Shakespeare’s plays were set in many exotic locations. He generally chose far off places. He had a preference for Italy and areas where the Elizabethan audience would be familiar with for their cultural background. Shakespeare’s knowledge about Italian daily activity suggests that he might have visited Italy at least once. He made up some of his backdrops, but Verona, Venice, Windsor, Athens and Vienna are five examples of places where he set his plays.
1 Romeo and Juliet – Verona (and Mantua)
Verona is in Italy’s Veneto region, not far from Venice. Less touristy than Venice, its main claim to fame is that Romeo and Juliet was set here. Juliet’s House is on Via Cappello and many tourists visit, filling the tiny courtyard. In reality however, the house is totally innocent of any connection with Shakespeare’s characters. Though it is an old house, the balcony is a very recent addition and was added in 1936 to market as a tourist attraction.
Mantua was where Romeo was banished and is in Lombardy, in northern Italy, some way inland from Venice.
2 The Merchant of Venice – Venice (and Belmont)
Virtually unchanged for six hundred years, Venice is still one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Setting for “The Merchant of Venice”, the Jewish Ghetto of Venice can still be seen. This ghetto was the first and Jewish life is still very active here and elsewhere in Venice. Venice has also inspired many writers like Shakespeare who not only set “The Merchant of Venice” here, but also Othello. “The Merchant of Venice” portrays the vengeful Jewish moneylender Shylock.
In Shakespeare’s time, Venice was a city of commerce, a cosmopolitan city at the frontier of Christendom. Society in Venice was predominantly male, where the single female, Jessica, was locked up in her house and could only escape in disguise as a male.
Belmont by contrast, home of Portia and her mysterious caskets, was a place of romance and celebration where the victorious Christians retired at the end of the play. Belmont was portrayed as an idealised “green world” that was removed from the ruthlessness of the real world. Unlike Venice, it was controlled by women.
3 The Merry Wives of Windsor – Windsor
Though “The Merry Wives of Windsor” might have been Shakespeare’s only connection to Windsor, a local theatre company has made sure the playwright had a stronger link when in 2009 they created a temporary Globe to stage a performance of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in Alexandra Gardens. The structure was made of wood and scaffolding, with the interior covered in theatrical flame-proof fabric.
Since then, the Windsor Globe is an annual outdoor festival of theatre, music and comedy. Every year they build a temporary outdoor theatre but with all the facilities of a permanent theatre. The festival is produced by professional theatre people supported by a large team of actors, technicians and other volunteers. Set in the beautiful grounds of the Alexandra Gardens, in view of the castle, river and Eton Bridge it is an inspiring setting for the plays.
4 A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Athens
Named after Athena, goddess of wisdom and war in Greek mythology, Athens was the birthplace of Classical Greece and western civilisation. It forms some of the setting for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. The play is a mixture of romance, fairy magic and comedy lowlife scenes, portraying events surrounding the marriage of the Duke of Athens and the Queen of the Amazons. It also includes the adventures of four young Athenian lovers and six amateur actors who are controlled and manipulated by fairies who live the forest outside of Athens where most of the play is set.
Plenty to see here, the Acropolis is a World Heritage Site.
5 Measure for Measure – Vienna
Vienna’s roots can be found in early Celtic and Roman settlements that developed into a Medieval and Baroque capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In “Measure for Measure”, the Duke of Vienna announces that he is leaving the city on diplomatic business, when in fact he stays in disguise to spy on the actions of Angelo, who is left to rule in his absence. It has been suggested that in fact, Shakespeare changed the setting of the play from Italy to Vienna. “Measure for Measure” depicts the seedy underworld of life in Vienna and the legal system that was there to regulate it. Prostitutes, pickpockets, and public forms of punishment were familiar sights to Shakespeare’s audiences.
Shakespeare set his comedies and tragedies in far-off places, Italy generally being his favourite. Geographical details weren’t important and his plays include many mistakes in geography. Whichever of these 5 locations you choose to visit, all have great camping options locally so buy your outdoor and camping equipment from Outdoor World Direct.