William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare was born in April 1564 and died in April 1616. His career as a playwright and writer was from 1588 to 1612. During those twenty-four years, Europe was going through a period of global expansion as it established it maintain for centuries.

By way of illustration, between 1606 and 1612, Shakespeare’s productions included King Lear, MacBeth, Antony and Cleopatra, Pericles and The Tempest (Bloom, 1985, p. 191). During that same short period the English founded Virginia (1607), the French founded Quebec (1608), the Spanish founded Santa Fe (1609), and the Dutch founded New Amsterdam/New York (1612) (Palmer and Colton, 1978, p. 948).   Ultimately, global expansion was a key aspect of political developments during this period.

Consequently, maritime voyages of discovery and the heroics of individual explorers were subjects of popular discussion and popular art at the time. Critics have suggested that the plotting of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, where a ship founders on an island peopled by survivors of a previous mishap, was directly inspired by events relating to global exploration (Wills, 1995, p. 37). The following brief discussion will detail the events of discovery and exploration that were ongoing during Shakespeare’s lifetime.

Interestingly, during Shakespeare’s lifetime the English had only recently ‘discovered’ Russia via the White Sea . Commercially, it remained a new development where they predominated. However, during Shakespeare’s lifetime the most important English discoveries were being made in North America , predominantly in the illusive search for the ‘northwest passage’ to the riches of China and the spice producing regions.[1] The search for the Northwest Passage began with Frobisher’s first voyage in 1576, launched when Shakespeare was twelve. While initial discoveries of gold proved unfounded exploration in the region of Baffin Island and Greenland was continued in 1585 by John Davies.

As Shakespeare’s career reached...