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A Prospect of the Most Famous Parts of the World

John Speed. A prospect of the most famous parts of the world. London, 1631

According to the Latin inscription on the cover page, John Speed spent seventy-seven years faithfully traveling, recording, and delineating the contours of the world, in the service of both Queen Elizabeth I and King James I. This volume is the culmination of a lifetime of Speed's work, though he did not, it seems, live to see its publication. He died in 1629, leaving behind pages of fastidiously labeled engravings and painstaking descriptions of parts of the world most Londoners would never see. The published volume contains detailed maps of many of the areas in which Shakespeare's plays are set, including Denmark, Africa and Italy. Click on the image to link to a map of Denmark; links to other maps appear below.-AKH

A Prospect of the Most Famous Parts of the World by Speed, John, 1552?-1629. London: Printed by Iohn Dawson for George Humble, and are to be sold at his shop in Popes-head Pallace, 1631. STC (2nd ed.)/23040.
View available documents
Map of Africa
Map of Italy
Teacher Ideas

Annmarie Kelly Harbaugh / Eastside Catholic High School, Bellevue, WA / English


Choose a map that corresponds with the setting of a Shakespeare play—for instance, a map of Denmark for Hamlet. Ask students to search for three references to Denmark in the text (e.g., "Denmark's a prison," 2.2.262). Then, have students write about these lines with respect to the map. (Is there anything about the physical look of the land or its people that would make Denmark seem like "a prison"?) Finally, discuss the correlation of the text and the map. Does the Denmark portrayed in Hamlet seem to be the Denmark depicted in the map? How important is it that the events of the play transpire in Denmark? Does the setting influence the plot?


Sarah Kirkpatrick / McKinley High School, Baton Rouge, LA / English


Have students observe the characteristics of one map. Does this map demonstrate an attitude that the cartographer might have had about this area? Is there anything significant about the geography of the country? The inhabitants? Are there any dangers implied? After discussing these points, have students write a travelogue of someone who has journeyed through the country.


Heather Kooiman / Jordan High School, Los Angeles, CA / English


The map of Africa would be a useful tool for insight into Othello. Students should examine both the map and the surrounding engravings, and then make a list of the assumptions that can be made about the inhabitants of Africa based on this source. Discuss whether these assumptions are illustrated in the text of Othello.

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