chapter  1
A Globe of Sinful Continents: Shakespeare Thinks the World
ByRICHARD WILSON
Pages 23

What were William Shakespeare and his fellows thinking when they called their playhouse the Globe? How, in the dramatist’s own proto-Hegelian expression, did they “think of the world” (Julius, 1,2,301)?1 The name they attached in 1599 to “This wide and universal theatre” (As You Like It, 2,7,136) provokes this question, as much as it cries out to be revisited in the context of twenty-first century debates about the competing claims of universalism and pluralism. Yet it has become so over-familiar that even Shakespeare scholars rarely give its significance much pause. Theater specialists infer that in naming their house the Globe, its founders advertised “a decorative scheme intended to foster an emblematic conception of the theatre as a microcosm … a theatre of the world” (Keenan and Davidson 1997, 148-49). But the ways in which the ancient topos of the Theatrum Mundi, and the Pythagorean metaphor that “All the world’s a stage” (As You Like It, 2,7,138), resonated in what Martin Heidegger (1977, 115) termed “the age of the world picture” with Sir Francis Drake’s circumnavigation of 1577-1580, Abraham Ortelius’ cartographic theatre of the world, or the 1570 atlas Theatrum Orbis Terrarum (Theater of the World), with its planispheres sectioned like some exotic fruit, remain strangely unexplored. More importantly, the relation of the name of the people’s palace erected on London’s quayside to the contemporary shock of global religious multiplicity has rarely, if ever, been discussed.