the 400th anniversary of the deaths of Shakespeare and Cervantes, who both died in 1616.
“It started there, but it also became about the ways in which we take these imaginary characters that they created—people like Hamlet or Othello or Don Quixote—and how we locate them in physical space,” she says, “and how that helps us imagine them as being more real.”
The focus of the exhibit is maps, both maps of things that take place in the literary worlds of Shakespeare and Cervantes, and also maps from the time period. The early 17th century was a time of great exploration, with the British and Spanish colonizing large portions of the world and learning new, more detailed facts about the planet, such as specific information about coastlines and ways to craft more accurate maps.
“You have these two great authors and I thought that one of the things that they would have had in common was that they were reacting to this literal changing view of the world in maps,” Aydelotte says.
The exhibit contains a map from 1616 showing Warwickshire County in England, which encompasses Stratford-upon-Avon, Shakespeare’s place of birth. There is no mention of Shakespeare or his writings on the map. The 1616 map sits adjacent to a poster map of Stratford-upon-Avon from the 1940s, which is overlaid with facts about Shakespeare’s life and work.
There is also a 19th century diagram created by a German professor at Penn who attempted to make a visual diagram of the entire plot of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.”
“I think it’s a really interesting visual example of people taking these plays and trying to find ways to scientifically understand all the human emotions and the motivations of the characters,” Aydelotte says.
A map from the 1700s based off of Cervantes’ novel “The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha,” more commonly known as “Don Quixote,” charts the main character’s journey throughout the book.
“You have sort of a realistic map of part of Spain, but it’s showing the adventures of this imaginary character, Don Quixote,” Aydelotte says.
Aydelotte says editions of Shakespeare’s works started being published with maps in the late 19th/early 20th century to help readers better understand the plays as they became more and more popular in academic curriculums.
“It’s a sign that people are starting to teach the plays and to think about Shakespeare as the great author that we think of today, so they’re including things like images of maps to help you understand where the characters traveled and so on,” she says.
The exhibition also contains navigational objects, such as a compass/sundial, and iconography, like a small copy of a 1930s edition of Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” with an image of the Globe Theatre in London on the cover.
All of the items in the exhibit come from Penn’s collections. Aydelotte says one of the jewels is a map by cartographer and atlas producer Abraham Ortelius, which is one of the early Western maps of the world.
“This would be totally new to people in Shakespeare’s time,” she says. “You can imagine somebody like him seeing something like this. It would kind of be like the equivalent of us getting to see the Earth from space for the first time.”