My article ‘Why should people interested in territory read Shakespeare?‘ is now published in Territory, Politics, Governance. It’s been available online for a while, but is now officially in an issue of the journal. If you don’t have institutional access, then the first 50 downloads are open access (here), but if that no longer works, please email me for a copy. The article is a summary of some of the themes of my book Shakespearean Territories (University of Chicago Press, 2018). My thanks to the editors of the journal, particularly Martin Jones for the invitation to write this piece.
This paper argues that territory is more than a simple concept, and that William Shakespeare is a valuable guide to understanding its complexities. Shakespeare’s plays explore many aspects of geography, politics and territory. They include ideas about the division of kingdoms in King Lear, the struggle over its control in Macbeth and many of the English history plays, to the vulnerability of small territories with powerful neighbours in Hamlet. However, the plays also help us to understand the legal and economic issues around territory, of the importance of technical innovations around surveying and cartography, and the importance of landscapes and bodies. Shakespeare is especially interesting because debates in political theory at this time concerned a recognizably modern understanding, and European states were consolidating their own rule, marking boundaries and seizing colonial possessions. Shakespeare dramatizes many of these themes, from The Tempest to plays set in the Eastern Mediterranean such as Othello. Territory is a word, concept and practice, and their interrelation is explored with Shakespeare as a guide. This builds on the author’s previous work on territory, but also develops the understanding further, especially around the colonial, corporeal and geophysical. Historical work on our contemporary concepts can also be revealing of our present.