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Shakespearean Territories

Shakespeare was an astute observer of contemporary life, culture, and politics. The emerging practice of territory as a political concept and technology did not elude his attention. In Shakespearean Territories, Stuart Elden reveals just how much Shakespeare’s unique historical position and political understanding can teach us about territory. Shakespeare dramatized a world of technological advances in measuring, navigation, cartography, and surveying, and his plays open up important ways of thinking about strategy, economy, the law, and colonialism, providing critical insight into a significant juncture in history. Shakespeare’s plays explore many territorial themes: from the division of the kingdom in King Lear, to the relations among Denmark, Norway, and Poland in Hamlet,  to questions of disputed land and the politics of banishment in Richard II. Elden traces how Shakespeare developed a nuanced understanding of the complicated concept and practice of territory and, more broadly, the political-geographical relations between people, power, and place. A meticulously researched study of over a dozen classic plays, Shakespearean Territories will provide new insights for geographers, political theorists, and Shakespearean scholars alike.

304 pages | 6 x 9 | © 2018

Geography: Cultural and Historical Geography, Social and Political Geography

History: European History

Literature and Literary Criticism: British and Irish Literature, Dramatic Works


"The settings of Shakespeare’s plays often seem accidental, but Elden shows that the idea of 'territory' in Shakespeare has profound political meaning. . . . Though Elden is a political geographer, not a trained literary critic, he is skilled at evidentiary quotation and close reading. He explains the division of the kingdoms in King Lear, looking at legal discussions and empirical instances of the divisibility of land, and the Mediterranean arena of Othello, contending that the play looks as much to the southern, African coast of the Mediterranean as to the eastern, Levantine coast. Recommended."


Shakespearean Territories is a truly groundbreaking volume that enriches our reading of Shakespeare at the same time as it illuminates our understanding of the nature and history of territory. An insightful and engrossing work, Shakespearean Territories demonstrates Elden’s unquestionable position as the most significant thinker of territory and the geographic working today—and in relation to the literary and dramatic no less than the political.”

Jeff Malpas, University of Tasmania

“A work of meticulous scholarship, Shakespearean Territories teases out and explains a wide range of geographical themes present in Shakespeare’s plays with finesse and profound interpretation. Beyond the specific insights he offers on territory and geography as refracted through Shakespeare’s plays, Elden displays the substantial value of bridging literary and historical-geographical analysis.”

Alexander Murphy, University of Oregon

Shakespearean Territories offers illuminating analyses of Shakespeare’s works that are immersed in relevant scholarship on the colonial, geophysical, and corporeal aspects of territory. This is a fascinating textual analysis that builds upon the concept of territory with Elden’s characteristic nuance and depth.”

Garrett Sullivan, Penn State University

"Elden’s original contribution lies in illuminating the importance of territory to the legitimization of sovereignty by carefully exploring the world of Shakespeare’s plays…Elden sheds light on the unique position of Shakespearean theater 'at a significant historical juncture.'"

Journal of the History of Ideas

Table of Contents

Introduction: Shakespearean Territories
Chapter 1: Divided Territory: The Geo-politics of King Lear
Chapter 2: Vulnerable Territories: Regional Geopolitics in Hamlet and Macbeth
Chapter 3: The Territories: Majesty and Possession in King John
Chapter 4: Economic Territories: Laws, Economies, Agriculture, and Banishment in Richard II
Chapter 5: Legal Territories: Conquest and Contest in Henry V and Edward III
Chapter 6: Colonial Territories: From The Tempest to the Eastern Mediterranean
Chapter 7: Measuring Territories: The Techniques of Rule
Chapter 8: Corporeal Territories: The Political Bodies of Coriolanus
Chapter 9: Outside Territory: The Forest in Titus Andronicus and As You Like It
Coda: Beyond Pale Territories
References to Shakespeare’s Plays

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