What geographical error?

While scanning over various online lists of Shakespearean “facts,” I came across this interesting tidbit taken from “10 things you probably didn’t know about William Shakespeare:” books

“4. Although Shakespeare wrote plays set in France, Scotland, Italy, Cyprus and Vienna, among many other locations, it’s entirely possible that he never left England. That may account for the most embarrassing geographical cock-up of his career: grafting a sea-coast on to land-locked Bohemia (part of the present-day Czech Republic) in The Winter’s Tale” (Times Online, April 9, 2009).

There is no evidence that William Shaksper/Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon ever set foot outside of Merry Ol’ England, therefore orthodox scholars typically excuse the playwright’s supposed lack of geographical knowledge.  But, what if we were to learn that this alleged blooper was actually a true historical fact?

Kingdom of Bohemia

From “Ministry of Defence of the Czech Republic Prague, March 2006”

I decided to look into this purported “geographical error,” and referred to Chapter 11 of The Shakespeare Guide to Italy by Richard Paul Roe.

Research into the history of Bohemia reveals that the kingdom of Bohemia under the rule of Ottakar II once included Carinthia and “Carniola, which in turn touched the Adriatic Sea” (Roe 251).  Therefore, from 1269 until Ottakar was killed in 1278, Bohemia was not landlocked.

The Winter’s Tale is a play that hearkens to the romantic tales of medieval times, so referring to the Bohemia of this period in history is not a stretch.

In my next post, I will discuss another curious detail in The Winter’s Tale that demonstrates the playwright’s uncanny knowledge of travel outside the boundaries of England.

In the meanwhile, check out the colorful scenic slideshow of the real-life settings of Shakespeare’s Italian Plays and retraceThe Bard’s Unknown Travels” in the linked blog post by Hilary Roe Metternich.


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