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Speed's Map of Warwickshire
Speed’s Map of Warwickshire


Cartography was a complex and shifting science in the 16th and early 17th centuries, because as new lands were being explored, new maps had to keep-up-to-date. For everyday usage, people could purchase printed maps on single sheets of paper. For serious geographers, collections of maps could be purchased which ranged from individual counties to countries. The map of Warwickshire on display was produced by John Speed, and published in a collection called Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine.


Kings, noblemen, politicians and soldiers are amongst Shakespeare’s map-wielding characters. Consulting maps allows for battle decisions, the division of kingdoms, and journey planning. Warwickshire itself is mentioned by Falstaff in Henry IV, Part I as he meets Prince Hal on the way to the battle at Shrewsbury with his troops. Falstaff and his company march from London to the Midlands, through Sutton Coldfield, to get to Shropshire. Can you trace their journey on the map?


What, Hal! how now, mad wag! what a devil dost thou
in Warwickshire? My good Lord of Westmoreland, I
cry you mercy: I thought your honour had already been
at Shrewsbury.
(Henry IV, Part I, (Act 4, Scene 2).


Shakespeare also employed the idea of maps or mapping to describe the reading of facial features. In the Tragedy of Coriolanus, the noble Agrippa discusses his own honesty and openness by referring to the ‘map of my microcosm’. in this passage Agrippa is mocking and berating the dishonesty of two tribunes or Roman officials:


I am known to be a humorous patrician, and one that
loves a cup of hot wine with not a drop of allaying
Tiber in’t; said to be something imperfect in
favouring the first complaint; hasty and tinder-like
upon too trivial motion; one that converses more
with the buttock of the night than with the forehead
of the morning: what I think I utter, and spend my
malice in my breath. Meeting two such wealsmen as
you are—I cannot call you Lycurguses—if the drink
you give me touch my palate adversely, I make a
crooked face at it. I can’t say your worships have
delivered the matter well, when I find the ass in
compound with the major part of your syllables: and
though I must be content to bear with those that say
you are reverend grave men, yet they lie deadly that
tell you you have good faces. If you see this in
the map of my microcosm, follows it that I am known
well enough too? what harm can your bisson
conspectuities glean out of this character, if I be
known well enough too?
(Coriolanus, Act 2, Scene 1)


Patrician = Roman official
Tiber = Italian river. Here Agrippa refers to dilution
Wealsmen = statesmen
Lycurguses = Lycuguses was a Spartan law maker. Here Agrippa is being ironic
Microcosm = small or miniature world
Bisson conspectuities = blind understanding



    Anjna said:
    December 5, 2013 at 2:43 pm

    I love the Speed map. It’s definitely my favourite object on display! I especially love locating my home town on the map!

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