Shakespeare’s Horse-borne England

Outside the London of Shakespeare's time, writes Anthony Dent, coaches were few and most travellers were horse-borne.

Goethe, in conversation with Eckermann, remarked that Shakespeare made Englishmen of all his Romans, and thought none the worse of him for it.

One might extend this statement by saying that he made all his countries England, whether they are labelled Bohemia (seacoast and all), Illyria, Denmark, Aquitaine, Lombardy, Austria or Sicily.

All his big cities are London, all his middling towns Stratford, all his villages Shottery, or their like, and all his green fields are Warwickshire fields.

Just as there are no concessions to local colour, there are none to temporal either: the Celtic Iron Age of Lear and Cymbeline, the classical antiquity of Coriolanus and Timon, the Middle Ages (term unknown to Shakespeare, though not to some at least who shared part of his lifetime) of Macbeth or King John or Richard II are all presented in the guise of the late sixteenth century.

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